L5R : Jade Winds
To Answer the Question with a Question.
The sky lightened around the mountain tops. Their peaks were ringed with yellow clouds illuminated by the still hidden sunrise. But more brilliant was the perfect half moon that was sliding away from the sunrise. Was this an omen, a portent, a message?
Shosuro Kaito continued to draw her sword, make the cut and replace the blade. She had lost count after seventy, which she thought was good. Counting was distracting, but so was the question that lurked in her mind. Now the Half moon added its weight to the question. There was not much time before Yonaka would be awake and doing his morning routine.
Just bringing up his name brought a whirlwind of emotions, all they had been through and now all they would embark on. The tiniest end of her sword nicked her finger and she cursed. Panic washed over her as she looked up at the half moon. She bowed and apologized to Lady Moon and all the Fortunes. Kaito drew in a breath and let it out in a slow controlled fashion. The world became very sharp, very in focus. All the shadows around her stood in contrast to the lightening world.
The half moon was more like her than ever. Her past as a Scorpion and her future as a Dragon were the ones that worried her the most. She was a Shosuro Actor, not only an entertainer, but an agent that lives in the shadows collecting information, doing the deeds that society frowned upon. She willingly did these things for her Clan, but now also for Mirumoto Yonaka, her betrothed, her love. She would die for him.
The other half of the moon was what was she to become. When she was married to him, she would become a member of the Dragon Clan. She had many talents but no one talent spoke to be a ‘Dragon’ talent. She prayed to Lady Moon and the Fortunes every morning but she could not see herself as one of the Tattooed Monks.
She practiced with her sword and the iaijutsu that Yonaka taught her. Kaito’s finger stung. Could she ever be a Mirumoto swordmaster? She was very good with small knives. When Nakamuro showed her bow kata she took to that fairly quickly. Actor training helped her reproduce the movement. Kaito excelled at everything she saw, she could act like a sword master. She could act like Nakamuro or Yonaka.
But Yonaka had more than movement in his sword work, he had the art. Some days she watched him from the shadows as he practiced. The Mirumoto style was called ‘wild’ or ‘coarse’. The more she watched; the more she saw the hidden beauty in the style. One day she watched Yonaka do a very complex kata, and it looked uncontrolled and wild. Then she felt the discipline; sensed the control he had over the two swords. He also had caught her watching him.
The Scorpion Clan almost expect their own to spy from the day they are born. When you were caught, you were severely punished. When Yonaka caught her that one day he showed her the first iaijutsu kata. He didn’t seem angry or surprised. The best word to describe him was serene. He just walked her through the kata, saying little. Kaito studied the kata, she faithfully replayed the steps, for months now, but she could not feel serene or at peace. She was a highly trained Scorpion Actor and not mastering this frustrated her.
Kaito had seen Yonaka in many different ways, she giggled at that thought. But since he had been studying to return to his dojo, he seemed much more at peace. It seemed so counter-intuitive, a juxtaposition. She had been taught many ways to hide weaknesses, to not let your enemy see that you were nervous or frustrated. But if Yonaka was any of these, all she could see was peaceful. A peaceful man with two very sharp swords made her head hurt. But the success of the Dragon Clan as a whole was tied to their ability to give anyone who dealt with them a headache.
The image of Yonaka burned in her mind, and it started to become wispy at the edges. The image drifted off to Kaito’s left. The world swirled and shadows obscured everything. Her senses sharpened, expanded. The garden took on a ghostly darkness. Mirumoto Yonaka had walked into the garden area. He gave no indication of seeing Kaito.
She felt a gentle pull around her and realized that the shadow cast by the tree was wrapping around her. It pulled her softly back to the tree. As the Shadow draped across her eyes, her vision expanded and she saw from several other shadows. She saw Yonaka from several different angles.
The intense new perspective made her lurch away from the tree breaking the smokey blanket of shadow that surrounded her. Yonaka quickly turned to face her, both hands on his swords.
Neko’s silent paws
Should remember how to tread
Near dangerous prey
He spoke softly and his hand removed Kaito’s grip on her own sword; she hadn’t realized she held her sword. Kaito gasped and flinched away, her vision returned to normal but the experience left her shaken.
A compassionate expression fell across Yonaka’s face, “Why do you look… confused? Do the koan of the Dragon confound you so?” Yonaka smiled and studied Kaito’s face. Her eyes darted back and forth to the shadows and then to Yonaka. She realized her breathing was out of control and willed herself calm. Yonaka followed her gaze to the shadows and tensed ever so slightly, “Kaito, is something wrong?” Kaito looked up at the half moon.
A thin wisp of a cloud laid across the moon giving it the look of a mouth. Kaito blinked hard and focused back on Yonaka’s face. She tried to smile, “Which element gives the Samurai his strength?” Kaito asked him quietly. Yonaka laughed and shook his head, “More and more you sound like a Dragon, but that is only the sound of a question. If the idea has crossed your mind that I will become an actor, you should spend your energies in other places.” Kaito smiled, and the shadows seemed to fade away.
Kaito still was at a loss for words, quite the rare state. “I will be your eyes and ears, the night will hold no secret from you” she drew her fan from her belt and started to open it but stopped. She closed it, examined the fan and returned it to her obi, “But if I am to be a Dragon…during the day…I still do not know which path to follow,” Kaito sighed. Yonaka settled his weight back and just watched her. “I thought that if my destiny lies with yours, I should ask your permission,” she paused and tried to appear proper, “to enter your school, to become a Mirumoto,” Kaito’s voice trailed, the words spit out in a jumble. That was no way to ask to become Mirumoto. She felt embarrassed and her heart sunk. She could not bring her eyes up to Yonaka’s.
He never moved, it almost seemed as if he was not breathing. Most people will shift or shuffle in long silences. Mirumoto Yonaka did none of that. He was like a stone. Kaito finally broke the silence, “My lord, I did not mean to offend you with a…it was not meant as an offense.” The words all felt wrong. But Yonaka finally shifted, “Just Yonaka,” he moved closer to her but he didn’t touch her. She wanted him to, to make the awkward feeling go away, his hand on her cheek, anything but this. But he stopped and ground the ball of his foot into the dirt, “It, of course, will not be at all fair.” Yonaka said and he stepped backwards several steps.
Kaito quickly looked into his eyes. What did he mean? She had insulted him so deeply that he had to punish her? He stood before her, and she realized he was standing with his hands over his swords. The posture was the basic one he had shown her when he taught her the first iaijutsu kata. He meant to duel her?
Her throat clenched but she kept her eyes fixed on him. For a brief second she wanted the shadows to wrap her up, to cover her and she could disappear. Kaito pushed that thought away immediately. Must she duel Yonaka? Not with her mind racing and she exhaled sharply. The surroundings all came into her attention and Yonaka was the focus. Kaito became aware that clouds drifted in a particular direction, a gentle breeze. The plants in the garden only slightly bent in that direction. The world moved in slow motion, and Yonaka was its center..
Kaito could tell he was examining her, her stance, her breathing, everything about her. She tried to suppress the anxiety that he knew her stance was poor or her throat was on fire. But then a memory laid itself over the garden. Kaito stood in a rice field along with Kitsuki Kanko. She had tried to save him from what she thought was a death sentence from the traitorous Mitanaka. It turned out Kitsuki Kanko saved her from a Bushi that had hidden in the fields. Without saying a word Kanko had inferred that he needed to protect Kaito’s honor, and the Bushi believed it.
But more importantly, Kitsuki Kanko drew his sword expertly, effortlessly, in the Kitsuki style. She had watched Kitsuki Kanko and tried to learn all she could from him. The Shosuro and the Kitsuki were complete opposites, but Kaito was awed by the Kitsuki’s deception with never uttering a lie. And somehow it was tied up with his iaijutsu. She imagined her posture more like the Kitsuki’s on that night in the rice field.
Kaito found herself trying to look at Yonaka through her own eyes, her Shosuro eyes. Trying to look at him through a Mirumoto’s eyes seemed to be alien. But now Yonaka was still the focus but she saw him more completely. She almost could see the invisible forces that let him be at peace then and there. She could hear her own laughter in her mind, “I would not have to remind you I am Scorpion, would fair enter into this?,” she spoke with a serene tone that she would have expected from Yonaka. She inched her front foot forward and ground it into the dirt of the garden.
Yonaka mirrored the movement and stone like posture gave way to a feeling that he was made of a raging river. His arms and legs seemed capable of deadly speed, the invisible forces still swirled around him. Kaito knew she could not defeat him, but she resolved to show that she was sincere in both her respect for his school and for himself. In her mind, she made a small prayer to Benton, for only the Fortune of Love could have made a love story that ended with her trying to kill her lover, to prove she loved him. The irony made the edges of her mouth curl ever so slightly.
Time must have moved fast, because sunlight crept into the garden. Kaito could not have guessed how long it had been. Yonaka stood up straight and bowed to her, “Breakfast and tea?” He turned toward the gate. Kaito almost fell forward. She felt exhausted, “you…wait, What? Oh no. No! This was not another lesson, was it?” Kaito felt her face redden, “You were…did I?” The words could not come out of her mouth.
Yonaka stopped at the gate and turned, “You have your answer. Maybe light some incense and a candle will brush away some shadows so you can see?” and stood at the gate, he held his hand out to her. Kaito realized her mouth was hanging open, as she slowly walked after him. “If you would permit me, I will draft a letter of introduction to the Kitsuki School for you.” Yonaka said as he waited for her. Again she could not hide the shocked expression. Kaito was stunned,”How did you know?” she said.
Yonaka turned calmly, “Is the answer in front of you?” Kaito stared blankly at his eyes, at his face; could all the Dragons read her soul? Her head ached.
Yonaka looked down at his own foot. “Is…the…answer…in…front…of…you…?” and with each word Yonaka slightly shifted his foot. Kaito realized one was the Mirumoto foot, the other was the Kitsuki foot. He stepped up and took her hand, frowning for a brief moment at the newer cuts, “Do you not think that a moon like that tells us that it is right to have a Shosuro Kitsuki?” Kaito looked up and saw that the moon was still in about the same place even though the sun was peeking over the mountains.
She realized she was shifting her foot the way Yonaka had, and she said, “I hope it is not painful to explain koan.” Yonaka shrugged. She wondered if Dragon ever got headaches.
Maybe Yonaka was right. It was a perfect moon for them. She smiled and squeezed his hand. “Could you please say something this morning that was not in the form of a question?” Kaito asked cheerfully, stepping up with almost a skip. She felt all the tension drain from her, no shadows clouded her vision. It almost felt serene.
Yonaka only got the words “Do I always answer…” before the crack of Kaito’s fan striking the back of his head ended the sentence.