Seven Cups of Tea

The small inn at the base of Mt. Kyojin is known for three things.

The first is for the excellent saki that the owner, Erojin, brews in thick, oak casks passed down for nine generations in his family. This first thing is known because Erojin repeats this often to all of his guests.

The second is that it is the final inn on the Imperial Road that leads to Kori Horudo, ancestral keep of the Matsu family. This second thing is known because travelers that pass it by on their way to the keep face several hours of cold, dangerous climbing up the rough hewn passes that protect it, covered in snow except for the deepest part of summer.

The third is that the spring water found in a nearby cleft of rock is unparalleled for the making of tea. This third thing is known only by true students and masters of the tea ceremony. Erojin’s grandfather built a special structure around the spring, and took great care in preparing a perfect setup for the brewing and preparation of tea. The water flows hot from the spring in the central pool, a stone table encircles it like a ring – and cunning hooks hang at even intervals, allowing kettles to be hung.

It is said that a cup of tea prepared at this spring is a kiss from the Fortunes themselves — and not to be missed if a Tea Master is available and willing to perform a ceremony.

So it was, when six travelers on their way to Kori Horudo ate their quiet meals in the common room of the inn. When a seventh traveler invited them all to join her in a cup of tea, none could bring themselves to reject so polite and fortunate an invitation.

The hot water of rushed into the dark green kettle, and the quick hands of the seventh traveler pulled it free of the spring never minding the heat. She moved her hands in calm patterns, adding a pinch of powder, a fall of leaves – her hands and eyes focused and sure, a dance. The six guests felt their souls fill with peace as they watched the serene preparation of the tea.

At last the dance was done, and the seventh traveler placed the lid on the kettle with a quiet clink. Then she looked up at the six samurai and smiled. Her face was plain, with a sharp chin — but the easy warmth of her smile was beauty enough. Her kimono was of good material, but showed signs of much wear and travel. On her right breast was carefully stitched the mon of the Fox Clan.

“And now the waiting. For even we must bear the quiet wind of Time, and fill the interval between the leaves and the tea. Hot water will do its work, no doubt.”She bowed her head respectfully to the others. ” Please forgive me, in my haste to begin the preparation of the tea, I have neglected to introduce myself. I am Kitsune Miho, a scholar. Would you honor me with your own names as we wait for the tea to become tea — and perhaps tell us a little of what has brought you to the little corner of the world?”

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Three Falcons I

The Emperor waits.

White rain falls and dark earth waits.

Three falcons, red blood.

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I, of course, was not present at the Battle of Jato Valley. The Fox Clan was not involved in this skirmish between the Great Clans, and our presence would have been looked at with great anger and disdain by Matsu Tsuko, the Lion Clan general. She would have viewed the inclusion of a small clan of no particular renown in her day of glory as an affront.  And her rage at our clan being the witness to her ensuing shame would have been great indeed.

And, of course, I was only seven years old.

Jato Valley is a geographic location of little significance other than this battle. It lies between the Lion and Crane lands, in a small  bit of land flanked by a granite mountain range to the north and a small river to the south. It is the homeland of the Falcon, a small Clan similar to our own in size and influence. How could they have angered the Fortunes so? To bring such calamity into their quiet corner of the Empire? I have visited their crumbling keep many times in my studies, and the only stories that Toritaka Yaki tells with any vigor are of the Battle of Jato Valley. As if that one day of blood and sorrow has forever dimmed the past, obscuring the older tales of his clan’s former glory.

I, of course, agree with him – but I would never dishonor the elder’s clan by voicing such thoughts out loud.

For the Battle of Jato Valley did much to obscure the light of many great samurai, and as my studies dare to suggest – continue to darken the honor of many of the Great Clans.

My apologies, honored reader. I write these words as if all were clear to you. We always write as if our time in this world is the only time,  and that the things we deem of import shall remain so on down the ever spinning gyre of the wheel. As a young student I was often keenly aggravated by the ancient scholars prattling on for turns and turns of the scroll, before finally making it clear the thrust of their tale. So, I shall speak as if I am long dust, and you know nothing.  For, if I may politely remark, when I was a student I knew a great deal of nothing myself.

Please accept my profound apologies. I am certain you are a credit to your clan, and your ancestors.

The Battle of Jato Valley is a riddle. A circumstance that still troubles the students of bushido, the priests of the kami, and lowly scholars such as myself. It concerns the most grave breach of the Celestial Order – a betrayal beyond the ken of the Sun and Moon.

The Emperor had three sons. And then he had three enemies. Blood against blood, the most shocking sacrilege.  They fled the Voice of Heaven and took refuge with their allies in the one place they knew would receive them. The hall of Toritaka Yaki, their archery instructor as children — and a defensible position. None of the Great Houses would have dared to shelter them — but the Falcon spread its wings and brought them into the nest.

Hantei Pono. Otomo Tekiko. Otomo Yoru. 17,15 and 10. The heir to the throne and his two younger brothers – the greatest criminals the Empire has ever known.

I take quite a risk writing their names, here in fresh ink. The Emperor has made it a crime to ever refer to them from now until the End of Time.  If I were a wiser scholar I would blot them, but I have an unfortunate flaw in my character. I pray that my honored reader will do their best to ignore my indiscretion.

When the Hantei himself stood over their broken bodies, he is said to have called for fire. He took the brand in his own hand, and poured the pitch over them — taking great care, of course, to never touch them. The flames burned for hours, leaving only their bones. The Emperor had their remains put into three jars and had them painted with the mon of the Falcon.

Matsu Tsuko carried the jars herself, and laid them at the feet of the Falcon daimyo and spat in his face.

“The Emperor commands you to keep these urns with you always.” She is recorded as saying. ” These Falcon traitors, these three sons of Toritaka shall forever be a reminder of the dishonor you have brought to your Clan.”

The Lion general then turned and stalked out of the hall, speaking no words of her own dishonor that day.

For the overwhelming force she had brought to bear against the pitiful rabble that had dishonored themselves so greatly to serve the Three Falcons had paid dearly for her arrogance. The Battle of Jato Valley is one of the few defeats that the Matsu had ever experienced, and with such high stakes – the very honor of the Emperor himself, ah. She had thought to fight an easy skirmish, outnumbered her enemy five to one.

The Matsu’s army won the day — but only at the price of half her army. The Three Falcons and their allies, ronin all, fought like gods of death.

They showed the truth in their souls. And for such dishonored men to show such strength, is perhaps the most disturbing portion of this tale for many of my respected colleagues.

Honor is the samurai’s might. How could these vilest of traitors have faced down so many of the Empire’s best?

I, of course, have a notion.

 

– Kitsune Miho

Sora no Umi

Before our world, there was Nothing.

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dreams of the shore near another world (.)

And then Nothing thought.

It’s first sin.

It wanted to be more than it was. It wanted to know. It wanted to have.

Emptiness filled.

The water grew dark. Regret, fear, desire.  Seeds of our world.

All from Nothing. Thinking.

The Others were born, the Elder Gods. Then the Sun and Moon. Then their children, the brawling ones. Hantei and the rest. They shaped and formed our world, this Emerald Empire, this Rokugan.

The bones of our world, the secret in every drop of blood. The sin of Nothing. The filling of the empty, the darkening of the water.

Is this the secret to Shinsei’s path? To return to the serenity of the absolute, to be empty water once more?

Is it even possible? To live without regret. Or fear. Or desire?

A curious riddle.

This bears careful thought.

I hope my readers will forgive my small joke.

– Musings – Kitsune Miho

[With apologies to John Wick and Alderac Entertainment. I’m starting to do prep work for what could be my next long-running tabletop campaign. Returning to the hallowed system of yore, 1st Edition Legend of the Five Rings. I’m rereading a lot of the setting information for the first time in over a decade. Such a strange mashup of Eastern and Western mythology, neatly combining the Amaterasu myth with the Cronos/Zeus story.

And also forgive my crude use of Japanese. My only aide is Google Translate.]