Horses and Riders
|"Good people get cheated, just as good horses get ridden."|| The run takes place during the Month of the Spider in the third Year of the Spider since the crowning of Ti Lao.|
The run takes place mostly in the Savanna of Tears.
Takanata heads to the stables to talk to Li Merit's horse and the Large Horse Spirit. He is interested in acquiring a ride to the Savanna for himself and Cai Wen and Shuyan, so that they may begin work on their project. Horse would be happy to arrange for transport there, though he reminds Takanata that he can't give out horse points for an agreement that's already been paid for. Horse tells Takanata that he should take ship for the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and when they arrive, a ride will be waiting. When Takanata report this to the others, Cai Wen notes that if it's anything like last time, he will have to figure out how to taunt the ninjas after him during the brief amount of time that they'll be there.
The group takes passage, a multi-day journey since it's not the fog ship this time. Late at night, there's a lot of creaking of wood, that could just be the ship moving, or might be something more odd. Cai Wen writes it off as just ship noises, but Shuyan goes to investigate. As she prowls around, she hears some people shushing each other when they think someone is coming, so she stops and waits as silently as possible. Eventually, whoever it is decide that it was nothing, and the creaking begins again. Creak, creak, creak, thump. Then there is more whispering to "cover it up". Then, what look like two crew members come out of the cargo hold and head down the hall; Shuyan memorizes the face of the nearer one. When she peeks into the cargo hold herself, she sees a lot of boxes with tarps over them, but nothing that looks obviously wrong.
As it is something like three in the morning, she decides against knocking on Cai Wen's door, as such things are prone to misinterpretation.
In the morning, Shuyan mentions the mysterious creaking to her two companions. She can certainly point out the up-to-something crewman, but it's really not clear what happened, or if it's relevant to anything. Takanata thinks it's most likely that the two were smugglers. Perhaps Cai Wen could suss the captain out to see what he thinks about smugglers - either the captain is in on it, in which case they may not actually care very much, or he's not. Cai Wen sets off to chat up the captain. He asks if they make this particular trip very often - yes, it's their regular round trip, especially since the triangle run with the Shrouded Isle is no longer possible because of the blockade. Cai Wen wonders if the crew are all reliable? The captain assures Cai Wen that they are, beginning to look at him a little oddly. Did Cai Wen experience any difficulties? No, no, not at all, but he was curious about what the crew was doing late last night in the cargo hold that they were trying to keep secret from everyone, possibly including the captain. The captain frowns to hear this, but assures Cai Wen to not worry about it before heading down below towards the crew quarters.
Shuyan spots her target crewman and points him out, and Takanata looks for a connection with Cai Wen. It looks like the closest connection is that he's the guy that Cai Wen just snitched on. Well, at least that means he's not a ninja, though that had always seemed unlikely.
The ship reaches the Port of Auspicious Voyage, and as everyone begins to disembark, Cai Wen suddenly "remembers" that he has forgotten to pack his bags, and they're all in his cabin. A crewman hastily escorts him back to his cabin to help carry the bags, and Cai Wen packs as slowly and stallingly as possible. He hears the captain and another mate head down the hall to the cargo hold, and begin to move things around. Cai Wen hefts one of his bags, and heads determinedly down the hall towards the cargo hold, as the crewman tries to point him in the other direction. To disembark, he needs to go up the stairs, not down! Cai Wen reaches the cargo hold without being intercepted, though, and sees that the captain and the mate are moving some boxes around and thumping the floorboards. It looks like they're making a rather untrained "find hidden" roll, but if they've found anything, it's not obvious.
Cai Wen releases Squeaky, who zips out among the boxes. Then, the crewman starts to escort Cai Wen back to the ladder up to the deck, but as he reaches the ladder, he pats his pockets in a panic, and "realizes" that he has lost his pet ferret. He bustles back towards his room and the cargo hold again, and starts to hear some shouts, as Squeaky grabs the captain's hat and runs about with it. There is some more thumping, and then a clonk, and when Cai Wen gets back to the hold, the captain and the mate look a bit more pleased. Cai Wen retrieves his ferret and gives the captain back his hat, and finally manages to exit the ship.
Meanwhile, the two not engaged in shenanigans have disembarked the ship. There's a man with a sign for Tokai Takanata, so Takanata heads over. He asks, curious, who arranged to have him met here? The guy says that the stablemaster sent him, but he doesn't know who contacted the stablemaster. After quite a while of waiting for Cai Wen to arrive, Takanata sends Shuyan back to find him, and she meets him just as he is leaving the ship.
Cai Wen asks the guy with the sign if there will be an ambush. The guy looks baffled. Cai Wen clarifies: by the House of the Night Blade? The guy looks even more worried.
- "Excuse me, does anyone know where the House of the Night Blade might be? I'm on rather a tight schedule." -Cai Wen, raising his voice
The guy is starting to look at Cai Wen as one might look at any other crazy stranger ranting about ambushes, but Takanata assures him that he's part of the group as well. The guy indicates the three horses waiting on the dock. Takanata asks where they should return them, and is told that they can return them here. How will the guy know to be here? He looks confused, and says he assumes the stablemaster will tell him, because Takanata will send word to the stablemaster? Takanata checks and finds out that the stablemaster's name is Master Chu. Then, off they go, sans ambush.
The horses ride to the edge of the Savanna, and then look up, wondering where to head next. Takanata tells them to head to Clan Seomun, where his nephew, Tokai Namokori, is the Master of Horse of the Seomun clan. His nephew greets him, and asks what brings him so far from the Isle of Beauty? Takanata admits that he travels quite a lot now, and wished to stop by to visit. They are all invited in for lunch, and Takanata chats about family things, like looking for his brother in the Roof of the World, and discovering that he has a granddaughter. A pleasant afternoon is spent, but Namokori says that he has duties in the evening. He dressed in sturdier clothing, and at around sunset, a riding band of about forty or fifty shows up.
Cai Wen does his own chatting among the servants, and finds the guy who is the best expert in horses amongst the servants - Little Shifu, a surprisingly young man for his responsibilities. Cai Wen peppers Little Shifu with questions about the state of horse racing in the Savanna, and learns that there are three major auctions of horses in the fall, one every month, among the three major clans which breed horses (those being Seomun, Jegal, and Gyeong). There is generally a race and other demonstrations before the sale and auction. Jegal is the house having an auction during the Month of the Spider, coming up shortly.
Anyway, Cai Wen, being from the Arcade, thinks that a big horse race with fabulous cash prizes for the winners would be fun, and he says he's hoping to set something like that up. Little Shifu can give him names of the stablemasters in other clans, but he doesn't know the people who actually make decisions anywhere but House Seomun. Cai Wen wonders if Little Shifu can speculate on what would draw people in? An appeal to clan pride? That might work well to get the best horse from each clan, but it might not make for a large field. Little Shifu is confident that Seomun's horses are the best, though Jegal and Gyeong aren't bad. And there are smaller clans who have some interest as well. The Dragon Army also buys horses for its cavalry at the auctions. Cai Wen wonders what sort of a purse would be sufficient to attract good contenders. Little Shifu ponders this and thinks that there's always a risk of the horse being injured in a race, before the auction, so that's the main concern. So the purse should be at least a significant fraction of the horse's value, to balance the risk, probably the better part of a tael.
As far as where to have the race - the larger clans have it on their own land. The smaller clans have to attend the larger clan auctions, as they don't really have the space themselves. Cai Wen says he was thinking of having it near the capital. Little Shifu thinks that could work, if the Sonwu clan was on board. They're not as much into horses, but if Cai Wen was running the show, that could be okay. Cai Wen thanks him for his advice, and tips him before heading back to find the others.
Meanwhile, Shuyan has met a young boy, who is very concerned about the snake on her. He offers to get his father's axe to defend her from the snake, but Shuyan says that's not necessary - it's a friendly snake - and introduces it. She explains that the snake sticking out its tongue is sort of like a dog sniffing him. Worried, he surmises that this is so that they can taste what you're going to taste like if they eat you, but then he is reassured that he is way too big for such a small snake to eat, and is willing to cautiously stroke it. The boy introduces himself as Pho, and says that he will be learning to ride a horse for the very first time tomorrow!
Takanata asks around to find out what is going on with the large troop of riders. The Seomun clan chief has just arrived; the troop will stay here overnight, will ride out in the morning, and then return in four days. There seems to be some sort of complicated circuit schedule that involves many of them being back on their lands much of the time.
Takanata and his small entourage are invited to dinner with the clan chief, and there is much curiosity about why an Isle of Beauty lord is here.
- "You're not on bad terms, as the Savanna has more recently been at war with three countries that aren't the Isle of Beauty..." -Mike, explaining
Takanata is cheerful evasive about exactly what brings him here, taking refuge in the following-the-vagaries-of-chance wanderings of an I Ching master, rather than an artist.
After dinner, Cai Wen searches around for soldiers who might be entertaining themselves with friendly games of tiles or dice, who might be interested in his gambling scheme. The clan riders aren't professional gamblers by any shot, but are willing to welcome him in. He gets them talking about which horses might win a race, and who the best riders are, for use in later conversations.
The next morning, Namokori lets Takanata know that he will be busy until the afternoon, but should be able to free up some time for his honored uncle then. Shuyan mentions Pho learning to ride, and is pointed towards the training paddock. The three head that way, and see the boy going around and around on a horse on a lead. He waves enthusiastically to Shuyan, but then slides off the horse as it rears and stumbles over its feet, coming down on the child. Shuyan is aghast and ashamed - she had not meant to cause an accident! - but Takanata is pretty sure that that was in the boy's Yet no matter what happened. People rush towards Pho, and it looks as if his leg has been badly shattered. Shuyan declares herself a healer and dashes towards Pho - it looks like he is down both in hit points and stats.
Shuyan tries to convince Pho to let her snake bite him, but he protests weakly that he's too big to be bitten. She decides that perhaps arguing is not helpful, and has her snake bite him, restoring his lost hit points, but the snake can't do anything for his crushed leg. Takanata, who has some skill in medicine but no shticks, realizes that the first day after the injury is crucial - if it is not set by a healer with quite a bit more skill than he has, it will set imperfectly and the boy will always have a limp. The clan healer arrives on the scene, and says that he can set the boy's leg, but he is also not skilled enough to set it perfectly to avoid a limp.
Takanata says that he has some very fast horses, but doesn't know who in the area might have more skilled healers. The Seomun healer says that Clan Gyeong's healer is good, but he would be days away. Takanata suspects that the "days away" problem can be solved, but doesn't know what it would take to get a healer from Clan Gyeong to show up, and goes to talk to his nephew.
Namokori says that Pho is the son of one of the best warriors in Clan Seomun, so the clan chief is likely to be willing to exert resources on his behalf. Takanata notes that it is likely that his injuries are severe enough that he'll always have a limp, unless they get a healer soon, and mentions Clan Gyeong. Namokori says that, travel time aside, getting the healer from Clan Gyeong might be difficult for Takanata, as Gyeong is the clan likely to be most hostile to Takanata due to the times that the Great Treasure was stolen. They apparently still hold that all against the Beautiful Kingdom. Namokori thinks that the healer from Namgung is closer and more likely to be sympathetic - and possibly also a better healer. (Cai Wen recalls that Broken Sword is from Clan Namgung - it has a reputation for being a bit fiercer and more hardassed than Clan Seomun).
Namokori continues to be dubious that Takanata can get anyone back within the day, but says that as far as convincing the Namgung healer goes, anything that would bring their clan a little pride would be good. They lost some land and their clan chief recently, so something that let them earn credit with a big dramatic gesture could be good. Or a favor from Seomun, in which case speaking to the Seomun clan chief is in order. Takanata prevails upon Namokori to arrange for a meeting. Lord Seomun says that Takanata's nephew is a valued advisor and he trusts Namokori's judgement. Takanata says that he has the ability to fetch the Namgung healer swiftly (Namokori winces, as he's still not convinced), but that he has little to persuade him to come with him. Lord Seomun does want to help his friend's son, but does not want to show too much favoritism on his behalf, and so is only willing to offer a minor favor from Clan Seomun.
One travel montage later, Takanata, Shuyan, and Cai Wen arrive at the Namgung clan stronghold. This is more of a palisaded fort (and an oddly temporary-looking one) and less of a comfortable stronghold than Seomun is. They're brought before the clan healer, who is a little puzzled and asks where the injured person is. Oh, he is back with the Seomun.
- "You must have ridden many days." -Namgung healer
- "We have ridden for an hour." -Takanata
Takanata describes the boy's injury, and the healer thinks he may be able to set his leg properly. Then, a Namgung warband rides up - they hear that there is a Seomun warband only an hour's ride away! Takanata quickly leaps in to explain, triggering his reputation as a master of the I Ching - he has a favor from a spirit. That seems to be something that is a bit outside their experience, but is not automatically implausible, so they calm down a bit. Takanata explains that they only have three blessed horses, so Cai Wen will have to remain behind while the healer travels back with them.
Cai Wen takes the opportunity to shmooze with the war band, and mentions knowing Broken Sword. They are very regretful about how that all turned out. Cai Wen broaches his idea of a spring auction and horse race, and plays up the connection with Very Fast Spirit Horses and such - and he's quick enough to not say much about a betting pool, as apparently Clan Namgung is particularly anti-gambling, after their experiences with Lucky Chang.
Meanwhile, Takanata and Shuyan return to Clan Seomun with the Namgung healer, and bring him to the room where Pho and his family are. Pho's mother is weeping, and his father is trying to get her to buck up, when Takanata brings the healer in and introduces him. The Seomun healer bows, honored to meet Namgung Chuan. Healer Chuan gets ten successes setting Pho's leg, and gives his parents some powders to mix with water to dose the boy with. He also tells him, frowing, to stop squirming, and tells his parents that as long as the boy doesn't do anything foolish like wander around before finishing eight weeks of bed rest, he will walk with no trouble again. It is great news!
Lord Seomun comes to see Takanata, and says that while he doesn't understand all of how this happened, that if there is anything Takanata needs at present, he need only ask. Takanata explains that his companion Cai Wen is trying to put together a plan for a race and an auction in the spring... Lord Seomun says that when it officially comes to his attention, he will look favorably upon this endeavor.
While Takanata speaks with Lord Seomun, Shuyan is watching and listening to the room. A number of the clan riders are speaking to each other quietly - they think Pho has been "marked by the Horse", having first been broken by a horse and then saved by horse spirits. Shuyan, intrigued, turns her Detect Aspect shtick on Pho, but he is too young for an aspect. Takanata reads his I Ching, however, and learns:
Takanata memorizes him for later, and lays Hand Upon the Pattern to try to keep him in bed for eight weeks. It isn't really designed to force a location for such a long duration without karma, so he settles on making sure Pho is definitely in bed at about six weeks in, when he's most likely to be tempted to get up.
Then, Takanata and Shuyan take Healer Chuan back to the Namgung stronghold. The healer bows formally to Takanata, and says that he is most honored to have participated in this day. If they need him again, his name is Namgung Chuan and he can be found here. As it has gotten late, the three accept the hospitality of Namgung to spend the night in a part of the barracks.
In the morning, the trio sets off to Jabon, to arrange for permission to hold a horse race and auction in the spring. When they reach the walls of the city, they are permitted through the gate with much less trouble than the last time the party came here, since Conclave is not in session.
The group arranges for rooms at an inn, where Cai Wen makes himself pretty, and then heads towards the palace to try to find out who he should get permission from. He thinks that it should be someone at Minister level - maybe the Trade Minister, or the Clan Relations Minister. Takanata reminds Cai Wen to make sure he doesn't portray himself as being from the Isle of Beauty. Cai Wen gets an appointment in a few days.
While they wait, they decide to head to the lands of Clan Jegal, to see their horse race and auction, a three-day event. From their previous encounters with the clans, Clan Jegal is probably the closest thing to an anti-war clan as the Savanna has (which is admittedly not very anti-war). They tend to be strong on defense rather than invasion, and in general is the clan the party liked the opinions of most during Sands of Blood.
The auctions include a general Jegal auction and sale, and smaller auctions and sales run by some smaller clans. Then there's a "center stage" auction, with the best of the horses, which are all Named. In addition to the individual horse sales, one can arrange things like buying a hundred horses for a cavalry unit. Takanata's best guess is that about a quarter of the "important people" from around the country are here, and Cai Wen notes that there is a lot of logistics and land management that needs to be dealt with to run something like this. Someone with a lot of Event Planning, and a sizeable budget, are both likely to be needed. Also, it looks like the general protocol is to not bring overwhelming numbers of one major clan to another major clan's event.
Cai Wen looks around for "a good-looking woman who looks like she knows what she's doing" to pick the brains of. Shuyan watches carefully as he works, and thinks a bit more about what Precious Jade taught her (and didn't teach her, like Pickup Artist).
Cai Wen's new moll is pretty knowledgeable about the logistics of the auction (though probably not sufficiently knowledgable to be promoted into running it herself). She says that Jegal, in addition to the Master of Hourse, who has a lot to do here, has a Master of Ceremonies who spends the year planning the event. If Cai Wen wanted to do something on a shorter time scale, it would probably require more money. He'll need to find a guy to put in charge of the race, and give him a budget. Her guess is that something like twenty tael, minus one per success that the planner rates on event planning and logistics, should do it (down to about five or six tael minimum). That would include staff and construction of stands and the purse. However, most of the people who she knows who would be competent to do this already have jobs running the autumn auctions. Cai Wen may have to see if Merit can find someone.
In the "random encounters" department, a guy asks Shuyan, somewhat secretively, if she knows anything about herbs for curing the itch. He's heard that people from the Strand know about that sort of thing. Shuyan, nonplussed at how people keep assuming she's from the Strand, tells the guy she doesn't know anything useful for him, but thinks perhaps she should pick up some real medicine skill, as it seems to keep being relevant.
Takanata watches the auctions and the shifting patterns of the horses, and (as he has been speaking to Horse about horse points) thinks that while Horse has said that favors will run two horse points and more, a one horse point favor would probably make a horse into a Named Horse. Also, he guesses that it is probably cheaper to get a shtick for a horse with horse points, rather than a shtick for a person. He is very tempted to buy a horse, but doesn't know enough about horses to be sure which one he wants. However, rumor has it that all the good ones are sold at the end of the second day.
The World of Dreams
The group gets rooms in a tent-inn, and that night, Takanata dreamwalks to the Isle of Beauty, looking for Horse. He dreams of a horse in a field, and tells it that he wants to talk to the boss. The horse takes off for the horizon, and a little while later, another, more cocky-looking horse arrives. The horse notes that Takanata certainly does get around.
Takanata asks - if he buys a horse, will the boon of transportation cover getting it back home? Getting a horse home? That will be no problem, Horse assures him. And, so, does he want horse-buying advice? Takanata concedes that he doesn't have anything with which to pay for such advice.
Then, he wanders about the island for a bit, and eventually hears the sound of a woman weeping. He follows the sound into the Court, and finds the throne room fractured, with the fracture radiating from the Queen's throne. She sits on both sides, weeping - one one side, she wears yellow silk, on the other side, she wears blue. Takanata enters the throne room, trying to stay in the middle, between the two fractured sides, and tries to hear if she is saying anything. It is difficult to discern, but the gist that he can pick up from both yellow and blue is "it's all my fault." Takanata coughs quietly, hoping to get the Queen's attention but the cough is insufficient, and she continues to weep.
Then, he rolls his Chi to try to shape the dream, invoking the part of the garden full of calmness that Ti Wren built for him. He shapes the throne room to be more like the garden, and that does calm the Queen's weeping; she fades away, and the court is at peace, for a time. But Takanata suspects that the peace is temporary - he has given it calm, but natural state is more like the way he found it. Then, he awakens, somewhat disquieted.
The three companions regroup in the morning, and check out the various horses being sold. The best of the lot appears to be a tall, majestic roan, the crowd's favorite. Cai Wen's moll points out a smaller black horse - not as handsome (with an off-color patch on his foreleg) or as big, but quick in the trials. As the afternoon passes, several horses go by in the half-tael or tael range. The roan is still to come when the little horse goes up for auction, and Takanata wins him for 90 li. Takanata notes that this is a Named Horse, though he has the privilege of granting the name, which he decides to think about. The popular roan sells for a bit under three tael - substantial, though no thousand-li horse.
The next morning, the group rides for Jabon. Cai Wen spends a karma to make himself pretty again, and meets with the Minister of Clan Relations, who proves to be a cousin of the King. He proposes his Great Event, to be held upon the Day of the Tiger, sure to bring great glory upon the capital. If the Royal Clan could see its way to granting permission for the event, he would deal with the event and the logistics and all the costs. The Minister raises an eyebrow - this is to be scheduled for the King's birthday? And who is Cai Wen to propose such a thing? Cai Wen gives a brief resume - he was born in the Arcade, and while he has travelled briefly with the Silken Wings circus as a convenience, he is also the proprietor of the Cup of Five Virtues in the Port of Propitious Voyage. The Minister seems to be trying to figure out what Cai Wen's profit in this is, and Cai Wen allows as this will be his entry as a Master Gambler. He does his best to be persuasive, and gets nine - nearly enough. The Minister suggests that under these conditions, the event would be a reasonable thing to put forward, with the proviso that the winning horse become the property of the king, as a gift. Cai Wen winces, and the Minister allows as this would probably end up with a boon for the winner in return. Well, that can be spun appropriately.
The Minister tells Cai Wen to have his staff talk to the Minister's staff (the people in charge of annoying logistics), and agrees that the King will provide the space and the King's peace, and Cai Wen will provide the rest.
Then, it is time to head home again. Everyone prepares for another ambush by ninjas, but as it turns out, the ninja house really needs more than thirty seconds warning to arrange for something, and the group rides to the docks without incident. They take a ship back to the Isle of Beauty, wondering what happened to the possible smugglers on the other ship, but there doesn't seem to be any gossip for public consumption about that.
- "Well, that was more progress than I expected to make." -Takanata