The Summer in Nagasaki has been quite hot this year. With the temperatures reaching as far as thirty degrees Celsius, the locals began to avoid a couple of hours before and afternoon, since the heat was just unbearable to do anything else besides sitting in the shade or having cold drinks at the various taverns of the city.
At the outskirts of Nagasaki, there was one of such taverns, although it functioned somewhat differently from all the others. While there were plenty of taverns and whore houses alike throughout the streets of Nagasaki, not one of them mixed the two concepts of serving food and drink with the pleasures of lust in the same establishment. This one already had a certain reputation for its services, but also about its common clients. Everyone was welcomed. From common folk who work the earth or fish at the sea to people from the high society such as wealthy merchants and political figures. But what was so special about it, was that the tavern in question had its own laws once inside of it. It was common for thieves, murderers, and rebels to frequent that place since they would be treated as an ordinary client. There was, however, a set of rules that the clients should follow without question.
- st Rule: The establishment has its own laws and it does not comply with any other laws besides its own.
- nd Rule: Everyone and everything must be treated with the utmost respect. Punishment can go as far as death.
- rd Rule: Clients can only prolong their stay for as long as twelve hours. Once the stipulated time passes, they are kindly welcomed to leave.
The tavern in question housed women only. Not a man was allowed in the establishment once the twelve hour period had passed. They alone managed the entire place. Cooking, cleaning, wood cutting, you name it. And when things went wrong, the women themselves took care of the problem by issuing whatever punishment they deemed fit for the transgressions. These women were Geisha, women of all sorts of arts who originated from every layer of the Japanese society. Whatever led them to Asagao no Teien was different. Evading forced marriages, murdering abusive husbands or simply a route to escape hunger and poverty, these women adopted the ways of the Geisha and embraced their new lives at the Asagao no Teien.
It was one of such sunny days during the hot summer. The day always started early right after the first rays of light. Just after a simple but effective breakfast, clients who slept through the night were politely asked to depart the tavern, tables and floors were cleaned, tableware was washed and once everything was done, the women made their way to their rooms so that they could apply the typical make up that Geisha so commonly use. While they performed their duties, the tavern was closed to the public so that the women could work without anyone bothering them.
Around an hour before noon, the Geisha would be ready for a new day and the doors to their establishment would open again. Already a dozen clients awaited the opening of the establishment. Although eager to enter, once the doors were opened and the Geisha at the entrance welcomed them, these men entered without any rushes through the small garden that stood in between the building and its entrance to the common road. Despite their common clientele, the Geisha favored etiquette above all and their clients, even the newest ones, already knew how the business was managed. Stories of unfortunate events had sprawled from this place. Men, possessed by the alcohol whom the Geisha had served, were found without their tongues in the gutter after disrespectful scenes towards other clients or even the Geisha themselves. Some others were even left to die from extensive bleeding after having limbs severed. It was the casual punishment for harming another person within the limits of the Asagao no Teien.
The day was passing by smoothly and Ayame was already tired of being stuck in the kitchen. Ayame was a relatively young woman who had arrived at the establishment a couple of months ago. She demonstrated an extreme skill with knives and was placed in the kitchen right away. While she did not know how to cook very well, the other Geisha soon passed their knowledge onto her and she quickly became the second cook of the Asagao no Teien. At times she was the only cook at the kitchen when the flow of clients was short. Such as the case of today. The other cook, Masami, took advantage of these days to travel to the city of Nagasaki to buy supplies without a rush, thus taking time to better analyze what she would bring back to the establishment.
At the kitchen, the Geisha had a system where they used small wooden plates with the names of the items on the menu inscribed on them in Kanji. When a client ordered an item, the servant would place the wooden plate on the kitchen’s counter, thus indicating what kind of food Ayame and Masami had to prepare. Once it was done, the cooks would place the dish above the wooden plate and the servants would take them to the clients. When leaving, the servants would know exactly what their clients had consumed thus preventing any mistakes that could arise.
Besides the usual customers for this time of the day, there were only a couple of new faces who were passing by, either from or to Nagasaki. Half an hour past noon and Ayame had just finished the last request. She had already taken care of the meals for herself and her companions but she could not wait for them to come. After pouring some noodles into a bowl, Ayame quickly snooped them up with two hashis (wooden sticks). Apart from the usual silence, only Ayame’s slurping and some distant moans, from the rooms upstairs, vibrated through the kitchen’s air.
That peaceful scenery did not last long though. One of the servants, Noriko whom Ayame did not get along very well, barged into the kitchen in a hurry without losing her firm and elegant posture. Upon catching the young cook, Noriko eyed her with indignation. “Ayame!” Noriko brought a hand to cover her mouth, noticing that she had raised her voice a little. “You should not be eating without your sisters…” Although Ayame did not like Noriko, she respected her just like she did every one of the Geishas that adopted her. Somewhat embarrassed, Ayame placed the bowl aside and refrained from mentioning her lack of consideration. “Do you have a request Noriko-san?” Ayame politely asked. With a look of disapproval, Noriko replied. “I do.” She withdrew from her robes’ sleeves half a dozen wooden plates and placed them on the nearest table. “I just came in here to warn you that there are many more coming. A large group just walked in.” Noriko turned around and on her way out of the kitchen she still let out some words of advice. “Don’t slack Ayame. As Geisha, we pride ourselves in serving our clients in the best way possible.” And without anything else to say, Noriko walked out of the kitchen without the hurry of before.
The young cook did not wait for the other servants to deliver their requests. Immediately after Noriko had left the kitchen, Ayame turned around and began to prepare some doses of rice, fish and grilled meat, thus advancing some of the orders that she would eventually receive. The noise from the other side of the building kept rising, thus giving a notion of how many clients were there. It only caused Ayame to accelerate the process. Despite her common relaxed stance about everything, being a chef was not in the list. She took her role seriously and she would do everything in her power to not fail her fellow Geisha.
Soon after setting ablaze the wood in the ovens, the servants passed by a counter in between the kitchen and a corridor that connected with the client’s area, thus dropping their respective requests in stacks of wooden plates. The knock that they emanated from hitting on the counter was enough sound to signal the cook in the kitchen that she had more requests pending. “They keep coming and I still haven’t the first ones ready. Couldn’t have chosen another day to go shopping! No, no, no… Masami must always take her leave on a sunny day like this! I bet she’s running after young, unsuspecting men. Trying to lure them with that ancient charm of hers…” Ayame then heard a couple more knocks on the counter and turned her head a little while still focused on what she was doing. “Hurry up Ayame, our clients are becoming upset.” Noriko took a glance at Ayame before turning around and returning to her respective area. While she understood that the young cook was doing her best, she also hinted that the Geisha might have problems if Ayame could not deliver. With drops of sweat falling off her white painted face, Ayame swirled around the kitchen incessantly and in a couple of minutes, the first dozen of requests was ready to be served. With a shout from within the kitchen, Ayame announced the meals that were ready and the servants passed by to take them soon after.
In between intervals of just a couple of minutes, Ayame had another set of meals ready to be delivered. The servants barely had time to retrieve and deliver since they would then have yet another set waiting on the kitchen’s counter. About half an hour had passed until the last set of meals were finally cooked and delivered. Already exhausted, Ayame ceased to fuel the fires in the ovens and took a seat on an old chair. Her fellow Geisha ate at the main table of the kitchen. Only a pair at a time while the others continued to pour drinks for the guests or attending any other requests from them. Ayame snoozed off for a time, drifting away in between the revelry at the guests’ room. However, her sleep was slowly but impertinently interrupted by the ever-growing shouts coming from the client’s area. Ayame woke up to an empty kitchen. Her colleagues had already eaten their portions and had gone back to work. The shouts continued to increase in both intensity and frequency. As such, Ayame stood up in a hurry, sensing that something was wrong on the other side of the building. She dressed her kimono which was on a metal stand for that same effect. Ayame tightened it with a large sash and then with a cord she set it tight, preventing the sash from loosening. On her back, she had a dagger, sheathed by a white wooden casing, but only the hilt was barely visible since the rest was covered by the sash. The young cook was about to leave the kitchen when she glanced over at a butcher’s knife. A knife that was used to carve onto big pieces of meat so that she could cook the thinnest slices. Without a second thought, Ayame cleaned the knife with a piece of cloth for that effect and wielded the weapon inside her joined sleeves.
When she got to the dining room, Ayame could not believe in what she was seeing. Tanned men dressed in rags were feasting like savages. Pieces of wood, tableware, and food littered the ground. Two men were bleeding on the floor. Upon a couple of seconds wasted looking at them, Ayame recognized the presumed dead men as usual customers of the Asagao no Teien. A huge commotion was happening in the middle of the room, while most men were feasting on separate tables and some even on the ground, a significant part of them were arguing with the Geisha.
While Ayame walked up to her colleagues, she was able to understand part of what was happening since the shouts were now barely understandable. “This is a house of manners! Of educated guests! Even the poorest farmer may eat here with the posture of an Emperor!” Noriko had a lack of air in her lungs to continue. She was visibly altered from what had transpired before. For someone as Noriko to lose her calm, something quite out of the ordinary must have happened. Ayame advanced through some of the Geisha clustered together and was finally able to set eyes on the gruesome men in front of her.
About half a dozen men stood in front of the Geisha, two of them had caught a fellow companion of Ayame and were groping her bosoms and tearing her dress apart bit by bit. “It is a house of manners and yet you took half an hour to serve my men, who were famished by the way!” A tall, broad-shouldered men retorted while cleaning his saber with a piece of cloth that he later used to tie it around his head. “These gentlemen took upon themselves to taint our honor while we starved for more than three days without food…” With a grim smirk the man bent himself forward. “Unfortunately for them, we don’t have any kind of those trivial values, so we killed right where they stood.” Now admiring his clean blade, the man glanced over to his men through the reflection in the weapon. “You fools don’t recognize me do you?” The crowd behind this man giggled with amusement. The man let slide a cape from the inside of his tattered sweater. This cape was made of scales or had them knitted to a long piece of cloth. Even in places where light was scarce the cape was able to guide its wearer with a faint glow from the salty scales that composed it. With pride, the man turned his back to the Geisha and presented himself as if he was announcing a king. “Behold! Ju-long! Scourer of the Chinese seas! Raider of a thousand sailing crafts! The dragon that submitted an Empire!” The man really looked like a dragon as he so boldly announced, now that he had his cape out for everyone to see. His beard barely reassembling a dragon’s nose tendrils. “Our exploits in the Chinese seas were too much for China to handle, that’s why they hired us to loot Japan instead. It seems that the “saru” have finally managed to live on their mountains without killing one another!” The crowd laughed. Maniacally even. The Geisha listened in alert without biting the bait, suspecting that the number of deaths would increase in a matter of minutes.
“Leave this place…” Noriko politely interjected. “Your men are fed and you have caused enough harm for a day. Please, leave. I beg of you.” Noriko, the prideful Geisha begged on while on her knees and with her forehead on the ground. It was as far as anyone would go in Japanese culture. The Geisha were even more tense, now witnessing how their colleague begged not only for her life, but for theirs as well. It was not the first time that blood was spilled on the floor of their establishment, but what would soon transpire would be unparalleled to anything else that had ever happened there.
“I don’t know why the Chinese Empire is so worried about these islanders. All they have ever known is resumed to this piece of land… And they bled and killed for every inch of it! Pathetic saru…” Ju-long continued as if nothing had happened. He walked up to the woman currently being held by other pirates. “You do have women though…” He swept his hand in between the woman’s legs. She gasped in surprise and then moaned as Ju-long caressed her. “And resources too.” The pirate turned around, amusingly licking his hand. “Men!” Although his comrades did not seem to be of the obeying sort, Ju-long had them under complete obedience. Upon shouting, his pirates stood up right away, leaving whatever it was that they were doing. “Close the doors! We’re sacking this place! Have your fun with them, but be gentle enough to put them out of their misery after.” The Geisha gasped in surprise once Ju-long ordered his men. Bloodshed was inevitable after all. Although every one of the Geisha were able to defend themselves, a battle of such scale was something that only a handful of them had ever witnessed much less experienced.
All of the women were armed, either with a dagger hidden beneath their sashes or weapons within reach under the various tables or pieces of furniture within the room. It was with the utmost astonishment, however, that the Geisha witnessed Ayame charge through their colleagues and presenting herself before the infamous Chinese pirate. Ju-long eyed the young cook up and down with an unsettling curiosity. “Oh? This is a first! So eager to try a little of my men’s salt are you?” The men laughed briefly, some even taking measures of the young Geisha before their leader. The young cook refrained from altering her posture and limited herself to look at the leader of the pirates. They had closed the doors already and some of them already had their swords or pistols in hands, but Ayame did not seem frightened at all. Quite the contrary to be exact. “You were welcomed in this house… You were treated with delicacy and fed in the exquisite manner that is traditional of the way of the Geisha…” Ayame now looked Ju-long right in his eyes. “And yet you dared to wrongly spill the blood of innocents upon this place of order and tranquility.” The pirates looked at each other with tones of confusion printed on their faces. The same could be told about the other Geisha, although they were already prepared for what was about to happen.
“You may claim yourself as a dragon, Ju-long. But even the most mystical of beasts may lose their heads in the gardens under the rising sun!” Despite the tight kimono around her legs, Ayame walked incredibly fast towards the leader of the pirates. She withdrew her hands from the opposite sleeves of her robes, thus revealing a butcher’s knife on her right hand. “Watch out Ju-long!” A fellow pirate still managed to say. To no effect though, as Ayame swung the butcher’s knife vertically upon the head of the pirate. He was lucky enough to step back thus preventing a deadly blow. The blade still managed to cut through Ju-long’s left eye, leaving him bleeding. A roar of anger echoed throughout the tavern. “My eye!” Ju-long brought a hand to his face and then looked at it, covered in blood. “You worthless bitch! Kill them all! We’ll defile their corpses once they’re still warm!” The pirates advanced and pulled their leader out of the way. With warring shouts, these despicable men pointed their blades to the Geisha and moved forward with haste.
Ayame was quickly pulled out of the middle of the room by Noriko and their fellow Geisha blocked the path by toppling some of the tables in the pirates’ way. “You did well Ayame. I could not stand to be courteous to such fiends any longer.” The young cook looked at Noriko with disbelief. “Grab a weapon Ayame. We must rid this filth from our sanctuary!” With extreme haste, Noriko grabbed her dagger and studied the situation to counter-attack. The Geisha had weapons concealed in each piece of furniture. Daggers, katanas, bow and arrows, even shurikens and flails. It didn’t take long for both arrows and bullets to fly across the room. Although they were significantly outnumbered, the Geisha managed to barricade themselves in the inner half of the room, thus diminishing the number of enemies that they would engage at any given time.
Although she stepped in to support her colleague, Ayame was now in shock because of what she had done and what was currently happening all around her. She had never harmed anyone, of course sometimes she had urges to perform the act but never before she had reached that far. While the Geisha fended for themselves remarkably well, they were still withstanding injuries. Upon hearing another set of thundering sounds from the firearms of the pirates, Ayame stood up convinced that she had to help her colleagues in order to survive this day. And so she did. But she did so in her own way. In a frenzy without regard for herself, Ayame passed through the barricade. Wielding a dagger and a butcher’s knife, the young cook danced through the pirate multitude, slashing and cutting her way through their ranks. Her fellow Geisha were inspired by the act of the young cook and they eventually overpowered the pirates through the barricade.
By the sixth pirate cut down, Ayame was struck on a shoulder but still managed to take the life of her assailant. When she finished him off, she was hit on the head from one of her blindsides. Certainly dazed by the huge hit, she fell on the floor completely disoriented only to be roughly brought up. Now with a piece of cloth covering his bleeding eye, Ju-long forced Ayame to stand by having a hand on her hair and a cold blade next to her neck. “I will not perish in here! Not like this! Not by a woman’s hand!” His men were either dead or bleeding towards the afterlife. Few moaned in pain already. While the Geisha also withstood casualties, their wounded would mostly survive this encounter. The one-eyed pirate retreated back to the sealed exit of the room while dragging Ayame with him. A handful of armed Geisha quickly followed his desperate steps, calmly studying their colleague’s captor. Their feet were soaked in blood and drops of it now painted their white robes. Blood of Ju-long’s companions. Companions who were now gone from this world due to their captain’s manners. “Leave me be damn you!” Ju-long glanced all around him, now with his back against the massive wooden doors. “Don’t you care for this one?” He forced his blade even more against Ayame’s neck, drawing a drop of blood through it.
The Geisha were hesitant to finish the job and Ju-long knew very well that Ayame would be his bargaining chip to get out of this situation alive. The young cook was now perfectly aware of what was transpiring, and as such, she locked her eyes on Noriko, one of the five Geisha that were surrounding Ju-long and herself. The cold expression she had on her face could only mean for her fellow Geisha to leave their hesitation behind and finish what the dreadful pirate had started. Vengeance is one of the most terrible desires in this world, many Geisha knew that through previous experiences. If Ju-long could escape, it would only be a matter of time before his return to exert his revenge upon the Geisha of the Asagao no Teien. For an instant, the two Geisha had their eyes on each other. Ayame was certain of what was needed to be done and Noriko just wanted to be sure of her colleague’s intentions. In the meanwhile, Ju-long tried to unbar the exit while holding Ayame hostage at the time. “Don’t you dare move another foot! I’ll slit her throat! I swear it!” Before Noriko and the others could advance for the killing blow, however, the unexpected came to happen. A katana’s blade pierced through the thick wooden doors of the tavern, trespassing the head of the so-called dragon of the Chinese seas. “How… could this… happen?” Ju-long whispered in his final moments, as he came to realize that something from behind him had caused his demise. The blade receded from where it came and Ju-long fell lifelessly on the wooden surface. Noriko dropped her weapon immediately and ran towards Ayame, hugging her in an attempt to comfort her. Tears dripped down from both Geisha’s eyes as they came to realize that the threat to their lives was now over.
An eye looked through the thin breach in the wooden door. Then a shout from the outside. “Is everything alright? Oh, my girls… Please don’t be harmed…” Noriko grabbed Ayame’s hand and stepped back from the doors, allowing the other Geisha to open them after a moment. The sunlight blinded everyone inside for an instant. “By the Gods…” At the other side was Masami, the main cook at the Asagao no Teien who had taken the seemingly calm day to do some shopping at the nearest city. Although she was relatively older than all the other Geisha, Masami did not have any wrinkles on her face. Her white hair was the only thing which indicated her advanced age, even though she was the envy of a lot of women half of her age. Struck by such a gruesome sight, Masami had let go of her katana and stepped inside the tavern. The sunlight sparkled on her hair and then began to abandon it as she entered the main hall. “My girls…” The place was completely wrecked. Dead bodies and their entrails littered the place and there was a smell in the air that would make the faint of heart spill everything they had in their stomach. The Geisha who stood behind were now treating their wounded as best as they could. Four of them had already passed away unfortunately and that number could still go higher.
Ayame had broken herself down in tears while she hugged Noriko incredibly tight. “Calm down Ayame. It’s over now.” Masami witnessed the scene between the two girls and walked up to them. “Stand up. We have a lot of work to do.” Both Ayame and Noriko looked up to Masami. Her determination inspired them to face the horrors of what had transpired there. Ayame and Noriko stood up and together with Masami and the remaining Geisha at the entrance, they ventured forth into the blood-soaked room.
After a couple of days, the establishment would reopen as usual and things would certainly return to normal. They would mourn the departed and perform the funerals in their honor. As for the pirates, they would be piled up and burned altogether without any of the Japanese traditions. The Geisha could only hope that they would reincarnate as worms or an even more despicable life form.
(PS: As always, the images found within Orient in Turmoil are just to give you an idea of the scenarios and characters that take part within the story. They do not belong to me and they aren’t precise representations of the characters and scenarios that you read about here.)