“They are the fallen, the filthy masses that cling to life only because they do not vet realize that they are already dead.” -Kakita Yoshi
Otomo Yayu sat at the edge of the camp. His unkempt hair stuck out wildly and his robes were stained with dirt from the day’s labors. Ink blackened his fingers and a half-healed cut marked one side of his forehead. He concentrated on a large scrap of cloth that lay before him, pinned by three rocks. Yayu balanced a long brush awkwardly on two fingers and considered his work.
Around him, the men and women who had come to follow Toturi – mostly ronin but now a few Dragons as well – went about their daily business. A small village of tents had sprung up over the last few months as the Black Wolf’s reputation grew. One man stood apart from the rest, watching Yayu with a curious eye and chewing a ball of rice.
“Did you need something, Tzurui-san?” Yayu asked, not looking up from his task.
The samurai simply watched for a moment, then spoke. “Please do not take offense at my question. Otomo-sama,” he asked, “but what are you doing here?”
Yayu peered up at Tzurui curiously. “Why would I not be here? I’ve been here since before Toturi’s call to arms.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Tzurui answered. “You’re a member of the Imperial family. You’re not a ronin, not really. Why in Jigoku are you out here?”
Yayu shrugged and cast his eyes back to his work. “It’s my destiny to search for legends,” he said.
“Legends?” Tzurui replied, folding his arms and regarding the Otomo curiously. “What sort of legends do you expect to find out here in the middle of nowhere?”
Yayu grinned. “There are many legends here. Would you like some examples?”
Yayu pointed to a fat man at the edge of the camp, sweating and breathing heavily as he practiced with a boken. “That man was once Unicorn,” he said. “He was a magistrate six months from retirement. His wife and children were killed by the plague, and he became
ronin, swearing that if the Fortunes would grant him no legacy that he would create one. He is old his bones hurt, and he will never be a competent swordsman. Yet he fights on without fear.”
Yayu looked back over his shoulder and pointed his brush at a second ronin, a pale woman who quietly leaned against a tree and polished her helm. “That one,” Yayu said. “She is from a poor vassal family of the Crab, the sister of a promising apprentice to a Kaiu weaponsmith. Her brother’s master – a skilled smith but a lecherous and evil man – made advances upon her. She knew if she remained at home that her brother would discover the truth, challenge his master, and cut short a promising career. She fled from her home so that her family might have some chance at greatness, and now, struggles to find her own destiny.”
“And that man.” Yayu pointed at a third ronin, an emaciated man in tattered robes who searched the camp with haunted eyes. “He was once a member of a ronin order of shugenja. He tried to master an ancient spell of great power, and when he came back to himself the library was in flames. His brethren were dead. He now wanders the Empire at the kami’s whim. The spirits whisper that they will guide him on the path to absolve his sins. He can do nothing now but listen, until they are finished with him.”
Tzurui was quiet for a long time. Yayu returned to his painting.
“Tell me, Tzurui-san, do you not think that these are legends?” Yayu asked, looking up at the samurai. “Surely every man and woman in this camp has such a tale to tell? Tomorrow, we may go to war. Everyone might die, and these legends would be forgotten. Someone must remember them. If the Fortunes allow it, that someone shall be me.” Yayu lifted the banner he had been struggling to paint. It flapped proudly in the breeze, a humble black wolf displayed upon the cloth.
Tzurui glanced around the camp. Countless rosin moved about their lives. Only minutes before, they had been merely strangers.
Now, in the eyes of each, he saw a story, a bit of himself. He wondered how his own family was faring, if his daughter Kochohime was thinking of him now, and if he would ever see her again. He turned back to Yayu.
“You have become a lone wolf to gather the legends of ronin?” Tzurui asked.
“There are many people here,” Tzurui said “You won’t be able to gather them all.”
Yayu nodded again. “Yes, but a clever wolf is not alone. Clever wolves travel in packs. Would you like to help me, Tzurui-san?”
“How can I help?” Tzurui asked.
“You can start,” Yayu replied with a shrug, “by telling me your legend.”