Last days of Autumn
It has been a long time since that occurred. Long since petty things ruled his heart. Long since the smile of a pretty girl had brought him enjoyment.
Long since his father gave him approval.
But as he stared across the fields near Kosaten Shiro, seeing the banners of the Lion wave in the distance, he knew true happiness.
Many of his men remarked at this, their hushed tones quickly silenced as he came near.
Only the equally pleased face of his brother, Kuwanan, matched his.
“They do not look happy to be going into battle brother.” Kuwanan mused, “Remember father’s words, a man without the will to fight…”
“’…Is but wheat to be culled in the harvest.’ yes, I know brother,” Hoturi reflected looking at the men he lead cautiously, “If we but told them…”
“They would not understand. Not yet. Perhaps in time, but for now we can say nothing.”
He knew his brother was right of course; he tended to be when they discussed things.
Kuwanan was always the controlled one. Always taking after his father, he was the rock that the Crane needed. As opposed to Hoturi himself; always so emotional, more carefree, much like his mother or his sensei Toshimoko.
Daidoji Yamato always thought him unworthy for the championship. He never said it but the truth was evident in his actions. Much like his father, truth be told. However he had always had the Kakita’s support. And the Asahina’s support, especially from the young Dorai.
Now Yamato was dead, the Asahina were nearly extinct, Dorai dead and the southern Crane lands conquered by the Crab.
That was what he truly saw when he saw the faces of his men, despair. They already believed themselves defeated.
And was it really a surprise? Non-aggression pacts do not help soldiers become heroes. Losing time and time again does not inspire confidence.
Being considered half the man your father was destroys any trust that your men might have in you.
These were his men! He had known several of them since his days in the duelling academy. Now they look at him, no longer with admiration and glee, but with apprehension, pity and a resignation to die for their lord.
It was easy to die of course. Fighting and falling on a battlefield was honourable.
It was harder to have something to live for. Harder to win for a purpose, harder to believe you can.
Now as he began to hear the taika drums of the Lion beating the sound of their doom, he knew what he had to do.
Picking up a nearby horn, he blew loud and strong.
Faces looked up, his men’s attention drawn toward him.
Even Kuwanan looked stunned.
“My clansmen, my brothers in arms! Hear me now!”
“You look out at the Lion and see death stalking towards us. You may look out to them and see their confidence and are afraid. You look out at them and see defeat!”
“I am your lord and do you know what I see when I open my eyes?”
His voice was loud and confident, far more than should have been.
“Heroes. Crane Heroes. Crane Heroes that are not going to fall on a battlefield to overconfident Lion whelps! Heroes that stand among the best the Crane have ever had! I see the equals of the legends of old, equals of Kakita and Yasaryugi, Of Kaiten and Masashigi!”
“Even of my father, Satsume-sama!”
They shifted at the mention of his name.
“Now is the time to honour him! Now is the time to show our devotion to the Fortune of Courage, Our Fortune!”
Murmured “Hai” began to rise through the soldiers ranks,
“Are we going to let the Lion show better devotion to Courage then us?”
Angry shouts of “No” began to rise even louder.
“Are we going to dishonour my father to these idiots?”
“Are we just going to die for their Glory!”
“Are cattle we to be slaughtered?”
“Who are we?”
“Are we going to win!’
“The let us show them our courage! UTZ!”
Not a man retreated.
* * *
It was several hours later when the drums changed their beat, the Lion in full retreat.
Bloodied, dazed, his armour cut, his sword in need of a polish, Doji Hoturi stood triumphant on the field of battle.
On this day he truly felt worthy of his father’s legacy.
On this day he truly felt like a Champion.
And perhaps no one would ever know the truth. No one would know the reason for this change.
But then he had been given a second chance to do something remarkable, something that no one else has been able to do.
Be the man that your father wants you to be.