A Ranma ½ story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is property of Rumiko Takahashi and Viz video.
Notes: 'Historical' altaverse. You'll know it when you see it. Do not expect this fic to be accurate of the era it (kind of) portrays. It's written to be fun, not edutainment.
The Saotome family was, by its history, an honorable one.
The family had been raised to its position by the Emperor in years dimmed by memory, but not entirely forgotten.
Knowing that their military strength was not the greatest, the family survived by wits, cunning, and strategic non-involvement. Due to this, the family was also small, as time bore on, until the passing of one Saotome Hikaru, who left his title to his son, one Saotome Genma.
Genma, then the eldest male, found himself unsettled by the loss of his father, himself only being a young man, and left his holdings and wealth in the hands of his equally young wife, then venturing with his youngest son on a voyage of training.
Nodoka waved tearfully, bowing by the door, and watching until her husband could be seen no more. As was proper for a dutiful wife. However, running the house was a challenge she wished her husband hadn't seen fit to leave her alone to manage. But it was not her place to complain.
Sighing, she rose from her position, after Genma had vanished from view, Ranma walking at his side in tottering steps. Adjusting her formal kimono, she turned her attention to the first of the tasks she would have to manage.
In a seedy bar just outside of Kyoto a young man with thinning hair stared blearily into a sake cup. His young son sat at his side dutifully, fidgeting uncomfortably in the presence of the girl who was seated opposite him.
The girl was dressed up in an immaculate formal kimono, her face made-up slightly, and her hair bound, as was proper. She stared demurely at her hands, which remained inside the sleeves of her kimono, while the two men spoke with one another.
"Saotome-sama, surely you see the benefit in my proposal?"
He wavered for a moment, unsure and unable to focus clearly on the man with the dark, bushy beard across from him. "Merchant," he slurred, frowning, and tossing back his sake. "Why shuuuuould I…" he trailed off, shaking his head to clear it, and fumbling for another cup of sake, which the man across from him eagerly supplied. "What's in it fer me?"
"Ah, a splendid question! Saotome-sama, as you are an honorable man, of honorable descent, and you can see that I'm but a lowly merchant. With more money, you could easily expand your holdings, and you're young yet — plenty of opportunities to do so! But I understand that you need to maintain a light and careful touch on your taxes, and thus your income is limited…."
"Ain't poor," he grumped, holding out his sake cup.
"Ah, of course not," the man said agreeably, refilling the cup without hesitation. "But a little money would never hurt, now would it?"
"Guess not," Genma answered, drinking of his sake again. "You gonna give it to me?"
"An exchange, Saotome-sama, not just a gift," the man said, shaking his head, and smiling. "Look at our children, aren't they lovely together?"
Blinking away the blurs in his vision, Genma squinted at the pair for a long moment, before answering, "Yeah." Ranma in truth looked bored, waiting pensively, and seeming to disapprove of the entire affair. The girl was not fidgeting, but seemed no more pleased then Ranma. "Cute kids."
"So, in exchange for my assets — my daughter's dowry, you see — we could secure an alliance between our families, yes? With the money, and some attention, you could talk to the emperor, yes? You've already spoken with him before, haven't you?"
"Owes us a favor," Genma agreed tiredly, setting his cup down. "Little favor. Why?"
"Well then! With a few careful words from you to him, once my daughter is engaged to your son, why, our family could be elevated to a level only just below yours, and then think of the glory of the union! An ally already, and so early into your holding of your title!"
"That's good?" Genma asked cautiously.
"Very good! Saotome-sama, come, come with me to my holdings, rest the night and relax, allow our children to know one another better, and then we can sign an agreement, yes?"
"Uh…. Okay," he said slowly.
"Quiet, boy! You want to go back there?"
The child shook his head quickly. "Boring," he mumbled.
Genma snorted, hefting the large sack of money in one hand, and eyeing it unhappily. "Look, boy, I made a mistake. We're going home."
"Already?" he asked with childlike curiosity.
"I have to put this somewhere," Genma muttered. "DAMN Kuonji and his cunning— I can't get rid of this, no matter what. There's no way he would let me just give it back. He'd demand that you marry that girl. You don't want to marry her, do you?"
"She acts just like a servant," Ranma complained. "She's no fun."
"Good enough. Ranma, you understand that we're going to have to pretend this never happened, right?"
"It's got a lot to do— Never mind. We're going to go home, and your mother doesn't need to know where it came from. Boy, swear on your honor— never tell your mother about this."
"Because I said so, boy. It's a cunning trap, but he's just a merchant— the Shogunate would see our side of it if it came to light, but Kuonji knows better…. Suffice to say it's my word against his and that's that. Let's get home, and then plan a trip where your father learns better than to drink with cunning merchants."
"Genma, dearest, lord of my lands and my heart…."
The man sighed. He knew what that call meant. "Yes, beloved?" he returned, looking at the woman and granting her his full attention.
"If you're convinced that it is again time to journey, then I would advise you to hurry back as quickly as possible— Ranma's calligraphy is poor. If he's to become good enough at it to impress anyone, he will need to devote more attention to that."
"Ah," Genma answered quietly.
"His manners are good, and his history is adequate…. I will trust you to manage his military training, for I'm merely a woman, but…."
Genma rubbed at his temples. "I understand," he said quietly. "I know a little bit. I'll make sure he practices while we're training, this time. Anything else?"
"Hurry back, dearest, Ranma will have a little brother or sister, soon."
Genma's tension faded at the good news, and his face split into a wide grin. "Really, No-chan?"
She nodded, blushing like a little girl. "I'm glad you came back," she said quietly. "Where are you taking our son to train, next?"
"China, I hear there are some excellent training grounds there, and I wish to have Ranma study tactics underneath Lao-Hai."
"Lao-Shen? That's wonderful! Our son will be a truly spectacular child of the empire!"
"A young nova," Genma agreed, nodding. "But that can wait until he's older."
She was watching everything quietly from the corner of the main hall. She was so slight and unassuming that she was seldom noticed, except on those rare occasions where she had to be made-up first.
Six men in matching suits, bearing the banner of the Emperor, arrived at Kuonji's door, and he fell to his knees before them, bowing low. "I am your most unworthy servant," he intoned respectfully, before they could announce their intent.
Their representative looked unimpressed. "Do not assume to be a servant, merchant. You call upon the Emperor's divine wrath, do you not?"
He nodded meekly, rising slightly. "I have been wronged, and—"
Cuffing him in an ungentle manner, just above the ear, the man glowered at the Kuonji. "Do not presume. Kuonji, tell me, where are your dues?"
"D-d-d-dues?" he sputtered, staring upward from where he had been thrown by the man's errant blow. "I…. I paid them not seven weeks ago!"
The Imperial representative fished a ledger from his suit, and scanned over it briefly. "Not according to our records," he said, grimacing distastefully. "Kuonji, before you demand anything of us, you had best pay your taxes."
"I… I have! I did! I—"
"You owe four million yen," the man snapped.
"Four million— that's madness! I don't have nearly that much right now!"
The Imperial soldier sighed, tucking his ledger away. "Men," he ordered loudly, "search the premises, and take what Kuonji owes us. If he doesn't have enough, we'll sell off his home." Turning to the man, as the other Imperials began to move, he advised, "These are trying times, Kuonji, the war drains the empire's coffers, and taxes her soldiers worse." He grinned sardonically. "I'm sure you understand, don't you?"
Kuonji heaved a quavering sigh, while his daughter watched quietly, impassively, and not understanding the whole of what was transpiring. "I understand," he said bitterly. "Call your dogs off."
The man snorted, raising a hand and halting the men.
"I…. I have five strong and proud sons," he mumbled quietly. "I will ask them to join the Empire's cause."
"I understand you have six children, Kuonji?" the man probed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"My daughter will do you no good!" he protested. "She cannot fight."
The Imperial soldier's eyes flickered across her briefly, before he nodded. "Fair enough. Send your sons, we'll wait outside." He smiled thinly. "Perhaps next time, your grievances can be addressed."
Waiting until the man had left, Akira Kuonji dropped his face to his hands, and wept. "Forgive me," he sobbed. "Forgive me my trust, Mai, I've failed you and your dreams."
Finally breaking free of the strange dread that had pinned her to the corner she watched from, Ukyou crept close to her father, and clumsily patted him on the back. "What's wrong, father?"
He grasped her like a dying man, rising to sit upright, and clinging to her, sobbing into the shoulder of her soft short. "I've traded your brother's lives away, Ukyou-chan. I've given away your brother's lives for your freedom." He heaved a shuddering sigh, then pushed her away, climbing awkwardly to his feet. "Ukyou, I have little time to plan— do you remember the way to Daimonji-san's house?"
She nodded, eyes wide with worry and fear.
Licking his lips, Akira bellowed, "My sons! I must speak with all of you!" He scurried quickly to a table, as Ukyou's brothers filtered into the hall one-by-one. "Now, we haven't much time," he muttered, "so Ukyou-chan, I want you to take this letter to Daimonji-san. It tells him that all I own is now his, and he is to raise you as his own, and take care of you. I dearly wish my foolishness hadn't let me cause this mess."
Ukyou's brothers made questioning noises, but Akira ignored them. "Daimonji-san will see that you are trained, educated, and live a good life with a substantial dowry. My foolishness will not end our line. Ukyou, marry a strong man."
"Father?" she asked, confused, as Akira stamped his seal on the corner of the letter, and folded it up.
"Yeah, what's this about?" her eldest brother echoed in confusion.
"I'll not abandon you," Akira stated resolutely. "But due to my error, we've been drafted."
"Father?" Ukyou asked, a faint tinge of panic entering her voice. "What's going on?"
"Hush, child," Akira soothed, pressing the letter into her hands. "Run to Daimonji-san's, quickly, and give him this letter."
"Are you going away like mother did?" she asked, eyes growing moist. "Don't leave me alone!"
"I'm sorry, Ukyou-chan," he whispered sadly. "This is because of the Saotome clan. We have no choice. Run!"
Feet faltering, eyes wide, and still confused, Ukyou did as she was instructed, and ran for all she was worth, a slowly building furnace of hatred building in her heart. "Saotome," she swore to herself, nearly blinded by tears as she charged down the street. "I will destroy you!"
Daimonji Sentaro rubbed at his temples, closing his eyes to the girl before him. "Kuonji," he murmured. "Was it a Roman story about the one who tried to reach to the sun, and burnt his wings off?" he asked. "Or was that from the Christian book?"
Ukyou had no answer, and he opened his eyes, regarding the girl frankly.
"Ukyou-chan, I'm sorry about this, and your father, truly. He has, however, entrusted everything he owned into my keeping. For my part, my children are grown and gone." He snorted, settling into his cushion, and gesturing her to sit.
"I don't want to mind a child, but I won't turn you out to the streets. My wife is many years gone." He sighed again, running his fingers through his grayed hair. "Ukyou-chan, what do you want to do?"
She was silent for a moment, before she raised her head. "I want revenge," she said quietly. "Father said you knew someone."
"The Emperor's ninja," Sentaro breathed. "I can't call a favor like that from them; they don't owe me enough. But, perhaps, they could train you…"
Ranma hummed tunelessly, following in Genma's footsteps as the pair wended their way westward. He was unused to the awkward weight of the daisho— the paired swords— but Genma insisted that he learn them quickly, for there was no telling when he'd need them.
It was more interesting than calligraphy, at the very least. And better than history, or tea ceremony, or any of the other thousand things that his mother wanted him to study.
"Boy?" Genma queried.
"Yes, father?" he responded, raising his eyes from the road to face the man squarely.
"Today we're going to meet an old friend of mine, his name is Lao-Shen, and he's the advisor to the man who controls this region, Prince Herb. I want you to be on your best behavior, because if all goes well you will study tactics underneath him for a few months before we go home."
Ranma nodded his understanding, pointing to a sign by the side of the road. "This says that we're close to Jusenkyou, I think. Can we go there and train before we visit Lao-Shen-san?"
Genma hesitated for a moment, considering, then nodded brusquely. "Very well, Ranma. Why not?"
"Kinnosuke, are you certain that this is safe?" the crown prince asked uncertainly, observing the battle from the location that the Shogun had chosen.
"Absolutely," he assured the young crown prince. "If you'll forgive me, Favored Son of Heaven, I must attend the battle."
Sanzenin Mikado shifted uncomfortably on the seat that had been borne to the site of the battle, nodding absently as the elderly Shogun ambled off to manage some matter or another. "It is a strange thing," he mused, wincing at the faint sounds of gunshots, as Japanese soldiers warred with the Russian invaders.
Still, the Divine Son of Heaven, the venerable Sanzenin Happosai had seen fit to allow him to witness the battle, as little as it interested him. He was there as a symbol to boost the flagging morale of the troops, and it was, according to the Shogun, absolutely safe.
And even should the Russians draw near, the Imperial Guard was standing nearby, while the troops of the Shogunate dealt with the Russian soldiers. Mikado shifted again, aware that it was unseemly for him to appear anything other than calm, but still keenly unnerved by the whole affair.
A ricocheting bullet glancing off the palanquin was the only warning he had, before a flood of Russian soldiers crested the low rise that the Imperial Guard stood atop.
The venerable Sanzenin Happosai, Divine Son of Heaven, raised a trembling hand, and spoke authoritatively, his voice carrying through the hall. "Kinnosuke," he said, climbing to his feet, and frowning. "You displease us."
Kinnosuke stared away, not meeting the Emperor's eyes.
"We request that you end your services to us," he said quietly. "And we also ask that the Kasha-oo line end here, today."
The Shogun hissed, nodding brusquely.
Mikado repressed a shudder, looking away as Kinnosuke and his two sons committed the grisly act of ritual disembowelment. Once it was done, the Divine Son of Heaven spoke again, his aged voice only wavering slightly.
"It would appear that the Shogun's line had ended, and we are called upon to replace him with one more worthy." His eyes scanned across the assembled attendants for the day, finally resting on a young man. Smiling slightly, Happosai, gestured, and intoned, "Kumon Ryu, we request that you arise, and take the position of Shogun. Do you accept?"
Mikado hid a small smile of relief. Ryu was a capable servant, and more than that, a trusted friend. There would be no worry of being stabbed in the back by him. "I do," Ryu managed, rising, and then bowing low to the emperor. "I humbly accept the title bestowed upon me by the Divine Son of Heaven."
"We are pleased," Happosai murmured. Turning his attention abruptly to a trio of men, one grizzled and old, the other two much younger, though all sported fresh bandages, the emperor called out, "We understand that you protected our favored son, and for that, we are grateful. For that, then, you may request a boon of both we, and our favored Shogun."
Clearing his throat, but not daring to raise his head and rest his eyes upon the body of the emperor, the man intoned, "Most exalted and beloved Son of Heaven, I humbly request that you reward us as you see fit, and no more."
Mikado nodded absently. That was an appropriate request, ensuring that he didn't try to step over his bounds. The Emperor also seemed to approve, and inclined his head in a slight nod. Calling out loudly enough to be heard at the farthest ends of the hall, the Emperor stated, "Then henceforth, the Kuonji clan shall hold the lands previously belonging to the Shiratori." He smirked very slightly, and pitched his voice lower, "We never liked them much anyway." Clearing his throat, he raised his voice once more. "Rise, Kuonji Akira, and accept from us this honor."
The man stood proudly, smiling grimly. "I am deeply honored, exalted and beloved Son of Heaven."
The emperor nodded, ambling to his seat once more, and gesturing to Ryu.
Catching himself, still somewhat stunned by the changes, the newly appointed Shogun said, "And too, ask of the Shogunate what you will."
Kuonji Akira was hard-pressed to restrain his satisfied smirk. "Of you, I request permission to avenge a breach of honor from clan Saotome."
The court was almost instantly flooded with alarmed babble, which made Mikado wonder. He certainly didn't know what was special about them.
Ryu, however, apparently did, and grimaced distastefully. "It is a poor thing to request," he said quietly. "Make it honorable, break no laws, and do not trespass upon their lands." He paused considering, and looked momentarily to Happosai, who remained impassive, before continuing. "We know that they are not within the borders of our Empire, and therefore I grant you the time it takes them to reach their own lands to do as you will. Fail, and your chance is lost."
The emperor nodded his approval, and Kuonji growled, "We will not fail. By your leave, honorable Shogun, most exalted and beloved Son of Heaven."
To be continued.
Author's Notes: Enjoy, or not.
"Welcome, Monsieur Customer, to la valley of Solothurn."
Ranma eyed the guide dubiously. "Um, right," he said quietly.
"Somezing is wrong?" the guide asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Your accent is funny," Ranma grumped. "Sorry."
"Non, non, is required by ze Cursed Springs Guide's Union**," the guide explained. "Now, you see here les springs of Solothurn—"
"Cursed?" Ranma asked, alarmed.
"Bah, it's nothing," Genma retorted. "Come on, boy, onto the training ground… unless you're a coward!"
"You're on, old man!" Ranma countered, forgetting the guide.
The man waved urgently, adjusting his beret as he tried to get their attention, "Oi! Oi! Zat's dangerous, you—" he cut off abruptly, realizing that his warnings would do no good.
"Well," he said philosophically, "zey'll see for zemselves, soon enough."
Indeed, into the pools, numerous spruce poles had been sunk, allowing the combatants to perch atop them as they dueled. As the young boy and his father were doing even then, actually.
Both fought well, trading blows and maintaining their balance, but the guide knew their grip would fail eventually. It was merely a question of who slipped first.
The boy launched a kick into his father's stomach, causing the man to rebound, landing on a pole clumsily, arms windmilling around frantically as he tried to regain his balance. "Oh, no, Monsieur Customer," the guide began, drawing closer to the edge of the springs, "you fall into le spring of drowned—"
"Ouch," the guide said sympathetically, offering a hand to the dazed man. "Zis is le spring of drowned black bear."
"Cursed, you say?" the heavyset man said dizzily.
"How lucky it was frozen, non?"
"Lucky," the man agreed, still off balance.
**Otherwise known as L'Union de Guide de Ressorts Maudit, a fine international organization with world-wide membership .
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