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Betrayal at Iga
A Hiro Hattori Novel
By Susan Spann
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2017 Susan Spann
All rights reserved.
Hiro Hattori leaned into the wind that swept down the hill and across his face. He pulled his kimono tighter and glanced at the Portuguese priest beside him. "Remember, you must eat everything set before you —"
"— because leaving food on the plate offends the host." Father Mateo smiled. "I have attended Japanese feasts before."
"Not like this one." The words came out more sharply than intended.
Father Mateo stopped short. "You're nervous."
"And you should be." Hiro faced the Jesuit. "This is not a 'welcome the foreigner' feast in Kyoto, with samurai willing to overlook a stranger's breach of etiquette."
The sun had dropped below the horizon, filling the air with the chill of mountain twilight. Hiro gestured toward the top of the hill. "That house belongs to Hattori Hanzo, leader of the Iga ryu. Everyone inside is a trained assassin, half of them visitors from Koga and thus not under Iga's control. If you can think of a less advisable place to cause offense, feel free to enlighten me."
"But ... isn't Hanzo your cousin?"
Hiro frowned. "That fact will not protect you."
Father Mateo looked concerned. "If attending is truly so dangerous, why didn't you try to prevent me from accepting the invitation?"
"Would you have listened?"
"No," the priest admitted.
Hiro shrugged. "That answers your question."
"It never stopped you before."
Hiro ignored the comment and continued up the hill.
Father Mateo fell in step beside him. "I've wanted to meet Hattori Hanzo from the moment I learned he sent you to protect me, back in Kyoto."
"The client who hired the Iga ryu to guard you is responsible for your protection," Hiro corrected. "Hanzo merely chose me for the job."
Father Mateo smiled. "Do you realize fear makes you peevish?"
"I am not frightened," Hiro snapped. "I'm focused."
"Either way, you're peevish."
They rounded a curve, and Hiro shivered as the wind rustled through the leaves of the pines and colorful maples that crowded against the earthen path. His favorite gray kimono wasn't warm enough to block the autumn chill.
"Why did Hanzo invite me tonight?" the Jesuit asked. "I know he wanted you to keep an eye on the Koga emissaries, but I'm not part of the peace negotiations."
"The commander of the Iga ryu has an obligation to welcome every guest who arrives in the village. Important guests must also be given a feast on the night they arrive."
"So the Koga shinobi arrived today as well?"
Hiro nodded. "Unfortunately, they did not reveal their arrival date in advance, placing Hanzo in the awkward position of needing to welcome multiple guests on a single ..."
He trailed off as he realized the priest was no longer beside him. Father Mateo stood on the path staring up at Hanzo's mansion, which had finally come entirely into view.
Solid walls of earth and stone rose ten feet high around the compound, giving it the appearance of a fortress. Black-glazed tiles topped the walls and arched across the massive wooden gates that marked the entrance. Beyond them, the mansion's sloping roof rose up like the back of a sleeping dragon.
"It looks like the shogun's palace." Father Mateo was awestruck.
"A reminder to all that Hattori Hanzo is more than a village chieftain. Hurry up, we can't be late."
"Shouldn't there be someone here to greet us?" the Jesuit asked as they passed between the gates and entered the courtyard. "Guards, or someone?"
"In peacetime, Hanzo needs no guards." Hiro looked around. "I would have expected some tonight, with Koga emissaries in the village. Apparently, Hanzo believed them unnecessary."
As he crossed the yard with Father Mateo, Hiro observed how barren the compound seemed, compared with Kyoto's samurai mansions. No Buddhist statuary or flowing koi ponds filled the space. A Zen dry garden in the corner offered an interesting view, but only to those whose eyes were trained to understand its austere beauty.
Carved stone lanterns stood on either side of the wooden steps leading up to the covered veranda that surrounded Hanzo's home. In the gathering darkness, their flickering light illuminated a row of crimson maples, dwarfed by pruning to prevent intruders from using them to scale the roof. The maple leaves glowed like coals, surrounding the house with living flame.
The mansion's roof soared high overhead, with finials carved in the shape of tigers. Twilight hid the details, but Hiro remembered them all too well.
He passed the lanterns and stepped onto the porch, frowning at the line of sandals sitting by the door. "The Koga delegation has arrived, which makes us late."
The heavy, wooden door swung open, revealing an ancient, wizened woman barely as tall as Hiro's chest. Wrinkles obscured her features, and her ears resembled apricot slices left in the sun too long. Golden hairpins glimmered in the coil of snow-white hair atop her head, while embroidered autumn leaves flowed down the side of her silk kimono, shimmering in brilliant shades of scarlet, gold, and orange.
The wrinkles around her mouth drew back, revealing a set of shockingly healthy teeth.
She did not bow, but Hiro did, more deeply and with more respect than Father Mateo had ever seen him show. As Hiro straightened, the priest made a slow, equally respectful bow.
The woman's smile grew. "Welcome home, Hiro-kun."
Father Mateo looked at Hiro, surprised by the ancient woman's use of the diminutive.
"Thank you, it is nice to be back." Hiro gestured to the priest. "May I introduce Father Mateo Avila de Santos, a priest of the foreign god, from Portugal."
The woman nodded.
Addressing the Jesuit, Hiro added, "My grandmother, Hattori Akiko."
Father Mateo bowed again.
"You are late, Hiro-kun," Akiko warned. "The meal is ready. Everyone is waiting."
"Is that why you answered the door?" Hiro asked.
She shrugged, and her formality fell away. "Hanzo sent his wife into the mountains, with their infant son." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Betraying his assertion that he trusts the Koga, and needs no guards, because the delegation comes in peace."
"He didn't send you to the mountains ?" Hiro asked.
Akiko made a dismissive gesture. "I refused to go. I'm old. Nobody wants to hurt me, and if they tried, I wouldn't care. It's been too long since I had a decent fight."
She stepped away from the door. "Follow me, and hurry. You know how Hanzo-kun dislikes delays."
Almost as much as he hates the nickname "Hanzo-kun," Hiro thought as he left his sandals by the door. A wave of discomfort washed over him as he followed Akiko into the house. The last time he had seen his cousin Hanzo, things had not gone well.
Behind him, Father Mateo whispered, "She's your grandmother?" The Jesuit spoke in Portuguese, so Hiro replied in kind. "Yes, and don't be fooled by her innocent act. She has killed a man with nothing but a chopstick."
Excerpted from Betrayal at Iga by Susan Spann. Copyright © 2017 Susan Spann. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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