Chapter 89: Homeward Bound
Blue water, blue eyes --
One takes me home, the other
begs me to remain.
~ Miyara Miwa
Hosei and the faerie from Iri parted from us at the path that led to Iri. Peter, Sun, Toni, and I wished Hosei well and I sent my greetings to the monks by way of the faerie. We arrived at Kreuzhofen and found the inn full to capacity.
We left the Druidess' in a hurry, and I have not written anything since then. We quickly gathered with a caravan to travel with. One of the guards was a young man who practiced at weapons with anyone who would let him. His skill caught my eye, and I watched. For such a youth, he is well-trained. But it was more than that, and when I saw his face after the end of one such practice session, at least a part of his history was clear. This was a professional soldier who's seen more than his share of hard battles. He's killed, he's seen friends killed. He's probably had to kill friends. At a crossroads before we reached Iri, he asked to travel with us instead, and I agreed. And so there are four of us now, on our way to Nippon. For Peter has decided to remain with me as well.
Our manager said he'd be willing to throw out a few guests to let us stay, but he had another solution for us. Leafglow had left Kreuzhofen some time ago, but another elf had moved into his old house and the manager easily acquired us places at his house instead.
It did not take me long to see that the manager is doing well and has made connections with the townsfolk. I met with him briefly, and told him that we agreed to grant him a 50% stake in the inn as well as the right to invest the profits of the inn in the town. He is sharp, and watches for properties for sale, and the movements and habits of people. He sees that investing in the town will help grow it, and will likewise grow the inn. He will make himself a rich man, and in the meantime we have an inn and soon other properties, too. Of course, we are only Hosei, who is mired at Iri trying to remove the taint of chaos from himself; Caramela, who will never be her true self again and had found a place with the Druidess; and I, who am returning to Nippon and will not return for a long time, if ever.
I urged him to continue keeping the books as he has done, as any one of us may visit at any time to see how things are going. Peter set himself up as a doctor for the townsfolk, as Ravena always used to do. The manager informed me that the man from Albion, whose request he sent on to me at the Druidess', was still here. I agreed to speak with him. I may as well refuse his request in person rather than merely leaving a note.
We sat down at a table before dinner, and he bought a bottle of wine for us as we talked. He was well-spoken, and polite, and very well-traveled. I learned he was a native of Albion, where Shan was from, and even before he told me his name and title it was obvious he was a nobleman. Padraic planned to travel through the Empire and was eager to have me and my retinue act as his bodyguard. He was impressed with my skills and experience, and his offer was generous. If I did not need to go home so urgently, I would have happily accepted. Instead, I had to turn him down. I explained my dilemma, and wished him well on his journey. He was disappointed, but accepted my refusal.
I was about to take my leave, when he hesitated a moment and then offered to buy me dinner, so I could tell him about Nippon. My view of him suddenly shifted, and I saw he had other interests. I also realized he interested me; the first western man I saw as a man and not a barbarian. It would be a long time, if ever, before I return here, and I would most likely never see him again. I smiled and stayed for dinner, and another bottle of wine.
We spent dinner talking about the world. He has a very clear understanding of the world's geography, which few westerners have. If an Imperial knows more or less where Tai Lia is, it is as much as he knows.
Padraic was charming, and flirted roguishly with me throughout dinner. He never failed to be polite, however. He spoke Imperial with a slight lilting accent, almost musical. He took pains to teach me to speak his name properly, and I managed the awkward syllables only by mimicing his lilt. His smile and laughing eyes at my attempts warmed me considerably.
He was older than I, but not by more than a decade, I judged. He had eyes the color of the sky in autumn. His hair was an amazing color: red like a new piece of copper. And sort of wiry looking. I sipped at my wine and idly wondered what it felt like. Perhaps not so idly.
We were rushed: we only had this evening. A Nipponese courtier would take days, if not weeks, to court a woman. And the woman would lead him a merry chase. Even rushed, the invitation he finally offered at the end of dinner was well-made, relatively subtle given the circumstances, and with ample room for refusal. I did not refuse. But then, the way we had been looking at each other all evening left little room for doubt.
I got almost no sleep, and exceedingly pleasantly so.
He ordered breakfast up to the room, and we smiled at each other over eggs and tea. He asked if I would not consider delaying my departure by a few days. It is a long way to Nippon, and a few days surely would not matter. He was right: a few days wouldn't matter at all. And that is why I gently insisted that I must truly leave immediately. This one westerner, this barbarian from Albion, has reached a place in me that no one else ever has. Leaving him is too hard, and so I must leave quickly. True to his nature, he accepted my decision, and we parted friends.
I will never see him again.
Downstairs, I met Sun, Peter, Toni, and the innkeeper, and the innkeeper took us out to the docks to the barge he arranged for us. As we approached the docks, a most strange looking woman cast herself at my feet and said the spirits told her she must follow me wherever I go, to the ends of the earth. I was going to refuse her, but paused. Long ago, the last time I boarded a barge for a journey with an unknown ending, Ashe and the White Faerie both came to me with similar requests. Who was I to refuse a woman whose Fate seemed to twine with mine? I accepted her, and she fell in behind me, with Peter, Sun, and Toni.
The barge was full, and we had cramped quarters on the deck. It was a short trip, only a day to Mariliano. The innkeeper said there was better, but I would have to wait a few days.
A few days. They wouldn't matter. And Padraic was back at the inn. A second chance. Just a few days. They would pass quickly. And perhaps after another day or two, we would tire of each other anyway.
I steeled myself and assured the innkeeper that time was of the essence and the barge would be acceptable.
Yes, a few days would not matter. But would I leave Padraic at the end? Or would another few days seem not so important? And then a few more? I was afraid of the answer I might find.
The captain showed us where to put our things, and told us to try to stay out of the crew's way. The crew stared at us when we weren't looking, but did not bother us. The new girl, Fibi, is an odd one. After dinner, she found some clear space up on a crate and danced madly around in circles. The crew openly stared at her. I watched her, too, and judged for the first time what she looks like.
She does not look much like the other Imperials. Her rough clothes are covered with beaded patterns, and her skirts are fuller than most women's. She braids feathers through her long hair, which she wears loose, except for small braids that probably help control it a bit. She wears jangly bracelets and anklets. She is as tall as many men, and willowy, and she moves with grace. Her face is not the round face most women here have, but long, with high cheekbones, and she has the ears of the faerie, like Leafglow. At night, her hair is brown. But this morning and all day, it was dark green. I imagine she looks exotic to the men here. In fact, she refused one bold crew man, who expressed his interest when she was finished with her dance.
We reached Mariliano the next day and disembarked. The captain pointed me to where I would find ships bound for other ports. As I walked along the harbor, I realized he never asked for our fares. The innkeeper must have managed it somehow, either paying out of the till or perhaps, and more likely I thought, with other agreements.
On the sea side of the port, I saw a group of people, all haggling over places to go and ships to take them. I posed my request, and was directed to a Tai Lian ship bound for Lutsini immediately: the Molo Bene. Once there, the captain told me they had room for five more passengers and they were ready to sail within the hour. We boarded, and I paid the man passage for all of us out of the money Ito left for me. There is not much left, but I do not think I will have great need for it.
The captain showed us to a single cabin we would have to share. It's small, dark, and smelly, and I intend to spend my time on deck. I saw the same look on Fibi's face. She has no more liking for this than I. We all stowed our gear quickly and went back up to watch us leave port.
Within two hours, we were out to sea, beyond the sight of land. Fibi watched the sailors and I watched the water, lost in my own thoughts. Home. Kyosuke. Home. Isawa Godanji. Home. Padraic. Home.
The captain tapped me on the shoulder and showed me the tent he rigged up on deck. He said we might find it more pleasant as long as the weather is decent, and he is oh so right. He hung nets that he called hammocks and showed how to get in and out of one. I felt very clumsy, but once in discovered it was fine enough. It swayed gently with the swaying of the ship, and I found that very soothing. Sun, on the other hand, landed on the deck a few times trying to get in, and then couldn't get comfortable at all. He decided a coil of rope just outside the tent suited him better.
But that was later. For the rest of the evening, I sat down with scrolls I acquired from the faerie from Iri and some new brushes and inks. I started to work: I had to rewrite the scrolls of my journey, lost to fire. And I needed to write Kyosuke's tale as well.
Fibi must have come in late, because she was not there when I went to sleep, and she was when I woke the next morning. Later that day, I saw why: the faerie crewwoman, who is quite beautiful. They're very taken with each other. Which surprised me a little, because Fibi had briefly considered the advances of the crewman on the barge the other night, and she has given Toni more than one appraising look. But no matter to me: it is her own affair who she sleeps with.
We arrived later that day, but had to wait until the next morning when the tide was right. Another night spent on the deck, another late night for Fibi.
At last we disembarked in Lutsini. Somewhere in the harbor was a ship from home, waiting for me. I hoped it still waited for me. I asked several people for directions to a Nipponese ship (how many could there be here?), but found that no one could speak Imperial!
I missed my interpreter, Hosei. Before I could get too frustrated, the faerie from the ship walked up to me and greeted me in execrable Nipponese. Still, she tried, and few enough know even the little she does. She also speaks Imperial, which we switched to immediately to converse more easily, and also Tai Lian. She offered to help me find my ship, and she offered her her more permanent services to me: she is a skilled archer she said, and she did indeed carry a fine-enough looking bow along with her other things. And some sort of sword-like thing on her hip. Her bow did interest me: I lost mine long ago, and much of my skill when I lost my left eye. Perhaps on the long trip I could re-acquaint myself with archery. She expressed great interest in visiting Nippon, having never been there. I saw a hopeful look on Fibi's face, and I knew at least part of the real reason this Meili wants to travel with me. I accepted her into my service: no reason they can't enjoy each other for the time they have. I squelched the thought that I might have invited Padraic to travel with me. He had his life, I mine.
Ito's letter has worried me, and I wonder what situation I'm returning to back home. I feel the want for allies at my back. Even barbarian allies. Sun is a good retainer; Peter a skilled healer. I still don't know what use Fibi may be. She claims to speak with the spirits, so she is some of kind of priest. Some priests have unusual powers, others are but the servants of the spirits, tending their shrines. We shall see what type she is. Toni, now, he is a skilled warrior, and adding an archer behind me, and one who bears a sword as well -- that makes me feel better.
With Meili's assistance, we quickly found our way to the Nipponese ship. Before I could even approach the ship, they saw me and six samurai attached to Miyara flew out to meet me. I suddenly felt awkward in my borrowed clothes, but I could see they were badly out of shape. They've been spending too much time lazing around on the ship. They lined up and bowed deeply to me, and I bowed my head to them in return. Their captain stepped forward and expressed pleasure (tinged with relief) that I arrived safely. He asked the question I was dreading: Where was Isawa Godanji?
I will have to get used to telling it. I admitted that I lost Isawa-san, but I carry what he sought. I received no surprise, nor any hint of disapproval. That's just the way it was. These will not judge a Miyara. It will be harder when I return home. There is only one Path for a Miyara yojimbo who has lost her Isawa charge. I had hoped Kyosuke would be my second. Perhaps one of my brothers will do me the honor instead. Maybe Isao. He and I were close when we were children.
I stepped forward to board, my small entourage behind me, and the samurai filled in behind us. We boarded and met a line of another six samurai. Finally, the ship's captain greeted me. He was happy I arrived, sad that Isawa-san has not. The ship awaited my command. I told him I was ready to leave as soon as the ship was prepared. He replied the ship could leave this evening, and I said, then let's. He moved off and started barking orders to his sailors.
As the rest of us stood together, a servant addressed me and asked if there was anything I needed. He also asked what to do with my retinue, with the inflection that inquired after their station and assumed the worst. He asked this right in front of them, thinking that as barbarians they would not understand his insult. Perhaps not, but it was a grave error in judgement to think I would not take notice. I answered him quite straight, telling him I had two priests, two samurai, and my personal servant with me. I used only the tone of my voice to reprimand him, and I slapped him down hard with it. He paled and took his leave of me. The ship was unready for four additional persons, and there is little room on a warship. Still, they quickly reconfigured a few things, and I had a room, Peter and Toni had a room, and Fibi and Meili had a room.
We took the time we waited to learn a little of each other. It turns out I guessed closely enough when I named Fibi a priest. She says she is half a spirit herself, that she walks between the two worlds and intercedes between them and mortals. I can believe it. Depending on what we find in Nippon, she may be very useful indeed. Meili Tashonai is a sea faerie, and is skilled with a rapier, which appears to be something between a sword and a slender stick, and the bow. Fate always seems to provide what one needs, although the cost is sometimes high. I will always miss Kyosuke.
We sailed that night, past an imperial ship whose sailors shouted rudely at us because they felt our ship came a little too close to theirs. I will not miss most barbarians. Most.
We have a very long journey ahead of us. I will have ample time to write my own journal telling of my travels, plus the heroic Tale of Miyara Kyosuke. I will leave out certain pieces that no one needs to know, such as the wings he grew, and his eating hobbit meat. It was merely the effects of the Crystal, I'm certain, and thus not truly representative of who my cousin was. I cannot return Kyosuke to his family, but I can give them a hero in his place.
I look out to sea. It is dark now, and one of the moons shines on the smooth waves. The water is black, the moon's light on it a silvery blue. I am going home, at long last.
I wonder if Padraic found the two little intertwined paper koi I left for him on the bed, and what he thought of them. I wonder what he looks out on tonight.
Ah, Padraic, why can you make me regret going home?