Sukune could not remember his mother’s face.
Try as he might, he could not. She had died when he was young, a troublesome birth. Sukune had been weak and sickly since, always the butt of his siblings’ jokes and his father’s disdain. Now, with the need for skilled officers to lead the armies north, Kisada had finally recognized his son’s tactical prowess. Sadly, now that he had found his father, he could no longer remember his mother.
The young samurai stood on a hill crest, watching the armies of the Crab march. They moved at his command. At his signal, they were ready to march and die, because the Great Bear had ordered it so. A sea of blue-grey sashimono and great standards flapped in the morning breeze, the blood-red mon of the Crab burning bright in the morning sun.
The Crab were eager for war.
“Will they be so eager,” Sukune whispered, “when they discover who our allies are?”
“They are Crabs,” whispered an oily voice. Kuni Yori appeared, seemingly from nowhere, at the young officer’s side. “They know their duty.”
“It does not feel right,” Sukune replied, not looking at the shugenja “We have spent ten centuries fighting the Shadowlands. Why do we ally ourselves with them?”
“They do as the Great Bear commands,” Yori answered coolly. “We shall use these beasts and toss them aside when we are done. Do you doubt Lord Kisada intends anything but the noblest ends?”
“I only wonder at the quality of the advice he has been given,” Sukune replied, meeting the shugenja’s gaze evenly. Sukune did not trust Yori. Something was not quite right behind his eyes, though Father seemed to approve of him.
“Lord Kisada knows what he is doing, Sukune.” Yori said tersely. “The Empire languishes under the rule of one who is weak. You of all people should understand the price of weakness.
Sukune scowled. “And what price will the Shadowlands demand?”
“One of no consequence, I imagine.” Yori answered. “Lord Kisada would not have entered into an agreement if the end result had not been well worth it. With all of the Empire at stake, what price would he too great?”
Sukune said nothing for a moment, then turned to watch the armies again. “I am keeping my eye on you, Yori,” he said simply. Kuni Yori nodded. He studied the boy’s youthful face. So unlike his father’s.
“I do not take offense that you doubt me, boy,” Yori said with a sigh. “Lord Kisada’s confidence is all I require. You shall see my wisdom in time.” Yori turned and moved away down the hill, dark robes seeming to hardly brush the ground.
Sukune watched the shugenja with a sneer. He felt a terrible chill in his head as the armies marched north and his thoughts turned to the battle ahead.
Why could he not remember his mother’s face?