Tales of the Sea Bitch (4)

Death and Taxes

    They say the only sure things in this life are death and taxes.  As you will hear tonight, however, taxes are far from certain; death may be certain, but  how it comes is not always sure.  A man dies, although it is not the arrow striking him down that dealt the final blow.  Another man was by all accounts dead, but ask how and all all you'd get were more questions.

    Castle Kyotei.  That's where we were headed, and where we will arrive shortly in this story.  Lady Miyara, princess, daughter of Lord Miyara of Shira Miyara of the Phoenix Clan, had been delegated as magistrate to investigate the killing of Tsume Retsu of the Cranes.  The reason hadn't been stated, but since a Phoenix lord, Miyara Katsuda, had been present at the time that was I suppose reason enough.
    The story doesn't get there right away.  The towering spires or whatever don't turn up for a little while yet, but they will shortly.  You see, a journey is rarely simple, and this one was no exception.
    I've already told you about meeting an Old Man on the road, an Old Man straight out of the epics.  If you missed it, well, you'll have to hear about it the next time I tell it.  Now, however, I'll take you back to where we had left that Old Man behind and resumed our journey.

    It had been about an hour after our mysterious encounter, and we were supposed to arrive at Castle Kyotei that day.  We even had a sign we were getting closer, because up ahead was a gate over the road.  The Nipponese call this a Prayer Gate, a shrine to some god or another, basically just a fancy door frame erected over the roadway.  I'm sure these things have some special significance, but I can't say I was interested enough to ask.
    What made this one notable was not the gate itself, but what was under it.  A man stood on our side of it, dressed in the Crane colors.  He was looking expectantly at us.  About fifty yards behind him on the other side of the gate was a small band of humans also in Crane colors, obviously armed.
    This was not a good sign.  Having one man greet you is one thing.  Having a band of armed thugs meet you is another.  Having a military group, either to escort you or intercept you, is yet another.  In those cases, however, you know where you stand and that it'll be straighforward.  One man standing out front, with a gang to back him up if it goes bad, is quite another matter.  Invariably he's going to say something unpleasant, and we'll be expected to fall in line under the apparent but never stated threat of his "enforcers" ready behind him.  Unlike all the other situations, this is one that usually can't be handled by talking, and only a bigger threat back at him is going to get you through.
    In this case, he probably thought he had the bigger stick.  Sure, there were more of us, but most were servants and the rest didn't exactly look imposing.  My dear Phoebe dressed as a Nipponese lady, but with beads and feathers braided in her hair and jewelry jingling as she walked.  Peter, likewise as a civilian but without any of the adornments.  Grieg, whose dagger you probably wouldn't notice from more than a few yards away and was just a slip of a boy anyway.
    Then there were the obvious combatants, a mere three of us.  Lady Miyara herself, of course, katana and wakizashi clearly displayed in the mode of a samurai princess.  Tony, whose heavy armor, shield, and broadsword were unusual enough for an arrogant Nipponese brigand to dismiss the Tilean's skills.  And then there was me, Molly the Sea Bitch, a skinny but tall elf with a leather vest and leggings, a strange pointy metal stick by my side, and a longbow unstrung on my back.

    No, actually, I can't say that Tony and I had been expecting trouble on this journey.  We just travelled in our full regalia because that's how we travelled.  The fancy Nipponese garb we'd be expected to wear on social occasions had been stuffed somewhere on a wagon by our servants.
    Me, I just felt more comfortable that way.  I'd spent five years on and off the sea between Ind and Tilea, and every time I went ashore I'd never regretted being prepared.  The longbow had usually been left on ship if I was just headed for an inn, but my rapier never left my side if my feet weren't moving with the sea.
    Why Tony would slog all this way in his heavy gear is another matter.  The kid had to be no more than 17, and yet as I've mentioned before he carried himself as a soldier who'd seen it all.  His eyes had that look too.  One day I might ask what had happened to make him that way, but at the time I was waiting until it came out over a cask or two of beer.
    Lady Miyara travelled that way because it was expected of her station, and to a Nipponese noble station and expectation was everything.  The Miyara family were the samurai of the Phoenix clan, and since the rest of the clan apparently were more into magic than fighting, the Miyaras were their specialized warriors.  To be a princess of that family was a position that required the constant projection of the samurai status to avoid risking dishonor.
    So just the three warriors on our side.  To the brigands, the only risk would have been Lady Miyara herself, and one woman surely wouldn't cause trouble with all her retinue to protect.  The boy and the tall skinny girl they would have just discounted out of hand with merely a glance.

    Still, this being a strange country, perhaps this wasn't the threat we expected.  Nevertheless, Tony and I had both sized up our surroundings.  We were in a wooded area, with the 30-50 yards to the actual woods on either side being low grassland offering no cover.  Without even thinking about it the two of us eased slightly to either side of our group while Lady Miyara walked up to the man.  I was listening carefully to their conversation, trying to pick up cues that would indicate this was about to get serious.
    The man waited patiently for Lady Miyara to walk up to him, but before she could say a word he'd started his speech.  He said he regretted to inform us that Tsume Retsu had died.  They had increased patrols in this area, and he was required to charge us a tax for travelling because of the increased cost of protecting the roads.
    Lady Miyara gave him a look.  Her glance said that this was clearly not normal, and that even under abnormal circumstances such as the lord's death she did not expect to comply.  She asked for his papers showing such authority, which were promptly provided.  She'd tell me later this warrant declaring him a special magistrate to Tsume Takashi (Retsu's son) looked genuine, but I already knew that at the time by the sour expression with which she handed it back.
    Then it was Lady Miyara's turn to state her credentials.  She said she was Miyara Miwa, acting as magistrate for The Miyara, and that he had conincidentally sent her here to look into the death of Tsume Retsu.  She stated this as a simple fact with the authority of her station -- the way she said it was enough to be obvious it was the truth.
    On the left of our group, Tony had been watching with as much attention as I had.  We exchanged the slightest of glances acknowledging that we had our sides covered, and we both moved over a little more to get a better angle.  I noticed that while the man and his heavies were wearing Crane colors, none carried any insignia.  Not that it mattered, of course, not if Lady Miyara had already assessed their warrant as genuine.
    Phoebe was safely in the center of the group.  I resisted the temptation to linger my gaze and admire her again, but instead evaluated the group on the other side of the gate.  The most important thing was that they appeared to have no bows.  I'd have several shots before they reached us, and with luck they were just some disorganized group that would break and run once they started taking arrows.
    While Tony and I were subtly taking position, the brigand leader was saying he was terribly sorry, that was all good and fine, but we'd have to pay the tax.  If he'd had his wits about him he'd have noticed us, but then if he was up to that he wouldn't have so readily discounted the people with unfamiliar weapons and armor.
    This was where we'd see what Lady Miyara had.  I'm sure her father would have told the man just where he could stick his tax, and I must admit I had been looking forward to finding out if his daughter had the nerve to carry it off.
    Well, she did.  She said in a tight voice that she believed he had misunderstood.  She was here as The Miyara, and would not pay.
    Tony and I saw the man tense up.  I surreptitiously strung my bow, while on the other side the Tilean took up a gladiator's stance.  He'd picked the left, I now realized, because that presented his shield towards the woods in case there were more bandits hidden there.

    We'd called it right on time.  The man pulled out his sword, a little clumsily in my opinion, and went for the princess.
    Big mistake on his part.  Quick as a flash, Lady Miyara's own katana was out too, slashing at him before he was ready to parry her strike.
    The men on the far side of the gate took off for us.  As I'd noted earlier, I'd have several clear shots at them as they ran forward.  I flicked an arrow from my quiver, took aim, and shot one of them in the chest.
    Lady Miyara had drawn her wakizashi in her off hand now, and seemed to have the upper hand.  Obviously I couldn't pay that much attention to it, but I did need to stay aware of how she was doing so I could rush in and take over if she fell back.  So far it looked like that wasn't going to be necessary.  She was a very skilled fighter, and while she hadn't landed many blows yet she didn't seem in the slightest danger of being on the receiving end herself.
    Poor Grieg tried to help out, but he'd been telling the truth about being a delivery boy and not an assassin.  He poited behind the men, but they were moving rapidly towards us and he couldn't even catch up to them to try to stick them with the dagger he had ready.  I'm sure he was never close enough for them to notice.
    It wasn't really a conscious decision on my part, but with the men seemingly unimpressed by the first arrowshot, I just let loose as quickly as I could, not slowing to make the shots precise, not waiting until one shot landed before loosing another.  The collective elven spirit energy sped the flight of my arrows, each one striking a new target in a soft rain shower of arrow-wood falling on the group.
    On the far side, Tony had also determined that our main threat was to the front -- no-one joining in from the sides -- and had moved forwards to form a line with Lady Miyara, to meet the charging men head on.
    Oddly enough, behind us the fat cook Donku had climbed down from the back wagon and was advancing to the front, a large frying pan held menacingly as if was a mace or warhammer.
    Lady Miyara was so outmatching the brigand leader that he was forced into a fatal mistake.  I'd expected him to fight to the death with honor -- not that I expected that to take long, mind you -- but he obviously considered his life more valuable than his family and tried to disengage.  He swore loudly and made a break for the woods.
    Lady Miyara leapt after him and sliced him in the back.  He ran forward a few more yards from sheer momentum, then collapsed to his knees.  He twisted round quickly, and bowed to Miyara.
    Now I expected the next thing I'd hear would be his head hitting the ground, but the princess wasn't that predictable.  She asked him if he surrendered, and for once he made the right choice and quickly answered yes.  Lady Miyara stepped back, weapons still drawn.
    The other men had now turned aside and were heading off into the woods.  I wasn't going to let them go that easily.  I didn't want them to regroup, choose a new leader, and come right back at us while we were getting ready to travel on again.  So I took a deep breath, focussed my soul into the draw of my bow, and took aim at an uninjured man's face.  Perhaps their armor had been heavier than it had looked and my earlier shots less effective because of that.  This time I wanted to be sure.  Let Lady Miyara and the others see why the Tilean crews hired me despite calling me the Sea Bitch.
    I heard Lady Miyara shout for us to stop, but I'd already put my spirit into my bow and was not going to hold fire now I'd drawn.  I let go a perfect shot which struck the man directly in his face.  He fell to the ground screaming while his companions abandoned him and routed towards the comparative safety of the trees.  We let them go.

    Lady Miyara sternly addressed the man kneeling before her.  She said she trusted there wouldn't be any more taxes for anyone who came through the gate.  The man said, "No, ma'am."  It looked like he was bowing even lower then, but when Lady Miyara called for Phoebe to heal him we realized that he had simply passed out.
    We'd regrouped in the meantime.  Grieg had come back, out of breath and embarrassed.  I pretended not to have noticed him; he'd given it a fair shot, after all, which was more than I'd expected and for which I had to give him credit.
    The screaming stopped.  I looked over to where Tony was wiping his broadsword.  He'd dispatched the mortally wounded, just as a veteran.  I still couldn't believe this was just a young boy.
    Peter had come over with Phoebe, his Shalia spirit (which he called a goddess, of course) restoring the energy that Arati drew from Phoebe as she healed the leader repeatedly, not stopping until he was conscious and well again.
    I unstrung my bow and went over to Phoebe to keep an eye on her.  Back on board ship, when Grieg fell out of the sky, I'd learned how much healing took out of my girl, and I wanted to be right there when she finished.  Right now she was pale and tired as she did her work.  Peter offered to help her when she was done, but Phoebe just smiled up at me with those wild eyes of hers and said, "I'll lean on Mehli."

    Tony was walking back by now.  I gave him a respectful nod as he handed me my arrow, acknowledging with the gesture what he'd just done on the field.  He spoke up, said it was a job, and added -- I remember the words exactly -- "It's better when you don't know them."   All kinds of speculation flitted through my mind, but I would wait.  One day he and a cask of ale would get together, and then I'd find out what made him that way.
    The Tilean had taken the swords from the body.  He turned to Miyara and asked her about the Nipponese etiquette of looting.  She told him that arms and armor, things of war, were not looting, but it would be forbidden to take anything else.  He asked her if he could keep the swords and use them to practice, since he wasn't familiar with this style of weapon.  Miyara simply nodded her approval.
    The armor fitted none of our "samurai" of course, and while it would fit Phoebe or Peter, neither would want it.  For one thing, Phoebe had her spirits to protect her and ward off blows, she had told me.
    One more question remained: what to do with our "prisoner of war," as Tony put it.  Lady Miyara settled that very quickly, just by bowing her head to him politely and saying, "Thank you.  We will be on our way."
    Tony looked ready to take her to task over this, but his training and acceptance of orders stopped him.
    The princess must have guessed, because she explained that the man had a job to do and would stay here.
    That implicitly gave Tony permission to speak up, and he didn't waste it.  He asked if household troops -- the way he said it, he clearly meant "legitimate" household troops -- would run away with such dishonor.  He could understand a retreat, but back in the Border Princes they'd consider this an act of brigands.
    But Lady Miyara was firm.  She told him that we would report it at the castle, but we would leave him here.
    And so we did.  We went on our way, on to the castle that was our destination on this strange journey.

    Castle Kyotei.  Finally we approached the place, built in a strategic position overlooking a merchant road, river, and fertile plains.  The small village, Chizuken as Lady Miyara called it, lay below.  The castle itself would have seemed large and impressive if we hadn't already seen Shira Miyara, which dwarfed it in size and complexity.  There was no denying the quality of its architecture was similar, however, and there is a certain merit to being simple and tough.
    And despite that Lady Miyara was a princess on The Miyara's business, despite that the castle had just played host to a whole bunch of lesser nobles than her, despite that we'd no doubt be running back and forth to the castle every day, she lead us to the town to find an inn.  Now, I don't even understand why sailors stay in inns instead of on board their ships in port, so I was lost at this idea of packing high and mighty nobles and samurai into a tiny village inn instead of getting the hospitality our status presumably deserved.  At least she didn't decide we should all just camp in some field, although from the way she looked around as we approached the village she probably considered that too.
    So it was late afternoon when we walked into the village to find an inn, all the time aware of the commanding presence of the castle on the hill above us.  The castle where we weren't going to stay.

    At least there was a village inn.  It was called the Golden Peony.  Peter laughed and told me that among scholars the nickname for that flower was "Molly the Witch."

    Really, it was.  I tell you, I couldn't make stuff like that up if I tried.  Go ask a scholar yourself if you don't believe me.  I'll bet you a bottle of the finest wine here that you'll find I'm telling the truth.

    Tony quickly stepped ahead of us and looked inside the inn, assessing it for threats, but seemed satisfied and stepped back out of the way.  The servant Sun was next, making the arrangements for our accomodations, including presumably the financial matters that were so taboo to Nipponese nobles.
    While our own servants bustled about with our luggage, the innkeeper rearranged internal partitions to make rooms for all of us.  Each had a tiny separate room, but it was a matter of moments before Phoebe and I had torn down the partition between ours and made a much nicer room for the two of us.  I would happily have laid down with her right then and there, to be woken the next morning for a very late breakfast, but that wasn't to be.  Still work to be done that day.
    After getting all this business at the inn underway, Lady Miyara didn't settle there even for some wine and food, but almost immediately was impatiently waiting for us to walk up to the castle with her.  Walk, walk, walk... what I wouldn't have given for a ship, or even a canal boat, just some way to travel that involved a rolling deck and the sweet sound of water under the bow.  But no, walk it was.  Uphill all the way, and far enough that coming back would feel like uphill too after a long day like this one.

    Just half a dozen of us made this trip.  Lady Miyara had left the servants behind, bringing the five "samurai" that her station could just about carry off.  Supposedly her father could have managed six, and so while five would be kind of pushing it for her alone, she could definitely manage it now.  So she explained on the tiring walk, anyway.  Apparently Peter and my Phoebe counted among the five along with myself and Tony, and as always she was making the stretch to count Grieg in that group.
    The guards at the castle weren't to be impressed by Lady Miyara's word, however, and actually asked for her warrant to prove she was magistrate for The Miyara.  After a whole bunch of bowing and saluting and a five minute wait, they told us that General Shizuma would see us immediately.  Or, rather, they told her that he would see her, as if we weren't part of the package.
    Turns out, of course, that as her samurai we were assumed to be along and so didn't need mentioning.  Not at all like a ship's captain meeting someone, where the crew would be expected to make themselves scarce and not to get drunk too loudly.  So along with our princess we went.
    The castle was even better constructed than it looked from the outside.  Four courtyards there were, with a checkpoint between each one and a way only to the next in line.  To get to the center, an attacker would have to fight through each fortress in turn.  It didn't have Shira Miyara's layout that allowed defenders to take hidden alleys and harass an enemy lost and confused in the maze, but it was simple and effective.

    This time I'd figured appearances would be more important than utility, so I'd taken the time to switch into Nipponese clothes for this visit.  Having Phoebe help me change in our room at the inn had been more than worth the lack of armor in this get-up.  I was so looking forward to the night when we could relax together without having to set out walking again the next day.
    Tony had stuck with his Empire armor, however, and I did carry my rapier and longbow.  We were samurai to the princess, after all, and were expected to carry our weapons as a mark of status.  How it would be to fight in what was essentially a silk dress I didn't really want to find out, but obviously I was less apprehensive about it than Tony with his metal coat.

    General Shizuma was an old man by anyone's standards.  Well, not in elf years of course, but in looks and attitude.  His face was lined with wrinkles and he set his jaw as if this job, his unavoidable and committed duty, had been a constant headache for decades.  Nonetheless his attitude was not what I'd expected at all.  As soon as Lady Miyara was introduced, he went out of his way to help her in any way she wanted, hanging on her every word as if she was The Miyara himself.
    Those were pretty much his first words, actually: "How can I help Miyara?"  Miyara the family, The Miyara the Lord, I couldn't tell which he meant.  But it didn't matter, because to him they were obviously the same thing.  And Lady Miyara was the personification of Miyara.  I'd never seen the Nipponese system of honor and class so clearly presented as in the words and expression of this honest old soldier.
    Lady Miyara simply told him the truth in return, that she was here to look into the death of Tsume Retsu, and that she knew nothing so far except that the bastard had been killed at last.
    Well, she didn't use those words of course, but on the way here I'd picked up that Tsume Retsu was universally hated and only a freak of position and location had kept him in power.  I don't think anyone at all was sorry he was dead.  In some ways, that made our investigation more honest: it made it plain that we were here to sort out family honor in relation to his manner of death rather than to find some poor scapegoat to pin it on.
    The General simply nodded and asked her how she would like to proceed.
    It would have course have been much easier if anyone from the festival had still been here, and on the off-chance of that Lady Miyara actually asked him.  But no, of course, all the nobles had toddled off to their own castles as soon as the festival was over.  They had no reason to stay.  It wasn't like they were going to hang around for the local scuffers to question them about the murder.  That included Miyara Katsuda, the Phoenix noble I was sure we'd come to exonerate whether he'd done it or not.
    Obviously following some kind of protocol, the next thing Lady Miyara did was tell the General that she wanted to pay her respects to Tsume Takashi, his son.
    The old man told us that the new lord was out and would not be expected back until the evening.  Our meeting would have to wait for another time.  Tomorrow would be a better time.

    And with that meeting with Tsume Takashi hanging in our future, that was when our investigation into the murder of Tsume Retsu really began.  Formalities had been dealt with to everyone's satisfaction, and we could get down to real business.  When Lady Miyara asked the General what he could tell her about Retsu's death, he stood up right away and said "Let me show you," and led us all deeper into Castle Kyotei.
    He took us to a building in the central courtyard.  Defenses were solid here, the buildings four storeys high instead of the two storeys of the others, with archers on the walls everywhere.  A garrison of at least 20 samurai in each courtyard would also have had to be defeated to penetrate this far.
    On the top floor was the Tsume family residence, in which Retsu and Takashi lived.  It too was designed with security in mind.  Ten guards slept outside Retsu's door, and down the hall at the far end was a hidden sentry post through which a guard could watch everything.  "No-one can come in this way," said the General, stating the obvious.  Even the building itself was a trap, the flooring in all the hallways -- called a nightingale floor by the Nipponese -- designed to creak when anyone took a step on it.

    Now, you know where this is going, and so did I at the time.  "No-one can come this way" means one of three things: someone came this way and no-one noticed despite the precautions; someone came this way and everyone noticed but paid no attention; or no-one indeed came that way, but there was another way that had not been guarded.  For Retsu was killed, stabbed by a sword or dagger, and had died in his room.  "No-one can come this way," no matter who says it, is invariably either wrong or irrelevant.
    You aren't going to find out tonight which it is.  Come back tomorrow and I'll continue, and over the wine and stew I'll lead you through the tale while you try to figure out the answer.  Maybe tonight's clues will be enough, because there's certainly hints.  But clues or red herrings?  That's for you to guess and me to hold close to my chest until then.  And you over there will hear the story better if it's not my chest you're staring at but my face.  Yeah, you.  That's better, thank you.

    I really can't figure out Nipponese nobles.  All the trappings of nobility and yet they walk while their servants ride, they stay in the local inn instead of a castle, and their rooms are sparse and plain.  But cough the wrong way and a samurai will chop off your head, or his own if he considered it dishonorable to hear you cough.  This was not at all like the Sea Elves, and it wasn't like the western lands the others came from.
    Sparse and plain.  Tsume Retsu's room was small, perhaps four yards square, with very little furniture.  An empty sword stand, an inlaid chest, and a scroll hanging on the wall.  The bed mat had been bloodstained and already disposed of by the etas, while Retsu's katana and wakizashi were considered Tsume family property and had passed on already to Takashi.  A dressing room off the bedroom contained lacquered chests of clothes and personal effects.  Neither room had any windows.
    General Shizuma pointed to the spot where Retsu's maid had found the body a week or so ago.  There were still the faded remains of a dark stain, the blood of the lord of Castle Kyotei.  He'd died simply, falling where he was struck, with no spatter or sign of a struggle.  Stabbed through the heart from the front with no other wounds.  Dressed for bed but standing when stabbed.  No weapon found, but it had been done with a blade, a sword or knife.  He lay there dead until found by the maid the next morning, to be removed and prepared for burial by her too.

    At this point the General stepped out and let us explore for ourselves while he watched from the door.  So what we found was out of his sight.  And we found two things.

    First was an orange obi bead that Lady Miyara came across in the dressing room.  She simply picked it up, noted it, and tucked it away somewhere.
    The significance of that needs a little background.  To keep one of these silk dresses like I was wearing -- a kimono -- closed, a belt sash called an obi is tied around the waist like this.  There's no pockets in these kimonos, but there are pouches tied to the obi, usually here, or sometimes here.  At the top to hide the knot, your fashionable Nipponese use a little carved fetish of wood, bone, or stone called a netsuki.  And then there a bead -- an obi bead -- used to keep the pouch cinched closed.  If you want to make a good impression, and goodness knows every Nipponese from nobles down does, everything has to match.
    More to the point, not only does it match each other, but it should be in the theme of the noble family.  So Phoenix clan might have a netsuki in the shape of a phoenix, with an orange obi bead, while in this castle where's it Crane clan they would have a carved crane netsuki and a blue bead.

    Yes, observant, aren't you?  Nothing gets past my audience today, does it, not even the blindingly obvious.  No sneaking any horses into this inn to buy them a drink, you're way too clever for anyone to get away with that without noticing.  Orange obi bead on the floor.  Right.  While you're celebrating your intelligence, pass the wine this way would you?  Thanks.

    Tony found the second thing.  The ceiling was about eight feet up, wooden tiles suspended from the roof by a framework.  The young Tilean had found one of these tiles out of place.
    I'd been watching my dear Phoebe go into a trance seated on the floor, presumably asking one of her spirits something.  Tony called me over with a, "Molly, come here," and cradled his hands to give me a boost up to the displaced tile.
    I pushed the tile aside and stuck my head through the gap.  There was a small space extending in all directions, over the entire floor with no divisions for rooms or walls.  I figured by spreading my weight out I could crawl pretty much anywhere up here.
    I didn't see anything unusual, not even any scuff marks.  Tony asked if there was anything hidden up there, no doubt hoping for the weapon that killed Retsu, but no such luck.
    I asked Lady Miyara if I should get up and take a look around, and she told me to do so.
    There are advantages to being tall and skinny -- aside from it just looks right, like pointed ears -- and this was one of them.  I went over the whole floor up there but found nothing.  When I stuck my head back down, Tony asked for the displaced tile.  I passed it to him and came down afterwards.  I don't know what he was looking for with that tile, but he didn't find it.

    Phoebe had finished speaking with her spirits and told us what she'd found out.  She said they'd told her that this was the sleeping place of a lonely man, and that was the overwhelming impression.  The death itself was just a subtheme, not a peaceful death, but not extremely violent either.  She stood back up gracefully and rejoined us in our examination of Retsu's rooms by more conventional means.

    The rooms had pretty much revealed all they were going to at this point.  Next was to search the rest of the floor, including looking for any furniture positioned to give easy access to the ceiling space.
    The hallway and stairs we'd already seen.  The guard room was simply a small hidey hole to sit in.  There was a mirror image of Retsu's rooms, Takashi's, and a further set which were unoccupied.  That third set was presumably reserved for if there should be aother family member someday.  The last thing up here was a family shrine, with incense kept burning.  Like Retsu's rooms, none of these had any windows.  Nowhere were there indications of furniture to stand on, no marks on the floor, nothing like that.  A chest from a dressing room could have been used, of course, but there was no sign that one had been, and of course someone could have just jumped up.  Or perhaps, you know, no-one had crawled through the ceiling at all.
    Takashi's room had an empty sword rack and a rolled up bed mat.  It wasn't quite as spartan as Retsu's, where all the personal stuff had been stowed away in the dressing room.  Some of Takashi's chests were in the sleeping area.  Behind the bedroll on the floor I found a hairpin, the kind a geisha might wear.  I passed it to Lady Miyara who said that it was not in the style of a noble woman, but more like an entertainer.  She slipped it in with the orange obi bead.
    The shrine was just a simple shrine.  It wasn't heavily used, probably only by the father and son, or rather just the son now.
    While we stood there, Lady Miyara asked if there was a Lady Tsume.
    General Shizuma said that she died nine years ago, victim of a plague.  He went on to answer a hail of questions from Tony.  Takashi did indeed still sleep in these rooms.  He was a young man, inexperienced.  He was here when Retsu died.  Takashi now carries his father's katana and wakizashi, which as the General had already explained were family weapons.  As for Retsu's dagger, perhaps his maid had cleaned it up and taken it to the armory -- that was clearly a matter well below the General's concern.  No weapons were missing after Retsu's death.
    Done with his quick-fire questions, Tony then observed the obvious, that with these thin paper walls and the ten guards outside, Retsu's death had to be very quiet.
    Grieg, ever harking back to his common background, asked about the maid.  Turns out she'd been with Retsu all his life, even having been his nursemaid and nanny back when he was a child.
    Tony idly wondered aloud about the maid, considering questioning her.  She and perhaps other servants might know something about the body that no-one else would.  He was completely ignored by the General and Lady Miyara -- that was obviously to them such a stupid idea that it would probably have been dishonorable to even consider it.

    Here I should tell you a little thing about the darker side of the Nipponese culture and class system.  The reason the maid was discounted, but even more so where the people who could be the only ones to touch the body, a socially unclean class they referred to as eta.  I won't use the word myself, as the way they said it just gives me chills.  I'm not going to be part of that.  Heck, I don't even refer to the lowest miserable dwarf with such a dismissive tone.
    People deserve respect, no matter what their race or station.  That's a way of life with the Sea Elves.  Sure, we have our haughty nobles, probably worse even than some of the human empires, but we have something else.  We go to sea.  And when you're at sea, it doesn't matter whether you're the heir to the throne or the lowliest cabin boy slopping out the chamberpots, the ship and its survival depends on everyone.  You have to look out for the whole crew no matter who they are.
    You have to respect everyone else even while you look down your nose at them, because if you don't the ship just might not make the next port.
    The Nipponese could use some of that.  And they could use some darned canals or something, because all this walking everywhere when you don't have to gets old real fast.
    Put that on the list when you're appointed ambassador to Nippon.  Respect for everyone, and canals.  Lots of canals.  And don't call anyone eta.

    I'll leave you tonight with that, and our little group taking a last look around the top floor of Castle Kyotei.  Think on this, the obvious and the less obvious, and see where it takes you.  And keep buying me wine and you might eventually find out if you're right.