Through the Cracks: On Yamagata

Did some idea-tossing with my betas, particularly Kryal, and here’s a thought for all of you wondering about Yamagata: The Valdemar jump was not his plan.

It was Katsura’s plan.

And Katsura died. Very possibly after – or while – giving Yamagata a minimum of details, because Katsura was a Magnificent Bastard in a lot of ways. Including getting a 13-year-old sword prodigy to work for him as an assassin because Katsura’s hands couldn’t be bloodied if they meant to lead a peaceful government afterward.

So. You’re Yamagata, General of the revolutionary forces. You’ve just had to lead the longest of long-shot escapes, a lot of your people didn’t make it, including your leader, you’re in shock, you’re someplace you’ve never been before, what’s left of your people are panicking, and there are these white spirit-things in horse shape everywhere. Spirit-things with enough power to make the average miko or houshi look like a match next to a bonfire. Meaning if anyone with youkai blood even breathes wrong, they’re going to be dead.

Seen some of the Inuyasha clips of Kagome purifying things to death? Yeah.

Think of how Kerowyn would react, if her Skybolts got dumped somewhere in, say, the Eastern Empire. And she’d never been outside Rethwellan. Utter honesty would not be the first thing on her agenda. With very good reason.

On top of all that, Yamato-culture apologies tend to involve spilling your guts… literally.

And Yamagata can’t do that. He can’t. His people need him alive. If he apologizes, if he puts himself in a position where he has to apologize, his own people will expect him to do it with his life.

Valdemar is written to appeal to a lot of modern American values, and Selenay is a leader of that culture. She looks good. I grant that. She’s also a political leader, not a general. Yamagata is a general, first and last, he comes from a very different culture, and he’s trying very hard, but there are things he literally cannot do if he wants to keep his own people from going after each others’ throats.

For the past two years, Yamagata’s had to live with snap decisions made on incomplete information and shock. He’s been trying to fix the situation. But that’s no easier for him than it is for everyone else.

(And Valdemar doesn’t exactly have the best track record for fixing messy situations, either. I submit Holderkin, girls married off at thirteen, and that whole mess. Why the Collegium’s Healers haven’t revolted en masse at the kind of horrible physicalย damage child marriage does to girls and their offspring, I have no idea. And that’s with Talia, the Queen’s Own Herald, right there in Haven to clue people in on what’s still happening.)

Lucky forย Yamagata – very lucky! – Kenshin wandered into this massive FUBAR, spent a fair amount of time looking harmlessly clueless and interrogating Kaoru (and Sano, heh) for everything about Valdemar and Heralds she could tell him, and was able to make a pretty good guess what kind of impossible bind Yamagata had to be in.

And now Kenshin’s made it his problem.

Which means Yamagata finally has an out, because the greatest of revolutionaries has decided that yes, Selenay is worth treating with honor. So none of the people jockeying to rule in Yamagata’s place is going to do more than grumble, because… well. Himura is scary.

Does Yamagata like the situation? No, no, and hell no. Will he start working with it as soon as he can tamp his temper down? Absolutely.

(Politics. Yamagata hates politics. Possibly even more than Kenshin. If he ever gets his hands on Katsura in the afterlife, he will strangle the man….)


43 thoughts on “Through the Cracks: On Yamagata

  1. Don’t worry, Yamagata, there’s a line to strangle Katsura in the afterlife. Of course, Hiko has first dibs, but I don’t think anybodies arguing with him about that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes he does.

      Through since she’s already in the afterlife, I kinda of want Tomoe to give him a good kick. Because someone needs to kick him on Kenshin’s behalf and almost everyone else inclined in that direction isn’t here yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the clarification. Not that I hated Yamagata in this fic, not at all. I’ll admit that all the samurai pride irked me a bit but it was in character and believable. All the different views here is what is making this story so interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this. I’d thought it probably had to be such a situation and am glad you spelled it out.

    I see a lot of things in Valdemar that need fixing….deletes list … I suppose the excuse (if any) for the Holderkin child marriage situation is a combo of ‘there is no one true way’ and Healers haven’t been down there to notice. Heralds have, but I don’t recall anything about out-of-area Healers.

    And don’t respect canon Selenay all that much. (If anyone wants to argue, remember I’m working off just the Talia books for her, and internet osmosis.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. To be totally fair, though, there do seem to be some folks who hit puberty in grade school and are adult bodied by thirteen or fourteen. And in some cultures, you also have adult responsibilities by then, so of course you find those same early bloomer kids getting married young. And for whatever reasons, there are usually lots of farm kids who get their growth early.

        This does not mean it is a good idea… But it is definitely not the same as marrying off barely pubescent kids of the same age, or the prepubescent ones.

        So yeah, if most Holderkin men were six feet tall in third grade, and most Holderkin women were full figured at the same age… It would tend to encourage early marriage. But the shortage of eligible women of sufficient genetic distance, in a small community, would tend to create pressure to marry off even short latebloomers like Talia.

        And if the latebloomers die young afterward, given there’s nobody spending enough time with non-Holderkin to realize that the parishioners are actually the normal part of the curve… Well, they always were kinda puny and useless for their age, so it is not surprising they turned out sickly, too.

        A lot of insular groups tend to have a lot of birth defects and bad stuff that seems normal to them. And you really would not know what all goes on, unless you could join the community.

        The other thing about Holderkin is that I suspect a lot of them are Gifted, at least in having strong mental resistance. Something must have happened early on that gave the Companions and Valdemaren government a bad conscience, or the refugee agreements were very cleverly written… Because the government does not meddle with the Holderkin like they do with other groups and towns. It is the one place where they go all libertarian and laissez faire.

        Maybe there is some kind of strong moral disapproval of mental control Gift, or a shunning and shaming Gift. Shunnnnnnn.


      2. >”To be totally fair, though, there do seem to be some folks who hit puberty in grade school and are adult bodied by thirteen or fourteen.”

        Modern phenomenon. You really don’t see that in the medieval era used as the basis for Valdemar. ๐Ÿ™‚

        And that’s one of the things that gripes me about the setting – the Companions meddle freely with everything else.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That said, the later Karse worldbuilding makes it clear that the “marriage or cloister at thirteen” is really related to the Karsite thing of searching out people with magic and sticking them in the temples or killing them.

        If there are Gifted Holderkin men, they are keeping it quiet and staying down on the holding. And the same thing is probably true for most Gifted Holderkin women, because the ones who can’t keep it down to a dull roar are cloistered in the Temple of the local version of the Star-Eyed, Vkandis’ former consort.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think it’s important to remember that while the story world is written to appeal to modern typically american morality, the equivalent of the timeframe and technology make for a very different culture. Here and now, we reach legal majority at 18 and consider our early twenties to be the more or less normal range for marriage.

        The technology level and non-utopian nature of the societies presented in the books, however, put the life expectancy of the average citizen at about 60 to 70 years of age as opposed to our longer estimate of 100. The age of majority and marital eligibility presents itself as being 15 or 16 in the standard areas, with the expected differences being among merchant or craftsman class males – who would be required to have a steady buisness established before taking a wife. Typically, even if they were in their mid 20s, the wife would still be 15 or 16 in order to provide the maximum amount of time to produce useful offspring.

        With the highest, lowest and rural levels of society beginning preparations for marriage at 14 and most having children by 16 or 17 at the latest, marriage at 13 would be considered a little hasty, but not overly shocking.

        Added to that, of course, is the human tendancy to filter what we hear and understand through our own experiences. The people hearing this information and deciding – or not – on how to deal with it are a fantasy version of European nobility. This is a class that trains their daughters from birth to be wives and typically arranges their marriages on the basis of politics at about 13, even if the marriage doesn’t take place for a year or more.

        Farm families – like Talia’s people – would typically marry earlier, though not as formally as nobles, because the prosperity of a farm family in the equivalent era would be determined by how many children the family has. In a farm family the father will typically be 16 or 17, with land inherited or in his 20s with land purchased or earned. His wife will, on average, be 15 and will give birth to a child every year or year and a half.

        The entire thing seems more shocking than it is on a cultural basis to us because we are not only filtering it through our own experience, knowledge and morality, but comparing it within the book to the subjects of the story. The Heralds themselves are an extremely small subculture of Valdemar and not present at all in the surrounding countries. They still reach their legal majority at the same time as everyone else, they just don’t finish the TRAINING until 18 and it is stated several times over many stories that most of them never marry or produce children at all.

        I am, of course, not supporting child marriage, but pointing out that just because the story has modern appeal and some very very slight utopian overtones doesn’t make it a modern or utopian setting.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. >”With the highest, lowest and rural levels of society beginning preparations for marriage at 14 and most having children by 16 or 17 at the latest, marriage at 13 would be considered a little hasty, but not overly shocking.”

        Er. You might want to study some more European medieval history. Really. Average ages of marriage and childbearing tended to be a lot later than people thought.

        For one thing, hitting puberty in your early teens? That’s a modern thing. Not back in days of scanty nutrition and frequent epidemics.

        For another, youngsters of both sexes were generally needed to help out on the farm (most people were farmers) either in the fields or in the house. Laundry, food storage, cheese-making, etc, are a lot of work.

        Long story short, getting married in your twenties was normal.

        IRL, it was nobles who were getting married and having kids in their teens. Really messed them up, too.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Re: early puberty… It isn’t just a modern thing, because you frequently get warning comments from pre-modern times about how girls in certain areas were Much Younger than their bods made them appear. English people were always freaking about how Italian and Spanish girls had early body maturity, for instance, and you get similar comments about certain Eastern European immigrant groups of young men and women in US schools. And so on.

      It probably depends a lot on what people eat and when, but it also must have a lot to do with genetics. And sometimes, the same people lose baby teeth early too.

      I don’t know if anybody has studied this stuff systematically.

      My 100 year old grandma got married at fifteen, very much against parental wishes….

      Historically, Juana Smith got herself married ridiculously young (14) but did okay. Her portrait (taken at 17) makes her look like she is in her twenties. Between the two of their known injuries and fevers, though, I guess it is not surprising that she and Harry Smith never managed to have kids.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I can’t say that I already assumed this was the case, but in hindsight it is pretty much the only sensible explanation, barring the jump decision making being on the Satsuma side. Which despite Koshijirou being Satsuma, is somewhat contraindicated by the lower level of focus placed by the story on the senior Satsuma leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah, yes, military leadership is very different, regardless of culture, than civilian leadership.

    Especially if you don’t have the temperament for politics and in fact had, prior to that point, very carefully avoided them whenever possible, leaving that nonsense in the hands of the freaks who seem to enjoy it.

    Easier to understand him and sympathize at remembering him being caught between a rock and a hard place. Totally agree that total honesty from the beginning would have been tremendously stupid – he doesn’t know these people. But he’s smart enough to know that this holding pattern can’t be sustained forever yet he can’t really break it without killing himself in apology and his people can’t afford that.

    Because as much as he would like to make this someone else’s problem . . . while you think some of his ideas weren’t working, you should hear what some of the other leaders have been suggesting . . .

    Himura making it his problem does neatly solve the problem. He doesn’t like it but he doesn’t have to like it. Just accept it. And he seems tactically minded, so I’m sure he’ll see the advantage of letting Himura problem solve as he wishes. His solutions are usually good, if often blunt. And like you said, no one sane or smart is going to tell the Demon of Kyoto off for doing things his way. Because most of them only knew one person who could get away with that and he’s dead. (Yes, Kenshin is more reasonable than that but I’m guessing most of them don’t know him very well).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very nice explanation! This explanation for Yamagata makes sense, and is indeed in-character. Kenshin deciding to problem solve cuts through a lot of red tape, and I think Selenay and almost everyone else would appreciate his lack of nonsense. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Marikaylay, I must quibble about the worldbuilding and comparisons to our own world . The characters we see find out about the child marriage are all appalled at the idea. This implies it isn’t that common. OTOH.
    While Selenay protests Elspeth at … what, at most 16? is too young, the Council in general is in favor of at least betrothal, if not full marriage.

    In our world, and I can’t remember the book I had that went into this, in the late Medieval and later eras in Europe (which is what Valdemar vaguely reads as), actual recorded marriages of all but really high nobles all tend to the late teens and later. … hey, what do you know, Wiki actually suppoorts me on this: “Indeed, Medieval England saw marriage age as variable depending on economic circumstances, with couples delaying marriage until the early twenties when times were bad and the average age falling to the late teens after the Black Death, when there were labor shortages;[35] by appearances, marriage of adolescents was not the norm in England.[13] The sudden loss of people from the plague resulted in a glut of lucrative jobs for many people and more people could afford to marry young, lowering the age at marriage to the late teens and thus increasing fertility.[36] … In Yorkshire in the 14th and 15th centuries, the age range for most brides was between 18 and 22 years and the age of the grooms was similar; rural Yorkshire women tended to marry in their late teens to early twenties while their urban counterparts married in their early to middle twenties. In the 15th century, the average Italian bride was 18 and married a groom 10โ€“12 years her senior. An unmarried Tuscan woman 21 years of age would be seen as past marriageable age, the benchmark for which was 19 years, and easily 97 percent of Florentine women were married by the age of 25 years while 21 years was the average age of a contemporary English bride.[15][16]

    While the average age at first marriage had climbed to 25 years for women and 27 years for men in England and the Low Countries by the end of the 16th century,[17] …
    there was nonetheless great variation within Britain alone;
    … no references but inferences that Hebridean Scotland and the Highlands may have married younger. From 1619 to 1660 in the archdiocese of Canterbury, England, the median age of the brides was 22 years and nine months while the median age for the grooms was 25 years and six months, with average ages of 24 years for the brides and nearly 28 years for the grooms, with the most common ages at marriage being 22 years for women and 24 years for men; the Church dictated that the age when one could marry without the consent of one’s parents was 21 years. A large majority of English brides in this time were at least 19 years of age when they married, and only one bride in a thousand was thirteen years of age or younger.[46]

    William Shakespeare’s drama Romeo and Juliet puts Juliet’s age at just short of fourteen years; the idea of a woman marrying in secret at a very early age would have scandalized Elizabethans. The common belief in Elizabethan England was that motherhood before 16 was dangerous; popular manuals of health, as well as observations of married life, led Elizabethans to believe that early marriage and its consummation permanently damaged a young woman’s health, impaired a young man’s physical and mental development, and produced sickly or stunted children.

    So, there really is no excuse for the Holderkin situation except laziness and bad government.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. i think it’s partly because the Holderkin are heavily invoking ‘one true way’ on religious grounds – they don’t come out and say it, but the Holderkin are pretty much the equivalent of the Amish (and honestly, how successful has anyone been in getting true, accurate, information about them, that they haven’t released themselves?). There’s also the part where they’ve been holding at least part of the border against Karse, and Valdemar literally couldn’t afford to lose their territory. Remember, the peace with Karse is about five years old, at most, with maybe two or three years stalemate before that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the coucil of elders or whatever they have negotiated some kind of ‘hands off’ agreement in their settlement agreement – and the situation was desperate enough that they could have gotten away with that.
        Apparently, the Holderkin settled in during the last decade or so of Vanyel’s time. This was one of the periods when things with Karse went between ‘height of the Cold War’ and ‘active War’ (sometimes on a monthly basis); more importantly, the King spent a lot of time, energy and attention wasting away from a long-term terminal illness (and it took him at least twenty years to do it), during that whole period, his King’s Own was not only his lifebonded partner, but only Chosen because she was a Healer who could keep him alive long enough to train his successor – who was promoted to full Whites (which the monarch legally has to be) at sixteen. She was ‘abysmal’ (quote from Vanyel’s companion) at pretty much everything a King’s own is supposed to do normally. It’s clear that Vanyel was the real King’s own during this time – when he wasn’t busy playing One Man Army to keep Karse out of their borders.
        Also, Talia mentions to Kris in Arrows 2 that after hearing her story, Selenay made a policy change; Heralds with mindspeech go right through the Holdings, specially to seek out anyone who’s unhappy with the Holderkin life, male or female, and offer them an escape route.
        Remember, from Arrows 1 to the Mage storms, it’s only about twenty years – how long does it take to change a society without technological intervention or impetus?
        There’s also a line or two in Arrows 1 where Talia is told of her impending marriage that implies that the Crown has enforced some kind of health-check-rules; at least, a girl has to have had regular menstruation (which, honestly can take a lot longer than 13 in most older societies) for at least a year before she can be married off.
        Not to mention, given just how insular the Holderkin are, it’s quite possible that their marriage age has lifted and lowered several times during the centuries (maybe even in response to the Crown?), but Talia’s the only time it was worth mentioning in the actual text.
        Thing is, despite how unhealthy we know the child-bride route is, most of the Holderkin are perfectly happy with the way things are. You can’t yank someone out of a way of life they’re content with, just because you disagree with the way they live it. I mean, look at all the issues with the burqa in Western society, though I realise it’s not really the same thing.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Huh. Interesting thoughts on the Holderkin.

        Piece of advice: don’t get me started on the burqa. And sharia. And that whole nightmare mess. I have an automatic objection to religions that want to kill me because I exist.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. And there were certain desolate island places in Ireland where women and men usually married for the first time in their forties. And still managed to have a certain amount of birthrate.

      Marriage ages depend a lot on economy as well as genetics.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mind you, in most of Ireland during the same periods, you got strongly encouraged to get married. A lot earlier than that.

        But in most of Europe, nobody was supposed to get married without some kind of dowry or nest egg, And that was sometimes hard to get, so marriage ages went way up whenever there were stinky economic conditions.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah, at times it really shows that the Arrows trilogy was the first of the Valdemar books. In further Discontinuity, the most recent Herald Spy book (#3), has a extended mention of the Holderkin, and they’re a direct sequel (featuring the same character) to the Collegium Chronicles, which are set shortly after Vanyel’s time, or rather Stefen’s (the ‘forget magic clause’ is working and implied to be fairly recent)
        But in that case… well, see my above point about how long it takes for a society to change. With only two generations, just how long would it take the Holderkin to really accept what ‘Crown Law’ means?

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Here’s a thought. May be that Holderkin emigrate out of Karse whenever the heat is on, then immigrate back if times are hard in Valdemar or they are getting pressured to change. If they have just enough Gifted to influence things, they could maybe have enough strength in numbers to manage it.

    Which would probably help them stay arrogant, a bit, because playing off both sides can be lucrative and useful.

    Otherwise, it could be a case where Holderkin had drifted across the border and settled at various times without much trouble, but the whole schmole of them had only recently had to flee. One Bobsholding in a hundred miles is no big deal, while a whole mini-province with all the clergy and temple trimmings is a lot harder to assimilate.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Late to the party, but figured I’d drop my two sense:

    I understand Yamagata’s difficult position, and had mostly figured it was a case of ‘make the best of a bad situation’. On the other hand I was mostly annoyed with him for what felt less like just his own wounded pride and more like an active disdain for the sympathetic Valdemarens we see – who he knows he needs to be working with – and for letting the situation stew as long as it has.

    The second point I’m more willing to ease up on if I’m given the understanding that he genuinely has had no time to fix things. I’m slightly less reassured if one of those very reasons he hasn’t had time was that he’s been trying to avoid being forced into seppuku. If that was such a high possibility then, well: he may have needed to take aside those loyal to him – and those who he knew were most loyal to the short-lived Meiji Restoration government – and explain what needed to be done, but in real life one of the many major culture changes of the revolution was the rejection of the tradition of ritual suicide.

    I’m not just looking at what Yamagata’s had to deal with and the way Kenshin’s pulled everyone’s arses out of the fire on this: I’m looking at what the situation was, what Yamagata not only knew but could very likely see coming, and what would’ve happened if Kenshin hadn’t been there to save the day. Because that would be a situation that Yamagata would’ve had to resolve on his own, and his failure to resolve it before it got this far… I think that actually does represent a failure of leadership. I’m not saying he’s a bad leader, that he’s not doing his best, or that he’s not the best choice for leadership of Mabinogi right now. I am saying that this is his mess. I’m not going to hold it against him as a character, but I am going to remember it.

    And I’m certainly going to be a bit grumpy with him if he comes across as being disrespectful – even in his own head, and even if he’s currently in no emotional state to process well right now – to the people (because it’s not just Kenshin) that mean Yamagata’s mess can be resolved with both a minimum of bloodshed and without the requirement of war against Valdemar or within Mabinogi.

    It may be in character, but I’m still going to be grumpy with him.

    Liked by 1 person

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