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, in charge of the Ichiba's palace guards, is sent to arrest some conspirators who are organizing a revolt, but one dwarf conspirator escapes.  The Ichiba, having pretended to execute the peasants' high priestess, secretly keeps her prisoner in the east tower. 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. Suspicious of Fukitso's sympathies with the peasants, the Ichiba decides to arrest him for treason, but Fukitso escapes.
Now, that night...

Chapter Five - A Desperate Lie

TONIGHT, AS ALWAYS, TAPERS BURNED late within the kurabu of Daburu.  Wine flowed like water during the Season of Rain, and soft, exotic-scented veils of smoke drifted languidly on the stale air.  Rowdy snatches of obscene song rose and fell with monotonous regularity, and the rattle of bone-dice on stained boards was ever followed by drunken curses or hearty cheers.  Upon the battered stage, a slender Andu dancer twisted seductively, a translucent hisui eel squirming erotically about her thighs.

A kurabu was many things to many people.  To was bar, theatre, gambling den and brothel.  In short, it was home to the most vicious ruffians offered by the slums of Kari-Zak.

But even the most villainous scoundrel gave a wide berth to the dark, scowling collosus now leaning heavily against the bar.

Fukitso quaffed down his drink, sloshing some upon the open front of his kimono.  He had deserted his armour long ago at the base of "The Blade of Ichiba" and he knew that he could remain fairly inconspicuous within the rank and squalid depths of the slums.  But the sharp ache in his ribs reminded him well that his desperate escape had not been without cost.

"Another kanpai!" bellowed the Ronin to the nervous fellow behind the bar.

Like most drinks, kanpai varied widely in content from place to place and bartender to bartender.  But, in general, it was a very strong and heady beverage mixed from the juice of the baraka mushroom, or "kailasa" as the Andu so named it.  Few men could stomach this potent and often unpredictable brew.  But Fukitso had been raised among the Doji priesthood to whom the short-lived and poisonous fungus was as familiar as lichen.  Besides which, few things else could have brought calm to his savage and seething soul.

The bartender passed him another mug of the intoxicating concoction.  Sloshing the stuff over his chin, Fukitso drained it in three gulps and, with a hearty burp, slammed the empty vessel onto the boards.

He was about to order again when it suddenly dawned upon his clouded consciousness that the room had grown strangely quiet.  He glanced about suspiciously, his peculiar eyes even more unfocused than was usual.

Several of the drunken customers glared intently, even menacingly, in his direction.  With a start, he looked down and, then, grunted in surprise.  Standing at his sandaled feet, staring up from what looked like a tremendous distance, was a dwarf.  The tiny figure could not have come higher than the giant's hips, yet he had the air of an Ichiba.

"I would have conference with you, master," stated the dwarf simply.

Fukitso feared no man, least of all one the size of a child.  Yet he was well aware of the nature of dwarves, and he gently touched the sheath of his katana to ensure that Ginago remained close at hand.

"I have no dealings with the kurocho," he rumbled, menacingly.

"Nor have I," put in the bartender, coming up behind.  "Begone before my customers roast you on a spit!"

But the dwarf seemed unperturbed by this threat, retaining his confident stare upon the giant towering over him.

He lowered his voice ever so slightly.

"I would speak to you of our common friend...Zaki-Iwaba."

Like the dwarf, Fukitso remained unmoved as stone by this comment, and, for a long moment, a tense silence hung over the room.

Then the titan growled in a voice like the thunder of an avalanche, "The dwarf is with me!"

Immediately the tumult of cheer and song began with renewed fury as the ruffians turned hurriedly back to their own entertainment.

"An alcove," demanded Fukitso of the bartender, who motioned a trembling finger toward a curtained archway in the far corner.

Without turning, the giant slipped a shining beetle from his belt and tossed it upon the counter.  Then he strode heavily across the floor, a wide path opening before him as if by magic.  Sweeping aside the curtains, he glanced in.  It would not have been well to interrupt a customer in his private sport.  But the room was vacant and so Fukitso ducked into the dark interior followed closely by the dwarf.

The alcove was lighted solely by the scarlet glow of a brass incense lamp which hung from the low ceiling.  In the darkness, Fukitso's unnerving eyes shone like the crimson orbs of a samadhi.  He sat upon a cot which groaned with the burden and regarded his visitor whom, for his part, preferred to remain standing near the archway.

For some time they watched each other.  Then the dwarf, realizing that it was for him to open the conference, coughed nervously.

"I am Okii," he began.  "I am entertainer to the court of the Ichiba.  And I ask your aid."

"If you seek to gain profit by your knowledge," came a snarl in the dark, "you will find Ginago may make you forget much."

"Oh no, master!" Okii hastily assured him.  "I seek your aid for the revolt.  You see, master, I am the sixth conspirator."

He paused to first determine the giant's reaction to this confession.  But the crimson orbs simply stared unblinking.  Okii plunged on.

"I was hiding when you raided the home of Takai-Yadoya this night.  I followed you to the entrance to 'The Blade of Ichiba'.  For a time, I remained hidden by the shadows, unsure how best to proceed.  Then, lo, I heard the distant sound of combat, then shouts, and the thunder of a karmah upon the causeway.  But, when I saw the beast ran riderless, I believed that one of my comrades had attempted to escape and been downed with a sling.  Still I remained concealed and, in time, my diligence was rewarded.  I learned from the chatter of the Zaki that the Niban had been branded a traitor and that he...that you had killed Zaki-Iwaba and then fled, leaping from the lower end of the causeway.  The other conspirators were marched into the palace.  All save Komichi, the farmer, who fell to his death during the fight.  I remained while they searched along the foot of 'The Blade', to ensure that you were not retaken.  Then, making enquiries within the slums, I tracked you to this kurabu.  You are not difficult to locate.  So now I ask again, master...Will you aid the revolt?"

For a time the alcove was silent and Okii prayed that the giant could not see the sweat which trickled from his brow.  Then a cynical laugh burst forth from the darkness, more like a bestial cough than anything else.

"This day," growled the Ronin, "I have argued with the Ichiba, been drugged by a slave-girl, cast from my position, and branded a traitor.  I have no greater wish than to be gone from this accursed city of baraka dreamers and back in the east where a man's words are what they seem.  I have no care for the troubles of your
weak-limbed, spineless peasants.  Least of all, those who choose dwarves as their emissaries.  So, tell me, little avatar.  Why should I involve myself in your doomed revolt?"

Okii was untouched by the cruel words of this Ronin behemouth, and did not even attempt a return thrust (though he could no doubt have thought of several).  Yet such a straight, unreasoning refusal left him white with shock.

"But you may not escape the city," he argued quickly.  "The Ichiba will watch every wall and gate.  And you cannot long hide within the slums."

"Your sympathy is touching, dwarf," chuckled Fukitso, derisively.  "But unwarranted.  I was raised among the Doji brotherhood.  When desperate, no man may stand in my way and live.  But I am hardly desperate.  As Niban, I learned that the earth beneath this city is riddled with ancient aquaducts which all lead under the wall to the river.  I can easily reach them by the wells.  What say you to this?"

The dull-witted hulk had planned well.  But there still remained to Okii one last chance.  There was only one way to deal with such a savage.

"Very well, master," he acquiesed, sadly.  "I see that you are a man of rare intellect, unmoved by the pathetic pleas of worthless peasants nor the glittering riches of a fallen Ichiba."

Fukitso grunted explosively.

"What is this talk of riches?"

Even in the darkness, the dwarf's eyes sparkled with triumph.

"The treasury, master.  It holds the tribute of all Dos-Yamura.  And, because of the Ichiba's recent campaigning, it now sits fat and heavy, merely awaiting the will of a plunderer.  A revolt would, of course, mean vast riches for such a man -- riches in which to drown.  But, then,  why speak of this?  You have your priorities."

"Hai!  The highest of which is wealth!" exclaimed Fukitso, tantalizing visions of diamonds, rubies and sapphires flowing avalanche-like through his mind.

"Ah, I see that you are a shrewd merchant," urged Okii.  "I did not foresee that you were merely awaiting to ensure that you gained the maximum for your services.  Of course, you now see that a revolt will grant you both freedom and riches.  Truly I should have tried at once to appeal to your intellect."

And Okii refrained from adding, "As, no doubt, such an intellect must find small things appealing."

"No!  I will not!"

Okii was stunned.

"But...why?" he stammered.  Truly this Ronin was unpredictable.  "I offer you--"

"You offer me freedom and riches.  Freedom I already possess -- at least, all I desire.  And riches!  A man may only carry so much.  There are far easier ways to gain an armload of jewels than to lead a doomed revolt.  Bah!  Keep your treasury!  I have been rich before and shall be again!"

The crimson glow rippled across brawny limbs as the giant rose from the couch as if to leave.

"And a slave-girl?"

Fukitso stopped.  Okii cursed himself for resorting to such an offer, but desperation had forced him to drastic measures.  And now, the sight of those strange and hungry eyes prodded him onward.

"I offer you a beautiful slave-girl of pure Ioni blood -- lithe and firm of body with flesh like poolished gold.  Ioni slave-girls are illegal.  This is one reward not so easily acquired in the east."

"And she is truly beautiful?" muttered the giant, suspiciously.

"A more young and vibrant creature was never seen in Kari-Zak -- just budding into womanhood."

The dark-skinned Andu were famed for their women.  Yet the very untouchability of the gold-skinned Ioni women made them more desirable than diamonds.  Fukitso felt his blood boil at the thought.

"And how is it," he asked, "that you may arrange that which others may not?  Who is this woman who may be bartered like an Andu?"

"She is the daughter of a very rich and powerful citizen," lied Okii.  "The Ichiba had her captured and imprisoned in the east tower to ensure the loyalty of her sire.  But now her father can no longer pay the tribute requested by the Ichiba, and so she has been sentenced to hiyake in two days time.  Her father has promised her as a slave to the man who will rescue her.  And, of course, his word is all that is required.  He can ensure that the law turns a blind eye to the transaction, but only if the revolt is successful."

Fukitso contemplated these words for some time.  Slowly, imperceptibly, in his eyes there grew that savage gleam which marked him as a Samurai.

"So ka!" he roared at last, and the walls of the alcove fairly quaked with the force of his passion.  "By Doji's flame!  I will lead your revolt and free this Ioni beauty!  But, if she is not all that you claim, woe be onto Kari-Zak and all its snivelling inhabitants.  For Fukitso will wreak his revenge!"

Okii remained unmoved by this violent promise.  In time his ruse would be revealed and the giant Ronin would have to be dealt with.  But, for now, the volcanic energy of his new-found ally need more importantly be molded to the wishes of the revolt.

"But wait, master," shouted Okii over the fierce ravings of Fukitso.  "You have not yet heard my plan."

The other fell calm.

"Hai.  Even as Niban, I could not have gained access to the east tower.  Now I am an outlaw."

"And therein lies the root to my plan," said the dwarf, enthusiastically.  And slowly, carefully, he outlined his caper.  Fukitso listened in deep and often strenuous concentration.  Then, at last, he nodded.

"It is a good plan, dwarf," he agreed.  "All save the fact that it would be suicide for such as I to attempt.  But there is another who might fare better.  I will lead your revolt.  But, first, for tonight I must journey south!"

Previous episode: Attack on the Causeway
Next episode: "You Will Tell Me Eventually!"

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