Chapter 42: Loose Ends and Preparations
The swan hides her chicks,
Unfurls her wings, strides across
The water, then flies.
~ Miyara Miwa
During our wintering at Iri, we received news that San Jiovisi-san had sent a manager from Tai Lia and he had re-opened the Red Bull Inn in Kurusa Hoven. So when we arrived in that benighted village, that was the first place we went to. The inn was open, and it was nearly full, as well. Mongo had also arrived, accepting our invitation to be employed as the inn's cook. The new manager came out to meet us and asked how long we were staying and how many rooms we required. I told him two nights, as this was merely a quick provisioning stop, and that we needed three rooms. He pulled a long face and said two rooms were easy, but he will find a third for us. He was true to his word: One group of the men stayed in Mongo's room, and the manager gave his room to the other men. He placed me and Ravena and Caramela in the best guest room upstairs.
As we had approached the village, Ashe said he would take the two days we were here to visit the druidess in the Ghost Wood. I knew he both hated to spend time in settlements and was devoted to the priestesses of the wild places, so I assented. It is always good to send one's greetings to the local shrines in any case. Baku initially said he would accompany Ashe into the forest, but I put a stop to that. I reminded him of the duty he had promised both the other druidess and me, and he reluctantly agreed to remain with us to watch over Shan. He seems as ill at ease in this village as Ashe does, but he must fulfill his promise.
We ate an excellent dinner, which was welcomed after the winter of the rather monotonous fare at Iri. Mongo ensured I ate as well as the others, as of old. As we ate, the manager visited us at table and again welcomed us, and asked after our rooms. His main point in speaking, though, was to point out the man at another table who had given up his room for us for the next two nights, and named him as one Captain Vinseti. I was not sure why he insisted on doing so: it was no more than was our due, and it was his responsibility to ensure we had a place to stay and to ensure the other man was justly compensated. Hosei, however, said the man might expect our thanks. The manager was quick to explain that was not the case at all, but again reminded us he had been gracious and that he thought we should know, in case it cam up in conversation. Again, I was not sure why the subject would come up in any conversation.
Hosei asked the manager how his family and the Captain's family were faring in Tai Lia, as though he knew them. I covertly studied the man at the other table. He was apparently Tai Lian, as were the other men he dined with. They were laughing and talking, as were all the other tables in the room. They quieted and listened closely to Shan when he stood and sang some tune, accompanying himself on the stringed instrument he carries. The westerners all greatly appreciated his off-key singing. I wish I had with me one of the true musicians from home for these people to listen to. As a girl, I remember father often had Tashi entertainers when we had guests. I wonder if barbarians could develop an ear for true music, or if they would always prefer their poor melodies.
When we had finished our dinner, the man from the other table came over to speak to us, "I wanted to introduce myself. You are the very famous owners of the Red Bull. I am Captain Vinseti." He looked at us expectantly, and Hosei welcomed him and asked him to sit with us. I realized he had again cast his spell, because I heard him speak in Nipponese, and his accent was beautiful. The captain responded in Tai Lian and sat down.
Hosei said, "Allow me to introduce everyone..." He looked at me and said, "if you don't mind," and I nodded to him to continue. The captain bowed deeply to me, and I nodded politely back. He bowed politely to the other two women, shook hands with Hosei, and nodded to everyone else. As I watched him, I decided he carried himself with the same bearing and authority as most barbarian nobles did. I wondered who he captained for, how large his force was, where his men were, and what rank he carried other than Captain.
Thereafter followed fairly usual after-dinner small talk. I sipped the wine and wished for sake. Hosei asked how far stories of my force had traveled: apparently we are known as the Saviours of Karusa Hoven all up and down the river, as far as Nulun at least in one direction, and Mariliano in the other. From the stories, it sounded like I lead a small, elite strike force, rather than the mismatched troupe of barbarians it actually is. I struggled not to laugh. Somehow the battle at Iri, so close by, has so far escaped notice. None of us mentioned it. Although the story could be told without including the Doom Stones, it's probably best that the whole thing remains unknown for now.
It seeming to be due him, I took Hosei's pause for a breath to thank the Captain for giving up his room for us, and he graciously swept aside my thanks as not necessary. Hosei having regained his breath, he continued chatting with the Captain.
He asked "So, if I may be so bold, what brings out a senior captain of the guard?" He replied that he did not captain a military force, but was instead captain of the river ships. Recalling that the Tai Lians are something of a merchant clan, I thought that was probably a high rank among them. And, of course, being captain of ships does not preclude one from being part of a military force, something these land-bound barbarians easily forget. Merchant barges are certainly capable of battle, as we well know.
Hosei also asked for news of the San Jiovisis; the captain replied, "they have not yet surfaced." This ambiguous phrase left me wondering, but everyone else seemed to take it at face value and continued chatting.
Someone mentioned Mongo, and Hosei turned to me and said, "so you know the cook? Mongo is his name?" I had forgotten that we met Hosei after Mongo returned to his home. I explained that he had traveled with us earlier.
We set a watch inside the inn for the night: one person at a time for a couple of hours, just to keep an eye on the inn as a whole. The morning breakfast was delicious, and the provisioning expedition was quick. After that, we broke into various groups. Ravena announced her availability for the day for any doctoring the village needed, which seemed fair since we killed their previous doctor. Who was completely insane anyway. Caramela remained at the inn to go through the inn's accounts. I asked Sun to help out at the inn with anything that needed doing. Res Li and the White Faerie stayed at the inn sampling the beer. Shan, Baku, Hosei, Kyosuke, and I went to the village leader: I wished to hear the ending of the our previous adventures in this village. The others had errands of their own.
When we reached the village leader's home, Baku said he would prefer to stay outside. Knowing Shan would be fine with us inside, I assented this time. The village leader welcomed us in and led us to his sitting room, rather than his office, and made us comfortable. He asked if our visit was official or social, and I assured him it was social.
He asked how we had been, and he said the town was recovering nicely. Trade was nearing what it had been. The population is still smaller than it was, and the inns are having trouble finding enough people to work the inns, but everything is improving.
The niceties aside, I asked about the three we had left in his custody. Gerig's case is still pending in Nulun, but the village leader said he lost track of the other two. Gerig hired a large number of high-priced lawyers, and the trials of the three conspirators were separated. Martin has never surfaced, but Sutami, Gerig's faerie, is back with his master: he hired the lawyers for Gerig, who initially showed up in Karusa Hoven to look after his interests. In fact, Gerig still owns most of the village, and one of his lawyers is staying at the Black Eagle and collecting Gerig's rent for him. I mused to myself that one well-placed blade would solve the whole problem, but it is not my concern anymore.
All winter, and the barbarian law has accomplished nothing. This man is nothing more than a thieving merchant and a criminal, yet they defer to him as if he were nobility. I was strongly tempted to run off his lawyer in town, but I knew that would accomplish nothing: another one would be sent and nothing would change. This Empire of theirs must handle their own problems.
I asked if the Empire had yet replaced Sir Thiodoshu. I assumed they would send one in spring, but perhaps he had not arrived. However, they have not even yet identified the man's heirs. Hosei muttered something about the wheels of the Empire grinding exceedingly slow. In an odd way, it is indicative of the relative stability of their Empire. There is little worry of some petty noble or warlord stepping in and taking control of the area for himself; if there were, they would be much swifter in replacing the power structure.
Hosei asked about the doctor's house and belongings. Although the village leader sent a letter stating that the man was dead, nobody has come to claim anything. He said if he does not get a reply after a while, he will confiscate it all in the name of the Duchess of Nulun and auction it all off. Leafglow closed up housekeeping and left town, having finished his mission here.
We exchanged more small talk, and then we left, to gather with the others and share our news.
Caramela reported her findings on the accounts to me. She said the books are in good order. The manager is not charging as much because he has not been able to hire enough people to give the same level of services they used to. When that improves, and it has been slowly but steadily, the prices will go up a bit. He is not making profits yet, and he is not even paying himself right now. Currently, he is about breaking even.
In the morning, we begin our trek to the rumoured faerie city in the mountains. I look forward to the journey.