Cherry Blossoms

Crane

She drew in a deep breath, held it, and released. The subtle movement of the autumn air had a quiet strength behind it – as if the potential energy of the day to come could be felt. How dark the night is before the sunrise! Akiko thought as she made her way along the path. The forest began to come alive with songbirds as she reached the end of the trail, where it opened up into a meadow. She traversed the border of the meadow and wood, moving with calm purpose toward the stately home on the other side. Nobody else seemed to be awake at this hour, and she basked in the moment of solitude.

Akiko paused at the koi pond in the gardens of the estate, the reflection of the rising sun mimicked the blaze of red, gold, and orange fish beneath the water surface. She was taken back to her childhood, when she spent time alone in the woods if her chores were complete and her father pretended not to noticed her slipping away. “When you are married, you will serve your husband from inside your home, not from inside the forest,” he would sometimes scold her when she did not return in a timely fashion. But she was drawn to the spot where she found turtles, fish, and countless other creatures. She recalled once watching a crane hunt on a morning not unlike the present one. It was waiting among the reeds – poised to strike – which it eventually did with a speed one could only hope to match. The water’s mirror-like surface parted in an instant and the bird’s head emerged, its beak piercing straight through a silver minnow lulled into complacence by the unseen hunter.

She slid the door open carefully and without a sound and entered the alcove. A jade buddha greeted her with a kind smile, and perhaps a knowing twinkle in its eye. Akiko gave a barely perceptible bow to the figure as she passed, and glided past the wood carved panels in the hallway depicting a hunting party cornering a boar, spears and arrows poised to make the kill, past the translucent shjoi doors of the now empty tea room. A most harmonious home, she noted to herself.

The daimyo, a landed nobleman who owned the country home, was snoring in his bedroom. This was the man she was sent for. Moving like a cat, Akiko slipped into the chamber without waking the occupant, who was fast asleep. His deep slumber was in spite of the fact that his samurai, on this morning, were poised to do battle with those of a rival lord. She unsheathed a curved dagger from its hidden pouch in her kimono. With one swift motion, the man’s throat was deeply slashed by the razor-sharp blade; crimson drops of blood spattered onto the bed like cherry blossoms against a spring snow.

Akiko then placed a black shuriken on the pillow beside her victim as a calling card, for soon all would know the deadly Kunoichi clan was responsible for carrying out this brazen assassination!