With the food being served the conversation could begin. Hida Kengetsu stuck up a conversation with Hida Sumai next to him, with Akodo Akio listening in, about the sumai stables in the Crane lands. The sumai informs them that the Crane did not emphasize sumai a lot but did have a small stable at Kyuden Daidoji. They continue conversing about martial arts and their effectiveness outside of ritualistic duels and against Shadowland creatures. Akodo testifies to the prowess of Hida Kengetsu’s martial talents and their effectiveness. Hida also explains that this will be his first real public sumai demonstration and that his sumai teaching is mostly just the standard Crab bushi training. Akodo tells the Sumai about the ill fated maul, while Hida laments its fate, but Hida is intrigued by the possibility of the ancient Tsi blacksmith helping him decide his warrior path.
At the far end of the West side table Kitsu Kasai and Shinjo Luke converse about their feelings concerning their travels thru the Crane lands. Shinjo is getting tired of them trying to constantly “plant one on his buttocks” and the ways of the court. To him there is too much talk and not enough action and he would rather “See straight down an arrow instead of crookedly down the hallway”. Kitsu Kasai is also not fond of the courts and would rather be traveling the Empire performing his sacred duties as a sodan-senzo.
Meanwhile over at the corner of the East and North side tables Kakita Hikaru is talking pleasantly with her cousin. Kawachi was very thankful for the assistance from the old fisherwomen. Kawachi is pleased that the party is going so well and again thanks Hikaru for her and her companions’ assistance. It also seems that Kakita Yoshimoto is enjoying his “retirement party” thoroughly and would like to present Kakita Hikaru and her companions with some gifts in thanks. Doji Teinko, overhearing the last part, asks if she could be present as well for the gift giving. Kakita Hikaru, on behalf of herself and her companions, humbly accepts and tells them that they would be honored for such a privilege. To her right, on the corner of the East table, were the Ikoma Historian, Ikoma Hosei, and the young Dragon courtier Agasha Kouki who were arguing about the location of the next Imperial Winter Court. Agasha claimed that he had it on good authority that it would be held in the Dragon lands while Ikoma argued that it would probably be held in the Scorpion lands to counter the power struggles from the possible war between the Crane and the Lion. Ikoma also spent quite a of time demeaning his rival Asako Daiki and enlightening Kakita Hikaru about several interesting histories that she had expressed interest in, specifically, the Yasuki separation from the Crane.
At the opposite end of the East side table Shosuro was seated between Soshi Name, a samurai-ko shugenja visiting Kyuden Doji on her way to the temples of the Asahina , and Asako Daiki, the Phoenix Historian who constantly opposed Ikoma Hosei. Asako Daiki was partaking quite generously in the offered sake and seemed quite smitten by the two Scorpion samurai-ko seated besides him and spend most of the evening trying to impress them with his extensive knowledge of Imperial Court history.
Also during the dinner Akodo Haru, known for his appreciation and collection of fine art, presented a magnificent vase crafted by the grandmother of the current Kakita Daimyo to be displayed at Kyuden Doji. Most of the guests were talking about the potential war between the Crane and Lion or if the marriage between Doji Kuwanan and Matsu Nosuriko would be enough to stop the war, the marriage itself between the two (they would be arriving at Kyuden Doji in a few days then heading to Kyuden Matsu for the first ceremony and then to Mura Musumi for the second.
With the dinner finished Hida Kama asked if everyone gathered would like to witness the promised Sumai competition with special guest of one of the companions of Kakita Hikaru, Hida Kengetsu. There was a general murmur of consent and anticipation and the four sumai sat up and went to prepare. As the four bushi prepared for the demonstration, removing their kimonos and putting on loin clothes and kesho-mawashi (decorative aprons created for the ring ceremony) Hida Kana had a special portable ring moved in and moved the tables into a single line facing the ring. He then asked if Kitsu Kasai would assist in the necessary blessings and cleanings of the ring until the competitors would enter. Once the ring was ready the rikishi, the former name for the sumai competitors, could enter.
The rikishi, as stated, were grouped into two groups—East and West—and each group took their turn entering the ring. The lowest-ranked rikishi entered first and walked a complete circle around the ring followed by the other rikishi in ascending order according the rank. Before the individual rikishi enter the ring, they were introduced to the spectators. Once the last rikishi in the group had been introduced, the rikishi, who were facing the spectators, turned inward and faced each other around the ring. After clapping their hands once, they raise their right hand, lift their kesho-mawashi, and finally raise both hands in unison. This tradition represented the rikishi showing each other that none is armed. Now that the competitors had been introduced the competition could begin.
The first two rikishi spent several minutes before their match lifting their legs high in the air and stomping them down, a practice said to scare away any demons. They also threw several handfuls of salt into the ring, which would purify the ring. They also sprinkled salt around their bodies as a means of protecting them from injury. Finally, both wrestlers placde both fists on the ground on or behind the shikiri-sen, they spring from their crouch for the tachi-ai (the initial charge where both wrestlers must jump up from the crouch simultaneously after touching the surface of the ring with two fists at the start of the bout, and the referee can restart the bout if this simultaneous touch does not occur.). With an explosion of flesh against flesh the two combatants collided. The East side rikishi was able to get a solid hold on his opponent’s belt and with a mighty heave, lifted him up off the ground and slammed him against onto the edfe of the ring.
Now, with the first bout over, it was time for Hida Kengetsu to go against his opponent. Getting cheers from his companions, Hida Kengetsu walked onto the ring and commenced the appropriate rituals. As the two combatants placed the hands on the ring and prepared for the tachi-ai the room went quiet. And, as their competitors before them, as their fists touched the shikiri-sen they exploded towards one another to the cheers of the onlookers. Hida Kengetsu, thinking back to his training with the beautiful Kakita Hikaru, moved towards opponent but at the last moment used his opponent’s momentum to heave out of the ring.
Hida Kana, who was acting as the judge and announcer for this little demonstration, brought the two victors into the ring next to him and asked if the spectators and the pair of rikishi themselves would like to see them face each other. With a unanimous decision from the spectators and Hida Kengetsu and his soon to be opponent agreeing, the two rikishi each went to their respective sides and commenced the rituals one more time. As they prepared to place their fists upon the shikiri-sen, Kengetusu knew he would not be able to use the same technique twice as his opponent would be surly expecting it. So at the explosion of the tachi-ai Kengetsu, instead of curbing his rush as he did before, moved with all his power and speed straight at his opponent’s upper legs and lifted his opponent right off his feet and slammed him on his back. Kengetsu, to the cheers and chanting of his name by his companions, bowed deeply to his opponent and to the spectators and him, and the rest of the rikishi, were escorted off to clean up and rejoin the party.
At this point of the party the tables, and sumai ring, were removed and the crowd was allowed to mingle and converse among themselves. The sumai rikishi quickly rejoined and congratulations and thanks were given to all of them. Hida Kengetsu told Hida Kana thank you for it seemed that with this bout he had made a decision about the path he would choose in life. Hida Kana replied that if he ever considered leaving the ways of the bushi he would be pleased and honored to have him join his sumai and bring honor to the Crab clan. Kakita Hikaru brought out her biwa and played a magnificent series of songs from the different clans and finally gave voice to her playing with her singing.
Finally the group was able to retire for the night, after making a good impression on everyone, and walked back to their reserved rooms. Kakita Hikaru informed them that they had all been invited to breakfast with Kakita Yoshimoto and Doji Teinko and that Yoshimoto would be giving them some gifts in appreciation of their effort to assist Kakita Kawachi. Everyone agreed that this would be pleasing, specially since Kakita Hikaru had agreed for them already, and they would meet in the morning.
In the morning, once again cleansed, properly dressed and prepared for their last day at Kyuden Doji, the group made their way to the a room with a small balcony overlooking the gardens where Kakita Yoshimoto and Doji Teinko awaited them. In front of Yoshimoto was a silk bundle and behind them was the vase that Akodo Haru had presented the night before. Bowing and entering the group sat in front of the two dignitaries and greeted them properly. Servants served them some tea and minor snacks and then quickly left. Once the pleasantries were finished Kakita Yoshimoto got straight to the point. He understood that without the assistance of his grand-niece and her companions the dinner party the night before would probably not had succeeded. In gratitude he would like to offer them each a gift from his extensive collection of items that he had accumulated over his long life. Pulling back the silk covering he revealed the following items:
- A Katana forged in the memory of his wife.
- A Katana given to him by Emerald Champion.
- A Wakizashi he found in the Spine of the World during his travels.
- An ornate tessen good for court or the battlefield given to him by a Lion Daimyo.
- A bow that he had used in most of his travels and had protected him well.
- The very first boken he ever used.
He told them that he would like them to decide who should receive each gift among themselves. This generated a lot of conversation and debate with Kakita Yoshimoto and Doji Teinko occasionally giving their opinions on matters and questioning decisions. One key one was Shinjo Luke saying that he could always use a spare bow although he was quite quick to apologize once he realized what he had said. Kakita Yoshimoto had a fondness for Unicorn brashness and decided to forgive the insult just that once. Another was that Akodo Akio should take the Katana forged in the memory of Kakita Yoshimoto’s wife for he too had lost love in his lifetime (Akodo seemed quite distraught after this and curiously so did Shosuro.) And Kitsu Kasai tried on multiple times to find a way to be allowed to inspect the items for lingering spirits but Kakita Yoshimoto made it quite clear that he would find such an action quite insulting and if Kitsu persisted in this endeavor he would be forced to take offense. Eventually, after quite some time, seeing that this young samurai would take forever to make a decision, Kakita Yoshimoto said that he would “help” them reach a decision faster. Each one of them would give one of the gifts to another and then that person to the next. Since Kitsu Kasai had been less then opinioned he was chosen to go first. Kitsu thought a bit and decided that he would give the boken to Hida so that he could better find his path in life. Hida gave the ornate tessen to Kakita Hikaru so she could better achieve her goal of being a shining star at court. Kakita Hikaru decided that the wakizashi was best suited to Shosuro since they both were far travelers. Now with only three items left Shosuro thought a while before finally presenting the Katana forged in the memory of Kakita Yoshimoto’s wife to Akodo for he would appreciate it most because of his own lost love. Akodo Akio was faced with the difficult decision of placing both the last items although theoretically the last one would not be presented by him. Akodo decided that he would gift the bow to Kitsu so that a bow that once protected the Crane would now protect the Lion in honor of their newfound alliance and marriage. Left with no other choice Kitsu presented the Katana from the Emerald Champion to Shinjo. Curious, Kakita Yoshimoto asked why he would make such a gift. Kitsu Kasai, angered by the fact that he had been forced into such a decision and the fact that the bow he had been given had probably been used against the Lion at some point, brashly said that maybe if Shinjo Luke had a better katana he would actually use it. Shinjo Luke, although insulted and shocked by such a statement, knew that now was neither the time nor place to make an issue of it but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be having a serious conversation with the Kitsu at some point.
With the gifts given Kakita Yoshimoto promptly excused himself and left without much further word. Doji Teinko then invited Kakita Hikaru to take a walk with her as the rest ate a small brunch on the balcony to recover their energies. Doji Teinko brough Kakita to a hallway filled with many oiled paintings. Each one was a painting of the Kakita family Daimyo in order all the way back to Kakita Shimizu, the first Iaijutsu master of the Kakita Dueling Academy and the founder of the Kakita family. The pair of them slowly walked past the paintings as each one got seedily older until they reach the painting of Kakita Shimizu which was almost difficult to see from age. But it was possible to clearly see upon his waist rested the same saya that Kakita Hikaru now herself wore. When asked about it by Doji Teinko Kakita informed her that yes she knew where it had come from and that she had received it as a gift from her master. Doji Teinko informed her that the saya could not be lost again and that it must stay in the hands of the Crane at all cost. Kakita Hikaru understood her responsibility and swore that it would be so. Doji Teinko then told Hikaru that he friends would be waiting for her and that she should rejoin them for brunch. Understanding the dismissal Kakita bowed and thanked the Lady Teinko and rejoined her companions back at the balcony.
Not soon after her arrival, after being served tea by her companions, they all noticed Agasha Kouki enter the room next to them. He did not see them for the angle of the wall hangings blocked them from his view. He was admiring the vase that Akodo Haru had presented and then bent down to fix his sandal. Upon doing so he lost his balance and toppled into the stand of the vase knocking it over. It would have clearly broken if it was not for the fact that Akodo Akio was able to spring from his seated position, vault across the room and slide underneath the falling vase in a miraculous recovery. With the shocked Dragon staring down at him Akodo simply smiled and said “………..