Tales of the Sea Bitch (22)


    Grieg and I were sick with some strange disease.  We just stayed on the wagon while the group travelled on, looking for the abductors by conventional means.
    Overnight Miwa and Toni had managed to organize the rabble of about thirty warriors into something resembling a fighting force.  The two of them continued working with them all day, figuring out what skills they had to offer.  Miwa picked several of them who volunteered for scout duty, and sent them to fan out ahead of us to look for the kidnappers.
    Nothing happened that day.  None of the scouts found anything, but we made better time on the road than we had the day before.
    Phoebe checked us out, but wanted to wait until the next day before trying again.  Peter came in, however, and worked his goddess stuff, and our fever broke but we were extremely tired.  We'd need another night of rest.
    Phoebe wasn't done for the day, though.  She went off into the spirit world to see if she could find the princess, but she was nowhere to be found.

    The night passed uneventfully.
    By morning, Grieg and I were feeling rough, but able to go about as normal.  Apparently what I was feeling was much like a hangover.
    Miwa guessed that we would reach the village that day.  The scouts were to come back once they'd observed the village, making sure they weren't seen.

    Two of the four scouts returned and said they found nothing.  They reached the turn into the valley of the village, and came back as ordered.  It looked like the village was preparing to defend itself, or at least everyone seemed to be worked up.  They didn't seem to be mounting any particular defense works, just not doing their normal activities.  They were all standing around in the village square.
    I volunteered to go talk to them.  Miwa said no.  I said someone had to stay here to keep this group from massacring the village.
    The leader's intention was to march the group into the village and look for the princess.
    I insisted that there would be a massacre if they did that.  I wanted to go down to talk.
    Miwa said she had to be the one to go down alone, having had previous contact with Niban and the village.  She could perhaps locate the princess rather than go into a pitched battle in which the princess could be harmed.
    In quick succession, six volunteers sprung up to go with her, including of course Iruko.  Grieg and I also insisted too, although they fell on deaf ears.  Miwa chose to take Iruko part of the way, and stop where she could observe.  If Miwa was slaughtered, Iruko would come back and tell the rest of us.

    I didn't care.  Right away, I slipped out of camp to get into a position where I could get a good shot at the square.

    ((Iruko went to Toni to replace her, because if Miwa died she would have failed, and she would have to kill herself after reporting back, and she doesn't want to do that.  So she wanted Toni to sneak behind and get the message back while she protected Miwa.
    Toni told Miwa that none of us were comfortable with her and Iruko going in, and that at least half the time Grieg should be on a peak observing, and if there was any indication he should come back and start moving in.  That was a minimum.  He suggested I should be involved in this, but I was nowhere to be found.  He went on to say that Miwa needed at least Iruko with her so she didn't look weak, with Grieg watching and ready to go back.  Also Iruko was claiming her honor was based on this.
    Miwa reluctantly agreed.  Grieg would go off to a peak, while Iruko would accompany her.  Everyone else was to stay behind.
    Toni moved the group closer before starting this operation.
    The two of them walked towards the village.))

    The square seemed to be divided into two groups, one behind Niban, one behind his second in command, and the two were arguing in very loud and angry tones.
    When they saw Miwa, the argument slowed down but did not completely stop.

    I was practicing shots, visualizing shooting one and then the other.

    As Miwa came closer, Niban was shouting that there was no reason, no reason at all.
    Second, they are samurai we are ronin, no need for reason.
    N do not believe it
    S don't care what you say, as soon as steel hits your flesh you will believe.

    As Miwa, with Iruko, came in, she could see that the village was set up defensively.  Archers on rooftops, trying to stay hidden.  She reached the edge of the village square, and the argument stopped.
    They all looked at Miwa.  No weapons were drawn, but it was clear that they were ready.
    It was clear that Niban was furious.
    Miwa called out a polite greeting to Niban and asked to speak with him.
    He just shouted, "Why are you here?"
    M we're looking for the princess.
    N said angrily What prince... why here?
    S to N said They are stalling!  Don't listen to her!  she was looking around as if attack was imminent.  Many other ronin were doing so too, expecting an attack.
    M ignored S.  She said to N calmly, because we found a note apparently from you that said you had her.
    N looked and her and snapped What?
    S looked at N with shock and said, Oh my god!  I knew you were crazy!  She looked back at N and said he's talked of kidnapping the girl but I never believed he'd actually do it!  She turned to some of the men behind her, and said Search the village!  Three of them ran off to do so.

    I looked for patterns in her motion, her outbursts, her reactions.  I was getting ready for the One Shot, even though the chances of finding a pattern were slim.

    Miwa considered carefully, trying to figure out if she could be sure S was trying to set up N.  She thought N was clearly crazy.  He'd lost his composure.  He'd already started to unravel back at the bridge, and he'd obviously been getting worse.
    Miwa asked S (Tobuko, now "T") when N returned to the village.
    T paused for a moment, then looked at M and said We will wait to see what the search turns up.  She paused again, and said We wouldn't want to jump to conclusions.
    M It appeared you had already jumped.
    Suddenly, the searchers pushed their way through, the princess between them.
    N flipped, jumped, grabbed the princess and backed away from everyone, knife at her throat.
    T snapped out orders to several people, to tell them to back off.  It was clear it was between M and N now.
    N was muttering Fucking Shinjo Gidayu!  He tried, he tried so hard, it's a lie.

    They were standing still.  It was a standoff.  I prepared the One Shot.  I felt myself as I would take aim, I could hear and feel the arrow, watch it strike him in the face two hundred yards away, watch him drop the knife in shock and release the princess.

    As I did this, M was stalling him, talking him down, trying to defuse the situation.  Miwa was easing slowly towards him.  At about ten feet away, he seemed ready to give up.  He dropped the knife and pushed the princess towards her.
    N Go on then, serve your lord, kill me.  I am after all only a ronin.
    Miwa paused.  Laying hands on the princess was death anyway, but if he didn't kidnap the princess then there would be mitigating circumstances.

    I did not take the shot.  I knew I would have taken him down, killed him with the One Shot, but only I would know.

    M made sure the princess was ok, then asked N directly, Did you take her from the castle yourself?
    N said nothing.  He stepped forward quickly towards the girl with her sword, and slammed it down on her head and struck her down.  As he did so, he looked at M and said, Of course not.

    I should have taken the shot.  I had expected Miwa to be able to protect the princess.  Not my fault, but I felt miserable anyway.

    Miwa whipped out her sword and attacked him.  They started fighting, as Iruko dived across to join them.

    I would shoot the best I could.  It was long range, and I couldn't make the One Shot, but I could plug in a few arrows.

    ((Grieg poited back to Toni and told him he killed the princess.  Peter and Phoebe both demanded he take Phoebe to the princess.  Toni told him to to do that, then come back for him.))

    Niban was looking really good.  Miwa was badly hurt, and Iruko couldn't seem to land a blow.

    My first arrow bounced off his armor.

    Grieg and Phoebe arrived, just as Niban fell to the ground.
    Phoebe rushed forward, grabbed the princess's spirit and tried to push it back into her body.  She fixed the body ready for the Princess's spirit, and went looking for it.

    Toni and the troop galloped in on horseback.

    I walked down towards the village dejectedly.  At this point the only thing I could do was support Phoebe if she needed it.  It would take a while, since the road was a fair way around, and walking through the rice paddies didn't seem to have much point.

    ((Phoebe found the princess's spirit and respectfully tried to get her attention as the girl walked away from her body.  The princess stopped, turned around and listened as Phoebe tried to convince her to go back.  It took a short while, but it worked.))

    Miwa had passed out by now too, while Iruko tended to her wounds.

    The villagers fled their town as quickly as they could, including T, while the samurai rode in.  The place was empty by the time Toni and his group got there.
    Toni ordered that the village be searched, and to find out the full story, before any attempt was made to pursue the villagers.  The leader rejected that with an exclamation, and lead the samurai straight through to attack the fleeing civilians.
    Nevertheless, a handful pulled up alongside Toni.  He set up a short perimeter.

    The princess was awake by now.  Peter checked Miwa first, then when sure she was stable, he took care of Phoebe.

    I walked into town without anyone really noticing.  Over the next hour or so, almost all the samurai came back, having been unsuccessful at catching up.  The leader was the least successful.  Those who did not come back must have been the ones who caught up.

    After the princess woke up, she stayed on the ground.  She didn't get up or move for a long time.  Peter checked her out, but while she was conscious and unhurt, she was just keeping her eyes closed.  He reported quietly that she was fine.
    Toni asked her who kidnapped her, but she didn't respond.  He snorted condescedingly and walked away.
    Peter asked her about making her more comfortable, if she needed anything, but she did not respond to that.

    Phoebe went over to the princess and sat down.  She talked to her gently in her quiet way, but the princess did not react.

    Miwa woke up after some treatment, and when she spoke to the princess she did respond.
    The princess stood up immediately.  In a very imperious voice she said, "Take me to Gisu Castle immediately."
    Miwa bowed and said, "Yes," and started gathering the group to be ready to comply with the princess's command.  Toni had Donku and Sun check the village and bring supplies for the trip back.

    It was late in the day, but not too late to make a start.  Normally we would camp at this time, but we needed to head out at least for appearances.  The princess was given one of the horses, and would ride with us.

    The trip was simple, three days back to the castle, and nothing happened along the way.  That suited me fine.  I kept myself to myself on the way back, not wanting to talk to anyone, not even Phoebe.
    It did become clear that the Princess did not know who it was that kidnapped her, but her responses to Miwa were too vague to find out anything else.
    Phoebe looked for Niban's spirit, but could not find him until the last night.

    ((Phoebe approached him carefully and politely.  She said she was sorry for the way things turned out.
    N Me too.
    P I realize it doesn't matter on the real side, but what happened?
    N One of the things I have learned about the afterlife is that you don't get all the answers.  I don't know what really happened.
    That was the truth, Phoebe's spirits told her.  P But you really didn't kidnap her?
    N looked at her patiently, and said Do you really have to ask?
    P Not really.  She bowed to him, took her leave, and went back to our world.))

    Back at the castle, the leader was hailed for saving the princess.  He didn't give us any credit at all.  Toni was almost ready to challenge him to a duel over it, but Miwa told him not to do so unless it was a personal insult.  She didn't really care herself, and the man was Phoenix so it didn't impact the clan either.
    One reason he might not have passed on any glory to us is that some people might take it badly if he did, given the messes we'd been involved in here.  Miwa considered that, and thought it appropriate.
    Not that any of us would forget or forgive, of course.  Glory hog or not.

    Our hosts attempted to put the festivities back on track, but it was much subdued.

    About a week after our return, Miwa received a letter from her father saying that she had been ordered (someone above him, obviously) to report to the magistrate of Ryoko Owari.  This was pretty much unheard of, to be posted somewhere in the middle of winter court.  Someone was clearly sending a message.  It was a bit like being sent to a land posting to oversee ships go in and out.  Miwa knew hte city -- it had the reputation of being one of the least reputable cities in the empire, the center of hte opium trade for the whole empire.  It was a backwater political appointment.

    Me, I thought that sounded a step up from the Winter Court, several steps up.  The only thing wrong with it was that it wasn't anywhere near the sea.  At least it had a river.  It was downstream of the poppy fields, and upstream of many other cities.

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