by Daidoji Gisei


    The breeze from the south always had a tang. Gisei supposed it was unpleasant, but she had ceased to recognize it as such. Standing on the heights of the Wall the Daidoji samurai-ko was conscious only of how it cooled her and dried the sweat generated by her morning drills.

    It had been many days since the Crab had found her in the Shadowlands, raving and half-dead with thirst. She had been carrying the daishos of her fallen comrades and insisting that she had to take them back home, and it was this that led the Hiruma scouts to take her back to the Wall, and not dispose of her immediately as a possible threat. The Kuni had tested her thoroughly for Taint and pronounced her clean. The Hida had been kind to her, in Crab fashion: making jokes about the fact she had been walking in the wrong direction, and doing their best to get her drunk in the evenings spent at local sake houses. Gisei stayed relentlessly sober and thanked the Fortunes for rude, noisy samurai who filled up the silence and made thought impossible.

    Now she stood on the Wall, silent and thoughtful. She had written her lord for permission to seppuku for failing to die with the rest of her unit, permission that was sure to be denied. Gisei had never been considered more than a competent bushi, but with so many Crane samurai fallen in the battle with the Shadow even competence was valuable. So now she had, for the first time in her life, both a future and time to brood over it. Unless a Hida intervened.

    "Gisei-san! We call that way 'south'!" Hisui-Okami's voice was loud and full of laughter.

    "Maybe if you wrote a poem about it you would have an easier time remembering." Yagimaki was better at keeping his voice neutral, but nothing could disguise the mischief in his eyes.

    Gisei took a deep breath and bowed in greeting. "Good morning Yagimaki-san, Hisui-Okami-san."

    "You look very serious," Yagimaki said, sketching a bow in return. "Surely you have some deep insight to Shinsei's wisdom to share with us."

    "So sorry, no. I was just thinking--" Gisei's words halted briefly, then rushed out as a thought suddenly crystallized. "I have heard that the Crab will capture goblins and then release them later to use as archery targets."

    "Yes, and...?" The Hida glanced at each other.

    "Do the goblins run because they think they have escaped," Gisei asked, "or do they simply not know what else to do?"

    The two Crabs stared at her in silent, stunned amazement. Finally Hisui-Okami spoke. "They're goblins, Gisei-san. Who cares what they think?"

    Gisei sighed. "No one, indeed. A stupid question-so sorry." She bowed a farewell to the pair and turned to go, her eyes caught for a moment by the vast, wild beauty of the Changing Lands. Then she turned her back on it and walked slowly down the stairs.