Tales of the Sea Bitch (8)
No, Really, Who Killed Tsume
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"And he says he is with me?"
"Does he seem happy?"
"He seemed content."
"Thank you. Did he tell you who killed him?"
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
But it was Phoebe who spoke to our princess.
She told her, "I believe we have found everything here there is to
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
He turned his back and walked away. We could
hear him squeaking along the nightingale floor as he left us to
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
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
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
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.