The Drowning Empire, Episode 44: Subotai’s Dilemna

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 Pat Tracy, who is playing Moto Subotai. During this session they are visiting his father, the daimyo at Journey’s End Keep. Stuff is about to get complicate for poor Subotai.

Continued from:

The stone was perfectly flat. Moto Subotai rubbed whetting oil upon it until the liquid began to bead on the smooth surface. With the tang of the dagger against the rough work table, he chose the angle that they’d taught him as a boy and carefully ran the stone down one edge of the tanto, then the other. It was a quiet pursuit, a pursuit that improved a person’s wa. He took comfort in it, the sound and feel of the stone against the steel surface.

Subotai took thirty-two strokes on each edge, squinted, then took thirty-two more. He lifted the carefully-folded linen cloth next to him and wiped the blade free of oil and grit, then held it to the light of the lamp. A tanto was a pretty thing, sturdier than the longer blades, the often forgotten element of the daisho, remembered only when one was called upon the expunge dishonor and debt with the ultimate act of a samurai, the tool by which he controlled the destiny of his family and clan.

Akodo Toranaka appeared, the smallest increase in his wariness and the hard set of his jaw the only hints that he was in the most difficult state that a hostage keeper could imagine. He was good at keeping his face, good and all the things that samurai valued. It was unfortunate that they had found themselves spirited into the Journey’s End Keep, that Toranaka was forced to trust in the questionable forbearance of the Unicorn. This was one part of the story. On the other side, Subotai’s father, Kohatsu-sama, was here, and it was said that his betrothed would return in a few days. One man’s fortune came at another’s expense, it seemed. That was the way the Fortunes structured the world. He would now have to ask something difficult of Toranaka, adding to his burdens at the least opportune time. It had been some time, and Subotai saw no way around it. The truth, at least part of it, would have to be told.

Toranaka nodded and took a seat at the low table. Subotai had asked to see him, and he would await whatever words were to be spoken. Though nothing outward was betrayed, Subotai imagined that Tora was considering the Utaku maiden he’d been arguing strategy with. She was handsome, and they were cut from the same cloth. They did not have minds that went in a thousand directions, but battlefields where strategies were tested. Subotai smiled slightly. He imagined Tora’s eyes lighting up in a private moment, his fist raised. “I will have cavalry!”

It was likely that he would not be there to see it., but he hoped Tora’s days were long, and that his dream of uniting the clans came true. With the gaijin threats from all sides and the Dark Oracle of Water, the Empire would need unity as it rarely had.

Subotai bared his forearm and put the tanto blade against his skin. The blade moved, all the hair parting and leaving a swath of bare skin. It was good, well honed.

“The reason I’ve asked to speak to you away from the others is this: I must tell you a few things, so that you might be prepared. It affects you more than the others, as you hold my parole.”

Toranaka raised an eyebrow.

“I have reason to believe that, some time in the future, I will be the subject of a blackmail attempt. The person or group who will do so have information that would serve as leverage for most men, information that could make things very difficult for me. When this happens, and they ask for something that I cannot honorably do, I ask that you be my second.”

“Your second?”

“When I use this,” Subotai said, holding up the tanto. “It is prepared, as am I. I have seen the thing done, and I trust your blade more than any others. I recognize that things will be difficult, and I will, of course, leave letters that will exempt you from all suspicion and wrongdoing, but I fear that I’ll need to buy back a debt of honor with my blood in the near future.”

Toranaka considered the revelation quietly for several seconds. “Do you know who this person or agency is? We could move to crush them. Anyone who resorts to blackmail is dark of heart, and the world would not miss them.”

Subotai shrugged. “I have been approached once. I didn’t know the man, and there were no clues that I could find to his identity. I can’t say, even, how the information he would use against me came to light. It is a secret that, to my knowledge, is only known by two living people, both of whom would rather that it were expunged and forgotten.”

“This secret involves you?” Toranaka asked.


“A deed?”

“Not my own, but yes. More a state of being, really, a fact that cannot be changed. Something that has given me much to consider and great doubt over these last few years. In many ways, I think that it has made me try harder to be what a Samurai should, but at the same time, it calls all I have ever done into question. That is all I can say.”

“I would prefer not to see you initiate the rites of seppuku, my friend, but a samurai must do as his honor commands. I will serve as your second, if this comes to pass.”

A well honed tanto
and the shadow of the truth
honor must be served


Moto Kohatsu looked old and fatigued. He put up a good image in front of the partygoers, but Subotai knew his father, could see the pain and wear on his face. He had aged fifteen years in the last three, and anyone who had not seen it happen across the slow sequence of days found this perfectly clear.

Kohatsu leaned on the war table in his rooms, laughing sardonically. “I can see it in your face, my son. You don’t have the makings of a courtier, and I know well that this is the face of an old man. I have changed, become unlike the hearty samurai you grew up watching.”

“Becoming so well lauded and successful has not been without difficulty, I suppose.”

Kohatsu blew air out of his nose. “No. Nothing is ever easy. A man’s life is not long, so he must take pains to assure that it is worthy and filled with deeds. This I have done, and regret but little. I took a wound and am dying, though I cannot betray such a fact to the others. I would see things put right before I become too weak to fool my adoring Unicorn brothers, though. I would see you freed from the Akodo and prepared to rule in my stead.”

“Father, you have many good years left. I’m sure that the Shugenja will happen upon a draught that will restore your full powers.”

“No, son. They have tried, but this old wound saps my strength and erodes my ability to lead. I…cannot even ride well anymore. I have not been able to for a while. If I could have, you would have seen me at the head of the vanguard that lead you here. No, I am going to have to go to the monk’s life soon, and for not very long.” He laughed. “That’s all for the best. I don’t have the makings of a good monk.”


Kohatsu forestalled Subotai’s words with the flat of his palm. “Now, how shall we get you out of this hostage situation? I could arrange for Toranaka’s death easily enough. There are ways around these things.”

Subotai felt the blood leave his face. “Father, I believe that it would be a poor choice to harm Toranaka. He his an honorable man, and we have grown to be friendly in these years. I trust the man with my life, not out of duty but out of choice. We have gone to battle shoulder to shoulder too often to seem as enemies now.”

“You are young, son, and you have always been fair minded. Perhaps too much so. There are political exigencies that must come before friendship.”

Subotai sighed. “Perhaps, but not before honor. Were Toranaka made of the same stuff as Akodo Tetsuru, the mad man, I would have no quarrel, but he is a true samurai, the like of which there are too few in the kingdom today. It would be a shame to waste such a life, when I have heard that peace accords over Rich Frog are now well on the way to being completed.”

Kohatsu sagged into a chair at the side of the war table, his face ashen, his hands betraying a tremor. “Very well. I will try to hold out for you, but I can make no promises. Another season, perhaps two, is all I have left in me. If you are still entangled, the leadership and all its accolades will have to pass to another. I would find that most troubling, when your deeds and quality have been spoken so widely.”

“I will do all that I can do to be the man you would want as your son, Father. As to leadership here, I don’t know whether I am ready for such responsibilities yet. I am a sword fighter and a wanderer, a young and rootless man who has little head for business or the leading of men. There are certainly more deserving men in the fortress now, and I begrudge them nothing that they deserve.”

Kohatsu brought his fist down on the table. “None of them are my son! You are my legacy, Subotai. Your mother and I…well, you know your mother. It is no accident that I have not been home in many years. We did not long share an amicable union, and you are my only heir. I must see that you are well situated before I die. All else dwindles to insignificance in my vision.”

“I will be fine, Father. All is well.” The lie, while delivered with all the artifice Subotai could manage, hurt like splinters of broken pottery as it passed from his lips.

“That’s good. That’s good. Win yourself free of this, and return to me while what little strength I have persists. That is my wish, and my command.”

Subotai bowed.

“Now return to your friends. Enjoy the party in your honor. Eat well and dream of a day when all this will spring into action on your command.”

The father falters
time steals away his power
desperation grows


To be continued next week:

If you want to read some of Pat’s regular stuff, he’s got a couple of great stories in this anthology, including one where somebody who might be Agent Franks (I can neither confirm nor deny) shows up for a cameo:

Time is almost up for SAD PUPPIES 2: Rainbow Puppy Lighthouse the Huggening!
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