Between Crimson Skies

the Next Day ...

the continuing story of the Roku-teens

The winds swirl, heavy with the tiny, cutting bits of ice. Though not yet the flurries that will cause an end to all travel till the thaws, the snows are more than a nuisance. They force the two young men to shield tender faces and especially sensitive eyes with the voluminous Kimono sleeves. The two hurry across the open square that only this morning held over a hundred Samurai in the strong morning sun.
The two youths shake the snow off of the starched shoulders of the stiff Haori that they have donned not just for the formal evening but also for the warmth the outer-coats offer. The Emerald Dragons emerge on one’s shoulders, the Azure Crane on the others.
The Dragon boy’s eyebrows are drawn together in a semi-permanent scowl. It is an expression he has been unconsciously aping from his Honorable Uncles face for so long that he has forgotten when he used to practice it in the ponds of the family gardens. When his uncle informed Tsuneo that he would accompany him on this important mission into the lands of the Crane, the practiced expression allowed him to hide the twin forces of excitement and terror that threatened to overcome the dignity he had clung to precariously since his Gempukku the preceding summer. His unease continued to battle his pride at being the only youth in the entire retinue, and he spent most of the long journey to Gisu castle with his mouth pressed into a thin white line, hoping that with his silence he could maintain the thin veil of worldliness he hoped he presented. He had nearly broken into a relieved smile this morning when he saw the two young Cranes and the Phoenix whose company promised a welcome change after the breakneck speed the insane Unicorn Caravan Master had set.
“Wait, wait please honorable Doji-San, but I simply CANNOT believe that you mean what you are saying ! So sorry, I must not be understanding you for what you say sounds impossible !”
Doji Bakkasun entertained a brief smile before he answered, “I have no wish to contradict you, Agasha-Sama, but I speak only truth. I myself would be as skeptical as you, but these are the things that EVERYONE is saying. So sorry, but even the most impeccable Kitsu Inara was telling these things to her friend, the accomplished Kakita Tsukune when they had tea earlier.”
“But ! But it’s IMPOSSIBLE !”
WHAT is impossible, Agasha Tsuneo-Sama ? That the famous and illustrious Kitsu Inara would take tea with my unworthy cousin ? Or that Doji-San would be privy to what they discussed ? I can assure you of BOTH, for he had the tale of it directly from ME !”
The pair of young men swing around quickly to the sight of two women, young as they but so beautifully dressed that they are both overcome with deep stirrings. Doji Bakkasun flashes a grateful smile at the vision in white before him, but her eyes are only for the young Dragon, and seeing the fire within them, he is glad he is not their target. He glances over to the Phoenix girl, radiant in crimson and gold, hoping for some sign of solidarity from that corner, but the Shugenja is ALSO glaring at the Dragon in support of her friend.
“If I have in any way implied anything but respect for your family Kakita Minasu-San, or your cousin whose skill is known far and wide, or to yourself, whose honor is as without stain as your snow-white hair, I apologize immediately. I just find it difficult to believe that the events of this court have occurred in a manner straight out of an ancient tale, with heroic Bushi felling Bandits, Ronin and even Barbarian hordes, magnificent Shugenja performing legendary deeds and magics beyond those of normal men, a game that ensnares all at court, pitting great minds against each other in manners both low and high promising impossible answers for the victors, and above all else, LOVERS scheming to win the hand of fair princess while other women fight openly over a roguish, all-but-ronin Bushi, and a marriage that was arranged between orphans long ago, the two never meeting, but suddenly blossoming into a love to overcome the hurdles of cultures, fortune and all else.”
Through his long speech, the dragon has lost his scowl, slowly trading it for a look of honest incredulity, and finally to something that must be admitted as regret.
The two girls, not used to the great game played by men and women throughout all time, cannot maintain an icy composure in the face of this. They look to each other briefly, before the Phoenix nods ever so slightly to her friend.
“Well, just because the Agasha-Sama had the bad luck to arrive at court so late doesn’t mean ALL is lost. Tonight is promised an even that may surpass all that has gone before, for BOTH the Kuni-Sama, renowned as a great teller of tales by all from the lowest Heimin to the Great Lion himself, AND Kakita Nintoku, celebrated tale spinner of the Imperial Court, have agreed to tell the story of the Battle for Gisu Castle tonight.”
Kakita Minasu’s smile is genuine and expansive, her excitement lightens her face, hinting at the beauty she has yet to fully grow into. Beside her, the enchantment woven by Isawa Shiara owes nothing to the Kami and all to her own glowing youth and enthusiasm.
The two girls are holding hands and nearly jumping up and down with each other, oblivious to the open mouth wonder on the two boys nearby.
The dragon recovers first, “I can think of no better experience for my entire life than to be allowed to accompany this honored Crane to the dinner before us, unless she is truly a Kami and not human, which at this point I would have no choice but to believe with all my heart.”
The Girl flutters her fan, and staring, accepts the arm of the Bushi.
“Uh, I too would gladly die a thousand deaths, and be dragged in the mud for a million ri, and would, uh …”
“Oh for the sake of all the Ancestors ! If I will go with you and take you arms will you PLEASE just stop talking Doji-San ?”
Isawa Shikara takes the boys arm before he can reply, and tugs him into the dining room.

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