The sound of rain
Written by Mark Biffin
Late Spring, 1122, Otosan Uchi, The Imperial Palace
Drip…. Drip…. Drip….
Fresh drops of rain seem to fall slowly in the unseasonal warm air. Each drop seemed to echo within the halls of the Imperial palace, each drop a reminder of the coming of Autumn to come.
The man formerly as Hantei Jodan, now the thirty eighth Emperor Hantei, ruler of Rokugan, sat atop his Imperial Throne and listened to the sound of the ice melt.
Oh there were performances going on; a Crane maiden, barely past her gempukku danced in her schools prestigious style with all the elegance her school had to offer, though she had less skill then others of her skill. Here and there, courtiers gossiped and schemed in the halls and to the side many letters had been written on the themes of love and daring exploits.
However to the Emperor, all he could here were the sounds of the water slowly falling, the sounds like taiko drums pounding a steady beat.
It had been like this for the last two weeks.
Since word had come of the unseasonally good spring weather arriving earlier in the year, thawing out the lands.
Since word had come, a written note came from the Lion champion politely excusing the majority of the Lion deligates from his court.
Followed closely by the Phoenix. Then the Crab. Then the Scorpion.
Even the Dragon, nominally out of the violent games of the others, had excused themselves for one contrived reason or another.
He had even had to send the Jade Champion to secure the borders of the Phoenix and Lion to end the hostilities as quick as he could. He had of course informed Yogo Junzo that he would not accept any assistance he could potentially provide to his new clan and Junzo swore to the heavens that he would not do so. No word had come since then.
Drip… Drip…. Drip
All winter, the delegates had been at each other’s throats. Each seeking more and more advantage out of his courts. Each blaming the other, poisoning the others points. At several points it looked like the Lion were prepared to leave, never to return, based on hearsay and rumour that he had favoured the Phoenix over the Lion. Another time it was the Crane demanding that he immediately attack both Phoenix and Lion over the deaths of the Asahina that had occurred at the end of autumn last. Even the Dragon were demanding things of him.
It was all he could do merely to get them to talk to each other civilly.
Was his Empire falling apart so quickly?
A sigh escaped his lips.
Now there was barely anyone around.
A gong sounded from the back of the hall, raising the attention of the hall and at the very least had stopped the benign dancing he was ignoring.
Wet mud dripped onto the floor as men, still dressed in light armours, jostled to prostrate themselves before the throne.
‘Otenno-sama! Allow me to be the first to present the glorious news of the epic battle of…’
‘’Otenno-sama! This fool knows nothing of glory! The tale that I have to tell is more…”
“Listen not to either of them! I am here to tell of the news of an even greater import! Lord Yori…”
The court room stood silent save for the snapping of fans to cover the faces of the trained courtiers.
“Only a fool would seek to trek mud into the Imperial Palace! Only those who wish to commit seppuku would dare to shout at the Emperor demanding to be heard!’
The voice of that was the voice of the aging Miya Daimyo, Miya Yoto, his herald and for all intents and purposes, his voice in the courts.
For as long as he has known the aging Daimyo, he has treasured his words, his wisdom and his teachings. While it is true that the Kakita trained his body in their ways, it was Miya Yoto who trained his mind in the courtly ways. He often wished that he had spent more time listening to Yoto’s anecdotes than daydreaming of the next time sparing with…
The thought trailed off as the Herald yelled again.
‘Who are you three to be demanding the attention of the Imperial courts, much less the Emperor for whom entire clans bend knee? Your shame is so great that the news you bare is inconsequential compared to the etiquette that you break! We are not shameless gaijin or heimin. We are samurai and we should act like it!’
Straightening himself to an unbelievable height, ‘’As the Imperial Herald I demand that you act like civilised beings and remove yourselves to be cleaned and to await the pleasure of the Emperor!’’
The three samurai looked at each other one at a time. One of the three flicked his eyes up in annoyance at the Imperial’s interference, his hand slowly moving toward his saya.
To the amazement of the court, the Emperor stood from his throne.
“Should any of you even think of challenging the authority of my Herald,” snarled the Emperor, “I will be glad to accept your challenge on behalf of the Empire and my own honour!” His hand gestured to the daisho at his throne’s side.
Heads bowed, the three samurai of them moved back out of the hall.
The Emperor sighed. Sitting himself down. He turned to Soto who seemed to gather what his intention would be.
“The Emperor wants to take this opportunity to freshen himself and will reconvene in two hours.”
Slowly outside, the clouds began to gather.
* * *
The sound of thunder reigned overhead as the hall of the Doji filled to bursting.
The great hall was inundated with people, many whom he had not seen in many days were in attendance; Doji Hoturi and Kitsuki Yasu, Shoshi Bantaro, Kaiu Shinta. Even his wife, whom he had seen almost not at all since the birth of his newborn son, Akito, was present for these tales, cradling the child absentmindedly.
Each of the tellers of tales tried desperately to outdo the others.
The Yoritomo told a vast tale of the treachery of the Phoenix clan, their use of sinister magics and at the noble effort of his master to fight to the end but alas was captured by the wiles and snares of the deceitful Phoenix.
The slow drops of rain began to fall from the heavens, their sounds like stones upon the ground.
The Asako, not to be outclassed by the Yoritomo, wove an intricate tale of colour and fancy, as he described Isawa Tsuke’s noble battle against a Lion legion double his size! He told of their bloodthirsty cries, little more than beasts as they charged his lord but to no avail; Tsuke and the Firestorm Legion, annihilated with the rage and fury of the kami burning away Lion samurai as if they were nothing but sticks in a fire.
Thunder echoed from on high, heavier and closer than before.
The last, an Ikoma Ommoidasu, told his tale. He told a tale of Lion heroism; a tale to warm the heart. He told of the various forces of the battlefield, making sure to mention names of import as well as the deeds undertaken. Of course not only of deeds of courage but also of compassion, such as aiding the wounded on the battlefield or allowing peasants to flee.
The Ikoma also told tales of the Phoenix, cowardly fighting, hiding items of power from the eyes of the Empire, ambushing and deceiving the noble Lion, pointing out their tactics as being far from the ideals of bushido as one could come.
Yet it all came to a head when the the Ikoma announced triumphantly that the Lion had proved in this war that not only were the Lion the superior samurai but that the Phoenix were no better than charlatans.
Lightning flashed, and the slow rain became a torrent of sound and pain.
Shouts erupted throughout the hall, the three storytellers heatedly arguing amongst themselves. To the left, Crab and Scorpion were arguing, each trying to earn the favour of the Lion, seemingly having abandoned the Phoenix, while on the right the Dragon were arguing to seemingly everyone that they should be the ones to enforce Rokugan’s laws, a statement that brought much laughter from the assembled crowd, forcing the Dragon to hold his hands on his weapons, calling for satisfaction.
Simple jostling in the centre turning to swung punches, simple weapons being drawn by courtiers placing their backs against the walls, certain to stop anyone from harming them, shouts of challenges to duels too numerous to count echoing louder and louder throughout the hall.
Until a great gong sounded and a voice louder than any other rang out above the crowd.
The assembled crowd stopped, shock registering on their faces that they were being silenced, anyone had the right to silence a samurai speaking his mind.
‘THERE WILL BE SILENCE AND THERE WILL BE ORDER IN MY HALL,’ bellowed the voice once more.
Even the heavens slowly began to recede with such a command.
Each samurai, their blood slowly cooling, realising who was speaking, sheathed what weapons were out and looked to the voices origin. Many of the surrounding samurai dropped to the floor in obeisance, kowtowing before that raging voice.
One by one, from great persons to servants, all bowed before the visage of a wrathful Emperor. As silenced reigned the only sound that could be heard were the cries of a frightened child.
The Emperor moved slowly, taking the bow from his frightened mother who dropped to her knees instantly.
Looking down at the young child in his arms, the young infant slowly calmed down in his arms. But the Emperor’s heart did not waver upon looking at the young child, inspiring him to speak.
‘In times of war, the sounds that are heard are the glories of the victories, the moans of the defeated and the cries of children. In times of peace, there is no boasting, no violence, merely the quiet glow of happiness of a sleeping child.’
Looking out amongst the assembled sea of samurai he spoke in sad tones,
‘For a thousand years, the Emperors have maintained the peace in our Empire. For a thousand years the rule of law and order has governed this great Empire and while there have been minor skirmishes there has never been the chance of all-out war. Yet here I sit, 38th Emperor of the noble Hantei, watching as my Empire falls to bickering and complacency. I would not have my rule known as the one that destroyed my ancestors work.’
All remain silent as the Emperor motions for Yoto to take his son.
Gesturing back to the crowd he unfurls a scroll, sealed with the image of the Topaz magistrate, ‘My vassal and primary magistrate, Shosuro Kenshin, has informed me that the Shrine of Satsume, built within sight of Toshi Ranbo upon the Crane and Lion Borders has been completed and that it awaits merely a dedication ceremony before it is truly complete.’
‘I call upon the monks of the seven fortunes to assist in the dedication of this temple and I will personally go to oversee the dedication, leaving on the morrow.’
‘However that shall not be my only purpose. Samurai of the Empire there is conflict raging in my Empire and I would see it ended peacefully without my direct intervention! I would hope that you will be wise enough to come to an arrangement that will solidify the peace between you all. Should I be forced to intervene personally it will not go well for anyone.’
‘Are there any questions?’
None stirred, remembering what happened to the last person who tempted the Emperor’s wrath.
‘Then I expect that you all should have preparations to make. Now go.’
Silently they all left the room, save for the Emperor, his wife and his Herald.
‘As young Akito is old enough to be cared for by maids, I wish to come to honour the man who died defending my life. If this acceptable to you husband?’
The rain had come to an end, the water slowly falling once more from the tilled roof to the floor.
The Emperor nodded, and the Empress took the child from the Herald, bowing once before leaving.
‘Do you require a moment, Otenno-sama?’
The Emperor nodded, even as he slumped onto the throne.
As the silence echoed throughout the chamber, the Emperor placed his head in his hands, his tears slowly falling
Drip… Drip… Drip