Autumn, 1121 IC
A young looking Crane samurai glides forward, and catches the eye of the Herald. He waits for acknowledgment. When Kenshin is finished speaking, the Crane samurai steps up to kneel beside him, bows his head to the floor and addresses the Emperor without looking up.
His voice is not loud, as he addresses only the Emperor and Kenshin, but the rest of the hall falls quiet, each courtier straining to hear the words spoken.“Gracious Tenno-sama, Topaz Magistrate-sama, I am Asahina Dorai, humble servant of the Crane Clan. I believe I have a story to tell, which may add to the tale you have just heard.
I am afraid what I have to say will bring you no joy, Tenno-sama – but I believe it will be better that you hear my tale than suffer a moment more under a false hope.”The Emperor nods, slowly and solemnly.The Asahina continues.“There is no doubt that your Champion is dead, for his remains were interred by my own hands.”
Silence falls over the hall, and the Asahina samurai hesitates for a few heartbeats. He dares not look to the face of the Emperor, fearing the emotion he might perceive. Instead, receiving no other direction, Dorai sets out his tale in a steady, rehearsed voice.
“My Lord, during the springtime my duty found me in Lion lands, in the northern provinces. Some days after the tragedy that befell the Imperial caravan, I met on the road a young Scorpion samurai. This samurai was exhausted, and explained he had been travelling for several days along the riverside, without rest. He carried with him a burden, not a heavy one, but I could see immediately that it was a great burden on his heart. I bid he share knowledge of his burden with me.
This Scorpion samurai explained that some days before he had unexpectedly discovered a site where some great calamity or battle had occurred. Men’s bodies and a great amount of blood lay on the ground, and trees were uprooted as though a great wind had passed. Curious, he followed signs of men fleeing the area, attempting to find survivors. The trail lead him to the Drowned Merchant River. He concluded that any survivors had fled to the river, and perhaps been pursued there by more attackers. Another battle might have occurred at the water’s edge. Regardless, though there were signs of battle, no bodies remained to be seen. The Drowned Merchant River had claimed the dead.
However, as he knelt at the riverside to pray for the unknown dead, the Fortunes, or perhaps the mysterious spirits of the river, delivered to him the burden. Though no body remained, upon the wet river soil lay the head of a man. Immediately the honourable Scorpion recognised the features of Doji Satsume, the Emerald Champion. The Scorpion recovered this burden from the river, and proceeded at risk to his own life to search the river for more remains. Eventually, after exhausting himself, the young Scorpion concluded the river would give up no further secrets.
The dedicated Scorpion samurai then resolved to carry the fate of Satsume-sama to the Crane Clan as soon as possible. He did not wish news of the fate or the disrespect given to the body of the Emerald Champion to come to your ears, O-Tenno-sama, nor to his sons, in any but the proper manner. Fearing the spreading of rumour and heresay if this news was spread carelessly, by public means, he instead planned to travel off the roads and avoid any hint of civilisation until his journey was complete. He journeyed day and night, bearing as his burden, the head and the secret of the fate of the Emerald Champion. It was thus I found him, weary with travel and sorrow.
The honourable young Scorpion shared with me this tale. He was so fatigued by his efforts that I begged him to give to me so that I could continue and he could rest. His reluctance to give up the burden is a credit to his dedication. Finally, he agreed to let me assist him, and we set out together to Crane lands bearing this secret.
O-Tenno-sama, admit to you now that I took then an action that was presumptuous, and perhaps beyond my right to choose. However, I wished no further disrespect to come to the remains of our beloved Champion. We were still many days travel from Kyuden Doji, and our lord’s death had been many days since. It was not right for the burden I carried to be treated as is the head of an enemy, hauled throughout the Empire. Even were I to bear this to Kyuden Doji, it would not change the fate our Champion had suffered. So it was that as soon as we arrived within the lands of the Doji, I sought a final resting place for the remains. With the assistance of a monk and the honourable Scorpion samurai, I conducted the ceremonies and placed the Champion to rest. Thus relieved that no more degradation or indignity would be done to our lord, we swore the monk to secrecy and parted ways. The Scorpion returned to his duty, and I continued alone to Kyuden Doji. I gave news of the fate of the Emerald Champion to no one until I reached Kyuden Doji, and reported personally to my Clan Champion Doji Hoturi.
Doji Hoturi-sama ordered a further search for the remains of his honoured father, and the ways of the Drowned Merchant river have been scoured in secret. But the river has claimed its prize. Hoturi-sama has generously forgiven me for the presumption I took in burying the Emerald Champion alone. However, Hoturi-sama bid me bring you this news personally.
O-Tenno-sama, your servant the Topaz Magistrate shows great loyalty to you by his words and commitment to search for the remains of your Champion. But there is no doubt that your Champion is dead, and the body claimed by the spirits of the great river. In return I bring you only this tale, and that which now belongs to you.”
Asahina Dorai raises himself and gestures to the crowd. An attendant in neat Crane colours steps forward, with a bundle held gracefully before herself. The attendant passes the bundle to Dorai, who again bows low before the Emperor and also to the Topaz magistrate. He removes the cloth cover of the object, revealing the helmet of the Emerald Champion. The helm is clearly damaged on the left side, but the right side is practically pristine. Only the close perspective of the Emperor and the Topaz Magistrate allow them to see the dark stains on the inner of the helm.