Doing All The Things
Brother Mountain -
I hope you will forgive my crude strokes. Be assured I am practicing daily. There is much to be rebuilt here and little time to waste before the winds blow cold. All is not harsh, there is much that flowers even here and I am sorry you must miss it. All here send fond regards and hope for your safety.
Yonaka places the brush aside and cleans the parts of his uncles old writing kit while waiting for the ink to dry, wondering why words that come so swiftly when spoken seem to become stunted and chopped when he tries to put them to paper.
He had originally thought to write a much longer letter and had prepared 5 fine sheets of washi. Yonaka looks at them, empty and yearning for someone’s thoughts… and packs the 4 blank pages for the courier to take along with his embarrassingly short note.
A castle. A whole damned castle. If there was nothing else to occupy him he would be able to spend the next 10 or 20 years in meditation while mortaring each loose stone and carving each new roof beam. The first week was hardest as those few peasants who still remained all but volunteered before they could be ordered to stop the leaks with fresh rushes from only they knew where, seeming grateful for the presence of the few samurai Neko was able to recruit for the journey. Had the presence of bandits become so bad? Where the Unicorn razing the land? Or maybe it was something as simple as the need to be given orders, to be told what to do.
Time to get ready for more visitors. Yesterday’s meeting with the Moto Captain seemed to go well, especially during the tea ceremony. Yes, the Unicorn was brash almost to the point of rudeness, laughing at the very idea of even the rumor of the Yokode Kyūsu noh Getsu much less of it being found and recovered and in the hands of the Dragon Clans once again, but at the slight mention that he was drinking from one of the nemurani that had been blessed by Lady Moon’s teapot the Moto seemed almost subdued.
To Hida Nakamuro
Peace is a hard thing to make. It takes the patience of a smith and the gentle guidance of a potter, there is an art to it. It is harder than going to war. I must not only play the diplomat, I must BE the diplomat. Things are settling nearby on the Unicorn plains, and we are slowly building the ranks of the banner. I thought at one time to change the name, but the Stone Dogs are the Stone Dogs, and if I am worthy I may yet honor the sacrifices the men who died under this banner made in performing their duty. Practice continues, and both the earth and the flower smile toward each other as they grow, each taking comfort to see how high the mountain soars.
May the fortunes guide you home!
Last Light Castle
If she hears him approach she doesn’t let on. Neko is softly singing a familiar song to Boo while the nurse takes a break and waits on a stool in the corner. Yonaka watches quietly as the child, such a strangely fragile thing, giggles at the staccato parts of the song and grips Neko’s index finger as it waggles back and forth.
Its a good song, a song Yonaka once sang during a festival with the twins long ago. Was the same song sung to Neko by her mother once upon a time? Did she perhaps overhear it when Yonaka sung it to Boo that one late evening to quiet her when the nurse could not? It doesn’t matter. It makes them both happy, its a good song.
Oh brother, Do the Saints still feel the moment their sword has cleared the saya? When is the blade an answer? When a question? When does a sacrifice become an offering?
The first chill of Autumn has been felt. The sounds of Summer have made their departure as they migrate toward a safer, warmer climate. I must remain behind for a little while to finish weeding the nearby grounds and make sure what we can harvest is ready for the Winter.
Fortunes guide you until Spring,
Taisa of the Stone Dogs
Yonaka walks down the line of prisoners seeing which ones will look him in the eye and which cast their heads down. He will probably have to kill one or more of them, one day.
Not a single Stone Dog lost during the capture. The ranking Bushi weren’t sure what to make of the command to gather their training bokken and for all the ashigaru to fix a sasumata mancatcher where their spearheads should be. Yonaka had been listening for reports of the last bandit raids before his arrival at Last Light, sending the more easy going and approachable of his servants to accompany Neko to the nearby villages before she heads off to the Kitsuki dojo. It was one thing to be diplomatic and polite to another samurai, but getting the peasantry to talk was like asking a brick what it thought of the weather. He needed information, not fear.
Once he had enough leads it was actually easy to scout around and track them back to their camp. Mostly spearmen, a couple of them with naginatas no doubt recovered from someone they’d ambushed, and the seven of them with daisho… ronin for now, but not for long.
This band had been moving and had set up a fresh camp so they wouldn’t be familiar with the area.. Easy for the scouts on loan from Ikoma Takme, Governor Hoshi Asahina’s Hatamoto, to plan an ambush point into which to drive the bandits from their enclave and wait.
Early morning they approach from the East, Yonaka and his “One for All”. The Taisa and his Mirumoto Bushi; Hamiko, Torotaka, and Susahiro walk boldly towards the camp. Most of the spearmen are still groggy from sleep, the ronin still in their bedrolls with their daisho by their sides, and a flurry of shouting from the men on watch to wake the rest of the camp. The four Stone Dogs wait, a smirk on Hamiko’s face quickly hidden after a glare from his Taisa. The bandit leader, an angrily woken ronin, shouts orders to kill the foolish Bushi. Spears are readied and a large group charges, the Stone Dogs slowly draw their bokken… and as the first arrows come over the ridge from the West the remainder of the camp is driven towards the now running Dragon samurai who are masters at defending themselves with even wooden daisho.
It’s an obvious place, really, and when the bandits think they’ve surrounded the Taisa and his men their laughter is short lived as the Ikoma Gunso shouts to the rest of the Stone Dogs who rush out of the woods with their susumata. Spearmen from the camp still have the rising sun in their eyes when they attempt to engage the Taisa and his Hitogin. Most of the spearmen are easily disarmed and the katana of the ronin are unable to reach past the length of the man catchers carried by the ashigaru of the Stone Dogs. There are a few tense moments and the blunt edge of a bokken needs to be applied to the temples and shoulders of a few of the more spirited bandits, but it becomes obvious to the rest after only the first moments that the battle was over as soon as the sun rose.
Yonaka studies the man who gave the order to pursue, the one who would not give up the fight and managed to cut Hamiko during the battle and when he was being bound managed to strike Torotaka in the ear, the one who looks Yonaka directly in the eye and spits at the ground. A fine fighter and the kind of spirit he could use, but the other bandits are afraid of him. Yonaka needs wave men, not fear.
He gives a small signal with his tessen and the bandit leader is led off in custody of the Ikoma scouts to pay a visit the Governor. They may meet again, maybe, depending on the Hoshi’s mood. The rest are led back to the barracks courtyard back at Last Light Keep, a few look like they’ve given up already. Not good, he needs men who are still alive.
He has the men feed the prisoners and gives the bandits a day, a night, and another day before he speaks to them. Gives them time to talk, to plan if they want, and also to see the men drill and talk amongst themselves. Gives them time to sleep and think. He’ll be able to question them later for information on other bandit groups in the area. Yonaka won’t be able to force their loyalty, he’ll have to offer them something they can’t get for themselves.
“I am Mirumoto Yonaka, keeper of Last Light and Taisa to the Banner of the Stone Dogs. Right now you are no one. You are not known for deeds or battles. You are not known for your writings, your friends and family, your homes, or where you came from. Your only claim to fame is by your raids on nearby travelers and villages, made possible only by the absence of those who uphold justice.”
“Justice has returned.”
“I have met with Governor Hoshi, and she has agreed to let me do what I can for the lands of the Prefecture. This is the day the stream that is your karma can change direction. You can, if you desire, follow the way of the man who led you before. Or you can follow another course, possibly a harder course, but one that is unfouled by the past.”
“Be one of the Stone Dogs and be pardoned. Be raised up as one who serves justice, who guards travelers on the roads and the innocent in the villages, and find honor in service to the Empire once again. Refuse, and face the consequences of your choices.”
He walks up to the first of the captives knife in hand, the man’s expression behind his eyes one of some thought, his eyes lowered respectfully but his back straight and without fear. Yonaka cuts the man’s bonds.
“Tell me who you are.”
“Kachisu, of the province of… I am from…” the man raises his eyes briefly, “I am Kachisu, my lord Taisa.”
“Welcome, Kachisu of the Stone Dogs.”
(to be Continued)