The Drowning Empire, Episode 2: Letter from Moto Subotai

The Drowning Empire is a weekly serial based on the events which occured during the  Writer Nerd Game Night monthly Legend of the Five Rings game.  It is a tale of samurai adventure set in the magical world of Rokugan.

Today’s episode was written by Pat Tracy.

Pat is playing the part of Moto Subotai of the Unicorn clan, a rough and tumble warrior who grew up in the desert wastes. His family are roughly equivelent to the Mongols of our world. Subotai is currently a hostage of the Lion, which means he has been entrusted into their “care” as a result of a peace treaty between the two clans. Should the treaty be violated by the Unicorn, Subotai’s life will be forfeit. He volunteered for this duty because he had recently been bethrothed to Shinjo Namori, a woman he really didn’t get along with.

Our adventure begins when the player’s characters have all been invited to compete in the illustrious Topaz Championship. It is a special contest and ceremony where the best and brightest young samurai of the empire compete to gain glory for themselves and honor for their clans.

Continued from:

Letter from Moto Subotai to his betrothed, Shinjo Namori, written upon the first day of the Topaz Championship.

Dear One,

I hope this letter finds you in good spirits, and that you enjoy good health and fortune. I offer kind thoughts for your family, as well. You may well be surprised that I write this letter, as we have had certain difficulties between us in the past. When last we spoke, the amity between us was shattered, and many things were said that I would take back, were I able to do so.

In the time of my absence from Unicorn lands, I have taken the opportunity to reflect upon your frank and, may I say, surprising appraisals of my merits as a man and a samurai. While your words stung me deeply at the time, I have come to understand them better now, and I accept them as truth. Humbled, I have resolved to dedicate myself to becoming the image of the man that you deserve as a husband. A large part of that journey will be to attempt mending the relations between us.

If the Fortunes permit it, I will leave off being the half-civilized lout that you encountered when last we spoke. Please know that your words are the forge fire and hammer, shaping me into a man better than the one I had supposed myself to be. It may be that I will yet be insufficient to your standards, even when I have improved as much as I am able. If that is the case, I will swear to you that I will find a way to die honorably in a purpose that increases the clan’s standing, all the while remaining thankful for having you in my life. Perhaps only then can the last vestige of the bitterness between us be eradicated.

With the purpose stated above, and to allow us to become acquainted at a safe removal from each other, I intend to write you often and do my best to describe the events I have recently passed through. I hope that you choose to read them, though it is certainly your right to throw them into the brazier and watch the smoke as it rises.

Let me now frame recent events:

The journey south was a fine ride. I saw many vistas, felt freshening breezes in my hair often, and enjoyed good weather and health. Tento, my horse, was in high spirits and rose to a gallop of his own accord many times. Shinro Ishi, my groom and footman, has at last thrown off the lingering, deep cough, and now breathes easy. It is good, as we had run out of the unguents that he rubbed on his chest to ease his respirations.

I have set myself to the task of writing a few haiku poems to capture the journey. Please forgive my lack of artistry in this, as the courtly side of life has never held much allure for me, and I have been primarily a man of rough outside pursuits.

Cormorants take flight

above the dawn-lit river

sky filled with copper

My steed’s neck arches

we steer away from wheel ruts

into knee high grass

The long, rough upslope

granite teeth rise ahead

slow rain mutes the day

It was with some sense of trepidation that I came to be the hostage of the Lion Clan, but it seemed the best decision at the time. After the heat of my anger at our arguments faded, however, and the road’s palliative had done its work, I came to understand that I had given myself into the control of an adversary most potent and unbending. Still, an oath sworn in haste and wrath is no less an oath.

It was to my great relief that the Akodo family was most honorable, and treated me with consideration and respect beyond what I could hope for. Of course, I cannot forget that our people suffered greatly at their hands during the battle of Rich Frog, but the creation of peace from the remnants of war dictates that we must let go of old grudges and learn to occupy our proper place in the order of the Empire.

I have resolved, in all things, to observe and understand as much as I can, judging men and circumstances as I perceive them, rather than from lessons given and stories long told. Every lesson and every story comes from the tip of a pen or the tongue of a bard with his own flaws, friendships, and old wounds. I would, when practical, let each person I encounter prove themselves to be honorable or base by his actions and words. I sense that you will be calling me a naive simpleton at this moment, but I feel that, in order to best evince the compassion that bushido requires of us, we must give even the lowest or most inglorious an opportunity to regain a shred of honor.

An intriguing thing I have learned is that Akodo Goro, much known for his sternness, as are all his folk, has the occasional moment of levity. He is, in many ways, all his legend says, but there is a humane samurai within that forbidding shell, as well. I believe that, as warlike and proud as the Lion are, there is yet tenderness in them, and the possibility to mend the broken relationship between our two clans. It will take great care and effort on both parts, however. Think, Namori-san, of how formidable the empire would become, if the greatest cavalry the world has ever known worked seamlessly with the vast and anvil-hard armies of the Lion clan! Ah, I reach too far, and think about things that may never come to pass.

I am given unto the supervision of Goro-sama’s son, Toranaka-san. It is clear from every action and word that he has been given the finest military education. His mind is a geared machine full of tactics, gambits, and strategy. He is yet an optimistic soul, however. I hope to prove myself to him, and by my actions dispel some of the worst assumptions that the other clans harbor about our beloved Unicorn folk. Though I am perhaps the worst of all exemplars in this regard, I will yet make every effort to act well and be an ambassador in my own humble way.

Toranaka-san and I were both invited to the Topaz Championship, and so we departed soon after making first acquaintance. With us came Ikoma Uso, son of a great bard. He is an intriguing man of many hidden skills and mysteries. I enjoy his company, for I find it hard to not have a laugh in my throat when he expounds and tells tales. I fear that I do not always know which of his tales are figurative and which to be taken seriously, but when I inquire about such things, he merely laughs with me and goes on with the tale.

As we traveled, we were soon in the Crane lands. The Crane are truly blessed by the Fortunes in greater proportion than other clans. Their lands are fertile and the climate ideal. It would seem that a farmer in soil such as they possess would require but little skill to grow his crops and be fruitful. It is a place where hardship and struggle seem like distant memories, fictions of the less fortunate outer world. I begin to understand the esoteric concerns of the Crane, when I see that they live in such idyllic surroundings.

When Toranaka-san, Uso-san, and I came to a border checkpoint, we were thrown together with a few other samurai. These three were from Sparrow, Dragon, and Mantis clans. Together, we formed a small troop of contestants bound for the tournament. It did not feel as if this were a random occurrence. We were even questioned by a mysterious monk by a river’s bank. Some among us whispered that the monk was himself an embodiment of the Fortunes, though I cannot say.

The Sparrow samurai, Suzume Shintaro, was blessed with little wealth or worldliness, and rode perhaps the most pathetic and ancient horse I have ever seen, but he was a kind and open hearted fellow, and we quickly decided there was honor in him.

The Dragon, a shugenja called Tamori Isao, was something of an enigma. I still feel that I do not know him well enough to comment. He has shown himself subsequently to be both brave and stalwart, so I feel that he simply embodies the spiritual and difficult-to-fathom nature of his people.

The Mantis, Yoritomo Oki, seems to be a troubled young man. His skill in archery surpasses my own by a good measure, and I do not jest when I say such things. I feel, however, that there are dark memories of his past that bite at his spirit, and drive him to overindulge in sake and act foolish. We are, none of us, without fault, though, and his great skill is not to be questioned.

When our group arrived in Tsuma, we were assigned to the Laughing Carp, a fine place of food and lodging. We shared in the tea ceremony and, at the insistence of Toranaka-san, who had assumed tacit leadership of our small troop, decided to aid each other in the tournament, where we were able.

This determination was soon tested, as the first contest of the Topaz Championship was the Grand Melee. It took place the next day, and was to be witnessed by many people of great status and fame, including even a member of the Imperial family. All of us were filled with hope and concern as to our fates.

I am pleased to report that, due to Toranaka-san’s leadership and the valor shown by all of our little troop, every one of us managed to remain standing until the final eight competitors, which brought us good standing in the event and some small acclaim from the crowd. I was greatly honored to be able to stand before Akodo Tetsuru and face him blade to blade. Though he struck me two blows much like thunderbolts and sent me tumbling to the grass, or passage of arms against one another was of a longer duration than anyone else had been able to manage. I also managed to strike a solid blow against him before I succumbed to his greater prowess. I learned much from the melee, and was well pleased.

The day, however, belonged to the Lion. After my defeat, the honorable Toranaka-San was able to defeat the mighty Tetsuru-san. Toranaka was then himself bested by Uso-san, who took the ultimate win for that prestigious event. I would not be surprised if Uso-san took the Topaz Championship this year, though it is early yet. His win in the Grand Melee must be considered a surprising and fascinating turn of events.

Later, the horsemanship competition was held. I found myself very last to go on the day, and by that time, I had managed to find and consider every doubt and concern I possessed. Although I feel that I rode no better than average to my abilities, I managed to claim victory in the event. Another Moto came second, followed by the Lion, who appear to be making a bravura showing for themselves this year.

When having lunch, there was some unpleasantness that I shall not bore you with. Suffice it to say that an unknown and greatly dishonorable person attempted to taint and poison one of my comrade’s meals. It was with luck that the poison was found before harm was done, but it seems to me that there are many gambits and schemes afoot here in Tsuma. We shall try to get to the bottom of them in due course.

Well, I have soon to go and embarrass myself at courtly pursuits, as that is the next contested event today. I have also nearly run this inkwell dry and doubtless bored you with my long letter.

Please accept this letter as the first of the sawn boards that will build a bridge between us, my betrothed, and perhaps call to the Fortunes on my behalf if you are in some way moved in a friendly direction by my missive.

Yours Faithfully and with Strong Regard,

Moto Subotai


To be continued next Friday:

To check out some more of Pat’s writing, here is an anthology which he has a story in,

For more behind the scenes game details, I will be posting all of these along with background game crunch information over on the L5R forum: 

Quick update, talking guns with movie stars and crashing my truck into a lake.
Remember that one thing I wrote that I couldn't talk about? 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Drowning Empire, Episode 2: Letter from Moto Subotai”

  1. It makes me happy that my very basic knowledge of Japanese is useful, if only so I can pronounce all the names and understand all the honorifics. I don’t get to use it very often (and my vocabulary is pathetic, so I still don’t sound very impressive when I can use it).
    On an unrelated subject, the first part seems very grovelling. That works with the story, but my problem is that I don’t understand why men think they need to grovel that long and that hard. Sure, if you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it good, but my female suspicions get set off. Just like compliments, too much grovelling can seem insincere.
    Is there a standardized chart of how much grovelling is required to make up for any level of screw-up? All I can see in my head is a guy going, “Hey, I screwed up, but I did the prescribed amount of grovelling, so that means that you HAVE to forgive me, and you’re the bad guy if you don’t,” and that pretty well wipes out all the potential goodwill he could have gotten from me.

    1. …alternatively, he could just be from a culture that doesn’t handle social apology very well and he doesn’t do well aqt his first major attempt.
      Or maybe he has no real interest in apology and is just ‘creating a paper trail’ for when his estranged wife pulls something atrocious.

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