Hello all! It has been years since I've posted. I just felt the need to come back to this story for some reason. My writing style has changed a bit since I last wrote this story and I did a bit of condensing in the past chapters. I hope you all like my new chapter and let me know what you think!

Chapter 5

Under the moonlit night, Mizuki practiced her stance for parry and thrusting. Having seen the weak points of the samurai's armour, Mizuki grunted as she aimed for the imaginary head and neck of her opponent. She was blissfully aware of the absence of the samurai in the village, for her practices were becoming more and more frequent. The approaching winter months had the cold quickly tiring her out.

She had decided earlier that day to start taking up archery. Knowing that the practice of archery may start up some rumors of her interest in military pursuits, she had confined in Taka. Claiming that the interest was purely for the hunting of meat to help her in the upcoming winter months, Mizuki had convinced Taka to lend her an old bow of Hirotaro's. Taka was hesitant about the true nature of Mizuki's want of bow and arrow, but knew that her friend was never one to give up on something that she wanted. Taka unwillingly had handed over the bow and arrows and resolved to tell her brother or nephew about when they returned.

Mizuki had spent the afternoon carving out a target, but the night was to dark to properly aim and notch an arrow. She knew that the morning would bring the ability to being training and had stilled her body and mind to the drills of the sword. Her feet becoming ever more sure and strong in her stance, Mizuki could fight with both her wakizashi and her katana in two hands. This gave her the surprise factor of being able to fight left or right handed.

Mizuki's thoughts drifted as her body followed the drills. She wondered about the fate of Nobutada and hoped that he was alive and well. Almost a year had passed since the samurai had left the village to patrol around the province and try to preserve the old ways. Her arms buzzed from the lingering feeling of his fingers steadying her when she had fallen on accident into him. She remembered the surprising warmth in his eyes and still found herself wondering if the emotion was real or a figment of her infatuation with the man of her dreams. A feeling of regret washed over her, as she thought about her old life before the draw of the katana and the ringing of steel. Perhaps the path of submissive daughter could have brought her, the man she loved to husband and the home that would have followed. She pulled herself from such thoughts and sheathed her katana. The cold had chilled her fingers from use and she wanted them able to notch a bow in the early morning.

The morning brought with it the arrival of the samurai returning home for the winter months. These months of respite would allow those injured to rest and recover for the next battles. Mizuki quickly dressed in her kimono and ran out to greet the samurai. She bowed as Katsumoto passed and quickly glanced up at Nobutada. His face was lined with the hardships of war and she felt his gaze quickly pass over her. She felt her heart squeeze tightly but pushed it aside. She glanced up again to see a white foreigner in blue clothes bouncing along with his chestnut horse. She turned her head in surprise, but quickly bowed as the villagers around her tsked in disapproval.

She followed the group to the center of the village and watched as Ujio threatened the man with death. Mizuki gasped, when the man didn't flinch at the blade whipping at his neck. Ujio's speed with the blade was without peer save Katsumoto and was sure that Ujio would kill him in the square. Nobutada heard the gasp and briefly looked at Mizuki, he knew that Ujio was dismissive with his threat and the foreigner was more valuable alive than dead. His eyes softened at the sight of Mizuki's astonishment and knew of her gentleness inside.

As the group of samurai parted to reunite with their familys, Mizuki followed the trio dragging the man to Taka's home. She watched as Katsumoto told Taka of Hirotaro's death at the hands of the enemy and asked if she would care for the injured foreigner. Taka reluctantly agreed to her brother's wishes and bowed as Ujio, Nobutada and Katsumoto walked away from her house. Mizuki scurried around from behind a tree and up to Taka.

"Taka, who is that? What is he doing here?" Mizuki climbed onto the porch and peered into her friend's house.

"Katsumoto has asked that I heal this man and care for his wounds. He wishes to learn about this man and his cultures." Taka gathered bandages, needle and thread to close the wounds. Mizuki removed her geta and walked into the house, gathering some sake to clean the wounds. "Thank you for your help, Mizuki."

"Without Hirotaro around, I only have to fear being seen by your brother and Nobutada." Mizuki smiled and followed her friend into the room. She gasped as she saw the wounds on the man.

Taka and Mizuki worked quickly; their deft hands cleaning, stitching and bandaging the bleeding cuts and scrapes. Luckily the man was still unconscious and oblivious to the feeling of needle through flesh. Mizuki and Taka washed their hands of the blood and Taka began to prepare the midday meal for her children and Nobutada. Mizuki looked briefly at Taka, leaving before Taka could pretend an offer of invitation knowing that Mizuki would have to refuse. Mizuki smiled at the two boys writing in the next room and scurried off to her own home.

Mizuki reached her house and quickly grabbed a few onigiri. She sat eating the rice balls as she changed her clothes. First with strips of cloth, she bound her breasts so they wouldn't be in the path of her bowstring. Then she changed into Kaemon's old clothes and grabbed her bow and quiver. She played with the string as she walked into the woods, feeling its tension and softness.

Nobutada looked up from the porch, where he and his cousins were eating fruit and saw the figure walking towards the woods with a familiar bow. He turned to Taka, "Where is Hirotaro's old bow?"

Taka looked at Nobutada, "I gave it to Mizuki. She wanted it to help hunt for game."

Nobutada threw down the apple that he was eating. Taka watched as he flew up the path after Mizuki. She smiled gently to herself, knowing that Nobutada would feel honor bound to stop Mizuki.