Note: I hate it when I have ideas at work, because I generally don't have the time to stop and try and write. But I jot down the ideas in an open email to myself, and send it to myself each day when I leave, so I can work on it at home. This idea came about after a conversation my husband John and I had about another character of mine in the L5R game he ran. Nasami, like one or two of the other characters, had actually served a stint on the Great Wall in the past (before the campaign had started). This is the tale of that time.
The Worth of One Crane
"This had better be good, Uji-san," Hida Kisada growled as he strode into the great hall of the Hida, his son Yakamo at his side. "I have enough on my mind to be bothered to play your Crane political games."
Daidoji Uji smiled coldly as he followed the Crab daimyo into the hall. "You should know me better than that, Kisada-sama."
The Great Bear chuckled as he sat down at a table, and a servant immediately brought over a small bottle of sake and three cups. "Indeed. Which is why I know that if you're here, you have something else in mind besides discussing commerce or currying favors."
Uji nodded and sat as well, nodding his acceptance at Kisada's offer of a drink. "One of my samurai wishes to serve for a time on the Great Wall."
"One of the Daidoji?" Yakamo asked, eyebrows arched, and Uji nodded. "Who is it?"
"I thought you said she was Daidoji."
"She is, Yakamo-sama. She is Kakita-born, but she has entered the school of the Daidoji."
The daimyo of the Crab looked thoughtful as he downed his sake. "Nasami… I know that name. Not the one who defeated Matsu Keisaiko at court last year?" Uji nodded again, and Kisada laughed aloud. "One of the only times I wish I'd been at Otosan Uchi, it would have been worth it to see the Lion so thoroughly embarrassed. Isn't she Noreiko-san's daughter?"
"The very same."
"Ah, now there was an Iron Crane," Kisada said appreciatively. "Daidoji Noreiko made quite a name for herself when she was stationed at the Carpenter Wall, but that ended when she married Shujiro. Damned shame, actually."
Yakamo was less impressed. "A woman of the Crane standing guard on the Wall?" he scoffed. "That's all we need."
Uji frowned, but kept his tone respectful. "I think that this one might surprise you, Yakamo-sama. Nasami may have the look of one of Toshimoko-sensei's students, but she has a soul of steel and a heart of honor."
"Very poetic, Uji-san," Kisada said with a smirk. "You've clearly been spending too much time with Kakita Yoshi-sama."
The daimyo of the Daidoji grimaced. "It can't be helped. At any rate, does Nasami have your permission to represent the Crane in your struggle against the Shadowlands?"
The Great Bear leaned back and thought for a while. Uji waited patiently; he knew that Kisada would never make a rash decision, not when the lives of his own samurai were also at stake. Yakamo also watched his father with interest. While he certainly respected the Crane samurai, he also knew that Uji was a rare breed among the Crane. The idea that another like him could exist was hard for him to believe.
"She can serve… on one condition," Kisada said at last. You know our requirement for a Crab's gempukku."
"Yes." Uji was quite familiar with the Crab tradition of sending out the young samurai into the Shadowlands to come back with the head of an enemy. He had himself brought back the head of a rather large ogre when he had first served his own time on the Wall.
"Nasami must do the same. She must enter the realm of the Dark Kami and prove her worthiness. And she will do so alone. If she succeeds, she may join my samurai on the Great Wall. If she fails… well, I will arrange for her daisho to be sent home to you."
Uji stood and bowed. "She will not fail, Kisada-sama."
"That is our motto, Uji-san, not yours."
Two weeks later, the young Crane samuraiko arrived at Kyuden Hida. Unlike many Crane women, she had traveled alone, crossing the Tidal Landbridge and riding west until she arrived at last at the great hall of the Crab.
Hida Yakamo was not present, but his younger brother Sukune was, and he bowed to Nasami as she dismounted in the courtyard. "Welcome to Kyuden Hida, Kakita Nasami-san. I am Hida Sukune, second son of Kisada-sama."
She bowed as well, her own bow lower to indicate her respect for the son of the Crab daimyo. "I thank you for your hospitality, Sukune-sama."
The young Hida studied her thoughtfully. The samuraiko could not be much older than his sister O-Ushi, perhaps seventeen years old at most. But her armor had already seen some use, her hair was dyed white in the manner of the Daidoji, and she carried herself with the wary confidence that most Daidoji possessed.
"My father awaits you. If you will please follow me?" He turned and led the way into the hall, Nasami following along behind him. Several Crab samurai turned to stare at her as she walked, taking in her slender figure and long white hair.
"We've been sent another pony," one of them chuckled. "A pretty Crane duelist to decorate the Wall."
"Perhaps she'll charm the Shadowlands into leaving us alone," another samurai laughed as he headed toward the barracks.
Sukune looked at the Crane out of the corner of his eye, but Nasami gave no indication that she had heard their remarks, or if she did, she was doing an admirable job of ignoring them.
Together they entered the hall, where over a hundred Crab samurai were gathered for the evening meal. The general rumble of conversation slowly died away as Nasami and Sukune crossed the hall until they were standing before Hida Kisada.
"My lord," Sukune said respectfully, bowing to his father. "Kakita Nasami, of the Crane."
Nasami sank into a low bow, befitting Kisada's rank. "Honorable daimyo of the Crab, my esteemed sensei, Daidoji Uji-sama, sends his appreciation of your approval. Also, my honorable mother, Noreiko-sama, asked me to bring to you a message." She looked up so that in a rare gesture of directness and setting aside of rank, her eyes met Kisada's. "She bid me tell you, 'To Kisada-sama of the Crab, know that the Iron Crane do not forget, even in the fair lands near the sea. It is to your eternal struggle that I send my daughter Nasami. May she distinguish herself in your service as I have.'" She bowed again, her eyes lowered to the floor.
"Stand up." Kisada's voice boomed through the hall, and Nasami rose to her feet. "You look much like your mother. But you do not fight with the yari as she did." His eyes glanced at her waist, where she wore her daisho.
"What weapons do you fight with, little Crane?"
"A fan, perhaps," a Kaiu samurai said softly, to the amusement of several of his comrades.
Her hand rested lightly on the pommel of the katana in her obi. "With Uji-sama's blessing, and that of Kakita Yoshi-sama, I serve the Crane and the Empire by wielding Mamorimasu."
"One of the famed Kakita Blades, I gather?" Kisada mused, and she nodded. "Your dueling skills will not be needed here, little Crane. Samurai on the Carpenter Wall do not have time to engage in such foolishness. Our fight is with the Shadowlands."
"I know, Kisada-sama. However, I fear that a tetsubo or die tsuchi, while certainly weapons of power, lack the finesse and control of a blade."
"If you could even lift a tetsubo, you would surprise me," Kisada rumbled. "My daughter's die tsuchi probably weighs more than you do."
Several of the Crab samurai laughed, and even Nasami smiled.
The Crab daimyo went on. "Now, out of respect for your sensei, you are allowed to prove yourself. Has Uji-san told you of our tradition?"
"No, Kisada-sama. He told me that you would tell me what my duty was upon my arrival."
"Very well. Upon the completion of his or her gempukku, a Crab must venture beyond the Great Wall and into the Shadowlands. That samurai must bring back the head of an enemy, be it a goblin, ogre, or Oni. The more powerful the enemy, the greater the glory for that samurai. You will do the same."
Nasami bowed again. "Thank you, Kisada-sama."
"Tomorrow you will leave and cross the river into the Shadowlands. You will have seven days to find your enemy and defeat it. After that, well, we will see. Tell me, how do you plan to fight the Shadowlands?"
"By using the strategy of Water, Kisada-sama."
"What's that supposed to mean?" a young Hiruma asked.
Without taking her eyes from Kisada, she replied, "Water always finds a way. And when you apply force to water, the surrounding water rises with increased force."
"Oh, very profound," a large Hida samurai said derisively. "Philosophy will not protect you from the Shadowlands."
"Enough." Kisada gestured to one of his samurai, who left the hall headed for the quartermaster's chambers. "You will be given enough jade to last you for the week. After that, you must either return to the Wall, or risk exposure to the Taint." He looked at her carefully, but she showed no sign of worry or fear. "Are you prepared to face the Shadowlands, little Crane?"
Nasami's smile was eerily like her sensei's. "Perhaps the question should be, are the Shadowlands prepared to face me?" She bowed again, and took her leave. Every single Crab in the room watched her go.
"She won't last two days," one of the Kaiu laughed when she was gone.
Early the next morning, Nasami approached one of the exits of the Carpenter Wall that led to the river that divided the Shadowlands from the rest of Rokugan.
"Best be careful, little Crane," the Hida samurai with her said mockingly. He handed her the jade that the quartermaster had provided for her trek into the Shadowlands, and she hefted the finger of jade thoughtfully, feeling its cool smooth surface against her skin. "Try not to get yourself killed out there."
Nasami said nothing, but her dark blue eyes met his, and the Crab was surprised to see no fear in her eyes. He stood over her by several inches, and yet she carried herself with such confidence that he would have sworn that they were nearly the same height. Slowly he bowed to her.
"May the spirit of Hiruma guide your footsteps."
"May the spirit of Hida protect you until I return," she replied, bowing back to him. Then, without a word, she made her way across the river, and disappeared into the Shadowlands.
She never looked back.
Three days later, one of the Hiruma scouts came running into the hall, breathless from his sprint and covered in blood. "I must speak… with my lord," he gasped, and he was immediately led to Kisada's chambers, where the Crab daimyo had been meeting with his son Sukune. One look at the Hiruma, however, had him reaching for his tetsubo.
"My lord," the Hiruma said, bowing low, "dire news. A Shadowlands force is on the move, much larger than usual. A massive horde of undead, led by a maho-tsukai."
"The rest of your patrol?" Kisada asked, already knowing the answer.
"Captured, my lord, all of them, and I fear that they are dead. The maho-tsukai did not want us to bring word of his coming, but the leader of my patrol had just sent me back to double-check on a trail, and I managed to avoid getting caught with the rest. I could not rescue them, but I could bring word back of their approach. At the rate that they are moving, they'll be here in three days."
"You… didn't happen to encounter a Crane samuraiko while in the Shadowlands, did you?" Sukune asked hesitantly.
Kisada nodded grimly. "Very well. See one of the shugenja for healing, and then get some rest, you'll need it." The Hiruma bowed, and left.
Sukune looked at his father. "Once they reach the Wall, we should be able to handle them, provided a few extra archers and shugenja can be moved from further along the Wall," he said, looking over his maps of the Wall. Then he glanced up. "What about Nasami-san?"
"What?" Kisada was distracted, pulling on his armor.
"The Crane samuraiko who left for the Shadowlands. They'll be headed straight for her."
"It is unfortunate," Kisada said grimly, "but we cannot go looking for her. She knew the risks she took when she crossed the river."
Sukune was clearly not happy about the idea, but he remained silent, picked up his maps, bowed, and left.
That night, the Crab mobilized, preparing themselves for the arrival of the enemy. Three days later, the samurai had gathered, shugenja stood prepared to lend magical aid, the archers watched carefully for any target that might present itself, and the Kaiu engineers made the fortifications ready for the assault.
The Shadowlands force never arrived.
Another day passed, and then another, and then another. Finally, on the tenth day since Nasami had entered the Shadowlands, as the Crab were entering the hall for the evening meal, the doors of the hall were thrown open. Every samurai in the room, Kisada included, growled and reached for his or her weapons.
In walked the Crane samuraiko, her armor covered in filth, her white hair grimy. The finger of jade that she wore around her neck was completely black, corrupted by the presence of the Shadowlands. In her small hand, she held a burlap sack, stained with blood and gore.
Kisada found his voice first. "So, little Crane, you survived. And what did you bring back with you, that we might know your worth?"
Nasami smiled, reached into the bag, and then held up her hand. "Is this acceptable?"
And every samurai in the room gasped.
She was holding the head of the maho-tsukai.
"I also brought back something else," she said, her voice echoing in the silence.
"And what might that be?" the daimyo of the Crab asked cautiously, a note of respect in his voice that had not been there before.
Replacing the head of the maho-tsukai in the sack she held,Nasami turned and left the hall for a moment. When she came back, she was leading a group of six samurai. They were exhausted, starving, weak, and badly injured.
"I believe that these are yours, Kisada-sama," she said, trying and failing to keep the satisfaction out of her voice.
"Shinsei's blood," the Hida daimyo whispered.
The rest of the Hiruma's patrol that they had thought lost to the Shadowlands.
They bowed as one to their daimyo, and presented to their lord proof of the absolute annihilation of the Shadowlands force that had been approaching the Wall.
"Kisada-sama," the leader said, his voice hoarse but filled with pride, "we have returned. The enemy has been defeated, and for now, the Empire is safe."
"What in Jigoku happened?" Kisada said explosively, rising from his seat and striding to where they knelt.
"The foul magician had intended to sacrifice us to strengthen his own forces, but before he could do so, Nasami-san arrived and took his head with a single stroke. He had clearly studied the patterns of our patrols, and was quite familiar with our ways, but…" He glanced over at Nasami and smiled grimly. "It seems that Daidoji methods are sufficiently different than our own that he never knew she was there. Upon his death, the Shadowlands force fell into disarray. In that brief moment of distraction, she freed us, returned our weapons, and led us against the enemy."
"Only the seven of you?" one of the Hida asked in absolute disbelief.
"It works well enough against the Lion," Nasami said simply, "and the denizens of the Shadowlands are not nearly that intelligent."
Another one of the patrol took up the tale. "Nasami-san's strategy proved effective. With the maho-tsukai dead, the undead creatures under his control were without direction, and fell easily to our swords."
Kisada approached and stood over Nasami, who was also bowing respectfully along with the Crab samurai she had rescued.
She did so.
"Well, I have to say that Uji-san was right about you. You do have a soul of steel, little Crane… or rather, I should say, of iron."
She bowed her head in silent appreciation of the compliment.
"You have my thanks for the lives of my samurai that you saved."
"I only did my duty, Kisada-sama. They would have done the same for me."
That comment got more than a few snorts at first from the Crab samurai, but as they looked at their comrades that she had rescued, it was clear that she was telling the truth. Crane or not, she had risked her life for theirs, and even the Crab had honor.
Kisada was thinking the same thing. "Very well. You will rest for one week while the rest of the patrol recuperates. When they are prepared to again stand on the Wall, you will stand with them."
And when she saw the look of absolute astonishment on the face of every Crab samurai present, Nasami's laughter echoed throughout the hall.