taichara: (Crane)
[personal profile] taichara posting in [community profile] explodingbirb
So this turned out longer than expected ... *snrk*

The fine folk of Satsuma, a middling village nestled in Eiyu Province of the Ikoma, did not see all that many Crane pass through their lands. Fewer still traveled without a courtier's entourage or an officer's adjutants. And yet here was a lone Crane, striding down Satsuma's dusty main road and headed for the Inn of the Golden Sheaf.

Beneath the shadow cast by the broad neat trim of his traveler's hat, the Crane's hair trailed along behind him, pulled into a high tail held in place by braided ribbons and silken cords in the colours of the Crane and the Doji family; and that snowy tail swung against equally colourless kimono and hakama. Only the hints of sky blue and grey-gold at the ends of sleeves and hakama marred the sea of white -- that, and the jewel-bright shine of the dozens of slender beaded necklaces that hung glittering around the strange Crane's neck. The tiny glass beads threw a riotous rainbow of colour against the stark white of his clothing, a rainbow echoed by -- so the observant soul would notice -- the handful of duelist's ribbons expertly knotted around the man's blue-black saya.

If the face framed by heavy wings of white hair seemed a touch too fine-featured, too high strung to suit a swordsman, well ... there were the ribbons, and the mon of the Kakita school displayed at his left shoulder. And the hands, narrow as they were, were sinewy and calloused.

Ignoring the murmurs, the Crane tilted back his hat, adjusted the pack at his back, and strode towards the Golden Sheaf's front door.


I should not be surprised that Mitohime-sensei gave me the command that she did.

And yet, what a thing ... well, I suppose it allows a little more time for my own preparations.

It seemed to Rayu that a good deal of his time just happened to be eaten up, in these benighted times, with 'preparation' or travel or both. This was merely the most recent of his forays -- and, if the truth be told, it was taking him in the exact opposite direction to his expected travel path.

Called up from his family's holdings in Kougen Province with an unexpected -- and unusual -- new posting to a Phoenix lordling's blossoming new court, he'd made his way Shiro Kyotei for any last instructions to find Mitohime-sensei waiting for him.

And she was not all that waited. Unconsciously his hand drifted to rest once again on the daisho at his side, oblivious (or so he took pains to appear) to the wary glances of artisans and heimin as he padded towards Satsuma's lone inn. His fingers trailed over the snowy braiding of the katana's hilt, the black-lacquered ornaments, and he found himself suppressing a flush of confused pride in being chosen to bear the precious blade -- Hyouten was its name, 'Ice and Charcoal' -- an honour he'd never expected to receive.

Of course the deeper meaning of the blessed sword's name was not lost on him either; but that was alright. Contradiction described all too many parts of his life all too well, after all. Eventually he would decipher the layers of meaning his sensei had imparted to him. All he needed was time.

I believe I have unraveled at least one part of the sword lesson, Mitohime-sensei.
As for why I've been sent to Satsuma ... well, perhaps you could have been just a little less obvious.

He'd been directed, after all, to Mura Sano Eiyu ni Sunu -- and that town's Shrine of Duty -- to pay his respects before departing for Phoenix lands and whatever his sensei's tasks for him there may be.

The message could not have been clearer if she had shouted it in his ear.


The Sheaf turned out to be pleasantly busy; enough to show it was well-favoured, not so much that it grated on the nerves. Seated at a private table, his belongings safely stored away, Rayu took a moment to survey the Sheaf's clientele while he waited for his meal.

Foregoing sake or green tea for the moment in favour of sakura tea -- clean, hot water was in good supply, and he intended to take advantage of it -- he sipped lightly at the sweet-salt infusion and swirled the delicate blossoms around the bottom of his cup. He'd have liked to open up his hoard of Colonial drinks, but ... not in the middle of Lion lands. Alas.

Even here with the Ikoma, there's so much slavish adherence to tradition. It's a shame, really. Soon we'll just be leaving them behind altogether.

Not that many of the Phoenix were any better on that score, which begged the question of why he was being dispatched to Shiba Danjuro's domain. Rayu repressed a small sigh of frustration at the thought -- the Shiba's court was likely to be a trial at best, made all the more so by the steadily increasing flare-ups of hostility between Danjuro's Clan and his own. Doji Naoko was unlikely to be helping that situation one little bit, either.

Well, I'll see what I see, I suppose.

And, right that moment, what Rayu found himself seeing in the compact common room was a lot of low tables, a lot of sake being consumed, many merchants and a few artisans, and -- yes, there, towards the back -- a knot of Lion samurai of various familial affiliations. Well, that was only to be expected; you found Lion in Lion lands. The quiet Dragon samurai off in the catti-corner, clearly distracted as she ate her noodles, was perhaps a little different ...

The Lion were all but groveled over by the Sheaf's staff, which -- annoying as it was -- was also to be expected. Rayu knew all too well how the Lion treated their lessers: poorly. To say the least. He turned his attention to his mother's letter and waited for his food.


Halfway through his udon, a shadow fell over Rayu. He set aside his chopsticks without bothering to lift his head; there was no reason to. Yet again he suppressed a small sigh.

Wait for it ...

"Well, well. It looks to me like a little lady of the Crane has gotten herself lost on her way to Toshi Ranbo to show off the Crane Clan's loss of their pride."

The slightest glance sidewise rewarded Rayu with a glimpse of red and russet accenting the golden-brown of Lion colours. Matsu. Of course it would be a Matsu. A hush had already fallen over the common room, and Rayu held his posture for another heartbeat, and another ...

Wait for it ...

"Look at these. What foreign animal are you emulating, eh, little Crane girl? Are they popular in the geisha house you escaped from?"

Thick fingers reached towards Rayu's beads. Concealed by his sleeves and the table, he slipped his hand down to rest lightly on Hyouten before surging to his feet in one graceful motion.

The Matsu backpedaled swiftly to avoid a collision, which gave Rayu the opening he wanted. Blue eyes blazed like the sea, the only spark in the calm serenity of his face, his chin lifting a fraction in challenge.

"Did you, Lion, just this moment make an attempt to insult myself, my family, and my Clan in one breath? Were you actually thinking you're that clever?"

He slid one foot forward, a duelist's motion. In the same beat he pressed against Hyouten's tsuba with his thumb and bared perhaps a finger's-width of gleaming blade.

"I accept your challenge, Lion. Let's see you back up your bluster. First blood."

The Matsu's tawny stare traced a path from the still mask of Rayu's face, to the exposed length of steel, to the cluster of ribbons knotted perfectly in place on the ocean-dark saya. His companions exchanged nervous glances. The Dragon samurai was watching with great interest.

Rayu smiled. Then pointedly took in the Lion's mon, and smiled a little more.

"I expect to see you in the courtyard of this fine establishment within moments, Lion. Else all of Heaven will know that Matsu Ichijiro is a coward too afraid to face a 'little Crane girl'."

With the barb still echoing, Rayu turned pointedly away and strode towards the door.


Oh, this should be simple enough. I don't even need to worry about changing my dressings afterward.

Shifting lightly from foot to foot at one end of the Sheaf's garden court, Rayu was quickly discovering that keeping up the facade of unruffled serenity was turning into be a chore. There was going to be no ribbon to claim after this duel, alas; Matsu Ichijiro was a lumbering ox, and -- watching the Lion thunder into position, stiff-legged, half with outrage and half with dread -- clearly no proper duelist himself.

Not that Rayu cared. An insult to honour was an insult to honour. He settled into his own waiting stance with easy grace, ignoring the twinge along flank and hipbone. Not even old wounds affected his dueling; he refused to allow it. Least of all against such a fool, and not in front of an audience of Lion and Lion's peasants.

Did this fool really, honestly think I'd let his insults slide? Does he actually believe the filth spewed about we Crane and thought he'd found a risk-free victim for his fumbling idiocy?

Oh, well. His loss, not mine.

The Dragon, Minamoto Sakuya, had appointed herself the adjudicator of the duel -- something Rayu had no quibble with; any warrior of the Minamoto school was more than qualified to do so -- and as she took up her own position Rayu nodded gravely to her. The Matsu followed suit a few breaths behind him, and Rayu did not miss the slight twitch of the Minamoto's brow. He didn't blame her; that was nearly as great an insult as what he'd received.

Perhaps I'll volunteer to adjudicate if she wants her own pound of flesh --

A golden-green sleeve lifted, Sakuya's hand raised; and all at once Rayu's attention focused with mad intensity on nothing but his opponent, all other thoughts banished.

The Matsu's eyes narrowed, his grip on his blade's hilt tightening. Rayu own hand rested lightly, palm up, Hyouten's fittings cool against the back of his hand.

Wait for it ...

A flash of rippling golden green.

A snow white blur, an earthy gold one.

Flashes of silver, a splash of crimson.

It was over in heartbeats.

Rayu held his posture for a beat longer, blade extended, as the Matsu crumpled to his knees with blood blossoming across his kimono in a streak from shoulder to sternum. One beat, two beats -- with an expert flick, Rayu shook the bloody droplets from Hyouten and sheathed it in the same smooth motion. Then he padded towards the swearing, snarling Matsu. And he smiled.

"Oh, dear. I do believe the lion's had its eye plucked out by a little bird.

"Perhaps your daimyo may even want to send you to the wretched Colonies for this dishonour?"

Ichijiro bit back his response, nearly crimson with suppressed rage. Rayu chuckled and shrugged, making his way back to the Sheaf and his now woefully-cold udon -- and sharing a wink with Sakuya as he went.

I still may not have any idea what Mitohime-sensei has planned for me.

But if this is any indication, it might at least be a little entertaining after all.

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