In another part of the forest, a group of Kurokawa samurai in the command of the guard captain of the summer residence came upon their lord. He was sitting on a rock at the side of the road, and when he made no motion to even indicate he knew they were there, the guard captain dismounted and quickly marched over to kneel before him.
“My lord. Thank the heavens you’re safe!”
“No thanks to you, Captain.” The daimyo declared in a cold angry voice, not even looking at the men. “You will atone for your mistake by the morning, I trust?”
“Y-yes, my lord.” Stammered the samurai. “My second will deliver my head to you at dawn.”
It was then that Kurokawa finally nodded, stood up, and looked at him. “Good. What has been done?”
“Master Gempei has led horsemen in pursuit of the fugitives, the borders have been ordered closed, and several hundred of your samurai ride to assist Gempei.”
Kurokawa let himself smile at that.
“Tighten the nets, Captain. Let none of them escape the Kurokawa lands.”
* * *
The trio’s enemies were many, and their goal was obvious, Jiro thought. There were few ways they could even the odds, and fewer still now that he knew what Masato knew. All of Lord Kurokawa’s plans were resting on this trap, and Jiro and his apprentice needed to be stopped at all costs- no expense would be spared to find them. Their horses needed rest, but the couriers of the Kurokawa would have fresh horses, and signal fires would have been lit long ago. The borders would be closed at all possible crossing points, and likely even the fishermen’s boats would be under watch soon enough.
There was no way for them to return to their lands directly.
But indirectly- that was another story.
It was as the sun set on the second day that Jiro led his two charges up the misty mountain pass and through the growing shadows of the narrow cleft. They had been riding south, higher up into the mountains instead of west towards the lowlands of home. It was a risk, and one which Jiro knew put the life of his lord on the line, but he saw few other ways to go about it.
Focussed as he was on pursuit, it was Masato’s gasp that first told him that their goal was within sight, and Jiro turned to look up into a glorious sight that few who had seen would forget in their lifetimes- the Temple of the Waterfalls.
Built in some past age, the towering old Buddhist temple sat on the edge of a cliff where the mighty Mogami river poured into the valley below it. High stone walls were topped by the broad and slightly bowed dark roofs that marked a temple of the Buddhist way. Next to this sentinel, the raging brown river flowed out from between a series of rocks that jutted out from the Cliffside, as though a hand were coming up from beneath, and the water was flowing through the giant’s fingers.
Jiro took a minute to let the boys admire the view, especially since the last edge of the sun lit up the temple and surrounding trees like they were on fire, and in truth he was more than a little impressed himself.
“Quite the sight, isn’t it boys?”
“Just amazing, sensei!” Masato said, openmouthed.
“Yamaguchi-san,” Taro asked, concerned. “Are were here to hide? I thought we were returning home?”
Jiro smiled. “We are, young lord. There are a series of bridges that connect this temple to the land on the other side of the river, and to home. By crossing here, we will avoid the Kurokawa and can be back in Inuyama land tonight.”
“Really?” The boy brightened, his earlier seriousness lost to youth again. “That’s wonderful!”
“Will they really help us, Sensei?” Masato asked, suddenly uncertain.
“They will,” Jiro assured him. “The Abbot Kiyomizu who runs this temple is an old friend of our lord, and I have met him a number of times. He has no interest in politics, but I believe he will help us in the name of mercy and preserving life.”
“That’s great!” Masato opined, then spun around and looked at their charge. “C’mon lord, race you to the front gate!”
“You want to lose again?” Taro laughed, and both kicked their horses and raced ahead.
Jiro thought about scolding them as he watched them go, but decided against it. The two had become friends in the past two days, and Masato had done well in helping Taro to forget the betrayal of his brother. He urged his horse forward and followed them, sparing one last glance up at the temple.
Somewhere in the distance, a wolf gave its first howl of the night.
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