By Ken Carpenter
Kakita Yoshi reclined against the huge white pillow. Fine silk draperies in bright and exotic colors lined the large room, their luster only slightly dimmed in the lantern light following the setting of the sun. The warm yellow light of the lanterns showed the thoughtful reflection of Yoshi’s mind as he reviewed the quickly written dispatch in his hand for a third time.
Yoshi’s quarters in the Imperial city were luxurious in the extreme, but why not? His family was the wealthiest in the Empire and, as the foremost political representative of his Clan, it was important to display the trappings that accompany wealth and power. It also served a purpose when he entertained, as his guest was often disarrned and distracted by the surroundings.
His eyes rose from the message, a humorless smile playing at the corners of his mouth, and asked his assistant, Doji Tsubo, to summon a scribe and a messenger. Upon their arrival, the scribe wrote his response to the message as he dictated.
“The Crane Clan is most honored by your offer of service, Seppun Ishikawa-san, though we share the Empire’s sorrow that you will no longer lead the Imperial Guard. The Crane welcome your service and will gladly accept your offer of fealty, for both you and your men.
“I am deeply disturbed by your suspicions of intrigue in the palace. Your current duty will be as my personal guard. You and your men are to report to me as quickly as possible. We will further discuss this possible conspiracy, and your first priority will be to further your investigation.
“I look forward to our meeting. “Kakita Yoshi”
The message was reviewed by Yoshi, rolled and immediately sent to Seppun Ishikawa at Beiden Pass. Yoshi watched as the scribe and messenger left the room. When the door closed, the humorless smile returned. Tsubo turned to him.
“Yoshi-sama, do you recall that we suspect that scribe of providing information to the Scorpion?”
Yoshi remained perfectly still, but quietly chastised his young protege. “Did I not ask you to summon him by name?”
Tsubo shrank at the subtle reproach in Yoshi’s tone.
Yoshi continued. “If there is no political gain in accepting the fealty of Seppun Ishikawa and his elite cadre of samurai, then there is no gain at all. While I do not necessarily believe in Ishikawa’s suspicions, the fact that he will be here, in the capital, pursuing such an investigation, will be a thorn in our enemy’s side. But beyond that, if we allow our enemy to believe that we support such an investigation…. that in itself is a threat.”
“Our kind ally, Ishikawa, will attract so much of their attention, the Scorpion courtiers will have little time to wrangle with us. And if his presence becomes problematic for us, he is easily reassigned to another location. In fact, we may be offered something quite valuable to us in order to secure such a move.”
Tsubo thought for a moment, and then turned to Yoshi again. “And if Ishikawa is killed during his investigation?”
“Then, Tsubo, Ishikawa is not nearly as smart as I believe.”
Fury threatened her restraint. She wanted to strike out, to destroy something, to scream. Instead, she merely nodded her gratitude and dismissed the aging scribe that had provided the information and the ambitious Scorpion courtier that had recruited him.
Kachiko was the Empress. Her demeanor must always be calm and thoughtful. If she allowed herself the luxury of reckless behavior, her enemies would destroy her. For three years, she had lived the life of the doting bride. She would not abandon her mask for a mere moments rage.
Again, Ishikawa lived! How many lives did that Seppun have? And then, on the heels of his resignation from the Imperial Guard, to swear fealty to the Crane Clan… Kachiko stood, pacing to the window as if seeking a breath of the cool night air.
It did nothing to ease her burning anger.
So Kakita Yoshi was bringing the inquisitive Seppun here, to the palace. What did that sour Crane have in mind?
Kachiko knew, better than anyone, that there was far more than softness and gentle words behind Yoshi’s pleasant exterior – his understanding and ability to control politics, to create and destroy intrigue were nearly a match for her own.
As she gazed down over the lights of Otosan Uchi, Kachiko smiled peacefully, regaining her balance and her poise. The Kakita may have Ishikawa’s fealty, but they did not have his complete trust.
Kachiko would make certain that it would be a long and dangerous Spring…