Tales of the Sea Bitch (17)


    It was 7:30 in the morning when Grieg poited back in with Lady Miyara.  She quickly looked around the room, then told us exactly what happened, in Imperial.  Now we knew what this was all about.
    No doubt Lady Miyara was pondering the thorny issue of Iruko.  As a Shinjo herself, she could be trouble if she found out what was really going on.  She did know that Lady Miyara and Grieg had vanished out to see Niban, but that was all.  Both the note reading and the tale from the meeting were told to us in Imperial by Miwa.
    None of us said a word.  Miwa looked at us in turn, but we said nothing.

    We still had the woman next door to talk to, as well as various guards who could have seen something.  There were guards on people's rooms, as well as on the wall who could have seen what or who smashed out of Himitsu's room.
    Back to the play, Miwa had wondered to herself, the actress was watching the princess for a reaction.  Did the actress know about the princess, and was watching to see if the princess knew too?

    With the remarkable lack of opinions from us, Miwa decided we would talk with the guards first.  A good place to start would be who was climbing around the balconies last night.
    We were escorted to the captain of the guard, who after a while of Miwa persuading him and dropping names, told her we needed to talk to a woman, Asako Hensuko.  She was on the wall overlooking Himitsu's room.
    Hensuko was asleep, but quicky summoned to speak with Miwa.
    She said close to 3:00, she saw a large man smash out of Himitsu's balcony door, and climb down to the ground by leaping from balcony to balcony and then down the cliff face.  It was already snowing by then.
    That would have been hard, but given his obvious skill with a sword that would not be a surprise.  My first thought was perhaps Niban, who was indeed a large man, but then Ryuden was a large man too and I was sure he didn't do it.
    The guard did not recognize him, but if she saw him again she would.
    Phoebe gave the nod.  Hensuko was not lying at all.
    Tony asked how often guests moved from room to room by climbing the balconies, and she said it was not at all common.  It would take a great deal of acrobatic skill.  Tony added in Imperial that Ryuden had said he had done it.  That was just across one balcony to the next, and would have been easy to miss.  It's not like Ryuden smashed down a door.  Tony then said that illusionists could alter sound and sight and distance, and so perhaps could teleport and things to -- from an Imperial point of view that would be true, but this was Nippon.  Still, he had to suspect the performers.
    There were other guards too, of course.  Miwa asked the Captain if anyone else had seen anything.
    No-one reported anything unusual, but the guards outside Ryduen's room last night were Asako Innasai before midnight, and Isako Budo after midnight.  The Captain told us that late in the hour of 11, Ryuden left his room and Innasai accompanied him to Himitsu's room.  They argued.  Ryuden was very drunk, very angry, and the talk almost came to blows.  Himitsu refused to be provoked, and Ryuden returned to his room cursing.  Himitsu was very much alive when Ryuden left.  Innasai did not see him leave his room again.  Budo said that he did not see Ryuden at all.
    The guard on Himitsu's room before midnight watch change said, in answer to Tony's questions, that Koan did not come to Himitsu's room during his watch.  There were no other visitors either.
    Miwa told the Captain that she didn't need to speak to Innasai and Budo yet, but may want to later.

    The next person to talk to was the woman neighbor.  As we walked up there, Tony said in Imperial that this was the lady who would not admit that she was peeping through the hole in the wall.
    The woman was an elderly Dragonfly, Tombo Jehenko.  We were admitted and introduced.  She was apparently timid and somewhat shaken up.
    Tony stood well back so as not to intimidate her, and looked around the room to see what her game object might be.  It wasn't one that we had.
    Miwa very politely asked Jehenko to please tell her what she saw last night.
    Jehenko blushed at Miwa's compliments on her bravery and honor.  She told us that Himitsu had three visitors last night.
    The first was Ryuden.  He was drunk, angry, and shouted a lot.  He left after a few minutes of yelling, and she thinks someone knocked over the sake table.
    The second was the ronin Koan.  That was much quieter, and she fell asleep.  She did not know when he left.
    The last was late in the night, sometime during the 2 o'clock hour.  She heard more shouting from the room next door.  She looked through the hole in the wall.  She saw a small woman she did not recognize fighting with Himitsu.  The fight shifted out of her sight, and when it came back it was Ryuden fighting Himitsu.  It was a terrifying bloody fight.  She hid for a few minutes, then screwed up her courage and told the guard at her door what was going on.

    That settled that.  It had to be the actress.  The Shosuros were undoubtedly skilled in sword as well as disguise.
    I asked, in Imperial, "But why kill him?  And who was behind it?"  Or in Nipponese terms, we pretty much knew who had the sword, but who killed him?
    Tony said the reason he was killed was pretty clear, but who ordered it was less obvious.

    Miwa then asked her if she remembered when the visitors were there.  Ryuden came late in the 11 o'clock hour, Koan early in the 12 o'clock hour.
    Miwa thanked her politely, and we left.

    We returned to our rooms to talk about the whole murder in Nipponese.
    In Imperial, Tony said our goals were to make the murder go away for hte Miyara family, in that he was clearly deliberately implicated.  Second, deal with the Niban issue one way or another.  Third, come out smelling like roses ourselves.
    I said that clearly it was a Shosuro who did it, but who told them to do it, and who told them to implicate a Miyara?  Oh for the west, where if you find out who did it, that's enough.
    Grieg said that even in the west there's complications, like being framed.  His wry smile showed his personal experience.
    In Nipponese, Tony said that if it hadn't been for Koan who would have recognized another mage, Himitsu could have been already dead and the whole scene at the poetry reading was staged.
    That was what I'd thought in the first place, of course.  The part of Himitsu could easily have been played by the missing actress.  That sounded like we needed to speak with the mage, "Eh, Tony?" I added with a smile.
    What was interesting is that right before the poetry reading, Himitsu came to Miwa to ask a lot of questions about Yorushiku.
    I asked if his questions contradicted his later behavior or supported it.
    Miwa said he had been vague, and only later after he was dead did she consider what he wanted.  He was looking for some sort of information about her, certainly.
    As Grieg said, perhaps Himitsu just realized that he had found out about the princess.
    But then Tony said that the meeting with Niban had been scheduled before.
    The letter said, "However, there is something I must first finish.  I have discovered that Y is not what she seems to be, and honor demands that I bring some formal testimony before the court."  So the letter may have triggered his suspicions, and after receiving the letter is when he talked with Miya.  And that also had to be considered with the conversation Miwa just had with Niban earlier that day.

    I asked, "Do we know that the person who came to Miwa was Himitsu and not the actress?"
    Miwa said she didn't check, so we didn't actually know.  He talked to her during the general time between when her father left, and the eleventh day of the horse when the poetry competition took place.
    I agreed that at that point, there was nothing to indicate it wasn't him.  And we did have the eye-witness for when Himitsu actually died, too.

    So when did Himistsu know?  We all agreed that Niban was one of the most honorable people we'd met, and we did not think he would mislead us.
    Tony said that we needed to go back to Himitsu's room and find his token.
    "Why?" I asked.
    Peter asked if he was killed for the token.
    Tony said that if he followed the rules, whoever had the match could have asked him a relevant question.

    We were running out of ideas.  Tony said we had to speak with the maids, both the old one, Yauta, and Nantoko to corrroborate Ryduen's story.
    I said that we didn't need to corroborate Ryuden's story.
    Tony said that we could find out more from her than just about Ryduen.
    Miyara wondered about Himitsu's retinue, but then remembered he was travelling with her father and would not have followers of his own here.
    As for Ryuden, he had a suite much like Miwa's, so while there were others in his suite up until his house arrest, they weren't there now.  They weren't part of any particular conversations, taking less interest in his affairs than we did in Miwa's.

    I wondered if this was the point to re-involve the magistrate.
    Tony, in Imperial, said hte obvious reason to take him out would be to stop the testimony.  That meant there were people who knew it was politically true and wanted to keep it hidden.
    Miwa said there was one obvious person who knew it was true.  Shinjo Gidayu, Yoroshiku's true father.  She also wanted to know whether the Shosuros were playing their own game or if they were hired.
    We really didn't have a reason to talk to Shinjo Gidayu, and as Miwa pointed out we had lots of good reasons not to talk to him just now.  And as I said, we already knew Shinjo Gidayu was without honor.
    Tony then said it came down to whether it was in hte interest of the Miyaras, Phoenix Clan, and the Empire -- in that order -- whether we kept the princess in or out.
    I said that MIwa has given her word that she was supporting Niban.  We did not have a choice.
    Tony said we could out this without dishonoring the Emperor by blaming daddy.
    This was not true, however -- if this got out, at all, it would dishonor the Emperor.  Now he could save face by eliminating her in some other way.  It would solve the long-term problem without the loss of face.  The other side of that is if the princess were to die and it was discovered we were the killer, we would simply be eliminated.  Also, if she were to die in Phoenix territory, particular at or on her way to or from the Phoenix court, that would be very bad for Phoenix.
    Miwa knew that what to do about the princess was above her level.  Perhaps the most honorable thing would be to speak up and take hte consequences, but the most political thing to do would be to reveal it to someone higher up.
    I again suggested the Emerald Magistrate.
    Isawa Tomo would be the real leader of Phoenix, and he blamed Ryuden.  Unless he has something else in mind, this happening at Winter Court under Phoenix meant it was more important to clean it up quickly than to figure out who did it.
    It was Usigo who came to Miwa, however, and he probably actually came to her because of her handling of the Tsume matter.  So he wanted her to look deeper.
    Tony said we can't take it to him, he's out of hte chain.
    I insisted that he's the highest rank of anyone at this court, and we should report to him.  If there was a politcal situation that could save face for the Emperor, he could do it.  And Miwa had to be the person to do it.
    Grieg was concerned about us not catching hell for all this, but although I didn't say it, I thought that was way beyond our control already.
    Of course the two issues did not have to be linked.  Tony said we were to look into this without making political waves.
    Grieg and I disagreed with that strongly.
    Now it was clear that Tomo and Asako were planning to let Ryuden hang for this.  Usigo asked us to look deeper, and I believed we should tell him the real truth.  Whether he let Ryuden take the fall or not, he should know the truth about it.
    Outside us, of course, the matter of the princess was nothing to do with the death.  The death was entirely a Phoenix matters.
    Tony says what we know was that there were three visitors, and the killer either changed faces during the fight or -- as the woman would believe, that there were two people.  No-one knew who the small woman was.  Only one person left the room.  No-one came down the hallway after the killing.  He said in addition we could pass on the conspiracy theory, which cast further doubt on Ryuden, and may or may not help the Miyaras out of our embarrassment.
    Tony asked Miwa who would be next in line to Himitsu for heir to Phoenix Champion.
    Miwa said it was hard to say.  Perhaps Sanru, if he won the hand of the princess.  Another rising star would be Miyara Katsuda, perhaps.
    Tony then suggested talking to the gate guards and asking who came back in before the murder was discovered and the castle locked down.
    Miwa said we probably had enough right now to go to Usigo and talk to him about this.
    I agreed that even if we didn't tell him everything, giving him an update was the right thing to do.
    Tony asked if we wanted to talk to Yauta first, but MIwa said that Usigo should be first, and I for one agreed with her.

    So we went to see Hiruma Usigo.  But as we stepped out, the guard who had been escorting us before was no longer there.  This one we had seen at our door before.
    Miwa asked where the other guard was.
    The guard said he had gone off duty, and that we were free to move about the castle without an escort.
    Tony asked who gave him the order.  The guard said it was the captain, and in fact people were moving around without escort.
    Miwa knew that Asako and Isawa wanted it to go away quickly, and keeping people in their rooms was not hte way to do that.  Once they'd decided who was to be the killer, they could release everyone.
    As we walked on, Winter Court had been cloaked by a bad mood.  Much fewer people moving around, and not the lightness of partying.

    When we reached the foot of the stairs to the floor of Usigo's rooms, we were told that Hiruma asked us to join him for lunch here in his rooms.  The added implication was to go away now and come back later.

    Tony wanted to go back to Himitsu's room and look for his token.  That too would be on the higher floor, and someone would need to convince the guard that we had the right to go up there.
    That was Miwa's job, of course, and she got us an escort to where Tony wanted to go.
    The room had been cleaned up and the bodies gone, of course, and the door had been temporarily by a wall.  The blood had been mostly cleaned up.
    Tony went to look for Himitsu's token, with others helping too.  I didn't see the point and let them get on with it.
    It was quickly clear that all the personal effects had been removed.  We returned to our rooms for a rest and to clean up.

Glossary of people who might be important at the Winter Court.

Otomo Yoroshiku - Emperor's Niece, second in line to the throne behind the Emperor's son.
Hida Yauta - Yoroshiku's maid servant, the big one.
Kitsu Saia - Yoroshiku's maid servant
Kakita Nantoko - Yoroshiku's maid servant

Mirumoto Hansu - Yoroshiku suitor, Dragon Clan
Miyara Sanru - Yoroshiku suitor, Phoenix Clan

Miyara Ryuden - Yoroshiku suitor (sorta), Phoenix Clan

Miyara Ujimitsu - Phoenix Champion, Miwa's father
Miyara Himitsu - Young man traveling with Ujimitsu
(wispers are he'll be the next Phoenix Champion)

Shinjo Gidayu - Unicorn daimyo who started your previous journey

Isawa Tomo - Elemental master (of Earth ?)

Asako Kagetsu - Your host at Gisu Palace

Koan - Shugenga from the village of Nightengale

Shosuro Tage - formost actree of the Imperial troupe

Hiruma Usigo - ranking Emerald Magistrate, just retired, headed for
monastery in spring