A Letter to Hiruma Hiroko

Okaasan,

It is my hope that you have been well. I have heard the Shadowlands are unusually quiet of late and I am concerned that Fu Leng is simply amassing forces, but have no doubt that the Wall will still stand this year and for many years to come. Instead, I focus most of my worries on the state of my children.

Ume and I have agreed that Aneko and Ichiro need a firm, guiding presence in their lives and that lowly jisamurai cannot provide it. As we are currently engaged in war with the Crane we cannot give them the proper tempering a samurai requires, and Aneko especially is in dire need of it before she comes to train with the Kuni.

It is with this in mind that I write you, and make this humble request: You are no longer called upon to serve the Crab and cannot fight on the Wall. Ume and I would ask that you travel to Kitsu lands and oversee the upbringing of Aneko and Ichiro, so that they do not turn into another soft and untested samurai like the ones we see too often even on the lines of battle. The shame would be unbearable, and you are our best hope of avoiding this grim future.

[The letter is signed with Shiken’s mon; the hand crushing swords in its grip]

Reflections of a One Eyed Crane

Hanzo staggers back to his room and sits down on the futon, oh the barracks wasn’t terribly large, and honestly he couldn’t even sleep with his legs stretched out here, not without knocking something over. But, it was nice to have a place that was his.

Today…last night…it had been a failure. There was no other words for it. He had not been prepared, he had made assumptions that he shouldn’t have. If he had been faster, stronger, then a loyal Crane would still be with them.

The  coldly rational part of his mind that speaks in her voice tells him he’s being foolish. That it didn’t matter how fast you were when everyone was focusing fire on some one else. That he had done everything that could be expected of him.

But, the Daidoji protect. That had been the first lesson his father taught him. They are the defenders, the strong backs of the Crane. That restless knowledge tore at him. Choices had been made, but that changed nothing.

But they change everything Hanzo-kun her voice spoke

He takes off his eye patch, the smooth silk of the bands contrasting with the rough emblazoned leather that made up the front.  Looking at it, he remembers her words.

You would make a good Scorpion Hanzo, hiding all your pain and doubt behind that mask of stoicism…and using your scars to chase people away. 

At the time he had told her that she was wrong, that he chased no one away, that people had simply moved on while he had taken the time to adjust.  Oh he had always been…different. Too tall for a Crane really, no one had made him feel excluded, but every time he bumped his head on a too low door, or had to sleep in a place too small for him, he felt apart. The eye, the scars had just made it more noticeable. People didn’t like looking at him in the eye, they saw his scars and size…and assumed he was some lost Hida. Had his resistance to letting others in, made him blind to to things that he could have stopped? Was it his responsibility to atone for?

Hanzo continues to rub the patch of leather with his thumb.  If he had had both eyes, would Kakita Hajime still be amongst the living? If he had had both eyes, would she have been willing to carry on their affair?

It was pointless to dwell on what ifs. But, as Hanzo let his head rest against the wall, that didn’t stop him from doing that. The Daidoji protect, and if he was going to do that, he had to be better than he was. He couldn’t allow himself to be distracted by fake dreams any more.

Hanzo puts the eye patch back on, there was training to do.

A Letter to Usagi Soji

Father,

I have been in the neutral lands of the war zone for several weeks. I have comfortable lodgings, and have begun the tasks you wish. I have even met some samurai who I am coming to consider friends.

However, I have also seen great need, and pledged to do what I can to assist.

Our home is not under threat of this war, our lands are quite safe. Might I request that, if we have any surplus of millet or lesser grains, that would not burden our estate much, could a shipment be sent under escort, to the Shrine of Kenro-ji-jin? There is a settlement for refugees growing up there, and food will soon be scarce as the war goes on.

I know travel does not agree with you as it once did, but perhaps there is someone of the clan who might be spared? Also, as a gift to my hosts in these lodgings, I ask if you could spare several bottles of yuzu juice, from our grove.

If these requests are too much, I understand.

Please give mother my love and respect, and tell my siblings I miss them.

Your son,

Usagi Okita

Concerning the Capture of Kitsu Ume

Written on durable paper in bold, sharp strokes, this letter is delivered by a harried-looking messenger with the listed recipient being “The Crane Delegation”

 

To the Crane Delegation,

It has recently come to my attention that you have captured Kitsu Ume, illustrious Engineer of the 12th Yobihei Guntai. You are receiving this letter and not a parcel containing the heads of every Crane within walking distance because of your wisdom in capturing such a singular woman rather than kill her. I am surprised you have shown this kind of forethought after the way your failure of a Doji pushed the Lion past their breaking point. We are all aware of how that turned out: this conflict started, with the blood of soldiers on each side on his careless hands. The Doji are supposedly the greatest diplomats in Rokugan. Perhaps this reputation is mislaid.

In memoriam of past failures, I write this letter to caution the Crane against further mishaps; specifically in regards to the treatment of Kitsu Ume. I am sure you know the proper etiquette for the treatment of honored guests, but I am not sure you know what proper retaliation for her mistreatment will entail. In order to enlighten the Crane Delegation and minimize mishaps, please consider the following:

If Kitsu Ume is not fed, those responsible for her starvation will have their throats crushed.

If Kitsu Ume is found to have been abused during her stay, those responsible for her pain will have their arms twisted from the socket and irreparably damaged.

If Kitsu Ume is killed while under the protection of the Crane, or during prisoner returns, those responsible will live long enough to have the heads of everyone they care for sent to them, one by one, until they are alone in this world. Then, and only then, they will die.

Last and least, Daidoji Chôzaburô – Seek me out when the Lion and Crane armies clash once more. I will do to you what the Wall has done to so many worthless Daidoji in the past. Numbers will not protect your neck this time.

[Shiken’s chop, a red-lined stylized version of his Mon]

A letter to the Crane Clan Nokodo

Honorable and fair Crane clan Nokodo. I wish to beg your well known forgiveness for not following the established protocols for communicating with you in this way.
This one is Matsu Mayuko Daughter of Matsu Emiko and Matsu Kai I was promised a husband as a part of a treaty reaffirmed 25 years ago. I know that this is deeply impulsive and maybe foolish. But in my defense I have for two years since coming of age awaited the name of my future husband from among the ranks of your clan. I beg you to consider not my impulsiveness or breaking of rules and understand my situation and please give this man’s name and family so I might speak to him via my letters. I know the conflict between our people preclude any sort of marriage now. But this war will not be forever and having his name will give me hope for what the future might mean for my family.

A foolish but honest Matsu Mayuko. <chop>

The letter lacks artistic flairs or the like and is simply written in a careful to make certain the words are legible.

On the Matter of Walls and Heads

To Akodo Yumiko-gunso

in care of Matsu Dainichi-nikutai

Kitsu Ume-hohei, engineer 12th yobihei guntai, encountered one Togashi Oyama-san in the messenger’s post near the border.  He asked after her skills in the construction of fortifications, as the reputation of a Kaiu engineer precedes even the lowliest of their numbe.  Unsure as to the propriety of planning defensive works for the brothers at the temple to Kenro-ji-jin, she writes to seek permission to send them plans for an earthen berm surmounted by neat wooden fighting positions that would deter bandits and perhaps light cavalry of the Crane, but pose a Lion force no difficulty should matters come to that.

For herself, and her husband, Kitsu Ume requests the honorable Akodo-gunso’s permission to establish a place in camp that one might display trophies taken in battle.  Such displays at the entrances to Kyuden Hida, or even Shiro Matsu remind us of our place, the price of disobedience, and give glory to those who have struck down enemies of the Lion.  To save on yari she had thought to use bamboo stakes and those spearheads deemed too bent or dulled to be re-affixed to proper shafts.

This one serves at your pleasure, glory to the 2nd Matsu Army!

[chop] Kitsu Ume

A Report From Shiro Matsu

Our trade delegation returns with grim news, and without our leader. In his absence this humble assistant will attempt to relay in detail the occurrence of our fateful night. The sky had held a tremendous storm all day, but did so with great resolve so that none thought the clouds might break and let lose what they held.

I do not know if Doji-sama or Matsu-sama had a chance to reflect on those clouds while they spent all day in negotiations. They emerged in the evening, and the delegation prepared to go through the courtly procedures of officiating and making final the fruits of those negotiations.

I do not know if Matsu-sama had already resolved herself to toss aside not just the hard work of our courtiers, but the 23 years of friendship they looked to continue. I would have asked why the events of that night came to pass if I were not certain I would have met my end, and equally certain that even Matsu-sama herself was uncertain what specifically evoked her outburst.

What I do know is that after Doji-sama laid out the entire length of the treaty elegantly and accurately from memory. Matsu-sama rose, and instead of the agreement which I believe everyone present expected to hear, she offered only an outburst of rage and villainy. Doji-sama responding with all the honor and courtesy such lack of On would allow. He uttered a poem, which I will recount below, and atoned for his part in this failure with a samurai’s end.

“A peace that lasted
an entire generation:
arrogantly shunned,
thrown recklessly to the flames.
Overweening pride
has made of me a failure…
How my great ancestors weep.”

  Accusing our clan and her own of living in decadence with soft hands and soft words, Matsu-sama drew her katana and acted as second to Doji-sama as our delegation had come respectfully prepared for peace and could not do as she did.

Giving us only an hour to leave her lands and ending court abruptly, We had little time to take the necessary actions to prepare for departure from Matsu-sama’s holdings. In the brief moments before our delegation left the great hall, I can tell you that the Lion samurai there assembled were most over-joyed with this turn of events. Reveling in the opportunity to match their Host’s blood thirstiness, and making proud and wild claims about how they would crush the Daidoji set against them. I can only wonder if we are at part responsible for this display of ignorance for spending so many long years treating them with kindness. I did not hear any similar claims about their future successes against the Kakita likely because we had more than one present who would have been able to quickly correct them.

With Matsu-sama riding at dawn behind us I wrote down this account before I even saw to my belongs. There was little for us to say, and few words to put to work in such a time, but I found my mind filled with a poem as a watched the scene unfold which I hope can assist this letter in providing some sense of what the moment felt like to those Crane present.

We will leave tonight,
and ride home in the darkness,
while you wait for dawn.