The Emperor waits.
White rain falls and dark earth waits.
Three falcons, red blood.
I, of course, was not present at the Battle of Jato Valley. The Fox Clan was not involved in this skirmish between the Great Clans, and our presence would have been looked at with great anger and disdain by Matsu Tsuko, the Lion Clan general. She would have viewed the inclusion of a small clan of no particular renown in her day of glory as an affront. And her rage at our clan being the witness to her ensuing shame would have been great indeed.
And, of course, I was only seven years old.
Jato Valley is a geographic location of little significance other than this battle. It lies between the Lion and Crane lands, in a small bit of land flanked by a granite mountain range to the north and a small river to the south. It is the homeland of the Falcon, a small Clan similar to our own in size and influence. How could they have angered the Fortunes so? To bring such calamity into their quiet corner of the Empire? I have visited their crumbling keep many times in my studies, and the only stories that Toritaka Yaki tells with any vigor are of the Battle of Jato Valley. As if that one day of blood and sorrow has forever dimmed the past, obscuring the older tales of his clan’s former glory.
I, of course, agree with him – but I would never dishonor the elder’s clan by voicing such thoughts out loud.
For the Battle of Jato Valley did much to obscure the light of many great samurai, and as my studies dare to suggest – continue to darken the honor of many of the Great Clans.
My apologies, honored reader. I write these words as if all were clear to you. We always write as if our time in this world is the only time, and that the things we deem of import shall remain so on down the ever spinning gyre of the wheel. As a young student I was often keenly aggravated by the ancient scholars prattling on for turns and turns of the scroll, before finally making it clear the thrust of their tale. So, I shall speak as if I am long dust, and you know nothing. For, if I may politely remark, when I was a student I knew a great deal of nothing myself.
Please accept my profound apologies. I am certain you are a credit to your clan, and your ancestors.
The Battle of Jato Valley is a riddle. A circumstance that still troubles the students of bushido, the priests of the kami, and lowly scholars such as myself. It concerns the most grave breach of the Celestial Order – a betrayal beyond the ken of the Sun and Moon.
The Emperor had three sons. And then he had three enemies. Blood against blood, the most shocking sacrilege. They fled the Voice of Heaven and took refuge with their allies in the one place they knew would receive them. The hall of Toritaka Yaki, their archery instructor as children — and a defensible position. None of the Great Houses would have dared to shelter them — but the Falcon spread its wings and brought them into the nest.
Hantei Pono. Otomo Tekiko. Otomo Yoru. 17,15 and 10. The heir to the throne and his two younger brothers – the greatest criminals the Empire has ever known.
I take quite a risk writing their names, here in fresh ink. The Emperor has made it a crime to ever refer to them from now until the End of Time. If I were a wiser scholar I would blot them, but I have an unfortunate flaw in my character. I pray that my honored reader will do their best to ignore my indiscretion.
When the Hantei himself stood over their broken bodies, he is said to have called for fire. He took the brand in his own hand, and poured the pitch over them — taking great care, of course, to never touch them. The flames burned for hours, leaving only their bones. The Emperor had their remains put into three jars and had them painted with the mon of the Falcon.
Matsu Tsuko carried the jars herself, and laid them at the feet of the Falcon daimyo and spat in his face.
“The Emperor commands you to keep these urns with you always.” She is recorded as saying. ” These Falcon traitors, these three sons of Toritaka shall forever be a reminder of the dishonor you have brought to your Clan.”
The Lion general then turned and stalked out of the hall, speaking no words of her own dishonor that day.
For the overwhelming force she had brought to bear against the pitiful rabble that had dishonored themselves so greatly to serve the Three Falcons had paid dearly for her arrogance. The Battle of Jato Valley is one of the few defeats that the Matsu had ever experienced, and with such high stakes – the very honor of the Emperor himself, ah. She had thought to fight an easy skirmish, outnumbered her enemy five to one.
The Matsu’s army won the day — but only at the price of half her army. The Three Falcons and their allies, ronin all, fought like gods of death.
They showed the truth in their souls. And for such dishonored men to show such strength, is perhaps the most disturbing portion of this tale for many of my respected colleagues.
Honor is the samurai’s might. How could these vilest of traitors have faced down so many of the Empire’s best?
I, of course, have a notion.
- Kitsune Miho