The Ronin, Fukitso, returns in...

Fukitso and the Golden Egg



A 9-Chapter Sword & Sorcerer of the Mighty Ronin!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta
 


Previously: The Ronin, Fukitso, is employed as the Niban, in charge of the Ichiba's palace guards. Suspicious of Fukitso's sympathies with the peasants, the Ichiba sends him to arrest some conspirators who are organizing a revolt, but the Ichiba plans to arrest Fukitso as well. The Ichiba's power depends on a "kurocho", a sorcerer whom the Ichiba controls through the possession of a mysterious golden egg. Fukitso receives a gift from the Ichiba, a beautiful woman, who knocks him out, for what purpose, Fukitso doesn't know.

Now, that night......

Chapter Three - Treason at Midnight

THE FLICKERING GLOW OF A SINGLE TAPER cast the gaunt and worrisome faces of the conspirators into vague, surreal relief.  They sat like ghastly nightmare creatures, hunched over the polished tabletop, whispering in the crushing darkness -- five all told.

The tallest and most commanding of the group was Takai-Yadoya, the wine-merchant.  A very prominent citizen within the walls of Kari-Zak, he was the only one possessing the double name which accompanied a high social standing.  But the Bunda raids of the previous season had come close to doing him serious financial damage.  He did not wish to see such occurrence again.  Thus, he now dedicated his money, intelligence and, for tonight, his home to the cause of the revolt.

Beside the slender, amber-skinned merchant, the blubbersome girth of Ippai cut a far less impressive figure.  He also was a merchant, but his wares of Luainwa copper and eastern spices were brought to the city by boat along the Zamba River and its tributary, the Nyaslan.  Of late, the lack of military protection had resulted in a drastic shortage of products as fear of Bunda raids prevented the boats from sailing as far inland as Kari-Zak.  A revolt was much to his liking.

Next sat Kyoi.  Rather thin and nervous, he slouched low over the table with his face shadowed by the hood of his kajikoto.  Like Ippai, Kyoi depended upon a well-patrolled Zamba for his livelihood.  His three-vessel fleet exported the bronze implements and woven tapestries for which Kari-Zak was so well reputed.  But, of late, his crews had refused to sail, and not even fear of punishment could induce them to make the voyage, so great was their terror of the Bunda.

Opposite Takai-Yadoya, his brow beaded with glimmering sweat, sat Komichi, a simple half-breed famer from the fields just south of the city.  He was not particularly bright and he was more than a little suspicious of the rich city-dwellers.  He would have preferred to remain on his farm, but the destruction of his entire lichen crop, and so close to the city, had driven him to desperation.  His awareness of the peasant sympathies had earned him his place in the conspiracy.

The final, youngest, and most recent member of the group was a strong, clean-limbed youth named Wakai.  He had but recently arrived in Kari-Zak following the complete and tragic destruction of his home village by the Bunda.  Now he sat wide-eyed and grim-lipped in eager anticipation of the revenge soon to be wrought.

"It is the fault of the conjuring kurocho," hissed Ippai, the merchant, his jowls wagging absurdly with his frantic emotion.  "The Dark One had given the Ichiba such invincibility in battle that he had become fairly drunk with the acquisition of power.  From beneath his night cloak, the kurocho mutters incantations to his evil gods, and an ebony cloud of volcanic ash drifts from the north in a windless sky to shelter the Zaki during a long advance.  Or, perhaps, a swarm of locusts return from the migration in the very midst of the Season of Fire, blinding the enemy with their numbers."

"Yet, men say that the kurocho's magic is not his own," added Kyoi timidly.

"Yoi desu," agreed Takai-Yadoya.  "While he is a follower of Amak, Andu god of destruction, yet, it is said, is he not a true kurocho.  He knows spells to cloud men's minds, yet his true strength comes from the kurocho of the Black City of Amak at the joining of the Nyaslan and Zamba rivers.  With those elder-eyed deformities he converses, spanning the distances with his very thoughts."

"But what difference whether his power be his own or of his teachers?" cried Kyoi passionately.

"The difference is great and may be to our advantage," answered the young Wakai.  His dark eyes burned with a fierce determination as he rose and smote the tabletop.  "May we but subdue him ere he may contact his brothers and he would be helpless to stop the revolt!"

With a sad and tired sigh, Takai-Yadoya also rose and shook his head.

"But we need many followers to revolt," he pointed out.  Then, turning to Komichi, he asked, "How goes our support among the peasants?"

The farmer was uneducated and could only speak in a coarse, bastardized Ioni.  But he glanced about nervously and then, urged on by the merchant's encouraging countenance, he said:

"They are a fearful people, Takai-Yadoya.  And devotedly religious.  Since before memory they have worshipped the Great Kondomi, god of order and hope, in his eternal battle with Iemekai.  To them, Kondomi was the ultimate power in Dos-Yamura and the high priestess his beautiful mortal representative.  But now the high priestess is dead, slain by the order of the Ichiba, and Kondomi has exacted no revenge.  Can you blame them for fearing the Ichiba?  Some even believe that he is himself the terrible Iemekai taken mortal form.  And the Ichiba encourages their fears by claiming responsibility for the deeds wrought by his kurocho!  Nay, the Ichiba has cowered their god.  They will not revolt."

After such a long and taxsome speech, the farmer leaned back and settled comfortably into his chair.  Having voiced his knowledge he would leave the ensuing discussion to the more capable city-dwellers.

"Then what are we to do?" whined Kyoi.  "Without the support of the peasants, our cause is hopeless."

"Much damage may be wrought," suggested Wakai grimly, "by a few strong and desperate men."

"It would be suicide!" gasped Ippai, heaving his bulk half out of his chair.

"A free trade route gains me nothing if I am no longer here to profit by it," argued Kyoi.

But Takai-Yadoya impatiently raised a hand for silence.  Then a sly smile creased his fine lips.

"Your bickering is unneeded," he assured them quietly.  "Without this room awaits a young man -- a member of my spy-ring -- with an important message well-heard by us all.  Okii!"

Following close on the summons, a curtain parted in the darkness behind the merchant, then quietly settled back into place.  For a tense moment, the conspirators thought no one had entered.  Then they thought the light to be playing false with their senses.  Ippai was the first to comprehend what he saw.

"A dwarf!" he cried, rage and terror raising his voice to a high-pitched squeal.

"How kind of you to notice," replied the entrant sarcastically.  Then, with a deep and formal bow, he added, "I am Okii, official entertainer to the court of the Ichiba."

At once, all were on their feet: the two merchants fuming red-faced with fury; the farmer quaking with fear; and Wakai merely suspiciously tense.

"How dare you bring a dwarf to our meeting!" exclaimed Ippai in disbelief.

"He is no doubt an ally of the kurocho!" accused Kyoi.

Dwarfs were a rarity in any culture.  They were a definite deformity, and so were commonly left in the wilds at birth.  What few dwarfs did survive did so because of natural mystic powers which protected them through the period of cleansing.  As a result, they inevitably made their way to the Dark City of Amak where they might find a place among the kurocho.

"Okii is no kurocho!" bellowed Takai-Yadoya angrily.  "He was protected at birth and raised specifically as an entertainer to the court.  I trust him more than I would ever trust any one of you.  Now, sit down!  You look like trembling old women!  Conspirators indeed!"

Cowed by their leader's chastisement, the four sullenly returned to their places.  Okii stepped confidently into the light of the taper, a broad smile on his rounded features.  His skin was amber denoting his Ioni/Andu heritage, his hair ebony and close-cropped across the front.  He wore a light, woven tunic bound at the waist by a broad belt, ankle-length leggings, and grass sandals.  Nimbly he climbed into a vacant seat, positioned himself comfortably, and folded his hands on his lap.

"I am Okii," he repeated proudly, as if that name should bring each to his knees in awe.  "I am entertainer to the Ichiba.  Nowhere in all Dos-Yamura will you find a better entertainer.  And, should you hear tell of one, know it for a lie.  Abilities, I have many.  I juggle, dance, sing, play numerous instruments, and can even read Ioni.  As an acrobat, I am unsurpassed.  As a gambler, I never lose.  And, as a person, I am handsome beyond words."

"And your manner turns my stomach," interrupted Ippai.

"Hardly, master," returned the dwarf.  "Such a tiny manner as mine could never hope to turn such a stomach as yours."

Immediately the group burst into full, hearty laughter.  All save Ippai, who sputtered speechless with indignation.

"You dare!" finally roared the merchant.

"This dwarf is very smart for one so small," laughed Kyoi, patting his comrade firmly on the back.

"Why thank you, master," replied Okii.  "So are you."

Again the laughter welled, but this time two voices were absent from the gusty chorus.  The youth Wakai was no fool as to make any comment which might prompt the dwarf to aim his daggered tongue in a new direction.  But the eyes which regarded the swift-witted spy held a definite gleam of admiration.  Okii, as quick of eye as of wit, caught the flattering look and cast a knowing smile in return.

"Enough of this," shouted Takai-Yadoya at last.  "We are all tense and laughter makes good medicine.  But we are here for a far more pressing matter.  Okii, your message."

Okii nodded solemnly to his master and rose to his feet upon the seat of his chair.  He coughed to clear his throat.

"As I have said," he began very properly, "I am entertainer to the court of the Ichiba.  As such, I am afforded much freedom within the palace grounds.  This, of course, makes me a vitally important member of this conspiracy.  I can --"

"Okii!" admonished Takai-Yadoya.  "The message!"

The dwarf sighed.

"Yoi desu," he replied, sullenly.  "My message is simple.  The high priestess of Kondomi is yet alive."

There was a brief moment of silence while the tremendous import of his casually flung words came clear.  Then, like the sudden eruption of a volcano, pandemonium ensued.  Voices were raised in amazement and frantic disbelief.

"The high priestess alive!  Impossible!" shouted Ippai.

Kyoi brought his fist to the table.

"I saw it myself!  They took her to the Hill of the Sun!"

"Her body was left in the forest across the river as food for the barapur!"

"Everyone saw it!"

"Enough!"

Takai-Yadoya's sharp command brought an immediate calm to the room, though a tense air of expectancy yet remained.  He turned to the dwarf.

"Tell them what you saw."

"The high priestess," replied Okii, "being led through the palace by two Zaki -- at the very same time that she supposedly lay staked upon the Hill.  Since then, those Zaki have not been seen again."

"Where were they taking her?" asked Wakai.

"To the east tower -- where the Ichiba keeps his 'special' prisoners."

"But why should the Ichiba keep her alive?" questioned Kyoi, still unconvinced.  "She is merely a menace to him thus."

"Who knows what motivates the mind of Hayai-Kuchi?" shrugged Takai-Yadoya.  "But, if Okii believes that he saw the priestess being imprisoned in the east tower, that is sufficient proof for me."

"Then there is yet hope for the revolt!" exclaimed Wakai, his eyes once more alight with fierce passion.  "We have but to rescue the priestess, and show the people the hollowness of the Ichiba's godhood.  Then they will rise up against his tyrannical indifference and crush him in his throne!"

"And how would you accomplish this marvellous feat?" asked Kyoi bitterly.

"Therein lies the problem," agreed Takai-Yadoya.

"Why, surely a man in the guise of a Zaki could reach the tower," suggested Wakai.

Okii laughed at the naivete of the foreigner.

"Would that it were so simple," he said.  "But no one save the most trusted guards are permitted in the east tower.  Not even the Niban."

"Could we scale the tower on the outside under the cover of darkness?"

"With wings, perhaps," laughed the dwarf.  "For the tower is set against the east wall which in turn lies upon the rim of the palace plateau.  To climb from the city to the lowest window would require incredible strength.  And even to send a rope to such a height would be beyond the ability of the most experienced slingman."

"Kondomi's blood!" cursed Wakai, angrily striking the table and causing the flame to dance on its wick.  "We know where the priestess is, yet we are helpless as babies!"

"Time will yield an answer," said Takai-Yadoya soothingly.  "It always -- Yomo!  You were to stand watch.  What is it?"

All heads turned to see the black-skinned Bunda slave barely visible in the shadowed doorway.  He spoke no word, but even in the darkness he noticeably trembled.  Then he fell stumbling over the threshold roughly propelled by two armoured Zaki who materialized nightmare-like from the deep shadows beyond.

Instantly Ippai let out a squeal of terror and plunged for the curtained doorway through which Okii had entered.  Frantically clawing aside the rich fabric, he received a heavy sword-hilt across the face and tumbled back spitting blood and teeth.

Simultaneously, the more agile Kyoi made for the window.  But nary had he taken two steps than the red shutters burst inward as if by a titanic gale, and he stopped short before a forest of bronze blades.  And Wakai, drawing a slim dagger from his belt, flung aside his chair and turned menacingly like a wounded samadhi at bay.

But Takai-Yadoya was quicker to grasp both the seriousness of their predicament and the futility of such resistance.  Imperiously he rose from his chair, his face a mask of infuriated offence.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" he shouted.  "Who is responsible for this outrage?!"

As if in answer, the two Zaki dragged the Bunda slave from before the threshold.  A giant figure loomed in the doorway, ducked beneath the lintel, and strode to the centre of the room.

"Niban!" gasped Takai-Yadoya, his amber skin taking on a sickly yellow hue.

Grimly Fukitso surveyed the scene: the guards lifting the wounded Ippai from the floor; Kyoi standing trembling against a wall; Komichi seated at the table paralyzed with fear; and Wakai still crouching warily with knife in hand.

Fukitso, after his strange, inexplicable encounter with the Andu slave-girl, remained both confused and more than a little embarrassed. (See chapter two~The Supreme Plasmate) The girl had claimed to be a gift from the Ichiba -- obviously a lie.  But who then had sent her to Fukitso's chambers, and to what end?  She had drugged him, he was certain of that.  But when he came to later, she had disappeared as mysteriously as she had come, leaving him only with a baffling puzzle and a headache that throbbed like a Bunda war-drum.  Only one thing he knew for certain.  He was in no mood now for pitiful resistance.

"You are Takai-Yadoya?" rumbled the giant Ronin.

"Chiisai mashita, Niban," responded the merchant, in as calm a voice as he could manage.

"Very well then.  I am to arrest both you and your conspirators for treason against Dos-Yamura and against the Ichiba.  You will come peaceably."

It was no question.

"Treason!" cried the other in pretend disbelief.  "What madness is this!"

Suddenly, Kyoi, pushed to the brink of hysteria by his near-fatal encounter at the window, began to rant and rave like a madman.  And, pushing past the Zaki, he fell to his knees at the armoured feet of Fukitso.

"It was not my doing!" he cried.  "I am innocent!  But I will tell you all!  They intended to lead a revolt!  They --"

Too late Fukitso saw the youthful Wakai leap for the traitorous merchant.  Kyoi slumped to the boards, struck by a dagger-hilt across the back of the head.  The next moment Wakai was subdued by several Zaki and his arms pinioned to his sides.

"It won't end here!" he cried, red-faced with the exertions of battle.  "Others will arise to lead the revolt!  There will always be others!"

Fukitso simply regarded him with strange, inhuman eyes, and when he replied it was like the rumble of distant thunder.

"And where will be these others," he asked, "the day you lie staked upon the Hill of the Sun?"

At a signal, the five conspirators were led or carried from the room.  In the dark, unsure light, there was none to notice a sixth conspirator watching their departure from the concealment of the shadows beneath the table...
 


Previous episode: A Sinister Gift
Next episode: Attack on the Causeway


Table of ContentsPulp and Dagger Icon



Fukitso and the Golden Egg is copyright Jeffrey Blair Latta.  It is reprinted here with the author's permission.