The Burning Throne, Episode 39: Burdens of Leadership/One Last Story Before Bed

I didn’t get to post this last Friday because I was in Mesa Verde for a faimly reunion. As you can tell from this week’s serial, we are getting close to the end of this campaign. This episode was written by Steve Diamond, and the first part takes place in the immediate aftermath of the battle for Pale Oak Castle. (and read that last one if you haven’t because it was an awesome battle scene)  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/the-burning-throne-episode-38-in-the-shadow-of-a-pale-oak/ 

The second half comes from Ikoma Katsu several years later. You may remember Katsu as the bard who writes the super embellished stories about how awesome Ide Todo is… Well, turns out there was a lot more to Katsu than just being a melodramatic playwright. He’s also a member of the elite Lion’s Shadow, which is the Lion Clan’s spymasters. Ikoma Uso is Steve’s character in our current campaign.

The Burdens of Leadership/One Last Story before Bed

How much longer will my shoulders support these burdens?

“…new equipment, food for the Lanterns right now and our trip to Toshi Ranbo, horses, wagons, shelter plus a dozen other things we won’t think about until we can’t procure them,” Yama Aiko was saying. Ide Todo rubbed his eyes and wondered what he had missed as his mind had wandered.

Yama Aiko was a savior. Even when Todo’s fatigued mind refused to hold any more information, Aiko managed to keep everything straight. There was a reason everyone from the Emperor—when the Empire had one—to major courtiers and warlords had aides. At the time, offering Aiko a chance to reclaim her honor had seemed an odd choice. But now it seemed a stroke of genius.

“I trust you will make the needed arrangements?” Todo asked.

Aiko nodded then pulled out a fresh stack of parchment. “Just leave the parchment with me, Yama Aiko,” Todo instructed with a tired wave, “and go get some rest. We have a long trip ahead of us.”

“You don’t want me to write the…letters…as you dictate them?” It was obvious she was confused, and the help would be welcome. But she didn’t understand.

“No thank you,” Ide Todo said. “There are some things a leader must do himself. I want the families of the fallen Lanterns to see the letters in my own writing. They likely would never know, but it’s an honor they deserve.”

Aiko set the paper next to him, bowed and left.

For a time, Ide Todo remained motionless, gaze fixed on the top sheet of parchment. A letter, he thought. Is this all that remains of them? Will their families thank me or curse me?

His hand trembled slightly as he lifted the first sheet, but steadied as he took up his quill. Who to start with? There we so many. He started with his own clan.

Honored Shinjo Kasane

It is with great sadness—and yet unfathomable pride—that I must inform you of the death of your two brothers, Shinjo Braga & Bosta. They joined the Paper Lanterns to do their Clan and Ancestors proud, and to protect the Empire, and their actions were enough to make even the Fortunes weep in pride.

Ide Todo put down the quill and rubbed his eyes again. It all sounded so…generic. Is this what the families would want to hear? Is this what they would need to hear? He knew Shinjo Kasane personally. What should she want to hear? Ide Todo smiled to himself then began writing again.

It will come as no surprise to you to hear that Bosta, along with his fellow Shinjo brethren, led a suicide charge against Yobanjin sorcerers. Without him, Pale Oak Castle would have fallen. I imagine he was telling wild jokes and stories even as he cut down our enemies. What else would he have done? I will miss him.

Braga? I found him pinned to a wall by his own scimitar. He was not dead, but was instead there by his own will, guarding an artifact. He had pinned himself to the wall to hold himself up so he would not collapse at his post. Can you imagine the story and laugh with me? He foiled attempts of theft and even then felt he hadn’t done enough.

So he challenged the Son of Fire—the Avatar of the Dark Oracle—to combat to buy the defenders of the castle (and the Empire itself) time to regroup. I have included his scimitar, which was stabbed into the middle of that firey abomination. Use it with pride.

Oh, and his last words? “Death owes me a hat.”

Your brothers are heroes in every sense of the word. I imagine they are in Yome continuing their adventures. Grieve for their loss, but be proud of their sacrifice.

We leave for Toshi Ranbo tomorrow. It has been many years since you and I have spoken, but should you wish to take up your brother’s sword, there will always be a place for you in the Paper Lanterns.

Ide Todo

He smiled as he signed his name. A quick fold. A little wax. The press of his seal. The letter was ready.

He stood and moved to the back of his tent where a line of cloth wrapped bundles were laid. The daisho or choice weapon of every fallen Lantern. Todo found Braga and Bosta’s scimitars and laid the letter over them.

Thirteen more bundles.

Thirteen letters left.

With each letter Ide Todo included a personal story. It was what their families deserved.

There were the other Shinjo who had killed the sorcerers with Bosta, or the three that had stood with Braga as he prevented the false Shame Sword’s theft.

Matsu Abiru had somehow turned the Yobanjin warbeasts against their masters. Ikoma Katsu had wept openly as he described the scene. There had been no hesitation. One minute the front-lines were buckling, the next the berserker was dancing around the beast, harassing it at every angle. Could anyone else have done it? No.

The monk who had been with the Lanterns since the beginning. Ide Todo knew next to nothing about him. He had always been so quiet. Almost invisible. But Magatsu, Makoto and Zuko had all said—heads bowed—that without him they would have died fighting the Son of Fire.

Kakita Fujo. Just the mention of his name is enough to make Makoto want to march into the North and murder everything.

Each letter seemed to rip out a piece of Ide Todo’s heart. And yet…

As he laid the last letter down over the corresponding bundle, Ide Todo felt a fierce pride wash over him. These Lanterns had made their ancestors proud, and they would in turn watch over and guide their descendants.

His cheeks were wet with tears—something he wouldn’t allow any to see—and he knew those samurai who had fallen were just the first of many who would do so in the name of the Paper Lanterns and Ide Todo.

It was a thought that pressed down on his shoulders. These were his burdens, and he would carry them until the Empire was safe.

The courtier dried his eyes and exited his tent. The air outside was cool and crisp; it was a far different temperature both in spirit and reality than it had been during the battle. People’s moods had been uplifted, and they spent the evening feasting and making merry with their fellow survivors. They celebrate not the victory, but that they are still alive. They celebrate not being raped and slaughtered by the yobanjin hordes.

Everywhere the night was pushed away by paper lanterns. It had been a stirring sight, after the battle, to see the entire populace supporting his Order. The Paper Lanterns had earned that respect and honor with their blood, sweat and lives.

Such is the price we must be willing to pay.

***

“And then what happened, father? Did Ide Todo really send all those letters?”

Ikoma Katsu smiled at his son, Uso, and pulled the boy into a quick embrace. “It is getting late, my son.”

The boy’s expression was deadly serious. “I am not tired. And neither are you. I can tell.”

Katsu laughed. His son required only one thing each night. A story from when Katsu was part of the Paper Lanterns, all those years ago. Every evening Katsu would regale his only child with tales of battle, mystery and horror. Uso, his mind filled with curiosity, would periodically ask how his father could possibly know what the various Lanterns had said in their journals and letters.

The shadows know everything, Uso. Katsu would say. And I am part of those shadows.

The truth was Katsu was more than happy to tell another story this night. He’d hoped that Uso would ask for another.

It might be the last story he’d get to tell his son.

Tomorrow Katsu would present himself before the Clan Champion to protest the official recognition of the Spider as a Great Clan. Katsu would do his duty…even if it meant sacrificing his life in protest.

A light breeze stirred the stale air. The Lion lands had been ravaged by the Destroyer War. Famine seemed a surety. Recovery would take years, if not decades. There were already rumors of the Empire making serious investigations of the Ivory Kingdoms.

Katsu sighed. It had only been a few years, but the War of Dark Fire seemed so long ago. The race for the Throne felt like an eternity ago. At least Ide Todo—now Miya Todo—was there by the Empress’ side to be her voice of peace and reason. If we measure time by friends lost rather than days lived, we age more quickly.

“Father?”

“Hm?”

“Are you OK?”

It was such an innocent question from such a young boy. No, I am not OK. “I am fine, son. Let’s see. After the Battle of Pale Oak Castle, The Paper Lanterns began their journey to the court of Otomo Hoketuhime.”

Uso’s eyes widened at mention of her name. “You met the Empress?” he whispered.

“Oh yes,” Katsu nodded. “It was one of the only times I ever witnessed Ide Todo afraid.”

“But…the Voice of the Empress doesn’t become afraid.”

“He’s wasn’t the Voice then,” Katsu responded. “He was a magistrate, yes, and the leader of the Lanterns. But even one as wise as Ide Todo knows fear. What have I taught you about fear?”

Uso’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Fear is…our fear is something we should respect?”

“Very good. What else?”

“Fear is only a weakness…when we let it weaken us.” His words grew stronger as he spoke them. “Fear works for us. We do not work for it.”

“Very good. Remember those words. They will save your life one day, and maybe even lead you to a glorious end.” Katsu put a finger to his chin and feigned confusion. “Now where were we? Had I already finished my story?”

“No!” Uso yelled. It took all of Katsu’s self-control not to laugh. “You were telling me about the Lanterns and the Empress. Is this the part where Hida Makoto dies?”

Katsu’s smile faded a little at that. “Not quite. That came later. This is the part where the Lanterns rescue Otomo Hoketuhime’s daughter, and where Makoto goes to the Hells to accomplish that.”

“Wow…”Uso whispered in awe.

“Indeed,”Katsu said quietly. Tears threatened to spill from his eyes. If this is to be the last story I tell my son, then it will be the best I can tell.

“Listen to my words, Uso,” Katsu said. It was the way he began every story. “For words are the most subtle and dangerous of all weapons…”

#

To be continued next week when the Paper Lanterns head to the imperial city, where the race for the throne will be decided and Makoto will go to hell.  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/the-burning-throne-episode-40-the-road-to-toshi-ranbo/

6 Responses

  1. Speaking of hell, there is a special one for people who continue to leave cliff hangers like that. What is this, a Zorro serial?

    • Cliffhangers are the favored weapon of all writers, whether they know it or not. Only with the ham-handed dangling of a reader’s hopes and fears over an abyss of murky uncertainty may the writer imbue his words with a pale shadow of the pathos he’s endured in putting them to page, and thereby forge an unbreakable link with the reader. A link through which the two – writer and reader – may, across time and space, share the experiences of a person who never existed, but who has nevertheless worked very real magic in their hearts.

      Also, we’re all just a little sadistic that way.

  2. Very good. Thank you.

  3. So very much looking forward to the end, but dreading it coming to an end all at the same time. But at least we know what happens to Makoto….”Goes to hell”=”gets married”.

  4. Nice, looking forward to next week. I’m guessing that the “special” armour somehow turns up in this episode and helps Makoto kick serious butt. I’m not even going to suggest that he takes names and kicks butt, i’m pretty sure he’d go straight to the butt kicking stage.
    Thanks for the story and keep up the good work.

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