The Road to Edo

Crouched in the back of the actors’ cart, Chiyoko hunched her shoulders against the cold, tucking her hands into the folds of her sleeves.

The actors around her were in high spirits, laughing and joking as they passed around a saki bottle. The only one who declined to drink when it was offered was the figure sitting opposite her.

Akira.

He had been staring at Chiyoko ever since they had taken their seats in the cart, and the journey had begun. Still in full make-up, his face painted white with elaborate black markings around his eyes and mouth, his gaze held an air of menace it might not otherwise have done. She was not a girl who frightened easily though, at least not these days, and she met his gaze with a cool stare of her own.

The saki bottle had found its way round to her, and she accepted it with smile and nod of thanks, taking a long drink. The bitter taste burned in the back of her throat, but it warmed her insides.

She passed the bottle along to the person seated next to her, and returned her attention to Akira.

He leaned forward towards her. She mimicked his movement, so that their faces almost touched.

“You seem very pleased with yourself, for someone who may have cursed us both.” he hissed.

Chiyoko rolled her eyes. “There are at least two Shinto shrines between here and Edo, and as soon as we reach one I am going to make an offering to the kami.”

Snorting derisively, Akira glanced around to make sure that their conversation was still private. “If you think the gods will here your prayers after you just murdered your own father, then you are even crazier than already presumed you to be.”

“You seem to have forgotten your own religion my friend.” she replied. “There is no absolute right and wrong in this world, and the gods are much less hasty to judge us, than we are to judge each other. The kami of my mother’s ancestors will accept my offerings and purification. No evil spirit will have a hope of getting near me.” She smiled at him coyly. “Perhaps you should try being a little nicer to me, or I might just forget to mention you in my prayers.”

Akira grabbed hold of her wrist and narrowed his eyes. “I helped you in your stupid love-sick plans.”

“And you were rewarded handsomely. Or was that someone else I saw, hiding money and gold away in a sack before we left?”

Snatching back her arm, Chiyoko raised a painted eyebrow at her at Akira. “Just keep your eyes open for a torii gate, I might miss it in the dark.”

Both figures sat back into the shadows of the cart. Chiyoko turned her attention to the back of the cart, where the open covering revealed the moonlight scenery outside.

It was a cloudless night, which explained the chill in the air, and pale white light bathed everything that they passed. In the distance the mountains were clearly visible, not shrouded in mist as they tended to be in the mornings, and the stars glittered like tiny diamonds in the sky.

If it wasn’t for the unusual clarity of the night, Chiyoko would have missed the torri gate just set back from the roadside.

“Stop!” she called.

There was a murmur of protest from the rest of the cart, as they tried to discern the problem in their drunken state, But Chiyoko placed her hands together and bowed her head apologetically.

Her demure appearance seemed to clam everyone, and she spoke softly. “Please, I wonder if we might for just a moment so that I can make on offering at the shrine?”

Heads turned in the direction that she pointed, and the gate was illuminated in the moonlight for all to see. A few of her travelling companions merely shrugged in indifference, and returned to their drinking, but a few others looked less compliant.

It was then that Akira spoke up.

“You must forgive her, but she is with child and her lover was killed only a few weeks ago.” He paused to see if his story was getting the right reaction. “That was when she joined the troupe, so that she could earn herself a some money and not have to travel alone. She has been anxious since we left Kyoto to stop and make an offering for the health for her child.”

This seemed to have struck the right chord with everyone, as one man shouted up to the front of the cart, and the horses stopped.

Chiyoko nodded her thanks, as she made her way to the back of the cart and climbed down. Behind the laughter returned as the saki bottle began its rounds again. She lifted the hem of her robe, made her way across a small patch of grass to the gate, and was about to make her way up the stairs that lead up to the shrine, when she heard a noise behind her.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Akira had jumped down from the back of the cart, and was making his way towards her. “I’m coming with you of course. Can’t have you climbing all the way up there in the dark by yourself; especially not in your . . . condition.”

Glowering, she turned her back on him. “I don’t need your help. Just make sure that they don’t leave without me.” She climbed the first two steps and then paused, turning back around to face him. “Don’t worry, I won’t forget to out in a good word for you.”

He continued to advance towards her, and climbed the same two steps so that they now stood side by side. He took hold of her arm, and made sure his grip was just tight enough to hurt a little. To anyone watching from the cart, he simply looked to be helping a pregnant girl make her way up the steps safely.

“You will have to forgive me, if your word alone doesn’t really inspire that much confidence in me.” he said. “Now, let’s go and get this purification done quickly. It’s a bad time of night to be hanging around so close to the spirit world.”

Chiyoko smirked. “Not afraid to cross over the threshold are you?”

“Why would I be?” Akira retorted. “I have you to protect me.”

 

The End

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