Arja daughter of Elia
Arja the oldest born child of was born to Elia and Gaidin. She has several other brothers and sisters, but the closest in age is Gaidin who is two and a half years younger than her.
For Arja, growing up in the palace adjoining the great temple of Shal’d was a fascinating childhood. Of course, this was not just fun and games. Much of her days were occupied with advisors teaching her to read and write. When they were not teaching her that, the priestesses were teaching her about the Faceless God and all the secrets of their order.
That is of course when she wasn’t sneaking from her lessons to pester visitors for stories. And how many people there were to pester! From trade representatives to men from Othonia there were always interesting people around. She loved to listen to the stories of foreign lands and adventures they would tell. Moshi Fuchida, who moved into the palace when she was just eight told the very best stories.
However, besides seeking out the foreign, Arja was generally a very well behaved young lady. She would not even lie to her teachers about where she had been when confronted. She always felt that she deserved the punishment and was willing to pay the price. As such her brother, Gaidin, learned quickly it was a fool’s errand to involve her in his mischief. This left her often as not alone without any friends near her age.
The last several years as she approached her adulthood, her mother started to bring her into her councils to watch and learn. As such she watched her mother’s futile attempts to put down what at first was a very small rebel movement, which only got larger and more bold over time.
It was in these meetings that she learned what the meaning of diplomacy was. While her mother generally never lied, those who came to petition her generally heard what they wanted rather than what they were told.
But it was also a rude awakening to the truth of their ‘rule’. That every bit of it needed to meet whatever requirements Othonia had placed on them. And in recent years that price had become increasingly painful. Othonia was asking more and more of its conquered lands. There had been a number of attacks and rebellions in recent decades and the burden fell on those who had no voice in the capital. The voice of a foreigner from Shal’d or the captain of the company of troops stationed locally did not add up to much.
While Othonia could raise the taxes required of it, these were the measures that bred the discontent. For now it was not only the occasional partisan who dreamed of a return, but some of the merchants who began to fund the partisans given them both motive and means.
Arja watched her mother fret over this as nothing they did could seem to slay the rebellion. A heart breaking task as Elia also wished to see her people free, but knew that this was a fools errand that would not bring her people independence or peace. Unfortunately, the movement was popular enough that Arja’s people and the Othonian company could not bring it down. Indeed more of the city guard and the army were violently murdered, and Othonian merchants were harassed and their goods burned.
That is when the Othonians brought several divisions of their army down upon the city. It is when Arja’s life changed and the city was wounded deeply and her people scattered. While her three younger sisters and brother were whisked away by someone in the temple for safe keeping her and her brother would have to leave.
As I took a deep breath of the acrid air, Moshi Fuchida’s hand reached down and gripped tightly around my bicep. I could feel his fingernails digging into my skin through the sleeve of my sword arm, before I had even taken a half step forward. His cold eyes meeting mine as he shakes his head slightly back and forth.
Leaning down to whisper in my ear with a harsh Rokugan accent, “Watch.” He extends his finger towards the dais in the middle of the square, as a steady drum beat starts to pound. “Remember.” The former captain’s tone brooked no rebuke and no response.
On the platform two nooses hang limply as wisps of acrid smoke drift across, reminders of the fires that still burn in the ruins of the temple. The dull roar of the crowd’s muttering slackening to silence as two figures with black sacks over their heads march up to the nooses. Each shadowed by a large foreigner holding onto the chain that shackles their feet.
As the hangmen fit the nooses over the heads of the men, a burly and athletic man with greying hair steps to the forefront of the dais to address the crowd. My breath catches as I notice his garb. While the breast plate and gear could be that of most any officer in the Othonian army, the cloak could not be mistaken. That red cloak with purple boarder embroidered with golden thread could not be mistaken. This was a man of highest status in Othonia—a man who held a senior vote on the high council. It was unheard of for such to be in the field.
That was all it took for my stomach to wrench, as I struggled to keep the stony look on my face. (Must be strong for the sake of my brother, Gadin.) However desperately I prayed, I knew it would not be good for my people if this man had shown. Dreading what would be coming I drew my brother to my chest and held him there to shield him from what would come.
“Citizens of Shal’d, I speak to you as a father speaks to his child—with sadness but knowledge of the necessity of what is to come. You may call me Lord Emory, but know that I speak not with my own voice, but with the voice of Othonia this regretful day.”
He speaks with the voice of a practiced and powerful orator, caring a note of sadness at what is to come. “Did we not bring you prosperity with our trade? Did we not bring you peace bought with our citizen’s blood? Did we not build the north road and protect your port?” He pauses to survey the crowd with a sweep of the hand, “Did we not drive the bandits from your lands? Did we conscript your children? Take your sons as slave or forced our gods upon you? Have we not given proper measure to your traditions?” He takes a long pause as the crowd starts to murmur, before roaring, “Now can you tell me the coin with which you paid us?”
The citizens murmur quietly as his voice echos off the buildings across the court. My hand shaking tightens around the hilt of my sword, and Moshi tightens his grip on me.
“It was the blood of Othonia my friends.” The councilor motions to the hangsmen who move forward to remove the bags over the head of a man and a woman. The crowd mutters softly in recognition as a growing crescendo as the council man continues. “And that can only be paid in the blood of Shal’d.”
All I can see of my mother are her distinctive auburn tresses fall limply over her face, obscuring the expression on her face. I can see the cracks in the stoic mask my father usually wears. I grind my teeth. They had nothing to do with the rebellion, other the crime of not controlling the people. The only failing was to put it down, but the local Othonian commander had had little luck with that either.
“Testing us once we can forgive, as we can see you are not sheep. Twice tries our patience dearly, but once again we found it within ourselves to find lenience.” The man pauses for a moment, “Thrice now you’ve failed to heed our words, and thrice you shall pay. We have taken the first price, and now we shall take the second payment.”
He motions to the hangmen, and they drop the floor and the two figures dangle from their nooses. I grind my teeth as I reach over to give the hand of my younger brother a firm squeeze. That man will pay for this.
It was now that the duty to lead my people would fall on me, in the worst of circumstances.
Three months later…
The sounds of the campfire crackling seeps in through the center, or the void as Fuchida would say. The noise from the other fires wafts over the campsites, mixed with the poignant smells of cooking, smoke, and animals. Little mirth was to be found over these fires, although those sounds came from the soldier’s camp a short distance away. I shift slightly attempting to push it all out.
Gaidin finally break’s the silence, “Moshi, why did they leave our city mostly empty?”
The firelight hides most of the amusement in his expression and finally answers, “Well I would be wise to ask your sister, Gaidin.”
With a deep sigh I consider it for a moment and kick a branch further into the fire. Another test. “Well once scattered most will be too busy trying to survive the next few years to cause too much trouble. It is easier to rebel when you have the support of an established community. Even those who do start problems, they will find amongst many; and outsiders with strange ways. Gadin, you remember how outsiders were often treated in our city?”
My brother shakes his head slightly. “Well the Othonians were always treated well.”
I shake my head sadly at the ignorance. “In the palace, perhaps, and where they show their money and power. Otherwise far too often they were treated as part of the luma cast. This isn’t our teachings, but it is how the people feel. I don’t expect better of the places they go. Our people will become outcasts without a homeland.” (The luma cast is the cast that takes care of the dead, and outside of direct familial ties are shunned upon reaching adulthood.)
“In the end, it will probably break the chances of a fourth rebellion anytime soon… And I can guess what they will do with the empty city.” I play nervously with my hair. “I’m not real sure about this, but there were rumors the army that besieged the capital city* several years ago was a division of the Othonian army, dissatisfied in the lack of their pension… The rumors were denied, but still. Well where better to settle them than in Shal’d? Not only do you get rid of the problem of paying the army, but now you have a large populace loyal to Othonia living here. I think that is it.”
The old sailor chuckles softly and asks quietly, “And why do your people live? After all why escort people to the western half of Othonia?”
“Well Emory told us why. He said that would be the next punishment.” Sparks fly up as I toss another log idly onto the fire. “And you always have to have something worse with that sort of punishment.”
The old sailor chuckles softly, “Too naïve—that will get you killed in court. Yes, I’m sure he intended it that way, but men like him have plans within plans and you will always have another layer to peel away. Now it is hard to say what the politics are in the capital, but you can bet that was part of at least a half dozen plots on his part. But I think it is safe to say, exile will create an ever present reminder in every province of what happens those who cross Othonia. Not to mention the soldiers are a show of force. They need it with some of the problems they’ve had.”
“Oh.” I say with a bit of a sullen look.
“Don’t, you’re young yet.” He smiles warmly, “I promised your mother that I’d see to the end of your training and I owed her at least that much for what she did for me. What she did there at the end was quite honorable.”
“What, die? And leave us to fend for ourselves?” Gaidin blurts out, his voice tinged with hurt and anger.
“No, Eila died to save her people.” His voice snaps at Gaidin. “She did her duty to her people, and if you and your sister do half as well it would do your ancestors honor.” More softly, “All she could do is buy the lives of her people. Not any more so than I could find my way through the storms that now surround my homeland, despite your mother’s helping me twice. The temple, exile, and your parents death were the price for the people of Shal’d’s lives.”
Gaidin storms away into the darkness with in a huff, kicking over what is left of the stew as he goes.
“Let him go.” Moshi says quietly as I start to get up. “Give him some time… Since we’ll leave this group and turn towards the new border town alone tomorrow, what do you intend to do?”
The fire crackles for a long time, “I’ve been thinking and I don’t know. I want to help my people, but everything I can think of would just bring the wrath of Othonia down upon them. I will bring Emory to justice for my mom… but I can just hear my mother lecturing me about priorities.”
He nods his head in consideration, “Well at least you are not so foolish as to raise an army, as I think your brother would like to do. To be honest, I am bringing you here to keep you uninvolved for the moment. You need time to grow and the wounds need time to heal. If Shal’d can’t help, you will need to find help here.”
“That is not all together unwise. If I call upon my people Othonia’s response will likely be brutal, and I don’t see how I can save them all.”
“Sacrifice might be necessary, but not now. Keep in mind they’ve changed Shal’d, and no amount of fighting may be able to change that. But for now let us have tea. I know you have your own traditions, but you may find it useful to be practiced in mine.”
God how am I ever going to help my people? I move over to grab the travel tea set, and mumble, “Okay.” I have to try though. I’m duty bound to.