The Empire Reborn
Phoenix Journal 1
Light and Dark
In the House of the Emperor, all was still and dark.
The halls were empty. The tea rooms had no stoves burning. The many dojos were empty of master and student both. The halls of the Kami were devoid of worshiper. The gardens were filled only with the rustling of trees, who even in the dead of night swayed in time with the wind’s desire.
It was only in the stillness of night that one could truly hear the heart of this place. No matter the date or occasion, Otosan Uchi was never quiet.
Skittering footsteps, as light as air. An assassin, some disciple of arts forbidden and yet always present? A mouse seeking an unattended meal? A Geisha, helping some fool trade their eternal honor for fleeting pleasure? It matters not, as the sounds fade away, no more permanent than the bubbles on a stream.
Otosan Uchi is a puzzle to me. A contradiction, a riddle, a mystery. I have learned never to relax here, never to trust it. The wealth and comfort and joviality that fills its halls in the daylight are matched only by the intrigue and deception and loss wrought in its halls. Men come here to rise; men come here to fall.
My sensei said to me once long ago, that all the words spoken in Otosan Uchi must go somewhere. Some take root in the minds of men, some in its flesh, and the rest must settle in its walls. With so many words in its walls, how can this place still stand? When first I came here, I foolishly thought that the creaking floors at night were just the weight of so many words settling into the place. Does that mean my creaking bones are those same words stuck in me?
It has taken many years, but I no longer hate this place.
Tonight, as I shall every night so long as I am able, I am sitting in the antechamber outside Isawa-sama’s sleeping chamber. My Daisho rests on left hip, my hands rest on my thighs, my eyes rest on the slowly burning incense stick across from me and my mind rests on the picture above the incense.
The point of light travels slowly across the length of incense; sometimes red, sometimes orange. It is a fragile thing, and seems only just able to hold back the blackness. Only just, but the occasional flicker of light illuminates the picture above. I look at Shiba, Shiba looks at me. Shiba kneels here every night in service to Isawa; Isawa becomes the Phoenix Clan Thunder and protects all of the Empire. I kneel here every night in service to Isawa’s decendant, and…
Her voice is soft and unexpected. It is not yet the the Hour of the Rabbit, when normally she first stirs. Sunrise is still distant. I slide open the screen to her room.
“Isawa-sama, I am here.”
I turn towards movement in the hall; her attendants are approaching.
“Asaka-dono, it is first your forgiveness that I must implore. It should never be my desire to see the stillness of your vigil disrupted without cause.”
Her room is dark and cold and I see nothing in it. I know that she has sat up and is bowing deeply to me; deeper than is proper, but not so deep as to mock. I grunt. No words are needed, but Isawa-sama would wait for them all the same.
“We are summoned to a most urgent meeting. It is known to me that you care little for surprises, but I cannot honorably refuse. If it please you, make the Three Pine Rotunda ready for Cha no Yu.”
I looked towards her attendants but they were already bowing and withdrawing.
The garden grounds were empty when we reached them. The remaining silvers of unmelted snow drifted across our path with every gust of wind. The moon was but a thin crescent in the sky, dulled further by the path of angry clouds. She walked with an unhurried pace, eyes down turned as usual. My eyes were up, but there was no one in the garden to see us or bring harm to her.
As we reached the stairs up to Three Pine Rotunda, I first heard the rapid exertions of her attendants. She glided up the stairs, hair whipping in the wind. Her attendants had done what best they could, but in the cold and wet the fire was not yet lit. I saw that the normal seat for a yojimbo had been cleared and took my place, still watchful. An attendant approached Isawa-sama, but her words were lost in the blustery wind. Isawa-sama’s reply however, was not.
“Our guest is already present and we will need to pay him every respect and adoration. It was the magnificent Osano-Wo whom invited us here, and it is with him that I shall perform Cha no Yu.”
To their credit, the two attendants bowed gracefully and joined me on the side of the platform. Isawa-sama sat in the normal place, opposite from the wind and rolling clouds. She muttered a small prayer, and a mote of fire leapt from her palm igniting the flame needed to heat the water.
And without any further pretense, she began the tea ceremony. To say any more to describe what happened would be to dishonor what occurred. It is at the instruction of great Shinsei and Doji herself that Cha no Yu was created, and no words of mine will ever equal it. It was done and done well and brought stillness and peace to my heart.
When the ceremony was done, Isawa-sama spoke,
“I must thank you again Asaka-dono for your indulgence of this disruption. If it please you, would you care to watch Lady Amaterasu return to us again?”
She patted the ground near her. I rose and approached her. I bowed deeply then sat to her right, facing the brightening sky. The glowing halo of Amaterasu filled the sky before us, heralding her immanent return. As the great Celestial dance played out, the light of Lady Sun began to pierce the fading clouds with spears of light. Within a few moments the shrouds in the sky had faded completely, allowing the full beauty of day to blossom.
The sunrise completed, Isawa-sama turned to me and bowed again.
“It was so kind of the great Osano-Wo to come and advise us of his arrival. He had come to pay homage to our great Emperor and had brought blessings enough for the entire city with him.”
My face must have betrayed something, as she paused and looked quizzically at me.
“Be without fear, Asaka-dono. Osano-Wo shall return to us tonight with the full measure of his gifts for Emperor and Rokugan alike. He has shown great kindness to this one and agreed to this small delay. It is well known that Doji-sama is hosting dignitaries from the many Clans today in the Kinkaku-Ji gardens. If there is be hope for peace in our blessed Rokugan, it lies there today. May the blessings and wisdom of the Thousand Fortunes descend upon all in attendance.”
She bowed then towards the rising sun, stood and walked away.
In the House of the Emperor, all was dark.
Outside the House of the Emperor, winds blew and lightning split the sky. The clouds had rolled in, swift and dark as the last light of the sun was in the sky. The stillness of the night was gone completely, overwhelmed by shuttered windows crashing and the reverberations of thunder.
I sit in that same darkness again, with only a pin-prick of light keeping track of the long night.
I look at Shiba; Shiba looks at me. Nothing is said. Nothing needs to be said.
And it is in the darkness that I will sit, every night so long as I am able.