We came upon the body of a cormorant today, love. The men gathered around its still form, seeming so much less when unmoving upon the earth. Even the officers, who have been in a foul temper with all the delays we’ve faced, allowed the procession to stop in midmorning. Hiroshi spoke of it quietly that evening. I could see the gleam of a tear at the corner of his eye. I didn’t know that your grandfather knew the way of fishing with the great birds. These childhood remembrances, I suppose, always hold us in strange thrall, even when we become men. Our might on the earth is always tinged with the understanding that this might grows from nothing, slowly returning to that nothing as we grow old and feeble.
We are summer’s birds,
Held high upon the winds by
Dying wings and pride.
The enemy has put obstacles in our way—burned villages, poisoned wells, places of trap and ambush. We’ve had to swing wide of our goal and take the arduous way through the hills and down into the bamboo forest. Even in the short, rocky hills, the journey takes its toll on horses and soldiers. Mounts have broken their legs, throwing riders to the earth. Infantry have collapsed from exhaustion in the heat. There is scant laughter around the campfires now, only a morose silence. Death follows us, nipping at our flanks, waiting to have her glut of blood and spirits on the wind.
I am devoured
By the sun, blood turned to ash,
Laughter to silence.
I don’t look forward to this final portion of our journey. Though the sound of wind in the high leaves, that soughing quiet of the undisturbed forest has always been a great joy to me, I hesitate to take the troops that way. My control of this army, its fate and the safety of each man alone—I feel that this control has always been an illusion in my mind. I play a game of Go against an invisible opponent, the ancient dragon of destiny, with his long golden whiskers. Each stone I drop upon the board is countered, my every move bringing me closer to circumstances that force me to be no more than a man, no more than the wielder of a single blade and protector of a single life. Thus, warriors learn humility, I suppose. I know my words will amuse you, beloved, for you know my flaws and conceits far better than anyone.
What is written on
The fabric of the year, what
Crimson of summer?
Behind the façade,
We are invisible as
Winds, hidden seasons.
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