Serpent of Time

Chapter 10

Moving On

The siege of Sakai was over, the city burned to the ground. Once the blockade lifted and the winter snows melted from the mountain passes, the overland traffic south and east from Kishiwada would resume.

Weather permitting, Ryô went to the beach and practiced her fencing drills with a piece of bamboo. She prowled the shops, piece by piece collecting the items she would need for her journey south. Returning to the inn, she’d stop in the town square to read the bulletins, always with a touch of trepidation, fearing she would find her own name posted there.

But also with the growing confidence that Hatakeyama Koreya believed her ashes blackened the earth beneath the keep.

In any case, she had to move on. Whether or not Sen had gotten out of Sakai before the siege ended, Ryô had to assume that the shogun—and Koreya—would start searching for a newly demonized Princess Ryô.

The landlady was getting impatient as well. She didn’t want to turn down a potential long-term lease as a favor to a fortnightly renter, and made no bones about dropping hints right and left.

“You won’t be staying with us much longer,” she said at dinner, as if repeating an already established fact.

Ryô had an answer ready. She nodded politely and said, “I’ll be leaving before the end of the month.”

She heard a little sigh of disappointment from Haru. Knowing she’d be missed by somebody perversely raised her spirits.

Back in her old life, Ryô would have gladly added a girl of Haru’s qualities to her retinue. But Haru had good prospects here, much better than Ryô’s. If Haru proved her loyalty and her worth, the landlady might adopt her and arrange a marriage with a low city merchant’s son. Family relations were the best way to secure a business’s future in uncertain times.

It was really no different than what the Yamakawa and Hatakeyama clans tried to do with Ryô, with the shogun ensuring the permanent demise of the Southern Court in the process. Whatever hardships she’d suffered since, Ryô didn’t regret rejecting that marriage proposal.

She finished putting her traveling kit together and only had to wait for good weather.

A stretch of warm winter days arrived a week later. On the morning of her departure, Ryô bid Haru and the landlady farewell, bowed deeply and gratefully, and strode away without looking back.

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