Bees hovering over flowers

Meeting the Queen Bee (Kano sneak preview)

Here’s another peak at Kano, book 3 in Seasons of the Sword (coming April 30, 2024).

Risuko and her friends have finally reached the capital. In this scene, they’re headed to an evening at the theater with Masugu’s older sister Yamamoto Yaeko. They’re there to meet an important new character: Lord Oda’s young half-sister, Lady Hachihime.

David Kudler

Meeting the Queen Bee

The theater was in a building that looked as if it had been a temple at some point. Over the wide doors, in gold leaf so faded and flaking that it was barely legible, a legend read, The blessed hear about the Buddha of Infinite Light and call him to mind again and again in the Pure Land.

Richly dressed men and women flowed through the entrance, but just to the side a tiny lady in a bright furisode [a long-sleeved kimono traditionally worn by unmarried women] was berating the leader of a small group of armed men. “No, Kuroi, I won’t have you coming into the theater with me like a bunch of sharks and scaring everyone away.” When the man just grunted, she looked over to us. “Look! There’s Lady Yamamoto and some friends. They don’t need guards. Who’s going to attack me in the theater, silly man?”

The soldier tried to object, but the young woman turned her back on him and strode away toward us, daffodil-bedecked fan sweeping negligently before her. “Yaeko!” she called. “How lovely to see you! Who are these lovely ladies?”

“Good evening, Hachihime-sama,” answered Yaeko with what was, for her, a respectful bow. “May I present Lady Monogami Kuniko, late of Wingtip Province? And these are her ladies Emi, Toumi, and Risuko.”

We each bowed as she introduced us.

The small noblewoman gave a slight bow to Mieko and Yaeko, arched an eyebrow as she took the rest of us in, and then snorted when she looked at me. “Risuko? Oh, I like you. You’re shorter than I am.”

That was only true because of the elevated wooden sandals she wore, but I wasn’t going to point that out. “Yes, my lady.” I thought to tell her my real name, but didn’t trust myself not to blurt out, Hello, my name is Kano Murasaki, and my friends and I are in the capital to avenge our families on your brother.

“Now, Yaeko, Kuniki-san,” she buzzed, “I hope that you will attend the plays with me. My brother sent these dirt clods to reserve seats for me, but I would much rather attend in your company than theirs.”

Mieko bowed decorously. “It would be our pleasure, Oda-sama.”

“Kuroi,” Hachihime called out to her guard commander, “you can wait for me here. I am certain that these ladies will make sure that no harm comes to me in that wild, lawless place.” She nodded toward the theater.

Yes, I thought, fidgeting with the caltrops in my sleeves. Though if we wanted to do you harm, you are making it very easy for us.

The guard gritted his teeth. “Yes, my lady. We will wait for you here.” He bowed stiffly and went back to his men, who took up stations on either side of the theater entrance.

Hachihime linked her arms through Mieko and Yaeko’s and led them toward the doors. My friends and I followed.

It was funny to see a grown woman who was no taller than I. In her elegant, long-sleeved robes, honey bees swarming over the hydrangea-blue silk, she seemed an imposing figure, but listening to her gossip with the two older women, I realized that in fact she was almost certainly younger than either Mieko or Yaeko — perhaps only a few years older than Emi, Toumi, and I were.

And yet her brother had been our fathers’ lord.

Thinking about it made my stomach clench.

“No wonder Yaeko-san calls her a brat,” muttered Toumi.

I expected Emi to shush her, but instead my tall friend hummed thoughtfully.

Before I could say anything, however, we entered the theater.

Where the outside of the building had been drab and a bit scruffy, like an abandoned hawk’s nest, the interior shone — not unlike the Gold Room back at the Takeda mansion.

That was only partly because of the lanterns strategically lifted into the rafters. The open space where the audience sat was filled with rows of cushions in rich colors. And opposite the entrance rose the stage: a platform of polished pine covered by a slanted roof, like a small tea house without walls. Or, rather, with only one wall at the back, painted with a twisted old pine like some of the ones I had climbed back in Serenity. A raised walkway, itself partly shielded by a row of living dwarf pines in pots, led from the platform to a curtain and what looked like another small house, this one fully enclosed.

On a small porch-platform to the right, a line of men in dark kimonos knelt, unmoving, facing the stage. Each had a folded fan on the floor in front of him.

Toumi bounced on her toes, and Emi and I shared a grin at her delight.

Hachihime led us to a group of cushions right at the edge of the front of the stage; they were marked with the Oda melon-blossom mon. “I love these seats,” Hachihime whispered loudly to Mieko. “I can see everything, and — of course — everyone can see me.”

Mieko agreed politely and we all sat.

I was about to ask my friends what to expect when three men — two with drums and one with a small flute — came out of the curtained house and made their way down the walkway toward the stage.

A hush enveloped the crowd.

Pre-Order Kano Today!

Coming April 30, 2024

Seasons Of The Sword:

  1. Risuko (Winter)
  2. Bright Eyes (Spring)
  3. Kano (Summer — coming soon!)
  4. Autumn — coming soon!


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