Welcome back! Here's another sample from The Samurai's Garden. Hanako's village in the far northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is under the threat of another attack by a band of former samurai soldiers called ronin. Hiro, is a former samurai who still lives by the samurai code of ethics. He has promised to help the villagers defend themselves by training them to fight.
Hanako knew she should participate more readily in the exercises. After all, this was her property they were defending. Last fall she'd been helpless to stop them. The image of her husband cowering under the furniture still left a knot in her stomach. Would she be as ineffective if put to the test again?
She decided to listen carefully to the instruction, and practice alone in the privacy of the woods, rather than in front of the other villagers. Perhaps later she could join the others.
Seeing that all the animals were settled for the evening, she picked up the handle to an old hoe, and holding it out in front of her, tried to mimic the movements the group performed with Hiro. Carefully, she sliced a diagonal arc in front of herself. The motion didn’t seem quite like the technique Hiro had demonstrated, so she tried again, raising the hoe above her head and bringing it down and across her body with her hands ending near her left knee. She prepared to try the motion again, but gasped when her back connected with a solid wall of muscle. A deep, melodic voice rumbled from the wall at a point above her head.
"Don’t bring your weapon down so far. Remember, this leaves your body open to the opponent’s attack."
Hanako's heart stopped at the unexpected contact. Before she could react, two strong arms came around her. Hiro's right hand enveloped both of hers as they gripped the hoe, and the other came to rest on her left side, holding her close to him. Without thinking, she leaned back against his massive chest. Time stood still as she sank into his warmth.
She barely registered his words as he gently guided her through the drill, keeping the weapon in front of her as it sliced through the air. Using a sturdy willow as an imaginary foe, he positioned her so that her right arm extended toward the tree and the right side of her body faced it.
"Turn your body away from your opponent. This gives him a smaller target and protects your torso from his sword." Her arms and legs continued the drill, but her senses were aware only of her body pressing against his. Her back warmed from his solid presence, and her side tingled where his hand pressed gently to guide her. What would it be like to have those strong hands caressing her, guiding her through a different dance, another ritual?
She let herself dream as his arms and body cradled her. They went through the motions, his right hand and arm directing the improvised weapon, his left hand moving her body. It was amazing how their bodies fit together, how their limbs moved in perfect synchronization. His hands switched as he moved the improvised weapon to her other hand and turned her body so her left side faced the imaginary opponent. Hanako knew the movements had been designed for fighting, but the two of them were engaged in a much different, though equally intense, reality.
All too soon, the fantasy ended. The muscular arms left her sides, and her heart returned to earth with a crash. Hiro backed away, taking the comforting warmth with him.
"Are you all right?" he asked, peering at her curiously. "You look pale. Perhaps you have been working too hard. I should end the training sessions earlier so that I can help you —"
"No." Hanako shook her head, her cheeks burning. The physical contact with him had affected her so strongly that he had noticed.
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