Bathhouse Games

by Edwardstanford, Ednoria, and Chickenhat

In the bathhouse at Last Village

“Games?  Of course the Dragon play games.  Games of words, games of dice, games of stones, games of swords and maps and thrones.  Each has its own mystery, its own lesson to teach.  Have the Crab no games to train young bushi?”
Nakamuro scratches thoughtfully at a ropy scar on his upper arm. “Riddles, eh? Shogi and Go, thrones and stones, and every gambler knows dice. And if there are Dragons there are sure to be words.” He grins suddenly. “Ho! Perhaps too many!” Then, frowning, “You would not like our games. They teach strength and perseverance, but they are violent things. Like us.” He leans back in the tub. “What game do you play with swords?”

Tamori grins.  The expression is unfamiliar but unmistakable. 

“Well, we might surprise you.  We like doing that.  Hm, let me see.  There’s Never-same, I suppose.  Our children start playing it as soon as they can throw.  You take a pebble, and throw it from person to person in a circle.  If the person you throw it to doesn’t touch it, you’re out.  If you throw the same way twice (left overhand, right underhand, between the legs, with a basket . . .) you’re out.  It gets pretty creative.  When you get older, you use earthen clods: if you break one catching it, you’re out.

“When I was in training, they switched from clods to rocks.  Big ones, about the size of my fist.  You learned to dodge pretty quick, and before long, you learned to take a blow, too.

She glances at Mirumoto-san, whose nod is nearly imperceptible. 

“Sometimes the bushi play it with throwing knives.  I warded for a circle of ten once.  Three scars, and I had to sew a ring finger tendon back together.” 

“But tell me of play of the the Crab.  Even in violence, there is joy.”

Nakamuro slaps his palms against the edge of his tub, smiling broadly. “Ho! Now that I would like to see! Was it your finger, Yonaka?” He laughs at the slight scowl on the Mirumoto’s face.

“Games with swords… no, there are no games with swords,” Yonaka mutters almost to himself, then realizing his somber comment may ruin the mood he snaps from his reverie. “But yes, Never-Same does become a way to teach young minds how to feel the patterns of our kata. Play becomes pattern becomes improv becomes the call and answer like Air feeding Fire and Water flowing through Earth.”

Nakamuro nods. “The Kaiu have a game like that. They make metal balls, with buttons.” His hands cup an invisible ball about the size of a small melon. “Push a button, throw the ball.  Be quick, or —” here he mimes something exploding. “You learn how to count the byou (seconds). How to put things back together.” He chuckles. “Natsumi hated that game. She could never get the timing right.” He sighs, and continues. “Little ones, the balls are filled with dye. Older children, darts or acid. Nothing disabling, they need their hands.” He thinks for a moment. “Saw someone lose an eye once. He was showing off. If you know the time’s getting close, safest thing is to throw it high. He held it too long.”

He looks curiously at the Tamori. “Do the Kami play games?”

Tamori sighs, and gazes into the distance with a faint smile lingering on her lips.
“The Kami?  Fire and Air are very playful, although Fire is cruel and Air is not. 
“To the Fire Kami, setting you on fire was a fine and funny joke.  The trick with them is to make up the game in a way that keeps you from getting burnt.”
She looks directly at Hida with a twinkle in her eyes.

“For Tamori-san
Boisterous Fire Kami are
Like Crab as allies”

Nakamuro gazes suspiciously at the Tamori, eyes narrowed. “Hmmm,” he rumbles, deep in his chest. “A joke, eh?” He considers for a moment, his lines on his forehead gradually smoothing. “It was a good joke. But not for the Mitanaka.” He works his shoulders briefly and settles deeper into the tub with a sigh.

“We played Wall. Easy to learn. Half of you link arms in a circle, the other half tries to get through. No weapons. Hard to defend yourself with no hands. Teaches you to stand fast, take the pain, ignore it.” He frowns, shaking his head. “Your pardon. It is a game of war. What would we be without it? The Empire needs us now, but…” He trails off, still frowning.

Yonaka had been smiling slightly at how talkative the Hida has been, Nakamuro taking up so much room in the one tub that he calmly rests his arms on the edges of the tub he shares with his cousin while he contemplates the mysteries of the North. “The Empire might be better off training the Mitanaka as the Crab do. They act like dropped Shogi pieces maneuvering for the other side. Too many ideas from games of the mind instead of games of will.”

“Maybe if they played something like Koshoi-Tenga, which can’t be played with less than 3 players.”

“It’s similar to the marble game of Hoshi-Dashi, but without alternating turns. And if there is a dispute over captured pieces or location, then the result is by a vote between players. Sometimes this means negotiating for allies before they use their last marble, so it teaches a bit of diplomacy and some games are over in minutes while others may take an hour or two to negotiate.”

“On the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing better than a dirt fight.”

“And for the record, Tamori-san,” he adds with a nod to the Hida, “I’ve never missed a knife… catch.”

Then with a quick movement with the edge of his hand at the surface of the water sends a spray at his cousin and across the bathhouse at the Hida in the other tub.

Face and hair streaming, Nakamuro throws his head back and roars with laughter. After a moment he gets himself under control. “Little brother, you have forgotten your training. Should you not strike with both hands?” He clasps his own hands together, and with a practiced swing, smashes the surface of the water, sending a huge gout towards the cousins. Much of it rains on the floor, but some finds its mark.

“Your pardon, Tamori-san. I fear your haiku is quite accurate.”

Bathhouse Games

L5R : Jade Winds ednoria