[This is the background information given to Karuma Maru's player]
You are a younger son of a large and impoverished family of Masago Province, where Edzo, former Imperial Capital and Nippon's largest city, is located. Upon achieving your majority you decided to go on your 'world-viewing', a sort of Nipponese equivalent of the Grand Tour, but the life of a bureaucrat is not for you - you do not intend to return.
So far your fortunes have been mixed. You have taken a few heads, you are still alive and have aquired a good set of armour. Neither fame nor fortune have come your way however.
In GIKE you learn of a clan war in Tachima Province to the north. Your informant reckons the USARI clan are a better bet than the MIURA so you travel to their castle, arriving a couple of months ago.
The feud is an ancient one, but during the life of TANATORI SANZO, daimyo of Saruke, an enforced truce prevailed. Sanzo died last year (1499) and younger clan members have started raiding villages, duels, small stuff so far.
The clan is run by the Usari brothers SHIGEUJI, TADAKO and WATAMARO; it is their Head of Samurai NAWA HAKATARO who interviews you, he impresses you as being a stern and upright samurai of the old school. Your references are acceptable and he hires you on a monthly contract, with a view to more permanent employment should your conduct prove satisfactory.
Your first week is spent at Usari castle, an ancient edifice perched on a rocky outcrop, currently undergoing considerable rebuilding and repair. Then you are sent out to the outlying holding of HOTAKA where a junior branch of the clan reside. The head of this family has just been killed in a Miura ambush, leaving his only son TOSHIFUSA in charge with a mostly ashigaru garrison.
Hotaka is about 4 ri south of the castle, not far from the Miura border. It lies in the valley of the Serijen river which further downstream becomes the border: Serijen-heko at it's mouth is the only town in the area. The village has a population of about 300, somewhat overcrowded as two smaller hamlets nearby have been abandoned.
Toshifusa (the 'young Master') is a friendly and considerate man, both he and his father (the 'old Master') were evidently opposed to the resumption of the feud and hence have been at odds with the rest of the clan. The lady FUJIKO his wife is a real cracker: beautiful but prone to explode! They have two young children.
A fortnight after your arrival a night attack takes place. Awakened from a sound sleep you sieze your katana and emerge into confusion: the enemy have broken into the village, buildings have been set alight. Coming round a corner you run into a samurai in full armour. You catch him with a lucky hit.
"First blood to you samurai, but you will not live to boast of it! Now face the blade of Miura Yukihira!"
So saying he attacks. He is a better swordsman than you and you have no armour: backed against a wall and parrying desperately your life is preparing to flash before your eyes when you hear a horn being wound. Your opponent steps back and bows.
"Till we meet again samurai!"
At the signal the enemy withdraw. Extinguishing fires, tending to the wounded, it is some time before Toshifusa's absence is noticed. A frantic search of the village and as dawn breaks the surrounding countryside fails to find him. Two days later comes the dreadful news: Toshifusa's broken body has been found crucified down by the coast road ford.
This is a calculated insult to the Usari. The feud started when the Usari withdrew allegiance to the Miura daimyos of Tachima: the Miura are now saying that they still consider the Usari rebels, not worthy to be samurai.
In the days after the raid the remaining ronin and some ashigaru slip away. Only five ashigaru and yourself are loyal (or foolish) enough to stay. Fujiko appeals to the castle for help, and Watamaro arrives with a reinforcing garrison.
You are in some trepidation: a samurai should die fighting to defend his lord, not allow him to be captured. To your relief Lady Fujiko comes out of the big house to greet Watamaro and publicly tells him that everyone fought bravely and no blame is to be attached to anyone here for her husband's death. Whatever his intentions might have been, Watamaro must accept this.
What happens between Lady Fujiko and Watamaro in private you only learn about later. Lady Fujiko's maid TSUBAKI is a plain but honest girl you have been flirting with for lack of any alternative, and in a moment of indescretion she tells you of her mistress's dilemma. Judging by her verbatim description she must have had her ear glued to the door...
Watamaro told Fujiko he had decided that she was to marry him. She declined his offer. He said that unless she agreed to marry him at once he would withdraw his men. She replied that it would not be seemly to even consider remarraige so soon after her husband's death. He accepted this, saying he would return when the rice harvest was gathered in.
Watamaro you recall is a widower, why should Lady Fujiko refuse such an offer you ask? Tsubaki is emphatic:
"Oh no! No women would willingly marry that man."
But at this point she clams up, she has said too much, her mistress would be furious, and she swears you to secrecy.
With other things on his mind Watamaro omitted to give you fresh instructions. The commander of the reinforcements NEWA OTOMASO (son of the Head of Samurai) has no instructions as to his status either. Immediately following the raid as the only samurai present you had taken command, though naturally you consulted Lady Fujiko. She now takes advantage of young Otomaso's uncertainty to treat you as her retainer, in charge of her ashigaru, and continues to invite you to cha.
Otomaro, very much the son of his father, reacts by playing everything by the book, being very formal and polite to Lady Fujiko. With the other samurai it is 'do this, do that', but with you more like 'and Karuma, would you patrol the riverbank today?' No direct orders.
One evening about a fortnight after the raid you are approached by Old Headman. After some polite chat he remarks that a city born samurai like yourself must find a village at the back of the North Wind such as this most tedious, no exotic entertainments or drinking houses. He then, as if it had just occured to him, invites you into his house for a cup of something.
Chasing out wife, daughters and other relations he disappears out back, returning with a bottle. Expecting at best rice wine you are surprised to smell sake, in fact a taste discloses excellent sake. You say as much, and Old Headman gives a toothless grin:
"Old headman's wives do not always appreciate that old headman need to warm old bones in cold winters." Or at least old headman's wives turn a blind eye to such goings-on, which amounts to the same thing.
Naturally Old Headman is not sharing his secret store of excellent sake with you for no reason. As he talks you eventually realise that he is hinting that he also is in a delicate situation. Formerly he discussed village matters with the old Master; this he cannot comfortably do with Lady Fujiko but you on the other hand...you intimate to Old Headman that you do indeed mention to the Lady Fujiko any news of interest that might by chance reach you.
Thereafter you not only take cha but excellent sake on a regular basis.
The reinforcing ashigaru look more like, well, waco to you, with dreadlocks and earrings and all. They are demanding and abusive to the villagers, making impolite proposals to women and boys, at least until Lady Fujiko gets to hear of it, whereupon she storms into their quarters and, reports Tsubaki giggling, half the words her mistresss used she didn't understand at all. The waco - er, ashigaru - are much quieter thereafter.
Old Headman has a word on this. A cousin-in-the-next-village-friend's-aunt has it that the Usari have an arrangement with waco, with Kani the waco in fact, a notorious buccaneer. Unmarked boats unload unidentified cargo at a remote northern cove, and a warehouse at the castle is said to be out of bounds to common folk, opening it's doors only at dead of night!
At the end of September there seems to be a lull in the feud, with both sides arming, hiring troops and fortifying. The rice harvest is conducted under the watchful eye of the soldiers.
The first week of October sees a totally unexpected development. A merchant with a string of laden ponies arrives from the south with an escort. The village buzzes with rumour; you are invited to dinner at the big house that evening: Tsubaki pops in with the neccessary formal attire which you guess she has kindly reminded Lady Fujiko you do not yourself possess.
At dinner rumour turns to reality: one of the visitors is Lady Fujiko's cousin from Gozendo! When it is revealed that he has not seen her for ten years when he was but eight years old young Otamasa happens to catch your eye: by his expression he conveys that he no more believes this than you do. Travelling for a month half way across Nippon to drop in unannounced on an aunt you haven't seen since you were a child? And with several companions? The bounds of credulity are stretched very thin.
As you leave the dinner Old Headman beckons from the shadows. He also has visitors: the merchant Maruta and his son Taki. The merchant happens to have a jar of most excellent sake - Old Headman's source of supply is revealed!
The merchant confirms the visitors story, that they rescued him from attacking bandits and he guided them to Hotaka across Miura territory, telling Miura patrols they were his hired escort.
When the merchant has retired Old Headman exchanges information with you. He says Lady Fujiko came from an important family on Gozen, important supporters of their daimyo. Her family had not approved of her marraige, they felt it was beneath her dignity (and, Old Headman implies, their ambitions). He knows however that Lady Fujiko has always been in correspondence with someone in Gozen: Ijichi Moritamo. Not this cousin obviously?...
What will happen now, Old Headman wonders. So do you. Another cup of merchant's excellent sake, samurai?