It was a beautiful day at Kosaten Shiro (Crossroads Castle). There were no
clouds in the sky, birds singing to the peasants as they preformed their farming
while a cool gentle breeze came from the north giving a respite from the warm
air to the guards. To any casual observer, the castle seemed to be the perfect
example of Crane lands. Peaceful, beautiful, perfect. In the inn of the Singing
Crane, there was one who shook his head while drinking his third bottle of sake
for the day, attempting to once again quiet the screams of a thousand voices
crying in his head. As always three remained, their insistence too powerful for
alcohol and memories to silence.
Daidoji Mikado-sama, I see you are drinking again. This is three days straight. I am worried about you; please tell me what is the matter. A soft, honeyed female voice pleaded. How can I guide you in honor if you hide your thoughts from me?
Oh, leave him alone, Nishari, the deep, gruff voice of a Crab stated. This is nothing compared to what happens at the wall. And besides, a little sake will do our depressed charge wonders for his perspective. Personally, I think all of the Crane should drink a little more; they'd be a lot less uptight.
As the only CRANE here perhaps you should quit looking to the advice of Bayushi
Nishari or Hida Hiroku, and follow what honor dictates the firm, determined
voice of a younger man asserted. I grow weary of this. You have been drinking
for far too long. Get up and do something!!!!!
I truly must be blessed you have decided to guide me as well, Kakita Junichi. The Daidoji thought, never looking up from his sake bottle.
Remember Daidoji Mikado, I am a Crane as well as you. Your sarcasm is not appreciated. But yes, feel blessed, for who else can guide such an honorable soul, definitely not these two. I, for one, will not let you fall down the path of the scorpion's definition of loyalty.
You forget who you speak to, Kakita-san. Nishari hissed: Hiroku and I were defending the empire before your grandparents were even born.
Then it is good I arrived when I did. Look at him Nishari, does he seem well? Perhaps this is all due to the "instructions" in "honor" through the sweet tongue of a scorpion.
Ah, more wisdom from the Crane, I did not know you were the only ones who knew bushido. Tell me, did you get this insight from your speeches you gave only last month at your gempukku, or do all Crane close their minds to accommodate such a narrow view?
Nah, that's not it. Look Mikado-I understand why you are upset. You weren't there to protect the Son of Heaven, and so many died. Is that it?
That is correct. Mikado thought. If only I had been there, maybe some of my friends wouldn't have passed.
Mikado, your daimyo had you assigned elsewhere. Duty demanded you stay.
Besides, leaves more drinking for you. Remember what your friend Usagi Colt says: Drink to remember, not to forget? Look like you will have a lot more remembering to do.
I swear if I hear one more thing about drinking, I will make sure you drink
yourself into oblivion. You are Crane, not some Crab whose only goal in life is
to sit on a rock and wait for some green, slimy thing to approach. Perhaps they
died for a reason; perhaps you lived for a reason. Perhaps, and this is a hard
one, you had to kill the child to save him.
"Enough!!!!!" Mikado shouted, slamming his cup into the table, shattering it into a million pieces. He returned to looking out the window, just staring blankly at the open field were the Daidoji guards were practicing. A small, portly man then walked up to Mikado's table, placing a new cup and bottle of sake in front of him "Mikado-sama, you have been at my inn for three days now, surely there must be something I can do to ease your pain"
"There is, and I see you brought it, thank you, Junji" Mikado noted.
"Yet, Mikado-sama, you still look burdened. I thought it was an easy task to be samurai."
"You do not know the burden it is to be samurai."
"That is true." Junji explained "But please, as my friend, allow me to take your mind off of this. I have a daughter named Rika, who is wonderful with the biwa, allow her talent and beauty to take your mind off of your malaise." Junji clapped twice and a 14 year old girl appeared timidly from the back room with eyes aglow with the notion of pleasing her father with song. She bowed deeply to the samurai and gingerly held the biwa in both hands "If-If I may Mikado-sama"
All right, now this is getting interesting! This reminds me of a time at the wall, we were waiting for a…….
Yes, Yes I'm sure it is very fascinating, but she is about to play. Nishari
interrupted. Perhaps this will get your mind off the recent events.
You mean like the child I killed. Mikado thought to himself.
Now, now, Mikado we have already been though that. Honor demanded that, and you proved you honor there and many times after. Junichi persuaded. Listen to the music and remember the joy of serving, even in light of recent events.
The music was slow and melodic, reminding everyone of the power that music has on one's soul. After a few moments of this perfection in melody, Mikado's face and body relaxed for the first time in three days.
Just then, the door swung open wide as another samurai arrived. He was shorter and younger than most yet carried himself with the swagger of a man who has the greatest destiny of all, and knew it. He wore the colors of yellow and green with a wide brimmed straw hat. He gazed around the whole room and then spoke, "I am looking for Daidoji Mikado-san"
"I am he." Mikado stated
Who is this scrawny island dweller? Bring back the beauty and song!!!!
Quiet Hiroku, I have a feeling this is important.
"Good, I have been searching for you since my gempukku two months ago. My name
is Moshi Fumaki, and due to what you have done to the Moshi family, I demand a
duel to the death."
Silence filled the Inn as the body of the Daidoji stiffened up once again. There was a long pause before Mikado broke the silence "You have come a long way for nothing, Fumaki-sama. My daimyo has not accepted this duel, and my life is my daimyo's, such as it is."
The Moshi cheeks flushed." Very well, Mikado-san, since you have no courage to face a truly better duelist in honorable combat, perhaps I shall still get revenge." Fumaki shouted for all the patrons in the inn to hear. "I will claim the lives of all these Crane hemin instead, starting with," Fumaki scanned the room for a suitable prize and with a smile he stated," You." As he pointed directly at Rika, he started to draw his katana from his saya. Rika gasped for air as her father fell to his knees, pleading with all the Kami not to take his only daughter. They both looked with eyes of a beggar to Mikado
I can't allow her to die. Mikado thought. Not another child.
Who is this ungrateful little whelp!!! Mikado, send him to Meido!!!!!
Mikado, it's a trap, don't fall for it! Decline the duel.
"No Fumaki." Mikado stated, "If a duel will prevent their deaths, then I agree
"Ah, I knew the Cranes were honorless dogs, but at least they know when they must die." Fumaki gloated "I will meet you outside."
But Mikado, this is pointless. You may not kill him, you don't have the right. To kill him is dishonorable. Nishari pleaded.
I will not allow others to die because of what I have done, Nishari, Mikado thought. No more children will die due to my blade. If I must die to let Rika and Junji live, so be it.
Wait, Mikado-sama. There is another way. Another lesson, if you will. Remember what we were trained at the dueling academy Kakita did to those who wanted to challenge him to death for no reason? Since he was the first duelist, many tried to challenge him to the death just so they could have glory. Do you remember how he taught them without killing them?
A smile passed Mikado's lips. Yes, thank you Kakita Ancestor.
Mikado walked out of the inn, and as he passed by a relieved, slightly more
composed father he joked, "Don't worry, Junji, I will return in a moment to
settle my tab."
"Thank you Mikado-sama, you are a true Crane." Junji stated as his body relaxed while holding his still shaken Rika "I shall say a prayer for you."
"Say two prayers. This hangover may be worse than his katana." Mikado joked. "And Rika, I expect to hear the end of that song when I return"
"Hai, Mikado-sama. It will be my pleasure" Rika replied with tears of thanks falling from her eyes.
As he left the inn, a small crowd had gathered around the Mantis. Many came out
to see this duel as word was passing through the streets of Fumaki's challenge
and threat to the Crane hemin. Fumaki was growling, angrily denouncing all Crane
in the area as cowards and dogs when Mikado finally left the inn. While Fumaki
continued his tirade at the audience, Mikado just walked up, stood with his hand
next to his katana as if to present it as a gift to Fumaki than said only six
words "NOW, FUMAKI. SHOW ME YOUR STANCE!"
The duel was over before it began. With the speed of the wind and before Fumaki could even get his sword out of its saya, he found the Crane's katana within a hairs breadth of his neck. As beads of sweat rolled off the Mantis's brow and Mikado's blade stayed in the killing position, a clapping of hands was heard behind Fumaki as a loud voice stated, "Very well, I consider the matter settled. You lost, Mantis." A tall, thin and very prim and proper Crane stepped forward. "It is time for you to leave our lands."
"And who are you?" the still shocked Fumaki asked.
"My name is Kakita Noboru. And before you ask, remember that Mikado-san could have killed you with but a small twist of his sword but chose not to because he has something you do not."
"And that is?"
"Honor, now leave our home," Noboru locked a stern gaze with Fumaki "Before I have the magistrates look into your papers, which I assume you don't have."
Fumaki rubbed his neck as Mikado's blade finally returned to his side. "This settles nothing. I will find you one day, Mikado-san. And when I do, I will gain the glory for defeating the sworn enemy of the Moshi."
"Perhaps, but it will not be this day," Noboru explained." and next time, remember Crane fight with honor, not just to gain glory. Keep that in mind the next time you decide to challenge one of us to a duel."
As Fumaki left, looks of shame and whispers of his dishonorable action today in this town were already starting to spread around the peasants. Mikado walked up to Noboru. "My thanks Kakita-sama; you honor me with those words."
"I am always impressed with your skill at the blade, Mikado-sama, but that is not why I am here." Noboru asserted, passing a scroll to Mikado. "You have been summoned to Daidoji Kowaru's presence."
"But, why?" Mikado asked as he opened the scroll.
"Who can say? Have you been having many illegal duels?" Noboru winked. "Nevertheless, he is here in the castle, and I shall escort you there." As the pair walked up the steps to the main entrance, Mikado noticed that the ancestors were unusually quiet.
Great, Mikado thought, just when I need their guidance the most, they leave me.
Mikado did not have time to meditate on the silence, for as the two entered they were immediately ushered by servants to the room of Daidoji Kowaru.
"It is good to see you again Daidoji-san" Kowaru stated, never looking up from the notes he was reviewing. "I remember how you stayed to guard me at Kyuden Bayushi when my own yojimbo was murdered, never leaving my side."
Mikado prostrated himself in front of the man. "I-I-I am honored you remember me." he stammered, feeling very much out of his element.
Oh please, I taught you better than to speak like that
"Yes, it takes a lot for me to remember someone, but that is why you are here today. I had an interesting conversation with Kitsuki Jiro a week ago"
Mikado gasped. "The Emerald Champion?"
"The same. Your name came up in it. Do you remember when you were in Ryoko Owari, a certain Bon Festival, Mikado-san?"
"Hai, Daidoji-sama."Oh no, Mikado thought, that's it. What was the ritual for seppuku again?
Quiet Mikado. Junichi soothed. Listen to what he has to say.
"Well it seems that the Champion did not forget that a Crane asked him for permission to investigate the matter. Only one had the courage to ask him for permission to find the true killer so Daidoji Tokiru would go free and the stain of dishonor would not fall on our family." Daidoji Kowaru looked straight at Mikado, putting down the papers. "He was impressed with that Crane's honor."
"I-I-I am humbled he remembered." Mikado stammered showing how overwhelmed he was at this point at this point.
"So, when he declared that after recent events with the attempt on the Emperor's life he needed some new honorable samurai to fill the ranks as magistrates, he remembered the example of honor and came to the Crane to see if that one still lived, and barring that, if there were any others we would recommend." Daidoji Kowaru looked even deeper into Mikado's eyes "But what surprised me even more was that he said O-Doji Kaneko herself spoke of your name, reminding the Emerald Champion of the Crane with honor from the Bon Festival and added herself she thought you would do an excellent job." Kowaru paused, "This troubles me. Have you ever spoken with O-Doji Kaneko?"
"Hai, Daidoji-sama. At the Hanagensi winter court."
"Hmm, well, I have asked this friend of yours" Kowaru "He has been generous enough to enlighten me of what happened there. We will not speak any more of those encounters." Kowaru looked over at the kneeling Noboru, "Your friend, Kitsuki Jiro, O-Doji Kaneko and I are all in agreement. We can think of no one else who should have the position."
"Forgive me, sama, but what position?"
"Why, the position of Emerald Magistrate." Daidoji Kowaru explains. "Will you take it?"
A felling of utter humility fell over Mikado as he once again fell prostrate to the floor "Hai, sama, I will endeavor to serve with the utmost honor."
"Of that I have no doubt, but do me a favor, will you Mikado-san?"
"Do your best to stay away from the Mantis." A slight smile crossed the face Kowaru.
Well spoken Mikado-sama, you are truly becoming a wonderful Crane!!
But let us remember who advised him down this path. Truly I am to be thanked.
Hm. As I remember it, you weren't even around when this happened!!!!
But, it was my guidance that has brought him to……..
Mikado ignored his ancestors this one time, distracted by his own heart racing
in jubilee. As Mikado and Noboru sat up and left the room he felt a new sense of
pride and duty take the place in his heart that had been so dark these past few
months. He turned to his friend. "It seems to be a good day. I did not notice
its splendor at first. Perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
"Then perhaps we should celebrate, Mikado-San"
"An excellent idea. In fact, I know this wonderful inn......"