The thrush observed Goemon Asahina as he stirred his tea for the third time and left the whisk on top of a beautifully patterned piece of silk. The bird approached the man with a curious gaze, its tiny shape a dark silhouette against the evening sun. Goemon took the cup with both hands and, feeling its warmth against his palms, took a long, silent sip and left it in the exact same spot where it had rested during the Tea Ceremony.
“Welcome, friend,” Goemon said to the bird with a smile. The small creature closed the short distance with tiny hops, as if encouraged by the hospitality of the man.
“How are you feeling today, Goemon?” The woman sitting opposite Goemon Asahina said in a calm voice.
The bird flew away.
The man took another sip of his tea and looked at something beyond the wooden door that led to the garden. The teak trees grew upwards in a straight line, projecting needle like shadows on the trimmed grass.
“I have always liked this place. When I was a child I used to walk with my father among the trees and listen to the birds. He used to say that the birds carried the voice of the wind and if you listened carefully enough, you could almost hear the wind speaking. He said that listening to the wind was very important, because the wind is very old and knows everything.”
Kiko eyed the man. His face looked older than it did in her last visit. His skin was was one shade too pale and his fingernails were cracked and brittle-looking. The shaking in the right hand had receded, but it was still there.
“Your father was a wise man.”
Goemon turned his gaze from the garden and looked at Kiko. The young woman, sitting in seiza, kept her back straight and her hands on her lap, one on top of the other. Her wakizashi, still in its scabbard, lied on the floor to her right as it was customary.
The man sipped his tea again.
“Do you ever listen to the wind, Kiko?”
Three droplets of crystal clear liquid fell on one of the satin flowers embroidered in his kimono. The last lights of the day shone through them for a while before being absorbed by the invisible seams in the fabric.
“Do you know why I am here, Goemon Asahira?”
“I do, Kiko Kuni.”
The woman reached for her wakizashi and handed it to Goemon. The man took it and unsheathed it with his right hand. He considered the polished steel for a moment. There had always been something puzzling about the glint of the ancient blade, something Goemon had never been able to pinpoint.
Kiko stood up.
“Are you ready?”
The man said nothing, but looked at the garden one last time.
Kiko walked past the man, unsheathed her katana and waited.
The wakizashi made a soft ‘thud’ as it entered the man’s flesh and cut his innards. Kiko raised her katana over Goemon Asahira’s head and cut it with a single, deft move.
The body that had once been Goemon Asahira was still on his knees when the two eta and the shujenga that had been waiting outside entered the room.
Kiko dropped her sword and left the room in silence.
Outside, the thrushes kept singing.