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While traveling alone on horseback through a gloomy forest near Lake Biwa, northeast of Kyoto, Justice Ministry official Sugawara Akitada suddenly comes upon a filthy, shivering urchin who appears to be deaf and mute.

In the previous installment of I.J. Parker’s ongoing saga, Akitada’s young son Yori had perished in an epidemic, and out of a sense of desolation, perhaps coupled with guilt, he pulls the waif onto his horse and takes him to lodgings in nearby Otsu.

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