Some delightful correspondance from citizens of the Emerald Empire… and its Colonies!
Scenes from the Empire
By Yoon Ha Lee, Nancy Sauer, and Shawn Carman
Edited by Fred Wan
Shiba Iaimiko-san, greetings on this windy drizzly day. In truth, I don’t mind the rain. We are all too accustomed to dry warmth during this part of the season, and while the plains of the Lion are beautiful during all times of the year, it is pleasant to be reminded of you. Of course, I imagine that the sprinkling of rain we’re experiencing here have nothing on the monsoons that are said to afflict the Colonies.
In any case, I quite enjoyed your account of the overland journey, and I’m grateful that you experienced no undue difficulties, despite the small matter of the fermented fruit. I remember an old bushi telling me about the time his horse got drunk from some windfall pears that had been neglected for too long. At the time I was a small child and I assumed that any horse that really wanted to get drunk would go after some proper sake, so he must have been embellishing the story. Ah, youth.
I trust that you are settling in well and that there have been no more undue incidents involving fruit. The Colonies must have different fruit, surely, as a result of the different climate? Interesting to contemplate the logistical implications of the growing seasons there as well. I am sure the Phoenix to pay attention to such details, of course.
On to your latest move. There’s a certain pleasure to copying out the board positions. It gives me a chance to meditate upon the emerging patterns. I sense that something is making you nervous, however. I’m not certain what you were trying to achieve with Black 12. You won’t be able to hem me in that way, and it’s a waste of a move. Two positions that are practically side by side can look identical in strength to the amateur, but there is a world of difference in their strategic strength. Can you see where the nearby vital point is, closer to your established stones in the upper right? Regardless, let’s play it out and see what becomes of this maneuver. Given the three-stone handicap, I trust you will be able to provide me with some challenge while you hone your own skills. I have enclosed a diagram with my next move, and this time I have taken care to use ink that resists the water rather better after what happened to the previous letter!
I am still mired in that old argument with a certain Matsu who will not be named about the efficacy of words as opposed to the efficacy of brute strength. The pinnacle of strength is being able to win without slashing things open, burning things to the ground, and in general sundering everything down to the last pebble, but this may be a wasted line of argument with regards to certain of my clansmen. I have attempted to recommend to her the example of Phoenix pacifism, also a wasted line of argument. Still, my old sensei used to remark that you get your best education from talking to people who hold beliefs completely contrary to yours. I can’t say it isn’t a trial, but I keep trying.
In the meantime, I look forward to your missives; it is so nice sometimes to speak to someone of like mind.
Ikoma Aimi-sensei, greetings from the Second City. In truth, I am writing this missive from a camp a few days out from the city’s boundaries, as the revered shugenja I was assigned to guard for the moment had heard of some interesting finds that he wished to investigate himself. More on this in a bit, as I think you will find it intriguing as well.
I have this sneaking feeling that I am in danger of frittering away one stone of my three-stone handicap in this match, but as my aunt always liked to say, you might as well spend your early years making stupid mistakes so you can get as many of them out of the way as early as possible. I also have to say that playing go, even correspondence go, under mildly adverse conditions must surely be good for something. There is an excess of small stinging insects right now, and while the honorable shugenja has put up some desultory wards, I think the local kami are under the impression that the air is supposed to be a soup of stinging insects and that the honorable shugenja is confused about the natural order of things.
In any case, you will surely divine the intent of my move–and by the way, the waterproof ink appears to be holding up quite well, although some of the paper looked like it would disintegrate if it were exposed to any more water–but it seems like a good time to reinforce the group in the upper left by extending. Someone told me once that Phoenix tend to be defensive players. I haven’t played enough of my clansmen to see if this is true, but I have to wonder if clan stereotypes are really as useful as everyone seems to think they are. Not that your recalcitrant Matsu would believe it.
In any case, the revered shugenja’s find: a board game. They seem to have been as popular in the Ivory Kingdoms as they are back home, although I doubt we will find anything to rival the elegance of go. But this board game is unusual in that the style of the board doesn’t match that of the local games we’ve looked at before. It was discovered in what had been a nobleman’s house, left in disarray mid-match. The board consists of two regions three spaces wide, but they are not equal in size, and they are connected by a sort of two-space-long bridge. The spaces themselves are decorated with dots and zigzags and either flowers or starbursts, hard to tell. We have been making inquiries of the locals as to how this game was played, but so far no one has any idea.
The revered shugenja thinks it may be possible to get the kami to tell him something about the game. However, it will take some coaxing, as they are prone to being coy. For my part, there’s something about the empty board that I find both disturbing and alluring. Far be it for me to be superstitious, but there was no other evidence of life in the house, not even so much as a rotting bolt of cloth. I hope our fate will not be the same.
I thought of you much last night. The moon viewing party I attended was predictably dull as far as the human company went, but the moon did not disappoint: it swam up through the grove of cherry trees on the near horizon, golden amidst their ghostly pale, and gradually became silver and distant as it mounted higher into heaven. It thrilled me to my heart, yet I could not help but think, “Ming-Gwok should see this!” Which is foolish, as you would have been looking at the same moon where you were, but still.
There was one humorous incident, caused by a hapless samurai who had clearly composed (or had commissioned!) his poems for the evening in advance. He proudly declaimed a tanka that referred to ‘time-withered plum trees’, and of course there wasn’t a single plum tree on the estate. It was very funny, and I expect the gossip will buzz for days about it, until someone else does something equally foolish. Beyond that the conversation was quite flat, and I missed your passionate lectures on the nature of the Obsidian Dragon–yes, I know, I used to roll my eyes when you started up, but I have learned the dangers of boredom since then. We do no appreciate what we have until we lose it; I’m sure the Tao says something to that effect.
I wish now I would have devoted more time last winter to discussing the natures of dragons, and of the Lords of Death, with you. To be in harmony with the Celestial Heavens should be the goal of every samurai: how else could one understand how to best serve one’s lord? And yet I fear too many samurai neglect this duty while trying to fulfill other ones.
Please write as you are able. Conversation is a treasure, but letters have their own substantial charms.
I did not see the moon you referred to. There was a storm that night on the coast of the ruined Kingdom. I think you would have liked it, though. The wind whipped the waves to such towering heights that most of the other passengers were either very sick or praying desperately to the Seven Fortunes for aid, or both. The ship was crewed by your clan-brothers, and they were much calmer about it. A few of them were quite admiring of the force of the storm, calling it “a rare treat” or “a nice show of the Thunder”. My attempts to question them on the theological issues presented by the Thunder Dragon were unsuccessful. They kept making excuses about needing to see to the ship and hurrying off.
I do not see the humor about the plum-tree. Deception is a serious flaw in the soul of a samurai, and one who could lie about poetry could lie about many other things. When you see this person again you should warn them about the this, and how the Lords of Death will show no pity on those who deceive their lord or kin.
I am writing to you now from the Second City. A large fraction of the population are members of the Spider Clan. As a result, I have now discovered that few if any Spiders show reverence for the Lords of Death. Unacceptable! I am trying to gain the regard of a few of the more thoughtful among them, so that I can understand the reason for their disrespect. Once I have finished scouting I can plan a proper campaign.
I pray that the Lords will judge you kindly,
I read your letter with some trepidation. Consorting with Spiders can not possibly be a good thing; the Empress sent her to the very fringes of her Empire and who can contest her wisdom on this? And anyway their souls will, I presume, go to Daigotsu’s judgement when they die so I do not see how they are slighting your Lords.
The storm you were in sounded thrilling! I am sorry I did not see it, but I have managed to enjoy a few here. Lady Moshi sent me to visit a shrine on the Phoenix coast which consisted of a small building on the shore and a line of large boulders that led off into the sea; the tallest among them stood as tall as a man over the waves when the tide was at its highest. I perched on that one as a storm came it, and let rain and wind-borne wave drench me as lightning played across the heavens. Oh, to be a poet and share that feeling of purity with the world! The Phoenix priests who cared for the shrine were terrified for my life. Silly Phoenix! Who could, or should, fear death at such a moment?
I have heard rumors that the clothing of the Second City residents is simply scandalous. Please report back on this; I am having trouble believing some of the stories I have heard.
During the warm months the residents of the Second City wear thinner clothing and far less of it than is considered decent in the mainland Empire. I find the effect is especially striking in women. However, it is somewhat disappointing to me that a woman who has bared her limbs out of practicality seems far less alluring than one who has done so to provoke. I report because I think it is odd, and I know odd things amuse you. I have secured for you a few of the kimono that are now fashionable here and will send them along with this letter.
I cannot understand your attitude towards the Spider. When the Empress recognized Daigotsu she granted him the same dignity as the Fortune of Smallpox. We customarily avoid those who attend those shrines, but only the small-minded would deny them a part of the Celestial Order. In the same sense the Spider are now subject to the earthly justice of the Empress’s magistrates. When they die they will be subject to the heavenly justice of the Lords. Making them aware of this will only make them better servants of the Empress.
The Phoenix who feared for your life were indeed foolish. Everyone finds a place to die. I hope you took the time to instruct them on the evils of cowardice.
I pray that the Lords will judge you kindly,
My dearest Kameyoi,
I have done it. I dared not hope that it might be true, but at last, it seems everything I have hoped for has fallen into place. For more than a year now I have been making careful inquiries into my clan’s operations and interests, struggling to encourage those few individuals over whom I had some tiny bit of influence to understand my point of view. The Crab lands are largely rebuilt, yes, but there are vast sections that are still in states of extreme disrepair, and we have taxed all that we have to the utmost in an attempt to bring things back to their normal condition. Finally, there are others who see things as I have always seen them. The answer, of course, lies in the Colonies. It is a rich, verdant land with more than enough to meet our needs. The Crab’s level of activities in that land so far has been extremely limited, but I believe that this is about to change. Now, finally, we are on the cusp of increasing our interest in the Colonies, and I will be one of those who make this happen.
The thought of leaving the Empire behind would not bother me in the least if it were not for the fact that I must leave you behind with it. I see you far too infrequently as it is, and this will only worsen the situation. Still, I know that it will be worth it. I know that I can ensure such results that the clan will have no choice but to acknowledge the wisdom of the decision, and I will be among those reaping the benefits! I will return to the Empire a hero! Which is to say nothing of the material rewards this endeavor will result in. I will have a palace such as has never been seen in the Empire, just for you. We will spend our days in it for the remainder of our lives, where I shall oversee interests spanning the length of Rokugan, and you can host courts that shall be the talk of the Imperial Court itself.
Toward that end, I have other news. It is even more grand, if such a thing can be possible! Your lord and Champion is making one of his visits to my lord Kisada this week, and I spied among the functionaries in attendance your father. I knew then that the Fortunes were smiling upon us, my love. I had the opportunity to speak with him and explain my intentions. He was disinterested at first, but I made my case with conviction born of our love. In the end, he agreed. You will not be promised to another for a period of one year, which gives me the time I need to return home victorious and secure your hand for my own. I assured him that upon my return I will be wealthy enough to ensure that your entire family can subsist on the dowry I offer for arranging my marriage to you. You deserve far more, but that meager offering shall have to suffice for now. I will have the whole of our lives to shower you with the luxury and opulence you deserve, after all.
Your adoring love,
My darling Tono,
I am overcome with joy at your letter. This is incredible news! Everything we had hoped for, it seems as if the Fortunes have granted. I find myself almost afraid to believe that it might be true, because I have been taught from childhood that duty to the clan is all. You know this as well, of course, for who could know it better than a Crab and a Scorpion? I have known my entire life that all I possessed would be given in service to my clan, and yet now that there is the possibility that I might marry my true love instead of some empty political arrangement, I feel giddier than I ever remember. I now dare hope that a life filled with service might bear its own rewards in addition to whatever joy I might find in the next life. Does that make me selfish? Or perhaps just foolish? I am not certain. I dare not ask my sensei, I know this much!
I am still in shock over the revelation of your arrangement with my father. He has never favored me, preferring instead my sister. I do not blame him, for she is beautiful, intelligent, and deadly with her words. In another family I might be favored, but here I shall ever be in her shadow, and I take no offense. By agreeing to that which you proposed, my father has at last shown an interest in my happiness, and for that I will forever be in his debt.
I wish that I could accompany you. I have no desire to see the Colonies, for I imagine that realm is wretched beyond imagining, but being apart from your side for so long is too terrible to dwell upon without risk for my sanity. Still, I am promised to assist the clan’s delegation in the court of the Doji this season, and beyond that there are rumors that I may be able to return to the Imperial Court in the winter, not merely as an assistant for a visiting dignitary, as I did last time when I witnessed the majesty of lord Nitoshi in court, but as a permanent fixture for the season! Can you imagine? It is a dream I dared never even give voice.
This will be a tie that can bring our clans even closer together, my love. We will be part of something that our children will talk about for generations. Even lords Nitoshi and Kisada will take notice of our accomplishments!