Here’s the first sneak preview to Kano, the third book in the Seasons of the Sword series!
Obviously, there are spoilers for Risuko and Bright Eyes — if you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out first!
Chapter 1: Tiptown
Lady Hōjō,” sighed the Uesugi captain, “I can’t let you and your party through without an escort—there’s trouble on the other side of the province. We’ve already had to send half of the garrison west, so I can’t spare any men to protect you.”
Mieko gave him her most disgusted Lady Chiyome glare. “Ruffian.” She turned to me and Toumi, kneeling to her left in the captain’s office. “What will Masugu-sama think if we don’t arrive in the capital on time?”
I put my hand in her knee like the supportive lady’s maid that I supposedly was. “I’m sure the shōgun will understand if his cousin, your intended, has to change the wedding date.”
When Toumi gave a dismissive snort and muttered, “Sure he will,” Mieko covered her face in her hands and began to wail.
I handed her a silk handkerchief marked with the orange, three-triangle mon of her supposed clan.
The Uesugi commander ground his teeth, clearly unused to having to manage high-strung noble brides—or cunning kunoichi. “My lady…” He closed his eyes. “Can I get you something, my lady?”
This was the cue we had been waiting for. “Please,” I simpered, “if this humble servant might fetch her ladyship some wine, that might help our mistress’s nerves.”
“Yes, yes,” grumbled the captain. “The stores are immediately across the courtyard, to the right of the main gate.”
As I bowed, Mieko sniffled, “Oh, you go with her, Toumi. She’s always getting lost.”
“Yes, my lady,” said Toumi in a more than passably respectful manner. Really, if you didn’t know her, you might almost have thought she was sweet.
Toumi and I scurried out into the courtyard of the Tiptown garrison. It was quiet. Eerily so, since we knew that they were about to be attacked. The soldiers there looked anything but alert.
Emi and Aimaru stepped past a ragged line of marching pikemen to get to us. Like us, their clothes were marked with the Hōjō emblem — actually, it was simply embroidered over the blank, white disk that marked us as servants of the Full Moon. Emi said, “Is, um, our mistress all right?”
I expected Toumi to make a joke, but she kept up her respectful maid facade, and so I answered, “Mieko-sama is very upset. The captain suggested that we fetch her some sake.”
Aimaru nodded solemnly as he and Emi finally got close enough to whisper, “I’d like to see Mieko-san acting very upset.”
“It’s definitely weird,” Toumi granted with a shrug.
Feeling that time was tight, I whispered, “Armory?”
Emi answered, “To the left of the gate.”
Opposite the storeroom. One sentry at each door.
My heart thrashed at a like a sparrow trying to escape a drying net.
Mieko had talked us through all of this as we rode from the Highfield garrison across enemy lines to Tiptown. I forced the sparrow down my throat and back into my chest. “So. We get the wine. Then I’ll deal with the gunpowder. Toumi, you keep an eye on the door. Emi, you bring Mieko-sen… Mieko-sama the sake. And Aimaru—”
“Get the horses ready. Just in case.”
They all nodded together.
Emi, Toumi, and Aimaru had all grown up on the streets of the capital. All three of them had done things like this in order to survive—risky, illegal things.
I had climbed up the outside of Lord Imagawa’s castle near our village—but I had done it out of boredom. And while I would have been beaten (or worse) if I’d been caught, I had known I wouldn’t be caught.
Who expected a little girl to climb up the stone walls of a castle?
But this? Walking into a room full of weapons in the middle of an armed fort that we knew was about to face an attack, even if the Uesugi didn’t?
“Come on, Murasaki,” said Emi, taking my hand and leading me across the courtyard. Aimaru split and sauntered out the gate toward where the horses we’d picked up in Highfield were tied.
When we got to the storeroom, there was a guard at the door, looking thoroughly bored. “This where the wine’s kept?” asked Toumi.
When the guard just stared at her, I said, in my meekest servant-girl voice, “Pardon, sir, but the captain and our lady have commanded us humble servants to bring them sake. If the wine is stored here, may we enter?”
He rolled his eyes, but stepped aside.
The storeroom was huge — and a mess. Kee Sun would not have approved. Rats scurried as we walked past haphazardly stacked bags of rice and barley toward the back, where sealed jars of sake lay in a pile next to what looked like Uesugi battle flags mixed with winter jackets.
“How can they keep track of anything?” murmured Emi, her habitual frown deepening.
“Don’t care,” grunted Toumi, grabbing two jars of sake. “And they won’t either after the Takeda kick them out.” She handed one jar to Emi and the other to me. Then she grinned. “Think I’ll take another of these, since it won’t do them any good.”
“Toumi!” Emi and I gasped.
She rolled her eyes at us. “Not for me, baka. You’ll see.”
Emi’s frown now deepened to a scowl, and I’m sure my expression wasn’t much sunnier. However, we needed to keep moving—before our absence was noted. Or I lost my nerve.
As we came back out of the stores, Toumi nodded to the bored soldier and showed him the wine jar. “Thanks. Our bosses will be really happy.” Then she flicked her head toward the guard in front of the armory, “Hey, what’s the name of your friend over there?”
He stared at her again, then gave a grunt and said, “Joshi. Why?”
Toumi shot him a grin and sloshed her wine. “’Cause I’d like to be happy too, and I thought you and your buddy might want to join me.”
He gave a gruff laugh. “Are you old enough to be drinking wine?”
“Old enough to want to!” answered Toumi with a grin that didn’t look right on her face.
“Toumi!” Emi’s voice was disapproving, and I think she was only partially acting.
“Oh, come on. You two get to go into where Lady Mieko and the captain are having their fun. I get to sit out here. Can’t blame me for taking advantage of the opportunity. Come on.” She winked at us and, as we walked away, said to the bored guard over her shoulder. “Be right back!”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I whispered.
“Hey, I’m not stupid,” Toumi whispered back. “Not gonna actually drink any of it. It’s just like those endless drinking games Sachi-sensei made us play with water, right? And it’s the best way of getting you into the armory, Mouse.”
“All right,” I conceded.
Emi added, “Be careful.”
“Sure. I might almost think you care,” she said with a grin that was more like her—knife-sharp and dangerous.
“We do,” I answered.
Rather than answer me, Toumi called to the guard in front of the armory, “Hey, Joshi-san!” When the guard blinked at her, she gave her sake jar a wet shake. “Your pal at the storerooms was planning on showing me some drinking games, and said you might like to join us.”
He tried to look stern, but licked his lips. “Zashiki said that?”
“Yup. Said you knew some fun ones.”
“Oh, sure.” He smiled, and I realized with a start that he didn’t look any older than Aimaru. With a laugh, he abandoned his post and joined Toumi crossing the courtyard toward the much-less-bored-looking Zashiki.
I was about to point out that Toumi was actually frighteningly good at that when Emi whispered, “No one’s looking. Go in.”
And so before I could think about it, I moved my wine jar to my left hand, slid open the door to the armory, and stepped through.
Emi slid the door behind me, no doubt heading off to deliver the remain jar of wine to Mieko, and I was alone in a room full of the instruments of death and destruction.
The “armory” at the Full Moon was just a corner of the storeroom that held a dozen long-bladed glaives, a half-dozen swords, a handful of bows, stacks of arrows, some helmets, and a few suits of armor. Plenty to defend Lady Chiyome’s school for shrine maidens — and assassins.
The Tiptown garrison’s armory was intended to supply a small army and defend the western half of Dark Letter Province from invasion by the Takeda.
Where the food and goods in the storeroom had been piled haphazardly, here the soldiers’ equipment was arranged with the precision of a scribe’s tools: neat stacks of long katanas, short wakazashis, and even shorter daggers, sheathed, but still deadly. Pikes and glaives, long and short bows, bushels of arrows, mounds of neatly piled armor parts—helmets, gauntlets, chest plates, bracers for the arms, pauldrons for the shoulders, sabatons for the feet, greaves for the legs, and more.
And in the very back corner, on wooden pegs all of the way to the high ceiling, perhaps forty muskets, and below them, the things that made those strange looking contraptions of metal and wood lethal: boxes that I knew must contain bullets and thirty or so sealed ceramic canisters marked 火薬. Gunpowder.
Captain Yamagata, the Takeda commander of the garrison at Highfield, had simply told us to neutralize the Uesugi guns. He hadn’t cared how.
Earlier that day, riding from the Takeda garrison to the Uesugi one, Mieko had asked us how we would do such a thing.
Toumi had answered very simply, “Use a flint. Boom.”
Mieko had actually laughed at that. “True. That would be extremely effective. It would also probably kill whichever of us managed to do it, and would put the Uesugi on high alert, which Yamagata-san and his men would rather we not do, since they are marching only a few hours behind us. Any other ideas?”
Aimaru had suggested stealing them, but had granted with a smile that there probably too much to take, and someone would certainly notice.
Emi had suggested smashing the jars, but Toumi had pointed out the sound would certainly attract notice, and I added that they still might be able to use some of the powder.
Mieko had nodded in approval, and then said, “Risuko-chan, you grew up near a castle. Did you ever watch the musketeers training?”
I nodded. I’d loved to spy on them from the pine trees near our village, watching them fire at targets set against the base of the cliff below the castle.
“Did you ever watch them when it was raining?”
I’d frowned as I rocked unsteadily on the back of the Takeda charger. “Yes, once.” I visualized the chaotic scene. “They were practicing, when we were hit by a sudden shower. They went scurrying, covering everything with tarps and umbrellas!”
“Yes. I will tell you all a secret about gunpowder: once it gets wet, it can’t ever be used. Even a tea-cup’s worth of liquid poured into a canister of gunpowder will turn it into so much dirt.”
“Oh!” I could see what she was suggesting. “So we get their powder wet, and make it so they can’t use their guns, like Yamagata-san asked, and it doesn’t make any noise!”
Emi jumped in, saying, “And they won’t even know what’s happened until it’s too late.”
I opened my sake jar, and then took the lid off of the first canister of gunpowder. The smell was an odd combination—the bit of the familiar scent of charcoal and a touch of the rotten-egg scent of the hot springs above the Full Moon. I poured what seemed like a tea cup of wine in, put the lid back on the canister, shook it a couple of times, and moved to the next canister.
Do no harm, my father had begged me as he walked away that last time, toward Lord Imagawa and his doom.
Well, I wasn’t hurting anyone, was I? In fact, I was making it so the musketeers couldn’t hurt anyone.
I was also making it so they couldn’t defend themselves. I wasn’t sure whether my father would have approved or not.
I was very conscious of how long it was taking me to sabotage each container of black powder. I tried to be as quick as I could while still being careful, not letting any of the powder spill.
I was putting the lid back on the last canister when I heard the door to the armory slide open.
“You really don’t need to show me! I believe you!” Toumi’s voice, which she was trying to keep as light and jocular as before, had an edge of panic that set off my own fear like a spark to unspoiled gunpowder.
“No, no, no,” said Zashiki, the storeroom guard, sounding as if he’d had more than a tea-cup’s worth of sake himself. “You must see, we have over forty muskets, the Takeda wouldn’t dare attack us here.”
“Tha’s right,” the young guard, Joshi, slurred, “they’d be idiots t’even try!”
Hearing their footsteps, I realized that I had little time to hide, and so, without thinking, I did what I do best: I climbed.
What do you think? How will Risuko get out of this sticky situation?
Can one girl save a nation?
With Japan’s future in the balance, Risuko may recover the Kano clan’s honor — or she may destroy it forever
Lord Takeda has sent Risuko, Emi, and Toumi on a mission to the capital. The road is dangerous. The destination is treacherous. Risuko — the girl who just likes to climb — must make a choice that will have repercussions not only for Risuko’s life and those of her friends, but possibly for all of Japan.
In this thrilling third book in the Seasons of the Sword, she encounters old friends, new enemies, and a strange boy from a far-off land called Portugal. Through raging battles and deadly court intrigue, Risuko must follow a path narrower and less stable than any pine branch. And the consequences should she fail are sharp and hard as rocks below.
The red-and-white disguise of the kunoichi awaits.
Is Risuko ready?
Seasons of the Sword: