Kaze no Shiro Kazenoshiro Banner



This section of Kaze no Shiro is no longer supported and is meant for archive purposes only. Please go back to main page.


 

 

Simple Economics
By Shawn Carman & Fred Wan

Toshi Ranbo, the Imperial City

It had been several months since Matsu Robun had walked the streets of Toshi Ranbo. At first glance, there did not seem to be a great deal that had changed, and yet closer inspection revealed that was not the case. The sentries that were stationed throughout the city were tense, as if expecting violence at any moment, and many wore conflicting symbols of allegiance. On one side of the street, Seppun guardsmen wore the Imperial laurels. On the other, men in non-descript armor bearing the Shogun's insignia. Both groups eyed one another with uncertainty and obvious disdain, but neither took any action toward the other. The effect, however, was palpable. People on the streets hurried a bit more than they had before, perhaps fearing the possibility of being caught between the two. It created an atmosphere of unease that Robun found unpleasant, and so he was quite grateful when he finally reached his destination.

The Lion estates in Toshi Ranbo were quite generous, which was understandable given that Robun's clan had shared occupation of this city virtually since its creation centuries ago. Half the original buildings, those that had been standing before the city was made the new capital, had been constructed by Lion workers. And reconstructed, time after time. The constant struggle with the Crane over this city had been spectacularly gruesome, and Robun was surprised to find himself relieved that such a struggle had ended.

"Your papers, please." The sentries at the estate doorway clearly did not recognize Robun as one of the dozens of Lion quartered at the estate full time. Robun nodded and withdrew his papers. He handed them to the sentry with his sword hand, a show of good faith. The sentry inspected the seal and the orders, then nodded and handed them back. "Thank you," she said with a short bow. "Please enter and be at peace, Matsu Robun."

"Arigato," Robun said, returning the bow. He passed through the thick wooden doors and into the Lion estate. As expected, it bore little resemblance to the other estates in the city, although admittedly Robun had only been in two others. Still, he felt more like he was entering a military fortification than a diplomatic facility. All the same, he felt more at home the moment after entering. He glanced about uncertainly, not sure where to go. He was considering asking one of the servants when a familiar voice called out to him. Robun turned to see an old, familiar face coming down the western passage. "Atasuke-san," he said with a smile.

The older samurai grinned and bowed briefly. "I did not know you had been stationed here," he said. "Welcome! When was the last time we spoke?"

"Three years ago, at the Castle of the Swift Sword," Robun replied. "You were preparing to come here, as I recall."

"Was it that long ago?" Atasuke shook his head. "It's gone by so quickly." He looked up at Robun. "Are you joining us here, then? The last I heard you had been seconded to a magistrate. I thought for certain you would receive your own appointment in due time."

Robun smiled. He considered glossing over the unpleasantness, but the time for that had passed. He had come to terms with his failures, and he would not compound them with lies. "I was yoriki to Ikoma Masote," he answered.

"Oh. I see."

"I could not see his disgrace for what it was, and in my anger over his death, I participated in an unsanctioned duel." Robun did not look down as he confessed his sins. "I have been removed from my post."

Atasuke said nothing for a moment. Finally, he simply said "That is unfortunate."

"No," Robun said. "It is what should have happened. I was wrong."

The older soldier nodded. "Why are you here, then?"

"I was summoned," Robun said, showing his friend his papers. "For what reason, I do not know."

Atasuke looked at the papers. "Come this way," he said. "The main chamber is through here."

The two men strode through a series of passageways into a large central chamber. It was somewhat less severe in decoration, but not by a great deal. Robun imagined that anyone save a Lion or Crab might feel uncomfortable here, accustomed as they might be to more comfortable surroundings. "Atasuke-san," a voice called. "I thought perhaps you might have forgotten our engagement."

Robun was surprised to see a Crane standing in the main chamber. "Forgive me, Nagori-san," Atasuke said. "For a moment, I had. An old colleague just arrived and I need a moment to assist him. Do you have a few moments to spare?"

"Of course," the Crane replied. "The falcons will almost certainly still be there when your business is concluded." The young man bowed sharply to Robun. "Welcome to Toshi Ranbo," he said with a grin. "I am Doji Nagori. Would you care to join us for a bit of falconry this afternoon?"

Robun smiled. "Regrettably I cannot," he answered, "but I thank you for the offer." The two Lion passed through the chamber towards a smaller, more private room beyond. "Falconry with a Crane?"

"It is complicated," Atasuke said. "He assisted me in trying to find& someone when I first arrived. We both enjoy hunting, among other things. He has been a good friend in the years I have been here."

"I see," Robun said. An idea occurred to him. "Finding someone? Your love interest among the Asahina, perhaps?" He smiled broadly. "How is she?"

"Do not speak of her," Atasuke said severely. "She is dead."

Robun was taken aback. "I am sorry," he said quietly. "Was she ill?"

"No," Atasuke said. "Treasonous."

Robun frowned and began to inquire further, but the two men passed into a private meeting chamber where a woman bearing a Kitsu mon stood reading a scroll. She glanced up at the two, then returned to the scroll. After a moment, she clucked her tongue and rolled the scroll up, handing it to a subordinate. "Send word to Katoa that if he wishes to make such drastic changes to our existing trade agreements, he shall have to meet with me in person to discuss it." She turned to the two men. "Atasuke-san, who is our visitor?"

"Matsu Robun, Katsuko-sama," the old soldier answered. "Your seal was on his papers, so I have brought him to speak with you."

"Ah, Robun-san," Katsuko said with an appraising smile. She was older than Robun had thought at first glance, but no less beautiful for it. "I am pleased that you could come so quickly." She turned to Atasuke. "Thank you, Atasuke-san. Give my regards to your friend Nagori."

"Thank you, Katsuko-sama," Atatsuke said with a bow. He nodded to Robun and then turned and departed.

"Robun-san," Katsuko said. "Do you know why I have summoned you here?" She gestured to the seats before them, then knelt on a cushion near a small table and took up a pen.

"I do not," Robun answered. "I was greatly surprised to receive the summons."

"Because of your recent unpleasantness," Katsuko said. It was not a question. "You are aware that the Crane have never offered any explanation for the woman you killed, not even to confirm her identity. It was most unusual."

"I& did not know that," Robun said flatly. "They made no objections? I expected to be cast out, or perhaps offered the chance of seppuku to redeem myself."

"Odd that you were not, isn't it?" Katsuko mused. "But then who can discern what motivates the Crane? I certainly cannot. I leave such things to men like Atasuke, or Akodo Setai. It was Setai who recommended you for a position with our estate, as I think of it."

"Akodo Setai?" Robun was shocked. Once a Deathseeker, Setai had risen to prominence as a leader among the Lion diplomats at Toshi Ranbo. "I am uncertain how either you or Setai-sama would even know my name."

"Do not misunderstand," Katsuko corrected. "Simply because the Crane did not raise the expected amount of attention over your impromptu duel does not mean that it was not a topic of discussion among others. Your name was on everyone's lips for at least an hour."

"I see," Robun said quietly.

"Setai believes that you made a mistake," the Kitsu daimyo continued. "He says you were defending the Lion's honor, in a fashion, but that you simply made a mistake in its execution. Mistakes, he says, can be corrected, but dishonor cannot. He believes you are an honorable man who needs a chance at redemption." She put down the pen and looked at him quizzically. "You can see the reason for his interest, of course. Are you interested in redemption, Matsu Robun?"

"Yes," he said at once. "Thank you, Katsuko-sama."

"Excellent," she said. "I have found a number of things about my position here since I inherited it from my father. Not the least of which is a dreadful sense of entitlement that many here seem to have. It is almost unbearable. For instance, there is a group of artisans who are preparing a monument to the many who fell in the war against the Bloodspeakers. This morning, I was part of a group that was besieged by a very unpleasant diplomat from the alliance of Minor Clans. He was insistent that the long-dead Boar Clan must be included, as they were among the first victims of Iuchiban's second attack on the Empire." She sighed. "He of course appealed to our honor, as so many do, and the Crane representative inexplicably supported his claim. As a favor to my friend Toritaka Tatsune, I offered to send someone to the Boar lands and retrieve something of theirs to be used for the memorial. The Crab, it seems, are quite busy just now and would prefer not to spare the manpower on what Tatsune called the most idiotic errand I've heard of in the past decade.'"

"I understand," Robun said.

"Can I depend upon you to do this for me?" Katsuko asked. "I realize that you may need a few days here to get your bearings before setting off, but I need someone skilled enough with a blade to survive any dangers the Twilight Mountains may deliver."

"Of course," he said. "And should I perish, you will lose very little but the Crab will be indebted to you for the loss nevertheless."

Katsuko smiled wryly. "I would prefer you return intact, but should the worst happen, your assessment is correct. Setai was right, you will be a valuable addition after all." She paused. "How long will you require before being ready to depart?"

Robun began to answer, but at that moment there was a commotion from the corridors behind them, back toward the doorway. He rose instantly and stood between Katsuko and the door, but she quickly brushed past him and strode down the passage purposefully. Her expression was one of irritation, not fear or concern. With nothing else to do, Robun followed.

At the large chamber where Atasuke and Nagori were standing, looking perplexed, the Lion sentry from the entrance emerged. "Lady Katsuko-sama," she said. "There is a very insistent Crab at the door. He does not have papers."

"Show him in," Katsuko said. "I can hear his shouting from here and I would just as soon it not continue any longer than necessary."

The sentry bowed sharply and disappeared. Moments later, a hulking brute of a man stormed into the chamber, his bald head glistening with perspiration and an expression of barely controlled rage evident on his face. "Where is he?" he demanded.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Katsuko said coolly. "I allowed you entrance despite your poor manners, and I suggest you maintain the proper respectful tone."

"You!" the Crab roared, jabbing a massive finger across the room at Doji Nagori. "Handen said you would be here!"

"Enough!" Katsuko said. Her voice roared to an incredible volume, shaking several pieces of pottery throughout the room. Robun had no idea how she had accomplished such a thing, but it sounded almost like a lion's roar. Even the Crab seemed subdued by it. "I will not warn you again, Hida Benjiro!"

"You know me," the Crab said.

"Yes," Katsko answered. "And I would have expected a bit more etiquette from the Crab Champion's brother."

"His wife's brother," Benjiro said absently.

"Why are you here?" Katsuko demanded.

"To speak to Doji Nagori," he answered.

"What could be so important that you felt it necessary for such a gross display of disrespect?" she asked.

Benjiro held a scroll out in his clenched fist. "I need to speak to him about the dishonorable behavior of one of his clan, and he is as closely related to the Champion as I can find in the city."

Nagori turned to Katsuko with a mystified expression. "I think this man may be insane."

"If you wish to speak with Nagori-san," Katsuko said, ignoring the color rising in Benjiro's face, "then you will make an appointment like a samurai, not some raging, inarticulate brute. And you will certainly not antagonize a guest in the Lion's estate so long as I am stationed here. Is that clear to you, Hida Benjiro?"

The Crab warrior seemed to mull it over for a moment, then inclined his head respectfully. "I did not mean to offer insult to the Lion," he said, his voice sounding forced. "I will of course speak with the Crane and arrange a meeting." He glanced at Nagori. "And then you and I shall have a lengthy conversation about this Kakita Osei."

A cold feeling ran through Robun when he heard the name. Benjiro turned and stormed from the building. Atasuke and Nagori began a quiet conversation while Katsuko fumed quietly. Finally, she turned back to him and began to say something, but he cut her off. "Two days," he said.

"I beg your pardon?" she replied.

"You asked how long I needed to be ready to leave," Robun explained. "Two days." He looked after the disappearing Crab warrior. "There is something I need to deal with beforehand."

----------------

It was on the second day that Robun managed to locate Hida Benjiro while the Crab was not preoccupied with other matters. Despite his obvious inexperience in the courts, the Crab courtiers were making use of having a member of their Champion's immediate family on hand, and had his schedule filled with all manner of mindless diplomatic functions. On the second day, however, Robun found him taking a meal in a quiet sake house with one of the Crab's senior representatives, the inexplicably appointed Toritaka Tatsune of whom Katsuko-sama had spoken so highly. With a grim expression, Robun approached the two men.

Tatsune's annoyance was obvious immediately. The grizzled old man's face twisted up in irritation. "We're eating," he said.

"I know you," Benjiro said, wiping his mouth. "You're the soldier that was with Katsuko in the Lion estate."

"Katsuko?" Tatsune said, raising an eyebrow. He regarded Robun with more scrutiny than annoyance now. "What is your business, boy?"

"I wish to speak of Kakita Osei," Robun said quietly.

Both men's features darkened considerably. "That is no concern of yours," Benjiro growled. "Walk away."

"Best do as he says," Tatsune added. "He has not been here as long as I have. The stress has made him irritable. He's as likely to kill you as maim you, which is obviously the more civilized thing to do."

"My name is Matsu Robun." He wondered if either of them would recognize it.

There was a moment of silence. "You killed her," Benjiro finally said.

"I did," Robun admitted.

"Sake!" Tatsune shouted, pounding the table with his fist. "As much as this young man can drink!"

"Tatsune," Benjiro said, holding up his hand. "Enough. Let us hear what he has to say."

Robun sat down gratefully. "I only want to know why you seek her out," he said. "What has she done to draw your ire?"

Benjiro scowled. "That is a matter between my clan and the Crane."

"The Crane are our allies," Robun said, "as are the Crab. I only wish to help you. I killed a woman who was causing you some manner of distress. I will be traveling to your lands soon. I only want to understand."

Tatsune nodded. "If Katsuko trusts him, he must be an honorable sort," he mused. "Perhaps he can find out something our agents cannot."

The Crab warrior frowned, then waved his hand. "Fine then. If there is any chance for some manner of resolution, I welcome it." He looked back to the Lion. "Do you think you can do anything, little Lion?"

"I killed a woman in an unsanctioned duel," Robun answered. "My honor demands that I attempt to find a means of atonement. If I can put her affairs to rest, no matter in what way, then my ancestors will be at peace."

"If you say so," Tatsune laughed. "Most people I've killed I just left behind. I see no reason to carry them around with me the way you are."

"What do you know of Kakita Osei?" Benjiro asked.

"She was a& a magistrate, of sorts," Robun answered. "She looked after matters for the Crane, and for Akiko in particular. She arranged for illicit substances to be transported for her, and other such dishonorable activities."

"Magistrate," Benjiro said with a laugh. "If there is an opposite of magistrate, that is what Osei is." He tossed some papers on the table. "She made several trips to the Crab provinces. Each time she traveled under an assumed name, but my agents in the Yasuki found records of her travels through the southern Crane lands. Kakita Osei departed the Crane lands, and a Crane Yasuki arrived in the Crab. When the Yasuki departed the Crab lands, Kakita Osei arrived in the Crane provinces."

"Can you imagine the unmitigated arrogance?" Tatsune said, finishing off a bottle of sake and immediately opening another. "It would be amusing if it weren't so insulting."

"This happened on three different occasions," Benjiro continued. "A different name each time, a different town visited, a different route traveled. If it were not for a magistrate associate of mine named Jiyuna, it might have gone unnoticed."

"What was she doing?" Robun asked. "Do you have any idea?"

"Oh, we have an excellent idea," Tatsune said.

"During the time period of her visits, there were bandit attacks on caravans transporting rice from the Crane to the Crab provinces. The time varied considerably. Once she arrived the day before and left the day after. Another time she arrived a few days early and stayed for nearly two weeks. No regularities, no patterns. Nothing to arouse any suspicion."

"You suspect she was behind the attacks?"

"The bandit attacks caused the price of rice to increase by nearly half," Benjiro scowled. "So that the Daidoji could send guards. The amount of koku spent to bring rice into the Crab provinces has risen by an astounding amount. And of course we have little recourse but to pay it."

"Ever seen a man who's been fed only grain fight an oni?" Tatsune asked. "A pitiful sight."

"The point of the matter is that the Crane have employed illegal means to manipulate trade relations, and the Crab have suffered for it," Benjiro said, jabbing his finger at the table hard enough to rattle the sake cups. "I do not know if Osei acted alone, but I suspect she did not. And I will find out."

Robun took it all in for a moment, then shook his head. "Nagori will know nothing."

"What?" Tatsune said. "How do you know that?"

"He is too highly placed within the Crane's ruling family," Robun said. "He is an honorable man. I know this for certain. Atasuke would never call a dishonorable man friend."

"Someone in this city knows," Benjiro hissed under his breath. "I will find them."

"Let me do it for you," Robun said.

"Are you completely mad?" Tatsune asked. "Who do you think you are, asking such a thing?"

"Benjiro-sama has already rather spectacularly alerted the Crane to his inquiries. No one who could or would offer information to him will be allowed to come into contact with anyone from the Crab for some time." He turned to Tatsune. "You know this."

Tatsune nodded slowly. "That is true."

"The Crane and Lion are allied. I may be able to find out more than you can." Robun said.

"Of course," Benjiro said, "because killing one of them is a sure way to get in their good graces."

"It certainly will attract their attention, won't it?" Robun returned. "They will be watching me, and I in turn can watch them. If there is dishonor, then it must be exposed. But attacking Nagori and the court will achieve nothing."

"He's brighter than he looks," Tatsune said.

"What will you do?" Benjiro demanded.

"I have business in the Twilight Mountains," Robun said. "If Osei used ronin for her bandit attacks, I will find them, and I will get the testimony you need. You can use it however you see fit. The courts will not recognize it, but it should be sufficient to leverage Yasuki Hachi to investigate the matter. He will consider it a matter of honor."

"He is the sort who would do that," Benjiro admitted.

"Then the Crane will purge the dishonor themselves, and you will have gained an advantage in trade negotiations."

"And you?" Tatsune asked. "What do you gain in all this?" "I will put Osei to rest," Robun said.

"You have until the harvest season," Benjiro said. "If you have not concluded the matter by then, I will deal with it myself. And I assure you, it will be a messy affair."

"Hida vengeance, messy?" Tatsune said, quaffing another sake cup. "Madness!"

"I will have it resolved by then," Robun said. "You have my word."


Kaze no Shiro Return

 

Togashi will return!