"What is it?" Shizuka heard the movement and ran to her side. Kaede looked at Shizuka and saw the deep concern in her eyes. She realized how precious this woman had become to her-her closest, indeed her only friend.
"Nothing. A half-dream."
"Are you all right? How do you feel?"
"I don't know. I feel..." Kaede's voice died away. She gazed at Shizuka for several moments. "Have I been asleep all day? What happened to me?"
"He shouldn't have done it to you," Shizuka said, her voice sharp with concern and anger.
"It was Takeo?"
Shizuka nodded. "I had no idea he had that skill. It's a trait of the Kikuta family."
"The last thing I remember is his eyes. We gazed at each other and then I fell asleep."
After a pause Kaede went on: "He's gone, hasn't he?"
"My uncle, Muto Kenji, and the Kikuta master Kotaro came for him last night," Shizuka replied.
"And I will never see him again?" Kaede remembered her desperation the previous night, before the long, deep sleep. She had begged Takeo not to leave her. She had been terrified of her future without him, angry and wounded by his rejection of her. But all that turbulence had been stilled.
"You must forget him," Shizuka said, taking Kaede's hand in hers and stroking it gently. "From now on, his life and yours cannot touch."
Kaede smiled slightly. I cannot forget him, she was thinking. Nor can he ever be taken from me. I have slept in ice. I have seen the White Goddess.
"Are you all right?" Shizuka said again, with urgency. "Not many people survive the Kikuta sleep. They are usually dispatched before they wake. I don't know what it has done to you." "It hasn't harmed me. But it has altered me in some way. I feel as if I don't know anything--as if I have to learn everything anew."
Shizuka knelt before her, puzzled, her eyes searching Kaede's face. "What will you do now? Where will you go? Will you return to Inuyama with Arai?"
"I think I should go home to my parents. I must see my mother. I'm so afraid she died while we were delayed in Inuyama for all that time. I will leave in the morning. I suppose you should inform Lord Arai."
"I understand your anxiety," Shizuka replied, "but Arai may be reluctant to let you go."
"Then I shall have to persuade him," Kaede said calmly. "First I must eat something. Will you ask them to prepare some food? And bring me some tea, please."
"Lady." Shizuka bowed to her and stepped off the veranda. As she walked away Kaede heard the plaintive notes of a flute played by some unseen person in the garden behind the temple. She thought she knew the player, one of the young monks from the time when they had first visited the temple to view the famous Sesshu paintings, but she could not recall his name. The music spoke to her of the inevitability of suffering and loss. The trees stirred as the wind rose, and owls began to hoot from the mountain.
Shizuka came back with the tea and poured a cup for Kaede. She drank as if she were tasting it for the first time, every drop having its own distinct, smoky flavor against her tongue. And when the old woman who looked after guests brought rice and vegetables cooked with bean curd, it was as if she had never tasted food before. She marveled silently at the new powers that had been awakened within her.
"Lord Arai wishes to speak with you before the end of the day," Shizuka said. "I told him you were not well, but he insisted. If you do not feel like facing him now, I will go and tell him again."
"I am not sure we can treat Lord Arai in that fashion," Kaede said. "If he commands me, I must go to him."
"He is very angry," Shizuka said in a low voice. "He is offended and outraged by Takeo's disappearance. He sees in it the loss of two important alliances. He will almost certainly have to fight the Otori now, without Takeo on his side. He'd hoped for a quick marriage between you-"
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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