Cold Heart is with my editor, Laura Lis Scott, for final revisions. It is my longest Yamabuki book to date—longer than the first three combined—over 80,000 words long. The first chapter is succinct and sets the tone and premise: the supernatural—which Yamabuki of course scoffs at—will play a central role in this story, and as always, the theme that runs throughout all the Yamabuki stories, it is one of redemption.
Chapter One—The Hour Of the Ox
When young Yamabuki was still innocent, the holy men warned her about the Hour of the Ox, the longest and darkest hour of the night. They said that at the beginning of the Fourth Watch, when eight bells tolled, ten thousand fissures yawned wide, releasing unclean things from the underworld. In darkness, the contagion floated free, finding cracks in doors and vents in roofs. Having gained entry, these phantasms then penetrated the bodies of fitfully sleeping souls, the sinewy tendrils of the dead things exploiting the smallest clefts in closed eyes and creating only the slightest of ripples as they slithered just below the lids and into dreams of the living.
Moved by these tales, the young Princess asked, “Can spirits rising from the jigoku ever be good?”
Every priest and every monk declared that no thing from the dark realm was benign—not even slightly for they were no longer capable of awaré, human feelings. Once drained the heart shriveled inward with emptiness.
“But couldn’t the heart of lost spirits be refilled?”
The holy men explained, “If such a thing still had a heart, which was doubtful, it would be reiketsu: ruthless. A cold heart. Unbeating and incapable of ever being warmed.”
And yet, for whatever obdurate reason, Yamabuki did not believe them. What did celibate men know of hearts anyway? Perhaps all that the lost spirits needed for deliverance was but a single spark of kindness. Love?
Cold Heart is the crux book on which the series turns. Yamabuki's sword has tasted blood. She has survived her first duel and her first night of passion with a man. She has met the warlord Kiso Yoshinaka, known as the Rising Sun General. History books tell us Yamabuki met him early on and was at his side when Yoshinaka seized Kyoto, becoming de facto ruler. The attraction was strong for he named his great castle after her.
Yamabuki also meets the great Tomoe Gozen (another woman warrior in recorded history), and the sparks fly when these two powerful personalities clash.
Saburo, a lapsed syncretic priest and master assassin, swears vengeance, vowing to kill Yamabuki, for one of the fallen in her first duel was none other than Shima, Saburo's one-time fencing teacher and lover. The manly way demands this of him.
Laura has done exhaustive research, compiling a rich glossary, detailed topographical maps of Akitsushima (Japan), and verifying the accuracy of terms including how time and dates were reckoned in an ancient era.