L5R - Chasing the Winds - A Winter Court 5 Sequel Fic

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Thu Jun 29, 2017 12:18 am

The stables of Shiro Moto were large and lavish. They took up the entire ground floor of the tenshukaku, leaving only leaving only a small entry for people to ascend the stairs to the Great Hall above. Inside, the accommodations for the steeds were better than for some samurai.
Harun walked past the stalls, some of them had bronze played on the doors showing the horse’s name and lineage. Some of them were Rokugan ponies, most were gaijin-bred horses, but towering over all of them were the famous Utaku steeds.
This is where Harun found Isanko. Janisha was talking to her when Harun came in. The girl turned and made a small bow.
“I wanted to see the Utaku steeds,” she said to Harun. “But joshu said we may not ride them.”
Harun gave a small smile and bow. “Moshi-sama speaks true, Isanko-san. But if you have seen the shiotome in battle as I have, you might see why.”
Isanko looked up at him seriously. “Have you ridden with them, Harun-san?”
Harun nodded. “They are something to behold, nothing can stop them.” He leaned over and said something in a low voice. “I’ll let you know a secret, Isanko, my mother was one of the Utaku.”
“She was?” Isanko asked. “But, why are you a Crane then?”
She doesn’t miss anything, that girl
, thought Harun, but I can’t lie to her.
“She had to do something important for the war with the Onyx,” Harun explained. “But she made sure I was looked after first.”
Isanko nodded solemnly, accepting this.
At that moment, Majid walked in, leading his horse.
“I see that I am the only one ready,” he said, looking between them all.
Majid was prepared to help Janisha and Isanko, but they had their own horses and had more than a little experience with them. Even Isanko, who had her own horse, Kiki.
Soon enough, they were riding across the steppes. Isanko rode between Janisha and Majid with Harun on the end next to Janisha. Isanko chatted to Majid, asking the Moto all sorts of questions.
“She is a bright girl and a credit to your guidance, Moshi-sama,” Harun said.
Janisha smiled softly to herself, like a mother when he child is praised. “I can’t take credit for her mind, only the cultivating of it.” She looked at Isanko. “I have an obligation to her mother, but I never imagined it would be like this.”
“Does she know much about her…heritage?” Harun asked.
Janisha nodded. “Some, she comes with questions from time to time and I answer them. No doubt they will grow as she does.”
Harun stared at her. “But…she’s so young…”
“The sooner we have truths revealed to us, the more time we have to deal with it, do you agree?”
Harun was torn, part of him wanted to agree with Janisha. He had been denied the truth about his true parents for most of his life. Would things be different if he had grown up with the knowledge? Would he be different?
“I’m not sure if I can agree, Moshi-sama,” said Harun. “I was told the truth about my parents only months ago. I could have been told it earlier, but was I ready to know? Was I ready for that burden?”
“And what if it had been given to you, piece by piece, over time, rather than all once like a heavy load?”
Harun considered this. “I was already seen as different at the Kakita Academy. I don’t think I needed another reason to feel like I didn’t belong.”
Janisha smiled. “Fair enough, a dark legacy is not easy to deal with either way.”
He looked at Janisha. “How much do you know?”
Janisha looked him directly in the eye. “I knew your father, Harun, and what he died for.”
Harun stared back at her, his eyes wide with surprise. But he had no time to say anything. Isanko said something to Janisha and then as the light was fading, it was time to go in.
Harun was still thinking about it when they got back to the stables, but he managed to hide it from Majid so he wouldn’t be asked any questions. When they made their farewells, Majid made his excuses and Harun walked alone back to his yurt.
I knew your father…and what he died for…
All Harun knew what that his father, Nakura, had done something that the Scorpion Clan saw fit to challenge him to a duel to the death. Harun didn’t know what it was, but he was pretty sure that Janisha did.

That evening there was a festive mood that infected the camp. From his yurt, Harun could hear the music and chanting, smell the grilled meat over the fires. Smiling, he headed towards them.
Gathered around a few campfires, the Unicorn celebrated. Grilling meat and flatbread over the fire, playing instruments, passing around bowls of kumis. They saw Harun and immediately welcomed him to their fire, and when he joined them he saw he wasn’t the only non-Unicorn there.
Across from him he saw Daigotsu Yukari, sitting between to Moto who were teaching her a rousing drinking song. And a few down from her was Ikoma Sesuke, the yojimbo with Zetsubou. He was tuning a shamisen, but took a long draught of kumis when the bowl was passed to him.
It was relacing, and a sort of pre-empt to the feast that was the follow the next evening. The sky was clear and the moon was almost at his fullest, the cold air contrasting with the warmth of the fire
One of the Moto began to play a strange instrument, almost like a shamisen but he held it between his knees and ran a bow of horse hair along the body, working the neck with his fingers. Majid later told him it was a morin khur.
The sound it made was unlike anything Harun had heard, it had a low drone that he could feel deep inside himself. At first it played a low beat, but then it grew faster and faster. Harun felt his feet starting to starting to tap.
Then the Ikoma started playing the shamisen, the tune was light, lilting and quick. One of the female Moto got to her feet, the man braids of her hair swinging as she swayed to the music. She tapped her feet on the snow, then started to spin around and around, everyone clapping and shouting encouragement as she spun.
As the song reached a climax, she jumped up and spun in the air, coming to land on one knee with her arms stretched out to the applause of everyone. Harun joined in, then the Moto woman met his eyes and stepped towards him. There was laughter.
“Oh no!” Harun protested when he realised what was going on. “No, no, no!”
He was pulled to his feet and led into the circle of people.
“What’s wrong, Niwa no Moto?” Majid’s voice could be heard over the others.
Harun made a face, he’d show Majid.
The music began again. At first, he imitated the Moto, bending his knees and swaying side to side on the balls of his feet to the beat. He extended his arms as the Moto extended his arms as the Moto extended her, moving them softly as he swayed on the spot, He had a quick look around and saw Yukari dancing with one of the Moto, clearly enjoying herself but protesting she wasn’t drunk enough to dance yet.
The music grew faster, they started spinning around and around. Harun tried to imitate the Moto’s footwork, but in the end, gave up and just let the music carry him. There was no form, no grace like in the courtly dances of the Crane, this was primal, it almost seemed to go right down to his bones. Everything was a blur as they went around and around until Harun fell to his knees, his head spinning.
Some of the Unicorn came forward, clapping them in the back. One of them put a full bowl of kumis to his lips, forcing him to drink it all. He choked on it a little, some of it running out of his mouth and down his chin. When it was pulled away empty, there came a cheer.
Majid put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll make a Unicorn out of you yet, Niwa no Moto.”
Across the fire, he could see Yukari talking with one of the Moto. They were surprisingly close, talking about something. The Moto went in to touch her but Yukari slapped his hand away, striking his cheek for good measure and then leaving him.
Another man may have been insulted, perhaps even challenging her to a duel. But this Moto, he looked impressed, stroking his cheek where Yukari’s hand had struck him.

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sun Jul 09, 2017 10:22 pm

Little update before the big one

The next morning, Harun was coming out of the shiro with Kouta when they saw the Unicorn with shovels some distance away in a clearing between the yurts. Digging, it looked like.
Kouta gave a snigger. “I didn’t think they actually dug ditches.”
Harun ignored him and walked over to them. They were digging a ditch, or a fire pit to be exact. Harun had seen them when he was with the Khol, the meat carcasses cooking on spits and the Unicorn coming back and hacking off pieces with their knives. But he hadn’t seen on this big before.
There were other signs of preparation for the evening feast. Small tables stacked on the ground, next to them were a large number of rolled up carpets and a big pile of cushions. There were also some servants with big vats of kumis, taking it to a large tent for storage.
And outside the camp, he could see animals being led to a screened area. Being led by eta. Harun shuddered as he realised what was being done behind that screen. He still hadn’t tried the red met yet, and now he wasn’t sure he would.
“I hope that head of your is ready, Harun.”
Harun turned to greet Majid. “I’m ready for most things, as you know by now Majid.” He looked around at the people. “But I think there’s a few who aren’t ready for what will happen.”
Majid laughed. “Well, this isn’t for them! They just happen to be here!”
Harun laughed with him. “It never is, is it?”
Majid nodded, Harun finally understood.

That night the clearing was transformed in a way Harun couldn’t quite believe. Above their heads were lanterns made of different coloured glass, hanging from chains on steel poles. In other places there were torches on stands, providing heat as well as light.
There was music, the low drone of the khoomei throat singers along with strains of the morin khur, shamisen, drums and flutes. There was dancing of many different kinds, the traditional and proper Rokugani court dances, the scintillating and beguiling dances from the Burning Sands and the athletic, boisterous acrobatic dances of the Moto.
And there was the food. A number of spits of meat turning on the red-hot coals of the massive fire pit. The air was pungent with the smell of meat and spices.
In the middle of it all, he found Kouta, looking hopelessly lost. He seemed visibly relieved to find Harun.
“I take it all back, what I said about this being just another court,” he said. “All of this, it’s just so…loud…and brash and…”
“Gaijin?” Harun suggested.
They both laughed.
“A lot of this was new to me when I first come,” Harun reminded Kouta. “Now, it’s hard to imagine leaving.”
Kouta looked at him in surprise. “You’d take this over a proper Crane court?”
‘I don’t know,” Harun admitted. “But I do know that I’d take the brutal honesty of a Unicorn rather than the polite lies of a Crane.”
“I see your point,” Kouta conceded.
The feast was yet to begin properly, so Harun and Kouta walked around to see what they could see. And some of it was a little surprising. Kousuda, three-deep in a crowd of Ide traders all talking at once. Ikoma Sesuke, deep in conversation with some of the musicians until they decided to set whatever dispute they had by seeing who was the better player. Yukari, faring off some stout Moto men drinking kumis in one draught and gaining their respect. Zetsubou, sitting opposite a Moto death priest, a shogi board between them and a crowd around them taking bets.
By the fire pit he saw Isanko, trailing a long silk ribbon and admiring how it caught the firelight. Nearby was Janisha, talking with Majid.
This is going to be an interesting night, Harun thought.

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:04 am

Later on, they were seated on cushions at the small tables and the food and drink was served. Harun refused the meat but he noticed that Kousuda, who was seated next to him, took a generous portion. Harun had come to like the flatbread and hummus and thankfully there were a few dishes that he recognised.
On Harun’s other side was Zetsubou, who Harun noticed wasn’t eating much.
From around the circle of gathered guests, Harun could see the other Clans and further along was Lord Chinua, far at the other end were the musicians. They played a light lilting tune, the singing not as alien as Unicorn music normally was.
The night was cold, their breath coming out in clouds. But with the heat of the torches behind them and the sake and kumis being poured, they hardly felt it. Kousuda was talking to Kouta, patiently explaining what things were and answering questions, so Harun turned to Zetsubou.
“Your clan-mate, Ikoma Sesuke, seems to be enjoying himself,” said Harun. From where they were sitting they could see him drinking heartily with the Moto musicians.
“He wanted to come, volunteered,” said Zetsubou. “I do hope things don’t go too badly, he may be the ones who needs protecting.”
“Oh, I think that trouble may start in another quarter,” Harun said, nodding to the Arashi and Yoritomo exchanging death glares across the circle. “When I heard they were both invited here, I was wondering if it was a mistake or by design.”
Zetsubou shrugged. “With the Mantis, anything is possible.
“Even a pirate becoming a monk?”
Harun smiled. “Even that.”
A servant leaned down behind Harun. “Excuse me, Kakita-sama, but Lord Moto would like to speak with you.”
Harun excused himself to Zetsubou and made his way towards Chinua. He made a formal bow to the Unicorn Champion.
“I must compliment you on the spectacle the Unicorn put on, my lord,” Harun said. “It is unlike anything that I have seen.”
“That would mean more if you had seen more things, Harun,” said Chinua with a slight grin.
“That is true, my lord,” Harun conceded, grinning himself.
Chinua motioned him to sit. “I see you have made some concessions to your kin,” he said, nodding to the fur trimmed cloak Harun was wearing.
“Practicalities,” Harun said. “The winters here, I am told, are unlike what I am used to.”
“They are, but the summers are something to see too,” Chinua.
“I hope to see those as well, my lord,” said Harun.
“Perhaps you will,” Chinua said.
Any answer Harun may have had was cut off by a cacophony of sound from the musicians, accompanied by the arrival of women entering the circle wearing long purple robes. The crowd applauded loudly as they took their places and drew their swords. Holding in place, waiting for the signal. One of them, Harun realised, was Asuna.
They then began to dance, a familiar, delicate style typical of a Rokugani court dance. But with the swords it was something else, the kenshibu, the dance of the sword.
The arranged themselves in lines and started to sway, their swords moving just out of sync, the blades catching the firelight as they gently swayed to the music.
Like blades of grass, Harun realised, the land as it used to be.
They then broke formation, dancing in a light skipping way, like riding, their swords extended out from them, glinting in the firelight. They then formed a long line and one after another performed a kata, Strength through Purity, perfect technique and timing.
The Utaku then scattered, most of them retreating to the edges of the circle leaving all but five in the middle. One of them was Asuna. Together, they performed the 100 years of Steel Kata series. The Empire Stands on its Edge, The World is Empty, Victory of the River and finally, Standing on the Heavens. Perfect discipline and timing, Harun’s sensei Kakita Kenshin would have been impressed with their execution of what was a technique perfected by the Kakita.
But that wasn’t what Harun was thinking. He watched Asuna in the firelight, she had poise and grace worthy of a dancer of the Imperial Court.
“They are something to watch, aren’t they?” said Chinua.
Harun nodded. Indeed she was.

Some hours later, Harun went to the edge of the camp, away from the heat of the fires the cool night air was refreshing. From the looks of it, he wasn’t the only one seeking respite.
Standing over by one of yurts was Daigotsu Yukari. Her arms were folded against her chest, her chin was raised defiantly, but she was listening to the Moto samurai who was talking to her. The same one she had struck the evening before. They didn’t seem to notice Harun, or anyone for that matter.
With a small smile to himself, Harun left them. But before he was out of earshot he heard Yukari laugh.
He sat back down between Kousuda and Zetsubou just as the music was starting again, faster and more exciting than before. Several dancers entered the circle and started leaping about. They wore long dark robes with hoods pulled up over their faces. Then, at a crash of drums and gongs, they fell to the ground and the torches were doused, plunging the camp into darkness. In the middle of the circle the dancers huddled together.
All was silent, then a lone voice started singing, a woman, her voice was high and slow, beautiful and solemn. There was then a flash of light then a dragon of fire soared above their heads, suspended on poles carried below, shining with flames.
There was a gasp when it appeared, Harun heard Zetsubou sigh with admiration.
The Fire Dragon circled the group of seated dancers as the woman continued to sing, her voice soaring to great heights and full of hope and promise. As the Fire Dragon passed the dancers, each of them dropped their hoods, revealing a mask of a different colour. One was green, the next purple, then blue, orange and the last was silver.
“This is the Dance of the Seals,” Kousuda explained. “Each one of the dancers is one of the seals, ready to be found and closed.”
Harun nodded. He knew of the story but not of many of the details, and he was curious to see what the Unicorn would do with it.
With a final swoop, the Fire Dragon exploded into flames, disappearing just as the torches about the camp flared to life again, flooding the camp with light. The music picked up pace, the dancers scattered, drawing their hoods back over their heads, all but the one in the purple mask. He stood in the centre, completely still, while more dancers circled in on him, hiding him from view. Then the dancers turned to fight each other, not quite fighting but no quite dancing, their movements were in sync, striding back and forward to the drumbeat.
There were loud thunderclaps, with clouds of smoke, representing the guns of the Daidoji that had fought in the battle.
Then a woman appeared, dressed in the pure white robes of a peasant. One her head was a sugegusa conical hat, in one hand she carried a spear.
“Hikahime,” murmured Kousuda, more to himself than to Harun. He looked at his uncle, had he known her?
The dancer who was Hikahime closed in on the fighting dancers, her spear ready, as she came close they parted to envelope her, hiding her from sight. The dancers whirled around in a haphazard way, the drums beating loud and fast. Then the dancers dropped to the ground and only two were dancing, the one in the purple mask and Hikahime. The masked one touched Hikahime’s chest, leaving a blood-red mark there. She looked down at it, then nodded as if she accepted it.
The dancers around them rose and hid them again. They then pulled out blue scarves, trailing like the waves if the sea. The crowd then parting to reveal a dancer in the gold robes of a Lion. He wore a gold mask with bright orange hair coming from it, moving with him as he did, shining bright in the firelight.
Kousuda leaned close, looking not at Harun but passed him at Zetsubou.
Zetsubou blushed and looked down.
Harun gasped. “That is you? You were at the Second Seal?”
Zetsubou nodded.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
But Zetsubou did not answer.
The Zetsubou dancer moved in a very traditional Rokugani way, every step, every gesture was clearly practiced until perfect. His hands moved in a ritualised way, as if he were casting spells, the other dancers changing their movement patterns in response to his gestures.
The other dancers swirled about, waving their scarves and turning with high kicks to show the churning of the sea. They then hoisted someone up above their heads, the dancer with the blue mask. The Zetsubou dancer made an elaborate gesture and the masked dancer was passed over the heads of the other dancers to stand beside Zetsubou.
The two touched hands as the other dancers circled around them, coming closer and closer until they disappeared.
“What was it really like?” Harun asked Zetsubou.
“Nothing like that,” he answered, and that was all Zetsubou would say about it.
The drums sounded again, the dancers dropped their scarves and started to fight each other again. They collected together tightly in a pack. Three dancers carefully circled the pack, approaching it from the rear and reached inside pulled someone out. The one who emerged wore a green mask.
“This was in Shinomen Forest,” Kousuda explained to Harun. “Before that, we thought it would be the last one but they found out that there were two more.” He nodded at Zetsubou. “Zetsubou was there for that one too, from what I have heard they would not have succeeded without him.”
Harun again looked at Zetsubou, what else did he not know about him?
He turned back to the dance. The music grew louder, the dancers wilder, the fighting fiercer. They carried long red ribbons, holding them above their heads in a scarlet fury.
Out of the crowd emerged a figure in the Lion mask, like the one the Zetsubou dancer had worn, but this one carried a sword and seemed to strut about rather than dance. Harun didn’t need Kousuda to tell him who that was meant to be. It was Akodo Kano, he had been Shogun of the Empire before Utaku Chikara.
Another figure emerged from the crowd of dancers. He wore white samurai robes, had long white hair and a white mask with horns on the forehead. There was a gasp from the crowd when he emerged. Daigotsu Kanpeki.
Between them, in a circle of dancers that fought fiercely, stood a dancer in an orange mask, completely still in the middle of a fury of activity. Kano and Kanpeki tried to fight through the crowd to get to the masked dancer, but it fought against them, like a rising tide. They couldn’t win, the crowd pushed against them and brought them down, going down on the ground themselves. The only one standing was the one in the orange mask. He made a bow and then pulled the hood back over his mask and joined the others in dance as they rose to their feet.
Great crows, held aloft on poles, circled the dancers. They came to rest just before one of them, they flew off again just as the dancer pulled back his hood to reveal his silver mask.
“What happened there?” Harun asked Kousuda.
“I remember it, it was very strange,” Kousuda said. “There was a ronin name Miataru who found out the location of the last seal, from Kenku in Sakkaku, the Realm of Mischief. We don’t know how he did it, and his mind was mostly gone, but it never would have been found without him.”
Harun nodded, watching the dancers as he listened. They were doing a riding, skipping motion now, like on horseback, making a great circle. There was a big cheer from the Unicorn when they appeared. They went right past Harun, one of them wore the black and white face paint of the Moto priests. Was that one meant to be Majid? Then he realised with a start it wasn’t someone playing Majid, it was Majid, playing himself in the part he had played in the closing of the Fifth Seal. Harun laughed, that was just like Majid to do that.
Majid approached the masked dancer, the two of them circling each other carefully. Around them the others danced wildly, even more than they had before. They circled faster and faster, finally coming to a stop when the drums sounded long and loud and finished.
There was wild applause from everyone as the dancers took their bows, wild whoops of cheering for the ones in the masks. Harun joined in heartily, he had never seen anything quite like that and was sure he wouldn’t again.

Once the applause had died down, it was clear that the formal proceedings of the feast were over. Lord Chinua took his leave, as did a few guests.
“So, what was it really like then?” Harun asked Zetsubou.
Zetsubou thought a moment. “It’s hard to describe if you weren’t there,” he said. “It was confusing and difficult, hardly as simple as what we just saw there.”
“That’s the nature of stories,” Kousuda interjected. “But that dancer Zetsubou wasn’t bad, ne?”
Harun laughed, so did Zetsubou.
“Believe me, Harun,” said Zetsubou. “There are things they leave out of the official histories, and usually for good reasons.” He stood up. “I think I am feasted-out tonight, mina-san I bid you goodnight.” He bowed to Kousuda but motioned for Harun to walk with him.
When they got away from the noise of the feast, Zetsubou stopped. He came close to Harun and spoke in a low voice.
“Harun, there’s something I want to tell you,” he said. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I don’t think I can honourably keep it to myself.” He took a breath as if to steel himself. “Since we last spoke, I have seen your mother.”
Harun stared at him in surprise. “You mean—”
Zetsubou nodded. “Yes, Yamada wanted to be found which is how I came to speak to her. Most of it was about the ritual to cleanse the land, we had to make sure that the Black hand wouldn’t interfere.” He paused again. “But I told her I had seen you.” He looked at Harun, his lion eyes warm and compassionate. “I…had hoped that I could bring you to see her while you were here, but she refused.”
“What?” demanded Harun. “She’s my mother, why would she not want to see me?”
Zetsubou gave Harun a sad smile. “Your mother is doing something very difficult but necessary, Harun. She wants to spare you the pain of that burden, she always has.”
Harun’s heart sank, Zetsubou touched his shoulder gently.
“Harun, please don’t ever think she doesn’t care for you,” said Zetsubou. “She was very happy to hear what I told her about you, and how like her you are.”
Harun brightened a little at this. “Really?”
Zetsubou nodded. ”You have her compassion, Harun, her courage,” he said. “And something more, her search for purpose, to serve something greater than yourself.
Harun found he couldn’t say anything. “Thank you for that, Zetsubou,” he said. “Do you think I will ever see her?”
“Yes,” said Zetsubou emphatically. “I know things are supposed to happen in their proper time and not before. And I know because…she told me.”
Harun made a bow. “Thank you again, Zetsubou.”
Harun went back to the feast once Zetsubou had gone, but he didn’t get there. Asuna found him first.
“I saw you sitting with Lord Chinua, Harun,” she said. “I saw you watch me, I saw your face. Have you anything to say?”
Harun gave his best courtly smile. “Other than to compliment you on your dancing, Asuna-san?”
Asuna smiled back at him. “You know, in all the time that I have known you, I don’t think I have heard you speak earnestly. It’s almost as if you play a part, Harun.”
“Are you accusing me of being an actor, Asuna?” Harun asked.
“No,” she said, frowning at him. “I want to really know who you are, Harun, not what you show yourself as.”
“You do?” Harun asked, he looked at her carefully.
His mind went back to what Majid to him before Shiro Moto, how he had said Harun looked good together. He had dismissed it at the time, but the temptation to stay was never far from his thoughts.
“I would like that,” said Harun. He offered her his hand to her, she took it. His duellists hand enclosing her warrior’s one.
Where would this go? Harun wasn’t sure, but wherever it did go he would probably have to make a choice at some stage and hope it was the right one.

Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:43 am

The days of court passed quickly with the varied activities to pass the time. Harun put a good amount of time in the dojo, as well as riding. There were also the official events that were hosted by the Unicorn or one of the other clans. The Crane and Dragon hosted a iaijutsu tournament, the Crab and Lion hosted a display of marital prowess. These weren’t as widely attended as the wrestling or horsemanship tests that the Unicorn put on, but they had a sizable audience.
Harun thought he would do well in the iaijutsu tournament, then realised during his first duel how hopelessly outmatched he was. Daigotsu Yukari ended up taking the prize and explained at length to anyone who cared to hear over kumis and sake that the only one who had managed to beat her in a duel was now the Emerald Champion.
He wasn’t part of the official Crane delegation, so Harun wasn’t expected to be in the Great Hall for court or be part of any of the official meetings. Then he started getting invitations. Apparently, a number of people wanted to meet with the son of the Emerald Champion.
One invitation troubled him, it was from the Scorpion delegation. It was written perfectly nicely, the translucent paper scented with lavender. There was something about it that troubled them, he knew there was a connection with the Scorpion and his birth father’s death but he couldn’t think of any way to politely get out of meeting them. After all, he had accepted other invitations.
Harun dressed carefully for the meeting, taking a gift he had purchased from one of the Ide trader carts. It was a beautiful stone, an opal he had been told, it sparked with shades of red, green, yellow and blue depending on how the light hit it. He carried it in a small box, lined with silk.
At the door of the Scorpion’s yurt, Harun was met by Bayushi Yoshu. He was a man in his thirties whore wore his long black hair loose in a sheen down his back. He wore a scarlet kimono with a black obi and a mask of sheer black silk that his eyes.
The mask annoyed Harun, but it would be extremely rude to call any attention or make any remark on it, but he couldn’t help but look at it.
“Very fine indeed, I thank you Kakita-san,” said Yushi, complimenting the gift Harun had given him after the customary offerings and refusals. “Please, sit down. I believe this is as fine as any gem I have seen in Medinaat al-Salaam. Have you been there, Kakita-san?”
Harun shook his head. “I have not, but my uncle Kakita Kousuda has told me of its many wonders.”
“Trust me,” said Yushi, pouring tea. “No description could ever do it justice. Of course, since I spent much of my formative years there, I am not exactly unbiased.”
“I suppose we can all say that about our homes, Bayushi-san,” said Harun diplomatically.
“Quite so, quite so,” said Yushi gushingly. “One hears such rumours when one is at court, and I could not help but ask about the ones concerning you.”
“I try not to put any truth into rumours, Bayushi-san,” said Harun. “But feel free to ask.”
“I have heard something about your true parentage,” said Yushi, smiling at Harun in a way that made the Kakita’s skin crawl. “Is it true that despite your Crane ways, you are of Unicorn blood?”
Harun smiled back at him, hoping to catch the Baysuhi off-guard. “That’s hardly a secret with a complexion such as mine,” he said, extending his brown hands for Yushi to see. “Yes, my mother was of the Unicorn, an Utaku battle maiden. I am told that her father was a Moto, which explains my rather unconventional appearance.”
Yushi laughed dryly. “I have found that conventions to be different depending on the context one finds oneself in, don’t you agree?”
The visit went on, the Scorpion was perfectly polite and only spoke of trivialities. When a decent amount of time had passed, Harun rose and started thanking Yushi for his hospitality. Yushi walked him to the door of the yurt.
“I did enjoy meeting you very much, Kakita-san,” he said. “I do hope that you follow the fine example of your illustrious father when he met his fate.”
Harun was caught off-guard a moment, he looked at Yushi. The Bayushi’s smile was not kind or warm, it was cold and carried the meaning his words did not.
“You are very kind for saying so, Bayushi-san,” said Harun, his tone barely polite.
Harun’s thoughts were in a whirl when he left the yurt. Yushi’s words were like a careful dagger executed with perfect elegance and precision. He knew exactly what he meant, he was talking about his true father, Yasuki Nakura who had met his death at the hands of the Scorpion.
What did it mean? Was it a threat? And there was still so much he didn’t know about what had happened, was it possible that the Scorpions held a grudge against him for simply being his father’s son?
I knew your father, Harun…and what he died for.
Moshi Janisha, he could trust her. She had made that clear very early on. He had to see her, and soon.

Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Jul 25, 2017 8:21 am

Lady Haihime and her entourage were housed on the third level of the tenshukaku. At the doors to their chambers, Harun presented his chop to the guards and said he wished to see Moshi Janisha.
He waited, starting to wonder if he was going to be sent on his way with a cup of tea, then he was admitted. He was shown into a large room, furnished in a rather foreign style with brightly coloured carpets and tapestries. The wall opposite opened out onto a balcony where he could see the wide plains below with the vast encampment. Seated at the table looking over books were Janisha and Isanko. They rose to their feet when Harun entered.
“Moshi-sama, Isanko-san,” said Harun, bowing. “I do hope I haven’t interrupted you in anything.”
“No, not at all, Harun-san,” said Janisha. “We were about to have some tea. Would you join us?”
“With pleasure,” said Harun.
The table was cleared and tea was served. Isanko served the tea, showing more poise and grace than could be expected for a girl her age. With another bow, Harun presented the gift he had brought, a small bird wrought in blue-green glass. They went through the customary offering and refusals, Isanko at last taking the small bird and admiring how it caught the sunlight.
Harun took a sip of his tea. “I went past where they are setting up outside for the storytelling this evening. Will you be attending?”
“For a time,” said Janisha. “We are not exactly here to enjoy ourselves.” She smiled at Isanko. “You have been here for much longer, Harun, what has it been like for you? It must be so different from Crane lands.”
“It is different,” said Harun. “Wilder, rougher, but somehow more honest.” He took another sip of tea. “I will tell you something. I was up here before, during the reconstruction of the tenshukaku. Of course, the ones who have skills were doing the actual building. I was carrying loads up and down the stairs.”
“Really?” Isanko looked at Harun sceptically. “Carrying burdens…like a peasant?”
Harun smiled. “When you have the Unicorn Champion himself pushing wheelbarrows, there isn’t much that is beneath you.”
Isanko laughed. “Was Majid carrying loads and pushing wheelbarrows too?”
Harun shook his head. “Majid is far more talented than I could ever be. He was helping reconstruct the walls.”
Isanko frowned. “With his hands?”
“With the Void,” Harun said. “Majid is an ishi, I have seen him perform his spells. They are subtle, but powerful.”
“I thought only the Phoenix could be ishi,” said Isanko.
Janisha smiled. “That’s what they would have you believe, Isanko-chan.”
They finished their tea just as the door opened. A white-haired man in the subdued garments of a ronin entered. It took a moment, then Harun remembered he had seen the ronin on the day court had begun. He didn’t know who he was then and knew even less now. Now, Harun noticed something. The ronin’s left hand had been horribly scarred many years ago, perhaps by fire, and had not healed completely.
Harun got to his feet while Janisha made the introductions.
“Harun-san, this is Kumo, attendant to Lady Haihime,” Janisha said. “Kumo, this is Kakita Harun, son of Kakita Karasu.”
Kumo made a low bow as befitting a ronin meeting a clan samurai. But he said nothing at all, barely even looking at Harun. His On perfect and as blank as paper.
This Kumo hasn’t always been a ronin, thought Harun, he’s important, or he wouldn’t be here. But who is he really?
“Kumo,” said Janisha, her voice cutting into Harun’s thoughts. “Could you take Isanko down to the dojo? I have already spoken with the sensei there, they should know what to do.”
“Must I, joshu?” Isanko asked.
“Yes,” said Janisha firmly.
The girl stood and made a bow in farewell to Harun.
“I will see you at the storytelling tonight, Isanko-san,” said Harun, making a bow as she left.
Kumo ushered her out of the room and closed the door.
“Moshi-sama, may I ask who is Kumo exactly?” Harun asked as they took their seats. “He is a ronin, is he not?”
“Please, Harun, call me Janisha,” she said as refilled the teapot. “Kumo is…an advisor, he provides very valuable information to protect Lady Haihime and Isanko.” She looked at Harun. “If you are wondering if Kumo is more than he appears to be, he is. But his secrets are not mine to tell.” She poured Harun another cup of tea. “You have come to know about your own secrets, am I right?”
Harun nodded.
“What do you know?” Janisha asked, her voice perfectly calm.
“My father, Karasu, told me mostly about my mother Utaku Yamada,” Harun said. “About the duel, how my mother gave me up so she could be with the Black Hand.”
“And what of your father, Yasuki Nakura?” Janisha asked. “What do you know of him?”
“Very little, other than how he died,” said Harun. “There is a lot that I don’t know.” He paused, considering how to continue. “This morning, I was with Bayushi Yushi, from the Scorpion delegation. He made it clear that the Scorpion have not forgotten about it.”
Janisha frowned, she looked seriously concerned. “Tell me what he said. Everything.”
Harun did so, there wasn’t much to tell. When he was done, Janisha was silent for a long time.
“Well, there is one thing that is sure,” said Janisha at last. “Word of your true parentage is going to follow you once you leave Shiro Moto, the Scorpion will see to that.”
“I think I could live with it if I knew the truth,” said Harun. “Janisha-sama, you knew why my father Nakura died. Tell me, what was it that he did that the Scorpion see as so heinous? What was it that even now they don’t see his death as enough to pay for it?”
“Treachery,” Janisha answered. “Not his, but that of another. Of Yoritomo Aramasu.”
Harun stared at her. He wasn’t sure what he expected to hear, but not that. “I have heard of him, and some of his story.”
“Some, but not all,” said Janisha. She poured more tea and proceeded to tell him the whole story.
Aramasu had been born a Scorpion, a Bayushi. But he had always felt rejected by his clan so he in turn had rejected them. After proving himself in battle, Aramasu had been adopted into the Mantis Clan by Yoritomo himself. He had fought beside the Clan Champion at Oblivion’s Gate, then taking up the mantle of Champion himself when Yoritomo fell. Much later, Aramasu had been assassinated by the Scorpion.
“And this,” Janisha said, “is where your father Nakura comes in.” She took up her tale again. “The Scorpion intended Aramasu’s ashes for Traitor’s Grove, to be bound in agony like all who had betrayed the Scorpion. But the ashes were stolen, and before the Scorpion could take them back, Nakura found out their location and told the Mantis.” Janisha was quiet for a moment. “Years later, on the day after he and your mother were married, he came to her aid from the insults and attacks of the Scorpion up on the dais before the Emperor. He straight-out said what he knew to the entire court and said he should have sent an army to retrieve them.” Janisha took a deep breath. “That was when Soshi Kazusa, head of the Scorpion Delegation, challenged him to a duel to the death.”
Harun took a deep breath, taking it all in. My mother and father, their lives together ending when it had barely begun.
“Janisha-sama, thank you,” said Harun. “I know the rest.” He looked down at his hands. “The Scorpion aren’t letting this rest.”
Janisha nodded. “We all knew this then, Harun. Yamada was the only one with enough courage to come out into the open and say it. Perverting the sacred traditions of duelling, declaring they would force their own will onto Heaven’s if things did not go their way.” She paused, her tone getting colder, more serious. “From what I have heard from the actions of the Black Hand, many have been cut down because of this. Including Kazusa.”
So, his death was avenged, thought Harun, with a little satisfaction, I think I know whose blade I hope it was.
“Harun, I know this is a little difficult to hear,” said Janisha. “You’ve just come of age, and already the legacy of your parents has been thrust upon you.” She gave him an encouraging smile. “Just remember, most do not see Nakura’s death as the Scorpion do. The Mantis see him as a hero, helping to restore the honour of the clan. You are not alone in this. As Nakura’s son, you will always have friends among the Mantis. And there are others who will stand by you.”
“Janisha…I…” Harun was a little overcome by this. “Thank you, I did not expect the day I encountered enemies would also be the day I encountered friends.”
“Court isn’t over yet, Harun,” Janisha said. “Not by a long shot."

There were a few hours of daylight left, so Harun made the most of them and went riding. Janisha had given him a lot to think about.
His father Nakura, she had said he was a hero to the Mantis but a traitor to the Scorpion. How could anyone be so hated and yet so venerated?
Harun recalled the lectures he had had on bushido back at the Kakita Academy. Doji Yuriko’s voice echoing across the courtyard as he told them how the virtues of bushido were universal to all samurai.
It has seemed so straightforward at the time, but in the face of what he knew now it was almost too simple. How could one account for what his father had done, choosing a path that was right but had great personal cost? Or his mother, abandoning all her duties to serve a much darker but necessary one?
There must be something that I am missing, thought Harun as he rode, an answer, it’s somewhere, it has to be.
So deep in thought he was, he didn’t notice Asuna approach him until she was almost right in front of him. He looked up and smiled as she approached him, scattering snow in the crimson and purple twilight.
“You have something on your mind, Harun?” Asuna asked after they exchanged greetings.
Harun nodded. “I have found out some things, about my parents,” he said. “I came out here for answers, but the more I learn the more questions I have about myself.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, you don’t want to hear about that.”
“No, I do,” she said, coming closer. “Tell me.”
So, as they rode side by side, Harun told her everything. About his parents, the duel, the Black Hand. And about his own concerns. She was quiet was a moment, Harun was a little worried.
“Harun, I’m glad you told me,” she said. “I want to hear your thoughts, you keep them so deep inside you. Like a well of secrets.”
Harun gave her a small smile. “I don’t think I even know all of my secrets.”
“But why should you let something like that change you?” Asuna asked. “You are only now finding out about this, they haven’t made you who you are.”
“In some ways, they have,” said Harun.
“Yes, but how much?” Asuna asked him. “Harun, since we first met I have wanted to see you as you are. All these other things you are talking about, they don’t matter to me. Why should they to you?”
Harun opened his mouth to protest, then stopped. Perhaps she was right, these things had happened in the past and there was very little he could do about them. Why not just leave them behind him?
And what was here now in front of him? Asuna, she knew all he was and didn’t care.
He brought his horse to a halt, so did Asuna beside him.
He looked at Asuna, the light of the setting son reflecting off her dark hair. She was strong, she was honest and she accepted him. He couldn’t deny that he felt some sort of attraction to her. Not on the heights of love he felt for Arahime, something smaller, subtler.
Perhaps…perhaps this was something he could build a life on?
Asuna leaned over and kissed him. Gently, tenderly. She grabbed his shoulder, pulling him closer.
Harun was caught by surprise, but he didn’t fight it. He closed his eyes, enjoying her closeness, her touch.
When it was over, they looked at each other for a long moment in the dying light of the setting sun. Harun wanted to speak, but didn’t know what to say.

Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:07 am

The storytelling had started when Harun arrived. He found a seat in the circle next to Majid just as Yoritomo Takara was the middle of one of the many Midori the Monk tales, this one of Midori’s perilous journey to the far land of Meranae. Harun had heard it before, but Takara had added few embellishments to tale.
As the story drew to an end, Harun kept scanning the crowd for Asuna. Was she there? They hadn’t really spoken on the way back. The kiss, what had happened between them.
He didn’t regret it, but avoided thinking about Arahime. Somehow, it made him feel uncomfortable.
Takara finished talking to some applause and Majid got to his feet. He then waited for quiet and began his story. Majid’s voice was strong and clear, and the tale was told with great gusto and passion. It was, to Harun’s surprise, a love story.

Once there was a powerful Warlord, he had many mounted samurai under his command. The lands he had conquered stretched over many rivers, steppes and mountains under the light of the Jade Sun. In his youth, the Warlord had conquered these lands at the head of his army, but now he was old he wished to pass them on to his only child. His daughter, whom he loved with a gentleness that quickly turned to anger to any who harmed her. She was his most precious treasure, and named as such.

A small murmur went through the Unicorn, almost a sigh. Across the circle, he saw Kousuda explaining something to Kouta. He clearly knew what Majid meant, but Harun could only resolve to ask Majid later.
Majid again took up his tale.

When it came time for the Warlord to choose a husband for his daughter. He approached the Lord of the Mountains. A pact was made between the two that the Son of the Mountains would marry the Warlord’s Daughter.
And for a time, they were happy, the love between them as true and pure as the most precious pearl. But their marriage was not to be. For the Warlord’s Daughter would not live in the mountains, and the Son of the Mountains would not live in the steppes. Their love, still so true, could not survive this trial and their betrothal was broken.
Years past, the Warlord’s Daughter now led her father’s army. The Son of the Mountains protected the wise men of the mountains as his father had done.
Then the day came when the Warlord’s Daughter was betrayed by one who in compassion she had trusted. The traitor wounded her grievously, not just with steel but the dreaded taint of Jigoku.
This was done to end her life, curse her and the army that she led. But the pure spirit of the Warlord’s Daughter won out, at a terrible cost. Her body, slowly but surely, was being encased in crystal. Until there came a day when she was completely composed.
And there she remains, in a great castle, trapped in crystal until the one that can free her arrives.

There was subdued applause for Majid as he took a bow and sat down. As Ikoma Sasuke started a story, Harun asked Majid about his story.
“Yes, some of it is true and there is more of it, a lot more,” Majid said, his voice serious. “I will tell you of it later, but not now.”
He had no choice but to be satisfied with this, so he turned his attention back to the stories, and to the sake and kumis that was being passed around.
There were many stories Harun heard that night. Some of them fantastic tales, others that were clearly gleaned from experiences in the war.
As Daigotsu Yukari finished her story, Harun stood up and began his own.
Like Majid’s story there was a lot more to it than what he would tell and some parts of it were even true.
As he began to speak, he scanned the crowd, finally seeing Asuna. Their eyes met, and then it was it no one there and he was telling the story just to her.

Once there was a princess who lived in a castle by an immense forest, she was beautiful, kind, gentle and a friend to all animals. One fine spring day, she sat in a forest glade, the birds and animals who claimed her as friend surrounding her.
Then from the woods came a low bark, then a fox emerged from the trees. The birds and animals pressed against the princess, scared of what the fox might do.
“Have no fear,” said she, “for I will let nothing harm you.”
She walked out to the fox, meeting its eyes. The fox shrank back at her approach.
“Come, friend,” said she to the fox, “no one will harm you.”
The fox walked up to her with a whimper, one of its front paws was bleeding from a wound.
The princess’s heart was full of compassion. She knelt down and took the fox’s paw into her hands, a single tear fell from her eyes like a precious jewel and fell upon the fox’s paw. She then took her scarf, blue as the sky and of the finest of silks, and bandaged up his paw.
The fox then looked up at her, its golden eyes seeming to lock within her. Then the fox turned and went into the woods.
Years later, when it came time for the princess to marry, her brother the prince consulted a wise old monk from the mountains. For word of his sister’s beauty had spread far and wide in his lands and he wished to avoid any slight towards any samurai who did not win the princess’s hand in marriage.
The old monk arrived. He met the princess, he met the princess and then he sat for many days and nights and meditated. At last, he spoke.
“The princess must choose whom she had already chosen.”
This puzzled the prince, but he resolved to remember the monk’s wisdom all the same.
The day came when the prince gathered all the samurai that served him. He declared to them that the one who would marry his sister would be the one she had chosen.
Many young samurai had gathered in the prince’s castle. Many of noble birth, some with vast lands and some with more humble holdings but no less illustrious lineage.
But one samurai who was there looked as if he had no lands or lineage. In fact, he was a ronin, the clothing he wore thread bare and worn. His hair was red and long and wild, his eyes golden.
But when the princess saw him, she noticed something else. In his hand he held a scarf of soft blue silk. The princess and the ronin met eyes and each recognised the other.

Harun then took a bow as they applauded him and then sat back down. Majid clapped him on the shoulder.
“I didn’t take you for a sentimental sort,” he said.
“I think there is more I need to tell you, too,” said Harun.

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