Even the very creatures of the mountains are still, waiting as the echoes of the landslide fade.
The Horiuchi and his mount are in full gallop, the sure footed stallion easily negotiating the broken terrain along the creek. Another, riderless horse joins them as they pelt clear of the expanding debris cloud and without conscious effort Yohan gathers in the reins of the terrified horse, its eyes large and rolling. After a brief pause, he sighs and begins to trek back to where he watched the melee erupt. Maybe someone survived.
Indeed, the Dragon and the others had fled eastward and up the opposite slope, into a grove of ghostly birch trees. There they gathered their wits again, just so as the sound of carefully emphasized hoofbeats alerts them to the scout’s presence.
Wary introductions are made, at a careful distance here in the hinterlands, where neither Unicorn nor Dragon can fully claim ownership of the land. The Horiuchi quietly assesses the blocked pass, his route home to the plains no longer, and then the group before him, travel stained.
The group of ronin hunters take in the sweep of his Unicorn mount’s barrel and the powerful compact gait. Not an Utaku mount, but a fine horse to the eye of any samurai. Both parties see gain in further company and an accord, unspoken, is reached.
If fine words to seal this agreement are prepared, or perhaps a gesture of peace the moment is lost as a huge flock of crows suddenly and silently whirls out of the dense firs on the north side of the pass. They gyre and twirl into a descending vortex, a moonlit funnel that drains itself into the very open gateway of the rock bound temple.
A Great Horned owl hoots in the distance.
Investigation may be warranted. The Unicorn, one introduced as Yohan dismounts and follows as the samurai stealthily approach this doorway into the stone. A glow is there, warm lantern light and now a silhouette forms within. The doorway emits a scrawny man in old clothes, he carries a short staff in one gnarly hand and a burden is bound to his chest, wrapped in cloth. He strolls out into the moonlight and blinks at the group.
Yonaka bows and introduces himself. The shabby man appraises him and darts a short glance to where the concealed Shosuro has started to draw her bowstring. Something, she knows not what, causes her to relax her aim. The Shabby Man quietly hands the wrapped bundle to the Mirumoto, who takes it from him, seemingly startled into compliance.
Shabby Man: “A Mirumoto but not THE Mirumoto. He looked different.” He coughs lightly and removes a black feather from his collar. “Take this burden, I have completed my part of the bargain, and I keep my word. Do well, and I will then owe you a favor. I am Teshin.”
The burden is a newborn infant, it is all unfocused eyes and mottled bluish skin. A tiny rosebud mouth is there, silent now.
“Who is the father?” Asks Yonaka. The others hover, looking at the babe, except for the Crab who stands apart with his loyal yojimbo, the scout on the far side, watchful.
“The Dragon of Earth.” Says Teshin, the “of course” is not said but hangs in the air just the same. “The mother has done her duty and now rests with her ancestors, I know little of how these things are done, and yet this falls to you.” His lively black eyes are serious.
Yonaka looks at the babe, stunned, “Hoh.”
The Shabby Man steps back, shakes out a large pair of black feathered wings and so, now a Tengu, flies a tight spiral up into the moonlit night. He dwindles from sight, leaving the group. A wet nurse is needed, Wooden Bridge Village is sought and there is one there who lost her child several days back. Yonaka tells her she will nurse the child, and furthermore she will company the group until he says otherwise. Arrangements are made, food is procured and the village of charcoalers and woodcutters is left behind the next morning as the group sorts out who carries the child, who has been determined to be a girl, and how to conceal the small necklace of brilliant sky blue jade she wears around her neck.
Several lessons are learned by Hikozaemon on the road back to North wall City, mainly humility. The border between Hitomi and Mitanaka Prefectures is now fully manned when they find it and soon the party has broken their multi-week trek at the Inn of the Silver Rains ( medium quality, good rooms, average food, expensive) the Innkeeper quickly kicked out some people for the Taisa, made sure he had the best rice wine (it was ok) and fresh foods laid on, plus a semi-private room. Of course, the patrons politely ignore everyone and give them privacy.
The new Taisa has a banner to form but first he must pry information on the Battle of Mirumoto Pass from an samurai who drank himself into a stupor. The Shosuro came across his snoring form, quietly being watched by some yuriki.
The Monk of Osano-wo is more than happy to awaken the warrior, using tough love, a rice pot and a stave of firewood. He calls it his Thunder Head Cure. The samurai is soon awoken to the derisive laughter of the various groups of warriors gathered outside the inn in the shade of the great red oak growing by the stables. He (Junpei) tears off the pot, ears ringing from the energetic blows delivered by the monk. There is blood in his eye and murder in his intent. However, the sight of the Mirumoto calmly watching from a small chair on the deck nearby forces some reason into him, and after a venomous glance or two at his tormentor he will tell this Mirumoto of the battle in the throat of the Mirumoto Pass.
Samurai Mirumoto Mountaineer Junpei (a malnourished string bean of a runner) from 3 banners legion (skirmishers): “Sire, we took 40-50% losses but carried the field on the second day when Togashi slew The Red Many Armed Oni Woman, their goddess. A Gaijin cavalry general was slain by Mirumoto Kei herself.” It is his opinion that the Mirumoto had to learn on the fly about large scale unit tactics. Mistakes were made, with the ones made by the united Gaijin and Mitanaka House forces being the more numerous. Eventually the battle descended into chaos and the gaijin/rebels lost their advantages of cavalry and exploding clay men. He opines that that the superior archery of the massed ranks of bowmen contributed mightily to the eventual decimation of the fire-men.
Mirumoto Kei also indirectly asked him, if possible to inquire after a certain Hida in the west who bore a Kaiu blade (Hida Koda. The Crab curtly informs him that he is Hida Nakamuro. The Crab has been on edge these last few days…)
A brief errand to the nearby town brings 67 newly minted Mitanaka rebels, their ji-smaurai guard, and a few fully equipped ashigaru into the shadow of the Hida. At the request of General Hoshi Tadayoshi, and through him Togashi, the Crab is to take the criminals southwards to the Wall, where their deaths will prevent their families from suffering further punishments for their dishonorable actions.
Hikozaemon the NWC porter turned Yojimbo has been spreading his tale in the small villages south of NWC. Despite the recent battles and losses, there are somehow men who will take up the spear and serve under a Crab, even to the Wall and back. If the provenance of these men is murky, they are separated from the convicts at least by their intentions. There are glances, yet now there are a total of 16 ashigaru, one ji-samurai and one thunder-faced Crab.
His words to the assembled parade of ronin are brief.
“We are going to the Wall. You take one step out of line, I will kill you before we get there and your families will suffer.” Speech over. The Hida and the Monk step into the private room where the Taisa of the Stone Dogs is hunched over some scrolls, an abacus is busily clicking under the slender fingers of the Shosuro. The Horiuchi is helpfully looking at a map of the lands near Last Light castle. They look up at the interruption.
“I am leaving. Goodbye.” He bows and leaves, with the Monk trailing along in his wake. The child makes a small, formless sound over in the corner, and is soothed by the wet nurse. The Crab seems to take the tension in the air with him.
(Insert any details missed as you like, or work them out by email and I will).