The Gozoku

Chapter One: The Crane


“A samurai is immensely loyal to those in his care.

To those he is responsible for, he remains fiercely true.”

- Akodo’s “Bushido”


Doji Raigu had only been a boy when his father had died in Kyuden Doji, his body finally overcome by the wounds given to him in battle more than ten years ago. The Ancestral Sword, the mantle of leadership; both of these were things that many Crane had thought the sixteen year-old too green, too new, to wield.

They had been wrong.

Six years had passed, and the Crane Clan had only grown stronger. Raigu’s stiff, unyielding sense of justice and duty had led his clan to greater heights in both the courts and the marketplaces; the traitorous Yasuki suffered for their insolence, and the rest of the clans were fed by the bounty of Crane fields. Already there were those among his people who considered Doji Raigu to be nearly the equal to his lord, Hantei Fuwija, in control and power…

That was before the coming of Oni no Usu to ravage the lands of the Kuni, and the commands of the Emperor on his throne.

* * *

Hantei Fuwija was not a young man any longer, but it would be years before the Shining Prince was referred to by any as “venerable” or “old.” Dressed in the Imperial Armor, the Emperor rode into the city to the sound of cheers and jubilation; enthusiasm that was only partly forced, added to and intensified by the careful preparations of the courtiers of the Phoenix and the Crane.

Raigu watched from the walls of the Forbidden City as the Emperor, his second cousin, lived through the crowd with every cry and shower of pale cherry blossoms that filled the air. The Crane Champion himself had little use for the fanfare and self-love that seemed to accompany others to power; that was not bushido, the only code that the samurai had ever learned to trust.

Not that he would ever deny the Shining Prince his place in the glory; that was his duty, to shine out to the Empire as he walked in the sun.

“Raigu-sama,” a voice chirped from behind him, “it is nearly time for our lord’s parade to end.”

The Crane Champion turned smoothly, his pale, sharp-cheeked face as always in an atypical calm. Dressed in his family’s armor, Raigu was beautiful to the newcomer; his long white hair was braided down to almost his waist, and he wore his daisho with a focused, yet weightless ease. Kakita Chikuma had always admired her lord for his strength and honor…and his beauty, she admitted with an inner sigh.

Chikuma represented one of the strongest Crane in Fuwija’s courts; her dark hair was perfectly arranged, and her face was painted lightly, accenting the green in her eyes. A kimono patterned with feathers and sunlight covered her perfectly, though if these things affected Raigu he did not show them in the least.

“See to it that all things have been prepared properly, Chikuma-san,” the Doji Lord said evenly. “I will let nothing disturb the peace of the Emperor, after his battle and long ride.”

The courtier bowed low to him, her green eyes set like an archer towards the goal. “You need not concern yourself, Raigu-sama. I have already done so, and will do so again.” As the girl turned, she hesitated for a moment, as if caught between decisions.

“That is not like you, Chikuma-san,” her Champion said, his dark eyes catching every motion. “A Crane must strike once, and make it perfect. Speak now, and be done.”

“I apologize,” she said, blushing slightly at the reprimand. Doji Raigu was seldom harsh with his servants, but it was even more seldom that he let such slight failures slide by. “It seems that Lord Hantei became well acquainted with the Crab Clan’s daimyo, Hida Nobuyoshi; they discussed many matters while Nobuyoshi’s soldiers saluted the Emperor’s many glories…”

Raigu smiled. “It is good to see that Nobuyoshi understood enough to give the Emperor his proper placement; it is rare that Akodo’s call for courtesy gets through to the Hida.”

The courtier nodded briskly, knowing from experience that Raigu preferred an honorable opponent, even if it cost the Crane some ground. “The Hantei has been deceived, Lord Raigu. Nobuyoshi has lied to him, told him that the Daidoji and the Lion Clan conspired against his people. The blame for Oni no Usu’s attacks on the Kuni Provinces have been laid upon these two clans.”

Raigu showed no sign of outward worry or emotion; his hand touched the Ancestral Sword of the Crane lightly; one of the few signs that told his inner state that Chikuma had ever found. The Champion knew that there had been no such agreement…he also knew that the Daidoji had been dealing with the Yasuki’s punishments for several years. It had never been more than a direct answer to a breech of shido; Raigu himself had never met a Yasuki, so he bore them no personal hate.

He had done what was required of a samurai…and now the Crab threatened to hang him with those deeds.

“We will trust in the wisdom of the Shining Prince, Chikuma-san,” the Crane bushi said after a long moment. “’Replace fear with caution and respect.’”

The courtier smiled at her lord’s quotation of Bushido, “We should go, Lord Raigu.”

Below the two Crane, a final cheer went up from the living city of Otosan Uchi, announcing that their Emperor, their hero, had come home.

* * *

Beneath his helm and armor, Hantei Fuwija’s face was blunt and soft, belaying his power as he took his place upon the Emerald Throne. The Emperor had been dressed in golden robes marked with a single green crab; a gift, no doubt, from their grateful daimyo and a sign of the favor that was ready to fall. Raigu stood to the left of the throne and tried to read what was to come from his master, but the tilt of the Hantei’s tall hat blocked his eyes.

“It is good to be back in my home,” the Emperor said to the Imperial Court coolly. “You honor yourselves, to have kept the Empire safe in my absence, attending to the matters of the Crab Clan.”

The courtiers bowed and saluted their leader; Raigu did not move as the Emperor sat back and placed his hands smoothly on the sides of the ancient stone structure. He could already hear the court retelling how the Hantei had led the Legions to victory against Oni no Usu; such murmurs were beneath him, and nothing his people did not already know.

“Now, come forth Daimyo of the Crane.”

Doji Raigu moved effortlessly to stand before the Shining Prince, and then knelt to his superior, his dark eyes silent as he greeted his second cousin with the automatic words of thanks and praise. Fuwija’s eyes were visible now, and from the glint that they carried the Doji knew his heart and soul.

“You have much to answer for, Raigu,” the Emperor said coldly, regarding the much younger man with a critical gaze. Fuwija’s hand rubbed his kimono as he spoke; a nervous gesture, but one that raised the Crane’s attention to something hidden just below. “The Crane share a part of the blame for Oni no Usu’s attacks with their slander on the Yasuki, and the death of many Crab bushi I lay upon you. I have spoken with Lord Nobuyoshi on the matter.”

The Champion of the Crane looked up at his master. “You have not spoken with me, Lord Fuwija. Please, permit the Crane to…”


The abruptness of the Emperor’s words shocked the Doji; he showed none of it, but to those who knew what to look for, the expression was clear. Hantei Fuwija rose, his hat slipping back slightly as he did, “Your actions have already given me the answer, Raigu. There is nothing more to be discussed here.”

Behind him, the court grew loud with whispered rumors. Doji Raigu rose and bowed deeply, “Then so be it, by the will of the Hantei.” He waited, expecting the final command.

It never came. Fuwija’s warrior eyes flashed darkly, but there was some respect still present in those eyes. “It is good to see that you have not neglected bushido in my absence, Raigu. I suggest that you leave now for Shiro Daidoji,” the Emperor punctuated the issue with a snap of his fan, “and see that your servants there follow the Code as you do.”

The Lord of the Crane walked easily from the court, his mind deeply troubled as the daimyo of the Akodo stepped forward to bear his part of the answer, atoning for the accusations of the Hida not with his words, but with three long cuts of his grandfather’s blade.

* * *

The Emperor had nearly been slain.

Raigu’s mind did not dwell on the insults of the Crab to his honor as he walked through the hallways of the Forbidden City; the young Doji had seen something that had terrified him even more than such slander, hidden beneath the high hat and the long Hida kimono. Hantei Fuwija bore bandages on his right arm, and just above his right temple…

A half a hand to one side, and the Lord of Rokugan could have been slain.

Doji Raigu had never cared for the Hantei personally; he harbored only the love for his lord, not the fierce personal devotion of a wife or a personal friend. It was the kind of devotion that would allow him to die for Rokugan, not the selfish feelings born from desire and lust. That feeling seemed to choke him as he moved through the shadowed halls was what could have befallen the Empire, had such a thing happened.

Fuwija’s son had only turned twelve this summer; the lines of succession would have brooked a regent in power; something that would never be tolerated by the iron hand of the Hantei. Both father and son were people covetous of power; Hantei Kusada would have forced himself too soon upon the Emerald Empire, damaging the new laws of his father, simply on the innocence of the zeal.

Raigu’s hand rubbed against the handle of Shujuko, the Ancestral Sword, but the presence of the spirits of the Crane Thunders gave the Doji no sense of peace. The man’s dark eyes turned as the sound of light footsteps alerted him, “You should not be here, Chikuma-san. The Crane have need of your voice before the Emperor at this moment.”

“The Emperor has retired to his room, Lord Raigu.” The courtier’s pretty face was wrinkled in thought as she spoke, and the Kakita then said more. “It seems that there was something troubling His Lordship this evening…”

“He was injured in the battle against Oni no Usu,” the Champion responded, moving to the edge of the open hallway and watching the fireflies beginning to flicker in the dying light. “He was nearly slain, I gather, from some creature that penetrated the Legion’s lines during combat.”

Chikuma closed her eyes in annoyance. “He should not have been there.”

Raigu smiled at the notion. “He is the Emperor, Chikuma-san. He may walk where he pleases, and do what he will.”

The courtier bowed to her superior, but he could see that she did not share his opinion. Chikuma had spent a lifetime with the Miya; she knew the power that came from the image of the Hantei on his throne. The thought that the Shining Prince could lose his life in such an insignificant conflict was disheartening to her the more she considered it.

“The Empire would be safer,” Raigu admitted finally, “if the Emperor remained upon his throne.”


So It Begins.