With Tobuko and Niban unconscious from their wounds and the rest of the Ronin dead or fled, the magistrates started to look around at each other trying to figure what to do with the situation without saying anything. Otomo Yoroshiku had given them an order to kill the two ronin but in light of Niban’s story the magistrates were uncertain of the proper protocol would be for such a possibly volatile and treasonous situation. Akodo Akio, weighing the truths of bushido, finally made the decision for them by using finishing off Tobuko before making his way over silently towards Niban with his sword in hand. Hida Kengetsu understood that Akio had decided this was the honorable decision and they all knew that his honor was unquestionable. So he reached down and snapped Niban’s neck. They looked at the “Imperial Princess” and informed they had been sent to recover her and bring her back to Shiro Mirumoto just as Shinjo Luke rode up with bow out with an arrow strung. His perplexed face relieved a bit of the tension that had been building and they decided to leave and allow the village to bury their dead.
They quickly moved back to the wagons and did their best to put some distance between them and the village which was not easy to do in the middle of night in the dead of winter high in the mountains. As they traveled Yoroshiku, as the Emperor’s niece, gave them very strict and explicit orders:
“I forbid any of you from uttering a single word that man spoke to your regarding my lineage. He was obviously a liar and a scoundrel, and his word is no better then that of a common churl.”
When they asked her how she had been kidnapped and mentioned Niban’s obvious surprise at her abduction and presence in the village. Yoroshiku quickly refuted this and clearly stated:
“Of course it was him. I saw him climb in through my window and bind my hands and feet and gag me. It was him.”
As the week of travel went by the magistrates took opportunity to talk with each other privately in pairs. They decided it would be best for the Empire for Niban’s story to themselves and would not “speak of it unnecessarily”. Kengetsu talked with Akio about the possibility of him becoming consort to the Empress and their current situation. Akio called it “a situation with vast possible complications” and was unsure but told Kengetsu would have his support although to be careful about what some people would consider possible treason talk. Shinjo Luke was curious what had happened and Akio told him it was better he did not know all the details but he would keep him informed of who to shoot if swords were drawn. The group also established a “polite fiction” of the princess’s absence: Kengetsu had taken her for a ride thru the beautiful northern mountains and had been escorted by the rest of the “Teeth of the Mongoose” magistrates during their journey. It was a slow and cold journey and the group did their best to get thru it quickly. Kakita and Shosuro also spent time with the princess in attempt to bolster her opinion on Kengetsu and getting her opinion on him. Besides his size and violent capabilities that Yoroshiku found somewhat intimidating, she thought he was a well spoken and quite cultured samurai especially for a Crab. They of course relayed all this to the Crab in question at the first opportunity. There was little else to do over the next week besides gossip and eventually they neared Shiro Mirumoto.
They arrived back in Shiro Mirumoto and were greeted and quickly escorted to a private room where Mirumoto Daini (the Mirumoto Daimyo), Asako Kagetsu (Daini’s cousin and consultant), Doji Satsume (Emerald Champion/Crane Clan Champion) and Shinjo Gidayu (Otomo Yoroshiku’s supporter). They were ecstatic to have the princess back and safe and the magistrates stuck to the story that Niban and his group of ronin had kidnapped the princess in his arrogant effort to be a real samurai. Everyone understood that the story that would be repeated to everyone was that Hida Kengetsu had been entertaining the princess. With that done, Otomo Yoroshiku’s two remaining handmaidens were allowed into the meeting and they whisked the princess away. Mirumoto Daini and Agasko Kagetsu thanked the magistrates for their service and discreetness and also left alongside Doji Satsume who simply told them well done.
Finally it was only the magistrates alone with Shinjo Gidayu and of course his daughter Shinjo Iruko who was still serving as Shosuro Shinriko’s yojimbo for the duration of Winter Court. He reminded them all that he promised his own separate reward for their services in rescuing the princess. He knew of Kengetsu’s desire to learn martial arts and presented him with a paper with his chop giving him permission to learn the Unicorn unarmed combat style Bariqu Wrestling as well as a spiked arm band that was commonly used in the style. To Shosuro Shinriko he presented a gold bladed katar and to Kakita Hikaru a ivory and blue sapphire hair circlet. To Shinjo Luke he presented an elaborate new horse halter. To Akio he offered a truly unique gift: marriage to his daughter. Shinjo Iruko blushed although she tried to remain stoic and Akio asked to be able to think on such a sudden prospect and talk it over with his lord. Shinjo Gidayu nodded in understanding. With that finished Shinjo Gidayu excused himself and left the room.
Over the next several days the story about Hida Kengetsu and Otomo Yoroshiku’s trip thru the mountains circulated in the court much to the anger and disappointment of the princess’s other suitors. A few days after they arrived back Doji Satsume summoned Kengetsu to a private discussion. It seemed that the princess had cautiously agreed to a marriage proposal between the two of them and had received permission from her uncle, the Emperor, and her father already. Doji Satsume wanted to assure that this was what Hida Kengetsu wanted, or at least ordered, to do as well. Hida Kengetsu gave it some quick thought and agreed to the proposition. With that settled Doji Satsume told him that the engagement would be announced on Oshogatsu (New Year’s day) and until then it would have to remain secret although Satsume also gave him permission to inform his lord and the rest of his so called “Teeth of the Mongoose”.
Akodo Akio also had a marriage decision to contemplate. He got a meeting with Akodo Toturi, the new Akodo Daimyo and Lion Clan Champion, to ask his advice and possible permission to marry the Unicorn samurai-ko. Akodo Toturi was a pale man, with his long mane of hair dyed gold. He stood nearly six feet tall, and rarely wore armor, instead preferring the robes and kimono of monks. He dressed in modest clothes, had a deep voice, his body language was min¬imal, and his eyes were piercing and dark. He had heard of the marriage proposal and, if Akio was willing, he had his permission to commit to it. When Akio asked if Toruri thought he should go along with it, Toturi saw no reason why not. As far as he knew the samurai-ko was infatuated with him, seemed honorable and well spoken and was fairly attractive. Her father was not getting on any younger and Akio himself, or his children if Akio kept the Akodo name instead of taking his spouse’s, would be the next daimyo of the province. Akio thanked him for his advice and decided he would go thru with the marriage and take the Shinjo name. Toturi gave him one last piece of advice. He knew and his other magistrates were going to be going to Toshi no Ranbo to try and help find a diplomatic solution. He cautioned him that his deceased brother’s fiancée, Matsu Tsuko, would be an obstacle for obvious reasons although he had already personally written a letter to the commanding general to give his full assistance.
The last weeks of winter court passed with the magistrates training in their respective styles as their experience had been enough to allow them to learn reach a level of understanding of their school abilities. Also Hikaru commissioned a painting of her in the Topaz Armor by Doji Masa. Hida Kengetsu asked for permission to join and train in the techniques of the Hida Elite Guard. The Elite Guard defended the locations and people that were most important to the Crab clan. The Champion’s Guard were then taken from the Elite Guard’s ranks to become personal defenders of the Hida Clan champion. There was a pair of Champion’s Guard at winter court acting as the yojimbos of Hida Sukune and when asked Hida Sukune gave permission for them to train and induct him into the Elite Guard. Hida Doro and Hida Dai, who were both considerably larger and taller then Kengetsu, stepped forward and other the next several weeks trained Kengetsu in the defensive abilities of the Elite Guard. They also stretched Hida over a rack increasing his height by several inches.
Finally New Year’s day came and both Kengetsu and Yoroshiku’s engagement and Akio and Shinjo Iruko’s were announced. The date of imperial wedding was scheduled for just after the cherry blossom festival and the Lion-Unicorn wedding for early summer. None of those who knew the “princess’s” secret mention that the two samurai were marrying half-sisters although it was apparent from looks between the two that they realized the irony. A few weeks later the snow had thawed enough for them to travel and the Emerald Magistrates headed for Toshi no Ranbo where the armies of the Lion and the Crane awaited.