Memoires of a Rokugani Magistrate 5
We left our hero in Kyuden Ikoma with uncomfortable memories.
Just when we were supposed to leave Kyuden Ikoma towards the Otaku plains, Hida Miko disappeared. This was quite embarrassing so Kuni Sakura politely and conveniently fell ill. As a consequence of this convenient illness, our departure was delayed for at least one more day and we started searching for her companion. The Crab finally reappeared, on the 10th Day of the Goat, in front of the walls of the city, on her horse and carrying a rather large scimitar. She seemed disorientated, to say the least, if not hallucinating. Her story lead us to the Unicorn Embassy, where we learned that Miko had passed the night with an old acquaintance, Moto Sangris, second born son of the Moto daimyo, Terumoto, and one of the three taisa of the White Guard. The man is said to have been to the other side of the Kaiu Kabe and survived twice the trip, which everyone knows is no small feat. No wonder he had fascinated Hida Miko and also no wonder he had gained a Crane bride as a prize for his valor… the very Kakita Natsuko who had invited us to the Otaku lands, a past romantic involvement of Doji Seiichi. He introduced his assistant as well, the shugenja Iuchi Sahai, along with some of his other companions.
During the ensuing conversation, he started bragging about abducting Kuni Sakura and bringing her back to his lands in a bag, like a traditional Moto bride. After Hida Miko took him on his word and as we had advised him not to do anything about it, he ran towards the Crab quarters, Iuchi Sahai running and cursing after him. Alas, my friend, despite all the words about Iuchi shugenja’s mastery of the Water element, she wasn’t fast enough. Soon afterward, a massive tremor shake the earth. Moto Sangris had met his better… He was brought back knocked off on a stretcher by a rather annoyed Sahai. Doji Seiichi sama couldn’t help but mock the Crab and Hida Miko took offense, knocking him through a paper wall as well. I suspect it was the end of their friendship. But with Seiichi san, you never know. We finally left and brought Hida Miko back to the Crab estates and a rather angry Kuni Sakura. The entire surroundings appeared devastated by the earthquake, walls shattered and roofs collapsed. Eventually we left the next day, as the Temple of Tengen had to hold a ceremony for her sake, because she was deemed to have brought the attention of the Earth Dragon and his blessings. Unfortunately for the local heimin, there had been casualties…
From Kyuden Ikoma to Tsuma
We took the long road towards the Plains of the Otaku, via Kurayami-ha Mura, which we reached on the 25th Day of the Goat. After so many days of the rather drab Lion landscapes, flat and monotonous, the exuberance of the Unicorn lands were a refreshing sight. Here again, the hand of men and women had left nature take a freer course. Inari’s blessings were not constrained by military contingencies and it was pleasantly visible that the Unicorn people had a feeling for the beauty of the land as well as its fruits. We traveled through this gentle landscape for some time, before eventually reaching Shiro Otaku Shojo on the 7th Day of the Monkey 1104. This city was quite an amazing sight as well. All around it, hilly prairies are grazed by small groups of practically free horses, often a stallion, a couple of mares, some fowls, under the distant but benevolent supervision of an Otaku male samurai. The palace itself was as imposing as it looked exotic and yet somehow practical. It was impossible to ignore the partly gaijin origin of its builders and inhabitants.
We were welcomed to the castle, as is customary. In the committee were our future fellow Topaz championship contestants, Ide Sakura and Shinjo Madri. But Kakita Natsuko was also present, greeting both her future husband and (if rumor is right) her past lover. We were kindly lead to our apartments. We were surprised to discover that each and every one of us had a personal space reserve, a bathroom and a private study. The accommodation was luxurious, large and extremely comfortable, decorated in a fashion clearly alien to our Rokugani habits yet very pleasant. Our horses and ponies were treated no less regally and lead to the famous Otaku Stables, a city in itself. We rested for a while and I was surprised by the visit of Kakita Mikko, bringing two pipes and a satchel with her. She explained to me that she had dried and prepared the flower I had found in Michi Sano Tozen no Fukuchu and that we were now going to smoke it. I was quite curious about the effects. I got quickly used to the acridity of the smoke and started to drift in a very happy state. We smoked and enjoyed each other company in various ways. Ultimately, so much emotions and new sensations proved too much and we fell asleep together. When we woke up, the world was spinning and my head hurting. Mikko excused herself and I went in search of Shinjo Madri. I had heard about the strange way the Shinjo and Otaku shoot arrows. They call it yeomanry and it is quite different from our kyujutsu, so I wanted to ask for a demonstration.
I met him at a breakfast area reserved for us, together with several of our fellow contestants such as Akodo Furuyama and several others. Noticing my poor face, painful looks and elocution, Madri san offered me a decoction based on some exotic roasted grain. It was bitter and salty but I indeed started to feel better and, in any case, my thoughts became noticeably clearer. I started to pay attention to the others’ conversations. The best way to describe it was awkward: Doji Seiichi, Ide Sakura and Hida Miko seemed to speak in allusions and second thoughts about their respective Clans and about inter-Clan marriage. There was clearly a lot of acrimony between the three, but apparently for different reasons. I didn’t get the deeper meaning, but it became obvious that, unbeknownst to Doji Seiichi, he had been engaged to Ide Sakura. The young adolescent seemed particularly annoyed at some comments Seiichi san had made previously and which had been repeated out of context by Hida Miko to her. Somehow, she felt threatened or at least despised. That sounded quite melodramatic but, then again, young courtiers often are. At some point, Sakura chan started asking question on Seiichi’s own father (she is inheriting herself quite a large chunk of Ryoko Owari Toshi, as I understood). Knowing the relationship between Seiichi and his father (or rather lack thereof), this must have been too much because my poor companion decided to invite Sakura chan for a stroll in the gardens.
We were eventually able to get back to more pleasant conversation. Otaku Karyoko cheered a bit with us, before leaving with Hida Miko. I am sure the two strong ladies will get along fine… That’s when I finally managed to speak yeomanry with Shinjo Madri and the Unicorn invited me for a later demonstration of the art. The difference, my friend, comes down to this: as you certainly know, we Rokugani let the arrow fly to the target, after having evaluated the direction and distance, but without looking at it directly. This allows us to develop the entire muscles of our upper body to bend the bow. But of course, it has the disadvantage that the slightest change in the conditions make us miss the target, since we can’t adjust for something that we can’t see. Most Unicorn practice yeomanry instead, especially from horse back. They learned this in the gaijin lands, probably from the Moto: instead of presenting their profile to the target, they face it and aim at it by fixing it with their sight. What they lose in power and elegance of gesture, they gain in precision, particularly if the shooting platform is moving, like on horseback. As I then discovered, it’s not particularly beautiful but highly effective.
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