Authors: Mike Bergonzi
Moon and Star: Book One
by Mike Bergonzi
Copyright 2015 by Mike Bergonzi
MOON AND STAR: BOOK ONE
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The hardest part about preparing for war was trying to prevent one from happening from within. Yuri fanned herself, trying to think of a way to speed up the meeting. All they did was bicker at these things. Today would be no different, despite the recent activity outside their border.
The murder of the Takahaito clan leader.
The humidity made it impossible to think about anything other than the heat. Spirits, did it stink in here.
If this meeting doesn't get out soon I'm gonna …
Yuri sighed to herself. It's not like this meeting would be any different from the others. Jin had asked for it and he was the Shogun.
The rectangular table where they sat was composed of a foreign metal. Many things inside the castle were made out of the same material. The wooden furnishings, during Lord Kasaju's time, were lost to the previous war with the Yoritomo. Why the Minamoto clan felt the need to make everything expensive was beyond her, but she couldn't see herself going back to not using it. She had grown too accustomed to such pleasantries.
“If we attack we’ll be slaughtered within a day," the Kazuya clan leader said. "We need to prepare our armies. Make alliances of our own. Fight back. Doing nothing is only delaying the inevitable.”
“The only ones left are those who wish us dead. What help do we expect from them?”
She'd heard these complaints before, at another meeting of the four noble houses. As far as she was concerned, war had already begun, and the enemy was ahead in numbers.
Most of the people here pretended not to notice the Yoritomo clan, while it built up alliances and stockpiled weaponry. To think, all it took was the death of a lower-ranking Shugo to snap them out of their ignorance. The fact they were gathered here was a testament to the enemy’s will to fight, and their lack of initiative.
Glancing from person to person, Yuri knew none of these men could be trusted. Deception was a key strategy of warfare and everyone at this table were once hailed as experts. The question was whether their loyalties lied with Jin and the Minamoto or the Yoritomo and their leader.
The argument continued, everyone yelling over one another. Yuri rubbed her temples, trying to think, but the noise overpowered her ability to form coherent thoughts.
“Enough!” Jin said, standing up.
The council looked at him, waiting for a response.
The meeting’s purpose wasn’t to take any kind of action, but to observe the heads of the four major clans. Jin didn’t like the idea, but the alternative was to allow tensions to brew and personalities clash. At least this way the house heads could vent before things got out of hand.
It was a fine line to walk. Yuri and Jin were caught between igniting another war between Yoshino and Kyotomo and starting a coup within the capital itself.
“We will not attack,” he said, “but I will leave to strengthen our relationship with the remaining clans. Hopefully their desire to prevent another war will make them think twice about killing me on the spot.”
“You can’t be serious!” Captain Kura shouted.
What is he thinking?
This wasn’t part of the plan.
She needed to steer the conversation away from the current topic. Jin never followed orders from her. Why would today be any different? The man was as stubborn as Kaito when he was a boy.
Wait, that's it.
“Why not send Kaito?” she asked. “As an ambassador, I mean."
Everyone looked at her as though she were a traitor for suggesting such a thing. Yuri raised her hands in defense.
“You mean sacrifice young master Kaito,” the Senjuya clan leader asked. “What will that accomplish other than stall them? We’re already doing a fine job of that.”
“Or give them leverage,” Takato Hatake said.
The rest nodded in agreement.
“It is merely a suggestion,” she said calmly.
“We don’t have time for schemes like that,” the Senjuya clan leader said. “Lord Jin, what do we do about the increasing number of forces against us? It's only a matter of time before they attack.”
“Say the words,” Captain Kura said, “and I’ll begin training the farmhand. They may not be noble, but after I’m done with them they’ll be able to stand with the best of them.”
“And go against tradition?” the Senjuya head asked. “We can’t just train farmers and merchants. What will happen after the war? We’ll have practically armed a future rebellion.”
“What about Kaito? Surely he can …”
“What? Him?” Tsunok Senjuya said. "He’s the reason things
gotten this bad.”
“That boy is the reason things aren’t worse,” the Kazuya clan leader said.
Yuri noticed Jin tense after hearing those words. He began stroking the wood table as if painting something small and inconspicuous. A coping mechanism to help him channel his anger. Not that he needed it. Jin was the calmest person Yuri knew and she doubted the technique helped him achieve his tranquil state of mind. Regardless, she hadn’t seen him this upset in a while.
“My son has nothing to do with this meeting,” Jin said. “So leave him out of this.”
The Kazuya clan leader did have a point, but the boy was still too young. At sixteen years, he was still barely able to fight without getting banged up to the point of passing out. The boy had stamina, she’d give him that, but unless his father allowed him the time to practice, the thought of him fighting back the Yoritomo was ridiculous and ironic.
How long can we keep this a secret from him?
Jin got up from the table. “This meeting is over. Unless any of you has anything that doesn’t involve putting
your future Shogun
He left the council through the back entrance, exactly how he found it upon entering—dumfounded and speechless. It seemed the discussion regarding the dead Shugo was lost in the debate over more pressing, national matters.
Yuri figured the men here didn’t even know the deceased Lord’s name. Of course, she didn't either.
Most of what they knew about the smallest island of Jakai was speculation at best. They knew even less about the Takahaito.
No one could get close enough, as the clan had barricaded the island on all but one side. No one could pass in and out except for on the farthest shores. A strange tactic in a time when war loomed on the horizon.
Kaito finished searching the Hatake family garden for Go-zhuk. He said to meet him here when the sun sat at its highest point in the sky. He also said they would train until sunset.
The sky grew dark and the moon appeared as if by magic.
Maybe he forgot. Just like all the other times. Spirits, how many times am I going to fall for that?
Go-zhuk was a few years Kaito’s senior and a great warrior in his own —not that he had many people to compare himself to.
All the other kids got to hold swords at the age of sixteen. He’d never even held a practice one.
He itched to hold a blade, but knew his father would never allow it. Said that a great ruler must know when to fight, rather than how. It didn’t make much sense to Kaito and he wasn’t sure it ever would. What happened when he couldn’t pick his battles?
“Kaito!” someone yelled from behind.
He turned around and saw Go-zhuk running towards him, hand waving in the air. He was out of breath. His eyes heavy from lack of sleep.
Kaito frowned. “You promised."
“I know. I know.”
Kaito folded his arms across his chest and turned his back towards Go-zhuk. He did this all the time. It wasn’t fair. Go-zhuk could practice with a sword, but he—the shogun's son—could not? Everyone knew he would be a leader someday and a leader needed to be able to protect his people. If he started young, who knows what he could accomplish when he fully matured.
Kaito often dreamt about life as a bushi-ama warrior. The glory and honor it meant for oneself and their family. Not that his family needed the honor. He was part of a long line of great warriors, his grandfather in particular. Sometimes it seemed like that greatness would end with him before it even began.
Go-zhuk looked tired, more than usual. His eyes were swollen from either lack of sleep or from someone beating him. Had his father started drinking again?
Go-zhuk put a hand on Kaito’s shoulder. “Tell you what, I’m going out with my father tomorrow morning to harvest our paddy fields we have down south. If you can persuade your father to let you go, I’ll be your sensei for a whole day.”
Kaito beamed, turning around to hug Go-zhuk with all his might. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“You'll need your father’s permission in writing,” he said, handing Kaito a scroll. “If anything happened to you, my father would be in big trouble.”
Kaito’s face sunk in disappointment.
Go-zhuk smiled and patted him on the back. “I’m sure he’ll approve.” He winked. “It’s just gathering rice, after all.”
Kaito opened his mouth to ask a question, but realized now what Go-zhuk meant. He was so smart.
What father doesn’t know couldn’t possibly hurt him.
“All right, what time should we meet?” he asked.
“We leave when the sun rises,” Go-zhuk said.
With that he left Kaito alone to think about how best to go about persuading his father to let him go with Go-zhuk. He didn’t exactly like Go-zhuk; said he was a bad influence. Kaito noticed the sky grow dark. Seemed he would be late to dinner and that meant he’d be yelled at … again. He hoped grandfather wasn't the one who would be yelling.
It was the one of the few times he, father, and grandfather were able to sit down and not worry about the state of things. The food was good, but the conversations always bored him. Who cared about what one did that day. It was probably the same thing they did yesterday and the day before. How much could possibly change between sunrise and sunset?
As he approached the castle, his father stood in front of the gate. Kaito’s heart sank. The fact his father stood there meant supper was already over. Last time he missed such an important meal, he couldn’t even go outside. He had to meditate all day and couldn’t leave the castle walls. Even venturing into town was forbidden.
Kaito slowed down his pace, head and neck slouching as he tried avoiding eye contact with his father.
So much for tomorrow,
he thought. He wanted to cry, but fought back the weakness. A warrior should never cry. Kaito looked up into his father's eyes. They were filled with disappointment.
"We missed you at dinner," he said.
Kaito lowered his head and said nothing. He'd start crying if given the chance to talk. Seemed It was too late for that, as the tears started anyway. His father held him, trying to comfort him while Kaito wept uncontrollably.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "Missing dinner shouldn't make you this upset."
Kaito sniffled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "I was gonna ask to go with Go-zhuk and his father to harvest rice. He promised to teach me kendo."
Jin looked at him and smiled. "At least you told me the truth. It seems you are learning to become a wise ruler." He sighed. "I'll give you permission, but you have to promise me that you'll help Go-zhuk's father with their shipment. Don't just practice kendo all day."
“I will, father,” he said. “Thank you. Here, I just need you to sign this.”
Kaito handed his father the document Go-zhuk gave him. Jin looked it over, his eyes beginning to show worry. The proud smile of a parent left his face, replaced with a frown. Kaito knew what his father would say next, but didn’t want to hear it. He always changed did this whenever something sounded even the slightest bit risky. He was the Shogun. People should have to follow him no matter his decisions. It was his birthright as the leader of Jakai.
“Kaito,” he said. “Where exactly did Go-zhuk say he and his father were going?”
He shrugged. “Somewhere south of here. Why?”