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for ephemera_tales Sensory Overload - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
for ephemera_tales Sensory Overload
The Time of Day
by Ruth Dempsey (anglofans at aol.com)

The village was called Midori and it sat more or less surrounded by seven lush and beautiful rice paddies. The main road passed on the northern edge of the town and just northeast of the main road sat Lord Namiki’s compound. The inn on the main road looked well cared for and moderately prosperous.

It was the hour of the Rabbit, that hour just after sunset where “men decided if they were Rabbits or Tigers” as the old saying went, meaning they either headed back to their wives or stayed out for drinking and gambling. The bamboo curtains of the inn had been clattering for sometime as the farmers finished their last drinks and left. The roving gambler could understand why the new father would be quick to chew a star anise pod to hide the saki on his breath before scrambling home with the winnings the gambler had kindly slipped his way, but some of the others that were chewing star anise or mint leaves looked like the type that would stay

The Innkeeper watched the exodus philosophically. “It’s always this way. The Lord’s son comes with his men to drink and play dice and no one is fool enough to stay and play with them.”

The wandering gambler looked at his wife. “I can see the danger signs,” he said. He was an older man, with the look of hard living about him, in the cheapest of cotton shirt and knee-pants with a long, coarse, red and grey streaked tail of hair down his back. His eyes, were bright amber like a fox’s.

“This lord is feared rather than respected,” his wife agreed. She was not a pretty woman. She was too tall to be attractive. Her face was too angular. Her hands were too long and calloused from hard work. She had skin that was richly golden from the sun, little wrinkles gathered at the corners of her soft, wide eyes and fine threads of silver glimmered in her brown-black hair held in a bun with a bronze comb in the shape of a dragon. Her kimono was of ordinary silk in a common brown and white pattern. “That isn’t good. Perhaps we should retire for the night, Jiko-san?”

The wandering gambler rolled his dice in the palm of his hand. “No, I think I shall stay down here.” He bared his teeth. “I may have a lesson or two to teach this lordly pup.”

“Feh!” she said. “Well, if you get into trouble, we’ll just be upstairs. Be careful, Old Fox.”

“I am always careful, Emi-hime,” he kissed her. She shook her head and headed into the loft.

“Ho, Old Man!” roared the first man in the door. “Saki!” The sun was glimmering on the edge of darkness. The bar was empty except for Jiko and the bar tender. The bar tender sighed and brought out several bottles. Jiko looked the new arrivals over.

There were nine in the group; six had the look of common thugs with swords, one was older, scarred with the weary look of one who has seen far too many battles, one was younger, with the grim, resigned look of a man trapped by duty and loyalty. The last member of the group was the youngest, wearing bright colors, a lordly topknot and the petulant pout of someone used to getting his own way. His eyes widened as he saw Jiko.

“Who is this?” he demanded.

“Just a wandering gambler, milord,” Jiko bowed deeply. “I was just having a last drink with our good host. . .”

“Gambler, eh?” there was something nasty in the youngster’s eyes. “I am Namiki no Akira. My father rules this place. You will play me tonight.”

“Well, milord, it is late for an old man and . . .”

“You will play me tonight,” he repeated in a harder tone. The six thugs put their hands to their swords. The older man just folded his arms and the grim one just sighed.

“Of course, milord,” Jiko agreed, bowing again. He hid a grin with his bow.

“That idiot,” Emi sighed as she listened from the loft. She pulled the bronze comb from her hair, letting it fall loose. “Seidoo, come,” she called.

The comb quivered in her hands and sprang to life as a small, bronze scaled dragon. ‘I told you not to marry him,” it said in a chiming voice.

“Oh, hush, I need you to go watch that old fool while I take care the villagers aren’t hurt by his antics.” Emi bundled up her hair again and thrust in wooden pins to hold it.

“Here, let me help with that,” Seidoo changed into a small, pert maidservant in a bronze colored, scale patterned kimono. She pulled another comb from her sleeve and quickly settled Emi’s hair. “What do you want me to do? It doesn’t involve babies does it?”

“No, dear,” Emi opened the loft door that led to the kitchen, wincing at the way it creaked. “I just need you to serve saki, make them kappa maki rolls, just be down there to guard the old fool’s back.”

The dragon maid servant nodded. The two women crept into the kitchen. The bar tender was still in the main room, watching the lord and his men set up their dice game. Emi slipped from the back door while Seidoo took a sharp knife and a cucumber and set about making kappa maki rolls.

The little tables had been stacked against the walls. The men knelt on a great square of white canvas in the center of the room. Jiko rattled the cup loudly. “Hi-hi-ho! Odd or Even? High or Low? Place your bets!” he chanted. Coins pattered on the canvas. The thugs grinned as they were served saki and snacks. The bar tender looked startled at the appearance of a bar maid but Jiko just scoffed at little. He knew his Emi.

“I’m going to eat the next one who pats my behind,” Seidoo muttered to him.

“Don’t. You’ll only make yourself sick,” Jiko whispered back. “Hi-hi-ho! Everyone ready? Here we go!”

The dice rolled across the surface. “Five and Six, odd and high, if you’ve lost, you now know why!” he chanted.

“That’s impossible!” screeched Lord Akira.

“The dice fall where they may,” said Jiko, paying out the bets.

“But I’m supposed to win!” he shouted. The thugs drew back, confused. Grim face just sighed and the older retainer grimaced.

“Milord,” said the older man, “I wouldn’t say anything more. . .”

“But I’m supposed to win!” Akira insisted. “I’m always supposed to win, Sanada.”

“No one can win all the time, milord,” said Jiko blandly. “It just doesn’t happen with honest dice.”

“I’m supposed to win!”

“Lord Akira,” Grim snapped. “You’re just told this man you’re gambling with loaded dice.”

Lord Akira turned white, then he went red. He glared at Jiko, then at the rest of his men. “Kill him!” he shouted.

The first thug started to go for his sword, but Jiko kicked him in the face. He grabbed the sword from the man’s sash as the thug put his hands to his bloody nose. Jiko flipped backwards. The other five warriors charged. Grim and the older man stood back. The older man looked sad, the grim-faced one disgusted.

Seidoo neatly broke her wooden serving tray on one thug’s head. His friend turned in surprise and Seidoo, smiling, grabbed him by the front of his tunic and threw him across the room and over the bar. The bar tender ducked down and put his arms over his head.

Jiko used the sword to block the first thug’s blade and the sheathe to block the second’s. He calmly jumped to the top of the stacked tables and kicked one down on the third. He ran along the tables and dove out the window. Seidoo turned herself into a dragon the size of an owl and flew out after him.

“You didn’t stop him!” Lord Akira screamed.

“I suggest we call it a night, milord,” said Grim.

“I’m telling my father,” Lord Akira glared at him. “Just watch!”

The uninjured helped the injured and they staggered out of the bar. The bar tender cautiously peeked out. He scooted over to the canvas and gathered up the coins that had been scattered. It would pay for all the damages.

Meanwhile, Emi had gone from house to house gathering the farmers into the fields. Jiko joined them. Seidoo shrank to sparrow size and coiled around Emi’s neck.

“Little brat used loaded dice,” Jiko explained.

“We should have warned you,” sighed the headman.

“The Lord’s father will make an example of us for this,” grumbled a farmer.

“Oh? Should I have let myself be skewered?” Jiko demanded.

“You’re a stranger. . .”

“Be that as it may,” Emi swatted Jiko’s shoulder. “I suggest you leave. Pack only what you can carry and get out before dawn, when your Lord will surely come here with his men.”

“Leave?” exclaimed a woman. “Where will we go? How will we live?”

“Just down the road to the next town,” said Emi. “As to how you will live, the rice harvest is within two weeks. His Lordship will certainly not harvest his own rice and if the village is empty, he will surely have to hire laborers very quickly. . .”

The headman thought about it and began to laugh. The farmers began to laugh too.

It happened as Emi said. The Lord was shamed and forced to hire his own farmers to harvest his rice. The story spread and many of the nobles took steps to win their farmer’s loyalties and it even became a proverb: “You can’t harvest rice with loaded dice.”


10 comments or Leave a comment
witchwillow From: witchwillow Date: August 13th, 2005 07:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Proverbs and dragons and fable morality plays and rice paddies! Folktale / fairy tale!

Snapdragon Wonderful!
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: August 13th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed it- this is what comes of watching "Inu Yasha" and "Zatoichi" movies. :)
(Deleted comment)
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: August 14th, 2005 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you enjoyed it. Emi and Jiko came out of a combination of Inu Yasha and Japanese samurai movies. I've always loved fairy tales and myths. They and Seidoo have given me many ideas. :)
pensnest From: pensnest Date: August 15th, 2005 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's fun. It had a good feel to it, a Japanese flavour, and a nice twist to the story.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: August 15th, 2005 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you enjoyed it!
misanagi From: misanagi Date: August 16th, 2005 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked this. The narrative is very good and I specially enjoyed the ending. It works very well with the story. ^_^
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: August 22nd, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you enjoyed it.
meritjubet From: meritjubet Date: August 26th, 2005 10:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Hello. I've read you around lj, and decided to friend you. I hope you don't mind.

I liked the dialogue in this piece of writing. The characters were very amusing, like Lord Akira, in some of his shouting moments.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: September 12th, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: March 7th, 2006 09:48 am (UTC) (Link)
That was very cute. It made me think of Zatoichi right away. ^_^
10 comments or Leave a comment