Shiro Akodo – Spring – 1121
..there is no enemy that is a viable option this spring and summer and our upset standing armies and their new generals that are chafing to see action and learn from real warfare have no option but to break a treaty. It seems everyone wants non-aggression pacts with us but we got very little in return and are boxed in…
Slowly the crumpled letter was returned to the table and the next correspondence lifted to his eyes.
… with no choice but to acquiesce to the Topaz magistrates request. That we allowed the Master of Water to slip through our fingers fills me to the brim with shame. All I can hope for is that he does prove to be tainted and that he will be executed. Perhaps, and I must stress to you the importance of this decision, if an announcement was made concerning the Kitsu and Ikoma daimyo…
Slowly he lowered the letter to the table. His hands slowly rose to his face as his fingers slowly willed the pain from his head.
His eyes closed and he tried to remember his time with the brotherhood, remember the time in the monasteries where the only trouble that he had was the rousing he would get from the abbot of the temple if he forgot his evening meal.
He tried to meditate, crossing his legs onto the chair he sat upon, but to no avail. He could hear it when it was this quiet, hear the sound of his voice, hear the words, those terrible words…
His eyes snapped open, his legs unfurling like a coiled snake to the ground, his hands going to his katana.
Tension eased out of him when he saw that it was only his most trusted adviser, mentor and friend, Akodo Kage.
“Are you well Toturi-sama?”
The old man peered into his eyes, appraising, searching.
Stiffling a laugh, Toturi remembered similar looks during his training at the war college. He and his former friend, Matsu Hiroru, were constantly appraised by their sensei, his eyes peering into their very soul. It used to frighten Toturi, though he would never admit it to anyone, though now it served as a reminder of his experiences in learning the way of the samurai.
“I am well, Kage-sensei. I am merely perplexed by this correspondence.”
Kage stared upon the young man, raising an eyebrow.
“I never knew the Kitsu to be so… aggressive…”
At this, Kage laughed, much to Toturi’s embarrassment. It was always like this when Toturi said something that should have been obvious, leaving him with a burning shame, that somehow his training and study was always inadequate.
“A wounded lion always seeks to restore his lost pride,” remarked Kage, “The Kitsu family are no different in this regard than any other.”
Toturi was silent for a moment before continuing.
“Perhaps were we to select a new daimyo for the Ikoma and the Kitsu, much of this uncertainty and un-channelled aggression could be contained.”
Kage sighed, “We have talked about this before, my young student. Neither family needs a daimyo for the battle to come. We need strong guidance, guidance that only you can grant them. Trust me; tactically this is the best solution for the moment.”
“But with no one to lead them in there day to day concerns…” Toturi trailed off flicking a letter off the table.
Head bowed he muttered, “I am not sure that this is the best path to take.”
“That is because there is no one more suitable for this important role. With their Daimyo dead, both the Kitsu and the Ikoma are aggressive yes, but one of their own would push for quicker resolution, not seeing the larger picture that you and I see. They need the strongest leadership possible in this difficult time.” Kage intoned, slowly pacing forward picking up the letter and casually tossing it onto the table. “These discourses from the Kitsu are ample proof of what I speak. Pay them no mind.”
“But for me to take control and lead three families is… unorthodox.”
“’A man of virtue never worried about his position; he concerned himself solely with virtue’“ quoted Kage, citing Akodo’s Leadership, “and neither should you.”
Toturi sighed, “Will not the Ikoma and the Kitsu take issue with me for this? The last thing I wish for is more tensions within our clan. Tsuko is…”
Kage cut him off with a glance.
There was an awkward pause, a pause which made Toturi feel uncomfortable. He always felt like this. That there was so much to learn and that events were spiraling out of control faster than he could keep up. His parents, his brother, so many lion and the old Emperor – all of them dying so quickly. Suddenly his old life at the monastery felt so far away, as if it were a dream.
Kage walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulders, peering straight into his eyes.
“Trust me, my old student, like in days gone by. With your strong leadership and guidance, we can lead the Lion into the new era stronger and more focused than ever. Come the summer, even Tsuko will be satisfied, and our judgment will begin.”
Smiling, Toturi looked into the calming eyes of his trusted sensei, “Hai sensei! I will.”
Straightening back up, Kage began his pacing. “I came in to advise you that the preparations are almost completed and our guest will be arriving for the Jade Championship to cement our alliance.”
Toturi mused, “We must be careful, lest the others suspect our plan.”
“I agree with your assessment, my lord,” Kage nodded sagely, “but I would be more worried about our guest doing something foolish than the others learning of our plans. And by the time they do, there will be little the Phoenix can do to prevent it.”
Toturi looked down at the correspondence then back to Kage, “What of this altercation the Scorpion have engineered with this so called Minor clan alliance? We have agreed to send troops to crush them. Surely the Phoenix will send troops in response?”
Kage nodded, “It does seem likely. They will consider it a duty and I doubt that the Master of Fire will send less than his best.” He thought on this for a moment
“With no other competent military commander, I will go to lead them. Not only should this be an important step to reclaiming our lost honour but we should look at this as an opportunity. I will put a call out for the youngest of our Samurai and begin to head down to the lands of this alliance after the Jade Championship. Better that we bloody our newly gempukued students now than to wait until the greater carnages to come. We can also use what remains of that force to fulfil our obligations to the Crab come late autumn. As all the clans offered troops to the Crab’s ‘so called’ war, this will display our eagerness to fulfil our obligations.”
He stopped pacing and faced his lord with a slight shake of his head, “I do not know what the Scorpion hope to achieve by this gesture. I worry when I cannot see what their hands are doing. Even if they helped secure us the heir to train…”
Nodding Toturi picked up a third letter from the table, “Speaking of Hantei Sotorii. I am concerned about his safety while in our lands, sensei.”
“In what way Toturi-sama?”
“With our battles about to commence, the fate of the Hantei is not something that we should have to be burdened with. However as it is our duty I believe having him at Shiro Akodo is not a prospect that I can agree with.”
Kage nodded sagely, “Indeed not, Toturi-sama. If my young nephew is coming to stay with us, might I suggest that we send him on to Kyuden Ikoma to begin his training? I realise that our courtiers organised for him to attend the Akodo war college, however until we know the state of our alliances after this summer’s manoeuvres….”
“I agree with your assessment, sensei. Shall I send word to the Emperor?”
Kage stroked his long beard for a moment before smiling a wolfish grin, “I will send the correspondence to the Empress at Otosan Uchi, immediately. I will let her know a suitably flippant reason to have the boy travel to Kyuden Ikoma. I dare say that she will most likely take the opportunity to leave the capital and will most likely head to Kachiko’s side when they boy is suitable relocated.”
Kage bowed “And once our business with the Phoenix is concluded then I look forward to his education as a Lion here.”
Toturi smiled, “Looking forward to training a new student in the ways of Akodo, Kage-sensei?”
His grin never fading, Kage walked from the room, his last words echoing throughout the room as he left.
“He will be brought up with the same teachings as you, Toturi-sama.”