In time, her captor’s robe did its job, and Ko was settled into it, wrapping it up around her shoulders, and over her head. The weight of the wide, waterlogged hat had grown heavy, and it now sat on the bench beside her.
She saw the small crew sneaking glances at her, though what they could see with her hidden inside the robe, and with the thickening fog, she didn’t know.
They seemed content to do no more than that, since, as her mysterious captor told her, the journey was not long.
He’d abandoned his post at the stern, and now stood in the bow; those mysteriously bright eyes were probably piercing through the fog to watch for the shore line.
Ko, feeling more relaxed, more due to inactivity and the receding of the adrenaline from her father’s betrayal than being comfortable, decided to stretch her legs, and join him, and perhaps get some answers to some of the questions she now had.
When she stood beside him, he acknowledged with a brief look, and turned his attention back to the unnaturally smooth river.
“What do I call you?”
“I go by many names.”
“I just need one.”
He smiled at her sarcastic quickness.
“Akira…I like it.”
“I am pleased.”
“How much longer, Akira?”
“I can see the coastline now.”
“Through the fog?”
He turned to her. “Are these the questions on your list?”
She shook her head.
“Then I am under no obligation to answer them.”
“Yes, it is.”
She looked up to see if he was joking, and thought she saw him just barely hide the trace of a smile.
“Hold your questions, Ko, until we are both warm and fed, and you have settled into your quarters. I will reveal things to you as you need to know them, and not before.
“Do we have an understanding?”
Considering there was nothing she could do to force anything, she nodded.
“Yes, Akira. We have an understanding.”
“I am pleased.”
“Land!” the front oarsman called. The word reverberated, but the fog muffled it; it sounded strange to Ko, as if a ghost had shouted.
Akira offered them no guidance, and Ko, who couldn’t see anything, felt a little flutter of worry, but with the familiarity of long years, the oarsmen guided the boat into the city harbor with alacrity.
Ko took her hat, and shook off the loose water that remained; it was no longer raining, but it was still too damp for the hat to dry.
Akira placed a small sack into the front oarsman’s hand, and Ko could hear the clink of coin inside it.
He nodded once to the oarsman, who bowed from the waist, and shooed his crew off the boat to disappear into the fog.
He reached for Ko’s hand, and she took it; his hand was warm, and her own felt like a nestling in it, somehow safe and warm, and the weariness of recent events began to tire her now; she didn’t want to relax, wanted to stay on her guard, but Akira was making it difficult.
“And what do I call this land, or does it too, go by many names?”
“Only one: Dosojin.”
“Dosojin…the god of roads.”
“You don’t like it?”
“I’m not sure.”
“It is named such because there are many paths.”
“Paths to what?”
“To your destination.”
“Where is that?”
“That is for you to find, Ko. I am only a guide, but you must tell me where you want to stop.”
She shook her head, her voice edgy now, frustrated with the seemingly constant evasion.
“I don’t understand, Akira.”
“I don’t expect you to; you are trying to force what should come naturally. Look, I know that what happened to you was traumatic, and you feel more like a plucked weed than anything else, useless, therefore without value, but I also understand the weather is inclement, and the circumstances surrounding your selection cannot be easily explained in the span of a ferry ride.
“There is much for you to learn, and much more to think about, and I have told you no harm will befall you.
“And as much as that frightens you, you must take me at my word, until time proves it true.”
As they walked, she fell silent, and looked around her.
The city, town, village, whatever it was they were walking through, wouldn’t give up its secrets.
The streets were empty, and the shops dimly lit.
The fog seemed to have an oppressive quality, almost as if its ethereal weight had strength and substance.
She had no impression of color, or structure, or design; the fog sat like a cosmic toad over everything, and Ko soon gave it up as a lost cause.
Akira, for his part, seemed lost in his own thoughts the closer they came to where she was supposed to be.
So, father, you have sold me to Dosojin…the god of roads…of many paths.
But I see only one way out.