19-6 The report from Gamon Temple arrived at Seisai soon after the new month began. Sekirei delivered the dispatch on a kijuu that night.
“What’s this about?”
“Urgent news from Tonkou-sama about strange goings-on in the Bun provincial castle.”
“They’ve been ordered to set up supply depots for an army due to arrive from Kouki.”
In order to accommodate the army from Kouki, the Provincial Guard was to make ready the necessary provisions.
Risai felt a cold shiver of apprehension down her back. “What kind of scale are we talking about?”
“Based on the quantity of supplies, around a regiment. Not a large military force, but one that intends to settle down and stay for a while.”
“That would seem to rule out any kind of extermination campaign,” Risai murmured to herself.
Seishi nodded. “If it were, then this would be the scouting party. Evidence of our existence must have reached the ears of the central authorities.”
“Perhaps. In which case, however regrettable, we’re going to have to go into hiding for a while.”
And after finally figuring out where Gyousou was likely located. But they couldn’t get impatient and show their hand too early else all would come to naught.
“How many people do we have gathered here?”
“Over five thousand.”
Seisai bustled with people, activity that had reached the deserted towns at the outskirts. There their comrades in arms took up residence and quietly hung banners, the white flags Houto had designed. Soon after that, the Hakushi in those parts added the black line to their own flags as well, a kind of public pledge that they were one with Risai and her band.
At some point, they came to be known as the Black Flags and were numbered among the Hakushi as well.
At the same time, west of Seisai in Ryuukei, the restoration of the Sekirin branch temple continued in earnest. It soon became clear that the Koutaku Ordination Hall was setting up shop there, prompting repairs to nearby shrines and monasteries that had long been unoccupied by even a priest. That drew in more construction workers, attracted shamans hoping for a license from the Koutaku Ordination Hall, and refugees just looking for a job, followed by traders and merchants ready to serve the needs of the burgeoning population.
These large inflows of humanity provided the perfect cover for the military forces gathering there. Moreover, to the surprise of those involved in more sectarian pursuits, a Danpou Temple branch was going up in Seisai. Already engaged in restoring one of the temple ruins, they raised a new signboard over the structure.
Guardian of the Law
The signboard prompted startled expressions and double-takes from the tradesmen who arrived to work on the building.
Risai was surprised they were surprised. “Is it really that unique?” she asked Kuushou. “Danpou Temple has a well-established presence in Eisou.”
“And those temples most likely did not have names.”
“Ah,” said Risai. Come to think about it, those temples were simply labeled Danpou Temple.”
“You see,” Seigen explained, “That is Danpou Temple’s way of saying it is a temple without a temple.”
Kuushou and Seigen had transferred from the Koutaku Ordination Hall to supervise the establishment of the Ordination Hall in Ryuukei and organize the supporters of the Black Flags.
“A temple without a temple?” Risai asked.
Kuushou nodded. “We recognize no other possession other than the robes on our back and a begging bowl.”
Clothing and utensils. During the winter, that included a straw mat to ward off the cold. The only possessions allowed a monk. Thus it followed they were said to not even possess the temple or the monastery itself. Heretical sects sprang forth from the more extreme interpretations of these rules, and over the years they transformed as well.
“Of course, the teaching that we are not even owners of the temple itself has not fundamentally changed. The temples you’ve seen before did not look like temples, did they?”
“Now that you mention it, they’re pretty ordinary buildings, even resembling civilian structures.”
Aside from the head temple, it was said they owned no actual temples or monasteries. The branch temples were quite simple structures. The individual temples weren’t given their own names but were all known as “Danpou Temple.”
“Danpou Temple emphasizes the importance of alms and offerings.”
Alms and offerings fell into three categories of support: financial, educational, and humanitarian. The first meant making donations of money. The second, to teaching the wisdom of the Buddha. The third, comforting and aiding those struck down by calamity and misfortune.
“Because money plays such an important role in society, amassing wealth is not allowed.”
Whenever they received a donation, any surplus left over was given away in total. The same applied to clothing and other items. They kept only one set of robes and distributed whatever was left over to the needy.
“Well—” Kuushou chuckled. “Meaning you keep the new and part with the old.”
“Of course,” Risai said with a smile of her own.
“With no stores of cash on hand, there is no money to spare for temple building. Danpou Temple does not go around constructing temples hither and yon. The buildings are freely given. We don’t make suggestions about where a building should be and neither do we solicit donations.”
“Ah, and that is how ordinary civilian structures become temples.”
“Yes, that is the reason.”
That very same Danpou Temple was now building a branch temple. This was indeed a serious matter.
“But if you are not allowed to save money, where does the funding for the temple come from?”
“Apparently from the consolidation of the branch temples. The kingdom has experienced chaotic times since the waning days of the Kyou Dynasty, which has seen a growing number of people entering the priesthood. They, in turn, established branch temples. However, we’ve been hearing for a while that there are simply too many. As a result, quotas were set for each city. The existing institutions were combined. The buildings left over were sold off. Among the monks and priests made redundant, those willing work on behalf of the kingdom headed for Seisai.”
“That is heartening to hear, but can you be sure it will work out?”
“Well, we won’t be needing those branch temples, in any case. Back in the day, the road was your ashram. You arrived in a town, slept at the side of the road, and preached the precepts.”
“Sounds like a big bother, I’m sure,” Seigen said with a smile. “Living on the road like a beggar, sleeping on a straw mat, sermonizing on the street. That is why Danpou Temple is known as a congregation of eccentrics.”
Kuushou nodded in agreement. “And as a result, quarrels were bound to arise with the residents and the local government.”
“Stands to reason. Hence the weapons?”
The priests and monks of Danpou Temple were always armed. Including the martial arts as part of their training was another of their peculiar practices.
“Humanitarian efforts constitute the third category of alms and offering. That means rushing to the scene of natural disasters and other calamities. Catch wind of rampaging youma and we’ll head there to save the people. Though to truly save people from youma, you’ve got to hunt them down too. Whether you’re talking about attacks by youma or brigands or the ravages of war, you’ve got to have strength on your side to make a difference. It helps when extricating yourself from quarrels and disputes too. That’s why the martial arts are a part of training at Danpou Temple.”
A monk once traveled with only the clothes on his back, a begging bowl, and a straw mat. Now he counted a weapon among those meager possessions. Kuushou carried a mace, a winter weapon gifted to him by fellow believers. But when weapons came into play, people were going to get hurt. So Danpou Temple established surgical hospitals to treat the injured.
“I’ve made good use of those facilities,” Risai said with a smile. “Even in the army, everybody knows you’re better off trusting your care to Danpou Temple than a field surgeon.”
It’d long ago become common knowledge that an injured soldier healed faster and had a shorter convalescence at a Danpou Temple facility. A hospital had already opened its doors at Dharmapala Temple in Seisai, visited around the clock not only by members of the Black Flags but the workers as well.
Risai felt she could reliably expect the building of these social foundations to move forward as quickly as possible. The population of the area was increasing and the institutions required to support those people were coming together.
At the same time, disturbing news had arrived on their doorstep. The Imperial Army was on the move and the Provincial Guard had mobilized to provide logistical support.
“How would you judge the morale of the Provincial Guard?” she asked Sekirei.
Sekirei thought over the question, a pensive look on her face. “It’s not like they are about to march into battle. I believe the Provincial Guard is mobilizing only in a support role. They certainly don’t appear to be expecting to do anything but.”
“Then our problem is with the army arriving from Kouki.”
The question was what brought them here. There was no indication they were aware of the Black Flags, or if they were, regarded them as a rebel force.
Risai turned to Sougen. “What do you think we should do?”
Sougen pondered the question in silence. He said, “We should be prepared in case the worst comes to the worst. Given the scale of our operations, once the Imperial Army arrives, somewhere and at some point, we would not necessarily escape notice. We should lie as low as possible while retreating to Rokou. There is still snow in the mountains. If we don’t move at once, we can’t count on a fresh snowfall covering our tracks. The last thing we want to leave behind is a beaten path to our base in the mountains.”
With a crisp “Yes, sir!” his retainers bowed and ran off to spread the word.