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NaNoMo: The Honor of a Dog - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
just_ruth
just_ruth
NaNoMo: The Honor of a Dog
Yes, the name changed - one of the characters gave it to me.

The Honor of a Dog

Part 1

The sea and sky were a hazy grey under the pale sky of an early autumn dawn. A small woman in a brown and green kimono climbed the pile of rocks that looked like a giant turtle, a Shiba dog at her side. She looked out to the horizon as she had been for the last two weeks since the fishing fleet was late in returning. The sable, curly-tailed dog voiced a warbling query. She bent and scratched between his pricked ears.

“No sign of the fleet, yet, Goma-chan,” she said. She sent it off to play and run on the beach while she studied the pattern of the clouds and the way the birds flew. She could see no signs of a storm.

“Tomomi!” called another woman walking on the beach. Her kimono was rust and brown with a bright yellow sash. Tonomi climbed down from the turtle rocks that gave the fishing village its name.

“Nothing yet, Ino,” she reported.

Goma-chan came running back, his right hind leg only dotting on the ground from an old injury, with something in his mouth. Tomomi laughed, no matter where or when they walked, Goma-chan always brought her something.

“Give,” she ordered. He dropped the shell into her hand. “Thank you, Goma-chan,” she petted the dog, who lolled his tongue and laughed. Tomomi had never seen a shell like it. It was tapered from a knobby spiral and was marked with thin stripes of purple on a sandy-cream.

She handed it to Ino, who turned it around in her hands “That looks almost like the shell Weaver’s daughter has,” Ino exclaimed. “She said her father used to get dye from them, but they were all fished out when she was young.”

“Maybe they are coming back,” Tomomi tucked the shell in her sash and looked out across the water. “There must have been enough left to breed more.”

“Come back soon, oh my husband,” she whispered to the wind.

“Tomomi!” Ino caught her arm. A column of dark smoke rose from the trees. “That looks like it’s coming from Chidori!”

Goma-chan sniffed the air and growled.

The two women looked at each other and ran across the beach.

*******

The main hall had been closed off from the chilling autumn wind. The assorted nobles and councillors were dressed in their thicker, warmer robes of state. Lord Uchida no Yemon of Hidarashi Island straightened on the dias where the nineteen year old had been slumping in boredom as the various reports from his newly-acquired domain were droned by his chief councillors. His mother had finally stopped hissing at him from behind her phoenix decorated paper screen to sit up. He had just heard something interesting. “Bandits?” he repeated.

“So it is rumored, my lord,” said the Chief Councillor of the Right, an older man who had served under the young Lord’s father. “We have not heard word from the towns of Wide Cove or from Chidori in two days since a runner came with the news.”

“Where are those towns, exactly?” the Lord demanded.

“They are within the territory served by the Fifth-Post Inn,” the Chief Councillor of the Left checked his notes. “Turtle Rock is the name of the village it operates from.”

The Post Inns were the idea of his father. There were twelve of them around the coast of the island and it meant that Lord Uchida could get a message to his retainers within a day. All Post Inns had to keep three horses ready at all times.

“I remember that Inn,” Uchida scowled. “That was where that dreadful woman stole my dog!”

Two years ago, he had gone hunting in the area and the year-old sesame-colored Shiba pup had been injured by their prey, a wild pig. Uchida had ordered the animal destroyed. The woman who cooked and cleaned for the Fifth Post Inn begged to be allowed to try and save it. Uchida magnanimously allowed her to have the dog. The following year he had returned to find it cured and had demanded its return. Shiba dogs were for the nobles to hunt with, after all.

The dog bit him. It had clearly switched its allegiance to the woman of the Fifth Post Inn.

Someone coughed. Uchida glared to his left. Seated in front of a screen with a mountain scape was his older brother Tsume. Tsume was six months older than Yemon, being the son of a concubine, the councillors declared him ineligible to inherit the title Yemon now held. His mother kept telling him not to trust Tsume, but sometimes Yemon envied his half-brother’s freedom from the obligations of being the Lord of the island.

Tsume spoke now; his voice calm, “the dog was merely grateful to its rescuer.”

“Yes, of course,” Uchida drawled. “The honor of a dog can be bought for a bone.”

Tsume barely flinched; knowing the comment was aimed at him.

Uchida’s mother groaned behind her screen. “You fool,” she whispered. “Don’t antagonize him!”

Uchida snorted. Tsume would never dare to touch him.

“The bandits, my lord,” the Chief Councillor of the Right began gently.

“Provide proof,” Lord Uchida sat back. “I shall not waste our resources on mere rumor.”

Tsume’s clenched jaw made him look like Yemon’s father when the former Lord had disapproved of what his heir was doing. “The men of that territory will be out with the fishing fleet, there will be only women and children to defend the villages.”

There was a brief uncomfortable silence and the councillors all looked everywhere but at the Lord or his brother. Yemon felt his face grow hot.

“How dare you!” He roared. “Very well, since you are so concerned, _you_ may go and rescue those so-important women and children!”

Tsume bowed from his knees.

Lord Uchida scowled at everyone. “Enough, you bore me,” he snapped at the councillors. “Well, brother, if you’re so anxious about those fishermen’s families, hadn’t you better get going?”

Tsume bowed again and respectfully backed out of the chamber.

“Someone get me some tea,” Uchida snapped. His mother sighed behind the screen and Yemon wondered what he’d done wrong _now._

*******


Tsume sighed as he chose an armored shirt of lacquered metal plaques from the castle armory to supplement his swords and knife. “I wish Yemon saw that I am _not_ his enemy.”

“He is still learning his power,” said his tutor, Machi, as he adjusted the straps. “Of course, if he stops listening to his mother and starts listening to people with sense; he may become a good ruler.”

“And if he does not?” asked a soft, dry voice. A white-haired man in black slipped out of the shadows of a connecting hallway.

“Shinobi Master Hisoka,” acknowledged Tsume with a bow. “It will not be my problem if he does not. It will be the problem of the Council and the Chief Councillors.”

Master Hisoka inclined his head at the answer. “Well put, Lord Tsume.”

He shook his head. “No Lord, just Uchida no Tsume.”

Master Hisoka inclined his head again. Machi and Tsume headed for the stables. The older man turned to the shadows.

“Follow them,” he said quietly. “There are those around Lord Uchida who would eliminate his competition. That must not be allowed to happen.”

A shadow slipped from among the others and moved silently away. Hisoka sighed softly.

“Two sons can be a curse, Hisoka,” said the late Lord Uchida as the two old friends sat having tea. “Especially two as closely born as Tsume and Yemon.”

“The Council has already picked Yemon,” Hisoka poured the fragrant brew into the delicate porcelain cups.

“They have,” he nodded, “yet I worry. May I ask you a favor old friend? Will you watch from the shadows as you do best and watch over my sons?”

“You shall watch them yourself for many years to come, old friend,” Hisoka nodded. “Yet, I shall promise you this small service gladly.”

_Truly,_ thought Hisoka, _the future is written on the sand. Who would have expected the river fever to strike you so strongly, my dear friend, when you had always been so healthy? I made sure your body was examined by those who would know and there was no poison in your system._

_So I watch your sons, old friend, and I hope I do not have to choose between them._

*********

Snake yawned and scrubbed one hand through the short brush of his hair as he leaned on the bar. All he could see of his partner was his backside as he crouched among the dice players. Not that Snake minded, he could look at Sai’s bright red backside all night if he wanted to and he usually did. Sai wore red cotton pants that were bright enough for a Miko with a haori that had an incredibly gaudy fan pattern. His girlishly long hair pulled into a hip-length tail and his worn, patched clothes helped to make him look harmless. Sai was not harmless with a dice cup in his hands.

Snake could rest his chin comfortably on top of his head. Snake was just as lean as Sai, but his father had been a ship-wrecked mariner from a foreign land; in addition to his unusual height, Snake had brown hair, eyes that were a mix of brown and green and his skin was a lighter shade of tawny gold that was prone to freckle in the summer sun. Snake’s pants were dusty brown. He wore only a tiger-striped vest over his chest to show off his bold muscles and his brown hair stuck up in spikes above his red hair band. He could trick the dice almost as well as Sai, but he preferred to show off by wrestling the local champions. He also kept off the bullies and the annoyed losers.
It was the hour of the Rabbit, that hour just after sunset where “men decided if they were Rabbits or Tigers” as the old saying went, meaning they either headed back to their wives or stayed out for drinking and gambling.

The little tables of the bar had been stacked against the walls. The men knelt on a great square of white canvas in the center of the room. Sai rattled the cup loudly. “Hi-hi-ho! Odd or Even? High or Low? Place your bets!” he chanted. Coins pattered on the canvas.

“Hi-hi-ho! Everyone ready? Here we go!” The dice rolled across the surface. “Five and Five, even and high, if you’ve lost, you now know why!” he chanted.

“It’s a cheat!” one of the losers jumped to his feet.

Snake finished his rice beer and stood behind Sai.

“Now, now, don’t get all excited. After all, they were your dice, friend,” drawled Sai. “Are you suggesting they were loaded?”

***********

“Put me down!” Sai shouted as he bounced against Snake’s back. Things had quickly turned ugly after Sai exposed the loaded dice. Snake had decided the wisest course of action was to throw Sai over his shoulder and run. “Put me down! I can run! I . . .” He looked back at the bar. “It’s on fire! Snake! Did you set the bar on fire?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Snake grabbed the trunk of a tree to get his balance.

“Put me down!”

Snake set his partner back on his feet. “Now what?” he asked.

“We keep running,” Sai sputtered. “You set the bar on fire, that’s going to piss the whole town off.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Snake muttered as the duo headed deeper into the forest that filled the center of the island. They walked most of the night before stopping.

“Ugh,” Snake sat down with his back to a large rock. “We’re not being followed.”

“Of course we’re not being followed,” Sai squatted down in front of him. “Everyone’s putting out the fire.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

“Oh, stop whining. Do you have anything to eat?”
“No.”

“Of course not,” Sai sighed. “And don’t say it’s not your fault, I _know_ it’s not your fault.”

Snake folded his arms across his chest and shivered. Sai sat down next to him. They leaned on each other. The gibbous moon peeked through the branches of the pines. Sai slid his hand up Snake’s arm to rub his thumb across Snake’s lower lip. Snake bent down until they bumped foreheads. He straightened up and sniffed the air.

“What?” Sai pouted a little.

“Do you smell that?”

Sai sniffed. There was a whiff of smoke in the air. It might be from the town they’d just left but. . . He sniffed again. The wind was wrong.

“I think we just found dinner,” Sai said cheerily.

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Comments
lil_1337 From: lil_1337 Date: November 4th, 2006 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I like what you have so far. I'm curious to see how all the different groups come together and how it plays out.
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