Exile's Road

Chapter Twenty Two

Edo was not a 'kingdom,' for a kingdom implied a realm ruled by a king and limited by law and heritage. Edo was a empire, stretching across a entire continent, limited only by the realities of distance and geography. From the great sea to the east the empire stretched hundreds of miles, only stopping at the south-western mountains. And even now, the miners worked to build tunnels and widen passes for the innevitable conquest.

'Or so we'd like to think,' the Shogun mused, the tall, black haired man looking out from the balcony of his castle. It was a grand structure, five stories tall and built of the finest polished wood and shaped stone. It's wall could hold off a army, yet it was also lovely to look at.

The Shogun turned away from the view, walking back into what he thought of as his campaign headquarters. A map of Edo and the surrounding kingdoms was on the wall, and on the massive table was a sand representation of the south-western boarder. Edo, and the Kingdom of Xiang were shown, in quite good detail.

General Yoshimizu was there waiting patiently, the older man's face wrinkled but his body still strong. He was a senior advisor to the Shogun, and had been his comrade from back during their rebellion under the old king. "Sir," he nodded respectfully, "I have adjusted the map to match the latest updates from Xiang."

The Shogun quickly swept the map with his eyes, taking in the changes. His army had pressed deeper into Xiang, taking the small country's capital, but had begun to slow it's advance. Not a unexpected development, but one he had hoped would take longer to happen.

"What do you think?" he asked Yoshimizu after a moment.

"We're nearly at the limit of our supply lines," the older man admitted gruffly, Yoshimizu continuing, "and we're starting to see some serious resistance building. It won't be long until Xiang's surviving army returns, too."

"I agree," the Shogun nodded, smiling slightly. Reflectively he added, "You never soften the truth with me, and I appreciate it."

"Thank you sir," the old soldier nodded.

The Shogun studied the map a moment, his fine robes flowing around him. "What do you think we should do?" he asked curiously.

Yoshimizu studied the figures on the map, too. "Pull back to secure positions," he resolved, "chosen by commanders on the ground. Build up defensible camps, forage for supplies and wait for reinforcements and resupply."

"Assuming we can reinforce them," the Shogun added wryly.

While Edo appeared a undefeatable, immense power, there were complex issues that limited their military power. Edo controlled several kingdoms they had conqered, and not all of them were fully subdued. Similarly there were parts of the empire still somewhat loyal to the old rulers, where a military presence was needed to maintain control. All of which was a drain of the number of men they had available for military adventures.

"Oh, I think we can scrape the men together," Yoshimizu smiled wryly. "The old kingdom of Edo is firmly behind you, as are the lands we took over around them. Our only real troublesome realms are to the west and north." He looked thoughtful, "We could reduce city guard forces a bit, use the extra men for reinforcements."

The Shogun shook his head, "City Guards don't make good soldiers, generally. But we can reduce the garrisons in the controlled regions a bit, that should provide the needed men."

"Very well," Yoshimizu nodded, adding a note to some papers stacked on a nearby table.

"And what of the coastal realm, Avalon?" the Shogun asked.

Yoshimizu frowned slightly as he confessed, "I fear the invasion by Xiang has actually strengthened the realm."

"Oh?" the Shogun looked curious.

Both men didn't mention their agents efforts to trigger the war between Xiang and Avalon. They had bribed advisors near to Xiang's young king, convincing the boy that Avalon was vulnerable and weak. And of course as soon as he invaded they had attacked the now weakened Xiang.

"The new Queen, Gwen, was in a rather precarious position," Yoshimizu said in his usual briefing tone, "having taken the throne after the death of her brother." He didn't mention who had killed the young man. He knew the Shogun hadn't ordered it directly, but other than that...

"Hmm," the Shogun grunted.

Yoshimizu continued, "She's proven to be much more a canny politician than we expected. Gwen swiftly secured a power base, negotiated with the powerful nobles in her kingdom and used fear of us to get non-aggression treaties with local powers."

Shogun chuckled at that. It was ironic that his enemies could actually use his own reputation for conquest to gain allies against him. A bit frustrating too, but... "What about Lord Darthan?" he asked. "I understand he was opposing the young queen."

He was once again impressed by his ruler's local knowledge as Yoshimizu answered, "Dead, apparently by accident."

"Apparently?" the Shogun asked, recognizing his friend's sardonic tone.

"He was thrown off a balcony onto a spiked fence," Yoshimizu said dryly. He shrugged, "I rather expect he was being made a example of."

Shogun nodded thoughtfully. He had paid quite a lot to support the man, and it was rather depressing to see it all come to nothing. Still, he was ultimately just a tool. "There is another complication, too," the Shogun noted after a moment.

Yoshimizu frowned, "Oh?"

"The princess Midoroshi appears to be alive," Shogun noted with a slight smile, "and is living as a hire sword in Avalon."

Both men paused a moment, remembering the princess. Unlike most of the useless parasites in her family she was a capable warrior and strategist. Both had fought beside her at times, and each considered her someone to be admired... and a bit feared.

"There have been imposters before," Yoshimizu noted, "do we know for certain it's her?"

The Shogun made a uncertain gesture. "The description matches, as do her sword skills," he said, "and she is carrying one of the swords belonging to the royal family."

Yoshimizu looked concerned, "Which one?"

"Grass-cutter," Shogun said, looking over at the wall where a fine blade hung. A sister sword to Grass-cutter it too bore the unique watermark of the master craftsmen, and was considered priceless.

"Hrm," Yoshimizu frowned. He looked at his leader as he asked, "What do you want to do?"

"I'm tempted to leave well enough alone," the Shogun admitted ruefully. At Yoshimizu's startled look he said, "You know that Lord Darthan hired the Genin to kill the royals of Avalon, yes?"

"I had heard," Yoshimizu conceded.

"They hired the princess as a bodyguard, I've heard," the Shogun said, amused. "She's killed nearly fifty Genin trying to claim the reward. As I understand it the Genin have not only given up the contract, but they refuse to cross blades with the princess again."

Yoshimizu remembered how fierce and deadly Midoroshi had been and sighed. "I see why you believe it's her," he admitted.

"Hmm," the Shogun nodded his agreement. He looked at the map again, then made a decision. "WE will concentrate on the battle with Xiang for now," he said, "I rather suspect it will be a long war. And who knows what will happen in Avalon in that time?"

"Understood," Yoshimizu agreed as he collected the papers. "I will begin relaying the messages to the army, if you will excuse me?"

"Yes," the Shogun nodded, "thank you."

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

AS the first reports of the Xiang army crossing the border back into their homeland, the dockside bar 'Drunken Bard' burst into happy cheers. The people of the city had dreaded the possibility of a wider war breaking out, and having the enemy army just up and leave was the best solution anyone could hope for.

Garrison smiled as he went from table to table, refilling mugs along with his waitress and nodding to familiar faces. Three guardsmen sat a corner table, boys Midori had beaten senseless for causing trouble. Cowed they had come back to the bar quite humbly, and had become steady customers. He nodded to them, and the youngest grinned back.

"Do you think I could talk to the bard, Nathaniel?" the blond haired boy asked eagerly, "I have something for his ballad!"

"Oh?" Garrison asked with a smile. Nathaniel's Ballad of the Magnificent Midori was quite a hit in the city's taverns, especially since Midori started hobnobbing with royalty, and the bard was constantly adding on new verses.

"I was there when she helped beat back the attack on the walls," he admitted, "I bet that would make a good addition."

"Talk to him, then," Garrison nodded to where the handsome man was playing harp on a raised stage, "he doesn't bite."

"Not unless you ask," Pallas joked from a nearby table, the other bard laughing softly.

"There you go," Garrison laughed, "he doesn't bite unless you ask nicely."

Elise smiled as the lady's maid sat at a corner table, listening to the music with a smile. Across from her a attractive redhead sat, sipping her beer as she listened too. "I was a little worried about going to a dockside bar," Terri admitted, "but this is quite nice."

"It is, isn't it?" Elise agreed. She dropped her voice as she confided, "I found out about it after I followed my lady Jantha down here."

Terri looked startled, "The Duchess? Here?"

Elise looked amused. "She apparently saw Midori here and was hooked," she related, "and started coming regularly."

"Damn," Terri shook her head ruefully, taking a drink.

"Too bad she hasn't had the chance to visit with how busy things have been," Elise admitted. She hesitated, then looked at Terri as she asked, "How did your father react to your being in the Guild of Gentlewomen?"

"He took it better than I expected," Terri admitted, laughing. She shrugged, "The fact that we have royal approval helped, too."

"I'm glad," Elise smiled, taking her hand.

Garrison made his way up to the bar, happy to see the bar as busy as it was. Wiping the counter he frowned slightly, wondering how his missing bouncer was doing. He missed the strange outlander, honestly, and would be happy to see her back.

'And with the threat of war over, for now,' Garrison sighed as he cleaned the bar, 'will she stay with the Duchess? Or...?'

To be continued...

Notes: Edo is effectively China, more or less. Wanted to look in on the Shogun, since so far I've only set him up as a generic evil overlord. And checked in at the Drunken Bard, since I haven't got back to them since... the beginning, pretty much. Heh!