Set a course… for adventure!
Setting a Course
By Nancy Sauer
Edited by Fred Wan
The sun sparkled on the clear waters of the bay, picking out the choppy waves with sharp edges of light. Yoritomo Nakoshi paused in his work and looked out, savoring the view. There was nothing more beautiful than the sea, no privilege greater than being able to sail it.
“What, do we need to fix the ocean now?”
Nakoshi laughed and looked over at his captain. “No, just thinking about how soon we can get back to patrolling, to be out again. He gestured with the brush towards the list he was making. “I am almost done.”
“Good, good,” Yoritomo Zinan said. He walked across the deck, cat-footed and graceful, and glanced down at the side of the kobune. “Nothing looks too difficult to fix. Once the repair crews have made their own inspection it should take only a few days for them to take care of everything. Then we can go back to chasing the poppy-rats.”
“Captain,” Nakoshi said slowly, “about that–” He stopped.
Zinan gave him a curious look. “Yes? What?”
“What are we going to do with their cargo when we find them?”
“Dump it over the side, of course,” Zinan said. “What else?”
“Keep it and sell it.”
Zinan stared at him, aghast. “Have you gone mad?”
“It’s a lot of koku we are talking about,” Nakoshi said. “Shouldn’t we get some good out of it, after all the trouble they have caused us?”
“And what do you need so badly as to justify this thought?” Zinan’s tone was cool.
“Not me,” Nakoshi protested, “the clan.” Seeing the expression on Zinan’s face he went on. “Captain, we are at war with the Crane. No one says it, not yet, but it has to be coming after what has happened in the colonies. And wars cost money–who knows this better than the Mantis?”
“We have everything we need to take care of the Crane,” Zinan said.
“The Crab thought that once, and now the Yasuki daimyo is half-Crane,” Nakoshi said. “We–”
“Enough!” Zinan said. “To be a Mantis means doing many things that the rest of the Empire doesn’t approve of, but dealing in liquid void isn’t one of them. “ He stared at Nakoshi, daring him to disagree.
“It was just an idea,” Nakoshi said, looking away as he spoke.
“Keep it that way,” Zinan said.
The two men completed their work in a brittle silence punctuated by the minimum number of comments needed to finish the task. Afterward Nakoshi stood on the edge of the harbor area and thought. He very much wanted to go to a sake house and wash his frustration away, but he had the suspicion that this was the kind of problem getting drunk wouldn’t help. Finally he made a choice and headed down the road, turning down the street that would eventually take him to the local monastery of the monks of Kaimetsu-Uo.
Arriving at his goal he entered the temple attached to the monastery and offered some prayers. Then he sought out one of the monks in attendance and asked if Sister Gemmei was available for a visit. The monk departed to find her, and Nakoshi was left alone with his thoughts. He had first met Sister Gemmei when she had been teaching the Tao to a small crowd of fascinated listeners in a marketplace. Nakoshi had paused to listen out of curiosity and had quickly become fascinated himself. He had never previously been interested in enlightenment, but Gemmei’s teaching had revealed it to be as challenging as combat, as desirable as the sea. He had become a regular at temple services, and sought opportunities to listen to her preach.
The monk returned and led him to the monastery’s garden. The nun was seated under a tall tree; a biwa sat next to her. “I am sorry if I interrupted your practice,” Nakoshi said. He started to bow in respect.
“There will always be time for such things,” Sister Gemmei said, waving both apology and and bow away. “You would not have asked to see me if it were not important.”
“I think it is only important to me,” Nakoshi said. He knelt down next to her. “I need to know–Fudo teaches that one must seek one’s own path in life if one is to find enlightenment. Are there wrong paths? How do I know if I am going towards enlightenment, or if I am going the wrong way?”
“That is an important question,” Sister Gemmei said. “Perhaps the most important question for those of us who study Fudo’s writings. Tradition should never be blindly disregarded: sometimes an idea that seems new to us is actually an old idea that was forgotten because it was bad.” She paused, drumming her fingers on the biwa. “Is there a particular thing that disturbs you?”
“I can’t really talk about it,” Nakoshi said. “I am in conflict with my captain over, over a thing that we may face on patrol.”
“Ah, that is very difficult. Tell me, do you think well of your captain?”
Nakoshi nodded vigorously. “He is everything a Yoritomo samurai should be–fierce in a fight, calm in a storm. The day he chose me as the first mate of the Wave Princess was the proudest day of my life.”
“So you regard him as a man of good sense. But he regards you as a man of good sense, or he would not have chosen you for first mate. You see why Fudo’s way is not for the impulsive, or for fools?”
“I don’t think I am impulsive,” Nakoshi said. “But I might be a fool. That is why I wanted your insight on the problem.”
“In the end, it is your view that is correct for you,” Sister Gemmei said. “You must work to develop discernment and detachment, for those are the two pillars of correct action. You may recall I preached a sermon on that just after the spring festival.”
“I remember,” Nakoshi said. “I will meditate on it.”
Sister Gemmei nodded. “I believe I covered all the relevant writings then, but if I find more I will show them to you.”
“Thank you, Sister Gemmei,” Nakoshi said. “This has been very helpful.” He said his goodbye and withdrew.
Gemmei watched him as he left. Nakoshi was one of her most promising lay students, so it did not surprise her that he had been the first to encounter this particular crisis and recognize it for what it was. She should, she decided, compose another sermon on discernment sometime soon.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the approach of another monk. “Sister, the Abbot has asked to see you,” he said. “He is in his study.”
She was never going to get her biwa practice today, Gemmei thought. “I go at once,” she said, picking up her instrument and tucking it under her arm. As she went she wondered why he had summoned her. Abbot Dayu had a near-complete disinterest in theology: he had become a monk in grief after his wife had died, and had risen to his current position on the strength of his management skills. Not that Gemmei minded that: the previous abbot had had the disconcerting habit of adding extra fast days to the end of month when the rice allotment fell short.
The abbot’s study had a set of wide windows that looked out over the garden. As Gemmei approached she saw that the Abbot was not alone. A monk she didn’t recognize was with him; an old man with full round lips and a deep, focussed gaze. “Ah, here she is,” Dayu said as she scrambled up the porch and entered the study through a window. “Sister Gemmei, this is Brother Rokku from the Order of Strength. He wishes to discuss the Tao with you.”
“Contemplating the Tao is an inexhaustible joy,” Gemmei said.
“It fountains forth refreshment at all times,” Rokku said, completing the verse and impressing Gemmei: she had met very few monks who had read the sutra that contained it. He had an accent that marked him as the product of one of the land-locked clans, but she couldn’t place which one. “Abbot Dayu tells me that you are the leader of the monks here who study the writings of Fudo.”
“I doubt there are enough of us to need a leader,” Gemmei said. “But I am the most active in teaching, so I suppose I lead in that fashion.”
Rokku nodded. “How did you learn of Fudo? His writings have been lost for centuries.”
“Brother Hyoboku, from the Second City, stopped here on one of his trips between there and the Empire. Several of us found his ideas provocative, so we obtained copies of the Fudo texts and began to study them.”
“Provocative,” Rokku said. “An apt term.”
“You disapprove?” Gemmei said. The possibility disturbed her: the Order of Strength was a mainland order, and if Rokku had come all the way to argue about Fudo’s teachings he could be the start of trouble.
“Fudo’s writings were suppressed in his own lifetime. There is no reason why they should be brought back to light now: our ancestors have passed judgement on them.”
“Our ancestors were just as capable of making a hasty judgement as we are,” Gemmei said. “To limit the inquiry into enlightenment is unwise, and contrary to the nature of the Brotherhood. Do not our greatest sages teach that if you meet Shinsei on the road, you should kill him?”
“If you first do not make sure it is Shinsei, you will be having an embarrassing conversation with a magistrate,” Rokku said. “Fudo’s teachings, when followed to their conclusions, undermine bushido. There can be no greater sign of their flawed nature.”
“Perhaps it is bushido which is flawed,” Gemmei said.
Rokku didn’t move, but the fury that blazed through him was palpable. Gemmei steeled herself for the shouting to come but before Rokku could speak the Abbot did. “Brother Rokku, I ask that you make allowances for Sister Gemmei. She was given to our Order as an infant and has known no other life–she speaks from incomplete knowledge when she speaks of bushido.”
Gemmei thought that her knowledge of bushido was probably more complete than the Abbot’s knowledge of the Tao, but this didn’t seem like the time to discuss it. “I meant no offense, Brother Rokku,” she said. “But down through the centuries Akodo-kami’s teachings on tactics have been studied and expanded upon; why should not bushido likewise be examined?”
“It is not the same,” Rokku said. He looked only slightly less furious. “I ask your permission to withdraw for a time, Abbot. I must settle my spirit with meditation before I can pursue this with proper mindfulness.”
“Of course,” the Abbot said. Rokku sprang to his feet and stalked over to the door that let into the hallway. Closing the door behind him he slid it so hard it jumped back several inches.
Definitely trouble, Gemmei decided.
* * * * *
Nakoshi stared into his sake cup. It had yet to offer any helpful suggestions, but his meditation hadn’t either, which meant that drinking was so far exactly as helpful in solving his problems as meditating. He couldn’t put his finger on why this was so depressing.
It had been a three days since his conversation with Zinan, and he had already noticed a definite coolness in the other man’s attitude. His captain no longer trusted him, and that hurt Nakoshi worse than any weapon-wound he had ever received. It also made Nakoshi worry that Zinan had gone to the magistrates, or was thinking of doing so. He himself had never done anything illegal, but he’d rather not explain some of the people he was friends with.
Nakoshi tossed back the sake and looked up to signal one of the serving women for more. The words died in his throat as he saw Sister Gemmei striding up to his table.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “May I sit?”
“Of course, Sister,” he said. “I will have a server bring you some, ahh, tea. I’m sure they have some here somewhere.”
“You are gracious, but I do not have the time. I have many things to do still before I leave tomorrow.”
“Leave?” Nakoshi said. “Where? Why?”
An expression of irritation flashed over Gemmei’s face. “The abbot has been convinced that the Fudo texts are heretical, and he has forbidden the monks under his authority to study them. I and a number of other monks find this intolerable, and we are going to the Second City where we can continue our studies.”
“Sister–” Nakoshi trailed off. He couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Indeed,” Gemmei said. “I have come to ask you a favor. If I were to write down what I learn in the Second City and send it to you, would you make sure the other lay students here see it? I cannot stay, but I do not wish to abandon you.”
“Of course,” Nakoshi said. “It is a great honor to help in spreading Fudo’s wisdom.”
“Thank you,” Gemmei said. She smiled briefly. “With all that is going on, it is a great relief to have someone as trustworthy as you here.” Without waiting for a reply she rose to her feet and strode out of the sake house. Nakoshi found himself staring at the place she had been sitting. The abbot was being unreasonable, but Gemmei hadn’t sat around wondering what to do: She had quickly come up with a plan and was carrying it out, without hesitation or regret. A moment more of thought, and he knew what he had to do.
* * * * *
Finding a time and a place to approach Zinan had been simple. When the Wave Princess was in harbor he always trained in the dojo in the late afternoon and went to the bathhouse to clean up immediately after. Nakoshi found a spot where an alleyway opened up on Zinan’s usual route to the bathhouse and waited. When he saw Zinan approach he stepped out and hailed him. “Captain! May I have a word with you?”
“A brief one,” Zinan said shortly. “I am on my way to the bathhouse.” He stepped into the alley, Nakoshi following.
“Captain, I wanted to thank your for your blunt words to me before. For the past few days I have been meditating about, about our last conversation and I have realized what a fool I was. We are the masters of the waves, and our merchants are second to none. Why should we fear the Crane?”
“You and that meditation nonsense,” Zinan said. He cuffed Nakoshi lightly on the shoulder. “But it led you to good sense, so I’ll have to stop calling it useless.”
Nakoshi grinned. “You should try it, Captain! It will help you attract women.” They both laughed at the old joke between them.
“Come to the bathhouse with me,” Zinan said. “I am expecting to get our orders tomorrow morning; if we lay our plans tonight we can be out of here by tomorrow sundown.”
“The faster we are out of here,” Nakoshi agreed, “the sooner the hunt begins.”
The attendants at the bathhouse knew them as regulars, and so they were quickly shown to a room dominated by a large cedar wood bathtub filled with warm water. After being scrubbed down and rinsed the two samurai climbed into the tub.
“This is the only part of being on land I miss when I am out on a kobune,” Nakoshi said as he relaxed into the water’s embrace.
Zinan laughed. “We wouldn’t enjoy it as much, if we never felt the cold lash of the sea.”
“Pity the courtiers of the Crane: they miss out on the best things in life,” Nakoshi said. “Where do you think we should start the hunt for the poppy-rats?
“That will depend on what sea and sky are doing in for the next few days; we will have to consult some shugenja before we leave,” Zinan said. He launched into describing several different search plans, depending on what was expected. Nakoshi listened carefully, asking questions and making comments. When he was finished, Zinan smiled at him. “You are doing well at this–soon you will be ready for your own ship.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Nakoshi said. “That means much to me.”
Zinan nodded and stood up, making his way to the side of the tub. Nakoshi stood up as well, waiting. Zinan climbed out of the tub and took a step away from the side, and then Nakoshi acted.
Reaching forward he grabbed Zinan by the head and then using all of his strength he pulled backwards and down, pulling the man off of his feet and cracking his neck across the wooden wall of the tub. Letting go of the head Nakoshi quickly scooped some handfuls of water on to the floor and then leaped out of the tub himself, yelling shrilly for help. He was kneeling down next to Zinan’s body and calling his name when there was a commotion in the hallway and the door slid open to reveal one of the attendants. “Yoritomo-sama, what–” the heimin began to say and then froze, horror-stricken by what he saw.
“A shugenja!” Nakoshi yelled at him. “Daigotsu take you, don’t stand there! The captain needs a shugenja!” The attendant fled. A crowd of curious bathers gathered in the doorway, watching and commenting among themselves while Nakoshi clutched Zinan’s limp hand and assured him over and over again that help was on the way.
Finally the crowd parted and a middle-aged woman, dripping and naked save for a towel clutched about her, entered the room. “What is going on here?” she demanded. ”The attendants are all hysterical and I can’t get any sense out of them.”
“My captain,” Nakoshi said. “He had gotten out of the tub fine, but then he seemed to lose his footing and fell back. You must help him!”
The shugenja bent down, murmuring something. She stared at the body for a long moment and then sighed and straightened up. “I am sorry, Yoritomo-san,” she said. “Put on your clothes: there is a shrine on the next block where I can purify you from the pollution of the dead.”
“No,” Nakoshi said, starting to weep. “No. Captain!”
The shugenja turned away from him. Heading towards the doorway she shooed the onlookers away and slid the door shut behind her.
* * * * *
The sun shone down on the sea as the kobune ran lightly across the waves. Nakoshi stood near the prow of the Wave Princess, absorbed in his thoughts and seeing nothing. He missed Zinan greatly, but there was no denying everything had turned out as he had planned. His lord had made him captain in Zinan’s place. With his new authority he had slightly altered the kobune’s crew, leaving behind a few people he thought would be troublesome and adding in a few of his more useful friends. Now all they needed was to find a poppy-rat, and they would be in business. Nakoshi smiled to himself. Fudo’s teachings were indeed a useful guide to action, and Nakoshi would see to it that the Mantis Clan benefited from his wisdom.