Saturday, October 24, 2009

Report: Khanbaliq, The House of the Lucky Dragon

The House of the Lucky Dragon is, in typical modern parlance, a “brothel” in Khanbaliq. Given that Zhou-Dang is based on 13th century China and Zipang is based on a later period in Japan, it’s anachronistic to say that there is prostitution in Zhou-dang and not in Zipang. But that’s what I’m saying. Likewise, my conception of how exactly it works is based more on imagination than research. (The photo is from 1901!)

Saisho learned from some of the other clerks about “The House of the Lucky Dragon,” a place where men with a little money can—for a single night— be a powerful lord with his own concubine, with all the usual privileges. When Saisho first told Gwinch, he was lectured about exploitation and disease. “There’s a reason you know, that they don’t do things like this in Zipang.”

But Gwinch agreed that it be interesting to just go see what’s going on.
Because of the success of Tetsukichi in rescuing Su-Laing, the PCs had been granted the right to leave the “green zone” and visit the “outer city.” Saisho had learned about the Lucky Dragon from some other clerks, who were eager to return. So here’s what happened, in the words of Saisho:

“They call it the outer city, but it’s more like a big village or a sack full of little villages. Country people live there with their horses and other animals. They live in tents and so from one week and the next, everything can change and so the other clerks nearly lost their way. But the Lucky Dragon is rich-looking wooden building with a stone wall and pennants on the roof. The other clerks had some money and so we entered and the warriors gave up their swords and we entered what looked at first like any other tavern. While we ate, the women entertained us—with music, with dancing, and with poetry. There was another one who sold flowers and other presents for us to give to the women who entertained us. And each woman, after her performance, became the companion of the man who had given her the most presents. She sat with him and then he took her away. Where did he take her?
"Gwinch and I slipped out of the celebration room to see where the men took the women. And we saw The House of the Happy Dragon was like the house of a powerful lord with a courtyard and many small houses surrounding it. The women were entertaining us in the reception hall in the main house and for the lucky one whom they favored, each had her one small house to entertain him for the rest of the night. Gwinch asked me to make him invisible so that he could creep into one of the small houses. I did as he asked, but he was clumsy and his robe tore on the latch. Of course this alarmed the woman, and Gwinch retreated.

"When we returned to the celebration room, we learned that Uesugi Kenchu, one of Sato Masoka’s retainers, had been there. I was surprised to learn that the powerful and rich samurai had not taken any woman. It’s true that they were not as beautiful as those we know in Zipang, but it is several months now since we left home.

"When it was time to leave, some of the clerks were in a black mood, for they had spent what little money they had, and yet were going home disappointed. Some suggested that we should have been bolder and bought many gifts for one woman rather than one or two gifts for many women. Some even suggested that we should have shared our money to bring a woman to our table and then drawn lots to see which see who would take to her bed. For myself, I expressed my agreement with Gwinch. This was not a way for honorable men to spend their money.

"Some of us returned the next night. Gwinch, myself, and Hatsu, plus Tetsukichi who had not been with us the first night, returned with the intention of dissuading dishonorable men from their bad habits by cutting their cash strings. I called on the spirits to make us invisible and we entered the House by climbing the wall. Again Gwinch tried and failed to get into one of the women’s houses. And again Uesugi was there and he provided the best entertainment. There was an old man who was interfering with the other men’s enjoyment, adding his own reedy voice to the songs of the women. And the servants of the House asked him to stop, and when he refused, Uesugi demanded that he leave the House. Still the old man refused. When Uesugi drew his sword, I knew that he didn’t intend to return it to its scabbard until the old man’s head was on the floor. But then a strange thing happen. Despite the fierceness in his face, Uesugi’s movements were like a man asleep or a man trying to run in the bath. The old man continued to joke, and only when the guard of the House drew their own weapons did he retreat. He ran into the garden and then over the wall like a cat. Tetsukichi removed 15 taels from Uesugi’s purse.
We followed Uesugi home. Gwinch wanted to know where he lived.

"When we returned the next night, once again invisible, we found that instead of the usual entertainment, the House was hosting a party for a large group of soldiers, the elite guards of Lord Goyat. All the usual women were there plus others I hadn’t seen before. Gwinch found the room where the Master of the House lived—a door with 4 guards standing outside it. With a few drowsy bees, I helped the guards find slumber, and then slipped into the room to confirm Gwinch’s idea. The room inside was rich and there was a powerful-looking man surrounded by women, guards, and piles of money. And then someone noticed the sleeping guards and so we all ran away. It was Gwinch’s turn to be frustrated."

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