Scroll 9: In Which I Return Home

Chapter 93: Interviewing Spirits and Mortals

In the house of stone and light. It's been too long, my spirit's been at war. Havasupai Shaman, let me be reborn

~ Martin Page, "In the House of Stone and Light"

We had carefully looked at everything on the fourth floor, but before we moved on, Fibi asked if we were in a hurry. She wanted to spend ten minutes or so asking the spirits about the son, as she did earlier for the father. I wondered what the son was like, so I agreed. We waited, chatting quietly, while Fibi sat on the floor with her eyes closed in Tsume Takashi's room.

Toni wants the maid questioned. I considered how best to do that. I will question her, but I would be interested in what she might say off the record. The maid will answer what I ask, and she has no obligation to discuss matters with anyone else. Still, servants naturally say things to each other that they don't to their employers. Perhaps I can find some way of throwing one of my servants into the maid's world and just seeing what the maid might gossip about.

I asked the general if anyone else were investigating this matter. He answered me, "There are no other special magistrates assigned". I realized I had formed my question poorly enough that I had just insulted him, implying that he was not, in fact, doing anything about the murder of his lord. Still, he had actually answered the question I wanted answered: I was the only magistrate here for this task. It seems no one else is much concerned with finding out who killed Tsume Retsu, and no one cares that everyone knows that fact.

I was beginning to wonder if father cared. Even if Miyara Katsuda was the assassin himself, nobody else gave a fig. It didn't look like it would be necessary to cover up anything. So was I really here just to figure out what the son's plans were? Was he someone we could work with in the future, or would he continue and expand his father's aggressive ways?

Regardless, I have a warrant from father and he officially sent me here to investigate the murder. So I will. I'll figure out what to do with the information later.

Fibi woke up and stated quickly what she had discovered. Tsume Retsu was overwhelmingly lonely, she found in her first trance. From this one, she learned that Tsume Takashi is unsure: he does not live up to his father's standards, he isn't sure he wants to, and he feels underappreciated. There is a small germ of hope here for the future: he may not want to be the sort of lord his father was, which would be a great help to everyone nearby.

Young, unsure of himself, and inexperienced. Could Phoenix influence him to keep peace between the clans in this area where so many clans intersect? Or would others influence him to create conflicts and upheavals?

When I get the chance, I will have to ask him about the incursions into Phoenix lands, and see what he says about his magistrate at the prayer gate who insisted the Miyara pay a Crane tax. And then tried to run when he was about to be defeated.

I told the general we were finished here for now, and we would like to see the Tsume's family armory. It was on the third floor. It was not a large room, perhaps about 12 feet by 12 feet. Everything was carefully arranged and well-organized. The weapons on display were quality, although not superior. There were chests stacked up as well, some full of weapons and armor, some empty. What was in the trunks was good, but not as fine as what was displayed.

The room's contents disturbed me. This was the Tsume family armory. Only the father and the son were bushido. There are other armories in the castle for the troops.

Why did the Tsume armory contain so many weapons? It was packed. I could arm the Miyara House guards with this room and have spare parts.

Was he simply ready for an attack that never came? Was he preparing for more offensives? I suspect we'll never know.

There was nothing missing in the displayed weapons, and the general said Tsume Retsu did not have a particular dagger as his own personal weapon. There was no point in searching every single weapon here: even if the murder weapon was in here, it would have been cleaned. It would take hours to inspect each one, and we would know nothing from it if we found it.

Enough. It was late afternoon, turning quickly to early evening. The murder had happened a week ago. Everything would keep until tomorrow. It was time for us to return to the inn, bathe, and get some dinner. We could all discuss everything tonight.

Toni pointed out on the way back that someone should speak to the eta who cleaned up the room and the body. Yes, and I think he will do that job fine.

The late afternoon sun warmed us as we walked back to the Golden Peony. Late summer moving into fall was my favorite time of the year. The heat was still here, but I could feel the end of it, and fall waiting just beyond. The trees were still in full green, but it was dark green, not the early light green of spring. Red, yellow, orange, and brown were not far away. At this time of year, somehow, time's endless cycle is a weight that cannot be ignored. Summer, fall, winter. Death, then life again in spring. The shortness of life, and yet at the same time the endlessness of it all.

One year ago, we had almost reached Kreuzhofen again, walking all summer from Karak Ostohar. The final Crystal, of Water, still awaited us, as did the joining of the Crystals, and winter. The hopelessness of trying to discover how to destroy the damned thing. Success, tempered as always by success' price, which was exceedingly high. The bleak march through midwinter to the druidess and the long recovery for those few of us who survived. No, last fall we still had hope.

And now I'm back home, and somehow I still look forward to fall. Even knowing what follows.

At the inn, the hostess told us they could provide baths for Fibi, Meili, and me, but the men would have to use one of the bathhouses in town. She provided a servant to guide them, and Toni, Grieg, and Peter followed.

I enjoyed a good long soak after the fast bath this morning, and Kyoko again took care of everything else. How lovely, to have the day's dust washed away, and dressed in fresh silks for dinner. I was the first in the restaurant, and a pot of tea and several cups were brought in quickly. I had just finished a cup when Meili and Fibi arrived. We filled each other's cups, and bowls of soup were brought out to us. We hadn't quite finished them when the three men returned from their excursion, looking much cleaner if nothing else. More bowls of soup were quickly whisked to the table for them.

We spent dinner discussing nothing of importance. Business was for later. The dinner was quite pleasant, between Donku's food and the casual conversation. I answered a few hesitant questions about geisha, which interestingly caused Grieg to blush bright red. And he left early, with a strange parting glance at Toni.

Eventually, dinner was over and the sake came out. Meili seemed intent on getting Toni drunk, and everyone else seemed eager to follow her. I assumed she was going to vet Toni, as she had Grieg a few nights ago. I relaxed and drank considerably more carefully than did everyone else, watching with amusement. Meili drank far more than I would be comfortable with, and nobody else drank as much as she. But it did not seem to affect her at all. I'll have to keep that in mind. By the end of the night, everyone but she and I were barely able to find one's feet.

And I discovered the rest of Toni's story, what he hadn't said or hinted at already. As young as he is, he's the only survivor of a mercenary company. From his drunken meanderings, I gather that his company was hired to root out a large nest of skaven under a city. Much larger than the city officials guessed. He managed to pull a lady mage out with him, but they were the only survivors.

A mage, so there was probably some purpose to it besides merely killing off skaven. He didn't say this; but his friends, his comrades, died unnecessarily, even if the mage's goal were reached. Better intelligence and planning would have prevented a great deal of needless slaughter, and finished the skaven as well. But I've seen western city leaders. They see nothing wrong with that kind of waste. I have no doubt they saw the whole thing as a great success, except that there was one survivor still. Had Toni died, the city leaders would not have had anyone to pay. And no one would expect the city leaders to disembowel themselves in the city square for their failure.

Since then, Toni spent some time in training with an older man, retired from the company, and then on small jobs out on his own. Which is where I found him, acting as a guard for the caravan we travelled with to Kreuzhofen. Bored out of his skull.

This explains his near-obsession with weapons and learning as many different ways to fight with them as he can, as well as his skill. And the dark look in his eyes sometimes. The intial feeling I had of "veteran" was correct. If he doesn't break, Toni is someone you want at your back. And if he hadn't broken yet, I was willing to bet he wouldn't. As long as he doesn't have to face the dark, and perhaps more skaven.

As an added bonus, I learned just a little more about Meili's teacher. Amazing, if she could duplicate his ability. And was it something I could learn as well? If I can internalize and feel where my target is and how he will move and when, then I'm not dependent on my one eye and my lost sense of depth. If I can hit my target with a blindfold, what does the missing eye matter? Of course, as nice as it would be to kill from a distance and stop a conflict before it starts, nothing matches the thrill of the blades.

Eventually, the evening came to a close. I expected a very late start in the morning, and we hadn't brought up the reason we were here at all. I had to count an evening my horde spent bonding more closely together as an evening well-spent. My sensei had spoken of the importance of what he called "team-building exercises".

I awoke early and performed my usual morning routine in a clear spot in the garden. A hurried bath, and Kyoko to brush out and put up my hair and get me decently dressed. It's nice to be back in civilization again.

I was still the first one out to the breakfast table, by a considerable amount of time. Considering the sake that had flowed the previous evening, I figured this would be a late start. I was content to wait. The inn's restaurant is a pleasant place. I drank tea and nibbled at the plates Donku sent out. He was a good hire. It's always nice to travel with a talented cook. I could fault his presentation, but after years in the west, I'm glad for what I get.

Grieg was the first out, since he had retired before the sake really hit. Peter was next, followed quickly by Toni. Peter was definitely the worse for wear, but Toni had recovered all right. He went out into the front yard for a while, probably doing something similar to what I do most mornings.

I'm certain Meili was up at a decent time, but I wasn't surprised that she didn't emerge until Fibi was ready as well. In fact, they were the last to appear, walking hand-in-hand. Almost, I envied them. I had started considering the odds of Donku transitioning his constant stream of plates from breakfast to lunch before they arrived. They barely beat the first lunch plates.

I gathered everyone's attention, and Meili asked what exactly we were here to do. Some random noise outside the restaurant made us all look at each other. This was a public place, and Nipponese is no longer the language to hide our discussions with. Now Imperial is the language nobody understands. It's a considerable change in habit. I switched to that unwieldy tongue and reminded everyone we did not need to speak in Nipponese at all times.

Meili's question was fair enough, but one whose answer I am ultimately uncertain of. What we do depends on what we discover. And so I told everyone, "We are here to investigate and find out what happened. Once we find out, I can figure out what to do with it, if anything". Meili nodded, clearly expecting something like that.

Everyone had something to say, something we wished we had or knew, some question to ask, someone to ask questions of. Theories abounded. I tried to keep us grounded to what we knew and what we needed to know and away from the flights of fancy.

Toni figured there was something shameful about Tsume's death (and he had a few possible theories on that), so therefore someone was covering up how it had really happened. Grieg wanted the murder weapon, and to have Fibi ask her spirits about it. She did not appear all that enthusiastic about the idea, and I remembered a quick look of horror that had passed across her face in the Tsume armory as she considered an entire room full of potential murder weapons. Still, if we find it, she will need to discover what she can about it. We'll need the knowledge, whether she's reluctant to see it or not.

Meili, too, kept bringing the discussion back to what we had. For instance, how the assassin got into Tsume's room. Three ways:

  1. Down through the ceiling, in which case how did he get there in the first place?
  2. Past the guards, without them seeing. Magic, to cloak both him and his steps across the nightengale floor?
  3. Or past the guards with their let, as someone expected? Who would they let through? Takashi? A geisha? A houseguest? Certainly no stranger.

Toni and I both wondered why the guards hadn't at least heard Tsume being killed. Even if he hadn't made a single sound at the surprise of a blade thrust into him, what about the fall of his body to the floor? What about the murderer moving about within the room, perhaps climbing down from and back up into the ceiling? Toni's eyes were dark, thinking of his dying fellows, I'm sure.

He asked about the comb, and I brought it out again to look at it. There was nothing special about it. It was just a standard, rather gaudy, haircomb that any geisha might wear, although a lady would certainly never wear it. Perhaps the men, having carefully studied its appearance, could be on the lookout for a matching comb at the bathhouse tonight. Assuming the geisha didn't simply throw away a now-mismatched comb.

Toni's eyes lightened when he considered returning to the Pine house tonight. He planned to go back there tonight, he said with a smile. Grieg looked sour and grumbled something under his breath.

Grieg pointed out that of course, anyone with his ability to move like he can could have done it. It seems unlikely, though, Meili and I agree on that: how many like Grieg can there be? Meili thought about the fact that although we'll question the guards, they can be assured of lying to us if they need to.

And Fibi, who had been silent until then, said quietly that her spirits may tell her if they lie, if she asks them. Really. How do the spirits judge what is truth, since truth is slippery and depends on your perspective? Sometimes truth is not what you need. Still, useful, and I intend to use her as a touchstone during my interviews. *

The conversation had wandered around a good deal, and I tried to summarize what we needed to do next. There wasn't that much, sadly. Talk to the maid. Talk to the guards. Have Toni find and talk to the eta who cleaned up. All at the castle, although the eta would be harder to track down.

Meili asked the question. How would I interpret what we'd found? She's been wondering, and trying to subtly ask now and again, if I think Miyara Katsuda is the assassin.

I told her simply that I had little to interpret so far. I truly don't know, but then even if I were certain I would say the same. And she knows it.

Meili nodded and asked if Fibi could, perhaps, ask the spirits about the bead, and Grieg jumped in quickly and added the comb. He, at least, seemed to think the spirits would tell us who they each belonged to, so we'd know who to ask questions of first. But Fibi explained carefully that the spirits don't really see things as we do, and they certainly wouldn't simply give her a name. On the other hand, she might be able to make some guesses, depending on what the spirits chose to show her.

And so she sat on the floor, cupping the bead in her hands. As she had in the Tsumes' rooms, she closed her eyes, breathed deeply and steadily, and quietly muttered to herself in words I didn't understand. The rest of us sat silently, perhaps a little uncomfortable being that near the spirits.

After several minutes, Fibi opened her eyes, and she was different than she had been when she awoke from her trance in both Tsumes' rooms. She sat still, her eyes staring straight ahead but obviously not registering anything. Meili knelt nearby, watching Fibi intently. She looked a little worried at Fibi's slow recovery, or lack thereof. She blinked, and she started seeing, but I don't think she knew what she was looking at. It's hard to describe, but I when her eyes fell on me, it was as if someone else entirely, a complete stranger, were looking at me, using Fibi's eyes to do so.

It was several minutes before she seemed to be again Fibi, and she told us what she had discovered about the bead before she moved. She had learned much about the person who had created the bead. I cared not, but I wasn't about to interrupt her and tell her to get to the important information. So, the bead was created, then sold, then there was a long time of the bead just being a bead.

She said at the end, there was a sense of sudden death, a tearing, and the bead went flying across the room and rolled into the corner where I found it. So, not a lot of information, but something new still. Tsume, dying, had grasped at his murderer in desperation, or a last effort at struggle. Yet either no one had heard it, or the nearby guards had ignored it. Interesting, that. Magic can cloak sound. And vision, too.

On the other side, what would prompt the guards to ignore the sounds of struggle from Tsume's room? He had few visitors, ever, so they would hardly be used to hearing things in his room. Or, simplest and therefore probably truth, perhaps Tsume, having been stabbed and now dying, begins to fall and instinctively clutches at his assailant, pulling and ripping at his clothing. The assassin catches hold of him and eases him to the ground, slowly and quietly. Little to no sound, no more than Tsume would make in simply moving around within his room.

Fibi was visibly shaken. Meili helped her to the table, where she drank a cup of tea to steady herself. Her hands trembled, and her eyes still didn't look entirely like her own. Meili sort of held her lightly while Fibi steadied herself, looking at something no one else could see.

A cup of tea later, she professed herself ready to try the comb, and she did look better, although still not quite herself. She again sat on the floor and closed her eyes. Meili watched her closely, looking a little worried.

But this time was like the other two times in the Tsumes' rooms, not like with the bead. She woke to herself and told us what the spirits had told her. She said the comb did not have as strong a sense of self as the bead did. I'm not sure at all what she meant. The comb felt very little apparently. She only had a fleeting sense of elegance, but dressed in tawdry clothes. And she couldn't tell if that feeling was from the comb itself or from its wearer.

But it does give us a hint of duplicity. Meili said, "So the son sneaked some noblewoman in dressed as geisha, perhaps." Or the other direction: the comb was used to sneak in a woman of low birth, dressed above herself as a geisha with the geisha's comb. That seems less likely, though.

So, we have Tsume Retsu, a hard and lonely man. Tsume Takashi, young and unsure of himself. A bead worn by the murderer. A comb, perhaps worn by the murderer, perhaps unrelated. And a maid, guards, and eta to interview. The maid first, then.

I wanted to interview her, but I also wanted to try and get a servant's gossip from her. So we decided to send Donku and one of the maids to the castle to bring the maid to me. They could try to draw her out on their way back. Meili suggested I use one of my headaches as an excuse to be indisposed, which would certainly work. But it's ultimately unecessary. I need to no excuse to simply have a maid brought to me from the castle.

I gave very careful instructions to Donku. Bring her here, under my authority. He started to talk about dragging her here physically if she didn't want to come, and I put a stop to that. For one, she can't refuse; only the castle can refuse to send her. But I told Donku very clearly that no force was to be used. He was to present my instructions and bring the maid if he were permitted to do so. I told him to walk slowly, and engage her in conversation about the murder without interrogating her. Try to draw her out. I had my doubts as to Tsume's maid willingly spilling important information to an utter stranger, but it was worth trying and would do no harm.

They set off to the castle, and I looked around for a suitable spot to hold my interview. Fibi sat back at the table with tea, still looking shaken from her experience with the bead. Meili decided on a bath, and Toni and Grieg followed me around the inn.

The inn had the restaurant, of course, but that was entirely too public for what I wanted. There was a small room available for use, and I could use it and keep others out. There was also a small hall. But neither felt right to me. They were still too public. My room was out of the question. Too personal. I wandered out into the courtyard in the center of the inn, to the garden.

Yes, the garden I liked. It was arranged well, with several more-or-less secluded areas. The center of the garden was the farthest away from all the surrounding rooms that ringed it. Toni and Grieg could keep others from entering the garden while I was in it. The garden was pleasant, non-threatening, relaxing. That was the atmosphere I wanted.

I returned to the restaurant, where Meili was sitting with Fibi in silence, looking at her with admiration. I gathered them: I wanted Fibi with me, to pay attention to her spirits and tell me later if the maid lied at any point. Meili decided to watch the proceedings from her room, where she had an unobstructed view. With her bow, in case of attack. I expected none, but was glad she did.

We arranged ourselves. I sat on the bench and Fibi stood behind me. I hoped she wouldn't frighten the woman. Soon, they arrived. Donku brought the maid in, escorted by a samurai, who stood a little back but still near enough to hear everything. That was fine: I had no intentions of bullying the ancient woman, nor was I sharing secrets with her.

She answered my questions readily, to the best of her ability. I asked things she didn't know, but that was to be expected. In the end, I learned small things.

The maid Ojuno found her lord in the morning, dead on the floor in a pool of blood, on his back. The previous evening had been one of the parties in honor of the Bon Festival. She didn't really know who was there, although she did remember the four lords I already knew were here. They had been there two or three days, she thought.

Tsume left the party a little early, arguing with Daidoji Uji, the messenger from Crane. She didn't hear what they argued about, and they split off. Tsume to his room, Daidoji to she knew not where. As far as she knew, no one else went up to visit him, and he didn't leave again that night.

The court fool in Shakespeare's As You Like It was named Touchstone. Shakespeare often used a court fool character to speak truth against conventional wisdom. Back to the story.