An Imperial Party
V. Talk is Cheap

A cold wind blew across Dragon Heart Plain, which made sense, since winter was settling in. At the northernmost part of the Dragon Heart Plain, where stood Shiro Morito, five men stood in an uneasy situation, the sound of that cold wind the only thing keeping a single moment in time from falling into complete silence.

Seppun Koriyei stood inside the door of the Imperial Guesthouse of Shiro Morito, eyes wide as he saw Miya Kanatei leaning against the wall in a daze while Seppun Yamaedo sheltered Otomo Dajan behind him as he pointed his sword at the monk, Ugo, whose body still stood partly in shadow. Dressed as a sohei, only his eyes were visible through his clothing, the rest of his body swathed in veils and bandages to cover the marks left by the rituals of the Temple of Osano-Wo. And as those eyes showed, they were wide open, fixed on the wrist of the gauntleted hand holding the sword, waiting for the beginning of motion at which moment the monk would either flee or fall.

The shugenja stepped forward, putting himself before the monk and dangerously close to the unsheathed blade of the miharu, who growled in an unnervingly menacing tone, "Cousin, mark what you do."

The reply was, as ever, uncannily calm. "Cousin, I mark well my deed. Mark you that you have withdrawn your blade from its sheath and leveled it at a man of the Tao as a guest of our host."

"I saw him move in the shadows, and reacted as I have been trained."

"Ah, then we have another misunderstanding about us. You may, of course, stand down, cousin. There is no danger now." Yamaedo nodded and returned his blade to its waiting saya, releasing his grip on Otomo Dajan, who proceeded to straighten his kimono. Miya Kanatei, finally overcoming his shock, stood again, and the four young Imperials turned as one to regard the monk as he stepped out of the hallway into the foyer. The shisha, now fully in command of his faculties, began.

"Brother Monk, we apologize for the circumstances of our introduction to you. I am Miya Kanatei, herald to Otomo Dajan here," a gesture at the now primped seiyaku, who gazed imperiously at the monk, "who is served by Seppun Yamaedo, the miharu whom I believe you have met, and Seppun Koriyei, the shugenja whom I believe you have also met." The two men nodded as they were named. "Tell us, Brother Monk, what brings you here this day?"

"I am, as you can certainly see, one of the sohei, the monks who follow the Path of Osano-Wo. I studied at the temple upon the Plain of Thunder, not too far from your own home, noble shisha. There are, however, many other temples in the Empire, and I wished to see some of them, and so with the permission of the Master of the Temple, Hyakujo, I journeyed first to the Four Temples, then into the Phoenix lands to visit Holy Home village. From there I went to Seido Jurojin by way of Reihaido Uikku, and from there had intended to speak with the ise zumi in Dragon lands. Alas, I was beset by bandits, only to be saved by a wandering Ox patrol. They told me that their lord, Morito, would welcome the counsel of a monk, and bade me come here with them. I have spoken many times with Morito-sama, and he assigned me rooms here, saying something about the Emperor being the head of Shintao and so as one of his servants I was welcome to dwell in the part of his house that is here. So here I am."

"The Lord Morito is indeed generous. So, Brother Monk, what were your experiences of the Four Temples?"

"Those shrines and the castle they surround are far more beautiful than anything I have seen before or since. I do not have the words to properly describe them, and so will not try. At one point I even saw the Shinpu, but did not have the opportunity to speak to him; he is a very busy man, but even from the distance I saw him at, I could tell that much peace resides within him, and he will come to enlightenment very soon." As the monk spoke, the expressions of both of the Seppun lightened, and Koriyei began as Ugo finished.

"I served in those temples for a time, and had my gempukku in the eastern one. I am pleased that you enjoyed your stay there." Yamaedo followed up, saying, "I was born and earned my adulthood in Kyuden Seppun, and my parents currently reside there. Your reverence for the second home of the Emperor, now the home of the Empress Toturi II," Dajan coughed slightly into his hand, and Kanatei paled slightly, "is commendable, and I think I shall take this opportunity to apologize personally; I would not have drawn steel upon you had I seen you more clearly."

"Think nothing of it, Seppun-sama; the miharu are greatly regarded for their unwavering devotion to their duties, and you were merely executing yours."

"If you will excuse me, Brother Monk, Dajan-sama, I must attend to those duties now and inspect our rooms."

Dajan nodded slightly, and Ugo bowed deeply as the armored miharu stalked off. Kanatei addressed the monk. "My companion's discourse about those who operate under pretense aside, I thank you for your kind words concerning his home. He has been lately under much stress."

"And he has borne every bit of it well. More, my words were not simple pleasantries meant to soothe, but descriptions woefully inadequate in their understatement. But I ramble." Turning to Koriyei he said, "I was intending to go to the small shrine inside this wall. Would you care to accompany me? I think that Koshin could do with having a word of thanks from you, among others." Koriyei nodded, and left with the monk. Kanatei and Dajan alone remained in the foyer.

"Well, shisha, what do you think of this visit so far?"

"Truthfully, Dajan-sama, I do not know what to think. My training seems to have been of more use than yours at this point, but that might well be from the greater removal of the Otomo from the Clans; the Miya have always been close to the people, while the Otomo have greater concerns."

"This is true, but one of my concerns is always the proper execution of my orders. I feel as though I am thwarted at every turn by these uncultured Oxen, as though they are baiting me into dishonoring myself and my family."

"That does not sound to me like the descriptions I have heard of the Ox; born of the Unicorn as they are, one would think them more open and honest than you describe them. It sounds almost as though they are deceiving many people."

Dajan's expression lightened. "Thank you, Miya-san. I think that I might have to look into what they may be hiding."

"I do not understand what they may have to hide."

"Well, we shall simply have to find that out, won't we?" Dajan looked to the side suddenly, and saw Yamaedo returning. "What of our rooms?"

"Dajan-sama, the rooms are ready. They seem safe, the walls solid, and they are much better-appointed than the guest-house in the outer wall."

"Only seem safe?"

"They are doubtlessly riddled with places to observe our dealings, and anything that one can see through one can strike through. Still, I do not think that any place in this area is not, and if there are observation-holes, they are so well-hidden that I could not find them. They are thus likely not well-suited to arrow fire, and likely are more for listening in than looking in. But Koriyei commented to me before we left that he had a spell useful against places where there are too many ears, so I think we can give him the opportunity to refine his command of the kami."

"Very astute, Yamaedo-san. I accept your report; you may do as you will until sunset tonight, at which time I expect you to be waiting outside of my room in something other than your armor. I will take my meal at that time, and etiquette requires that I have my yojimbo with me."

"Understood." Yamaedo turned and went up to his room. The smaller Dajan and the meek Kanatei followed more slowly. The latter asked himself what he had started, while the former ran through possibilities in his mind, resolving to speak to his contacts before the day was done.