Homeworking the Steppes
|"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."|| The run begins on the Day of the Late Phoenix in the Month of the Serpent in the in the seventh Year of the Bear since the thirty-fourth Great Northern Invasion|
The run takes place in the Qin Chao Steppes
Xiao Fa recalls (after some poking by Takanata) that he has homework to come up with a working to change the name of the Qin Chao Steppes. Previous investigation with Min Feng, Shen-Ji, and Yue, had come up with the following things to do:
You need to attend a wedding, and see how a partnership is built, interact with both halves of a couple who are a working partnership, and find someone who was in a partnership who has recently lost their partner, and see what that has done to them.
You need to see if Stone Drum is a partner of the Rest-of-the-Steppes, or how that works.
You need to find out how the Steppes views its relationship with the Empire, both the Imperial Mechanics and the Sum-of-the-other-countries.
Xiao Fa needs to Introduce Min Feng as the Consort to an important political couple, while you study their reaction, and then you need to go out and do charity work among the people to find ones who've come from elsewhere, while Min Feng finds out what the other people in the area think of the immigrants.
In all cases, Xiao Fa will handle the chi investigation while Min Feng handles the social investigation.
An investigation party, consisting of Xiao Fa, Min Feng, Takanata, Xian, and Master Zhou, heads to Stone Drum to begin. Takanata picks a nice inn to stay at. The two innkeepers are a married couple; the man deals with stabling the party's horses and settling them into their rooms, while the woman tells them that lunch will be ready once they've settled.
Min Feng starts by chatting with the husband, but briefly stalls when asked what brings them all to the Steppes. They're tourists; that's it. He recommends going to the city walls - they can see the Great Wall to the north, and the plains to the south. They might also want to visit the Academy, known for education of the locals. Min Feng asks if he means the Winter Academy, but he says that's something else - it's a newer school, and not in Stone Drum anyway.
Lunch includes stew, bread and wine, but if the guests want anything in particular, the wife can do that. Xiao Fa hangs out in the kitchen, chatting about food. Both innkeepers are kind of confused at why this is so extensive of a conversation, but roll with it. Observation suggests that there are definitely some marriage mechanics they're taking advantage of, making casual helper rolls for each other.
The innkeepers summon a carriage for the "tourists" to wander around the city. (The wife is the carriage driver's sister). Takanata says he'll head to the Academy.
- "I'll go with you." -Zhou
- "No, you should go with Xian." -Takanata
- "In case we... stumble into a wedding?" -Zhou
- "Yes." -Takanata
- "Not with each other?" -Zhou
- "Wait, what?" -Xian
After some poking around, a wedding is found. Tomorrow, a baker (Ow Zhong) and an heiress (Li Hua) are marrying. It's not clear whether she's marrying into baking or he's marrying out of baking, and the local gossip isn't sure how the baker managed to find a bride so much above his station.
Takanata tours the Academy, checking into how it works. It includes formal apprenticeships, but there's also another, smaller, branch of the school that teaches history and literature. Takanata expresses more interest in the literature section, and is quickly whooshed there, where the poetry students are impressed to meet him. A teacher is explaining about the rules and structure of poetry, and Takanata is happy to jump in to lecture them a bit on the proper use of repetition. This appears to be something that the instructor approves of, and offers to arrange a reading, or an introduction at court. Takanata says he has already met the First Servant, but is interested in books on what the more advanced students would study, so he can see what they prioritize, etc. etc. The instructor would be happy to send some over to Takanata's inn.
The next morning, Xiao Fa looks for where refugees might be found. He learns that there are a bunch from the Cranesflight Heights who came last winter, located in an encampment outside the city. Xian, Xiao Fa, Min Feng, and Master Zhou head out to tour the refugee camp - it seems to be more organized near the road, and more scattered and haphazard farther away. There's a large tent flying the First Servant's flag, so they head there.
In the tent, there's a guy sitting at a big table covered in scrolls. The group says they're here to help. He's pleased to hear that, as they always need more volunteers. Xiao Fa says that they're all trained medics, and he himself is a brother of the Meihua Sannong. Excellent! How long are they volunteering for? Oh, er, only a couple of hours. Well, that's something. He gets all their names before they leave, and sends Xiao Fa to the quarantine tent while everyone else is dispatched to the general treatment tent for injuries.
In addition to people suffering from the various accidents that can happen in a large group, there are people with missing limbs from older battle injuries (or just needing something more like physical therapy), who talk about fighting huge furry walking mountains.
Master Zhou tells some of the newer news from the Cranesflight - they have a king now! Well, perhaps they can go home soon now that the civil war is over. He also learns that anyone who was a local (rather than a Heights native) isn't in the camp, and was taken up to Stone Drum. That seems to be something of a point of friction. Some of the soldiers think it's weird that they renamed their country when they got a king - it seems like a stupid thing for the king to do - but everyone else thinks they got hit on the head.
Xiao Fa thinks there's something not quite right about the chi, and starts to investigate. It appears that there's a wall of chi around the camp, maintained by the people running it.
Back at the inn, Takanata reads the books that have been delivered, and (since people seem to be spending the day at the refugee camp) Auspiciously Reschedules the wedding to the next day. He uses his reputation to get himself and his granddaughter an invitation, and paints an appropriate gift.
In the morning, Master Zhou asks around about kung fu dojos. There aren't many in the city, but if he wants to join the army instead, he should seek out the Academy. Rumor even has it that the Dragon Army is jealous of the Academy, and set up some sort of Winter Academy to be competition.
Min Feng gathers information about the refugees. She hears that there's a little bit of resentment that they have to care for the wounded of other countries - it's someone else's job, but they do it because someone needs to.
Master Zhou considers what Emperors might give to people as wedding gifts. Well, there are things that traditionally only the Emperor is allowed to give, but that's a little different. Xiao Fa decides to not go that path.
The group proceeds to the wedding (everyone else gets to be Takanata's entourage), and Takanata watches with eyes of the I Ching. When the priest performs the ceremony, there are little chi tendrils that start to weave between the couple, but when he officially stamps the paperwork, there's a much larger effect - the chi whooshes out from them and then back in from the chi of the country, and the chi tendrils between them are much stronger.
Politically/socially, there's a strong undercarriage of "married by the state" rather than "married by the priest" here. The priest part of the ceremony is a decorative formality, in a way that is not true everywhere else. And in particular, a thing that seems to be happening is the official formation of a new Steppes family.
Xian notes that in other countries, the bureaucracy is often done after the wedding rather than during, and the bureaucracy doesn't matter as much if it's a family with no significant property. That's not the case here, of course.
The bride and groom present themselves to High Lord Takanata, and receive his gift with gratitude. It will have an honored place in their home. They don't seem all that surprised that he is here, but their parents all seem a little bewildered. (The bride's parents begin to suspect that the groom's parents have heretofore unseen social abilities.)
Takanata looks for his nephew Tokai Won, but finds out that he has been temporarily assigned to the Plains of Honor in the training battalion, and is not in the Steppes at the moment.
Xian and Master Zhou lead the search for a Temple of Continuing Remembrance, and find one where a funeral is going on, for one Choi Chin-Yao. Xiao Fa burns some ghost money, and Xian notes that they are not the only ones crashing the funeral - that guy over there and his man at arms are also unexpected.
Xian thinks the closest connection between "that guy" and the widow is a financial one, where she is the debtor, but does not know it. Xian warns Xiao Fa, and they head over to talk to the guy. Xiao Fa wants to make sure there will be no difficulties, and the guy says that there will be no difficulties if she makes good on the late gentleman's commitments. Xiao Fa says that he is a benefactor. Well, if Xiao Fa wants to take the lady's debts upon himself, he may find them somewhat extensive, as her late husband owed the princely sum of forty-two li. (Xian thinks that's only a small lie). Xiao Fa waves aside Xian's suspicions, and confirms that for forty-two li, the guy will not trouble the widow any further. He agrees that this is so. Xian wants a receipt, but the guy says that the debt was an arrangement between honorable gentleman. Xiao Fa considers arguing, but then warns the guy: on your head be it if you prove false. He spends a karma to make the warning have teeth, and then the guy bows and departs.
Hmm. But what if the guy comes back to demand more money? Xian and Xiao Fa follow the widow home after the funeral. They ask to see the widow, and while a cousin of hers looks ready to jump in to pummel any debt collectors, Xiao Fa jumps in even sooner to explain that the debt has been paid, and they owe him nothing.
The widow is confused by this, but thankful. If they ever need anything that a poor tailory can provide, it is at their services. (Not, alas, a high end fashion tailor's). They ask the cousin more about the tailory - it has fallen on harder times since they lost the contract for government uniforms. Her husband was the driving force behind the business, but the widow provided the connections to get bulk contracts like the uniforms.
Xiao Fa notes that the widow's chi is wounded, though no more than he would expect. Min Feng, asking around, thinks that it's not clear how they started the business, given that neither of them were explicitly tailors. Things will probably start going downhill at this point, and she will probably have to sell the business.
For introducing Min Feng to an "important political couple" - well, Gipeno and Yue Ping are engaged, but that counts. Gipeno is quickly tracked down, and can get them in to see Yue Ping.
Xiao Fa starts to perform the Official Introduction, and Gipeno is baffled - he knows who Min Feng is - when Xiao Fa calls her the Imperial Consort, and he boggles. Yue Ping's reaction is more guarded.
Min Feng is paying close social attention to reactions, and spots the briefest flash from Gipeno of "if I married her I'd be Emperor" - she doesn't think it's that he's actually gold-digging or interested in Min Feng, but it's more like his defenses are particularly weak, not being married in the Steppes. It's more relevant here that "consort" is part of her concept, in a way that it isn't elsewhere. Yue Ping doesn't have the same sort of reaction, and also seems to be trying to work out both the political consequences of Min Feng's consort-ness and also the political implications that this was clearly some sort of meaningful Formal Introduction.
Xiao Fa is watching the chi, and sees that there's a brief chi-reaction from the country - that having someone with free-floating unattached consortness causes a reaction, and he thinks Min Feng isn't the only one.
- "Are you .... looking to make any announcements with my father...?" -Yue Ping
Xiao Fa considers this for some moments, and then says that while he does have to have a conversation with her father about something else, it is not this announcement, at this time. Yue Ping agrees - it would be best to not be hasty. Perhaps they could have a conversation in which they deeply considering all the ramifications before doing anything untoward.
- "Also, my father is out of town right now." -Yue Ping
(Xian is pretty sure she is lying).
- "I'm sure your advice on the subject would be very helpful once you have had time to consider it." -Takanata
Master Zhou, hurriedly changing the subject, asks Yue Ping about how the rest of the country compares to Stone Drum. She describes the Steppes as divided into thirds: Stone Drum is the chi, to the west is the yin, and to the east is the yang. New ideas come out of the east, while the solid strength and tradition is nearer the border with the Heights. The people who live to the east and west are not as charitable towards each other as they are towards those in Stone Drum. She also notes that, unlike most countries, it's three different colors on the map.
Master Zhou mentions the refugee camp, and the discontent there. Yue Ping assumes that the discontent is directed towards the west, rather than her own country, but notes that once the new king sorts out his country and can put his own house in order, the Heights can attend to their people.
The Homework is officially Done, and Xiao Fa can get to work on his working.Takanata also contemplates the map as a whole - is that three-color thing actually an omen? The map is not, as it turns out, really an omen, per se. But it is interesting that the Strand is South-colored.