Woven through the history of the Second City, the simple tale of a monk and his adherents.
By Nancy Sauer
Edited by Fred Wan
The Second City, many years ago…
The alleyway wasn’t really large enough for Yoritomo Tarao’s purposes; it was too short to allow privacy and the low-built buildings in the peasant’s district would never allow it to be dimly lit. But it was the best to be currently found in the Second City and so all he could do was carry on and hope that as the city grew he would finally get a decent alley to work in.
“The money, Goku,” Tarao said to the peasant he had cornered. A flash of something that might have been defiance shone in Goku’s eyes, and Tarao wondered if he would have to beat the man up again.
“It is very hard to raise that kind of money, magistrate-sama,” Goku whined, and Tarao relaxed. Whining was an admission that he held the power.
“Life is hard,” Tarao said. “The money.”
Goku began to fumble around in his clothing for something and Tarao patiently waited for the bag of coins to be produced. As the peasant pulled something out of his jacket he glanced up, not at Tarao but at something just behind him.
The magistrate reacted without thought, twisting his body to the side and drawing out a knife as he spun around. A second peasant using a plank of wood as an improvised club was now next to him, trying to recover from his missed swing. Tarao slashed him with the knife was was rewarded with a scream of pain and a dropped club. Goku screamed as well, and threw something that Tarao evaded easily. The two peasants took the opportunity to run.
Tarao watched them go, swearing to himself. Giving chase would just call attention to his activities, something he absolutely did not want: The general shortage of labor in the Second City made getting peasants quietly executed much harder than in Rokugan. He would just need to think things through and find a way to turn this to his advantage. He looked about for what Goku had thrown and found a small bag coins on the ground. Tarao picked it up, reflecting that at least the morning hadn’t been a total loss. Then he saw the monk standing at the other end of the alley. The magistrate scowled at him. Monks were trouble: They didn’t have a proper respect for money and they couldn’t be killed. Peasants resented a monk’s death far more than the death of one of their own, and would make endless trouble over it.
“Is there a problem, brother?” he asked, using a tone that implied that there had better not be.
“Not at all,” the monk said. “But I’ve led a fairly sheltered life in the Dragon mountains and I’ve never seen an extortionist at work before. You can understand why I had to stop and observe.”
“Reeeeally,” Tarao said, drawing out the work to express his skepticism. “So you think it might lead you to enlightenment?”
“It may,” the monk said. “How will I know until I consider it?”
Tarao didn’t know how to answer that. Every monk he had ever met had been quite sure that the pursuit of money was a distraction, something that got in the way of enlightenment. The suggestion that it could be a path to enlightenment was startling. “Did you have any questions?” he asked.
“I always have questions,” the monk said with a smile. “That is why I am traveling: to find more questions, and maybe some answers.”
“I’m free until after the midday break,” Tarao said. “You could ask me all the questions you like until then.” He paused for a moment and then added, “I am Yoritomo Tarao, a magistrate here in the Second City.”
“I am Hyoboku, a monk formerly of the Order of Fukurokujin.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Hyoboku. I know of a garden with some nice shade where we can talk and…” Tarao’s voice trailed off as a memory surfaced.
“Is there something wrong, Tarao-san?” Hyoboku asked.
“It is nothing, really,” Tarao said, feeling slightly embarrassed. “But,” he made a gesture with his hands, “I have heard a story about a Mantis samurai and a monk and it doesn’t end well. For either of them.”
Hyoboku looked puzzled for a moment and then he broke into a laugh. “So it didn’t, so it didn’t. But I am no Kami, so you will have to find a tragic death on your own merits.”
* * * * *
Two years later
Even from two blocks away the yelling could be heard, an achievement Tarao found modestly impressive. To be sure, the Temple District had few sources of noise to compete with, but even so getting a monk to bellow quotations from the Tao at the top of his lungs was not all that easy. Tarao quickened his pace, hoping to get there before the fun was all over–there was something final in the tone of the last bellow–but when he arrived at the garden where Hyoboku usually taught he passed a red-faced Asako monk stalking away.
The magistrate sighed slightly in disappointment and made his way though the slowly dispersing crowd to stand next to the monk. “You’ve attracted more students,” he said.
Hyoboku snorted. “They come to see a show. But they hear my words, and tonight some of them will be speaking of Fudo’s teachings.” He rose to his feet and started walking.
“I’m pretty sure they heard the Asako’s words too. “ Tarao fell into step with the monk. “Hard not to at that volume.”
“A fool and an emissary of fools,” Hyoboku said. “They piously intone that if you see Shinsei on the road you should kill him, and then carefully regulate what roads you are allowed to take. All roads are roads! Shinsei could be on any of them!”
Tarao didn’t answer at once, having to dodge three women–a Kuni, a Moto and a Daidoji, from their mons–who were having an animated discussion in the middle of the street. “That’s why you left the Dragon lands,” he said. He’d never broached the subject before, but the moment seemed right for it. “They didn’t like the road you wanted to take.”
“That is part of it,” Hyoboku said. “But there is more. I needed to come here.”
“Here,” Tarao repeated.
“Do you not realize what this city is? Heaven has granted the Empire an Empress of boundless vision, and here that vision has created a city undreamed of by our ancestors. Here all roads can be searched, all customs questioned. Here we shall winnow out the chaff of our ancestors’ ways and keep only the sound grain. Even now you can see it, in the shift of the court season from winter to summer. What is winter to a land of no snow?”
Tarao was silent while he mulled this over. Every samurai he had yet to meet in the Second City fell into one of two groups: the ambitious ones, who had been sent to advance their clan, and the embarrassing ones, who had been sent to get them out of the sight of the Empire. Tarao tried not to speculate on which group he belonged to. Hyoboku’s version of the city was much grander, and it tugged at something inside of him, something he didn’t have a name for. “Do you have any scrolls about Fudo?” he said finally. “I don’t have the time to come and listen to you teach all the time, but if I had a scroll I could study it during the slow shifts at the magistrate’s station.”
“I have a scroll, but I will have to recopy it for you to be able to read it–it’s very old. Come by next week and I should have it ready for you.” Hyoboku gave him a searching look. “But I don’t think that is why you came here to see me.”
“Oh, no. Well, that.” Tarao’s mind jumped back to the matter at hand. “Well, Goku’s little girl caught something a few week’s back, and she’s not getting over it. He and his wife have taken her to every herbalist in the Peasant District and none of them have helped. I was thinking, you being a priest of the kami, maybe you could help her.”
“You have been stealing Goku’s wages for longer than I have known you, and now you claim to want a favor for his daughter?”
Tarao gave the monk a shocked look, appalled by the idea that the monk couldn’t see the distinction. “That’s about money,” he said. “This is about a man’s children!”
The monk stopped turned to look at Tarao, with an expression the magistrate recognized: it was the one Hyoboku wore when someone was presenting an argument about the Tao. “Very well,” he said finally. “I will see what my prayers can do. Do not forget I will have that scroll ready for you next week.”
* * * * *
Thirteen years later
The air still held a bit of coolness to it as the two men walked the road that led out of theSecondCityand off to the river port. Tarao sniffed it appreciatively, knowing that all too soon the heat of summer would arrive. “Good weather for the start of your journey–a good omen for it.”
Hyoboku smiled. “I’ve never been one to turn down a good omen,” he said.
Tarao had trouble thinking of anything to say after that. Yesterday afternoon nearly every student had come to the monk’s last teaching session in the garden, and in the evening a group of his closest students had thrown a party in the monk’s honor. It had been the most decorous going-away party Tarao had ever attended, as Hyoboku held the odd belief that drunken people were boring and no one wanted to lessen his enjoyment of the occasion. “I will miss our talks,” he said finally.
“You have come far,” Hyoboku said. “I don’t think you need my teaching anymore.”
“I didn’t say teaching, I said talks.”
The monk laughed. “So you did. I am corrected. I will also miss our talks. But being invited to a lord’s home is no small thing, and it will allow me to discuss the ways of Fudo with all of his retainers and guests.”
Tarao nodded. There was no question the monk was doing the right thing, and life was full of partings. “Carry the Fortunes, Hyoboku.”
* * * * *
Tarao paused at the mouth of the alley, certain he’d heard his name being called. Turning around he scanned the crowd in the street and spotted the familiar form of Tsuruchi Yashiro striding towards him. “Yashiro-san!” he called. “It’s been years!”
“Not years enough,” Yashiro said. “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this blight of a city with soup for air.”
“When drinking poison, lick the bowl,” Tarao said.
“I am so sorry, I had mistaken you for my friend Yoritomo Tarao,” Yashiro said. “But you are quoting the Tao, so you must not be him.”
Tarao laughed. “The Tao isn’t so bad once you learn how to read it. I met a monk who explained the teachings of Fudo to me and the difference was amazing.”
“He must be amazing if he’s found a way that you will follow,” Yashiro said.
“I will lend you some scrolls I have on Fudo; you can look them over when you are bored. But for now I’ll buy you some sake to help make breathing soup a little easier.”
Yashiro laughed. “That’s the Tarao I remember.”
The two men moved off, still talking. In the darkness of the alley behind them a figure sitting slumped against the wall straightened up and cocked its head to one side, as if trying to dredge up a memory. “Fu-do,” it said. “Fuuuuuudoooooo.”