Tales of the Sea Bitch (7)

All the Answers... Well, Almost

    Well now, when I left off my last story we had just finished dinner with Tsume Takashi, son of the hated and now dead Tsume Retsu, with him posturing and telling stories designed to make sure he didn't end up the same way.  Next was to be the official interview, our princess of the Phoenix clan taking up her role as magistrate of The Miyara.  But as you'll see, this becomes not a tale of the nobility but rather quite the opposite.

    For the official inquisition, General Shizuma joined his new lord.  I must say I liked the old soldier.  Takashi himself despised elves, it seems, but his faithful general had no such prejudices.  Apparently the Nipponese army life, like my own when I sailed with the Sea Elves, didn't leave room for openly hating any person who might just turn out to make the difference between making the next port and being lost at sea.
    After the initial greeting, and Lady Miyara passing along condolences from The Miyara, our princess dived straight in to the matter of the brigands we'd routed on the road.  Well, those weren't the words she used, of course.  She said something about improper behavior of his magistrates at the prayer gate, how they demanded The Miyara pay a Crane tax for increased security, attacked her when she refused, and then ran like common peasants as soon as we fought back.
    I didn't like Tsume Takashi, but I had to respect him.  At Lady Miyara's tale, it was suddenly clear to us all that he had taken on his father's role with seriousness and dignity.  He turned to the General and asked if there were any tax collectors acting on Tsume's behalf, to which Shizuma replied no, they must be bandits.
    Takashi said he'd take care of the matter immediately, and added that if she were ever accosted by tax collectors on his land, legitimate or otherwise, that she should inform him immediately.
    Well, I was thinking that if they weren't bandits before and that was the old Tsume way of doing things -- which wouldn't be surprising -- they'd be bandits now that Takashi was The Tsume, and they were not in for a nice fate.  The son impressed me in his sincerity to change the way this land was ruled.  I still didn't like him.
    Then Lady Miyara launched into her full interrogation session.  I'm sure there were nuances I missed in the formal phrasing and intonation, but it seemed to me like she grilled him pretty hard.
    She quickily established who had been the noble guests here for the Bon Festival, along with their wives and assorted entourages.
    There was Ikoma Ujiaki, the ambassador of the Lion Clan.  There was Daidoji Uji, of the Crane clan, a lower noble carrying a message from the Lord of Crane.  And there was of course Miyara Katsuda, of the Phoenix Clan, lord of the lands that neighbored the Tsume lands.  Well, what were now the Tsume lands, that is, the old codger having torn them away from the traditional Lion lord of this area.
    Posturing again, then, as Lady Miyara asked about Tsume's intentions for the Phoenix lands on his border.  Takashi all but denounced his father's actions, something in the way he said they were "ill-advised" conveying so much more.  He said he hoped to improve relations between himself and those lands, dramatically so in fact.
    I glanced over to my Phoebe.  Her spirits were judging the truth of the Tsume's statements for Lady Miyara, and she was relaying them to our princess with the secret signals they'd arranged.  The spirits were saying he was telling the truth, although to be honest I didn't need the spirits to tell me that.  I had rarely seen a Nipponese being so open.
    Lady Miyara, with her peculiar slant on things, then asked the important question -- not quite the one everyone had in mind, but the right one.  She asked him if he truly wanted to know who killed his father.  And when she said that, what she meant was if he was more interested in who killed him, or who did not kill him.  It was a perceptive question indeed, perhaps more so than any of us realized at the time, and probably more so than you will realize until later in my story.
    Takashi answered slowly, and with a depth of voice that betrayed he was thinking so much more behind his careful answers.  What he said was that his father had many enemies, and that he would be interested in finding out what the Miyara magistrate found out.  He paused then, his expression unreadable, and said that he had no desire for vengeance, but did want to shine a light on the dishonorable and cowardly assassin who killed his father.

    If you've learned anything from sitting in this tavern drinking while I prattle on in front of you, you'll know that when he said assassin, he didn't mean the man who made the hit.  He meant the man who ordered it.  There is no honor in ordering the death of an enemy in his sleep, but there is honor in executing orders -- yeah, "executing," I know -- and performing them with professionalism.  But back to the interrogation.

    Lady Miyara then asked if he knew what Tsume Retsu and Daidoji Uji were arguing about that night.
    Takashi considered for a moment, and said no, he did not.
    Out of the corner of my eye I caught the signal from Phoebe to Lady Miyara.
    If there was ever any doubt among our little group whether Lady Miyara had nerve, that was dispelled right then.  She stared him right in the face and said, plain and without Nipponese doublespeak, just like I might to another sailor, "No, I'd like the truth."
    But where a sailor would leap up and start the expected fight on being called a blatant liar, Takashi retained his composure.  He stared back, and his answer was a well delivered speech.
    "It is of no matter," he said.  "My father is dead, and the issue will be resolved.  As I said, my father had made many enemies."  Here he paused for a long time.  "Crane was exceedingly disapproving of my father's recent actions.  While my father was a loyal Crane, he behaved as a Lion.  I have heard a rumor that my father made a statement to the effect that only death would stop him from continuing in the actions of which Crane disapproved.  It is my intent that Tsume will return to the good graces of Crane.  Of the three men who were visiting my father, you already know why Miyara may have had some dislike for tmy father, you know why Crane disliked him, and in case it is not clear to you Ikoma Ujiaki disliked him because these lands were originally Lion."
    And with that, his tone made it very clear that the interview was over.  He hadn't pushed the table aside and pulled out a dagger, but in the dance of noble politics he'd made it quite clear that he did not appreciate being called out.
    Lady Miyara accepted that.  She'd made the accusation, and even if it was right on target Takashi had answered it well.  There was no more to do here.  She bid him goodnight, and we left.

    We walked back to the village in the late evening.  The air was cool and fresh that night, and Phoebe and I rejoiced in each other, the worries and formalities of the day evaporating away like harbor mist in the morning breeze from the land.

    The next day, Lady Miyara asked Tony and Peter to go track down the low caste servants.  Peter was chosen because he was a physician himself, of course, so would be able to pick up on any details about Tsume Retsu's body.  Tony had planned to go talk to Rika at the bath house, but that would have to wait.  The two of them set off for Castle Kyotei.
    That opened the door for a little light-hearted teasing of Grieg, and of course I didn't waste the chance.  I suggested that since the rest of us had some time, he should go and visit a bath house.  I said I'd heard the geishas were pretty good.  I had to give Grieg credit -- he just looked at me in complete innocence, and in a nonchalant sort of way said it was interesting.
    Lady Miyara also considered having someone visit the holdings of the nobles who had been here for the festival, but decided against it.  Miyara Katsuda's place was a day's travel away, as was the Lion castle but in the opposite direction.  The Crane was four days away, definitely not in her plans yet.

    Peter and Tony returned around noon.  They'd found out little about the killing, but more about the circumstances.
    A man and his son performed the preparation of bodies for the whole castle.  You'd think such a heavy responsibility would command respect, but in Nippon it merely made them so despised that only a derisory word could describe them: eta.  It must have been strange for them to have the north-westerners treat them as people.  Perhaps that's why Peter and Tony found out so much.
    Retsu himself had been stabbed once -- once only -- directly in the heart.  The blade had been the width of a sword, a single neat strike that killed with precision.  He had been in his nightclothes, with no other personal items on him.
    That was the simple fact, that anyone with the right knowledge could have found out.  What was much more important was what came next, the opinion.  And that could only come from trust and equality.
    The son volunteered that he believed one of the servants was the killer.  He said that the man had been found completely drunk the next day, and the rumor was he'd dropped an extremely expensive tea set under those conditions.

    That's drunk indeed.  Like a sailor can fall down a flight of stairs without spilling a drop of wine, a Nipponese servant could perform an elaborate tea ceremony, while stoned out of his skull and seeing double, for four -- or was that eight? -- important guests of his master.

    As they chatted on, the son also mentioned that Rika worked at night.  If she came to the castle, she'd have to had time off from work to so it.  But they could find that out easily enough at the Pine House.

    So Peter and Tony then tracked down the drunkard, who was perfectly sober now.  He told them what he'd been doing that night, none of it of interest, and that he had been saddened by the news of his lord's death.
    As for the getting drunk, he apologized for the stain on his honor.  He had been carrying the tray from Tsume Takashi's room that morning, and there had been a little wine left -- just a drop -- in the carafe.  Next thing he knew, he was stumbling around drunk, and so much so he dropped the tray and was sent off to sober up.  But he had slept most of the rest of the day, and had no idea how he could have been so drunk on so little wine.

    And that cracked the mystery right there.  Now you know how it was done and who did it, although you might still be a little lost as to exactly why.  I'll let you think over the answer to that one while I finish off a "little" wine myself.  I believe there's more than "just a drop" in this bottle, and I don't intend it to be left for a servant to drain.

    I'll still be here when you've thought it over, and I'll pick up the story when there's a fresh bottle beside me and a full glass in my hand.