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A Bolt of Silk

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“Any news yet?” she asks Kimei. She has just persuaded Lady Kiku and Lord Tajima to rest. It is late now, the lanterns outside lit against the growing dark, and soon she will have to put away her sewing for a while to rest her eyes before continuing on.

These days, everything seems to make her tired.

“Not that I have heard.” Kimei comes to sit at her feet, glancing once at Izuna before sighing. “Hisa...what will we do if the Senju do not react?”

“They will.” She has heard more of Baron Senju in the past few days, from both Lord Tajima and Lady Kiku, both of whom have known the man for a long time now. She knows that when he breaks, it will be breaking and not merely bending.

Lady Kiku, especially, had turned to her, asking if it is really true that people will stop buying Senju goods over this — a young woman crying at a party — but it is more than that, and she had endeavored to explain.

In her world, reputation matters, and while each household had its grudges and squabbles with the neighbors, theirs is a regional city, not fond of outsiders butting into their business.

Whatever grudges and slights and faults they may have perceived about the House of Kawaguchi, her father’s reputation is sterling, and they belong to Chubu, their roots planted deeply in the region’s largest river.

Her grandfather might have been nothing more than a bond servant with delusions of grandeur, but his family had lived in the region for generations.

The merchant’s guild is a clannish people, and they take to outsiders with the suspicion of people who have often been bullied. The Senju have lobbed a stone through the paper screen, and the ranks have closed.

The Senju will react. It’s only a matter of it being early or late.

Early or late.

Early, and Izuna will live.

Late, and he—

Once again, his life is in the hands of the Senju. They have doctors.

It’s only a matter of how far they will bend.

How she could learn to resent the idea. His life should be in no one’s hands but his own.

After a time, Kimei rises to rearrange the lamp shield and bring in extra blankets. “I’ll be back,” she says before turning to go. “It shouldn’t take long.”

She nods, readjusting her sewing kit so it doesn’t block the light, and rises to stretch her legs.

The flicker of the candlelight casts a glow onto his face absent in the light of day. Odd, that he seems better for such dark times rather than the light.

She pulls the covers over him up a little, and the hand that had been resting atop them flips and latches onto her wrist.

She nearly screams, but manages more of a cut off gasp that doesn’t wake everyone in the house. He is awake, which means—

Which means—

“Who—” his eyes are open, red pinwheels spinning. “Hisa-san?” He attempts getting up but only manages halfway before she pushes him down by the shoulders.

“Don’t. You’ll rip out Jizen-sensei’s stitches, and then he’ll be very mad at you.” It’s only then that he seems to notice the candlelight, and his own injuries, a hand attempting to feel his bandaged side.

She catches it before he can. “Don’t do that either. You’ll aggravate it.”

She sets his hand back down on the covers. “I’ll go find someone. I’m sure your family would want to know that you’re awake.”

For days now, Izuna had been the axle upon which their Uchiha visitors had spun, no less than two in his sickroom at all times, waiting for the moment he might either wake up or cause greater grief.

But for the moment, they are alone. “Anija?” he whispers, suddenly frightened. “How did I get here? What—”

“Shhh.” She pauses, brings the lamp closer so that he can see where they actually are. “You’re where you usually stay. Your fourth brother brought you in. It has been some time, your parents are here.”

“Haha-ue?” At this, he looks positively more panicked. “Haha-ue is here?”

“Uchiha-sama is here as well.” This provokes a small weak sound from him. “They’ve been worried about you.” Careful to not disturb him, she sets the lamp down on the table on the end near him and rises to go. “I’ll go fetch someone to wake them.”

“Hisa-san?” he asks, voice small.

“Yes?” She pauses but does not turn around, her hand on the door. “What is it, Izuna-san?”

There’s only the sound of his breathing, louder now that he’s awake. “I’m sorry,” he says, and sounds contrite enough that she knows he means it, even if she doesn’t know what he’s sorry about. “It must’ve cost you.”

Much has cost her.

Many have cost her.

And yet, she doesn’t often expect apologies for such. “While you are here, you need never apologize for such.”

They are all family here, beloved people and dear to her heart.

Her family is small, without the history and numbers older families have, but family does not count debts or costs or scores to settle.

No apology is needed for whatever the cost is; those that are family to each other would pay it without a word.

“Oh,” he says, even softer.

She steps outside for a moment, and lets Nene know that Izuna has awoken and to inform Lord Tajima and Lady Kiku, who are both resting in the room across the courtyard, of this.

“Your hair is very long,” Izuna remarks when she comes back in.

“It has always been this length,” she says absently, before a hand flies to her hair, and she remembers that Kimei had taken it down and braided it before he woke up.

“It was always up before.” His gaze is now cast respectfully up at the canopy above his bed. “I didn’t know it was this long.”

“It will be up again shortly.” She sits down at the vanity quickly loosing it from the braid and twisting it to pin it back up, at least simply.

When he wasn’t awake, it was a different matter, but now that he does have eyes to see, it shouldn’t be down as though she is still a schoolgirl.

“Hisa-san.” He does not sound as though he is looking at her, but with her back to him, it is hard to tell. “Hisa-san, am I dying?”

She turns back to him, hair forgotten. “No.”

And she wishes she believes it.

“It is your favorite shape.” Momo swings her feet back and forth, not sitting on the little bench that Suteo had brought in for her, but on Izuna’s bed instead the next morning, showing him the handkerchief that she had been making.

It is...rather covered with Uchiha clan mon.

Some in the wrong colors.

“My favorite shape?” he asks faintly, the most befuddled person in the room.

“All of your clothing and your chichi-ue and your haha-ue and Anija wear it too.” Momo looks quite pleased with herself. “So it must be your favorite.”

Lord Tajima hides an amused smile behind his hand.

“It—” Izuna almost laughs, but winces instead, a hand on his covers twitching slightly before tugging on one of Momo’s pigtails. “Did Hisa-san tell you to say that?”

Momo looks over at her for a moment, and then frowns at him. “Izu-shinobi-niisan is being very silly.” She pats his face. “Why would Neesan tell me to say anything? I only want you to get better soon.”

The handkerchief of Uchiwas flutters against his face.

Some of them have reversed their colors, white over red instead of red over white. Some of them are just a little bit wobbly.

“I—” Izuna starts but breaks off, the faint shadow of pain crossing his face.

“It is,” he begins again, still trying not to laugh and failing, though he still looks awful, “a family shape.”

Everyone else in the room contains their laughter for a moment, watching as Izuna and Momo attempt to sort out what it is they mean.

“A family shape?” Momo blinks at him, her head tilted to one side.

“Clans have them.” Madara says, before he almost looks as though he wishes to take it back, suddenly remembering that he sits in the estate of someone who has never had a mon, for the Kawaguchi, like so many other merchant families, are not officially recognized clans the way that nobles are. “They are,” he continues more softly, “signifiers of family pride.”

Symbols of nobility and prestige. She bites her tongue.

Perhaps for someone born the son of a count, a mon does not have the same significance that they do to her.

Momo turns to her. “Neesan,” her little sister says. “Do we have a clan mon?”

“We’re merchants,” she says and keeps her voice light. “Merchants do not belong to clans.”

When they travel, they might be allowed a banner with their family name, or failing that, citizenship papers which name where they come from, but legally, they are not allowed a mon.

Momo opens her mouth to ask another question, but she pulls her sister into her lap. “Yes, Momo-ko, we are a family, like clans are, but it is written in the laws. Without at least one member who has historically served in court, a family cannot be a clan.”

This, to at least Madara and Izuna, who both look at least mildly surprised by it.

Momo holds up the handkerchief, frowning. “So it is not a favorite shape after all.” Her pout develops impressively, lips pressed together. “Is a legal shape.”

Izuna actually laughs at this, despite it sending him into a fit of coughs. “I have never heard it called that.”

And for the moment, he is alive, if not well.

O-Shiki shakes her head. “Shujin and I have spoken about this, but though O-Tama-kogo was receptive to my entreaties, His Majesty…” Here, O-Shiki pauses, uncertain of how to phrase the next sentence without sounding perhaps a little too treasonous even for her blunt ways. “His Majesty, I am sure, has his reasons, but refused to hear mention of the issue.”

So help from that quarter is not coming.

Lord Tajima sighs. “It is only to be expected.” Softly, he sets his tea aside. “His Majesty has not had the heart to hear complaints of any nature from any shinobi besides Count Akimichi for many, many years now.”

Slowly, Lord Fusamoto clenches his fist. “There is still another way that he might hear it.” With a wave of his hand, he calls Tamasu, carrying a set of black robes, forward. “I have changed a bit since I was twenty years old,” it has been over ten years since he was twenty years old, “but these robes came from the Imperial seamstresses and the Imperial silk workshops and will need a master’s hand to readjust.”

The dragon robes.

Black mianfu detailed with golden four clawed dragons belonged only on the Daimyo himself or the titled and enthroned crown prince, but Lord Fusamoto has a set, bestowed upon him by the Daimyo upon the unjust death of his father, Lord Hiramoto.

The princely title comes from this time as well.

“You intend to ride to the capital.” She covers her mouth with her hand, suddenly abashed.

No one wears such formal clothing in everyday life. Only important visits to the imperial court could ever necessitate such formality.

It is obvious that he intends to go.

“I intend to sound the Drum of Grievances in the outer imperial courtyard.” Lord Fusamoto folds his hands together. “O-Hisa-san, will you readjust my mianfu for me?”

A sharp noise rips its way out of Lord Tajima’s throat. “That’s madness. The Son of Heaven isn’t one to provoke so lightly.”

In her life, she has never seen mianfu. Very few sets ever leave the capital city. “Of course I will, Kusakabe-sama.” She rises and accepts.

“He has debts he needs to pay my family.” There’s a hard clench to Lord Fusamoto’s jaw. “And it’s been over ten years. I intend to collect.”

“His Majesty does not pay debts.” Lord Tajima’s hand clenches to a fist rested against his thigh. “The Son of Heaven does not owe debts towards mortals.”

But the Daimyo, though this thought is blasphemous, is also a mortal. While he may be the son of heaven, son of the dragon, gods made flesh, a dragon himself, he had his weal and woe. He still sickened.

He still aged.

He has daughters and sons, a father and a grandfather. He still had wives and concubines, so perhaps he is a lover as well, despite being so elevated above all.

And as historical records show, he still dies.

And as the songs say, he still has regrets and sorrows, moments of pain and faults of his own.

The death of an innocent man must weigh on his conscience as well.

It had to have, or else he would not have honored Lord Fusamoto with a title higher than six of his own sons.

“He owes me and my mother a debt. My father’s life is not worthless.” Lord Fusamoto waves Tamasu forward, and Hisa rises to accept the mainfu. She will have to refit Lord Fusamoto, consult both him and O-Shiki for details as to how it is supposed to fit, repair the dragons with gold thread...there is so much work to do. “And I intend to go.”

What is he going to do? Lord Fusamoto’s eyes seem to ask. Kill another Kusakabe lord?

But that is not outside the realm of possibility.

What the Son of Heaven will do lives only in his head, and cannot be judged by the earth under heaven.

“My family would be in your debt,” is what Lord Tajima settles on.

“I am not doing this for the Uchiha.” Lord Fusamoto rises, unties the family jade piece from his waistband — the Kusakabe family jade has been worn by its lord for generations, a pair of cranes on a backdrop of bamboo grove — and gently tucks it into Kore-kun’s hand. “Keep this for me, will you, my son?” After a small conversation with Kore-kun, he rises. “I do this because Kusakabe Fusamoto owes Kawaguchi O-Hisa-san a debt too great to ever repay.” His spine is straight, but his hands tremble.

He is a happy man with two sons, a young wife, and an aging mother.

The Lord Administrator of a region, well loved among his nobles and by the common citizens alike.

An honorable, upstanding man.

No man is willing to ride death’s door if he doesn’t have to.

“For this, I will gamble.”

“I don’t ask it of you.” The words leap out of her throat.

She knows that they will not win, that Izuna will — if he does not go.

But how can she ask that?

She has asked enough of O-Shiki already.

How can she ask O-Shiki’s husband to look the King of Hell in the face for her? Few ever survive the task.

“You do not have to,” Lord Fusamoto says pleasantly, his back still turned to her. “I ask it of me.”

I ask it of me.

“I am not a man who forgets his benefactors or his promises so easily, O-Hisa-san. I told you ‘whatever you want, whenever you wish it.’ Do not ask me to forget what I have said.” His eyes are lit with the light of stars.

His mother’s eyes, and just as stern.

It is not that she had expected him to forget it, but she had considered it paid when he sent Suteo with an official decree for her to accept, when he had honored her with property and expected her to accept such a gift.

“I—” Her statement dies on her lips. She cannot say ‘I do not want it,’ because she does.

She does want justice, she merely balks at the price.

And yet this, too, is a price that must be paid, and she knows it. No one can win a match without sacrifices.

Those who win these matches between people are often the ones who are willing to sacrifice the most.

The silk of Lord Fusamoto’s mianfu weighs no more than a pound, and yet, and yet—

It is heavy in her hands.

She and Kimei refit Lord Fusamoto that afternoon, taking out the seams about the shoulders, careful to measure and resize, tucking and pinning when needed, noting down the patterning, stitches, and weight of the gold thread.

Thankfully, he has not grown much taller than when he was twenty.

They do not make black silk here, not of this grade and quality, and certainly not a color so dark that it seems to shimmer like wet ink in sunlight, a luster and craft that is not allowed outside of the capital city, much like the formula that would make the imperial yellow.

He is quiet throughout the process. The only words in the room are between her and Kimei, technical words, about which gold thread to use to repair a certain section of embroidery, detailing for the panelling, if perhaps, the sleeves and skirt needed to be hemmed once more.

They can do nothing for the chipped pearls hanging from his eight fringed headdress, having no pearls of that size and quality, nor the craftsmanship to refit them even if she were to somehow find the proper pearls.

“Leave that,” he murmurs. “His Majesty should remember why they’re chipped.”

She does not know why, but she can guess.

Kimei nods and sets the headdress aside, gathering up their work in her arms.

“Will you give O-Hisa-san and I a moment?” Lord Fusamoto asks, his gaze fixed on some point far away.

Kimei nods again, and with the clothing in her arms, leaves.

“You know why I have to go.” A corner of his mouth quirks down. “And this benefits you.”

She stands there, three feet away, which is out of arm’s reach even though that does not matter. It does benefit her, and she does know why.

The word of an honorable man weighs like a chain around his neck. He will not easily break a promise.

Which is why the promises honorable men make should not be limitless like the one he has granted her, and while she had not expected him to forget it after his feelings had settled, she did expect him to take different paths in offering his aid.

His wife had already traveled once for this task, and to go again, with such audacity — the Drum of Grievances is only sounded in an outcry of great injustice, and it all but demands that a full court be opened immediately, whether it is dawn or the middle of the night — would surely provoke the Son of Heaven.

“I do know why.” What was it that she had said to him last time? I have been blessed by heaven to have clear eyes. Perhaps being so clear sighted has its downfalls and sorrows as well. “But I do not expect it, and I certainly do not demand it.”

She is but a young woman, as common and the same as so many other young women in their country. Only her circumstances and her bullheaded desire to stick with those circumstances make her the least bit different than any number of other young ladies in the city.

It is fortunate, perhaps, that she made O-Shiki’s acquaintance so many years ago.

Fortunate for both of them.

“Do you want to know what my mother said about you after your handling of the events the last time?” he asks, seemingly pretending to examine his sleeve, cranes across his shoulders rippling with the gesture.

“Even if I say no, I think Kusakabe-sama would want me to know either way.” She folds her hands together before her and waits.

“She said that despite how perceptive you are, if you never learn to take advantage of people at least some of the time, you will never climb to the heights you want to see.” He turns to her then, something like chastisement in his eyes. “I am willing to go, and yet here you are, trying to dissuade me because you fear I will be punished somehow. Though I suppose,” and here he sighs, “you know nothing about what it is like at court.” He sits and picks up the headdress, examining the cracked pearls. “The worst punishment for any crime, things like treason, slander against His Majesty, attempted assassination of any member of the royal family, can be met with execution for people within nine degrees of kindred to the perpetrator.”

Nine degrees of kindred — four generations of paternal relations, three generations of maternal relations, two generations of one’s in-laws.

Or alternatively, nine generations of a family.

Only those who come from old families can have nine degrees of kindred traced.

Treason is not only punishable by death, but by the death of whole clans.

But what constitutes treason lives in the dragon’s mind and cannot be understood by mere mortals.

“But he cannot possibly bring out that punishment.” Lord Fusamoto sighs. “Seeing as he is my mother’s cousin, and his favorite daughter is my second brother-in-law’s wife.”

His Majesty is within nine degrees of kindred to Lord Fusamoto, and thus, the deadliest and most feared of punishments could not befall him and his own.

“In the end, if His Majesty is upset with me, he could order me caned, or have my head lopped off if he wishes to see my mother again, but he will not harm what I love most.” His family.

There will be no punishments befalling his region.

She stands there, hands loosely at her sides, the chill of these thoughts upon her, and feels, perhaps, grateful that the closest thing she’s ever come to imperial royalty is the man in front of her, who looks at her with amused gray eyes.

The cracked pearls in the headdress still gleam in the sunlight.

“I have never wanted to trade one life for another.” And she knows what she says is true.

“With any luck,” and here, Lord Fusamoto smiles with a bravado he does not feel, “we won’t have to.” He laughs at the surprise she is sure she has not hidden from him well enough, the sound a bright, biting thing. “What? Even if I am willing to die for what I believe is honorable, it does not mean I would not regret what I leave behind.”

When he leaves for the capital at first light the next morning, he is still wearing his normal clothing, black mianfu packed in Suteo’s bags.

And Chubu watches him go, everyone silent, everyone waiting.

A week later, her handmaid returns from a trip to the market in the city and comes back happily to tell her the news.

“There is barely anyone left in the city who is willing to buy Senju goods this harvest.” Kimei looks viciously pleased at this. “Even those who had contracted them advance to buy goods earlier this year are refusing to honor those contracts, saying that murder is no way to do business.”

“Is that what you held the party for?” Madara asks, slightly rejuvenated by Izuna being awake earlier. “So you could tell them of the Senju’s misdeeds?” He is still looking at her, slightly baffled as she sips her barley tea, and thinks of what could possibly be happening now. “But how could you have possibly known what they would do? What do you mean to accomplish with this?”

It had taken time for the contracts to be broken.

Merchants are nothing if not good at finding loopholes when they no longer wish to be bound by the standards to which they had signed.

But that is not the final straw that would break the Senju, she does not think.

They have had years of profits now. One year when all of their neighbors no longer wish to do business will not sink them into poverty.

Not if Baron Senju or his accountant is as shrewd a man as she thinks he is, though she does not know that for certain.

It might be enough to sink them if it grows big enough and persists.

But she is not aiming to play a long match.

Izuna’s life depends upon it being short.

There is still Lord Fusamoto.

Lord Fusamoto, honored by the Daimyo himself long ago. Lord Fusamoto, whose wife is the only daughter of the war minister, only son of a princess of second rank, for his mother is the sitting Daimyo’s cousin.

Lord Fusamoto, one of the few men in the country who are allowed to wear dragons.

Who, even now, might be speaking in front of a full court, laying out grievances and blame.

If it is known to the Daimyo that a shinobi clan had started murdering civilians, how long could they keep their titles and power? How long could they keep their lives?

The fire that burned their house down in the capital was a crime on the doorstep of the Son of Heaven, long may he reign.

And someone had to have covered the Senju’s handiwork in some sort of unfortunate accident, but the crime is there, and evidence remains.

How long will there be a Senju clan in Fire Country?

It depends on Lord Fusamoto now.

Let me honor the debt of my house, O-Hisa-san. The lives of my children, my wife, and my mother were saved by your hands.

So let this be my repayment.

Barons value power, the prestige that their title gives them. Without the baronic title, the Senju are a clan of merchants and have to do business like one.

What moves him?

What kills him without a single scratch?

“Death,” she says simply. “I hope to accomplish death.” At his confused look, she continues. “How comfortable do you think Baron Senju is right now?” And slowly, she continues embroidering her peony flowers. “How comfortable do you think he’ll be when the Daimyo hears of what the Senju have done?”

It is the mood at court that it is never wise to let the shinobi outnumber the scholars among us.

From the lips of the daimyo himself.

In their peaceful country, with little need for armies or warmongers, shinobi are not well looked upon, outsiders to society even if some of them wear noble titles and are welcomed at court.

It is only the pale shadow of welcome.

Shinobi are like a grain of sand in the eyes of a civilized world, and the world is no oyster to make a pearl of in this situation.

“The Daimyo?” She forgets that he had not been there to speak to Lord Fusamoto and O-Shiki when they’d been there, more intent on feeding Izuna something even if it is a bland and tasteless soup and medicines that Jizen-sensei had prescribed.

“Lord Fusamoto has gone to sound the drum of grievance, seeing as the man who is dying is currently residing in his region.” Unsaid goes the sentiment that the Daimyo cannot afford to offend the Kusakabe any further.

Years ago now, Lord Hiramoto had been the Daimyo’s Grain Minister, betrayed and framed for crimes of embezzlement and treason that he did not commit, and had been thrown into the royal prisons.

Years ago, at his own court hearing, before all the great lords and ladies of the realm, he had declared his innocence and smashed his head open against a pillar in the front imperial greeting hall in remonstration of the Daimyo’s policies and accusations.

Only this had earned Lord Fusamoto the right to wear dragons.

But perhaps, he would’ve preferred to have his father instead of titles too heavy for his twenty year old shoulders.

“We will see how long the Senju keep their titles.” And how long after they lose their titles they keep their lives.

She has only just stepped out of Izuna’s room onto the walkway, when a man bursts out onto the walkway opposite of her, covered in mud.

There’s something hard against her neck, like river ice. A blade on her neck.

Kimei shrieks, dropping the basket of sewing supplies that she had been holding.

Pins and needles rain down over the wooden walkway, cloth rolling off the side, into the garden.

She pays it no mind.

A left handed swordsman wearing mud splattered cotton. “Step aside.” Senju Tobirama says, red eyes wild like a spooked horse. His arm is shaking. “Step aside. I know he’s in there.” Louder, he calls into the room beyond. “Uchiha Izuna, I know you’re in there! Stop hiding behind a woman’s skirts and come out and face me.”

There is no one else in there besides Izuna, breathing faintly, though he had been waking more often in recent days. Madara had stepped out to take a message.

Lord Tajima and Lady Kiku are eating with Chichi-ue.

Only she and Kimei are here, between this man and Izuna being killed.

She raises her chin. “No.”

“Do you think I won’t kill you?” he hisses. “Step aside, foolish woman.”

But he has asked. He did not need to do that. Her thoughts move quickly.

“It is only death,” she says. “Kill me if you dare. It will solve nothing.”

They are at an impasse. His arm shakes like a leaf, wild eyes, mud streaked hair.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Kimei asks, her own chin raised. “Do you think you’re being a hero?”

Senju Tobirama laughs, almost insane, like he’s already dead. “I wasn’t ever going to be a hero.”

“What a big man you are,” she says. “To think that you can win by killing a defenseless woman, or a man on his deathbed.” Senju Tobirama flinches. “What are you going to do to the people who won’t buy your goods? Will you kill them as well?”

His arm wavers.

And like the river rising, she continues to stall for time. “You can kill me. It wouldn’t be hard.” She is a civilian woman, who has never held the knife to do the deed herself, but sometimes, words cut deeper than knives can. “But know this, shinobi-san, I am Kawaguchi Hisa, the daughter of Kawaguchi Yasutaro, and this region loves my father well.”

They may say unkind things about the luck of the Kawaguchi and why it is that her father has no sons, but the people of Chubu are an inward looking people, more fond of their own than outsiders.

“Kill me, and you will find no trade in Fire Country ever again.” Kill a civilian woman in her own home, and the daimyo must take action.

Kill a civilian woman in her own home, and the cry for justice will sound from every self righteous mouth from every region of the country. “How long will you survive when every merchant from this city to Kamakura town closes their doors to you?”

No buying.

No selling.

How long can one clan stand against it all?

“Can you kill us all?”

He shakes, looking at her almost—


But what is it about her that he fears?

Behind him, Momo turns the corner around the side of the building.

Hisa’s heart leaps into her throat. No.

Momo pauses there for a moment as if trying to understand what is happening.

“Get away!” Momo slams into her legs. “Get away from Neesan, or I’ll bite you to death!”

For a moment, she forgets to breathe.

Senju Tobirama freezes, his eyes wide, breathing loud, arm shaking, rattling like a branch on the autumn wind.

He vanishes.

Madara appears around the side of the building in the next moment, running. “Izun—” he takes in the scene, the spilled basket, she and Kimei standing there, frozen, Momo clinging to her legs. “Hisa.” Slowly, he approaches, gathering Momo from her skirts, checks her over before offering her his hand. “What happened?”

“Senju Tobirama was here,” she says, a hand on her neck, more calm than she feels on the inside. “I believe he was looking for someone to kill.”

Madara’s face darkens.

She catches his sleeve. “Don’t go looking for him.”

Something had provoked the Senju, for they have never tried anything within the confines of the house before. Something more than just the current slowing of trade, from a river to a trickle, compassion wearing thin in the ever growing drought.

He thinks that Izuna is uninjured, or somehow capable of coming out to fight him.

“He tried something in the house.” Madara says, still holding Momo, who has begun to cry. “And you still want to do nothing?”

“Not nothing.” There is something on the wind.

Something on the wind, and it is always best to know more before anything more happens.

“Do you suppose,” she says, to distract him, “Baron Senju has met the imperial couriers?”

And that does distract him, if only by half.