Tales of the Sea Bitch (10)
It was after dinner on the day we arrived that The
Miyara sent for our princess. Of course we had barely been in the
place a few hours, so it was surely time to send her off again.
There would be a festival hosted by Phoenix at the
shrine of the Ki-rin, and Miyara has the honor of guarding the scrolls
on the last leg of their journey. It's a wizards festival in
fall. They gather above the shrine to eat, drink, and show
off. The winner receives a cache of scrolls from all over the
empire. traditionally Isawa (a Phoenix family) wins, but not
always, so it isn't predictable and stays interesting. It's also
an excuse to politic. Emperor's family and daimyo from seven
major and some minor clans attend. This time, the emperor's niece
Okomo Yoroshiku will be there, and her uncle the emperor has just
announced her eligibility for marriage. Suitors from every clan
will be there to win her heart and hand... or at least her hand.
The head of Isawa sends out a caravan to very major
school, to get one unique scroll spell from each. The winner
takes all of them. It takes the caravan several months, and each
daimyo provides guards for certain legs of the journey.
Guess who gets to be the guards for the last leg...
We were to meet the caravan near the City of the
Rich Frog, at a Unicorn clan castle at the edge of their lands.
We were to escort it from Unicorn to the Ki-rin shrine.
The caravan itself would have a set of guards, and
Lady Miyara would take command of them as well as bringing us. It
looked just like a merchant caravan, not saying what its precious cargo
is. It wouldn't have the number of guards such a cache of
valuable scrolls justified. We are there to protect the scrolls,
nothing else matters.
The road would parallel the river. With a
perfectly good river there, we would have the honor of walking.
We of course would not be awarded Yorushiku's hand,
but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a shot, right? But the
priority would be for a boy from Miyara to win it.
The journey there is uneventful. This time we
didn't have to walk, but could ride horses. Donku rode on the
wagon, of course. The trip was long enough to learn to
ride. Can't say I liked it much, but it beat walking.
We approached Shinjo Gidayu's castle after about
We beat the caravan there, and would stay as guests
until it arrived. Our host was to be leaving the next day, but we
were welcome to remain here and take advantage of his castle. The
castle was small, but contained a couple of rock gardens and a hedge
maze in the gaijin style.
Phoebe dances around the hedge mazes.
I like the rock gardens and find them a fine place
to practice my bow. I do well.
Two days after we arrived, so did the caravan.
They paused to water the horses and take us on, and then it was back on
the road. The previous guards, Lion clan, handed it over to us
and stayed on at the castle after we left. There were six of
them, looking obviously samurai Lions, making no attempt to avoid
Three wagons with silks, spices and other wares to
be sold at the festival, drawn by 6 shaggy ponies. Five Unicorn
merchants are there to disguise its true purpose. 15 bushi
guards, the most that can be taken without drawing attention, are with
us. 7 are mounted on horses. The scrolls are in a large
cedar chest of 36 boards, locked with three bands of steel. It
sits at the bottom of the second wagon under a pile of 40 fur-lined
cloaks and 13 leather goods. A shugenja (wizard) from the Iuchi
school has been assigned to watch over the scrolls at all times, eating
and sleeping there, sworn to defend them to the death. The guards
were most recently covering the front and rear, four horses in the rear
and three in front, the walking guards in and out and between the
wagons, taking turns on guard or resting on the wagons.
Tony volunteers to take up position at the head of
the caravan, under his breath saying something about magic users.
He was wearing his chain under his Miyara silks. He was keeping a
very careful eye on everything while not appearing to do so. He
tried to blend in by carrying his Nipponese weapons, although his
shield hung ready to hand.
Phoebe of course was also dressed in the silks,
blowing in the wind as she rode. I stayed alongside her whenever
the terrain and guard duties permitted.
Me, I stuck with my elven leather. I looked
odd anyway, just as well stay prepared.
Miyara rode a pattern around the whole caravan,
looking like she
was just enjoying the ride, but actually covering a precise path to
keep watch in all directions.
Donku's wagon fell in behind the third merchant
wagon. Phoebe's horse seemed to have a mind of its own and
followed that wagon.
Peter rode in the second wagon, with the single
merchant. They had assumed that the wizard would have wanted that
seat, but of course he stayed below decks with the cargo leaving that
The road was just wide enough for a wagon, although
the countryside was grasslands so we could ride alongside most of the
way. The land was hilly, but we paralleled the river most of the
time so at least I could see water.
At about halfway, a week into the journey, we
approached Dragonfly castle. Dragonfly was one of the minor clans.
Before we reached it, we were met with a Dragon
patrol. The Dragon Mirumoto family recognized the Dragonfly
province as a protectorate and sent patrols for their borders. It
was lead by a Dragonfly but with Dragon troops.
They asked us for our travelling papers. The
Dragonfly Samurai-ko (lady samurai) asked for our papers and our
purpose in travelling through Dragonfly lands. Lady Miyara told
her the truth about our journey.
The lady pointedly asked Lady Miyara if there was
any business with or news to pass on to the Dragon. When Lady
Miyara said there was not, she escorted us to Kyuden Tonbo, the castle
of her Tonbo family.
We were met by Tonbo Sodan, son of the daimyo, a
pleasant faced man who seemed to take an instant liking to us. He
welcomed us in. Tonight we would be sleeping in the castle.
Lady Miyara wanted set up a guard at all hours on
the caravan, even though -- or because -- it was inside the castle
walls, but that could be taken as an insult to our host. The
shugenja of course was not leaving his wagon.
The wagons remained in a courtyard in the corner,
while the horses were moved to a stable.
Tony suggested the gaijin be described as sleeping
in the open so we could guard the wagons. I countered with us
staying up all night drinking -- or pretending to drink -- with the
partygoers rotating in and out to guard. Tony didn't like the
idea of being drunk, and said he wasn't that good pretending. I
said he was amusing when he was drunk. Tony let that pass, but
allowed that he was not effective when drunk.
The castle set a guard. Tony told them that
after his experience with skaven he didn't like to sleep inside, so if
it was ok with them he'd sleep in the corner out here. Lady
Miyara backed him up, and they accepted it.
The servants, Donku and Sun, were taken to the
bachelor servant quarters and would sleep there. Sun was told to
keep an ear out for any gossip, and passed that along to Donku in turn.
Over dinner, our host told tales of Dragon cousins,
and we were entertained by slight-of-hand magicians.
Overnight Tony tried hard to look like he was
sleeping while actually keeping guard. He was helped in this by
Peter, who produced a herbal concoction to keep him awake all night.
The night passed uneventfully.
In the morning, soon after sunrise, Tony became
aware that the shugenja (Iuchi Taiga) was yelling in an angry
voice. Tony met him as he came out of the wagon, and the shugenja
told him that someone messed with the scroll box last night. He
marched straight past the boy and complained to the head of the guards
Tony waved to a servant and told him to tell Sun
about it, quickly. He himself saw nothing out of place with the
chest, still under its pile of goods.
The guard apologized profusely, as Taiga continued
to lay into him about his failure. After a few minutes of that,
while the guard took the tirade appropriately.
Lady Miyara arrived at the same time as Tonbo
Sodan. As soon as the son of the lord arrived, Taiga began laying
into him instead. Tonbo took it with humility too.
While all this was going on, Tony slipped into the
wagon and checked on the chest itself. It looked completely
untouched, exactly like it was before.
The head of the guard, when there was a lull in the
tirade, spoke quietly to Tonbo. None of us could hear it, but the
host looked even more embarrassed.
Miyara now walked up to the shugenja and asked him
what happened. He said that somebody opened the box of scrolls
last night. She asked if anything was missing or harmed in any
way, and he said it was not. Except the honor of these guards and
himself, of course. He saw no-one.
At this point, Tonbo turned to Miyara and said that
it had come to his attention that one of his shugenja -- dishonorable
cur - had taken upon himself to sneak into the caravan and copy some of
the scrolls. Taiga said that was stupid, as copying them would do
no good, as the scrolls themselves have the magic, not the
writing. Nevertheless, Taiga turned up his tirade another notch
about how our host had failed to guard this most important set of
Miyara asked Taiga if he was completely certain it
was the original scrolls in the chest and not the copies. He said
he was certain.
Taiga finally crossed some line, and Tonbo turned
from unhappy humility to anger at the insults, and both men were
getting more and more angry at each other.
Tony walked over to our mage and asked him to show
him the scrolls. He said that he thought the chest had been
opened more than once (a lie) and to show him right now!
Taiga said what do you mean? what are you
Show them to me! Prove that my honor is still
Tony had broken up the argument successfully, as
Taiga left Tonbo to show him. He shows the tricks that he used to
detect tampering. There was a small piece of leather behind hte
lock, and another inside, that showed that they had been moved.
He showed Tony the scrolls. "See? See? See?"
Tony apologized. He didn't care if he lost
face, as long as it protected Miyara. He had pretty much ordered
Taiga into the wagon, and now his military attitude carried it off
too. He said he'd make sure that one of their bushi was with him
for the rest of the day, right outside the wagon.
Meanwhile Miyara tried to calm down Tonbo. The
lord apologized for losing his temper, and accepted Miyara's
statements. He suggested that the caravan move on as quickly as
possible, and that he would supply us with an escort to the end of
Dragonfly lands, and that he would deal with the offending shugenja.
Miyara asked what "deal with" would mean.
Tonbo said that he would be dismissed.
Miyara said in a steel but casual voice that this
matter touched on the honor of Miyara as well.
Tonbo said, "He is yours to do as you wish."
Miyara told him to deliver him to her at his
Tonbo snapped orders to bring him, and the guards to
mount up as the caravan would be leaving immediately.
Lady Miyara told Sun to gather everyone, and with
typical barbarian alacrity woke us up and got us moving. He even
burst into our room without knocking, considering it more important to
fetch us than be appropriate to a non-Nipponese.
Tony stationed one of the guards at the back of the
wagon, saying that there had been a breach. All of them had been
watching the argument, and when it was clear they would be leaving,
they were packed and ready to leave in seconds.
By the time Phoebe and I came down, ready to leave,
the horses were all saddled and the caravan ready. The merchants
were last to be ready.
The offending shugenja was delivered by the captain
of the guard and thrown at Miyara's feet. She told a couple of
the guards that he was their responsibility and that she would deal
with him later when we were moving.
By now Tony had posted a guard behind all the
wagons, so it didn't single out the scroll wagon. As we walked
on, though, they simply moved around as before. Posting them
behind was to calm our shugenja and get him out of the argument.
We all moved out.
As we moved out, Tony told us that there was an
intrusion by an overly curious mage that indicated a lack of
observation on several parts. He points out to Miyara that for
hte captain of the guard to know it had happened, he had ot let it
happen. The shugenja, however, would have outranked him and it
wouldn't be their place to question them.
I asked if anythign was missing. Tony said hte
scrolls were copied and read, but our mage says the original was still
there and the copies would be useless. I then asked if anything
was added, and our shugenja says there was not.
I am concerned that we were rushed out before we
could find out what really happened. I don't think it was what
appeared to happen. The magic tricks of the night before made me
suspicious of anything that seemed open and shut.
Towards the end of the day we neared the end of
Dragonfly lands. Our escort from the castle wished Lady Miyara a
safe journey and left.
We continued another hour or so, and then came to a
small village. Sun and Donku and a guard fetched food while we
set up camp.
I asked our mage to check the chest again, making
sure it was exactly as it was before we arrived, the same chest and
everything. He reported it was. Peter agreed that it was
the same chest, but noticed that there were no complicated markings --
it was a new chest, and so would be easy to copy. (Phoebe nodded
to Lady Miyara that our mage was telling the truth.)
I tell the mage that I am sure theat something is
wrong. I don't know what, but it was poistnless to abreak ot make
a copy. So something else happened. The copy is a
distraction. I don't believe that the other mage is just an
idiot. I asked him to be careful, keep an eye on everything,
don't make any normal assumption. I don't know what's worng, but
I have a fleeling that something is terribly wrong and we can't see
it. The mage takes me seriously and says he will stay
aware. I ask that if he notices anything -- a slight
discoloration, anything however unimportant it may seem, that he brings
it to Lady Miyara's attention.
Lady Miyara shares my concern, but unlike me she
thinks there is a slight chance of finding out what. I believe the best
we can do is confirm that something is wrong, but it's too deep to find
out what yet.
As soon as we were settled, Lady Miyara set about
interviewing the offending mage. All of us samurai were in
attendance. Two guards held the mage firmly.
M: Tell me exactly whaqt you did last night.
I snuck out ot hte wagon. I sniuck inot hte
wagon. The mage was asleep inside. I was very quiet, and I
opened the chest. I managed to copy four scrolls before dawn, and
I left just before dawn, locking and putting back hte scroll box as I
had found it.
(he is telling the truth)
Is that all that you did?
(he is telling hte truth)
((I realized that it was a distraction.
Somehtintg else was the real purpose. I said nothing yet.))
why did you copy the scrolls? What good did oyu
think it owuld do?
I beleived that with some effort I coud... if not
actualy be able to cast the spells, I would learn a bit more about how
their magic works.
(he is telling the truth)
was this strictly your own idea?
(that is the truth)
how did you open the lock?
I have a spell.
How did you get past the guards?
I simply walked past them.
(both those are true)
I ask, how did you know the scrolls were there, and
there in that wagon?
any magic user can see them.
M: did you do anything to help the shugenja inside
the wagon sleep?
No, that is not one of my skills.
(This mage is Mirumoto Ekai. He's young.)
I ask, so you are a Dragon and not a Dragonfly?
M: how long have you been here at this castle?
and where were you before?
A school. He gave the name of a mirumoto magic
why did you come here?
I needed a job and this is where I was
accepted. There was no particular reason beyond that.
Miyara looked at me. I had no other
questions. I didn't think this was important.
M: do you know how many people you have insulted
with your honorless actions?
He looked down and said that he was sorry, but no,
he did not know.
(everything has been the truth)
I said I had no questions for him. I had
further discussion, but not for him.
For now, Miyara told the guards to continue watching
over this person very carefully.
Ekai addressed her, "Lady, may I be permitted to
restore my family's honor?"
Miyara told him, "Soon."
We had six more days of travel. We were
currently in unowned land, and would remain so as Ki-rin shrine was in
The rest of us went out of earshot. M asked
what I wasnted to say.
Yes, I thjink we've been misdirected. We were
rushed out, and we haven't checked anythjing erlse. The chest was
distraction from what else has changed. The other wagons, their
loads. Perhaps there's a duplicate chest in one of hte other
wagons. Perhaps something has been aded to anable a
spell. Perhaps they dyuplicated one of hte the wagons. We
should check absolutely everything in very fine detail. Even a
hidden compartment in something.
Lady Miyara agreed, but we had ot do it overnight
because we ere on a strict schedule.
If our mage can do it, I suggest he shoudl check for
any other magic around. He says there is none, except for
Phoebe's scrolls. So we're looking for something mundane.
We go over the caravan in excruciating detail.
Tony is best at searching for hidden things, and Miyara too,and I look
as well. Peter even chips in to help.
No-one found anything remotely of interest.
"The less we find, the more worried I am," I said.
But as Lady Miyara pointed out, we simply had no
choice but to go on. We had a schedule to meet.
((Dragonfly is perhaps the most important of the
minor clans, not because of any cultrual reason, but because they are
the only ones who mediate between the restof the world and
Dragon. no-one talks to the Dragon without going through
Dragonfly. Only through Dragonfly is there any access at all to
The festival is held in the same place every year,
and always hosted by Phoenix. A Phoenix won last year.
Lady Miyara went to her captive and allowed him to
restore his family's honor properly. But before he was allowed to
do so, one more question from me: what did he do with the copies?
He said that Tonbo Soban destroyed them.
M: did he see Tonbo destroy them?
(both were the truth)
I asked how Tonbo Soban found out about the copies.
I told him.
When he came to me this morning.
What did he say to you?
He asked what I had done in the wagon, and I told
him that I had made copies of the scrolls. He asked for them, I
gave them to him, and he tore them up.
We noted that Tonbo knew there were copies before
this guy told him. This guy is, however, speaking the
truth. It is possible the guards knew what he was doing because
he was there for several hours. Even so, it still worries me.
I insisted that the scroll copying was not
important. It was not the danger. But we haven't found
anything else. I agreed withj Lady Miyara that this guy doesn't
know anything else. He's not important.
I said, maybe we're being too paranoid, but that's
our job. We were all focussed on the scroll wagon, and ignored
everything else for some time, and that's what worries me. We'll
know where it happened, but not what, not yet...
Miyara finished, "...until it's too late."
The man asked for a knife, and asked one of the
other guards to be second. The guard looked to Lady Miyara for
approval. She nodded slightly.
The man got down on his knees, and stuck the knife
into his belly. The second stared for a little while, then took
out his sword and cut at his neck, taking his head off cleanly.
((The spokesman of the guard came to Lady Miyara
later and said that the shugenja needed to be disposed of, and no-one
here could actually do it. The right thing to do would be to walk
back to the village and hire a peasant to do it, except that he came to
her for the money to do it. Lady Miyara called for Sun, and told
the guard to arrange it with him. The guard was gone for about an
hour, and the matter would be settled tomorrow.))
With nothing else to do, we slept for the
night. Apparently Phoebe wandered off sleepwalking, and I was on
guard on the other side.
((The other guards at first called to her, asking if
she was all right and what she was doing. Then they raised their
voices at her, louder.))
I heard the guards, calling on the other side.
"ma'am, ma'am. where are you going? are you all
right? ma'am?" I went to investigate.
Phoebe woke up suddenly, standing there staring into
space. I gently lead her back to where she had been sleeping, and
she woke up on the way. She was in a somewhat stunned and
I told her the spirits walked her off and
everything's fine and she can go back to sleep. I made sure she
was settled and then went back on guard.
I wondered to myself why the spirits chose to walk
her away tonight, just reinforcing my paranoia. Of course it was
possible everything was exactly as it seemed, but last time I said that
Lady Miyara agreed that it was unlikely.
But the rest of the night passed peacefully, and