After departing from the feast and returning to their rooms they were informed by Kocho that they had a pair of letters waiting for them. The first one was from Tankenka, the former head monk of the monastery at Kenson Gakka. He had been appointed as a shikken, a Imperial arbiter in charge of maintaining peace in the Empire, and was doing his best to ease the tensions between the Lion and the Crane. He was also looking for their “friend” Bayushi Sozui”. The second letter was from Kakita Kawachi, Kakita Hikaru’s chef cousin they had met at Kyuden Doji. Thanks to their assistance at Kyuden Doji he had been summoned as the chief chef for the Imperial Winter Court. If they needed anything special they just had to inform him and he would assist them in any way he could. With that business attended to they quickly retired to their rooms.
Akodo was soon after summoned by his daimyo, Akodo Ryuden, to his room. Once summoned Ryuden interrogated Akio on how the courting of the Imperial Princess, Yoroshiku. The daimyo seemed to think that his strength in battle and tactics would impress Yoroshiku. Akio did his best to persuade him otherwise as it had become apparent that Yoroshiku was more interested in the more refined aspects of Rokugan society. Ryuden then asked Akio about the festival and Isawa Masanori’s late sponsorship of the ronin shugenja Koan. Akio explained that it was a kindness gesture as Koan was trying to have a ronin village be accepted into the Phoenix clan. Ryuden was greatly interested in the Nightingale Village and asked many questions about the village’s leaders and their personalities, the military aspects of the village. Eventually he also asked for Akio to make a map of the village and the surrounding the area. After Akio was finished with the map, Ryuden dismissed him and lit a long pipe full of sweet smelling tobacco. He stayed on his balconies for many hours before finally returning to bed.
The following day marked the first day of the Imperial Winter Court and was attended by all the guests. Although there was a diverse selection of topics discussed some of the more prominent were the following:
- Akodo Toturi is officially made Lion Clan Champion and Akodo daimyo
- Doji Kuwanan is the official representative for the Crane at court
- Minor dispute between the Scorpion and Unicorn over land
- Crane and Lion fight a lot! Kuwanan asks for assistance form Imperial Legions to defend Crane from Lion invasion.
- Taxes are done and debts are paid. No one knows where the Lion are getting are their rice and koku for their armies.
- Announcement of 3 team Emerald Champion Contest Rewards:
– 3 Tsi crafted blades: no-dachi, katana and wakizashi
– Extraordinary quality copy of Akodo’s leadership
– Extraordinary quality copy of Subtlety of Court
– First copy of Miya Yukishima “Winter Memories”
Towards the end of court the grandson of the master smith Tsi stepped forward to present a gift for the Emperor from his Grandfather. He told the Emperor that Hida Kengetsu had presented his father with a remarkable gaijin made hammer. After breaking the hammer and re-forging it several times finally formed it into a wakizashi. It was formed with the strongest gaijin metal and formed together in the strongest Rokugan style. The Tsi then handed over the wakizashi to the Seppun guard who then presented it to the Emperor. The Tsi then asked if he could present something his grandfather had made to Hida Kengetsu, who without his help the wakizashi could not have been created. The Emperor gave his consent and Kengetsu made his way forward. The Tsi presented him with a custom tekko. The tekko was plated with jade on one side and crystal on the other. It could also be expanded to form a full ring making it more versatile. Kengetsu observed the proper etiquette in front of the entire court and refused the gift honorably twice before finally consenting to accepting the gift. Kengetsu then bowed and made his way back to his seat. The Tsi then bowed to the Emperor and asked his permission to leave as he would like to try and beat the snow storms south back home. The Emperor gave his permission and the Tsi blacksmith quickly exited. A few more issues were addressed before the end of court for the day.
Over the next several days the court moved in its slow circles. With little business with the Imperial proceedings the young samurai found various ways to entertain them. The Dragon favored a more spontaneous organization of events instead of a series of formalized, choreographed entertainments. Shinriko came down with a small cold and was tired easily. Because of this she focused on only a few plays before being forced to retire to her rooms to rest. Akio watched several people engaging in hang-gliding from the top of the waterfall and thought he might try it out and some point during the coming months, he also organized a small strength competition with the contestants seeing how far they could throw heavy logs into the lake. Akodo managed to demonstrate his superior strength and won the competition. He also attended a lecture on Shintao theology by a Togashi monk. Hikaru organized a small concert with some other musicians and attended a Tea ceremony and kite flying. She also went to a Origami class and participated in a game of Clue. Kengetsu also went to a couple classes; one was a lecture on Bushido and its interpretation by the various clans, the other was a class on ancestors where Hida wanted to learn more about the influence on his ancestor on his ability to access his inner power. He also competed in a small Haiku competition and watched a demonstration of unarmed combat and kaze-do by some attending shinsei monks. Shinjo spent some time on hunting trips and falconry. As a group they also attended a lecture on the Naga where they got in an argument with a Phoenix scholar, Agasha Hando, about their own fight with the Naga. Although he never called them outright liars, although the insult was definitely implied, he called them “mistaken” in their identification. Finally it took Luke showing them his newly made Naga skin saddle and Akodo “politely” asking him if the man was questioning his honor to convince him. The “Teeth of the Mongoose” then gave a lecture on fighting Naga and their experiences with them. The and lectures were sometimes several days long for several hours at a time keeping the young samurai busy. Although they still had time to engage in some of the more courtly aspects of the winter congregation.
Kengetsu also spent some time continuing his courtship of Yoroshiku. Although it is sometimes difficult as she is always surrounded by other suitors and her handmaidens. Akodo Ryuden doesn’t help the matter the much, either, for when he has his turn to chat with the lady he always seems to draw the conversation to battle and tactics, and Yoroshiku finds a reason to leave as soon as possible. It is clear that the Imperial Princess is gifted at the games of court and is always highly visible; keeping her suitors on their toes and playing political games in order to manipulate her suitors. The morning on the day before the Emerald Champions Contest, Yoroshiku was seated in the garden along with her handmaidens and a group of suitors, including Kengetsu who was accompanied by both Luke and Hikaru. In a spontaneous haiku, Yoroshiku suddenly closed her eyes and whispered:
“ Winter’s friend? Not I.
I would trade my fan for this:
A simple blossom.”
Yoroshiku opened her eyes and looked directly into Kengetsu’s and asked, with a faint smile and a hint of challenge, “Do you not think so?” and then looked to another of her suitors and continued “If only a blossom could be found…”. The other suitors needed no other hints and quickly set off in search of a flower blossom. There were no flowers in the garden or house and with the recent snows finding one on the grounds would be difficult. Kengetsu uses his skill at origami, practiced with Hikaru, to quickly form a Chrysanthemum blossom. He presented the gift to Yoroshiku who was impressed by the Crab’s skill and accepted the paper flower but with a twinkle in her eye she confessed that there was nothing like the real thing. Luke nudged Kengetsu and told him he would help him find a flower for the samurai-ko and the two of them headed off towards the stables. Hikaru stayed with Yoroshiku and her handmaidens and tried to get a feel for Imperial samurai-ko. Hikaru was able to find out a few of Yoroshiku’s interests (art, poetry and music) and her favorite color (green).
Meanwhile Luke and Kengetsu were running to the stables. Luke explained that he could use his eagle to find rabbits and where there were rabbits there was probably foliage under the snow. They ran quickly to the stables and mounted onto Luke’s steed bareback and rode out onto the grounds, grabbing the eagle on the way. Luke sent his raptor into the sky as they passed several of Yoroshiku’s suitors digging thru the snow looking for some leftover fall blossoms hiding under the snow. They looked up as Luke and Kengetsu galloped by following the eagle in the sky. The mounted did not have to wait long till the saw it plummet towards the ground at a tree near the lake. The eagle had found a rabbit digging thru the snow and, as Luke cut up the rabbit and gave it to his faithfull bird, Kengetsu dug thru the snow in the area where the rabbit had been digging. Under the snow he found a single purple tulip. He raised it to Luke in victory and the pair rode quickly back to the castle with Kengetsu carefully holding the flower so it would not get damaged on the way back. Kengetsu thanked Luke for his assistance and expertise when they arrived at the stables and quickly ran for the garden. None of the other suitors had returned and Kengetsu was given some time to spend “alone” with Yoroshiku. Hida Yauta, Otomo Yoroshiku’s maidservant and nanny, gave Kengetsu a semi-approving look although it was clear that despite her same family approval she would gladly toss the young Kengetsu out of the Princess’s presence if he did anything foolhardy.
Besides courting young princess and attending lectures the group was also befriended by Hiruma Usigo, the retiring Emerald Magistrate. It seemed he enjoyed the company of the young group and told them many stories about his younger investigating and prosecuting days. Usigo seemed to think that the young “Teeth of the Mongoose” would make excellent Emerald Magistrates themselves one day and invited them for tea on multiple occasions. Also Shiba Himitsu, the protégé of the Phoenix Clan Champion Shiba Ujimitsu, also struck up several conversations with the young group but he seemed more interested in Yoroshiku and thought the young samurai could help him get to know her better. Curiously though, he does not spend much time actually courting the Princess herself.
On the 10th day of the month of Boar the details for the Emerald Champion test, taking place the following day, were announced. It would consist of 3 man teams competition in Athletics, Etiquette, Kyujutsu, Haiku, Iaijutsu, Lore History, and finally a 3v3 fight between the two teams with the highest points. The Athletics competition would consist in a relay race consisting of one person running from the castle down to the shore of the lake, where the second person would be waiting inside the near frozen water. The second person would then swim across the lake to the third person waiting underneath the waterfall. The third person would then be forced to climb up the waterfall Cliffside to the garden above. The other competitions would consist of only one person from each team and all members of each team must compete in at least one, besides Athletics and the final fight, category. Kengetsu, Akio and Hikaru had decided to enter the competition and after some thought Shinriko and Luke had decided to team up with Kitsuki Kaori, the Kitsuki Magistrate they had rescued back in the Scorpion lands, as another team. Mirumoto Uriko was also entering the competition with a team of her own and had told Hikaru that they would surely win.
The following morning the teams, and the spectators arranged themselves along the castle and grounds leading up to the lake. As Doji Satsume, the Emerald Champion, reminded them of the rules he also told them that, as a special additional prize, the winners of the Athletics portion would be given access to the waterfall garden, which was previously only available to the Imperial guests and special invitation events. Hikaru and the rest looked at each other and were clearly even more eager to win the competition. Hikaru and Shinriko took their places at the start of the racing line while Akio and Luke made their way down into the lake. Kengetsu and Kitsuki Kaori, and the rest of the waterfall climbers went down an alternate route to boats waiting to take them to their own waiting positions underneath the waterfalls. The runners waited for the signal that everyone was in position and when Doji Satsume finally gave the signal they were off like arrows from a bow.
Kakita Hikaru and Mirumoto Uriko quickly got ahead of the pack with Uriko having a slight lead. They ran down the hill and at the mid point had to jump a muddy ditch before continuing down the hill. It was at this second stretch that Mirumoto Uriko stumbled a bit and Kakita Hikaru was able to draw even with her. Shosuro was holding in third place but just barely in front of the other teams jostling for position. At the bottom of the hill they had jump a small snow wall that had been placed on the route before handing off to their teammates waiting in the freezing lake. The swimming was all about the strength and endurance of the samurai. Here Akio proved his superior strength and was able to draw ahead of the competition, although he was forced a couple times to call upon his good kharma when he tried to push himself too far. Also Shinjo Luke proved his recklessness and was rewarded for his risk and was able to pull even with the Togashi monk from Mirumoto Uriko’s team in 2nd place. The third part of the competition tested both the samurai’s strength to pull themselves up the mountain and their willpower to resist the cold from the freezing water raining down on them. Kengetsu proved his strength of body and spirit and made his way quickly up the side of the mountain with the pair of Kitsukis just on his hells. His teammates had not failed him and he was unwilling to fail them either and finally heaved his massive over the top ledge into the garden with his two closest competitors climbing over less then a minute later.
The competitors were given little time to rest with barely enough time to clean and warm up before the next competition, Etiquette, begun. Hikaru competeded for her team for the Etquitte competition and was able to keep her team in the lead. Shosuro was able to also keep her team in the top three teams. Second came the Kyujutsu, archery competition. It was clear from the offset that Shinjo Luke planned to dominate the competition and he did gaining enough points to bring his team equal with his companions. The following competition was Haiku and Kengetsu demonstrated his surprising un-Crab like ability to quickly and skillfully create Haikus. Shosuro Shinriko was not to be outdone and was able to pace the Crab Haiku for Haiku. Next came Iaijutsu duels. Although Mirumoto Uriko was a skilled Kenjutsu duelist she was no match for Hikaru’s mastery of Iaijutsu and bowed out when she saw the superior physical and technical skill of Kakita. Lastly was the History lore competition. Akio displayed his clan’s famous knowledge and appreciation of history but was unable to compete with Shosuro’s gift for knowing things. When all the point were accumulated the two top teams were the two “Teeth of the Mongoose” based teams.
A ground was cleared for the two teams to fight and practice weapons were brought out from the dojo. Hikaru, Akio and Kengetsu were not looking forward to facing Shinjo’s arrows and decided that Hikaru would target him first while Kengetsu would do his best to shove either Shinriko or Kitsuki Kaoi together for Akio to attack. On the other team Luke would try to pin down their opponents with some well placed arrows while Shinriko used her knives to disarm and hinder them. That would leave Kitsuki, who was moderately skilled in the Dragon two sword Ninten style, to move up and attack. The plans decided they met in the middle of the cleared ground. Doji Satsume looked to both teams and gave them the signal to begin:
73 kakita attack Shinjo out
39 hida shove Shosuro into kitsuki successfully lose actions
36 shosuro attack Hida lost action due to being shoved
35 kitsuki attack Akodo lost action due to shove
33 akodo attack kitsuki and shosuro
28 shinjo suppressing file
With Akodo’s two final attacks dazzing both Shosuro and Kitsuki the fight was ended. The crowd roared in approval of the quick, but decisive battle between the two groups. Doji Satsume then came forward and presented the winning trio their awards, although their was an instant argument between Akodo Akio and Hida Kengetsu about who would get the first copy of Miya Yukishima “Winter Memories”…