Once again, I find myself in the Ootori mansion. This time not as a guest, but as an aide, a scribe, and an assistant to its Lord. Or I suppose I should say its Lady, for my master Takeda Ryuji has seen fit to name a woman Samurai, and overseer of the province. A sound choice, I think, for she is well mannered, well spoken, and with a good head on her shoulders – but again, I fear, my thoughts run flighty. Let this be a record of the events that unfolded.
We had found ourselves in the household of Ootori Hachi, as his honored guests, in that he sought a Sword-Saint to destroy an okami. The educated reader will know this of the okami: That they are white wolves, that they speak with human tongues but think in alien ways, and that they can transform into strapping young men or beautiful women. They are also judges of human hearts, and will kill those they find sinful or unworthy. This, it seemed, had been the fate of one Monk Joryo, and since Ootori Hachi was quite fond of this fellow, he thirsted for vengeance.
Now. I woke in the morning and prepared my tea: Plain, with a summer fragrance, slightly too cold, well flavored. Beautiful cups. As I finished drinking, my young master informed me that during his excursion into the woods last night, he had come face to face with the very creature we had been summoned here to kill. I inquired if he had drawn his blade against it; he had not.
The okami had borne a woman’s shape, and introduced herself as Satsuko. Since she has no clan name to speak of, I do not know her title. Satsuko explained that Joryo had succumbed to impure lusts – that his heart had become that of an animal, and that he had claimed for himself some unmarried virgins. For this, the okami killed him. Young master Takeda saw wisdom and strength in this creature, and had there and then – in the dead of night – extracted from her an oath. She would serve him faithfully, if she were permitted to kill those with animal hearts. Specifically, she had asked about the monk who had taken Joryo’s place.
In my time staying at the Ootori mansion, I had observed such a one staying under Lord Ootori’s roof. He was a sinful bald rascal with unclean desires, lusting for the Lord’s young daughter as she blossomed into womanhood. Young lady Ootori dared not raise her hand against him, for it was the case that Ootori Hachi craved immortality and the blessings of Heaven. Therefore this monk – who boastfully called himself Nichiren – was his dearest and closest confidante. If she had accused him of sin, her father would have punished her most sternly.
The young master and I discussed these matters as we washed before breakfast. During his morning exercises, Lord Takeda had spoken with Lady Ootori, and she had – in the soft and humble fashion of a lady – explained that her husband was just as superstitious and selfish as he seemed. Thus, Lord Takeda explained, it was regrettable but necessary that the Lord should be dethroned. It was his intention to declare war over breakfast.
He deemed it wise that I should go fasting this morning, since an old man has no place in a war zone. Therefore I excused myself to the Lord’s servants, and took a stroll down into town. The weather was warm with a soft breeze. Flower petals whirled slightly in the air, and a peddler down by the river sold herbal remedies and spices which filled the air with delectable scents. I took a seat at his booth and asked him if he sold tea, which he did. It was quite poor. Too cold, too weak, badly spiced. Dirty cups.
After I had finished two cups, I still had heard neither horn nor gong sounding in the mansion.
Nichiren, it seemed, was as sly as he was sinful. When the house of Takeda declared war, he had gone in between Lord Takeda and Lord Ootori and mediated peace. He had left the hall in Lord Takeda’s company, and tried to persuade him – with honeyed words – that it would be an easy thing to make Ootori bend his knee before one chosen of Heaven. It is my belief that bald weasel knew nothing of my master’s celestial nature at this point; in his mind, he was merely crafting lies to dethrone Lord Ootori and claim his blossoming daughter.
Fortunately Takeda Ryuji is a man of great virtue. (If this old scholar had some slight influence on the boy’s upbringing, he would certainly not be so audacious as to ask praise for the simple and dull-witted lessons he provided over many years. If virtue and good sense was inspired in the boy as a result, it is surely mere coincidence.) Lord Takeda rejected the monk’s dirty offer, and frightened him so badly with the promise of the okami’s jaws, that the ugly bald rascal ran screaming to his master!
Presently Lord Takeda and Akiyama Ren sought out this old scholar where he sat at the vendor’s booth. They explained what had transpired, and decided to take shelter in the woods, until such a time as Akiyama Ren had recovered from her wounds. When she was fit to draw steel, she would use her arts to end Ootori Hachi. We would finally get an answer to who had taught young Akiyama since she left her grandfather’s care, a riddle I had been eager to solve since before we met. I got up from my seat, and we departed into the woods.
We were taken into the woods by the okami Satsuko. She wore her human form, in which she is tall, black-haired and yellow-eyed, with noble bearing and beautiful forms; deceptively regal and attractive, like a true flower of Yamato. A foolish young man could easily forget her bake-mono nature. I would later take Lord Takeda aside to remind him of this; I can only pray that he listened.
As we arrived at a hollow in the wild spirit woods, Lord Takeda made a fire and addressed Akiyama Ren. He bade her explain why the Akatsuki were hunting her, and she explained. This old scholar will not record her past, as it could bring dishonor to my master; he will simply comment that Akiyama Ren’s honor has since been restored. May she meet future temptations, be they silver or steel, with the unchanging face of a living Buddha.
At this point, Lord Takeda went with the okami Satsuko to scout out the lands. Since Akiyama Ren had now sworn fealty to my Lord and master, I informed her of her duties in defending the Takeda name. No dirty peasant sits at my master’s right hand, and so I gave her a choice between two things: The first, to become a true onna-bugeisha, of virtuous thought, polite manners, correct words, correct actions, and appropriate dress, to defend my master’s honor as well as his flesh. The second, to become burakumin, a butcher and grave-digger, to dispose of my master’s enemies and eat the crumbs from his table, but behave in whatever manner she desires without judgment from my part.
She has made her choice. I now write Lady Akiyama. I shall have to gift her with a second sword, so that she is prepared to pay the price if she dishonors House Takeda.
We made camp, and rested. The subsequent day, battle was joined.
This old scholar did not partake in the fighting, so his understanding of the events is unsteady: In the morning, Lord Takeda and Lady Akiyama departed in the okami’s company to meet the advance troops. These were the very same thugs they had met in the Thrashing Carp Inn, and easily defeated. But these men were just a scouting party, whose mission was to find Takeda Ryuji and report his position.
Fearlessly, my Lord Takeda walked back to the mansion to face Ootori Hachi’s men. I have consulted the records, and will for the record state that on the side of House Ootori there were twelve armored horsemen with naginatas, fifty-eight men with spears, twelve archers, and furthermore some amount of peasants conscripted into service, beside Lord Ootori himself. On the side of House Takeda, there was Takeda Ryuji and his onna-bugeisha. Satsuko did not participate in this battle, presumably because she judged the soldiers undeserving of her wrath.
Lord Ootori dispatched his riders to trample Takeda Ryuji. Takeda Ryuji responded thus: With a bow he shot three men; with a spear, he unsaddled four; with a tetsubo he struck down one, and with a long chain, he killed three more. In the end, on the Ootori side, eight men were dead, three were injured, one was unharmed. On the Takeda side, one man was injured, having withstood the strike of two lances and an arrow.
As for Lady Akiyama, she moved silently behind the ranks of the soldiers, and placed her sword in Lord Ootori’s neck. This did not kill him instantly, but distracted him sufficiently that he could not direct his men. He struggled against Lady Akiyama for some time, weakened by poison and the wound, until Lord Takeda came within a bow-shot’s distance. Drawing his weapon, he placed a quivering arrow in the man’s chest, knocking him off the horse, whereupon Lady Akiyama ended his suffering.
Lord Takeda now spoke to the people. He named Lady Ootori the owner of the land, and declared that she was Samurai, and that she should serve under his rule. Lady Ootori, who was a well spoken and well mannered woman, accepted this honor. The young master then sent the okami to fetch this old scholar, that he might draw up the documents and perform the correct rituals.
Thus it was that this old scholar came to stay in the mansion once more. Lady Ootori is a benevolent hostess, who has provided me with tea – spring fragrance, sweet flavor, excellent temperature, lovely cup – and as my brush meets this paper, she is busy burning incense to bring luck upon our arrangement. The rituals are completed, but for one missing factor.
Lord Takeda himself has not been present to oversee them.
For it seems this had transpired: As we retreated into the woods, the bald weasel Nichiren persuaded Lord Ootori to take his daughter to safety. Lady Ootori’s daughter is now held captive by this sinful bald bastard, and therefore my Lord Takeda swore that he would help her. They rode east, following Nichiren, who has sought shelter on Peach Blossom Mountain.
May Heaven guide their steps, and may my brush record their triumph. For now, I will let it rest.