Fall of The Hamurai – Part 2 – The Empress

Silence pervaded the hidden chamber of the sacred city of pearls. Vole servants paced silently back and forth, their anxiety was written plainly on their silent faces. It was not permitted to pass a word within the chamber without the empress present and although they traditionally adopted a system of signals to communicate, the atmosphere that hung over this place reduced the impulse to gossip to a few furtive glances.

The servants started as they heard a door slam beyond the chamber they were in, more glances were exchanged and their souls tensed. The empress was angry, which could easily lead to one of their heads being served on a plate. Before long, the regular striking step of her majesty could be heard approaching them, so the production went into frantic effect.

They worked silently and automatically; taking from many small cabinets a selection of cordials, perfumes and dainties that they knew the empress expected to be on hand, all the while keeping a portion of their attention to the raised voices that were coming closer to them with every second. After a minute or two, they had furnished the small tables that lined the receiving chamber with a plethora of beautiful and exquisitely crafted platters and bottles, arranged in traditional ways as to please her majesty.

Not a moment sooner than the last servant had placed the last marinated slug roll upon a pyramid of its contemporaries, did the beautifully worked lacquered door of the chamber burst open as if kicked, and a short, rotund female Vole marched into the center of the room: She was Empress Kinato, leader of the dawn empire; an archipelago of one hundred islands that stretched over a thousand miles in the shining sea. She ruled over many peoples: from the giant Tanuki that tended to the high mountain passes to the diminutive field mice that tended to vast swaths of rice and wheat all over the empire.

The Empress stood expectantly, dressed in a voluminous plum coloured kimono. Its silks were of the finest weave and the print; the dawn sun rising over little fishing boats, was painstakingly detailed in gold and red thread. Trailing behind her was a gaggle of functionaries and politicians whose never ending stream of consciousness filled the chamber. The servants looked on as they placed treats into the Empress’s oustretched hand, her bored expression quickly turned to anger as she listened to Lord Hakana; A vole of the most aristocratic class, talk of a subject about which he was most passionate:

“I talked to you last time, my empress, of a small commune situated in the slate valley, now the blossom valley, upon the hill of Tanagara which I am sure you know was the most holy of places under the old religion. I have since sent diplomats to treat with their noble and well respected elder, Lord Gutoa; a hamster of some military renown.”

Hakana said this as he always did, speculatively, in the hope that others would ask him questions and so he would be at liberty to talk at great length about himself. Rather than this however, the empress rounded on him, the fur on her cheeks standing on end, her mouth still full of slug, she chewed slowly. She stared at the tall vole for a solid minute while everyone else, who had previously been chattering away about one petty matter of state or another, quickly passed into silence; some even took a step away from Hakana, for they anticipated fit of the Empress’s rage. Eventually she spoke in a tone of vicious certainty.

“Yes, lord Hakana, you did indeed speak to me of these brigands you now seem so deferent to. A ‘commune’ you call a rebel lord establishing an independent territory upon my very doorstep. A hamster no less; vile creatures not native to our archipelago and who, instead of instructing them in the appropriate way to conduct themselves as rightful subjects of their divine empress, you condescended to send diplomats, as if this Gutoa were emperor in his own right. Have I appraised your report correctly, lord?”

Hakana’s ears lay flat against his head, nose twitching and eyes darting back and forth between his colleagues; nobody offered even a shade of sympathy and all assembled would not even meet his gaze, but Hakana, being a prideful old Vole, saw this as not a rebuke, but an opportunity to convince his most beloved majesty.

“Now, be fair majesty, the slate valley has long been under the sway of true brigands like the notorious Kai Lang, who have terrorized the common populace for many years. Your father tried and failed for to tame that part of the mainland and it seems that this Gutoa, through his organisational prowess or military might has brought that part of our country into civilisation. my point was not only that we should gently bring him into the fold for the good of the empire, but that he may be a valuable asset to use in the future.”

Hakana puffed out his chest and refused to wither under the glare of the empress who squinted as she chewed, her hackles still raised. Slowly she retorted after stuffing another dainty into her mouth.

“Now you speak of my father’s apparent failings and this Hamster’s superiority over the divine and everlasting emperor’s memory in such a distasteful way! This Gutoa has surely poisoned your mind with his revolutionary thinking. The bandits of the south, while wholly disregarding our laws, atleast paid tribute and deference. No, my dear Lord Hakana, this cannot stand. As remedy, I will send you with my most beautiful army to take down these usurpers to my name. Go now and dismantle this cult. That is my final word on the matter.”

With that, the empress turned away. Lord Hakana paled and shrank as he realised the gravity of what had just taken place.

“No, please my empress.”

She carried on without regarding his words.

“Lady Nitato, come and look over the sunset with me, I wish to feel nostalgic.”

A tall and beautiful weasel strode forwards, her eyes fluttering with a patronising look as she passed the old vole, whose world had closed in on him. General Akahashi clapped him upon the shoulder.

“Come now my lord, I shall instruct you on the proper use of my soldiers.”

                                 **********

In the valley of blossoms, Kusai, having wiped away the tears she had momentarily shed, looked out to the mouth of the valley where the winding river Bokke turned, she saw a flash of glittering steel and a shadow pass over the land. A column of soldiers was emerging. She sheathed her sword and bounded up the steps to the temple; her sadness turning into grim determination with every step.

The Fall Of The Hamurai – Part 1 – Blossoms In The Wind

Kusai sat on the steps of the temple, leaning on the hilt of her sword. The cool spring breeze carried flurries of delicate cherry blossoms from high up in the temple orchard, swirling across the wide stairs and lazily down the hill, to where the farmers were tending the rice terraces and leading lines of Dusk Beetles to the pastures ready for the onset of summer. Kusai sighed and was content in that moment; behind her, up the hundred or so steps, sat the imposing Aghtai Pagoda. Her master, Gutoa, would be holding court and giving the attendants a hard time for the slightest error in their strict morning routine while quietly laughing to himself.

All these things made Kusai smile as her eyes roved over the valley that stretched away from the holy hill and out into a wide, glittering harbour. It was their home. Years of hard work had raised it up from barren land and swampy paddies on the sloping sides of a derelict mound of hard clay, to a green and pleasant land in which thousands of people lived comfortably; protected by the swords of the temple-dwellers. The hundred “Hamurai” as they were being called in the provinces, were formed by the wisdom of Gutoa, who had wandered the lands for over fifty years; both defending the weak and bringing justice to tyrants.

Kusai was his first student – Long ago, she followed a trail of destruction for three weeks as he systematically dismantled a fierce bandit ring that was terrorizing a group of villages. It’s leader was a Ferret named Kai-Lang; A legendary warrior whose very presence struck fear into even the twenty-foot tall Tanuki of the mountains. Gutoa fought with Lang for hours after easily dashing his elite bodyguard to the four winds. A silent village had greeted her and a trail of bodies led to a ransacked tavern, the battered door hanging off it’s iron hinges. Cold yellow light of many buckled lanterns spilled faintly out onto the blood-stained porch. Kusai entered and found her prospective master unconscious and barely breathing, his gnarled claws still wrapped around the handle of the bandit-king’s wickedly curved blade which protruded from the matted fur of the ferret’s belly.

She carried him out into the night after picking him bodily up and wresting the crimson knife from his grasp, replacing it with the shattered remains of his own sword which he reflexively clutched to his chest. Rain washed his enemy’s copious blood away but a worrying amount remained as many wounds ran thickly all over the old hamster’s bent frame. Kusai could hardly believe this little rodent, seemingly so frail, had carved such a swath of destruction in his diminutive wake. She looked around, counting twelve bodies in the village square and terrified eyes peering from every window and behind every door.

The people slowly came out; they were mice, hamsters, voles and shrews. All beetle herders, petty craftsmen or grain farmers. Yelling was heard as the apparent tavern keeper grabbed some local men and began hauling bodies out. It was then that the crowd came together. Kusai could hear them whispering: “Could it really be Gutoa the hero?”, while she stood holding this drooping warrior under his arm. Out of it all an old female vole rushed up dragging a litter: a triangular frame of wood meant to carry the injured. She laid the litter beside Gutoa and shouted around, scolding the onlookers for allowing their saviour to stand there, letting his life’s blood drain into the gutters.

Fifteen days passed without him regaining consciousness. The old vole, who was skilled in medicine and whose name was Juki, plied her healing trade as best she knew but the prognosis looked dire. Kusai never left his side, only pacing back and forth from the small straw bed to the door. It rained constantly upon the enormous pile of offerings that the villagers had presented to Gutoa and of which she picked modestly to sustain herself, refusing all the food Juki prepared, instead feeding the thin vegetable broth slowly and carefully to Gutoa, one laborious mouthful at a time.

On the sixteenth night, Kusai could only stare mournfully out into the stormy scene which reflected the tear stains trailing down the fur of her cheeks. A creaking caused her ears to pivot back and her head followed. Over the last two weeks, Gutoa had moved very little, only shifting convulsively from one ragged wound to another. This time however, her eyes widened as they locked onto his. Gutoa, inimitable master of the sword, who had looked so tiny and impossibly frail now held her in an iron grip with those dark eyes. Pain wracked his face, but he was back.

“I have become too old it seems…to go galavanting around the countryside…you followed me all this way, I know…and you became my student the minute I entered that tavern. I will never fight again, but you will.”

Kusai slowly padded across the straw mats and bent to his side, she grasped his outstretched paw, it trembled.

“Master Gutoa, I should not have doubted that you would return to us, but I did. I am sorry.”

The old hamster batted weakly at her paw.

“Fool girl, I am not some immortal spirit…Just good at what I do…it was you who saved my life. We shall rebuild this place…The infestation that plagues these lands shall be driven out by your sword…You will teach me how much good I can do when I trust in others…I have been a fool to wait this long to train an apprentice. Now, I shall sleep the sleep of the living and not the dead. Tomorrow we change the world.”

Kusai opened her eyes to the blossoms floating on the wind, fresh tears streaming down her face as she looked out once again into the valley. She took in the sweet smells of the place that would soon be shattered by what was coming. Ten years had passed, new dangers had arisen, and a shadow loomed over them all.

To be continued.