I picked my way cautiously along the hallways behind Shugo, trying not to jump at every sound the palace made as we crept past. If someone saw us, it wouldn’t matter that I was behaving at my lord’s behest – I had my robes hiked indecently up above my ankles in one hand, creeping along like a thief in the darkness as we snuck past the other women’s sleeping quarters. I shuddered to think what would happen if Lady Furo awoke and saw me so exposed. No doubt she’d force me to read sutras to her for a month as penance; it wasn’t the religious texts that were so awful, but instead the eye-watering aroma of joint remedies that filled the air in her room.

We were in luck; as we neared the heavy silk curtains decorating the door to Lady Furo’s chamber, a ragged snore echoed from deep within. Shugo glanced over his shoulder, winking broadly. It became a monumental effort not to choke on the laughter that burbled up. He caught my free hand, pulling me along, and we hurried as silently as possible around the corner.

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