L5R : Jade Winds
Naoki Accepts a Gift
(As performed by the Ningyo Joruri of Ikoma Maru)
Mirumoto Zukuri is helping Naoki with her obi, making sure it falls correctly and that the daisho are correctly placed. Zukuri is only a little younger, but she had the freedom to travel more frequently and was already a welcomed member of the court by the time Naoki had married Gosugo. The daisho are comfortable, and she thinks gladly that she will only have to draw them once.
“Naoki-san,” says Zukuri, “Did you ever wonder what a Crane courtier would be doing so often in the Dragon lands?”
“What?” utters Naoki as she snaps out of her meditations.
“You know how difficult is it to grow rice in the mountains. We often have to import it in addition to other supplies we can’t grow so well here. Sometimes we trade iron, sometimes other items we’re able to mine from the hills.”
“Yes, Zukuri, I know this. Everyone does. Why are you bringing this up?”
“Well, the Crane, my apologies for mentioning them, have a fondness for things of beauty. If you weren’t aware, there are Kakita who specialize in that sort of thing. My apologies again, but the Kakita Kito is one of these and in fact is somewhat renowned for it. For many years he has served here in the Dragon lands and received his stipend and housing through our clan, the art he creates is made in Dragon Lands. When he goes to the Crane courts to perform his duty it becomes part of the negotiations for supplies to be sent back here. In one way it allows the Crane to appear gracious, yet it also allows the Dragon to appear to sustain themselves.”
“Your husband was his yojimbo and his champion. There are those both of the Dragon and the Crane who were not pleased by this arrangement. If they had not been at court together the Kakita would have needed to fight his own duels or choose a champion that may not have been trustworthy. With a Mirumoto by his side challenges would be avoided, or if not they would be settled with Gosugo-sama who it is still said never lost a duel with sword in hand.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I know it’s not my place, but I thought maybe to tell you that you are about to kill an artisan and not a duelist. You need not do this.”
Naoki stares at Zukuri for a second.
“My apologies, Naoki-san. I forget myself. Of course you must do this. I wish you complete success.” and Zukuri bows before opening the shogi screen to escort her friend to the courtyard.
Naoki’s eyes narrow as she assesses her opponent. She waits to see how he will draw, if he tries to make a single cut as most Crane are trained to do. Naoki herself is not just an untrained courtier, she is a Dragon, a Mirumoto, and she knows the technique needed to clear the saya faster than a Kakita. She can feel the presence of her ancestors waiting in silence as she focuses on her enemy. Draw, damn you. she thinks as she prepares for the strike.
In his hand he holds an opened blue silk fan.
“Draw, damn you!” Naoki hears herself say out loud.
“I already have.” whispers the Kakita as he lays the fan on the floor before him and bares his neck.
The art is familiar, a pattern of white and yellow blossoms falling against a blue background. The very same fan Gosugo carried with him. She scans the kanji written between the ribs quickly, realizing it is the Kakita’s death poem:
This is a rich life
Freely given by my hands
Worthless in our death
I promised I would accept the Kakita’s death. This isn’t what she thought enlightenment would feel like, but she understands now. All eyes are on the pair, watching as the Crane kneels in front of the Dragon. Maybe some are hoping to see the end of the Kakita, others may be watching the same scene being played out once more as she feels the presence of her ancestors drift away. But she knows now why such a union between two enemies would be so effective, and she kneels with blades still undrawn as she imagines her first husband must have done so many years ago.
“I must refuse this, it was not what I expected.”
“If you must, Mirumoto-sama, but it is all I have to offer.”
“I cannot accept that, not without offering something to Kakita-san in return.”
“I’m sure I would be willing to accept anything the Mirumoto have to give.”
“Then take all I have to offer. I vow to be your champion, and I will swear as a Mirumoto that you will live until the day a Mirumoto hand holding Mirumoto blades makes an end to it.”
Naoki reaches for the fan.
It’s been 5 months since the wedding between the Dragon and the Crane. An arrangement of political convenience only, but for such a rare event it was sparsely attended. Naoki’s son and his wife refused to attend, saying it was still too soon after Gosugo-sama’s death and they would not honor the union of a pair of enemies.
“Naoki-san. A letter arrived from the house of your son Mirumoto Shuzo. It says Kumiko is expecting again.”
“The Tamori Yoshi says you will have a grandson, just the one this time.”
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