L5R - The Duty of War - A Post Winter Court 5 story

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Nov 28, 2018 7:00 am

It took Harun the better part of a week to get out of Crab lands completely, the road was improving and he could set a good pace. At the border into Crane lands, he presented his travelling papers. These authorised him to be travelling in armour and were authorised with Karasu’s own chop. He got a few questioning looks from the samurai at the magistrates post, but he was let through.
The road he took went between Akagi Mori and Kitsune Mori. The latter of course had been devastated by the Kaiu for firewood and their war machines. Harun’s birth-father Nakura had promised to help the Kitsune with the recovery of the forest in his retirement, something Harun had promised to do as Nakura’s death had prevented it.
After Harun left the city Ookami Toshi, he turned east and the journey got much worse. The road was full of ruts and holes, it slowed him down and it only got worse when he headed into the mountains. There were few villages in this part of Crane lands, the land was not very fertile and what settlements Harun saw were meagre and small. More than once, Harun had to shelter out in the open.
Finally, Harun arrived. He descended from the mountains to where Seawatch Castle stood on the high cliffs over the sea. It had been built solid long ago withstand the attacks of pirates that raided the Crane coast It had suffered much damage, not just from the tsunami but from years of neglect.
The castle was the residence of Doji Kiburo, the Senchou of the castle and the village nearby. He was a thin man with thinning white hair and a bad chest. But a pleasant sort and—to Harun surprise—rather pleased to see him.
“I won’t ask what you have done to get this posting, Kakita-Chui,” Kiburo told Harun when he arrived. “You will find all of us at Seawatch have stories that we would rather not share, but we always welcome new company.”
“I am here to serve the Crane, Doji-sama,” said Harun.
“I do not doubt that,” said Kiburo.
The damage to Seawatch Castle was more apparent on the inside. There were rooms that had leaks when it rained and an entire wing was completely unusable. The central garden of the castle was overgrown and wild, though Kiburo promised they would try to get it under control as it was beginning to compromise some of the stonework.
The barracks were in better condition than the rest of the castle but were built to house more than the twenty bushi that were stationed in there. Harun was installed in a room off to one side which had a window shade that stuck and smelled strongly of damp. But this was to be his home for the foreseeable future.
His second and the gunso was Daidoji Kitano, it was he who got the men onside when Harun brought in the discipline and techniques from the Imperial Legions. He drilled them daily and accompanied them on patrols, trying to make improvements where he could. What was even more difficult were the peasants they called upon for ashigaru. They would not make soldiers despite Harun’s efforts, and most of their time they tended their fields or fished in the sea.
Harun went even with them one morning, taking the steep path down the cliffs to where they hid their boats in caves, out of reach of the high tides. Watching the boats go out, enjoying the sea air.

As promised, Seawatch was quiet. Harun did his best to keep occupied as the spring days lengthened and passed. He kept up his training, he found a quiet spot on the cliffs which he went to each morning. He dined most evenings with Doji Kiburo who was a good conversationalist despite the breaks due to his persistent cough.
He wasn’t completely cut off at Seawatch. He got letters from time to time. From his father, Kyoumi and his siblings. The news was welcome, but didn’t remove how remote Harun felt from everyone he knew.
Harun’s sleep had improved since he had left Crab lands, perhaps to do with the calm and the sea air. But he still occasionally had nightmares. Standing ankle deep in blood in the throne room at Toshi Ranbo…Shimekiri’s mad eyes and laughter… He tried to forget, let them wash over him.
Until one night there was a dream that he could not ignore.
He stood on a beach, the white sand bright against the blue water, before him was an impenetrable wall of green. A jungle, dense and alien, like in Zogeku. The jungle parted, like a curtain, and a figure in white emerged. A woman, by the shape. She was tall, wore white garments of the softest silk that swirled around her in a cloud. She was adorned with jewellery from head to foot, bracelets, anklets, rings and two clasps either side of her head that secured a veil that hid her face.
She carried two swords, one of steel and bound in pale blue cloth. The other looked golden and was decorated with a red tassel.
But there was something familiar about her, about how she moved. She almost danced, yet in a way that Harun felt he had seen her before.
Can it be her?...No, no…it cannot be…she is dead…
But as he watched her approach him, his heart beat fast. He started to smile.
Can it be? Really? After so long? It’s too much to hope for…
Her voice was soft, silvery, as if it came from a great distance. But it was her voice.
Harun gasped. “Arahime-chan?” Still hardly daring to believe.
He stood still, frozen, afraid that she would melt away like snow if he even dared as much as move. She reached up to remove the veil and he saw her face.
“Arahime!” It was her. The grey eyes, the smile slightly mocking him. But she looked different. Thinner, browned by the sun. It was her, and yet she was nothing like he remembered. He still didn’t dare move.
She stepped towards him, reaching forward to clasp his hand. Her touch was warm, reassuring him she was alive. She smiled at him again.
“I am not dead, please don’t forget me,” she said, her voice sweeter than music in his ears. “I am alive! I promised I would come back and I will. I’m trying to get back.”
Harun reached for her. He wanted to hold her in his arms. Hold her close so she could not be taken from him again. But she seemed to dissolve in his arms, fading away like mist.
She smiled at him as she faded, her smile reassuring that all would turn out fine.
“Remember me!”
He woke up panting, his hands flailing at the air. He was covered in sweat, but had the first real smile on his face in months.
She’s alive!
Her touch, her voice, her different appearance…these were all clues, clearly to show him that it was not just a dream. But a message, to tell him that she was alive.
And he knew he had to tell someone, at once is possible.
He sat at the table and got out pen, ink and brush. But as he started to from the words in his mind, he stopped. How would he explain this? The certainty he felt? On paper it would just be unconvincing, easy to dismiss as his own desires.
And he had promised his Uncle Kousuda he would say nothing of Arahime to Kyoumi. It would only hurt her, distract her from her duties as Voice of the Emperor.
He sighed and put away the writing materials.
If she is trying to get out, then it could be a long time before she can tell anyone, he thought, they’ll send word as soon as they can, until then I can only wait…

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:29 pm

Spring went into summer without any word, even from the letters and dispatches Harun got. Harun tried not to worry, tell himself it might take a long time for Arahime to leave the jungle, and longer still for word to reach Rokugan from Zogeku, but it was difficult.
One afternoon, one of the bushi came back from a patrol in the mountains with a report that disturbing Harun had to see for himself. He rode off on his horse, into the mountains to one of the few hamlets…and he could see the columns of smoke before he saw it.
Every house had been burned to the ground, the fires were almost out but the damage had been done. There was debris everywhere, as if they had been looted. But in the middle of the houses was the most horrifying sight of all: the bodies of the villagers. They lay in a heap on the ground, men, women, children, the elderly…each of them had their throat cut, each of them imprinted a black handprint. The mark of the Black Hand, the fanatics that followed his mother Yamada and the Obsidian Hand himself Shiba Michio.
He turned to Kitano. “Gunso, is there any trace of those who did this?”
“Not yet Chui, we are searching nearby,” Kitano answered. “But in the mountains it is a little harder to track.”
Harun nodded. The Black Hand were known to strike from the dark and return to it, leaving no trace for anyone to follow. “Whoever did this can’t be far,” said Harun. “Let’s burn the bodies, give them the mercy they were denied.”
He watched the flames consume them, was this the work of his mother? Would the Black Hand strike again? He didn’t like the answers to those questions.
Back at Seawatch, Harun increased the patrols and kept everyone on high alert. They could find no trace of the Black Hand, so they spread the net even wider.
Then one evening, Kitano returned from a patrol. He came to Harun and said he had a prisoner.
“A woman surrendered to us, a ronin I think. But she will only speak to you, Chui,” the Gunso said. “She gave me this.”
He handed Harun a chop, Harun examined it. It took all his concentration to not gape. He knew this chop, it was all over the correspondence in the chest in his room. It was his mother Yamada’s.
She’s here…my mother…
“Take her to my quarters,” said Harun, managing to keep his voice even. “I will question her myself.”
He went to his room, waiting when the bushi arrived with her. His mother…whom he had never truly met before. The bushi handed her swords to Harun. They looked old, as if they had not been hers to begin with, banded with purple silk. The mempos were decorated by a herd of running horses. The daisho of an Utaku Battlemaiden.
“Leave us,” Harun said, his voice like ice. “I will call if I need you.”
The bushi left wordlessly.
Harun took a long look at her, this woman, his mother, whom he had heard so much about and didn’t really know. She was tall, her hair long and dark and caught in a fox tail. She wore a completely black kimono with a purple obi tied simply. Her face was cool and calm, impenetrable and seemingly unaffected by emotion.
Harun felt as if he had waited for most of his life more this moment, when he would be faced with his real mother whom he could get the answers he needed. Karasu, Hitomi, Zetsubou and others had told him the truth but now he could see for himself.
But he never thought he would feel like this, at least not until recently knowing what he now knew about her. Knowing what she had done. Harun felt horribly cool, and yet hated himself for it. This was his mother after all.
He looked her directly in the eyes. “Mother.”
“Harun, my son.” Yamada took a step towards him, Harun instantly drew back. She stared at him in shock. “What?”
“Why are you here?” Harun’s voice was cold, his voice colder.
Yamada took a deep breath. This young man, her only son, the image of her own father but for his eyes which were Nakura’s. But that was where the resemblance ended. She saw some of Karasu in him, his implacability and how he used his words and demeanour like a weapon. But she also saw something of herself in him, that fire, the energy that could never be quenched, that rage that could be so easily roused.
Two mothers, two fathers…he’s all of them and still himself…
She had dreamed of this for so long, at last coming face to face with her son, the last legacy she had of her fleeting marriage to his father Nakura. All she wanted to do was take him in her arms. Ask him about herself, his life, his hopes and dreams. It looked like this was not going to happen.
“Harun, you have every right to demand answers for me for what I have done, and what I have done to you,” she said. “I will give them to you, anything you ask. As for why I am here, well…I came to see you.”
Harun didn’t answer her, he just stood there, judging.
“I know about Toshi Ranbo,” she continued. “I know what you did, and why, and that is why I am here now.”
“I needed to answer for my actions,” Harun said. “I was wrong to do what I did.”
Yamada nodded in approval. “Karasu raised you well.”
“I could arrest you, you know,” said Harun. “We found the Black Hand’s work a few days ago, not far from here. I would have every right to hold you here and get the magistrates to inform my father.”
His father…That hurt a little, even if it did that happen to be true.
“But you haven’t,” Yamada pointed out. “The fact that we are here, alone, tells me that you won’t. Besides, what you saw wasn’t the work of the Black Hand. They were bandits, using it to just kill and terrorise.”
“And how do you know this?” Harun demanded.
“Because I killed them,” Yamada answered coldly. “As happens to all who use the banner of the Black Hand falsely.”
“And me?” Harun asked. “I know what you have done, Mother, all the deaths, the murders…the people you flayed alive. I know it was you who killed the Shogun mother. And you now you come here. Am I to be a victim of your judgement?”
“No,” said Yamada. “You have admitted your mistake and sought to atone for it. That makes you save from the Hand’s wrath, my son.”
“I feel so honoured,” said Harun bitterly. “To be spared by you, after all you have done, after all the people you have murdered And to be spared by Shiba Michio, the one who took you from me.”
“My son, you don’t understand what happened all those years ago. Why I gave you up—” Her voice caught in her throat. “I died that day, my life ended the day you were gone from me.”
“Then why?!? Why did you do it?” He threw the words at her like weapons, beating her down with his anger, his pain.
“To save others from this duty,” said Yamada. “A samurai’s life is sacrifice, you know this too. I did this so that no one else would have to. But there’s more, I wanted you to have the life your father and I could no longer give you, the one that we planned but was torn away forever when he was killed. Karasu could give you what I could not and protect you from harm.” She looked him up and down and gave a small smile. “And I when I look at you, my son, I cannot help be proud of you and the man you have become.”
Harun shook his head. “You don’t get it, do you? You talk about duty, what about yours to me? You gave me up! You left! That is not something that you can just wish away.”
Yamada nodded, his words cut sharper than any blade. “I won’t deny this,” she said. “But you must know we wanted to spare you from this. We inherited this world from our parents, their mistakes, their consequences. We have passed on our own for you, our children, to redeem, and that is the worst failure of all. I never wanted you to fight, Harun, I wanted you to live.”
“And yet here we are,” said Harun dryly.
Yamada closed her eyes, trying to not look disappointed. This was not what she had planned, but perhaps this was what she deserved. Her reasons for her actions did not change the fact that she had done them. And here she was, being called to account for the first time in many years, whose voice she could not possibly could not ignore.
She looked at her son, so like her, full of the fire that drove him to use his sword to fix things, burned with the realisation that it was sometimes best to keep it sheathed. There was nothing she could do, she couldn’t help him.
“Harun, there is nothing I can say to change the hurt that I have caused to you,” said Yamada. “I admit, I came to you tonight to seek your forgiveness, you have shown me why this is wrong.”
She went to leave, Harun gave her the swords but did not move. The bushi barred her way, Harun signalled for them to stand aside.
“Chui, should we follow?” Kitano asked.
Harun shook his head. “Let her go, the killings at the village were not her.”
Kitano looked at Harun in surprise. “How do you know this?”
“She told me,” said Harun. “And she is samurai.”

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Dec 01, 2018 6:18 am

The next day, they continued to search for any sign of the bandits that had raided the village. In the forest, they discovered a tree that had had some of the bark cut off with a knife, then another not far beyond. They followed the trail to a clearing where the bodies of the bandits laid, their throats cut and what they had stolen from the village heaped into a pile.
Harun frowned as he looked at the bodies. His mother’s work, it was right but the fact that she had done this made him feel uneasy. He made sure the bodies were burned safely before they left.
Back at Seawatch, Harun made a report of what had happened to be sent with the next dispatch that arrived. Hopefully, this next one would have news of Arahime. But it came and went without any word of her. He started to doubt his dream. Perhaps it wasn’t real, just created from his own desires.
The summer went on, they days lengthened. Harun did his best to keep his mind occupied and not stop everything when he heard the sound of a horse’s hooves. Training at dawn each day, drilling his men who seemed to be improving under the new conditions Harun set.
Then on an afternoon when he was returning from a patrol, Kitano met him outside the castle.
“There’s an official messenger for you, Chui, just arrived,” he said. “I can see to your horse.”
Harun’s heart leapt as he dismounted. “Thank you, Gunso.”
He headed quickly inside. The messenger was waiting for Harun in the overgrown courtyard. His name was Toku Ichijo, a yoriki from his father, dusty and winded from the road. He bowed and presented Harun with the letter sealed with his father’s mark.
Harun held it in his hands, his heart beating fast.
“You have come a long way, Toku-san,” he said. “Rest, bathe and refresh yourself. I’ll send a reply in the morning.”
He waited until Ichijo left and then opened the letter. It was short, just a single line that looked as if it had been written in haste.

Arahime is alive in Zogeku. Kousuda is with her. More to come.

Harun read it again, then three times. He had been waiting for this, but it seemed almost impossible.
“She’s alive! She’s alive!” Hearing himself say the words made them even more
He sank to his knees, tears of joy streaming down his cheeks. All the months of pain and grief washing over him in a wave.
“She’s alive! Oh kami…she’s alive!”
He could see her face before his eyes like in his dream. Smiling at him, reassuring him.
“Chui? Is there something wrong?”
Harun looked up, it was Kitano. He looked a little concerned. Harun got to his feet.
“No, nothing wrong,” Harun said. “I…just got the best news I will probably ever get.”
And he told Kitano the whole story.

More word arrived a week later, and Harun could only marvel at Arahime more. She had brought word from the missing Phoenix Champion, Shiba Tsukimi, letters to guide the Phoenix Clan as well as the Celestial Sword Keitaku so a new Phoenix Champion could be chosen.
And there was more, after arriving in the Summer Court to present her message, she confronted the one who attempted to kill her and had been challenged to a duel to the death. And had won, despite being ill, injured and months out of training.
Oh Arahime…will you redeem what I have broken? Have you saved Iaijutsu?
There was no word yet on when she would return to Rokugan. Her long stint in the jungle as well as her illness and injuries left this uncertain.
Harun went to his window, looking southwards, over the sea, towards Zogeku.
I have to go to her… he knew that with absolute certainty…but I can’t leave here, this is my punishment…
Then Lord Shibatsu’s words came back to him…if you find your time there taxing, or if there is anything else that you might wish for...
Harun started to write a letter.

Three weeks later, Harun was in Kyoumi’s house in Otosan Uchi. It had not taken long for Lord Shibatsu to arrange his transfer and Harun had left Seawatch as soon as his replacement arrived. But he wasn’t to stay long in the capital, he would be heading south to Zogeku carrying dispatches for the Crane. Not a prestigious duty, but that was expected. And he was also a lot less visible out of Rokugan altogether.
He was looking forward to it with an eagerness he hadn’t felt in months. A new land, new things to see…and he could be with Arahime.
Kyoumi’s house was quiet when he arrived. Kyoumi had yet to arrive home from the Imperial Palace, Kousuda was still in Zogeku and Masarugi was in Crab lands with Prince Kiseki.
Harun was let in and sat out in the garden, watching the purple and white saffron flowers nodding in the late summer breeze. They had sometimes helped with the saffron harvest as children, Kousuda showing him and Arahime how to carefully extract the precious stamens without damaging the flower itself.
Arahime…such a relief to think of her again without pain.
The gate opened, Karasu came in. He looked rather tired but was pleased to see Harun. He also carried two practice swords.
“You got your passage?” he asked Harun.
“Tomorrow,” Harun said. “It should be good, I get to see a new place and see Arahime.”
Karasu laughed. “That’s your mother Yamada in you.”
Harun was quiet. “My mother…she came to me at Seawatch. We talked, it didn’t go well, but there were things I needed to say to her.”
“About you or about Michio?” Karasu asked.
“Both,” answered Harun.
Karasu sighed.
“Was I wrong, father?” Harun asked.
“No…no…” said Karasu. “If I had been in your position I might have done something similar. I may still get to, someday. But I knew her longer than you, Harun, I know what she had gone through. She lost her entire family while she was still a child, everything good and stable was taken from her. She never had a chance…but she made sure that you did.”
“That doesn’t excuse what she has done,” Harun argued.
“No, it doesn’t,” Karasu agreed. “But she does know what she is doing, by staying at Shiba Michio’s side she has spared us a much worse madness and wrath from the Obsidian Dragon. There is no one that I would trust more with such a duty.”
Harun considered this. “You said it could end when the Jade Hand comes? She would be free of him?”
Karasu nodded. “It will, and I know what she will do once she is.”
Harun felt uneasy.
“Come on, if you are going to gaijin lands I want to see your form before you leave.” Karasu handed Harun a practice sword and went into the middle of the garden.
It had been a little over a year since Karasu had tested Harun in the dojo at Shiro Yogasha, but it felt like much longer. And in that year, as Karasu could see as he put Harun through his paces, Harun had improved. There was a purity about him, honed through dedicated practice. As well as a new seriousness, a respect for the sword, a confidence that was there but didn’t need to flaunt itself.
The Crane will never see his true potential, what he could be, Karasu thought, but then, they will never see mine either.
“You have used your time at Seawatch well,” said Karasu.
Harun didn’t answer, he only bowed.
“I think…you are ready to learn the next Kakita technique,” said Karasu. “Speed of Lightning, it’s how you catch a slower opponent off-guard.”
“Father, is that allowed?” Harun asked. “I’ve been barred from the Kakita school.”
“You can never return, yes, but I will be your sensei now,” said Karasu. He added thoughtfully. “Perhaps it will be good practice for later.”
“What do you mean?” Harun asked.
“Never mind, I’ll explain later,” said Karasu. “Sheathe your blade, we need to start with your…”
“Breathing,” Harun finished, giving a smile.
Kyoumi sat on her porch, she had come home and had been watching the two for some time. Eventually they would notice her, but until then she wouldn’t disturb them. Seeing them together, it was so very gratifying, pain again replaced with hope for the future.
It’s healing, Kyoumi thought, but it won’t be the same, like kintsugi, it is stronger for its scar.

The next morning, Harun boarded the ship that would take him south. With him was a satchel of letters to take to Kousuda and the Crane Ambassador. On the docks he could see his father and mother.
He felt excited. A new land, a new adventure was ahead of him. But he would not waste this chance he had been given. He had to tell Arahime he loved her and not waste any more time. And then, one day, they could return to Rokugan, together at last.

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