Thursday, April 26, 2012

Play Report: Menkan to Kāi'ěrwén

Beatriss and Tetsukichi said goodbye to Sansar Anca who left them to meet his herds at the grazing grounds to the west. Mekan was the seat of the new governor of Chu Yuan, and while the town itself was orderly to the point of feeling repressive and claustrophobic, the lands outside it were reputed to be nearly lawless. The party spent a few weeks in Menkan, long enough to hear some vague rumors about Gwinch and the village of Quitokai where he had taken up residence, but no definite information—not even how to get to Quitokai—except that it was in the jungle to the south and that someone in the one of the other riverside towns to the south would know the way. Even without Anca Sansar, it was a large group that set from Menkan, following the flow of the river: Beatriss, Afu and his assistant Ju-May, Naron, Tetsukichi, Al-Fitar, Golfo and his wife Phi Phong, Tsao Ho of the Shining Mountain Path Monastery in Khanbaliq and 10 of his disciple monks. They followed a wide and flat, packed dirt road that ran next to the river, through mainly empty land. They saw signs of former agricultural activity and also sample evidence of why it had ceased—a dead man, shot with arrows by the side of the road. And toward midday, they were ambushed themselves. Several monks fell under the first fearsome volley of arrows, but the party spurred their horses into battle and routed the brigands, killing most of them, putting several to flight, and capturing one prisoner. The prisoner boldly proclaimed that he was a member of the Black flowers and that his brothers would avenge his death. The party did not press him for information, and although they marched him along the road with them, when he fled into the bushes, they did not pursue him. By evening, they reached Bùqiāng bīng, a small settlement in the bend of river, featuring an impressive stone temple. The locals were quietly, but decidedly uninterested in talking to foreigners, but the party did strike up a conversation with some other travelers they met at the inn. These men were curious to know how the party knew Gwinch and said that they’d heard all kinds of rumors about him. The party declined their offer to serve as guides to Quitokai. “In that case,” the men said, “just follow the river and you’ll get there.”
Congaree I by Brayo
Congaree I, a photo by Brayo on Flickr.

After following the river Lam downstream south and west for five days, and— after meeting first a lone traveler (who asked to share their campfire) and then a small group of weather-beaten soldiers (who charged them 5 tael each for “papers”)— who all told them they were going the wrong way, the party wondered whether they had misread the would-be guides from Bùqiāng bīng, and decided to go back upstream, and ask for others’ directions at the place where the Lam was met by two tributaries flowing from the north and east. There was, in fact, a large settlement there, known as Kāi'ěrwén, that they had bypassed on their way down the Lam. In Kāi'ěrwén, the way to Quitokai was well-known, although difficult to describe. A merchant who had plans to trade in Quitokai offered to show them the way in exchange for their protection from any bandits. There had been a lot of trouble in Quitokai and the other villages on the edge of the jungle. As the merchant explained, the hunter tribes who lived in the jungle had been attacking the agricultural settlements. Beatriss mentioned that she knew Gwinch, the foreigner whom the merchant praised—with some equivocation— for rallying the people of Quitokai to defend themselves against the raids. The merchant was glad to know this and wanted to know more, but Beatriss had little information to give. The next morning, before setting off, the merchant suggested that they go together to one of the temples in Kāi'ěrwén and ask for traveling blessings. Beatriss agreed, but was a little suspicious. The ceremony itself, at a solid, little temple devoted to The Path, was short and almost pedestrian. Beatriss talked to the officiating monk and found no reason for her vague suspicions. But the merchant apologized to Beatriss and Tetsukichi that he did not think it was the correct day for him to travel and that he didn’t know when he would be ready. He provided them very precise directions, advised them of the pros and cons of alternate routes, and warned them that the people of Quitokai were wary of outsiders, and very able in protecting themselves, even against powerful foes.

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