|Written By:||Rusty Priske|
|Edited By:||Fred Wan|
|Released:||December 10th, 2009|
Ide Eien looked above the walls of Kyuden Gotei as the expression of the Jade Dragon dipped lower towards them. The days always seemed shorter when surrounded by worked stone, but Eien was used to that – maybe more than any other Unicorn. The Ide daimyo was rarely afforded the luxury of the open plains in the same manner that the Moto or Utaku were.
Eien looked up and gave a thin-lipped smile to the severe looking woman who approached him down the stone garden path. She bowed deeply and he returned the gesture, to half of the depth. “Good afternoon Yong-tai-san.”
Moto Yong-tai did not return his smile, though this was not specific to this moment. She rarely smiled publicly. “Good afternoon, Eien-sama.” She glanced around the garden. “I have assessed the nature of the offer from the Phoenix and am prepared to advise you, as you requested.” She paused. “This is an odd place for a negotiation, is it not?”
Eien smiled again, in a manner that was his most Scorpion-like. Yong-tai, painfully proper as she was, would never admit it, but it was clear to the new Ide daimyo that she did not trust him. He knew very well that would not stop her from fulfilling her duty, however.
Eien shrugged. “I think the Phoenix want us to feel more at home. They think that our preference for open spaces would have us think that one of these sculpted gardens could replace the natural beauty of the hills and plains. They fall into the same pattern of mistakes that the Crane make.
Yong-tai arched her eyebrow, and Eien knew that he had now made her question her assumptions about him. “I agree, Eien-sama. We are but temporary caretakers of the world, while it is eternal. We find our destiny only when we pass beyond this life. Trying to leave our mark while we are here is futile.”
Eien smiled, while frowning internally. He had dealt with many whose devotion to the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang was this absolute, but they did not generally make the best negotiators. The vagaries of treaties were very earthly concerns.
Eien did not respond verbally as he saw the Phoenix delegation approaching.
Isawa Ochiai led Masakazu and another young samurai who might have been a second yojimbo, but Eien did not think that was the case.
After an appropriate sequence of bowing, the Master of Fire introduced her young companion. “Please allow me to introduce Shiba Yoshirou. It is he who proposed this meeting to me, so I would have him present his proposal to you as well, if that meets with your approval.”
Eien bowed his assent while mentally surveying the situation. Yoshirou was likely learning the trade of the court and had been given this task to test his skills. Ochiai would observe and interject if he were in any danger of agreeing to something objectionable or doing anything that would cast a poor light on the Phoenix. The Ide daimyo tried to find some way he could turn this to his advantage without appearing to do so.
Yoshirou began, “Thank you Ide-sama. Thank you Ochiai-sama. We are all keenly aware of the destruction wrought by the Army of Fire this past year. The toll it has taken on both our clans binds us in ways that those in the more southern lands can never truly understand. What you may not be aware of is that during the assault on Kyuden Isawa much of the library there was destroyed. Despite the best efforts of the Master of Water to preserve it, only a fraction could be spared. In light of this we are attempting to regain the lost volumes by gaining access to the libraries of other clans so that our scribes can make copies of whatever information they would allow us access to. Having a central repository of knowledge is important for all of Rokugan and has always been a priority of the Phoenix.
“We are indeed aware that some items preserved by these libraries is private information and our host’s privacy would be respected and what would be deemed off limits would be kept so.” Yoshirou waited briefly, seemingly aware of his tendency to blurt, as if afraid of interruption.
“We consider the sharing of knowledge to benefit everyone, so if the Unicorn would agree to allow a few of our scholars and scribes access to your libraries, we would reciprocate by also scribing copies of an appropriate amount of material from our own store to be left with yours.” Yoshirou – a little winded by his speech – bowed to both delegations.
Ochiai’s carefully assessment of Yoshirou’s remained internal, but Eien felt sure she would have taken note of his mistakes. She was no courtier, but her position made her more than capable of handling such a simple negotiation. Yoshirou had promise, perhaps, and he would benefit from her comments, whatever they might be. Eien had listened to Yoshirou’s clumsy attempts but spent his time watching Ochiai. He knew that if there were any advantages to be gained, they would be through the Master of Fire, not the young Shiba. “Such a transaction carries much weight, Shiba-san, and would be very important to our shugenja. As such, I have requested that Moto Yong-tai act as my advisor in this. Do you have any comments, Yong-tai-san?”
The Moto inclined her head to the Ide as the attention of the delegations turned to her. Her voice rose in a formal tone, “A great many of my concerns have been addressed by the Phoenix and I find the stipulations of the exchange quite amenable and not something the heads of our schools will protest.”
Eien nodded and then turned back to the Phoenix. “Then my personal opinions are confirmed and I believe we have come to the beginnings of an agreement. Shall we retire indoors where we can discuss the details of this arrangement over tea?”
Before either Ochiai or Yoshirou could reply, an Otomo stepped into the garden, deliberately into their line of sight. All eyes turned to him as he quietly announced that their presence was expected in the main court.
The court was always crowded, but it nearly burst at the seams when an appearance by the Empress was expected. The simple words of the Otomo were vague, but ample enough for all to know that they should not consider being elsewhere at this time.
The general murmur throughout the court continued apace as servants entered through a non-descript door at the west end of the hall. One by one, the various courtiers tore themselves away from whichever conversation they were having, whether important matters of state or idle gossip, as they saw those servants setting up ornate screens, obscuring the view of that door. The first to notice moved themselves into ideal viewing positions, while those lagging behind had to make do peeking past other people’s fans and heads.
It was not long before their collective assumptions were proven correct and Togashi Satsu appeared from behind the screen. As he did, everyone in the court knelt, bowing their heads deeply until they were prostrate before the Voice of the Empress, in honor of the one they knew to be behind the screens.
Togashi Satsu looked over the kneeling throng, seemingly taking mental note of who was in attendance. He then spoke, in the stentorian tone that he used when fulfilling his charge. “Empress Iweko the First will make a statement that is to be spread well beyond these walls. There are representatives present from all clans. Each of you are tasked with ensuring that this proclamation is shared with all within the Empress’ lands that are under your care.” Satsu paused and then said. “You may stand.”
Isawa Ochiai noticed that when Ide Eien rose, he did so with the deadly grace of a viper. She wondered if others judged her in the same manner when she leaned slightly on Masakazu to rise.
The Voice of the Empress waited until all in the court returned to their feet. He did so without moving or expressing anything through his manner other than a stoic silence. When he chose, he continued speaking. “Rokugan faces perils greater than any that it has faced for many years. Plague ravages the land and wounds our ability to defend the Empire. Some of those fallen from it rise again in a blasphemous mockery of life and take up arms against those who were their brothers and sisters. In the midst of this strife, a foreign menace strikes from beyond our borders.” Satsu paused, his eyes passing over some of the Crab in court. Hida Reiha returned this with a stare, without blinking. “The Wall has been breached.”
The former Dragon scanned the court, allowing them time to absorb what he had said on behalf of the Empress. There were always those who questioned and doubted the seriousness of the situation, living so far from the battle as they did. The intensity of Satsu’s words and the sternness of his gaze dispelled those doubts in an instant. “Yet the Empress did not come to her Winter Court in order to discuss defeat, but rather how we will refuse defeat. Throughout the history of the great empire of Rokugan, there are tales of the clans banding together to vanquish great threats against our borders and our ruler. The Empress has great faith in the strength of the clans under her command. She knows that no samurai will rest until every threat is defeated or until the call of the ancestors takes them beyond the pull of this world. Yet she also knows that there are times when steel is not enough to defeat the enemy. She praises the courage of those who serve her, but must also prepare for a time when the final samurai walks the land and Rokugan is no more.”
Satsu paused again and surveyed the shocked faces, all trained on him. “But that time has not yet come. The best way to prepare for the end is to ensure it does not happen, so the Empress will do what needs to be done in order to preserve Rokugan and those who claim it as their home. We will not fall to a plague or demons from across the sands, as long as we do everything we can to diminish such a threat.” For the first time, Satsu hesitated, rather than paused.
After an almost imperceptible delay, Togashi Satsu spoke again, without a hint of waver or uncertainty in his voice. “The Empress Iweko states that she will do no less. It is in this spirit that she countermands a previous Imperial Proclamation and replaces it with the following: By order of Empress Iweko the First, all citizens of Rokugan are hereby instructed that Daigotsu, the self-styled Dark Lord of the Shadowlands, formerly announced as an enemy to the throne and empire, is to be found and brought before the Empress. The order that he be immediately put to death if found is temporarily countermanded barring further instructions from the throne.”
The hall itself seemed to gasp as the weight of the order settled over the occupants. Satsu vanished behind the screen and, after a moment, the servants began disassembling it.
Susumu willed himself to not rush from the room. He calmed his own breathing and heartbeat and refused to show any sign that the proclamation had any effect on him, as he knew that many would be watching him. He had to get word back to Daigotsu. Even if the notice did nothing to help the Lord of the Spider, failure to hear of this proclamation from Susumu before another source would reflect poorly on the Advisor. He felt Moto Yong-tai’s eyes upon him, scrutinizing him for any reaction. The Hidden Guard did so frequently, but now, as ever, he gave her nothing.
Everything would change, now.
Hiruma Todori’s expression was inscrutable as he accompanied Hida Reiha away from the main court. When they had achieved relative privacy, the Crab Champion turned to the Hiruma daimyo and said simply, “Speak.”
Todori’s eyes narrowed. “What would you have me say, Reiha-sama?”
“You can hide your thoughts from those out there,” she motioned back towards the court, “but not from me. Speak openly. Your words will go no further than my ears.”
Todori’s voice lowered even further. “I am not sure that this is the wisest path for the Empress to take.”
Reiha’s eyebrow raised but she waited for Todori to continue.
“Consorting with the enemy to defeat another enemy still leaves you surrounded by enemies. This is a lesson that every Crab has learned.”
Reiha waited again and then said, “And?”
Todori sighed. “And it is a great insult to the Crab. Lord Kuon died to erase the shame of the fallen Wall, yet then the Empress turns to Daigotsu for help, rather than leaving us to defeat the threat in our own way.”
“Do not see shame where there is none, Todori-san. Whatever the Empress seeks from Daigotsu, I am not convinced that it is aid, or that she wishes to consort with him, as you say. However, if we are to show the Empress why the Crab have been tasked with the defense of the Empire, perhaps it should be the Crab who find Daigotsu and ensure that he cannot take advantage of his stay of execution. The Empress has ordered that he not be put to death, but she said nothing about all those who would stand with him.”
Todori bowed his head sharply. “I am owed favors among the Mantis,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I can use them to get a message to my officers among the Hiruma House Guard who stand watch in the Imperial City, and to our kinsmen on the front line.”
“Do it,” Reiha ordered at once.