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    • Owlbear

    In the halls of Rokugan’s most respected courts, the shame of the Fudo scandal in the Colonies rears its ugly head, and punishment must be meted out.

     

     

    Shadow of Disgrace

    By Shawn Carman

    Edited by Fred Wan

     

    The Asahina provinces, late in the 4th century

    The Asahina family daimyo walked swiftly, his expression greatly troubled. A pair of advisors hurried in his wake, struggling to keep up. “I am not yet convinced that this is at all an advisable thing to do,” he said, his voice tense and tight. “We are as yet a very young family. My parents only recently retired. What we are undertaking here… this could be construed as disrespectful or even heretical.”

    “Some elements might name it so, my lord,” one of his advisors offered, “but they would be on the extreme side of this matter. As you well know, so many of those who have sworn fealty to your father’s banner have fully embraced his philosophy of peace and pacifism, and they look to you to see that it such ideals are carried out. This is a means by which that can be accomplished without any offense or loss of life.”

    “It would absolutely validate and solidify your position in the eyes of any detractors,” the other advisor agreed.

    The daimyo scowled. “I am the lord of a samurai family!” he said harshly. “To think that I must pander to those who have made oaths of fealty is preposterous!”

    “Of course, my lord,” the first agreed again. “Unfortunately, with so many of your father’s vassals having placed their faith completely in him, his retirement has led to a… let us call it a crisis of faith.”

    “Now is the time to establish without question that their oaths were not merely to your father,” the other advisor continued, “but to his line. To you, every bit as much as him. This is your chance to prove that their oaths were well-placed, and must be continued for the whole of their line.”

    The daimyo lifted a hand. “Enough,” he said. “I understand very well what must be done, even if I resent enormously the need for it.” He looked about the courtyard. “Where is he?”

    One of the advisors gestured toward the western garden entrance. “He awaits there, my lord.”

    The daimyo nodded, and walked toward the door with purpose. The advisors did not follow, knowing well that their presence was not required. He walked into the small waiting chamber, which like all chambers in the temple built in his parents’ honor contained a small shrine, to find a man waiting on him. “I am Asahina Miroken,” he said with a smile, bowing slightly out of respect. “I apologize for keeping you waiting.”

    The other man was dressed in the traditional trappings of a monk from the Brotherhood, bearing no indications of his sect. “I am grateful for your indulgence, my lord,” he said. “I understand that a personage of your station is incredibly busy. I am called Tsurao. Words cannot convey my appreciation for granting me this audience.”

    Miroken smiled, surprised both at the man’s conservative appearance and his deferential demeanor. “Not at all. As you say, there is a great deal that requires my attention however, so if it would not offer you insult, I hope we can keep this relatively brief.”

    Tsurao bowed again. “Of course, my lord. The matter is quite simple. I represent a very small sect that has been unjustly proscribed by the greater Brotherhood of Shinsei. Our works and doctrines have been declared anathema and our membership driven from monasteries and temples throughout the Empire on pain of death.”

    Miroken gave no indication of the alarm he felt at such a disclosure. “What rationale does the Brotherhood cite for such censure?”

    “There has never been a proper address given, as such. The teachings of our founder call for a careful evaluation of tradition to see if it should be kept or discarded when determining an individual’s path to enlightenment. It is not the wholesale abandonment of tradition, as some have suggested, merely an evaluation. If all paths to enlightenment are unique, then we must plot each path with care.”

    Miroken frowned. “Your statements seem quite reasonable, but of course there is no one here from the Brotherhood to offer a counterpoint, and of course an argument presented in absence of any dissention is hardly an argument at all.”

    “I understand completely, but I should caution you that if the Brotherhood was aware of my presence here, they would doubtless conduct a thorough investigation of the whole of your provinces to ensure that my sect’s ‘heresy’ had not ‘corrupted’ your temples and shrines. They are quite adamant about such things.”

    “The Brotherhood has no authority for such a thing.”

    Tsurao smiled. “Monks move among the populace largely unnoticed, as you might imagine.”

    Miroken considered for a moment. “What is it you seek?”

    “Only a remote location where we might continue our studies in peace,” Tsurao said. “There are less than two dozen of us. A small monastery in an unused corner of your lands will allow us to seek our own paths without interfering or being interfered with.”

    “Why ask me this favor?”

    “Because your father’s adoption of peace, true peace, is well known,” the monk continued. “And it is my hope that you, of all lords in the Empire, might appreciate our desire to simply be permitted to pursue our own path without the threat of violence from outsiders who condemn us.”

    Miroken said nothing for a moment. “I will need time to speak with my advisors and vassals.”

    Tsurao bowed deeply. “Of course, my lord. I await your convenience.”

     

    * * * * *

     

    Many years ago…

    The little girl played with her simple cloth doll. It was not a fancy doll such as those she had seen in some of the shops when she accompanied her father to the larger cities, but she loved it anyway. Those dolls were so pretty and so fancy that, as much as she wanted to, she might be afraid to even play with them. But regardless, they seemed like something that her father would have to pay a large number of coins for, and even though she did not truly understand coins, she knew that her father would prefer not to have to use so many on something as silly as a doll. So she played with the ones she already had, which were better anyway because her mother had made them for her long ago, before the fever had come and taken mother away. The thought made her sad, and the little girl hugged her dolls tightly to her to make herself feel better.

    From behind her she heard the soft click of father putting down his brush. It was a sound she knew well, because she understood that until she heard it, she needed to be absolutely quiet. Since her mother’s death, she had often accompanied father to the chambers where he worked, and had learned at an early age to remain silent so as not to disturb his important work. She looked at him now and beamed her most beautiful smile. He was tired, and he rubbed his eyes, but he smiled back at her. He always smiled back, even lately when he and her uncle had been arguing so terribly. She did not like it when they argued. “Are you finished, papa?”

    “Almost, my little one,” he said, his voice showing how tired he was. There would be no playing in the garden today, she knew. That was sad, but she would have a chance again tomorrow. Her father looked down at the papers, the ones he had been arguing with uncle about, and frowned. He looked at her strangely. “Do you know what a secret is, sweet daughter?”

    “A secret is a scorpion’s treasure!” she piped happily.

    Her father chuckled, and that made her feel warm and happy. “That is what they say, isn’t it? And it is true, to a certain extent. Secrets are things that we hide away, that we don’t tell people, and that is very nearly the same thing as telling a lie.”

    The girl’s face fell. “Oh no, papa, you should never ever tell a lie.”

    “You should always tell the truth,” her father agreed. “But unfortunately, sometimes people make very bad decisions, and because of that, sometimes telling the truth can hurt someone, and not telling the truth can protect someone. Do you understand what I mean, little one?”

    “I don’t know, papa,” she said, scrunching up her face. “How am I to know the difference?”

    “Listen to what your heart tells you, my love. You have a wonderful heart and it will never lead you down the wrong path.”
    Asahina Nanae smiled. “Yes, papa!”

     

    * * * * *

     

    The respite of evening finally arrived, and Nanae retired to her personal estate to seek solace from the day’s exhaustions. She was not ignorant of the fact that her staff of servants seemed to shy away from her, but there was precious little she could think of to alleviate the situation, and even if something could be done, she was far too weary to attempt it tonight. It was merely one more thing that she resigned herself to resolve at a later date, hopefully after things calmed down somewhat.

    Nanae retired to one of the sitting rooms and waited for her customary evening tea. It arrived only a moment later, the familiar scent of her favorite blend instantly soothing her frayed nerves. She sat for a long time, sipping idly at several cups of it and thinking of nothing in particular, content to let her mind relax after a day that had been vastly more taxing than it needed to have been. Time slipped by unnoticed until Nanae finally realized that one of her servants was standing nearby, waiting patiently. “Yes?” she asked.

    The woman bowed sharply. “Please forgive my intrusion, my lady, but there is a guest to see you.”

    Nanae felt her calm slipping away. “No guests this evening,” she said plainly.

    The servant lingered, clearly conflicted. “If you wish, my lady,” she finally said. “The guest is the Crane Clan Champion, however.”

    Nanae carefully set her tea cup back on the table. “Please remove this and see to it that we are provided with a serving of Silken Morning blend. It is my lord’s favorite. See him in at once.”

    The servant bowed quickly, took the tray and withdrew at once. Nanae took the momentary reprieve to seek her center. For her lord to call upon her so late was unusual, and she found it difficult to imagine that anything beneficial could come from such a meeting. Still, thus far she had endured all that had been set before her, and this would be one more hardship that she could weather. It was her duty.

    The servant reappeared, bowing deeply, and ushered in the Crane Clan Champion. Even at this distance, Nanae could tell that the woman’s cheeks were flushed. Nanae often disdained the effect her Champion had on women, but at least she could understand it. He was, after all, a remarkably striking man. “My lord,” Nanae said, rising from her seat to bow before her Champion.

    “Nanae-san, please,” Doji Makoto said, his smile radiant as the dawn. “One such as you has no need. You are the Jade Champion, after all.” His hair cascaded across his shoulders like blackened sunlight. It was difficult not to stare.

    “There are many who find that all the more reason to take issue with me of late,” Nanae said wearily, sitting down once more as the tea was served. “My days have been… hectic, of late.”

    “I know,” Makoto said. His tone was nearly as weary as hers, and thick with sympathy. “I regret that I must come to you now to speak of the same thing, but unfortunately there is little choice in the matter.”

    Nanae closed her eyes for a moment and nodded. “I expected that, of course, my lord. Whatever needs to be done shall be done.”

    Makoto’s smile was so painfully sad that it was wrenching to look upon. “It is not that simple, my friend. Things have become increasingly complicated. I have done what I can to shield you from the aftermath of this scandal, but unfortunately things have reached a point where I can no longer do so.”

    The Jade Champion felt something sink in her chest. “I do not understand what you mean, my lord.”

    “I know that many have targeted you specifically as a result of the unfortunate revelations concerning your family’s involvement with the Fudo cult,” he said softly. “Most are interested in the prestige associated with a perceived victory over the Jade Champion in court, while others hope to undermine the position in its entirety or perhaps simply reduce your effectiveness.” His expression was wistful. “Unfortunately things have escalated from there. The Crane as a whole are being drawn into the affair, and the Imperial families are withdrawing somewhat from our mutual associations. This is not something that can be permitted to continue.”

    “I can speak to them if you like,” Nanae offered. “I believe that I can make them see reason. There is no call for that level of reprisal.”

    “We are beyond the point at which such things can be easily remedied,” Makoto said. “Would that we were not, but that is the situation in which we find ourselves. I fear more drastic action is the only possible solution.”

    Nanae frowned. “I am afraid I cannot see clear to what action may suffice if diplomacy fails. Is that not our greatest strength as Crane?”

    “Examples must be made,” Makoto said. “There are options available to us, although sadly none are particularly enticing.” He seemed genuinely remorseful. “Barring any grand gestures, I will have no choice but to levy significant penalties against the Asahina for their role in concealing the Fudo cult.”

    Nanae’s face whitened. “How significant?”

    “There has been some discussion as to whether or not they will retain their family’s status.”

    Despite her decades of training and practice, Nanae could not keep the horrified expression from her face. “You cannot be serious, my lord! Who would suggest such a thing?”

    “Several prominent members of the Crane have privately approached me with the idea,” Makoto admitted. “I regret that it is something I have considered, but unfortunately there is little option at this juncture.”

    Her mind was racing. “You said that a grand gesture might eliminate the need for such a thing,” she remembered. “What manner of action could forestall such a measure?”

    Doji Makoto looked deep into her eyes with the saddest expression she could ever have imagined. His eyes were like pools of night. “Please do not make me say it, Nanae-san,” he said softly. “I think you know precisely what I mean.”

    Nanae’s knuckles were white where she clutched at the hem of her kimono. “My service has displeased you. Shall I formally seek your permission to commit seppuku?”

    “There are several trusted advisors who have suggested that,” Makoto noted. “I feel it is too severe, however. If you were to abdicate your position in order to put your house in order, I feel the attention given to the new Jade Championship would mitigate any lingering problems with the Asahina family. Your kinsmen could be spared further shame, and although they would be required to delegate any ongoing diplomatic duties to other families, I would consider the matter closed.”

    There was a long period of silence as Nanae said nothing. “You ask a great deal,” she whispered after a time.

    “I know,” Makoto said. “And I am sorry for that. You understand that it is not required for you to do this thing. But you must also understand that if nothing else is done, I will have no choice. I am the lord of the Crane. If I must choose between punishing the Asahina or seeing the whole of our clan suffer… there is no choice to be made.”

    “I understand,” she answered. “If I must choose between maintaining a position that does not benefit the Crane, and in protecting my family, then I have no choice either.” She looked up and met his gaze. “I will inform the Imperial families of my abdication in the morning. I imagine they will schedule a new Jade Championship rather quickly.”

    “You are a good and honorable woman,” Makoto said. “On behalf of all your kinsmen, thank you for your sacrifice.”

    Nanae could only nod. Her voice seemed to have escaped her.

     

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