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After recovering from a night of celebration with the kitsune of the forest, the samurai bid their farewells and set out for court.
We also released our 2018 Recap episode two weeks ago. For the recap episode, we got (almost) our entire cast and crew together to have a laid back (and slightly drunk) discussion about L5R in 2018, along with TTRPGs, podcasts, and other fun stuff.
CAST, CREW, & CREDITS
Ambience: Overland with Oxen (Tabletop Audio)
And a HUGE thank you to our patrons and beta listeners!
Crow wakes up later than she usually does the morning following the after-wedding festivities. Sakiko is gone, the space where she lay the night before a bed of long, parted grass. Once she has washed her face and dressed, Crow wanders into the clearing where the celebration took place and looks around blearily, trying to brush creases out of her clothing.
It's strange to look upon the dens in daylight, covered in an early morning haze and without the glow of lanterns or foxfire. Evidence of the night before is sparse: the lanterns are no longer lit, the kodama seemingly at rest. Groups of kitsune move about the grove in their human forms, moving small bundles of sticks or baskets of roots and vegetables, tending to the trees, playing games, or enjoying breakfast.
Daiyu wakes up earlier than usual, attempting to lessen her hangover and stiffness with meditation. It’s only half-successful. As it turns out, the ground is not the answer to her troubled nights of sleep.
Crow laughs when she spots Daiyu meditating at the edge of the clearing, looking stiff and at least partially hungover. She wanders over, careful not to get in the way of the kitsune going about their morning routines. "You look… rested, Kuni-san. A shame we have to leave so soon.”
To Daiyu, every bit of laughter an unholy din. Meditation is impossible. There is no peace in Kitsune Mori. She turns her head and squints up at Crow, rubbing her temple.
Daiyu: [tired] “Good morning, Crow-san...”
Crow laughs, but quickly drops into a bow when Sakiko and Mara appear from among the trees. She smiles at Sakiko, oblivious to propriety or Mara’s disapproval. Daiyu bows uncomfortably, realizing she indeed slept on a bed of rocks.
Sakiko returns Crow’s smile, but it quickly fades as she remembers herself.
Mara: "Good morning, samurai. Hida-san and Akodo-san have already departed for the village. I am sorry to see you leave so soon, though your time here has deeply honored us."
Crow: "I’m sorry we must leave so soon, as well..."
Mara smiles. As she begins to walk, Sakiko falls in step several paces behind, her cheeks flushed. Daiyu lags behind at first but gradually catches up, not wanting to appear rude, and Crow follows after a moment of indecision.
Mara: "I will lead you some of the distance. Sakiko will see you to Kitsune Mori Mura."
Crow: "Thank you, Kitsune-sama. [somewhat lengthy pause] And thank you for...allowing us to join in your festivities last night. It was a much-needed respite from, ah, troubled times. However short-lived."
Daiyu: "It was a rare honor. One we shall not soon forget."
Mara: [smiling] "There is no need for thanks. It was an honor to have you among us.”
Sakiko reaches out to push a branch from their path, but Crow rushes ahead enough to hold it aside for her. There is an awkward silence, and their journey is only set into motion once more by the terse clearing of Mara’s throat.
They walk for some time in silence. Eventually, the thick, impossibly green trees begin to thin. Clearings become more frequent. Mara pauses at the start of one, her hands folded inside the sleeves of her kimono. She glances at Sakiko before looking to Crow and Daiyu.
Mara: "I thank you once again, young ones." She bows deeply, respectfully.
Crow: “Thank you again for your hospitality, Kitsune-sama... we will return soon, I hope."
Daiyu bows for a bit longer than necessary, grateful for an excuse not to look Mara in the eyes. "Your blessing is most welcome. Thank you."
Mara: "Until we meet again. May you find what you are seeking outside of the forest."
As she turns and walks into the wood, what is an aged woman becomes a white, many-tailed fox treading onward into the trees.
Daiyu, very slowly, exhales, her gaze fixed ahead of her.
Crow watches her go for a while, then looks back to Sakiko with a smile. Once she's certain Mara is no longer nearby, she takes a few brisk paces forward to walk alongside Sakiko.
Sakiko watches her go, pausing for several moments until she has passed into the trees. She smiles at Crow, her eyes flickering to the forest floor, and starts forward wordlessly.
Sakiko leads on in silence, occasionally pushing away a branch or fern that Crow does not. Their path is less meandering than the night before, more of a straightforward walk to Kitsune Mori Mura than a winding, ever-changing path. Daiyu remains ominously quiet for the duration, her gaze alternating between the grass and the treeline.
Crow’s shoulders slump the closer they draw to the village, though her mood doesn’t come close to approaching the dourness of the days prior.
Crow: [sigh] "I do hate to leave. I hope we're able to return soon."
Sakiko: “You will, Crow-san."
Daiyu: “Court only lasts for so long, after all.”
Crow: [exasperated laugh] "I certainly hope so."
[Kitsune Mori Mura; village sounds, early morning]
As they come to the edge of Kitsune Mori Mura, the air smells of meals, of sake, smoke, and seared meat and vegetables mingling with sauces. Sakiko stops for several moments, quiet and still, before exhaling and unfolding her hands from inside her kimono sleeves. She holds them at chest-level in front of her, fingers slightly splayed. A dim, odd light touches her fingertips, barely visible unless one squints.
Sakiko: [at length, pained, thinking of Crow’s prior visit] "Understand that I...I must ensure you cannot find your way back to the dens. It will not harm you. Nothing else will be erased."
Crow's expression falls. Eventually she nods, hardly moving her head. Daiyu continues to say nothing, but her face is a slideshow of varying emotions as she struggles to understand what’s happening.
Sakiko frets at her lip, exhaling heavily. Her hands tremble as she takes several steps forward, her expression stoic. But then her hands drop. She folds them into her sleeves.
Sakiko: "Swear that you will not reveal the path, and I will not."
She gives little time for a reply before her eyes, rimmed with tears, drop to the grass, and she starts forward. Crow gently takes hold of her wrist, stopping her easily and without resistance. She gives her a sad, reassuring smile.
Crow: [frowning] "Do what you must, Sakiko-san. I wouldn't want to risk endangering the kitsune further."
Sakiko shakes her head, not looking her in the eye. She moves decisively toward Kitsune Mori Mura, pausing at its edge to take in a deep, steadying breath.
Daiyu stifles a yawn, trying hard not to think about what’s coming next. Crow frowns at the back of Sakiko's head, following her gaze with marked sadness in her features. She releases Sakiko’s wrist and gently places her hand on her back, between the shoulder blades, as they walk.
Torokai stands outside of Kitsune Oden, hands on his hips, accompanied by Atsu and Shoichi. He looks up at Crow, Daiyu, and Sakiko’s approach and smiles, offering a nod of acknowledgement. Atsu’s mouth spreads into a grimace of a smile. It says, "I know you didn't miss us, but did you miss us?”
Sakiko clears her throat as she starts toward them, her smile tinged with a hint of illness and anxiety. Crow lets her hand fall from Sakiko's back.
Sakiko: "Good morning, Akodo-sama."
Torokai: “Good morning, Sakiko-san.”
Sakiko: “Have you eaten well?”
Torokai’s eyebrows go up in surprise, but he smiles, rubbing his chin. "Ah, well enough! Shinjo-san had his share of oden. And Hida-san as well! [laugh]”
Shinjo Shoichi laughs nervously, adjusting his top-knot. His fine clothes are clean, repaired where they were once torn.
Shoichi: [somewhat sheepish] “I did indeed, Akodo-san...”
Atsu: "He is a fellow friend of appetite!"
Shoichi: “It was strangely difficult to resist!”
Crow laughs. It's a bit forced. She glances distractedly at Sakiko to make sure she's alright and smiles, visibly relieved, when Sakiko returns it. When she's relatively sure no one is looking, she squeezes her hand. Sakiko doesn't swat it away, but she doesn't raise her eyes, either.
Crow: "How long do you think it will take us to reach court, Akodo-san?"
Torokai: "Hmmm. Likely a week, if we are lucky. We’re bound for Prosperous Plains City first, unless the location for court changes. We may yet miss the rain."
Crow: [forced laugh] "Let us hope."
Daiyu glances around the group, silently asking, "time to go?"
Sakiko: [growing anxiety, dread, masking it] “I - I will see you to the edge of the forest.”
[five or so second pause here, walking sounds, forest]
As they reach the edge of the treeline, some of the villagers and several kitsune have gathered to see them off. They bow deeply until well after the samurai have passed them.
Crow stops with Sakiko as she pauses at the edge of the trees. She looks out at the plains and frowns, sighs, looks down, and then back to the woods. It's very apparent she doesn't want to leave. She looks back to Sakiko and smiles sadly.
Crow: "Thank you for everything, Sakiko-san. Please be safe."
Sakiko smiles, soft but close-mouthed. She bows at the waist, her hair falling forward, and stays like that for some time before straightening.
Sakiko: "Thank you, Crow-san. Thank you all for...for everything you have done. You are always welcome here."
Atsu bows formally. “Thank you, Sakiko-san! Until our next visit.”
Daiyu grows exceedingly more anxious as more and more of the locals bow and acknowledge them. Despite this, she keeps up appearances as best she can, bowing back as necessary. Or tries.
After exchanging bows and farewells, Torokai departs to retrieve their their ponies. Atsu, Daiyu, and Shoichi follow, leaving Crow and Sakiko standing at the edge of the village, where the road leads ever on.
Crow exhales, straining to remain stoic and hardly succeeding. She smiles at Sakiko. "I will bring you something from the Crane lands, as I promised. I hope it won’t disappoint."
Sakiko stands still, unwilling to move. The wind rustles her hair. She smiles, clearing her throat, but lacks the composure to meet her gaze for several long moments.
Sakiko: "If--if you wish to write letters, a bird will find us. Or a courier.”
Crow smiles brightly and nods. "Of course."
Crow hesitates. She stalls. Eventually, she leans and places a very brief, very awkward, kiss on Sakiko's temple.
Sakiko smiles, her cheeks turning pink. "[clears throat] I - [pause, meandering, in the end trailing off] Be safe. May you find your way safely to the Crane lands."
With that, she retreats a step just as Torokai returns with ponies laden with supplies.
Torokai: "This road will be easier, at least.”
Crow looks after her sadly, but at least greets her pony enthusiastically! She rubs its nose and feeds it an apple she had tucked away in her kosode. She mounts it shortly after, then rubs its mane and smiles at Sakiko.
Atsu: “Goodbye, Sakiko-san!”
Daiyu: “Be well, Sakiko-san.”
Daiyu hurries after Atsu. She stops herself from looking over her shoulder at the forest, having realized too late just how much she’d miss it.
Crow: "I will see you soon, Sakiko-san!" She smiles, lingering for a moment, before setting off.
Torokai swings onto his pony. He bows his head to Sakiko as he starts forward.
Torokai: “Farewell, Sakiko-san.” He smiles reassuringly. “Please tell Mara-sama thank you.”
Sakiko smiles. It is small. Sad. Unconvinced.
Sakiko: “Farewell, Akodo-sama.”
Torokai leans in close.
Torokai: [quiet] “Do not worry. He will be safe.”
As she watches them go, standing near the last sugi that separates Kitsune Mori Mura from the road beyond, she allows herself no tears.
[outside; Crane lands; hills; lots of birds]
The road onward from Kitsune Mori is vibrant and green, its rolling hills teeming with life. As the samurai travel, they pass through fertile plains and fields blooming with unimaginable numbers of colorful flowers. The near-coastal breeze is a welcome respite from the coming summer heat, and all around them birdsong mingles with the hum of cicadas. Villages with rice paddies and structures for silk farming dot the landscape, and several slow-moving carts travel the road in the distance -- along with a palanquin, far behind them.
It is, certainly, a change from their journey through Beiden Pass and the lands surrounding Shiro Matsu. Daiyu spends most of the time in meditation --or asleep, it’s difficult to tell--while Atsu passes the time with identifying plants and herbs from afar. Shoichi and Torokai carry on quiet conversation at the front of the formation of ponies.
Crow glances frequently toward Kitsune Mori’s treeline as it grows more distant, sighing wistfully more on many occasions. Quiet rustling in her pack draws her attention from her wallowing, and her eyebrows draw together in concern.
Atsu: "What is wrong, Crow-san?"
Crow pulls the bag into her lap. It rustles, and from inside comes a whimper and a quiet yawn. When Crow carefully opens the bag, a small fox missing a front left paw sits among her scarce belongings. She stares in stunned, dumbfounded silence.
Shoichi looks behind them, his eyebrow raised. Torokai maintains a hard stare ahead of them, his jaw set, as if he already knows.
Crow reaches into the bag, taking careful hold of the fox beneath its forelegs. She lifts him out and stares.
Atsu’s eyebrows bunch up. His chest rises in panic. What did they do? Was this stealing? Should they put it down on the road or take it back where they found it?
Having halfway nodded off in the saddle, Daiyu looks up from under the brim of her hat, unsure if she’s dreaming. She rapidly passes from drowsiness to… something else as realization sets in.
The fox’s ears droop with guilt.
Atsu erupts in a delayed but scandalized "OOOH!" of accusation.
Crow stares at him in bewilderment.
Crow: [choking? Laughing?] "I… Nori-kun?”
Nori never quite stops looking guilty, but excitement quickly overtakes it. Crow stops holding him up, pulling him back against her lap as he wriggles in her grasp. She looks consumed by several different emotions.
Crow: "Should we...?"
Crow glances over her shoulder toward Kitsune Mori, then back to the group. "Nori-kun, does your mother know you are here?!"
Nori gives a slight nod of indication.
Atsu slowly deflates with a pained sigh. He frowns at Crow. "It is quite a long journey to double back, now..."
Crow honks in despair as Nori wriggles out of her lap, then falls to the ground with an ungraceful thump. Crow lunges after him and falls off her horse in the process, with a much louder, much less graceful thump.
Fortunately, he recovers quickly. While not as practiced as older kitsune, Nori goes from fox to small, black-haired boy in a brown kimono in the span of several seconds. He immediately bows low, his nose brushing the ground. "I-I am sorry, Crow-sama!"
Daiyu wonders if now is a good time to talk about how much she hates children.
Daiyu: “Nori-kun. This is not a game.”
Crow recovers from her fall with absolutely no grace, too overstimulated to care. Her hands bunch into her hair atop her head. "The road is not safe for someone so small, Nori-kun! We must take you back to the forest."
Nori: "Kitsune Mara-sama knows, I--" Nori stares at the ground, very suddenly looking as if he’s made a mistake. He bows again and nods. "I-I am sorry, Crow-sama. I thought I could help. When you said you were going to see the Cranes, I thought maybe--"
Crow frowns. She crouches down and places a hand on his arm, waiting for him to continue. Daiyu stares down at Nori, unblinking. It looks like the rain is coming early, if the thunderclouds forming over her head are any indication.
Crow’s frown deepens. She gently eases him up from his bow and simply...hugs him. "Did Mara-same send you?"
Nori wipes dirt from his nose and nods. ”Yes, Obaasan did. She wanted me to stay hidden from the villagers. She talked to Akodo-sama…”
Torokai: [decisive] “He will stay. Kitsune-sama has requested it. And explained. Travel is...a part of his genpuku. We are to be responsible for him - I most of all. As a… debt.”
Atsu: “Hmmm. Yes, Akodo-sama.”
Crow sighs through her nose, not about to second guess Mara's wisdom. She sets her jaw and, after a moment, ruffles his hair and smiles.
Crow: "Well, we know you're brave. And we know you're strong. So just stay close to us and don't run off. You can come with us to the Crane lands."
Torokai leans down in his saddle, closer to Nori’s level, his features pulled tight with seriousness. “Nori-kun. We will send word to your family that you are safe when we reach court. You are not to reveal what you are to anyone else -- do you understand?”
Nori slowly raises his eyes, staring at Torokai for several moments. He nods.
Nori: “Y-yes. Akodo-sama.”
Torokai exhales, chancing a small, restrained smile as he straightens. Nori beams, torn between what he wants to do and what is proper. Eventually, he throws himself on Crow in a hug, while Shoichi glances between Nori and Torokai with anxiety.
Crow looks confused, at first, but returns the embrace. "Promise me you'll become a fox and hide if we are attacked."
Nori deeply bows his head. "Yes, Crow-sama."
Daiyu turns her glare to Crow, then to Atsu, rage palpable in her face. Crow smiles, largely oblivious to Daiyu's simmering anger.
Nori looks at Daiyu, dropping his chin against his chest. A raindrop plinks between his eyes, and then it begins to rain in earnest. Nori climbs onto Crow’s pony with her help and settles once she’s situated them, draping a small blanket over his legs.
Daiyu spurs her pony ahead of them to take the lead.
Daiyu: [agitated] "We'd best not waste more time."
Crow raises an eyebrow at Daiyu, but mostly she's just happy to see her taking initiative.
Crow: [peppy] "Have you ever been on a pony before, Nori-kun?"
Nori shakes his head, fearful but making a show of being brave.
As the samurai travel alongside a small stream, the trail becomes steeper and slicker as it ascends, and the rain brings with it low fog. These wider, steeper sections of road are well-cared for and stone-paved, as smaller dirt roads merge with the main route along the coast. Wildflowers occasionally peek from small beds, and flocks of birds scatter from trees as they pass. Far to the east, the Esteemed Palaces of the Crane dominate the cliffs in the distance, the villages surrounding them mere dots on the horizon.
Soon, they near a bridge over a river that cuts east and west. An ancestor stone sits alongside the road, freshly broken but carefully stacked together again. Even farther ahead of them sits a shrine with a tall, blue torii gate.
Crow distracts Nori from his worries by telling him all about the different parts of the saddle, how to make the horse do various things, move at various speeds. Eventually it drifts into stories about horses she knew growing up and various riding incidents she endured or witnessed as a child. It slows and fades as they near signs of conflict: shreds of a bright blue kimono, a crumpled fan, and blood in the dirt.
Torokai holds up a hand and comes to a sudden halt as he spots the blood, scanning the horizon for any further signs. As Shoichi slows and settles beside him, a woman crying hoarsely for help breaks the silence. Torokai sets his jaw and spurs his pony forward, following the smear a wheel has left in the mud, and motions for the samurai to follow.
Crow's head whips toward the sound. "Hold on." The top of Nori’s head bumps her shoulder as she encourages her pony into a gallop.
Daiyu jumps off her pony and rushes toward the yell without as much as a word towards the rest of the group, fully prepared for a distraction.
An overturned cart dominates the road ahead of them, one of its horses dead and slumped in mud, several arrows protruding from its neck and sides. The other rears and whinnies in panic, struggling against its binds. Four men with dirt-smeared faces who are likely, by their skinny frames and kimonos, ronin, surround it. Several others stand on the hill just above, their bows poised.
In the middle of it all, a white-haired, aged woman crouches low, using the cart as a shield. She is dressed in a bright blue kimono marked with the mon of the Asahina at her breast, and to her side a young man holds his injured sword-arm.
Atsu: "OOH! THEY ARE STUCK!"
Crow slows her pony abruptly, sliding off in a much smoother motion than her earlier fall.
Crow: [quietly] "Hide."
Once she’s ensured Nori is safely crouched behind a rock, she runs quickly toward the unfolding scene, hand on her katana. She stops some meters short, assessing the situation before charging in.
Daiyu rushes forward, scroll case in hand.
Daiyu: [shouts] "What is the meaning of this?!"
One of the ronin looks up from the cowering woman and her injured Daidoji companion, to the approaching samurai, and grits his teeth. His straw sandal slides in the mud. One of the others spots Torokai, though -- and the telltale badge of a magistrate.
The ronin grunts and starts forward, stress straining his features. "This is not your concern!"
Atsu shoves his tetsubo toward him in a burst of sudden motion. "YOU DO NOT DECIDE!"
The Asahina woman crouched behind the cart gives the samurai a look of immense relief. Her eyes spark with recognition as she sees Torokai.
Asahina Kyou: [shouted] "We are only passing through! We are not even Doji, you foolish ronin!" The young man beside her, grimacing and clutching his shoulder, shoots her a look.
Crow: [puzzled] "Why should it matter if they are or aren't?"
Torokai dismounts his pony. He exhales, his nostrils wide, as he moves forward. [not cutting corners] "The Doji are rich.”
Crow looks at Torokai. Suddenly she feels foolish. [very small] "Oh."
Torokai: [command, terse] “Throw down your weapons. By my authority as an Emerald Magistrate, you will move from this road. You will move from this road, or you will be moved!"
Atsu tenses his grip on his tetsubo, prepared to help with the moving.
The ronin glance at one another, their eyes ablaze with desperation. They right their grip on their katanas and steadily inch forward, the other ronins’ bows still halfway drawn.
Crow turns from sheepish to exhausted. "We have had a long night, and we are all very tired. Please spare us the trouble and find a living honorably." She proceeds, hand on her sword all the same.
Atsu takes in a deep breath, nostrils flaring impatiently. "Though if you would not heed my friend's request, then let the first of you step forward so that this may be quick!" He thumps his chest.
The ronin in the front falters, more terrified than ferocious, more hungry, or cold, than violent.
After some concentration, Daiyu finds herself inside his mind, searching his thoughts, entering a trance-like state while murmuring her memorized incantation. He is Ryota, a dishonored member of the Hare clan. Framed for thievery. His emotions hum wildly in his chest -- but they are desperate. His heart beats quickly, with misplaced bravery.
After mere seconds pass, she snaps out of her trance, looking almost as disturbed as Ryota as she stares him down. "This seems a poor way to restore your honor, Ryota."
Ryota: [young, desperate, probably 19ish] “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Ryota grits his teeth, stubbornly advancing a step and righting his grip on his katana. Eventually, his sword arm falters. It drops. He sheathes his blade and exhales, motioning for the others to do the same.
Crow breathes a sigh of relief as they lower their weapons.
Ryota: "If we live, the Cranes live.”
Daiyu seems crestfallen, but relieved at the same time. She looks as though she's working something out in her head but it halts as the offer is made. She looks to Ryota, then to Torokai.
Torokai sets his jaw. Looks to the ronin--close to the woman and her guard--and then to the road beyond.
Crow's sword clicks back into the saya. She looks between Daiyu and the ronin, then sighs. She reaches into her kosode and produces a coin purse, tossing it to them.
Ryota catches it and furrows his brow at Crow. Belatedly, Ryota seems to realize she is ronin. He looks to those surrounding her, his jaw set. When he raises his hand, the others sheathe their katanas. The other men quickly scatter into the hills. Ryota remains.
Crow: [stern, but sympathetic] "Nearly a koku. Feed yourselves and spare yourselves this path."
Torokai: [stern, terse] "Spare yourselves this, ronin. If you are found in these hills again, another will not be so merciful."
Atsu gives a shrug that says he wouldn't be bothered either way, waving away the ronin as if they are gnats. He seems placated enough as he shoulders his tetsubo. Torokai stands with arms crossed, watching Atsu to see if he’ll react. Nori occasionally peeks up from behind the rock, eyes wide with awe.
Daiyu lets out her second breath for the day and lowers her head, tilting the brim of her hat over her eyes. She carefully slides her scrolls back into their case.
Crow stands her ground, watching the other ronin leave. She then looks to Ryota.
Ryota sheathes his katana. He sets his jaw, his nervousness barely concealed by stubbornness. Slowly, one foot behind the other, he begins to back away. He follows the others into the hills without looking back or stopping.
Daiyu deflates as if pierced by a needle, shocked they avoided a conflict. Crow breathes a sigh of relief. She watches them go for a few moments, then turns to the Crane travellers. "Are you alright?"
Asahina Kyou slowly rises above the remains of the cart as Crow approaches, bending over very, very slowly to retrieve her ornate, crane-headed walking stick from the mud. Her companion reaches it first, wipes it on his kimono, and hands it to her with both palms.
Kyou: "Yes! We are fine, samurai, thank you." She looks worriedly to the horses. One of them is dead, slumped into the mud. The other struggles against its binds on the cart as the young Daidoji accompanying her cuts it free.
Kyou: "I am afraid they were not as lucky... Tell me--why do you pass through?"
Crow smiles and bows, though quickly notices the struggling horse. She continues talking as she moves over to it, attempting to calm it as the young Daidoji cuts it free.
Crow: "Ah, we are headed for court. We are accompanying Akodo-san there."
Kyou grins, looking to Torokai as he approaches.
Kyou: [brightening] “Oh, Akodo-san?”
Torokai comes to a stop before the Crane woman and bows.
Torokai: "Asahina-sama." He smiles. "Are you able to help him, Hida-san?" He gestures to the Daidoji man standing near Kyou.
Atsu: "Hm? OH! YES, OF COURSE!" A small earthquake booms as Atsu eagerly approaches the young Crane, surveying his wound with narrowed eyes. It’s small, a lucky graze from an arrow, but has bled quite a lot.
Atsu, with a complete lack of bedside manner, pinches the Crane's wound shut and begins to work. Daiyu keeps her gaze to the hills around them just to be sure the ronin are really gone, her mouth pulled into a frown.
Kyou: "You are looking well, Akodo-san! Very strong and well-fed." Kyou grins, shuffling over to greet the others. The Daidoji accompanying her grits his teeth during Atsu’s ministrations.
Atsu: [with a grin] "You will be fighting upon the Wall again in no time! … Or, well. Whatever it is that you do." He nods with firmness that shouldn't be there. He has no idea what Cranes do besides annoy him.
Crow rubs the horse’s nose until it’s calm, then feeds it the remaining half of an apple she’d taken from Kitsune Mori. Once she’s finished with the horse, she seems to remember herself, then goes to check on Nori.
Kyou: "Ah, yes! he is a Daidoji, this one. No walls, though! Only guarding an old woman. [chuckles]”
The boy bows his head. He looks close to nineteen, a bit past his gempukku. [gritting teeth through pain] "Forgive me, samurai. I-I am Daidoji Hiroki."
Nori still hides safely behind the rock, his neck stretched so tall he might as well be a bird. He gives a small start as Crow approaches.
Crow chuckles to herself, placing a hand on his back. "It's safe now. Don't worry."
Nori smiles, nodding a little, but looks guilty. He swallows a lump. "Thank you, Crow-sama."
Crow: "We'll be back on the road soon. Just stay by the horses, alright?" She walks him over to the ponies, ensures he’s alright, then heads back toward the gathering. She forgot to introduce herself…
Kyou: "Would you honor an old woman with your company, samurai?"
Crow approaches just as Kyou asks. She smiles, but stops herself from responding. She's made enough executive decisions for everyone today...she looks to everyone else for their reaction.
Torokai: "Hah. Of course, Asahina-sama. We will accompany you to court."
Crow smiles at Torokai’s agreement. She looks to the pair of Cranes and bows. "I am sorry, I neglected to introduce myself earlier. I am Crow."
The corner of Atsu’s mouth tugs into a fleeting grimace. They were traveling to court.
Daiyu backtracks a little while keeping an eye to the surroundings, fetching her pony that she'd abandoned earlier in her haste. She avoids eye contact with Nori as she passes.
Kyou smiles and laughs, bowing to the samurai as they introduce themselves. [playful, fond] "You have grown so serious in your age, Torokai."
Torokai smiles, his gaze dropping to the ground.
Kyou wastes no time. She walks with the others, keeping pace. Hiroki retrieves their things from the wrecked cart and ensures she does not misstep.
Kyou looks to Crow, peering at her.
Kyou: "Your name is Crow, you said? It is good to meet you, Crow-san."
Atsu frowns at Hiroki with utter uncertainty. "May I carry something for you, dono-san?”
Kyou’s eyes zero in on Atsu. She slowly grins, a slight twinkle in her eye. She straightens her spine and smiles. "Ah, yes, Hida-san.”
It is all she says before burdening Atsu with the things accompanying the wagon.
"Things accompanying the wagon" happen to include a heavy box and her pack, presumably court clothing and traveling supplies. Atsu hefts the assorted supplies into his arms as Kyou watches with ill-concealed delight. It's difficult to say whether his dead stare is from strain or barely contained anger.
Crow watches with a weak smile, considers helping, but then decides against it, not wanting to insult him. She heads to Nori’s side, giving him the most reassuring smile she can manage.
Crow: “Are you alright, Nori-kun?”
Nori: “Yes, Crow-san. I’m okay.”
Nori puts on his bravest face. Even if it isn’t a Ki-Rin horse, he’s certainly not used to ponies either.
Crow notices at a delay, because why would anyone be frightened of horses? She chuckles, unsure of what to do. She gently tugs the pony's head down and gestures for him to pat it on the nose, demonstrating first.
At first, Nori hesitates. It's certainly bigger than the animals he's used to and, at the right angle, it reminds him a little bit of oni. He tentatively reaches a small hand out and awkwardly pats its nose, then again, a smile spreading across his face.
Crow crouches down, smiling as she watches him. She joins him in patting the horse on the nose, apparently content to let everyone else handle The Cranes.
Daiyu catches up and makes her way to the head of the caravan, but stops to bow to the Crane samurai on the way.
Torokai sighs and checks the ponies, then moves past Shoichi to assist Kyou. Kyou has other ideas and invites herself onto Atsu's pony. Atsu’s vein stands out on his forehead.
Crow stands, helping Nori onto the back of the horse before hopping on herself.
The ride onward is quiet, and birds sing overhead as the rain slowly comes to a stop.
Rain stops; birdsong
Kyou fills the space between by asking questions about each of them, confirming their names, and igniting small talk where it’s suitable.
Kyou: “So you are due for the small court as well, Torokai? Takeshi will be pleased to see you again I am sure.”
Torokai: [blushing, a little uncomfortable, but smiling] “It will be good to see Asahina-san, yes. Though… circumstances could be better.”
Kyou: “Oh, but of course.”
Crow is amiable enough, but doesn't actively pursue conversation and keeps her answers relatively short. She mainly focuses on keeping Nori entertained, and starts throat singing whenever he grows bored of horses, or horse facts, and stories.
Asahina Kyou laughs, thrilled beyond belief. Nori listens, fascinated, though he occasionally remembers his terror of the ponies around them.
Eventually, Prosperous Plains City comes into view on the horizon, the breadth of its great marketplace visible even from afar. Just ahead of it is Son of the Crane Castle, standing tall and imposing on a cliffside, overlooking a great lake.
A hush falls over the samurai as they approach, in awe of its breathtaking beauty. Perhaps court will not be so terrible after all.