Christmas is over, so back to posting updates of this serial.
Kuni Magatsu was a new addition to the group, played by novelist Paul Genesse. Paul is exceedingly hard core. Paul is an awesome guy, and when he games, he is one of those really intense personalities that really gets into it. So what better for him than an extremely powerful, possibly insane, face paint wearing, brutally efficient wizard, who happens to think that he is prophetic, but only when he is drunk.
At this point the novelists involved have gotten rather geeky and the fictions are getting more elaborate. I wrote this next part, and basically dumped an absurdly impossible task onto poor Steve’s character: Find a way to marry this guy who is one step above barbarian to a princess.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
The Brotherhood of the Paper Lantern…
As I study the characters, I have to marvel at the wisdom of Ide Todo. Paper Lanterns shed light upon the darkness. They are humble, nothing as precious as emerald or jade, yet paper is everywhere. We are officially accepted in the lands of the Dragon, Unicorn, Crab, and Lion, yet we are only a mere group of wandering magistrates, no threat to any local lords. As Todo-sama uses his humility as a weapon in the courts, so shall we use it across the lands.
Zuko has been appointed to be the second in command of our Brotherhood. I’m sure he will do a fine job, though I must admit that I am disappointed that I was not chosen. I was certain that since I had more military experience that Todo-sama would have picked me, but he said that he had political reasons, and something about how this showed that regardless of clan or background, someone could be a leader in our new organization, and other such courtier talk. It does not matter. To a samurai, pride is a sin. Where he leads, I will follow.
Luckily, Zuko is sharp, and said he’d use me for bossing around the troops. I still think he would’ve made a good Crab.
Ikoma Katsu, the Lion bard, has decided to follow us. I’m sure he will write more songs about how brave Todo-sama was while I was busy being stabbed or Zuko was being set on fire. My brother informed me that he was dispatching Kuni Magatsu to accompany us, and that I was to be the shugenja’s yojimbo. This troubles me, because Kuni… Well… let us just say that the Kuni can be very different. The last Kuni I dealt with had been enjoying himself entirely too much while cutting off Ide Tong’s fingers. It did not help that Kenzan said that Magatsu was particularly unnerving even by Kuni standards.
Great… I’m a glorified armor carrier for a Kuni madman and an anti-social minor-clan former-ronin is my gunso… Kisada, you sure do have a sense of humor.
Kenzan complimented me for my “surprisingly successful” service thus far. His words ring hollow now. He is my lord, and thus I will do as he commands, but what he intended as praise tastes of mockery. Though I can see newfound respect in the eyes of many of my Crab brothers, Kenzan still judges me by the sins of my blood. I held my tongue during our meeting. There is nothing for me to say to him now. The mountain will endure.
From the journal of Hida Makoto, Crab Clan.
Over the last few weeks, we have travelled deep into Dragon lands. Kuni Magatsu is a pleasant enough travelling companion, for a frightening, disturbing, possibly insane Earth shugenja. He is a tall man, who I have yet to see without his traditional white and red face paint. Normally I would make a joke about geishas, but I do not think I wish to joke about Magatsu-san. Ever. The Shinjo men have taken to calling him Magatsu no Oni behind his back. They are mistaken. I have fought two Oni in my life, and I would rather face another than Kuni Magatsu.
Our guide is named Mirumoto Hiro. He appears proficient. He does not like ronin Rei, recognizing him as having been cast out of the Dragon. Too bad, Hiro. Rei, I trust. You, I do not yet.
Each day we climb higher. We have encountered few Yobanjin and countless refugees. The Yobanjin were swiftly dispatched. The refugees… They shuffle by in an endless stream, many carrying their charred belongings on their back. I do not know how to explain it, but their starving eyes haunt me as I try to sleep. Though we are here to help them, the peasants are scared of us. This troubles my thoughts, and I do not understand why.
Despite continuing to pray to the Fortunes for guidance, I have not felt as if I’ve been making progress in my mission. Perhaps I have lacked sufficient determination. The Fortunes have placed me in the company of Ide Todo for a reason. At times it seems impossible, for surely Otomo Yuni is too valuable to the Empire to be wasted on such as I, and will be betrothed to some daimyo. If I am to marry Otomo Yuni as Kisada has commanded, then I must find a way to increase my worthiness. So I have asked a favor of Ide Todo. He has agreed to serve as my marriage arranger. He was very helpful and certain of success… Oh, who am I kidding? He thinks I’ve been in the sun too long without a hat, but Todo-sama is the most honest man I have ever known, so since he has agreed to do this thing, I’m certain it will be done.
Ide Todo looked up from his journal as the tent flap was lifted. The sudden night wind caused the candles to flicker. It was always windy and cold in the Dragon mountains. His yojimbo, Moto Khano appeared and bowed respectfully. “Hida Makoto wishes to speak with you.”
“Send him in.” Todo cleaned the ink from the quill with a piece of silk and placed everything carefully back into his calligraphy set. His musings on his own personal inadequacies would have to wait. The Crab had served loyally since the days fighting the Red Sun. Though sometimes clumsy, painfully awkward in the courts, and seeming to suffer from a curse of bad luck, Makoto was a fearsome bushi, smarter than he looked, and most importantly to Ide Todo, could always be counted on to give an honest assessment of any situation.
Makoto entered, having to crouch in order to not rip the canvas of the tent’s roof with the ornamental crab claws on his helmet. It was rare to see a Crab out of its shell. Todo suspected that whenever they were outside of the walls of a city, Makoto even slept in his armor. The giant bowed. “Todo-sama.”
“Please, sit.” Makoto knelt with a clank of metal on metal. As the Crab removed his helmet, Todo asked, “So, Makoto-san, what do you think of this shugenja that Hida Kenzan has assigned to us?”
“I believe that when goblins have nightmares, they dream of Kuni Magatsu.”
“Oh… Yes. Well then… What do you wish to speak about?”
“I have come to ask a favor of you.” Makoto paused for a long time, scowling, as if trying to think of the words.
“Please continue. We have travelled together and you have served our cause with unwavering loyalty. You have helped defend my people. The Ide are always prepared to help a friend.”
“Well.” Makoto cleared his throat. “It would honor me greatly, if you would serve as my nakado.”
“Your match maker?”
“Yes.” Makoto bowed again.
Todo was a bit taken back. “You wish for me to arrange your marriage?”
“Only once our mission is complete of course.”
“I am aged forty-two years and have never wed. What do I know about marriage? I do not believe I am suited—”
It was extremely rude to cut off someone of greater status, but Makoto tended to forget such social niceties. “You are the most skilled courtier I have ever seen.”
“You have not seen many courtiers.”
“I have seen enough. I believe that the Fortunes have guided me to you for this purpose.”
Ide Todo had never thought about it, but Makoto was in his early twenties and unwed. His education on the other clans suggested that Crab tended to marry young, because the life expectancy of a warrior on the Wall was the shortest in the Empire. Also, it was well known that the Crab were by far the most casual and least complicated of all the clans on the subject of finding a spouse. So it was rather surprising that young Makoto was not yet betrothed, but he also knew from the way the other Crab in Shiro Shinjo had treated Makoto that there was something dark in this particular Crab’s past. That would explain his need for a nakado.
“Would this not be a task better suited for your brother? He is of rather high rank among your people.”
“Kenzan and I, we are in… disagreement on this subject. My family will not help in this endeavor, but they will not stand in the way either. I need an outsider. I know it is customary for a family to pay for the services of a nakado, but I have very few koku—”
“It is not necessary—”
“So I will pay you in dead Yobanjin. You may set the number necessary in order to secure your homeland. I defer to your wisdom on such financial matters.”
Ide Todo sighed. It was the nature of the Ide to be helpful. Their purpose was one of reconciliation, and Makoto was sincere. “Very well. I will use my skills to help you find a bride.”
“Thank you, Todo-sama, but I do not need help finding one. I know who I must marry. I only wish for you to find what is necessary to secure this agreement, and then arrange it.”
This did not sound too difficult. He had no training as a nakado, but they had covered the fundamentals of the practice in the Ide dojo. It should prove simple enough to send a message the Crab maiden’s family to find out what terms would be acceptable. The actual identity of the suitor could even be kept secret at this early stage of the negotiations. “Very well.”
“Thank you, Todo-sama. I will kill a multitude of Yobanjin on your behalf.”
“So what is the name of this lucky girl?”
Ide Todo tilted his head to the side. Had he heard incorrectly? “Did you say Otomo?”
Makoto nodded. “Yes.”
Ide Todo laughed. Oh, Makoto had certainly gotten him. He had not known the Hida had such a sense of humor. The idea of a simple Wall bushi marrying a daughter of one of the most powerful women in the Empire was preposterous. Gradually, he realized that Makoto was scowling at him. His laughter died off. The Crab was not joking. He was completely serious. “But she’s the daughter of…”
“I am aware of her station.”
“How do you even know of her? Have you ever even seen her?”
“Briefly. Once. It is a long story.”
He dreaded what he had to say next, but Ide Todo was incapable of lying. “You realize that what you are asking is impossible? She is a lady of the Imperial court. Her hand will be sought by clan champions and daimyos.”
“I am aware. I will confide in you something that I have only ever told my lord, and I would ask you to keep my secret. The Fortunes themselves have decreed that Otomo Yuni will become a daughter of Hida and my wife. Kisada told me to do this and he is the one that ordered me to follow you. I know that I am not worthy… Yet. But I will be. You will teach me what I must know as far as courtly things, and I hope that winning this war will shower us with sufficient glory.” Makoto bowed, picked up his helm, tetsubo, and rose to leave. “Thank you, Todo-sama.”
Ide Todo rubbed his face with both hands. This was ridiculous, but he had just said he would help. Sometimes it was very difficult to be an Ide. “Is there anything else you wish to drop on me, Makoto-san?”
“Well… My grandfather was an eta. The Otomos probably won’t like that much either, but nothing we can’t handle. It is my turn on watch now. Good night, Todo-sama. With you as my nakado, we cannot fail.”
To Be Continued next week with the Lighting of the Paper Lanterns: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/the-burning-throne-episode-11-lighting-the-paper-lanterns/