Somehow, the world had become unsettled. The outbreak of war seemed imminent. It was as though an unbridled horse, having fled a burning barn, were rampaging endlessly round the grounds, while footmen gave chase in boisterous confusion. Inside the house, though, was stillness and quiet.
In the house were a young mother and her two-year-old child. The father had gone away. The father had gone in the middle of a moonless night. Seated on the bedding, he'd put on his straw sandals and tied a black bandana about his head. Then he'd left out the side door. As he'd departed, a wedge of light from the paper lantern held by the mother had pierced the darkness, illuminating an old cypress that grew inside the hedge.
The father had not since returned. Every day, the mother would ask her young child, "Where is your father?" The child said nothing. After a while, though, the child learned to say, "Away." When she asked, "When will your father be home?" the child answered, "Away," and smiled. The mother smiled back. Then she would always say, "Father will be home soon." The child, however, only remembered, "Soon." Sometimes, when she asked, "Where is your father?" the child replied, "Soon."
At dusk, when the town is quiet, the mother re-tightens the sash of her kimono and slips a dagger, sheathed in shark skin, into its folds. Then she secures the child to her back with a narrow strap of cloth and leaves quietly out the side door. She always wears her sandals. The child, listening to the sound of her sandals, sometimes falls asleep on the mother's back.
Along the earthen walls of the residential district, a gentle slope descends toward the west. At the bottom of the slope is a large gingko tree. From the gingko tree, turning to the right, a stone torii gate stands in the distance. The path to the gate leads through rice fields on one side and bamboo grass on the other. Within the gate is a thick grove of cedar. Paving stones extend from the gate, thirty meters or so, to the steps of an old shrine. At the bottom of the steps, the cord of a large bell hangs over a weathered gray offertory box. In daylight, one can read 'Hachimangū' on a plaque by the bell. Of particular interest is the character for 'Hachi,' which is drawn in a stylized form with two doves face to face. There are various other plaques as well. Many include a gold target, pierced by a clansman's arrow, along with the name of the marksman. Others pay tribute to the sword.