26 Sarenith, 4712 AR
The light of the half-moon filtered down through the great vine-choked tree, barely illuminating the bubbling spring. Leila held one dying sunrod out to find her way through the gnarly roots; ahead of her, Reiko had already reached the spring, removed her sash and linen robe, and laid them on a large boulder that someone had dragged here to serve as a bench. Leila nearly tripped, unable to take her eyes away from the samurai as she stepped out of her woodblock sandals. Reiko’s loincloth did little to hide her backside from view, and then even that was gone, placed next to the robe.
Leila noticed the hitch in her own breath. She’d seen Reiko’s grace, her vulnerability, her skill in battle – but never her skin, or the strength beneath it. Every muscle in the samurai’s body came into lean definition as she unwound her chest wrap, but it took nothing away from her femininity. Leila saw the fringes of a tattoo on Reiko’s shoulder blades; as the wrap fell away, the image of a great tree came into view, covering most of her back. The samurai turned to pick up her clothes, then carried them toward the spring, sparing Leila a smile as she passed.
Reiko used a battered old bucket and a bit of soap to clean her clothes, hanging each item in turn on one of the thicker vines. She seemed so comfortable scrubbing away in the nude on a hostile, deserted island in the middle of the night… and why shouldn’t she be? Someone with her looks, with her body, with her talents, had nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to fear.
I can’t do this, Leila thought.