By Nancy Sauer
Edited by Fred Wan
After the First Day of Thunder, Lady Doji’s youngest son went into the Shadowlands, seeking his lost sister. When Doji Hayaku had returned, white-haired and scarred, he carried with him the sword that she had taken up to battle the Fallen Kami. In recognition of his courage his mother had given him his own name and familythe Daidojiand the responsibility of defending the clan against its enemies. The highest and most glorious part of that responsibility was to serve as the personal guard of the Crane Champion.
Doji Domotai walked through the gardens of Kyuden Doji, trailed discreetly by a pair of Daidoji samurai. She could not remember a time when she did not know of Hayaku’s story. Save for when she was in the Lion lands, training with the Matsu, there had never been a moment when there was not a Daidoji standing at her back. It was only recently that she had realized that being protected by the Daidoji meant being at their mercy.
The area Domotai had chosen for their meeting was closed about by bamboo, pine, and plum trees. At the edge of the clearing was a small pond spangled with lotus leaves, with one early blossom starting to unfold against the dark water. Uji stopped a moment to take in the scene, as he was intended to, and then turned his attention to the woman who had summoned him. Doji Domotai knelt near the pond, waiting. She was a lovely woman, dressed in the finest silks the Doji house could obtain, but her wakizashi was thrust into her elaborately woven obi and her katana rested on the ground beside her. Uji nodded to himself in approvalshe did not trust him, and she was wise in this.
He knelt down and bowed to her, face to the ground, then he rose, walked to the appropriate distance from her and knelt again to bow. “You summoned me, Lady Doji,” he said. “How may I serve you?”
“Uji-san, please sit and be comfortable,” Domotai said. “I wish to speak with you.”
Uji rose and looked at her. “My lady, I am generally known as Fumisato. In this world Uji is another man’s name.”
“I also bear someone else’s name,” Domotai said. She smiled. “So we have something in common.”
Uji smiled slightly in response. “So I have heard, my lady.”
Domotai glanced around, a mere flicker of eyes, then turned her attention back to him. “Asahina Sekawa told me that you come from another world beyond the Realm of Dreams, and that until the Day of Thunder, your world’s history and mine were the same.”
“Yes,” Uji said. The claim sounded ludicrous to him now, sitting in the gardens of Kyuden Doji and speaking with Kuwannan’s granddaughter. But Domotai simply went on.
“And so you were the Daidoji daimyo, knowing all the things the Uji of this world knew.”
Uji nodded. “Until that day, yes.”
“And so you must know about the Harriers.”
“I do, my lady.” He had been to Shiro Giji once in this world, at the invitation of a woman called Daidoji Hakumei. Not his Hakumei, not really, but she had been a ronin’s child sponsored into the Crane by Daidoji Uji during the Clan Wars. Hakumei had been curious enough to want to meet him, and he had been curious enough to agree.
“And their transgressions against Imperial Law do not bother you?” Domotai’s voice had a hint of challenge in it.
“Very little bothers me,” Uji said.
“Clearly,” Domotai replied. Her eyes flickered again. “It bothers me. I cannot for a moment imagine what my father was thinking of when he tolerated this blot on Crane honor. I have ordered Kikaze to disband them.” The challenge in her voice was more overt now, and she watched Uji closely for his reaction.
The expression on Uji’s face didn’t change. “You do not need my approval in this, my lady.”
“No,” Domotai said emphatically, then she continued in a softer tone. “No, what I need is&advice. I gave those orders before the Khan’s assault on Toshi Ranbo. I will not go back on my order, but I must know how much I have weakened my clan.”
“It is difficult to judge,” Uji said after a moment of thought. “The need to preserve their secrecy limits when and where they can be used, but within those limits they are extremely effective.”
“Preserving their secrecy is a lost cause,” Domotai said. “Togashi Satsu knows about them.”
Uji’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You are certain?”
Domotai nodded. “He himself told me, when he came to negotiate. When I told him that I had taken action against the Harriers he agreed to end the war between our clans.”
“He let his clan be besieged and starved by the Crane, when all the while he had the key to our destruction? Fool,” Uji said. “The Dragon Clan is led by a fool.”
“Perhaps he did not wish to destroy the Crane,” Domotai said.
“As I said, a fool. Our rice-lands would have been his for the taking, and he could have installed his Scorpion allies as the dominant power in the Imperial Court for decades to come. But his foolishness is your opportunityyou must move quickly. You must move against the Harriers publicly, and blunt the effectiveness of any charges he wishes to make in the future.”
“A moment ago you called the Harriers extremely effective, and now you tell me to make haste to destroy them?”
“My lady, I have seen what happens when the Crane lose their political power. The Harriers fought with all of their resources against the armies of the Fallen Kami and in the end they made no difference at allin the end the true strength of the Crane is the Empire itself. You must not allow us to be separated from that strength.”
“That may be difficult,” Domotai murmured, eyes once again sweeping the area. “Kikaze argued with me when I gave my order.”
Uji heard her, but his attention was fixed on her eyes. The pattern of her search had finally made sense to him, and he realized with a thrill of horror that it was not him that she distrusted. “Domotai-sama,” he said softly, “why do you fear your guards?”
“I do not fear them,” she said in an equally low tone. “I fear no man. But&every one of them was appointed to my guard by Daidoji Kikaze. Whom I nearly killed when he protested my orderI had my sword in my hand and death in my heart when I told him he had one last chance.”
“And so another clan has a fool for a champion,” Uji said dispassionately. “You do not draw steel on a man without finishing the matterdid that Matsu sensei of yours not even teach you that much?”
Domotai glared at him. “You will not criticize my sensei,” she said coldly. “The failure, if that is what it was, was mine.”
Uji was silent while he measured the strength of that glare. Domotai’s youth and inexperience made mistakes inevitable, but her willingness to accept responsibility for them spoke well of her. And, he admitted, killing the Daidoji daimyo while the Crane was at war would have brought its own set of problems. “My apologies to you and your sensei,” he said. “I spoke out of concern for you.” Domotai gestured with one hand, waving the matter away, and he continued. “But if you do not trust them, why do you not act?”
Domotai looked away from him, staring at the lotus in the pond for a long time. “I don’t know what to do,” she finally said in a small voice. “I don’t. If Kikaze is false, then I and my house are in great dangerhe must move against me, to prevent me from moving against him. But if he is true, then to act against him will shame the Daidoji family unjustly. Even when my grandfather was at war with Daidoji Uji he kept his Daidoji bodyguards with himwhat excuse can I give for sending mine away?”
Silence fell on the garden as Uji thought. In his world he had seen the last lord of the Doji cut down in battle by the corpse of the second-last; the idea of one being murdered by the Daidoji was even worse. “Domotai-sama, I have a solution to the problem.”
“To which: the Harriers, or my bodyguards?”
“Both,” Uji said. “You have a matter of greatest importance to the clan which must be handled with swiftness and discretion, so you are assigning your own guard to me. There is no shame in that. I will take them to deal with the source of the illegal activities. If they obey without question you will know that they, and Kikaze, are loyal to you.”
“And if they hesitate?” Domotai asked.
“I will kill them,” Uji said.
There was another moment of silence as Domotai considered the old, gray-haired man in front of her. “I will draft the necessary papers this afternoon,” she said.
Daidoji Hakumei made her way to the fishing pavilion, puffing a little at the exertion. She was getting old, she thought, and the hours she spent in the lower levels didn’t help matters. As she approached the pavilion she slowed down to catch her breath and check to see that her hair was in order. Fumisato was not her old teacher, for all he looked and spoke like him, but she still felt the need to show him the utmost courtesy. Her fingers discovered a metal object tucked in the bun of her hair and she pulled it out to discover that at some point she had stuck a measuring spoon in. Hakumei sighed, tucked the spoon into her obi, and continued on.
Uji was standing at the far end of the pavilion, watching the koi glide half-seen in the depths of the pond. Hakumei advanced to a polite distance and bowed deeply to him. “Lord Sun’s blessings on you, Fumisato-sama,” she said.
“And to you, Hakumei-san,” he said, bowing more shallowly in reply. “My time for talk is short, I will warn you; I am on a mission for the Crane Champion.”
Hakumei nodded in sympathy. “I am sure she has many important things to see to, what with the business at Toshi Ranbo. You can be sure that we are ready for whatever she needs to have done.”
“Your store-rooms are full? You are well-supplied with assets?”
“Well, no,” Hakumei admitted. “Last fall we had gotten word from Kikaze-sama that we were to stop production and destroy our reserves. I don’t know why, really. We weren’t finished when word came that Shiro Ikoma had fallen and the Khan was moving east, so we stopped that and started restocking again.”
“Kikaze reversed himself?”
Hakumei shrugged. “Who can know the mind of a lord? Shihei sent the message, and he didn’t say why Kikaze had changed his mind.”
Uji nodded briefly, then glanced over towards the temple building. “I am sorry,” he said softly. “Our time has ended.” He drew a scroll case out of his obi and handed it to her. “This is for you.”
Hakumei accepted it reverently: the seal of the Crane Champion was plain to see on it. She quickly opened it, shook out the scroll and started to read. The first few lines made her frown, and she quickly skipped to the bottom to read the end. She looked up at him, pale-faced and shaking slightly. “What&what is the meaning of this?”
“Lady Doji has decided that the Crane Clan no longer needs this place, and has sent me to oversee its end,” he said.
“ButbutI am loyal to the Crane! I have served it faithfully since my gempukku!”
“And this will be your last duty to it.” Uji nodded to the two Daidoji who had come into the pavilion. “Take her off of the temple grounds first; we will not add to this temple’s pollution.” Without another word or glance at Hakumei he walked out of the pavilion and started towards the soldiers gathered in front of the temple building.
Domotai was sitting at her desk, brushing out a letter to her father-in-law when there was a soft scratching noise at the door of her study. “Yes?” she said.
“My lady,” Daidoji Kimpira said, “I am here to report.”
“Enter,” Domotai said. The door opened and the commander of her personal guard entered, carrying a large covered basket. He approached her desk and knelt before it, after carefully placing the basket to one side. Domotai’s nose wrinkled somewhat at the basket’s smell, but the expression on her face was otherwise neutral. “Please report, Kimpira-san.”
“My lady, we accompanied your special magistrate to Giji Seido as ordered. There we found this person,” he removed the cover of the basket, “engaged in the manufacture and distribution of gaijin pepper, in clear violation of Imperial Law.”
Domotai glanced at the basket’s contents, then looked back at Kimpira. “Was this person acting alone?”
“No, my lady. We executed several others who seemed to be her assistants in manufacturing the pepper. Also, some of the other bushi who were present seemed to be acting in collusion with her: they resisted our orders to stand down and were slain. The remaining bushi surrendered when they learned that our orders came from you.”
“And who were these samurai? From what family are they?”
The guard commander’s face darkened slightly in shame and he looked down. “They were Daidoji, my lady. All of them.”
“That is truly unfortunate,” Domotai said. “I am pleased that we put down these rogues before they could shame their family any further.” Kimpira nodded his agreement. “What became of those who surrendered?”
“Fumisato-san arrested them and sent them all to Shiro Daidoji. He said it was unclear if they were all participating in the criminal activities, or some had been misled into associating with the criminals. He awaits your further orders on the matter.”
“I do not wish to give the appearance of undermining the Daidoji daimyo’s authority,” Domotai said thoughtfully. “I will turn the matter over to Kikaze, and allow him to determine who is guilty and who is innocent.”
Kimpira bowed. “Your will, my lady. Do you have any orders for me?”
“Dispose of that basket,” she said, “and then have your men resume their usual duties.”
“At once, Domotai-sama.” Kimpira didn’t actually grin, but there was a certain jauntiness in the way he flipped the cover back on to the basket and picked it up. Domotai watched him leave. When the door slid shut behind him she picked up the letter she was writing, crumpled it up, and tossed it into the room’s brazier. Then she picked up a sheet of paper and began a new letter.