From the Journals of Shinjo Gaemon, Daimyo of the Unicorn
For seven weeks the Ikoma have lived among us, hearing our stories of the Burning Wastes and teaching us the ways of combat within this foreign nation. We have been ordered by the Emperor to make peace with the Lion after our bloody battles of recent years. It has been a difficult journey to find harmony with the most warlike clan in this nation. To further our efforts, the Emperor Hantei has declared that the Ikoma daimyo should make his home with us for the spring, returning to the lands of their people after learning our ways, and sharing theirs.
The Lion are much like us, yet their ideals of ‘honor’ and ‘purpose’ often seem too high-minded to believe. Their daimyo, Ikoma Anakazu, speaks often to me, and his children play with mine in the fields around the castle. Our horses seem strange to them, not at all like the wilted ponies and mules which they use as battle steeds. Yet these Lion are not only swift to learn, but swift to apply that knowledge to further their combat skills.
Yesterday, as I sat with Anakazu and discussed the finer points of mounted strategy, his wife approached us, bowing low before her husband. “Our child,” she said calmly, her face peaceful and at eas, “is missing, my husband.”
It took him some time to answer, as his attention remained focused on a leaf passing by in a stream. When he spoke, his voice was as calm as hers. “Send the samurai to search the fields, the quarries, and the river.” His dismissing nod sent her to her feet, striding back the way she came. Lion women. Where most women walk, these stride – where whomen should blush and smile, they are silent and stare at you with the most unnerving gase. They are very like our Battle Maidens, for all that the Ikoma rarely send their women to war.
The evening passed, and the sun began to set beyond the high mountains of our homeland. Anakazu’s wife returned, but said nothing. The child, it seemed, had not returned. The night passed, and no word came from our guests – no pleas for assistance, no wails from the bereaved mother, only silence, and the clamor of training that went long into the darkening night.
When the sun arose, I spoke to Anakazu as his wife served us breakfast. “Shall I have the mounted scouts search?” I’m sure your child is safe somewhere – these lands, and their paths, can be confusing. My men may be of use to you.”
The Lion daimyo looked at me then, his gase measured. With a polite pause, he said, “Yes, that might be appropriate – but not until your men have completed this morning’s training. All things in their time.”
As I looked in his wife’s eyes, I knew that they would never have asked me for assistance. Although her gratitude shone behind her guarded stare, their child would have been lost forever in the rocky lands of the Unicorn before they asked for help from a stranger. Even after living among us for several weeks, the Lion would not allow themselves to admit any weakness. Perhaps the child would have died, I do not know. All I know is that every Lion I have ever met before or since would have done the same.
We searched for the child throughout the morning, until the shouts of my men declared that they had found her. Anakazu and I raced to see what had occurred. When we arrived, one of the Shinjo house guard was kneeling beside the tiny girl, his tanto out and his hand shaking. With a swift cut, he severed the head from a black viper the girl was standing upon. Her foot had landed just behind the head of the serpent, pinning it to the ground with her slight weight. Anakazu’s wife knelt beside her weary child and gathered the three-year-old into her arms.
“She must have been standing on that snake all night,” one of the guards said, gathering the body of the viper into a sack. “If she’d lifted her foot, it would’ve bitten her before she could get away. Sure as I’m alive, she’d have been cold by the time we found her.” He looked up at me and at the little girl sagging in her mother’s arms. “This little one is a brave girl, Lady Ikoma-sama. Are all your children so?”
Anakazu’s wife stood beside her husband, the child in her arms already asleep. “I have only one child,” she said as she looked into her husband’s eyes, and her voice rang with pride. “But that child…is a Lion.”
As she walked away, the Ikoma daimyo turned to me, his voice calm and emotionless. “That snake…” he pointed at the sack my bushi carried. “What do you call it?”
“It is known as a ‘tsunari,’ my Lord. The word means ‘patient death’.”
He nodded, and together we watched his Lady carry the future of the Lion back to the palace of my people.