In the final installment of this Emperor Edition series, we examine the current goings-on with the Crane and Phoenix clans. Ruthlessness in its finest, most courteous incarnation!
State of the Clans, Part 5
By Nancy Sauer
Edited by Fred Wan
Kyuden Isawa, Month of the Boar, 1196 IC
The gardens at Kyuden Isawa were nowhere as near as glorious as the famed gardens of Kyuden Doji, and yet even in winter they had a serene beauty that could not be denied. Isawa Shijiko strolled about, wondering how much of her preference for the Isawa gardens was based on their real virtues and how much of it was simple bias for home. Either reason was acceptable, but as a courtier she thought it important to know the difference.
“Ah, Shijiko-san, how pleasant to see you again.” Shijiko fixed a pleasant look on her face and turned to face the speaker. Isawa Kojiro was a cousin, an inconvenient fact that made him immune to most of the things Shijiko generally inflicted on fools who offended her.
“Thank you, Kojiro-san,” she said. “It is a pleasure to be here at Kyuden Isawa again. I have missed the gardens: they are so beautiful.”
Kojiro nodded. “It has been a few years since you have seen them, is it not? A long time to be away from home, but no one could you begrudge you it. It must be terribly painful to be in a place that reminded you so much of your lack.”
“I am sorry,” Shijiko said coolly, “but I am not aware of anything I lack.”
“I would suppose not,” Kojiro said. He had a slightly pitying look on his face. “Having never been able to hear the kami, you are ignorant of what power is.”
“I have served the Phoenix in courts all over the Empire,” Shijiko said. “I think I understand power quite well.”
“Temporal power, of course,” Kojiro said. “But power over mortals pales in comparison to being able to influence the spiritual realms.”
“Please excuse me, Kojiro-san,” Shijiko said. “I would love to hear more of your views on this, but I am afraid it is time for my daily devotions. I hope you will forgive me.”
“Of course,” Kojiro said, bowing. “Carry the Fortunes.”
Shijiko escaped after bowing and murmuring something polite in return. She hurried deeper into the garden, throwing herself down in front of the first shrine she found. Kojiro wasn’t the only one in her family to hold such opinions, he was just he most blatant in expressing them. It infuriated her. She understood quite well the power a talented shugenja could wield, but she had been in court long enough to understand also there were other powers in the world. To start wars or end them, to ruin a district’s prosperity through taxes or improve it by building a road, all these things and more could be done by influencing the men and women who ran the Empire. The only way to show them would be to inflict on them some harm, and that would be an unthinkable lapse of duty.
Taking a moment to settle her thoughts, Shijiko looked up at the shrine, feeling she had to give some reverence to whatever Fortune was giving her refuge. Toku, Fortune of Virtue stared down at her, a cheerful smile carved on his face and a large book clutched under one arm. Shijiko stared at him for a long moment and then she slowly smiled back.
* * * * *
Doji Shunya put down the tea cup and smiled at his hostess and his fellow guest. “Pearl Dew is said to be one of the finest of teas,” he said. “But in the presence of two women of such grace and beauty, who could remember what it tasted like?”
Shijiko laughed slightly, waving her fan at him. Doji Dainagon, seated at the third point of their triangle, made an elaborate show of hiding her face behind one of her sleeves. Shunya noted their reactions, pleased that he had judged the temperament of the two women correctly. Isawa Shijiko wasn’t on his current list of targets, and Dainagon was too low-status to be useful to him, so he had chosen to play the jester and poke fun at the courtly conventions of romance.
“I could spend no small time praising your grace and beauty, Doji-san,” Shijiko said, pouring Shunya more tea. “But alas, I feel the press of time and must move on to my business.”
Shunya glanced over to Dainagon and saw she seemed quite curious as to why Shijiko had invited the two of them to a private tea. Either she was truly as in the dark as Shunya himself was, or she was one of the better actresses he had met. If the latter, he thought, he would have to revise his opinion on her utility. “I am eager to know how I could be of aid to a lady of great quality,” he said.
“A lady of great quality indeed,” Shijiko said, “but not me. I speak of the Empress.”
“I had not heard you had been granted an Imperial appointment, Isawa-sama,” Dainagon said. “Allow me to offer my congratulations.”
“I do not speak in such a capacity,” Shijiko said. “I speak of the aid that all loyal samurai owe their Empress, to understand her will and to work always to see that it be done.”
“You words reflect honor on you, as much as if you had been honored by the Throne,” Shunya said. “What did you have in mind?”
“You know that when the Empress permitted Daigotsu to petition her mercy she did not flinch from the danger that his clan could bring to the Empire. She knew that it was honor that had maintained the Empire for all the centuries of its existence, and that honor would continue to protect it, Spider Clan or no Spider Clan.” Shunya and Dainagon both nodded at this, and Shijiko continued. “Of course, there will always be weak or confused samurai in the Empire, and left unguided they create a flaw that evil hearts could exploit. I propose, then, that a samurai of unquestioned honor be elevated to the status of a Fortune, to serve as a reminder to all of what honorable behavior is.”
“Your plan has great merit,” Shunya said, picking up his tea cup. “The history of the Empire is rich in souls worthy of this honor, though. How to choose whom to nominate?”
“I believe someone more recent would be most effective,” Shijiko said. “And the Imperial Histories are clear on this point: no one who knew him would doubt that Doji Kurohito was a wholly honorable man.”
Shunya couldn’t help himself: he froze with the cup raised halfway to his mouth. Glancing over at Dainagon he saw she was equally stunned. “A remarkable suggestion,” he said finally, turning his attention back to his hostess. “One that the Crane Clan will support, though I fear that other clans may not agree. The Crab, in particular, may dissent.”
“The Crab,” Shijiko said, and made a dismissive motion. “They are rightly admired for their determination in guarding the Walls, but no one consults them on bushido. There will be no shortage of Lion samurai to testify that Kurohito’s deeds were those of an honorable man.”
“That is true,” Dainagon said thoughtfully. “Mere border squabbles would not stop them; a Lion will always tell the truth about an honorable samurai, even if they are a bitter enemy. Better still, Matsu Kasei has told stories of Doji Kurohito at several of the Empress’s Winter Courts. The support of the Turquoise Champion will be most helpful in this.”
“I have already secured the support of my clan’s courtiers,” Shijiko said. “The Scorpion will not oppose us: that would be too obvious. With the Lion, the Crane and the Phoenix together we will have a significant bloc of influence. But having the support of one of the Imperial Families would be of great worth.” She looked at Shunya.
“Indeed, and I think I know of someone,” Shunya said. He noted to himself that Shijiko had taken his and Dainagon’s cooperation for granted, but given the nature of her project that was understandable. “Dealing with the Otomo is always a delicate business, though. We must plan our approach carefully.”
Shijiko smiled. “The exercise of power always calls for delicacy,” she said.
* * * * *
Kyuden Otomo, Month of the Horse 1197
“Your gardens are lovely, Kinmochi-sama.” Shunya swept out a fan to indicate a bank where wild roses bloomed in carefully manicured disorder. “I have rarely seen their equal.”
“Thank you, Shunya-san,” Otomo Kinmochi said. “They were designed by my wife, you know.”
Kinmochi’s wife was Shunya’s father’s cousin; he took the mention of her to mean that Kinmochi was inclined to be helpful to a member of her former family. “Please pass on to her my regard of her handiwork. She is surely a jewel of your household.”
“I certainly will. I–” Kinmochi’s next words were cut off by the sight of a young woman in a horrifically mismatched set of kimono and obi parading at the far end of the garden. A look of pain flashed across his face and he directed the two of them down a path in a different direction.
“That was your daughter, was it not?” Shunya said. “Your eldest?” Normally the polite thing to do would be to ignore her, but inspiration had seized him.
“Yes,” Kinmochi said. “She is headstrong and willful, and considers herself a visionary. My poor wife is at her wit’s end.”
“A pity that my friend Dainagon isn’t here,” Shunya said.
“The fashion plate? Yes, I am sure she would find my daughter a source of endless amusement.”
“A kindred soul, rather,” Shunya said. “I have heard Dainagon say that inside every unfortunate ensemble is a brilliant one needing a little guidance.”
“Really,” Kinmochi said. He looked thoughtful. The two men had strolled some distance before Kinmochi spoke again. “Since we speak of guidance, perhaps you would be willing to offer me some. You were at the past Winter Court at Kyuden Isawa, were you not?”
“I was,” Shunya said. “How may I aid you?”
“Did you make the acquaintance of a courtier named Isawa Shijiko?”
“Indeed, we had tea several times. A charming woman with an amazing collection of landscape paintings involving fishing.”
“Remarkable, I am sure,” Kinmochi said. “She has sent me a letter, appealing for my help in her effort to raise a hero of the Empire to the status of Fortune. She says that with the Spider allowed to roam about the Empire there is a danger of incorrect philosophies being loosed upon us.”
“Your influence in the Imperial Court is well known to those who are truly paying attention. This confirms my impression that she is a courtier of great skill,” Shunya said.
“My impressions are more mixed,” Kinmochi said. “The samurai she wishes to elevate is Doji Kurohito.”
“She holds my Champion’s grandfather in such esteem!” Shunya said. “I am greatly moved. Surely the Crane have never had a better ally than the Phoenix Clan.”
“I am greatly confused. Doji Kurohito showed his perfect devotion to bushido by chopping up Isawa’s daughter in the middle of the imperial throne room,” Kinmochi said. “Do you not find it odd that an Isawa would want to call attention to him?”
Shunya paused a moment, as if in thought. “Perhaps it should be taken as a measure of Shijiko’s sincerity. The Phoenix have always prided themselves on being the Empire’s experts in spiritual matters. If she thought that the threat were real, she would not hesitate to pursue the most effective means of protecting the Empire from it. No Isawa would.”
“Hmm,” was Kinmochi’s reply. “You could be right. The Empire has been unsettled since that unfortunate incident in the Scorpion lands. The Spider openly flaunt their worship of Daigotsu–reasonable enough for them; a grave dishonor for anyone else. Even the Brotherhood seems up in an uproar over this Fudo business. Perhaps an example of pure devotion to our ancestors’ ways is called for.” He fell silent for a moment, then continued. “But that still leaves the practical issues concerning such an elevation. For the Empress to write out the declaration is simple, but there are many ceremonies to go with it. Offerings, incense, priests, attendants, festivals–to do such a thing properly takes a great deal of koku. The Empire has made much progress since the Destroyer War, but there will be those who question the drain on the Imperial Treasury.”
“It need not touch the Imperial Treasury,” Shunya said. “The Crane Clan would be happy to bear all expenses, as part of our duty to honor Kurohito.”
“A most gracious offer,” Kinmochi said. “I am sure it will impress the Seppun.”
* * * * *
“Success on two fronts,” Shunya said. “I have secured a connection to Otomo Kinmochi for you.”
“Oh?” Dainagon looked up from the paper she was reading. Dressed in one of her finest kimono sets and surrounded by multiple stacks of written documents, Shunya thought she looked like a shrine to the Fortune of Logistics. “How so?”
“His eldest daughter suffers from poor taste. I passed along the thought that you might be of some help.”
“Ah, a challenge,” Dainagon said. “I owe you greatly–Kinmochi has been invited to the Empress’s Winter Court for the last five years. But you said two fronts?”
“As hoped, he brought up Shijiko’s plan. Reading him is always difficult–his bluster is almost always a front–but I have reasonable hope that I have convinced him that Shijiko’s effort is genuine, and motivated by pure love for the Empire.”
“As for that…” Dainagon’s voice trailed off as she tilted her head in thought. “Be that as it may. If you have won over Kinmochi then we will have the Imperials backing Shijiko’s petition. We have won.”
“Not yet,” Shunya said. “We have not yet received a response from Doji Makato.”
Dainagon stared openly at Shunya. “How could this ever be a problem? What samurai would not want to have a grandparent honored in such a way?”
“I am sure Makato would love to see Kurohito elevated to a Fortune. But Kinmochi wants the Crane Clan to bear the expenses, and he made it clear that the Seppun will not support it otherwise–Seppun Washi’s word carries too much weight.”
“You think Makato will refuse support because of the cost?” Dainagon’s tone was one of disbelief.
“Of course not,” Shunya said. “But he has only recently become Champion, and he is said to be brilliant in the courts. Trouble with the Mantis grows steadily nearer. Makato may decide it is in the clan’s best interest to negotiate for a better offer.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dainagon said.
“It matters greatly,” Shunya said. “Seppun Washi has little patience with such things.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dainagon repeated. She lifted a document off of a stack. “I have already calculated how much koku the necessary ceremonies will take. If we both liquidate all of our holdings, including our personal estates, the two of us together can cover it.”
“That will beggar us!” Shunya said.
Dainagon shrugged. “To aid in the elevation of a Fortune creates karma that will follow us though several lifetimes. nd if we are as clever as we think we are, our poverty will be short-lived.”
Shunya carefully placed both hands on the floor and favored Dainagon with a full, formal obeisance. “You are right,” he said. “We have won.”
* * * * *
Kyuden Isawa, Month of the Dog, 1197
“The decree has been published and now all the Empire is learning of the new Fortune of Perfection,” Dainagon said. “You have your success.”
“Allow me to congratulate you on your own success,” Shijiko said. “I understand that you will be accompanying Otomo Kinmochi’s family to Winter Court this year.”
“Indeed,” Dainagon said. “I…” her voice trailed off as she looked ahead on the garden path the two were walking. Following her gaze Shijiko saw Isawa Kojiro walking towards them. “Excuse me,” Shijiko said, and walked forward to meet him.
“Hello, Kojiro-san,” she said pleasantly.
“You,” Kojiro hissed. “That man! What did you think you were doing?”
“I was using my power to influence the spiritual realm,” Shijiko said. She took a moment to enjoy Kojiro’s reaction and then she spoke again in a low tone that only he could hear. “Clean your face, Kojiro-kun, we have company present.” Her fan flicked over to indicate Dainagon. Kojiro bit back his next words and instead whirled around and stalked back up the path.
“We were discussing Winter Court, were we not?” Shijiko said as she rejoined Dainagon.
“We were,” Dainagon said. “I am looking forward to the ceremonies of elevation–Makoto-sama has ordered no expense to be spared, though of course all things will be done with the restraint of good taste.”
“As one always expects of the Crane,” Shijiko said approvingly.
“There is one detail still be to be settled, however.” Dainagon drew a letter out of her obi. “I have written Makato-sama with the suggestion that he ask for a shugenja from your close kin be assigned to the temple for Doji Kurohito, as a sign of the Crane Clan’s gratitude to you and the Phoenix.” She passed the letter to Shijiko. “You have but to send him the name and he will personally ask the Isawa Masters for this.”
Shijiko smiled. “I know just the shugenja,” she said.
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