Tales of the Sea Bitch (9)


    Lady Miyara pointed out that she is sure Takashi did not kill him, something I'd thought for a while.  As she said, he would not have sent Rika, he would have done it himself.

    Lady Miyara opened the door.  Takashi was waiting expectantly at the top of the stairs.
    She said, "We are not sure yet who was ultimately responsible for your father's death.  I have one more lead to follow, and I believe I will have an answer for you very soon."
    Takashi said, "Do you know who the assassin is?"
    She paused for a long time, and said, "We are not completely certain, no."
    "But you suspect?"
    "We have two possibilities.  I think we can clear that matter up very quickly if you will let us on our way."
    "What do you intend to do when you find the assassin?"
    She paused again, and says, "It somewhat depends on who the assassin is, but I suspect that we will need your help in ferreting out the one responsible behind it."
    "When you discover who the assassin is, would you do me the honor of allowing me to know before you carry out justice?"
    I thought he knew the answer.  He was asking us not to kill Rika unless we were sure, and let him know first.  (If it's a samurai, we can't kill him on the spot.  If it's lower, we have the right and possibly duty to carry out the sentence on the spot, which would be death.)
    Lady Miyara agreed, and thanked him for his assistance.  We walked past him and down the stairs.

    It was still morning.  We walked to the Pine House to speak with Rika.
    I suggest positioning Tony at the back.  I said I'd like to stay near Phoebe because we know Rika can handle a sword, and if the lady in charge taught Rika, then that's another swordsman.
    MIyara says "You doubt I can protect Phoebe?"
    I say she might want someone to protect her back while she's doing it.
    Peter suggested stopping by the Inn to pick up some more muscle, Donku in particular.  It's not a bad idea to back up Tony, who'll have Grieg there too.
    Miyara asks me if I want my bow, and I say yes, and I'd like to change out of these silks.
    She says I look almost respectable, but does so with a smile.
    We stopped at the Inn to pick up bow and change into my normal clothes, while Tony picked up his shield.  Tony picked up Donku too, the cook carrying a frying pan and a butcher knife in a wooden holder.

    Tony took charge of guarding the outside, in the front with Grieg while Donku covered the back, with Sun also in the front but hanging back from the front line.  Peter came inside with us ladies.

    Miyara knocked at the door.  There was no prompt answer.  She tried to open the door, but it was bolted.  Then she started to pound on the door.
    After a short while, a large male voice said "Coming!  coming!"  That was followed by unbarring the door, and the bouncer opened it.  He said, "We're closed."
    "I don't care.  I need to speak with Rika right now.'
    He said she wasn't here and didn't know where she was.
    Mi demanded to speak with mistress Komiko.  She did not let him shut the door, but went in.
    The man shuffled off into the back.
    Several minutes pass.  "time to secure the building."
    Mi says, "Let's go."
    There is only one floor, built much like the hotel with rooms around a central courtyard.  It's smaller than the hotel in that all the rooms are on the courtyard with the hallway around the outside.
    There is no-one in any of the front rooms, where the entertainment would be.
    Me and Phoebe went left, looking through all the rooms, while Peter and Mi went right.
    We found nothing until the back hall.  There were smaller rooms on both sides of the hallway back there.
    ((Mi on the back hall found a room with five women, none of them Rika, none dressed in geisha garb, just normal clothes.  Reading, talking, sitting.
    "Where is Rika?" said Mi.
    They all look frightened, then one of them stammers that they don't know.
    "Stay here, don't go anywhere," and Mi continues on.))

    Second door on the back hallway has an old woman (Madam Komiko), and she's sitting eating and reading.  Bouncer is there, talking with her.
    "Where's Rika?" I said.
    "Who are you?" she said.
    "Where's Rika?"
    "We are not open.  We are never open for you.  Leave."
    "I am here at the bidding of the magistrate of Miyara.  She needs to speak with Rika."
    "I don't know where Rika is.  She went out this morning, I don't know where she is."
    "Is that true?" I asked Phoebe.
    Phoebe said., "No."
    "Who are you?"
    Komiko gives her name, "Proprietess of the Pine House," and stands up.
    I shouted, "Lady Miyara, Komiko is here."
    Lady Miyara joined us while Peter checked the rest of the rooms ((a kitchen, storage rooms)).  She stood there looking imposing and dangerous, and said, "I need Rika now."
    (You have to see Kimoko's point, suddenly these elves burst in and shout at her.)
    Ko stands up firmly and says Rika went out this morning and doesn't know where she is, but she will be back in time for opening tonight.
    I looked over at Phoebe.
    Phoebe nodded, "This time that was the truth."  (Of course I assume something it was something in the phrasing that made the first one an evasion.)
    Mi told her not to let anyone else here to leave for the day.  If Rika shows, she is to keep her here and not let her leave.  Mi said she would leave one of her people here to come and get her when Rika gets here.
    Me said, "Might I suggest Tony and Grieg."  This was one thing where Grieg's power would be ideal.
    Mi called for us to meet at the front door.  She told us all that Rika was not here, but was due to return tonight.  Tony and Grieg she orders to stay here and not let anyone leave to warn her, and to fetch her as soon as Rika turns up and keep Rika here.
    A 10 year old. boy walks up and asks if we are looking for RIka.  He says he knows where she is.
    Mi says to take her there.
    Tony and Grieg are to stay here, with Donku to cover exits.

    The boy lead us to a part of town we'd never been near.
    I was watching for trouble, of course, and expecting it.  As we rounded a corner at a jog, I suddenly realized it went into a dead end, but with doorways all along here.  I looked immediately for the guys across the street waiting to close it up, and there they are playing dice and definitely not paying attention to us.
    I said, "It's a trap."  I'm sorely tempted to take down the child with the bow.
    "Bring them on," I said with a smile.  "Shall I take down the kid?"
    Miyara told me not to let him get away.  I took that to mean plug him if we're attacked.
    It was about 40 yards down this dead end street.
    When we were half way down, the boy turned around and said she was at "That house," the one at the end.  He continued to jog straight ahead.
    The men had got up from their dice game and were walking down the street a long way behind us.
    We continued to chase the boy as he went towards that door.
    We reached the door, and still no-one had made any threatening moves.
    The boy stopped and was just waiting.
    The men up the alley were about ten yards down the street.  I put my bow away as Lady Miyara knocked loudly on the door.
    Doors all down the street started to open, but not this one.  In each of the doors was a fighter, armed and armored.  There was no insignia.  They were ronin.
    The boy was looking a bit worried.
    The door was barred as Lady Miyara found when she tried to open it.  She kicked the door open.
    Immediately into the light stepped another armed and honored man, who said,  "What do you want with Rika?"
    "I need to speak with her," said Mi.
    "She's not available.  Why do you need to speak with her?"
    "Make her available."
    "Rika is well liked around here.  You will not get any help in attacking her."
    "I have no intention of attacking her.  I simply want to speak with her."
    "What about?"
    "It is none of your concern."
    I am really starting to like our boss.
    "I'm afraid I am forced to make it my concern."
    Mi opened her mouth to speak, but before she could do so his blade leapt from his scabbard.  She drew her katana and wakizashi, while I whipped out my rapier.
    She dodged his blow expertly.
    I covered her back.  "Come on, you dogs, show us what you've got!  I got a rapier here says you got nothing!"
    Peter and Phoebe were somewhat safely between us.
    None of them are close enough to me yet.  I beckoned them with my rapier, shouting, "Bring it on!  Davy Jones take the last one!"

    Behind me, the swordsprincess slashed into her attacker.  He collapsed.  Lady Miyara stepped into the room, told us to follow her in and bar the door.
    Reluctantly I blew them a raspberry and closed the door behind me.  The boy had run away down some tiny gap between buildings.
    As we went in, they charged.
    "Guard the door," said Miyara, like I needed telling.  I took up position eagerly, "Come on, who's going to be first!"
    First was someone who caught me while I was shouting, a perfect blow that I had no chance to defend.  That hurt, hurt a lot.
    ((Miyara checks the man on the floor, who is not dead.  He is now.))
    Phoebe shouted to me to duck.  I made sure I did so in my move, but it compromised my attack which only struck lightly.
    ((Phoebe mind blasted him with a fatigue attack))
    ((Miyara covered what was now our backs, inside the house))
    I failed to parry the next blow, was struck and went down.

    ((Miyara stepped forward, pulled me out of the way, and covered the door.
    Peter ran over to me, while Phoebe was there already.
    Miyara struck, slicing home hard.))

    I woke with Phoebe sitting exhausted beside me.  I grinned at her broadly, patted her, and sprung up to join Lady Miyara.
    "Haha!  Takes more than that to take down the Sea Bitch!"   Quietly to Phoebe, "Thanks, love."
    Miyara strikes again, wounding him heavily.  He limped back while the others stepped back.
    The stabbed one moves to the rear and passed out, while the others formed a half circle about five yards from the door.

    This is a one-room building, and there's no-one alive but us here now.  The scurvy knaves outside haven't moved.  It's either a retreat or an attempt to draw us out.
    "So, now that's settled, where's Rika?"
    They do not react.
    Lady Miyara said, "I only want to speak with Rika."
    They looked at each other, some decision was made, and they all began a guarded retreat in a circle looking at us.  They stepped over the unconscious comrade.
    I sheath my rapier, loudly and obviously.  Miyara joined me and put her weapons away too.
    When they reached far enough to outrun us, they turned and ran.
    There was no sign of Rika.  There was no sign of the boy.
    I turned back to check on Phoebe.  I asked if she was ok, and she nodded.
    Lady Miyara did not look satisfied.  I was exhilarated, eager for more.
    She said that we wouldn't find Rika now, she wouldn't be back.
    I quickly searched the room and the now headless body.  The man was armed and armored, but with no other personal effects and no identification.  The building was someone's home, obviously it had been occupied as by someone poor.
    I said, "OK, those guys were samurai, right?"
    "They are ronin."
    "What's that, aside from something you don't tell foreigners."
    "No, it's not a secret.  Samurai who don't belong anywhere.  They have usually behaved dishonorably and cast out of their families or clans."
    I didn't comment on how exactly that describes me, but I laughed anyway.
    "So what now?"

    Phoebe somewhat reluctantly asked for ten minutes.  Miyara nodded her approval.  I had thought of it, but couldn't think of anything she might get that would be worth the discomfort.  Phoebe sat down, and I sat down right next to her, her rope to anchor her here.

    ((Phoebe tries to look back past the battle.  Aside from the fight and death, there aren't any emotionally significant events in this place for the last ten days.))

    Phoebe came back to our side, and said that she didn't think anything important had happened here.
    I asked Miyara, "Could this band of ronin be hired by someone, or do ronin not get hired?"
    She told me they could be hired by anybody.

    "Um.  No.  That won't help."
    "Are you sure?" Mi.
    "The dead person wouldn't tell the truth to us anyway and it would be very painful."
    "I've never tried to reach anyone this recently dead."
    "And it would be painful?"
    "I don't know.  I would only be wandering the spirit world.  I don't know whether he has made his way there yet.  What do you want me to ask?  Who hired him?  Where's Rika?"
    "Well, all we really want to know is who ordered the death of Tsume Retsu.  Rika can go free if we get that, right?"
    I looked at Miyara, who nodded.  "The ronin is unlikely to know who ordered the hit, but he might know where Rika is."
    "Well, it's a chance.  If he can tell us what we want to know, if he can give us that so we don't need Rika, he's protected her."
    Miyara muttered that now the ronin is dead, his contract would be over.  Death does that to contracts.
    I was definitely looking at Miyara in a whole new light after this escapade.  I had no problem following her now.
    Miyara guarded the door while Phoebe did her stuff.

    Nothing answered Phoebe's call.  She found no spirits here.  I tell her it was worth a try.  She says he is a lost soul.

    This street is of one-room hovels, five of which disgorged armed men.  There are more hovels here than ronin who came out.
    We walked back up the street, Lady Miyara hoisting the unconscious man to her shoulder and carrying him.  We brought the weapons too, so they didn't fall into unworthy hands no doubt.  She looks to me to open the doors all the way down the street.
    The armed men came out of rooms which looked lived in.  Further up the street there were people in them, peasants who just live there.  I asked each one whether they'd seen Rika.  No-one knew who Rika was, and Phoebe's spirits told me that was the truth.
    Peter asked if anyone knew that boy.  No-one knew that either, and that too was true.

    Well, we had someone to question.  I mentioned that we should probably leave people at the Pine House just in case.
    Miyara wondered where to question the man.
    I started to suggest Tsume Takashi, let him hear directly, but stopped and acknowledged that Miyara probably did not want that.
    We returned to the Pine House.
    I say with a smile that I'll watch out for the boy.  You know, for five, ten years.

    We went directly into the Pine House when we got there.  We told Tony about the ambush and that Rika wasn't at the end of it, but we had someone to question.  No-one had arrived here or left, said Tony.
    Tony rearranged his watch, now more interested in who might be approaching rather than leaving.  He asked Grieg to pass along the information to Donku about what happened to us.
    Miyara told Tony that if he thought of something to ask, he could come in and join us.

    Miyara took the man into one of the empty rooms.  She said, "I'll need Peter and Phoebe with me at least, and I assume you'd like to be there, Mehli?"
    I nodded.
    Miyara asked Phoebe to heal the man enough to make him conscious.

    Phoebe and Peter huddle over the body, cooperating to work on the man, Peter's Shalia spirit no doubt restoring the strength Arati took out of Phoebe.  I kind of tuned out their conversation, just relaxing for a while after all the excitement and exercise.  I did wonder if somewhere out there, there was a rumor spreading that you can't kill elves, you kill them but they spring right back up.

    The man regained consciousness.  He was now awake, surrounded, and unarmed.  Miyara stood over him looking threatening as Phoebe quickly stepped back.
    Slowly he rolled over to his belly.  Had to be some crazy Nipponese thing.
    Miyara told him to sit up.
    He got onto his knees, turned to face her, and bowed over his knees.
    Miyara asked him if he knew where Rika was.
    "No," he said.
    "Phoebe, is he telling the truth?"
    Phoebe nodded.
    "Why are you guarding her?"
    "I am not."
    "Who do you currently work for?"
    "I am not working for anyone."
    Phoebe continued to monitor his truthfulness.
    "What then were you doing?"
    "Ito requested that we help him deal with you."
    "Who is Ito?"
    "Ito was the man you spoke with in the house."
    "Who was Ito working for?"
    "I don't know."
    That was not really the truth.  Phoebe said, "He knows more than that."
    "Tell me what you do know."
    "Ito was well liked arund here.  He helped out a lot.  He was a good man and a good leader.  I don't believe he was working for anyone."
    That was the truth.
    I laughed, wondering if we just killed the leader of the downtrodden oppressed people.
    Miyara said, "Why do you think he set himself up against us?  We have offered no harm to anyone."
    "He didn't tell me."
    "Tell me what you know about Rika."
    I laughed again.  "It 's a peasant revolt.  It's a peasant revolt."
    Kimiko opened the door and shouted "What are you doing in my house?"
    I said, "Not killing you, which would be our right."
    "Renting a room," said Miyara coldly.  "Now, Rika."
    "She is a geisha in the Pine House.  She is rumored to be seeing Takashi.  She is friends with Ito."
    I looked over to MIyara to see if she would let me ask something.  She gestured to me to wait, and asked if he knew her.
    He said he'd met her.
    I asked, "Who trained her in the sword?"
    He looked up at that with genuine surprise, and then astonishment.  We didn't need Phoebe to know that was genuine.
    "Who killed Tsume Retsu?"
    "I heard it was witches."
    "I didn't ask you what you heard."
    "That's all I know."
    "Do you know anyone who was plotting against Tsume Retsu?"
    "No."  He leapt up and ran towards the window.  I leapt to hit him with my rapier while Miyara went to tackle him, which she did.  UNfortunately as the two smashed into the window, I stuck Miyara.
    "Wait," said Miyara to him, "I'm going to let you go.  I just want you to know that I intend Rika no harm at all, I just want to talk to her.  Feel free to tell that to anyone else or her directly."  She gets up.
    He looked to see if we really mean it, then walked out the door.  Miyara accompanied him to make sure Tony and the others let him out.
    "A cask of sake says this was a peasant's revolt and not high-class politics."
    Miyara laughed, "I knew you had another theory in you!"

    After some thinkling and talking it occured to us to ask people around the town who this Ito person was.  He was a ronin about 45, 50,  who hung around town and they didn't really know why.  He did odd jobs for people, everything from helping with houses to taking care of bandits.
    Eventuallly we found out that he was friends with Rika and spent a lot of time with her.  THe madam hated that, because he wasn't right for Rika, especially when she was much better off getting set up with Takashi.
    Finally, we went to look for Rika at Ito's house, and that's where she was.
    Ito lived in a hovel outside town, near a shrine, off the path from it.  Smaller if anything than the place we killed him in.  When we arrived, Rika was sitting by the fire.  It was a small poor building, but well kept and clean.  There was a shrine to either Ito's or perhaps Rika's parents in the back corner.
    Rika was boiling water for tea and fish when we opened the door and looked in.  She said hello and offered us tea and fish.  She was not dressed as a geisha, but as a peasant.
    Miyara thanked her, and knelt on the wooden floor.  Phoebe went in with her, and I followed Phoebe.
    Rika went through the tea ceremony.  She was very good at it.  She served us each tea, as well as herself.  Miyara in particular watched her carefully to make sure she couldn't drug us without drugging herself.
    When the tea was served, she offered us fish.  Again Miyara accepted, again watching her.  But Miyara was clear that there would be no business until this was over.

    When it was over, Rika looked at Miyara and asked, "Are you going to kill me here?"
    "No, I am not."
    Rika said nothing.
    Miyara said, "Will you tell me why you killed him?"
    "Yes."  She paused for dramatic effect.  "This is my confession.  Two decades ago Tsume restu defeated my father in a battle and seized our castle as his own."    father and brothers died, wifes killed themselves to avoid catpure.  Most samurai seppuku'd, only she and her brothers survived.  BRos killed by retsu, she was sold into slavery and to komiko it hte pine house.  But not all of his sam died.  A few became ronin, among them a yuong sam call Ito.  Watvched at distance, when she was old enough cisited him.  Taught her of heritage, family, it'[s destruction by TR, taught her the sword, toook care of her.  She met TT eight months ago.  He fell in love with her, sent gifts and tokens, signs of affection, she encouraged but never felt them.  Prepared for revenge.  Night of murder went ot servants gate where a fuard bribed to let her in as often.  Drugged TT's sake, while he slept snuck over hte wall into TR's room.  Woke him up, told him who she was, her true identity, and stabbed him.  He died immediately.
    Not that I'll say it, but that sounded pretty darned honorbale.  Actually I do say it.  "That sounds pretty darned honorable."
    Miyara said, "What are your intentions now?"
    Rika said, "Ito and I have plans to leave here and get as far away as we can."
    "So you intend to live out your life as ronin?"
    "Yes, well no.  At least initially."
    "I'm afraid Ito is dead."
    Rika sighed.  She was obvisouly extremely saddened by that.
    "Knowing that, are your plans diffrerent or the same?"
    "The same."
    "Good luck," said Miyara.
    "Thank you."
    Miyara gave her Ito's swords.  She then bid her farewell, and we left.

    It was getting dark.  Even so, it was time to talk to Takashi.  We walked to Castle Kyotei.
    We were welcomed at the gate, and told we were expected.  We were handed off from guard to guard through the courtyards, then walked through some rooms.  The escort told the non-samurai -- Donku and Sun -- to wait there while the rest of us were shown int a room where TT was painting.
    He continued painting, but told us to be at our ease.  He offered us sake.
    We accepted, and made ourselves comfortable.
    TT looked at Miyara expectantly.
    Lady Miyara said, "I have an interesting fable to tell you."  As a story, she told Rika's confession.  It's a good story, told well.
    "And what happened to the heroine?"
    She rode off into the sunset, slipped quietly into the night never to be seen again, etc etc.
    TT does not seem to be surprised.
    (The only question remaining now was did he know all along?)
    He too tells a story.  It's aout a young man who did not get along with his father and fell in love with a geisha.  It had got so bad between him and his fathr, his fatehr was going to send him away to scholl to get him away from the geisha.  He was then faced with the dificult decision whether to disobey or not.  He woke up the next mornign to discover that his father was dead and he didn't have to decide, but it was his lover that had killed his father.  Despite not havingt to make the choice, he still lost his love.
    He asked Miyara if she'd be willing to carry a letter to her father.
    Of course she would.
    The letter is not sealed, handed to her rolled shut but not sealed shut.

    She does not read it, but her father eventually tells her that it is a heartfelt thanks and glowing praise of Miyara's handling of the question of who killed his father.

    We returned to Shira Miyara, and uneventful but land-based trip.  More walking.