The Drowning Empire, Episode 42: History Does Not Remember the Quiet

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 was written by Paul Genesse, who is playing our honorable, one armed samurai Akodo Toranaka. This is a long one, but thi swas a very busy session for him. We’ve got adventure and a murder mystery. For the record, the love story bits? I just turn the guys loose in fiction. We don’t actually act those parts out.  I’m not that kind of gamer  🙂

Continued from:

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Eleventh Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Seventh Day of the Month of the Dog City

Two Days North of Kalani’s Landing

History does not remember samurai who pass quietly through life with their swords in their scabbards. My father taught me that when I was a small boy, and he allowed me to sit by his side when he cleaned his armor, scrubbing away what I thought were tiny specs of mud from his shin guards. He had worn the armor that same day when he returned home. Thousands had watched him and the army marching down the road, victorious after winning a glorious battle with the Unicorn.

That day he also taught me the importance of making an entrance into a city, even a small or insignificant one. Drums, and cymbals, horns, and flutes, the tramping of feet and the cracking of hooves, banners streaming gold and red, the colors of the Lion clan displayed for all to see on tall poles sometimes topped with the heads of notorious enemies.

He also taught me to send men in advance to tell the population you were coming. Official heralds to organize and energize the samurai and especially the common folk, and less official men to whisper in the sake houses, tea houses, and brothels, spreading news of the glory and the deeds of the approaching army and their honorable warriors, and especially their generals. “The generals are most important,” he said, “because a strong reputation can win a battle without bloodshed. Do not be quiet, my son, when you come to a new place. The Lion does not sneak into a city like a Scorpion. You know what Lions do.”

Our humble ship, the Friendly Traveler, arrived in Kalani’s Landing with little fanfare, though the Mantis fast ships had gone ahead and told of our complete annihilation of the Pirates of Sanada and the destruction of their entire fleet—accomplished with only eight samurai—and one infamous ship. The sailors had heard of it before and none would sail on it, but the ship has been renamed The Friendly Traveler, and now a large catapult looms on the prow, and a new Captain with balls the size of the stones the catapult throws was in command.

Yoritomo Oki will never be remembered as being timid. Rash, drunk, and deadly with a bow, but never timid. I have come to believe that he fears death less than I do. I must admit that I do fear it, for I have done almost nothing worthy of being remembered for at this stage in my young life. I feel much older than nineteen, but I am a young man still. How old does Oki feel? Is he still the boy who watched his father and their entire ship sink? Something has driven Oki to the dark place he tries to forget, and I know it has something to do with the death of his father. We have all heard him cry out in his sleep, and whatever he saw that destroyed his father’s ship, was no storm. From what the Mantis have said, young Oki was the lone survivor.

The last man left alive from any company of fighting men bears a terrible burden. Oki bears this weight with his fondness for drink, drowning himself in alcohol whereas the water failed to kill him years ago. I wonder if I would be strong enough to bear his burden at all. If I were the last one alive, miraculously surviving when all others did not, I would likely take my own life because of the shame. The guilt for not dying with my fellow soldiers would unravel my mind. Perhaps this is what happened to Oki? We all have our demons to face, and I shall stand with my friend and help him if I can defeat his.

We have now left Kalani’s Landing and Oki’s two ships have been left behind. We have traveled far inland now, but none will forget our arrival in the Ivory Kingdoms. On the second day after reaching port, the 5th day of the Month of the Dog, we staged the grand event my father would have held on the first day. The whispers had been spread, invitations made, and a large crowd came to see us and our ships, as we needed to recruit sailors to crew The Friendly Traveler, and Oki’s new ship.

We appeared on the dock wearing the new and very striking clothing I had made for us, as it is too hot in the Ivory Kingdoms for our usual Rokugani attire. I found the best local tailor and chose gray material as a base that breathes well, and keeps the wearer cool, with our clan colors displayed on the fringes, and large patches with our clan and family mons. I also had embroidered kanji indicating we had participated in the Topaz Championship displayed. Uso’s bore the kanji of the Topaz Champion. Stunning we must have looked to most of the folk on the docks. Six samurai, in the peak of their youth and vigor. United by friendship and honor. Our new clothing caused many of the common women to swoon, as is a usual when they view a samurai in a sharp uniform.

I shall leave the bards to tell the full tale of our display, many came to see if we were as significant as many were led to believe. Shintaro has a way with the common folk that astounds me, and scores of them came to see our show. Subotai drew many of them in with his excellent drumming, then later dazzled the crowd with a show with archery from his giant horse’s back. Oki was the only one who could follow Subotai, and his archery took their breath away. Uso’s seamless storytelling throughout and Isao’s impressive feats of magic as he spoke to the kami left no doubt that we six samurai were men of note. To hear about distant events from the Topaz Champion was the highlight of the common people’s month, and Uso is a bard of tremendous skill. We recruited many talented sailors and ronin to crew Oki’s ships, and they should provide a good amount of koku to fund our travels in the Ivory Kingdoms.

We have ridden north with one of our Crane friends, Doji Shunya. The other Crane, Daidoji Masafune, has been assigned to Second City and goes on a different road. He is a good friend. I shall not like it if he is ordered to hinder our mission to speak with Doji Chonitsu. The Crane leaders in Kalani’s Landing did not want Shunya or Masafune even speaking with Chonitsu about the issue we are concerned with. They have been given different duties now. Masafuni feels it is because Chonitsu is a close friend and ally to the powerful Otomo Akio (karo in 2nd City) that they are to not trouble him in any way.

Shunya rides with us, but he is still an outsider, and likely a Crane spy. He has requested to go on a Musha Shugyo, a warrior pilgrimage, and I’m afraid his ultimate aim is to duel Moto Subotai, and kill my best friend. Subo defeated him in the dueling competition at the Topaz Championship, and Shunya cannot forgive this failing. Crane duelists do not lose to Moto, but Moto Subotai is not a common samurai. He is the ancestor of Moto Agatai and his line is fierce. Shunya should not be so insulted. Unless I can come up with some stratagem to make Shunya one of our allies, or at least a friend, I fear that I will have to kill him someday.

I will not let Shunya duel Subotai as long as Subo is my hostage. Whoever tries to kill my friend must go through me first. I suspect Shunya would defeat me two out of three tries in mock duels, but if we were to fight to the death, I would let him experience what it’s like to have only one arm.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Twelfth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Fourteenth Day of the Month of the Dog

Close to Twin Forks City

Today, unintentionally, I nearly sent Moto Subotai to his death. I have replayed the event in my mind, and if the circumstances occur again, I will not make the same command. We had been traveling north for many days with a caravan of Unicorn traders, led by Shinjo Itao, when a hush came over the thick and steaming jungle. The horses, the animals in the trees, and all of us could feel the presence of something dangerous ahead, as if some witchcraft had descended upon us.

I immediately sent Subotai to scout around the bend in the road, as the entire caravan might be in danger from a host of enemies. Subo is the best scout, and the best horseman, and I have sent him on scouting forays dozens of times in the past two years.

Proudly, Moto Subotai rode ahead with no hesitation while some in the caravan cowered as the dread affected their courage.

Subotai did not get far before a gigantic creature burst from the jungle and attacked. The demon had the body of a giant man, and the head of a great tiger. Oni such as this are known in the histories, and it was a Tiger Destroyer, created by the evil magic of the fallen goddess, Kali-ma. Tiger Destroyers are said to be no more intelligent than animals since the death of their dark mother, but this beast had malicious purpose in mind when it attacked us on the road. No animal attacks so many armed men in daylight so blatantly. Hunger did not drive it to us. Our presence attracted it, I have no doubt. I do not know if the Oracle of Dark Water had a hand in this attack, but I would not be surprised if it were so.

The Tiger Destroyer roared and bared its long fangs as it attacked Subotai and his stalwart horse, Tentu. The ferocity of the assault knocked Tentu to the ground and Subotai was unhorsed. If any of us had been in Subotai’s place, our mount would have been dead, and we would have been gravely injured.

I was already sprinting forward when I heard the trees breaking in the jungle when the beast approached. I leaped past prone Subotai just ahead of my friends, and attacked. My katana opened a long, bloody slice on the orange, black, and white fur of the Tiger Destroyer. It bled red blood, like a man, and I knew we would slay it.

My companions had followed close behind and their weapons formed a wall of steel death. Shunya stood guard over Subotai during the battle, as he would not let the Tiger demon rob him of the chance of killing the only man who had vanquished him in a duel. It was an honorable move to defend Subotai, but the stark calculation of Shunya is chilling.

The Tiger Destroyer left its mark upon us, but we cut it down before any of our party were killed. Suzume Shintaro struck the final blow with his bicento, and the battle was over before Subotai regained his feet.

Tamori Isao has performed the proper rituals on the trophies we claimed, partly as proof of what had occurred. No Tiger Destroyer has been seen so close to a city in ages, according to what we have since learned. Isao has banished the evil aura of the oni, and we’ve taken the head of the monster with us. We will give it as a gift to Subotai’s father at Journey’s End Keep.

Hide from the striped tiger-like pelt is now wrapped around the shaft of Shintaro’s spear, as Swamp Dragon is not only the bane of dishonorable men, but also the doom of oni.

If ever again the same or similar presence is felt, I shall not send forth a scout so quickly. If I had waited, only a moment, before issuing the order, Subotai would not have been put in such danger.

I do not know what is ahead of us on the road to Journey’s End Keep, but I will not be surprised if other foul oni from the Destroyer War of a generation ago come for us again. Nothing will stop us from our mission. We must speak with Doji Chonitsu and find the truth.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Thirteenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Fourth Day of the Month of the Boar

Near Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

We are close to Journey’s End Keep and have been traveling through the grasslands claimed by the Unicorn Clan for several days now. There is little strategic sense for me to go anywhere near this place of my Unicorn enemies, but Doji Chonitsu is said to be there, and I must follow him, despite all my misgivings. Entering a stronghold of the Unicorn is not something I would never consider otherwise, and this may be the gravest mistake I have ever made.

My father is hated by most of the Unicorn, which is understandable after his victory in the City of the Rich Frog against them. Rich Frog was once among their holdings, and many Unicorn lost their lives and livelihoods there, which means I will soon be a target, surrounded by those who want to kill me.

What would my father, the great and honorable Rikushogun Akodo Goro say, if he knew I was bringing Moto Subotai to this place? I have been tasked to keep Subotai as my hostage, and now I shall deliver him to his own father. I may soon become a hostage myself, and must prepare for this eventuality. I trust Subotai with my life, and I know my friends will defend me, but I have a deep sense of foreboding that going to this place will be the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done.

I cannot refuse to go for another reason, this one of the heart. Subotai is very anxious to see the woman to whom he has been betrothed for several years now. We learned in Kalani’s Landing that Shinjo Namori is at Journey’s End Keep. Subo received a letter from her when we arrived on the dock some weeks ago and I have seen him reading it over and over again. The bitterness in their relationship has apparently ebbed and now he actually wishes to marry her. Of course he cannot while he is officially a hostage, but we shall see if this can be changed.

Somehow I must convince the Unicorn that we Lion should be their greatest allies. When the next outside enemy threatens the Emerald Empire, the Lion infantry must unite with the Unicorn cavalry. I have studied the past wars, and when the greatest infantry in Rokugan banded together with the greatest cavalry, none could stand against them. It must be so again. I must win this battle with my wits, not my sword.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Fourteenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Fifth Day of the Month of the Boar

Outside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

We have been taken into custody by a large patrol of over one hundred Unicorn heavy cavalry near Journey’s End Keep. Most of them are the legendary Utaku Battle Maidens and they ride upon giant horses even larger than Subotai’s mount, Tentu. I’ve been assured that my hostage, Moto Subotai will be returned to me, and I was personally guaranteed safe passage. This promise was made by an intimidating Moto Death Priest, Byung-Chul. I trust him, as his son is a hostage of Akodo Tetsuru in Second City, and if anything happens to me, Byung-Chul’s son would likely be put to death. Knowing Tetsuru, there would be war, and I must not allow this to happen.

I must record what happened today, though I have little time before we ride onward after our short rest. While I write, Yoritomo Oki is dazzling the Unicorn archers with his prowess with his bow, and Suzume Shintaro has amazed them with his feats of strength and the tale about slaying the Tiger Destroyer. They keep away from Tamori Isao as if he is diseased because of the recent animosity between the Dragon Clan the and Unicorn, and they have treated Uso and I with cold politeness, though I see the hate behind their eyes. Subotai is being treated like a returning war hero, as these samurai hold his father, Moto Kohatsu in the highest regard, and Subo is his heir. When Subotai is released from his hostage status he may inherit the command of Journey’s End Keep.

Now I find myself in a situation I have never experienced before. I am surrounded by scores of battle-hardened samurai who would likely kill me if given the chance, but their leader appears to hold me in some high esteem, as I am a graduate of the Golden Plains Dojo and of similar station to her own.

When she approached us in the lead of a long line of gigantic horses ridden by the famous Utaku Battle Maidens, I knew she was in command. It was in her eyes, her noble bearing, and the way she carried her sword.

She ignored me and spoke to Subotai as if he were not a hostage, breaking protocol that is so rigid in Rokugan, but very lax in these barbarian Ivory Kingdoms. I could not let the insult to my honor stand, and I rode between her horse and Subotai’s, announcing my name and my authority over him as etiquette demanded. I was firm and showed no fear at being in the presence of so many of my potential enemies.

Horses were making noise, their hooves clopping on the ground, and she ignored my words, pretending she did not hear them. Her mount flicked its massive head, knocking my pony away several steps. Two insults such as these would not be tolerated in different circumstances, but I had to swallow my pride for the greater good and not inflame the conflict between Unicorn and Lion.

The Moto Death Priest, Byung-Chul, accompanied by his pair of Vindicators, intervened and promised safe passage before any further insults were exchanged.

This was how I met Utaku Yanai, leader of the Utaku Battle Maidens of Journey’s End Keep.

I had decided to hate her for insulting me, but soon after our confrontation we all began to ride and she finished speaking to Subotai. She then dropped back in the line and approached me uninvited, which was quite unexpected. Before I knew it she was speaking about warfare, tactics, strategy, and even logistics, telling me about her strong opinions on cavalry and infantry assaults, and how cavalry were far superior in delivering the telling blow to enemy units. I agreed completely with her words, which was shocking to me and I think surprising to her. I listened enraptured as if she and I were classmates of the same beliefs who had idolized the identical battle masters. We spoke the same language and we had studied the same doctrines. Dare I say we loved the same teachings.

She did not look at the stump of my missing arm, nor did she seem to consider me less of a man because I was not in command of a large group of men. I do not know if she considers me an equal, but she respects me enough to allow me to challenge her strategies and deeply held beliefs, though I could find little in her words to challenge. She is a brilliant strategist, if somewhat biased toward overestimating the ability of cavalry to disperse tightly packed heavy infantry squadrons.

Yanai is older than I by a scant number of years, and she has commanded her soldiers in many engagements, but her words are supported with experience, and confidence. I was shocked to learn she had heard of my victory in the mass battle at the Topaz Championship. She flattered me, and perhaps this is how she made up for her initial insult? Perhaps her soldiers expected her to ignore me and show insult, and I know how important it is for a leader to maintain the confidence of their troops.

Regardless, she is the first woman I have ever truly been fascinated with in more than the ways young men are interested in the opposite gender. The girls I knew at the dojo played at being warriors, and they had their charms which I had difficulty ignoring, but this woman is a leader, chosen by fate to be born into her powerful family and to command soldiers in battle. She carries the same burden and responsibility that I do, and perhaps that is why we have this most unanticipated connection.

She is beautiful, and I find myself looking at her exposed shoulders, uncovered by thin purple fabric designed to keep her cool in this oppressive heat. She is tan, and strong, and her voice carries over the grasslands. I listened to her speaking for several hours today, and there is something about the sound of her voice that captivates me. Even if she had not been born into a noble family she would have risen to be a leader. This I know without question.

What I do not know is the future. I do admit that Utaku Yanai would be a commander I would trust if the Lion and Unicorn armies joined together and went to war against our common enemies. Unicorn heavy cavalry and Lion heavy infantry would crush any opponent. I dream of such a day, and now I will dream of Utaku Yanai. I would follow her into battle, and perhaps in time, her clan will follow me.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Fifteenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Sixth Day of the Month of the Boar

Inside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

The local Ivindi peasants say the tiger is the most fearsome hunter in the Ivory Kingdoms. Many farmers are killed by the savage beasts who leap from the jungle and kill the unsuspecting. The bodies are rarely found. I believe that my friends and I are being watched by a tiger demon of great power from the deepest reaches of Jigoku. I am not one of the overly superstitious samurai who consult readers of pig entrails or see visions from excessive opium consumption, but the signs are hard to dismiss. The Tiger Destroyer who attacked my friends, and now a warning from a local soothsayer leads me to believe that we have been marked by a threat we do not yet understand. It wears the face of a tiger, but I fear it’s true nature is much more dangerous.

I shall record the events of the day now, though it is very late now, after midnight, but I cannot sleep as it has been a most memorable day. We arrived in Journey’s End Keep late this afternoon and convinced our Unicorn Clan hosts to allow us to spend some time in the market, to purchase additional gifts for their Daimyo, Moto Kohatsu, Subotai’s father. It is one of the most amazing markets any of us have ever seen, with products and people from all corners of the world. Uso even managed to find the tea house we had heard was the finest in this remote frontier town, and he communicated to their proprietor the high regard in which they are held as far as the capital in distant Rokugan.

I managed to find the gifts I wanted to purchase, a special weapon rack made of the rarest wood suitable for an arms room in a lord’s house, which will hold not only a great warrior’s ancestral daisho, but also a bow. I also found a shop, which sold me a blank journal with a sturdy cover and strong paper inside. I had the leather marked with the mon of the Unicorn clan and the Utaku family mon as well. It is beautiful.

Though I did not see it, I learned that Subotai was nearly robbed by an Ivindi child, who apparently preyed upon newcomers to the market. Of course Subo recovered his coin purse in grand style. It caused quite a commotion and the local Unicorn guard arrived ready to execute the thieving urchin, who was wanted for similar crimes already. Subotai learned the boy was related to an Ivindi man who had accosted Doji Chonitsu when that suspicious man entered the market some days in the past. Subo wisely spared the boy’s life, and took him on as a servant after learning of his family’s conflict with Chonitsu.

The boy, who called himself Sumaji, explained that his family had been exiled from Journey’s End Keep after his grandfather, Gopti had spontaneously accused Chonitsu of being a demon and a tiger, and attacked Chonitsu after seeing him enter the market. Daimyo Kohatsu had Gopti flogged, though Chonitsu wanted him executed. Tigers relish death. They are predators afterall.

After Gopti had been punished with the lash, Gopti’s sons apparently broke into a warehouse where Chonitsu kept valuable items he was trading, mostly Ivendi artifacts of ivory and crystal. The Unicorn had Gopti and almost his entire extended family exiled to the nearby Crab colony. Young Sumaji was accidentally left behind in the confusion and has been starving ever since. We shall find Gopti and his family, and reunite them with Sumaji. It is the noble course of action, and if we gain any information about Chonitsu, I will be pleased, for this man, Gopti called Chonitsu a demon and a tiger.

As I was considering what Gopti’s words could mean, as we were leaving the market, an old woman, a Ra’Shari soothsayer called Drinka called out to us and bid us approach her tent. At first I thought she had been crazed by the heat and I did not want to tarry, but little Sumaji begged us to listen to her. She spoke as if she knew we were coming. She had been waiting, and when she saw us, we six men in gray robes with the circular mons of our clans displayed prominently, the vision she had seen before came back to her. The old woman related the following message, translated by little Sumaji:

“I see the great tiger arise from the jungle, awoken by the man who would drown the world. Upon the tiger’s face is the visage of your folk, the folk of the yellow skin and slanted eyes. The tiger dreams of its kin, locked away at the dawning of time, locked away by one now dead.  It dreams of the day when they shall spring forth to hunt once more, ravaging the world and drinking the blood of all men. Close, now, close is the day when the tigers will be free and the world shall become their hunting ground. The shadow of the tiger lies upon your spirits. Perhaps you are destined to stand against it, to hunt it in turn, or perhaps you are destined to be its prey. The signs are unclear. The signs are unclear.”

We would be fools to ignore the words of this woman, having already been attacked by a Tiger Destroyer, and the vague reference of Chonitsu being a demon and a tiger from Sumaji’s grandfather. How could she know about the man who would drown the world, the Dark Oracle of Water? We shall pay close attention to all signs, and I am most eager to find Gopti, but we must spend more time here in Journey’s End Keep.

After leaving the market, and pondering the old soothsayer’s words, we entered the Unicorn fortification, Journey’s End Keep. It is not the poorest fortress I have ever seen, but it is not meant to withstand a prolonged siege. It does have large corrals for many horses, most likely to keep them being stolen or from picking up a disease from the local beasts of burden.

As we entered the Keep, Subotai was welcomed once again as a returning hero and his father, Daimyo Moto Kohatsu gave us a warm welcome. Sadly, Subotai’s betrothed, Shinjo Namori is not currently here, and her patrol will not return for several days. Subotai pretended not to be disappointed, but I could tell he was, for he wants to see again this woman destined to become his wife. His letters have caused them to reconcile, but paper and ink are a matter entirely different than flesh and blood. He will have to wait a bit longer, and what is a few days after over two years not seeing someone?

The other bad news is that Doji Chonitsu is no longer at Journey’s End Keep. No one knows where he went, or when he left. We thought he was the reason we needed to come here, but fate has taught us another lesson. More important issues than Doji Chonitsu awaited us at this keep. We shall linger here for at least a week, as Subo’s father has promised a great feast that will be held in his honor at that time.

The feast we enjoyed tonight was quite festive, and the gift I gave to Daimyo Kohatsu was well received. I offered the weapon rack and of course he followed with the ritual trio of ritual refusals.

I said, “Honorable Daimyo, please accept this humble gift, suitable to hold a warrior’s swords and a bow, as a gift from the Lion Clan to the Daimyo of the Unicorn of Journey’s End Keep.”

“I couldn’t accept such an extravagant gift,” Kohatsu said, his first refusal.

“Honorable Daimyo, it is made of the rarest of wood, and has been carved by the finest craftsman,” I said.

“It is far too expensive, I could not accept such a prize,” he said, his second refusal.

“Please, noble Daimyo, it would be a high honor if you would accept. I must tell you that he merchant from who I purchased this said that the tree from which this rack was carved once grew in a distant forest where the legendary unicorns live even today.”

Kohatsu laughed, and then refused a third time. I had him in the exact place I wanted before I struck. He had laughed, and was open, more relaxed in my presence, so he would not guess my next statement.

“Please, honored Daimyo, accept this gift so that someday, when the strife between the Unicorn and the Lion is over, the swords of a Lion, and the bow of a Unicorn, can be placed on this humble weapon rack, and serve as a symbol of the peace between our clans.”

None in the room expected these words from one such as I, a one-armed cripple of a man, the castaway son of the so-called “Butcher of Rich Frog.” I paid attention to my rhetoric teachers, who taught words in the morning, and swords for the rest of the day. “All words are like swords,” Master Sun Tao wrote centuries ago, “and if cleverly wielded, win battles without the loss of even a single life.”

I shall do my best to save the lives of the honorable samurai who would die if our two Great Clans went to war once again. There must be peace between us, and I shall see it happen.

Daimyo Kohatsu accepted the weapon rack, and my intention as peacemaker between the Lion and the Unicorn was demonstrated to all.

The feast was exquisite, though far too much meat was cooked and eaten for my liking. I cannot understand the Unicorn’s taste for charred meat on sticks—not even bamboo!—and all sorts of curdled milk concoctions, fermented or otherwise.

I ate noodles and rice, sipped fine sake, humoring Captain Oki-san. He declared an interest in the drink, as it was brewed locally. Even at the edge of the colonies, Oki has a source for his sake habit. Perhaps we should go deep into the jungle, but he would only find the nectar of some plant and ferment it himself.

The Unicorn like to indulge at their feasts, but I was able to speak with Utaku Yanai at length, who rarely left my side. She and I spoke for hours and we have not come close to exhausting a discussion of the major battles of recent or ancient history. Her insights are fascinating, and she is most intrigued by what I learned of the important battles during my seven years in the Golden Plains Dojo. The scrolls we study from are the best in the Empire. I offered to show her my copy of Sun Tao’s, The Art of Battle. It has chapters rarely seen by non Lion, but it will do no harm if she borrows it, as I would like to hear her reaction to Sun Tao’s advice on when to use cavalry.

I must also note that my friends and I ran into some old acquaintances from the Topaz Championship. Moto Munuro, who is Kohatsu’s third and final lieutenant, and who is the leader of the regular cavalry, and Iuchi Xiong, who is trying to be a merchant patron and who had recently built a sake brewery outside the keep, and was partially responsible for Oki’s drunkenness.

Xiong spoke to Oki about a future business arrangement to use his boats to transport her sake down the rivers to port. She drew up her nose at Uso and I, as we are Lion and she finds us most distasteful. This is understandable, as her family lost their holdings in the City of the Rich Frog after my father took the city. I have been most courteous to her then and now, but she will not speak to me.

Shintaro seems distracted by his servant, though I wish he would have left Yuki behind with our ships. Her food and her other more personal charms take far too much of his attention.

Also at the feast I spoke with a fine man of impeccable honor, Ide Zhao. He is a very earnest, hard working, and honest courtier, which is what one would expect of the Ide family. He is driven to broker a better peace agreement over Rich Frog between the Lion and Unicorn. He has sent a new petition to the Empress over at Winter Court, and as a show of good faith, he is to be wed to an Ikoma woman, who will join the Ide.

Zhao-san has publicly said that many Unicorn and Lion are in favor of a better peace, but many in the Unicorn want another war to regain their honor. Zhao and I agree, only with a new and more permanent peace can Subotai be released from his status as a hostage. I shall do everything I can to accomplish this, and Ide Zhao will be one of my long-term strategic allies.

The night ended as I walked Utaku Yanai to the gate of her section of the keep. Her two yojimbo were with us, as they were always close during the evening. I believe they are quite suspicious of me, but I shall attempt to gain their trust. I shall not seek to be alone with her, as her honor and mine is too precious to be sullied in sweaty bed sheets. I am not that sort of samurai. Duty comes before those bedroom games played by courtiers and bored warriors who care more about the smallest sword in their arsenal.

I do not pretend to be a man without feelings and desires, but such things can be kept in check if one is disciplined. I know Yanai understands such demands, as she is a Battle Maiden, sworn to celibacy while she is a member of her regiment.

The last moment of our evening was spent in silence, appreciating the clear night sky and the countless stars, devoid of any falling stars or comets, which would portend bad omens.

When her eyes returned from the heavens, I chose to speak, as timing is crucial, in all battles. “Yanai-san, I am most honored to have been in your company today. To find a samurai who is as interested in strategy and tactics as I am, is most fortunate for a student of war such as myself.” I bowed respectfully, and kept my stump tucked into my robe behind my back as many men do in the courts of the Empire.

“I thank you, Toranaka-san,” and bowed. “I hope we shall speak often during your stay here.”

“It shall be my utmost concern.”

“I shall hold you to your word.”

She almost smiled then, but we both kept our visages blank, as was proper.

“Yanai-san, may I speak of what I learned today riding beside you?”

She looked uncomfortable, and her pair of bodyguards visibly tensed.

“But of course, Toranaka-san, I wish to hear what you learned.

“I know you have read many of the scrolls of commanders and generals who’ve come before us, and they are our idols, but have you ever wondered if perhaps some day, future generations will read your words?” I slowly revealed the journal, cautiously, so her guards would not attack. I held the brown leather book up to her, and she was stunned by the surprise gift. “In this, you will be able to record your thoughts about life and war, as they will likely be important to those who follow us. I hope the future will see us working together for our clans, as we each start a new chapter . . . together.”

She was too stunned to speak, and accepted the journal, bowing before leaving without another word.

Perhaps now I shall attempt to sleep. I will dream only of Yanai, and what can never be, as long as she is an Utaku Battle Maiden.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Sixteenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Eleventh Day of the Month of the Boar

Inside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

My friends and I, in addition to Utaku Yanai and Byung-Chul, have found and investigated the warehouse where Doji Chonitsu keeps the ivory, jade, and crystal artifacts that are acquired by him and any other merchants in the area. We do not know what he is doing with them, but he has collected a lot of them. Perhaps when we find the Ivendi man, Gopti, we will learn more. Why did Gopti’s sons break into the warehouse?

Yanai and I have spent a lot of time together these past six days. I shall not record here the exciting conversations we had, but I truly believe she and I would make a powerful alliance on the battlefield or in any other circumstance, military or not. Our enemy has brought me to this place, but meeting Yanai has been the greatest blessing I could hope for. If my daimyo and hers agrees, I will ask her to be my wife. A marriage will seal our clans together, and the two of us will become a potent force against the enemies of the Emerald Throne. I must find a marriage broker, as a nakado will be essential. There are many issues to be resolved, and I do not want to rob her of the privilege of leading her soldiers into battle.

I have been thinking of marriage often this week, and especially now that Shinjo Namori has returned from her patrol. The reunion between Subotai and Namori was quite emotional for both of them, and I see Subotai’s great need to fulfill his commitment and officially become her husband. Lacking this legal status has not kept them from sharing each other’s beds, but Unicorn are apparently not so strict about such matters, especially in remote outposts like this one.

I look forward to tomorrow, the official feast to welcome Subotai. I shall speak with Ide Zhao again, as I believe he will be able to help in my plan to make Namori my betrothed.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Seventeenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Thirteenth Day of the Month of the Boar

Inside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

I have been framed for murder.

Last night, during the celebration for Subotai’s return I received a note from Utaku Yanai asking to meet her in the garden. I was suspicious and brought Uso and Isao to watch over me. It turned out that it was not a trap, but an elaborate ploy to make the Unicorn believe I had murdered Ide Zhao.

I would never hurt such a man as Zhao, but many of these Unicorn are eager to believe anything that would cast shame on the son of Akodo Goro. Zhao was the last man in the world I would harm, especially after what he offered to do to help me. I wonder if his offer got him killed?

Honorable Ide Zhao approached me last night and offered to help me put forth the request to marry Utaku Yanai. It was most astute of him to notice our interest in each other.

When I was waiting for Yanai in the garden poor Ide Zhao was murdered in an alley somewhat nearby. Six Unicorn samurai witnessed a “one-armed man” wearing clothing similar to my own fleeing from the site where Zhao was killed. It did not matter that there were many guarded and closed gates between where I was and where Zhao was murdered. Subotai’s father made me give up my swords and accused me of the crime.

I considered challenging each of the six samurai to duel me, but if I slew all six of them, I would anger the entire Unicorn clan, and in truth, I may not survive six duels.

I surrendered my blade to Subotai.

Daimyo Kohatsu did have enough wisdom not to kill me on the spot. He gave me one day to prove my innocence. He did order Utaku Yanai to hunt me down and kill me if I fled. Seeing her there, looking at me, and being given those orders was something I shall never forget.

My hopes of marrying Yanai and uniting the Unicorn and Lion clans was gone. Even if I proved my innocence, I feared irreparable damage had been done.

My friends rallied around me and refuted the claims. I am blessed to have companions such as them, but my witnesses, a Lion—Uso, and a Dragon—Isiao, did not sway Subotai’s father and make the hostile mob believe I had been in the garden and not out killing Ide Zhao.

We had to find proof. That night, with the Death Priest Byung-Chul accompanying us, we hunted down the real murderer, a criminal named Katsutoshi. His name was brought forth immediately, as Yoritomo Oki had heard he was in town and suspected him right away. Katsutoshi was a one-armed ronin and notorious criminal. It had to be him, but we had to find him.

It is good that we had a shugenja among us. Tamori Isao spoke with the kami at the site of the murder and learned that the man’s sandals “stung,” because they had alcohol on them. We also found a wig, and a bloody rag near by where the murderer discarded them. Peasant information, gained by Shintaro, led us to the sake shop of Iuchi Xiong. I broke down the door and inside we found a new brand of sake bottles with an ancient kanji on them that I recognized immediately. Angry Bear.

Yes, the same name as my secret enemy used on the note given to the ronin sent to kill me and my companions in the swamp at the Topaz Championship.

A man fled the building and we chased him down while Oki took up a position at a second floor window to get a good shot at him. I have only one arm, but I am fast on my feet. Isao stunned him with a flash of lightning, and I used my jujitsu to immobilize him. He was only a peasant who worked there and not Katsutoshi.

“Do you know a one armed ronin?” I asked.

“Katsutoshi? Yes. Iuchi Xiong hired him as a guard. Sometimes he sleeps up in the loft over the rafters.”

We turned, in time to see Oki get knocked over the head and fall out the window.  Katsutoshi, the one armed ronin had nearly killed Oki. Shintaro and Isao challenged the ronin and cut him down as if they were men fighting an arthritic dog. He survived, but barely and we questioned him in front of Byung-Chul. He admitted tothat he was hired by Iuchi Xiong.

It all made sense. Iuchi Xiong was my secret enemy. “A woman” hired a servant girl to poison me at the Topaz Championship. And then the “Angry Bear” hired Yukinori and his gang to murder me and my companions in the swamp. The “Angry Bear” letter was supposed to have been destroyed, and Xiong did not know that we had ever seen it with her nickname kanji. Her family holdings were destroyed by my father Akodo Goro and now it all made sense.

We dragged Katsutoshi before Daimyo Kohatsu, who promptly declared that the ronin would have all his limbs tied to different horses, and then Ide Zhao’s family would whip the horses tearing him apart.

My katana and wakizashi were returned.

Now I prepare for meeting where I will accuse my enemy, Iuchi Xiong of her crimes. If she denies her involvement, there will be a duel.

Akodo Toranaka’s Speech to Iuchi Xiong

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Thirteenth Day of the Month of the Boar

Inside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

Iuchi Xiong, (deep bow) I thank you for meeting here today. It seems so long ago, over two years since we first met at the Topaz Championship as contestants. I understand that you were sent to represent your clan for your accomplishments as a young shugenja and the great potential your masters’ saw in you. For this, I honor you. (low bow)

I have also learned that your family has suffered much since the Battle of the Rich Frog, and lost your main livelihood because your clan lost a battle and a city. It is known to all that my father was in command of the Lion armies during that war, but I was too young to participate. It is regrettable that so many hardships have befallen you and your family since that time, and your family has endured much suffering. Suffering and hardship are often the consequences of war, but according to the tenets we must all live by, these are consequences that must be accepted by samurai. Consequences must be endured with honor. (low bow)

Before I continue, I would like to give you all of the courtesy at my disposal. (whisper) I do not wish to tarnish your reputation, but certain events have become known to many (glance at Byung-Chul). I would prefer these events were not recounted, and I would like to offer you a chance to eliminate any more discussion of them. The highest form of protest a samurai can make is by making the ultimate sacrifice. If you will announce that you will commit the honorable and sacred act of seppuku, I shall say no more of what happened last night, and in the past.

Your honor and your family’s honor will be preserved, and there are many boons I would like to bestow upon your family, trade agreements that will allow you access to Rich Frog City. I wish to help bring prosperity to them again and bring peace between Lion and Unicorn. If you preserve your honor now, I will make certain these agreements will be fulfilled. I wish to give you a moment to think about this decision.

Strong tea often clears the mind. (serve her tea) (if she refuses, continue)

[Xiong actually knocked her tea cup over and scowled at Toranaka before raving at him with harsh words, which caused Subotai to draw his katana, then put it away after Toranaka and Subotai’s father nodded at him]

Very well. When I was at the Topaz Championship an attempt was made on my life. A servant girl was hired by a young woman wearing a veil to put poison in my food. I was nearly poisoned, but Ikoma Uso saved my life. This was the first time my secret enemy attacked me.

A few days later, before the end of the Topaz Championship, another attempt was made on my life. A dozen vile ronin led by a pirate named Yukinori were hired to kill me, and my companions if they got in the way, as we hunted for a swamp dragon during the night as a challenge during the gempukku. The lives of my friends, including the honored son of Daimyo Kohatsu, Moto Subotai, were threatened. Yoritomo Oki was also targeted by this evil man as he had a vendetta against Oki-san’s father. The ronin were slain by my companions and I, and a note was found indicating that one known as the Angry Bear was responsible for hiring the ronin.

The Angry Bear. The Shogunate possesses the note we discovered.

I was framed for murder last night, by an employee of Iuchi Xiong. The one-armed ronin criminal known as Katsutoshi, who Iuchi Xiong employed at her sake distillery where Angry Bear sake is made. Katsutoshi murdered the honorable and peace loving Ide Zhao, who was arranging a peace treaty between the Lion and Unicorn. He had even suggested a marriage between myself and Utaku Yanai.

The fact has been established that Katsutoshi murdured Ide Zhao wearing a wig, and wearing clothing that looked like my own. We tracked him to Iuchi Xiong’s sake distillery.

The battle of the Rich Frog went against the immediate family of Iuchi Xiong, but instead of maintaining her honor and pulling herself and her family up from their suffering, she chose to work with criminals, destroy her future, and probably her family’s future. The man who murdered Ide Zhao, the ronin Katsutoshi is dead, but his mistress, who gave him the order to frame me, sits before me now. I accuse Iuchi Xiong of arranging to have me killed no less than three times. This is a great personal insult to me and the entire Lion Clan.

It is very sad to me, Iuchi Xiong, that your suffering has caused you to forget the code of bushido, sacrifice your family’s honor, your honor, and has driven you to heinous criminal activity.

If you will not commit seppuku, you, or your champion, must face my champion in a duel to the death. If my champion wins, you will take your own life, if your champion wins, I will take mine.

Journal of Akodo Toranaka, Eighteenth Entry

First Year of the Reign of Empress Hantei Yumi

Fourteenth Day of the Month of the Boar

Inside Journey’s End Keep, Unicorn Lands

Yesterday, I named Ikoma Uso as my champion for the duel, as Xiong did not accept her guilt. I would have rather fought my own battle, but it would be seen by many as a great dishonor to lose to a one armed samurai, and I hoped that Xiong’s champion would be spared. I also hoped to prevent any anger that the Iuchi family might feel against myself, as someday I wish to ally with the Unicorn. Shinjo Baeshuko was the assigned yojimbo of Xiong. She appeared terrified to face him, and when Uso-san looked at her, it appeared that the most fearsome Lion menaced a newborn foal. She lost her mask of courage and the terror was plain for all to see. He is a bringer of death. This is his best skill above his fine words and grand stories.

The duel was brief. Uso won a flawless victory against timid Shinjo Baeshuko. He disarmed her with a lightning quick strike. Baeshuko cowered, and Uso was able to gain approval to spare her life. The wretched Xiong was sentenced to death by her own hand, a pronouncement made my Moto Subotai, who also read a poem about her actions, the nature of guilt and true justice. It was fitting, if unexpected.

Xiong did not live long enough to take her own life. She resisted when two samurai tried to take her away to the purification room where she would pray and prepare herself for seppuku. Xiong slapped the hand of Utaku Yanai as if she were a noble from an Imperial family dismissing a lowborn servant whose only function was to clean her chamber pot. This rude behavior was her last mistake. Never insult an Utaku Battle Maiden, especially in front of her clan and peers. Yanai had merely moved to help Xiong stand up, when she foolish shugenja tried to swat Yanai away. Xiong did not expect to be stabbed through the chest, but Xiong actually believed she kill me, Akodo Toranaka with poison, and then hired ronin scum. It will be by my own hand, or a samurai’s blade, or a beast from the darkest pit of Jigoku to put me in the ground.

My foolish enemy died with her face in the dirt. Did the grains of sand get in her eyes? I wonder if she tasted dust before the end, or was it blood? Was she surprised to die in such a way? She seemed incapable of understanding the consequences of her actions. I had hoped she would learn from her mistakes and embrace Bushido before the end. It is most unfortunate that Xiong was as dishonorable in life as she was in death, but few people can truly change, even when faced with the glory of suppuku.

I spoke with Xiong’s executioner afterward, and I told her only this: “Yanai-san, thank you for honoring me today,” I gave her a very low bow, then I met her eyes with my own. “I would follow you into any battle, against any enemy.”

She bowed in return, her composure breaking for little more than a blink of an eye. What did she allow me to see beneath her stoic warrior visage? She departed with her entourage. The two tall and war-hardened battle maidens guarding Yanai eyed me with a glimmer of respect. They were proud of what their mistress, their commander had done, and so was I.

My name is now cleared. The stain upon my honor has been cleansed with blood, though Iuchi Xiong’s name and her family will bear this mark of shame for generations. I pity them.

I know I would have successfully defended my honor had it been proper for me to fight the duel, but Ikoma Uso is a far superior duelist, and it was his duty as Topaz Champion to defend the Lion Clan. Also, he is the son of Ikoma Katsu, who was the great friend and companion of Ide Todo, who is now the Voice of the Empress. It is fitting that an Ikoma avenged the murder of an Ide.

I shall honor my Lion brother, Uso-san for all my life. I will remember this day, which would have been my last, had Uso-san lost the duel.

To be continued next week:

If you want to check out any of Paul’s regular writing he has a great story in this anthology:

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