Scroll 9: In Which I Return Home

Chapter 94: The Tsume

As he was valiant, I honour him. But as he was ambitious, I slew him.

~ William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"

Ojuno gave me the name of Tsume Takashi's maid. Before I dismissed her, I asked her to send word if she happened to remember anything she hadn't told me. I was sure I wouldn't hear from her again, but there was no harm in prompting her.

Once the samurai and the maid disappeared from the garden, Fibi told me quietly that she believed she had spoken only the truth. I sat quietly for a few minutes, considering everything I knew so far.

Everyone hated Tsume Retsu and was glad he was dead. One representative of each clan concerned with Tsume was here when he died: One Phoenix, one Crane, one Lion. He mistreated his son, who's left resentful and unsure of himself.

This was like one of those boxes made of many pieces. You had to have all the pieces to make a box that would hold itself together securely. I had several pieces, but was still missing many. Including the key piece.

My reverie was interrupted by one of the inn's servants, who bowed and informed me that eleven samurai wished to speak with me. I instructed her to send them to me in the garden.

The eleven samurai arrayed themselves before me and bowed more deeply than the situation warranted. Their leader, Mikio, said they were all Tsume's personal guards who had been on duty the night he was killed. Their lord, now Tsume Takashi, instructed them to answer any questions I might have for them immediately. Interesting. So the first thing Tsume Takashi does on returning home was to help the magistrate investigating his father's death. Because he wants to know? Or because he knows I'll learn nothing useful from them?

Tsume Takashi later. Now, questions. I hoped Fibi and her spirits were paying attention, because I expected some lies and evasions from Tsume's personal guards. If it were the Miyara guards being questioned in this way, they would certainly lie about certain things. They'd better, or they would be killed.

In the end, I again learned just a few more details, gathered a few more pieces of the puzzle box.

Tsume had enough guards for a rotation: these eleven happened to be that night's watch. The castle itself, all the gate entrances, were well-guarded at all times, but the fourth floor was guarded only at night. The usual schedule was that the guard came on duty and waited at the foot of the stairs for Tsume Retsu to arrive, and they accompanied him upstairs and then arrayed themselves. One guard in the hole at the end of the hall. The rest in pairs along the hall -- a pair at each door and one at the top of the stairs. They remained on guard until Tsume Retsu emerged in the morning and relieved them.

On that particular night, Tsume Retsu went up to his room as usual. Tsume Takashi came up about an hour later. Neither one brought anyone with him, and nobody else came up to the fourth floor that night. Neither one left his room the rest of the night, either. And they heard nothing from Tsume Retsu's room all night: all was silent. Of course, he was dead most of the night; the important thing is that they said clearly they did not hear anything while he was being killed.

I asked about magic, that being the only way I can think of to mask sound and sight. None of the guards are magic-users. They claimed that there's no kind of magic warding on the fourth floor. I found that hard to believe, but let it go. They wouldn't change their minds on repeated questioning. They also claimed not to know if there were any kind of defenses against magic at any of the gates.

All was quiet until morning. The maid, Ojuno, appeared as usual. Opened Tsume's door as usual and stepped inside. Her screams brought the guards immediately. The two by his door were the first in, and Mikio gestured them forwards to answer my questions. She hadn't even had time to close the door, and she stood just inside. Tsume lay on the floor, face up, in a large pool of blood. Mikio broke in to say that she had no time at all to do anything: not kill him, not even take and hide the weapon used. Tsume had been stabbed once, straight through his heart. Both his weapons were in the proper places on the rack. No other weapons were there.

I asked two other questions that they refused to answer. I asked if either Tsume had visitors to his room during the few days of the Bon festival, and if there had been other visitors to the castle shortly before the Bon festival. In both cases, it "wasn't his place to say". In the second, he continued and said it wasn't something they kept track of.

I had no other questions I thought they would answer, so I said I was done for now but would likely want to talk to them again soon.

Mikio replied, "It's important that you ask all your questions right now."

To my query, he said they would be unavailable later, and when I asked why, the answer was obvious, except that I had been thinking of other things. Tsume Takashi had given them permission to repair their families' honor. I was lucky, when I thought about it, they hadn't already done so.

That was inconvenient. I had no more questions right now, and I was certain that after gathering more information that I would later. I let them go.

As soon as they left, I asked Fibi to bring the rest of my horde to me in the garden. I reported the two interviews, and Fibi said the guards had not told the truth to a couple of my questions. Hmm. I'll have to arrange a signal next time so I can know these things while I can address them.

Mikio had out-right lied when he said no, there had been no other visitors to the floor the night Tsume was killed. And he had shaded the truth, perhaps been evasive, when he said there were no wards against magic on the fourth floor.

So, now we knew for certain that someone had indeed visited the fourth floor that night. Whose room? Who? Someone expected. Not a stranger to the castle. A guest, a geisha, a servant. If this person, a geisha for example, visited Tsume Takashi, the guards would certainly not report that to me. Did she wait until he was asleep, perhaps helped along a little, to go and kill Tsume, then return? Or was the son complicit, perhaps even the instigator?

Meili asked if there was any reason for Tsume Takashi to be in a hurry to replace his father? Only his own frustration. And I've been gone for several years: I don't know anything other families might be planning. I know none of the current gossip.

I considered that although the murderer might possibly have exited through the ceiling, he probably didn't enter that way. Tsume was killed at close range by someone directly in front of him, and he was certainly awake. He knew this person. Had this person dropped into his room from the ceiling, he would likely have shouted to his guards, which he didn't do. Unless, of course, he was invisible when he did so.

Meili asked me if "invisible" happens often here in Nippon. What does she mean by "often", I asked her. She grinned and said that probably answered her question. But she also asked, "Do your political killers include invisibility in their library of techniques?"

That was an easier question to answer. Certainly not commonly. The trick, though, is if you're going to kill someone and you're using magic to do so, you're not going to use magic to sneak up on someone and then kill him with a blade. You're just going to directly kill him with magic. As well, the guard lied in some way about there being magical protection of some sort. And a magical creature summoned in some way would again not have stabbed him to kill him.

He would have yelled out if a magical being had appeared in his room. Unless he summoned it, said Meili. A summoned creature would not have used a blade to stab him, but as Meili pointed out, we don't actually know it was a blade. Just something sharp. A long claw might have done.

They were close enough to each other for Tsume to grab the murderer's clothes. Which a magical summoned creature would almost certainly not have been wearing. Was he killed by a dagger? Or a long blade that went through his body completely? The eta would know.

Meili and I agreed on one thing: we had to be careful not to assume things we didn't know. Which is harder than it sounds, because we paint pictures based on what we do know and fill in the rest. With that picture in our heads, it's hard to remember which pieces we made up to fill in the blank areas, and we assume it's all real.

We talked to the maid and to the guards. I needed to send Toni out to find and speak with the eta. On thinking it over, I also want Peter to go: he's a physician.

Once again, a samurai marched up to me in the garden, bowing and introducing himself. Tsume Takashi sent his compliments to Miyara Miwa and invited me and my retinue to dinner this evening. I accepted and he bowed his way out.

Layers and layers. He invited me-as-Miwa, not me-as-Father. Not that that means I can't attend as one and become the other as needed, of course. I could even arrive as the magistrate, but I don't think I will -- I'll arrive as the guest he invited. He also made it clear that even as Miwa, my entire horde was also invited.

I gave a quick run-down of what to expect to everyone. They must dress in the formal clothing the servants packed. They must wear their personal weapons, those who had them. I explained to Meili that she should wear her rapier but not take her bow: that would be an indication that we expected a fight. Both a threat and an insult. They would not be required to be silent or speak through me but could address Tsume directly. As long as they are polite, of course.

I had just finished with that when my cook Donku came to the garden to speak with me. First, he told me what the maid Ojuno had said during their walk here.

Nothing startling, but further confirmation of something. Since his wife's death nine years go, Tsume Retsu had been a very lonely man, just as Fibi's spirits told her. He never had visitors up to his room. Never.

That wasn't all Donku had, though. He's been listening to the inn servants gossip as they work around him. They have all sorts of rumors, innuendos, and theories of their own, which he reported to us.

Rika. Toni blushed a brighter red than I would have thought possible, and mumbled that he knew Rika. Grieg glowered. Apparently Rika was the geisha that entertained Toni last night at the Pine bathhouse. We no longer needed to wonder whose comb we had found in Tsume Takashi's room.

Meili assumed Tsume Retsu had probably not approved of his son's affair with a geisha. I explained that actually it was common, since marriages are not for love but for family reasons. I didn't take the time to explain that love is a weakness; duty should always come first, and love always gets in the way. Westerners are romantics. Of course, it's both gauche and cruel to have an open affair with a geisha: one should be discreet and not torment one's wife. Tsume Retsu had been unusual: he apparently loved his wife.

His attitude towards his son might have gone either direction. On one hand, Tsume Takashi wasn't married yet, and marriage of the future Lord Tsume to a geisha would not be acceptable. On the other hand, Tsume Retsu apparently had odd ideas about love and marriage, and might have accepted his son's choice of a lover. One shouldn't marry one's lover, after all, and a strong relationship with a geisha doesn't prevent a political marriage. I had a sudden thought, but I set it aside for thinking about later.

In fact, our conversation trickled to a halt. None of us had any further ideas, at least ones we wished to discuss just then. It was late afternoon by this time, and time to prepare for dinner. We all set off for baths and getting dressed properly.

I had just finished showing Kyoko what I intended to wear for the evening when Fibi came with a question. She brought the box that the old man gave her yesterday. It contained two scrolls, and she wanted me to tell her what they said.

The first read, "By the light of the lord of the moon", and the second, "Bo of water". I supposed they might have been poetry, and some might have assumed so. But they sounded like spell scrolls to me. Growing up where I did, I knew several people who understood magic, and I heard more than interested me about it. Particularly while I was traveling with Isawa Godanji.

I had seen similar scrolls before. I told Fibi that, to the best of my knowledge, the first spell would reveal things that are hidden; the second would create a bo made of water. That might mean literal water, or a bo that had the spiritual properties of the element of water.

I had deliberately not taught anyone to read Nipponese, not even the simple phonetic script more commonly used by non-bushido noblewomen. They wouldn't really need it: most Nipponese neither read nor write. I hesitated a moment. Fibi would have to read these scrolls to make use of them. But although I could certainly teach her these few symbols, I couldn't really teach her to use the scrolls properly.

I told her it would be best to have someone who knows magic to teach her to read and use these scrolls. I hoped I could find one of my old friends who would be willing to teach a gaijin to use these scrolls. But it would have to wait until we return to Shira Miyara. That seemed to be enough to satisfy the girl. She smiled and thanked me and left me alone.

A thorough scrubbing later, I relaxed in the hot water of the tub and considered my thoughts from earlier.

Miyara Katsuda was here in part to offer his daughter for a political marriage. To the father?

Or to the son?

I had assumed the former without really thinking about it. But Miyara Katsuda might have offered his daughter to the son. It would make for a longer alliance, and a stronger one once she had a son. Or, he might have offered his daughter to the father, who is still in love with his dead wife after nine years and pressed Miyara Katsuda to make the marriage with his son instead.

A geisha can harbor the same jealousy anyone might. Kill the father. The son stops the incursions into Miyara Katsuda's territory. No marriage of alliance needed. Yes, that merited consideration.

But would a geisha be able to surprise and kill Tsume Retsu, a samurai? She would certainly have surprise working for her. But there was still Fibi's vision of the comb. Elegance dressed in tawdry clothes. Was it Rika, or someone of a higher station dressed as her? Or was it Rika, still wearing her haircombs but dressed otherwise as a lower servant? No one pays much attention to servants, after all.

Of course, a Lion or a Crane might also prefer that Tsume not make such a close alliance with a Phoenix.

And a noblewoman dressed as a geisha. What about Miyara Katsuda's daughter? Who was she?

Yes, love always causes problems.

I got out of the bath with more questions than I when I entered it.

We gathered in the front room, and my horde looked entirely respectable. At least as well as they could. Were she Nipponese, Fibi's beads and feathers and things would look outlandish. As foreign as she is, though, they barely register. One notices other things first and never really gets to the bizarre jewelry.

I looked at my horde with fresh eyes, as though I had never left my home. As anyone else would see them.


Meili and Fibi are the worst, although since they are also Faerie, their differences will be put down to that, rather than their being western barbarians. Peter, Toni, and Grieg are just that: western barbarians. Few here will see anything beyond that fact.

And they are the ones I choose to have at my back. I cannot think of any Nipponese I would replace them with.

I wonder how much I'm harming Miyara, and even Phoenix, by dragging them around with me everywhere. I forget how very other they are.

I have some serious thinking to do about my future. If I stay here -- which I shouldn't even question for half a heartbeat -- I can't keep these gaijin with me. They'll have to go. If I leave again...

And for what? What could possibly prompt me to leave my home again?

Two blue eyes?

And what of my duty to family, Family, and Clan?

The Miyara really should have let me kill myself with honor.

We were all here, and they looked at me expectantly. I have a duty to them, too. I call them western barbarians, my barbarian horde. But I still choose them. I sighed and waved them to follow me, and we walked up to Castle Kyotei to dine with The Tsume.

The sun had set, and the two moons shone down benevolently, one half full, the other a sliver. The air was neither dry nor damp, and just about skin temperature -- soft. One couldn't feel it except when a slight breeze just brushed across one. A poem of an evening, though I wondered what the subtext would be.

The first hint of subtext met us in the central courtyard: Lord Tsume, who had previously been the young samurai who escorted his father's maid to speak with me.

Think what you will about my barbarian horde: they're pretty quick on the uptake. Not one let slip that he was recognized. In truth, we had not yet met him: he had not been Tsume Takashi earlier. We all went down on our knees to him, as he was, here and now, The Tsume and we were all merely samurai of one flavour or another.

We were escorted in to dinner. Dinner was both more and less than I expected. My horde behaved perfectly, but Tsume made it clear that, even though he wished to hear stories, he didn't really want to hear anything from them. He seemed especially uneasy about Meili and Fibi, and simply disinterested in the other barbarians. Their early attempts at conversation and story-telling trickled to silence. Fair enough.

He was very young. I don't think I was that young even when I was his age. He and I fenced with words, each trying to sound out the other about more or less the same subjects. He was not quite as skilled at cloaking his true interests, I don't think.

He did ask about my travels to the west. He was more interested in my experiences than my purposes in going or whether the trip was a success. He has never been anywhere. And yet, although I gave him what he wanted, he still seemed less interested than he should have been.

He told a few stories about his father, and about himself. The tales of his father painted him as the man I always heard he was: aggressive, war-mongering, a danger to everyone around him. His tales about himself painted him as other than that. He crafted one story that very clearly cast his father as a Lion and himself as a more traditional Crane. Another one told of a young man forced to shoulder responsibilities before he was ready for them.

I was more circumspect. I told him no allegories. I told him true stories of my travels, although not the grimmer ones -- I did not intend to threaten him. I told him true stories of my father and some other Miyaras and a few Isawas into the bargain. I simply wanted to let him know who he dealt with and what he could expect from me, and from Miyara, and from Phoenix, in case it wasn't clear enough.

And so we spent the dinner trying to figure out what kind of connections we could make for the future -- Miyara to Tsume, Crane to Phoenix. Eventually, he turned to business, instead of waiting until after dinner decently. Of course, as The Tsume, he could do what he wished at dinner. Still, it would not have gone over well with more ... seasoned samurai.

He asked why I was here. He knew, of course, but he might be wondering why father sent me in particular. What ulterior motives I or my father might have. He had to know there was only one answer I could give him -- the straight one. I told him I was here to investigate his father's death. He nodded and thanked me.

A little later, he went even further to sound me out. "Was my father too much of an annoyance to Phoenix?" Although he managed not to ask it directly, the underlying question was clear as a bell. I nearly dropped my mug of tea. Had he really just asked me if Phoenix killed his father? Did he expect me to answer? It took me a moment to recover, so my answer was not as smooth as it should have been. Still, I think I answered him well enough without answering him at all.

His question implied that he didn't know who killed his father. Had he been other than who he is, he might have been dissembling. But I don't think so. He's simply too young, too untested, too naive, too clumsy. I took pity on him and in my non-answer I implied to him that I will eventually answer his question. And I will. I will give him whatever answer Miyara -- and Phoenix of course -- needs to be the answer, and that will be the truth.

Western conversations tend to be a great deal more forthright. Tonight, were I dining with a more experienced man, we could pass the entire night never speaking of anything but tales, and yet leave with all questions asked, all questions answered. Although in truth, were I dining with that more experienced man, he would likely talk circles around me. I am gravely out of practice, I was less when I left than I am now, and I am still not much. Whatever my horde thinks, I am just a Miyara samurai. No more, no less.

As dinner finally wound down, he ensured we were all finished, and then said, "Let's retire to my office, and I'm at The Miyara's disposal". Now it was time to ask and answer questions more directly. Not that everything would be out in the open, of course. There were still topics that would need to be cloaked behind less sensitive topics. And we each had things we could not tell the other.