Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
Riders in the Grass
Riders in the Grass
The grasses waved with the wind, browned by the summer sun, as Utaku Leila led A’dab in
the canter she had set for the rest of the Unicorn headed back towards Shiro Utaku Shojo. She
had been granted the honor of setting the pace after the Topaz Championship had been quickly and
efficiently concluded and all assembled clans had been sent on their way. The leather reins in
her hands, the feel of her stallion beneath her, the warm summer wind blowing through her hair,
made Leila feel truly alive, and her recent glories ensured that her triumphant grin would not
be receding any time soon. As she rode, Leila took one hand off the reins to affectionately
mess A’dab’s snow white crest, her laughter and his hoof beats sounding out her ideal victory
The events of the last few days ran through her head as she rode.
“Why did you help him, Lady?” Qadir, Leila’s groom, had asked her as she dutifully
rubbed A’dab down after the first day of competition. “The Crab, I mean.”
“I know who you meant, Qadir,” Leila responded. She turned from A’dab, brush in hand,
and looked at Qadir. She had asked herself the same question many times and anticipated others
would inquire soon as well. Some samurai meditated cross-legged, contemplating cherry
blossoms. Leila found her serenity while tending to her steed, the smell hay of horse lather
helped to clear her mind and the act of brushing down A’dab’s ivory coat allowed her focus.
“Our clans may be at war; if not now, then very soon. But this event, it is separate. A time
for the Empire to witness its best and brightest, its very future, as Ren-sama proclaimed this
very morning. I helped Kazuma-san this day because this championship is about the Empire, not
about Crab or Unicorn, or any of the other clans and their differences. “ She resumed brushing
down A’dab. “Should I meet him on the battlefield, even if it were tomorrow, I would gladly
send him to meet his ancestors. That day was not today.”
“Thank you for explaining to me, Lady,” her groom said as he bowed.
Leila smiled and shook her head as she handed the brush to Qadir. “You may finish with
him, Qadir. Get yourself some rest after you see that A’dab is stabled for the night.”
She remembered smiling to herself as she left the stables, recalling how, when matched
against Kazuma-san again, later that day, she had led A’dab in a stately dressage to the
starting gates while he had sat on his own mount, not seeming to know if he should hold on to
his reins or the horn of his saddle. It may not have been the battlefield, but she could at
least show the Empire that the Unicorn remained the undisputed masters of horsemanship.
“Leila-sama?” the name still caused difficulties, even amongst her own people, and Leila
was pulled out of her introspection by a battle maiden 15 years her senior.
“Toshie-sama, you have been a gunso with the Shiotome for three years now,” Leila
responded, “I surely have not yet earned such an honorific from yourself.”
The older woman ignored her. “A rider approaches, Champion, look, there.” Toshie
pointed in the direction of a forming cloud of dust, approaching from the direction of Kyuden
Leila immediately flashed back to the Heraldry competition a few days past. “That
appears to be the mon of the Emerald Championship. If he does not slow soon, he will kill that
mount.” What could he possibly want with us? Leila thought as the rider drew closer.
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