Between Lanterns and Corpses
I carried a lantern despite the full moon, not wishing to step upon a dead man’s face or slip in his congealing guts. Mikuzo waited ahead, just like that day beneath the willow tree. Its hanging boughs had protected us from the world, but upon the night-clad battlefield there was no such protection. The chill breeze bit my cheeks and brought rot to my nose.
He was there as I had known he would be, his boots firmly planted upon death.
We each bowed, me gripping tight to the Errant board lest it slide from my hand.
“How is your family?” he said.
“Well. Zuki is to marry in the spring. I have—” I pulled forth the letter from my sash with a shaking hand. “In case I don’t—”
A gentle laugh met this. “It seems we still think alike after all these years.” He took my letter and handed over one of his own. “For if you win upon the morrow.”
I slid the letter into my sash, unable to meet his gaze as we hunted clear ground. Between lanterns and corpses I placed the board, and the pieces he tipped out were carved with his family’s crest. He had never lorded his birth over me.
In silence we set our armies upon the board, just as we would when the sun rose upon a day we could not escape.
“Lead or follow, old friend,” I said, for if I did not I might say something else, something more, something I could not retake.
Almost I laughed. Had I not followed wherever he led? Now we had one last chance to be boys beneath the willow boughs.
He moved first. And there, kneeling amid the dead, I followed.