E17 - Small Court of the Asahina, Part 4

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Following tea with Doji Sayuri, the samurai go their own ways for the afternoon, then reconvene for levity that not a single one of them asked for.

CAST, CREW, & CREDITS

Narrator: James
Crow: Mal
Atsu: James
Daiyu: Didi
Ryojiro: Nick
Akodo Torokai: Walt
Bayushi Reiko: Karen Vuong
Kakita Yuji: Aldrich
Kitsune Nori: Michole
Doji Sayuri: Arielle
Asahina Takeshi: Brian Richmond

Script writing & editing: Arielle (& a little Mal)
Audio/sound design: Mal

And a HUGE thank you to our patrons and beta listeners!


In the wake of Doji Sayuri’s tea session, the samurai go their separate ways.

While Son of the Crane Castle’s gardens do not come close to rivaling those of the Fantastic Gardens of the Doji, they are still colorful and well-kept. Atsu eyes the flowers and greenery curiously, trying to seem disinterested as a few Crane pass by. A few of the plants are vaguely medicinal, assisting in digestion and headaches, and could probably be clipped for reagents. He makes a note of this as he walks, rubbing his chin in thought.

Daiyu walks around enough for a general layout of the castle, but receives enough strange looks that she can't quite get a few decent laps in without self-consciousness overcoming her. Eventually, she circles back around, arms folded carefully behind her back. She comes to rest near Ryojiro, who sits looming over a Go board, hand poised at his chin in thought. Nearby, two courtiers discuss rumor and hearsay, the Scorpion more brazenly and enthusiastically than the Crane, who pretends to temper her interest.

Ryojiro looks up at Daiyu's approach, smiling at her.

Ryojiro: “Kuni-san.”

Ryojiro offers the seat opposite of him.

Daiyu: [warning] "I know little of Go, Kitsuki-san.”

Ryojiro: "I am no expert myself, I was probably the worst in the village. My brothers would toy with me during our games mercilessly. For hours."

Daiyu hmms, studying the stones and how they are arranged on the board. "Well. I can promise I will not toy with you. But I will likely be an underwhelming opponent.”

Ryojiro hands her the white pieces. "I can teach you what I do know."

Daiyu plays...badly, at best. She lacks even a halfway comfortable grasp on the rules, and does not treat it terribly strategically at first. Even so, Ryojiro struggles to match the early board territory and watches a few of his shapes collapse. Quietly sweating, he plays to his best while also realizing it may not be enough.

Ryojiro: "You have a talent at this. You would give my older brother quite a challenge."

Daiyu: "Hmm, I do not think so, Kitsuki-san. But thank you. I would be pleased to try.”

Ryojiro: [chuckles] "He is driven. I can't say I've ever seen him lose at anything. And he has the talent to match. He is still a good man. And brother."

Ryojiro watches his advantages at the middle of the board shrink. An entire corner shifts from black to white, and a pile of black stones now sit on Daiyu’s side.

Daiyu: "I do not have siblings. I have always wondered what it must be like.”

Ryojiro: "I have frequently wished I was an only child. Our house was never truly in order with just our father to maintain order. I could only tell you growing up seemed to be much like every other child with siblings. I don't think anyone in our village had but one child."

Ryojiro knows more than a few tricks that the untrained would not, and manages to open the weakness in a few white groups as the pieces are placed. He seems happy with the lay of the board and offers his first pass. "I must say, this is the best game I have played in many years. You have quite a talent for this."

Daiyu: "Thank you. I am merely lucky. I would like to learn more, if you are willing to show me."

Ryojiro beams. "Of course!”

Ryojiro begins clearing the board, pointing out her moves as he does.

Ryojiro: "See, here where the line of white was, you responded with these pieces here to create a shape I paid dearly to probe. You used your advantage here to push against the tentative wall I had... here." Ryojiro points to white formation in the center. "This allowed you to make an advantage much larger than I had planned, and for that I nearly lost. Here, you may take black this time and go first."

Daiyu: "I will be honest, I was not thinking particularly strategically.” Daiyu eyes the board, then tentatively places a black piece. "I have heard many stories of Go’s infinite complexities.”

Ryojiro: "It is as I've seen, more complex than my mind can seem to wrap around. Merely seeing that which is does nothing to help sharpen my anticipation. I can unwind the games I see and boards left behind, and understand the strategies, thinking, and so much more. I remember them, and I try to use them when I play. But every time I am rebuffed. I think this is why I enjoy the game. That for everything I've learned and mastered, it surprises me."

Daiyu: [thoughtful, kinda foreshadowing here] "Indeed… it will never remain the same. Like some things, there is no end to the possibilities."

Ryojiro nods in agreement, smiling as their game continues.

While the other samurai linger outside, Crow procures a lunch for Nori from a small cart near a noodle shop. She heads to her quarters to check on him and wipe away some of the sweat from the afternoon sun, taking as straightforward a path as she can manage.

Nori grins and bows appreciatively when Crow returns, but seems restless. He looks torn between pouting and seeming strong and stoic as he eats, occasionally poking a slice of fish with his chopsticks.

Crow takes note of his mood towards the end of washing herself off. The hand scrubbing the back of her neck slows. She raises an eyebrow as she looks back to him. "Is something wrong, Nori-kun?"

Nori looks toward the window, then to the small, loosely bound book in his lap. He looks back to Crow. "Can I walk with you, Crow-san? We-- we can go at night, if you need to."

Crow continues scrubbing. Stops. Resumes. Slows. Stops. Resumes. Her expression slides through several stages of guilt. Eventually, she sighs, smiling at him.

Crow: "I...yes, of course. I am sorry. Would you like to walk now? We have a few hours before court."

Nori nods, struggling to repress his excitement. He's young, though, and fails, his features turning to a toothy grin. [excited but repressing it] "Yes, Crow-san. Please."

Crow laughs, smiling helplessly. It's soon overtaken by immense guilt as she watches him bow several times, then scrabble around near the door for his waraji. She assists him as needed, then places a hand on his back. She leans down to Nori’s level.

Crow: "The Crane are very....polite. So you must be on your best behavior."

At first, Nori gives her a quizzical look. Then he nods, grinning as he adjusts his obi and smooths his kimono. He’s getting better at fixing it one-handed.

Crow smiles. She does her best to flatten his hair or adjust his kimono or whatever she assumes, in that moment, that Crane care about.

Nori paws at his hair. Then he licks his palm and smoothes out a stubborn cowlick. It springs back up as soon as he lifts his hand.

[outside, birdsong]

Crow and Nori descend the stairs, weave through the crowds, and leave the castle. They pass into the gardens and the surrounding grounds, where several other courtiers have gathered beneath the cherry blossom trees.

Crow watches Nori with poorly concealed fondness. She pauses, looking down to him. "Where would you like to go?"

Nori looks at her, considering. Then he glances around, coming alive in the presence of greenery and gardens -- and trees. A pair of Crane chuckle at his enthusiasm, smiling from behind their fans, but quickly return to their conversation. Doji Sayuri sits reading beneath a cherry blossom nearby, unaware of Crow and Nori’s presence.

Nori rushes toward one of the larger trees, placing his palm on it. A moment of panic surges through Crow, and she nearly lunges after him, but then it's...just a tree. It stands apart from the cherry blossoms, a tall sugi that is nonetheless not nearly as tall as those she’s seen in Kitsune Mori. She follows behind at a slower pace, laughing quietly. "What is it?"

Crow crouches down next to him, making a show of closely inspecting the tree.

Nori puts his ear against the trunk, palm pressed into the gnarled bark. After a few moments, he frowns, retreating a step. His sandal claps against the grass. He shakes his head.

Nori: [quietly confused] "I can't hear it."

Crow peers at the tree, then looks back to Nori. Her eyebrows lift. "What do you mean?"

Nori looks at Crow, not comprehending that she doesn't understand. He smiles and pushes his hair from his eyes, shoulders shrinking.

Crow eyes Nori, a little confused by his reaction. But then she looks to the tree again and leans in, pressing her ear against the bark. She glances at him after a few moments, staying very still. She makes a show of looking concerned that the tree isn't making any sounds, if only to make Nori feel better. Crow pulls back sharply and stares at the tree with genuine concern.

Nori watches her closely, arm held at his side. His chest puffs with a sigh. He looks at the grass, then up at Crow, and smiles.

Crow leans in beside him and presses her ear against the tree with much greater gusto. At first, there is nothing. Then, suddenly, there is rustling, a soft whispering, like wind through leaves and undergrowth, a chattering. Crow draws back sharply, her eyebrows knitting -- just in time for Sayuri to manifest behind them, hands tucked into her sleeves.

Nori jumps and bows deeply, perhaps more times than is necessary, and does not look Sayuri in the eye. Crow bows in apology.

Sayuri: "That sugi is very old. I have heard it is one of several saplings from Kitsune Mori given to the Crane some years ago."

Crow scrambles to channel every ounce of social energy in her tired body into standing as coolly as possible. She brushes some pine needles from her kimono and laughs weakly, bowing to Sayuri.

Crow: "Really? That is...surprising. But very interesting."

Sayuri: "Forgive me for intruding.” Sayuri looks to Nori. Something in her face quakes, but she is quick to school her expression. She smiles. “And who is this?"

Crow straightens from a deep bow. "Your presence could never be an intrusion, Doji-sama, I assure you."

Crow smiles and places a hand on Nori’s back, looking down to him.

Crow: "This is Kitsune Nori. Nori-kun, she is Doji Sayuri." She kneels down near Nori’s ear, eyes on Sayuri as her hand raises to hide her lips from her. Theatrically, she whispers loud enough for Sayuri to hear. "Isn't she beautiful?"

Sayuri's face pinkens a shade. She laughs and bows her head in greeting, her smile softening a bit in the face of Nori’s nervousness. "It is nice to meet you, Nori-kun. You are very far from your forest, aren't you? Unless I am mistaken?"

Crow slowly stands, feeling very smug at Sayuri's blush. Nori and Sayuri's exchange takes a few moments to reach the inside of her thick skull.

Nori’s shoulders shrink. He rubs his cheek and looks to Crow for inspiration, or an answer. Finding none, he smiles, bowing his head.

Nori: "Yes, Doji-sama. Very far."

Crow smiles down at him in delayed approval, and then looks back to Sayuri. "I'm afraid he may become homesick soon. The forest is so lovely. Have you ever been, Doji-sama?"

Sayuri smiles, shaking her head. "I’m afraid not, Crow-san. But I have heard many stories of its beauty." She looks between them, bowing to Nori. "Forgive me for interrupting your walk."

Crow tsks, shaking her head. "You must see it some day. It is beyond description. There really is no intrusion, Doji-sama. Perhaps you'd like to accompany us?"

Sayuri glances between them, looking, for once, at a loss for words. She smiles, her mouth opening then closing again. "Of course, Crow-san."

Crow wanders aimlessly, mostly allowing Nori's curiosity to take the lead. She doesn't want to admit that she has no idea where she's going, but she's also mostly here for his entertainment. Or was. Fortunately, Nori doesn't go digging around anywhere he shouldn’t--not in the presence of a Doji he is so clearly intimidated by.

Sayuri is receptive enough to the boy’s meandering, exploratory path, doing her best to match Crow and Nori’s combined stride. She walks with her hands in her sleeves, occasionally watching Crow's profile. She offers bits of information about the various flowers and other plants in the garden and surrounding areas -- as well as a few comments regarding how much convincing it took for the Daidoji not to rip them from the ground.

Crow listens with genuine interest, but she does keep a close eye on Nori lest he somehow manage to get himself killed. Eventually, they come to a small pond. Concern briefly blooms in her chest when Nori wanders away to it, but then he stays within her line of sight and she breathes a quiet sigh of relief. Nori picks up a small stick and prods the water, watching the ripples.

After a glance toward the sky, Crow's attention drifts to the pond, and then falls to Sayuri. She smiles slowly. Sayuri is quiet for a time, watching Nori near the water with some small concern pinching her eyebrows. Or maybe she’s only squinting against the fading sunlight.

Sayuri: [at length] "Did something happen to him? He seems a bit shaken."

Crow didn't plan this one out. She watches Nori, as good an excuse as any to turn her away and mask the fact that she is a terrible liar. "An infection.” When she looks back to Sayuri, she gives a slight shrug. "As far as I have been told, at least. It has not seemed to hinder him." She smiles.

Sayuri listens quietly. Several birds chirp. She smiles. "I see." She drops her eyes, then raises them again. "He does seem strong."

Crow's takes Sayuri's smile as an affirmation of her own.

[A few moments pass]

Crow: "Do you have any children?"

Sayuri does not look at her. She smiles, but it's softer. "No. I do not."

Crow nods once, in silence for a while. She looks at Nori, then down to the pond, watching the koi. Her arms fold behind her back.

A few beats pass.

Sayuri: "Do you, Crow-san?"

Crow laughs at the notion, but it's a quiet, polite thing. [decisively] "No."

Sayuri nods, laughing quietly at her response. "Forgive me if the question was foolish." She watches as Crow crouches low and traces a finger along a water lily near the pond’s edge.

"These ones." Crow glances over her shoulder at Sayuri, smiling. "What is their significance?”

"Ah, lilies. White ones represent purity and peace. [rebirth] Others prosperity. [pause] Happiness."

Crow listens, head turned toward Sayuri as she does. A few moments pass before she looks back to the water. A few of the flowers are pink and orange, but one of them is white. She reaches for that one, carefully plucking it and a small length of stem from the water.

Crow: [delayed, thoughtful affirmation] "Hmm."

Slowly, Crow stands and inspects it in her grasp. Sayuri watches her, head tilted. She glances to Nori, crouched far from them at the water's edge.

Crow appreciates the flower in silence a while longer. After some time passes, she turns to Sayuri and lifts it up, towards her hair, and then seeks her gaze. Her eyebrows lift, silently asking permission.

Sayuri eyes her, long sleeves shifting, and chuckles softly. She nods in wordless permission, ducking her head low out of habit. Crow is much taller than Yuji, as it turns out.

Crow, despite her surprise, doesn’t hesitate. She carefully threads the lily into Sayuri’s hair, just above her ear, mindful of the clasps and decorations keeping her shimada bun in place. Crow takes her time, likely as an excuse to drag out touching her for as long as possible. Once it's secure, Crow withdraws her hands and smiles.

Sayuri does her best to hide her blush, but there is no hiding the pinkness in her face when she at last lifts her chin. "Thank you, Crow-san."

Crow's smile curls in on itself, becoming awkward and boyish. She can't find the words, so she only bows her head in acknowledgment.

Sayuri’s smile is a bit stronger than moments ago. Obviously softened, she seems unsure what to say. If anything.

Crow is not good with words on a good day. Sayuri having nothing to say might have made her nervous before, but for some reason, it doesn't bother her now. When the moment has passed and the silence has ripened, she clears her throat.

Crow: "I am sorry to have been so evasive earlier." Her hands fold behind her back. "Perhaps we could speak later, more privately. If you truly wish to know."

Sayuri studies her face, attempting to glean any hidden meaning. She does not press, content to watch Nori making fish lips at the koi for some moments. Crow follows her gaze to Nori, laughing to herself.

Sayuri clears her throat and turns back to Crow. When their gazes meet again, Crow looks at her with a warm smile and red cheeks.

Sayuri: "Of course, Crow-san, but I do not wish to press."

Sayuri smiles. After a moment, she seems to catch herself. She bows her head, offering a slightly wider, though close-mouthed, smile.

Sayuri: "I should leave you and Nori-kun to your explorations, Crow-san. Please forgive my intrusion."

Crow shakes her head, her eyebrows drawing together, saddened by the notion that Sayuri considers herself an intrusion, even now. "Not at all, Doji-sama. Though it was not my intention to keep you." She bows, smiling at her as she rises. "I suppose I will see you tonight. At court."

Sayuri: "I will look forward to it, Crow-san. I will meet you and your companions after dinner." Sayuri smiles, returning her bow. With another bow to Nori, she starts off, book in hand, and is gone.

[Dinner Scene; soft conversation]

The night’s dinner is a brief affair, a prelude to the evening’s later main events.

Ryojiro spends the meal watching and listening to any of the guests for a sense of what's in store for the evening, while Atsu, Daiyu, and Crow eat in relative silence nearby. The samurai are served cups of tea as well as hot sake, along with bowls of rice and grilled fish.

Ryojiro: “Hmm. It seems there will be a poetry reading this evening.”

Atsu and Daiyu exchange unsure looks.

Atsu: “Poetry…”

Daiyu: “Poetry.”

Atsu wipes his brow in apprehension, uncomfortable about his chances of winning--or at least not failing horribly.

Crow stands and bows as soon as it is polite to do so.

Crow: “I will return shortly. I’m going to check on Nori-kun.”

Atsu: “Hmm!”

Crow tucks a small cloth with some food for Nori into her obi. When she returns to her room and slowly slides the door open, Nori grins and bows his head in thanks, looking much less desperate for interaction now that he's taken a walk. He eats quickly, taking his time with one of the onigiri.

Crow smiles at Nori's enthusiasm. "We can go for another walk tonight if you'd like, Nori-kun."

Nori nods. For another several moments, he's focused entirely on his food. He smiles. "Yes, Crow-san. Thank you."

Crow nods. She gives him a pap pap on the back before she makes a final, hopeless sweep over her hair and heads back downstairs. [door sliding shut]

The end of dinner, and evening with it, comes quickly. Eventually, Doji Sayuri appears with a bow. She's dressed in a different, layered furisode. It is a deeper blue, but not particularly more formal than the last.

Sayuri: "It is good to see you again, samurai. I am sure you all have heard what’s to come by now." She smiles. "How do you feel about haiku?"

She begins to lead them to a long side room organized for presentations.

Crow follows. Her smile is less polite, more stupid. "A form of art that I can appreciate, but have no real skill for..."

Atsu: "Well. [hesitates] It is a thing."

Sayuri pauses, staring at Atsu. For a moment, it's unclear whether or not she's offended. Finally, after a long, dreadful pause, she laughs, a sound that is a bit like a crane’s honk. "Ah. I cannot blame you, Hida-san. I do believe there is a play, if you are more inclined. Though it /was/ written by a Scorpion, is the rumor."

Daiyu remains silent, doing her best to not make an even bigger name for herself since the duel between Crow and Yuji and the tea ceremony with Sayuri. It’s likely impossible to remain entirely anonymous by this point, but she tries.

Atsu's frown deepens. [sheepish] "Perhaps it is a good night for haiku..."

Sayuri: [laugh]. "Do not worry, Hida-san."

[foreboding Scorpion room with foreboding Scorpion music; soft conversation]

The side room Sayuri leads them to is dark, with warm, red lantern-light surrounding an empty stage. Rows of wide sitting pillows sit upon the tatami mat. It smells of heady incense, and colored paper lanterns are strung along the sides of the room, bathing the audience in red light. Soft conversation floats among the gathered crowd, which is comprised mainly of Scorpion.

Ryojiro excitedly finds a spot closest to the front of the room, a habit from always sitting at the front of the class.

Crow--immediately intimidated by the room and the stage--sits near Ryojiro out of an assumption that he knows what he's doing. Sayuri chooses a pillow nearby, smoothing over the layers in her furisode. A young Crane girl settles in to her left, recognizable as Doji Inoe from the wedding at Shiro Matsu earlier in the year.

Atsu settles in beside them, oblivious to whoever is unfortunate enough to sit behind him. They’ll never see any of the performance for as long as his bulk remains. Daiyu sits near her companions, but a row just behind. All the easier to conceal herself in the crowd, should she need it.

Eventually, a woman in a red kimono with black detailing appears from the left side of the stage, her veiled face half-lit by lantern light: Bayushi Reiko. The crowd goes quiet. She pauses at the center of the raised platform and bows deeply, a wide smile splitting her painted lips.

Reiko: "Friends, brothers, sisters - I thank you for your attendance. I am Bayushi Reiko. Tonight, we honor this spring evening and this meeting of peace. In that, we will honor it with haiku. The teller of the finest, or perhaps most scandalous, will receive a gift. Surely this will quicken your mind in preparation for winter court, not so far away."

Atsu looks dubious, while Crow fears it will be more fox-repellent. Daiyu is pointedly upset that its not another ghost story competition, having gathered ample material now. She takes great pains not to show just how upset she is.

Reiko bows her head. "In honor of this evening, and our gracious host, I ask that Asahina Takeshi introduce the first haiku."

Crow forces a smile.

Ryojiro starts thinking of something, anything in case he's put on the spot.

Asahina Takeshi bows deeply, smiling as he takes Reiko's place at the center of the stage. She shifts to the side of the stage, just behind. Takeshi folds his hands behind his back and clears his throat.

Takeshi: "In the twilight rain

these brilliant-hued hibiscus -

A lovely sunset."

There is polite, soft clapping. Daiyu adds to the light applause once she determines it’s appropriate to even move. Torokai shifts in his pillow and smiles at the samurai, a few spaces from Crow and the others.

Reiko glances to those seated near the front, eyebrows raised. She smiles as she finds Ryojiro’s gaze.

Reiko: "Do you have a piece to offer, Kitsuki-san? Perhaps your companions?"

For a moment, Ryojiro considers throwing someone in front of him. In the end, he softly sighs and steps forward, onto the stage. He trades places with Takeshi. "I would be honored to recite first for my companions. The road offers much inspiration. Many poets have journeyed to seek the fullness of experience.

And a horse loudly pissing

Dust, mud, weary feet,

Next to my pillow."

The crowd’s murmurs cut into silence. Takeshi stares, a tight, close-mouthed smile frozen on his face. Crow balks. Her smile slowly tightens into the very manifestation of a poorly-concealed laugh.

Atsu erupts into laughter. Tears form at the corners of his eyes as he squeezes them tightly shut.

For a moment, Reiko stares at Ryojiro. Then she laughs. Softly clapping her hands, she represses any further laughter beneath a smirk. A murmur scatters across the crowd.

Reiko: "Ahh. Mm. [clears throat] The road...certainly stretches ever-onward, Kitsuki-san!”

"Do your companions perhaps have something to share?" She looks to Atsu and the others, eyebrows arched.

Daiyu's face remains as stonelike as ever. She applauds just as politely as she has before, but on the inside, she’s quietly thrilled at Ryojiro’s return. She isn't shying away--but she certainly isn't stepping forward just yet either.

Atsu unscrews his eyes to give Reiko a wild look, still guffawing.

Reiko grins, bowing her head. She clears her throat and swivels to face the other attendees. "Perhaps later, then! Ah, Moto-san, yes. Please." She bows as a man dressed in fine court clothing lined with fur approaches the stage.

Crow frowns, trying to become as small as possible.

Moto Kazuo smiles, bowing at the waist. He's square and stocky, thick through the shoulders and middle, the very picture of a Moto. A kind smile softens his stern face. He folds his broad hands behind his back, lifting his chin as he speaks.

Kazuo: "The crow has flown away:

a leafless tree

swaying in the evening sun”

Crow becomes even smaller. Sayuri glances at Crow and the others, seeming to sense the change in mood. She smiles, a thread of nervousness beneath her expression, then cracks open her fan with a flourish.

Reiko bows and smiles, trading places with Kazuo. Reiko stands and waits, looking to the crowd expectantly to see if any others will approach.

Crow claps. Very quietly. Politely.

Eventually, after a few enthusiastic nods, Atsu captures Reiko’s attention. Her gaze snaps to him. She smirks, motioning him forward.

Reiko: “Ah, yes, Hida-san! Please, come forward.”

Atsu scrambles to his feet, grinning from ear to ear. Then he settles in, stands up straight, and clears his throat, placing his hand on his stomach like some kind of professional orator. He isn't one.

Atsu: "A wet starless night

Awful meat doll made of horse

We killed it well."

Atsu grins, immensely pleased with himself. Crow's face slowly sinks into her hands as conversation perishes all around her.

Delayed, stunned silence reverberates throughout the crowd like an aftershock to quite the earthquake. The crowd is a mix of pleased and insulted, trading glances and scandalized looks as readily as some of them trade private smirks.

Daiyu eye twitches involuntarily.

Atsu looks puzzled. You don’t like it?

Moto Kazuo laughs, anxiously rubbing his beard. Hida Kasumi’s laugh booms from the very back of the room. Atsu clears his throat again, for different reasons this time. He made Kasumi laugh at least. His grin quickly returns.

Kazuo eventually bows, trading places with Atsu. Reiko returns to the front of the stage, not having expected a Crab to actually participate, and sees to directing him.

Reiko: [murmur/whisper] “Stand here, and oversee the next person.”

Atsu shuffles with some hesitance at first, but never ends up looking embarrassed for it. Eventually, with some guidance, he stands where he needs to.

Kakita Yuji is next to stand. He glides past the front seats with his hands folded firmly behind his back. He bows smoothly to Reiko, and then Takeshi, who sits next to Torokai nearby. He clears his throat and lifts his head, pointedly ignoring Atsu’s smile of greeting.

Yuji: "Everything I touch

with tenderness, alas,

pricks like a bramble."

Sayuri somehow manages to maintain her cool expression as Yuji glances briefly, pointedly, in her direction.

Crow gives Yuji a look of exhaustion.

Atsu emits an almost unnoticeable snerk that could have just as easily been something stuck in his throat, were he asked. He grins, claps, and then rests his hands on his hips. A few whispers pass across the crowd, more than several gazes fixed in Sayuri’s direction.

Doji Inoe gives Sayuri a nervous look. She stands next, a touch less meek than her previous attendance at her very first court, the wedding at Shiro Matsu. She bows to Atsu and softens the edges of a nervous smile.

Atsu bows in return, his grin wide and… somewhat comforting. He makes a small gesture at Yuji as he trades places with him, ushering Inoe forward. Yuji stares.

Inoe smiles, bowing her head before setting in. She folds her hands in front of herself, resting her palms against her obi.

Doji Inoe: "In the moonlight,

The color and scent of the wisteria

Seems far away."

Polite, soft clapping with a vivid undercurrent of rumor drifts throughout the crowd.

Crow is clueless, but enjoys this haiku much more. She claps politely.

Rumors of Inoe's "interest" in an Owl bushi float in the crowd near Ryojiro and Crow. Ryojiro’s eyebrows go up. Perhaps she had interest in the bushi from the Lion wedding after all.

Inoe bows and trades places with Atsu, softly clearing her throat.

Atsu claps on his way to his seat, completely devoid of decorum but sincere despite it.

Inoe bows as Doji Sayuri approaches, looking small, but trying her best.

Sayuri folds her hands into her sleeves.

Sayuri:

"Light of the moon

Moves west, flowers' shadows

Creep eastward."

It's difficult to tell if it's a veiled jab at Inoe or not, judging by the crowd’s reaction. Inoe seems similarly confused. Was this a response?

Daiyu takes a particular interest in this one. Her mask having cracked even further, she claps as she has for the others, but with a distinctly raised eyebrow.

Crow is tired of hearing about what is west, but she smiles and claps quietly all the same, even if it's at a delay.

Atsu "ooh's" with complete naivety, clapping for Sayuri.

Sayuri smiles, regardless. She bows, then trades places with Inoe.

Reiko claps and quietly clears her throat. Either ignoring or quietly tucking away whatever is happening here, she smiles.

Reiko: "Are there others who would like to perform?"

After several, long moments of hesitation, Crow slowly stands. She moves to take the stage, looking unsure of herself, but smiling at Atsu’s enthusiastic grin. She hesitates even more when she is at last standing before the crowd, but then she folds her arms behind her back and proceeds.

Crow: “The water lily

Soft like snow, still is it coarse

Next to her fair skin.”

Crow glances at Sayuri for the briefest moment towards the end. It barely lasts a second, but that’s long enough for Reiko to notice. Reiko's eyes dart to the side: to Crow, then Sayuri, and back. Recognition and interest flashes in her eyes, but it is there and gone in an instant.

Sayuri smiles, clearing her throat and staring at her lap.

Atsu "oooh's" and fills the room with loud, appreciative claps.

Ryojiro applauds, fanning himself once the racy haiku has concluded.

Takeshi smiles belatedly. A soft laugh follows.

Crow goes back to looking unsure of herself, but she smiles and bows, avoiding eye contact with absolutely everyone while she lingers.

Daiyu isn't sure if she should stand, but she does anyway. She is so preoccupied with glaring at Yuji she nearly does not see Crow smile at her. Yuji pointedly does not meet her gaze.

Daiyu: "As calm as storm clouds

A lone candle flickers, dies

Colors bleed into one."

Soft clapping and murmuring passes across the crowd. A few impressed looks flicker from behind painted fans. Crow looks uncertain about this one. She claps… politely. Atsu murmurs "ooh, yes, she struck him with lightning!" before clapping loudly. Beside him, Ryojiro winces at the memory of Yukira.

Daiyu bows stiffly, plagued by memories of the Isawa disliking her poetry as she leaves the stage. No one appreciates her art.

Several other, tamer, haiku follow. Most of the participants, largely Scorpion and Crane, describe the majesty of nature and the melancholy to be found in it. At least, by the fourth poem about plum trees or cherry blossoms, the scandalized whispers in the room have softened into polite clapping.

At the end of it all, Reiko rejoins the others on the stage. She smiles and sinks into a bow, hands inside the sleeves of her kimono.

Reiko: "Thank you for all of your haiku. There have certainly been a number of... presentations! I shall finish this portion before we close and present the gifts."

[small pause]

Reiko: "Night's breath in my ear

Fingertips tracing dragons

A beautiful dream"

There is a pointed, however brief, look to the side. Then, to Sayuri, whose eyes very slightly widen.

Reiko bows and retreats to the side of the stage, joined by two other Scorpion women, as she indicates for the other samurai to sit. The shorter of the Scorpion accompanying Reiko has wide hips and narrow shoulders, accentuated by a fine, floral-patterned kimono, her eel black hair gathered into an elaborate bun. The other, taller woman’s hair falls straight and unadorned to her waist, her kimono muted, entirely black with shades of gray in the layers beneath. She wears a katana with a finely-painted saya at her side.

Sayuri glances between Reiko and the crowd, then at the Scorpion accompanying her. She hums, touching her chin, then exhales quietly through her nose and avoids any further eye contact. She fans herself to distract from several stares.

Crow claps like she's forgotten how to clap. Daiyu doesn't get it. Dreams are awful. She claps only as much as is polite.

Ryojiro finds his look of confusion, forgetting the last time he needed it.

After a while longer, Reiko returns to the center of the stage. She folds her hands into her sleeves, her smile curling beneath her veil as she addresses the gathered samurai. "Thank you for your poetry. After some...ah, deliberation, we’ve decided. And ask that you please accept these gifts. Doji-san, will you assist?"

Sayuri stands and approaches the stage, settling off to the side. Ryojiro sits quietly, pondering the haikus he was less familiar with. Atsu stands up to stretch and gives his shoulders a few shrugs and rolls.

Reiko smiles. [prompting] "Kitsuki-san.”

Ryojiro’s eyebrows shoot up? Him? He rises to his feet, steps forward, and bows. Reiko bows in return, producing a small, carved container wrapped with fabric. She presents it to him with both palms.

Ryojiro smiles, refusing the gift several times with a shake of his head. Eventually, he bows as he accepts it with both hands. Crow beams.

Reiko: "I have been told that these Go stones come from a pair of Kakita artisans."

Ryojiro bows once again. "Thank you, I am honored."

Reiko smiles. She looks to Crow.

Reiko: "Crow-san. I believe this gift will suit you well?”

Crow stares, her smile dashed. What? She stands unsteadily, approaching the stage with a careful smile. Reiko presents a dark wood, square box with both palms. Inside of it, under a wrapping cloth, is a fine kimono with several layers of fabric. It is accompanied by a deep gray haori, lined with fur along the hem and collar.

Atsu: "Ooh!"

Crow tries not to let her eyes bulge out of her skull. She suffices for a deep bow at the waist, which lingers a moment or two too long. "I am honored, Bayushi-san." With great hesitation, she takes the box, handling it as if it might fall apart in her grip.

Sayuri glances Crow’s way with a small, private smile. Crow steps back a step, her face bright red. She stares at the box, wide-eyed and unmoving.

Reiko bows. "Hida-san."

Atsu frowns with barely masked apprehension and steps forward, unsure if he should.

Reiko presents a jade necklace with a large, smoothly carved magatama at its center.

Atsu erupts into an "OOOH" and bows sincerely, once or twice. "DOMO!"

Bayushi Reiko bows. "Kuni-san."

Daiyu, very clearly awestruck that she was called on at all, bows and walks over, trying not to look like a cornered animal.

Reiko presents a scroll. When unfurled, it is revealed to be a story scroll, concerning tales from the Kuni and to a lesser extent the Crab as a whole. The painted images move with life.

Daiyu: [a little choked up] “I...this… This is most generous of you, Bayushi-san. Thank you.”

Reiko: "As Kitsune-san is not here, I ask that you deliver this to her. Next you see her. Please.”

Reiko smiles. It remains polite, even if it's a little soft for that. She presents a small, fabric-lined box, its top uncovered. Inside is a serrated aiguchi made of obsidian, accompanied by a small, sand-colored stone. Daiyu eyeballs her with suspicion, but bows and tucks the box away as well.

Sayuri's eyebrows go all the way up. Ryojiro looks nervous.

Reiko smiles, bowing.

Reiko: “I thank you again for coming, samurai! You may attend a play performed by the Red Fan Traveling Troupe in just a few moments, if it is to your liking. You may find them in the chamber several doors from this one. [smiling] Look for the red silk.”

Sayuri rejoins the group once the event has passed and murmurs become conversation. She bows and smiles at them.

Sayuri: "I think you’re free to pursue your leisures, unless you are inclined to attend a Scorpion's play."

Crow brightens as Sayuri approaches them. "Your leisure is mine, Doji-sama." Back to full smarm. She smiles and bows respectfully.

Sayuri: [laughs] "I should not think myself so bold as to decide your evening, Crow-san. Or that of your companions."

Crow is quick to take this as some manner of rejection. Looking moderately embarrassed, she makes a strangled sound between a cough and a laugh. She bows. "As you wish."

Atsu: "A-anything," Atsu blinks desperately. "But no more Scorpion functions! Who knows what consequences we have incurred simply with haikus!"

Sayuri laughs, shaking her head.

Sayuri: "I think it would perhaps be easier to attend a debate, yes."

Ryojiro muses the odds of someone actually being killed at a Scorpion play.

Crow: "Regardless of how we spend our evening, I imagine I should return this to my quarters first." She slightly lifts the box to denote her meaning.

Sayuri smiles, her eyes flickering to the floor before raising again. "Of course, Crow-san."

Ryojiro: “I as well, Doji-san.”

Crow bows again, then turns to depart for her room. Ryojiro keeps pace at her side.

Crow opens the box as soon as the shoji door is shut, given a chance to stare at the kimono more blatantly now. She gently runs a hand over the silk and the fur, partly lifting it from the box and furoshiki wrapping to ogle it. After a few moments, she realizes Nori is standing there looking at it with her.

Crow: "I will sell my other kimono now, Nori-kun. And then we'll buy you some clothing more suited to court. What do you think?" She looks to him with a bright smile.

Nori eyes her for a moment, not grasping, partially distracted by the kimono. He shakes his head. "Do not sell it, Crow-san."

Crow laughs, even if she looks puzzled. "Why not? I have no use for two, and I only purchased the other for a wedding. I doubt I will be attending any more of those."

Crow: “I will take you to see the other children. Would you like that?”

Nori grins.

Nori: “Yes, Crow-san. Do you still want to go for a walk tonight?”

Crow: “Of course, Nori-kun. Come.”

Crow doesn't linger for too long. She stares at the kimono for a while longer, then closes the box again and tucks it away, then returns downstairs. Once she has sought out a group of children who are Nori’s age, Mana and Shuji among them, and ensured he is comfortable, she returns to the others.

[inside, court, conversation]

Torokai and Takeshi have since joined the samurai, and the conversation softens as Crow and Ryojiro return. They bow in greeting.

Takeshi: “Your haiku were… [laughs] most evocative, samurai.”

Torokai: [laughs] “Yes… evocative. I am certain they were glad for the variety.”

Crow laughs, self-consciously rubbing her neck. Daiyu stares at the floor.

Crow: “Thank you, Asahina-sama.”

Sayuri: "Crow-san, I believe Kakita Yuji and others are presenting a, ah, kata demonstration. Perhaps a duel." [pause] "Or… sparring. If that is more preferable to a Scorpion play."

Daiyu raises an eyebrow at Sayuri, an implied 'really?' in her face.

Daiyu carefully places her new scroll in her case. "I will join the two of you then.”

Atsu grins, unashamedly wearing the jade magatama necklace. "I would like to see this kata demonstration!"

Atsu: "Ohh, Jiro-san! Are you going to watch the kata as well?"

Ryojiro: "Yes, there's much I'd like to learn about swordplay. I've... come to realize how important it can be at times."

Atsu "mm's" gravely and nods. "Although perhaps it is better to learn from Crow-san, but this should be entertaining at least."

Crow laughs at Atsu's remark despite herself. She seems to realize a moment too late that this probably makes her look uncouth, so she stops, even if she still smiles sheepishly. Her smile grows as she watches Nori, Mana, and Shuji pass by the room, laughing as they go.