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KakitaKaori

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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