Tamo Sadaichi left the Shrine office with a deep sigh. Talk of the caretakers that had started that evening took longer than the discussions of the Month of the Frost Kagura, complicated by the continuous deaths. Wasn't it an epidemic, a new strain or something not yet discovered, some people had said, others spitting out equally uneasy prospects. While everyone said that that was surely what it was, none the less, everybody seemed, strangely, not to believe it.
At any rate, it took until 11 PM, when at last they came to the conclusion that it was precisely because of the great solemnity in the village that they should hold the festival.
The Kagura that took place in the village was called the Month of the Frost Kagura, an Ise-style Kagura, but in practice it was more of an Izumo-style Kagura with the Ise-style's hot water added. There were three torimono performances, dances with the sacred cedar bow and staff, along with nine god play Noh performances, then at the end the purifying mineral deposits from the hot water would be sprinkled over the audience; but while this was in the olden days known as The Twelve Divine Arts to the Five Gods, since the addition of Noh's sacred Three Ritual prelude counted as a single act, it became The Thirteen Acts to the Five Gods. The village didn't call in any established Noh masters. Those of the village passed the rituals down amongst themselves. Some of the musical numbers had already died out for there was nobody left to teach them, and for some those who did know and would pass it on had suddenly moved such as Yasumori Seichirou, but even if they had to rely on rote memorization, they should try to do all thirteen again, so the talks went.
(Now then...... That will be quite the undertaking.)
Sadaichi himself didn't remember all of The Thirteen Acts to the Five Gods. Many of them, amongst them Sadaichi himself, had only seen them a few times as a child. It would be something they would have to ask the elderly to see if any of them remembered.
(Come to think of it, Baa-san said she knew Miwa and The Three Rituals, didn't she?)
He remembered his wife talking about that. Women couldn't take part in the sacred rituals. In some cases, shrine maidens could have the honor of preserving the memory of the dances but there were none who took part in Sotoba's Month of the Frost Kagura. The only time women took part in the sacred dances were during the great rice plantings. There was an old torimono popularly called Miwa that was a dance with a female role but even that was performed by a man with a female mask. According to his wife, there seemed to be many girls who knew "Miwa" and "The Three Rituals" performed with the bell. It was possible that even while knowing they couldn't perform it, since the clothing was beautiful and it was a supple, willowy dance, they had wanted to do it anyway and so they learned it.
(Shall we depend on Baa-san? If the boy knows it, it'll go a lot faster, but.)
Or possibly, he thought as Sadaichi's feet came to a stop on the night road. What if either of his grandchildren knew it? But his younger grandson---Hiroya, was now laid up in bed. Guessing by the look on Toshio's face, it wasn't good. In truth, day by day it seemed to be getting worse, and Toshio said it'd be better to have him sent to the National Hospital. Have him hospitalized, he had said, but Hiroya himself had firmly refused.
(It's spreading through the village, that disease.)
What its true form was, even Sadaichi didn't know. Indeed Sadaichi himself had at first thought that there was no doubt that it was an epidemic but now he had the feeling that that wasn't so much the case. At least he knew it wasn't any ordinary epidemic. That was why the temple and Ozaki were conspirating, but none the less hadn't said anything to Sadaichi, he thought. He'd spoken of holding a meeting for the three pillars but even that was still in the air. To be honest, he didn't know anything clearly enough to have a discussion about it.
None the less even Sadaichi had a vague understanding of it. This was no normal state of affairs, and that what was happening couldn't be stopped, he knew. Since that summer many inflicted had been brought to the Mizobe hospital but not a single one had come back alive. The same went for those hospitalized at the Ozaki clinic. Yasumori Setsuko had been hospitalized too he'd heard but she had died. Not a single one had come back. That's why he hadn't decided to send his grandson away to the hospital. If he left the house that would be their final separation, so the pattern went, and that thought united all within the family.
Sadaichi let out a sigh. His grandson was only seventeen. He was in eleventh grade. A large boy enrolled in the track and field club, he was a child of sound mind and body. None the less, he collapsed. And it was possible that quite soon the Tamo family too might have to hold a funeral. Sadaichi was aware of himself preparing for that possibility.
Once more letting out a deep sigh, Sadaichi walked on. Just as the village road entered into his neighborhood, he had come to the morder of Kami-Sotoba and Monzen. The house just before him had its lights on. Even though it was night time, the storm doors weren't pulled shut and the light was spilling out into the yard, and lately here that was a rarity. He realized that it had been some time since he'd seen a house open to the outside like this. Even though it was nearing the dead of night there was a single child playing in the yard. Seeing that child, Sadaichi's breath stopped.
"You...... You're Shizuka-chan aren't you?"
The child throwing up the leaves at the side of the house looked up. Now that he thought about it, this was Sakaimatsu. The Matsuos on the border. The son of the family Takashi had gone missing, then when he was contacted by Takashi after some time had passed only to say they were moving and nothing else as they did.
"Shizuka-chan, you've come back have you?"
Matsuo Shizuka rose up and looked at Sadaichi with a nod.
"Where's the rest of your family? Takashi-kun---is your dad with you?"
When asked, Shizuka once again nodded. "Dad and Grandpa are with me. But grandma and mom are wives so they couldn't."
Sadaichi tilted his head. "What do you mean they're wives?"
MmMm, Shizuka shook her head. "Just your dad and your grandpa, huh? What about your little brother?"
"Jun couldn't either they said."
Sadaichi didn't know what Shizuka meant by the word "couldn't" that she kept repeating. He looked dubiously at the Sakaimatsu building. It was well lit up but there were no signs of people. As comfortably open as the house looked, it was so quiet as to be unsettling.
"Are your daddy and grandpa are awake?"
He thought he could greet them and ask about what had happened but Shizuka shook her head.
I see, he thought, thinking he'd come again tomorrow. He couldn't really get the gist of what Shizuka was saying.
"Don't be up playing too late now," Sadaichi said to her, starting to turn back.
"Hey," Shizuka called out to him. "Can I come over to your house to play?"
Sadaichi turned about. "At this hour?"
Sadaichi found himself feeling uneasy as Shizuka nodded. It didn't make sense fo a child to be left home alone at this hour. To say nothing of the fact that the Sakaimatsus had come back unnaturally, it was even more unnatural that the entire family hadn't come back. On top of it all Shizuka saying she wanted to come over to play at this hour was odd.
Sadaichi was hard pressed for an answer. Shizuka gazed at Sadaichi with somehow piercing eyes, until she nodded.
"......I see. It's fine."
"It's fine. Ojii-chan, you're the retired Tamo right? We've already got your place."
"What does---" that mean, he tried to ask, but Shizuka turned around and hurried into the house. Sadaichi gaped, but at the same time he'd felt a chill and hurried back to his house.
Sadaichi's house wasn't wide open and unlocked but even so the lights were on. Coming into the entryway, heading straight into the living room he saw his daughter-in-law at the low table with her chin in her hands. Unable to bring himself to ask her about the sad state of affairs when she looked so exhausted, Sadaichi passed quietly deeper into the house. The light was on in his grandson's room, his wife blinking up from where she sat at his bedside.
"Welcome home. ......How is he?" Tamo spoke to her, but his wife Kiyo shook her head. Their grandson Hiroya was laid out, breathing erratic. He muttered "water" as if in a delerium and Kiyo hurried to provide him with the cup.