Heaven cried around her. Tears of the great sky above spilled down on the mortal world below. Like a great mother showing her sadness for a wayward child the rain came slow at first. All had smelled the water in the air and felt despair on the winds. Above the Heaven shook with their thunder while below the tears rolled across sloped roofs. A blessing some might call the grace of the Heaven, but for most this was but a burden while they ran about the palace grounds. Daidoji Misaki watched with her own sadness while the sky cried for the men below its feet. She too felt sadness for the people of this world and for the lives that could never be formed.
Behind her a man that she did not know sat with other men she did not know. Their words were ones she was trained to ignore and their actions were never meant to be known. Long ago the Daidoji had learned to turn the other way and see only what must be seen. Theirs was a life of devotion. Were a samurai meant to serve than the Daidoji were first among them. Misaki extended her yari forward so that the metal tip might catch a tear drop from the sky. Glistening the drop rolled downward to mold itself into the weapon. There was symbolism somewhere there, a deep thought of a tear drop joining an instrument of death. Yet Misaki was not a poet though she had heard them speak enough. Her eyes lifted from the tear drop to the night sky.
She had been born a girl like any other. The third daughter to a noble line of warriors and artisans. In her blood ran the legends of the ancient Daidoji and the strength of her ancestors. Coursing through each beat of her heart was the remnants of a people sworn to defend and protect the power of the mighty Crane Clan. The mortal descendent of those sworn to defend what Lady Doji had left behind so many centuries ago. Yet to her young eyes this meant only a parade of artisans and beauty to absorb. A childhood of wonders as poets painted mystical wonders and dancers crafted ethereal beauty from the very air. Daidoji Nuboro was her father and he allowed his daughter the fantasies of youth so that she would truly know what she might give her life to protect.
With his final breath Daidoji Nuboro believed that the Crane Clan held the great civilization of Rokugan together. He believed with every fiber of his body that without such art and beauty then the common man stood no better than the animals around him. Through such conviction he sought to send each of his children forward to defend the jewels of the Empire. Misaki would be no exception and he encouraged her wonderment as he sent her forward to witness this world. Slowly he showed her the strength that lay hidden behind the silken drapes as each event was guarded by the proud family she called her own. Brothers and sisters all stood with the tattoo of the mighty Daidoji on their wrists at every event. No courtier traveled without their escort and no entertainer of import performed without their consent. Misaki saw the hidden world of the yojimbo and knew this place was for her.
So innocent then she mused. Part of her wondered over the crafty mind of her father as he convinced each of his children to pursue the life he lead. Despite the scars that were etched into his arms, the pain he felt in his legs each time the weather turned cold and the hurt in his eyes from fallen brothers; he had each of his children see only glory and honor. Through beauty and culture he had them convinced the world would be a better place for them all. Misaki had believed as he did once, believed with her heart that this world would touch the Heavens if only eyes would open to see the pristine tranquility of a simple poem or dance. Such hopes were dashed now, taken from her by the very ideals she had sworn to defend. Still, without her father’s words she would never have meet the man she gave everything for and then she would only be another soldier.
Kakita Yasu was his name. Never would a name be so beautiful in her life nor words taste so sweet on her tongue. A man of elegance with an artisan’s heart was how she described him to herself each night. She saw him practice each day in the gardens outside of her school. Watched him meditate over the secrets of the sword while she drilled endlessly with a wooden stick. He was young then, but not so young that she could not see past the boy and into the man he would become. Not so young that she could not fall in love with him. Many months would pass while she watched him from afar, never knowing even his name. When finally their meeting came to pass, each knew that their lives would forever be entwined.
Eyes stared out over the darkened night of the courtyard. Above her the tears fell as they became anguished by the ignorance and crimes of a world run horrible wrong. Mortal hands had wrought pain and suffering on the creation of the kami. Mortal hands were to blame for the ills of this world. So above the sky quaked with thunder and split with lightening. Flashes of ancient power streaked across the sky to thunderous applause from above. Somewhere flames danced from a fallen tree. People cried out to rush forward with their buckets and bodies. Misake remained still as her patron kept inside the paper screens of the palace. There was no point in worrying over danger that had yet to come. Lightening split the sky yet again and her mind turned to the darker corners of her memory.
For all his beauty, Kakita Yasu befriended one man above all others. A warrior that towered above all others and whose strength seemed to know limitless bounds. He was said to have completed his gempukku as his ancestors intended, with an oni head at his side. Hida Torou was a fearsome man who had ventured to the interior in order to show the power of his brethren and put on display their prowess. Yasu and Torou held nothing in common except for the love of battle, the love of art in warfare. Yet their love was enough to form a bridge of friendship. Bonds tighter than steel formed between the pair as they adventured across Rokugan. Neither would let the other fall and so in blood they were baptized brothers. Misaki loved the man for defending Yasu.
Yasu and Torou gained glory in their travels. Often they would come to the village of their start, Yasu to see his family and Torou to enjoy the hospitality of Crane houses. Both would stop to see the girl that had become their little sister. Each year Misaki grew more bold in her admiration of Yasu and Torou, each year her body became harder to resist. This happened until the time of her gempukku when the pair arrived to join in the celebration. Yasu was meet with a stunning woman at her prime, a creature that knew the desire she invoked and held her own wants. That moment etched itself into her mind, lovingly held in a place where only dreams are remembered.
Even now Misaki remembered that moment with a fondness. Eyes hardened by years of training and bloodshed softened to those of a girl in love. Perhaps such a shift in her visage was what brought the blade from the shadow. Or maybe this was simply the time. Lightning flashed once more to reflect the eyes of a love sick girl beneath the fierce helmet she wore. Drowned in memories or no, she was a warrior of iron. Already her body moved while the blade came for her. The lithe body shifted forward so that plates of armor were all the knife could find. Then the owner of such an attack would find the butt of her spear soon to be followed by the tip. Her voice called out and more steel soon came. Misaki took her stance and prepared her soul for the death that might come. Behind her an unknown man shook in fear and she stood in his defense.
Peasants came for her. Rabble with knives picked up from kitchens and spears fashioned from farming tools. Somewhere amidst the grouping she knew a ronin lead them. A sword had flashed in the mix. A man without honor lead them but he was still samurai, even if a fallen one. He would be their heart and so he would fall at her hand. The Daidoji were nothing if not direct. That point driven home with a thrust of her spear into the chest of a man that rushed forward for her. Another peasant fallen to her side. Misaki knew the reason for the assault, knew well that grain taxes were up again this year. Soldiers were starving and people would rather farmer starve than soldiers when war loomed nearby. Her job was not to question though, easier that way.
If only she had listened to such advice before…
Her marriage was spoken of in many courts that she would never visit. A marvelous affair that was filled with stories of love and destiny. Poets of the white winged Crane lavished fanciful embellishments on the wedding while dancers swirled their silken hands. Culinary artists marked the event with fanciful foods while artists of the martial disciplines showed their prowess for entertainment. The Heavens gave their blessing with sun and cool winds. So much blessing and thanks to be given. Daidoji Misaki was told so often that she was a lucky girl to find the man of her heart and duty. At the edge of the crowd with no smile on his lips loomed Kakita Yasu, the man she wished was her husband this day.
Instead another man took her to his bed that night. Hida Torou had claimed her for his own. An alliance was proposed, accepted and forged across her body in short order. The favor she had shown him as a girl was taken as a token of love. Love between the Daidoji and Hida, the unlikely alliance that lasted centuries. The tears she shed in sadness were seen as ones of joy, even in the chamber of their wedding. Plied with liquor she ensured that he would not notice her lack of chastity. Misaki knew that no amount of liquor would hide the swelling of her belly so early in their marriage. Hida Torou was a proud man, a powerful man of stout conviction and violent temperament. He was a warrior breed true through the ages. He would not tolerate such an insult. Both Misaki and Yasu’s lives hung in the balance.
The Daidoji have their tricks. Their hands are not so clean as others might believe as they trudge through the dark corners of the world to protect their charges. Misaki knew people of ill repute, of questionable honor that would give her the resources to finish her problem. Poison, subtle and slight, was left in the tea of her husband. A toxin so slight and simple that he tasted nothing and noticed less until he marched to battle with her hand over his morning drink. Hida Torou died a warrior’s death one day, leaving behind a pregnant widow. He was buried with honor and the grieving widow was given the quiet respect of the Crab, who knew of loss all too well.
The arrow in her shoulder was slowing her now. Pain lanced through her body while the blood grew slick beneath her feet. At her side her charge stood now, shouting for the violence to stop. He shouted for peace while she gave them only war. Let him believe that somehow he could still their hands while she ceased the beating of their hearts. There was no helping some people after all. Her foot collided with a peasant who called himself a ronin. The stolen sword skittered across the mud before his blood joined the tears of Heaven that soaked the earth. Hands gripped the shaft of her spear, her weight born down on the weapon in a moment of weakness. The battle had gone on for some time now as peasants joined the fray. Guards were slow in coming, something had happened to block their approach.
Misaki was alone. She had been alone for some time now.
The babe at her breast is all that held back of the rage of the man who had been her lover. White hair flashed in the darkness of the room while against her chest their baby feed. Misaki could do nothing for him now nor would he have allowed her to even touch him. He had said so. He had said many things since she spoke the truth. Somewhere she believed he knew that her actions were done for their own safety. Torou would have killed them both, shamed their families and sought compensation from the Crane. Yasu did not wish to hear such truth. He wanted only to believe his friend died in battle and his love bore his best friend’s child.
Illusions and half-truths were never enough. Misaki had wanted to show him their son. Wanted him to see what a beautiful child they had made together. All Yasu saw was a reminder of his failure and his part in the death of his friend. With shame in his heart and disgust in his eyes he turned away.
“I will take his place on the wall.” The solemn words were like a knife in her soul.
“And what shall I do? What will we do without you Yasu!?” Anguished carried her words further than she would have wanted.
“Pray that our son becomes a proud warrior of the Crab and that you may one day find your honor again. If I see you again though, you will die at my hand.”
Misaki stared at the death that was to be hers. Eyes glazed over with the knowledge that she would die before her charge. That would be enough honor to absolve her son of her crimes. The spear tip leveled off as the peasants made their rush. Misaki stood her ground with arrows in her body and blood spilling to the muddy earth below. After Yasu left she had returned to her homeland. The mantle of Daidoji was taken up by her own hand, but her husband’s family had no objections. She mourned for her son they thought, though in truth she mourned for the love she lost. Somewhere in the land of the Hida her son was sleeping now. A hand was caressing his cheek that was not her own. Someone looked down on him with pride for he was a beautiful child. That someone was not her. Anger filled her lungs as she gave a cry of defiance for the life she had been given.
Death would not bless her tonight.