8 Honor and Duty


Wasuraruru

Mi wo ba omowazu

Chikaite shi

Hito no inochi no

Oshiku mo aru kana


(Ukon)


The Twilight Prince considered sending for more formal robes, but the request for audience by Chancellor Tajima sounded urgent. The Prince decided that since he himself was already in the audience chamber it would be more courteous to admit his latest guests immediately. He nodded to his young gatekeeper, "Send them in," and Hato bowed and hurried out.

 


Kashimori entered first and bowed to the Prince formally, as officer to overlord. He was very richly dressed in robes appropriate to his rank and allegiance, but the styling of the sleeves and other details were a hundred years out of date. The Prince wondered how the lords of Tajima would have felt all those years, if they had known that their vassals were hoarding the relics of a previous loyalty.

 


Kashimori was wearing both of his own swords, but also carrying an additional long sword. He approached the dais and bowed again, and gestured to the sliding doors of the parlor. "If the Most Noble and Revered Prince will graciously permit?"


The Prince nodded, and the officer entered the parlor and pulled the sliding doors almost shut behind him. The Prince sighed. He disliked the idea of having a bodyguard present during a private interview, but knew that it was foolish to protest. The Samurai tended to disregard his suggestions when they felt his safety might be threatened. Kashimori's presence would also safeguard Tajima from slander by his political opponents.

 

Chancellor Tajima was wearing a haori in the colors of Tajima and ornamented with the crest of his Clan, but his hakama and kimono were both pure white. The Twilight Prince felt a cold lump of foreboding begin to form in the pit of his stomach: none of the reasons he knew of that might lead a Samurai to dress in white were very comforting. He read sorrow and shame and determination in the man's odd, sharp-edged aura, and grew even more worried.


Tajima stopped in the center of the foot of the long reception hall, faced the Twilight Prince, knelt, and bowed so that his forehead touched the tatami in front of him. He held the bow until the Prince grew impatient and called to him, "Lord Tajima, please come nearer."

 

Tajima rose slowly and walked toward the Prince. As he approached, the Prince saw that he was wearing only his short sword, and carrying a scroll. He paused near the midpoint of the long room, and the Prince said again, "Come nearer, Lord Tajima," and indicated the zabutons where Tahata and Ninori had recently been sitting.


Tajima came to the edge of the dais and placed the scroll on the tatami in front of the Prince. His face impassive, he removed the short sword from his belt and placed it on the dais with the hilt next to the Prince's right hand and the sheathed blade pointing toward himself. Then he carefully backed away until he was farther from the Prince than the Prince was from the doors of the parlor. Tajima knelt again and bowed as deeply as before.

 

The Twilight Prince waited quietly, but Tajima's frozen silence and formal, almost ritualistic movements were making him increasingly nervous. "You are welcome to this hall, Lord Tajima," he said at last. "May I ask why you requested this audience?"


Tajima swallowed hard and tried to speak, but his voice failed him. He swallowed again; he had spent most of the day putting his affairs in order and focusing his will for this, and could not bear the thought of any additional disgrace due to his own clumsiness. He tried again to speak, and this time his voice obeyed him, though he was somewhat hoarse.


"Most Noble and Revered Prince, the Clan of Tajima, mostly justly in debt to the Most Noble and Revered Prince due to the treachery and dereliction of duty of one of its representatives, must regretfully report that it will be unable to pay its debts and fines in their proper time. The present, incompetent Lord of Clan Tajima humbly beseeches the Most Noble, Revered and Merciful Prince that the Most Noble and Revered Prince will accept the regency for the minor heirs of Clan Tajima, and count the life of the present Lord as sufficient compensation for this additional incompetence and dereliction."

 

"Powers! NO!!" The Twilight Prince recoiled and stared at the scroll as if it were some especially poisonous kind of vermin.


Tajima, who had not looked directly at the Prince at any time since entering the room, heard the revulsion in the Prince's voice, and flinched. "Most Noble and Revered Prince," he pleaded, "Clan Tajima most humbly beseeches: accept the life of this incompetent lord in sacrifice to the Most Noble and Revered Prince's just anger against the Clan. Let this incompetent lord's blood alone wipe out the disgrace. Any form of execution the Most Noble and Revered Prince may choose to decree will be freely submitted to. Most Noble and Revered Prince, please, spare the grandchildren of this most unworthy servant. Does the anger of the Most Noble and Revered Prince truly extend to helpless children who had no involvement in the crimes committed against the Most Noble and Revered Prince?"

 

"Lord Tajima, you misunderstand me," the Prince protested. "I feel no malice toward your grandchildren, or toward you. The Powers witness I would hate to be held to account for the actions of some of my own relatives ... And I certainly have no use for an honest man's blood: I'm a Life Mage, after all, not a necromancer. Please, come -- sit and talk with me for a while. Surely we can find a way to bring you and Clan Tajima safely out of these difficulties."

 

As the sense of the Prince's words penetrated, Tajima went limp with shock and relief. "Most Noble and Revered Prince," his voice failed him again. He could imagine no possible reason for such mercy to a Clan that had so comprehensively wronged the Prince.


"Lord Tajima?" The Prince poured a cup of tea and summoned the mage-sight on his left side, hoping that would decrease the vertigo when he moved. He got up carefully, and set the filled teacup next to the zabuton Ninori had used. Then he knelt beside the still prostrate Lord of Tajima and grasped one of the man's shoulders. "Lord Tajima, please, answer me. Are you all right? Should I summon a Healer?"

 

"No! Thank you, Most Noble and Revered Prince. No Healer, please ... " Tajima followed the Prince's gentle pull, and the Prince managed to get him moved and settled on the zabuton. Tajima bowed again, not quite as low as before, as the Twilight Prince carefully returned to his own place. The Samurai made no attempt to wipe away the tears that streaked his face.

 

The Prince sighed. "Lord Tajima, please stop bowing and drink your tea. And please look at me when you talk to me: being addressed by the tops of people's heads can be ... disconcerting."

 

The Prince picked up the scroll and tore it into several pieces without unrolling it. Tajima looked up at the sound and was thoroughly startled. The Chancellor had always seen the Twilight Prince on official occasions, wearing the stiff, formal robes and makeup appropriate to a Noble of Imperial rank. The young man looking at him worriedly bore little resemblance to the superhumanly tall, flawlessly elegant figure Tajima remembered. The Prince was wearing plain blue-gray robes, which were not exactly shabby, but so well-worn the fabric had lost its stiffness, and without his makeup the Prince did not look aristocratically pale: he looked ill and exhausted. Only the Prince's quiet voice and beautiful long hair seemed familiar. And the eyepatch: Tajima was suddenly embarrassed at further burdening a man who was still clearly an invalid.


"Most Noble and Revered Prince," Tajima began. He was still breathing hard from the shock of the reprieve, and stammered a little.


The Twilight Prince raised a hand to silence him. "Take a little time to compose yourself, my lord," the Prince said gently. "Drink some tea. You'll be little use to your grandchildren or your Clan if you make yourself ill with worry." He shook his head. "Lord Tajima, you yourself are not an old man, so your grandchildren must be very young indeed. How could you think of giving them into the hands of a stranger you considered your enemy?" Again there was revulsion in his tone.

 

Tajima found the Prince's solicitude for children he had never met surprising and rather confusing, but would hardly complain if a concern for the children's welfare inclined the Prince toward mercy. When the Chancellor replied, his voice was drained of its usual energy. "Better a chance for life under the regency of the Most Noble and Revered Prince than a certainty of death or worse after the dishonor of failing the Warlord's command."

 

"Are matters really as grim as that? I had heard that your Clan was wealthy, by Samurai reckoning."


"Most Noble and Revered Prince, Clan Tajima has taxes to pay and vassals to feed: both samurai and lesser folk that have fled the invaders. Most of our accessible holdings were and are in Kawachi: our Tajima and Akanami holdings are presently controlled by the Enemy. The Clan cannot fully repay the Most Noble and Revered Prince for the equipment of his vassals or for the repairs considered necessary for this estate ... not before next year's harvest, and perhaps not even then. And that is without any consideration of payment for the animals and construction of the shrine that were ordered most recently."

 

"Is that all? I can see an easy solution to most of your problems, my lord."

 

Tajima flushed painfully. "Most Noble and Revered Prince, Clan Tajima acknowledges the debts as valid. The Clan cannot honorably ask that they be decreased, even if Warlord Isanari would agree."


"I understand," the Prince assured him hastily. "That was not what I had in mind. Lord Tajima, you are short of cash. I have plenty of money: Imperial princes do not pay taxes, they are paid by them; and my great-grandfather's will left me with more personal wealth than anyone else in Ashihara, including the Throne ... But in my capacity as Lord of Kawachi I am rather short of Domain holdings. Of the three districts of Kawachi, I presently hold title to one that is accessible and half of a district that is inaccessible due to Enemy activity. Name a fair price for the other half of that inaccessible district, and I will pay you the cash you need and assume responsibility for the taxes and vassals associated with it."


Tajima was beginning to feel some real hope for survival, but the Prince's mercy still seemed too good to be true. "Most Noble and Revered Prince, I do not wish ... Clan Tajima cannot seek to pay the Most Noble and Revered Prince in debased coin. What is known about the state of that district suggests that it is not worth much since the Enemy occupied it."

 

"Your death would certainly be a waste, my lord," the Prince replied, "Any man honest enough to argue so stubbornly against his own salvation is a treasure Ashihara can ill afford to lose ... Are you really so willing to set aside your duties and take your own life?"

 

Tajima blinked, and remembered that the Twilight Prince was the last heir of the main Imperial line: for him, suicide, even to avoid dishonor, would be a betrayal of his ancestors and of the Heavenly Powers. "Most Noble and Revered Prince," he said quietly, "for a Samurai to accept death is often the path of duty, not a dereliction of it."


"Mmm." The Twilight Prince's tone was noncommittal and his expression was skeptical. "Let me think." The Prince busied himself with the tea things for a moment. "Ahh. This should work, if you find it satisfactory. Sell me a clear title to that half of a district, at whatever price you think is fair. For the rest, sell me a provisional title to some of your holdings, inaccessible due to Enemy action, with an understanding that as they become accessible I will trade them for the presently accessible pieces of Kawachi from which you are deriving your current income. We can sort out any minor discrepancies of value as your mortgaged lands become accessible."

 

It took Tajima a moment to understand what the Prince was suggesting. He privately resolved that the Prince would eventually govern the whole of Kawachi, though it would undoubtedly require some sticky negotiations with Kanehide's former wives and in-laws. He nodded slowly. "Yes, Most Noble and Revered Prince, Tajima would gladly agree to such an arrangement, and it should also be agreeable to the Warlord ... "

 

"I never heard that he put any limits on what you could do to acquire the money to pay your fines and debts," the Prince agreed. "And you will be paying them in full ... However, if I may offer a suggestion Lord Tajima?"


"Of course, Most Noble and Revered Prince," Tajima replied.

 

"Be a bit more careful about annoying the Warlord unnecessarily," the Prince told him. "I believe the fines levied against your Clan might have been less if Lord Commander Isanari had been less annoyed with you."


"Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince," Tajima said slowly.


"I'm not saying that you should agree to things you really think are wrong," the Twilight Prince said quickly, "But be polite about disagreeing. And be sure your objections to new ideas are based on more than the fact that the ideas are new."


"The plague has happened, Lord Tajima," the Prince continued sadly, "and the invasion has happened. Our task is not to return Ashihara to its condition of four years ago, but rather to heal both the harm done in the recent past, and the faults that allowed the plague and invasion to do such harm. It does no good for you and Warlord Isanari to blame each other for the difficulties involved in the healing."

 

"Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince," Tajima said again, this time more thoughtfully. "The words of the Most Noble and Revered Prince will receive serious attention." He paused for a moment, then added, "To return to the matter of the debts of Clan Tajima, Most Noble and Revered Prince: may one inquire what kinds of animals the Most Noble and Revered Prince will require?"


The Prince sighed. "Early winter is really a silly time of year to be discussing transactions in livestock," he said plaintively, "but I suppose you will need to know how much land to mortgage. There is no need to endanger the beasts by trying to deliver them immediately. That can wait until a more appropriate time of year."


"As the Most Noble and Revered Prince commands," Tajima agreed. He wondered whether the Prince was motivated by concern for the beasts, or for Tajima himself, and decided it was most likely both.


"Fine," said the Twilight Prince, with a smile. "You can start with the crickets."


"Crickets, Most Noble and Revered Prince?" Tajima repeated blankly, certain he had misheard the Prince.


"Crickets, Lord Tajima ... small insects? Make noise? People keep them in nice little bamboo cages ... "


"I know what crickets are Most Noble and Revered Prince. I just don't think the Warlord will count them as livestock." Tajima suddenly realized how disrespectful the tone and wording of his last speech had been, and winced. If annoying the Warlord was imprudent, annoying the Prince by rudeness was surely far more dangerous. There were persistent rumors of commoners being executed for the presumption of using the word 'I' when addressing Nobles of the highest ranks. He was very relieved when the Prince smiled at him again.

 

"Crickets have legs rather than roots, and people keep them," the Prince said innocently, "If the Warlord knows a different definition of livestock, he has neglected to inform me of it. If he questions my choice refer him to me: as a Life Mage I like having different kinds of living things around me, and I want crickets. And DON'T do anything silly like putting them in gilded cages. It insults the crickets. If you insist on being fancy, get different shapes of bamboo cages or different varieties of crickets or something."

 

Tajima smiled. "As the Most Noble and Revered Prince commands. What other kinds of animals?"


"Oh, horses, of course, for one," replied the Prince cheerfully. "You'd best plan to bring a heavy purse to the midsummer horse-fair."


Tajima nodded calmly. That choice of beast was not unexpected and the delay in requested delivery was more than welcome.

 

The Prince continued thoughtfully, "For the others, well there is a pool in the stream near my quarters that would benefit greatly from the presence of a few ornamental carp ... five koi with interesting scale patterns, delivered to their new home in early spring, would do nicely as the third kind of beast. For the fourth, I will accept a rooster and four hens: good layers, not fighting stock ... I find cockfights nauseating (though my late wife enjoyed them), and while I do not eat food that requires bloodshed during its preparation, I occasionally eat eggs."

 

"Of course, Most Noble and Revered Prince. And for the fifth kind of beast?" Two of the Prince's choices had been generously inexpensive, and a third allowed Tajima to show off a bit with a minimum of cash outlay: breeding ornamental carp was one of Tajima's hobbies and he had been successful enough that his estate was often called 'The Koi Garden'. After such leniency, Tajima fully expected that the Prince's final choice would be another variety of expensive 'real' livestock: perhaps matched carriage oxen.


"Let me see," the Twilight Prince said reflectively. "We have crickets for Earth, horses for Life, fish for Water, and birds for Air. Hmm. Cats, I think. Yes, cats will do for Fire. Orange ones, if you can find them, or the kind that have black and orange spots, like koi."

 

Tajima prostrated himself in a full bow. "The Most Noble and Revered Prince is too generous," he said softly.


The Prince chuckled. "The 'Most Noble and Revered Prince' will be acquiring some large land-holdings equipped with livestock because of the agreement between the Lords of Kawachi and Tajima," he replied cheerfully. "At the moment I am most concerned with properly equipping this estate, which is not a place for hogs or oxen."

 

"Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince." Tajima bowed again.

 

The Twilight Prince turned toward the parlor and called, "Kashimori. Come out here, please."

 

The Kawachi Commander appeared immediately. "Is something wrong, Most Noble and Revered Prince?" he asked worriedly.


"No. Quite the contrary. Give the Lord of Tajima back his swords." The Prince waited while his order was obeyed, and Kashimori, looking totally confused, settled in the place Tahata had occupied earlier, then continued, "To raise the money he needs, the Lord of Tajima will sell me title to more of Kawachi, along with some other holdings that I can later exchange for Kawachi lands. I will rely on you to negotiate the details of the holdings outside Kawachi that are to be included, but I do wish to specify that as many as possible of such holdings should be vacant: Kawachi has no desire either to strip Tajima of its competent samurai or to relieve Tajima of the burden of its incompetents."


Kashimori bowed and murmured, "Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince." Tajima bowed also.


The Twilight Prince looked back and forth between the two men. "When you have arranged the details of the holdings involved, I will call a council of the senior officers of the forces of both Kawachi and Tajima. As long as there are future vassals of Kawachi serving Tajima and present or future vassals of Tajima serving Kawachi, we will need to coordinate such matters as recruitment and promotions."


"Of course, Most Noble and Revered Prince," the two men agreed. That particular complication had not occurred to Tajima, and he was impressed by the Prince's foresight.


The Prince sighed with satisfaction. "Gentlemen, forgive me, but I am very weary. Could one of you find someone to help me to my quarters?"


Both samurai bowed and Kashimori said, "This servant would be inordinately honored by being permitted to assist the Most Noble and Revered Prince."


Tajima added. "Clan Tajima extends it humblest apologies for taking so much of the valuable time of the Most Noble and Revered Prince. If the Most Noble and Revered Prince has no further instructions, may the Lord of Tajima have leave to depart?"


The Prince stood up, and waved Tajima away. The Chancellor bowed once more, and left quickly.

 

** *

 

A huge crew of roofers and thatchers arrived promptly the next morning: Tahata had recruited them from the refugee camps as well as from among his own men. The boss of the crew confidently predicted that they would have the kitchen and stable roofs tiled, and the other buildings rethatched by evening the next day. The Most Noble and Revered Prince's own quarters, being less weathered, would be worked on last so that the Prince would continue to have proper shelter available.

 

The Twilight Prince sighed at being politely edged out of the way again, but the first of the livestock from Tajima arrived not long afterward and gave him something to occupy his time. The Prince sent the chickens immediately to the kitchen yard and settled comfortably in his quarters away from the bustle and dust, with a few of the Shirokura children to help admire his new pets.

 

It was not yet midmorning when the Prince was informed that Warlord Isanari had arrived and urgently requested an audience. The news left the Prince feeling chilled and nauseated, for he was certain that a visit from the Warlord so early in the day must be due to some major Enemy incursion. The Prince briefly considered refusing to grant the audience: he did not feel at all ready to face such problems. But duty was duty. He carefully detached a kitten from his sleeve, and left the children watching to make sure the cats did not eat the crickets.


A few servants who had attended the Twilight Prince in his wife's household or at the Shrine of Evening Shadows had arrived the evening before from Amekudare no Miyako. When the Prince sent for the Evening Clouds overrobe to put on over the plain blue-gray garments he was wearing, his valet was clearly scandalized at the idea of such informal dress when meeting such a high official, but the Prince stared him down. He sent word that he would receive Lord Isanari in the formal audience chamber, grateful that the work crew had not yet begun to remove its roof.


The Warlord was surprised to be ushered into the audience chamber, quite formally, by a boy of ten, and to find a girl of five playing the role of the Prince's handmaid. After making his formal bow and accepting the Prince's offer of a seat near the dais, he commented, "If the Most Noble and Revered Prince is finding it difficult to locate adequate servants, some castle staff can be spared to assist here. It is hardly proper for a healthy young lord of wealth and authority to be surrounded by children and
old people, without men for the estate or maidservants for the private quarters."


The Twilight Prince flinched at the thought of having strangers around him. Why was the Warlord wasting time on trivia? he wondered. Didn't the man have enough important problems to deal with, without meddling in the households of others? Or perhaps, he thought sourly, the officer was having no luck bribing informants within the Prince's household. The Prince resolved suddenly that he would assign the servants from the capital to prestigious posts as far from his own person as possible ... except the valet, who could be trusted to lie in the reports he sent back to Amekudare no Miyako.


"On the contrary, Lord Commander," the Prince replied. "I am very well served ... " His quiet voice was very cold, but warmed when he turned to the little girl, who was now obviously fighting back tears. "Niwa, child, ask someone to bring tea and cakes, please." Niwa got up and hurried off, and the Prince turned back to the Warlord, his face expressionless.


"Lord Commander Isanari, if you wish to be received in this house you will not insult my personal attendants in their presence!" the Prince said, in a sharper tone than the Warlord had ever heard him use before.


The Warlord gulped and bowed. "Please accept the humblest apologies of this unworthy servant, Most Noble and Revered Prince," he said quickly, "No offense was intended."

 

The Prince eyed him warily for a moment, then nodded abruptly. "What is the purpose of this visit, Lord Commander?" he asked in his usual quiet tone.


The Warlord watched the Twilight Prince carefully as he spoke. After such an unfortunate beginning to his errand, he did not wish to offend the Prince again. "It has come to the attention of the office of the Warlord," he said formally, "that the Lord of Tajima is seeking ways to avoid full payment of the debts that Clan owes to the Most Noble and Revered Prince."


"Your informants are mistaken. The Lord of Tajima has made acceptable arrangements for paying the debts of his Clan."


The Prince's tone and features were both expressionless enough to make the Warlord nervous, but he continued anyway. "It is not appropriate that the Most Noble and Revered Prince should be paid with the Most Noble and Revered Prince's own money ... nor is the selection of the livestock ... "


"The choice of livestock was mine, Lord Commander," the Prince interrupted very gently, "are you quite sure you wish to question my selections?" Isanari turned pale and swallowed hard.


"In any case," the Prince continued, "many of the beasts have already been delivered, and in the most proper ritual fashion -- Lord Tajima has quite exceeded the requirements I set for them. The five crickets, were each accompanied by an elegant stone in one of the five sacred colors; and the chickens were each a different sacred color, as were the cats -- and all from a single litter besides. The kittens were accompanied by their calico mother and by a hibachi decorated with cats. Lord Tajima also sent a scroll attesting to my ownership of five koi (in the sacred colors, of course) to be delivered as soon as they come out of hibernation in the spring, and five bridles, in the sacred colors, 'to be filled properly at the midsummer horse fair'."


The Prince paused to see if the Warlord had anything to say, then continued in the same very gentle tones. "As to the matter of the money for payment of the debts of Clan Tajima, Lord Commander ... I was not aware that voluntary exchanges of money and land between Lords of Domains fell under the jurisdiction of the office of the Warlord."


"They do not, Most Noble and Revered Prince," the Warlord agreed reluctantly. He took a deep breath, then pleaded, "Most Noble and Revered Prince, is it appropriate to show such generosity to the Clan whose representative treated the Most Noble and Revered Prince so disrespectfully?"


The Twilight Prince looked at him for a moment, in apparent puzzlement. "Lord Commander," he said sweetly, "during the dealings that I had with Senior Commander Kanehide, he never mentioned being a representative of Clan Tajima, but he frequently referred to the authority he possessed as your subordinate."


Warlord Isanari prostrated himself in a deep bow, and said weakly, "This wretchedly unworthy servant will humbly accept any punishment the Most Noble and Revered Prince may choose to decree."


The Prince sighed. "Get up, Lord Commander. Kanehide never showed much evidence of attention to the orders he received from any of his superiors. If and when I decide that you are culpable and deserve punishment, I will inform you." His tone hardened. "In the meantime, stop trying to use me as a tool in your private feud with a man who was more innocent in the matter than you are yourself. Turn your attention to fighting the realm's enemies, not its officials."


Warlord Isanari bowed again. "Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince."


The Twilight Prince sighed again. "I really don't understand your grudge against the Chancellor. He seems honest and competent enough ... and I notice that you have not used Kanehide's acts as an excuse to deprive him of his position. Has he offended you personally in some way? Insulted your family or servants, perhaps?"

 

Isanari winced at the pointed reminder of his earlier blunder. "Most Noble and Revered Prince, Lord Tajima is insane: he doesn't believe in demons!"


"He doesn't believe in demons?" the Prince repeated, clearly startled. Warlord Isanari relaxed slightly, confident that the Prince would now understand the need to keep the Chancellor at a distance. But the Prince continued thoughtfully, "That must be why Lord Tajima's aura looks as odd as it does -- he doesn't naturally lack mage-sight, someone or something blocked his Power, and did it so thoroughly he can't even think about such things." He smiled, "The poor man must think that we are the madmen. Well, Lord Commander, if that is so, you have no more business asking him to decide matters of military strategy during a fight against demons than you would asking a color-blind man to choose fabric or wall paintings. Fortunately, as Chancellor, he should be more involved with matters of administration and reconstruction, provided, of course, that you keep him busy in his proper role."

 

"Understood, Most Noble and Revered Prince," the Warlord said reluctantly.


Niwa returned then, along with an older girl who carried a tray of tea things. Both bowed, Niwa watching the Warlord distrustfully all the while. The Prince merely glanced in their direction, saying, "I believe you have duties to attend to, Lord Commander."


Isanari flinched: he had been expecting the honor of sharing refreshment with the Prince. He obediently bowed once more and took his leave.


As he left the Warlord could hear the Prince inviting the children to share his snack, and knew perfectly well that he had been intended to hear. He hoped worriedly that the Prince's annoyance would not be too severe or long lasting, and that nothing would go seriously wrong in the immediate future.

 

** *

 

A few days later, the Twilight Prince called for a formal council of the senior vassals of the Clans of Kawachi and Tajima. The Clan Lords were not really ready for such a meeting: implementing the plan to rescue Tajima and restore Kawachi was proving to be a much more complicated task than even the Prince had anticipated. The phase of the moon had reached waning half, however, and it was urgently necessary to settle the organization of the military units to be fielded by the two Clans, and to do so while the officers concerned were available for consultation. Already the Enemy forces were becoming more aggressive.

 

At the request of the Prince, who did not consider his own reception hall presentable, the meeting was to be held in the main reception hall of Tajima's estate. The Chancellor agreed to play host only if the Prince would take his proper place on the dais as head of the meeting: he argued that it was not safe for him to show any sign of disrespect for his benefactor, and the Prince reluctantly agreed.

 

The Chancellor carefully arranged the two most prestigious seats in the chamber: the seat in the center of the dais and that on the Prince's left, for the Prince and of Noble Lord Kagemitsu. He was gratified when the two Nobles chose to attend the meeting in full, formal court attire: neither had ever dressed so formally for a meeting of the Domains' Council.


Not that he entirely blamed them for avoiding such formal attire: formal court robes for Kagemitsu, a mere Fourth Rank Noble, looked heavier than a good suit of armor, and considerably less easy to move in. The Prince's robes were even stiffer and heavier, even ignoring the weight of the enormously long train. Tajima suspected that the ground color of the Prince's overrobe might be the deep purple whose use was reserved to the Imperial family, but he could not really be sure: the small patches of purple that were visible might simply be part of the embroidery with which the garment was so densely ornamented.


The meeting was to be a large one. Besides the two Nobles and Chancellor Tajima himself, those invited included most of the available senior vassals and ranking military officers of both Kawachi and Tajima. Several captains of semi-regular units of lordless 'ronin' had also been invited to attend.

 

The Tajima vassals included the men who administered large portions of the Domain (or would when the holdings were recaptured) as well as Tajima's new field commander, Yamakado Masachika and most of the senior captains of the Tajima forces. The captain of the estate's security force, Matsumae Haruki, was in the group, but might as well have been absent: he was too tense and nervous over having even temporary responsibility for the Prince's safety to pay much attention to the discussion around him. These senior Tajima vassals had all been informed very clearly of just how close to disaster the Clan had come, and Lord Tajima expected few problems from any of them about the decisions the meeting might make.


The Kawachi vassals seemed more restive, perhaps because they had no formal responsibilities or rank structure announced as yet: that was part of the purpose of this meeting. Besides Commander Kashimori and other vassals who held Kawachi lands, the Prince had specifically invited Shirokura Haruhisa, the elderly head of his new clan of retainers, and the two former ronin who had been captive with him: Captain Yokobashi and HorseMaster Aoshiba.


HorseMaster Aoshiba was unhappy about being invited to a meeting where he was so thoroughly and universally outranked, being neither a commissioned officer nor of equivalent administrative rank. He suspected that they were going to try to make him an officer.


Chancellor Tajima's first act, after he had formally welcomed the Twilight Prince and the Prince had thanked him, even more formally, for the use of his reception hall, was to present the Prince with signed agreements for land exchanges between Tajima and the Lord of Clan Hanemae and the Ladies of Clans Saneatsu and Takekura. Bowing very low, he explained, "With these agreements in force along with the agreement of mortgage and exchange of lands between Tajima and Kawachi, the Most Noble and Revered Prince now possesses actual or deferred title to all of Kawachi." He paused, then added quietly, "Clan Tajima is grateful for this opportunity to return possession of the Domain of Kawachi to its proper Clan, and deeply regrets the circumstances that give Clan Tajima the appearance of selling the Most Noble and Revered Prince the Most Noble and Revered Prince's own ancestral holdings. Clan Tajima hopes at some future time to be able to make further reparations for this most regrettable state of affairs."


The Twilight Prince nodded very formally and spoke in the most emphatic tones the Chancellor had ever heard him use. "I am very grateful for the trouble and effort the Lord of Tajima has expended in arranging these additional agreements, which I neither requested nor expected. These future exchanges of land have proven difficult enough to negotiate when only two Clans are involved. Negotiating a five way agreement provides additional, unnecessary, evidence of the skills which make the Lord of Tajima so valuable to the realm in his position as Chancellor."


He added firmly, "While I also appreciate Lord Tajima's regrets for the past troubles of Clan Kawachi, I believe that the current generation has more than enough problems of its own, without worrying about the actions a century ago of those long dead. The events that led to the Tajima stewardship of the Kawachi domain are not a suitable topic for discussion at this meeting, or by anyone other than the Lords of the two Domains."

 

Chancellor Tajima began to wonder who the Twilight Prince's formal robes were intended to impress. Could some of the Kawachi vassals who had so recently served his own family be reluctant to cooperate in the salvation of his Clan? Even if that meant impeding the reestablishment of Clan Kawachi? What in the name of all the Powers and spirits had his brother done to them to cause such resentment? Tajima sighed wearily, and resolved to investigate and rectify matters as much as possible.

 

The Chancellor bowed to the Prince, and suggested that any newly recruited vassals should be allowed to select the lands they would eventually hold in Kawachi, as well their temporary holdings in Tajima's occupied territories.


"That seems sensible," the Prince agreed, "it will help make the entire agreement seem less nebulous." He added pointedly, "Of course, a similar arrangement can be made for any vassals with current Kawachi holdings who would prefer to stay with Tajima eventually ... " There was a tremor of dismay among the assembled Kawachi vassals, and HorseMaster Aoshiba suppressed a snicker as the Prince added blandly, "There is no hurry for people to decide, of course: with the present state of the war, it will most likely be at least a year before we have much opportunity for exchanging territories." In the days before their capture, Aoshiba had watched the Prince handle a few thoroughly obnoxious horses and officers. He knew that those who considered the Most Noble and Revered Prince weak because of his gentle manner and reluctance to assert his authority would soon learn that the Imperial mage had an odd sense of humor, a habit of achieving his goals indirectly, and little patience with self-serving fools. It was likely to be very entertaining to watch.

 

Both Clan Lords, through their field commanders, announced that they would maintain the current ranks and holdings of a long list of vassals, then turned their attention to recruiting. Aoshiba sighed and shifted unobtrusively to a more comfortable position. Meetings like this were one reason he had always avoided promotion to commissioned rank.


Commander Kashimori, on behalf of the Lord of Kawachi, accepted the oaths of six 'ronin' companies of mixed cavalry and foot soldiers and a special group of engineers led by a wizened little ex-gold-miner named Takemura Kin, while Clan Tajima recruited three 'ronin' companies into its own forces to replace the men Kanehide had squandered. Chancellor Tajima was hoping rather desperately that survival as head of a 'ronin' unit was a reliable indication of competence as a field officer, since the loss of Kashimori and the other Kawachi vassals had created some nasty gaps in his command hierarchy.


When all the new officers had given their oaths, the Prince watched quietly while his new officers discussed which pieces of land should be their temporary and eventual holdings. He was pleased to see that his new officers got on well with each other and accepted the advice of the Kawachi and Tajima vassals who knew the land.


The Chancellor followed the Prince's lead in allowing his new officers to decide, in consultation with his existing vassals, which Tajima lands they would eventually hold. He appreciated the value of the information about the men's personalities and styles that was displayed in such a debate. One of the new captains, Shimazuki Okikata, seemed especially promising.

 

However, the Chancellor dictated what vacant pieces of accessible Kawachi the new men would hold until the land was exchanged for their 'true' holdings. Tajima was very emphatic that both the new men and his current vassals in Kawachi lands should consider themselves caretakers until the Twilight Prince took formal possession. He was able to recruit at all because of the Prince's generosity and his own decision to include all of Kawachi in the exchange, and was very anxious that nothing should give the Prince cause to regret such generosity.


Since discussion of matters directly affecting Tajima had finished, the vassals of Tajima were dismissed, as were some lower ranked Kawachi officers whose immediate commanders would be unchanged during the restructuring of the Kawachi forces. The Chancellor himself remained as host, and because the Prince had indicated that he might wish to ask his advice.

 

The Prince looked around at his officers, and sighed. "I fear that the first thing I must do is apologize both for the condition of the housing provided for the Samurai who serve Kawachi and for the condition of the Samurai's quarters and offices of my estate," he said quietly. "At least, I can assure you all that the roofs of the offices and guardhouse no longer leak, and the weak spots in the floor are being attended to. Those buildings should be inhabitable, though perhaps not fully decorated, by the end of the month, and I believe that some of them are usable as offices now. The rest of the Samurai housing may take a bit longer."


Tajima was mortified at this further evidence of his brother's mismanagement: no wonder Kanehide's former dependents felt such resentment toward his Clan. "Most Noble and Revered Prince," he said quietly, after politely getting his guest's attention, "Please accept the apologies of the Clan of Tajima for the decrepit state of these buildings. The Lord of Tajima had been assured that proper maintenance was being performed."

 

He was surprised to be answered by the Noble Lord Kagemitsu, who had watched the earlier parts of the meeting in silence. "According to the remaining staff," the handsome young courtier said, "the late Kanehide grudged payment for any work done on the estate that would not be visible, but did order some repairs. There is evidence that the estate steward embezzled much of the inadequate funds assigned to such purposes, especially after Kanehide's military duties began to keep him away from the estate. I believe that something similar happened to the other housing."


"Understood," Tajima replied, with a polite bow. Such practicality seemed odd coming from someone who seemed more like a work of art than a human being. "In any case, Clan Tajima offers shelter in our buildings for any Kawachi samurai who lack a place to stay while the repairs are being completed." His embarrassment grew worse when several of the original Kawachi vassals promptly took him up on the offer: the ex-ronin officers, on the other hand, all apparently had acceptable arrangements for housing themselves and their men.

 

The Prince then proceeded to announce his staff assignments. On the military side, all present Captains and Senior Captains would keep their present ranks, as announced earlier in the meeting, but additional Senior Captains would be selected when experience in battle conditions had provided more information about how best to deploy the Kawachi forces. Captain Yokobashi, who had been captured along with the Prince and currently lacked subordinates, was immediately promoted to Senior Captain, with responsibility for the security forces at the Prince's estate and for the officers in charge of supplying and equipping the field forces.


Kashimori Yoshimasa would be field commander for the Kawachi forces. This was no surprise to Chancellor Tajima, who considered the loss of his field commander to be the worst aspect of this whole situation. Yamakado, the man he had promoted to replace Kashimori as Tajima field commander, was neither as dependable nor as imaginative. Tajima suspected that he himself might need to take command if the time came when there were plans for a real battle rather than the routine patrols and skirmishes that comprise the bulk of the military effort against the invaders.

 

As for the administrative side of the Prince's staff, Noble Lord Kagemitsu was delegated administrative responsibility for the Domain as a whole. The Chancellor hoped that the Prince's Noble attendant knew what he was doing, or at least, how to find subordinates who did. The head of the Shirokura family would become steward of the Garden Estate, which would help.


The Prince paused a moment before announcing his final appointment. HorseMaster Aoshiba braced himself. "HorseMaster Aoshiba is to have authority over my personal stables," the Twilight Prince said, then added almost shyly, "but also, if he agrees, he will be my personal attendant and have command of the bodyguards nearest my person, especially when I am outside the safety of the city walls."


"Of course, Most Noble and Revered Prince," the HorseMaster replied at once, "this insignificant servant is unduly honored by the offer of such an exalted position, and accepts most gratefully." He was surprised by the Most Noble and Revered Prince's hesitation. Could his lord really have feared a refusal?

 

Commander Kashimori politely got the Prince's attention. "Most Noble and Revered Prince, this reference to travel outside the city suggests another matter of concern. The safety of the Most Noble and Revered Prince is a matter of acute concern to the Domain of Kawachi and the realm as a whole, and, by decree of the Most Noble and Revered Heavenborn Monarch, to the Lords who sit in the Domains' Council. It would be imprudent for the loyal vassals of Kawachi to permit their Lord to continue to travel outside the city, especially near battle zones, without armor. No matter how much the services of the Most Noble and Revered Prince may be needed there."


"It is doubtful that Lord Commander Isanari would permit it, in any case," Tajima added.


"I understand the concern," the Prince assented, "but we have limited time available in which to make preparations." He rose, and stood towering above them all as they sat before him on their zabutons. "Consider ... Where, in all of Ashihara, are you going to find armor to fit a man of my height? And how long will it take to have some made to fit?"


"Perhaps less time than the Most Noble and Revered Prince fears," replied Steward Shirokura. "In the storehouses at Garden House are some matched suits of armor in the old style that uses more and smaller plates, and more extensive lacing, than is now the fashion. If the Most Noble and Revered Prince does not object to a somewhat antiquated appearance, it should be possible to construct armor to fit him with little need for new metal work by relacing the pieces from two suits of the old armor."


"So I'll look like something out of an old history scroll?" The Prince smiled. "Well, I see no reason to object to that ... I suppose we should just be glad that I'm not wide in proportion to my height, or you'd need the armor of half a company to get enough plates!" He paused, then added thoughtfully, "I suppose you should see about putting together some armor for the Noble Lord Kagemitsu, while you are at it. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it urgently because of some unexpected emergency, and not have it."

 

"Of course, Most Noble and Revered Prince."


"May one ask what helmet crest the Most Noble and Revered Prince will wear?" asked Senior Captain Yokobashi.


"I fear that the question of a helmet presents some difficulties," the Prince replied worriedly. "If it comes to a real fight, I will be more useful as a mage than as a warrior, but it will be difficult to work Life Magic if I have my head inside a metal
pot."

"An excellent point, Most Noble and Revered Prince," Commander Kashimori replied. "Well, since the servants of the Most Noble and Revered Prince do not intend to let the Enemy approach near enough for harm, perhaps a face mask would be enough, especially
if it is extended a bit to give more protection to the top and sides of the head. Would that be satisfactory, Most Noble and Revered Prince? Noble Lord Kagemitsu?"


"Yes, that should work," the Prince replied.

 

Kagemitsu explained hastily, "Being an Earth Mage, I have no problems with metal distorting my control. I can use an ordinary helmet."


"Very well, Noble Lord," the Commander answered, before he and the other Kawachi vassals took their leave.


When the last of his guests were gone, Chancellor Tajima went to his family's household shrine to report the family's continued survival to the guardian spirit and ancestors. After finishing the formal prayers and offerings, he stayed to meditate awhile, as he often did.


As usual, he found that the odd zone of quiet surrounding the shrine helped organize his thoughts and calm his emotions, and today, more than usual, he had need of such calm. Tajima was unspeakably relieved that none of the formless disasters he had been dreading had actually come to pass at the Prince's meeting; but he was also disturbed by the new evidence of Kanehide's mismanagement of the clan's lands and vassals. The previous night he had dreamed again of his brother's voice, mocking him with predictions of disaster for the clan and the realm. The Chancellor wished, wearily, that it was really possible for the spirits and ancestors of the shrine to give advice and take an active role in clan affairs, as people claimed.

 

 

Copyright 1991 Elyse M. Grasso