Tales of the Sea Bitch (8)

No, Really, Who Killed Tsume Retsu?

    So you've all had time to think about my last story, and now you all know the answer to the mystery, right?  You there, what do you think?  Really, you think a witch hid a sword in the wine bottle and then charmed the guards?  And magicked in a ninja to use it to kill the lord?  Tell you what.  Thinking might not be your strong point, you know, although I can see that drinking is.  You stick to that, while I describe what really happened.  What happened to us, that is.  If you want to hear how it happened as the killer described it, you'll have to wait until next time.  But you will want to hear this story first.

    As for the murder weapon, of course Phoebe could have asked her spirits if Tsume Retsu was killed with his own sword -- now held by Takashi, as it was family property -- but if he was, it would be very unpleasant for my half-elf darling.
    Lady Miyara was the first to voice what we were all thinking, that someone arranged to have drugged wine sent up to Tsume Takashi.  That would have been hard for someone outside the family.
    Even though I suspected Miyara Katsuda of ordering the killing, I pointed out that it was possible for Rika.  She could have drugged the wine and brought it up to Takashi, so that he'd be out cold and she could kill Retsu.  She would even have been in a perfect position to go through the ceiling.   It was the simplest explanation.  It avoided the complexity of arranging for the drugged wine, risking the chance he wouldn't drink it, or any other of the possible ways it could go wrong.  But if it was Rika, would we tell Takashi?
    To which the answer was, of course, that we would tell him what Miyara wanted the truth to be, regardless of what actually took place.  To do that, however, Lady Miyara would first have to find out the real truth, fill in every aspect of it.

    The next step in that was to send the boys to the geisha house to question Rika and the others.  That would have to wait until the evening, so we all just did our own stuff.  Phoebe wandered off for a walk, and although I would have liked to have joined her, I kind of figured she could use some time to herself.  Or to her spirits, as I doubted she'd spend an entire afternoon without talking to them, or them talking to her.
    As for the Sea Elf spirit who was her lover, I just lazed around with an endless carafe of sake, thinking of wind and the sea, and the little wooden things we called ships in which we dared to ride the line between the two.

    Tony, Peter, and Grieg set off to the Pine House before us girls sat down to dinner.  It seemed like we'd all been recharged by the break that afternoon, because theories and speculation ran wild.
    We knew the wine had been drugged, and we were sure and just awaiting confirmation that Rika had been the mysterious visitor the guards refused to mention.
    It was still possible that it was someone disguised as Rika, although in that case the wine would have had to have been sent up beforehand in case Takashi noticed it was not her before he passed out.  The guards could have been fooled by the person hiding her face, since she was a discreet visitor.  Once Takashi had passed out, she could have gone to Retsu's room and back with ease and silence.
    I suggested a further conspiracy, that perhaps one of the nobles' wives had been substituted by an assassin on this visit, with orders to kill Tsume Retsu while here.  That would imply that they knew about Rika before they got here, of course, but I was sure that Nipponese political intelligence was honed to a fine art.  Retsu was, after all, killed with a sword with a very precise blow, which does imply a professional.
    Then there was the question of whether Rika had still been there when he came out of the drugs, because then it would have to be Rika herself.  That however was not something we would be able to find out, certainly not from Takashi after Lady Miyara's questions the previous night.
    So who was Rika?  Was she set up a generation ago to do this?  Who could have trained her in the sword?  Or was Kumiko, mistress of the Pine House, the one who was the agent here?
    I paused my monologue here to ask a question.

    Yeah, I do stop speaking sometimes, believe it or not.  Now shut up while I keep talking.

    What I didn't understand was why she would do it at the festival, so I asked Lady Miyara.  She said that it was an occasion when other potential killers were there, nobles who all had a reason to kill Retsu.
    Then, I said, if Rika made the fatal blow, then who was the killer?  Who was behind it? And who would Tsume Retsu stand still for and not fight back?  He did grab at the attacker, but the attacker did approach him first.  We did know he was not in bed when killed, but he was dressed for it and could have been asleep when the attacker entered.
    Lady Miyara could imagine him not being threatened by Rika because it was a girl, and walking up to her   But how fast could she pull out a sword and kill him?
    Just to get all the possibilities out there -- I didn't think he did it, after all -- but I asked what if Takashi drugged Rika, not the other way around, and killed him himself?  Retsu wouldn't cry out if his son approached him.
    Lady Miyara pointed out that Takashi didn't even have to go through the ceiling.  The guards were conventiently dead now, and so they couldn't be questioned about a son visiting his father in the night.  The guards weren't explicitly asked, but if so they would have evaded the truth and Phoebe's spirits might have picked that up.  Then Takashi would have positioned the ceiling tile to throw anyone of the scent.
    Perhaps indeed the simplest solution would have been for Takashi to have done it.  Simple for him to drug his own wine, after all.  Takashi would then have covered his tracks with Miyara by implying other clans did it.  If each clan thought the others did it, it would be the perfect cover.
    This was getting wilder and more complex.  The answer, although I could see my girl dreaded it, would be for Phoebe to talk with the swords.  We knew Takashi would now be wearing what had been Retsu's swords, while Takashi's previous swords would by then presumably be in the family armory.

    Then the boys arrived back at the Golden Peony.

    Rika hadn't been at the Pine House, of course, Miss Kumiko simply saying that she was otherwise engaged.  She was, however, very proud that Takashi requested Rika often, and told Tony that she'd purchased her when she was a child.  She didn't know where Rika had been from originally.  The Pine House itself had been here for a long time, and Miss Kumiko had inherited it from her mother.  But even Tony couldn't get her to say whether Rika was at the castle on the fateful night.
    Peter added a little.  He told us that Rika was the only geisha not there tonight, and that she was a very private person.  She didn't talk much to the other geishas.  The girl had been involved with Takashi for about 8 months, and as soon as they'd been together the first time he never went with anyone else.
    Grieg of course achieved nothing, although I don't blame him for that.

    Lady Miyara told us, then, what would happen if Takashi had killed his father, and that became common knowledge.  First, someone of importance would have to decide if they cared enough to accuse him.
    Personally I thought that was where it would end.  Plenty of people wanted Retsu dead, and we had yet to meet anyone from the upper classes who were upset that he'd died.  Upset that he'd died on their watch, sure, but no-one was exactly grieving over his death.
    Then, Lady Miyara continued, Takashi would be accused before his lord, the current daimyo of Crane.  Or the accuser could appeal directly to the Emperor, in which case it would all become political.  Retsu wasn't exactly in favor with his own lord, and if Takashi convinced the daimyo that he'd do a better job, then the head of Crane might simply overlook it.  Provided, of course, that no-one of higher rank cared.
    This got Tony thinking.  He wondered if the daimyo of Crane had convinced Takashi that the only way for Tsume to survive was to kill Retsu, and rather than just do it himself tested the loyalty of the new Tsume.
    This was getting too complicated.  I said that it was much simpler if Takashi simply did the job himself.  It fitted perfectly, solved all the issues, and we really didn't have much evidence that didn't fit with it.  That didn't mean it was the case, of course.
    One thing we did all agree on was that Retsu was killed either by Takashi or the person who went up to his room.  That person was probably Rika, but we didn't know for sure.  If it wasn't her, then it was pretty certain Takashi wasn't the killer.  If it was her, it still left the door open for either of them to strike the blow.  Personally I still believed Takashi hadn't done it, but it did simplify things if he had.

    At this point my girl spoke up.  In one of those moments of wisdom that happen when the universe revolves around you, she simply wondered if Tsume Retsu would tell us.
    It's safe to say that none of us had considered that.  I sputtered something about if she had a spirit who would talk to him, but Phoebe gently put me right and pointed out that Retsu himself was a spirit now.  Silly of me not to realize that.  Totally embarrassed, of course, but Phoebe was soft in her put-down and her smile put everything to rights.
    Phoebe asked where the ashes would be, to which Lady Miyara replied that in Nippon the ashes are unimportant and could be anywhere.
    Back in the swing of things again, I suggested we go to where he was killed.  That would be an emotional place for the spirit, and maybe Phoebe could contact him there.
    My girl agreed.  We would go back to Tsume Retsu's rooms and talk to him there.
    Lady Miyara nodded.  Tomorrow we would return to Castle Kyotei.

    Despite Lady Miyara's previous insult of Tsume Takashi, we were well received at the castle.  He did keep us waiting for a while, which Lady Miyara clearly took as a statement about it, but in typical Nipponese fashion it would never be referenced directly.
    Takashi welcomed us politely.  When Lady Miyara told him we wanted to see the murder scene one more time, he said that nothing had changed since we were last there.
    "No," said Lady Miyara, "But what we are looking for has."
    That was good enough for the young Tsume.  He escorted us to his father's rooms.

    Phoebe sat down on the bloodstain.  I sat down next to her, to be her rope, her way back.  I didn't know what to expect when she walked with the dead, but I was determined I was not going to lose her.  Perhaps it was because she'd made it seem such an easy and light thing.  I was afraid she might have hidden from us how hard or dangerous it was.  Sure, there are witches who speak with the dead.  But those just talk.  They don't walk among the dead where the spirits are.

    She closed her eyes and shifted herself to the spirit world.

    I have no idea what anyone else was doing.  I didn't know what Takashi was doing.  All I knew is I would be here, and if Phoebe did get lost I'd find some way to pull her back.

    I needn't have worried.  After what seemed to me an age, but was probably only a few minutes, my dear spirit walker opened her eyes, smiled at me, and said, "Well, that went well."

    I just smiled back.  She would talk in her own good time, I knew that.
    Phoebe stood back up, stretched, and looked around for Takashi.
    Takashi was standing in the doorway, watching her.
    She said, "Your father is with you.  He told me to tell you that."
    "You have spoken with my father?"
    "I have."
    "And he says he is with me?"
    "He does."
    "Does he seem happy?"
    "He seemed content."
    "Thank you.  Did he tell you who killed him?"
    "He did."
    Takashi looked at her expectantly.  I guess we all did, come to think of it.
    Phoebe, however, knew exactly how to answer.  She said, "I'm sorry, but I feel I must speak with the investigating magistrate before telling you directly."
    Takashi accepted that.  He looked over at Lady Miyara.
    But it was Phoebe who spoke to our princess.  She told her, "I believe we have found everything here there is to find."

    Takashi could see we were done.  Lady Miyara requested somewhere private to speak with her shaman, but the young lord was clearly way ahead of her.  He said she could have this room.
    He turned his back and walked away.  We could hear him squeaking along the nightingale floor as he left us to ourselves.

    Phoebe told us what she had seen in the spirit world.  She had found him easily, a very imposing Nipponese warrior in full regalia.  When he answered her questions, he told only the truth, simple and plain.  He said he had been killed by the geisha his son was seeing.  She had killed him with her own sword, a skilled blow.  It had been easy for her to get close to him -- after all, he was an old man, off his guard and half asleep, who believed that a geisha would neither carry a sword or be able to use one.
    As to why she had killed him, Retsu declined to tell Phoebe.  He did say he was sure it was the geisha and not someone pretending to be her.  He then asked her to convey a message to his son, the very same which she had on her return.

    Lady Miyara said, and Phoebe nodded in confirmation, that Tsume Retsu believed it was Rika that killed him.  It could have been someone else, of course, but he truly believed it was her.
    "In that case," I said, "Someone trained her for this."  I added that we still didn't know who killed Tsume Retsu in the Nipponese sense.  We perhaps now knew who struck the blow, but as to who ordered it?  No idea yet.  And as I said, we needed to know that before telling Takashi, or his reaction might rather dramatically narrow down our options for questioning her.
    Lady Miyara agreed, but said that if we didn't tell him now, we would have to close this out quickly.  We should try speaking directly to Rika.
    I nodded.  Phoebe's spirits would tell us whether the geisha answered us truthfully.  And truth was what we needed.

    The truth, however, will have to wait.  You now know whether you guessed right or not about Retsu's death, and I'll let you think on the reasons and killer for a while.  Wine is a great source of ideas, remember, and I suggest you toss our fine landlord here a few coins and use that resource yourselves.
    If you do, he might keep this establishment here open an hour or two longer, long enough to hear the final chapter of my story.  If you don't, you may slip and fall dead in a gutter on the way home, and how could you die not knowing the resolution of this tale?
    I do promise you this: when this bottle of wine in front of me is done, I will take up my story again, and you will know the answer before the night is out.