Tales of the Sea Bitch (29)


    We'd run out of things to ask Ashidaka's widow, so we headed back to the house for lunch.  That afternoon we would have our meeting with Bayushi Korechika.

    On arriving at the house, Furede was standing there obviously waiting for us.  As we pulled up, he explained that there were five monks from the school of something-or-other.  They were here to see Toni, and would not tell him what they wanted.
    Toni asked him if he had any suggestions as to how he should proceed, other than just walking in and saying "Yes?"  He of course assumed it was about the encounter on the streets.  He glanced over at Miwa and said to Furede, "We will see them now."
    Toni and Miwa lead us into the courtyard to meet the monks.

    Five men waited in the courtyard.  They were sitting cross-legged, dressed in dull brown pajamas.  The mon on their shirts was not one Toni or Miwa knew immediately, although it would be reasonable to assume it was that of the school.  They were staring into space, presumably meditating.  They were all fairly young, perhaps around 20 give or take a few years.
    Toni walked towards them.  As he neared them, the middle monk hopped to his feet and bowed thoroughly.
    Toni bowed appropriately in return.
    The monk said that they were from that school.  The samurai Toni killed yesterday (which he said by name) was a member of the school.  The master of their school had bid them to come here and test him.
    Toni said, "To test me, or us?"
    The monk to Toni's far left hopped up, ran at him, and made a flying kick at him as the monk in the center answered Toni with a simple, "You."
    Toni drew his sheathed katana with a fluid movement.
    Miwa stepped back with a little, looking around to make sure the rest of us did too.
    Toni dodged the strike, as the monk flew past behind him.  Toni swivelled around quickly to bring all five monks to his front.  He stepped forward to attack, and for a short while he and the monk traded blows, until the monk fell to the ground.
    Toni twisted around to face the next test, which he was sure would follow,
    It did.  The second monk came at him with another flying kick.  Toni deftly slipped aside and followed up with a strike from his sheathed katana.  That monk too went down.
    Toni turned and waited for the third, who also came in with a flying kick.  This one landed, although it clearly barely struck.  Toni retaliated, a double blow that the monk dodged so easily that the Tylean dropped his sword.  The monk again flicked a kick onto Toni, while in return he stuck him with his wakazashi.  That monk went down too.
    Toni sprung around, poised for a tumbling dodge.  The fourth monk struck a light blow, while Toni struck him hard.  The monk collapsed.
    That left the leader of the monks.  He stared at Toni for a moment, then came flying at him, kicking him hard.  Toni's return swipe was easily dodged by this master and he struck himself in the leg as well.  The monk struck again, then dodged Toni's next blow too.
    Now, however, the monk did not strike but bowed.
    Toni slipped his wakazashi into his sash and bowed in return.  He said he would like the honor of visiting their master, and would the monk ask his master if that was possible.
    The leader bowed and said "Hai."
    Three of the monks then turned and simply walked away.  The other two remained on the ground.

    Phoebe quickly walked up behind Toni and touched him.  Her spirits healed Toni immediately, and he bowed in Nipponese fashion in thanks.  He then picked up his katana while Phoebe tended to the two monks on the ground.
    Miwa explained to Toni that certain small schools used this technique as a recruiting tool.  Major schools did not need to do that, she said with a hint of scorn.
    Toni's face was an open book.  This unarmed combat was a weapon he wanted to add to his armory.
    Phoebe healed the monks, but was left rather weak.  Peter walked over and restored the strength her spirits had drawn from her.

    We retired to lunch.  Miwa pulled out the scrolls of the city and told us a little about Bayushi Korechika.
    The magistrate before last liked him less than any othe Sxcorpiuon in thecify, but felt suprisingly comfortable around hijm.  He seemed so much the typical scorpion: venal, slippery, dishonest, selfish.  When he took power, he took the edsting Bayushi network of merchants and added new ones, taxing them until they begging for out.  He was constantly jockeying for position among hte merchants of hte city, and had become a signficatnt force in a short preiod of time.  He seemd to have little time for persoinal concerns except that he collected rare foreign birds.  She suspected that his real concern was opium, and of course we knew that was the case.
    There was an interseting little anecdote about a craftsman of theirs charged with possession of liquid opium.  Bayushi turned up with a writ from the governor and chief magistrate Osaka claiming that since he was going to distribute it locally, it fell under their jurisdiction for questioning.  They took him away, and of course he did not live to see the next morning.  She believed that he was executed not for being a criminal, but for being an incompetent one.

    We had prepared for our next visit.  Toni had cleaned up from the matter with the monks, and his armor had been cleaned up too by the servants and the sheaths repaired.  His fan had arrived too.
    This meeting had no prearranged purpose.  Miwa instructed us to look impressive.  Toni was exactly that, dressed in chain with a broadsword, two short swords, and a shield.

    Bayushi Korechika struck us exactly the way the former magistrate had described.  We had been shown to a room that was not the main audience hall, but not as out of the way as the one in the governor's mansion.  We had to wait a little longer than Miwa considered appropriate, but not too long.
    His party contained exactly the same number as ours, although he had only one shugenja with the rest being bushi.  Bayushi was clearly bushi too.  I could see Toni flinch at the presence of the mage.  The Tylean soldier did not like mages, and the way his faced looked he believed that the mage hated him too and was looking at him.  Paranoid Toni might be, but at least he was alert.
    Bayushi was completely correct in all matters of etiquette, of course.  He could not be faulted in any way for what he said and how he said it.  Nevertheless, he managed to give the distinct impression that we were wasting his time.  The underlings never said a word, but were itching for us to give them the slightest excuse to take us out.  They couldn't wait to protect their leader's honor.
    In perfect etiquette, referring to Miwa as "daughter of the Phoenix" -- nothing to legitimize her connection with the Emerald Magistrate -- he in effect snapped, "What do you want?"
    Miwa responding in kind, playing Daughter of the Phoenix Champion for all it was worth.  She said it was the correct thing to do, since she was new to the city, to visit the important people in the city, to make the appropriate social calls.  She managed to give the impression that this too was a waste of her time but something she was obliged to do.
    Bayushi's attitude changed significantly.  Oh, that's the game we're going to play, he communicated.  He asked after Miwa's father, polite and wordy, a bland question.
    Miwa replied in many words that he was fine.
    He asked then about her mother, with an added tone that implied that of course he knew her mother was in a lot of trouble, but besides that, how was she?
    Miwa had no intention of letting him see any reaction to that, and answered as blandly as the previous one.
    He then asked after events at the Winter Court.  He was making small talk, so he was not directly poking about any of the nasty business, but asking after certain people who he knew were there.
    Miwa continued the tone, answered as innocently as he had asked.
    In the middle of this conversation, we heard off in the distance, somewhere else in the house, a woman wailing her head off, crying and sobbing, frightened even.  As soon as Bayushi heard this, for a moment or two it was clear that he was disturbed by it, but then he just carried on as if it had not happened.
    We all tried not to notice it.  No-one was looking at us anyway, of course, but Miwa carried it off just fine.
    The sound was coming from a floor or two above us.  I could see that Phoebe was talking with her spirits, half not in our world.
    We noticed that their mage had noticed Phoebe and was mumbling something.
    We all tensed up, the others responding to us.  I had been visualizing a perfect shot through the mage's eye.
    Phoebe came back and saw the mage looking at her, showing that he noticed.  She smiled at him and winked, looking as innocent as a strange gaijin could.
    The shugenja smiled as a cat would smile at a mouse.
    It had no effect on Phoebe.  Good girl.
    Bayushi and Miwa continued as if nothing had happened.  He said that he understood it was Miwa's birthday in a few days.  It was not, of course, and he would know that.  That actually caught Miwa slightly off guard, not knowing that Toni had used that as an excuse in one of the shops when we'd been looking for information.  Her best guess was that he was trying to find out how she would react if he committed a social gaffe, whether she would call him out for being stupid, or what she would do.  She very politely and gently corrected him as to when her birthday was, and again ever so politely wondered how he could make such a mistake.  The point was to show him she was not just going to lay down for insults, but also not go out of her way to insult.  Pushing back sweetly and gently.
    We all started to relax.  They looked as disappointed as I did.  I nodded slightly at one of them out of respect, acknowledging that we were thinking the same thing.
    Without missing a beat in the conversation, Bayushi checked out his own men apparently in reaction to my nod.  He seemed to notice something, because as he wound up the current line of small talk, he asked Miwa if she enjoyed a particular kind of food.  This was clearly a lead into a future invitation to dinner, asking ever so indirectly if she would be amenable to it.
    Miwa accepted in the same manner, saying it might not be her favorite food but faintly unusual.
    Bayushi thanked her for visiting him, and said that if his house could be of any help to the Emerald Magistrate not to hesitate to contact him.
    Miwa accepted that as blandly as everything else.
    We left as the crying continued off in the distance.  Phoebe was clearly still disturbed by it, but we could do nothing more.

    We returned to the house.  This time, when we arrived, we discovered that there were about 30 packages for Miwa congratulating her on her upcoming birthday from various merchants, and several were being delivered in person by the merchant themselves.  None of the items were of significant value, but none were cheap either.