June 13, 2014
Important Announcement: In recent months, an Anonymous person has been trying to bully me by sending anonymous reviews. These reviews have been demeaning, vicious and extremely malignant.
This is not the first time this person has attacked me. A few months prior to this latest occurrence, this person sent me an extremely hateful review along with a recommendation to visit the work of another writer on this site. It is well known that many readers check reviews before reading a story so I can't help but feel this was an attempt to drive readers away from this fic to another.
I have been writing stories and posting them for seven years on this website. And I'm not going anywhere. I will continue to write and post stories that I believe in. I do not write for affirmation. I write because I love telling stories and I will continue to do so always. I will not allow any negativity to diminish my passion for writing.
On a separate note, I would like thank the majority of my readers who have shown this story so much love over the years. I have cherished and valued your feedback and it has helped me to continue writing. To the followers of this story who have continued to drop me lines and encouragement even when it had been a long time since they saw any updates for this story, I thank you all.
REMINDER: Love, Lies and Empire is an AU. If you don't like AUs, don't read them.
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin. It is the creative work of Watsuki Nobuhiro.
Love, Lies and Empire
Chapter 1: Two Kings
The night was stormy, harsh winds from the northern mountains ravaged the countryside. It was a terrible night, not a soul was to be seen outside. The biting cold made sure that any that strayed out into the night at this time, were forever sent to the halls from which no man or woman returned alive. The icy winds tore at the curtains of the palace windows, challenging even the most powerful dynasty to have walked the earth. The wind, an ancient power itself, perhaps showed its resentment of humans, and especially of this particular king, who took such joy in bending nature's will to his own.
Indeed, Shishio Makoto had never been beaten, not by his enemies, not by the strongest warriors in hostile countries, or by the fickle moods of circumstance, he had not been defeated when Yumi died and would not be defeated now. He looked at the abandoned courtyards of the palace. The wind had forced everyone inside except for the sentinels. This winter had been particularly hard, Konan was not familiar with hard winters. It was a sunny land, fruitful valleys, low rolling hills and warm, warm sunshine. It was a far cry from the ruthless weather of northern Kutoe. There had been problems of late - scarcity, lack and need.
Shishio Makoto, fifth of that name and current emperor of Konan stood at his window, ignoring the bite of the wind as it tore into the clothes on his body, the skin on his face and his hair. The king would not cower before the wind. He hated the north, from where this wind came. He hated it as much as he hated its king, his rival, the only man whom he had never been able to defeat. And now that defeat was an even bigger sore on his mind, as the danger of invasion and war loomed over Konan.
Shishio was king who ruled his land with compassion and justice. He loved his people and always strove to make their life better. His laws were not arbitrary, based on the whim of despots like those in other countries, he made laws to protect not punish his people. He was a king for whom every man, woman and child would gladly die, and they had. Every time a threat had risen against Konan, its citizens had joined the army, even if they had nothing but pitch forks to fight with. But today that zeal, that fervor would not be enough.
He remembered the words of his father a day before he left for war. One which he would never return from,
"Remember Shishio, being a king is not a joyful task. A king is bound by the laws of his country; do not think that you can bend and break the laws as you please, if the king himself is so disdainful of his laws, what respect for them shall a commoner have for them. Know this, to be a king is to be the first in every desperate attack, and the last in every desperate retreat. Being a king means that you must keep a happy face and laugh the loudest while you have the scantiest meal in the kingdom on your table, even as you try to forage and scavenge for your subjects.
The king turned away from the window, but did not shut it. He was a stubborn man, he had needed to be. When his father had died in battle, leaving him to ascend the throne, he had been little more than a carefree boy. Seventeen years old and faced with the prospect of pulling together a country on the brink of destruction. But he had done it; he rallied his army, ran at the head of the columns in battles, and stunned his opponents with his skill. Even the members of his father's court were baffled. This fearless boy was a far cry from the pampered, Casanova that he had been at court. The prince who used to be forever ensconced in the courtesans' quarters had vanished; in his place, a stern warrior had emerged. The prince had turned from wood to steel the day his sire died. His soft manner and frivolous antics had stopped completely. War ended swiftly owing to the presence of his sword. He then wasted no time in signing peace treaties and trade agreements making war virtually impossible with the surrounding countries. Rumors had been kind to him and made him out to be a giant of a man, and a demon when he wielded his sword. Shishio and his chief advisor, Hoji encouraged these rumors as they made the treaty signing easier for the young king. However, these tricks had not fooled Hiko Seijuro then and they would not fool him now.
Shishio frowned as he thought about the thorn in his side. Hiko Seijuro the Thirteenth, Emperor and Lord of all lands north of Konan. Kutoe, the largest and most powerful kingdom in the Eastern World was his bastion and it sat, a looming dragon, on the borders of Konan, or rather it was the other way around, Konan rested on Kutou borders, and was the only land whose king had not kow-towed to Hiko Seijurou. Shishio had refused to swear fealty to the Lightning Emperor, choosing instead to retain the sovereignty of Konan.
The emissary from Kutou, a scion of some noble family no doubt, had seemed amused by his refusal. He bowed courteously but the gesture seemed to mock him. He knew this to be true; that day, Shinomori Aoshi had not bowed to him but made his contempt apparent. He was imprinted like a brand in his mind, tall, dark ebony bangs falling over his eyes. Eyes, seemingly made of the coldest ice, quietly taking in every thing they saw to report to their master, eyes that did not lie, that told him, that refusing Hiko Seijurou was a stupid, foolhardy and insane act. He had left immediately after. Shishio had expected the Lightning Emperor's strike to be swift and unforgiving, yet nothing happened. A year had passed since that event and his armies were getting restless. A soldier will stake everything he has when the enemy is visible but when the enemy disdains to make an appearance, that same vigilant soldier begins to relax….a fatal mistake.
A deep dread was seated in Shishio's breast, if there is war with Kutoe, Konan will not survive. Hiko will not show me or mine mercy. His thoughts then flew towards his only child, the anchor of his life, his daughter…..Kaoru. If war came, what would happen to Kaoru? She will insist on fighting, she is a warrior after all. Shishio's chest swelled with pride when he thought about his daughter. He could not have asked for a finer daughter or son. Kaoru was the culmination of his life's work, she was his soul. Sometimes, he was scared of the love he felt for her. His child. He could not have even imagined feeling as vulnerable and strong in the same instant as when he thought of her. Had it been only ten years since Yumi died? Kaoru had inherited all the best qualities of her parents but her spirit, her spirit was her own. So fearless, so beautiful….Shishio sighed. The night would pass away yet he would still be thinking about her. Hoji sometimes complained that he had spoiled her, she was too arrogant, too headstrong than was proper for a woman, and a princess no less. But Shishio paid him no heed, Kaoru had been trained as a prince, taught how to ride, shoot with a bow, and fight with a sword. She was educated in every art that a prince ought to know, conversation, diplomacy and governance. Hoji took it upon himself to teach her the principles of economics and Kaoru proved to be a swift and gifted student. She delighted in asking questions, knowledge was something miraculous to her and she wanted to leave nothing behind. However, that his daughter would shun the katana and adopt the bokken was something he had never imagined.
Kamiya Kasshin Ryu….the sword that protects…Kaoru was fascinated with the idea. Despite his protests, that such an art did not befit a woman who had the blood of warriors running through her veins, Kaoru ignored his pleas and signed up as a student of Kamiya dojo. Now, years later she was almost a master of the sword style. Almost because, she had never had the opportunity to complete her training; her master had been called to war service in the last territorial spat behind Konan and Kutoe and had been killed. Kaoru was shattered and resolved to run the dojo on her own, however this was not possible. Firstly, because Shishio Makoto would be dead before any daughter of his taught at a dojo and secondly, her own duties had increased. Reluctantly she had to abandon training.
Shishio chuckled, if Kaoru had spent eleven years of her life becoming a warrior, the past three years had been concentrated on turning her into a lady again. Something, Kaoru was not happy about, not at all. She had thrown tantrums, caused chaos and disturbance in the whole palace, attempted to run away a few times but after seeing that her father was adamant and that she wasn't going to be allowed any privileges till she learned how to walk, talk, dress and act like a lady, she agreed to the lessons, albeit with a constant scowl on her face.
Chuckling once more, Shishio strode out of his chambers and made his way to the eastern wing of the palace. Passing through several labyrinthine corridors and courtyards, Shishio finally came to the door beyond which lay his most precious treasure. As he slowly pushed the door open, the two guards at the sides jumped to attention and swung their swords before realizing who it was.
"Your majesty!...I…I'm very sorry highness…I did not realize it was you", the man got down on his knees, "Please forgive me".
Shishio glanced at him, a young boy, no more than eighteen years. What is Kamatari thinking, posting young fellows at Kaoru's door. I'll have to speak to him about this.
"At ease. Resume your duty". Shishio gently walked into his daughter's room. There she was, asleep while reading again. Kaoru half-sat, half lay propped up by pillows on her enormous bed. The curtains of the bed were drawn back and tied at the posts, allowing the moonlight inside. The silver beams of the beam fell on her face, making her seem ethereal, as if she was not of this realm. Her milk and peaches complexion shone with health and happiness, her midnight blue tresses fanned out on the pillows, a few stray strands falling on her cheeks. In her hands, she clutched a book of poetry. Her knuckles were white from the strain she was unconsciously putting on her self. Shishio gently pried the book from her hands, and smoothed the bed covers over her. He placed his hand on her forehead, bent forward and gently kissed her temple. Satisfied, that his child was safe and in pleasant dreams, the king of Konan quietly retreated and made his way back to his own chambers. Dawn was a few hours away and he needed to sleep to deal with affairs of state and…..yes….to deal with Kaoru.
The sunlight washed over the pristine white walls of Kutoe palace, an imposing, impressive building that was as big as a city itself. The palace was spread across many leagues, its interiors as imposing and powerful as the façade. The palace was awe-inspiring and forbidding, like its ruler, Hiko Seijurou the Thirteenth. The Lightning Emperor as he was called, feared nothing and no one and this was evident in his manner, his very being. Hiko Seijurou was more threatening and impressive in person than what the rumors spoke. His air of supremacy and disdain towards all others enveloped him like a second skin. There were few in the world that would look into his eyes and not tremble. One was standing in front of him now, and another was still lost in slumber.
Hiko looked at the man standing in front of him and smiled inwardly. His nephew had grown up to be a fine man. Of course, all due to his own inspiring influence, no doubt about that, but a fine man. He had been the perfect choice to send as emissary to Makoto. Aoshi had observed and studied the renegade king carefully and made many insightful comments that Hiko had appreciated. That Shishio had blatantly refused his emissary was amusing, entertaining even. It had been too long since someone had challenged him, and Hiko liked challenges. Although the biggest challenge of his entire life was asleep at the moment, Shishio would suffice for now. He would put up a fight and it would be entertaining to finally break him.
Aoshi regarded his uncle silently. He had given his report, informed him of the latest developments in Konan. It had been a year since he had been sent to Shishio's court and he had quietly been obtaining information secretly since then. His latest report should have delighted his uncle yet there was no trace of emotion or acknowledgement on Hiko's features. Damn him! He was so hard to read. Aoshi prided himself on being able to tear through peoples' masks but Hiko baffled him. The only one who could read him with any accuracy was his cousin, the heir apparent to the throne and to Hiten Mitsurugi, Hiko Seijuro's sword technique. Kenshin.
Aoshi snapped back to attention as he realized Hiko was saying something. "…I assume you have something beside your report". Aoshi nodded. Hiko flicked his wrist lightly in the air. "Well what is it? I don't have all day to sit here and stare at you. Out with it."
Aoshi flinched inwardly, he had never really gotten used to Hiko's biting replies. After all, he hadn't seen him in years. His ninja training ensured he kept his ki and facial emotions in check but that didn't mean he was comfortable around the man who was his uncle. He didn't know how Kenshin dared to talk back to Hiko but he supposed it came of being his apprentice for so long and of staying in court.
"Konan, my lord…is ready for the taking."