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Prayer of the Oni 1: The Market

“The reason why sinners are deceived by their own minds to suffer these cycles in this hell is because of their wrongful passions. The wardens scold the sinners by chanting a verse: ‘’Tis not another who acted evil; ‘tis not another who’ll receive its retribution. One reaps the fruits of one’s one actions; so it is for all living beings.’” – Genshin, Anthology of Essential Teaching for Deliverance to the Pure Land

It was in the latter days of the Fujiwara, when Heian-kyo had already fallen to vice and the tolling of the temple bells no longer rang out with the purity of old, and the streets were full of refuse and evil men ruled the countryside while the nobles made merry in their grand estates. Still as the world collapsed they played their songs and composed their poems, while in the southern parts of the city and in the east near the Kamo river the commoners starved in their ramshackle homes. The summer was brutal and a time of long days and festering heat, and Heian-kyo had been long-standing for all time, they said, and once the court had been happy and the country had prospered; but now there was no money and all that could be traded were gifts and favours and what was stolen, and disorder amongst the great families had disrupted the natural way of things, and bands of men who killed and plundered roamed all outside the city gates with nothing but the spectre of facing Buddha’s wrath in their next lives to stop them – meanwhile in this life it was so that all that came about was decided by force. It was in these dark times that a girl from the mountains who had come to the city met a false priest.

She had come to Heian-kyo the autumn hence from her village, when the cold had begun to choke the life out of all of those starving people who lived up in the hills and after she had killed her father, and she had survived by doing what had been necessary to keep safe and the journey had been long and hard and she had relied upon kindness and weakness both to stay alive and as well as that stolen food from farmers’ huts and passing wagons, and been caught and beaten and abused for it too, and yet now she was here and still had her body and her mind still worked and though bruised and battered she lived in peace in the hut on the riverbank, spending her time lying on a straw mat in her dirty smock and trousers most evenings without having to worry about life or death. On those evenings she could hear the water running outside and see the reeds blowing in the wind through the open doorway, and when it rained she could hear the thatched roof being battered and watch the droplets fall through the holes and kiss the dirt. Others lived by the river in the old huts and she hid her things under the straw and waited with her grandfather’s farming knife when they came but always soon they went.

Down the river was another hut which always had smoke coming from outside where the men started fires and sat drinking, and she often when she would sit there heard their rough chatter float up to her and listened and looked out over the black water at Heian-kyo opposite, its many buildings and many fires and above all the imperial palace which stuck up delightfully over the walls and the rooftops like the centre of the whole world. To the east of her were the hills and the constant traffic of the bridge upriver, which on a safe day she would walk down with her basket on her back to go into the city through one of the western gates amidst the flooding bodies of commoners, periodically making way for proud nobles who cut through the poor with their dazzling beauty, their palanquins a hundred colours and materials and their banners flying accompanied by the grunting of oxen and the rich sound of well-born voices calling for space to proceed as they hurried onto the imperial thoroughfare of Suzaku Avenue.

People told her the women in those beautiful vehicles had black teeth and white faces and hair to their waists, and that they lived in peace with all they needed given for them and that they never had to work, but she didn’t believe it. She carried her basket to the west market, entering on Nishi Omiya where the crowds that filled the narrow streets around Suzaku Avenue were thickest, and where it was easiest for her to slip into the market square, and sweating and grim-faced she then set her basket in the far-west corner near the ugly woman who sold river fish and she did business. The girl had learned to steal chestnuts from the trees in the yard of the old farm a short distance away from the river, which was beside a house that had been burned down where the bodies of the occupants still lay black and withered, and she carried the nuts that grew there to the market and took as well anything that came on a body down the river that hadn’t already been stripped. Once she sold a wooden buddha taken from a man’s neck and she hated to carry it and shivered thinking of it under the straw and was nothing but glad for it to be gone. She spoke little, with a hat pulled low over her face, and kept her knife within the folds of her cloak and watched them come and go. They traded for her chestnuts, which no longer came from the farm as they had before and which the townsfolk very much missed, and they gave her sometimes simple bags of poor-quality barley, sometimes rice, and sometimes other things like bottles of wine or scraps she could sew onto her clothes which were always fraught with holes and tears. Twice at the farm bandits had cornered her and knocked her over but bandits didn’t care for things like chestnuts and at least had left the trees alone. Once she sold a warrior’s blade found upon a body in the fields, shooing away the crows pecking at him and finding the blade and giving it to a shifty man with a scarred face who had traded her a pair of wooden sandals which she wore now every day.

The market was a thousand voices all clashing and goods laid out sometimes on stalls but often just in the dirt and fights all the time as the sweating heaving mass of desperate people clashed and meshed, a man dying over refusing to hand over his chickens or two large men beating of a customer who kept on refusing to pay or some unprepared person who came in with a bag of coin who was set upon by twenty greedy merchants who assailed them with loving words and then spat fire when they refused to be taken in. The girl usually found it easy to notice threats but the market was all threats, the space between the rotting buildings of old Heian-kyo alive with sinners. Once to hear Pig-headed Saburo talk about it guards had maintained order and impressed the might of the court upon the rabble, but now the nobles were under siege and the natural way of things was crumbling. She saw a little girl gone shopping with her mother get taken, three men stealing her from the street without a sound, grabbing her with hands over her mouth and the other two picking her up and rushing her into an alley at the corner of the market. The girl had not liked this but had gotten fresh fish for her chestnuts that day and had been hungry enough to forget. She had cooked the fish outside her hut. The hut had belonged to someone else once but she had found nothing but dried blood inside and so now it was hers. It was surrounded on all sides by tall grass and the road nearby was patrolled by men with swords who never thought to go into the grass themselves. From the bank the hut was invisible and from the road it was too and so she was there upon the cusp of death, listening and watching.

She had never been called anything but ‘brat’ and ‘girl’ by her father who had wanted a son, and at the west market in the city they had taken to calling her Basket Girl and so she took this to be her name. She was nothing and so were they and she could not read or write and some of them could, the merchants and traders, and they scoffed at her for only trading in barter for coin did still exist and was worth chasing if you could get it, they said, and she replied to none of them and took her remaining chestnuts and trinkets back in her basket at the end of each day and walked home. She did not know how to do business or farm or make a living but only knew how to steal chestnuts. This was the fate her karma had guided her to and it was the daily pulse of her life on the night when she met the false priest.

The day had gone by in another overheated haze, the boats moving upon the river with their usual sleepy pace and the bandits not hunting but laying out naked on the shore where if she went out into the water, wading between the reeds, she could see their manly parts between their legs if she peered closely enough. The chestnuts at the farm were not yet fallen and so she hadn’t been to Heian-kyo for several weeks and yet it was there opposite beyond the bridges and past the fields, the gates and the buildings and above all the imperial palace, and far off as only a suggestion beyond even the city was Mt. Hiei where the monks at Enryakuji lived. Sweating she had relaxed all day, still with barley for cooking in a sack in the hut and with some of the wine that Pig-headed Saburo had given her at the end of his last market shift, when he had called her there to carry his things back to the wagon and paid her in that and a few sparse pears she had eaten on the walk home. Now with a belly full of barley and wine she lay on the bank and watched the setting sun come low over the city and the orange blood of heaven spill itself in great arcs across the sky. On one of the far-off bridges a struggle occurred, voices raised and panicked, and then disappeared as violence solved the problem whatever it was as quickly as it had come. The birds chirped and sang all across the plains at her back and from the village she heard the dogs the bandits kept howling at one another. All of this was undercut by the steady hum of the cicadas which never stopped from their invisible outposts in the trees. She beheld the reeds dancing slowly to themselves. A convoy passed along the nearest bridge, wagons’ wheels rattling and oxen fat and dark, men with spears perched upon the wagon’s rear looking out and in the back a family huddled together, refugees from the provinces much like herself except she knew they would not make it because they were too many and it was in their eyes that they were soft. She threw a stone into the water and watched it land with a brief splash, an explosion, a breaking of the surface, before it disappeared.

Soon the sun fell from the sky upon the city’s buildings and set the world ablaze just as those who sinned were set alight in the depths of the eight hot hells as her father had told her. Lanterns came on within the city but here there was only her own fire which was made of reeds and branches and which was small so that there was only a little smoke. By it she could see the bank and the water and little else. The cicadas went on with their myriad mingling songs and men talked from the bandit huts and there was laughter and the rolling of dice and amongst all this, ignored for the moment both by heaven and hell, the girl was content.

After some time she saw more ripples on the water, not the ripple of fish but of something moving that was larger. It could she thought have been driftwood or it could have been a body. Leaving her fire she scrambled down the bank, bare feet crushing grass and soil and the pebbles hard against her soles. The thing was floating along a short distance away carried lazily on the current. She tugged loose her trousers and slipped them away and went into the water and was up to her thighs before it was close. It was shaped like a body wrapped in waterlogged clothes and that indeed was what she found it was. She smiled to herself and put her hands to it and followed the old routine. Sometimes the bandits were thorough and sometimes they were not. She reached into the body’s robes and explored cold dead flesh, reaching around the waist and then to the back. Around the neck she found it, a necklace, and she moved herself in the water splashing about and with some effort pulled it free and over the corpse’s fat head. It was a man, overweight and with a shaved skull, and she realised that his clothes were the robes of a monk. She paused, holding the necklace in one hand and with her other still inside his robe, and pulled herself free and pushed the corpse back out into the river where the current caught it once more.

Clambering on all fours back up the bank and to her fire she sat down before it. By the firelight she studied the necklace and she stared at it and stared some more and made a noise of alarm and kept on staring. It was only string but the pendent tied to it was an image of the Buddha and it was not made of wood or simple rock but of what she thought might have been gold. She knew what gold was but not how it was made but that it was expensive. The Buddha stared up at her with an expression indicative of the most serene peace. At once she looked around at the tall grass and back at her hut. She was alone. She quickly put the buddha about her neck so that it was hidden beneath her shirt and with care she crept down to where she had left her trousers and put them on and tied them tight. She went to the hut and found her sandals and put them on as well, and picked up her bearskin bag and her cloak and her basket. She slipped her grandfather’s knife in its sheath into the bag and closed it, and retrieved her hat and tied the strap about her chin. Thus prepared she went back down to the bank and looked and saw that the corpse was already gone, now travelled further along the Kamo to elsewhere. She bowed and clasped her hands together and repeated a mantra into the night. All that answered her was the buzz of the cicadas.

The girl had learned by now to stay away from Heian-kyo after dark. She had learned that the roads were hard and the city streets harder and that when the divine light of the sun was gone from view not only men but demons roamed and that those who had angered Buddha before were the favourite prey of monsters and that she, born as a girl, already had lived many lives of misfortune to be returned as something so wretched and weak and so the night would not be kind to her. But gold could not stay here. The bandits would smell it; they would shatter the harmony of her existence by their greed and find her hut and find her and take it from her. She wondered what could be bartered for with gold and wondered how many fish or many bags of rice it would provide her. Putting out her fire and leaving the hut in darkness, as empty as if she had never been there, she slipped into the grass and went on, it scratching her and touching her and finally letting her through. There was nothing ahead but grass and nothing behind but grass, but she heard no voices and smelt no male bodies sweating and stinking close by and so went carefully but swiftly. After a minute or so she came to the dirt road. It went north and kept on going until it came to the bridge and the bandits went along it on the daytime but were nervous about the night.

She was nervous too, and she waited there with the insects alive all around her staring into the dark of the road, without light or colour but for that dim impression given by the moon above. No one came for her. There were no men visible in any direction, not along the road or within the woods opposite, although from there a thousand dark things watched her between the gaps of the trees. None of them were men. She had taken a step and now she was in the road. With that done the girl continued, one hand on the handle of her knife, wandering along the night path up north with her eyes always scanning the trees and the grass and the path at her back. The voices of the bandits still came from their huts but further away now and by her ears there were no other voices nearby. Her sandals kissed the dirt and the sweat dripped down the back of her neck.

Soon she arrived at the bridge and its wood was creaking in the wind and the lanterns along its sides had their flames dancing wildly. A body lay against one side in peasant robes with withered flesh and holes in its face watching her without sight. Here crouched she approached and peered ahead. The bridge spanned the whole of the river which was quiet and vast below and on the other side were the long barren fields of the farmers whose crops stood rotten in the dirt ruined by the abandonment of heaven and beyond those fields woodland of dead trees and old ghosts and the graves where they buried the starved and beyond that the city, its outer walls and there the western gates stretching out further than she could see, the only place with food still to find and the only place under heaven where the demon kings hadn’t yet claimed all life, where if she could make it now she too might find life for herself. She crossed the fields in almost-perfect darkness bent double, her empty basket banging against her back. A crow called out asking for her to present herself. Her heart was frantic and she could barely think and the hum of the cicadas was not separate from her but within her own head as she ambled forward through the long wilting sheaves of wheat and corn where the flies buzzed and the dead lurked. Soon she came to the woods, where the dirt roads used by travellers with goods to sell led to the western gates and to the nearest gate of Datten, which led onto Omikaido Street in the noble quarters.

From there she knew her way to the market and that the market would still be working until the curfew was enforced and even then probably after. She touched the gold and bowed her head and prayed. In the woods she heard footsteps on the path and ducked into the trees watching men go by, men in rough clothes with swords and spears who were drinking from gourds and talking in rough voices. Soon they were gone. She crept through the clearing with the old shrine, where strips of paper hung garlanded along rope over the wood. Things whispered in the dark around it to her and spoke to her of such beautiful places beyond the cusp of this world. A thousand eyes leered at her from the trees. Within the veil of the intertwined branches in a clearing opposite a shadow stood and observed with silent entreatment. Come with us, little girl, it said in her ear. The children of the village which had once stood here – so Pig-headed Saburo had told her – were playing upon the trunk of a fallen tree and they stopped there and looked over at her with white eyes and white faces and then as one chorus began to giggle. They were waiting for her to join in.

Datten Gate was ahead and it was old wood proud and steady, so vast it seemed to be as natural as the ancient trees on the slopes beneath Mt. Hiei, with flickering lanterns leading all along the path up to it upon the ruined soil. A guard was there but he was slumped over against the wall drinking with boils from sickness all over his half-shadowed face and she went in, into the great city that was the home of the immortal heavenly sovereign descended from the sun, who lived and now slept there in his great palace. That palace was close and so too were the noble estates with their many rooms and gardens but the girl turned the other way, south, into the lesser part of the Left Capital. There soon she came to houses, not shacks like her own or estates either but the houses of the city’s poor, workmen and merchants and all the others, who were not of the ruined country but not counted amongst the courtiers. Here it was lantern-lit and there were no restless dead upon the streets and she still went cautiously. Drunks laid about on the ground and voices came from behind shutters and shacks. Flies chased the fires of the lanterns. A monk wandered leisurely near a temple, one of those smaller ones not supposed to be allowed, Saburo said, but ever-present anyway, pacing in front of its barred wooden gates from behind which the smell of incense still stubbornly came. The girl went while trying to appear nonchalant with her hat pulled low and she felt the weight of the gold buddha-image on her sweat-soaked chest. Here the noises of the country had faded, the cicadas and the wind and the water. Here it was all only men.

In one small house they were laughing and drinking as the riverside bandits did and she without thinking shrank back, but they had their shutters open because of the heat and she saw them only as thin and sweaty merchants in drab half-worn robes all around their table eating meagre dinner together and talking of business. Beggars lurked in the gloom already well upon the short road to death, in torn robes with skin stretched over bone, grey and sallow and staring as she passed them with their expressions empty of feeling. An old woman lay there at an intersection now a corpse, flies buzzing all around her and swarming across her dismal shrunken flesh. As the girl went south the bustle increased, her closeness to the market calming her, more people in the streets or busy going from here to there, tanners and butchers and other places still working even as the moon was higher and higher above them. Soon she was close to Nishi Omiya and she knew it by that pleasure-house on the corner which employed the burly man outside in his half-robe who glowered at her as she passed every time. A cart trundled by led by a mule and its owner was singing to himself of the distant sea and the beautiful sunrise. She hurried to Nishi Omiya and went south down it to her usual entrance to the market square. It was not as busy as in the afternoon but still people were coming and going, the poor with faces as dirty as hers and with that same suspicion, and at this time many came to the west market not to trade but only to talk, drink-soaked or bored men in workmen’s’ clothes idle at stores exchanging words with their owners.

The girl was stood now in the market with its many stalls and tents and busy living bodies. She took a second to breath. She went along, following the rows of stalls, several people calling to her in greeting – “Good evening, Basket Girl!” – and she ignoring it. Eventually she found Saburo at his stall with most of his product gone, haggling over a head of lettuce with a high-nosed woman who had to be a servant for some noble family, her clothes common but her manner too stern and her voice too high to be otherwise. The girl waited for this to conclude and as it did with the high-nosed woman leaving without lettuce and foul of expression she came up to Saburo, a broad man with only a little more hair than the corpse she had robbed earlier, a man whose shirt and trousers were always stained and whose gut was swollen and who between his legs was like an ox, so Miss Green Coat of the pleasure-house had told her one evening. “Little Basket Girl!” he said, turning to her. “Isn’t it too late to sell chestnuts today? Nobody will buy anything like that at this hour!”

“Mr. Saburo.” she said. She pushed her hat back and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “I don’t have any chestnuts.” Voices from other stalls were everywhere, other conversations, buyers and sellers in intercourse. He edged closer. Dried blood streaked his stall’s front and some had splashed upon his clothes in a grim crimson arc. “Oh? Did you find something useful?”

She nodded. She pulled it from her shirt and showed it to him. His eyes lit up. Quickly and with the same furtiveness she had noticed in herself back at the riverbank he grabbed it and shoved it back into her shirt collar. “Ah!” he said, looking about. “Where did you get that?”

“A body in the river.”

“What kind of body?” He shook himself and muttered a prayer. “Never mind it. That…you brought it here to sell?” She nodded. “You can’t take something like that out here. Do you know how much that could be worth? There are people who would kill you for it without a problem.”

“I know.” she said. “But I could get some fish, or a new cloak, for it, I thought.”

“A new cloak…” Saburo closed his eyes for a second. He put a heavy hand on the stall. “You don’t understand, Basket. Gold isn’t just something that can get you a new cloak. It’s very valuable. You need to find someone you can trust.”

“I trust you.”

He ran a hand over his face. He turned from her and mumbled another prayer and then turned back. “I understand.” he said. He was sweating. “But even so, I’m no gold-dealer. Ah, what a problem. Let me find someone.” So she was left there by the stall of meat and the flies that came with their lazy droning song to sample it and all of the bustle washing over her like wind that hit a tree but did not move it. Of their own accord, a routine that was as unconscious as breathing, her eyes took each of them, these things that called themselves human beings, and assessed them, finding the danger or the lack of danger and making a note of it. She had never made a note of anything in the literal sense and so had made a journal out of her brain which was empty of much else. She knew the man with one eye who sold carvings of buddhas and the woman with her breastfeeding infant who dealt in cheap imitations of noble robes and cloaks, and the two gentlemen with faces like monsters who lurked in the southern entryway watching everyone to find whoever needed what they sold which couldn’t be displayed; she knew the look of the bandits who tried to affect civilisation to hawk whatever they’d looted, the look of the desperate who came to filch what they could, the manner of the crazed who came to preach holy words to anyone who would listen. She knew the smell of raw meat and of spices from far-off places and the wet smell of the dirty robes sold by the village men with the beards who came every other week and looked at her sinfully. Although the girl hated the market and hated the city she was safer here, because it was simple, while in her hut in the grass she was weaker, less capable, because it was much closer to where she had come from and where her father had died. She leant against the wood of Saburo’s stall and glanced up at the moon, full and heavy and white like the mythical powdered faces of the noble ladies that she had heard about.

It was in this situation that she noticed the priest. He was walking through the aisles of the market in the robes of a holy man dyed deep blue, carrying a three-ringed staff that clanged gently with each step. He was tall and had that sad quality of something once brilliant now busy wasting away, sunken eyes and scarred cheek and lined brow, that marked him at once as something like a bandit. He moved with care but confidently, his stooped posture belying the sharpness of his eyes, which took things in and disregarded them in the same second, calculating like a predator in that instantaneous way. The same way her own eyes worked. He walked through the next aisle, hat on his head, thumping his staff upon the ground as he went. He passed the breastfeeding woman’s stall and glanced at her and her loose shirt and the breasts beneath it once then away, and he turned his head and at that moment caught the girl instead.

She saw him and he saw her. He stopped. Something came to his face, something she didn’t know, and it wasn’t lust – she knew lust – but a new emotion, adjacent to it, and she didn’t know and she looked down, obscuring him from view with the brim of her hat. He did not move on but stalked around the nearest stall and several seconds later came to her. “Good evening, young lady.” he said in a smooth preacher’s voice. He was smiling and his eyes were kind, no longer his true eyes which she had seen before he’d noticed her. “May I ask, what do you sell here?”

“Chestnuts.” she said.

“With your parents?” She shook her head. The false priest chuckled. “Oh. Well, you seem to be out of chestnuts anyway. Perhaps it would be best to go back home to them for the night. It can be dangerous on these streets after dark.”

“My parents are dead.”

The false priest paused. His smile was thin and it reminded her of a snake that was creeping up upon prey. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He thumbed his prayer beads with his free hand. “Namu Amida Butsu. Well, nevertheless, you should return home.” She only watched him, saying nothing. The false priest did not move on. “I’m waiting for someone.” she said.

“You’re trying to make some money?” he asked.

“Yes.” she said, feeling to have understood him. “But I’m waiting for someone.”

The false priest kept up that smile. He moved around the stall, closer to her, clanging his staff hard against the ground. “To help you make money?” he asked. When she did not answer he tried something else: “Hey, little girl, I saw you trying to hawk that gold.”

She tensed. Her hand went to her bag and found her knife from her grandfather and she held onto it. He kept up his smile. “I know how you can make more.” he said, in a voice quieter and shrewder than before. She closed her fingers around the handle of the knife and with her thumb slipped it from the sheath and with her eyes saw that his throat was unguarded and that if she moved in a single swift attack she could perhaps stab him and rob him of his smugness in less than five seconds. He did not move forward, as they always did when they were foolish, but instead flinched, eyes going to her bag and then back to her. Around them the market continued to be busy with chatter ongoing on all sides unrelated to them flowing past them like a river past a tree rooted deep to its bed. “Listen to me.” he said. “Listen to me here, girl. I’m in need of someone like you. Young, harmless-looking. I need help. If you can help me then I can give you a lot more than just one simple piece of gold. I know you think I’m some awful rascal, but just listen.” She didn’t stab him. He grinned at her, his real grin, and he eased yet closer so that now they were almost touching. “Look.” he said. “I’m a thief. I steal for a living. I understand you saw through me at once. I’m no priest, but I dress like one to make the job easier. I steal from the rich. And I’ve been eying this very important job for a while. What do you say?”

The girl considered. “More gold?”

He nodded. “A lot of it. You see, I like to visit these noble houses and talk about Buddha’s wisdom and all that shit, tell the sorts who are out of favour with the court all about the value of renunciation of worldly things. They love to hear that stuff – and I love to help myself to whatever they have lying about. There’s an estate here in Heian-kyo that I’ve been looking at. The owner, they say, keeps a scroll written by Prince Shotaku in his house!” The girl was silent for she didn’t know who Prince Shotaku was. “Anyway,” the false priest continued, “this family, the Hashimoto clan, they’ve fallen on hard times. They say the old man keeps himself locked up on his estate at all hours. Don’t you think that’s just the kind of person in need of some spiritual comfort? I’ve been getting ready for a while now, but I was thinking I needed a girl to help me, to get this old geezer to open up. And I saw you! I’m no priest, but I do believe in fate. I think I could use your help.”


He still wore that merry grin and she noticed now that he was missing several teeth. A blackness lurked in his upper gum and was spreading from there like a mould. She glanced about and saw no sign of Saburo and no one else was paying attention, all busy with their own work, talking and buying and selling. The false priest leant in with one dirty hand playing with the beads around his neck. His breath was heavy with the stench of alcohol. “I usually work with a partner. Someone who can back me up. A priest with a companion is more believable. And you look pretty for a commoner, don’t you think? A little scarred, it’s true, but good enough. And what seals it is I know, in fact, that this lord has a weakness for girls. How about it? All I need from you is a smile for Lord Hashimoto and you’ll get much more than just that tiny gold buddha around your neck.”

She looked around again. There was still no sign of Saburo. She thought that it was a mistake to have trusted him and shown him the gold, and she was struck by a sudden fear of this man who now knew a terrible secret about her and knew many other things besides which no one else did. The false priest did not know anything about her and she saw was dishonest through-and-through, and now that she was feeling nervous about Saburo perversely her trust for this man increased; or rather, she remembered finding the gold earlier, that leap in her chest, that dim suggestion of a life other than this. Saburo had told her gold could get her much more than a new cloak and she wanted to know what kind of things that meant. “I will come with you.” she told the false priest. “To get more gold.”

He laughed. “Hah! I knew I had you figured out from the start!”  He bowed to her and his hat almost fell from his head. “The name’s Takamasa.”

“I don’t have a name.” she said. “People call me Basket Girl.”

He tittered. “Well, Basket. Let’s get rich together! Come on. I know an inn that can clean you up a little and then we can get to work. Namu Amida Butsu, what a joy life is!” The false priest Takamasa turned, banging his staff on the ground. The girl went with him out of the market. Pig-Headed Saburo came back later and found her absent; they told him she had left with a vulgar priest and that they had gone north.

2: Wisteria Tree Lane

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