This week’s episode was written by Steve Diamond, who is playing Ide Todo.
Ide Todo is a pacifist, who tries to solve problems through negotiation and intelligence, as opposed to clubbing problems with a tetsubo. He’s a consumate politician, and the leader of the Paper Lanterns. He has become increasingly important as the campaign has gone on and now he is a mover and a shaker. During the Night of Assassins he was injured in an attempted murder by a ninja. So his 2nd in command and his bodyguard have decided that it is about time that Ide Todo learned to defend himself.
The Proper End of a Bokken
Ide Todo lowered himself slowly to the bench. His sweat-laden robe clung to his body and every muscle ached. In his travels he had observed countless duels and now he had witnessed more than his fair share of skirmishes and battles. Still, in all that time Ide Todo had never been the one to pick up a bokken, much less a dai tsuchi. He knew his place, and that place was court.
But the events of the past few days had changed that thinking.
Todo stretched his neck from side to side, then worked his back. In the center of the courtyard Hida Makoto eyed him. The Crab’s face was a study in neutrality. Did he want to laugh at his new student or berate him? Why can’t he exercise such emotional control when talking to anyone outside the warrior brotherhood? Todo wondered.
Chiyoko stood where she was in the most ideal position to respond to any threat. She still had trouble meeting Todo’s eyes. What was he to do with her? She took the blame upon herself for the injuries Todo has sustained, and had begged for the right to perform seppuku. Todo had denied her request of course. He knew where the true blame should be placed.
At his own feet.
He had been blessed by the fortunes thus far, that much was obvious to Ide Todo. How else could one explain living through so many violence-filled encounters? His companions had kept him from death thus far, but other people’s skills could only go so far. When the goju had attacked, Todo had watched his life flash before his eyes. He had been in the wrong position with no real knowledge on how to protect himself, and had nearly been killed for it. His yojimbo had claimed dishonor for failing, but surely that failing had belonged to Todo himself for not being in the best position to be protected.
And so Todo was here in the courtyard, trying not to show his complete exhaustion after only a few minutes of training at the hands of Makoto. Todo clung to his pride and refused to show just how tired he was. He had the feeling both Makoto and Chiyoko easily saw through his posturing.
“Again,” Makoto said. His voice was flat, but left no doubt as to who was in command in this situation.
“Instruct me, Makoto,” Todo said as he rose from his seat. He stretched his legs which felt devoid of strength. “Where do I need to improve?”
“Do you truly wish my honest assessment, Todo-sama?”
“When I instructed you on the basics of etiquette,” Todo replied, “I told you what you needed to hear, regardless of how hard it would be to take. How can a samurai learn if no one tells him what he does wrong? I would expect nothing less than the truth of you.”
Makoto winced, his first expression of emotion so far. “Then I will tell you the truth Todo-sama. You will never be a great warrior. Not even close.” Todo noticed that Chiyoko’s balance shifted ever so slightly. This was not the time for her honor to get in the way of truth.
Ide Todo let out a laugh and forced a smile onto his face. Tension drained from the courtyard, and Chiyoko resumed her previous stance. “Makoto, my friend, you tell me nothing new.” He walked forward and rested his hand on the big man’s shoulder. “I wasn’t born to be a warrior, and I don’t expect one of even your immense skill to change the Fortunes’ plan for me. No, I simply ask that you show me how to keep out from under foot in a skirmish, and how to keep from stabbing myself in the neck when attempting to protect myself.”
“The best way to keep from stabbing yourself is to wield a blunt weapon, Todo-sama,” Makoto said in perfect seriousness.
Todo laughed again and patted his friend’s shoulder. “Truer words have rarely been spoken. But in the case that I cannot carry one of those enormous dai tsuchi into battle, what can I do?”
Makoto nodded and rubbed a hand over his jaw. “You are wise to know your limitations. However in order to best understand how to defend yourself, you will at the very least need the most basic training in a few varied weapons. Will you trust me in this?”
From the balcony of the courtyard in the shadow of a pillar, Akimi watched the process. Ide Todo was practically helpless at this stage, and a part of her wanted to call out Hida Makoto for wasting his time.
But the other part of her was impressed with the both of them. With Hida Makoto for wishing to mold even this unworkable piece of clay into something slightly better, and with Ide Todo for wanting to become a better man and a better samurai. The two of them were like an odd set of brothers, though they would likely deny it. Akimi had caught brief snippets of conversation where Todo would instruct Makoto in the ways of the court. It only made sense that there was a measure of exchange.
She had to admit, Makoto was very good at training. Whether it be the growing troops of the Paper Lanterns or his leader, Ide Todo, the results were always for the better. Of course it took a mind willing to learn, and Todo certainly had that.
And hour passed and still she watched the training. Amazingly Todo seemed to be adapting to the basics. He had a keen eye for repetition and a keener mind for memorization.
Akimi glanced below towards the entrance to the courtyard and found Todo’s yojimbo, Chiyoko, staring at her. Nothing escaped that woman’s notice. Akimi shook her head. No, that wasn’t entirely true. Chiyoko was simply unable to see beyond her own honor or weaknesses. The men wouldn’t be able to see it, but Akimi could. She saw the brief instant of worry when a threat had materialized only to vanish when the yojimbo realized the threat wasn’t human.
There are some things a woman can’t hide from another woman.
But Ide Todo had a mind that even the most intelligent would be wise to pay attention to. She smiled to herself. If Chiyoko wasn’t careful, Ide Todo would slyly talk her out of her shortcomings. And then what would she do with her honor?
“If the situation demands it, all you need to do is keep the enemy from killing you,” Makoto said between a slow series of strikes. To Todo they likely seemed a blur. “All you have to do is last until one of us comes.”
Todo nodded, but made no actual reply. Another series of swings and cuts from Makoto. A slap of wood against flesh.
“That is the cut that wounded you before,” Makoto said. Akimi could tell how hard he was trying to keep an apology from escaping his mouth. “Why did I get through your guard?”
“You are faster and stronger,” came Todo’s reply. “I imagine that will be a common theme if I am faced with most opponents.”
Makoto nodded. “This is all true. Chiyoko will kill all who attack you, but she cannot fight everyone at once. As skilled as she is,” he turned and bowed to her, “far more skilled in a duel than I, there are limits to all of us in battle.”
“And what are your limits, Hida?” Chiyoko asked. Her voice was quiet, but carried to all corners of the courtyard.
“In battle? My limits are the ones the Fortunes place on me.” Chiyoko nodded in acceptance, and Makoto turned back to his student. “We will go over these lessons as many times as you require, Todo-sama. Until you can effectively stall your aggressors. Are you ready?”
Akimi could see his labored breathing. But he did not ask for a break. Admirable. This was the type of man that could inspire people without even realizing he was doing so. He was only a few years older than her, and uncommitted to anyone…
No, this was not the time for that kind of thinking. Plus Chiyoko would likely think of it as an insult and request a duel. Some women…
Todo closed his eyes and let himself collapse in his room. He thought he heard a low chuckle from his yojimbo, but when he cracked an eye open her face was expressionless. A sure sign of guilt.
“What think you, Chiyoko?” he asked. “Should I wade into hoards of shadowland abominations with a bokken held high?”
She thought for a moment longer than he expected. “I have no fear facing the tainted. If you wish to fight them I will guard you.”
So serious, he thought. Fortunes help me.
“However I would request that you allow me to show you the proper end of the bokken to hold before doing so,” she said, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
That’s more like it. I’d hate to have to go to Magatsu for levity.
“I will send for wash water,” she said and stepped outside the room. She would be back within moments. She was a good yojimbo.
The training had distracted him from his burdens. His messengers had been sent back off to their information collecting. His troops were being trained by either Makoto or Akimi. Both Hoketuhime and Shimura owed their lives to the Paper Lanterns. And then there was Bayushi Ejiro popping up like a plague bearing insect everywhere the Paper Lanterns traveled—was he simply a small nuisance or someone who needed to be…taken care of?
The thought sickened Ide Todo. Only months ago he would have berated a man for seriously entertaining those types of thoughts. One of the first lessons he learned about the Scorpion was how you could never trust them. But was that always true? They were loyal to the Empire, just in a very different way. If the Empire was to survive the Oracle of Dark Fire to the north, and the Shadowlands to the south, everyone would be needed. Even Bayushi Ejiro.
A servant entered with wash-basin and clean cloth keeping her gaze respectfully lowered. She carefully set the basin on a small stand beside the door and bowed as she exited. Todo knew he should go wash while the water was still likely warm, but that would involve standing up. He closed his eyes.
“One of your commanders, the ronin Akimi, was watching your training today,” Chiyoko said from the door.
“What do you make of her?” he asked without opening is eyes.
“She goes through personal trials.” Todo heard the hesitation in his yojimbo’s voice. “She has lost something or someone recently, but she is trying to recover something else entirely. I think she is drawn to you more strongly than even the others.”
The Unicorn smiled. “You are very good at reading people, aren’t you? I imagine it is a skill beneficial to dueling. No doubt a reason you are such an accomplished duelist and the Topaz Champion.”
“It is true. The skills of observation are key for any samurai.”
“Something we agree on,” Todo said. He propped himself up on elbows and studied Chiyoko. “But these things you mention are far deeper than just casual observances. I know of her doubts. How do you?”
She shrugged, a gesture he found oddly out of place on her diminutive figure. She reminded Todo vaguely of his dead brother’s daughter. She was a Battle Maiden somewhere on the sands. “Some things a woman cannot hide from another woman.”
A remarkable observation, that. “And what do you observe of me in your little time as my yojimbo?”
“You care too much for others and care not enough about yourself.”
He shook his head. It was uncanny how true she could read everyone. “More insights learned from many duels?”
“No,” she said. “I read your journal.”
The courtier’s mouth hung open in shock. He only closed it when she smiled again. There was a mischievous light in her eyes. She pointed at the wash basin. “You should wash up.”
Ide Todo found himself chuckling as he stood and walked to the basin. There was another lesson his sensei had taught. A good yojimbo protects against physical harm. A great yojimbo knows how to keep his or her ward protected from the doubts that undermine in the quiet moments.
She didn’t realize it yet, but Chiyoko was becoming a great yojimbo.
To be continued next week with the City of Shrines: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/the-burning-throne-episode-28-city-of-shrines/