Greetings, samurai. I am honored to bear the name of one of my most prestigious ancestors, Otomo Hiroshi, who chronicled the tumultuous events from the reign of Toturi III. For myself, I aspire to no such grandeur, hoping only to recount the peaceful reign of the Sapphire Emperor, Toturi XII, and his heir.
I regret to say that my chronicle must begin by recording a tragedy. At last year's Topaz Tournament, the honorable Matsu Hoketsaku, who was both Lion Clan Champion and Emerald Champion, was murdered by a vengeful ronin with a poisoned blade. The ronin was apparently a survivor from the defunct Crane vassal family of the Tsume, which the Lion destroyed in the War of Bleeding Flowers over four decades ago. Thus we see, once again, how war breeds evils far beyond its own duration. The wisdom of Miya Shikan, our esteemed Imperial Herald, is proven once again.
In light of this tragedy, this spring the Emperor ordered a new Emerald Tournament to choose a successor to the office of Emerald Champion. 89 samurai gathered at the Shrine of Osano-Wo to compete, and their performances included many notable duels and deeds of skill. In the final match, the honorable Doji Matsui of the Crane faced the skilled and handsome Kitsuki Jiro of the Dragon Clan. Jiro was victorious, and was rewarded with both the office and the gift of an ancient Kakita blade.
The Dragon won another contest as well. During the congratulatory dinner, it was announced that the Crane Clan Champion would take a Dragon maiden, Kitsuki Akane, as his third bride (the previous two both having perished in childbirth). Let us hope this heralds both the renewal of the Doji family line, and a new era of peace and harmony between Dragon and Crane.
A Tragic Death
Word has reached me of the tragic and unexpected death of Daidoji Hayashi, the daimyo of the Daidoji family. It seems Hayashi was murdered by a pack of bandits while visiting Friendly Traveler Village, where he was conducting negotiations with the local daimyo. The exact details of his death, and the identity of the bandits, remain somewhat obscure, and accusations have flown back and forth between Crab and Crane regarding their responsiblity for the tragedy.
With Hayashi dead, the rule of his family will fall on his younger brother, Daidoji Kowaru, known throughout the courts of Rokugan for his skill in origami.
The Sapphire Magistrates
The honorable Miya Shikan, the Imperial Herald, has recently prevailed on Emperor Toturi XII to create a new office of imperial magistrates, the Sapphire Magistrates, whose duty will be the maintenance of peace throughout the Empire. The tournament to choose the first of these Sapphire Magistrates was held in Kyuden Miya during the just-completed Chrsanthemum Festival. Thirty-eight contestants from across the Empire contested with each other in their knowledge of art, law, and debate, followed by a combat tournament to demonstrate their martial abilities. Contestants of note included a skilled Daidoji bushi, a Kitsuki trained in the arts of the Mirumoto swordmasters, an honorable Akodo bushi, and most surprising, a young ronin boy named Muhei, barely past his gempukku. In the final match, Akodo Takehiro faced Kitsuki Kosho. The victory went to Takehiro, although observers skilled in swordsmanship tell me he barely managed to pull his blow enough to avoid killing Kosho (which would have disqualified him and given the victory to Muhei.
Each year, the Miya family awards its blessing to that Clan which is most in need of charity and aid from the Son of Heaven. Thankfully, this year the Empire has been spared any famines, floods, plagues, or other tragedies. Therefor, Emperor Toturi XII announced he would seek the guidance of the Clans on where the Blessing should be awarded.
This was, as usual, the occasion for much political intrigue and negotiation among the Clans, as each sought to win the greatest possible advantage from this opportunity. Even some of the Minor Clans involved themselves in the discussion. I regret to say that soon, accusations of bad faith, misunderstanding, and betrayal were flying back and forth.
In the end, the vote was deadlocked between the Dragon, Crane, and Crab. The choices of the Minor Clans, and the influence of the Imperial families, broke the tie (by the narrowest of margins) in favor of the Crab, who will receive Miya's Blessing in the autumn.
The Bon Festival
Recently, the governor of Ryoko Owari invited the newly-appointed Emerald Champion, Kitsuki Jiro, to attend the Bon Festival in his city. Such an occasion quickly became a magnet for Clan diplomats, as Jiro-sama had not yet appointed any new Emerald Magistrates and all of the Clans were eager for the political prize which this first appointment would represent. Much diplomacy ensued, as each Clan sought to gain the support of others to bring pressure to bear on Jiro-sama's choice. In the end, the Lion Clan succeeded in gaining enough support to sway Jiro-sama.
Sadly, the festival was marred by a dreadful incident. Kitsuki Tanako, the sensei of the famed Jotomon's Shinrai Dojo, was also in attendence -- her Dojo being located with Ryoko Owari. However, during negotiations with a Crane guest named Daidoji Tokiru, she suddenly collapsed, dead! Investigation quickly revealed that her tea had been poisoned, and suspicions naturally fell upon Tokiru-san, who had been alone with their drinks for several minutes. It seemed likely that war might erupt between Dragon and Crane over this incident. However, after several hours of investigation, the Dragon, Crane, and Scorpion Clan were able to jointly discover that the real culprit was a servant from the small Badger delegation.
Why the Badger sought the death of Kitsuki Tanako remains a mystery, and there will undoubtedly be repercussions from this incident -- indeed, the Scorpion are already threatening war against the Badger, despite the protests of Imperial Herald Miya Shikan.
In other news, the Clans also used the Bon Festival as the occasion to present their petitions to the Emperor for who should host his Winter Court. It appears that the Phoenix managed to gain the most support in this matter (followed closely by the Unicorn), so the Emperor is expected to soon announce that he will be spending his winter in the company of the honorable Shiba.
In the domain of gossip, rather than definite news, I can attest to rumors of alliances between the Scorpion and Dragon, and between the Crane and Unicorn, while relations between Lion and Dragon seem to be at their lowest ebb since the War of Bleeding Flowers. Miya Shikan-sama will undoubtedly have his hands full this winter attempting to prevent any eruption of war. I have also caught a rumor that at least two Clans will be assisting the Hare in founding a shugenja school.
Winter Court in Crane Lands
This last winter, I was honored to attend Winter Court in Shiro Hanagensai, the castle of the Hanagensai vassal family, servants of the Doji line. Lord Hanagensai Shirotaka was a fine host, and as part of the entertainment he arranged a Go tournament, judged by none other than the Crane Clan's ranking Grandmaster, Kakita Fujimura. Contestants from many different Clans displayed their skills in Go throughout the winter, and I have to say it was humbling to observe the quality of their play.
We were also... honored... by the presence of O-Doji Koneko, the Crane Clan matron. A formidable woman whose reputation is well-deserved. She was accompanied by her favorite court jester, a man whose talents are... unique, I believe, among his kind.
Of course, winter is also the season of marital negotiations, and Lord Shirotaka announced that he would be seeking husbands for some of his six lovely daughters. I am honored to say that I was one of those ultimately chosen to marry one of his beauteous offspring.
Alas, the winter was not wholly free of danger. During a fierce storm, the castle was attacked by a fierce beast, a tiger with pure white fur. Some Unicorns who helped deal with the beast stated that such creatures are sometimes found on the great steppes north of the Empire, so this one had traveled far indeed to reach the valley of the Hanagensai. Alas, before the creature was killed an innocent fell to its claws -- Moshi Amiko, the younger daughter of the Moshi family daimyo. Her loss was a tragedy to all the Empire. Lady O-Doji-sama took the loss especially hard, for she has a long-standing friendship with Amiko's mother.
Now that the winter is over and I have returned to my home in Kyuden Otomo, I have been catching up with the political news from across the Empire. It seems that war between the Dragon and the Badger has been averted, at least for now, but unfortunately, tensions between the Crane and Crab seem to be on the rise again, fueled by some odd recent incidents in Kyuden Bayushi. I have also heard that the spring so far has been unusually hot and dry, which may bode ill for the summer growing season.
A Great Tragedy
Word has come to the Imperial Capital of an almost unimaginable event.
The Empeor's twin sons, Hatsu and Kobashi, have been touring the Empire this spring, showing the lands and peoples of Rokugan to their youngest sister, Toturi Chisa. It seems that while they were passing through the Seikitsu Pass, Chisa somehow wandered away from their encampment and entered an abandoned cave, where she was captured by strange and deadly creatures. The princes went in to rescue her, accompanied by a group of samurai who were sharing the road with them. Accounts are confused, but it seems the creatures were nothing less than the legendary Tsuno, which have not been seen since the reign of Toturi III!
It pleases me to be able to report that Chisa was rescued, and is now safe back in the Imperial Capital with her father. But her brothers, the Emperor's eldest sons and the hope of the Empire, both perished, along with many other samurai who accompanied them into that accursed cavern. Although information is slow to arrive, it seems that their swords were taken by the vile Tsuno as well, and some accounts claim that their heads were not recovered.
The Imperial Funeral
Today, the Emperor's twin sons were sent to the Heavens in the smoke of a sacred funeral pyre. I was honored to witness this event, although my rank was too low to attend the gatherings, discussions, and funeral offerings held beforehand. However, my kinsman Otomo Kazuma, the uncle of our esteemed family daimyo, attended all the funeral rites and told me of what transpired.
It seems the loss of his eldest sons has galvanized the Son of Heaven, for by his command the Clans gathered to choose a husband for his eldest daughter, Yukihime, and to decide which of them should have the honor of educating his youngest son, Kobe. I would imagine that these negotiations were intense, though of course conducted with the highest decorum. In the end, the lady Yukihime was betrothed to Daidoji Kowaru, the young daimyo of the Daidoji family, while Kobe was sent to the Crab for education. It has been many years since an Imperial heir was raised among the Crab -- let us hope young Kobe is up to the challange.
For myself, I remain deeply troubled at the great tragedy which has so unexpectedly struck the Imperial house. The Son of Heaven, in those brief moments I saw him, seems to have aged greatly, and moves like a man on the brink of decreptitude, rather than the vigorous middle-aged monarch we have all known these many years. I fear that with his weakening condition, and with the choice of successor from his remaining children still unanounced, the Clans may begin trying to maneuver for power in ways not seen since the early years of the dynasty. Already there has been an effort by the Scorpion to re-fill the vacant office of Imperial Advisor, although it seems Miya Shikan-sama obstructed it. I would expect that these sorts of political maneuvers will only increase in the coming year.
Festival of Heaven's Mercy
This fall, the Crane again hosted their Festival of Heaven's Mercy, where the piety of Toturi VI is remembered in a celebration of art and skill. I was honored to visit this event, although I had little prominence in a place where such notable figures as Kakita Saburashi and High Priestess Mizuko of the Brotherhood of Shinsei. Certainly the artistic presentations were most splendid and memorable, and Saburashi-sama witnessed several displays of the Iaijutsu art (as well as participating in one himself).
Sadly, however, this could not be an occasion for mere artistry. The Empire has suffered a drought and severe heat-wave this year, and the shugenja have been at a loss to explain why the Fortunes have chosen to punish us in this way. With a bad harvest now certain, the threat of hunger hangs over the Empire, and the Son of Heaven has commanded that Miya's Blessings be distributed to some of the Clans to alleviate their suffering. Naturally, the question of exactly which Clans should receive this bounty became a topic of intense debate and political maneuvering among the samurai at the Festival, debates further inflamed by the leverage available to the Crane and Mantis Clans, who alone among the Great Clans possessed a surplus of food this autumn.
Although I am no experienced observer of politics, it appears to me that a cabal formed between the Scorpion, Mantis, and Otomo, for the express purpose of denying any of Miya's Blessing to the warlike Lion and Crab Clans. They also seem to have sought to use their leverage to persuade the Phoenix Clan to abandon their alliance to the Lion. The Phoenix, however, stood firm -- perhaps they were offended at anyone who would use hunger as a weapon of court -- and in retaliation the cabal funneled Miya's Blessing to the Lion's enemies in the Unicorn and Dragon Clans. (The Scorpion, of course, also saw to it that their own needs were met.)
The Crane, surprisingly, did not join this cabal but instead used their considerable food surplus to apply pressure to their Lion and Crab enemies. They were able to force both Clans to announce non-aggression pacts in exchange for large gifts of rice, and the Crab also issued a public apology for the death of Daidoji Hayashi last year while under their protection.
I was intrigued to learn that the Lion choose to share their Crane rice with the Phoenix, even though their own needs were not covered. I suspect this will only serve to make the Phoenix more loyal to the Lion in future, a troubling development for the future peace of the Empire. Nor do I think the Crane have accomplished much with their overtures to the Crab, for even as they issued their apology, the Crab announced they would be holding another Twenty Goblin Winter to swell the ranks of their army with ronin.
The Twenty Goblin Winter
I had not intended to visit the Crab lands this winter, least of all Shinsei's Last Hope where the Twenty Goblin Winter is traditionally headquartered. Rather, I remained in the capital, and I was honored to be present during the New Year's Festival when the Emperor proclaimed that his blessed ancestor Toturi VI would henceforth be known as the Fortune of Peace.
Soon after, however, word arrived that Crab Clan Champion Hida Masakazu had died at Shinsei's Last Hope. I was one of several Imperial historians and functionaries who accompanied Otomo Kazuma, uncle of the Otomo daimyo Norito, to the remote village to witness the appointment of Masakazu's son Gojiro as the new Crab Champion.
I must say that I am troubled by this development. Gojiro is without question a mighty warrior, but on the few occasions I saw him he behaved like a crude and malicious bully, with little sense of etiquette or courtesy even by Crab standards. With him at the helm of the Crab Clan, I fear that Miya Shikan's long peace may soon be only a happy memory.
The Coming of War
With the arrival of spring, just as I feared, the Empire has been shaken by conflict in ways difficult to imagine just two years ago. Hida Gojiro, the new Crab Champion, has declared war on the Hare Clan. His stated reason is an insult rendered when the Hare allowed the Scorpion Clan to assist them in their efforts to create a shugenja school, rather than relying solely on the support of the Crab Clan. This seems a flimsy pretext for a war, especially against a Minor Clan, but the Crab have refused to back down, and the Lion have supported them firmly in the courts.
This events are especially distressing coming as they do on the heels of disturbing news from the Crane Clan. As you doubtless all remember, a strange solar eclipse came upon the Emperor last month, during the very hours when the Emperor's eldest daughter, Toturi Yukihime, married Daidoji Kowaru in the Imperial capital - an event I was privileged to attend. I am told the same eclipse afflicted Kyuden Doji, where the Crane were hosting a grand celebration of their political victory. Apparently, soon after the eclipse ended, the Crane Champion Doji Sarutomo inexplicably conmitted seppuku! No explanation for this shocking turn of events has been forthcoming from the Crane, and almost immediately thereafter, they announced that the revered matron O-Doji Koneko was retiring to join the Brotherhood of Shinsei. This remarkable event leaves the rule of the Crane Clan in the hands of Sarutomo's young widow, Doji Akane, formerly of the Kitsuki family. She will rule the Crane as regent until her newborn son comes of age.
The Dragon Tournament
Last fall, at the Imperial funeral, Mirumoto Jinzaki announced that since he had no heir of his own, he would hold a tournament to select his successor as family daimyo of the Mirumoto family. This spring, the tournament was held in Dragon lands, and I was privileged to attend. A dozen formidable Mirumoto clashed for two days, and at the end, the victory went to Mirumoto Daikabe, a bold and energetic man who seems likely to follow a more aggressive path than Jinzaki-sama.
The occasion was plagued with rumors that the Dragon had recently raided the Badger lands in delayed revenge for the death of their sensei at the Bon Festival two years ago. Although no Dragon would openly admit that these raids took place, they seemed quite pleased whenever the topic came up, and I have heard enough from other sources to believe these attacks did indeed take place.
After the tournament concluded, a rumor circulated that Mirumoto Jinzaki had committed seppuku. I cannot imagine why a man so honorable and famous would feel the need to end his life in this way. Perhaps this is just a rumor.
The Chrysanthemum Festival
This year's celebration of the Toturi and Hantei Dynasties was more than slightly muted by the Crab war on the Hare, which is rapidly swelling into a crisis like to shake the Empire to its foundations. The Scorpion have backed the Hare, and with their assistance Shiro Usagi has, so far, managed to resist the Crab assault. The Lion have announced their intention to send troops to support their Crab allies, and rumor has it that the Dragon will soon proclaim the same for their Scorpion friends. It can only be a matter of time, it seems to me, before the remaining Great Clans commit their own troops and war engulfs the entire Empire.
Thankfully, during the few days of the Festival we were able to set such matters aside and enjoy the beauty of music, dance, and art. We also had occasion to discuss a most interesting matter, the betrothal of my daimyo, Otomo Norito. As many know, Norito-sama has lived in isolation since his youth, and I suspect this sudden urgency to marry him was a plot of his uncle, the newly appointed Chancellor, Otomo Kazuma. If such is the case, Kazuma-sama must have been pleased that in the end a Unicorn bride was the winner in this competition. Anything which strengthens the hand of the Khan, Moto Temujin, will meet with Kazuma-sama's favor just as surely as it will find Miya Shikan-sama's displeasure.
A Night of Fearful Diplomacy
It has been a strange and dark month since the Chrysanthemum Festival.
True to our worst suspicions, all of the Great Clans, and even several of the Minor Clans, moved troops to Shiro Usagi. However, most of them did not have firm orders as to which side they should join, and a coterie of diplomats and courtiers accompanied each force in order to negotiate with their potential allies. Even the unit of the Imperial Legions which arrived at the scene was accompanied by Otomo seiyaku, for it had received distressingly vague orders from the Emerald Champion. I myself, of course, was present not for negotiations but simply to record these momentous events for posterity.
The diplomats met in a tent erected on the only high ground in the area, three miles away from Shiro Usagi, and surrounded by the camps of their soldiers. The discussions which ensued were tense and protracted, lasting almost until dawn. It was of course no surprise that the Lion stayed firmly at the side of their Crab allies, or that the Dragon did likewise with the Unicorn. But much tension and effort surrounded the actions of the other Clans, especially the Crane and the Phoenix.
The Phoenix, in the end, chose to honor their friendship with the Lion, who had helped avert the worst of their food shortages last year. They made a symbolic commitment of a few high-quality troops and shugenja to the battlefield, and placed more of their shugenja in the rear to assist with healing and repair.
The Crane were a more complex matter. Although they had sworn a non-aggression pact with the Crab, their sympathies were very much with the Hare, who they believed were being unjustly bullied by the Crab. From my meetings with them, it seemed clear they were only looking for an excuse to break their pact. Some time after midnight, their encampment was briefly raided by an unknown force who were, apparently, clumsily disguised as Scorpions. The Scorpion Clan naturally declared this a foolish ruse, pointing out that their own troops would never commit such a blunder, and claimed the raid was a Crab trick to make sure the Crane stayed on their side. The Crab, for their part, insisted the raid was some sort of elaborate double-blind ruse by the Scorpion. Whatever the truth may be, the incident provided the excuse the Crane required, and they announced their intention of siding with the Hare. The Crab have sworn the Crane will pay bitterly for breaking their word before the Empire, and indeed I suspect the political ramifications of this act may prove longer-lived than even this war.
As for the other Clans, the Unicorn and Mantis both ultimately sided with the Hare/Scorpion alliance, as did the Imperial troops. Most of the handful of Minor Clan troops on the field also supported the Hare, although I did hear that the Badger took the Crab side out of resentment for the rumored Dragon raids on their lands. I also heard tales of a rather large unit of ronin calling itself "Kenshu's Legion" which the Mantis, or perhaps the Crane, hired to fight on their side.
The Battle of Shiro Usagi
When dawn came, I was able to see the field of battle clearly for the first time, and it was a disturbing sight. The Hare, perhaps under the advice of their Scorpion allies, had flooded their lands to protect their castle from Crab siege engines. All around Shiro Usagi, the ground was covered with muddy, gray-brown water, littered with the wreckage of earlier, unsuccessful, Crab assaults.
I could not initially divine the situation, but my guards explained it to me -- it seems the Crab had begun to construct a causeway across the flooded lands, but their Champion had grown impatient and commanded they find a quicker way of reducing the castle. Accordingly, they had brought up a large number of Kuni shugenja, with the goal of calling on the power of Earth to bring down the walls of Shiro Usagi. This placed an unexpected burden on the Scorpion general, Bayushi Tenkai, since instead of merely holding off the Crab-Lion assault, he now had to counterstrike and defeat the shugenja before they could complete their ritual. Naturally, the Scorpion had shugenja of their own, along with their allies, and they sought to obstruct the Kuni magic. Although I saw nothing myself, I am told that the supernatural struggle was quite desperate, and wrought a number of strange effects on the battlefield.
My chief memory of watching this battle, I am sorry to say, is one of horror. This desperate, bloody struggle in knee-deep water and mud seemed nothing like the glorious tales I have read of past wars. Indeed, within a couple of hours I found it difficult even to distinguish the two sides, since all their glorious colors and magnificent banners were coated with filthy mud.
From what I could tell, at first the Crab advanced relentlessly, but after a while the vicious Scorpion counterattacks, and the commitment of their Mantis and Unicorn allies, stalled the advance and made it seem the battle's outcome might be in doubt. By late afternoon, however, the superior stamina of the Crab troops took its toll, and they began to advance once more on the castle. The Scorpion organized a last counterattack, a wedge maneuver designed to break through the lines and reach the Kuni shugenja before it was too late. It made some progress, and one of the senior Crab commanders led his personal guard to block it. However, at the same time, it seems that Bayushi Tenkai himself was engaged by a Crab unit led by a man named Hida Tango. Accounts differ as to what happened next. The Scorpion claim the Crab used some manner of numeranai. Whether this is true or not, it is indisputable that Tenkai-sama fled the field, unable to face Tango. News of this shame spread like wildfire, and the exhausted Scorpion troops broke. Only the disorganization of the Crab line by the wedge assault and the loss of one of their generals prevented an immediate pursuit which would have slaughtered the Scorpion to a man. As it was, their intact allies, mainly the Mantis, Dragon, and Unicorn, were able to cover their retreat and then withdraw in good order.
Even as the Scorpion army retreated, the Kuni magic at last won through, and the walls of Shiro Usagi shattered and fell with a terrible roar. The Crab bellowed in triumph and rolled over the walls and into the castle. I am told that over 200 Hare bushi fell in the ruins alongside their daimyo.
The aftermath of this terrible battle is, I fear, only the promise of more terrible battles to come. The Hare still hold a few of their outlying settlements, and it seems that while their daimyo perished, the rest of his family was smuggled out months earlier by the Scorpion, and now reside in Unicorn and Crane lands. While the Crab seem content, for now, to camp on the ruins of Shiro Usagi and toast their victory, rumors have already spread of Hida Gojiro's terrible wrath at the Crane for breaking the non-aggression pact. The Dragon and Lion have clashed on the battlefield, and with the Mirumoto now led by the warlike Mirumoto Daikabe, it seems likely they will soon seek their vengeance for the War of Bleeding Flowers. Miya Shikan-sama speaks boldly of peace treaties and hostages, but I suspect he is like a man trying to hold back the tide with his fingers.