In the Garden of Lies (part 1)

In the City of Lies, it was almost refreshing to see a dispute settled with the clean strike of an iaijutsu duel.

Yogo Hiroue had suggested to his lord that it might be advantageous for them if Bayushi Gensato threw the fight. “After all,” he’d said, “Kitsuki-san will hardly be inclined to stay at your
party for long if she’s humiliated by defeat at his hands.” He thought, but did not say, she knows your reputation too well.

The city’s governor, Shosuro Hyobu, had dismissed this notion with a single flick of her fan. “Kitsuki-san may not be trained as an investigator, but she is a master of the Mirumoto
technique—however unorthodox her style may be. If Gensato does anything less than his best against her, she will know.” So now the two bushi stood facing one another in the night, feet carefully planted in the gravel of the courtyard, the torchlight around them casting shadows that danced even while the sources remained still. Hiroue made a show of examining Kitsuki Shomon’s stance, but it truly was a show; he was at best an indifferent swordsman himself. Like all Mirumoto-trained bushi, Shomon stood ready to draw not only her katana but also her wakizashi. Any unorthodoxy beyond that, however, was invisible to him.


Curved blades

Far to the west, in Unicorn lands…

Courtiers in a rainbow of gleaming, elegant robes bowed gracefully as she passed, like flowers overburdened by dew. She smiled, her thoughts focusing not on the courtiers but instead on
the celebration around them and the riders in the field.

Scimitars clashed beneath the bright sun, the finely honed edges of their dancing blades flashing prismatic light about the courtyard. Two samurai dressed in the purple and white of the Unicorn Clan fought on a verdant green swath, their display of swordsmanship drawing the attention of the surrounding courtiers, performers, and children alike. Between the waving fans and soft laughter, jugglers gamed, musicians played, and riders performed feats of athletics on the backs of magnificent, prancing steeds.

It was a special day, a festival day. The palace—with its grey slate and whitewashed lumber, stiff and proud—was bedecked with flowers and colorful emblems of purple and white to celebrate the occasion. A warm wind blew banners like candle flames flickering above the curled awnings.

Shinjo Altansarnai walked down the central pathway of the castle grounds, wearing closefitting trousers suited for riding along with a purple keikogi top folded in elaborate ripples over an underrobe of silver and gold. Whereas others wore their swords through their obi belts, Altansarnai’s curved weapon hung in a sheath from a frog by her side, and a knife hilt glittered above the top of her boot.


Risen from the flames

A week later, in the Phoenix lands to the east…

Tsukune was midstride across the threshold of the forest shrine before she realized her mistake. She winced as her right foot touched the blessed ground on the other side of the torii arch
before her left. Before her peers and in the home of her ancestors, she’d barged into her family’s shrine like a Lion.

When they had both progressed beyond the entrance, Tsukune whispered to the man matching her stride. “I did it again.”
“No one noticed,” Tadaka replied. “Just keep going.”

Tsukune tucked her hands into her kimono sleeves and matched her pace with that of her charge, keeping their place in the wordless procession of topknots, Shiba family mon, and creamy white obi. Their path was a winding upward twist of stone steps and fiery torii arches. The crisp breeze stirred the sloping glades of pink moss to either side, sweeping up their petals to scatter along the way. It was a blessing in the unseasonable spring warmth, even as it painted the temple arches with thick coats of pollen.

Tadaka whispered prayers while he walked, passing a string of beads between his large hands, one jade orb at a time. He towered a full head above the rest, his elaborate layered kimono making his broad back into a lone banner for the Isawa family. In each backward glance he drew from the others, Tsukune saw eyes brightening with respect. Those cast at her, she could not read.



Dark hands of Heaven

Meanwhile, to the far southeast…

A brisk wind scudded across the dry plains, tugging at the robes of the shugenja and snapping the banners atop the Kaiu Wall. Unmoved, Hida Kisada stared impassively from the battlements to the Shadowlands beyond, where a vast force of enemy troops swayed and shifted like grass.

In the eyes of his troops—even battle hardened as they were—he had seen the shadow of fear. Samurai do not fear death, he thought. An easy sentiment for those who shelter in the safety of our wall. My samurai know death too well not to fear it. But they will face it anyway.

Kisada stared down the foe with the same impassive gaze for which the Champion of the Crab Clan was so well known. Around him gathered his children and closest retainers, who did not seem to share the Great Bear’s taciturn demeanor.

“Look at them arranging their forces so considerately. One could almost mistake them for Crane,” sneered Yakamo, Kisada’s eldest child, as he casually lifted his tetsubō onto his shoulder, posturing with the great iron and jade war club as a youngster might a toy. “It will make it even easier to crush them outright.”


The rising wave

Meanwhile, in the northernmost mountains of Rokugan…

A more cautious man—or one with less cause—would not have attempted to leave Shiro Mirumoto so early in the season. Even by Dragon Clan standards, the winter had been a harsh one, and although its grip was loosening, it had yet to let go. Snow still towered in heaps where heimin laborers had shoveled it out of the town streets, and at night the cleared ground became a tiny replica of the mountains, the mud frozen into stone-hard peaks and valleys. Mirumoto Masashige would have preferred to wait another week, or even two, before setting forth on his journey. Not for his own sake—though as the years passed, his joints objected to the cold more and more—but for the sake of his followers. He risked their safety by traveling so soon after the equinox, and he knew it. But delay would only risk greater trouble for the clan as a whole. And Masashige knew that if he were to ask, the men and women of his retinue would insist on leaving as soon as he required, even if that meant riding into the teeth of a blizzard.


Le prix de la guerre

Quelques semaines plus tard, en territoire contesté…

Matsu Tsuko s’accroupit dans un épais bosquet. Elle attendait, en embuscade avec une dizaine d’autres unités de samurai du Clan du Lion. Le dense feuillage étouffait les cris et le bruit de l’acier du combat qui se tenait plus bas, mais rien n’atténuait l’odeur ferrugineuse du sang qui emplissait l’air et qui faisait monter la fureur en elle. Elle devait s’efforcer de contrôler ses jambes, qui la poussaient à se jeter dans la mêlée. Elle observa son commandant, Akodo Toturi, mais son visage lisse ne trahissaitrien de ses plans, alors qu’il scrutait la bataille au loin. 

Mais qu’attend donc cet idiot ?

Le contingent de Tsuko était arrivé environ une heure plustôt, prêt à soutenirlesforcess’amenuisant d’Akodo Arasou, le Champion du Clan du Lion, dans le conflit territorial avec le Clan de la Grue. Les Grues avaient eu l’insolence de consolider leurs forces d’occupation à Toshi Ranbo, la ville la plus au nord du territoire des Lions, pour éloigner l’armée Lion de la région contestée et riche en céréales des Plaines d’Osari, plus au sud.Arasou menait des opérations autour de la ville depuis plusieurssemaines.Il construisait des armes de siège et n’attendait plus que lesrenforts pourlancerl’assaut final etreprendre la cité, afin de s’assurer que les Grues ne pourraient plus l’utiliser comme base contre eux. Le frère aîné d’Arasou, Toturi, avait été convoqué de son monastère pour apporter son aide, mais…


La fille de son père

À l’aube de l’Empire, après que les Kami soient tombés du Paradis Céleste, ils se trouvèrent plongés dans un monde de mortels, rongé par la cruauté et par la guerre. Le Kami Doji, sœur de Hantei, le premier Empereur, prit la décision d’apporter de l’ordre dans cet univers de sauvages. Incarnation de la grâce et de l’élégance, Doji évolua parmi les peuples primitifs en leur inspirant la sérénité de la même manière qu’une éclaircie vient calmer la mer déchaînée par la tempête. Doji leur enseigna l’écriture afin qu’ils puissent consigner leurs exploits, mais aussi la politique, qui leur permettra de régir leurs affaires. Elle fut leur guide en matière d’économie et de commerce pour qu’ils sachent gérer leurs richesses et leur mentor sur la voie de l’art et de la culture pour les élever au-dessus de leurs vies de misère.  Ceux qu’elle inspira le plus devinrent ses dévoués serviteurs, les premiers samurai du Clan de la Grue.

Depuis cette époque, les Grues ont incarné à la fois les poètes et la poésie de l’Empire, abritant aussi bien les forgerons que les duellistes qui manient les lames des artisans. Dans chaque aspect de leurs vies, les Grues n’aspirent qu’à la maîtrise, quel que soit le domaine. Un idéal que les autres clans peuvent seulement espérer imiter.


Carte de Rokugan

Carte de Rokugan par Olivier ‘Akae’ Sanfilippo – 2017 – Work in progress