Tales of the Sea Bitch (35)


    Eventually we all recovered from the trip to the House of Foreign Stories, and met over an excessively late breakfast.  Some time in the afternoon we all gathered together.
    Toni told us Magda was really nice and seemed like she liked him, but that was probably because she wanted them back to spend more money.  Naritoki had a normal night the night he died; he didn't have a favorite companion, and he never talked about his work.  Not unusually, but True Word was not there that night.  We know he was with him on the way back, but not if he was on the island.  Magda didn't have, or didn't voice, a theory as to who or why, but did imply that it was one of the obvious big players but didn't know which had the nerve or was desperate enough to do it.  She also had a semi-regular supply route to the continent if any of us needed to get out of the country by a back route.

    So in the afternoon, the current employer of Kakita Kabe, Ashidaka Michitaka, came to visit.  Donku had set up quite a spread to feed the guy while Miwa sweet-talked him to get Kabe off him.
    Michitaka was a fat ugly guy, with a personality to match.  Imperious and blustery to everyone except Miwa, to whom he was craven and ingratiating.  He carried swords as if he deserved it, but he didn't move like a warrior.
    Phoebe was paying close attention to everything he said, to signal the truths that her spirits would tell her.  That is, if her still slightly-stoned state didn't interfere with her connection.  I hadn't asked her about it, but she would have been a lot more distressed if the connection was truly broken.  She had told me that the spirits were talking to her, but it was good to see it was true.
    Michitaka seemed still in mourning for his cousin, and it was probably genuine for no other reason than he's lost his ticket to high society.  He kept talking about his cousin and the murder and revenge, and wanted to kill whoever did it in the classic Nipponese way.  He said he'd do anything he could to track down the killers, and probably meant it.
    Miwa went all charming on him and pumped him for guesses on the killer.
    Michitaka said that no-one hated his cousin, who was the most honorable glorious upstanding man to walk the face of the earth.  Not even his enemies would have killed him in such a cowardly way.  It could only have been done by the very scum of the earth.  On further questioning, it was clear he didn't have the slightest idea.  Sure, he was dealing with the ninjas, he was dealing with Fade, he was in a kind of struggle with the three powerhouses in the city: Shosuro Hyuuo the governor,  Bayushi Korichika the head of Bayushi, and Soshi Seryoku the head of Soshi.
    Those three, plus Ide Baranato, were the four most powerful people in Ryoko Owari.
    Slowly and indirectly Miwa approached her goal of stealing Kabe.
    Sure, Michitaka would like to help, but death of his cousin had been his financial ruin, and having to support his widow, and blah blah blah.  He claimed to be a font of information about the city, but it was clear he knew less than we already did.
    So it was really easy for Miwa to get Michitaka to offer his whole staff, of which she very graciously picked just the one.  She did reserve the right to take him up on some of the other experienced people he offered, since she did need house guards.
    And these snacks, said Michitaka, were fantastic.  And blah blah blah, and meaningless drivel.  And if Miwa identified his cousin's killer, could he please have first crack at him?
    Miwa didn't actually tell him yes, but indicated she might look favorably on it.  After all, as she clearly thought, Michitaka wasn't much of a fighter and that might be a win-win all around.  Except for our fat pontificator, of course.

    After he'd left, Toni and Miwa asked Furede about what he'd said, if he was really poor and if any of those people Michitaka had recommended were actually worth anything.
    Phoebe said the man told no lies, but was dishonest by nature.  In part he avoided lies by never actually saying anything.

    Towards early evening, Magda arrived, in a nice carriage.  There were two guards and a driver, all Unicorn.  Magda herself was dressed in modest comfortable clothing, in contrast with last night's performance.
    Miwa received her in the offices, since it was a business meeting.  Ton i of course sat in with it too.  I heard about it later from them.
    Magda was pleasant and gracious, enquiring after their health and hoping they enjoyed their visit last night.  She gave Toni a very pleased-to-see-him smile, but was otherwise all business.
    Miwa said she was pleased with it, and that Magda really knew what she was doing.  Well, something like that in formal Nipponese, anyway.
    Magda was interested in whether we'd made any progress in finding Naritoki's killer.
    Miwa was carefully positive but didn't say anything specific.  An indication of how little progress we'd made was that Miwa tried to draw her out on it, but our mistress did it so cleverly that Magda surely did not notice.
    Magda started out explaining that because of Naritoki's death, her residency papers had expired.  Miwa would of course be well within her rights to kick her out of the country, or worse even, she said.
    As Magda paused, Miwa was pleasantly non-commital and tried to draw her out more.
    But what Magda would really like is to have permission to travel around Nippon.  She had wanderlust by nature, and while she'd enjoyed her time in this city, she would like to see the rest of Nippon.  For that she'd need travel papers.  That might seem a large request, but she thought she had something that might be helpful in solving Naritoki's murder, and perhaps she could exchange that for travel papers for a year for all of Nippon.
    There would be several drawbacks to giving her papers.  If Magda did anything bad on those papers, it would reflect very badly on Miwa.  Also, it would upset the Unicorns here, especially since her sponsor was the son of the local head of the clan -- or not, Toni had some other interpretations of internal Unicorn politics.  So Miwa's first inquiry was where she wanted to travel.
    The long list Magda gave was all over the place, varied, everywhere.  It was clear, though, that she'd thought about this a lot and it wasn't just a fishing expedition for general travel papers.  Although it occurred to me on hearing about this that if she gave the information she might have to travel to save her life...
    Miwa asked what information she did have that could help.
    She said simply that she could give Miwa the personal journal of Naritoki.
    Miwa asked if she planned on travelling through Nippon alone.
    Magda struggled to answer this, looking back and forth between Miwa and Toni.  She said finally that it would be alone in the Nipponese sense.  She certainly intended to take guards and retainers, but no "real people."  Not alone in the Imperial sense.  She had made the Unicorns of this city very wealthy, and had managed to put away some money for herself, so she could make this trip.
    Miwa pondered for a very short time, then said brightly, "Sure."
    Magda said she needed a few weeks to make arrangements, and would appreciate it if Miwa did not mention this to anyone during that time, and she would contact her when the time was right.
    Miwa asked politely when she could see this journal.
    Magda paused for a very long time.  Then she said she would have it delivered the next evening.
    Miwa thanked her for assistance in this important matter, and said she would be available whenever Magda needed her for the papers.
    Toni then asked politely how Magda came into possession of the journal.
    Magda looked Miwa with some surprise, and when it was clear Toni did not in fact know, looked back at him and said that Naritoki and she were lovers for several years.
    The two ladies politely closed the meeting in formal Nipponese words, and Magda got up to leave.
    Magda's manners had been perfect Nipponese this whole time, but in a completely non-Nipponese move she looked back at Toni and said, "I still would like to see you again."  Then she left.
    Miwa and Toni then came to the lounge area and told us all about the meeting in Imperial.

    That was not all that happened that evening, however.  While we were eating dinner, awkwardly late in fact, Son came to us and said that Kakita was at the front gate along with five other samurai from the house of Ashidaka Michikata.  Son asked if he should send the other five away, put them in rooms for the night, or make them all just wait in the courtyard until she saw fit to see them.
    I admitted out loud in Imperial that I kind of liked that idea.
    Miwa said to leave the five in the courtyard, but to bring Kakita Kabe to her office immediately.  Unsaid was that she would leave Son to handle all the hiring details -- neither she nor Kakita would mention that at all.  She moved directly to asking about the five samurai in the courtyard.
    Kabe said that these five were, as Miwa put it, "pawned off on her," and Michikata had been just getting rid of them.  That said, however, they were all good men and he thought she would be pleased with their performance.  He also implied that these men were here in this house with him before taking up Michitaka's service.
    That was it.  Kabe and his five men were in the house guard.
    Toni asked Kabe if Michikata were really as poor as he implied.
    Kabe didn't know, but implied politely that either he was running out of money or he was a horrible skinflint.  He paused, looked at Toni and Miwa in turn, and asked if he could speak freely.
    Miwa nodded.
    Kabe said he believed Michikata was living off Naritoki's widow's money.
    Toni said that was what he wanted.  He said in a friendly voice to Kabe, "Let's get you and your men settled."  The meeting was over.