Some time has passed since my humble brush last touched the paper. Takeda Ryuji has returned, and it is my duty to record his exploits. This is a long tale, I fear, and one I will not finish in just one sitting. I have prepared a cup of tea and will enjoy it as I write: Spring fragrance, dry character, dark leaves, fine cup. Currently too hot to drink.
I have been staying with Lady Ootori, enjoying conversation, tea, and pleasant strolls through the environs. The people remain poor, but without the heavy taxes Lord Ootori imposed prosperity will no doubt be restored to the region. The giant Buddha statues have been abandoned in favor of a defensive wall, and this humble scholar has provided some advice on a new system of irrigation which should yield an increase in crops. If Heaven is kind, and sees fit to let Lady Ootori’s investments pay off, every farmer in the region will eat his fill of rice in but a season.
But these are not the records of a humble scholar’s observations! My Lord and master, Takeda Ryuji, has busied himself with justice and piety, and it falls to this old man to write of his adventures. As the reader will know, the bald weasel Nichiren had taken young Lady Ootori to the monastery on Peach Blossom Mountain, driven by unclean lusts toward her. Takeda Ryuji vowed to save her from the clutches of this dirty fiend, and so set off astride the okami Satsuko with Lady Akiyama clinging to his back.
They traveled through the afternoon and the night, despite their injuries and despite having fasted before the battle with Ootori Hachi. My Lord Takeda Ryuji was less injured and more accustomed to riding, but Lady Akiyama fared less well. By the time dawn broke, she was exhausted and collapsed. At this time the travelers had reached a brothel some distance away from the Peach Blossom Mountain.
Deeming it wise not to startle the patrons, and worried about Lady Akiyama’s health, Lord Takeda instructed Satsuko to make haste rather than stop and ask for directions. As he emerged from the forest, he noticed that an army had made camp near the mountain. This army flew the banner of House Asai. The educated reader will know that Lord Asai is devoted to the collection of Sword-Saints, and has a great and powerful army of which this was but a small portion.
Making note of the soldiers, Lord Takeda ordered Satsuko to climb the mountain, which she did with the swift and steady footing of a mountain spirit. They arrived before a gathering of soldiers, evidently stationed at the cloister; and Takeda Ryuji also noticed to his great surprise that the two stone statues standing watch over the place had been vandalized. Let it be known that before my Lord inquired about these things, he made sure to put Lady Akiyama in the hospice so that her bandages were replaced and she was given rest.
Now, my Lord petitioned to speak with the abbot, whom he had met once as a child. Learning that the Enlightened Sage was deep in meditation, he instead directed his questions to a senior brother called Kenshin, a warrior-monk skilled in many kinds of combat. Kenshin made clear what had transpired in the lands near Peach Blossom Mountain since my Lord last visited the area, and this humble scholar will describe the events to the best of his ability.
Tea still slightly too hot. Fragrance has shifted to summer.
Some months ago, a star had shone upon the monastery. Lord Asai’s astrologers understood this meant a Blade of Destiny had awoken in the area, and intending to lay claim to this precious gift from Heaven, Lord Asai dispatched his niece Asai Megumi. In her company was Asai Noburu, that faithless rat, whom this scholar has previously encountered on more than one occasion. Upon reaching Peach Blossom Mountain, they had inquired about the Blade with the Abbot, who at first denied that such a thing existed, but must eventually concede that one had indeed been hidden in the monastery in the distant past. Now it had awoken. However, the Abbot felt it wrong to interfere with the will of Heaven; if the blade should be wielded, it would find its own master. Therefore he refused to give it to Asai Megumi.
So it was that the men had made camp outside, effectively besieging the mountain, and a period of negotiation began. The Enlightened Sage was currently meditating on what had been Asai Megumi’s final offer after bribes and promises had failed: Deliver the Blade, or they would take it by force.
When Nichiren had reached the monastery, the monks had dispatched him immediately to speak with House Asai, seeing as he was famously well-versed in politics and might yet find a solution to the conflict. This meant he had not yet had time to violate young Lady Ootori. He had, however, forced her to dress up as a lowly comfort woman, and locked her in a cell at the monastery under the pretext that she was possessed by a demon, and insane. Thus her cries and protests had gone unheard.
Having learned this, Lord Takeda relaxed somewhat, knowing Lady Ootori was safe (if uncomfortable). He sparred with Kenshin and learned his character: Rigid, inflexible, and greatly favoring House Asai despite their reputation as tyrants. By his opinion, the blade should fall into Asai Megumi’s hands.
Meanwhile the monks tended to Lady Akiyama. They found her Akatsuki tools – her shuriken, kunai, and other tools of underhanded killing – and being horrified by them, stripped her of her weapons and gave them as a gift to the Asai soldiers. Only her Blade of Destiny stayed by her side, as the monks could not remove it. Around noon, Lady Akiyama awoke. She stepped out to greet Lord Takeda, and as the abbot had now finished his meditations, they went to speak with him in private.
The Enlightened Sage of Peach Blossom Mountain was old already when this humble scholar was a boy, and had chastised Lord Takeda as a child for climbing the stone gods outside the doorway. Now, these self-same stone gods had been vandalized by a drunken monk named Umon, and for his crimes he had been sent away to watch over the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden, outside temple grounds. But the exile of Monk Umon had served dual purposes, for the sly old Abbot had sent with him the Blade of Destiny, letting it escape right under House Asai’s noses! Thus the Blade had been kept from Asai Megumi, but the Abbot still feared they might burn the monastery to the ground in search of it.
Presently Lord Takeda explained about Nichiren’s sinful and sinister nature. The Enlightened Sage believed him, knowing that Nichiren had always lusted after women. However, if Nichiren were exiled from the order he might side with House Asai and betray the monastery, thus weakening the cloister in the event of an attack. This worried the Abbot, and rightly so.
The Enlightened Sage told the pair that Lady Ootori was locked in a sunless cell in the basement. Lady Akiyama, who has a soft spot for the girl, went to speak with her. Lord Takeda remained before the great bronze Buddha to piously pray for his parents’ souls. Let Heaven know he is a good and righteous son!
(If this humble scholar has once or twice reminded Lord Takeda of his filial duties, let it be known that it certainly was not necessary, for it would be unfitting to say Takeda Ryuji ever forgot such things.)
When each was done with his or her task, a plan took shape. The Enlightened Sage would let slip to Nichiren about the location of the Blade of Destiny. As he was a greedy and lustful fellow, he would immediately desire to find it and present it to House Asai in exchange for a reward. But since he was also selfish and vain, he would seek to share the reward with few others, and therefore travel with a small company through the wild woods, where he could be easily ambushed. Thus Lord Takeda could give him to the okami and sate her thirst for unclean blood; and also justly punish the bald rascal for his unrighteous behavior. It was decided that Lord Takeda should seek the assistance of Monk Umon, who was charged with guarding the Blade, and wait for Nichiren in the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden.
Lady Akiyama, meanwhile, would guard Lady Ootori from Nichiren’s advances during the night, as he would have little reason to set out before the following day. So as to not startle him, she disguised herself as an old yamabushi and claimed she had been summoned to cure the poor comfort woman of her illness. The educated reader will know, that the yamabushi are esoteric wandering scholars whose knowledge of the spirit world greatly exceeds that of a common monk; therefore Nichiren had no excuse to go near the girl, and she stayed safe.
Tea has reached the perfect temperature. Fragrance now autumn. Delicious flavor, bitter, reminiscent of lost youth and yellowing leaves.
Lord Takeda rode on the back of Satsuko to the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden. When he reached it, he found that Umon had been drinking again. The drunken brute nearly attacked my lord and master, but when he saw how fearless and virtuous Takeda Ryuji was, he was filled with admiration and threw himself to the ground in a gesture of humility that can be compared to a great tree falling or a mountain collapsing. Umon swore friendship and brotherhood, and they drank together and spoke of things great and small. Truly wine loosens the tongue! Umon confessed to my Lord that he had gotten curious about the Blade, and taken it out of the magical urn where it was kept. This Blade is called the Star of Strength, and it can only be lifted by those it finds worthy. In Umon’s hands, it had transformed into a massive tetsubo, and chosen him as its Sword-Saint! Umon, being a drunk fool, had not understood this, but Lord Takeda was kind enough to explain it.
The following morning, Lady Akiyama dressed up Lady Ootori as a young yamabushi, and made it down the mountain to the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden in advance of Nichiren. The bald weasel, for his part, gathered three of Asai’s cavalrymen and told them of his plan; they would speak of it to no-one, and share the reward. As they reached the Cast Iron Buddha’s Garden, they fell into the trap.
Lady Akiyama knocked Nichiren off his horse, and out leapt Satsuko and ate his heart. Lady Ootori watched, and let it be recorded that she did not flinch as she saw her tormentor die. The three soldiers tried to fight, but Umon crushed one with his great strength, and Takeda Ryuji killed one with a club and the last man with a javelin.
Presently Satsuko swore loyalty to my Lord, and promised that she would hunt by his side. As proof of her loyalty, she licked his wounds. The educated reader will know, that the saliva of an okami has healing properties, and when she licks a wound, it will heal completely in a day or two.
It was only now that Umon realized the truth of Akiyama Ren’s sex. She had dressed in men’s garb, and thus Umon had presumed her to be a man, but now her clothes were torn and her nature became clear to him. (This humble scholar would certainly not suggest anything indecent was revealed! Rather, he means to say that Umon had been misled by Lady Akiyama’s garb, and now could see past it.) This greatly disgusted Umon, as he believed women could not make capable warriors and that the mere touch of a woman could rob a man of his virtue and his strength. But Lord Takeda sharply told him to respect her as a great general. Perhaps Umon would obey, but then Satsuko licked his wounds and reverted to her human form, and this revelation became too much for the monk to bear. He must hurry to a stream for ritual cleansing, having been licked by a creature of the female sex.
Presently Lady Ootori mounted one of the fallen men’s horses, and Satsuko transformed into a wolf once more. Lord Takeda bade Umon return to Peach Blossom Mountain once he had gathered his things, and then he and the women rode ahead, returning to the monastery.
One thing remains to note: Young Lady Ootori, apparently quite headstrong, had extracted an oath from Lady Akiyama that she should become her apprentice. Lord Takeda learned this now, and though he found it unwise, he could not force his general to go back on her word. What becomes of young Lady Ootori’s education… remains to be seen. She is certainly a spirited young woman.
Teacup almost empty. Winter fragrance. Bitter dregs.
It is time for me to brew another pot, and therefore I shall let my brush rest.