The Burning Throne, Episode 16: Old Crab, New Tricks

Continued from:

Earlier on in the episode called the Nakado, the semi-barbaric Hida Makoto roped the honorable Ide Todo into being his marriage arranger. The downside is that he believes he is on a mission from the gods to marry a particular girl way way way way above his station. This week’s episode brought to you be Steve Diamond.

Old Crab, New Tricks

Ide Todo rubbed his eyes wondering when he last had been gifted with adequate rest.  He let out a long sigh.  Truth be told, he wondered if he would ever rest well again.

It was doubtful.

His journal stared back at him, devoid of any writing.  This was the first time in years that he had been unable to form his thoughts correctly and put them to paper.  The event with the Shamesword, Penance, caused a deep shiver to run through him even now, several days later.  It was a dangerous artifact.  It needed to be destroyed.

But what if it could actually strike a blow to the Dark Oracle of Fire?  What if a person of pure heart were to wield it?  The corruption would still come—Kuni Magatsu was clear on that point—but could it be held off long enough to end the war?

Or would the sword simply behave as was its nature and beguile and betray?

Ide Todo shook his head, clearing it of the poisonous thoughts.  He needed a distraction.  Perhaps a…conversation…with Akimi could—

“Todo-san, may I have a word?”

Hida Makoto.  Ide Todo felt an unreasonable spike of fear cascade through his chest.  Not because he didn’t trust the Crab.  No, Makoto was honorable.  Dense, but supremely honorable.  He made a mental note to himself to send off a missive to Crab lands and to Hida Kenzan detailing Makoto’s deeds.  He deserved the recognition.  All the members of the Paper Lanterns did.

The reason for Todo’s fear was more closely tied to the Crab’s propensity for asking for the impossible.

“Makoto,” Ide Todo replied while shutting his journal.  “What can I do for you this evening?”

The big man seemed uneasy.  “As my nakado, I know that you have much work to do.”

“Yes.”  There was that feeling again.  Something bad was coming.

“Honestly, Todo-san, I worry that no matter how much work you do in the courts—even such an esteemed Courtier such as yourself—you will never be able to completely win them over yourself.  So I need a favor.”

No. Nononononononono…

“I need you to teach me the ways of courtly etiquette.”

I may have better luck with the Yobanjin.  “Of course, Makoto.”  He kept his expression smooth.  Open.  It was one of the first lessons his sensei had delivered.  “But may I ask you to elaborate your thoughts on the need for etiquette training?”

“I know I will never be the speaker you are,” Makoto said quietly.  It was odd to hear such quiet humility from a man so large…and bloodthirsty.  “Yet if I am to ever be with Otomo Yuni I will have to spend time in court.  Courtiers and all their endless talking pushes me towards insanity.  Uh, no offense, Todo-san.”

“None taken,” Todo couldn’t help but grin.  “In truth the words of court infuriate me sometimes as well.”  The Crab was sincere.  It may take years just to instruct the basics, but—as was the case in most quests of epic proportions—there was a lot of traveling.  And sitting around.  And doing nothing.  A man needed some way to pass the time.  “Very well, Makoto.  Your lesson starts now.”

“Now?  Uh, OK.”

“I will be blunt with you Makoto.  There are times when you talk out of turn.”

“I am just trying to help, Todo-san,” Makoto said, eyes mirroring the confusion in his voice.

“Easy, friend.  I know our intentions are pure and just.  It is a fault that the children of the Ide Courtier school tend to share.”

“Children?  You are comparing me to a child?”

Todo held out his hand in a placating gesture.  “Please, Makoto.  This is exactly what I mean.  You talk and respond to everything.  You interpret words as insults even when they are not.  You become defensive, and then you get that dangerous gleam in your eye.”

“What do you mean, Todo-san?  I admit I do not understand your words.”

“And there is wisdom, Makoto,” Ide Todo said nodding his head.  “Those well versed in the courtly ways will do everything and anything to get under your skin.  They will stop at nothing to set themselves above you in the eyes of their companions.  In the eyes of Otomo Yuni.”

“What must I do, Todo-san?  How can I insult them back without caving their heads in with my tetsubo?”

“By learning when not to talk.  When not to respond.”  The look of confusion was plain on the Crab’s face.

“I fear I may be asking you to do the impossible, Todo-san.”  Makoto sat back, dismayed.  His chair creaked alarmingly.  “My mind does not work the way yours does.”

No, no it doesn’t.  Perhaps… “Makoto, I need you to clear your mind.  Like you do before battles.”



“I am schooled in the art of battle preparation, Todo-san.  It is second-nature to me.”

Todo nodded, and allowed a smile to slightly curve his lips.  “Very good.  I’ll let you in on a little secret Makoto.  I—as well as those courtiers I consider the best in Rokugan—do the exact same thing before entering court.  Tell me, what is the first thing you do upon entering battle?  What were you taught?”

“Assess the situation.  Keep calm.  I personally seek out the target representing the most danger to my companions.”

“Being a courtier is no different, Makoto.  Do I not do the same thing when we go to court?”

“Huh.  Never thought of it like that.”

“While that thought is in your mind, answer me this.  Should a man ever go into battle emotional?  Crazed?  Leave out the Berserkers for now.”

“Of course not.”


“Because too much emotion makes a warrior sloppy.  Too much sloppy makes a warrior dead.  Dead is not the best of situations for a warrior.”

“And should a warrior taunt you on the battle-field?  What then?”

“Taunts are better left ignored, Todo-san.  They never end well.  I know from experience.”

“Yes.  I remember.”  Todo paused for only a moment before moving on.  “The point is this, Makoto:  the courtly ways are a form of battle.  The court is a battle-field.  Etiquette is simply one of the ways to make sure you remain calm.  Etiquette is your defense against the verbal taunts and metaphorical sword-swings directed your way. This is your first lesson, Makoto, and I want you to watch when I have conversations with people.  Listen.  Watch.  Often times you will notice how little I actually say.  Sometimes not saying something is most important thing you can do.”  Todo stood.  “You will come to me every evening and we will talk.  I will ask you to summarize our conversations so that I can gauge your retention.  Makoto, this will take a long time.”

Makoto’s eyes had narrowed.  Not in a threatening way, but in a manner that bled determination.  He is far more willing than I thought.  “So what did you learn tonight, Makoto?”

“You are wise, Todo-san.  I initially thought you just wanted me to shut-up.  But now I see what you are doing.  You want me to think before I talk.  This will be difficult, Todo-san, but I swear I will not let you down.”

With a nod he stood up quickly.  The chair rose with him.

Ide Todo shook his head at the ruined mess of his guest-chair.  Makoto was learning, but subtlety was going to take a while.  The chair had been ripped to pieces when Makoto had pried it from his large frame.

A noise from outside drew Todo’s attention.  Is that someone writing?

He walked quickly to the tent opening and threw the flap back in time to see Ikoma Katsu scurrying away.

Oh no.  Not again…


To be continued at: 

Mark your calenders for the next BOOK BOMB, Partials
How YOU can make a difference (getting me nominated for a Hugo)

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