by Gareth Jones and Leah Biffin
It felt like the night before a battle. It was a different sort of waiting, though, as the following day was about life and beginnings, rather than death and endings.
It amused him that while the War College taught extensive lessons on how to prepare to fight and die, scant time was devoted teaching the students there about how to live.
Akodo Kotaro was not sure which made him more nervous.
He had been on the front, again. This time he had been fighting the Crane. Orders had reached him from Shiro Akodo that he was to withdraw to the plains of Ken-ryu province for his wedding.
He had exchanged a look and a bow with Miya Yumi at a Winter Court, but but beyond that she was a stranger. He wondered what she was thinking, what she thought of the upcoming marriage.
Darkly, he looked at the letter Kitsu Soshu had sent him.
… She sees you only as your reputation, as a warrior and a general. She has taken the story of the Battle of Ukabu Mura as the Crane tell it, and others in her court speak in whispers of brutality. Miya Satoshi is a Lion at heart, and whispers in the court say that he chose you as a lesson to his peace-loving sister. You and I know this to be false, that you were chosen for your irreproachable honour and standing, but to my great shame, I have been unable to entirely dispel these rumours. I apologise to you, old friend, but I have faith that she will learn the truth of you in time …
He wondered if this was true. Had his adherence to Duty turned him into such a monster that marriage to him was a punishment?
Looking at the formal clothing carefully arranged by a servant the evening before, Kotaro wondered about the negotiations that had included their betrothal.
Soshu’s letter suggested that the main goal had been a machination to put Miya Satoshi, a ruthless friend of the Lion into the high office of the Imperial Herald. Aiding Satoshi’s rise strengthened his friendship with the clan, which meant that the Lion could go to war with impunity. Kotaro frowned at that, wondering once again if his clan had gone too far.
With a shake of his head, he dismissed these heavy thoughts, inappropriate for a samurai the night before his wedding. His task was to prepare for his Imperial bride. An Imperial bride! He hoped that he would not be too much of a disappointment to her.
Who had decided he was only fit as a punishment for her? Was he really so brutal?
Akodo Kage, his teacher, had been wedded to an Imperial samurai-ko, but that marriage had not ended happily. Kotaro resolved that his marriage would not be the same, that he would prove them wrong. He resolved that Yumi’s marriage to him would be as happy for her as he could make it.
His thoughts turned to the last time he had spoken to Kage-sensei. It had been a strange encounter and Kotaro had been left with a cold feeling.
The heresy of the Crab and the war with the Crane had come shortly afterwards.
These great moves seemed linked, and a deep suspicion bubbled through Kotaro as he thought of the conspiracy that the magistrate Tomokata had whispered to him. At the time he had pushed them away as baseless accusations, but now he was not so certain.
With deep foreboding, he realised that even his wedding seemed to be part of it.
Silently, he meditated.
* * *
To be continued