“Move!” the assassin brushed passed the tea mistress who was wailing and shoved the knife back into its hiding place.
The boy lay unmoving in front of them, his face dusky pale. He didn’t respond when the assassin shook him. She felt for his pulse it was weak and there was no breath. The Path around him was fraying. There was no time.
“His hands are sticky,” the assassin said as the tea mistress looked at her with inconsolable sorrow and incomprehension.
The assassin picked him up as if he were a sack of rice and thrust her fist into his stomach as she held him.
Once, again. Nothing happened.
The tea mistress stood up and began slapping the assassin. Yelling at her to stop desecrating his body.
The assassin ignored her as she thrust her fist into the boy’s stomach again. And with this came a soft plop and a mochi ball sailed out of his mouth onto the floor.
He gasped and his mother froze, hand halfway back to strike the assassin. And into the silence she cried again. This time in joy.
The assassin lowered the boy gently so he could sit. The color returned to his cheeks, like the spring cherry blossoms, and his breathing became regular. The Path around him stitched itself back together, although only the assassin noticed. Neither the tea mistress nor her son noticed the soft glow that radiated from under the assassin’s hand as she steadied the boy until his breathing returned to normal. It was probably a trick of the light.
The tea mistress flung her arms around her son. She sobbed and the assassin left them alone. She watched the sun begin to lighten the horizon as she finished the last of her tea. Then she hoisted her pack and slipped out of the tea room. She scuffed the symbols she’d carved in the ground with the sole of her boot. They were no longer needed as she resumed walking down the road.
She had not yet gone passed the crossroad signpost when she heard the tea mistress running towards her and yelling, “Wait!”
So she did.
“What is your name?” the tea mistress asked.
“Assassins have no names.”
The tea mistress shook her head. “Everyone has a name. Mine is Asako.”
The assassin bowed. It was an honor to be told a person’s name, even more rare to be accorded the honor of hearing a person’s familiar name apart from one’s clan. But even then, the assassin only replied, “Then call me what you will.”
The tea mistress nodded, unsurprised. “Then I will remember you as the North Wind, assassin, for you blew three troubles away me and mine.”
The assassin may have inclined her head. Then, again, it may have been a trick of the wind. “Peace be on your Path.”
“And ten-fold on yours.” The tea mistress bowed deeply and lowered her eyes to the ground. When she looked up, the assassin was gone. The moon smiled down as the clouds passed from its face. It would disappear soon as the sun claimed its place in the sky and the wind brought with it the smell of the sea. The tea mistress shook her head and laughed, and perhaps the assassin heard it and smiled. Perhaps.