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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.