- Implied yuri, gender-crossing OC, geisha house scene
The people Kyuuzou refers to as his sisters are not his biological sisters. They are his Sensei's older students (senpai). Kyuuzou is 16 in this chapter. Ayame is 19, Mizuho is 23, Haruko is 31.
Shichiroji at this point is officially an orderly, not an aide. He will be promoted to an aide soon.
In antiquity, although entertainers were theoretically selling only their craft and not their bodies, their social status was nearly as low as that of prostitutes. The reason being, it was not uncommon for even accomplished actors and musicians of either gender to be expected to entertain clients in other ways. It is amply documented that male singers/actors in historical East Asia were often 'boy toys' for their patrons or sex workers on the side. (See Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan) Female performers didn't escape that fate either.
After winning the battle at Komoku Pass, Platoon 3 was given time off for "rest and recreation. As for the orphan Platoon 3 recovered from Hanatani Village, the company commander gave Mizuho orders to take Kazumi to an orphanage in Sai'an, a neutral city state whose government managed to avoid taking sides in the Great War. A realm untouched by war was a rare thing on this continent since the last Great Truce ended. So it was to peaceful Sai'an City that many samurai on either side of the conflict came for their "rest and recreation." Sai'an City did not welcome soldiers without reservation, however. By the city's protocol, samurai must wear civilian clothing while in Sai'an, although they were allowed to carry swords.
Kyuuzou, Ayame and Haruko accompanied Mizuho and Kazumi on the trip to Sai'an. Kyuuzou had never been to a big city. There were so many strange foods for sale on the street. The young soldier was excited though he tried not to show it. After they arrived at the downtown train station, Mizuho bought six year old Kazumi and sixteen year old Kyuuzou a can of soda pop each. It was their first can of soda pop ever. The thin boy sipped the fizzy drink with as much reserve as he could muster, savoring the alien taste of the carbonated beverage.
The four boarded a bus for the east suburbs, where Shinbei Children's Home was located. Ayame and Kyuuzou waited outside the orphanage while Lieutenant Haruko and Sergeant Mizuho discussed Kazumi's enrollment with orphanage staff. By the time their two senpai had finished the necessary paperwork and handed the war orphan over to her new caretakers, Ayame noticed that Kyuuzou was not his usual sedate self. The boy seemed slightly hyperactive. Maybe it was the sugar high. Or maybe it was the excitement of being in a big city. Maybe it was both. The private was unusually chatty. No big matter.
Now that "official business" was concluded, Ayame suggesed going window shopping at the mall. Haruko, who had little interest in shopping, said she was going to some place called Peony Pavilion and would meet them at the train station later. Thus the three younger samurai parted ways with Big Sister. After a few hours of mall crawling, the trio decided to stop for a drink. Kyuuzou received his second can of soda pop. This one was orange-flavored. Now Mizuho too noticed that the young soldier was twitchier and more talkative than before, if such a thing was even possible. "Maybe it's the caffeine in the soda," she thought.
The three 'sisters' were walking through the busy streets of Sai'an, eyeing all the strange wares for sale when Mizuho suggested that they should find a place to eat dinner.
"What about Big Sister?" Kyuuzou asked. "We should ask her to join us for dinner."
"She's at Peony Pavilion," Ayame said.
"Peony Pavilion? That big house with the ornate red pillars, green roof tiles and the floral patterned threshold?" Kyuuzou remarked, "Didn't we just pass it a while ago? I'll go there and fetch Big Sister."
"Wait a moment!" Mizuho cut in, but the skinny private was already off, zipping through the crowded street.
Kyuuzou turned off the busy street and ran right up to the ornate house with peony flowers in the courtyard. He was instantly greeted by two nicely dressed, heavily made-up maidens who were about to take him by the arm. But he brushed them off brusquely, saying, "I'm looking for Lieutenant Haruko. She is here, I believe."
"Oh... Haruko-dono. The tall, handsome samurai with dark hair... Ah, so manly. That would be the East Wing, third room on the left." One of the maidens said.
"But don't just barge in..." The second one warned. The young private on the sugar high was already off. He did not hear her.
As Kyuuzou ran through the hallways of the Peony Pavilion, he passed a few men he was sure were samurai, from their carriage and demeanor. "Seems like a busy place," the boy thought. The skinny samurai had reached the corridor outside of the third room of the East Wing of that grand house when he heard the low voice of the female samurai he called 'a prince among men" within.
"Well, Sakura-san, that shamisen-playing was most impressive. And Yuriko-san, you know I adore your classical dancing and singing. But let's move on to something more... exciting... so, who's up first?"
"Well, since I can't possibly choose between two such exquisite beauties," It was Haruko's voice again, "Why not both at the same time?" Her tone was odd. Kyuuzou could not quite describe it. It was not like anything he had ever heard Big Sister use in Mount Keian Dojo or in the military.
More laughter followed.
By this time Kyuuzou was feeling a little uneasy, but also very curious. If he had not been on a sugar and caffeine rush, he might have thought twice about his next act. But now the boy pushed open the sliding door to the room without thinking.
He froze and stared.
One courtesan was in Big Sister's lap, in the process of unbuttoning the handsome samurai's collar. The mannish warrior with blue-black hair had one arm around another geisha's waist. All three women turned and stared at the slender youth barging into the room.
"Kid, WHAT are you doing here?!" The samurai officer snapped.
"I... we were going to get dinner, thought you might want to join us..." The sixteen year old stammered.
At that moment, Ayame ran in from the hallway. The dark woman immediately threw her hand over Kyuuzou's eyes, shouting, "Don't look!"
Kyuuzou would have been thoroughly annoyed at that futile gesture if he was not, at this moment, in shock. Haruko rolled her eyes at the golden-eyed samurai's dramatic display. A second later, Mizuho arrived, steppinf briskly in front of the two younger samurai.
"My deepest apologies for the intrusion, Lieutenant," the green-haired woman bowed quickly. "We will take our leave right now. See you at the train station at the appointed time. Please excuse us!"
Then Mizuho turned and shooed Ayame and Kyuuzou out of the room, down the hallway and out into the street.
This very evening, Shimada Kanbei and his orderly Shichiroji were having dinner at the Azalea House restaurant in Sai'an City when they overheard an agitated conversation a few tables away. The party sitting at that table had come to the restaurant after Kanbei and Shichiroji had been seated. Shichiroji noticed that all three people in that party were carrying double swords.
Kanbei was seated with his back to that table. He could not see the speakers, but his sharp hearing could pick up words not intended for his ears.
"But Second Sister," a young man's almost-outraged voice piped up, "You told me that geishas are highly-educated people whose work is to perform classical dances and songs, play musical instruments, discuss literature and compose poetry..."
Shichiroji, seated opposite Kanbei, had a view of that table. He could not help suppressing a snicker when the dark woman sitting next to the first speaker replied curtly. "Well, Mizuho ne-san NEVER said that was ALL that they ever do."
The blond could not see the faces of the two speakers. Their backs were to him. But he could tell was that the first person to speak was a slender boy with thick yellow hair, while the one who answered him was a shorter woman with dark brown hair, dreaded in slender locks. Sitting opposite them was a brown-skinned woman wearing an expression of patient tolerance.
"Did you hear that?" Young Shichiroji leaned conspiratorially towards his commander. "Seems like someone has been living a very sheltered life. Do you think those folks are samurai on our side or on the other side?"
Kanbei raised his eyebrows but did not answer.
The conversation continued. Now the dark-skinned woman whose face Shichiroji could not see was addressing the blond boy, "Do NOT ever let me catch you going to a place like that or I'll beat you to a pulp!"
"But Big Sister goes there..." came the tentative reply.
"You're not Big Sister so don't even think about it!" The dreadlocked woman answered sharply.
"I don't want to go to that kind of place... but then why does she go there?" the pale boy went on, "She says we have to respect all women and treat them like ladies and keep our hands to ourselves and that boys should be pure and chaste. She tells me to not be like other men, but now she does what other men do... I don't understand... And TWO at the same time! I don't believe it!!! Big Sister was the one who gave me my real swords! She was always my hero. I never thought she would do something like that!"
"It is very complicated, my dear little brother," the taller brown-skinned woman facing the two young people said in a long-suffering voice. "Big Sister has many responsibilities and needs to relieve stress ... in an unusual way. Just forget what you saw. Do the right things like you always do."
"And by the way," the shorter woman said to the boy, "Don't mention a word of this to Sensei!"
Shichiroji was by now bent over with silent laughter. "Did you hear that? OH my goodness, the poor kid really hasn't seen what RnR is about! Must be a new soldier. But it seems that someone he looked up to really knows how to have a good time..." he whispered to Kanbei. "This is so totally funny!"
"It sounds like someone's hero has fallen." The dark commander said in an unreadable tone, "I don't think that's funny."
Shichiroji started slightly. Although the older samurai was still calm, there was something bitter and angry in Kanbei's manner, something Shichiroji was not used to feeling from his usually kind leader.
"I'm sorry sir, I did not mean to offend." The blond said sheepishly.
Kanbei did not reply. His dark eyes had taken on a distant look; his brows furrowed. Perhaps he was remembering something - or someone - from long ago and far away, Shichiroji thought. After a long moment of awkward silence, Shichiroji asked, "More wine?"
Kanbei did not acknowledge him, but when the younger samurai poured him a cup, he raised it and downed it in one gulp. Shichiroji observed his commander's unreadable face with a slight degree of anxiety as he promptly poured Kanbei another cup of sake.
They said no more about the three people at the other table. The two women and the boy did not order any sake. They finished dinner early and left before Kanbei and Shichiroji did. The two men stayed on to drink into the night. Who knows if they would live through the next battle to come to Sai'an and drink once more?