Michiya awoke to the cries of sea gulls in the early morning hours of his last day at sea. He carefully groomed himself and donned a pair of stark white trousers. On top of this he wore a blue and white patterned shirt. About his waist he wrapped a pale blue sash pinned together with a tiny ivory figurine of a Kitsune. Through the sash he thrust the swords given to him by his father. As he reached the door of his small cabin he stopped and looked back at the black lacquer case next to his bed. He turned around and knelt in front it with his hand on the latch. After a moment he lifted the top and reached under the clothes to remove the two ancient swords given to him by his uncle Sasaki as he left home. He looked longingly at them and eventually told himself ‘Michiya, you are a long way from home and the time has come for you to accept the changes in your life! Put away your boyhood swords and bear these ancient blades with the honor you deserve.’ It was the first time he had borne the two beautiful swords since receiving them as he left home. After a short prayer to the Storm God Susano-wo for continued good sailing, he went out on deck. For a long moment he stood watching the sunrise until the mate called out to him, ‘Good morning Ittosai-san.’
‘Hai,’ he whispered, ‘totemo ii desu ne!’ Turning to the mate he called ‘Good morning Stiben-san, when will we be arriving in Darugon?’
Checking the sun and the colour of the water, he replied ‘Just before lunch if the wind holds up. Why don’t we go below and get something to eat with the night crew before they eat their foolish heads off and leave nothing for us?’
Taking Steven’s suggestion to catch an early breakfast with the crew he was treated to a meal of lightly fried fish and potatoes. Potatoes were one few thing he had found to his liking since leaving his homeland so he ate with great enjoyment. Listening to the sailors talk of their expected docking later that day he realized how much he missed his homeland. Weary of hearing their foreign tongue that he had been forced to learn out of necessity, he drifted off into a reminiscence of his final good bye to his uncle.
The bitter winter winds had swept the dock clean of snow that cold night in Yoshida. The cold irritated the freshly bandaged wound in his leg as he stood there waiting for his uncle. He considered returning to Osaka and facing his enemies rather than leave the country. His uncle insisted that this was the only proper course of action available to him, but leaving hurt his pride. Just as he decided that was exactly what he would do, he saw his uncle approach carrying a bundle under his arm.
Kneeling before his uncle he said ‘Uncle-san, my apologies but my sense of honor demands I return to Osaka and face Itokawa clan.’
His uncle, Ittosai Sasaki, replied ‘You will do no such thing! The Itokawa clan is acting dishonorably in their attacks against you. They send many of their Samurai after you, a lone ji-zamurai, just because they cannot accept that one of their children could possibly be defeated by you. Once they capture you and find out who you are, they will declare an illegal blood feud on our small clan. I will not allow the Ittosai clan to be destroyed to salve their hurt pride. You have acted honorably all along, it is no dishonor for you to leave now and save your family. Go now, and may Susano-wo bless your travels.’
‘But uncle-san!’ he replied ‘I do not feel so very honorable at the moment. Why are they so respected, if they act so dishonorably?’
Sasaki thought a while before answering, ‘They are very powerful, and they aided the new Shogunate on its rise to power. With such credentials many things are overlooked.’ At this point he began unwrapping the bundle at his side. Inside was a beautiful old Dai-sho. Holding it out to Michiya he said ‘I want you to take this and bear it with the same honor your great grandfather did after the son of heaven, Emperor Go-Shirakawa, gave it him with his blessing.’
With trembling hands, Michiya accepted the ancient blades, but said ‘Uncle-san, I cannot accept this gift! They belong in our family shrine!’
‘Do not argue with an old man on a cold night! Take them now and board the ship.’ With that his uncle turned around and stalked off into the night. Rising stiffly to his feet, Michiya turned and boarded the foreign trade ship, The Singing Mermaid.
His reverie was broken then by the yells of the crew as they prepared to enter the port. He went up on deck and headed forward to get out of the crew’s way and get a good look at his new home. It wasn’t as colorful as his home back in Bichu province nor as spotlessly clean, but it could have been worse. Some of the ports that they had stopped in to restock their food supplies had been smelly cesspools.
As they docked, the Captain approached, and said ‘Michiya-san, the crew has unshipped your crates and is ready to unload them. As you are new to Dargon, I have taken the liberty of ordering them to carry your belongings to a respectable inn called “The Inn of the Hungry Shark”. Thomas the bartender is a friend of mine, tell him I sent you and he will make sure that you are treated with respect.’
‘Thank you Captain Markus-san’ Michiya replied with a bow ‘I was wondering where I would stay until I became understanding of this place. I have enjoyed the trip and the company of you and your crew. I would also like to thank you for teaching me your language.’
‘No thanks are necessary’ said the Captain. ‘It has been a pleasure to have you on board these last few months. In fact it is I who should be thanking you for your assistance in dealing with those pirates last month. I usually am able to go for years with no such encounters, and every time I have had an encounter I’ve been lucky to drive them off. Now I think it’ll be quite a while till I have to worry again.’
Looking rather embarrassed Michiya said ‘It was nothing, please stop, such flattery to my head will travel. I not so special am…’ At this point Michiya broke off in confusion and further embarrassment over his poor English.
Saying good bye to the Captain, Michiya went ashore. It finally sunk home to him that he was in a foreign land. Nowhere that he looked, did he see any of his people. At this point he noticed a brightly colored wagon with an umbrella. The owner was a merchant and was selling some stew. Going over to the wagon he got some “Sun Sweet” stew which was quite good. Instinctively he had brought out a pair of hashi to eat with, but this seemed to offend the owner’s pet monkey. The little creature grabbed a spoon and thrust it at him. Not wishing to offend to little monkey any further, he accepted the spoon. Handing over a gold koku to the little monkey he quietly complemented it. ‘Anata wa kawakute chisaii saru imasu ne!’
His comment seemed to puzzle the monkey who was obviously pretending that he didn’t understand. Taking his leave of the soup vendor, he thought to himself that the merchants over here were definately an improvement over the ones’ back in Nihon. Back home they grubbed for anything they could get and had no self respect at all. The crew members carrying his supplies brought him to a reasonably clean and tidy inn. Here he was introduced to Thomas the bartender. After finding out who had sent him, Thomas set him up in a small but nice room on the second floor.
After a short rest, Michiya went back down stairs and asked Thomas to explain the Dargon monetary system to him.
Thomas sighed and began to explain the long sad story as he saw it. ‘At first there were only two coinage systems in use. One was the Shapkan system which had only two types of coins in modern usage. The two coins were of copper and silver. The other system was the Baranur system which had three basic coins. These coins were gold marks, silver rounds, and copper bits. The copper coin is of the same value as the Shapkan copper, but the silver coins were of different worth. Recently though, the Rand system has been introduced by our Lord Clifton Dargon to “simplify matters”. It is a sort of average between the two systems and also has three basic coins like the Baranur system. Once again the copper coins are of common value with all the others, but the silver coins are of yet a third new value and the gold coin is of a different value than the Baranur gold mark.’
Michiya stood there taking this in thinking to himself that ‘This is madness! How could any one want more than one money system? One money system alone is bad enough, but three will surely cause greed and hatred.’ Michiya thanked Thomas for his help and went out for some sight seeing. During his wanderings he passed by a farmers market where he bought some cucumbers. Back home they were considered a delicacy and he hadn’t had any for a long time so he was quite happy when he returned to The Inn of the Hungry Shark for dinner. Michiya spent the next few days in somewhat the same manner, though he was constantly on the look out for something he could do to support himself in an honorable fashion. He realized that he could not live forever on the cash that he brought with him and was quite concerned with his future.
One night as he was taking his evening walk after dinner Michiya wandered into one of the seedier sections of town. Having been warned by Thomas that thieves and cutthroats were known to attack people from time to time in the area, he was on his guard. Shortly after passing a dark and smelly alley way he heard a sudden stealthy sound behind him. Without pausing to look, Michiya spun about while dropping to his left knee and drawing his katana. Just as he dropped he heard the sound of a thrown dagger pass right over his head. Silently muttering a brief thanks to Hachiman, he rose to meet the rush of the attacking thief. The thief didn’t look too happy about the turn of events, but had already committed himself to the attack with his charge. Michiya turned a parry of the thief’s first swing into a wheel stroke, expecting the fellow to jump back and avoid the swing. Instead his attacker tried to parry but was hopelessly out of position. The swing cut through the thief’s left arm and made a shallow cut in the side of his chest. Dropping the sword with a scream the thief grabbed at the stump of his left arm and stared at it in disbelief. Michiya was also shocked. He had been told that the local thieves were reasonably skilled in weapons and had assumed that they would all know the only possible response to such a basic attack. He hadn’t wanted to kill or even seriously maim the man, only wound him slightly to drive him off. The thief fell to his knees and begged ‘Please don’t kill me! Here, I’ll give you everything I have!’
Michiya noted that the man was going to pass out from blood loss any minute now, so told him ‘Keep your money and your life. I had only intended to try to scare you off and am now ashamed at myself for my failure. Take this as a token of my sorrow over what has happened here tonight.’ With that statement Michiya tossed the man a small gold koku and turned away. The thief stared numbly at the small gold coin still disbelieving what was happening. Shakily he reached out, picked up the coin, slipped it into his belt pouch and staggered of into the night clutching at his arm.
As Michiya stood there wondering what to do, he heard the sound of many running footsteps approaching. Thinking that more assailants were on the way he began to step into darkness when he realized that it was the city guard. Shaking off the blood from his sword, Michiya sheathed it and stood there calmly in the middle of the street.
Six men in uniform came running down the road. Three of them immediately surrounded him and two of the others spread out and started searching the area. The last man, who seemed to be in charge went to Michiya and asked ‘Who are you sir and what went on here?’
‘Ittosai Michiya I am’ he replied ‘I was just by a thief attacked.’
At this point one of the searchers came running up with the arm and sword of the thief who had attacked him. He approached the officer and pointing in the direction of the fight said ‘Sir! We found these over there by that alley.’
Unshuttering his lantern, the officer inspected the sword. With a start of surprise, the officer exclaimed ‘This is Captain Koren’s sword. It was stolen from him a week ago!’ With this he turned to Michiya and said ‘Sir, I apologize for the rude manner with which I initially treated you. In this neighborhood we have to assume the worst about anyone we don’t know. I am Kalen Darklen and am pleased to meet you.’
Michiya noted that the soldiers relaxed as he replied with a bow ‘I am honored to meet you Kalen-san. Unduly impolite for the situation, you and your men I did not find’.
They chatted pleasantly for a while and eventually Michiya was invited back to the barracks near the Keep to return Captain Koren’s sword. Michiya was initially hesitant to go there and embarrass the man in such a fashion. After all losing a sword was a horribly embarrassing thing. Kalen reassured him that it wasn’t quite that bad of an embarrassment here in the west.
Eventually Michiya returned to The Inn of The Hungry Shark with an escort this time, went to bed, and dreamt of home.