In the first of a series examining the status of the Great Clans at the beginning of Emperor Edition, we see the status of the Lion and Mantis clans.
State of the Clans, Part 1
By Shawn Carman
Edited by Fred Wan
The golden plains of the Lion Clan were at last beginning to resemble their name once again. For almost an entire generation, vast portions of the provinces had been depleted and nigh-barren. Now, finally, Ikoma Yamahatsu began to understand the name and reverence that his parents and their generation had for the land he called home. When he had been but a child, the fields to the west of his family estate had been gray and dead for years, and he had always wondered why it made his mother so sad to look upon them. It was a bittersweet realization.
On the horizon, another lone rider approached. Yamahatsu glanced up irritably, checking the position of the sun to determine exactly how late his contact was. It was only a small amount, but he considered punctuality a matter of great significance. In the fulfillment of his duties during times of war, should he be so fortunate to wage war for his clan during his lifetime, failure to keep a simple schedule could tip the scales from victory to defeat. Even if it did not matter this time, it might matter tremendously next time. Words would need to be said, the senior scout decided.
The other figure approached for at least a handful of minutes, allowing Yamahatsu to frame his words in an appropriately chastising tone without being overly stern. A younger soldier would learn nothing if he took it as punishment rather than the correction he intended. “I presume you have a reasonable explanation for your tardiness,” Yamahatsu called out.
The other figure pulled up as his steed finally reached Yamahatsu. “Indeed!” he called out, his tone gravelly. The man lifted his helm to reveal aged features and a wicked grin. “Do I have to tell you?”
“Hakige-sama!” Yamahatsu sputtered, feeling his face grow flush with shame. “My lord, I beg your most humble pardon. I would never presume to question a daimyo of the Lion Clan. Please, allow me…”
“Oh, Fortunes, spare me,” the Ikoma daimyo said, waving his hand absently. “I am a bit late, and you would be right to question anyone else.” He thought for a moment, then shrugged. “You are probably right to question me. I stopped to pay respects to an old friend along the route and he offered a gift.” He patted a clay bottle at his belt, then pointed to the chrysanthemum mon on Yamahatsu’s armor. “Besides, you are an Imperial. Remember?”
Yamahatsu frowned and looked down. “I prefer to think of myself as a Lion, my lord.”
“And the Lion are better for it!” Hakige said boisterously. “You are uniquely suited to reach across the divide between the Lion and the Imperials. How else would the Shadow of the Pride ever become such an essential component of our military?”
Yamahatsu looked away to the horizon. “There are many great men among the Shadow of the Pride,” he said. “I am but one. I am greatly blessed to serve men of great skill, and to have men of great skill serving me. Nothing more, my lord.”
Hakige shrugged and took a drink of whatever it was that was in the bottle. “Well, always better to have vassals who do not realize their importance than those who believe they are too important, I suppose.” He glanced around the fields. “It does my old heart good to see them golden again.”
Yamahatsu nodded. “I had never seen it before, but I share your feeling just the same.”
“When I was a boy, these routes were patrolled by entire squadrons, not lone riders.” Hakige’s tone was wistful. “May those days come again as well.”
The younger man glanced at his lord. “I have heard rumors that Dairuko-sama is considering eliminating the restrictions on childbirth.”
Hakige laughed bitterly. “If my mother had lived to hear such things implemented in the first place, I believe the shock might have killed her.” He glanced at his kinsman. “You might be surprised to know that my mother was really quite traditional.”
“Of course,” Yamahatsu said diplomatically. “Were the restrictions put into place because of the war?”
“Partially,” Hakige said. “I am surprised you do not know this already.”
“Most do not wish to talk about it,” Yamahatsu said. “I have seen several Matsu grow… irritable… when the topic arises.”
The older man chuckled. “After the Destroyer War, our ranks were weakened as they never had been before,” he explained. “The only thing more devastated than our ranks… were our lands. Undead swarms were common, and the blight upon the land was horrendous. Even today, our plains have only just started to indicate they are recovered. Before now, it would have been foolish to lift the restrictions. Now, however, there may be a chance.”
“Concerning your mention of undead, I have heard a tale,” Yamahatsu said cautiously. “They say that a lone farmer in one of the southern provinces died alone, and no one discovered his body. They say… they say that when he rose again he wandered into a nearby village and killed two people.”
“Regrettably true,” Hakige said. “Even now, so much later, there are still those who rise again when they are not cremated in a timely manner. The Kitsu are baffled. I understand that the Phoenix were even consulted, but to no avail.”
For a long time, neither man said anything. “Perhaps one day my children will not suffer the aftereffects of the war,” Yamahatsu said.
“Oh no, I am quite sure there will be another war for them to endure by then,” Hakige said.
Hours later, the two men rode through the gates of Kyuden Ikoma together, the frigid twilight breeze serving as their heralds. Attendants were there at once to take their steeds, and the men dismounted, too weary for words. Hakige glanced over to see a number of very fine horses that were being walked and dressed as if for travel. Frowning, he gestured to one of the attendants. “Whose horses are those?”
“Those are mine, lord Ikoma.”
Hakige turned to the voice and blinked. “Oh. Forgive me, my lord. I did not realize you were taking your leave.”
Iweko Seiken smiled. “I have enjoyed my time among the Lion, as I ever do. But there is business that requires my attention in the capital city, and I cannot tarry any longer.”
“Of course, my lord,” Hakige said with deep bow. “The Ikoma are always delighted to receive the Imperial heir. You are welcome here always.”
“My thanks, Hakige-san,” Seiken said. “Unfortunately it might be some time before I can return. I have training with the Scorpion Clan to the south next month, and some time among the Crane following that.” He smiled. “I prefer the company of my father’s kinsmen, but you can understand my obligations are considerable.”
Yamahatsu bowed deeply. “It was my pleasure to serve you during your stay, my lord,” he said. “I do not envy you your duties, spending so much time among the different Great Clans.”
“It can be difficult, but rewarding,” Seiken said. “Each clan has its strengths. Each of the true Great Clans, that is.”
“Yes, well,” Hakige said, clearing his throat anxiously. “I understand your younger brother will be returning home in the spring, will he not?”
“He will,” Seiken said, completely devoid of any emotion. “My parents are of course delighted.”
“A heavy burden, his duty,” Yamahatsu said morosely.
“I have no doubt my brother will have endured his time among the Spider well,” Seiken said. “He was ever a sturdy child, when we were younger.”
“The Colonies,” Hakige said with a frown. “No place for a child, and certainly not with the Spider.” He glanced at the Imperial heir. “No offense intended.”
“None taken,” Seiken said.
“I am sure that there are many who find great purpose and value in the Colonies,” Yamahatsu offered.
“I am certain,” Seiken said. “However, I have no idea who such people might be.”
* * * * *
Yoritomo Kanahashi stood on the pier and looked out over the horizon at the vast, unknowable ocean. The sea was perfect and undisturbed, a straight line that extended east-to-west all along the south. Kalani’s Landing was constructed on the southern coast of the Colonies, and while it was not that large of a city compared to some, it was large enough that there were times when Kanahashi felt stifled. Staring at the sea always gave her a feeling of home, and so she took opportunities when they presented themselves. It was a minor indulgence, but then someone of her position could afford to allow herself such things.
But of course such things never lasted.
With a brief sigh, Kanahashi turned away from the vista to where her personal yojimbo, a brute of a man who rarely spoke, gestured toward a rider approaching at full speed. It was dangerous and foolish to drive a horse to such speed so close to the shore, so it must be something important. Her yojimbo stepped forward, hand over his weapon, but she called out to him. “Be at ease, Kanaye.”
Silently, perhaps grudgingly, the massive warrior stepped back, and Kanahashi moved toward the end of the dock. “I presume you are looking for me, then,” she called out as the man disembarked from his horse.
“I am looking for the Mantis Champion,” the man said, his own mon revealing that he was not only a Mantis but a Tsuruchi and a magistrate. “Where is he?”
Kanahashi gestured to the sea behind her. “He departed almost an hour ago,” she replied. “Hiromi-sama had pressing business in the Empire and could stay no longer.” She peered at the man for a moment. “Tsuruchi Samuru, is it not?”
“It is, my lady. Are you the governess?”
She heard Kanaye quietly scoff behind her, but ignored it. “There is no governor in Kalani’s Landing. Authority here is held by the senior magistrate, and that is my position.”
“Of course,” Samuru said with a bow. “Forgive me, my lady. I have not been in the Landing in many years. I had forgotten. A foolish oversight.”
“Understandable,” Kanahashi said. “As I recall your skills are more suited to the wilderness, and even if they were not, time spent in the Second City can dull the instincts of even the finest magistrates.” She watched carefully for his reaction.
Samuru frowned very slightly, but otherwise did not react to her barb. “You have me at a disadvantage, my lady.”
“How thoughtless of me. I am Yoritomo Kanahashi, senior magistrate of Kalani’s Landing. I remember you from the dojo back in the Islands of Silk and Spice. Your class was a year or two ahead of mine, as I recall.”
Samuru stared at her silently for a moment, as if studying her. “Your hair was longer then,” he finally said. “You frequently wore an unusual color. Was it red?”
“It was,” she said, smiling despite herself. “Stories of your prowess are not exaggerated, it seems. I am pleased to hear that. We are a clan in need of heroes, particularly in the Colonies.”
“Thank you, magistrate-sama.”
Kanahashi smiled and gestured toward the city. “Kanaye, will you summon an attendant for Samuru’s horse? Thank you. Samuru-san, follow me if you please.” The two magistrates began walking back through the city toward the magistrate’s office. “What brought you to see the Champion, if I may ask?”
Samuru’s smile seemed strained. “Lady Moshi in the Second City had some further considerations she wished to present to Hiromi-sama.”
Kanahashi raised an eyebrow. “Did the Champion not spend nearly a week within the Second City, making arrangements for everything that he wishes to see done within the Colonies?”
“He did,” Samuru confirmed.
Kanahashi’s laugh was bright, but tinged with a hint of bitterness. “I see little has changed in the Second City since my time there. The Sun Priestess still drastically overestimates her importance in all things.” She glanced at the man walking beside her. “Do they still call her that?”
Samuru would not meet her gaze. “I… I would not know,” he said. “I spend very little time within the city. I only arrived after the Champion left. The Lady Moshi selected me to convey her message because of my reputation for rapid travel.”
“A reputation well-deserved, I would say,” Kanahashi replied. “What did she wish to discuss with the Champion, if I may ask?”
“I have not read the papers she entrusted to me,” he replied, his tone slightly defensive. “However, I am given to understand that it has something to do with his plans concerning the group of students expected to undertake their gempukku in the spring.”
“Ah,” Kanahashi grimaced somewhat. “The Champion’s plan is certainly bold.”
Samaru looked at her quizzically. “I am not familiar with the plan. May I ask what it is?”
“As you are doubtless aware, we have a significant problem with lack of manpower,” Kanahashi said. “We lost many lives in the war, after all. Not as many as most, but then we did not have the numbers they did in the first place, so the problem remains one of scale.”
“I have heard that at least a quarter of the Fourth Storm remains unused,” Samuru observed.
“Correct,” she confirmed. “We simply do not have the crew necessary for such things. Fortunately, of all the clans we are probably the one with the most significant history of… shall we say aggressive procreation? So the upcoming crop of students is I think a quarter again larger than any in recent memory. It will alleviate the strain upon our ship crews significantly.”
“How does Lord Hiromi’s plan change this?”
“It is primarily a matter of priority,” Kanahashi explained. “He feels that the Colonies, while essential to the clan’s economy as a whole, are a more learning-friendly environment. Meanwhile, with the situation in the Empire such as it is, there are more dangers both politically and with the current Naga problem. He feels more experienced hands are necessary there. So, rather than sending our newly graduated samurai to the Empire, he wants them to take over operations here and we dispatch our more experienced crews back home to easy the burden upon the other Storms.”
Samuru considered it. “It seems sound, although there are obvious concerns.”
“It takes what would be a very delicate situation in the Empire and spreads the risks among both Empire and Colonies,” Kanahashi agreed. “I feel it is in the clan’s best interests. However, there are those among the clan’s leadership, those whose power and influence are more fully established within the Colonies, who are less interested in seeing their holdings placed in harm’s way, even if only slightly.” She glanced at him again. “Your patron in the Second City among them, I might add.”
“I am a magistrate,” he corrected. “I serve the clan. In this instance, I acquiesced to her request because it served my interest to exit the city with all due haste. Beyond my duty as a man of honor, I have no particular affiliation with her or any other.”
“There is no such thing as an apolitical Mantis,” Kanahashi laughed. “I would think you would know that by now.”
“Enjoy my foolishness as you like,” he replied irritably. “We are in a land as yet untamed by law, and there are many who find themselves unhinged by such a place. Those who are weak, and who succumb to the temptation of lawlessness are my concern. I spend my days hunting them across the wilderness.” He looked at her pointedly. “If in doing so I find it easier to imagine that all within the cities and courts of both the Colonies and the Empire remain upon the righteous and selfless path, then that is my mistake to make.”
“My, my!” the senior magistrate laughed. “It seems the stories of your skill have left out a few things! Idealism in a man of your experience is a rare but delightful thing.” She smiled. “I will see to it you have an office prepared for your use within Kalani’s Landing. Any time you require resources for the completion of your duties, they will be made available to you, no questions asked. Within broad limits, of course.”
Samuru nodded. “If you do so out of a sense of largesse, then you have my thanks. If you think to recruit me to some political game, then I will respectfully decline.”
She lifted a hand. “My interest in facilitating your work stems from the fact that, as you say, perhaps only a quarter of this land has been truly tamed. Though many think otherwise, we are very much on the frontier here, and as one of only two clans permitted to make inroads into the unexplored territories, I think it behooves us all to have men such as yourself policing those who call the Colonies home.”
Samuru bowed his head. “You shame me with your consideration, my lady. Thank you, and I graciously accept.”
“Very good,” Kanahashi said. “These are Mantis lands, after all. We cannot permit lawlessness to prevail.”