Tales of the Sea Bitch (2)


    Actually, I suppose the last tale really was a romance story, because now I come to think about it, there were a few things -- some very minor, some blindingly obvious -- that I did leave out.  I appreciate you not stealing my purse while I told it.
    You know how it is with stories.  Sometimes you end up focussed on certain aspects and honestly forget about other things that happened at the time.  Like some boring guy who came on board by himself later, and a boy falling out of the sky, even if they were there for the whole trip.  And a dramatic introduction to the Nipponese code of honor of the samurai.  But, you know, aside from the falling out of the sky thing you could pretty much say nothing happened.  So I wasn't far off.
    I'll fill in the gaps first, and then take the tale on to the court of a Nipponese lord.  Really, I haven't given away much so far, you could have figured all that from my last story.  Except the falling out of the sky thing, that was just... out of the blue, as it were.

    But first, back to Miragliano.  Yes, I left out stuff that far back.  "Stuff" in this case was another young boy maybe 17 years old, Tony, who was in the group of four landlubbers with Phoebe and the others.  Which makes them five landlubbers.  I didn't really notice Tony the whole way to Luccini -- I think he was below decks for the first several hours, and after that I really wasn't noticing anyone except Phoebe.  For all I know I might have forgotten to eat too.

    So Tony really comes into the story only at Luccini, where he boarded Lady Miyara's ship slightly after the other four of us.  That meant he was left out of the story then too, and I guess he was mostly forgettable.
    Except for one thing.  Two things, really, first he was Tilean.  Given how many Tileans I'd met over the previous five years that would be pretty forgettable, except he wasn't a sailor and so didn't call me Molly the Sea Bitch.  Well, he might now, because the second thing was that he was a pain in the neck asking everyone in sight to spar and weapons train with him.  I turned him down quite firmly, exactly once, and he didn't ask again.
    Lady Miyara gave in to him, however, and he was probably not bad with a sword.  He seemed to be fascinated with all sorts of weapons, and unarmed fighting too.  Oh, and he could fish, and if you were into guys you might find him attractive.  Not much more to say about him, though, not yet.  It's not until a later tale that he really comes into the story, and that one'll cost you another bottle of wine.  I do enough skipping around myself in telling one story, I'm certainly not skipping ahead to another one just to satisfy your curiosity.

    The other thing was Grieg.  Grieg Voldemeier, although I don't think that's his real name.  Another boy, 16 probably.  You can see why I mixed them all up and combined them into one forgettable "a boy" in the last tale -- Sun, Tony, Grieg, all generic boys who I try to avoid so they don't hit on me in ways that are embarrassing mostly to themselves.  Grieg didn't seem interested at all in me, though, spent more time with Tony and the ship's navigator.  Suits me.  My chest is right at the three boys' eye levels and I never caught Grieg looking.  Not that it's much of a chest, of course, not by teenage boy fantasy standards.  For an elf my size, they'd prefer me not to be able to see my feet when I look down.

    Grieg, of course, is the one who fell out of the sky.

    We'd been out of Luccini a few days, out into the open ocean and well away from land.  The sailors expected this to be a four month trip, so we'd only really just started out.
    The first warning we had was from the crow's nest.  The sailor up there started wailing, "It's coming!  It's coming!" and wouldn't shut up.  Everyone leaped up to ready stations, but there wasn't anything around that anyone could see.  Now my rule is always to trust the crow's nest -- if he says he thinks something is coming, it probably is even if he can't put it into words himself.  The Nipponese captain, however, obviously thought he was an idiot.  He just sent another sailor up there to smack him about and bring him down.  He then stood down the crew, leaving the crow's nest unmanned.
    Lots of stupid moves there, mistake on mistake on mistake.  The ship deserved to have been attacked by some magical underwater ship full of Dark Elf pirates that only the first guy could glimpse out of the corner of his eye.  Fortunately it wasn't magical pirates, it was just Grieg.  Who fell out of the clear blue sky fifty feet in front of the ship.

    For just a boy, he made one heck of a splash.  That jerked the crew into their senses, and soon a lookout from the foredeck shouted out that it was a man doing something.  Of course, it was wrong on both counts: first, it was obviously a boy not a man, secondly he wasn't doing a single darned thing unless you count floating face down unconscious as doing something.

   I must admit I had my thoughts whether that Imperial trader who insulted us off Luccini might have been right about our seamanship.  Can't fault the Nipponese on their navigation and ship handling, but pirate sense just isn't up their alley.  If there are pirates in Nippon, they probably sail up alongside, announce their presence with a fanfare of trumpets, and fly big flags saying "We're pirates and we'll be boarding you shortly.  Please let us know when you're ready."  Polite people, these Nipponese.

    The captain swiftly ordered the sails backed and then furled, and with precision hove us to right at the body.  Faster than I or Phoebe could dive into the water to help, the sailors had a dinghy launched and were pulling the boy out of the water.
    They quickly had him on the deck of the ship.  He was very short, very young, lean, and with black hair to his shoulders.  When he eventually opened his eyes, they were grey.  He was dressed in good clothes in the Empire fashion, with a once good but now bedraggled cloak still grasping him around the throat.
    Phoebe rushed over to help him, and I was surprised to see Peter right there too.  I know Peter called himself a doctor, but I hear most human landlubber doctors wait for patients to be brought to them, and even then treat them as an annoyance.  It was good to know that Peter too would step in to help us if we needed him.
    My dear half-elf got there first.  I couldn't see exactly what she did, but I know it was something with her spirits -- Arati I think is the one who heals through her.  Anyway, the boy was visibly better, although Phoebe herself sank to the ground after the spirit used her energy to do the healing.
    I knelt down beside my girl to make sure she was all right.  I didn't expect her to have been that much drained from the effort, and it concerned me.  I'd only ever seen her full of energy, and this was quite a disturbing contrast.  Peter was there too, although I barely noticed him at that point.
    Then Peter did something strange.  He offered up a prayer to Shalia, and Phoebe was restored, all exhaustion gone.  Phoebe asked him who the spirit Shalia was, and he replied that she was the goddess of healing and nurturing.  As Phoebe said, it seems she can give back the energy that Arati takes from her to do the healing.  I expected my girl would be dancing her talk with Shalia now too, another spirit for her to contact.  Did I mention I love to watch Phoebe dance?
    I turned back to the boy, who was regaining consciousness.  He asked feebly where he was.  I told him he was on a ship, and he just fell out of the sky.  Oddly enough the "on a ship" shocked him more than "fell out of the sky."  He wanted to know where we were going, but when we tried to explain, it was clear he had not only never been outside the Empire, but didn't conceive of anything outside it, provincial to an extent that I've only seen in lower class humans.
    Now if that isn't odd, I don't know what is.  Here's a typical human boy with barely any education, no concept of the world, who brushes off falling out of the sky into the open ocean with a nonchalant "It was an accident."  I took comfort that he had that look that comes right before someone realizes they suffer from seasickness.  I certainly hoped he did.
    He asked me where the land was, but I just shrugged and with a smile suggested he ask the captain, knowing full well that they didn't have a language in common.  At this the boy sighed, and said offhandedly that he was here because he had to get away.  Now this I could understand, he'd probably got into some trouble.  If he'd have given us a slightly honest remark then, I'd have trusted him a little more, but he just quickly added, "From my job," as if he knew it was a miserable attempt to deflect us.  He then asked if we had seen his pack.  I knew the answer to that, of course, and as I expected the so-called lookout had failed to see any other splash or anything like a pack.  Whatever was valuable enough to cram into his pack as he ran from trouble was gone.

    By then, Lady Miyara had come over and taken charge.  She asked him who he was, to which he gave the name Grieg Voldemeier.  He stumbled over it a little, like it was an unfamiliar alias.  Sharp as a tack, Lady Miyara said she wanted to know who he was, not his name.  Slowly she dragged a little more out of him.
    Grieg claimed to be a merchant from Oldfort.  He started out in a town in the Empire, had a run-in with some bad men who wanted to ask him questions in a nasty way, and the next thing he remembered was waking up here.  Just the few sentences he'd uttered were so inconsistent he had to be lying.
    At this, Lady Miyara sighed and said she supposed he was travelling to Nippon with us.  I'd have raised no objection if she wanted to throw him overboard, but apparently that wasn't going to happen.
    The others kept talking, but already having the human boy pegged as a small time aspiring crook with an odd way of turning up, I had lost interest and walked off.  Soon after that the ship's captain was barking orders to get us under way again.  Sailors rushed to their posts, the ship's roll steadied as the sails took the wind, and the friendly sound of water rushing past the bow resumed.  We'd wasted long enough on this distraction.

    Our routine resumed.  Phoebe and I continued our delightful time together, while the rest went about their own business.

    Lady Miyara took an interest in my archery practice, starting out by just following my movements.  As my command of the Nipponese language improved -- she had begun to teach it to all who wanted -- I was able to explain what Brathien had taught me in the jungles of Ind.  I wasn't sure how it would work for humans, of course, since it was my own elven astral energy and the collective elvish spirit that drove my shots.  Of course Phoebe pointed out that spirits are everywhere, and even as part human she has spirits, so it would probably work for Lady Miyara too.  The more time I spend with Phoebe, the more she makes sense.  She's a strange girl, but her insights make amazing listening.

    Despite my disinterest in Grieg, I found out a little more about him.  He was thoroughly provincial, Empire and stuck with it.  He couldn't even conceive why anyone would want to speak a language other than Imperial, for example.  He wasn't at all sociable, and (the one good thing) didn't show the slightest interest in hitting on me.  He didn't get on at all well with the Nipponese on board except, oddly enough, the ships cook, a fat man called Donku who produced good food if rather inelegant by Nipponese standards.  The navigator liked him too, and they spent long hours going over charts and calculations with some evident delight.  It was about the only time I saw him smile, except when Tony gave in to Grieg's pestering and began to teach him how to use a dagger.

    But Grieg did not just fall out of the sky.  Oh no, nothing that simple.  He had to have more influence on our little band than that.  He was also to cause the death of a samurai.

    Now, I didn't really see what lead up to it.  I'd heard rumors the samurai were giving him a hard time, singling him out, harassing him, but knowing what little I did about Grieg I'd believe the samurai over him.  I think one of their practice fights spilled over into the navigator's station once when he was there, and he might have taken it the wrong way.
    The samurai were above the status of most people in Nippon, I'd learned from Lady Miyara during our language lessons, and it was up everyone else to get out of a samurai's way.  So them running over the navigator wasn't exactly a deliberate insult on their part, like riding through a flock of sheep wouldn't be a deliberate insult to the sheep from a mounted knight.  It's a nastier class system than even the High Elves, but it's part of their culture.
    As for Grieg, the kid with the snotty provincial "we don't do it that way in the Empire" attitude, I can't honestly say that he didn't have it coming, although to be fair I can't say for sure he did.  When all's said and done, he probably didn't even learn his lesson, and the life of a samurai was lost for no gain.

    We'd been out of Luccini about a month and a half when everything blew up out of proportion.  I'd guessed there was a problem with Grieg, because one day at archery practice Lady Miyara was clearly distracted by something.  The way she shot glances at Grieg I could tell he'd hit the cultural clash that so he richly deserved.
    Grieg too had seemed distracted for a week or so, and had changed his normal routine of moving around the ship like he was subtly following someone.  That stopped after Lady Miyara had presumably dealt with it, and all was calm for another week or so.

    Now this wasn't your usual shipboard dispute.  I figured the Nipponese, with their strict class system and code of honor, weren't into that kind of thing anyway.  I can't imagine a few Nipponese sailors getting drunk and ganging up on a samurai because they didn't like his hair.  Heck, even the Tileans tend to suffer in silence on board and save it for one heck of a smash-up in the inn.  On board, it's serious stuff.  Especially on a long voyage like this one, you have to put your likes and dislikes aside or no-one will be making port at the end.

    I was on the poop deck when a disturbance started up near the forecastle.  Three of the samurai had got into a shouting match with Grieg.  I don't know how it started, or really what they were arguing about, but all three samurai started laughing and Grieg snapped.  He kept trying to insult them in his pitiful Nipponese, and eventually succeeded.  A samurai suddenly stepped forward in anger, grabbed Grieg by the throat, and picked him up.
    Suddenly the two of them vanished, there was a splash about ten yards off the starboard beam...

    No, really, vanished.  Poited out of existence.  Gone.  Yeah, like you I was expecting the kid to get his wind knocked out of him, pick up some bruises, and learned to treat people with respect.  Which is where I then put emphasis on "people" and "respect" and look pointedly at the emptying bottle of wine.  That's what makes for a good inn story.  But this story's true, and to prove it -- while I'd like the wine refilled, sure -- I'm not going to pull that trick.  Truth is it couldn't have been more unlike that.
    I swear on my rapier that's the truth.

    ...and a few seconds later a soaking wet Grieg poited into existence on the deck, just appeared out of nowhere.  He grinned evilly at the two remaining samurai, and snarled "Next!" at them.  They bowed slightly and walked away.

    There was no sign of the other samurai.  If he too was in the splash and not just Grieg, he'd be a good ways behind the ship now.  I looked back but could see nothing.
    Next thing I knew Grieg was shouting "Medic! Doctor!" in Imperial from somewhere amidships.  I turned back to see Phoebe rushing foreward, and of course raced over there myself.  Peter wasn't far behind, but when he saw what was happening he stopped dead in his tracks and stood back respectfully.
    Grieg was kneeling on the deck, holding the samurai.  The samurai had a gaping slit in his abdomen, and it looked like he was still trying to self-inflict it.  The other samurai came running over and pushed everyone away from their comrade.
    "What are you doing?  Are you insane?" shouted Phoebe, but she'd lapsed into Imperial and no-one was answering.  None of us could get through to attend the wounded man, although like Peter I stood back too.  If the Nipponese didn't want anyone to help, I'd respect that.

    That was when Lady Miyara calmly walked over, took in the situation, and in Imperial asked Grieg what he'd done.
    Grieg said he'd managed to insult the samurai.  "Managed to insult," that's exactly how he put it, like he'd kept trying until he'd provoked the fight he wanted.  He said the samurai came after him, and Grieg had "done his trick," but went back for him when it was obvious he'd "justified himself."  When he went back, the samurai stabbed himself.
    Lady Miyara said that the man had not accepted that Grieg was a true samurai, and felt shamed that Grieg had bested him.  Heck, Grieg a samurai?  That's laughable, a common crook trying to pass as an honorable warrior!
    At that moment, one of the samurai struck the head off their dying friend with a single blow.
    Grieg refused to understand, and would not let the subject drop.  He insisted the samurai had wasted his life, because Grieg really was a samurai.  That was so disrespectful that if the Nipponese warriors had rushed him right then, I would have been hard pressed not to cheer them on.
    Lady Miyara stayed calm, however, and said to Grieg that the man had not accepted it.  Grieg started to say something, and although she spoke quietly her voice was so cold it cut him off as if she had put a sword to his throat.  She explained, as if to a simpleton, that as a samurai he believed he had been defeated by one who was not a samurai.  He killed himself to restore honor to himself and his family.  Everything comes from the family, each of us them are just custodians of that.  "Westerners do not generally understand honor," she concluded.  Be nice if she'd have said "Western humans," but it made her point.
    Grieg said he could kind of see that, and it was done so he accepted it.  Was it wrong for him, he asked her, to wish there had been another way to take him down?
    Lady Miyara told him that was not wrong.  Still speaking quietly, still in Imperial which the other Nipponese did not understand, she then told him not to apologize.  He had proved himself a samurai, so he should not apologize for besting the man.  She asked him to understand the way Grieg had tormented him relentlessly -- Grieg had bested him, he thought he was going to die and was going to finish himself with honor, then Grieg had returned to rescue him and thus stop him restoring his family's honor.  It just got worse and worse throughout the whole sorry encounter.
    In closing, Lady Miyara said that what pulled it out for Grieg was that he didn't start it, that the samurai had called him out.  Maybe he overreacted, but he didn't start it.

    That of course is not what I saw.  I saw an arrogant Empire brat, a common crook's errand boy, shouting at the samurai until he provoked the fight, and then leap at the opportunity to kill the nasty foreigner.  Perhaps Lady Miyara had the full story, and because of that I outwardly accepted her version.  Even if it was true, though, to me Grieg was still nothing but a curse that fell from the sky, an albatross dragging us all down.

    For a while, Lady Miyara's lessons contained less language and more culture, explaining that the westerners would be expect to bathe frequently, remove their shoes when entering dwellings, and taught us how to eat in the Nipponese way.  She also went over the currency and the basic rules of station and class.  That pretty much boiled down to: only samurais are allowed to carry a weapon; if someone's carrying a weapon, get out of their way; if you class as a samurai, act as if you have honor and dignity and the right to carry it.  I only hoped that on top of the incident preceding it, that the lesson would strike home with the commoner western humans.

    Eventually we arrived off the shores of Nippon, which is where I left off the last story.  We docked at Shira Miyara (Castle Miyara), Lady Miyara's ancestral home.  Of course the humans all had difficulty shaking off their sea legs, but Phoebe and I had not the slightest trouble.  I had my natural elf balance, and she had her spirits to keep her steady.
    We docked in early afternoon.  Lady Miyara disembarked with Phoebe and myself, Peter, Sun, Tony, Grieg, and all the samurai.  The progress of the lady and her entourage quickly became a parade, and it was obvious that I had been correct about her high status in her homeland.

    It was a short walk from the pier to the castle.  The castle itself was a haphazard arrangement of courtyards and buildings.  Perhaps it was deliberately confusing, perhaps it was a matter of bad design.  It certainly didn't look like any place I've seen before.  That was a good thing, after all that's why I came here, to see new things.
    Once we were inside the castle, the samurai went their own way, having completed their mission.  Lady Miyara was welcomed home by her familiar servants, who discreetly asked about boarding arrangements for her retinue.  She said she had three samurai, two priests, and a personal servant.  Everyone would get a private room, in keeping with their station.
    In each of our private rooms was our own private servant.  Clothing was prepared, baths ready, and the servant was there to help us with everything.  Kimonos were the order of the day for all, and while I couldn't wait to see Phoebe in one, I had more than a few reservations about wearing one myself.  Change the language, change the clothing style, and one high society looks much like any other.

    Of course, dinner that evening was with the Lord of the castle, "the" Miyara, Miyara-san, Lord Miyara, whatever.  In his presence, if there was any ambiguity, we were to refer to our Lady Miyara as Miyara Miwa, his daughter.  Looked like we'd been hanging out with a Nipponese princess.
    As expected, it was an elegant affair.  I'll go through Lady Miwa's introductions to her father, as it's kind of interesting if you put them in context.  She introduced them in rough order of making her acquaintance.

    Peter Popoff was who she'd known the longest, she said.  He was a skilled doctor, and performed miracles on behalf of the goddess he followed, blessed by that goddess.
    Phoebe was likewise a healer and also a servant of the gods, following many rather than one.  Lady Miwa didn't add what I was thinking, that Phoebe did indeed look fantastic in a kimono, feathers still braided in her hair, and still jingling with bracelets and jewelry.
    Lord Miyara said that the mark of the gods was apparent upon her.
    I was introduced as Mehli Tashonai of the Sea Elves, who escort ships across the ocean.  She said I was a skilled archer and swordsman.
    Antonio di Tagligoschi had travelled with Lady Miwa for a while.  He was also a highly skilled swordsman.
    Grieg was very young.  He was training to be a samurai.  He was also able to use some sort of magic.  Lady Miwa had seen him move himself with his magic.

    We were all welcomed to Nippon and Shira Miyara.  Lord Miyara said he knew we would all serve his daughter well.  He then went on to pump us all for stories about the west.  He started with the princess, and was clearly looking for interesting and entertaining rather than informative.  That suited Phoebe and me very well, and we in particular had great fun with it.
    Nagging at the back of my mind, however, was Miyara-san's absolute assumption that we were all serving the princess.  Somewhere along the line, going with Phoebe to see Nippon had turned into being a samurai in the service of Lady Miyara Miwa, and I wasn't yet sure I liked that idea.
    After the storytelling was over, and Miyara Keiko (Lady Miwa's mother) had retired, Lord Miyara explained that there was a mission to fulfill.  His brother, Lady Miwa's uncle, had gone to a particular Crane castle on a diplomatic mission, and while he was there the lord of the castle was murdered.  He wanted Lady Miwa to go and investigate the death.
    My natural first thought was that we would going to make sure the uncle had actually finished the job rather than got an unconfirmed kill, but that didn't seem to be his tone.  I suspect we might actually be assigned to ensuring the Miyara family wasn't blamed for the death.  Of course, the two situations need not be mutually exclusive.

    Once dinner was over, it was time to resolve the issue of Nipponese tolerance.  I asked Lady Miwa whether it was fine for Phoebe and I to share a room overnight.  She said that it was our business where we slept, and that we had the separate rooms on the basis of status alone.  That was one good thing about Nippon, to add to the sight of Phoebe in a kimono.  I'd have to wait and see where the less obviously good things -- this "samurai to the princess" thing, for example -- would lead.

    Now, obviously there's some loose ends here.  Given my experience with Grieg so far, I'd rather trust a greenskin army behind me than him in front of me.  We were going to have to sort that out soon, and the sooner the better.  That's not even addressing the issue of whether he'll pick a fight and kill the next samurai to laugh at him too.  He was our albatross, and we'd have to get him off our collective neck soon or we'd really be in trouble.
    Tony was an unknown.  As I've said, aside from me filing him away under "yet another teenage boy," he really didn't come into this story.  Was he a good swordsman or did he just talk that way?  You can't tell with teenagers, after all.
    And Peter and his Shalia, I had the feeling I hadn't seen everything yet.  He had been kind of quiet, but despite myself I was beginning to like the man.
    Most of these could be handled quite easily.  All I'd have to do would be to get them all drunk and rowdy, and their true selves would come out.  Grieg, though... Grieg I might have to confront, for both our sakes.

    But that's all for another story, another day, and another bottle of wine.