The Burning Throne, Episode 22: Tenets of Bushido

This is one of my favorite pieces of fiction from game journal. Even if you haven’t read the others or you’re not familiar with the game setting at all, this one was just fun to write and I hope you enjoy it. It was a good writing exercise to get into the head of a young NCO who is in over his head but trying to do his best.

I will probably end up using bits of this in a real book one of these days.

Continued from:

This piece was mentioned during the last jorurnal entry, where Makoto is talking about how he said a few small things to the warriors.

Tenets of Bushido

For two weeks they had followed the twisting mountain trails south toward Shiro Tamori, and that entire time the ronin Misato had watched the giant Crab ride his poor laboring horse up and down the line of riders. He would ask questions of each bushi, taking the time to listen to their answers and then move on to the next. This had become routine over their journey. Hida Makoto was a strange one, a warrior whose bearing suggested the ruthless nature of the pragmatic Hida, yet tempered with the sort of humility of one that had felt the burden of shame.

Misato had been at times ruthless, dishonored, and humble, so he recognized a fellow traveler. Misato was also not a stranger to war nor campaigns, so he could tell when a young samurai was attempting to be a good officer. The Hida was certainly fearsome in single combat, but of course, only the fire of battle would determine if he was worth a damn as a commander.

The questions had started simply and bluntly enough. What are your bushi skills? What are your preferred weapons? What is your battle experience? Answering those questions was not difficult. Misato’s background was as infantry. He’d devoted much time to mastering the naginata, but he was also proficient with a bow. At thirty-eight years, he was one of the oldest present, and had fought much.

That had prompted the difficult question, who had he fought for? Misato had not wished to answer, and respecting that, the Hida had spurred his horse and moved on to question the next bushi.

The eleventh day had brought the question from Makoto again. Who have you fought for? Again, Misato did not answer. Makoto had merely nodded and moved on down the line. How could he answer truthfully to the servants of the honorable Ide Todo without further disgracing himself? He had been born a wave man. His father had been a Daidoji with a love of peasant women and Misato had been the illegitimate result. Misato had still needed to eat and the Forest Killers had been glad to welcome a man of his strength. The huge bandit gang was practically its own kingdom in the Shinomen Mori, answering to neither clan or emperor. There had been freedom in that, but Misato had grown tired of living as a bandit, his heart was not in intimidating peasants, and he had spent the years since wandering, aimless, selling his skills to whichever lord was paying.  Misato was tough and he was skilled, and that could earn him koku sufficient to live. He’d ended up a Mountain Spirit because a Yobanjin horde had come across the border and there was strength in numbers.

On the twelfth day, Makoto had tried again. Who have you fought for? When Misato had shaken his head politely, Makoto had kept on asking. Exasperated, Misato had said, “You are a persistent one, Crab.”

“That is the finest compliment anyone has ever given me, Misato-san. Who have you fought for?”

Lying would be pointless with this man. So Misato had finally relented and told of his past, but the Hida had not sent him packing. He had merely nodded, and said that he had been told the Forest Killers were tenacious warriors, with stamina worthy of the Wall. Misato had been surprised, when he asked if the honorable samurai was offended by such a disgraceful upbringing, Makoto had laughed.

“Can you fight?”

Hai!” Misato had answered promptly.

“Then I do not care what you have been, only what you will be now.” And the Crab had moved on to the next.

On the thirteenth day, Makoto had joined him again. “Greetings, Misato-san.” They spoke for a time about the advantages of polearms versus heavy weapons while their horses picked their way through the rocks, then Makoto asked his next question. “Why do you follow Ide Todo?”

“Why do you ask us these questions?”

“When I was put on the Wall, my gunso wished to understand his men, where they were strong and where they were weak. We were all tools to be used against the Shadowlands, yet you would not use a tetsubo to gut a fish or a katana to drive a nail. Bushi are not so different… Why do you follow Ide Todo?”

He did not want to say what had really brought him, so instead he gave the answer that would be expected from a wave man. “Koku. Roving magistrates sponsored by half the great clans? The pay should be reliable.”

The Crab’s expression did not change. If he was disappointed, he did not let it show. “I have not troubled myself with the figures. I would assume it is as you say. Aiko is the scribe and will see to distribution of the stipends. Thank you for your answer, Misato-san.” Makoto thumped his horse and it moved toward the next bushi in line.

The ronin watched the young Crab leaving and something caused him to speak up. “Hida Makoto!” The Crab pulled on the reins to turn his horse and the words spilled from Misato’s mouth. “Ide Todo’s speech in the village moved me. He spoke of the empire in need. I would like to fight for something greater than myself for once… I would live as a real samurai before I die.”

Makoto simply dipped his helmet in acknowledgement and moved on.

One day out of Shiro Tamori, Makoto asked his final question of every bushi. “Of the seven tenets of bushido, which is the most important to you?” It must have been the most complex question of all, for the Crab wound up spending much more time listening to these responses. Misato tried to listen to his companion’s words, and did his best to always keep his horse close enough to hear. Young Danjuro said Duty. Akimi, Compassion. Mirumoto Hiro, Honor. Moto Khano said Duty. After a lot of thought, Rei answered Courtesy. Each of the Shinjo had their own opinion, and the fool Braga said Courage, and then went on to tell a story about how he had almost battled sixteen ogres once.

Misato’s turn came when they had stopped for the Tsuruchi and the Kuni to give thanks to the earth kami for the seventeenth time. The shrine was nothing more than a small pile of rocks, but nobody would dare disagree when the Kuni that it was, in fact, a shrine. Hida Makoto had asked his question about bushido, and Misato had not wished to answer. He had not been taught in a proper dojo. Forest Killers did not speak of bushido. Their lessons were learned in the thick trees, in the dark shadows, and in steel buried in bodies, not in books written by Kami or lessons handed down by a sensei representing centuries of proud tradition. 

“Come, Misato, there is no wrong answer.”

“I do not know of such things. How would I? I am a simple soldier. My education has been on the road. In bad times I know what it is to shiver in the snow, or to sleep with an empty belly, or to watch your companions die. Ah, but in good times I have known the taste of good sake, the touch of a fine woman, and the heft of a proper naginata. These things I understand. I don’t know much of the seven facets of bushido. Perhaps, before I die, I will learn something of one.”

Makoto laughed. “I believe that is the wisest answer I’ve heard all day. You are an honest man, Misato-san. Honesty. I think that should be your tenet. It is a good one.”

“I am not that honest.”

“I didn’t ask which tenet you were perfect at, Misato. If Shinjo Braga is the paragon of Courage, I will eat my mempo. Sometimes the most important thing is the one you have to work the hardest at.”

“What is yours then, nikutai?” He expected the answer to be Duty. Crab lived and died by that principle.

The Kuni’s prayers finished, it was time for the Paper Lanterns to move on. Makoto appeared thoughtful as he got back on his horse. The poor animal looked very tired. “I have told Ide Todo that I’ll see to it that the Paper Lanterns fight well, and so we will.  Zuko asked me to watch over the men while he was gone, and so I will. That is how I live.” The Crab’s face grew hard. “My entire life has been spent convincing my people that I was not born destined to fail. I must prove that when I say a thing will be done, it is done. I will not fail. I will not quit. That is my tenet.

Misato was confused, it sounded as if the Crab was speaking of determination, which wasn’t one of the tenets of bushido at all, but rather one of the faces of shourido, a darker philosophy that was preached by many of the bandit lords. “Which is it you speak of?”

When a samurai has said he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop him from completing what he has said he will do. He does not give his word. He does not promise. The act of speaking alone has set the act of doing in motion…” Makoto quoted an old lesson from memory. “So said the Kami Akodo, which was probably the last really smart thing ever written by a Lion. Of all my training, those words have stuck with me the most. The name I took at my gempukku was intended to make my clan understand that I was not my father. Makoto is another word for Sincerity,” the Crab answered as he rode away.


The household they had been provided in Shiro Tamori was a comfortable change from the rigors of the road. Ide Todo had used the garden courtyard to conduct the oath ceremony of the Paper Lanterns. He had extended invitations to all, and Misato had been honored to accept. As usual, Ide Todo’s words were brilliant. If there had ever been a finer orator in the Empire, they would probably have been lifted into the celestial heavens and made into the Fortune of Eloquence. Some of the bushi had even cried when Ide Todo had lit a symbolic lantern to chase away the darkness.

It made Misato feel like a real samurai.

When it was over, Ide Todo and the courtiers had left to prepare for dinner at the palace. Hida Makoto had requested to address the bushi, and Todo had granted it. It was the first time they had seen him without his heavy armor, and the Crab looked uncomfortable without his shell.

“Paper Lanterns. Ide Todo gave you the stirring speech. I am not good at speeches. So I will keep this simple. Until our gunso, Fosuta Zuko, returns, it is my responsibility to see to the military responsibilities of the Paper Lanterns. I will do so until Zuko returns, I die, or Ide Todo finds someone better. I do not know where Ide Todo will lead us, but I can promise that there will be battle.”

Most of the bushi cheered. Makoto scowled, and the cheer died an awkward death.

“Save the cheers for when we can fight as a unit. The Lanterns have only had one real skirmish so far, and I have seen goblins with more coordination. Our performance was passable at best.” There was some murmurs at that. “Akimi, since you were on the other side, how did we look?”

“You responded quickly, but erratically. Your counterattack was unfocused. Your gunso made a decisive move, but left his men leaderless in the process. His second in command, you, were too caught up charging in to gain personal glory to notice the men needed guidance.” She nodded at Makoto. “Your men did not follow orders. They fought well, but as individuals instead of a unit. If you had been facing an actual enemy, I’m afraid you would have taken more casualties.”

“Thank you, Akimi-san. I agree with your assessment.” Makoto bowed and she returned it. Unlike most Crab Misato had met, Makoto knew how to take criticism. “We will learn from every engagement and use that to continually improve ourselves. Ide Todo does not deserve passable bushi. He deserves the finest warriors the Empire can offer.”

“We still beat those ronin!” Mirumoto Hiro insisted.

“Those ronin are your brothers now. Some of you are from the great clans. Some of you are ronin. Our second in command belongs to a minor clan. From now on, you are Paper Lanterns. As long as you serve Ide Todo, you will respect your brothers regardless of how great or humble their origins. I don’t care if Ide Todo starts recruiting ogres and nezumi. If he decides you are worthy, you are worthy. Todo-sama means to recruit more men, so that means that we will certainly gain members from clans that you personally have issue with, too bad. Eventually we may even have need of ashigaru or budoka.”

“We would work with peasants?” one of the Shinjo asked in disbelief.

“If Ide Todo has need of them in this war, certainly. Have any of you heard of Moshibaru Junaro?” None of them had. Makoto shook his head, like they were really missing out. “Many years ago, the Crab held a Twenty Goblin Winter. Any ronin brave enough to cross the Wall and bring back twenty goblin heads would win a place in the Crab clan. One eta torturer decided that he wished to become a Crab. What a foolish eta! His master told him that he should know his place on the celestial wheel and had him flogged for even asking! But this eta knew that if twenty goblin heads could move a ronin up one level on the celestial wheel, then it was simple math. For the eta to gain heiman status, he would provide twenty heads. Then for a peasant to become a ronin, he would provide another twenty heads. Twenty last heads would allow him to become a Crab. This eta repaired an old broken tetsubo, crossed the wall, and for a week straight killed goblins. He sought out the Crab general in charge and dumped a wagon load of severed goblin heads at his feet. That is the type of initiative I want to see.”

“That is a lot of dead goblins,” Danjuro said thoughtfully.

“And for it, this lowly eta was granted a place in the Moshibaru vassal family, and he went on to become a legendary warrior.” The Crab picked up his tetsubo from where it had been leaned against a sculpted bush. “This is his tetsubo. Moshibaru Junaro was my grandfather. So yes, Lanterns, we all have our place on the wheel, but do not assume that you know the will of the Fortunes.”

He looked Misato in the eye as he said that. Of course he was not offended by a bandit, when he could trace his line to an eta. Makoto truly did not care.  

Makoto walked along the gravel path, pointing his grandfather’s tetsubo at each of them. “You have pledged to serve Magistrate Ide Todo. He is a merciful and kind leader. I am not. Starting immediately, we will train hard. Each of you will hone your skills. We will have unit practice daily. Contact drills, maneuvering, sparring, scouting, ambushing. You will master your weapons and master yourselves. We will train until our actions are automatic and without conscious thought. When we enter battle, if your weapon breaks you will draw your sword, if your sword breaks you will draw your wakizashi, then your tanto, then hit them with a rock, then your fists, but you will win. I have spoken to each of you and learned of your training. This group has a diverse skill set, and you will share these skills with your brothers.”

Mirumoto Hiro was shocked. “But we can’t talk about dojo secrets—”

“Don’t be stupid.” Makoto snorted. “Of course I don’t expect you to share your clan secrets. I’d rather die than dishonor my clan by revealing the Way of the Crab! I don’t want you to teach us niten, Hiro. I speak of fundamentals. Each of us will coach our brothers. Akimi has a knowledge of battle. Danjuro understands the principles of iaijutsu. I’m sure Misato could teach us all a thing or two about surviving off the land. Moto Khano has forgotten more about horsemanship than most men will ever know. You will teach and you will share anything that does not betray your sensei, and this will help keep your brothers alive.”

“You will always work in pairs. You will always watch your brother’s back. The servant we lost at the ruins of the High House of Light was my fault… I will learn from this mistake. I will expect each of you to learn from your mistakes as well. We will have rules of how to conduct ourselves. You represent Ide Todo and the Paper Lanterns now, and you will bring honor to his name or else. Is that understood?”

HAI!” the Lanterns shouted as one.

“It is not enough for us to be physically prepared for battle. You will prepare your spirit so that you can face death without hesitation. I do not care what you believe. I don’t care if you worship the Lords of Death or the Fortune of Cupcakes, you will perform your devotions to them daily and ask for their favor. We face a Dark Oracle, and if the empire is to triumph, we must have faith. We are blessed to have three monks travelling with us. Listen to their wisdom. Kuni Magatsu loves to talk about the earth kami if any of you are so inclined…”

None of them volunteered for that.

“If Fosuta—” Makoto caught himself, trying not to let his doubt about his friend’s fate show through. “When Fosuta Zuko returns, we will do things his way. Until then, I will serve to the best of my abilities. Todo-sama has appointed Akimi as my second. Bring your concerns and requests to us… Each of you warriors exemplifies a tenet of bushido. Jin, Yu, Rei, Chugo, Gi, Meyo…” he looked right at Misuto as he spoke of honesty in the most formal of language. “and Makoto. I have learned much from you. I am honored to be your nikutai…”

Chouchin Otokadate!” the brotherhood of the Paper Lanterns shouted their name as one.

“Lanterns, we will make our ancestors proud or we will die trying. Ide Todo is your magistrate now. Your lives are his to spend… I will do my best to spend them well.” 


To be continued next week with the Tales of Shinjo Braga, by Dan Wells, in which we get a comedic glimpse into the mind of either the greatest hero, or most deluded nutjob, in the Empire. 

Book signing tomorrow, Saturday, Sugerhouse B&N
A link for buying GI Joe comics with me in them

6 thoughts on “The Burning Throne, Episode 22: Tenets of Bushido”

  1. Probably the best one yet. I think I’ve said it before, but I would really like to see this as a novel. Thanks again

  2. ermm ….

    Tenets of Bushido are the principles of Bushido.

    Tenants of Bushido are a group of folks who who are somehow renting a flat on or in an abstract noun.

    1. Sorry, that was my post. Every time I lose my cookie and have to relog into WordPress, it goes into stupid mode.

    2. I thought it was the Samurai equivalent of “Three’s Company”. You know, one of the roommates has to pretend that he’s really a Shinto monk so the Daimyo won’t kick them out…?

      1. It was correct in the text, so of course I typed it wrong in the WordPress header… because that’s how I roll.

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