6 Reports and Recompense

Tsuki mireba

Chiji ni mono koso

Kanashi kere

Waga mi hitotsu no

Aki ni wa aranedo


(Oe no Chisato)

Two days after the Twilight Prince moved out of the castle, Warlord Isanari no Moritake published a notice that he was convening a formal inquiry into the events surrounding the Prince's captivity, to take place the following afternoon in the main Domains council chamber. All of the available Clan Lords and Ladies were commanded to attend, with proxies allowed only with the express permission of the Warlord. The General and the five Senior Commanders of the Regional Armies were also required to attend. The Commanders of the Clan forces and the Senior

Captains of major ronin units were invited to attend but not required, provided that they had not been concerned in the matter being inquired into.

Chancellor Tajima arrived early for the meeting, as usual, and surveyed the chamber with satisfaction. The room would be almost full for the first time since the plague three years earlier. And he was dressed in his Clan colors, no longer formally in mourning for a former kinsman he had never liked. His mood soured when he noticed that the zabuton marked with the Clan Tajima crest of nine cherry blossoms was not in its usual place of honor at the Warlord's left hand, but in the lesser position on the right. The fact that he did not recognize the fern crest that had usurped his place rankled even more, and he wondered what the Warlord was playing at.


The other zabuton remained stubbornly empty as the room filled, as did three others marked with the same crest that had been placed in the less exalted portion of the chamber assigned to the lesser military officers. Tajima observed that the other lords, except Finance Minister Ninori and Archivist Yamashiro, were as mystified by the strange crest as he was himself. Somehow he did not find that comforting.

When Warlord Isanari arrived, and appeared more worried than annoyed by the empty place among the councilors, the Chancellor's annoyance also began to be replaced by worry. He studied the Warlord's face, trying to guess what the man had planned.

Kagemitsu waited until the exact minute that the meeting was due to start, then transported himself and his three companions into the center of the council chamber. The ladies of the Shirokura clan had spent a busy day sewing and embroidering: Captain Yokobashi and HorseMaster Aoshiba were dressed as befit their ranks, but in the dark green and fern crest of Kawachi rather than as ronin, and Shirokura Motoharu was dressed as a bodyguard of Clan Kawachi. Kagemitsu himself had chosen a compromise between formal court dress and the garb appropriate to a senior vassal of Kawachi. He felt that they made a fine show, and the fact that they also constituted four fifths of the present vassals of Kawachi did not change that fact.


Tajima turned from glaring at the empty zabuton. His usual annoyance at the door-guards for not announcing the courtier was quickly swamped by his relief at realizing that the place of honor had been reserved for the Prince's representative. But Noble Lord Miyabe's first words were a shock.


The courtier bowed elegantly to the Warlord. His attending warriors bowed much lower. "Lord Commander," the courtier said quietly, "The Most Noble and Revered Prince, Lord of Clan Kawachi, sends greetings. And regrets. The Most Noble and Revered Prince
has no useful memories of the events to be discussed here, and is disinclined to listen to others' accounts at this present stage of his convalescence. It is the desire of the Most Noble and Revered Prince, Lord of Kawachi, that this servant be accepted into this tribunal as proxy for Clan Kawachi."

Chancellor Tajima frantically reviewed what he could remember of the relevant genealogies. He reluctantly concluded that the Twilight Prince's claim to Kawachi was valid, not that it mattered: given the Prince's new titles and authority it was unlikely that any territorial claim would be disallowed, provided it left the Most Noble and Revered Prince lower in rank than the Heavenborn Monarch himself. Tajima sighed. The existence of a Clan Lord who was both a Prince of the Blood and an acknowledged First Rank Power would affect the balance of power within the council far more than the addition of an ordinary Clan would. Life was growing amazingly complicated with shocking speed.

Warlord Isanari returned Noble Lord Kagemitsu's bow with a deeper bow. "As the Most Noble and Revered Prince desires. We are honored by your presence, Noble Lord."

The Warlord was relieved that the Prince had chosen not to attend the council. It meant that he would have the opportunity to formulate a coherent apology for the actions of his subordinates before he had to face his young superior. He had a gloomy suspicion that there would be much to apologize for.

Isanari waited until the Noble Lord and the Kawachi Samurai had seated themselves, then summoned Senior Commander Tahata to report on his investigations. The peasant-born Senior Commander bowed in his place at the right hand side of the bottom of the third (and lowest) level of the room. He picked up several scrolls and advanced to the center of the room, just below the barrier that separated the lowest from the middle level. He knelt, and bowed again, very low, to Noble Lord Kagemitsu, and then bowed to the Warlord.

"Noble Lord, My Lords of the Council: with your permission. The preliminary report on the events surrounding the capture, captivity and subsequent escape of the Most Noble and Revered Prince has been compiled after interviews with all known survivors of the incident, except the Most Noble and Revered Prince himself. Most of these witnesses are available here today, should additional clarification be desired."


Tahata selected and opened a scroll from his collection.

The First Portion of the Report: Being an Account of the Events Leading to the Capture by the Enemy of the Most Noble and Revered Prince of the Blood Imperial of the Shrine of Evening Shadows and the Loss of Many Samurai of the Realm of Ashihara:


On the Twenty-fifth day of the Ninth month of the second year of the current reign, the military authorities requested that the Most Noble and Revered Prince should perform a cleansing and rededication of Nakayama shrine, which had been newly recovered from the grasp of the Enemy. The Most Noble and Revered Prince graciously consented to perform the requested rituals.

Because the Shrine was located so near territory that was still controlled by the Enemy, the Most Noble and Revered Prince was escorted by a large detachment of samurai commanded by the man then known as Tajima Kanehide, who was Senior Commander of the Regional Army of Higashikita. The detachment included four contingents of forces from the Clans: Kanehide's own contingent of Tajima infantry, and cavalry units from Clans Tominari, Toshikawa and Yorihata. There was also a group of about two hundred ronin under the command of Captain Yokobashi Akira, who were brought along to do the dirty work of cleaning up the filth left behind by the Enemy, take care of horses, etc. They arrived at the shrine a little before noon on the Twenty-seventh. By sunset most of the preliminary cleanup was complete, but the Most Noble and Revered Prince had not yet begun the magical and religious aspects of the purification.


Just after sunset, a large Enemy force, only slightly smaller than the party escorting the Most Noble and Revered Prince, attacked the shrine and was driven off. It appeared that the Enemy had suffered extremely heavy losses. The Enemy retreated in apparent disarray up a narrow valley that led toward territory controlled by the Enemy. Kanehide expressed a desire to follow them in order to destroy the Enemy completely.


The Most Noble and Revered Prince objected that the terrain seemed conducive to use as a trap, and pointed out that the purpose of the expedition was to reclaim the shrine. The Most Noble and Revered Prince also mentioned that the signs visible to mage-sight were very unsettling. The Senior Captain of the Yorihata forces agreed with the Prince, but the other two Clan Captains sided with Kanehide, the Captain from Toshikawa commenting that he was a warrior, not a nursemaid.

Kanehide ordered all units to accompany him in pursuing the Enemy. He proposed to leave a minimal honor guard of approximately twenty men with the Most Noble and Revered Prince. Captain Yokobashi of the ronin detachment objected that their first duty was to the Realm and the Heavenborn via the Most Noble and Revered Prince. He declared that he and his men would not disobey the General's orders that they should accompany the Most Noble and Revered Prince. Kanehide denounced the ronin as cowards and expressed the intention of inflicting severe penalties, including executions for 'mutiny', when he returned from destroying the Enemy.

Kanehide took all of the available horses for use by his expedition. This included the confiscation of mounts that were the private property of the members of Yokobashi's company, as well as the personal mount of the Most Noble and Revered Prince.

The order of battle of the forces Kanehide led up the valley after the Enemy was as follows: Kanehide's Tajima troops were in the lead; after them came the forces of Clans Tominari and Toshikawa; the forces of Clan Yorihata, whose Senior Captain had objected to the expedition formed the rear guard.


Kanehide's expedition was attacked by large swarms of the Enemy once the sky had fully darkened. The attack came from both sides of valley, as well as from the Enemy forces that were being pursued. The expedition was also attacked from the rear: it appears that some of the Enemy presumed dead in the initial battle were shamming. The units that made up the expedition were thoroughly pinned down and separated: the Senior Captain of the Yorihata forces that made up the rear guard made several attempts to either return to the Most Noble and Revered Prince, or to break through to join up with the Toshikawa forces ahead of him. None of the attempts were successful. The other forces were pinned down so thoroughly that no attempts to break out were made.

The Most Noble and Revered Prince and the ronin who had remained with him at the Shrine were also subject to Enemy attack. It is known that properly consecrated shrines that have not been desecrated by the Enemy are defensible positions, since some of the Enemy cannot survive there. Therefore, while the ronin fought, the Most Noble and Revered Prince tried to improvise a short purification ritual to reconsecrate the shrine quickly. The ronin force held out almost half the night despite being severely outnumbered.


Just as the Most Noble and Revered Prince completed his improvised ritual, the last half dozen ronin were overwhelmed by the numbers of the Enemy who came against them. Most of the demons that approached the Most Noble and Revered Prince melted to disgusting sludge and evaporated as the Shrine consecration took effect, but the remaining Enemy struck down the Most Noble and Revered Prince and were able to drag the unconscious Prince out of the shrine. The Shrine appears to be free of Enemy contamination at the present time.

Net losses in the companies that followed Kanehide up that valley were as follows: all of Kanehide's Tajima forces are lost and presumed dead. Half the forces from Tominari are gone, including their Captain and the Honorable Takagi Yoshimasa, a Healer/Priest attached to the company. The forces of Toshikawa, whose Captain made that regrettable comment about nursemaids, lost about a third of their men. The Yorihata forces forming the rear guard of the expedition lost about one fifth: it appears that Yorihata had found a reasonably defensible position, and might have suffered fewer losses if they had not kept trying to break out. The Captain from Toshikawa and Senior Captain from Yorihata were both seriously injured, but were healed by the Most Noble and Revered Prince during his visit to the infirmary a few days ago.


End of the First Portion of the Report.


Tahata rolled up his scroll and set it aside, bowing again to Noble Lord Kagemitsu and Warlord Isanari.

The Warlord beckoned to a servant. "Bring Senior Commander Tahata some water. His voice is beginning to grow hoarse." He turned back to look down the length of the chamber. "I presume that the surviving Clan Captains and ronin are present. Come forward."

Yokobashi and Aoshiba knelt on Tahata's left, and the Toshikawa and Yorihata officers knelt on his right. All four men bowed respectfully to Kagemitsu and to the Warlord.


Warlord Isanari bowed slightly to the two former ronin. "My apologies to the samurai of Kawachi. I was not aware of their change in status." He surveyed all four men for a moment, frowning slightly, then asked sharply, "Do any of you wish to make any additions or modifications to the report that was just read?"

The Senior Captain from Yorihata was a man in his mid- twenties. He looked up at the Warlord calmly and said quietly, "No, Lord Commander."


The Toshikawa Captain was very pale, and shivering a little. He did not look up, but shook his head slightly and murmured something inaudible.

Captain Yokobashi said, "Nothing to add to this section of the report, Lord Commander."

"If you please, Lord Commander," added HorseMaster Aoshiba, "It should be stated clearly that the horse Kanehide stole from the Most Noble and Revered Prince was not an army mount issued to the Most Noble and Revered Prince. It was a horse brought from Amekudare no Miyako by the Most Noble and Revered Prince, from the lineage of the temple horses of the capital."


"I see." The Warlord looked thoughtful. "Archivist Yamashiro, Do I recall correctly that such horses are reserved for the use of Highborn Nobles?"


"It depends on the exact bloodline, my lord."

Noble Lord Miyabe no Kagemitsu stirred and gestured slightly with his fan to get Isanari's attention.

"Most Noble Lord Miyabe?" Out of the corner of his eye, the Warlord saw Minister Yoshiatsu's jaw drop at this mode of address for the Prince's 'servant'. Senior Commander Mikawa looked startled, then thoughtful.

"The particular animal in question was not absolutely forbidden to commoners, but any commoner touching it without the express permission of the Most Noble and Revered Prince is formally guilty of sacrilege," Kagemitsu explained, choosing his words carefully. The Twilight Prince had forbidden him to demand any special penalties, and after hearing about the outrageously insulting treatment his Prince had received from Kanehide the courtier had no wish to hurt the Prince further by any apparent disobedience of his own. Kagemitsu hoped the Samurai would be suitably grateful for the Prince's mercy, but doubted it: the entire class seemed to be in need of some memorable lessons in proper behavior, and those his poor Prince was forced to deal with seemed worse than the rest. "Of course, the crime of theft from an Imperial Prince is also sacrilege," he added, in the most icy tones and most formal mode that he could manage, "and far more serious than any meddling with a horse."

Chancellor Tajima had gone pale as the Highborn courtier spoke. Warlord Isanari turned to him and said quietly, "Clan Tajima will expiate the sacrilege committed by the officer Kanehide while commanding Tajima forces by paying for the construction of the shrine that is planned for the garden of the Most Noble and Revered Prince. Tajima will also offer compensation for the insult given to the Most Noble and Revered Prince by providing the Most Noble and Revered Prince with five each of the finest specimens of five kinds of beasts that are available. The beasts are to be selected by the Most Noble and Revered Prince without regard to whether or not they are currently the property of Clan Tajima." The Warlord strongly suspected that Tajima would now be forced to default on some of its financial obligations. He felt a very faint, brief bit of regret for the loss of the Chancellor's administrative skills drowned in a surge of triumph at the prospective removal of a political opponent and relief at being presented such a handy scapegoat for delivery to Highborn justice.


The Chancellor bowed, doing his best to keep his face expressionless. "As the Lord Commander decrees. The Most Noble and Revered Prince will be consulted about the matter at the earliest opportunity." He wondered what four kinds of animals the Prince would choose besides horses, but decided gloomily that given the cost of building a shrine and the Prince's reputedly excellent taste in horses, this new fine would leave his Clan bankrupt long before the nature of the other animals became a serious concern.


There was a slight stir among the assembled Lords, and the Chancellor's cousin, Lord Tominari, whose Captain and men had been lost, said quietly, "Lord Commander, it seems only just that the other domains involved in this fiasco should share in the penalties along with Tajima. Tominari will share the cost of the shrine."

The Warlord sighed and glanced toward the other two lords, who bowed their agreement. He turned to one of the scribes recording the events of the meeting. "The matter of the horse, and the related fines for all four Domains, is to be added to the formal report before it is forwarded to Amekudare no Miyako." The man bowed respectfully.

The Warlord turned back to the other Lords in the chamber. "Lord Yorihata? Lord Toshikawa?"

Lord Yorihata no Nagahito, at seventy-eight, was the oldest member of the council, even older than Archivist Yamashiro. He was seldom seen in public, and had given the Dragon's Wife his council proxy even before the Prince's capture. He chuckled suddenly. "Captain, I seem to recall from the Long Retreat that you and my great-granddaughter were quite fond of one another. If she agrees to marry you, would you be willing to take my name and serve as my heir?"

The Captain blushed, and bowed respectfully. "I would be most honored, my lord"

"No, no. It will be a relief to have someone young and trustworthy and energetic running things. Come home with me after this meeting and we'll see what she says to the idea."

"If things go well, I will serve in place of the groom's father at the wedding," the Warlord offered. He fully expected that things would go well about the wedding: a Clan Senior Captain so young and favored by his Lord's great-granddaughter was obviously being groomed for the heirship. He waited while the Yorihata officer returned to his place among the other officers. "Lord Toshikawa?"


If Yorihata was the oldest lord in the council, Toshikawa no Nobuakira was the youngest. He was sixteen, and just past the coming of age rites in which he had assumed his adult name and qualified to serve as Lord in his own right without a regent. This was the first time he had attended a council meeting in person instead of being represented by one of the senior vassals of his Clan. Now he was glaring at his cavalry captain, white-lipped, and with his fists clenched tightly at his sides.


The first time he tried to speak, Lord Toshikawa's voice failed him. He licked his lips, cleared his throat a little, and tried again with better success, though his voice still tended to crack. "Clan Toshikawa will offer the Most Noble and Revered Prince an indemnity for the insult done him. We will consult with the Most Noble and Revered Prince regarding items he would find useful or desirable. But the amount will be equal to at least twice the previous annual income of this worthless, nameless scum before us, whose very touch soils the swords he wears. The scum shall be cast out to serve as a gravedigger or tanner's drudge, but not before it has been stripped of its present inappropriate finery and flogged: one blow for each life lost under its incompetent command." The young lord almost shouted the end of the sentence, then followed it with a muttered "nursemaids indeed!" that was clearly audible in the hushed council chamber.

The former captain of the Toshikawa cavalry had prostrated himself in a full obeisance as his lord began to speak. He remained prostrate when Lord Toshikawa had finished. The Warlord beckoned to the guards at the door of the council chamber and watched quietly while they dragged the fool out of the room.


Then the Warlord looked back at Senior Commander Tahata and the two Kawachi samurai. "I believe we are ready to continue your report, Senior Commander."

Senior Commander Tahata bowed to the Noble Lord Kagemitsu and to the Warlord, and unrolled a second scroll.

The Second Portion of the Report: Being an Account of the Experiences of the Ronin Captured Along with the Most Noble and Revered Prince of the Blood Imperial of the Shrine of Evening Shadows During Their Captivity in the Hands of the Enemy:

At the time of the capture of the Most Noble and Revered Prince there were six ronin left alive: Captain Yokobashi and HorseMaster Aoshiba, who had remained close to the Most Noble and Revered Prince to protect him, and four others. These six men were transported along with the Most Noble and Revered Prince to an Enemy stronghold at the desecrated Great Shrine in Isanari province, which is presently located about ten miles from the nearest lands that we control. The Most Noble and Revered Prince was taken to what had been the main sanctuary compound, while the others were imprisoned in the prayer hall, so details of the mistreatment accorded the Most Noble and Revered Prince will remain speculative until such time as the Most Noble and Revered Prince may be able and willing to recount them.

The six ronin were stripped, with much extraneous fondling by demons, some of whom had caustic secretions. Most of these minor demons appeared to be the gigantic results of extremely ill- advised matings between various types of insects and worms and other such vermin. The ronin were shackled in two rows of three, facing toward each other (and the center of the hall) with their limbs outstretched. Although they were upright, much of their weight was carried by their arms rather than their legs. Also, the bonds that held them were warm and slimy and pulsated as if they were the tentacles of some living thing. Despite the sliminess, the bonds were not slippery enough to allow any of the men to work his way free.

A little before dawn on the night of the capture of the Most Noble and Revered Prince, a demon who was deferred to by the others came into the hall and offered the six men wealth, power, and a chance to torment any other humans they disliked if they would serve with his forces. This demon seemed generally human in form, but the room was dark and it was cloaked and armored, so details were unclear. The surviving men both separately mentioned that the demon's eyes appeared to glow red.

Based on the events that accompanied the capture and escape of the Most Noble and Revered Prince, it is speculated that the members of the Enemy forces that perform the initial desecration of the shrines must be physically human, or at least composed of ordinary flesh and blood, to be able to survive inside the shrine before it is desecrated.


The six ronin refused to change sides, and were flogged. They were left hanging in their shackles all day with the minor demons drinking the blood from their wounds and fondling them. If these minor demons were capable of human speech, they did not use it in the samurai's hearing.


The three ronin with appreciable skills at mage-sight could sense that the Most Noble and Revered Prince was alive and in agony. The general location of the Most Noble and Revered Prince had not changed since he was first taken into the main sanctuary of the desecrated shrine. It is reported that the aura of the Most Noble and Revered Prince was enormously bright and growing brighter as time passed. It seems likely that the Most Noble and Revered Prince was rendered unconscious before he could perform the final phase of his ritual, so that he was still drawing Power at the full levels he used for the reconsecration, and if anything, increasing over time.

The cloaked demon lord returned a little after sunset and repeated his offer to the ronin. The ronin again refused to change sides. The demon lord examined them and conferred with the demons who had stripped them, to determine which was the lowest ranked warrior. Several insectile demons spent much of the night cutting bits off the man and eating them. The demons magically kept the man alive and screaming until most of him had been devoured.

At dawn the five remaining ronin again refused the demon lord's offer. The demon lord caressed the face and body of the lowest ranked man of the five, leaving bloody welts where his hand passed. The others could not determine whether the demon lord had claws or was wearing armored gauntlets. Then the demon lord gouged out one of the man's eyes and devoured it with evident relish before leaving the five men to the attentions of the lesser demons.

The man who had suffered the demon lord's attentions was gradually eaten, much as the first man had been, after being impaled on the chitinous, spiky appendages of something that looked like the giant offspring of a mesalliance between a slug and some sort of crab or spider. The other four men were forced to watch: something had been done to their eyelids so that they could not even shut their eyes. As the night progressed, the four were also embraced by shapeless glowing things that changed shape mockingly from human female to human male to ... thoroughly disgusting other, and 'milked' of their life force and body fluids. The ones with mage-sight could see each other's auras dimming. They could also sense the aura of the Most Noble and Revered Prince more clearly than ever.

The demon lord returned at sunset and called off the glowing things. He ate one of the things while talking to the remaining men. He asked almost casually if they had reconsidered, and seemed unsurprised when told they had not. As he walked out, the demon lord sent all three of the remaining glowing things to attack the lowest ranked surviving man.


The first attack appeared to those watching helplessly to be a mockery of sexuality. The previous attacks by the glowing things had been humiliating and draining, but not unbearably painful, but this time the man began screaming terribly as soon as the creature embraced him. The creature soon began to be tinted red as it drew blood. The second demon enveloped their victim from behind, so that he was pinned between two of them, with both demons turning darker and darker red, and the man continuing to scream horribly. As his screams began to weaken, the third creature wrapped itself around his head, flowing into his mouth, ears and nose. The screaming stopped then. This death was actually fairly quick, compared to others that were killed earlier: after a while the glowing things went away and there was nothing left but an empty skin hanging in the shackles. The skin was eaten by a large beetle-like creature, so that, as with the previous victims, there was nothing left to cremate or bury.

The three remaining ronin were left alone for a few hours. Whatever had been done to their eyelids was undone. After days and nights of torment without food or water or sleep, they quickly collapsed into semiconsciousness. Toward dawn the ones with mage-sight were awakened by major fluctuations of the aura of the Most Noble and Revered Prince, which had been gradually growing in intensity during the whole of their previous captivity.


Shortly thereafter, a thing that looked like a very beautiful woman cloaked in fluttering draperies entered the room where the three ronin were imprisoned, went to the last common soldier and began to lick and caress and whisper to him. He began screaming horribly and begging for help, and the Captain and HorseMaster realized that this was yet another demon. They could not see what was happening, due to the darkness and the demon's draperies, which was more horrible than the times they were forced to watch the details of what was done to their companions.


Meanwhile, there were continuing major fluctuations of the intensity of the aura of the Most Noble and Revered Prince. Suddenly there was a huge explosion in the near distance in the direction of the Most Noble and Revered Prince. It was followed by several lesser ones -- one explosion shattered a wall of the building where the ronin were imprisoned, and a man's shape appeared in the opening silhouetted against flames where the main sanctuary had been. Mage-sight showed the man surrounded by an aura described as "brighter than the sun and all colors of the rainbow". The woman-shaped demon dissolved, as did the slimy pulsing shackles holding the three remaining ronin. The Most Noble and Revered Prince said "Follow me," and the two officers picked up their
more seriously injured companion and did so.

As they moved slowly toward the edge of the sanctuary grounds, they found that the nonhuman demons that came at them generally melted away to sludge, but most of the human (or human- looking) enemies seemed to have more resistance to the Power of the Most Noble and Revered Prince. This was worrying, since they possessed neither weapons nor clothes, but at the edge of the shrine grounds they were met by then Senior Captain of Irregulars Tahata and some of his men.

End of the Second Portion of the Report.

Senior Commander Tahata set aside the second scroll and drank some water.


Chancellor Tajima was impressed by the horrors the men had survived. He himself discounted the more blatantly supernatural aspects of the story as products of the hideous strain and torments the men had suffered, but he certainly did not blame them. Certainly an Enemy that engaged both in cannibalism and in very ingenious tortures and abuses of their prisoners deserved the name of 'demons' that was so often applied to them.


It took the Warlord a few minutes to find words when the recitation of horrors had ended. At last he said very quietly, "Captain, HorseMaster, I regret the need to subject you to the ordeal of listening to this recitation so soon after your captivity. And I am pleased to see that the Most Noble and Revered Prince has already begun to reward you for your faithful service. Is your third companion still among the living?"

Captain Yokobashi bowed and replied, "No, Lord Commander, he is not. His soul was shattered by our experiences and by the injuries he received on that final morning. The Most Noble and Revered Prince graciously released him at the same time that we were healed."


The very young Lord of Toshikawa somewhat hesitantly caught the Warlord's attention. "Lord Commander, Clan Toshikawa requests the honor of presenting these men with clothing, weapons, armor and horses to replace those they lost doing their duty to the Most Noble and Revered Prince."

"Granted. Gentlemen of Kawachi, I am sure that this session must be a great burden for you, and I do regret the necessity. If you have nothing to add to this portion of the report, you have my permission to withdraw from the remainder of this meeting, if you so desire."


The two former ronin hesitated.


Tahata commented, "The Healers have provided a detailed list of the injuries displayed by the three men after being rescued, but it was judged best to keep that account separate from the description of events."

The Captain and the HorseMaster exchanged relieved glances, then bowed to Kagemitsu and to the Warlord. Captain Yokobashi said, "We thank the Lord Commander for his courteous offer, but we will stay awhile, if we may return to our places."

The Warlord gestured in dismissal and waited until the men were settled back in their positions in the lower hall. Then he turned back to Tahata. "You seem to have turned up very conveniently for the Most Noble and Revered Prince and his companions, Senior Commander. Does the next portion of your report include an explanation of how you came to be so far behind Enemy lines?"

"It does, Lord Commander," Tahata bowed again, and picked up a third scroll.

The Third Portion of the Report: Being an Account of How the Most Noble and Revered Prince and His Companions Were Brought Out of Enemy Territory:

By the second day of the captivity of the Most Noble and Revered Prince, people who possessed any mage-sight at all had a rough idea of where the Most Noble and Revered Prince had been taken. It was rather like knowing in which part of the sky sunrise was going to happen by the sky glow before dawn. With the loss of Kanehide, the senior officer in the area was Senior Commander Koshinaka of the Nakakuni Regional Army. The Senior Commander, who has very little mage-sight, decided that a general suspicion of the direction was insufficient information on which to send an army into an Enemy stronghold. Especially so soon after having a large expedition trapped and destroyed by the Enemy. Most searchers remained in the north where the Most Noble and Revered Prince was captured instead of following the aura to the southwest.

Lord Shimoya and Senior Captain of Irregulars Tahata discussed the matter while examining some maps. Based on their experience during the Long Retreat, they suspected that the Most Noble and Revered Prince was being held at the desecrated Great Shrine. Lord Shimoya suggested that Tahata take some of his resistance veterans to scout the countryside in that area and offered to use his own men to cover the gaps in the line that might be created by Tahata's absence.

Senior Captain Tahata and his men worked their way into Enemy territory very slowly and quietly. They did their best to avoid attracting attention and quietly killed any Enemy that stumbled across them.


Warlord Isanari could not resist interrupting. "Excuse me Senior Commander, but I thought it was very difficult to kill the invaders at all, much less quietly."

Tahata replied cheerfully, "Yes, Lord Commander. But Samurai killing other Samurai never poison their weapons, while peasants killing vermin have no such scruples."

"I see," replied the Warlord thoughtfully, and he gestured for the report to continue.

By the sunset before the Prince's escape, the scouting party had lost five of their original fifty men and were about five hundred feet from the shrine precincts. They had to find a defensible hiding place and remain there for the night because there was too much Enemy activity once the sun had set.

Just before sunrise there was a huge explosion accompanied by a flash that was blinding to both normal vision and mage- sight. A series of smaller explosions followed. Senior Captain Tahata and his fighters decided that there was no sense in wasting a good diversion, especially so close to daylight, so they ran toward the shrine. The Most Noble and Revered Prince came stalking across the entrance bridge out of the dust and smoke, clad only in blood and his long hair and an aura that the fighters with mage-sight found almost unbearably bright. He was followed by the three surviving ronin. The Most Noble and Revered Prince collapsed once he reached the Irregulars, and would have fallen to the ground if Senior Captain Tahata had not supported him, but his aura did not noticeably diminish.

Senior Captain Tahata and his Irregulars picked up the Most Noble and Revered Prince and the ronin and made a dash for the border. Fortunately the sun was coming up and the Enemy were very disorganized due to the explosions. Also, at least at first, any of the more disgusting sorts of demons that got too near the Most Noble and Revered Prince would dissolve into sludge and evaporate, so Tahata and his men primarily had to deal with the human-shaped Enemy. As time passed, the aura of the Most Noble and Revered Prince faded toward more normal levels and the Enemy pressed closer.

The Irregulars were faced with the problem of fighting the Enemy and transporting the Prince and his men, plus their own injured, all on foot. The situation was becoming serious, but at a point about halfway between the shrine and the edge of Enemy- occupied territory, they were met by Captain Moeri and his mounted scouts with more than enough extra mounts for everyone that was still alive. The cavalry scouts had charged into Enemy territory when the explosions began.

The Enemy were still making a nuisance of themselves, but the original scouting party were able to get some rest, comparatively speaking. Those uninjured surrounded and protected the Most Noble and Revered Prince and other wounded men, while Captain Moeri's cavalry troop in turn surrounded them and took the brunt of the Enemy's attacks.


Once they were out of Enemy-held territory, Healers stabilized the condition of the wounded men, except the Most Noble and Revered Prince, who was already healing himself. All the wounded were placed in horse-litters and transported back to the capital as quickly as possible.

End of the Third Part of the Report.


Tahata set down the scroll and picked up three others. "These scrolls contain the Healers' reports on the injuries of the ronin, Archivist Yamashiro's incomplete report on the injuries suffered by the Most Noble and Revered Prince, and a detailed account of the men and supplies lost during Kanehide's expedition, and mine. Shall I read them?"


The Warlord glanced at Kagemitsu questioningly, but the courtier shook his head slightly. No one else seemed eager to request a reading either, especially not Senior Commander Koshinaka, who was looking very embarrassed. "No, Senior Commander, thank you. I don't think it is necessary to read the numerical reports here ... and I do wish to commend the cleverness and skill that put you in the right place at the right time to assist the Most Noble and Revered Prince."


Chancellor Tajima silently agreed. He also agreed with the former peasant's summary promotion to Samurai status and high rank, now that he understood the Twilight Prince's reasons. The Most Noble and Revered Prince clearly had ample cause to view Tahata and his family as more trustworthy servants than the older Samurai Clans. He wondered which of the Vacant Domains would become the protectorate of Tahata's family.

Senior Commander Tahata smiled and bowed. "Thank you, Lord Commander." He bowed to Noble Lord Kagemitsu, again to the Warlord, then got up and returned to his place at the foot of the room.

Warlord Isanari looked around the hall. "Well, are there any other matters that should be dealt with, while we are all assembled here?"

Commander Kashimori, the Chancellor's field commander, moved out into the center of the room, knelt, and bowed respectfully to the lords at the upper end of the council chamber. "If the Lord Commander will permit?"

The Warlord made a gesture with his fan and Kashimori rose and went to the door of the chamber. When he returned a moment later, he was accompanied by two younger men dressed in the forest colors and oak-leaf crest of his clan, who carried a portable shrine about the size of a palanquin. The bearers set down the shrine and all three Kashimori samurai knelt. They first faced a little to their left and bowed to Chancellor Tajima, they then turned straight ahead and bowed, more deeply, to the Warlord. Finally they turned a little to their right and bowed much more deeply to Kagemitsu. The Warlord thought he saw the younger of Commander Kashimori's kinsmen wink at the Noble Lord Kagemitsu, but decided that he must have imagined the breach of protocol: the usually punctilious Noble Lord looked amused rather than affronted.

"My Noble Lord, and My Lords," Commander Kashimori began, "When the Enemy drove us out of our homes in the Domain of Kawachi, we of the Kashimori family, being faithful vassals of the Clan, brought with us certain Clan records and relics from the family shrine of the Kawachi. Kashimori now remands these items into the custody of the representative of the Lord of Kawachi."

Chancellor Tajima was horribly shocked to hear a Samurai whose family had served his for a century casually describe himself as a vassal of the displaced Clan. He suspected that it would be a mistake, but he could not resist commenting, "Such loyalty to the relics of a Clan Lost for over a century seems rather excessive."

Commander Kashimori bowed to the Chancellor again. "A century is not such a long time as all that, my Lord," he said in a respectful tone. "I myself am nearly fifty years old. The last, or I should say previous, Lord of Kawachi attended my great- grandfather's wedding celebration, and both my grandfather and my father were acquainted with the Wizard of Kawachi and his children."

Kagemitsu bowed slightly toward Commander Kashimori and indicated the traveling shrine with a graceful gesture of his fan. "Clan Kawachi is greatly honored by such fidelity. To bring out the Kawachi relics along with your own when the Clan had been ... absent ... for so long displays a devotion that goes well beyond mere duty."

Kashimori looked embarrassed. "To be honest, Noble Lord, we were very short of porters and draft animals during our retreat, and had to leave behind the relics and records from our own family shrine, along with some of the larger pieces belonging to the Kawachi shrine."

Warlord Isanari winced. "Your family relics fell into the hands of the Enemy, Commander? You have my deepest condolences."

"We thank you for your kindness, Lord Commander, but there remains some hope that your condolences may be premature. Our road passed close by the Haunted Wood, and we noticed that our enemies seemed disinclined to enter it, so we left the relics from our shrine and the rest of the Kawachi relics there for safekeeping, as a prudent man might place heirlooms in a beehive before setting out on a journey." He shivered a little. "I can't say I blame our enemies for avoiding the Haunted Wood. As in the case of the beehive, the task of retrieving the treasures later may prove to have its interesting moments."


The Warlord looked impressed. Commander Kashimori bowed very low and said very respectfully, "Lord Commander, your servants do not question the decree that barred vassals of the traitor Kanehide from serving the Most Noble and Revered Prince. But there are some among your humble servants who never considered themselves the vassals of Kanehide himself, but considered themselves to be properly vassals of Kawachi, or at most of Tajima through their loyalty to Kawachi ..." The Chancellor was developing a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he began to understand the trend of his field commander's speech. Kashimori continued rather dryly, "Indeed, from the way Kanehide treated those under his authority, it seemed that he considered the vassals of Kawachi to be his captives rather than his followers. Might it be possible, Lord Commander, to amend the decree and allow the vassals of Kawachi to serve their proper Lord and Clan?"


Kashimori bowed very low again and held the bow. Warlord Isanari shifted uncomfortably and looked uncertainly toward the courtier who was serving as Kawachi's representative.

Chancellor Tajima found himself hoping devoutly that the Warlord would decline to alter the decree or that the young courtier would refuse to countenance the potential risk to his master. But Lord Kagemitsu bowed slightly toward the Warlord and said quietly, "Lord Commander, Clan Kawachi requests the privilege of acknowledging some of its traditional vassals."

The Warlord looked relieved, but uncertain. "Noble Lord, I thank you for your generosity, but are you truly willing to trust such men with the life and safety of the Most Noble and Revered Prince?"


"Lord Commander, I am the faithful servant of the Most Noble and Revered Prince and of Clan Kawachi. Indeed, my father's father was a Kawachi, so I owe the Most Noble and Revered Prince allegiance as head of my clan as well as my patron. I would not endanger the Most Noble and Revered Prince for any reason ... but Commander Kashimori is married to my mother's sister, and the Most Noble and Revered Prince and myself have been acquainted with the Commander since we were small children. I would trust my uncle to serve our Lord faithfully even if he had not preserved the Kawachi Clan relics at the cost of Kashimori, and I believe that the Most Noble and Revered Prince would agree. Clan Kawachi will also accept such others as Commander Kashimori will vouch for."


The Warlord decided that perhaps he had not imagined that wink from the youngest Kashimori. "Very well." He gestured toward the scribes. "Let it be so decreed." He bowed to the Noble Lord, then looked around the room. "Is there anything else?"


Chancellor Tajima was very grateful that no one brought any other matters before the council. The way things were going, any new issue would surely manage to cost him money, prestige, or manpower. Tajima was one of the last to leave the council chamber, as he had been one of the first to arrive. He was feeling decidedly ill as he tried to think how to deal with the loss of Kashimori's command skills on top of all his other recent losses. His cousin Tominari's unexpected support had been the only bright spot in a thoroughly hideous day.


Tajima regretted delaying so long when he found Mikawa, Yoshiatsu and Katafuse waiting for him.


Copyright 1991 Elyse M. Grasso