The Drowning Empire, Episode 35: Vital Provisions

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.

If you would like to read all of these in one convenient place, along with a bunch of additional game related stuff, behind the scenes info, and detailed session recaps, I’ve been posting everything to one thread on the L5R forum,

This week’s episode is by Pat Tracy as the group sets out from Broken Wave City. 

Continued from:


The old Mantis clan woman grinned at Moto Subotai, revealing her squid-ink blackened teeth. The noisy dockside market swarmed with all manner of people. A noisy hawker of cheap baubles competed with the roar of the fishmonger’s stall to make the air shiver with sound. Still, the samurai barely heard the din, his normally wary eyes focused on the table before him, on a set of four drums that held together on a short stand. His heart was far away, soaring over the plains and steppes, the long, fiery light of a dusty sunset hanging in the memory of his childhood.

“You seem interested in those drums, Honorable Samurai. Please, give them a try. I would see you well pleased with any purchase.”

“I used to play when I was a boy. Horse drums.”

The Mantis crone scanned his purple attire, glancing at his long mustache and chin beard. “You’re a Desert Moto, then?”

He nodded, running his rough hands across the drum heads, lost in thought.

“These are struck with the fingertips and the side of the hand. No drumsticks, like you’d use with your horse drums.”

The samurai’s footman cleared his throat. “The ship will soon depart, Master.”

“Toranaka-san will see to it that they don’t leave without us, Shinro Ishi.”


The samurai began tapping out a rhythm, slow and halting at first, testing the voice of the drum set. The beat solidified, settled, grew more ornate. He was like a man with much to impart, whose voice has long been silent, his steps far away from the company of others. Once the flow began, it grew, it intensified until there was a torrent of beats, changing the general din of the market, drawing shoppers near, causing the hawker nearby to momentarily leave off. The Moto began to speak:

In my land

the drums call to us

call us to the yurts

all is the sound of

hoofbeats upon

arid dirt, all is the

smell of horse sweat

and the cut of the

razor wind that chaps

the face and squints

the eyes

In my land

the leather booms

across the barren

spaces, the flute

made from a horse’s

leg sings its clear

voiced call as we

step through the

horse dance and

throw our heads

to the moonlit sky,

shouting for the

joy of freedom

In my land

the blood from

our veins feeds

the greedy sand

and makes it live–

we smile at the goat

new-born and the

old one who has

walked to the cold

night, rather than

relenting to the

cages of stacked

stones, those prisons

men make when they

can journey no more

In my land

they call us the wind

and the wind bears

fire, and upon the

earth we are mighty,

our horses raising

dust enough to hide

the sun, but

upon the wild

waters I now go,

upon the fearful

bosom of the sea

I throw my fates

So that one day


I may return

to my land

The drumbeats stop, as do the words, and the purple-clad samurai nods to his footman to pay the old Mantis woman. Those gathered open their mouths as if to speak, but no one does, for the see a man haunted, a man half-swallowed by the spirit world. With the drums tucked under one arm, Moto Subotai turns to go, the crowd parting to allow him passage. Jaw muscles taut, gait as stiff as any Lion Clan bushi, he goes toward the dockside.

“Subo, the Captain says the winds are fair. We have been awaiting your arrival for nearly an hour.” Toranaka calls out as Subotai paces up the gangway.

“Last minute provisions. I am now ready to depart.” Subotai passes by without anything further, his face a mask. Toranaka looks after him, a slight air of puzzlement lingering on his otherwise controlled mein. Toranaka nods at Shintaro, who puts his considerable lung power behind his words.

“Captain Oki-san! All present and accounted for!”

Oki winces at the volume, touching his forehead and squinting. “Thanks, Shintaro. I’m right here, though. Please don’t shout.”

“Yes, Captain!” Shintaro shouts, loudly enough that the stamping of horses can be heard from down in the hold.

Captain Oki wipes his brow, smiles through the pain, and begins giving orders. The Friendly Traveler’s ropes slip from the docking cleats, and after a wallowing moment that has Isao-san’s hand clamped over his mouth, the wind freshens. The hull bites the waves ahead, and they are off.

From amidships, Moto Subotai leans upon a webbing of rope, watching Oki as he works the tiller and sets their course. The Mantis archer’s face is pale, his cheeks hollow with too many late nights and too much sake, but when the air freshens and they are making progress, Subotai can see him take in a great breath, let it go, and smile the smallest smile to himself. He reflects that, often as not, the most important cargos are not those carried, but those finally put down.


To be continued next week:

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