A Travelogue: Hida Kirin's Fief
Dannou: My journey begins in this quiet fishing village on the Southern coast. The sand on the beach is black, likely from an ancient volcano in the area. Caves dot the cliffs which rise to the southeast. Many hermits come to this remote area to meditate in the idyllic groves beneath the cliffs. This area was once the site of an historic battle and the Imperial Mirror is said to be lost on the sea floor of the bay. To the north lies the great port of Osado. The Mantis territories end along the Fortified Coast where the Crane strongholds lay. I prefer the paths less travelled, and will journey inland to the Honji Shrine.
Honji Shrine: This traditonal seven-tiered wood pagoda is five hundred years old. There is a yamabushi school here where the monks train their adepts in the secret fighting arts. The ancient philosopher Kyunari was born here and many come here to study his works. This mountain region rises sharply from the coastal plain below. When the clouds roll in from the coast, the rocky crags pierce them and rain falls like sullen mist.
Narajina: This remote Mantis village is home to many bandits. The terraced mountainside produces little for the farmer's toil, hence the black market provides most of their income. These villagers often raid into Hida Kirin's fief and then cross the border where they are safe from the law. Of course the border guards must be bribed to allow safe passage.
Masashiro Gorge: This plunging gorge is straddled by an old rope bridge. Lush vegetation thrives in this humid, steamy environment. This spectacular site is just off the main road leading to Hida Province. Weary travellers come to relax at the hot springs here.
Jo-Dai's Jade Palace: Hiring a guide, we set off north of the hot springs along a narrow trail. The dense foliage opened into a tranquil grove and the guide showed us the stone markers of Jo-Dai. The inscription tells of his lost palace, and despite searching the afternoon for it's location , no trace could be found of this ancient place.
Anjou's Orchard: The spirit of Jo-Dai's son, Nimmu is said to wander the orchard late at night. He searches for the cursed sword of Anjou which is believed to be buried beneath one of the many cherry trees. His ghastly visage has mortified many of the local villagers.
Benten's Armoury: Several days journey into the northwest past the villages of Oolai and Tsajiko, this armoury specializes in firearms. Many custom made pistols ,arquebuses, and wall-guns are on display. Saito shows me a short-stock arquebus cleverly crafted to look just like a sword. A training school nearby demonstrates the arts of kayakujutsu.
The Thousand Steps: Climbing these stone steps to the top of Mt. Shugano is the first quest of the warrior pilgrim. A warrior meditates at the shrine on top until he has a vision of enlightenment.
Konashiro Library: Many Samurai come to study the wealth of knowledge and philosophies at the library. Most of the works are related to the arts of combat and are thus of little interest to Shugenja. It houses many fine tapestries depicting the great campaigns of the Hida warlords.
Kirin Castle: A marvel of military engineering, the castle sprawls over 10 acres and is encompassed by a broad moat. A maze of narrow paths leads to the twin towers before the bridge spanning the moat, and hinders enemy deployment. The stone walls at the base are steep to prevent scaling by ninja. The castle houses a large barracks, training school , and stables. It protects a large thriving town to the southeast of the moat and is the commercial crossroads of the area.
The Three Horsemen
Hida Kirin began with a story."I have come back from a tremendous battle" he announced brashly, weaving with the effect of drink. He laughed loudly and drank sake liberally. "Victory was ours, and the Crab clan captured many enemy banners. Yoritomo's fleet escaped, but much of his army was destoyed."
"Let me buy you a drink Samurai and I will tell you of the battle. Hida Yakamo had heard from a Scorpion spy that Yoritomo's fleet had set sail. We were not expecting them as the storms had not let up for weeks. It seemed the portents favored him, for as he approached the Crab territories the following morning ,the seas calmed ,the fog lifted ,and his fleet appeared suddenly , the dawn sunlight streaming through their many flags and banners."But it was not to be.
"Our armies forewarned, we assembled our forces on the beach.The element of surprise was lost. Hida Yakamo had hired many ronin for the battle, among them a large force of swordsmen,and a small but brave contingent of archers. For all the might gathered on both sides, it would be these archers who would carry the day."
Hida Kirin called for more drinks ,his voice booming loudly."The customary challenges went out before the battle, as Yoritomo's captains boasted of their previous exploits. Not to be outdone the captain of our archers proclaimed the exploits of one among them, the master bowman Yokitsune. Why, he does not even aim, for the arrow knows the way. Do you see your banner atop your mast Yoritomo? Even though it is well over a 100 yards distance, Yokitsune could cut it down. You should thank Shinsei that he is not aiming for your heart,Yoritomo."
"I could hear Yokitsune's bow snap and the arrow sailed into the sky, and was swallowed up by the blinding sun. Yoritomos troops jeered, for they thought Yokitsune missed. But his arrow sliced through a lanyard, cutting Yoritomo's banner down. It spiralled downwards and fell into the sea. All stood in awed silence, for his shot was truly remarkable."
"Soon the arrows hissed from both sides, and Yoritomo,s men poured from their ships like locusts. I myself was in the thick of the action, but they could gain no advantage on the beach. Soon their spirit for battle diminished and sank, just like their banner. Thus it was that a single arrow won the day."
The Oni laughed mightily and bellowed commands to the swarms behind him. Pillaging and fires swept the land, but soon the thunder of Naka Kuro sliced though the clouds. "The power in the hand flows effortlessly" he mused, as his lightning lit the sky.
"Look at me" the Oni roared "and see the face of fear."
"One does not look through the eyes to see the face of fear for the true Samurai looks within himself" Naka Kuro extolled. "it is there where we face our fears.. it is there where we find our courage".
More thunderbolts blasted the Oni's forces,but the gibbering masses poured forth mindlessly. Crab archers moved in on both flanks and showered them with arrows. The Shadowlands swarm tried to close the ground between them and the Crab archers, but instead became impaled on dragon's teeth and hidden pit traps.
Hida Kirin signalled a charge, and four thousand hooves pounded the earth as they swept headlong into the Oni's much diminshed horde. The cavalry smashed through the enemy and those that were not trampled put up a desperate fight in hand to hand combat.The battle raged until dusk, when the Shadowlands remnants slipped away under cover of darkness.
An angry voice boomed from the shadows. "I'll be back", the Oni snarled,"retribution shall be mine."