Flower Spelling - Chapter 29.1
Chapter 29 – Inn of Spring Rain Part 1
A journey that may seem unpredictable at first, but as you progress, you’ll gradually get the hang of it. Learning to dress quickly and borrowing a privy from a farmer――Previously, she had simply settled it on the grass around the corner (!)――Even her ability to handle pushy touts improved.
Her greatest concern was her physical fitness, but she managed to do it, albeit deceptively.
What makes a trip special is the local specialties and the breathtaking landscapes. Uiro (sweet rice cake) in Odawara, unagi (broiled eel) in Hara, the shimmering sea of Sagami Bay, the vivid green of the mountains and fields. And then there are the funny stories you hear from fellow travellers and mako.
It was an experience that could never have been achieved in Edo.
The pine-lined path along the Suruga Bay soon deviated from the sea and turned inland. As Sogetsu continued on the path, something struck him as odd about the scenery and she tilted her head.
Wondering what that was――
“I see, I am looking in reverse.”
As she said this aloud, Takasugi, who was walking slightly ahead of her, halted and glanced back at her.
“Oh, Mt. Fuji.”
Following Sogetsu’s gaze, his eyes narrowed dazzlingly.
Since Edo, Fuji has existed in the landscape as if it were a constant guardian when one looked to the right, and for Sogetsu it was a source of comfort and familiarity. That Fuji is.
“So it appears to look to the left over here.”
“The road from Hara to Yoshiwara turns to the northwest. Even the famous Master Saigyo was surprised to hear it called ‘Saigyo’s Left Fuji’.”
“Well, it’s famous.” She nodded, impressed. “Saigyo, he was about. A man who sang a song about wanting to die in spring, and then really died in spring.”
“It’s a bit sketchy that you know.” Shido, who was supposed to be walking a long way ahead, somehow returned and sniffed at her.
“How rude, I know exactly what it means. A wandering poet, wasn’t he? Um, I think it’s…”
Sogetsu lightly squeezed her eyes, as if extracting a memory,
――Let me die in spring
under the blossoming trees,
let it be around
that full moon of
“… Was that it?”
It was an old literature class, a subject she was not fond of, but the fact that he died in the season as the song goes was impressive to her, so she remembered it.
“Well, I didn’t know you had any knowledge of waka. Come on, write one for me.”
“Eh, now? Suddenly saying that out of the blue――”
Unfortunately, Sogetsu had no background in poetry. When she observed Takasugi and his friends showing each other their Chinese poetry at the clan residence, she thought it was cool, but never did she consider composing her own.
She was about to say “I can’t” when she met Shido’s nasty eyes. Sogetsu’s competitive spirit immediately kicked in.
“Let’s see… let’s get to the heart of the matter.”
Coughing and clearing her throat.
I shall arrive at the capital of Kyo today
Spring is the time of the crescent moon of Yayoi.
“What’s with that!”
“That’s the way it is.”
Takasugi and Shido burst out laughing like they couldn’t take it anymore.
“What’s the big idea, when people do a great job of it.”
Sogetsu, initially discouraged, eventually began to laugh along with them. The three of them, clutching their bellies and laughing, were passed by a traveller who cast a curious sideways glance at them.
It was nearly time to arrive at Yoshiwara inn.
Spring weather tends to be fickle, so it was not long before the sky, which had been so bright and sunny, became overcast, and by the time they realized what was happening, it was far too late and the cold rain began to pour down in torrents.
It had rained a few times on the way, but never this heavily. Soaking wet, with no bamboo rain hat or raincoat, they managed to reach the inn and settled down in a small yet clean and cozy inn, by the time the sun had completely set.
After changing into a dry kimono, Sogetsu finally felt comfortable, her cheeks relaxed.
“Oh, I’ve calmed down now. I thought I was near freezing to death in this cold rain. I’m really glad you’re here, Heita.”
“You’re overreacting, brother.”
It was Heita, a servant at the inn, who chuckled, revealing a mouth full of missing teeth in places.
When Sogetsu and her friends stepped into the inn, shivering and shaking, he was the first to speak to them. Heita, who was still eight years old, was working tirelessly as a live-in worker to earn money for his sick mother’s medicine.
Apart from Sogetsu and the three of them, only one other couple, an elderly pair, were there, apparently on their way to Ise. With the exception of a man who seemed to be a local who had paid Heita a visit earlier, there were no other visitors, and it was quite serene.
“The wet kimono is drying by the fireplace, and should be dry by tomorrow, I suppose,” Heita said as he served supper to the three of them.
On the table was a delicious-looking dish of rice, steaming miso soup, fish grilled to perfection, and pickles.
First of all, the miso soup brought a warm sensation that spread from within the body. Next, the fish was fresh, odorless, and full of flavor, with the texture of the fish wonderfully tender.
Saying this, Heita turned his chest away happily.
“Is that so? Just around here there’s a river where you can catch a lot of big fish. The ones caught in the morning are the freshest. There’s some left, if you want, I’ll wrap it up with some rice balls for tomorrow’s bento.”
“Thanks for that.” Takasugi took a sip of his sake. “By the way, did you catch this fish?”
“Yes. But I go to the river for more than just fishing.”
Heita took out a drawstring from his waist and opened it to display it to me.
Within were small stones, about the size of a marble, packed together. The faint blue and silver color of the stones looks like colorful candy beads.
“Isn’t it beautiful? I found it by the riverbed.” He smiled, putting it away again.
“But picking up stones is boring for a samurai.”
After a moment of hesitation, he added. “There’s a gambling hut two streets over at the end, but I wouldn’t recommend it too highly. If you like, go there later.”
Sogetsu watched Takasugi and Shido leave, thinking that there was nothing else to do, and retired to bed early to be ready for tomorrow.
How long had she been asleep? The presence of someone jolted her awake.
Did Mr. Takasugi and Mr. Shido return…?
Peeking through the shoji, a small figure could be spotted stepping out through the shutter.
The seclusion of the privy caused her uneasy. Sogetsu dressed swiftly and headed out of the inn after him.
The rain had gone beyond the peak of its intensity, and it was now drizzling so hard even without the need for an umbrella. The rain made the road muddy and dark, and Heita trudged on without a light. Before Sogetsu was aware of it, she had reached the outskirts of a sparsely populated town. Only one house was lighted.
Is here some sort of gambling hut?… Not good.
Out of nowhere, a man with a light appeared, and Sogetsu hurriedly concealed herself in a bush beside him.
Just exactly what is going on here?
Holding her breath, she monitored Heita and the man.
“You’re late, kid.”
It was the man who spoke up first.
“I had a hard time leaving out of sight. More importantly, the promised item.”
“Oh, you little brat, you talk big, here you go.”
Heita snatched the pouch that the man crudely presented to him and checked inside. As soon as he did, he looked up.
“What the hell is this! This is not the money you promised.”
“Ha! That’s my line. There were supposed to be three young men, yet only two showed up. Where’s the other one?”
“He said he’s tired, so he’s resting now. What’s the problem, I still introduced you to two people. Pay me properly.”
“Don’t be such a brat. Bring me one more and I’ll pay you the rest.”
The man grabbed Heita by the chest and lifted him up with ease.
“Damn it, let go of me!”
Heita’s face twisted in rage and pain when suddenly, a long strand of hair flashed across his vision.
Sogetsu slid her body between Heita and the man and forcibly pulled them apart.
The man’s thin lips contorted at the sight of Sogetsu, who stood protectively over Heita.
“Oh, so you’re the other one.”
Sogetsu recognized the man’s face. In the evening, he was the man who had dropped by the inn.
“I don’t fully comprehend the circumstances, but isn’t it a bit much to be violent with a child?”
“What a brave thing to do. If you are unaware, let me tell you. This kid was earning money by introducing guests of the inn to the gambling tables. He’d pick out the ones who were likely to have money, knowing that it was a gambling den specializing in cheating. I bet your friends are in a lot of trouble right now because they’ve been ripped off. You see? He’s just as bad as us.”
Sogetsu looked at Heita reflexively. Heita faced down in shame. His small hands, clenched tightly, trembled.
The words that she was about to deny were stuck in her throat and wouldn’t form.
“Is that true? Heita.”
When she was finally able to squeeze out her voice, it was so faint that even she felt pathetic.
――Is it true?
This child, who had such a carefree smile on his face, was helping the gamblers?
Yes, I can’t believe it. That Heita would do such a thing.
Sogetsu acted on her intuition.
She gripped Heita’s trembling hand and glared at the man.
“Heita is a hardworking boy with a good mind. Even if what you say is true, I believe there must be a reason for it.”
Heita raised his face at Sogetsu, seemingly on the verge of tears. Sogetsu squatted down, locked eye contact with him, and smiled lightly as if to reassure him.
“Heita, return to the inn first. I’m going to bring Mr. Takasugi and Mr. Shido back and get back later.”
“Hey, hey, don’t take this upon yourself on what will be happening next. You think I’m just going to let you go? Besides, I’ve got something better.”
The man approached Sogetsu with a sly smile. He almost caught her in his arms and she hurriedly shook off his hand to distance herself――But a split second before that, the man had seized her by the wrist.
“I knew it. I thought it was strange when we rubbed against each other earlier.――You’re a woman, aren’t you?”
Sogetsu’s figure stiffened.
… Oh no! I was sleeping and removed the breast binder!
“You’re a bit chubby, but might sell for around alcohol expenses.”
“――Hold on! What do you mean by ‘sell’!”
Heita, who had been looking down, raised up.
“You told me you were merely making a little money in gambling! You said nobody would get hurt.”
“Shut up! Just do as you’re told. If you understand, go and get the older brothers from the inside. We got a good one here.”
“… Got it.”
Heita bit his lip tightly but eventually nodded reluctantly. He glanced guiltily at Sogetsu. But ultimately, he disappeared towards the hut without uttering another word.
Leaving Sogetsu restrained to the man.
Mako – A person whose occupation was to pull horses to carry people and goods
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