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  Loyalty

     It was I who asked the question, and to this day I wish I had not.  If I had my wits about me, I would have understood the consequences of my actions, but the sake in my belly made my thoughts giddy, and I must admit being surrounded by the most powerful men in Rokugan did not help the situation.
     'So," I asked. "What is the most important virtue a samurai may posses?"  Of course everyone turned to pay closer attention when I addressed the room.  The first to answer me was Hida Junuro, the damiyo of the Crab.  His huge arms had always made my head swim. "Strength!" he cried.  "For a weak man is not a weak man at all."  Many in the room quietly nodded, but Akodo Kyuinjin was next.
     "Courage" he said quite calmly.  "For even if a man is strong, should he be a coward, his strength will serve nothing but his flight."  Many more nodded at the wisdom of Akodo, but when the Unicorn spoke up, there was naught but silence.
     "Resourcefulness, I think" said the young Shinjo Yuni.  "Strength and courage are good and well, but if a man cannot think, he cannot make use of any of his virtues."
     And then, quite suddenly, a quiet voice spoke from the crowd.  I almost did not hear it as it softly said, "Loyalty."  All turned to see Bayushi Ujiro standing in the corner, picking from the fresh sashimi on the table.  "For if a man is not loyal, all of his virtues serve your enemy."  There was a moment of tension that had filled the room as each of the daimyos, one by one, nodded in agreement.  The last to nod of course was the Crab.  "Pah!" he said through his thick beard.  "What does a Scorpion know of loyalty."  The laughter was a bit louder than I was comfortable with, for I remember my nanny teaching me that it was very bad luck to laugh at a Scorpion.  Ujiro smiled under his mask of smoke and fire that revealed only his eyes and lips, and walked to face the Crab.  "Would you like to put that claim to the test?"
     I must say that Hida Junuro made Ujiro look quite small, but the Scorpion did not back down.  The Crab looked down at the Scorpion and said, "A single Crab is worth a thousand Scorpions any day."  Ujiro nodded.  "Perhaps in the shadowlands."  He turned and took three steps away, then turned and faced the Crab.  "But not here.  Here in our lovely hostess' winter court."  He flashed one of those brilliant smiles at me, and I blushed with the thought of what lie under than mask.  "Very well, let us test our samurai, shall we?"  Ujiro strode about the room, his scarlet robes swirling around him like the fiery smoke of his mask.  "Who is willing to test their samurai against my own?"  
     "What will be the test?" asked Shinjo Yuni.  "Loyalty, of course." Ujiro replied.  "Is that not the highest of all virtues?"  Ujiro directed that question at Akodo Kyuinjin.  A wise move, for he knew the Lion would answer.  "A Lion's loyalty is unconditional."  "So I hear." said Ujiro, his voice spiced with only a hint of sarcasm.  "But are you willing to put it to the test?"  "I am." said the Crab.  "As am I." said the Unicorn.  But the Lion eyed Ujiro curiously, suspecting (I suppose) that something was amiss.  "Do not hesitate to much longer, Akodo-San.  Lady Ryoko is watching, after all."  He turned to me then, his devilish smile flashing in the candlelight.  "And you will be writing all of this in your journal, will you not, Madame?"  I smiled. "Of course I will."  He glided past me then, returning to the other daimyo.  "You heard it, my friends.  We all know that the good lady will be publishing her journal in the spring.  We do not want the rest of Rokugan to view us as foolish......" he paused before Akodo Kyuinjin "....now do we?"
     "My samurai have nothing to prove," Kyuinjin said.  Ujiro bowed to Kyuinjin.  "Very well.  I had only heard that a Lion lives by his actions.... and not his words."  Kyuinjin nodded. "Hai."  "Very well.  Let us see if your yojimbo's actions live up to your words."  The Lion hesitated and, for a moment I thought I saw his hand move toward his wakizashi.  Then he bowed slightly and said curtly, "Very well."  "Excellent!" Ujiro quickly cleared the courtiers to either side of the room and lined the daimyo up against the wall facing the door. "Then here is our contest.  We will all call our yojimbo into the room.  Then, we will give him a command."  "What will that command be?" I asked, delighted to see such a game in my court.
     Ujiro smiled. "I will demonstrate with my own yojimbo, Shunsen.  Then, each of you will follow suit.  The yojimbo who hesitates or questions his lord's command will be disqualified.  Are we in agreement?"  The other daimyo nodded, but Kyuinjin nodded last.  "Very well. Let the game begin!"  He turned to me.  "My lady," he said in a delicate, sweet voice, "would you be so kind as to call Shunsen into the room?"  I nodded and walked to the door of the parlor.  Just outside, the yojimbo of each daimyo knelt upon a pillow eating warm rice.  "Shunsen,"  I said, and the Scorpion set down his rice, ran to my feet and bowed low.  "Your lord requires your presence."  Shunsen bowed quickly to me and ran into the room kneeling at the feet of his daimyo.
     The time between the moment that Shunsen fell to his knees to the moment that Ujiro gave the command was only a breath, but in that single breath a realization came upon me.  I looked at the other daimyo and saw the pure contempt in their eyes.  I felt my heart racing with the excitement of the game.  I felt the cool, winter air in my nose and against my teeth.  Then, I looked at Ujiro.  The Scorpion was not looking at his yojimbo.  His eyes were fixed on me.  I saw those eyes, and suddenly, I could hear his voice as if he was standing next to me.
     Remember this, my lady. Remember this.
     I suddenly realized what was about to occur.  It was like a nightmare.  My voice caught in my throat, and the world slowed down.  I couldn't move.  All I could do is watch Ujiro give his command as his eyes remained fixed on my own.  "Shunsen." he  said.
     "My Lord?"
     "Kill me."
     The Scorpion did not pause.  "Yes, my lord."  His katana was out of its saya and through Ujiro before anyone could even think of moving.  The Scorpion's body fell to the floor, his blood splattered over the other daimyo.  Then, again without a pause, Shunsen fell to his knees. Dropped his katana to the floor with a clatter, drew his wakizashi and fell on it.  Moment after the yojimbo had stopped twitching, the screams began.  The other daimyo stood still, their eyes on the still bleeding corpse of the Scorpion.  And as my wits slowly came back to me, I could think of only two things.  The first was Ujiros voice, telling me to remember.  And the second was that my question was the cause of his death.


This story was taken from the book "The Way of the Scorpion"