Tales of the Sea Bitch (24)


    Ryoko Owari.  Journey's End.  Already I was hoping that wasn't what it was going to be for us.

    The samurai was Doji Furede, and the records keeper was Jorege, a non-samurai.
    Furede had left and would arrange all the meetings Miwa wanted -- Jorege, local Phoenix, the governor, and other local notables.

    We were left to our own devices.  Miwa had letters to write, Toni and Grieg were practicing knife fighting, and Phoebe decided to join them too.
    Me, I planned to drink.  That meant either the house's stock of sake, or heading off to the waterside bars.  The house was apparently out.  So off I went into the city.  I could see which way to go, but I wasn't sure how far.  Perhaps an hour at most.
    It occurred to me that as a samurai I didn't normally bother with money.  But the places I was planning to go, I'd need cash.  I asked Toni, telling him what I planned and where I was going.  I did said that if I ended up having to order in, that was fine too.  Toni thinks that's a much better idea, and gives a servant some money and sends them out to bring back booze.
    The servant arrives back with a large bottle of sake.  Donku thinks it's too high a price for bad sake, but it got the job done.  I settled down with the bottle to watch the knife fighting in the courtyard.

    The night passed uneventfully.

    I was fully expecting a visit from the local crime lords or union leaders this morning.  That was not the case, however.  All our meetings would be organized ourselves.

    Furede had told us that Ashidaka Noritoki, a Crane, died four months ago.  He burned to death in his carriage in the city.  It was clearly not a natural death.  One of his deputies, a man called True Word, died at the same time or shortly before.  True Word was beaten and stabbed to death a few paces outside the carriage.  It is believed that someone jammed the doors of the carriage shut so that Noritoki could not get out.
    Toni asked who investigated the death.
    Furede said one of the city's magistrates -- the governor's magistrates -- investigated it.  The magistrate's report would have gone to the governor.  It would have come to the Emerald Magistrate, but of course he was dead at the time.

    Donku had put together a small but proper breakfast.
    Furede told us that Jorege awaited at Miwa's convenience.  Later this morning, he had secured us an invitation to meet Asako Kinto, the leading Phoenix of the city.  He would be likely to show us his gardens.  At 3 this afternoon, there was an appointment with the governor, a lady called Shosuro Hwobu, Scorpion clan.  The new magistrate, Miwa had told us, Bayushi Yojiro was also a Crane.
    MIwa sent off her letters via courier to her father, then went up to the magistrate's office to receive Jorege there.

    Jorege was brought before Miwa in the magistrate's office.  She told him she was acting for hte new magistrate and wanted to know what he'd done for the old one and to put his records in order.
    Jorege bowed again and said he had the great honor and fortune to be Ashidaka's bookkeeper.
    Miwa asked to see the accounts he had kept.
    He said that all of the official books were kept in that cabinet, pointing to the one we had expected.
    Miwa asked then about the unofficial books.
    He said that he also had the honor of keeping Ashidaka's personal books, which now resided with his widow.
    "Do you still have a key to this cabinet?"  The important question, eh?
    "Yes," he said.
    "I need the key," she said.
    "I would be honored to show your ladyship the books and give you a run-down on the tax collection."
    In Imperial, I said, "He wants to keep it's job."
    "That's fine with me," said Miwa, and nodded to me.
    Jorege walked over to the cabinet and opened it.  He pulled out the books and spread them out on a table.
    Miwa glanced over and made sure Toni was paying attention too.  Grieg crowded around too, his merchant's son background showing, but they were way over his head.
    Phoebe didn't understand the numbers either, but her spirits would tell her if he was being deceitful or honest.  They told her he was being intentionally obscure, but not outright lying.  He was not being deceitful, simply making it seem more complicated than he could.  In Imperial she told us that he was making it sound a whole lot harder than it was.
    I said either he wants to keep his job, or he has "reasons" to keep it that way.  Maybe somebody else is paying him to keep an eye on the books.
    Jorege too casually asked, "Is it known when the new magistrate will be arriving?"  He quickly went on to say that he was interested in carrying on this work under the new magistrate.
    "Guess it proves that point," said Grieg in Imperial, nodding to me.
    Miwa said she was acting for the magistrate, and she could keep him in this position.  She made it clear she was much more inclined to do so if she could understand the books correctly.
    Jorege very quickly ran down some very clear numbers.  This was how much cash we had on hand.  This was the sum of money that various people were in arrears.  This was how much we would be collecting next tax month, later in the spring.  The magistrate's yearly stipend was at 500 koku (which we would call gold).
    Phoebe indicated he was being as clear as he knew how to be, as truthful as he could.
    There were tens of thousands of koku on hand.  The magistrate's stipend was what Miwa had to run the magistrate's office, including the household and whatever else was necessary.  The other money was the Emperor's.  The full stipend was available for the new magistrate, who of course had not spent any.
    And, I though, no-one would ever put their hands on the Emperor's money.  Oh, sorry, did I not sound sincere?  In Imperial, of course, that was.
    In general, a samurai would normally pass all this money stuff to the head of house.  Miwa had Sun brought up and handed the responsibility of running the household.
    In Imperial, she told Sun to hire Jorege to keep on doing what he was doing.  Sun said it would be more appropriate for Miwa to formally hire him, but once that initial arrangement was made, he could manage it.  She did so.
    Jorege very carefully said that he was honored to keep both the Imperial books and the previous magistrate's personal books.  Would the new magistrate be requiring him in both of those capacities?
    Miwa considered this.  She said she would be hiring him for the office books, and provisionally for those of the new magistrate when he arrived.
    Jorege packed up the books and put them away in the cabinet.  As he stepped away, he picked up a key that was in the cabinet and said that it was the magistrate's key to this cabinet, and offered to give it to Miwa or to leave it in the cabinet.
    In Imperial I said to Miwa to leave it in the cabinet.  Plausible deniability.
    Miwa told him to keep it in the cabinet.
    Jorege added that there was a letter here from Asako Anjo to the new magistrate, and would she like to forward it directly to the new magistrate or leave it here.

    Asako Anjo was the Imperial Champion and therefore head of all the Imperial Magistrates.

    In Imperial, I said, "Steam it open."
    This Miwa ignored and told Jorege to leave it, because the new magistrate would be coming here.
    Jorege then pointed to a strongbox in the cabinet, saying it contained 142 koku that could be used for household expenses.
    That would be Sun's job, and Miwa of course expected him to keep very good accounts.  He asked for 10 koku immediately.
    Sun said in Imperial that it might be convenient if we had a key to this cabinet.
    Miwa agreed.  She told Jorege that she would take the key instead of it being locked in the cabinet.  She dismissed him.
    Jorege bowed and left.

    Our next meeting would be to visit Asako Kinto.  We were directed to a house in the noble quarter.  It wasn't as large as the house we were occupying, but it was larger than most around here.
    Kinto was a very old man.  He did indeed have very intricate gardens, perhaps overgrown compared with most Nipponese gardens -- not out of control, just not as sparse.  Phoebe was obviously delighted with the gardens, and Grieg seemed to like them too, mentioning to us that they were more European.  Me, I longed for the deck to move under my feet and the view of wide ocean.  Phoebe pointed out the wider variety of plants, although she was not familiar with the ones in this part of the world.
    As we concluded the introductory formalities, Kinto asked after Miwa's mother.
    Miwa said she was well.
    That was good to know, Kinto said.  He knew her when she was a child.
    Miwa said next time she saw her, she would tell her he had asked after her.

    Kinto had a cracked, gravelly voice.  He spoke hesitantly and seemed to perhaps be a little hard of hearing.  He asked how he could be of service to the daughter of her father (name here), the Phoenix Champion.
    With great respect, Miwa told him she was here because she had been assigned as assitant to the new magistrate, but he had not yet arrived.  She diden't know anyone in the city or anything about this city.
    There was a long pause, uncomfortably long, then he said that Ashidaka was an intelligent and honorable man in a city of fools and charlatans.  In the long run her new master and lord would not find it easy.  He asked who was to be the new magistrate.
    Bayushi Yojiro, she said.
    A Bayushi, eh, he said.  He quoted a well-known haiku about the uselessness of putting another rat amongst rats, only instead of "rat" he used "scorpion".  Very slowly and carefully he said that he was sorry that he would be unable to provide her with much useful advice, but he was less active and instead concentrated these days on his personal studies.

    This was starting to make sense.  I was not sure I liked the sense it was making, but it did make sense.

    Miwa returned that if she could be of any service to him, he was to let her know.
    He returned the sentiment, saying she was more than kind.

    Kinto clearly was having trouble pulling himself away from puttering around in the garden to have this conversation.  The plants and Miwa seemed to be of similar presence in his head, although it was not through any lack of respect for Miwa.
    Phoebe had been wandering around the garden, clearly enjoying it, but staying mostly with us when the conversation was active.  She was paying more attention to the garden than to the conversation.
    Phoebe's attention then was drawn to a particular plant.  It was something she had never seen before.  She stared at it, feeling like there was a spirit about to step out of it and talk to her.  Kinto noticed that, and in complete contrast to his halting conversation with MIwa, started talking about the plant in excruciating detail, at length and with great lucidity.  Most of it probably went right through her head, but that didn't matter to Kinto.  He knew so much about this one plant, where it was from, how it got here, and so on.  Phoebe kept looking at it, feeling the spirit about to step out and speak, but it never did.
    After a good five minutes talking about that one plant, he paused, then talked about the plant he was tending, telling us about it in great detail as he gave it all his attention.
    Phoebe, meanwhile, was talking quietly to the plant, hoping it would answer.  It did not.
    Miwa simply waited for an opportune moment to take her leave politely.
    Phoebe was looking for somewhere to go into a trance to speak to the spirits.  She drifted off before Miwa could get us out of there, and of course our leader waited for her.
    Kinto had finished with that plant, then asked Miwa if he had told her he knew her mother when she was young.  Of course he did, he says, and then went on to tell a story of her as a young woman, not long before she got married, so his definition of "as a child" was rather broad.  Now that story reminded him of some bit of clan history and he lauched off into a story Miwa had heard pieces of before.  Kinto clearly knew it much better than anyone else in Phoenix, and that finally grabbed Miwa's attention.  Her questions elicited more information, and it soon became clear he knew as much about Phoenix clan history as anyone she had met, which was saying a lot because history was important to Phoenix.  Miwa was in her element, and had no more attention for Phoebe and her spirits.

    ((These spirits were definitely here.  This was no idle feeling that Phoebe experienced, but a real call.
    It took Phoebe much longer to settle into her trance than usual.  Something about this area, perhaps.
    For a moment, she drops into her trance, and in that moment she gets a brief glimpse.  At first it's lots of snakes throughout the garden, slithering amongst the plants.  But an instant later it's all one large snake, and the vision is weird because the snake's body is much too large to slither between these plants, it's a huge snake.  It shocks her right back out of hte trance.
    In retrospect the feeling was one of ancientness, like so old it's frightening.  Maybe also power and intelligence beyond what men would call those things.))

    Phoebe came out of her trance with a jerk, dazed for a few moments.  I was right there, of course.  She looked with obvious wonder around the garden, and also at Kinto.
    Kinto was completely oblivious to this.
    Phoebe looked a little shocked that no-one else had seen this.  How could they not see?  Aside from me, everyone else was more interested in what Kinto was saying about Phoenix history.

    (Donald: Snake or eastern dragon?  Eastern dragons were intelligent, sociable.  Kinto could be fully human, but then of course he may not be.))

    Phoebe was simply awestruck, completely wrapped up in her visions and feelings, and had nothing to say.  She looked around her with wonder.

    Sometime later, Miwa felt she did not want to tire Kinto out.  She did not want to keep him from his lunch either.  So she took the chance between stories to take her leave, politely and diplomatically.
    Kinto thanked her for coming, and said she was welcome anytime.

    We returned to the magistrates for our own lunch, and prepared for the appointment with the governor later that evening.
    Phoebe did not say a word.  She simply walked along in a daze.  I knew she would speak when she was ready.