A Question of Honour
Several months earlier.
Hoturi hadn’t had much of an opportunity to visit the pristine temples of the Asahina, their long white towers glittered in the sunshine. He often marvelled at the sight of such a beautiful structure so close to the Shadowlands, so close to a doom that threatened Rokugan, if the Crab were to be believed, every day of their lives.
Hoturi had never seen the Shadowlands save from this vantage point, looking south across the bay. He often told himself that he should go there one day, experience the Wall and the supposed horrors of the Shadowlands. Then he remembered that he would have to spend time with Kisada or his brute of a son, Yakamo. And he never regretted not going.
He had received the summons from the Daimyo of the Asahina some weeks ago and he had stalled from coming down. Since the events at the Jade tournament, the Crane have been in talks with both Lion and Phoenix, desperately trying to hold the peace together. He was far too busy to deal with the recalcitrant daimyo, spending all of his days in his temple, out of the politics and limelight of Rokugan. While Hoturi respected his pacifistic nature and admired his devotion to his cause, there were usually more important concerns than the affairs of the Asahina to deal with.
Then came the messenger bearing a beautiful obi of sky blue – and Hoturi had to take the summons seriously. This was the Courtier’s Obi, a gift received at the very inception of the Asahina family, a symbol of peace and diplomacy. An item never allowed away from the family temple.
* * *
As he descended the dock, Hoturi noticed something out of place at the serene temple – movement. Wagons bearing foodstuffs were neatly arrayed in the courtyard. Normally clean robed Asahina were travel stained with dust and mud, clearly having been travelling some distances organising something. Many of the younger Asahina were shooed back into the temple proper by matronly Asahina whose eyes held such care and fear in equal portions that a small shiver rippled down his back.
Something momentous was happening in Shinden Asahina. And Hoturi had a sinking feeling that he needed to hurry.
* * *
“Are you certain?”
“Of course, Hoturi-sama. The honour of the Crane is at stake.”
“Yet there are other ways, Asahina-san. Yoshi-san could re-broker the terms of our agreements, our courtiers could punish both clans in the courts. Perhaps duels could be arranged…”
“None of these would appease the clans. It is appropriate, Hoturi-sama. Our ancestors forged our family in circumstances identical to these. It is destiny which calls us, Horuti-sama, and our destiny will not be denied.”
“These are not the same as those times, Asahina-san. The Lion or the Phoenix may attack you. Is our honour worth the lives of our people?”
“Hoturi! Never show such a weakness again!” Tamako cried in a scolding tone, “The Crane are nothing without their honour! We may be devotees to peace but do not forget that we are samurai! We will fight, even if it is in our own way, to uphold our ideals of peace and the honour of the Crane! Should we die, we will die with honour, die with the truest understanding of what it means to be samurai! Never forget that! For no Crane would do less for such a noble goal. We will bring honour to the Crane with our actions.”
“The Empire may not understand, Asahina-san. It may not understand the reason for your interference. You may not achieve anything by your sacrifice.”
“It matters little, Hoturi-sama. What matters is that we uphold our word, our defensive pacts, our beliefs and our honour!”
Hoturi considered this for a moment.
“Have you taken precautions? Should the unthinkable happen?”
“I am only taking the elderly and those of truest conviction. I leave the young, whose lives are ahead of them with you, Hoturi-sama. I can only hope that those of my family that do not yet know understand the reason for our stance.”
“Let us hope that it does not come to it Asahina-san”
* * *
The hall of Kyuden Doji had been stripped bare. No pennants, no artwork, no decoration. The Champion of the Crane had taken all things of beauty from the castle. No one spoke of his reasoning, not one questioned. Yet all felt the mood begin to change within the home of the Crane.
Small seats were brought in for the arriving lords of the Crane. The two Kakita, Toshimoko and Yoshi, sat waiting, the elder clearly maintaining the dignity of the courts while his brother laughed jokingly at a tale Hoturi had told.
The lord of the Daidoji, Daidoji Yamato, did not laugh, his weather beaten face showing rage and contempt barely contained in such a fragile form. Yet the Demon of Toshi Ranbo did not look so ancient. Rather he looked like he were death personified.
The newest lord of the Asahina sat nervously among them. He eyed each of them pensively, tension welling from what appeared to be grief stricken eyes.
Ahead of them, the sons of Doji Satsume, Doji Hoturi and Doji Kuwannan, sat passively watching the reactions of the other Daimyo.
It was the Daidoji daimyo who breached the topic first.
“My lords, when do we strike back? I can have the Iron Warriors assembled within a day and the march can begin as soon as you chose a target.”
“Such haste is perhaps… unwise, Yamato-san,” stated Yoshi calmly. “While I mourn the loss of the Asahina daimyo as much as anyone, we cannot let such haste ruin the balance of peace that we have achieved.”
“Peace?!?” exclaimed Yamato loudly, “What peace is there if the other clans view us weak? Such an action should be met with a show of strength! Let them be reminded that the Crane have more than just words, but also action!”
“I agree with Yamato,” said Toshimoko, looking askew of his brother. “The Kakita should be sending their students out looking for duels of honour.”
Yamato replied angrily, glaring at his lord Hoturi. “But this needs to be about more than just scoring points in duels – more than simple points of honour! The other clans need to be reminded that the Crane are as much a force on the battlefield as we are in the Courts. Let both Phoenix and Lion burn for their arrogance. It is what your father would have wanted.”
Hoturi’s head bowed under such words. His father had always said that he was far too much a pacifist, far too much a peace maker. He was never going to be tough enough to make the strong call, to lead the Crane into war. And here he was dragging his feet when his clan’s response should have been clear.
A new voice, as yet unheard of rang out in the hall.
“Have we no honour? Are we treacherous Scorpion or lying Mantis? Do we now honour the sacrifice of the Asahina to the ideals of peace with bloodshed? Have we fallen so far?”
The other daimyo looked down, unwilling to face the speaker.
All except the Demon of Toshi Ranbo.
“Little Asahina. While I can appreciate the… sacrifice… of your Uncle and your kinsman, it is clear that such a response would be met with bloodshed. Better to let the dream of peace die than to compromise the security and lives of your fellow Crane. If we do not strike back then our weakness will be exposed and the clans will take our measure and attack us.”
“If you have no honour, Daidoji-san, ask yourself whether you truly have a place among us.”
Fury boiled from the Daidoji daimyo, and his temper exploded.
“HOW DARE YOU! YOU MEWLING PACIFIST! WE DIE FOR YOU TO LIVE! WE PROTECT OUR PEOPLE AT ANY COST, ANY PRICE! WE HAVE KEPT YOUR TEMPLES SAFE AND YOU PACIFISTS ALIVE FOR CENTURIES AND THIS IS THE THANKS THAT WE GET?”
Asahina Dorai stood to face the demon, his face calm and serene.
“Thanks are unnecessary, Daidoji-san. Only Duty. Only Courage. Only Courtesy, Sincerity, Honesty, Compassion. Only Honour. They are what is necessary, Daidoji-san, they are the only true reason for anything. Anything less and we would not be Crane.”
His words echoed around hall. Silence followed as the Daidoji slowly considered the words of the young Asahina daimyo while the Asahina simply stood, waiting – perhaps terrified to see if the Daidoji daimyo would strike him down.
Eventually it was Hoturi’s voice that called out through the hall.
“That is enough. There will be no fighting amongst the Crane. We will be unified throughout the Empire. Is that understood?”
Each daimyo looked at him cautiously but bowed their heads in acquiescence.
“The former Asahina Daimyo’s last words to me were to remind me that without our honour we are not Crane. And he was right. I will not let the sacrifice of Tamako-san and those who stood with him go in vain. With their actions they have shown that they have courage and conviction. With their deeds they have honoured both defensive pacts and we have honoured our words to both Lion and Phoenix. Our hands are now far less tied to either clan, and now we can do what must be done.”
“And what is your will, Clan Champion?” asked Kuwanan, his face unwavering throughout this entire scene.
“We will uphold the honour of the Crane. We will live up to the ideals of the fallen Asahina. From here we move toward the goal of peace.”