From chapter 3:

Left alone, Toshiro sat for a long time, trying to think of some way to tell this news without breaking his wife's heart. He finally came to the conclusion that there was no way. With a sigh, he hefted the pack back onto his shoulders and turned his steps toward home again.

Hikaru met him at the gate, full of concern, gesturing a servant out to relieve him of the pack even as she spoke. "Toshiro! You look exhausted. Come inside and let me get some well water to cool you."

Get it over with now. Quickly. Like cauterizing a wound, it's best done at once, before you can think about it and dread it. "We have to talk, Hikaru."

"Yes, but you can cool yourself while we do it."

"No. Now. At once. Come with me to the orchard. This must be strictly between us, no one else."

Her brow creased, but she asked no more questions. She gave the servant instructions about the pack, then tucked her hand in his arm and went with him. As they got deep enough into the neat rows of trees that they wouldn't be observed from the farm yard, he leaned and brushed her temple with his lips.

"This is bad news, isn't it?" she said in a small voice.

"Very bad. Do you want to sit down?"

She shook her head, turning to face him. "Just tell me." Then, as if wanting to delay it, she said, "What is it about? The war?"

"Indirectly. It's about Kenshin."

Her face, always pale, went bone-white. She reached for him, her fingernails digging into his arm. "He's not dead?"


She loosened her grip, then let him go. "Hurt? He's been wounded? He's ill? I can go to him. I can..." Her eyes got larger and darker. "That's not it either, is it?"

"No, nothing like that. He's taken no hurt. Hikaru, before I tell you this, let me say that I got it from Seijuro Hiko, so I know it's the truth."

"You spoke to Seijuro today?"

"He spoke to me. He wanted to tell me about Kenshin, so that you would know."

Her eyes never moved from his face. She folded her hands, as she did when serene, but her fingers gripped each other so hard that her knuckles stood out sharply. "Tell you what about Kenshin? What is wrong with him?"

Now the moment was here, and he still didn't know what to say. "You know that assassin that people have been gossiping about. The so-called Manslayer."

That was as far as he got. As Hiko said, Hikaru was an intelligent woman. "No," she said savagely. "You are not going to tell me that man is Kenshin. It's not possible."

"It is Kenshin, love. I'm sorry, but it is."

"You're wrong. Seijuro's wrong. Kenshin would never kill like that. Never!"

"I wish I believed Hiko was wrong about this. Or even in some doubt."

"No one's seen this mystery assassin," she said scornfully. "Has Seijuro?"

He shook his head. "But the assassin is using the Hiten Mitsurugi style. That is what Hiko knows to be true."

"No. He's mistaken."

He took her arms in his hands, steadying her. She was denying what she was hearing, but the effort of doing so had her swaying like a lily. "You know the man better than anyone. Have you ever known him to be mistaken about his own sword style?"

"He must be," she whispered.

"He is certain. And he says it can be no one else, that no one else knows the techniques."

"How can he be so sure? Gossip can make anything seem real."

"He's seen some of the victims."


"It's true, love. I'm sorry. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am."

She sank, slowly, all the way to the ground. He followed her down, careful of her, but her eyes weren't seeing him now. "This can't be. Not Kenshin. Not Kenshin. He wouldn't kill like that, like a thief, stealing lives. He isn't like that. Toshiro, you know he isn't!" she said, gripping his arm again.

"Had anyone else told me this – anyone – I would agree with you. But it was Seijuro Hiko. I can imagine what it cost him to admit it to me, that his apprentice had gone so far from his teachings. Which is why I believe him."

"His teachings!" she said, throwing off his hands. "Kenshin hasn't strayed from Seijuro's teachings. Seijuro taught him to kill. Now you're telling me he's whining because Kenshin's practicing that trade?"

This was so unfair that Toshiro actually began to say something in Hiko's defense. Then he remembered the sensei's advice and kept silent. Hikaru pulled away from him and leaped to her feet, pacing like an enraged tiger. Knowing she was using anger to keep her grief at bay, he rose slowly and watched her, making no attempt to intervene.

"Damn him!" she was saying. "How dare he complain about Kenshin? He put a sword in that child's hands. I told him how it would be. He knew. How many times have I heard him say it? A sword is nothing but a weapon meant to take the lives of humans. Kenshin was a good apprentice. And now he's..." As abruptly as it had come, her anger left. She turned to him, the expression in her eyes like that of a person who's been told of the death of someone beloved. "Toshiro. It can't be true. Tell me there's some doubt."

He swallowed. "You know Seijuro Hiko better than I. He says he believes it. Could he be wrong?"