Tales of the Sea Bitch (30)


    Packages.  Birthday packages.  But it wasn't her birthday.  Miwa couldn't send them back without every one of those merchants losing face.
    Toni quietly moved over to Miwa and explained that when he was in one of the shops, he told the shop owner that he was buying it for his mistress's birthday, since it obviously couldn't be for him.  That complicated matters because now Toni had lied to a merchant, and was now getting caught.  At least he hadn't lied to a samurai, that would be a real problem.  In Nippon, merchants were only half people and didn't matter that much.
    The appropriate thing to do would simply be for Miwa to pretend it didn't happen.
    That puts the incident with the samurai mentioning it to Miwa in a new context.  He was clearly testing her, knowing when her birthday really was.
    So Miwa gathered herself together and walked in as if they weren't there.  On the way she very casually mentioned to Son that her birthday was on a particular day  in spring.  That way, the message would propagate back the same way it came here.  Of course, the merchants would then know Toni had lied, and he might not be so popular with them now, but that was Toni's fault.

    Miwa was looking tired and frustrated by this point, as well as being worried about her mother after that conversation with Bayushi.  Her way of relieving it was to ask Toni to practice fighting with her.

    Of course the main topic of conversation, politics anyway, was Ide Baranato.  There were a couple of entries about him in the scrolls, and Miwa told us about him.
    From the earlier magistrate, Ide Baranato made all the significant Unicorn decisions despite not being the head of the family.  Apparently that was fortunate, beucase he was a man of honor.  He was also a skilled healer.  Toni wanted to know whether he was shugenja or a doctor like Peter, but that wasn't clear yet.  She had opportunity to learn this affter an altercation with a ronin called Ample.  While Ide was putting her arm back in the socket, they talked about Ample's skills. Then he told her that she shouldn't be afraid to tell him her arm was in pain, that if she told him where it hurt he would be better able to make hte pain stop.  Or would the shame of admitting pain be worse thatn the pain itself, he asked?  She looked at him to see if he was joking, and he was somewhat, but she could also see that her pain hurt him as well.  Baranato was a compassionate man, but ther was more than kindness.  Something unyielding was at the back of his gaze, something she had seen in the eyes of the Emerald Champion, and of a couple of other people.  Those men who had seen death, naked suffering, and understaod these things but had not been broken by them, it gave them strength, and she believed Baranato had the same strength.
    The next bit was from the Memoirs of an Opium Eater.  It was rather long, but sounded important.  Baranto blamed True Word for his son's death, and turned him away from the funeral.  The writer's opinion was that if True Word was to blame, then so were almost all of the funeral guests to blame too.
    Phoebe pointed out that we all knew that Akidasha wasn't making waves, but at the same time got someone mad enough to kill him in a visible manner.  Something had to have happened that couldn't be ignored by the Emerald Magistrate, and that got him killed.  If we figured out what that was, then we'd be closer to understanding.
    The son himself, Ide Michikane, was also mentioned in the scrolls.  He had been found dead in the upstairs room of the Morning Star, presumably somewhere in the Licensed Quarter.  Pipe by his side, an empty sake cup, and bottles.  Someone said he had been drinking Liquid Void, the liquid form of opium, purified opium suspended in alcohol, the most potent form of the drug.  There was a whole bunch of stuff on a stupid horse race inside the city, which he won.  But he cheated to do it, right in front of everyone, taking a short cut through the leatherworkers quarter which was full of people who the Nipponese would not normally go anywhere near.  Bayushi Otado was the person who lost that race, and there was a lot of bad feeling about the bet.
    It was about nine months after the race that he was found dead.  True Word had been placed at Fisherman's Gate to make sure no-one took a short cut there, and the Peasant's Gate was allowed as a permissible way back into the city so that the contestants didn't have to go through the leatherworkers' quarters.  Sounded like a loophole to me.
    Otado was the opposite of Korechika in looks and personality, despite being his son.  The writer implied his ancestry might be in doubt.
    The earlier magistrate said that Michikane was charming, handsome, a fine hunter and a warm and sincere courtier.  He was widely liked and admired, and seemed to have no enemies within the city.  His parents loved him and he seemed like he'd be a really important person one day.
    Toni called Son aside and asked him to find out as much about the future Emerald Magistrate, Bayushi Yojiro.  He was to report back regularly, and also pass the information on to Miwa, although not of course telling her Toni had set this up.  He didn't want to enquire himself because he didn't think it would be good to admit that they didn't know enough about him already.
    Toni asked Furede about the monks from the Swaying Tree school.  He said he understood that was a way that smaller schools did their recruiting.  What was the form of the training?  Resident boot camp, or daily classes living elsewhere?
    Furede said it could be either, depending on the school, the master, and student.

    By now it was evening.  Toni wondered about somewhere to go out in this quarter, but the presence of samurai might dampen a bar in the merchant's quarter.
    Toni looked over at Miwa then, and said he was interested in learning other techniques.  He wasn't sure what choosing a particular school or any school at all would do to her standing or position, as just buying a birthday present had already got him in trouble.
    That would only hurt if this school had a bad reputation, and it was probably too small to have any reputation at all.  She suggested finding out about its reputation, although she was clearly not impressed so far since she hadn't heard of it.  She also quietly reminded Toni that he was her second, and she expected him to remain that way.
    Toni then asked Furede if it could be arranged for someone to come here to teach him the martial arts -- like the monks, or like the ronin Ample who did ju jistu.
    Furede paused for a long time before answering.  He said that it would certainly be possible to invite a ronin into the Emerald Magistrate's house for hte purposes of training, but it would reflect negatively upon the house.
    Toni understood.  He would have to learn from a school or another house, either here or there, but going to a ronin would not be a good thing, he surmised.  On the other hand, if they employed someone like True Word as has happened in the past, and they happened to be able to do this, that would be fine.
    Toni prodded me to go out to some bar or other tonight, but he expected me to pick one.  I didn't fancy going out without some numbers until we found out who was after us.  I know Phoebe would go with me, but I could use a sword or two at my side for the time.  Later I might feel different, but right then I was planning to stay in.
    Miwa asked Furede about Bayushi Yojiro.
    Furede said that Yojiro was known as the honest scorpion.  He was sent to the Scorpion's school for courtiers, but did not share the normal mindset.  While he was a quick study and understood and did the tools well, he was not cold blooded enough for his teachers.  In order to test him for his final decision, they told him that a certain Crane had come to a brothel in Scorpion lands and was apparently with his service there, killed everyone, burned the place to hte grounf, and returned home without another thought.  His teachers gave him the task of setting him up to be destroyed, killed,and dishonored.
    Yojori instantloy hated this man, went about the task seriously.  The nigt before seting the final act in motion, his teachers told him that the Scorpions had done it all in order to set this task for him.  The test was to continue the task for loyalty not for the hatred he had held.
    Yojiro chose loyalty, and went on to destroy the Crane.  He would have surely died otherwise, of course, politically or actually.  He has gone on to serve the Scorpion clan well, but has been given the repution of being the only honest scorpion.
    Furede said that it was believed that the Emerald Champion chose Yojiro for the role because of that reputation.
    Furede continued.  It was "rumored" that Bayusi Yojiro had been delayed at his family home caring for his dying mother.
    Toni asked if he was Shugenja or Bushi.
    Furede said he was neither.  He was a Courtier.

    That was pretty much it for the evening.  We retired for the night.
    Phoebe went sleep-walking, but didn't disturb me when she got up.  Six minutes later, she woke up.
    She realized that she was outside the house, in the street outside.  Something was very wrong, but she wasn't sure what.  Yes she was, there was a man on a horse in full armor bearing down on her and yanking her off her feet.
    I was awake, standing, rapier in my hand.  Phoebe was in danger, and not here.
    Phoebe was lifted up and slung over his pommel.  She yhelled and shrieked.
    I heard screaming.  A woman screaming in terror, not Phoebe, and soldiers and guard yelling from the gate.
    I grabbed my bow, didn't stop to dress, and rushed to the gate.  When I got there, the guards explained in extremely humble tones that Phoebe wanted the front door opened, they let her out, and she was abducted.
    I asked who abducted her.  Clan?  Family?
    It was a scorpion, but they did not know who.
    Toni asked if anyone pursued.
    They did not.
    Our horses were being brought to us.
    Phoebe rode for what seemed like forever.
    Toni called for a guard to ride with us to talk with the city guards if we wanted to question anyone.
    We mounted up.  None of us had time to get any other gear, and we weren't going to go back for it.
    Phoebe dropped something to hope we could see it, and continued screaming.
    We rode off.  I let Toni lead.
    The man told her to shut up, and it was clear he did not think she was samurai.
    Phoebe said, using her best samurai words and voice talent, told her to put her down while insulting him.
    He said, "Oh shit!  Who are you?"
    She said, "I am Phoebe, and I belong to the House of Miyara."  Her voice carried an edge of fear.
    He continued his ride.
    It was dark.  We were going fast.  I fell off.  I hit the ground hard and awkwardly, while the others rode on away from me.
    Miwa drew ahead of Toni a little, but it was becoming clear that they were headed for a gate out of the city.  This gate would lead out towards the leatherworkers or towards the Licensed Quarter.  It was also going to be right past the City Guards.
    They could still hear Phoebe screaming.  Toni yelled loudly to "Stop the craven thief!"
    It took me several minutes to get the horse back to me.
    As I was mounting back up, the head guard came up and asked me if I was ok.
    I might have snapped a bit.  "Of course," I said, and rode off.  He rode with me.

    Riding in the city was not working well for me.  I fell off again.  That one really hurt.  I yelled to the guard to get on after them.
    I was still getting flashes of Phoebe.
    That was too distracting.  I tried to work on my wounds, but before I could work through the chaos in my head, I passed out.
    Miwa rode up to see the horseman at the main gate, obviously having arrived moments before her.  He was yelling at the guards to try to get them to open the gate.  She yelled to keep the gates closed, and not to open them.
    She announced herself as the assistant to the Emerald Magistrate for the city.  They should listen to that.
    Phoebe continued to scream and yell.  It was obviously clear she was being abducted against her will, but that was so much less relevant than who she was.
    The guards dithered long enough for Miwa to ride up.
    The scorpion turned his horse towards Miwa, shoved Phoebe off it, and charged Miwa.
    The two samurai arrived together in a clash of swords and armor.  The Scorpion sliced at her and laid open a bad wound.  Perhaps she had reacted as if the armor would deflect the blow.  In any case, it was bad.  That did not deter her.  Yelling incoherently, she struck back and hard too.
    The Scorpion rode on past as Miwa turned.  Screaming at him for his cowardly actions, she charged after him.
    Miwa felt a terrible sting in her chest, like a bee or something.  Her hand went up and found a dart.  She yanked it out, threw it aside, and went after him.
    The Scorpion fell off his horse.
    Miwa rode up to him and dismounted.  He was dead.  There was no sign of a dart on him.
    Toni rode up and dismounted too.  He quickly looked over Miwa's injuries and at least stopped the bleeding.  He started on further treatment, but knew he would not have time to finish.
    As he did so, she told him that Phoebe was at the gate.  She also mentioned the dart and that it was around here somewhere.

    Phoebe had got up by now.  She addressed the guards with dignity, stating that she was Miyara Phoebe, and that man had pulled her up on the street and rode off with her.
    By now the commander had arrived.  He asked what she required.
    She said she would like to be escorted back to the Emerald Magistrate's house.
    A carriage was quickly brought to take her back.  As she was waiting, she sat down and asked for a cup of sake.  It was quickly provided.
    As she sat there in the street, a small contingent of samurai rode out in the direction of Miwa and the dead Scorpion.
    The captain of the guard respectfully asked her what happened.
    She said she woke up in the middle of the street, and that man swept down and picked up and rode off with her.
    He asked respectfully why she was sleeping in the street.
    She said she had slept in her bed in the Emerald Magistrate's house, and said sometimes the spirits liked to pull her out in the middle of the night and walk her around.

    The guard that was with me rode up and when Toni asked said that I required that he ride on.
    Toni pondered what that might have meant, but gave up.  The guard offered to fetch Phoebe, and with Toni's permission did so.
    Toni kept an eye on Miwa, especially as he expected the dart to be poisoned.
    Right on cue, she fell over asleep, breathing deeply but unconscious.
    Toni told the guards from the gate that he needed to get Miwa back to the house, asked how the other woman was, and to look for the dart.  He wanted Phoebe here, he said, she was shugenja and could heal his lady.
    The other woman, they said, was back at the gatehouse.  Two went to look for the dart.  Others checked on the scorpion but clearly he wasn't going to walk away.  One went off to fetch Phoebe.
    A few minutes later, Phoebe arrived with the captain of our house, the guard sent to get her, and a couple more guards.
    Toni pointed out Miwa to her.
    Phoebe climbed out of the carriage and started talking to her spirits.  Her spirits had healed Miwa, but she was still asleep.  The spirits told Phoebe that Miwa was dying of poison.
    Phoebe relayed the message.
    Toni knew exactly what to do.  He ordered Miwa to be taken quickly back to the house, where Peter could help her.  More orders followed, and soon they were on their way.  They should tell Peter that she was darted, but that they couldn't find it.  Toni mounted up and rode back with the carriage.

    On the way he came across me, threw me over his horse, and carried me back too.

    Back at the house, Phoebe grabbed Peter and told him, "She's dying!  Poison!  Fix her now!"
    Peter got to work quickly.
    For a while, it was not clear whether he was quick enough to save Miwa.
    And then he realized that she was injured but not poisoned, and with gestures for a minute or so healed her completely.  He looked shaken and weak from the effort, but still stood.

    After a short while, I was brought in too.
    Eventually I woke and found out what had happened.  At that point the guards were questioning Toni, surprised at Miwa being alive and well, and with even more respect and politeness asked her too what happened.
    Toni told them they were woken by screams from their comrade Phoebe in the street.  They rushed out swords in hand to see her being ridden off.  They grabbed horses and pursued.  Miwa got there first.  They fought, Miwa was darted but killed him.  They brought her here and healed her.
    Miwa however did not believe that she had killed him.  She had struck him only the one time, whereupon he cowardly fled the combat.  She believed he had perhaps been poisoned too, as that one blow surely did not kill him.  Everything else was the same as Toni's story.  Miwa asked him who this man was?
    The captain, who was questioning her, said they did not now know, but they would find out.
    In about ten minutes all the questioning had been done by the city guards and they were leaving.
    In fact, the samurai died when he broke his neck falling off the horse when he passed out.  He just had time to throw some darts back at Miwa before he fainted.

    The next day, towards the end of the day, the captain of the city guard returned.  He told Miwa the results of their investigation.  The samurai who abducted Phoebe was a certain Scorpion (he gave the name).  They didn't know why he was out or why he abducted Phoebe.  His family stated that he had no particular grudge against Phoebe.
    After the fact, Furede told us he was a minor member of the local Scorpions, of no importance at all.