Friday, September 25, 2015

A daughter's duty - Story time

Toku Akiko was born in the fall of the third year after the Naishou dispute that left the Monkey clan and the Crane clan as rulers of the province. Her birth, just like her older sister’s was met with joyous celebration as is customary of the Monkey clan. Toku Uryo, Naishou’s daimyo and Fuzake Nabiki, the spiritual leader of the region had traveled along with their most trusted Samurai and family members to the nearest temple of Toku, the fortune of Virtue and founder of their clan. She was presented to their ancestor in a great celebration so as to show Toku that their clan was still growing strong.

From a very young age it was very apparent that if Sumiko took after her mother, Akiko was every bit her father’s daughter. Always running around the house, always causing trouble. She would constantly ask her father to teach her how to wield a sword, to which Uryo would only laugh at first. Though he eventually gave in and let her practice with the same wooden swords that he once used to spar with her uncle Gorobei. She was a very beautiful girl with long black hair (which was usually full of twigs and mud) a skin that resembled more that of her father, slightly darker than her mother’s, and two big grey eyes that were always full of joy, wonder, and most of all… mischief.

As time passed and the relations with the crane began to deteriorate, Uryo decided that it was time to have his family make some connections outside of Naishou. During the Naishou tournament Uryo had competed against Isawa Daisuke of the Phoenix clan, and though he lost the duel, he earned his respect. As Akiko reached the age a child would normally be sent to attend a school within her own clan, he used his friendship with Daisuke, his own political contacts and Gorobei’s influence in the Imperial court to have Akiko sent to the Phoenix lands to study in the Shiba Bushi school.

The day before she left, Uryo took her into the inner garden of Toshi no Naishou and sat with her in the small gazebo in the center of the garden. He mentioned what little he knew about the Phoenix lands, about the Isawa Mori, the forest that was veiled in mistery and legend, the Phoenix Mountains known for the many temples housed within. He told her about Kyuden Isawa the Palace of the Phoenix clan, and Shiro Shiba, the castle where she would be spending most of her time. Uryo went through the different ceremonies she would have to go through once she reached phoenix lands. Akiko did not understand half of them, and the other half sounded just plain stupid, but she would obey.

After a good hour of going through all of these things Uryo fell silent. He had never been good at keeping up the face of a Samurai, which is probably why he kept her uncle Gorobei close at all times when they needed to handle political matters. His eyes, usually very calm and happy, were now very sad and his face looked tired, and burdened.

“Akiko, my dear child, I want you to be strong… the coming years will be hard, I won’t lie to you… everything will seem to be working against you on every turn… you will be singled out as an outcast and be constantly reminded of your name and family. But I want you to remember these words and keep them close to you… “

Courtesy, Courage
Honor, compassion
Sincerity, and Duty.

Be Courteous to everyone, no matter who it is. Be courageous… Our clan was founded by a farmer who took up a sword and fought not because he wanted glory, but because it was the right thing to do. Honor is part of our lives and as such you must always be mindful of your actions, since you represent not only you, or your family, but our whole clan. Be compassionate… Samurai are of higher stature than the Bonge, but this only means that you are charged with protecting them, so care for them, and keep them from harm. Be sincere, both in how you speak and how you act, for this shall reflect on your honor. Keep your Duty in mind. Our clan is small, but strong, and we uphold the values of justice and peace in Rokugan. Our duty is to keep the legacy of Toku alive through our deeds”

Her father spoke with a passion she had never witnessed before, yet when he came to the end of it, when he talked about Duty, tears started running down his eyes. His face was shaking and his hands were grasping the cloth of the kimono around his knees.
Akiko was wide-eyed and gasping for a moment. She then quickly looked at the ground for a moment as if to give her father a moment to regain his composure. A long silence was broken by a skittering monkey on one of the garden trees. Akiko then spoke, her eyes still looking at the ground…
A longer silence followed, giving Akiko a very uneasy feeling.
Before she could look up again, Uryo’s arms were already around her as her father’s embrace took her in.
“You are strong… you mother and I are very proud of you. The challenges that lie ahead are difficult, but you will prevail… such is the way of the monkey”

She did not know that at the time, but this was but the first step in an elaborate plan by her family to close ties with one of Rokugan’s most powerful families. Her parents had spent a sizeable amount of resources and political favors to have her become betrothed to a member of the Isawa family, and to have her enlisted in the Shiba Bushi school.

Akiko said goodbye to her parents the day after that, receiving a parting gift from each of them. Her mother gave her an Obi with embroidered cherries, which she would use with her dress kimono, and her father gave her a small white handkerchief that had a scent very much like the flowers that grew around the gardens. It had been a gift from an old friend to her father in his traveling swordsman days. He also gave her a straw hat, way too big for her at her current size. When she asked what it meant, Uryo simply said 

"That hat belonged to Doji Hakusho, one of the most skilled Iaijutsu masters I have ever had the Honor of meeting. Our relations with the Crane are very delicate at the moment, and I need you to remember that your father once had a friend amongst the Crane"

She hated the idea of leaving her home. She hated the idea of leaving her parents, her friends, her older sister and her little brother Yoshiro. But she also understood that from now on everything she did would be in representation of the monkey clan… nay… of the Uryo Family. She was to become a Samurai like her father and mother before her. She would overcome whatever task they set before her and fulfill her duty.