Renee Ahdieh is going on tour for her new novel Flame in the Mist. Read an exclusive excerpt and see where Renee is headed.
Renee Ahdieh is is going on tour with several stops in New York and all along the East Coast.
‘The Dragon of Kai’ excerpt
The massive warhorse stalked through the predawn mist. A curtain of vines parted in its wake. Mounted samurai moved from the darkness, resuming their formation at the beast’s flank. Its heavily armored rider led them inexorably forward. The horse huffed through its nostrils, its eyes wild as its breath mingled with the mist — two steady streams of barely checked rage.
The samurai atop the sorrel horse was a stark contrast to his mount. He appeared calm. Collected. His helmet sported twisted horns. A gaping dragon’s maw adorned the front, fashioned of bloodred lacquer and polished steel. The breastplate of his dō was molded from rectangular plates of hardened leather and iron. It bore a hexagonal crest, with two arrow feathers affixed like dashes in its center. Opposite each other. Ever watching the other’s back. Ever promising a balance between light and dark.
Silently the men and their beasts crept through the rapidly fading darkness. An early-morning fog encircled the horses’ hooves, unraveling with each step as they cut through Jukai forest. Ever forward. Ever onward.
The samurai leading the contingent rode through the ghostly wood, his eyes scrutinizing the ground before him. Missing nothing. After a time, they came upon a clearing. The same clearing they had sought for the past two days. Recently arrived vultures circled above in slow downward spirals, drawing the men closer.
Drawing them toward a scene of death and devastation.
Before the band of samurai lay the remnants of a wealthy convoy, recently plundered.
The men reined in their horses. Their leader dismounted without a word. He was so light of foot, his steps could barely be heard. The white fog swirled around him as he moved forward soundlessly.
Though he could have paused to take note of the men lost — the bodies of the fifteen samurai left to rot in an ignominious predawn — the leader instead moved with unfailing purpose toward a heap of wood that looked to be the remains of a recent bonfire. As he neared the charred traces, the shadow of an elegant, lacquered norimono formed before his gaze. The samurai adjusted the swords at his belt and removed his helmet.
A rosy light began to crest through the trees at his back. Unbidden, he turned to face its blushing warmth. He took in a careful breath. A breath mindful of the life he was still privileged to live. A breath mindful of the good death he was destined to have—
On the field of battle.
He was young. His face was lean. Hawkish. With a pointed jaw and eyes blacker than pitch. His topknot was perfect, every strand aligned in elegant submission. As he inspected the ruins, another armored samurai moved to his side, carrying a fistful of burned boro and silk — two singed banners, one bearing the same hexagonal crest and another bearing the crest of the emperor.
The second samurai passed along his confirmation. “I am sorry, Kenshin-wakasama.” Though his words were apologetic, he did not speak with remorse. He spoke with an understood promise.
One of bloody retribution.
Instead of meeting the samurai’s promise with one of his own, the young man with the dragon helmet did not even glance his way. Expressionless in the face of the horrors perpetrated on his own men — on his own family — he gripped a blackened piece of wood and yanked it aside with vicious precision. It splintered, its ends crumbling to dust in his grasp.
The young samurai peered inside. The scorched body of a girl lay within. What remained of her skin was crackled black by the fire. When he studied the carnage further, Hattori Kenshin noticed the glint of several arrowheads buried beneath the girl’s remains, a suspicious stain darkening the norimono’s floor. Tarry. Thick.
She had not died by fire.
Then continued in his search, his eyes unceasingly roving.
Wedged into one of the only remaining corners of the richly appointed norimono was a small triangle of burned fabric. The same sort of boro fabric his family used to fashion their pennants. The same boro the peasants and maidservants wore.
He looked harder, scouring the embers for further glimpses of truth.
Mariko’s kimono. Not even a hint of the distinct tatsumura silk could be seen anywhere.
Kenshin’s eyes moved to the bare earth at his feet. Drifted to the left, then slowly to the right.
A zori sandal—all but hidden from his eyes—lay on its side a few steps away from the norimono. It shone, even in the dim reaches of the early-morning sun. A lacquered finish unmarred by flames. Kenshin stepped toward his sister’s shoe, kneeling to retrieve it.
“My lord,” the samurai at his back began in a hesitant tone, “I know—”
Kenshin silenced him with a glance, then returned to his work, his eyes still searching. Ever hunting.
Soon he found what he was looking for. Tracks.
Two sets. One made in pursuit of the other, the second set of far less interest to Kenshin than the first.
The first set were the tracks of a woman’s split-toed tabi socks. Tracks like those of a wounded deer, staggering away from its inevitable demise. It was clear an attempt had been made to cover them. But few who traversed these woods possessed the dogged determination and unfailing skill of Hattori Kenshin. He knew these tracks. The shapes pressed into the earth were too small to be those of a man. Too delicate.
Though his twin sister was anything but delicate, Kenshin knew they belonged to her with the same sort of certainty he felt in his heart. In his every breath. She’d been alive three days ago.
And these tracks led to the left.
Away from the massacre.
Without a word, Hattori Kenshin returned to his wildeyed warhorse. Born to the motions of a warrior—to the movements of a hunt—he replaced his dragon helmet and chin guard, then swung onto his oiled saddle.
“My lord,” the samurai protested again, “though it may be difficult to accept, I am afraid it is clear Lady Hattori—”
Kenshin raised his left hand. Curled his fingers into a fist. Then he signaled his men onward.
Following the tracks into the forest.
From his perch at the head of the convoy, the Dragon of Kai grinned slowly.
Darkly. His sister was not dead.
She was much too smart for that.