Tales of the Sea Bitch (18)


    We'd cleaned ourselves up and were ready to visit Hiruma Usigo for our lunch invitation.

    About an hour before our appointment, a messenger knocked on the door.  He stated that Miwa's presence was required by Miyara Katsuda.  She told us to follow her, and we left immediately.
    The hallways were still somewhat empty, even though the curfew had been lifted.  Nevertheless, just as we reached the stairs, one of the guards was hurrying down the stairs speaking quickly and quietly to the guards at the bottom of the stairs and along the way.  He was saying that the Princess was coming downstairs and did not want to be disturbed, and everyone was to step aside as she passed.
    About three minutes, the Princess and her retinue -- just four guards, and two of her maids, Yuata and Saia -- came through.  No-one disturbed her, of course, as she headed down to the lowest level.
    We continued to Katsuda's rooms.

    Miwa went through the expected introductions and small talk.
    Now, Miwa knew that given the victim and presumed attacker were Miyara, if Ryuden were the actual killer this would be a big stain on the Miyara name.  Just that he looks guilty is a big stain in itself.
    Aside from Ryuden, Katsuda was the ranking Miyara here.  Katsuda would be responsible for clearing it up.  Now if he formally charged Ryuden with the crime, and no-one argued it, then Ryuden would die dishonored.  It would, however, be much less of a mark than dragging it on.
    Once Ryuden was charged, of course, he would not be allowed seppuku... but if someone were to warn him it was coming, he could at least restore some honor that way.

    Katsuda came straight to the point.  He asked Miwa that if he charged Ryuden with Himitsu's death, would she argue against it?  Would she stand for Ryuden?
    "Yes," Miwa said.
    Katsuda asked her, "How so?"
    Miwa said, "Because he did not kill Himitsu."
    Katsuda asked her why she said that.
    Miwa replied that she had spoken to Ryuden, and she believed him when he said he did not kill Himitsu.
    Katsuda implied with his next words to ask if Miyara would die for her belief in his innocence.  The Nipponese, of course, sounded nothing like that.  But would she duel to the death for her belief?
    "Yes, I would," she said.
    Katsuda said that in that case he would not bring formal charges and put her through that, but added that someone else might bring forward charges and she should be ready.  He then asked if she knew who actually killed Himitsu.
    She said she did not know yet.  She was looking into it, but she did not yet know.
    He asked if she would know today.
    She said she would try, but didn't know.
    Miwa had no questions herself for Katsuda, but said she would return if she did.
    Katsuda said he was eagerly awaiting good news, and formally and politely dismissed her.

    It would work like this, one of two ways.  If someone could argue that Himitsu's death was somehow a stain on their honor, even though it was internally Miyara, then he could bring charges to Ryuden to duel him to the death for his honor.  Also, someone could decide to stand for Himitsu and charge Ryuden with his death.  In both cases, Asako Kagetsu would be the obvious one.  The judge would also be Asako Katsuda,  and the ranking Phoenix -- Tomo -- and probably Himura Usigo as well.  Asako could refuse to allow anyone else to join him and be the sole judge, but that would have political implications.  The potential judges would talk about that between themselves.
    It could be a peaceful court, someone to argue Himitsu's side.  Ryuden might be allowed to argue his case, or someone appointed to do so, or others may be permitted to speak for either side.  Were he to be found guilty, he would be required to die with dishonor.  If he were found innocent, nothing would happen, of course.
    In addition, if while the trial was going on, if anyone decided their honor was impuned, they could demand satisfaction.  Again, the judges would decide whether that duel would go forward.
    It could come down simply to a case where the judges decide that they want to have a duel deciding it, a trial by arms.  And in that case, Miwa would very likely be fighting if she defended Ryuden.

    We still had a while before lunch with Himura Usigo, so we were going to return to our rooms again to spend the half hour there.  That's when Tony suggested we talk to Nantoko to confirm Ryuden's story.
    The guard at those stairs, however, told us that Kakita Nantoko was sleeping and not to be disturbed.
    In Imperial, Tony wondered why would someone tell the guard at the bottom of the stairs that a fairly low-ranking samurai who just happened to be on the third floor was sleeping and not to be disturbed.  He was thinking that the maid might be pretending to be the Princess, wondering if the three people we saw were really those three they claimed to be.
    Miwa didn't necessarily take Tony seriously, but she agreed that the question of the maid was a little odd.  It was odd that she was not with the Princess -- she was either very sick, or had fallen out with the Princess, or the Princess was a very kind woman and let her stay behind if she was not feeling well.
    Grieg pointed out that she could be dead.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought that wouldn't be inconsistent with "very sick" or "falling out" of course, but I think only Grieg believed it.
    Miwa, however, couldn't be told what to do by a maid.  She said this wasn't a social call, she was investigating Himitsu's death at the direction of Himura Usigo, and the guard should back down.
    The guard, instead, cautiously and politely said, "By Princess's orders."
    Grieg said in Imperial that the maid was dead, or at least a prisoner.
    Phoebe told Miwa that the guard spoke the truth.
    There was nothing we could do about that, of course.  But it left Tony even more puzzled.

    The only people at lunch were Usigo and his personal attendant, Hiruma Arawa, who always accompanied him and was now serving us lunch.
    During lunch, Usigo lead a delightfully inconsequential conversation. Grieg and Tony made a couple of gaffes, and he didn't really talk to them much after that, but he was pretty pleasant anyway.  It was clear he didn't want to talk about the obvious during lunch.  He talked about events before the murder, and so on, but not the murder itself.
    At the end of lunch, Usigo indicated we were to retire to the balcony, where the weather was much warmer today, and would discuss the matter at hand.
    We all trooped out to the large balcony and sat around the table while Arawa served us tea.  It was obvious that our conversation could not be overheard.
    Once we were settled, Usigo asked Miwa what she knew.
    Miwa said that Miyara Ryuden did not kill Himitsu.  "That I know," she said.
    He asked if she knew who did.
    She said she didn't exactly know.  She said that Himitsu very publically implied that the Princess was perhaps not who she appeared to be, and that he was going to bring evidence for that.  Shortly thereafter he was dead.  So the person who was responsible for his death was perhaps a person who would not want that known.
    Usigo said that was almost every loyal citizen of Nippon.
    Miwa told him the story about the princess that Niban told her, without naming names.  She attributed the story to the unknown witness.  His lord was the actual father of the Princess, and has never stepped forward to claim this.  She continued to say that the witness was told to kill herself.  From Miwa's point of view, she said, the dishonor -- then, now, and all the years in between -- lay entirely with the man who was deceiving the Emperor by allowing his daughter to pass off as someone else's, propagating a false heir.
    Usigo looked at her for a while.  "If such a story were true, in addition to disgrace on the house of this lord, it would bring great dishonor on the house Otomo, and dishonor on house Hantei."

    Of course, in Nippon, the story would not be true until someone made it so.  Truth was a matter of honor and reputation, not necessarily of facts.

    Miwa said that the house of Hantei was the soul and center of the Empire.  What would happen if the Emperor was not Hantei?
    "That would be very bad."
    "That cannot be allowed to happen."
    Usigo spoke indirectly and poetically, but what he basically said was that truth was belief, and belief truth.
    Miwa also spoke indirectly, but pointed out this problem could be solved silently by someone much higher up.
    "Of course, but I believe you brought this up as a way to clear Ryuden."
    Miwa said it didn't necessarily have to be connected.
    Usigo said that her theory was that this unnamed lord was the actual killer.
    Miwa told the story that the neighbor related.  So unless the unnamed lord had hidden abilities, it was probably not directly him.
    Usigo said he knew the neighbor lady's story.  He asked how that cleared Ryuden.
    Miwa said that she believed it was someone who was pretending to be Ryuden, but not Ryuden himself.  She believed it was one person there, not two.  She added that the killer left the building, crashed out and went all the way down from the balcony, and yet he was obviously here.
    Usigo agreed it was interesting, but they were not conclusive of much.  Ryuden could have got back in any number of ways, including asking the gate guards not to tell anyone about it.
    Tony apologized as a foreigner, but said that Ryuden couldn't just say he was just drunk and picked the fight too early.  Would that be less dishonor.
    A fight between a man with a sword and a man without one? I said.
    Tony said it was the word of the woman looking through a hole in the wall, and who is to know when the sword came out?  Perhaps it would be less dishonor.
    That did not impress Usigo.  He turned to Miwa and asked who she believed the one person who changed himself to look like Ryuden was.
    Miwa said she didn't know why this person would do so, but she believed Shosuro Tage had the ability and she was missing from the skit at the poetry contest, although she was there beforehand.  Why would she disappear?  She also mentioned her suspicion that from the earlier play, that the actress at the very end was specifically watching the princess for a reaction.  Now after the fact, Miwa thought that perhaps she knew and wondered if the princess knew.
    Usigo acknowledged what she'd suggested, and wrapped up this direction by saying that either Asako or Tomo would bring charges against Ryuden this evening, and if she intended to present a case for Ryuden, it would have to be better than what she had.  He wished her luck in that endeavor, and advised her to be very careful with the other matter.
    Then Usiko said he had one new piece of evidence. "I was away from my room all morning.  When I returned to my room just before lunch, I foiund among my hand wriing tools, a small note. "  He handed it o Miwa.  He said he did not write it, and as Arawa did not learn to write, it could not be him.
    "Three little kittens
      And the Emperor's Cat
      Stares in the mirror
      And sees two."
    Miwa said, "So someone else knows and wants it public?"
    Usigo looked at her with his playful smile.  He obviously thought he knew the answer and wanted her to figure it out.
    Tony apologized and asked one more thing.  "Ryuden had spoken to Nantoko last night, but we have not been able to speak with her.  Were you able to speak with her and see if Ryuden did indeed reach her?"
    Usigo very slowly and somewhat sleepily said, "No."  He did not turn to look at Tony, just remained looking at Miwa.  After a short while, he appeared to have fallen asleep.
    My opinion was that the kittens were the Hanteis, and one of them was an illusion, not really a Hantei.  I stated it quietly.
    Suddenly Phoebe leapt into action.  She had noticed that Usigo was not breathing.  Peter was a moment behind her.  They were too late.  He was dead.
    I said, "Poison, or natural causes?"

    Tony stepped to the door, glanced at Miwa for her approval, and called for Arawa.  No-one answered.  He drew his sword and stepped into the room.  No-one was there, but there was a guard outside the door.  He asked the guard if Arawa had come out, and he confirmed he had, five minutes ago.  After checking with Miwa, he went back to the guard and said, "Usigo requests Asako's immediate presence."
    The guard left in a hurry.

    Peter had been checking Usigo.  He said that he was poisoned, and that it was in his cup but not in ours.

    Five minutes later, Asako arrived.  He came out to the balcony.  It was obvious what had ahppened.  He asked how he died.
    Miwa said he was poisoned.
    By whom?
    Arawa poured the tea and left, Miwa said.
    Asako immediately ordered a search for Arawa in every corner of the castle.

    At least it couldn't have been Ryuden.

    Asako stood looking at the body for several minutes.  We waited.
    He then looked straight at Miwa and said, "Did you do this?"
    "I did not."
    He continued to stare for a long time, then said in a part order part request voice, "Find out who did, quickly and quietly."
    Asako then left.

    The only person left with us was our guard.   I suggested to Miwa that she tell him to stay here and not let anyone in.  She didn't have to tell him not to say anything -- he was there when his lord was, so he knew his lord's wishes already.

    I ask Phoebe if she could speak with Usigo.  She would love to do so, she said.  I smiled.  Usigo had to be the most pleasant spirit she'd talked to for quite some time.  She went into her trance, and slipped over to the spirit world to look for him.

    Peter, meanwhile, was trying to determine what poison had been used.  He wasn't familiar with the details, but knew enough that it was clear the poison was some kind of clear sticky solution smeared on the inside of his cup, subtle, powerful, and fast acting.
    Tony did a search of the room, checking everything.  He had in mind that Arawa had been replaced.  There was no sign of foul play, or any sign of poison.
    Miwa remembered that Arawa had been missing the night before, around the murder.
    The two of them didn't say it, but both thought Arawa had probably been dead for some time.
    Tony found what he believed was Arawa's token, along with the bedroll and personal items -- a small jade egg.  There was no blood anywhere, no indication that Arawa had been killed here.

    I sat on the floor with Phoebe.

    ((Usigo's spirit was there, looking at his own body with curiosity.
    Phoebe spoke.  "Who do you think Arawa really was?"
    Now he looked surprised.  He turned to look at her.  He spoke a short poem with the theme being did we know who anyone really was.
    Phoebe looked at him and said, "The spirits always know."
    "Arawa did not do this."
    "No, but someone pretending to be him did.  Unless you did it yourself."
    Usigo shook his head.  Phoebe's spirits did not tell her whether that was the truth.  He said, "A skillful imposter."
    "You don't know who did?"
    "Is there someone here you don't trust?"
    Usigo paused, then said, "No."
    "No-one at all?  You trust every single person in this castle?"
    "You must understand, child.  I am no longer in this castle.  But as for your question, when I was in the castle, even then I trusted everyone to act in their nature."
    "Someone is acting very much in his nature."
    "Everyone always does."  He paused, then said, "Perhaps you would like to know if I had any enemies or suspect anyone of my murder."
    "Of course,"
    "No, I had no enemies that I know of, and I was very careful to let no-one know my opinion on Himitsu's murder, so I don't believe anyone killed me because of that.  In short, I don't know why I was killed."
    "And yet you were killed, and someone did send you that cryptic poem."
    "And what is your opinion on Himitsu's murder?"
    "I no longer care.  It is no longer important."
    "Is there anything you do care about?"
    "I care that Miwa learns who murdered me."
    "I'll let her know."  She then said, "What's your opinion on the meaning of the poem?"
    "I believe Shosuro Tage wrote and delivered the note."
    "Why do you believe that?"
    "This morning when I left my room, I told Arawa that I would not be needing his services this morning.  When I discovered the note, I asked the guard outside my door who came and left from my room.  The only person who came and left was Arawa.  Arawa had little need or desire to leave the room today.  Arawa didn't write the note, and of the people I know, only Shosuro had the skill to have looked like Arawa."
    "Where do you think Arawa is now?"
    "I don't know."
    "Do you think he is still alive?"
    He paused at that, and said, "I don't know."
    "I'll see if I can find him.  What do you think Shosuro Tage's purpose in writing that note to you was?"
    "Child, why do you think she wrote that note?"
    Phoebe thought about it, then said, "Why would she write that note and then kill you?"
    "Why indeed?"
    Phoebe shook her head and said, 'Nipponese politics are very confusing."
    "No, they're not.  Well, if you insist."
    "Are there any other messages you would like me to give to anybody on the other side?"
    "No thank you, child."
    "You know where I will be if you wish to speak to me."
    "OK," he said.
    Phoebe then looked around for Arawa, to see if he was here too.  She could not find him here, and returned to her body.

    Phoebe came back, told me, "I found him.  He was very nice."

    There was a knock on the door.  Tony answered it.  It was the guard, who said that Arawa's body had been found.  It was in an empty room not too far from here.  Tony took Peter, and Phoebe wanted to go too, and of course me, but I had one thing to say to Miwa first in Imperial. "We're forgetting one thing.  It might not be important, but we don't know what Koan can do."
    Phoebe gave everyone a quick summary.  I spoke to Himura. He doesn't know why he was killed or who killedh im.  He believed it was Shusuro Tage who wrote and delivered the note by pretending to be Arawa.  He wouldn't say what he thought her purpose in writing that note for him was, but why would she write that note and kill him, unless there's another actor involved."
    I said, "Well that comes back to Koan, maybe, somebody else can do it, and so it probably wasn't Shosuro who killed HImitsu."
    Tony said, "Maybe she's saying that there are three heirs, but the Emperor only sees two, implying that Tage herself is the third?  If Tage happened to take the place of Yoroshiku and is the real heir, nobody's indiscretion is...  Someone has to disappear for that to work.  That's not a polite thing,"

    The guard directed us to the room.  It was indeed a short way from there, just a couple of rooms down.
    It was set up as a sitting room.  In the corner, a large chest, such as for clothing, Arawa was curled up in a fetal position.  The chest had the family Hiruma on it and so was out of place here.  The body was in the chest, which was open.
    Peter checked the body.  He was strangled with some kind of rope or cord.  He died several hours ago, and was put in this box several hours ago, anywhere between two and four hours ago.
    That chest would have been hard to move.  We would need to check with the guards to see when the chest was moved here and by how many people.  TOny confirmed there were no other Hiruma family members in these rooms around here, so it had to come from Usigo's room.  He asked  the guard to find who was on duty here this morning, and who came and went, and if they were carrying anything.

    Phoebe looked around the room getting a feel for the area around here and the chest.
    ((She didn't get any strong readings off the room or the chest.  He was probably not killed here, and not killed in the chest.))
    She came back to my anchor and said that wherever Arawa was killed, it wasn't here.  Since she didn't see Arawa around when she was in the spirit world, she didn't think it was worth checking for him such a short way away.

    The captain of the guard arrived about 15 minutes after Tony asked.  He told us that Usigo himself asked the same question, so he had already researched it.  He told us the names of the guards, and that the door was always guarded.  His assistant Arawa was the only person who came and left.  The captain did not know whether he was carrying anything.
    Tony pointed out to hte captain that the chest had Hiruma's crest, and wanted to know if Arawa or anyone brought it here.  If he did, he carried his own body.
    The captain said that it was clear that this was Hiruma Usigo's chest, and it is clear that Arawa did not carry his own body out of the room.
    Miwa said she wanted to know if Arawa carried this chest out of the room this morning.
    The captain said he would check.

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