Remnants of the Sun

Otomo Banu allowed himself a small inner smile as the Crane delegation entered the main audience chamber of the Otomo palace. The Crane were decked out in full court regalia, the elaborate multi-layered kimono which had been standard in the time of the Hantei. Standards had declined so much in the last few years, but the Crane still knew what was proper.

Kakita Yoshi glided forward and bowed deeply, a picture of serenity and dignified subservience. “It is an honor to visit the palace of the noble Otomo family once again, my lord. Please, accept these modest gifts as a gesture of our respect, though to our regret they are not truly sufficient to the occasion.” He held out a fan in his left hand, making an elegant and precise gesture toward the servants carrying chests and crates into the chamber.

Banu let his eyes scan over the array of gifts as he went through the automatic ritual of two refusals. The opened chests glittered with gold and silver. He felt a mild relaxing of the tension that constantly simmered in his belly. There was enough there to pay for months of food and supplies, enough to ensure the Otomo family would not starve in the coming winter.

The rituals completed, Kakita Yoshi sat back on his heels, the other Crane ranging themselves behind him. Banu remembered Yoshi from the old days, and he could not help but notice the lines of age and strain that now creased the former Chancellor’s face. Still, his manners remained as impeccable as ever. “As always, Otomo Banu-sama, it is a joy to us to serve the Imperial house. While many of the other clans have lost their devotion to tradition, we of the Crane strive to maintain the duties we have followed since the First Hantei named us the Left Hand.”

Banu nodded, smiling blandly, speaking the expected responses. He had long since given up on trying to make his visitors give him his proper title, but at least the Crane were showing decent respect.
And now, he thought, now we learn what the Crane want in return. “…the unfortunate recent decision of the Phoenix to close their school to outside students. Surely the word of the Imperial house could be expected to draw a response from the Phoenix, who yet claim to believe in our Empire’s honored traditions.”

Ah, Banu thought, of course. The Forbidden City had been buzzing for weeks with rumors the Isawa would no longer accept students from the other clans. Frankly, Banu was surprised the Phoenix had waited as long as they had. With the latest round of seemingly endless war rippling across the Empire, and shugenja everywhere turning their skills to the battlefield, the Isawa could hardly be expected to train their potential enemies. And the Crane had been without a shugenja school of their own since the Crab razed Shinden Asahina.

“It will be an honor to share your concerns with the Phoenix,” Banu smiled. “And I am sure the clan of Shiba will not reject the guidance of the Imperial house.” In truth, he had no such confidence – if the Phoenix had finally ceased to accept outside students, they might be joining so many of the other clans in forsaking the traditions of the Hantei dynasty.

“We are grateful for the consideration.” Yoshi’s fan moved almost lazily, just enough to hold the late-summer heat at bay. “And of course the Crane will continue to serve as the Left Hand, as we have always done, even in these trying times.” The fan slid shut and became a pointer, gesturing at a scroll in the hands of one of the younger Crane. The junior courtier knelt and held the scroll forward, cradled in the palms of his hands. “We present here, for your august consideration, the proposal that an Imperial Winter Court be held in Kyuden Doji this season. The house of the Doji has been host to the Divine Hantei more times than can be counted, and unlike certain… others… we have not allowed the beauty of our court to wane.”

So, Banu thought, a message to the Phoenix will not be sufficient repayment for this gift. He suppressed a sigh. It had been too much to hope for, really, that the Crane would expect only a single favor in return for such an impressive donative. He decided to switch to the offensive. It would not do for the Crane to see him as overly passive or weak.

“We of the Otomo shall certainly give this suggestion all the consideration it merits,” he said; then, before Yoshi could begin another speech, he continued, “Since you have been able to bestow such generous consideration on our house, I would presume your efforts to parlay with the Alliance have met with success?” Yoshi was shaken and angry; a thousand tiny signs showed it, though the Crane lord’s face remained blandly impassive. “Matters of war are in the hands of my cousins in the Daidoji, Otomo-sama. I would not presume to speak on their behalf.”

Of course not, Banu thought with a mental smirk. Particularly since we both know your southern army has come to grief in the valleys of the Kitsune Mori. Kasuga Goshiu had told him about the battle last week, and while Banu was certainly not fool enough to take the old Tortoise at his word, confirmation had since come in from both a Crab merchant caravan and a Mantis ship captain. “Naturally,” he said aloud. “I apologize, Kakita-sama. Now, let us speak further of this proposal you make… a Winter Court, you said?”.

Rokugan: A Shattered Empire

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