The Burning Throne, Episode 8: An Early Lunch

Continued from: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-burning-throne-episode-7-no-middle-ground/ 

This is a little short story that takes place around the same time as the prior episode’s events. None of this was in the actual game. This is what happens when you get a bunch of dorky novelists together. The story itself isn’t enough, we’ve got to make up extra stories within stories. Which is pretty awesome. :)

An Early Lunch

“Ugh, what is this stuff?”

“Fermented mare’s milk. The Unicorn consider it a delicacy,” said one of the Crab warriors.

“Yeah, and they also eat goats and call them mountain tuna,” another of the large men replied as he took the drinking bag from his companion. “Or is that the Dragon? Never can keep them straight.” Grimacing, he took a swig, nearly retched, then wiped his mouth with one blue sleeve. His eyes were watering. “It’s disgusting, but it’s got a kick!”

The Scorpion seated at the next table sighed. He had been hoping for a quiet late morning meal after all of the night’s commotion around Shiro Shinjo. With so many samurai, budoka, and ashigaru from several great and a few minor clans in the city, every gambling den, brothel, geisha house, and eatery was busy. The Scorpion had thought that he’d found a quiet spot to eat in peace, but there was no such thing as quiet when Crab invade an establishment.

“Quit hoggin’ the horse juice, Ozske. After the day we’ve had, I wouldn’t mind getting good and drunk.”

“We’re back on guard duty tonight. If O-Hinku catches you not fit for duty, she’ll beat you to death,” cautioned the oldest of the bunch. “Trust me, young one. Take it easy with that hard stuff.”

“Why? Our illustrious leader sure isn’t.” The youngest Crab leaned in conspiratorially toward his friends. “Wait ‘till I tell you guys what we saw yesterday.”

Interesting. The Scorpion pretended not to listen as he sipped his sake. His sensei had often spoken of how valuable information could come from the most unlikely of sources. Though considering the volume of the Crab, it would have been impossible not to eavesdrop on their conversation. The group of six boisterous Crab warriors had stumbled into the sake house, taken over one corner of the room, and gone about making pests of themselves to the proprietor and harassing the serving girls. Judging by how much food they’d ordered, each of the large brutes could eat as much as three regular samurai, but they had koku, so they’d be put up with until they inevitably picked a fight or started breaking things, like Crab were sure to do, and someone would have to call the magistrates. The Scorpion was clever enough to slip out before that happened.

“So spit it out, Yamada. What’s your big secret?”

“You all know Makoto?” There were general grunts of acknowledgement. The Scorpion recognized the name of one of Ide Todo’s yojimbo, and since Todo was a rising star in Unicorn politics, this could be interesting. He remembered Makoto as the loud man who’d embarrassed himself at Three Pillars in an attempt to gain troops for the little Unicorn. The Scorpion had easily outmaneuvered him then, but Ide Todo’s group had gone on to impress the Shoshuro daimyo, and here they were, only a few weeks later, helping the barbaric Unicorn’s war effort. “Hida Kenzan challenged Makoto to a duel to the death!”

“Shut up,” the man called Oszke said. “We’re not supposed to talk about that.”

“Me and Oszke were on watch, heard the yelling, went in the tent, and saw the whole thing.”

“Kenzan sword fights oni for fun. If Kenzan challenged Makoto to a duel, then how come that eta spawned fool is still alive?” one of the others said. “Did Makoto run away like his daddy?”

The Scorpion was interested to note that only a few of the Crab laughed.

“Makoto won,” Oszke said. The laughter died. “And not how you think. He tried to keep Lord Kenzan from embarrassing himself further and when that didn’t work, beat him into the realm of dreams and had us put him to bed, and Makoto-san told us… Yamada, you idiot… to keep our mouths shut about it.”

There were some nervous murmurs, and a couple of the Crab also called Yamada names. “Hey, I’m not going to take orders from that eta swine—”

The impact noise was loud enough that it made the Scorpion jump. He turned in time to see the Crab named Yamada rolling across the cushions and onto the floor. Oszke was standing and his arm was still extended from the backhand that he’d delivered to the junior Crab. “Not another word!” Oszke ordered. Yamada put a hand to his bloody nose and bowed his head. The entire sake house was deadly silent and every head in the crowded establishment had turned to gawk at the Crab. “What are you looking at? Mind your own damned business,” Oszke snapped and all of the other patrons went back to their meals.

The Scorpion did so as well. He had fully expected lunch to end with the Crab hitting someone, just not each other. Now he was very curious. Oszke lowered his voice to a dangerous hiss, but the Scorpion’s ear was well trained, and he could still hear Oszke’s angry words. “You lot listen, and you listen good. You weren’t on the ridge with O-Hinku’s squad. I was. It was a slaughter. Hida Makoto fought like the Great Bear himself. He killed more Yobanjin than any of us and laughed as their fires rolled over him. The rest of us couldn’t even breathe through the smoke, but every time I looked over he was clubbing another one of those gaijin bastards. When O-Hinku ordered the wounded carried out, me included, Makoto and that one-eyed ronin kept on fighting the horde by themselves until we could clear out. He is a hero.”  

“But—”

“But nothing, Yamada. I don’t care if his mother was a one-legged bog hag and his father was a nezumi. I would follow him into battle anytime.”

“I too was on the ridge. The fires were so hot that I could barely hold my katana. It is as Oszke says. As I carried a burned Tsuruchi down the hill, I witnessed Makoto, his sister, and the ugly one, leap across the ravine to murder many Yobanjin archers.”

“Thank you, Hiruma Sato. Ask anybody that was there that morning. We should be dead. Our whole squad should have been dead. Dead!” Oszke slammed his mug down on the table. “Dead. Dead! Dead! And without even having the dignity of getting killed by something from the Shadowlands like a good Crab should. You think I wanted to explain to the Fortune of Death how I managed to die by the hands of a bunch of gaijin horse lovers?” Oszke spit on the clean wooden floor. “Emma-O would laugh me out of Meido and I’d be reincarnated as a carp.” 

Yamada bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Oszke-sama. I just thought—”

“You thought you were better than him because of the station of his birth? When was your gempukku? Last summer? You haven’t even been on the Wall yet. How many Yobanjin have you killed while guarding the battle tent?”

“Same battle tent somebody managed to sneak into…” one of the other Crab muttered. Yamada had no reply. The Crab continued, “I heard from one of the Akodo spearmen that Makoto single handedly killed a blood speaker cult in Lion lands, and rescued that good looking Spider samurai-ko from a raging inferno, carried her right out of the flames, leaping over maddened fire kami and zombies the whole time.”

“No way!” 

“I swear.”

“I heard that Makoto killed a hundred pirates on his way here,” said another. “That little Unicorn of his is getting all the credit for it, but you know how those guys are. Courtiers, always bucking for magistrate. You know it was one of us Crab that did all the real work!”

“Yeah!” Several mugs were slammed down on the table and the bladder of fermented mare’s milk was passed about for another round. “Get back up here, Yamada, and drink like a man. To Hida Makoto! May his tetsubo crush a thousand skulls.”

“Hida Skull Crusher!” There were many groans and gags as the Crab sucked down the borderline poisonous swill. “Serving girl! No. Not you. Send the prettier one! Another round of your finest… whatever the hell this is, for my friends!”

The next Crab seemed eager to share his tale. “One of the Yasuki told me that his brother’s friend’s cousin is Lord Kenzan’s advisor… He said that Makoto has been secretly betrothed to a high ranking Imperial. She was supposed to marry Kenzan, but Benten smiled upon her, and she fell in love with Makoto instead. But her father won’t allow it until he’s famous. Makoto is just here until he can win the Emerald Championship.”

Oszke snorted. “I swear on Fu-Leng’s balls, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Yeah, I guess… You know how those Yasuki traders like to make stuff up…”

The Scorpion was fascinated. He would report this conversation to his superiors. He had observed this Makoto at Three Pillars, and had assumed that he was just another Crab; obtuse, uncultured, and boorish. However, Bayushi Ujiro had shown interest in Makoto. Perhaps, Ujiro had been aware of something that the other Scorpion had not. It would not have surprised him. Ujiro was a crafty one with many sources.

There was a sudden noise. Someone was blowing a horn. More horns joined in afterwards. It was a call to arms. There was shouting in the street. The Scorpion leapt to his feet and gathered up his daisho. The shouting… Dragon banners to the north! All of the Crab had also lumbered up at the first call for help, but the Scorpion made sure he kept his cloak closed so as to not reveal his clan mon as he hurried outside. It would probably be for the best if the if the drunken Crab were not made aware that they’d shared their fascinating tales with a Scorpion.

It was not so much because he believed these drunken Crab’s wild rumors, on the contrary, they sounded absolutely ridiculous. It was just that the Scorpion had never actually witnessed the birth of a legend before. It would be interesting to see if it would continue to grow.

#

To be continued next Friday with Rice Merchants and more Journals of Ide Todo  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-burning-throne-episode-9-traitors-rice-merchants/

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