Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Gamble : Blood and Honor

The Gamble

Houses of the Blooded: Blood and Honor

Under the Kind Daimyo Masamune, whose Cunning is known.  The Province of Hokkaido (Enduring/Well-defended) had a Shinto Shrine, a Geisha House, Sumo School, Gambling Den and a Rice Farm.  The Meibutsu of the province was their delectable kani.    The island had women who are the best lays in the land.  They have few warships, and do not project their strength.  Welcoming but secure place.  People are highly superstitious but devoted to the sea.  The Emperor's summer palace is here.

The Samurai under his service include:
Tetsuo Morinaga, the Kaishaku, played by John.  His name means Steel.  His weakness is Beauty.  Despite that, he has an intimidating presence.  The Clan Blade rewards those who have succeeded against the challenge it poses.
Kai, the Hatamoto, played by Phil.  His name means Knowing.  His weakness is Beauty.  He is quite a well-read Clever Strategist.
Unagi, the Onmyoji, played by Patrick.  His name means Slippery.  His weakness is Prowess.  Truly a sea-man before he became samurai.
Shiro, the Courtier, played by Adrian.  His name means White.  His weakness is Strength.  Wonderful conversationalist.
Ono, the Oniwaban, played by Rocky.  His name means Secrets.  His weakness is Courage. He is known to be quite Harmless.

Act I - Opening Gates

The gambling den.  All the samurai are gathered at its gates, with the rest of the Province watching eagerly over their their shoulders as the Daimyo shows the new gambling den to the Seneschal of the Emperor.  The Daimyo struggles to find the words to boast of their gambling den.  Shiro, sliding into the conversation, supports Masamune's loss of words with his own.   The Seneschal is amused, but then stops in front of the Executioner, stating that he recognizes him somehow.  Tetsuo admits he led an army before, but the Seneschal Never Forgets a Face, despite being Dangerously Honest, and that moment, Tetsuo realizes he recognizes the Seneschal.  He had worked under the Seneschal before, and he was once an ashigaru under him but he thought Tetsuo was dead. Clearly he was mistaken as the samurai still lives.  "Perhaps you should consider the honor of some people," the Seneschal sneers, then walks to the Omnyoji asking if today is a good day..." gamble?"

"The ebb of fate favors those who risk..." comes Unagi's response. When the Seneschal asks for the name of the gambling house, Shiro once again steps in to cover for the Daimyo's befuddlement.  Shiro claims the house is to be named after the waters, and the Seneschal declares the place open.    They have gained Honor.  But not all of them.

Act II - Doors

The people celebrate in the gambling house.   Shiro handles the games as the master of ceremonies.  Unagi inspects the construction to ensure everything was done appropriately.  Ono is quietly serving sake, unrecognized by all. Kai visits Tetsuo, hoping to talk to him about the earlier events - clearly the Seneschal knew him and did not look at him favorably.   Tetsuo thought he was the last survivor, so he ran off to start a new life.  As it turns out, he was wrong.  Kai reminds him that he is now of the Hokaiddo and that their Clan takes care of its own.  His past is the past.  "But be prepared to do what needs to be done," the Hatamoto warns.

Moving down the corridor, both catch sight of a pair of beautiful women approaching the door they are keeping watch.  The Hatamoto excuses himself, especially after checking if they appear to be Geisha of the Province and reminds the Kaishaku he's handling the Yojimbo duties tonight.  The Kaishaku tries to remain composed, being so devoid of understanding the ways of women.  The women claim to have been summoned by the Daimyo and that their duty is to entertain the guest.  Tetsuo stumbles with his words as he explains he wishes to serve his master.  The geisha suddenly steps forward, touching Tetsuo's lips, as she tells him they are ready.  Unagi happened to be passing through that moment, inspecting things and in shock proclaims how these geisha are wearing the wrong patterns.  There is a silent clash of wills as Unagi finds himself staring at the lead Geisha's eyes.  Unagi is certain the patterns are wrong, but he does believe they are geisha.  They are not familiar faces though.  Unagi recalls seeing the lead geisha once outside the Province... but then remembers she witnessed him doing something once that he did not want anyone else to know: a broken vow of celibacy... with the Hatamoto's wife.  He allows her to go, and she smiles, knowing what she knows gives her an upper hand.

Neither of them realized, however, one of the Oniwaban's spies saw that exchange.

Back at the Gambling House, Shiro entertains the guests.  He soon notices an unthinkable act: one of the men in the gambling house is armed with his sword.  And worse, he seems to be drunk and very talkative, now very friendly and generous to everyone close.  The man frighteningly is one of the samurai of the Seneschal of the Emperor.  The Hatamoto arrives, but chooses to observe for now how Shiro will handle the event.   Even Ono, serving sake, simply observes.  Shiro draws out the man's anger towards women and gets him to admit he is depressed for having lost a woman.  Ono notes that part of his anger is his hate of sea travel, and that he has been in service to the Seneschal for quite some time.  The man's left arm, he notes, is weaker and he seems to have the beginnings of a cataract in one eye.  His name is Jingoro Takimoto, and he turns out to be the Executioner of the Seneschal.  He finds the duty to be such a burden, as he carries with him the Emperor's sword.

Unagi notices a perfume in the air, one different from the usual scents he has grown accustomed to in this Court.  He follows it and realizes it leads to a side corridor the Geishas would not have used.  He hurries off to find the Hatamoto to report his findings.

Kai congratulates Shiro's actions on controlling the Executioner of the Emperor, despite the drunken man waving the Emperor's blade around.  He heads off to visit the Daimyo.

Back at the Daimyo's chamber, Tetsuo Morinaga can hear the sounds of giggling geisha and gasping men coming from the door.  Sounds of cloth tearing as well erupts from within.  He realizes the sounds can sound both like those of sensuality or of murder.  The groans and grunts are accompanied by splashes and giggling.  The sounds alarm him, but deep down he feels he must remain a samurai and wait.  That moment, fortune smiles upon him as the Hatamoto arrives.  Both realize they can smell smoke emanating from the door.  Kai feels the demands of Courage rise as he slides the door open without asking for permission from the Daimyo - and given this is an act in which the Hatamoto is risking his honor, even Unagi's predictions come into play.

The door slides open to reveal the lead geisha smoking a pipe.  Behind her, the paper doors are closed with a trail of scattered clothes of the Daimyo, the two geisha and the emperor's seneschal.  Hatamoto sees a small stream of red coming out from the bottom of the bed.  The lead geisha sees his concern and explains, "They were virgins."  She blows out another cloud of smoke.  Knowing Masamume would understand his actions in these matters, Kai feels confident his brashness would be excused.  However, he had accidentally partially drawn his sword.  Pressing his thumb against the blade, he draws blood to satisfy the honor of the blade.  The lead geisha smiles at this, and Kai feels he can trust her.  He explains the smoke was unusual as their geisha had not taken to this foreign habit.  She offers it to him to try.  As Kai takes a puff, the lead geisha stares at Tetsuo and asks if he would like to try - her legs parting at the moment her offer is given.  Tetsuo takes a leading step forward, but then feels his loyalty challenged.   Under other circumstances, he would have probably indulged.

Kai feels his senses shift from the tobacco.  His sight sharpening.  His hearing expanding.  The lead geisha suggests the Executioner try the tobacco as well, but he reminds the General that they are not on personal time.  Kai walks up to the Executioner and offers it to his lips, challenging him if he will deny her this hospitality.  He inhales, coughs from the smoke, and she returns to the General's side.  She commends the General for being used to the ways of women, and he admits he knows when there are times to indulge and times to deny oneself.  More sounds of passion waft from the paper doors.  Kai forces his attention beyond the haze the tobacco has placed his mind in, and he realizes a direct way to check is not acceptable.  But thankfully, they hear the Daimyo call out asking for an explanation.  The lead geisha motions to the Hatamoto to remain silent after he tries responding, claiming she was practicing her "man's voice."

Unagi cannot find the Oniwaban.  He does find the gambling house has become a celebration.  People are watching a central table where the Takumi is with a drunken samurai.  The drunken samurai has gone into a full narrative moment, standing with his hands on his chest, as he demonstrates how his wife used to berate him night after night after night.  Unagi sneaks in, searching for the Hatamoto, only to be singled out by the drunken samurai to come forward and act like his wife.  Shiro moderates the whole event, keeping it acceptable in a way that all believe it to be an act - saving the samurai's face.  Unagi acts out what the drunken samurai wants, but remains evasive to ensure none of the blows actually land, and avoiding any sort of physical contact with the Emperor's Sword, without it ever slipping out of its scabbard.   The people remain amused.    The place develops a reputation for being lively and fun.  The drunken samurai feels relieved and happy that others are listening to him, feeling more at home.  He understands Shiro has protected his honor, and thus owes him one.  They cheer, with Shiro offering a round of sake to the house - hoping he did not declare it too soon because they might not fully afford it.

The night begins to end with laughter in the gambling den, with the two samurai leaving the chamber with the geisha, and as the sound of a breaking pitcher reveals the Oniwaban is actually in the chamber of the Daimyo, picking up the pieces to clean the mess he - as a servant - had made.  Jingoro is escorted to the resting rooms by the Ashigaru.  And the girls are gathered by Shiro, congratulated for a job well done.

Act III - Before Morning

Testuo stayed by the corridor til the coming of morning, inspecting the pipe during the silent hours.  He notes the hint of red on it from the lead geisha's lips.  He fumbles with it and finds a note asking to meet at the Shinto Shrine before dawn comes.

The Daimyo meets with the Hatamoto around the same hour, telling him today is an interesting day.  The Hatamoto commends that he sounded satisfied, but then realizes he may have just slipped and revealed he was in his chambers without permission.  Masamune shares how Ogo's male voice did sound like Kai's.  Kai simply claims that geishas are truly talented in such a way.   He admits he will rest, exhausted from the night's affairs.  The Emperor's Seneschal sleeps with the Geishas.  At the room, the Daimyo retires for the night suggesting that they visit her Province in the future.  "Tomorrow, if we are truly blessed by the Kami, the Emperor will send word if he is truly visiting."

Tetsuo finds someone waiting at the Shinto Shrine, but it is far from who he had expected.  Unagi is there, as he rightfully should be, and questions the Executioner on why he'd come.  Tetsuo confesses his concerns, his conflict between his role now and that of his past, and of the Emperor's Seneschal and her role in his history.  Unagi allows him some time alone to think and ponder on his life.  Tetsuo makes a donation and the Unagi gives him a Blessing, reminding him that I have no Home.  "Your old life is your old life. This is your new life."  Tetsuo feels extremely thankful for this.

To the Unagi's surprise, the lead geisha Ogo emerges at the doorway.  She addresses him with amusement seeing he is now a priest.  She teases him with the fact she is aware that Unagi had slept with Kai's wife, and muses how many prayers he offers each night that he does not find out.   She claims to desire time in the temple but Unagi inquires if she is here to meet someone.  Ogo admits people who come here come to see her.  Unagi dismisses his acolytes and leaves, as requested, a single lit candle.  Ogo promises to never tell the Hatamoto, but Unagi turns down the offer, insisting he wants to hold the last promise he has made in his heart.    He leaves to dismiss the Acolytes, only to discover there is no sign of any of them in the temple!

Back at the town, a messenger arrives and the message speaks of the Emperor's visit having happened yesterday.  Shiro and Kai are dumbfounded at the idea that his August Patronage had been in their presence all this time.   The messenger admits he had been instructed to delay the message for a full day.  After discharging the messenger of his duties, Shiro runs to the Daimyo!  

Ono, the Spymaster, happens to be in the temple praying when the scent of Ogo's perfume reaches his nose.  He realizes he knows who Ogo is and overhears the exchange she had with Unagi.  He knows she is the Emperor's Spymaster and he realizes she has been here for a duty he must have secretly assigned her.  He observes as Ogo addresses Tetsuo, referring to him by his full name, Tetsuo Morinaga, Great and former Yojimbo.  He tells her he prays for the Kami to bless him a new life.  "You and I, we have committed grave sins in the past."  Ogo counters that they have committed so sins.  Tetsuo stresses he has fierce loyalty to the Emperor and he feels inside the conflict remains between wait he knows is right and his loyalties.  "I have tried my best to run from that life, but now I am seeking blessing for having lived peacefully here."

Both the Hatamoto and the Courtier find no sign of the Executioner in the chambers they had given him.  They are not certain what is transpiring.    They rush to the Daimyo's chamber.  The two feel panic rise within them.  The Chaos swirls.

Unagi was about to interrupt both Ogo and Tetsuo only to find Ono interrupting him.  Harmless Ono asks him to stay silent.  To observe.  "In the future," Ono whispers, "The temple should be locked at night.  Too inviting. I would not presume to tell you how to do things, but clearly there are those who enjoy hanging here at night."

Ogo tells Tetsuo that it is not the blessings of the Kami that he seeks, but a chance to make things right.  The door opens and Jingoro, the Emperor's Executioner walks in with the blade raised in its scabbard.  Ogo tells him, "We have unfinished honor that seeks to be settled."  Ogo leaves Tetsuo's side and walks up to the blade.  Dawn breaks.  Sunlight creeps upon them.  A new day.  Unagi realizes a new prediction is due.  "Draw your blade, samurai, for we must settle the past," Ogo draws the Emperor's blade,  "We have the Emperor's blessing."

"It seems the sins of my past have caught up with me," Tetsuo admits.  "There is no need to stain the Emperor's blade with the blood of a traitor."  He kneels and prepares to commit Seppuku to regain honor. But Ogo tells him he is mistaken, for his actions have never brought him dishonor.  Ogo calls out Ono, claiming to know he is in the room.  She states how none of them have paid attention to the upper balcony of the shrine.  All look up to see the Emperor watching.  Ogo declares Tetsuo to be the man she believes would better serve as Yojimbo  and offers to give a demonstration.  The Emperor, with the smallest of movements, shows he desires to see.

"When you are ready, Samurai," Ogo bows before Tetsuo.

"Is it done?" the Daimyo asks Kai and Shiro as they reach his door, gasping for breath, "Have we lost the Executioner?"  The two soon are enlightened on what was actually transpiring.  "In as much as we are known to be kind and generous, many forget we are Cunning."  The Daimyo tells the two samurai to accompany him now to the Temple, blind to the spy of the Spymaster listening from the ceiling.  They learn how the Executioner acted as a fool to distract all and focus attention on the gambling house while the Emperor and his gathered arrived at the Shinto Shrine.

Unagi watches as the duel is about to begin.  He pulls back a sleeve, reaches for the brush, and begins to write a new prediction for the new day.

"Let everything be reborn."

Ogo and Tetsuo stand, swords drawn and ready.  Ono knows Ogo as well, however, and is surprised she is not using her bow.  The two remain unmoving, reading each others stance and anticipating each other's moves.  They clash, but not a single time does Tetsuo land a blow upon Ogo.  But as they strike a few more times, Tetsuo successfully disarms Ogo of the Emperor's blade and launches it into the air.  Old emotions boil to the surface and Tetsuo begins to scream out words containing all the anger and feelings of betrayal he had felt.  In an attempt to steady himself, Tetsuo extends the blade against her chest and demands that she yield. Rather than do so, however, she rushes forward towards it.  Tetsuo withdraws the blade at the last second, and sheaths it, then runs for the falling blade.   Ogo smiles, and yells, "Ono!" knowing he will throw her something she can throw.  Ono throws Ogo a dagger.   With Courage, Tetsuo catches the blade with his hand, and the blade draws blood from his palm.  Ogo raises the dagger, but seeing what Tetsuo has done, drops it to the ground.  Tetsuo turns, with the Emperor's blade in his hands, and offers it back to her.

The Emperor is impressed.  The duel is concluded.  And the Executioner comes up to Tetsuo and offers the scabbard.  Ogo bows, with the dagger at her feet.  There is no need to draw blood anymore.

"Come and take your place among my samurai," the Emperor addresses Tetsuo directly.  Tetsuo walks up to the Executioner, takes the scabbard, cleans it, then sheaths the blade.  The Hatamoto and the Courtier arrive at the doorway in time to see Tetsuo rise to his feet.

"Well," Ogo smiles at them, "I guess it is time to celebrate."

And they celebrate, indeed.
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