It was a beautiful summer morning when the coaches were drawn to take Miyoshi and Akemi to the temple. Over the windows hung exquisite, colorful silk scarves that veiled them from the street. Kenji and his guards escorted their travel. It was a noisy trip while going through the outskirts of the city. Soon it quieted as they headed up the dirt road to the west. It was not long before they arrived at the Shinto Temple outside Nara.
Stepping from her coach, Miyoshi smoothed her green silk robes. She raised her head as she passed beneath the series of spotlessly clean, red cinnabar Torii columns leading to the temple. As she drew
near, prayers and chanting reverberated from inside amidst the softly ringing bells and low beating drums. Incense filled the air, creating a mood of solemnity. The comforting smells and sounds washed over her as she entered the inner enclosure for the cleansing ritual.
Fear for Shino filled Miyoshi. She knew there was some danger stalking them. She’d detected an undercurrent of anxiety in his voice the day he’d visited her before sending his tanka. When she’d sat behind her sudare screen as a proper lady and asked him to prepare her trip, his response had been formal and samurai. The fleeting hint of apprehension she’d heard as he told her Kenji would be in charge warned her much was at risk. But it was what she could not discern that worried her more.
Shino was samurai. She needed to appeal to the old gods. The war and wind gods must be petitioned to watch over him. If anything happened to him…well, she refused to think of it.
Bowing before the huge stone bowl placed under the temple roof, she dipped her hands into the water.
Completing the ceremonial washing, she bowed again and moved forward to the portal of the great temple.
At the well-worn low railing, she knelt on the cushions provided and closed her eyes. Only the temple priests were allowed beyond the railing. Breathing in the heady scents of incense and oils that wafted from the temple, she listened to their prayers coming from inside as bells chimed and drums beat a steady rhythm, sending their chanted prayers to the gods.
She had asked Kenji where Shino had gone. All he said was something important had arisen and Shino had traveled into the countryside. Tears welled up, and lowering her head in obeisance, she dabbed at her eyes with the inside of her sleeve. She yanked the soft hanging rope of the bell and clapped her hands loudly in defiance of her tears.
The gods must be awakened and pay attention to her. With great humility, she prayed until her fear had ebbed and her requests were exhausted. Rising, she bowed once again, tossed some coins into the wooden container beyond the railing, and padded softly back through the trail of Torii pillars.
After returning home. and for many nights thereafter, Miyoshi kneeled in front of Kwannon, the statue her father had given her after her mother died. She released her deepest fears, sorrows, and uncertainties as she prayed for the mercy only the Goddess Kwannon could bestow. The little wooden statue held all the pain that she’d transferred into it as a child grieving her mother’s passing. Only now she prayed for Shino, and to stay the future marriage that would cage her as surely as one caged a songbird.
She contemplated the goddess as kind mother-protector. She knew her prayers were heard, although she feared they might not be answered. The ways of the Shinto gods were unpredictable. Sometimes they cared not what people wanted. She did not know if Kwannon could convince them to let everything remain as it was. She wanted Shino to return to her and for their visits in her garden tea house to continue.