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 Post subject: Forging
PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2017 9:59 am 
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"Come look at the lake, Yoshino." The boy was firmly shaken, and would be until he would sit up. Which he eventually did, rubbing eyes and yawning wide.

"...I am so tired, father. Please let me sleep."

"It's your one in a lifetime chance to see the sunrise over the Plum Blossom Lake. You won't sleep it over. Get up, boy." Ryuden's voice indicated that he would brook no resistance.

"But why Tsumugi can sleep and I can't?!"

"Because she is weak like your mother, unable to forge herself into anything great. You can still prove yourself strong to me." Ryuden stared at boy. "Do you want to be like me or you do you want to be like your mother?"

"...I love mommy..."

That made Ryuden angry. He pushed Yoshino out of the sheets.

"Your childish indulgences have nothing to do with it. Get up, I say. I am losing patience." Ryuden stared at the boy as he was collecting, then tossed the outer robe on him. Days had become chiller as autumn was setting in. Yoshiro wrapped himself in it without clumsiness and finally rose, staring back with dark brown eyes which were not his mother's. But were not Ryuden's either.

"Fine." Yoshino frowned in passive-aggressive defiance, then followed Ryuden out. Soon, he forgot why he had been unhappy though. The vista from the plateau onto the lake was magnificent. The boy stood for a long moment in awe. The largely dilapidated half-finished castle hosting a Miya outpost they had spent the night in was taking magical shape as it reflected in the clear waters of the calm lake below.

"This land once belonged to the people known as Ki-Rin, my boy. The children of Kami Shinjo. The Lion usurped it, but they bit more than they could chew and their avarice did not reach beyond the mountains we crossed yesterday. The Imperial House has been keeping care of this spot. The Ki-Rin called this place the Great Day. Do you want to know a secret, Yoshino?"

"Sure, father. I love learning secrets."

"As a proper Agasha should. We live to uncover the mysteries of this world, to understand what is elusive to others."

"Elusive?"

"Hard to notice and comprehend."

"Comprehend?"

"Understand."

"Ah. So what's the secret?"

"That the Ki-Rin live, and they will return. And that it will happen in your lifetime. This place will see many great days."

"Wow. Do they ride rocs and wyrms, like Yobanjin?"

"Almost. You'll see. Enough secrets for one day."

"But I want to know!"

"Knowledge has a price, Yoshino. Always."

"But you have just told me a secret for free!"

"For this, and all others things I have told and will tell you, one day you will pay the price."

"Will that be a great day too?"

"The greatest."

---

Shosuro Kaede did not enjoy the climbing, at all. The Boar could not have selected a worse place to live. It was rather defensible, though, she had to give them that. If the Legion Shioden had brought to the Plains Above Evil were to storm whatever castle was up there, it would have been a gruesome battle, perhaps even a defeat. The path led from the bottoms of ravines through serpentine ascents along deep chasms over thin ledges. Ominous rockslides were so often than one could -almost- get used to. She had wondered why Doji Yoshi had approached them at Shiro Yaban no Buta. She wondered no more. Her feet hurt, and she cursed the assignment.

When the Emerald Champion offered her a position in the Office, she saw it as an act in his alliance-building, a way to endear both her father and her husband in one fell swoop, but now she knew there was more to it. She had heard rumours that her brother-in-law had been travelling this direction a month or so before. Whatever was up there, if Ryuden had any sway among the Heichi Shioden wanted her to reason with him. He could not politically afford a defeat here, not after Akodo Ikuo had been called Shogun to repel the Yobanjin. He needed a message of success, both domestically and across the Empire. If Kaede could secure the end of the Boar rebellion by negotiation alone, that would be a success for him and the beleaguered Emerald Office, and it would put Shioden in her daimyo's debt. Not to mention some influence for the Scorpion on the western flank of the Crab, now that the alliance was no more...

A pity Ryuden had a reputation of being alter-reasonable he had just seemed to be confirming. Kaede's nephew and niece were allegedly with him. Who would have taken children of 5 and 3 for a long journey across the wild and lawless Western Rokugan just before winter? She truly pitied Utsusemi for being sent off to the Dragon, and she couldn't fault her for jumping on Jama's expedition. They were all alter-reasonable, a term Kaede had invented last season in court to brand people who were nuts. That was probably what living in the cold mountains like these was doing to people. Not a good thought ahead of trying to appeal to the reason of some other stubborn mountain dwellers, but to challenge the Matsu daimyo and then refuse to pay Imperial taxes and rebel against the Empire... yeah, the Boar were batshit crazy in her mind. The bustle of the young City of Stories, Kaneie-ue's brainchild, was so much nicer. Kaede just hoped she could manage to make good use of her invitation to the winter court the Regent had called to it in a major political success for the Scorpion that would not have been possible without Crane support. Kaede felt that the very purpose she had been married off to the Shosuro was within reach.

If she could overcome... this. Her musings had let her cross the last stretch of ascent without complaining, and now she stood before towering gates of Shiro Heichi. She stepped forth, unfurling the scroll with the Emerald seal.

"The envoy of the Emerald Champion wishes to speak on his behalf with the commander of this castle, once known as the Lord of the Heichi."

She would wait, long at that. Minutes passed, winds howled. She began to shudder uncontrollably, cursing herself for choosing Scorpion presentability over an additional layer of cotton. Or seven more. But there must have been people there, she could swear she heard a distant sound of a hammer striking an anvil. For some reason, that incited dread in her, and just increased shuddering and a clench in her throat. She was close to despairing over the failure of her mission when the gates creaked as the sound of portcullis being pulled up rang behind it. Anxious because of waiting ordeal, she tried to steady herself, and focus on whoever it was who would speak with her.

"Good morning, Kaede-san." Ryuden, alone, stepped out. In a thick kimono of green, grey and dark blue. "I am he."

---

"I think I will need another attempt at retracing your thought process, Ryuden-sama, before I get this right." The fireplace was a blessing. Seeing her sister's children safe and happy was a blessing. They were mock-fighting sticks against the hearth rod with a much older boy. But the latter seemed responsible and the dynamics between the children was not giving her any bad vibes. "So you proclaimed yourself the Heichi daimyo."

Ryuden observed Yoshino and Shizugai sparring. "Yes. By virtue of accepting them into the Dragon and the Agasha as a vassal family, with my lord's permission. And by adopting Shizugai, becoming his father and custodian. As an adolescent, he could not be daimyo in his own right."

"This is legally dubious, gikyoudai-sama. You put the Dragon in much trouble by this dire move. Surely you are aware of the Boar rebellion against the Throne."

Ryuden just rolled his eyes.

"Wouldn't that make them criminals and ronin in your mind?"

"If they are ronin in the eyes of the Throne, there shouldn't be a problem in me asserting their allegiance."

"Not if the Emerald Champion holds their crimes punishable by death."

"Is this why he's come here? To kill the Heichi? Or has he come to negotiate, as your presence seems to be indicating?"

"The Emerald Champion cannot ignore their defiance against the Throne documented by Doji Yoshi, brought from that other castle."

"Shizugai's uncle, his former custodian responsible for this decision, is dead. I ensured that he met a truly... punishing end." Ryuden watched how Yoshino claimed a small victory over Shizugai by virtue of speed, poking the stick behind the older boy's knee, then looking back at his father for recognition and approval. Ryuden granted it with a nod.

"This is what you want me to tell Shioden-ue? And what about the taxes?"

"They will be paid in full in expectation of the recognition of legality of the transfer of all lands, rights and possessions of the Boar, including those recently seized, to the Agasha and the Dragon Clan."

"You know it's not enough. There must be additional assurances. There is the question of Dainoku and the Lion."

"Has it not been resolved?"

"For the Akodo, yes. For the Matsu, not so much. If, just if, the Emerald Champion allows you to have your way, he will draw considerable ire."

"From the enemies who could not be any more hostile toward him. And if the Lion take issue, let them come. Here to the Twilight Mountains, or to the Great Climb. The Dragon will welcome them accordingly. Chorude has not been forgotten. The recent war should have impressed on each and any Crane the importance of considering Dragon perspectives in current affairs. Until recently we, the Dragon, had long withheld action, but it is not because of indecision. These days, as in the time of Yugozohime, we take action at nexal points of history."

Kaede contemplated. Then the semi-obvious clicked in.

"Jama-no-kimi supports this move. This has been his plan, not yours."

"You could well be thinking that, dear gishi-san, but I could not possibly comment." Ryuden said dismissively, watching Tsumugi collapse in tears as she bumped off the boys and flopped. He frowned in reproof.

Kaede frowned too. She rose and approached the girl, taking her into her arms and calming her by gentle rocking. "What reassurances you could possibly provide?"

Ryuden observed it without moving. "For my custody over Shizugai, corresponding hostages in the custody of the Emerald Champion."

Kaede looked at the child in her arms, her on slightly affected by the words.

"Was it not what Utsusemi always wanted, to foster them to the Crane? Take her back with you, this is not a good place for a weak little girl to winter in. I will travel with Yoshino to the lands of the Asahina with an entourage of my new vassals carrying due taxes for this year and the next before the snows set in. He will be schooled by friends of my friend." He looked at Kaede straight. "These are the terms. If your superior finds them unacceptable, he can always try to storm Shiro Heichi."

Kaede didn't drag this any more. Ryuden, Yajinden, Jama... they had planned it all too well. Shioden would not harm himself just because he would play to their tune. "I will get to the bottom of this." She finally said, eyeing Ryuden.

"You are welcome to try. But are you sure your desperate angst is not your sister's? I think I've just got you a promotion." He allowed himself a short laugh. Yoshino had broken off the fighting and was staring at him, knowing something was happening but not knowing what.

In the moment of silence that ensued, a distant ring of hammers on the anvil could be heard. Somehow, it caused shivers.



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