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The Histories of Golden Petal Village (Fiction: New5R)

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The Story Begins

Every village in Crane lands has a story, for it is Story that defines us.  The Crane are said to have created the culture of Rokugan.  But it was the storytellers that wove that culture, that invented those symbols.  The artisans took them up, turning them into works of poetry and beauty.  The courtiers popularized those works and encouraged others to look to them.  And the swordsmen defended them until they were strong enough to stand on their own.  And so it was that the Crane created a culture for the Empire.  And so they create a world.

Every village in Crane lands has a story.  

Golden Petal Village lay a mere two hour's ride south of the gates of the Kakita Academy. In that village, it used to be said, that, in the very first days of the Empire, the youngest son of Ameterasu walked across the Empire to see the land he had arrived in. One night, he shook out his cloak before resting for the evening on the green fields where the village lay. The drops of heaven's light that clung still to his cloak fell to earth there, and from each drop, a tree grew, a cassia, abundant with flowers as golden as Ameterasu's smile and leaves that never fall.

Each summer the people of the village would gather up the seed pods of the Cassia, save for but a few for replanting.  After all, if the trees were allowed to grow everywhere, how would the samurai of the Empire know where the Son of Heaven trod?  

So it was that Golden Petal village, its few streets lined with the ancient cassia trees, shone in the late summer with Heaven’s own light.  Its villagers had great pride in their homes and the blessings of Tengoku that came with it.

Over time, stories grow in old places.  New events unfold. New characters are introduced. New sorrows fall. New victories are won.  And like the villagers of Golden Petal, it is the story tellers that pick up the events as they fall, leaving some to grow and take root, discarding the rest.  Until the story of a village becomes the history of a province.  And the history of a province becomes the legend of an Empire.

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Edited by KakitaKaori

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The Emperor’s Road

 

The Emperor’s Road, naturally, passed the outskirts of Golden Petal Village. Who could deny the mighty the opportunity to see the cassia in summer?  Frequent caravans traveled from the south, from Kosaten Shiro and the richly productive rice paddies around it, north to Kuyden Kakita.  From there, the road continued west to Western Hub Village and Otosan Uchi beyond it.  The Emperor’s Road, however, was far enough from the village the heimen or those who wished to truly meditate upon the trees were not disturbed, and most travelers hurried on to the more luxurious welcome that awaited them under the hospitality of the Kakita Daimyo and his people.

 

A large caravan of wagons slowly rumbled along that same road northwards towards the keep, swaying with the lumbering steps of the oxen that pulled it.  It was heavily guarded.  The farmers in the nearby fields, knee-deep in the flooded rice paddies to either side of the road, did not look up from their planting.  But Doji Ienobu, the village assistant magistrate, stood dutifully to the side of the road as he watched it pass. 

Four years ago, a caravan such at this would need barely a handful of guards.  But that was before the tsunami had devastated much of the Crane coastline, taking more lives than he could imagine and devastating the fertile lowlands.  The specter of famine haunted the peasants now, even in regions far inland untouched by the tsunami such as Golden Petal Village.  The Crane and the Crab had pleaded with the Emperor for a temporary reprieve on the taxes due, but no mercy had been granted either clan.  Honor demanded that the Crane obey.  Now Takuetsu and Kosaten provinces bore the weight of providing the tax for the whole clan, while all faced hunger, or worse.   Golden Petal Villagers were proud of their heritage and the clan that protected them.  But Ienobu knew that at least a few villagers resented the sacks of grain they loaded for the Emperor’s tax levy. It was only late spring.  More would feel that anger by winter.

One of the guardsmen, a Daidoji carrying a triple-headed spear, nodded his head at the Doji magistrate, and called up to him.  “How fares Golden Petal?”

“Well.  We are halfway through planting and the seedlings are healthy.  If you return this way, the planting will be done and you can see the trees in full bloom.”

The Daidoji nodded, wiping his forehead with the side of his thumb.  “I will see if I get the chance.  Have there been any reports of bandits?”

Ienobu straightened.  “The sonchou of Golden Petal is of the line of Masarugi, a kenshinzen and instructor at the Academy.  I am not unskilled, and the guards at the Kuyden are nearby.  Bandits would have to be desperate indeed to dare show themselves in our bounds.  But, Hai.  There have been rumors of bandits on the edge of Imperial lands.  They grow bolder.”

“I will let the caravan master know.  Thank you…Doji-san?”

“Ienobu.  Who shall I look out for, should you return this way?”

“Nerishma.  Until then.”  With a salute, the Daidoji guardsman continued on his way, following the rumbling ox carts.”

 

The second to last wagon was rolling past when Ienobu heard a soft step behind him.  “It would take a bold bandit indeed to assault a caravan on the Imperial road.”

Doji Ienobu turned.  Standing nearby was a ronin, dressed in a long black cloak with a straw hat hiding her features.  She carried a bright naginata, and was turned away, watching the caravan moving northwards.  He could not see her face.

“Bold.  Or hungry.  We hope this planting leads to better harvests.”

The ronin nodded, her straw hat dipping in acknowledgement.  After a moment, she responded, “In either case, the caravan will need to be well-guarded.”  She deftly spun her naginata up onto her shoulder and walked away, moving quickly to catch up to the caravan master’s wagon, likely to seek employment.  Threats of bandits nearby meant good wages to traveling ronin.

When the last wagon passed, Ienobu turned away. He needed to patrol the town and make certain there were no other ronin hanging around.  He should have been warned before this one even had arrived, but with the peasants all in the fields, the village itself was mostly empty.

He would need to pay better attention in the future.  It was just a prickle on the back of his neck, maybe.  The tsunami had torn the Crane lands apart, but by now it should be beginning to get better.  But some buried instinct deep inside warned Ienobu that, for some reason, things would only be getting worse.

It was up to him to make sure Golden Petal Village was ready.

 

Edited by KakitaKaori

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A Summer Squall

 

“Be wary.  A storm is coming.”  The old man didn’t look up from the basket he was weaving, his gnarled fingers bending and twisting the wet strips of bamboo.  He was seated on a blanket on the side of the road, under the shade of one of the golden-petaled cassia trees, now golden with summer. 

 

“Now you are making things up, Old Man.” The village assistant magistrate standing next to him scanned the horizon, but the sky was a perfect, cloudless cerulean blue that stretched from the glittering rice paddies to the east to the dark rolling hills to the West.  “There’s not a cloud in the sky.”

 

“As you say, Doji-sama.” The basket-weaver looked up with a toothless smile.  “Believe me. Don’t believe me.  It makes no difference to the rain that is coming. These old bones know the truth.”

 

Doji Ienobu snorted.  “Makes no difference to me, Maito.  It’s just rain  If there’s a storm, Golden Petal Village will weather it.  We always have.” The village basket-weaver was not often wrong, he had to admit, but rain did seem very unlikely on such a beautiful day.  The bushi scanned the western horizon a second time, and his eyes narrowed.  There…. a cloud of dust, kicked up by the hooves of a horse, most likely.  Well, it’s not rain…  He straightened his kimono and shifted his grip on his spear, ready to confront this lone horsemen when he finally arrived.

 

“Halt!  What brings you to Golden Petal Village?” 

 

The newcomer was dressed in the simple garb of a merchant, his hat pulled low over his face.  His voice, thoughtful, but deep, still sounded very young.  He handed over a set of travel papers. “I’m traveling to Kuyden Kakita.”  He paused, and added, “I ran into some bad luck in Lion Lands.”

 

A quick glance at the papers, and Ienobu’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.  That voice…it was too young for a travel-worn merchant.  The horse was weary, but a fine specimen. The cast of its rider’s shoulders was proud..too proud.  “Show me your face,” the assistant magistrate ordered.

 

In the distance, a low rumble of thunder echoed across the cloudless sky.  From his blanket on the side of the road, the basket weaver looked up.

 

After a moment of hesitation, the rider lifted his head and tipped up the broad-rimmed straw hat that had concealed him.  White hair framed a handsome, stocky face with proud eyes of pale, watery blue.  A young face. A face Ienobu recognized.  It was not that long ago that he’d caught this young man visiting the cassia trees following the Topaz Championship, fresh from his gempukku.  Ienobu instantly stepped back and bowed deeply.  “Doji Kuwanan-sama!” 

 

Beside him, Maito pressed his face to the ground.

 

Kuwanan sighed.  “Sounds like rain is coming, and there is no need to keep the disguise up now.  Take me to Kashiwa-sensei.”

 

Doji Ienobu shot the basket weaver an incredulous look.  Then, shaking his head, the assistant magistrate answered “Hai, Doji-sama,”  as he led the brother of the Crane Champion to the home of the village Sonchou, Kakita Kashiwa.

 

Maito gave a toothless smile in return and gathered up his supplies.  Not even his old bones could tell when this storm would end.

 

 

Golden Petal village was a mere two hour’s ride from the famed Kakita Academy.  It had been under the projection of a single family for as many generations as anyone could remember.  The line of Masarugi held an unbroken line of Kenshinzen dating back to the early days of the Empire.  Many members had taught iaijutsu at the Academy, leaving the running of the village to the shōya, or headman, and assistant magistrates and yoriki like Ienobu.  But most evenings, the current Sonchou, Kashiwa, could be found here, in the village, with his wife and young children. 

 

“Doji-sama, you honor our home.  Please, enjoy this meal and take your ease.”  Kashiwa Nishoko, bowed deeply to young man, and to her husband, before laying out small plates of soup, noodles, and finely prepared vegetables before the two of them.  She bowed again and then retreated, shooing away the two small children who peeked around the shoji screen with wide and prying eyes to see the family’s honored guest.

 

The heavy summer rain beat against the engawa walkway that surrounded the home.  And look what this summer storm blew in, Kashiwa thought as he considered the young man who knelt opposite him.  After thanks were given to the Fortunes for this bounty, the two began to eat. Kashiwa noted the injuries to Kuwanan’s side as he reached for each plate, and the still-healing bruises on the young man’s wrists, as though he had been bound.  Still, he ate with courtesy and restraint, as should be expected.

“It is good to see you again, Kuwanan-sama.  There had been no word of you since the fall of Shirei Mura.” He nodded at the younger man’s merchant’s garb.  “Though it looks like you have traveled an interesting road.”

 

“Indeed.” Kuwanan’s answer was short and evasive.  “It is a story for another day.  Where is my sister?”

 

“I do not follow the fronts as closely as I should, but I believe that the command group camps on the Osari plains near Three Trees, and she is with them.  Will you go to her?”

 

“Most likely.  Has there been any further word regarding the murder of my father?” Kuwanan’s voice was grim, and made the iaijutsu sensei wary.

 

“I have heard none.  There are Emerald Magistrates staying at the Kyuden..  They can tell you more.” He lifted a bowl to conceal his expression as he drank his soup, then lowered it again.  “Toshimoko-sensei is teaching senior kata briefly before returning to the front, but has little interest in dealing with them.  Yoshi-ue is, of course, in Otosan Uchi, as his Karo.”

 

Kuwanan looked up.  “Kakita Yuri-san is in the capital?  What of his daughter?” 

 

Kuwanan feigned only casual interest, but Kashiwa was not fooled.  “It is for that reason that Yuri is in the capital.  He pleas for support to free Asami from the Lion.  They have taken her hostage.”

 

The thundercloud that hovered over the young man darkened…more anger, and disappointment.  “No help here, then,” he muttered to himself, though Kashiwa pretended not to hear.  Kuwanan finished his rice and set down his plate.  “Is there any other news of the Empire I should know before I approach the courts?”

 

Kashiwa sipped his tea.  “The Emerald Championship has been decided.  Akodo Toturi defeated Bayushi Aramoro in the final rounds.”

 

Thunder rumbled outside.  “Of course a Scorpion was in the finals,” Kuwanan said darkly.

 

“I heard it was a masterful blind stroke that finished it,” Kashiwa answered, keeping his tone neutral. “We have high hopes. Toturi is known to be an honorable man.  It was decided that Toshimoko-sensei not compete.”

 

Kuwanan did not reply.

 

The rain continued for two more hours before the summer squall faded away, leaving the air fresh and cool with the smell of growing rice. 

“Fortunes favor you, Kuwanan-sama,” Kakita Kashiwa bowed as he saw the brother of the Champion as he pulled on his travelling cloak to make the final push towards Kyuden Kakita, and from there, perhaps, the fields of the Osari Plains.

 

Kuwanan returned the bow.  “Fortunes favor us all,” he offered, the traditional reply.

 

As his horse left along the muddy road towards Kyuden Kakita, a pang of grief struck the Iaijutsu Master, though he could not determine its source.  He was glad to see this young man, who once he had, however briefly, instructed in the way of the blade.  He was happy to see he lived. But  there was a darkness now about the serious young man, the pain of loss, that was new.  Perhaps it was merely a boy growing into a man, and learning that the world did not shine as golden in the sunlight as it did in the stories.  Disillusionment was always a bitter song.

 

Or perhaps this song was darker still.

All Kashiwa knew was that he would do whatever it took to protect Golden Petal Village, and those travelers who passed through it, no matter what storms that summer brought in.

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Bitter Steel

by Kakita Kaori
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A cold wind forced its way past him and into his home before Kashiwa could slide shut the shoji screen.  It was unseasonable for it to be this chill in the month of Bayushi. It was a cause for worry. The normally bountiful rice crop grown near Golden Petal Village was only average this year. The Emperor’s taxes demanded their timeless toll without abatement, regardless of tsunamis, wars, or displeased fortunes, and the Crane looked to villages like Golden Petal to make up the difference.  If the touch of winter had come so early…

His thoughts trailed off.  There was little enough he could do.

Around him, Golden Petal Village itself was stirring awake.  Smoke from early morning cookfires painted whisper-thin brushstrokes into the sky as the villagers set rice straw in their hearths to heat a little tea.  A village woman, tipping water in a bucket from the village well into a large urn, stopped to bow deeply to him, a bow he returned with a nod. He heard a squawk as one of the village children had to roust a broody hen from her nest to gather up some eggs.  Peaceful enough. Leaving the care of his protectorate to his yoriki, the village sonchou Kakita Kashiwa began the walk that would carry him across the six miles of paddies, woodlands, and gently rolling foothills to Tsuma village and his role as an instructor at the Kakita Academy.



It wasn’t until the sleepy sounds of the village had been long left behind that Kashiwa noticed that the chorus of birdsong that normally greeted him on his morning walk was subdued.  A willow thrush warbled a sweet cry, but no other trills greeted it. Then, a sudden movement...a brace of wood larks, ascending to the sky as a pair, rapidly beating panicked wings. Kashiwa’s hand dropped by reflex to brush the katana at his side.  Something is wrong.  He took a position, back against a solid oak, and waited.

These were no ninja...the swordmaster heard a crashing through the undergrowth long before the forms in brown and gold erupted from the pine shadows.   They roared a challenge as they approached, but did not wait for his response. His response did not hesitate either; his first draw sliced one of his attackers from shoulder to hip, then he dived from under the blade of a second.  “Why are you here?” he demanded. “Have the Lion lost all honor to attack like bandits in the forest?!”

A thrust of a spear was an answer, his retort a leap to close upon his attacker, followed by a pommel strike to crush his larynx.  The sound of steel rang through the forest as he moved through the ancient woods, evading his attackers, leaving their crumbled bodies in his wake.  

I must warn Kyuden Kakita...There are too many for this to be a scouting force….

He switched direction, diving deeper into the woods like a fox headed for its den, dodging the branches and leaves that whipped at him, scrabbling over the dirt covered slabs of shale as he ascended the mountain side.  He could hear his pursuers, now closer, striking at him by ones and twos, now further away, but never entirely lost.  They knew where he was headed.

Blood ran down his arms, but Kashiwa’s attackers eventually fell behind.  Even before he broke the final stand of trees before the castle village, though, the Sensei knew he was too late.  He flicked the blood from his katana and resheathed it.

The screams and the smell of more blood reached him first.  Lying, face down on the river bank, was the body of a village guard, his blood pooling around him, his right arm almost severed.  Two more Crane bushi lay dead on the small bridge that separated the forest trail from the village. Small units of brown-clad ashigaru carrying spears patrolled the streets, led by samurai armored in gold and steel. 

On the hill overlooking the village, lines of smoke and sparks lanced the sky in graceful arcs...flaming arrows aimed at the Daidoji manning the walls of Kyuden Kakita.  And below those pale gray walls, the hill was blackened with bodies marching in uniformed rows. 

The Matsu had come for the Kakita. An ancient grudge, fulfilled at last.

Behind him, the rustle of bracken.  The iaijutsu instructor whirled, hand ready to redraw. 

“No need for that.”  The Lion commander stepped out from the undergrowth, hands far from his own blade.  His armor shone in the early morning sunlight, which rippled in the golden mane of his kabuto.  A dozen ashigaru archers followed, all keeping their distance while the steely points of of their arrows pointed at Kashiwa’s torso.  The commander glanced up at the hilltop. “If you are trying to warn Kyuden Kakita, I assure you, they are aware of our presence. As for you….” The Lion’s eyes narrowed as he assessed Kashiwa’s mons. “....Sensei.  You have acquitted yourself well in the forest, but the time has come for you to surrender. If it is the Academy you were headed towards before you ran into us, rest assured, we have had, so far, no reason to cause it trouble.   We have secured our flanks near that location  quite thoroughly and see no reason to trouble it further. There is no need to deprive schoolchildren of their teachers. Unless those teachers decide to turn a school into a battlefield.”  The commander allowed a pause to eloquently emphasize the subtle threat. “It would prove educational.”

Kashiwa let his hand, slowly, fall.  He thought of his wife Nishoko, at home with their two small children.  He thought of his Yoriki and the villagers of Golden Petal. And he thought of his kohei. Hopeful. Idealistic. So eager to defend the glory of their school.  So eager to die. It would be effort for the Lion to capture the school, especially with Toshimoko-sensei in command.  But children would die.  He could not afford retaliation against it for the sake of his own pride.

“Who commands these forces?” he protested with a quiet hiss. “To whom would you have me surrender?”


The commander gave a bow, only a hair short of what courtesy would expect.  “You speak with Ikoma Morinao. But our Champion, Matsu Tsuko, commands these forces.  You look on the might of the Lion armies.”

Kashiwa reluctantly returned the bow. Champion.  Not even Kakita Toshimoko, Headmaster Sensei of the Academy, had the status to challenge the claim. There was no kenshinzen here whose status Matsu Tsuko could not simply dismiss. And Kyuden Kakita could not hold.

A single sword would not make the difference this time. 

“Very well,” he answered at last.  “I will go with you. We will find out what the Emerald Champion has to say about this.”

As the ashigaru marched him away, Kakita Kashiwa kept his back straight.  He tried not to look at the columns of smoke rising from Kyuden Kakita, and prayed that those fires would not find their way back to Golden Petal Village. 

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The Storm-Tossed Cassia

by Kakita Kaori

Kakita Nishoko stood on the engawa of her home, the raised porch of the cozy home that her husband, Kashiwa, and she shared. The cassias, for which the village had been named, were in bloom, their nodding crowns of golden showers defiant of emperors and armies and the passage of centuries.  A thin line of clouds touched the Eastern horizon, the wet winds from the ocean rising as they greeted the weathered peaks around Kyuden Kakita.  The air kami would bring a storm soon.  She could sense them, dimly, ready to unleash their power in a frenzied display.

Her fist tightened.  I would join you if I could! The blood of Isawa flowed deeply in her veins, even though she, herself, lacked the talent for more than sensing the kami that whispered around her.  If she were like others of her family, she could reach out to that churning sky and call upon the power of Osano Wo.  She’d fly to the gates of Kyuden Kakita and in a voice like thunder make the Lion quail before her. She would demand give him back.

She had no such power. 

The gate to her garden opened, and an armored bushi entered. At first she stiffened, but her shoulders relaxed when she saw it was the familiar form of Doji Ienobu, the village yoriki.

“My Lady.”  Ienobu bowed, one hand steadying his blades.

Nishoko gracefully returned the bow .  “What news from Kyuden Kakita?” she asked as quickly could be considered polite.

Ienobu offered a tired smile. “The Lion have reinforced a palisade overlooking the gates to the palace.  Our armies will move soon.  Beyond that…” he held out his hand.  It was a plain scroll on white paper. “Daidoji-dono has called you to service as the Lady of Golden Petal Village.”

Nishoko accepted, turning the scroll, marked with the seal of the Daidoji family, over in her hand.  “Of course. Let me tell nursemaid for the twins, and make sure they are still sleeping, and I will return with you.


 -----------------------------------
 

The Iron Warriors at the door pulled the tentflap aside.  Within, in a sun-streaked dimness as the afternoon light slipped through the holes in the canvas, a great banner cloth hung on the tent wall, painted with the mon of the Daidojji.  Two unlit sconces stood, waiting for evening, and between them, a plain wooden camp chair, upon which sat a man clad in full armor, though his distinctive mempo of blank steel had not been closed into place.

Knowing her place, Nishiko knelt on the tatami before the chair. “My name Kakita Nishiko, wife of Kakita Kashiwa, Sonchou of Golden Petal Village.  You summoned me, Daidoji Uji-dono?”

The daimyo of the Daidoji family nodded.  “Yes.  I understand your husband was captured by the Lion the day Kyuden Kakita was taken?”

Nishoko lifted her head.  “Yes, Daidoji-dono.  That is our belief. He was travelling alone to Kyuden Kakita that morning before the attack.  His body was not found, his swords were not turned over.  He was an instructor at the Kakita Academy, but he never reached Tsuma or the Academy that day.  We believe he must have been captured on the road, and surrendered himself to protect the students of the academy or to gather intelligence.”

Uji gave a non-committal grunt.  “With luck, then, Matsu Tsuko holds him with Lady Barahime and the other hostages. It would be good to have a Kenshinzen with her, until we liberate Kyuden Kakita.”

“Yes, Daidoji-dono.”

“Until that day, I mean to use Golden Petal Village as an infirmary for our wounded and a mortuary for our dead.  I have ordered the headmen of all the neighboring villages to  send burakumin and healers villages there.  I look to you to handle the logistics of housing them and clearing homes for the injured.  Is your rice in?”

“Not fully, Daidoji-dono.  Though we have been bundling the rice straw since the harvest began, and the woodcutters worked all summer. There will be wood enough for burning even if my farmers continue their harvesting.”  Nishoko did not add that it had been fears of a harsh winter that had driven their summer woodcutting.  The touch of frost or funeral pyres.  Either way, it would be a grim winter.

The tent brightened as it was pulled aside. One of the guards stuck his head in and said, “Daidoji-dono….Word has come.  Doji Kuwanan-sama has awakened from his injuries, and is well enough to speak with you.”

“That boy,” Uji muttered as he got to his feet. Nishoko could hear the frustration and resignation in his voice.  The general gestured at her.  “Very well. I must go.  You may leave, Kakita-san. Speak with my quartermasters if anything else is required.”
Nishoko pressed her forehead to the tatami mat again to hide her face.  “OF course. Thank you, Daidoji-dono.”

Daidoji Uji politely waited until she had begun to rise before sweeping past her to leave the tent.


 -----------------------------------


The golden light of Ameterasu sparkled like diamonds off the trees and tiles of Golden Petal Village, but Kakita Nishoko could not appreciate their beauty. Fatigue such as she had not known since the days following the birth of her twin children weighed upon her shoulders and would cause her head to nod if she allowed it.

Even without the battle, could she have slept well the night before anyway? It had been a fierce storm, riven with the bolts of Osano-Wo’s wrath and the roar of thunder. Were my babies frightened?  But the fiercest storm offered little to fear when you lay with your children tucked safely into the futon with you, and your husband’s arms warm about you. Last night offered no such comforts. 

But her duty was not yet done.

“Carry her over to Shimashi’s house,“ she called, raising her voice to carry across the village square.  The litter-bearers nodded, carrying the softly-groaning woman into one of the larger homes.  Each house had been commandeered for the wounded.  The dead and the heimin would sleep in the hastily constructed tents for now.   “Lion or Crane, Itou?”

The burakumin turned to look at her, using his body to shield her from the corpse that he and Ubano bore, bundled in a black cloak.  “Lion, Nishoko-sama.  From the palisade.”

Nishoko nodded and marked a tabulation down on the scroll in her hand.  “Prepare him and place him with the others, but do not take any further steps. The Brotherhood will arrive on the morrow, and I have asked that a born-Lion monk of the Brotherhood to supervise the funerary rights and return of the bodies of the dead. The Lion must be assured their fallen are treated with proper respect.” 

And I am trusting, if Kashiwa has fallen, they would do the same for us.   Has that trust been earned, though?  They attacked us without honor. What hope have we that they would treat our dead with more honor than they treat the living?
She closed her eyes and prayed again to the Fortunes to bring her husband back to her safely.

A jingling of harness and tack caused her to open them before she would drift off further.  She lifted her eyes to see a brown horse, ridden by tall, handsome young man, wearing battered but finely crafted silver armor. Behind him, a small unit of Daidoji Warrors marched in stoic silence, a furoshiki bundle over their shoulders marking the beginning of their journey.  She bowed as the young man approached on his horse.

“Rise, Kakita-san,” the young man said. 

Nishoko straightened and looked up at him. His hair was shorter now than it had been when she saw him last.  He must have cut it. Then, he had been weary from the road and consulting with her husband on his journey to Otosan Uchi, but now a grave burden pulled down his shoulders, even as his eyes scanned the horizon to pick out a path of some distant purpose.

“You are wise to show such reverence to the dead. I myself will be returning Matsu Kaitokuro’s daishō and death poem, so do not fear if it is not found.”

Nishoko inclined her head in acknowledgement.  “Yes, Lord Kuwanan.  Will you then be returning?”  Kuwanan had led a victory at the Palisade, even if the battle at the gates of Kyuden Kakita had been lost.  She would any hope that she could that her husband would be returned to her alive.

Kuwanan looked down on her with pity.  “I do not expect to. From there, I march to the Osari Plains.  Keep faith with Daidoji Uji, and be strong.  Spring comes after winter.”

A tug of the rein and a kick of his heels, and the horse trotted away, leaving Nishoko watching as he and his men disappeared past the copse of golden trees that marked the cassia grove in autumn.

You say this before even winter begins, Kuwanan-sama. How long, then, until spring? 
Will my husband live to see the cassia bloom again?
 

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