"Very little," she replied. "It was with their help that Lord Takeo climbed into Inuyama. I suppose we are all in their debt in that respect."
Speaking Takeo's name made her shiver. She recalled the feel of his body against hers, at that moment when they both expected to die. Her eyes darkened, her face softened. Arai was aware of it, without knowing the reason, and when he spoke again she heard something else in his voice besides rage.
"Another marriage can be arranged for you. There are other young men of the Otori, cousins to Shigeru. I will send envoys to Hagi."
"I am in mourning for Lord Shigeru," she replied. "I cannot consider marriage to anyone. I will go home and recover from my grief." Will anyone ever want to marry me, knowing my reputation, she wondered, and could not help following with the thought: Takeo did not die. She had thought Arai would argue further, but after a moment he concurred.
"Maybe it's best that you go to your parents. I will send for you when I return to Inuyama. We will discuss your marriage then."
"Will you make Inuyama your capital?"
"Yes. I intend to rebuild the castle." In the flickering light his face was set and brooding. Kaede said nothing. He spoke again abruptly. "But to return to the Tribe: I had not realized how strong their influence must be. To make Takeo walk away from such a marriage, such an inheritance, and then to conceal him completely...to tell you the truth, I had no idea what I was dealing with." He glanced again toward Shizuka.
He will kill her, she thought. It's more than just anger at Takeo's disobedience: His self-esteem has been deeply wounded too. He must suspect Shizuka has been spying on him for years. She wondered what happened to the love and desire that had existed between them. Had it all dissolved overnight? Did the years of service, the trust, and loyalty, all come to nothing?
"I shall make it my business to find out about them," he went on, almost as if he were speaking to himself. "There must be people who know, who will talk. I cannot let such an organization exist. They will undermine my power as the white ant chews through wood."
Kaede said, "I believe it was you who sent Muto Shizuka to me, to protect me. I owe my life to that protection. And I believe I kept faith with you in Noguchi Castle. Strong bonds exist between us and they shall be unbroken. Whoever I marry will swear allegiance to you. Shizuka will remain in my service and will come with me to my parents' home."
He looked at her then, and again she met his gaze with ice in her eyes. "It's barely thirteen months since I killed a man for your sake," he said. "You were hardly more than a child. You have changed...."
"I have been made to grow up," she replied. She made an effort not to think of her borrowed robe, her complete lack of possessions. I am the heir to a great domain, she told herself. She continued to hold his eyes until he reluctantly inclined his head.
"Very well. I will send men with you to Shirakawa, and you may take the Muto woman."
"Lord Arai." Only then did she drop her eyes and bow.
Arai called to Niwa to make arrangements for the following day, and Kaede bade him good night, speaking with great deference. She felt she had come out of the encounter well; she could afford to pretend that all power lay on his side.
She returned to the women's rooms with Shizuka, both of them silent. The old woman had already spread out the beds, and now she brought sleeping garments for them before helping Shizuka undress Kaede. Wishing them good night, she retired to the adjoining room.
Shizuka's face was pale and her demeanor more subdued than Kaede had ever known it. She touched Kaede's hand and whispered, "Thank you," but said nothing else. When they were both lying beneath the cotton quilts, as mosquitoes whined around their heads and moths fluttered against the lamps, Kaede could feel the other woman's body rigid next to hers, and knew Shizuka was struggling with grief. Yet, she did not cry.
From Grass For His Pillow: Tales of the Otori Part Two by Lian Hearn © August 2003 , Riverhead Books used by permission.
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