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Ditched - an Onyx Empire Story
I am not going to die here.
My name is Kakita Arahime and I am not going to die here.
I am a daughter of the line of Kashiwa and I am not going to die here
My line is the line of a hundred generations of Kenshinzen. A line of Empresses.
I descend from the blood of Yasurugi and Konoshiko. I descend from the blood of Kakita and the First Men. I descend from the blood of Doji-no-kami, daughter of Heaven.
I am not going to die here.
I will not abandon the daisho of Masarugi here. I will not abandon the blades of Kaori here.
I will not die in some hot, filthy jungle to be eaten alive by insects.
I am not going to let my mother and father mourn me.
I am not going to let Harun, that baka, ditch me without giving him a piece of my mind.
I am not going to die here.
I am not going to die...
I am not...
Spring, 1236 - Shiro san Kakita
The closing ceremony had been a slightly more subdued affair than it had been the year before. Most of the villagers had scattered. The glory of victory in the Topaz Championship had eluded the Crane, a disappointment. The Emerald Champion and his retinue had departed early; the war in Sparrow lands was going poorly, there were rumors of conflict in Otosan Uchi itself, and Kakita Karasu could not afford to be absent for long.
One by one, each participant in the tournament that had reached this point was called forward, received their daisho from a family member, and swore allegiance to the Clan Champion or appointed representative.
“Kakita Arahime. Step forward.”
She had been called second to last, the highest placing Crane in the Topaz Championship. She was met by her mother, dressed in her kimonos of white trimmed with blue and Imperial jade. She handed Arahime a daisho that seemed ancient. The saya was a beautiful pearl white, and the tsuba of the katana was gold with the image of a crane flying over a river scattered with cherry blossom.
“Your grandmother’s sword,” said Kyoumi, a soft smile curving her lips, and the young woman knew it was true. These were the blades of Kakita Kaori, a kenshinzen of unquestioned honor and the last kenshinzen of the direct line, her great grandmother. Arahime accepted with a bow and felt the weight of the responsibility of generations fall about her shoulders.
Arahime then went forward and knelt before the Crane Clan Champion, Doji Ayumu, offering her swords. “This one offers you, Doji-no-kimi, her oath of fealty, her life, and her sword to use as you see fit. This one wishes to serve you to the fullest extent of bushido and to follow you wherever you lead, as called Kakita Arahime.” She then bowed low.
Doji Ayumu accepted with a nod. “I accept your oath, Kakita Arahime, and the honor you will bring to the Clan of Doji.”
The new Topaz Champion, a Dragon, made his pledge to his own clan representative and all arose. Arahime turned to join her parents, but as she turned away, she was stopped by the sound of Lord Doji Ayamu's voice.
"Arahime-san. Kyoumi-san. Kousuda-san. Meet me this evening for tea when the celebration is finished. I wish to discuss your new assignment."
This was not something that could be refused.
The main gates to the village of Tsuma fell shut with a thud, and with that sound the Topaz Championship was, officially over and the celebrations had begun. Kakita Arahime watched them silently for a moment or two, willing them open again, but her baleful glare did nothing to move the gates or move the hearts of the gate guards who held them. She did not feel like celebrating.
"He didn't come."
Her mother laid a hand on the young woman's shoulder, her renowned voice speaking softly. "Events do not always happen as we want them to, Arahime-chan. It could have been anything. I am certain he wished he were here."
"If he wanted to, he would have made it." Arahime's words were more resentful than her heart truly felt. But they were flavored with disappointment and it left a bitter taste in her mouth. There could be only one Topaz Champion each year, and there was no dishonor in coming second. But she could not help but think that somehow, if Harun had kept his promise, she'd have been able to focus just a little bit harder, strike just that little bit more true, and have won the final match. It was not right for her to think so, but she felt it anyway.
She followed her mother in silence, ignoring the congratulations from the other students and visiting adults on her fine performance. When I see that baka again, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind, Arahime thought angrily.
If he's alive. He had no right to make her worry about him.
If he cares about me. He had no right to make her care about him. He had no right to make those fluttering feelings in her chest start whenever she thought about him.
If he hasn't run away to join the Unicorn for good.
A very plain tea set was laid out on the low table. There might have been a time when such a set would be considered too plain for a daimyo’s table, but the art had changed. This piece was simple and beautiful. Doji Ayumu was already kneeling on the opposite side of the table when Kakita Arahime entered with her parents. It was clear from the arrangement of the room that this was to be a quiet and informal conversation, despite the Champion’s high status. It was also clear that even the clan champion afforded Kyoumi and Kousuda a measure of respect.
They bowed to the Champion and took their places opposite him in silence while he poured the tea. The tea ceremony began in typical silence as each appreciated the subtle flavors of the tea. Arahime was confused, but did her best. Only once tea was poured and appreciated did Ayumu open the conversation.
“Do you like the tea? It was a gift from the Warlord in Second City. Our own tea plantations will take years to recover, but through our trade agreements with the Rinjin, we are able to have such small luxuries.”
Kyoumi’s eyes narrowed very slightly, but her smile was pleasant. “It is delicious. We are fortunate to have such trade agreements.”
Kousuda took a second sip. “The choice is interesting. This variety seems particularly auspicious for the occasion.”
Arahime was silent as the Champion nodded, pleased that his message had been sent. “Indeed. It was selected especially by our ambassador to the court of Second City. Doji Mushari is perhaps my finest ambassador, and has been for many years. Experienced. Intelligent. Able to speak several languages, and, more importantly, traverse the difficulties in understanding between us and the rinjin with grace of a dancer and the wit of a poet.”
Kyoumi accepted the compliment silently, while her husband noted, “I have shared some correspondence.”
Ayumu smiled. “Then I’m certain you have heard much from him about how well your wife’s poetry and stories are received in the colonies. She has made quite the name for herself. It is no wonder, considering how instrumental she was to creating the very concept of rinjin. And you yourself had such favor from the Warlord! Of course, there are many troubles. Certain factions who are dissatisfied with the Imperial tax levies. The loss of his first yojimbo to tropical disease, and so on.”
A frown graced the poet’s lips. “I doubt any of the younger generations care much about the events of a winter court seventeen years ago, and I have much less time for poetry in my current role, Ayumu-sama.” She had a wary tone in her voice, uncertain what the Champion was getting at, but beginning to feel like she would not like it. Arahime looked at her mother in confusion, a little wrinkle creasing her forehead.
The Doji lord acknowledged the frown. “It is still greater repute and respect than most any here in Crane lands.” Finally, however, he chose to be more direct. “You may not have heard about Mushari’s most recent difficulty. His yojimbo, Daidoji Yakune, recently was required to commit seppuku. He was caught in an affair with a Yoritomo Courtier and it brought considerable dishonor. Now he is without his sword. Even though I have no concerns at all for Mushari’s honor or safety, it is incumbent on me to be certain he has competent protection. Considering the respect the rinjin have for you and your family, and your family’s vaunted reputation for diplomacy and skill, I believe Arahime will be the best I have for this role.”
Finally, Arahime spoke. "I apologize, Doji-dono, but I know very little of the colonies. What are the rinjin? What is their relationship with our clan?"
Kyoumi gave her daughter a gentle smile. "It was all long ago, before you were born. The War with the Onyx had cut off the Colonies once held by the Empire from the Empire, and they lived without communication for many years. During that time, those samurai who still lived there, mostly of the Mantis clan, came to interact with the Ivindi more, losing many of their Rokugani ways. Finally, their leader, chosen," she shot a glance over to her husband, "by the Fortune Yoritomo, by the name Arashi, decided to reach out to the Empire again, to bid for the colonies' ability to self-govern in exchange for helping the Empire in its time of need, much as Yoritomo did once before. It was a bold gambit, but so had been that of Yoritomo. The Emperor agreed...under certain conditions. The Warlord of the colonies would respect the Imperial Throne, and pay support and tithe to the Empire. The samurai there would become 'rinjin'...neighbors, rather than samurai, for to be samurai means to serve. And the members of families there must take new names that their true loyalties must never be questioned. Kitsune, Moshi, Tsuruchi, and Otomo, and the Yoritomo...these families have been all but lost save for the remnants there. But they have chosen new names and become something new. As to our relationship...." Kyoumi looked up at the Crane champion with a knowing gaze. "We paid the price for their freedom. For the Emperor demanded the full measure of their tithes across the twenty years they had been gone at once. But they could not procure that much that fast. It was the Crane that financed their tithe until they could stand on their own. They have been repaying those debts ever since. I cannot imagine that feelings are overly kind."
Perhaps it was even more than that, judging from the expressions of concern in Arahime's parents' faces. The girl felt an icy spike of fear go down her spine, but she composed her face and maintained her on. She answered soberly, “Of course, Ayumu-sama. I will go wherever you send me.” I don’t have to like it. This is duty. I passed my gempukku, Mother. You can’t protect me anymore.
The Crane daimyo emptied his cup and set it down. He acknowledged Arahime with a respectful nod. “Spoken like a true samurai on her name day.” He looked at Kyoumi and Kousuda. “She will have as much protection as I am able to give. Mushari is a good and honorable man and will do all he can to protect her too. I do not doubt that, were duels to come, the Kakita school will outstrip any the Yoritomo or Otomo can provide.”
Kyoumi sighed and put down her own cup. The tea tasted like boiled leaves. “As you will, my lord. When does she depart?”
“Her ship leaves from Otosan Uchi in three days. Thank you all. This may not be the sweetest tea but I can think of few better to share it with.”
The three bowed in acceptance, made their polite goodbyes and departed.
They did not have much time left together. They needed to take advantage of every moment.
Late in the evening, Arahime pulled out her brush and paper. She fiercely rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand to try to keep the tears from spilling and messing up the ink.
She'd waited half the night, hoping beyond hope that Harun would come in time. That she'd be able to see him before she had to leave. But he still wasn't here. She'd have to write him a letter and leave it with Kenshin-sensei.
I am sorry I was not able to stay until you finally arrived. You missed a lovely time at the Topaz Championship. Of course, Mirumoto Fumaki claimed the prize, but everyone tells me that coming second is very respectable and brings great honor to the family. Mother tells me that there were several inquiries about marriage prospects already but it is early days yet. My only regret is that you were not there to cheer me on.
You should have been here, Harun...I don't want to marry someone else....they wouldn't have even approached Mother if you were here....
It rained during the tsu-fish hunt, but the boys I was teamed up with and I persevered. Remember when we used to go look for them? The chase was exciting, certainly. I am sure that you had many exciting adventures during your days in Unicorn Lands. I wish I could have heard all about them. Your father was also here, though he had to leave early. There was some trouble with the merchant ships in Otosan Uchi he needed to attend to.
We made it through the rain...I did it without you. But with you it would have been better.
Unfortunately, right after the closing ceremonies, I received my new assignment, directly from Doji Ayumu-sama. The most recent yojimbo for the Crane Ambassador in Second City recently committed seppuku regarding an incident with a Yoritomo courtier. The ambassador, Doji Mushari, needs a new one. Since Mushari-sama is currently without protection, I am required to leave immediately. Ayamu-sama believes that my family’s reputation and my father’s connections will serve me well in this new posting.
My parents think this is really dangerous...Mushari has lost two yojimbo already. They're frightened. But I have to go....
I will miss you and write to you as often as I am able. Know that I will always think on you and remember fondly our times spent dancing in the gardens pretending that the world was kind.
I don't know if I will be able to write. I don't know what will happen. But...with you the world was perfect. I wish it could be that way again.
She sealed up the note. She would take it to Kenshin-sensei first thing in the morning, before her family left for Otosan Uchi.