When Algren returned to the village, travel-worn, battle-weary and alone, Taka looked at him with a wordless smile, a trace of relief visible in the arch of her eyebrows, the curve of her upper lip. Like water dripping over cold stones in a stream peace flooded over him, taking away the guilt he had born for such a very long time – she did not blame him for what had happened.
In silence, she took up her basket and opened the small, wooden gate for him.
That night, he lay down on the futon spread on the floor and let Taka pour sake on his wounds, the stinging pain on his side and the ache inside him reminding him freshly of the death on the battlefield. Opening his eyes, he looked at Taka's hands, so delicately tying up the wounds he had taken on the behalf of the village he had come to love more than his home.
Wordlessly, with needle and thread she sewed his hurts, her fingers staining in his blood. Afterwards, she closed the door behind her and left him to sleep without nightmares.
On the morrow – after how many days of slumber, he knew not – Algren walked, stiffly and limping, down the path to the temple where he had conversed with Katsumoto, first against his will; then because he understood. The scent of cherry blossoms lingered in the air and his quiet footsteps reminded him of the samurai and how he had experienced peace in its utmost sense in the place.
Algren looked at the serene statue of Buddha and knew that Katsumoto had found his solace. His peace might be in death as well as in life, but Algren's lay elsewhere; not in the mental teachings and meditation, but here – in this village, under the cherry trees, with the people.
In Taka's touch when she changed the white linens that covered his wounds, brushing her fingers against his skin, making Algren shudder at the ethereality of her presence.
With the approaching summer came a flourish and beauty of nature Algren had never seen before. Autumn in the village had been breathtaking, all world inhaling its last breath before the winter that was spent in quiet foreboding surety, the flowers and trees giving way to the impending fate.
The fate Katsumoto had changed, leaving only one man to witness the burden of it.
No longer did the samurai go through their daily exercises of endless kata and dance of swords. No longer did Ujio, the fearless warrior, speak orders to the men, mending Algren's pride into honor, bending his desire into determination. No longer did the men laugh with each other after training, nor did they go home to their awaiting wives and children.
Algren walked the empty grounds surrounded by trees and endless fields of grass and remembered. The peace created by the sacrifice of so many lives weighed heavy on the shoulders of the man who had finally given up trying to die and had sworn to stay alive to keep that peace no matter the cost.