The next morning the group of young samurai awoke early to find that they were feeling quite a number of aches and pain from the adventure the day before but were alive and well. With the practice of several months of traveling together they took turns with the baths and outhouses and readied themselves quickly for another day of travel. Once on the road again Isawa asked them to explain, in detail, all the events from the day before. It took quite a while to explain everything in detail for Isawa to be satisfied and at the end of the discussion he informed them that they had done well and should be happy with their decisions.
As they pondered the events of the day before they realized that something was missing; Hida still needed to tell them the Haikus he had unceremoniously blurted out about before the siege battle. After a little pressuring he agreed to tell them their Haikus he had developed over the last few days:
Isawa’s (Lost Love)
Come back lustrous bird
To this nest of life you left
I seek your sweet song.
Of eyes pure in sight
Of face as soft as tender breeze
Fair face unrivaled
Thru the rage of war
I fall not and shall stand tall
Brave soul roaring loud
Shinjo (Flight of an Arrow)
Your whisper be slight
Never wave3rig strike true
Find life and give death
In youth my armor
In life my stalwart heroes
Your name I honor.
Shosuro (Hida’s Shoe)
Sturdy friend hold strong
Endoor with your partner now
Lets walk many days.
After each Haiku was presented and considered they all thanked him for their personal Haikus and were pleased with the results. Even the Crane and Scorpion, usually the more refined of the travelling companions, agreed that they were suitable Haikus. Hida noticed that Kasuga Shinobu seemed a little upset and surmised that the Tortoise samurai felt saddened that no Haiku had been made for him and Kasuga Yori. Hida told Kasuga Shinobo that, if he liked, he would come up with a personal Haiku for him and as well if they so pleased. Kasuga Shinobo accepted this and seemed pleased and honored by the prospect.
Isawa reminded that their next stop was Bishamon Seido. The Shrine to Bishamon, the Fortune of Strength, was located in the Kitsu province of Dairiki. It was elaborate and ornate, maintained by no fewer than one hundred Kitsu shugenja and priests. Overall it was one of the best maintained buildings in Lion lands, and hosted the training grounds for the elite Matsu unit the Lion’s Pride. Any males who wished to set foot on the training grounds must accept a challenge to prove their sincerity and strength in battle. The men nodded in acceptance as did the samurai-ko neither who wanted a trouble arising between them and the Matsu considering the current political situation.
They approached the Shrine and surrounding village just a little before sunset. Isawa found them an inn and reminded everyone to beware the training grounds that stretched like a narrow horseshoe around the main shrine. With that and a grumble that sounded peculiarly like “getting too old for this” Isawa and Shiba retreated for the rooms. The bushi all wanted a chance to pray at Bishamon’s Shrine, and Shosuro no wanting to be left behind, decided to head over. On their way they paid particular attention to not stray from the main path towards the Temple and accidently set foot on the Lion’s Pride training grounds. They entered the temple quickly and took some time to give their individual prayers to the Fortune of Strength before once again heading back as a group to the inn. Kakita and Shosuro received quite a few looks from the Matsu on their way back thru the training grounds tiled path but no one stopped them. With their prayers done the group decided to call it a relatively early night for their journey the next day with each retiring to their rooms to relax, meditate and practice their respective hobbies.
The following morning rose like many mornings before it. The group cleaned up and performed other necessary morning rituals before heading out for Shiro Sano Ken Hayai. Isawa had decided to get veer off from the Emperor’s Road and cut across the planes of the Lion clan instead of adding a week to their travels by going around. Isawa told them it would take them a little less then five days till their next stop and would be camping out unless they were lucky enough to come across a small village at the end of the day’s travels. The group accepted this and were quickly on their way. The following days passed uneventfully until the third day Shinjo came back to report he had spotted a pride of Lions up ahead. The group debated on what to do for a while and finally decided to veer around the group of Lions instead of hunting them which disappointed Shinjo a little as he had never had the opportunity to hunt a Lion before. With the Lions firmly behind them the group made good time Shiro Sano Ken Hayai, arriving before the sun set behind the western horizon.
The more knowledgeable of the young group of samurai knew that the Castle of the Swift Sword was the sacred home of the Kitsu family and home of the largest Akodo dojo, and that it was built on the bones of the last Kitsu. It was a tremendous palace, sprawling across the foothills of the Dragon within the Hayai province. Shiro sano Ken Hayai was always dedicated to the upkeep of its dojo as well as the seat of the governorship for the province. It was responsible for both the Lion-Unicorn border and the brief expanse of lands to the north that separated the Lion and Dragon territories. Both bushi and shugenja were trained in and around the castle, either at the tactical school or the adjunct to the Kitsu Tombs located nearby. The group quickly located a suitable Inn ad Isawa quickly made arrangements for them all. He told them that the ceremony was to be done much later that night at the Kitsu archives and until then they had free reign. Kakita decided to stay in and work on her biwa as she had no intention of being out in one of the biggest dojos considering that the Lion and Crane were currently at war. Shinjo wanted to work with his raptor and horse for a while. Hida and Shosuro decided that it would be a good time for Hida to get a better kimono and to visit a geisha house in order to practice with his courting abilities for the Setsuban Festival. Akodo wanted to visit the Castle of the Swift Sword Dojo and see some of the famous Ikoma Hall of Scribes.
Shosuro lead Hida around the city for a bit until finally spotting a nice Kimono shop. They looked around for a bit before finding a kimono in the right size for Hida in a dark blue; one of his clan’s color. Regretfully none of the kimonos had any of the Crab mon’s but the seamstress told them she could insert the Crab mon with enough time. they informed her that they would be leaving in the morning and after a few moments of consideration and thought the seamstress agreed to have the kimono fitted and prepared by dawn. A price was quickly agreed upon, with Shosuro purchasing it as a gift for Hida, and they returned for their search for a geisha house. Shosuro soon spotted a geisha house that she thought was appropriate for the task at hand. She entered and quickly formed an agreement with the Osama on what was needed for the young Crab. Shosuro paid for the arrangement letting Hida be escorted off by three geisha, one with obvious Crane like looks. Shosuro for herself arranged for a male geisha to entertain her while she waited for the young Crab to finish. Hida was obviously uneasy about the arrangement but knew that all things required practice and did his best. The blue eyed geisha seemed in charge of the three and encouraged the young Crab to talk about his troubles. Hida seemed uncertain at first then slowly told her EVERYTHING that had happened to him and his companions over the last 6 months. The young geisha listened politely and made appropriate sounds at the interesting parts. As he talked they served him Tea and arranged for him to be more comfortable. Finally at the end Hida felt much more relieved to have had someone to talk to about all the things that had happened. As Hida continued to chat with the lovely geisha he slowly formed a Haiku in the back of his mind. As his session was finished he politely asked if she would be offended if he presented her with a Haiku for thanks to listening to him ramble on. The geisha told him she would be honored for such a gift and with a steadying breath Hida recited:
Eyes of gentle blue
They show the world reflected
A Beauty untold
The geisha bowed in thanks and told him she would remember it always. When they entered the main room Shosuro gestured for her to come over and asked how he did. The geisha told her he lacked instant confidence when speaking of his heroic deeds and his style of speech was less then elegant, but not rude or brutish, just direct and straightforward. His ability with Haikus was impressive and cultivating that ability could possibly help him win over a more high status samurai-ko. Shosuro thanked her for her time and rejoined with Hida. Hida thanked Shosuro for the opportunity she had given him and would hopefully be able to use what he had learned from it in the future. They decided to go find Akodo and maybe take a look at the Ikoma Hall of Scribes themselves.
As was mentioned, Shiro sano Ken Hayai was the location of the Castle of the Swift Sword Dojo the largest Akodo dojo, which taught more then just warfare. It’s students were among the best educated bushi in Rokugan. It was here that Akodo went to possibly be debriefed by his superiors for in all the wars that the Lion have been involved in Shiro sano Ken Hayai has served as the military headquarters. Troop movement, supply distribution, tracking enemy units and many other military functions have all involved the castle. Akodo quickly made his way until he was finally stopped before entering that was clearly a war room for the troop movement and supply distribution for the Lion-Crane War. He explained who he was to the guard and his recent activities at Kenson Gakka. After a few exchanges with some people inside he was allowed access to the war room. Inside the room was covered in maps depicting troop movement, supply routes and confirmed, and suspected, enemy movements as well. He saw an older Akodo general who beconmed him over. They introduced themselves and the general showed Akio how the war was progressing. Their daimio, Akodo Arasou, was at Toshi Ranbo with the Lion armies trying to take the city. Regretfully the Daidoji were well entrenched and well supplied so the siege was progressing very slowly. Akio nodded his understanding of the situation and asked if the general would like for him to give his report from Kenson Gakka. The general nodded his assent and Akio did his best to tell the general all that had transpired. Regretfully Akio did not know the fate of Akodo Ikare or Daidoji Handen when asked by the general, but he had seen several Crane monks armed with yari disappear in the direction of the Scorpion army with the probably intent of rescuing the Daidoji courtier. The Akodo general nodded and said that they had already relieved a report from Kenson Gakka but this information did help fill in several holds in the information. Akio also told him of the few things he had learned while traveling with the Setsuban scrolls and the general nodded in thanks but not in surprise to any of the information.
Just as Akodo was about to leave, a courier rushed into the room in quite an undignified manner. Before the general could reprimand him, the courier informed him that they had just received word from Toshi Ranbo. It seemed that Akodo Arasou, Akodo daimyo and Lion Clan Champion, had been slain in battle against the Crane. The news quickly stunned the room and quite a few heads bowed in grief. The general told Akio to depart and to warn Isawa Masanori of the news for it might affect the Setsuban caravan. Akio nodded and politely withdrew from the room. As he made his way out he was greeted by Hida and Shosuro. Hida wondered if there was anyone around who could help them with their martial art and possibly instruct Hida in the Art of the Sword. Akodo still a little shocked at the recent news had to think about the question for a bit before answering that there should be a sensei around who could help them. They walked around the dojo for a bit till they heard the sounds of unarmed training.
The Lion adhere to traditions more strongly than any other clan in Rokugan, and virtually every aspect of the training here followed a schedule laid down centuries ago. Some of the individual sensei are allowed to vary these regimes slightly, but will be looked upon with disdain if too much is changed. It was also rare for a student to have begun his training at the Castle of the Swift Sword, as that honor was bestowed upon the children of the prominent Lion figures and those rare individuals who show incredible martial prowess. The training itself emphasis’s upon the use of the katana, as the Lion consider it the only weapon a true warrior would use. It was upon such a group using katana and open hand strikes that Shosuro, Akodo and Hida came across. The group consisted of over a dozen young students practicing grappling, striking and kicking while still engaging in combat with boken. The three samurai bowed before the master sensei of the group and Akodo and Hida explained their situation. The sensei nodded and was impressed by their creativity in martial arts but, regretfully, could not teach Hida the Art of the Sword technique for it was reserved for Lion martial artists only. He could though refresh Akodo Akio’s training in the style so that he could practice it on his own. Although Akodo preferred the use of a No-dachi in combat he agreed to the training readily. Hida, suddenly recalling, presented the sensei with their letter of support from Akodo Ikare. After carefully reading thru it he agreed to train Hida as well in the Art of the Sword. He pair Akio off with one of his older and more advanced students while he and Hida conversed on Hida’s overall jiujutsu experience and techniques. Although the sensei was a bit disdainful of Kobo Ichi-Kai as an actual martial art he was impressed by Hida’s overall experience and knowledge. After almost an hour of training, and the sun clearly beneath the horizon, they thanked the sensei and his students for their help and returned to the inn.
At the inn, Akodo quietly informed everyone of the news of Akodo Arasou’s death, which Kakita saw as even more reason to not be unescorted in the Lion lands. Isawa thanked him for informing them all and said that they had about an hour to prepare themselves for the sealing ceremony. With that in mind the group dispersed and readied themselves for the rest of the evening….