Of Cabbages and Coins
|"The leaf in the river never knows which way it will turn from one moment to the next -- but all leaves in the river go downstream together."|| It is the Day of the Dog, the midwinter solstice, in the thirteenth Year of the Fox since the Regency Council was formed.|
The run takes place in the Port of Auspicious Voyage in the Hon'eth Arcade.
Shen Wei Han, an infantryman in the Dragon Army, has been on the road for over a month, escorting his wayward charge, Zhu Cai-Wen, from near the Northern Wall towards the Isle of Butterflies. Xian and Tsai Su-Yin, two followers of the Wandering Path, have each been on the road for much longer than that, but their recent travels take them from a monastery in the Savanna of Tears where they made each other's acquaintance. All four are heading towards the Port of Auspicious Voyage in the Hon'eth Arcade, where ships will take them to the Butterfly Kingdom. The highways are busier this morning than they have been for much of the winter, with many carts piled with produce, heading towards the port.
As the two pairs approach a junction of highways, they begin to hear shouting, and see a commotion up ahead where the two highways join. A cabbage comes rolling down the road towards Xian and Su-Yin, until Xian picks it up - he is surprised to discover how good a cabbage it is for the middle of winter. A breeze blows bits of hay towards Wei Han and Cai-Wen.
It soon becomes clear that two carts (one carrying cabbages, the other hay) have collided, and are on their sides, blocking both highways. One mule has fallen and is braying loudly, and the two drivers are standing on top of their carts yelling at each other. Shen Wei Han orders the pair of drivers to get down from their carts and fix the problem, gritting his teeth. The hay driver quickly leaps to attention, and orders the other driver to get that driver's injured mule away from his own mule. The cabbage driver protests weakly that that isn't his mule, but he seems too traumatized by the fact that his cabbages are spilling all over the roadway to have much of an effect.
Cai, ever suspicious, realizes that the hay driver is trying to bamboozle the cabbage driver out of the one healthy mule, and lets Wei Han know that. Wei Han tries again to order both drivers down off of their carts to put things in order, putting a bit more intimidation into his voice. Also a force for order, Xian has begun to pick up the cabbages and pile them in a neat pyramid to the side of the road.
Once the carters have climbed down from their carts, the two monks attempt to right the cabbage cart. However, neither of them are particularly strong, so they are only able to lift it a bit before it drops to the ground again. The cabbage driver is able to lead the healthy mule away from the injured one, but he still seems a bit confused.
Wei Han tries to browbeat the cabbage driver into pulling himself together, but comfort is not his strong suit, and the man bursts into tears. Su-Yin kneels by the unhappy mule to see how it is injured - it appears to have broken several bones in its leg. Without some sort of magical healing, or a better surgeon than she is, it will have to be put down. At Wei Han's direction, Cai begins to interrogate the carters, both distracting them and establishing his authority. In the meantime, Wei Han helps the two monks right the cabbage cart - with his strength, it's a much easier job. Cai looks over the mules and their harness, looking for non-obvious identifying marks, but while the mules are not identical, their differences are less obvious than he was hoping for.
The trouble with the carts has taken long enough that other carts have begun to roll up the other two roads and complain at the delay. Wei Han tries to get the second cart righted, but Xian is busy picking up cabbages, and he and Su-Yin alone aren't sufficient. Wei Han orders one of the waiting carters to help; with the hay driver and the new carter, they get the hay cart back on its wheels. The monks put the cabbages back in their cart, while Wei Han and the carters get the hay cart moved to the side of the road where it stops obstructing traffic.
Xian, hoping to bring the cabbage driver out of his depression, compliments his cabbages. The man perks up, and begins to explain about winter cabbage farming (which involves burning torches in the fields), and the threat of white grubs, and the even worse threat of red grubs. It's more work than regular cabbage farming, but perfect winter cabbages for the midwinter festival pay for the whole year. Then, the tragedy of his fallen cabbages hits him again, but Xian reassures him that they're nearly all okay.
Wei Han goes back to interrogating the two drivers to figure out what happened. The hay driver explains that he was coming down the road from the north, and carts from the direction of Heaven have the right of way, and he shouted to warn the other carter, but the man was a fool and caused the accident. The cabbage driver's interrogation is a bit less clear, as all he is sure of is that the other cart hit him, and he's still very shaken. He says that his cart was going straight, so the other cart should have stopped. Unfortunately, Wei Han isn't very sure of the rules of right of way on the Imperial Highway, as in his experience, everyone yields to troops of the Dragon Army.
Xian notes that there are other carters passing, and asks one of them about who has the right of way. The carter says everyone knows that carts going straight have the right of way. Well, that seems to settle it. Wei Han asks if anyone can heal the mule. No one appears to have any spiritual healing abilities, so he kills the mule. He tells the cabbage carter to hook up the mule, which causes the hay carter to protest again that it is his mule. Wei Han turns up the intimidate again:
- "You can accept my judgement here and now, or we can go to the nearest Dragon Army commander, leaving your cart off the road here while we do so."
The carter agrees to accept his judgement. In return, Wei Han agrees to help push his cart, after they drag the mule off the highway. The two monks also help push; Cai continues to avoid all the manual labor. After several hours more on the road, the Port of Auspicious Voyage comes into view, and the highway officially ends. Wei Han declares his involvement with the cart plot over, and suggests that the merchant hire a mule. The merchant agrees, with what Cai thinks is suspicious alacrity - he appears to be happy with any sort of plan which involves Wei Han going away.
Cai wonders what is so very important about this cart of hay, and why it was so much heavier than the cabbage cart. There are no tariffs inside the Arcade, but if the carter is smuggling something actually illegal, perhaps that's why he is so nervous. He brings his suspicions to Wei Han's attention, but they're no longer on the highway, so now it's not really his jurisdiction, and he's tired of carts and carters. Xian thinks that he's just worried about being arrested for trying to steal the mule, or causing the crash, though it's not like he feels guilty about it. Xian contemplates some sort of Lesson that could be taught to him, but before he can implement any sort of plan, Cai has marched to the front of the cart and confronted the carter, using his Sublime Bluff:
- "This has gone too far. It is time for you to CONFESS."
The carter breaks down and confesses.
- "I was driving, and I was not paying attention, and then there was an accident. And my mule is dead and I will never get my hay sold..."
- "That's it?" -- Cai
- "I'm sorry, sir, I didn't hear any of that. Can we go on?" -- Wei Han
Cai thinks that it's time for a drink in the tavern. Wei Han agrees, and even Xian and Su-Yin think that some refreshment would not be inappropriate. They find a friendly-looking place with a sign of three cups in front of it, and head inside. Cai orders rice wine, Wei Han beer, and the two monks order tea. The young woman asks if they wish rooms for the night - the beer was good, so the party (for such they nearly are now) decides to stay. She brings them dinner, and tells them more about the midwinter festival. They close the port for a day and a night, and string up lights, and there is music and dancing, and a parade with paper dragons, and then, finally, fireworks.
After dinner, she humbly suggests that if they wish to see the fireworks, they can see them from in the city towards the docks, or from the roof of the tavern. If they wish to go into the city, they should probably leave now. Cai thinks that the night is yet young, so declares that they should party in the city, and Wei Han is obliged to follow. The monks also think that the city could be interesting.
They head into the thick of the crowd. Sure enough, there is a parade, with dancers and a large paper dragon, and people juggling torches. As the crowd thickens, Cai spots a kid trying to steal Wei Han's purse. He tries to grab the kid, but misses. Wei Han also misses him as the boy takes off running. Wei Han pursues briefly, but then realizes that he's leaving his charge behind, and returns, since his purse wasn't actually stolen.
Xian points out that this is just wrong. Why would a street urchin choose, of all the people on the street, to try to rob an imperial soldier? Wei Han suspects that he has failed to be taken in by the distraction, and thinks that things have gotten too dangerous. He suggests returning to the inn, but Cai still wants to see the fireworks.
The parade begins to go past, and the crowd fills in to watch. Wei Han stands in front of Cai in a protective bodyguard fashion, though that makes it a bit more difficult to see anything.
- "This is the most un-fun parade ever." -- Cai
- "I bet a lot of people say this around him." -- Xian
The parade finishes, and Wei Han hints at going back to the tavern. Cai still hasn't seen the fireworks, though.
- "I would be happier on the roof, sir." -- Wei Han, looking around.
- "This roof?" -- Cai
- "Any roof, sir."
After some negotiation, the group heads down to the docks, to watch the fireworks while surrounded by water and sharks, rather than buildings that might have assassins on them.
- "Raise your hand if you want to stare blindly up at the beautiful fireworks." -- Mike
- (Everyone but Rob raises their hands. Rob shakes his head sadly...)
As it turns out, the fireworks are quite extraordinary, especially for people who have never seen any before. Then, much to Wei Han's relief, Cai agrees to head back to the inn. He says he's only going back to the inn because things have been kind of Squirrely today, though. Xian wonders exactly what is going on between Wei Han and Cai. Clearly Wei Han is the bodyguard, but why? And Cai clearly isn't worried enough to be someone who needs protection. It's all very odd.
Once back at the inn, the master of the house offers everyone a late night supper, but they decide it is time for bed, instead. The party heads up the stairs and starts into their rooms - Xian, walking by the door, spots something in the room shared by Cai and Wei Han. He calls out a warning:
- "Cai Wen, your double is going to get attacked. Get downstairs!"
Unfortunately, this proves too inexplicable to either warn anyone or divert the ninja, who proceeds to backstab Cai. This causes him to become visible, however, and Wei Han heads over to chop him. Xian wanders into the room and tosses his teacup to the ninja, telling him "Use this knife, it's poisoned!" It looks like a teacup to everyone else, so Wei Han does not immediately decide that Xian is on the ninja's side.
The ninja notes "I thought mine was poisoned", and stabs Cai Wen with the teacup. Unfortunately for him, a teacup is only a x1 weapon, and it is not, in fact, poisoned. Su-Yin punches the ninja, but without shticks, she's also only at a x1 multiplier, and doesn't rattle him much.
Cai flees to the center of the room, and crosses his arms, declaring "Fortress of Momentary Defense." Xian can tell it's a bluff, but Wei Han is pleased that his hapless charge is finally demonstrating some competence. The assassin is convinced, though, and drops his teacup and dagger to draw his katana.
Cai backs a little further off, and Su-Yin grabs the ninja, while Wei Han pushes Cai the rest of the way out the door. Between him and Su-Yin, the door is basically blocked to the ninja. The ninja breaks free of Su-Yin's grasp, and chops Wei Han with the katana instead. Cai reaches the balcony outside the room, and calls down to the serving girl, "You're a sight for sore eyes. Do you have anything for poison?"
Back in the room, the ninja (who has taken several more chops from Wei Han) finally declares "Fools! The poison will do its work!" and jumps out through the window. Su-Yin does some basic first aid for Cai, and realizes that the poison is one of the classic simple poisons - she can come up with a treatment in the tavern's kitchen. Wei Han directs Xian to watch over Su-Yin, just in case the ninja returns, and Cai asks Xian to try to calm down the serving girl.
- "Everything is fine. I mean, he got stabbed, but it's all okay now." -- Xian
In the aftermath of the fight, Cai's ferret leaps to Wei Han's shoulder, and then jumps down to his purse to root around in it, coming up with a tin coin that Wei Han is pretty sure is not his: it bears an image of a pair of dice on either side, two threes on one side, two fours on the other. And Su-Yin spots a scroll that the ninja dropped while she grappled with him, that rolled under the tub - it appears to be a diagram of the inn itself, with a red X on the bed where Cai is currently resting. Wei Han drags the bed into the center of the room - now the X is in the center of the room too. Everyone marvels - it's a magic map!
Wei Han thanks the monks for their assistance, and Cai joins the bandwagon to thank them as well, and to thank Wei Han for saving his life. He's somewhat surprised that Wei Han was right after all.
- "You obviously don't have to answer or anything, but... who are you?" -- Xian
Unfortunately, Cai is pretty sure that he's just Zhu Cai-Wen, not particularly important and prone to attack by ninja before now. He's a gambler, and he's won money from many people, but he wouldn't expect any of them to send ninja after him. Does he owe anyone money? No.
He recognizes the symbol on the coin, though, as the symbol of Lucky Chang. When he looks at the scroll, however, it just has a big red X on it and nothing else (except for the barbed compass rose in the corner).
- "Hey, it has zoom!" -- Xian
- "In my experiences, all ninja carry those maps." -- Xian
- "Do you have prior experience with ninja?" -- Su-Yin
The monks spend some more time politely interrogating Cai. ("After all, we helped you with the cabbage thing.") Lucky Chang is another gambler who is the enemy of a friend of his. Now his enemy as well, apparently. Still, the whole ninja thing does appear to be a (nearly deadly) surprise to Cai. While Su-Yin has healed some of his damage, he could stand to take the night "under a healer's care."
- "If you like, I can stay with you and tend to you through the night." -- Su-Yin
- "Ooh!" -- Cai, perking up
- "Augh! No, not like that! It didn't sound like that when I said it!"