Unable to complete his journey to the nearest way station before nightfall due to the delay caused by the side-trip to and from the hinin villageShiba Tetsujin-no Sodona spent an uncomfortable night camped out on the roadside with only a blanket to keep away the cold of the early spring night.
Tired and sore, he made for the way-station the next morning with all the haste he could muster without overly taxing his mount. He passed a pair of merchants headed the opposite direction, and was passed once by a herald galloping by on his way out of Kyuden Shiba. Eventually, the sharp eyed Phoenix bushi noted a trio of horses headed his direction flying the banner of a Clan Magistrate. Shiba Serizawa, accompanied by a yoriki and a doshin stopped and questioned Tetsujin on his activities. Tetsujin described his encounter with the ‘merchants’ and the apparently un-registered village and crops. The magistrate advised the Shiba guard that they were investigating reports of a peasant ‘harrassing’ travelers on the roadway int he area, and wanted to know if Tetsujin knew anything about this. When Tetsujin denied knowledge of any such activity, Serizawa commanded him to escort them to the village and show them the way.
Upon arrival at the village, the magistrate questioned the village head man, and had his yoriki turn out all of the citizens. Tetsujin saw no sign of Eiji among the villagers. The ‘merchants’ and their mounts were likewise nowhere to be seen. In spite of Tetsujin’s protestation, Shiba Serizawa declared the settlement guilty of growing unauthorized crops,and failure to report to the appropriate authorities. He ordered them to abandon the village and report to the lord at the nearest city for new assignments. The town, and the illegal crops were put to the torch, and Sodona Tetsujin was dismissed with a letter to account for his delay.
The rest of Tetsujin’s journey to Nikesake was relatively uneventful. The next outpost refreshed his mount, and he completed the trip with no further mishaps.
Upon arrival at Nikesake, Tetsujin was struck by the stark contrast to the other Phoenix cities he had visited. In the aftermath of two successful assaults during the War of the Twins, the city’s defenses have been re-built with the help of Kaiu engineers from the Crab to prevent a third. A new moat now encircles the enlarged outer wall and towers loom over the small crowd of people waiting at the gates to have their papers reviewed for entry. The city itself is bustling with activity. In addition to Phoenix Clansmen, the city also shows a large number of Crane samurai as always, but it also has a more recent influx of Crab and Scorpion Clan samurai – results of sanctions imposed in the wake of Shiba Tsukimi’s loss to Bayushi Nitoshi in the duel that settled the war, which left the settlement terms in the hands of the victorious Scorpion.
Once in the city, Tetsujin took time to check in at the barracks and bathe and change into formal garb to present himself to the local lord. He was greeted by the lord’s wife, Shiba Ito and her daughter, who served tea and politely discussed his journey for a short time before dismissing themselves. Journeying back through the streets, Tetsujin noticed a group of Crane laughing over an outfit imported from the Colonies, and heard several Lion and Phoenix Clan having ‘going away’ parties for comrades dismissed to service in the former Ivory Kingdoms. One group of courtiers were discussing the political ramifications of the long-delayed engagement between the Unicorn and Dragon Clan Champions. Too late to make a presentation to his charge, Tetsujin retired to the inn for the evening.
The following day, Tetsujin made the trek to the Crane district, to the estate of Daidoji Sokazawa, where his charges, Daidoji Mizue and Kakita Hojatsu were staying pending the arrival of their escort. A servant informed him that the two Crane retainers were out on duty, but invited Tetsujin to take advantage of his lord’s hospitality until they returned. After about a half hour, another servant announced that Mizue and Hojatsu were ready to receive him. Mizue and Hojatsu greeted their new escort, and treated their ‘host’ to a tea ceremony and some snacks, engaging in polite small talk and getting to know one another. They agreed to make arrangements to depart the day after next, and Hojatsu invited Tetsujin to join him for a foray to a local geisha house this evening.
Hojatsu agreed to join his new ‘charge’, and spent the evening watching artistic performances, and enjoying the company of a consort before returning to the barracks. The next day consisted of training at the dojo and completing ritual preparations for the pending pilgrimage.
Daidoji Mizue proved a slow traveling companion. Tradition required that the pilgrimage be completed on foot, so the two warriors had to hold back their normal pace for the diminutive, and slightly out of shape courtier. Fortunately, the weather held for the first two days, and the way stations were spaced with just such travelers in mind so they completed their travels each day – if only just getting in before sun down. Tetsujin learned that Mizue was a possessed of a sharp mind, and though she did not truly embrace the tenets of the tao that the two discussed to pass the time, she was able to carry on intelligent conversations and ask probing questions nonetheless. Hojatsu, for the most part, only interjected when he had a witty comment to provide. He would often travel a short distance ahead of the pair to ‘scout’ (Tetsujin suspected it was often more to get away from the conversation for a time) and wait from a vantage point, practicing his iaijutsu draw on windblown leaves until his slower charge could catch up.
The third day, the weather was not so cooperative, and the trio were quickly soaked to the skin and muddied nearly to the knee. Mizue had to try and hold her sodden parasol in one hand, and keep her kimono skirts out of the mud with the other. They were all relieved when they rounded the final bend in the climb to their destination: Toshi no Omoidasu. There was a small crowd huddled near the city walls, trying to gather under the battlements wherever possible to get out of the downpour. The soaked guards gave cursory glances at the papers of the numerous merchants and pilgrims passing through the gates, where the story of the city’s most storied citizen: Matsu Hitomi was inscribed on the walls.
Within the walls the city lay nestled among the mountain foothills. The thousands of buildings could be seen rolled out in tiers, each district a little higher and a little more opulent, with the towering estates of the kuge nobility looming like palaces among the trees of the highest hills, looking out over the rest of the city.
Tetsujin, Mizue, and Hojatsu hurried through the relatively empty streets, dodging citizens rushing through the deluge only where absolutely necessary, until they came to the inn, The Laughing Cat, where Mizue had been instructed to seek lodging. They registered with the inn-keeper and were shown to there rooms, where they deposited their belongings, and then the Crane headed to a bat=house to clean up from their journey, while Tetsujin traveled to the local barracks.
Once cleaned up, together, the three samurai went to the estate of the local lord, Agasha Tadamo, and after about an hour, was ushered in to meet with his karo, Shiba Nakano along with a handful of other visiting samurai. The group engaged in idle chatter for a while, and presented their reasons for being in the city. Once the requisite visit had been completed, Phoenix and Crane all went back to the inn for the night.
The following day was spent touring the local shrines and temples, and spending time in prayer and meditation. The City of Remembrance was one of the largest trade centers in all of Phoenix lands, but its glory had faded a little in recent years. Hear and there, minor signs of neglect could be seen, and the general feel of the city was nowhere near as expectant as was the city of Nikesake. The Agasha family was given governance of the city from the Shiba when they joined the Phoenix. The Agasha were among the hardest hit with the destruction of their mountain city fortress at the hands of Scorpion saboteurs during the War of the Twins. In order to rebuild, taxes had been raised, but with the re-location of the Imperial capital away from Otosan Uchi – the city was no longer as near to the center of things as it had once been. Afterward, The Kakita invited Tetsujin to join him in ‘checking out’ the local sake houses, to which Tetsujin reluctantly agreed, while Daidoji Mizue rested from the long journey.
The second morning in Toshi no Omoidasu, Daidoji Mizue announced her intention to ‘attend to her affairs’ at the inn. Kakita Hojatsu assured Shiba Tetsujin that it would be dreadfully boring, and that the inn’s security would be more than enough to assure his charge’s safety. The duelist invited Tetsujin to join him in touring the city instead. Tetsujin dutifully, but politely declined, and spent the day watching Mizue meet with a string of merchants and go over documents and discuss things that Tetsujin did not fully understand – and since it appeared to do with commerce – had no desire to understand. Tetsujin declined another invitation to join Hojatsu in his carousing, and spent the evening in study and meditation.
The next morning, Tetsujin once again refused to join Mizue’s yojimbo on his exploration of the city, and spent the day watching over the Daidoji’s business dealings. It was becoming clear that this ‘pilgrimage’ was essentially a palatable cover for some kind of commercial endeavor. Once again, Mizue met with several local merchants, and one Yasuki trader before announcing that she would be spending the rest of the afternoon preparing to observe a local geisha house that Hojatsu insists was worth investigation. Unable to refuse to accompany both of his charges. Tetsujin agreed to join them and retired to his chambers to prepare.