With a final, deft, twist of his knife, Takenaka Chihiro completed the carving of daimyo Matsumura’s fugu. The delicious but deadly pufferfish lay artfully presented, with its most poisonous innards scooped out and discarded—all but the liver, which Lord Matsumura had specifically requested.

Takenaka handed the dish off to a Matsumura retainer. “Here is the daimyo’s dish,” he said. “Tell him to stop eating the liver if he begins to feel a tingling sensation, unless he has an urgent question for the gods, in which case he should eat faster.”

The retainer did not share Takenaka’s full belly laugh at the joke. “I do not think my lord’s death, and my dishonor at failing to prevent it, are matters for comedy,” he said.

“If you wish, I can set you aside a choice cut to taste ahead of time,” Takenaka said with a smile. “If you live, he will. I won’t tell a soul, and the fugu won’t either. After all, he is no longer full of hot air eh?”

Takenaka scooped a piece of sashimi onto a cloth and offered it to the retainer. The man’s lips visibly trembled at the sight of such an expensive delicacy, one he would never be able to afford himself. A moment later, he popped it into his mouth without another sound, and his eyelids fluttered in pleasure at the magnificent taste.

“Lord Matsumura is lucky to have such faithful and diligent men in his employ,” Takenaka said. “Tell your men that I will be happy to prepare them fugu as well, once the lord has had his repast, provided that they bring me a good fish!”

“We cannot afford to pay for such an offer.”

“Well, that’s why I wouldn’t charge you!” Takenaka said.

The retainer cocked his head. “Yet you charge the daimyo,” he said.

“He can afford it!” Takenaka smiled. “Besides, I only ask for what I need to continue my journey.”

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