MEMOIRES OF A ROKUGANI MAGISTRATE 2
We had left our hero running on a bridge to help a friend in distress…
That’s when I noticed a small ribbon by the river bank, of the kind used by wealthy families. I showed it to Seiichi san who immediately realized it was of the style belonging to Doji Shizue sama. She reminded us the Crane heiress had been painting the summer evening sky by the river. But it was now dark and she should have brought the ribbon back at this time. We went down to have a look to find her painting material scattered and traces of multiple people walking around in the mud. All seemed to indicate some foul play. The tracks stopped suddenly to what seemed like a place where one would have taken a river boat. Since one can not get upstream under the lower bridge, we started running downstream, towards the woods and outside the city. After what seemed quite a long time and as there was nearly no light left already, we spotted the boat abandoned on the other side, under some trees. We swam across and followed a path through the forest. A light in the distance showed us our goal: a campfire and a couple of shady silhouettes in front of a tent.
We approached cautiously, our hands on our wakizashi. A very large warhorse was creating distorted shadows on the trees around the clearing. Four men, with all the appearance of ronin, were discussing with a formidable character in front of the fire. That man was very obviously a Lion Clan officer, wearing armor and weapons. The words didn’t seem too friendly as the samurai suddenly drew his weapon and in the same move beheaded his interlocutor. We froze on the spot, not knowing how to intervene. Two other ronin made the mistake of reaching for their weapons and were dispatched in the same manner, while the last one stepped back, his empty hands well in evidence above his head. The Lion officer barked at him to take care of the bodies. At the same time, the tent opened and a badly limping (and I’m afraid cursing) Doji Shizue appeared in the foulest of moods. She had clearly got a broken foot in what looked like a case of kidnapping. We decided to enter the circle of light and politely inquired what the Lion samurai was doing in Crane lands.
As it was soon made clearer to us, the fact was that this Lion taisa of the Second Matsu Army, Matsu Agetoki, had used illegal traveling paper for Baiden Pass and traveled instead to Tsuma to meet Doji Shizue sama. So smitten had he been with her that he had resolved to kidnap her and bring her to Shiro Matsu. This rather scandalous plan had turned badly because the ronin he had hired had botched it and broken Shizue sama’s foot in the enterprise, probably while loading her in their boat. Less clear was the involvement of Doji Shizue herself. But we decided not to push the questions any further and advised instead for bringing her to the temple for the healing of an Asahina shugenja, Wateru. To which Matsu Agetoki agreed, preceding us to Tsuma’s way-station. Asahina Wateru detected a very nasty broken foot and gave Shizue sama an opioid prescription for the pain, forbidding any traveling for a while. Doji Seiichi, who had entertained the idea of a visit to Shiro Matsu to meet the famous Matsu Sakura, heiress of the family and future Topaz contestant as well, jumped on the opportunity.
He had sent a letter to the Matsu, he told the Lion taisa, which had been answered with an offer of sake in lieu of the expected invitation. Matsu Agetoki admitted the sake was his idea and hinted that Matus Sakura had few good intentions regarding the Crane Clan and did not want to cultivate friendships which might end badly. Maybe to get in the good grace of the Crane now that his original plan had been thwarted, he proposed us to come all together to Shiro Matsu as friendly guests as soon as Doji Shizue would have been better. Despite my reservations, Doji Seiichi agreed to this. All we had left to do was report to Kakita Ruko who doubled as local magistrate. We did not leave anything out but pointed that at least the Lion had had the good sense to murder only ronin and to let us and Shizue sama go without too much trouble. It seems that this was translated in her official report as a brave rescue by the Lion officer aided by ourselves… But I don’t want to know about any of this. The whole affair was enough of an embarrassment. We retreated to the Kakita Academy on the next day to continue our training, let Shizue sama recover and wait for the Lion official escort to Shiro Matsu.
Back at the Academy, new faces were expecting us. One was a terribly named Hida Miko, a woman wearing full heavy armor, as gigantic as her name was small, a Kuni lady shugenja (Sakura), both future contestants for the Topaz championship and their ward, a monk named Todoshi . The monk had parked a strange cart in the courtyard of the main dojo: that thing was full of the oddest stuff you would ever see. As it seems, they had been invited by the Doji and were known to Seiichi san who introduced me. After the usual polite conversation, we were all invited with our respective sensei in the dojo for training. Since Seiichi san wasn’t ready, Hida Miko requested for some iaijutsu demonstration, as she was not trained in our art. This was granted by our sensei. I explained that massive lady that she would have to change gear first, as iaijutsu was not being practiced in full armor. She reluctantly agreed and came back in a more normal apparel. We took our stances, I assessed her position, focused and stroke easily, hitting her hand lightly. She was not a particularly fast opponent, to be honest, but I would not want to face such a force of nature in a regular fight though, and this with any weapon or armor. I later learned she had bested a Moto White Guard, a son of the Unicorn daimyo, and won his horse in a wager, no small feat for a woman, even a Crab one.
The day after was the 28th Day of the Horse and we enjoyed the Festival of Commemoration of Doji Hotei’s Passing. The feast was lovely, the offering numerous and the hanabi demonstration perfect in the summer night. I got the impression that Doji Seiichi was distraught by these fireworks though, but I could not find out why. Even the Hida girl seemed to enjoy the show. For my own offering, I had sculpted a simple piece of wood in the shape of a crashing wave ending in a sword strike, in the somewhat abstract style that used to be in fashion some years ago, as you may recall. Doji Seiichi had written wonderful poems which were read for the occasion. Of course, I had not forgotten to pick some lovely natural flowers that I left in front of the soji screen leading to Kakita Mikko’s apartments. She seemed to appreciate the attention and was particularly friendly towards me all that evening. A couple of days passed in training and I discovered a new kata. As you might know, my friend, I had been proficient with the Strike with Void kata, most effective in duels. But I wanted to study something more adapted to all types of fighting and I practiced heavily the Strength of the Crane kata. I’m glad to say I can now follow its ethereal moves, even blind. I enjoy these choreographic moves so much, I can lose my own mind in the sensation of fluidity, speed and precision both katas procure.
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