Scroll 3: In Which we Search for a Murderer and Find a Plot

Chapter 20: This Cursed Village

As each branch is bent,

Against winds, struck by lightning,

Crooked grows the tree.

~ Miyara Miwa

We had not been sitting at the inn for long when the watch captain arrived. He told me I should follow him to the guardhouse. I asked why I should do so first: I had no intentions of allowing myself to be imprisoned, for all would be lost then. But he said the village leader wished to question Kyosuke, and needed me to translate for him. That made perfect sense, and I was glad that the village leader was apparently questioning everyone as he said he would.

The captain led me into the guardhouse, to an office which was probably his. The village leader was there already, and Kyosuke was brought in immediately. The village leader asked me if he could trust me to translate correctly, and I said of course he could. After all, the truth was completely to our benefit.

He asked that Kyosuke should simply tell what happened in his own words, and I directed Kyosuke to do so. He told the tale fairly well, and forgot little. I relayed his words to the village leader, and his story matched mine, of course. The village leader seemed satisfied with what Kyosuke said through me, although I could not convince him to release Kyosuke and the White Faerie into my care.

I did get more information about the near future, and I did not like it at all. It will likely be several weeks before the matter can be resolved, as for an official court a noble has to come from Nulun to preside. I cannot allow Miyara Kyosuke to remain in this barbarian guardhouse for so long. What would my uncle say? More importantly, I cannot see this unknown noble ruling in favor of foreigners against a fellow noble. I must find a way to secretly remove Kyosuke and the White Faerie and get all of us out of this miserable village.

I returned to the inn and told the glum news to everyone there. While I was explaining matters, the captain returned briefly, leaving with Hosei in tow.

We ate our lunch quietly, each of us thinking no doubt of our dire situation. Everyone in the inn seemed rather excitable and did not wish to talk with us. We all went upstairs to bring Ash his lunch, as he remained in the room on watch, and also for private discussion. The others, on edge themselves, thought the villagers' alarm was overblown and wondered about it. I had not thought so, as it seemed natural to me that these peasants would be quite alarmed at the goings-on here. Murders, treacherous nobles. It was a wonder they were ever relaxed.

The afternoon seemed to stretch on forever, and Hosei did not return. I could not sit at the inn in waiting anymore, so as the sun's shadows were beginning to stretch long, I went back to the guardhouse to talk with the prisoners.

Hosei had also been arrested, although I could not determine why. They were all three sharing a single cell, and the Sir's archers were in the adjoining cell. I spoke with all three, first the White Faerie and Hosei, and then Kyosuke and told them that the village leader wanted to keep them there for the next several weeks. Hosei seemed to take the news in stride, but then he is a monk and this world is as nothing to them. The White Faerie was not so sanguine, but realized he was stuck for now. Kyosuke simply accepted the situation and prepared himself to wait for the court. I think he would fit in very well with the monks of Fuku Wai, as they also train their bodies for battle, although they do not use my cousin's style.

I asked if they needed me to bring anything, like food or clothing. Apparently they are at least feeding the prisoners, as well as any of us are fed here. Hosei said they most likely get their meals from one of the inns anyway. He did ask for a game to pass the time, preferably something simple that Kyosuke could play as well, even through the language barrier.

I returned to the inn where I attempted to find some sort of game to take back. Just before the inn served dinner, the village leader arrived and asked us all to attend to his words. Sir Thiodoushu had died, turning the entire matter into another murder investigation. I asked how that changed matters, and he said it made it harder to get the Sir's side of the story. I reminded him that the Sir's men were still alive and could certainly produce an accurate account. Perhaps without needing to fear the Sir anymore, they might speak the truth and also attest to his dishonour. The village leader said now he will hold a formal inquiry tomorrow afternoon, and all parties will be there and he can hear everything. Then he can decide what to do: He could dismiss the entire matter, he could send us all to Nulun for the matter to be heard there, or he could keep the original plan and send for someone from Nulun to come hear the case.

That was good news in my eyes. Tomorrow afternoon I will know what to do. Either everything will be fine or not. If not, I will either have several weeks to figure out a way to remove them from their prison, or we will simply have to break away from guards along the way to Nulun. Neither should be all that difficult.

As we ate our dinner in the common room, we could hear some of the talk around us. Most, if not all, of it centered on the recent doings, as was natural. We heard more than one say guardedly that the Sir would not be missed. One went so far as to call him a pompous jackass, but he was immediately hushed and reminded not to speak ill of the dead. People also had concerns that the death of the noble might cause Imperials to come to town to sort things out in their own way, and poke their noses into the town's business. Of course, that is exactly what should have happened, but in these strange western lands, one thing I can count on is a very weak imperial presence and very independent towns and villages.

Having Ravena in the care of a known poisoner made me a little nervous, even though I knew Caramela was there with her and would do what she could to prevent harm coming to her sister. Still, I was restless and decided to walk over to the doctor's to check on her. Ash insisted on accompanying me. He was fine company: he said nothing.

The doctor brought us in to where Ravena was sleeping. Caramela was awake but quite tired. The doctor did not leave us alone, but did go over to the other side of the room and puttered around. I asked Caramela how Ravena was doing, and she said still sleeping, which worried her, I could see. I told her that the Sir was dead. She told me quietly that she had fallen asleep, and she was still feeling fatigued. I asked if she had eaten or drunk anything the doctor gave her, and her eyes went wide: she had. I then asked her loudly enough for the doctor to hear if she would like for me to bring her the food which she is used to eating, and she said yes. I did not know why the doctor would make Caramela sleep, but it could not be for good.

Then Caramela said if Ravena is just going to sleep, she could do that as easily at the inn as here. We pointed out to the doctor that moving Ravena to the inn would free up much needed space, and he agreed, as long as he could come to the inn to medicate her. We agreed for now, and he brought out a sort of a wheelbarrow that was made to transport people. He accompanied us and helped us settle Ravena safely in bed. He said something about being paid, and Caramela assured him we could pay him for his services.

I took some dice and some pebbles (perhaps we could teach Hosei go) to the guardhouse, but the guard refused to let me bring anything in with me. I convinced him to give some of his dice to them. I spoke briefly with Kyosuke and with the others, telling them about the Sir's death and tomorrow's planned inquiry because of it. I told them the guard would not allow me to bring them anything but that he should be giving them dice to play with. Having nothing else to speak of, I left them imprisoned and returned to the inn.

The inn was still quite full, but the mood was subdued. I went upstairs to speak with Caramela. She and Ravena were both fine; Ravena still sleeping and Caramela more alert. We discussed the water the doctor brought her to drink, after which she fell asleep. I wished Ravena were awake and well, to say what the Sir actually died from. Of course, it was better that he was dead, so perhaps it did not really matter whether he died of his injuries or whether the doctor helped him along. Still restless, I went back downstairs.

No one spoke with us, and any who spoke at all, talked quietly amongst themselves. We sat quietly around the table, drinking ale or wine, and I wrote, bringing this account up to date. I was not sitting there long before a young man walked over to our table from the other side of the room and addressed me.

In a sombre voice, he asked, "Are you from Cathay?"

"No, I'm from Nippon."

"Are you going back there?"

"Eventually, although not as soon as I would like. Why?"

"I would like to travel with you, when you leave."

I asked why he would want to, and he said he wanted to get away from this "nowhere of a place". He was dressed colorfully, but did not appear especially well-to-do. Jeisan recognized him, introduced him as Zigi Katsu, and told him to sit down.

Apparently, when Jeisan and the others had come through this village before, they had met Zigi and made arrangements for him to travel with them. It appeared that the people whom we rescued from the ogres and with whom I have been traveling are a troupe of entertainers! I have willingly associated myself with hinin, merely one step above the burakumin. I console myself with the thought that one rank of western barbarians is much like another; they are all barbarians, and back home, all senmin *. But I wonder at my fate sometimes, that this should be the path which I must travel.

Zigi had been disappointed when the troupe had left the village suddenly, before he could leave with them. He asked about the people who were missing, and Jeisan told him their fates. The bard stayed with the Druidess, a hobbit whom I had never met had been eaten by the ogres, who had also killed Og. Zigi still wished to travel with us when we left, though. He was another entertainer and not any kind of warrior: another noncombatant eta I would have to protect.

Jeisan said he would have to talk with the rest of our group about Zigi joining us. Then he asked Zigi if he had been in the inn the night Bastiyan had been killed. Zigi said he'd been home that night with his shutters closed tight against the night of the two full moons. They discussed the death, which Zigi assumed was caused by a ghost. He did not believe Bastiyan had been poisoned, because no ghost would do such a thing.

Zigi begged to be allowed to leave with us. He promised he would clean up after us, set up our tents, and do whatever we wanted him to do. Jeisan asked if he had ever worked for Tasuke, and he said no. He also asked if Zigi had ever seen her hire someone to do something for her. Zigi said she had hired someone to make her dinner, and himself to sing for her. He said the rumour about Tasuke was that she was a retired bodyguard from Nulun. Yet another Nulun connection to Bastiyan.

Since there were fewer of us at the inn, I suggested that we set a single watch in the hall rather than three separate watches for each room. We divided the night into four watches: Ash, Jeisan, Res Li, and finally myself. The night passed more quietly than most did here.

In the morning, we moved the chest into the ladies' room, and Ash stayed there to watch over it and Ravena and Caramela. The rest of us went downstairs for breakfast. I ate the bread, wishing for a bowl of rice porridge. I tried not to watch the others eating the cold meat from last night.

The inn's guests were still on edge, although those visiting from out of town were not so much affected. We overheard a conversation between two elderly women of the village. A number of people were listening to them.

They made the standard disclaimer of the village gossip, saying of course they never gossip or pry. One woman said that she had noticed something was swinging in a window. She went closer, and there he was, swinging back and forth, his face purple as the other woman's hat, which was quite a hideous shade of purple. She turned her face away from his eyes popping out, because one cannot be too careful. One should never look at a dead man's face, she said, lest his ghost haunt you.

In the window, she saw a book and a note. The woman who never pried or gossiped let herself into the house, read the note and the page the book was open to, and told her listeners what it said. Written in the book was a story about Zigi's ancestor, and how he was one of a group of villagers who had burned a manor down, bringing the curse onto the village. She said those who had died do not rest easy. She said after the manor burned down, vampires and beasts threatened the village, and the river had turned to blood. The book said that was when Zigi's ancestor left the village and went to Nulun. Then the gossip said the curse had now returned and young Zigi would not be the last victim.

I understood little of her tale: there was obviously much of the story she did not need to mention because her listeners knew it. But from this, it was clear that something had happened to Zigi, that the village believed it was cursed, and the curse had been brought down on them originally a few generations ago when the villagers had burnt down the manor and killed the people within it.

Jeisan tried to remember who of our suspects was in the inn last night. Tasuke was not, nor Leafglow. The two men who work here and the barmaid were, of course. Guduren was here, but then she usually was, too.

Jeisan asked the woman what the note said, and mentioned that Zigi had wanted to travel with us. She said the note had said something about how he could not get what his ancestors had done out of his mind.

Throughout the morning, the villagers discussed events both recent and past. We all listened carefully and finally put together a rough history.

About 200 years ago, the noble responsible for this area was Count Ladimiru Raikenbaku, and his wife Natalya. The Count was universally hated. Visitors to the village disappeared mysteriously. The villagers said variously that he was a demonologist, a necromancer, and "much worse" (that said in whispers even today). The village sent a delegation to Nulun, but the Count caught and killed them. The empire was too busy fighting chaos up north to pay attention to a minor village. So the villagers gathered their pitchforks and torches and burned the mansion, killing everyone inside. Although they were evil people, the village collectively feels guilt for it still. So they believe that the ghosts haunt and curse them.

I am inclined to believe them. Surely the ghosts of the evil nobles would haunt the villagers who killed them, and I can believe they were cursed for the actions of their ancestors. I have felt this to be an odd place since I first came here, and the multiple murder of one man is surely a symptom of the general malaise of the place. I wish to leave now more than ever. I will stay for the hearing this afternoon, then we are leaving, one way or another.

Later in the morning, the doctor came to check on Ravena. I took him upstairs. He gave her some sort of potion and said she needed to continue to rest. It was clear to both me and Caramela that he was drugging her to keep her asleep. When asked about it, he said her wounds were healing well, but he sensed a disturbing rhythm to her heart. Caramela insisted that she should be allowed to awaken, knowing that she would then be able to heal herself properly, but the doctor refused. Caramela and he argued about Ravena's well-being, and they both appealed to me. I agreed with Caramela, but he still refused to listen to us. Finally Caramela said that he was no longer allowed to treat Ravena, and he left. We both hoped she would wake up soon and be all right. Perhaps the doctor was right about her heart, but he did not know about Ravena's abilities and they must be kept secret lest the barbarians burn her as a witch.

In the Edo period in Japan, people were divided into hierarchical classes, essentially castes:

  • Tenno Heika (the Emperor)
  • Daimyo (feudal lords)
  • Samurai (warrior-administrators)
  • Nofu (farmers)
  • Jukurenko (skilled artisans)
  • Shonin (merchants)
  • Senmin (lowly folk), such as
    • Hinin (non-people, a sub-class of whores, beggars, actors and various itinerants)
    • Kakibe (peasants in degrading occupations like aviculture)
    • Kujome (street cleaners and so on)
  • Burakumin or Eta (leather workers, butchers, executioners, and grave diggers. All debarred from normal social intercourse because of Buddhist strictures which said all who killed (and ate meat) were impure. Even those associated with blood and death (i.e. midwives, surgeons) were subjected to some form of segregation.)

I decided that the stricture against surgeons/doctors is not universally followed in Nippon. Miyara does not view doctors as unclean, and Ravena in particular, who is a monk who heals with her mind, would not be viewed as unclean by anyone in Nippon anyway.

Priests and monks have the same rank as samurai, regardless of the class in which they were born. Of course, few temples would accept eta into their mix.

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