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Painted Feelings

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"Men...can be so fickle."

"Eh?! Shouldn't it be the other way around?" Ienaga snipped some of Tomoe's hair.

"No, I mean it. Men are fickle."

"And what brings you to that conclusion?" They were camped for the night. Their search for Akube wore on, but they could tell they were getting closer to him. The farther they delved into the forest, the more dead Mask clan men they saw.

"They move abut, never settling; switching to one side, proclaiming loyalty, the switching to the opposition --"

"Tactics, it's all about tactics, my little Tomoe." Ienaga smoothed over her trimmed hair.

"--moving from woman to woman."

"Ah, so that's why..." Ienaga moved to a nearby fallen tree and picked up his instrument. "Was it, by any chance, Akube's actions that led you to this?"

"All men have led me to this." Tomoe combed her fingers through her hair. "When all of this is over, I will become a servant of Buddha."

"A nun?!" Ienaga's fingers unceremoniously plucked at his instrument's strings. "Did you forget you're still Akube's wife?"

"Will Akube still want me as a wife?"

"You say it as if he hates you." Ienaga began to delicately pluck strings.

"Our last conversation was in anger --"

"You may have opened his eyes once more. He left the shogun position and the emperor to travel alone." Ienaga's eyes wandered.

"Point given: Men are so fickle." Tomoe pointed out. Ienaga sighed.

"You women..." Ienaga sighed.

"What? No comeback?" Tomoe giggled at her companion's loss of words. "How strange."

"Woman, get more sticks for the's dying down." Ienaga pointed a finger at her.

"Ah, men." Tomoe got up and wiped off the tendrils of hair and dirt from her legs. "Always, 'Tomoe this, Tomoe that; my little Tomoe this, my little Tomoe that' -- if you love me so much, come marry me and order me around like a proper husband."

"Fire wood!" he pointed in the opposite direction.

"Yeah, yeah," Tomoe picked up her weapon and vanished into the forest.

Ienaga plucked and tuned his instrument. "Did you hear that, Akube?" Ienaga turned to his left. "You can come out now."

He heard his former companion come from the other side of a large tree. "Have you stayed long?"

"I'm...glad," Akube rested against the tree he came from. Ienaga looked at him confused. "She's still alive."

"And you believed otherwise?" Ienaga began to strum his instrument again.

"Before I left, I encountered Tomonaga. He told me he met with Tomoe on his way to fight me -- his body was female."

"Ah, quite understandable. But you should at least have faith in your little wife. She has remained faithful to you all this time."

Akube remained silent and Ienaga gasped.

"Don't tell me you've betrayed her loving loyalty again."

A menacing growl from the warrior told him otherwise and the short-haired man laughed.

"Women...are easy to please. She will go to you." Ienaga looked at Akube. His hair had become longer and he looked disheveled. "You on the other hand, must prepare for her return. Come," he motioned for Akube to sit in front of him. "I will give you a haircut."

The two were quiet as Ienaga trimmed Akube's hair.

"You can stay tonight. I'm on watch duty."