The invitation took him by surprise. He knew, in a vague way, that Yonaka’s and Kaito’s wedding had to happen at some point. But he had assumed that time had already come and gone. True, he had not had any word from Yonaka telling him of the event, but he had not heard from anyone outside the Crab lands for months. His reassignment to the Face of the East Castle had mostly likely delayed any mail that had come. And truth be told, he was not the most faithful correspondent either.
How long had it been? He frowned and did a quick calculation. By his reckoning, it was getting close to a year since he had parted ways with his comrades. Did weddings in the Dragon lands take so long to organize? A Crab wedding could be planned and executed in mere days, perhaps hours, as long as the participants were free to leave their duties for a short time. That had been how his had gone, after all. He supposed Yonaka might have needed a few weeks to take care of the bandit problem in his district, but still!
He shrugged. He supposed it was just another one of those traditions he had no experience of, though now that he thought about it, he did recall seeing a Crane wedding when he was stationed at Kyuden Doji. The decorations by themselves might have needed a year to create.
He re-read the invitation and Yonaka’s note, and snorted. Yonaka expected him to keep him from making a fool of himself? Hoh! Now that was a joke worthy of Shinsei himself! He rubbed his chin and thought. Of course he would have to make sure Yonaka had a proper celebration. He had no idea what Dragon parties were like, but he was sure they could only be improved upon by a few Crab traditions. And he would have to find a suitable wedding present.
That stopped him in his tracks. What in the Fortunes’ names could he bring as a gift? He looked wildly around his room, searching for inspiration, and found none. He realized he should probably bring a gift for the Earth child as well, and groaned aloud. This was getting complicated.
Hikozaemon appeared at the door. “Sama? Did you call?”
“No,” Nakamuro said, then reconsidered. “Wait.”
Hikozaemon turned back, looking at him expectantly. Despite his initial terror, the former Dragon had found life here in the Crab lands to his liking. He had put on weight and a fair amount of muscle, and he had a few new scars that gave him an air of credibility. He seemed to stand taller these days, and his recent marriage had given him a bounce to his step that lightened Nakamuro’s heart as well. He won’t want to leave, he thought suddenly. But he had to ask.
He started to hand the letter to the ashigaru, and then stopped. Hikozaemon had been working on his reading skills, but formal calligraphy was not easy to decipher at the best of times. And although Yonaka had obviously been practicing, Dragon calligraphy was like the Dragon themselves — mysterious and obscure. “Mirumoto Yonaka and Shosuro Kaito are getting married at Last Light Castle,” he said. “Next month. I am going.” He waited.
Hikozaemon’s eyes flicked nervously to the letter and back. His face took on a fixed expression, and he seemed a half shaku shorter than when he walked in. “Hoh, Sama,” he said. Then he too was silent.
Nakamuro sighed. “You don’t want to go.”
“If Sama asks me to go, I will go!” Hikozaemon protested. “I will do my duty!” He stood straighter, but his face, though determined, had taken on the pinched look that Nakamuro had so often seen in him when they had first arrived.
Nakamuro held up his right hand, palm towards Hikozaemon, and began to count, starting by folding down his thumb. “You are newly married.” He then folded his index finger. “The food here agrees with you, as does your wife.” Hikozaemon blushed, and Nakamuro chuckled as he folded down his middle finger. “The mountains of the Dragon are cold.” Then the medicine finger. “You are afraid of Kaito.” Hikozaemon opened his mouth to protest, but at Nakamuro’s stern look, he closed it again with a snap. “Have I forgotten anything?”
Hikozaemon hung his head, and said, in a half-whisper, “I… may be wanted as a criminal in the Dragon lands, Sama.”
Nakamuro nodded thoughtfully, and folded down his little finger, ending with a fist. He punched Hikozaeom in the shoulder, a gentle blow which nevertheless staggered him. “Stay,” he said. “I will not drag you from your home again. You do well here.”
Hikozaemon bowed deeply. “Thank you for your kindness, Sama.”
Nakamuro grunted. “Don’t thank me yet. I need to find a wedding present. And something for the child.”
Hikozaemon, relief showing on his face, said eagerly, “Of course, Sama! I will find whatever you need! The Yasuki have great respect for you, and will be pleased to be of assistance.”
Nakamuro nodded. “Good. I leave in two days.” He stared out the window as he racked his brains for an idea. Something in the view caught his attention, and he began to smile. “Hoh! I have it!” He turned back to Hikozaemon. “Here is what you must find…”