Tales of the Sea Bitch (14)
It turned out the Emperor wouldn't be at the Winter
Court after all, but his niece was. Apparently she had to choose
a husband by spring.
((The Miyara told Lady Miyara that he would be going
to Gisu Palace for several days, but then he would have to go on to the
actual Imperial Court at Shien Shite Reigisaho (Violence Behind
Courtliness City). He ran down a list of people he knew would be
there, that Lady Miyara should look up. In particular, Miyara
Sanru, one of the suitors, could call on her -- The Miyara doesn't
think so, but she should support him as best she can. Lady Miyara
knew him when she was young.
Also there would be Miyara Ryuden who also fancies
himself a suitor. The Miyara did not have the heart to forbid
him, in part because he thought he had no chance and so wouldn't
interfere with Sanru. Ryuden is 15-20 years older than Lady
Miyara, so not of her generation like Sanru.
Miyara Himitsu will be there, travelling with Lady
Miyara's father. He's the one people whisper about beiung the
next Phoenix champion. He'd stay at the Winter Court while The
Miyara went on to the Emperor.
Shinjo Gidayu, the Unicorn daimyo, would also be
One of Iruko's duties was to know who all the people
are, and be ready to prompt Lady Miyara whenever she needs
information. She was a good swordsman, could be really good but
we couldn't tell yet.
We did indeed get a week at Shira Miyara. Tony
of course went in search of excellent weapons, and had his armor
Winter Court is a 3 month long festival, mostly used
for political purposes. Here of course the emperor's niece is to
be married off, but even in normal years it's a major social
event. Gisu Palace rests on a high mountainside overlooking a
clear lake. Many balconies face the magnificent view, and
watching the sunset is a major social occasion. The source of the
lake is a spring that rises from near Kirin Shrine, and that stream
goes over Firebird Falls right next to the palace and into the lake.
Inside it's Nipponese excess, mahogany and paper
screens, and fireplaces carved into the walls. Militarily it's
useless, but it's well protected against the weather and great for
We arrived in a ridiculous procession while Asako
Kagetsu, our host, greeted each guest individually, a ten hour
process. Even us samurai were guests, and we each received a
small gift with strict instructions not to open it until the evening's
feast. He knew who each of us is by name, and while he had a
prompter, he doesn't use it nearly as much as I would have
expected. He was friendly too, even to us barbarians, but I
didn't put too much in that. We all were to say "Thank you" and
just move on. Not only did he know who we were, but where we were
exactly in the heirarchy.
We were placed in a suite of rooms on the lowest
floor of rooms, around our own common area. The common area had a
balcony that looked out over the lake.
Balconies of daimyo's are above us, and above that
the Imperial terrace. The latter is close enough to Firebird
Falls that a bridge of living vines connects it to a garden area on the
top of the falls.
There's nothing to do before dinner but sit on the
balcony with drinks. That and dress up in fancy stuff for
tonight. This is the first time we've seen Iruko in formal dress,
and she looks pretty good. I glanced over to see if Phoebe was
checking her out too, and she was certainly not ignoring her.
The hall was full of excellent sake and amazing
food. The high table was occupied by the top people. We
were at tables scattered through the hall for us -- our party seated
together -- with other people. The whole place seemed designed to
mix us up and spur gossip fuel.
The neice's suitors were almost all here, but Miyara
Ryuden wasn't to be seen. Isawa Tomo I pointed out to Tony with
great glee. Iruko said he would be spending the whole winter
here, while the other Elemental Masters would be going on to the
Emperor's Court. Koan was here too, and nodded in our direction
when he noticed us.
Yoroshiku had three maids attending her, all samurai
status because of the importance of their mistress. Yauta is a
tremendously large Crab woman, Nantoko and Saia were younger and
giggling a lot. I wondered if I could pull those two girls off
for an evening, could have a good shot at it.
Hiruma Usiga was apparently at his last Winter Court
before retiring to the monastery, seemed the kind of guy who would love
to give advice and stories.
After the dinner began, Miyara Ryuden came bustling
in late, walked up to the head table and sat down. He caught Lady
Miyara's eye as he came in and nodded to her. Poor guy doesn't
stand a chance, The Miyara was right. Tony asked Lady Miyara
about him, and she told us some more. He was an outgoing but not
very tactful daimyo, more suited to Crab or Lion than Phoenix. He
was on the other hand a good warrior, even if he was a total boob in
This was a great opportunity to ply Tony with drink,
who seemed to be trying to get a handle on politics. I told him
all sorts of things, pointing out political things that were totally
off the top of my head, trying to get him to drink in the
process. It worked a bit, got him a bit tipsy, and he relaxed and
lightened up the whole table.
Towards the end, Kagetsu got up to speak. He
was a young guy, in a fine robe with an enamelled pair of wakazashi.
He looked down and greeted the Winter Court.
He then held up his small gift, and told us that they had been prepared
for us by his lovely sister Asako Nuriko. There was a small
tokenin there, an object that had a pair elsewhere.
Whispering spread through the hall.
He said that the object of hte game was to find the
one that matched, and once we did, we could ask the other person one
question a day which on their honor must require the truth. We
could also trade objects, and so shuffle the game. The object
could only be traded for another object in the game, and we had to keep
it on us at all times. He suggested we should keep it hidden.
Light applause started and grew.
Phoebe clearly thought this was fun. I must
say I agreed with her, although I could think of a few more interesting
rules to add. Phoebe pointed out he didn't say we couldn't make
up new ones, just had to follow his.
Dinner was over. I opened my gift on the
balcony. My item was difficult to conceal, but I could do it with
a little difficulty. It wouldn't be too hard to carry hidden,
although I didn't care who in here saw it.
It was a wooden tiger, about four inches long, with
some Nipponese characters on the side. It's a haiku, which Lady
Miyara read for me.
Tiger, are you there?
I am, for I cannot lie.
But I can eat you.
The boxes they came in were targetted, with the
correct colors of the family. Specific boxes were handed to
us. But once we opened the boxes, if there was significance, it
Tony pointed out that since they were targetted to
give the most fun over the next three months, he offered to trade with
Lady Miyara right now, before he opened his. Lady Miyara's gift
was a large fan, impossible to hide. Tony's was small, so he
offered to swap. She agreed, and traded.
Tony had a fan now, a very attractive one. A
fan you wave, not like Grieg, that is. Everyone else kept their
Late in the evening, a knock came on the door to the
suite. A servant answered it, and told Lady Miyara that there was
a messenger from Miyara Ryuden. She let him in.
The messenger said just that Miyara Ryuden sent his
compliments and requested her presence. She left alone to meet
Tony tried to get Iruko to teach him Go, but she
went straight for Peter to teach him. Tony and I shared a glance
that said, "Why him?"
When Lady Miyara came back a little under an hour
later, she said that was an interesting conversation. At first,
Ryuden just wanted her opinion on how to court the Emperor's niece, but
then he had a lot of questions about Koan and Niban and the Nightingale
clan. For the most part she was as non-commital as she could be,
but he had her pinpoint the village on a map. He knew the area
very well, so she couldn't really hide it. He did ask her if she
thought they were just pretending to be a clan to make it easier to
prey on the area, or if they were taking it seriously. She said
she didn't know what she expected the conversation to be, but that
I asked her if he had a wooden tiger, but she said
she didn't ask.
As an aside, she added that deliberately hiding a
large object would be not done. Openly displaying a small object,
not hiding it but not pointing it out, would be the ultimate in the
game -- for example, a comb in one's hair. Phoebe loved the game,
and played it to the full.
A comb in Phoebe's hair would fit perfectly, of
course, but she had so many knick-knacks I wouldn't be able to
tell. She'd probably trade for something like that even if she
started with a token she couldn't wear. At this court, the
servants don't advise her against wearing stuff in her hair, as
long as it's appropriate: ribbons, nice beads (not enough of them),
sparkly combs, but not cheap things like feathers.
We milled around for the next few days. Some
of us might have swapped items, but I didn't.
Yoroshiku handled her suitors well, playing it for
all it was worth. Once while we were sitting around in the
garden, she closed her eyes and whispered,
Winter's friend? Not I.
I would trade my fan for this,
A simple blossom.
She looked at Tony with a challenge in her
eye. She did not, however, have a fan like Tony's -- it would
have been obvious. One of the other suitors caught her eye, and
she said, but where could a blossom be found? The other suitors
rushed out quickly back into the palace.
Tony smiled, and stood up, apparently to take on the
Miyara walked over to Sanru, further away on the
terrace, and had a quiet conversation with him. The two of them
left the terrace.
A short while later, the two of them walked back
onto the terrace and over to Yorushiku. Sanru formally introduced
Lady Miyara to her, and said that Lady Miyara had found a blossom.
Lady Miyara handed over a perfectly folded blue
Yoruskiku thanked her, and everyone around clapped
politely. She then asked Lady Miyara to introduce her to her
I had asked the group how to display my tiger, and
said that I'd thought about pinning it in my sleeve with its head
sticking out. Phoebe thought she could do that, if it was done
right, and so she did at my request.
Lady Miyara called us over and introduced us.
Yorushiku signalled to us to sit down, and others
moved out of the way so we could do so. Again Yorushiku turned to
Tony, and asked him to enlighten her how women of his land found their
He said that it was his experience, that as a young
man, he still had no idea.
I said that I'd heard that if a woman kisses an elf
lady passionately, she would dream of her husband that night.
Polite murmers ran around the circle. Yorushiku herself was
embarrassed, but hid it behind an all-knowing gaze.
I was satisfied. Not many ladies get to make a
pass at the Emperor's niece. We moved on soon, and I could safely
break into a grin.
The suitors kept going over the next few days.
Sanru seemed to do ok, but Ryuden wasn't. Whenever he had a
chance to speak, he turned it to war, and the niece always left soon
Iruko was always at Lady Miyara's side, good at her
chosen task, knowing when to fall back and step up.
Tony was keeping an eye on all sorts of things, most
of which were beyond me and I didn't care.
Kocho was set to keeping an eye on Koan and who was
watching him, at Tony's suggestion, and also to look for objects that
matched ours. Koan mostly stuck with the one retainer he'd
brought, and the two of them were often alone. Koan was
occasionally in conversation with one person or another, but there was
no pattern to it.
The matching fan to Tony's was held by a middle-aged
lady, not very attractive. She wasn't carrying a weapon, and
didn't seem to be shugenja either. She was Lion clan.
She walked up to him, showed him the fan, and asked
him in a stern tone what his intentions were towards the Hantei
family's Emperor's niece.
He said that he wanted to serve the families of the
empire as well as he could, and eventually take his leave and return to
The woman liked the answer, but hid her reaction
Tony asked his question: "Is there someone
particular you would like me to trade my fan to?"
She gave him a name that he'd never heard before,
and walked away.
Peter saw Iruko clearly trying to persuade someone
to trade her an object, and was not in time to find his object before
she obtained it.
The banquet was a daily affair. We were
expected to sit in the same seats every night, but if done right it
would be ok to sit somewhere else. It would be hard to do without
insulting someone, of course.
((One evening, a young gentleman -- quite young,
probably 17 or so -- came up to Phoebe with a nervous smile, fiddling
with the match to her comb She hadn't seen him around before that
night, but she could tell he was of Crane clan, family Doji. He
seemed to be bushi, a warrior.
Instead of saying he had a match, he asked her if
she knew who had a match to it.
She smiled at him, and said sweetly, "Why, yes I do."
"So then," he continued, "Let me ask you my one
question, which you must answer truthfully, on your honor. Would
you enjoy accompanying me as we watch the sunset over the lake?"
Phoebe said, "Yes." She didn't take up her
"Then, my lady, please come with me." The
young man lead her off to a quiet corner of the balcony. While
they watched the sun set, he composed a poem that compared her to the
beauty of the sunset, which paled in comparison to her. It was
good, as poems go.
Phoebe had a question for him: "Would you allow me
to tell your fortune?"
"I would be honored," he said. "Where would be
a good place?"
She said this was a fine place. She looked out
at the sunset, the birds flying, and the world around her, asking her
spirits to tell her something about this young man. She
discovered that he would soon embark upon a long and famous romance, or
perhaps infamous. She told him that.
He liked that fortune a lot, in fact exactliy what
he was thinking about.))
((Lady Miyara, late one morning, a good looking Lion
gentleman, middle aged, Akodo Rena approached her out of nowhere and
introduced himself. She instinctively introduced herself in
return, and at that moment he showed her a small obi bead, an exact
match to the one hanging from her belt.
He asked if she would like to ask her question first?
She knew that Akodo was the lead family in the Lion
clan. He was clearly a warrior, bushi, well dressed and good
looking. He was very direct, certainly. She says he found
her first, so he could ask his question first.
He smiled a little mischievously, and asked, "Who
killed Tsume Retsu?"
She considered, and said, "A member of the family
whom he displaced was responsible."
He seemed surprised by that answer, and said, "Are
you saying the Demasu family was not eliminated?"
Lady Miyara said, "Ah, sir, you only get one
question a night!"
He bowed, perhaps lower than he should.
She then asked, "How does this matter concern you?"
He got a very mischievous smile across his face, and
said, "I wish you court you, Miyara Miwa, and it was as good a question
as I could come up with."
She simply bowed, and said, "Very well."
He would like to invite her to a private dinner in
his rooms tonight.))
Tony asked Lady Miyara and Iruko about the person
the owner of the fan wanted him to trade with, but neither knew.
He also asked Lady Miyara if she had a question for the Lion woman, if
he should delay a day, and she said she might take him up on it.
She said to ask her what she knew of Akodo Rena.
It was very obvious to Peter that Iruko was trying
to court him. As a priest, he would have to be guided by his god
on that matter, but there was nothing in his order to forbid it.
He was receptive to her advances.
((Lady Miyara went to the dinner party. It was
indeed a private dinner. The servants were discreet and only
present when needed.
Rena was a charming gentleman, and kept the
conversation interesting but pointedly stayed away from anything
political, anything to do with his relationship or intentions with Lady
Miyara, so the topics were other things. He started to tell her a
story about some of the battles he had been involved in, and was ready
to change the topic, but Lady Miyara of course countered with battle
stories of her own.
While staying away from the whys, he was also
interested in Lady Miyara's experiences abroad. She had stories
for him without getting into anything specific.
She too had her own questions and topics. The
most interesting thing was that he'd spent some time at The Wall, a
fortress at the edge of the Shadowlands. That's an area south of
Nippon which was the source of evil as far as they were
concerned. The Wall was a particularly nasty place to spend time,
next to the greenskins' land. He in fact volunteered to spend the
first few years of his career there for the honor and glory and the
Lady Miyara would be a signifcant catch for
anyone. She was the daughter of the Phoenix Champion, after all.
Glossary of people who might be
important at the Winter Court.
Otomo Yoroshiku - Emperor's Neice
Hida Yauta - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Kitsu Saia - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Kakita Nantoko - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Mirumoto Hansu - Yoroshiku suitor, Dragon Clan
Miyara Sanru - Yoroshiku suitor, Phoenix Clan
Miyara Ryuden - Yoroshiku suitor (sorta), Phoenix Clan
Miyara Ujimitsu - Phoenix Champion, Miwa's father
Miyara Himitsu - Young man traveling with Ujimitsu
(wispers are he'll be the next Phoenix Champion)
Shinjo Gidayu - Unicorn daimyo who started your previous journey
Isawa Tomo - Elemental master (of Earth ?)
Asako Kagetsu - Your host at Gisu Palace
Koan - Shugenga from the village of Nightengale
Shosuro Tage - formost actree of the Imperial troupe
Hiruma Usiga - ranking Emerald Magistrate, just retired, headed for
monastery in spring