The small inn at the base of Mt. Kyojin is known for three things.
The first is for the excellent saki that the owner, Erojin, brews in thick, oak casks passed down for nine generations in his family. This first thing is known because Erojin repeats this often to all of his guests.
The second is that it is the final inn on the Imperial Road that leads to Kori Horudo, ancestral keep of the Matsu family. This second thing is known because travelers that pass it by on their way to the keep face several hours of cold, dangerous climbing up the rough hewn passes that protect it, covered in snow except for the deepest part of summer.
The third is that the spring water found in a nearby cleft of rock is unparalleled for the making of tea. This third thing is known only by true students and masters of the tea ceremony. Erojin’s grandfather built a special structure around the spring, and took great care in preparing a perfect setup for the brewing and preparation of tea. The water flows hot from the spring in the central pool, a stone table encircles it like a ring – and cunning hooks hang at even intervals, allowing kettles to be hung.
It is said that a cup of tea prepared at this spring is a kiss from the Fortunes themselves — and not to be missed if a Tea Master is available and willing to perform a ceremony.
So it was, when six travelers on their way to Kori Horudo ate their quiet meals in the common room of the inn. When a seventh traveler invited them all to join her in a cup of tea, none could bring themselves to reject so polite and fortunate an invitation.
The hot water of rushed into the dark green kettle, and the quick hands of the seventh traveler pulled it free of the spring never minding the heat. She moved her hands in calm patterns, adding a pinch of powder, a fall of leaves
–– her hands and eyes focused and sure, a dance. The six guests felt their souls fill with peace as they watched the serene preparation of the tea.
At last the dance was done, and the seventh traveler placed the lid on the kettle with a quiet clink. Then she looked up at the six samurai and smiled. Her face was plain, with a sharp chin — but the easy warmth of her smile was beauty enough. Her kimono was of good material, but showed signs of much wear and travel. On her right breast was carefully stitched the mon of the Fox Clan.
“And now the waiting. For even we must bear the quiet wind of Time, and fill the interval between the leaves and the tea. Hot water will do its work, no doubt.”She bowed her head respectfully to the others. ” Please forgive me, in my haste to begin the preparation of the tea, I have neglected to introduce myself. I am Kitsune Miho, a scholar. Would you honor me with your own names as we wait for the tea to become tea — and perhaps tell us a little of what has brought you to the little corner of the world?”