In ancient Japan, a land of stunning beauty and unspeakable brutality, Yamabuki, 17 years old, a woman samurai and warlord’s only surviving child, travels on a mission known only to her father through realms controlled by rival factions.

Veiled in the guise of an ordinary warrior, not even revealing that she is female, she crosses the water between two great isles, only to find the passengers are not who they seem. Some want her dead. Others want her because she’s a woman. She must fight for her honor, her duty, and her clan.

Blood will be spilled before it is over. But it will not be the last.

Not giggling. Not hiding behind silk curtains nor exposing a wrist. Not in the finest brocade but in the best-made battle gear, she led Mochizuki down Foot Trail while the arriving Ōuchi men trekked up. Her armor covered almost every bit of her body—feet, legs, torso, shoulders, head, arms, and hands—all except for her fingertips, where tactile sense was needed to effectively wield her weapons. And in a twist of irony, the only other part of her flesh that was exposed was her quite naked face.

Yamabuki’s personal servants had been aghast that she would let herself be seen thus. Exposed to everyone! Her handmaids had almost insisted, though it was not really their place to do so, that she wear a mempo battle mask to conceal her physiognomy.

Nakagawa had suggested otherwise. A mask would only invite curiosity. He had noted there was a common samurai protocol used to defuse unwarranted suspicion: while passing one another on any given street or road, warriors would briefly trade momentary glances in what Nakagawa called the peaceable practice of wolves recognizing wolves.

Though at first she did not care for the custom, quickly she had learned that if another samurai’s gaze lingered, she had to look directly back without exactly locking eyes until they looked away in feigned disinterest.

If anything, it was the spirited horse, and not of the seemingly ordinary Taka warrior in the dark-green armor with cobalt-blue woven-silk cords, that drew the attention of other warriors.

During prior journeys, the retinue had forced everyone to gather along the roadside and thus attracted a great deal of mandated attention, after which the retinue thrashed those who could not help but finally look.

But now in the guise of a buké she realized that most people simply moved through the world. Anyone who dared to meet her gaze could apprehend her countenance—though so far on her journey few commoners had.

Though her gear was immaculate, it was not all that different from the gear worn by the warriors now coming up Foot Trail. Like them, she too bore swords, bow, arrows, and a pole arm, as well as the other armaments, such as daggers and throwing stars, peculiar to warriors.

However, there was one thing that might have drawn attention to her, if the others only knew: she carried three scroll-length dispatches hidden on her person. Meant only for the Taka courtiers in Heian-kyō, under no circumstances were they to fall into unintended hands.

—from Cold Blood, by Katherine M. Lawrence. ©2014 All rights reserved.

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-9912667-1-5
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9912667-2-2
  • EBook ISBN: 978-0-9912667-3-9