15 — The Music Lesson
In which Risuko learns to play the flute, but all is not as it seems, and someone says farewell
When Fuyudori cheerfully woke us the next morning, none of us—Emi, Toumi, Mai, Shino, or myself—was very happy about it. My legs were sore from the combination of riding all day and then staying on my feet all evening. And that wasn’t even counting scurrying through the juniper and gripping that branch with my knees while arrows hissed overhead.
One of the older girls whined, “Why do we have to get up? They have kitchen duty.”
“You have duties outside the kitchen, just as I have had for the past three years,” Fuyudori said. She turned to me, Emi and Toumi. “Little ones, dress and get to the kitchen. You’ll have your music lesson later today.” Continue reading Read Risuko Chapter 15 — The Music Lesson →
14 —Squirrel on the Roof
Kee Sun celebrates Risuko, Emi, and Toumi’s first night at Mochizuki — though not without some unexpected flare-ups.
I was certain that Kee Sun wouldn’t let us eat until after all of the cleaning was done. But as we brought the last of the dishes in from the hall, we found the cook smiling and gesturing to the small feast that he had laid out for us on the low cutting table: grilled beef, kimchee, soybeans, rice—even sake—was set out just as it had been for the banquet.
“Magnificent!” crowed Kee Sun. “Perfect! Not a drop spilled, and everything served hot! The three of you girlies made the last two look like the clowns they are.” Continue reading Read Risuko: Chapter 14 — Squirrel on the Roof →
13 — A Banquet
Risuko, Emi, and Toumi are put to work serving, and discover that the kunoichi are not the shy, polite shrine maidens they had expected.
We began by fetching a large bag of rice from the storehouse. A pair of rats stared up at us when we entered, but Toumi growled at them while I swooshed the long stick that Kee Sun had given us to shoo them with, and they scattered. The bag was heavier than I was, and it took the three of us to drag it to the kitchen. Toumi muttered the whole way, and I would be lying if I said that Emi and I didn’t join her once or twice.
Kee Sun kept us busy, hanging pots over the fire to steam the rice and soybeans in, lowering a battered metal grate to serve as a grill, fetching more charcoal. As the sunlight began to fade from the room, we lit candles in the kitchen and in the hall. Continue reading Read a new chapter of Risuko: 13 — A Banquet →
12 — Novices
Risuko, Toumi and Emi are quickly thrown into their duties at Mochizuki, their new home. They meet a girl with white hair, discover what a Kee Sun is, and Emi laughs.
“My name is Fuyudori. I am the oldest of the initiates here, and so you may address me as Fuyudori–san or Fuyudori–senpai.” We followed her steady stride toward the back of the compound. It was impossible not to watch the white, silken hair flowing behind her as she walked. “As the head initiate, I make sure that you know the rules and obey them. Any infraction is seen as a failure on my part; I do not accept failure easily. But I also like to think that I am here as an adviser and a friend.” Continue reading A new sneak preview of Risuko: Chapter 12 — Novices →
11 — The Full Moon
Risuko survives another battle, and Lady Chiyome’s party finally arrives at its destination. But why are Lt. Masugu’s troops so uncomfortable?
The battle, if that’s what it was, didn’t last very long.
Quickly, the sound diminished to almost nothing. There was still some shouting, but it was growing more and more distant.
I snuck carefully out of my hiding place and made my way downhill toward where I knew the road must be.
It was not quite the scene of carnage that had met us that morning when we had first met Masugu-san and his soldiers. There were three dead men I assumed were part of the bandit gang. They’d been piled by the side of the road. There was also one dead horse, and one of the lancers was growling in pain as one of his comrades pulled an arrow through his thigh.
Most of the rest of the Takeda soldiers were missing. Aside from the wounded man and his nurse, only Masugu was there. Lady Chiyome and Mieko were talking with him. Mieko held an arrow in her hand. Continue reading Risuko Sneak Peek: Chapter 11 — Full Moon →
Akemashite omedeto gozai masu! (That is, Happy New Year!)
We’ve got an exciting new chapter of Risuko to start the year off with a bang. In 10 — Dark Letter, Risuko and Toumi stray from the trail and discover far more excitement than they’d bargained for.
10 — Dark Letter
We spent the night at a small Takeda fort guarding a rocky, barren place called, for some reason, Rice-Paddy Pass, which marked the border between Worth and Dark Letter Provinces. We were so high that there weren’t any trees. I felt naked. The air was dry and cold, we were exhausted, and the soldiers manning the garrison were edgy, as if waiting for an attack, though how — or why — an army would march so far and high I couldn’t imagine. Perhaps they were frightened of ogres.
The next morning, everybody—even Mieko—looked as grumpy as I felt.
Lady Chiyome shouted to rouse us. “Let’s go! I want to be back at the Full Moon by mid-day so that I can take a real bath and eat real food.”
As it turned out, Mochizuki was down in the valley below Rice-Paddy Pass. We began to descend, and for the first time in days I grasped the mane of Inazuna, Masugu’s stallion.
“Easy,” murmured Masugu—I think more for the horse’s sake than mine. To me, he said, “I thought you liked heights?” Continue reading New Year Excitement! Risuko — Chapter 10: Dark Letter →
9 — Worth
As Risuko, Masugu, and the rest of Lady Chiyome’s party approach their destination in the mountains, Risuko learns yet another uncomfortable truth — about herself and two other members of the group.
Up and up we rode, around a beautiful lake, and toward the mountain peaks.
A warbler sang from one of the trees and I whistled back. It was a funny time of year for the bird to be here.
“You do bird sounds?” Masugu asked.
“Can you do a loon?” We’d heard one that morning on the lake.
I grinned. That was one of my favorites. I raised my fingers to my hands and gave the loon’s long, sad call.
“Well done!” Masugu laughed. “And how about… a nightingale?”
I turned around to look at him for a moment.
He laughed again. “Fine, fine, I was kidding.” He stared down at me. “How about an owl. Can you hoot three times like an owl?”
“You’re kidding again, right? That one’s easy.” To prove my point, I raised my hands to my mouth again and gave three long hoots: one as a wood owl, one as a snowy owl and one as a Scops owl. Continue reading Sneak Peak! Risuko — Chapter 9: Worth →
8 — The Mountain
Headed further from her family and home, Risuko discovers an unsettling truth.
For three days, we rode quickly, without speaking until the mirror of the sun passed behind the mountains. On the first two days, we passed large groups of soldiers bearing the Takeda four-diamond banner marching toward the battles we had just left behind. By the third day, we might as well have been the only people in all of Worth Province —in all of Japan. We passed no one. Even the villages seemed empty.
Every night, the soldiers would make camp—in dry rice paddies or on the edges of fields. They would start preparing a simple meal, which Emi, Toumi, Aimaru and I would help clean up. The men would start talking to each other, and to the Little Brothers, occasionally. They would speak respectfully to Lady Chiyome occasionally, and even tease Aimaru and us three girls a bit.
None of them ever spoke to Mieko-san, though the lieutenant seemed always to know where she was. Continue reading Risuko sneak peek! Chapter 8 — The Mountain →
7 — Wind
The war comes to Risuko and her new companions — but will the advancing army be captors or liberators?
Mieko stood calmly and bowed to us.
From a small curtain at the end of the hall opposite the kitchen, we heard a whimper. Aimaru sprinted toward it, his battered knife still in his hand. With a yell, he yanked down the curtain, and revealed the old innkeepers, huddled on the floor of their small room.
After a moment of shocked silence, Aimaru bowed to them. “Pardon me for intruding,” he said, as if he had merely turned in at the wrong door.
The old couple seemed barely to recognize that he was there.
We all stumbled out of the dining hall into the corridor. Two more Imagawa soldiers lay dead there, and the elder Little Brother was standing impassive above them. Emi and I started to run toward the front door to see who our rescuers might have been, but Lady Chiyome called out sharply, “Stay here, young idiots! We don’t know who those horsemen are!”
Continue reading Read Risuko: Chapter 7 — Wind (Kunoichi, Takeda) →
Ch. 6 — Tea and Cakes.
Risuko discovers that waking up in a war zone can lead to surprises. (Author David Kudler says, “One of my favorite chapters!”)
A rumble woke us all the next morning. It sounded like a peal of distant thunder. But Mieko and Kuniko were already on their feet before I could sit up and wipe the sleep from my eyes.
“What is it?” I asked Emi, who was rubbing her eyes next to me. “It’s awfully cold for thunder and lightening, isn’t it? And it doesn’t feel like an earthquake….”
Emi shook her head and scowled. We both listened carefully as we pulled on our clothes—mine still slightly damp from the night before, smelling faintly of stale soy sauce and burnt rice.
Another low rumble shook the morning silence. From where I had been sleeping near the kitchen, I could see a grey, thin light leaking beneath the outer kitchen door.
We began to fold away our bedding with a sense of uncertain urgency. I was about to ask again what that rumble might have been, when a new sound broke the silence and explained everything. It was a sharp, high crack. Musket fire. And not very far away, from the sound of it.
My legs went cold and I dropped my bedroll.
The battle had come to us. Continue reading Read Risuko — Chapter 6: Tea and Cakes →