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From the Bloodied Shores of Karahō

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Karahō, Banka era year 18

Road inspection is not a duty one would typically associate with the ruling class. However, the chance to take a break from court politics had proven itself far too tempting to the two members of  the Ikari clan. The head emeritus of the Ikari clan, Kazushi, and his grandson, the heir to the clan, Masafumi, had gained somewhat of a reputation for such outings. This was much to the chagrin of the current head, Masashi, who at times accused his father of corrupting his son by indulging in laziness and neglect of duty. Yet, the real reason behind these excursions was far more innocent. Kazushi had spent most of his young adulthood a warrior in the service of the Momoda clan, later being made a lord with his own dominion in Karahō. As a result, he had been absent from the early lives of his own children whom he had left to the care of the Momoda for most of the warring period. As he retired from his duties, Kazushi seemed to have finally found tranquillity in his life following the Dō. Whether it be from guilt of having been absent from the lives of his own children or from a desire to ease the burden of parenthood of his own son, the retired lord took an active part in the tutelage of his grandchildren. In doing so, he had formed a strong bond with the eldest grandchild Masafumi who greatly idolised his grandfather as the man who made the Ikari one of the greatest clans in all the empire. 

The two were travelling down a road which had gone through some long-overdue maintenance as well as having been lengthened a fair bit to connect the Ikari estates with their vassals, the Nagao and the Imenō. The total length of the journey was now some 30 leagues. Even with their exceptional horses it would take the small retinue two and a half days to cover the distance both ways. The two nobles accompanied by three guards arrived at the estate of the Nagao. Quickly after the greeting protocols, the head of the Nagao apologised profusely for the lacking arrangements as they were not expecting the Lord Emeritus Ikari. Kazushi brushed the apologies and courtesies aside and simply asked to see the grave of Haru. Haru Nagao, the deceased uncle of the current head of the clan, was one of the last contemporaries of the ageing lord. Old age, though it had brought him peace, had also left Kazushi alone as he watched how all those he knew slowly faded away one by one. Now in his late eighties, only his sister on the other side of the Auriel married to the Anzai remained a close one of his generation. The generation that not only had fought in the wars but even before them. They effectuated the fall of an empire and replaced its dominance with another. Achieving this was no small feat, and they paid no small price. As Kazushi lights the incense at the grave of Haru Nagao, he also does the same to the graves of Takanori and Takaji Nagao, the only sons of Haru Nagao. For a son let alone two to die before their father was a great cruelty of fate for Kazushi. Though old age had brought with it many cruelties, he was thankful to not have experienced this one. 

“Nagao Haru dead as of the seventeenth year of the Banka era, may he finally join his sons Nagao Takanori and Takaji dead as of the twenty-third and twenty-sixth year of the Jummu era.” he murmured to himself beneath a waxing moon that night. Though his memory failed him at times, Kazushi could still remember the ever-increasing list of those who died beside or underneath the Ikari with astounding accuracy.

As the next morning dawned, the mood was still sombre from the previous evening. The lord emeritus had told many stories of the valour of Haru Nagao and his sons. From their first battle when they landed directly from their ships to the battleground to the countless nights spent surveying the island for Aurelian soldiers. Yet, there was one story that the old lord dared not tell in front of the Nagao. As the small retinue parted their estate, the two Ikari men were seated in a carriage when Kazushi broke the silence.

“Have I ever told you who killed Lord Nagao’s cousins?”

“No, you have not, grandfather.”

“It was Isantes Markhos. Known to many of his countrymen as the ‘Kafhērikos’ (Brown Wolf).”

“That is a high title to give to someone who fought so cowardly.”

“Ultimately titles do not mean much I’ve found. The Aurelians have one for me as well, don’t they?”

“Yes, the Butcher of Karahō.”

“Ah indeed, the butcher or as they’d say ‘Sufageūs’. I suppose the names tell the story quite aptly. But nevertheless these titles didn’t win either of us any battles by themselves. In fact one cannot overlook the valour of his adversary. 

Karahō as an island is large enough that a naval blockade is insufficient and capable enough of mounting significant counterattacks if left unattended. In fact there was a point throughout the wars that all the surrounding islands were seized except for Karahō. Anyone wanting to conduct a military campaign from the Aurelian side be it defensive or offensive at that point in the wars would be faced with a long drawn-out losing front. Defeat was certain if no support would arrive on the island which our naval supremacy made sure to keep true. Choosing that as a battleground requires not only a thorough understanding of the land but conviction and resourcefulness. All of which the young general seemed to exemplify. This surely convinced many men to join his front and throw their lives away in an inevitable losing battle.”

If there ever was one thing Kazushi wanted to pass down to his grandson it was the Sensōdō, the ‘Way of War’. It was a near formalised set of customs of war that developed over centuries of Mitonese lords fighting each other. In the wars to unify these various Mitonese states, the Sensōdō changed as war itself took a different meaning. No longer was war a ritual between lords but the means to unify the Mitonese people against a common enemy. The perception or war as a fraternal conflict where the Emperor took his rightful place led Mitonese society to perceive losing in such a war against the Emperor as an honourable thing. The respect of one’s enemy became a key component of Sensōdō from that period. Yet, in the Mito-Aurelian Wars, there was no fraternal component to war and as a result, the code as it was known before began to fade. Kazushi himself was no exemplar of the code. In his battles against the Aurelians in Karahō, he had put many civilians to their death and burned their homes, something which the code strictly prohibited. Yet, he still believed in it which at the time was rarer by the day.

“Back then I often thought about what his ultimate plans were. Accosted by increasingly unfavourable odds, what was he hoping for? I’d wonder. Reinforcements would not arrive. He was for all intents and purposes alone. Perhaps if he held out long enough, the Southern Provinces would mount some kind of rescue effort. However, as the wars went on, this became an impossibility. It was thereby that I concluded that he didn’t fight for the Aurelians but for his homeland. And who can say that if his contemporaries had been as resourceful as he, maybe a rescue would have come.”

“Did you ever meet with Isantes?”

“I did once. Though at that time, neither he nor I was in much of a conversational mood. There are many things I would ask him now, had I the chance. By the time peace was signed, his return was negotiated and he was well on his way to Ushi-Iwa. Last I heard of him, he was going further east. I cannot help but wonder what he is doing.

Nevertheless, you will do well to not dismiss Isantes but to learn not only of him but from him. To me, it is a certainty that you will fight the same battles on Karahō as he did. One day the Aurelians will demand back the land they see as theirs. It is with might that we gained this land and with might alne that we may keep it. You were not born under the service of a lord as I was, nor raised by a family far away from here like your father was. You are the first of this new Karahō: born on its bloodied shores and hopefully dead on the very same shore if the heavenly sovereign so wills it.”

The trip afterwards was very quiet. Masafumi pondered the words of his grandfather but was torn. The young man wanted very much to be like his idol so his words stung him like denial. Though they were true. He was of the first generation born on the island under Mitonese rule. He had learned the history of Mitō and the exalted lineage as well as the stories of Aurelian Emperors. Despite his grandfather’s interest in the Ilene tongue, Kazushi only knew certain words. He on the other hand was quite fluent in the language having learnt it from his many dealings with people from the islands and Ushi-Iwa. Thus it was Masafumi who knew on a personal level how the forces of Kenkyō and Ushi-Iwa pushed and pulled on the island. 

His thinking abruptly ended when they arrived back at their home estate. The castle yard was buzzing with people going to and fro. They saw large filled carriages on their way to the harbour. Masafumi asked the nearest servant what was going on. The man answered that Masashi was going to the capital. Confused, the two entered the castle, Masafumi’s mother, Junna told the two to go see Masashi. As they finally went up to the current head of their family, he informed them.

“Haemoto no Yoshiki, Chancellor of the Realm, has sent a letter informing me that he wishes to offer the position of Minister of the Right.”

“I suppose an answer to such an offer is already foregone by the time the ink dries on the paper. How much exactly do you intend on taking with you?”

“Only as much as is expected of a new member of the council. Moreso, this also provides an opportunity for my sons to finish their education there.”

“If you intend to take all your sons with you then who are you leaving in charge here then?”

“For the time being, Imenō shall see to the day-to-day goings of Karahō with the wise counsel of you and Junna of course. And when Masafumi’s education is complete, he will return and rule in my stead of course.”

“The Aurelian, an old geezer and your wife, I’m afraid there isn’t much wisdom to be found in that lofty group.”

“Be it as it may but I have my utmost trust in Imenō to attend to the needs of my domain.”

“And so as the mainland calls, one could not help but answer it leaving everything else behind. When exactly will you be leaving and how many men will you take with you?”

“We are leaving tomorrow morning. I plan on taking some 170 men with me.”

“If you’re heading to Kenkyō bringing at least 300 would be far more suggestable, lest the great houses laugh at you on the spot.”

The mood between the two was clearly dense. Kazushi was no fan of Masashi accepting the offer so readily. But despite his shows of protest, it was clear that there was no changing his mind. Masafumi on the other hand had far fewer options for recourse. The moment his father stated that they were leaving tomorrow morning there was no room for complaint. All that was left for him to do was to pack his things and prepare for a six-day voyage to the heart of the Empire. 


Edited by Mito (see edit history)
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  • 3 months later...

Masafumi had always been maladjusted to travel by sea. For him, the waves and wind hitting the ship did not bring about a sense of wonder but one of entrapment. Moving scenery of the road and plains was replaced almost completely by the vast blue expanse of the Auriel. 

Him being put on the same ship as his significantly-younger siblings did not help his situation. Masafumi held a notable amount of resentment towards his father and siblings. For the former, it was the distance which separated the two. Even now his father was on a different ship leaving him to deal with the chidlren. Them, the latter, Masafumi was little endeared to through no fault of their own. For seven years, he was the only Ikari child until Masashi, returning from the capital having partook in the peace negotiations with Kazushi, brought with him a child. It was not a shameful act in and of itself since in Mtionese society one’s family lineage is always traced through the father. But the event was devastating to Masafumi’s mother Junna who was left to raise a child that was not hers. Even worse as Kazushi retired, the new Lord Ikari committed this indignity twice more to his wife which left the core Ikari household in significant disarray. Yet, in the thirteen years since the burnt bridges were slowly mended. Junna remained the only companion of Masashi as the two rebuilt their trust, and the three by-blows became integrated into the family. Yet, Masafumi still remembers the pain and anguish his mother went through and never fully accepted his half siblings.

No surprise then, that when the Ikari fleet stopped at the port of Kawagi, Masafumi took the chance to switch vessels, taking his bodyguard Takashi Ubukata with him to a part of the fleet transporting mostly lower-ranking servants. The whole operation of moving such a significant number of people was a great show of vanity and excess to Masafumi who had learnt that in dealings with lords the appearance of wealth often exceeded practical affairs. It was not all too uncommon an affair for a lord to bankrupt himself to keep up this façade only to later receive a lucrative position on the council and make their fortunes back. The Ikari had already become one of the richest clans in the empire which was even more jarring when considering its small size. The family had only been elevated to its high position a generation ago meaning that for all intents and purposes it consisted only of three branches: the mainline branch headed by Masashi and two other branches headed by his two brothers. The lionshare of the profits of the breadbasket of Karahō and a sizable portion of southern maritime trade was in the hands of his father. Despite the ineptitudes Masafumi saw in his father, he could not deny that much of the consolidation of power into the hands of Mitonese lords in Karahō had been his doing. Where his grandfather conquered, his father ruled. 

Masafumi, sitting on top of a crate on the deck, looked around the vessel as the crew and passengers went about their day. He ended up spectating a game of shōgi being played by two people until he spotted an unexpected sight. Struggling with a copious amount of scrolls was a childhood friend of his, Daiki. To Masafumi there was no doubt that he was planning to cram as much of their contents into his head as possible. He was a peculiar sight for the time. A man clad in peasant’s clothing often seen with valuables one would not expect a peasant to afford. He was being prepared under Ikari patronage to go through the Civil Examination. The examinations were the only way for an ordinary person to advance their social standing. If passed, one would become a member of the Literati and receive employment by either the imperial government or by local lords. Despite granting many gifts to the peasant Daiki, Masashi never allowed him to dress above their station, a constant reminder of his status perhaps aimed towards motivating the young man to never cease preparations. Preparing for the examination often takes years, yet the rewards of succeeding are high. Small noble families often pool all their resources together in order to prepare a single person for the examinations. Great clans often provide patronage to hundreds of examinees in order to influence the meritocratic elements of the empire. Rarely however, does a peasant receive such patronage. The Ikari, though wealthy, are small in number. Thus lacking in prospective examinees Masashi has given patronage to many lesser families and a handful of promising peasants. 

“I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“I should say the same, Lord Ikari.”

“How so now?”

“Well, isn’t it normally the custom to leave the eldest son in charge of the estate when the patriarch assumes a position in the Great Council?”

“So it would be.”

“Only natural for someone to think that a situation like this is a bit uncommon.”

“So it would seem.”

“A lord leaves his estate behind to the previous, now retired, lord, his wife and a not so highly-regarded confidant all in order to assume the third highest rank in the realm. I’m sure there is something behind such a sudden turn of events. Not that it is my place to opine on these things, Lord Ikari.”

“But what if it were your place? Besides, if you succeed it very well might be your place.”

“Well strictly speaking as an outsider speaking freely and with no sky to hear us, it would seem that the Lord’s appointment cannot have come about without some exchange in one form or another. And what the Ikari would have to exchange apart from wealth would be marriages.”

“The only ties binding us are the marriages my grandfather made to other southern families. So in order to gain the appointment, my father made promises to the mainlanders. Ones most likely including me. Is that what you’re implying?”

“Well uhm, strictly speaking… assumedly you would also know better and since it isn’t my place in the first place…”

“Well, as things turn out, neither is it mine.”

“Oh so the soon-to-be Minister of the Right has yet to divulge his intentions even privately as well.” 

“As it seems, no. If a marriage alliance turns out to be the intention, which clan do you think it would be?”

“Well the simplest guess would be to look at whomever offered the position. I assume them to be the Haemoto.”

“Last, I remember all the Haemoto children were already married.”

“Perhaps a niece then?”

“That would be a bit indirect would it not?”

“Then perhaps there’s a plan to ally with another clan.”

“Were I given this choice, not that I am, I certainly would go with the Kao.”

“Ah yes, break away from the Haemoto-Hotate hold by creating a counterweight, very daring. That is quite unlikely that the Kao would alone drive such an agenda however.”

“Who do you think it ought to be then?”

“I see the most likely option to be the Hotate given that the Haemoto are plenty pleased with going after their conquests in Aurelia. They hold most seats in the council thus they are the ones that could push for such an unexpected choice.” 

“Thoroughly entangling the Ikari in their petty politics at the same time.”

“Their petty politics have made them the most influential family nonetheless.”

“The second most influential family. When one does not have much of an estate, the imperial coffers must look ever more alluring, I suppose. ”

“Yet, there is still the possibility of the Jikihara to be in the agreement as well if the Hotate seem that unconscionable a possibility.”

“Ah yes, and I am sure my lovely wife would strangle me in my sleep on our wedding day, or perhaps our lovely daughters might do it later on.”

“Looks to me that you are not all too enthused about the prospect of making bed fellows with the Jikihara.”

“With good reason I would add. From my understanding the Hotate might be petty but the Jikihara are insidious. The Kao seem like the only family of honour left and everyone else on the council is either irrelevant or a monk.”

“Well that is one way of putting it. But what of the Haemoto then?”

“The best assumption is that any kind of alliance there would necessitate the movement of Ikari men to the other side of the Auriel to help them in their conquests of vanity. That alone would drive a significant dent in our coffers. And considering the fact that Ushi-Iwa seems to be in a near constant state of scheming, it would behoove the realm to keep the Ikari south.”

“So that would make them the worst outcome then?”

“For all under heaven, yes. But I would fear for my safety if I find a Jikihara woman beside me at night.”

“Suddenly the Hotate do not appear to be that horrendous an alternative then.”

“None of this is exactly optimal in any sense, being dragged across the Auriel to act as a pawn in his plans which I have to put together with assistance from the house help.”

“Glad to be of assistance in any case then.”

“Then, then and only then.”

The two quiet down as Masafumi seats himself next to Daiki who knowing from experience that the frustration of the situation was getting to Masafumi, stopped talking which he often found to be the best recourse in situations like these. The rest of the trip was spent in relative calm. Daiki tried to read his scrolls, one from the many collections of classics he hauled with him. Masafumi would occasionally make a remark about one of the crew or the scenery which would prompt a short conversation between the two with Takashi also participating at times until it would abruptly stop after the young lord thought it too tedious or agitating. 

Eventually the voyage came to a close as the Ikari each reached their destination in their separate vessels. The patriarch Masashi was among the first to step onto Kenkyō. He saw a woman holding a scroll under an umbrella accompanied by multiple guards. He made his way down the pier to meet her with his own retainers in tow. As she began to speak, he clearly saw her blackened teeth. 

“Lord of Karahō, I am the Minister of Justice, Koike no Kana. Allow me to welcome you to the Capital.”

“I appreciate the welcome Minister, however, is it not the custom for this to take place further inland?”

“Certainly so. Yet, I make a point to welcome each new member of the Council personally upon arrival, and once you go on your way, you will surely see the rest of the Imperial Council ready to welcome you as well. In addition, I do have information that you might find crucial to know before starting your procession through the city.”

“What might this information be then?”

“In due time but first, observing the arrival of the Ikari fleet, I could not help but think of Emperor Kōsen of En who made this city the Capital. It is said that his first steps onto the land marked the beginning of the Later En Hegemony. In these unprecedented times we find ourselves in, do you think your steps mark a similar beginning of a new era?”

“It is not up to me to pontificate about the historic impacts of my steps. That duty is surely filled by countless a scribe. Now what information do you have that you wished to deliver so personally?”

“Not one for conversation I see, shame. It is mainly two things. Firstly, only days prior to your arrival, the Chancellor of the Realm left. If rumours are to be believed, it is trouble in the Aurelian campaigns that forced his hands. He had planned to leave sooner, however, unwilling to travel in an unlucky direction, he had to wait for divinations to turn in his favour.”

“I see the Haemoto’s conquests have taken a turn for the worse. Did he take any of his men with him?”

“He did indeed. Currently the Chancellor’s presence in the Capital has become quite faint. The Minister of War and the Minister of Popular Affairs both wanted to fill the vacancy with their own men. They nearly had the Grand Equerry send out the request. But I alongside the Ministers of Civil Affairs and the Treasury respectively convinced them that any vacancies could be filled by the Ikari. And second, here is a letter from the Councillor which affirms your appointment. He also requested that you look after his son until he returns.”

“Have you read the letter or had the Councillor confided in you over the subject matter?”

“I have spent much of my life surrounded by baseless rumours. With such an education, it becomes ever an easy endeavour to separate truth from the fabricated. One last request if I may be as so imposing.”

“And the request would be exactly what?”

“Please keep the procession as contained as feasible.”

“I believe you see these customs as quite contemptuous if I am not wrong breaking one and asking me to minimise the other.”

“Is it not the Aurelians who hold such processions? If I recall the custom there is to hold these events for any reason whatsoever be it a bountiful harvest or the smallest of victories. Such should be beneath us do you think not? Though I am sure you of all the Lords in the Realm would know of the Aurelians.”

“For all you have to say about this custom, you ought to keep in mind that the Jikihara themselves participated in it much like all others.”

“Yes of course, for such is the custom after all. Yet, my opposition is not for its origin. As the Minister of Justice, it is left to me to solve all disputes that naturally arise from large processions of soldiers trodding through the city. I merely wish that my impartial decisions do not make an enemy of you, for the law is harsh…”

“But it is the law.”

“Precisely. The fewer magistrates I have to deploy after the celebrations the better for everyone is it not? But I digress…”

Quickly turning away Koike and her guards begin walking away. As they do so, she says her goodbyes. 

“Rumours of secessionist plots, the Council eating itself from the inside, succession to the throne uncertain, and the Haemoto bent on dragging all of us to war, welcome to the city, Minister of the Right Ikari no Masashi. Please have your men refrain from burning it to the ground.”

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