In feudal Japan, women are vulnerable, in need of protection, and capable of deception. Jokichi of Mikogami, a drifter, has not yet fully revenged the death of his wife and son. He searches for Kunisada Chuji, who in turn has hired the knife-throwing Windmill Kobunji to kill him. Kobunji and Jokichi meet in the winter, near Sasago Pass, when both have rescued women: Jokichi has saved the lute-playing Oyae whose clan and whose lover want her dead; Kobunji has rescued Oharu, a well-born woman married to an innkeeper. Is this rescue a whim or something deeper? And why does Jokichi become the consumptive Kobunji's protector? What ultimately will Jokichi do about Oyae?