IC 1121 – Wolf Among Birds

Wolf among birds

Imperial Palace, Otosan Uchi, 1121, End of Summer

‘Is there nothing further?’

The words of the Emperor rang out across his subjects assembled to hear news of the Empire, gathered to hear of the glory of the Emperor’s reign. Small mutterings sprang up around the court but he was content to let them twitter about like sparrows in a nest. After all he had made real progress towards solidifying his rule.

As he looked out across the sea of colours, he wondered what Satsume would have thought about all of this. He hoped that his friend would enjoy being a fortune. Perhaps this was a sign that he was doing the right thing.

“My esteemed Otenno-sama! I wish permission to speak!’

The powerful voice rang out through the crowd, startling the little sparrows who parted at the sudden movement.

An elderly man slowly paced toward them, a simple bamboo cane assisting his walk toward the dais.

The Emperor watched the old sensei walk, reminding him much of his father in his final few days, wisened yet still a statesman of the people.

He nodded to the Miya Herald standing next to him, the Miya’s voice booming out but a moment later,

‘The Emperor grants the floor to Akodo Kage, honoured sensei of the Lion.’

The Lion knelt before the dais, prostrating himself before the throne.

‘My lord! Weep for this tragic day! For I have prosecuted your edicts in the south of your empire.’

The Emperor was stunned, confused by such a statement. He had ordered the samurai of his Empire to rend the Empire apart in search of these bandits who had dared to assault his wife and child.

‘I do not understand, Kage-sensei. You have done your duty and punished these bandit scum as I commanded?’

Still unwilling to raise himself he nods, ‘Hai, Otenno-sama. I have done as you have asked. Such a tragic duty.’

The Emperor bristled, ‘How could such a thing be tragic? These fools attacked the Empire, subverted the celestial order with their filthy actions and took action against me! Their deaths should be news of glad tidings, Kage, not ones of tragic tears.’

The revered sensei, head still bowed, continued ‘I weep not for the bandits, my Emperor, I weep for those that knew no wrong while others schemed and plotted against this very throne, consorting with these bandits. I fear for the innocent that had to pay as well.’

The Emperor relaxed back into his throne, a tender smile appearing on his lips.

‘Kage-sensei, Loyal servant of the Lion, my right hand, cry not, weep not. Your compassion is indeed worthy of a man who exhorts all the virtues of bushido, too often we forget such a tenant in favour of courage and duty which are so clearly defined.’

A smile fades from his lips.

‘However those that are innocent cannot be if their lord harboured such treasonous people amongst them. Tell me Kage, who are these fools who chose their lord over their Emperor?’

The old man slowly raised his head till his tear stained eyes met the Emperors.

‘The Hare Clan, my Emperor.’

The room froze in an instant, as though the frosts of winter had burst through the room. The looks of shock on the faces of many were self-evident on all. In the next instant the snapping of fans immediately followed by murmured whisperings throughout the court.

Quickly the Emperor recovered. A nod to the Herald resulting in an immediate shout for silence.

‘Kage-san, your news is shocking and disturbing. Perhaps you should explain your actions?’

Kage rose to his feet, raising his arm to wipe away the last of a tear.

‘Hai Otenno-sama. My force of five thousand samurai headed south into Lion lands to destroy these bandits that attacked your wife and son. We tracked that they had made their way deep into the Empire, toward the Scorpion city of Ryoko Owari.’

‘We stopped in Shiro Usagi, before sending emissaries to the Scorpion allowing us to prosecute your mandate into their most famed city when we noticed something peculiar. There were a great deal more men in the castle than one would expect in a castle of the Hare’s modest size. As we stayed I had my men watch these others, for they gave the countenance of the most sinister kind.’

He faced the relatively small minor clan contingent, his gestures slowly expanding with the telling.

‘It was only at dinner when we noticed the truth as their leader stood to the right of the Hare Daimyo, Oda. I questioned the wisened daimyo about the choice of his companion, about his fealty to you my lord but he mocked me. He laughed, calling you a doddering old fool and revealing his true intention to finish what the supposed three man alliance started by wiping out the Scorpion one city at a time.’

‘As I rushed to grab my daisho, I noted a brand upon his companion’s brow, the same that has been described to me as the mark of the bandit gang that attacked your wife and child. A great furious and righteous anger took hold of me as I made my way to my men, who had already beaten back these bandit scum during their own meals.’

He turned back to face the Emperor.

‘We waited to dawn before announcing our intention to destroy the Bandits and any who get in our way, but the Hare clan would not listen! I was left with no choice but to put Shiro Usagi to the torch.’

A gasp rings out behind him.

‘Otenno-sama, such was my fury at their audacity that we left none alive. I slew Oda in a duel, his son leaping from the tallest towed in the building rather than be taken alive. Even his daughter would not be spared in your right hands rage.’

‘This is what happened, may the fortunes strike me down if I lie.’

A silence breaks out across the clans. It is not until the smallest giggle behind a silken fan that the other courtiers break their silence.

‘A gracious tale, told as if you were truly one of the famed Ikoma Omoidasu! However the destruction of a minor clan is a powerful accusation and there are many who would accuse you of taking advantage of the situation. DO you perhaps have testimony? Preferably, of course, from outside your clan?’

As if anticipating this very manoeuvre, the sensei of the Lion raises his hand and two men, one a portly man in Crane blue and the other a young and handsome man in Scorpion red and black, make their way to the dais and take prostrate themselves before the throne.

‘This is Doji Akae and Shosuro Emon. Both were held captive in the dungeons of Shiro Usagi after they found out the awful truth. They have come with me today to speak of the veracity of my statements.’

The two samurai slowly recount their horrifying tale of events, mirroring what Kage said and confirming his facts.

Kachiko nods, slowly ascending the dais to place herself at the Emperor’s left.

‘But what of someone with rank, someone who has more authority than these two young samurai? If this was such a terrible incident to require the extermination of an entire minor clan, Surely someone else must have seen what transpired?’

Her smug tone easily discernible through her silky mask.

‘Then perhaps I can be of assistance, yes?’ said a voice at the back of the room.

The courtiers part as a man in a wide jingasa slowly makes his way toward the dais moving to prostrate himself towards the dais. Unlike Kage, the man seems to jingle as he walks, his steps heavy and his movements weighed and calculated like scales.

When he removes his hat the smiling face of one of the most well-known men in Rokugan is peeking up at the Emperor. A small groan escapes the lips of Kachiko as he begins to speak.

The speaker is Yasuki Yoku, Daimyo of the Yasuki and most famed merchant in all of Rokugan.

‘Hello everyone, Otenno-sama, Kachiko, my dear, are you well? Your moans can be cured I am certain, I have the relatively simple concoction back at our embassy, if you…’

The Emperor clears his throat.

‘Oh, what? Ah Otenno-sama, I have sad news! I was on my way to tell the court that Kisada has declared another twenty goblin winter this season,’ a pause as the crowd begin to whisper at the news, ‘when I stopped off in Shiro Usagi, I was going to use their gardens to grow grape in return for a commission of produce.’

He looks at the Emperor’s confused face and continues swiftly,

‘Anyway, I was there when the bandits arrived in the castle, I was fortunate enough to be ignored by everyone unless it was to talk about weapon and armour sales. Both Oda and the bandit leader seemed very interested in getting more weapon before their attack. Now I had not a cause to understand what they were taking about. I had only just hear about your edict! Imagine my surprise to see old Kage come in and tell them off for assaulting your greatness!’

‘So Kage did exactly as he said he did, he waited to dawn, there was an honourable duel, prisoners were rescued and the Hare were killed. Almost a shame that. I won’t be able to grow my grapes for the next seasons wines…’

His words seem to be lost in the loud caws from the crowd, their squawking ringing in the ears of the Emperor.

This was not what he had wanted. With this much testimony there was little he could do for the Hare clan. He could feel the smile of Kachiko behind his back and already the eyes of the court looked like carrion crows looking for a feast.
He had to act and decisively.

‘Kage-san. The Empire thanks you for removing a threat that would have confronted us all in due time if left unchecked. I can only hope that this serves as a lesson to us all. Such courtly ambition will not be tolerated, no one is above the Emperor’s Law.’

Murmurs of ascent spread throughout the crowd.

‘However we must not forget compassion! Kage-san you were right. I hereby reinstitute the Miya’s blessing. The blessing will be decided upon by the clans and go to the most needy, Perhaps I shall see the best honour of the clans by allowing you this opportunity to promote prosperity throughout the Empire.’

He turns to face the Miya Herald.

‘Send the heralds out to the citizens; The Blessing will be determined at the Jade Championship, along with the declaration of the Fortune Satsume. This will be a time of healing and reflection. With a new Jade Champion, perhaps this will be the last time that war touches my reign.’

He turned to face the crowd, ‘You may disperse and make ready for the championship!’

As the crowd slowly left, only two people remained in the room.

A small clap was made from Kachiko on the Dais.

A wolfish smile slowly spread on Kage’s lips as he gives her a small nod.