Chapter 104: What Price Honor?
A man has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.
~ Walter Lippmann
I realized I could just repeat the note from Niban to Himitsu in Imperial. The guards wouldn't understand. I did so, and the others listened without comment.
Peter said Himitsu probably died between 2 and 3 in the morning. Fibi said the snow started around 2:30, and there were no footprints in it: so he died between 2 and 2:30. Hiruma came by our rooms and gathered us around 3:30, and it was now a bit after 4.
Toni and I looked at the two guards. They died at the same time, within seconds, stabbed by a single blade. Best guess: whoever it was wasn't considered a threat. The first death was a complete surprise, and the second so fast that he only half-drew his sword. Toni asked me if I thought one person could have done it. Looking down at the bodies, I nodded. In theory I might be able to do that, but only if everything went right, and it seldom does.
Another guess: two people. They arrived together, one went inside to talk to Himitsu and one stayed outside, chatting with the Asako guards. Inside, the talk turned into an argument, and turned into a fight. Perhaps just fists to begin with, but the killer drew his blade while Himitsu was left to defend himself as best he could. Judging by the cuts on him, and the signs of broken things in his room, he put up a good fight. Meanwhile, at the first sounds from within, the other man killed the guards before they could either interrupt or call for help.
Toni wanted to know whose room was next door, below, and above Himitsu's room. He's only got one neighbor: the other side is the outside wall. His neighbor was the woman who saw Ryuden visit Himitsu. Toni discovered how: a tear in the wall. He called Meili to peek into the dark room, where she saw the woman asleep. That woman might have seen a great deal more, including whoever actually killed Himitsu.
It was just after 4am, and everyone was asleep. I couldn't demand to talk to any of them, although that's exactly what I wanted to do. I must have muttered something about breaking into her room, waking her up, and making her talk, because Toni reminded me it just couldn't be done.
Miyara Ryuden. Him, I could talk to now. One of Asako's guards outside our room escorted us to his suite, explaining to the guards on Ryuden that we're "working for Hiruma."
Ryuden was sitting on the balcony, looking out at the falls. His guard remained inside, at the door, watching carefully. A bowl of rice sat, untouched, on the table next to Ryuden, but at least there was no sake. We went out to speak with him. His eyes were hollow and dark.
"I didn't do it! I was willing to give him an honorable death. They asked me to stay here in my suite. It's out of honor to Asako Kagetsu that I do so." He'd said all that to the air, but he finally turned to me and said intently, "So you must be the one to clear our family's name."
He told me what happened, although he was vague and kept going back to correct himself and change details. Remembering how drunk he was, that wasn't surprising, but I was glad to have Fibi here. She would tell me if he lied at any point.
After I left him, he went to Miyara Himitsu's room to try to talk him out of the duel. He just wanted an apology and an end to the matter. Reading between the lines, it was obvious he was trying to save Himitsu's life, so sure was he of victory. I'm equally certain Himitsu saw that as well. He would have never thrown away whatever his honor told him he must do simply to save his life, which he likely didn't believe was at risk anyway. Himitsu was as sure of himself as Ryuden, and as drunk and angry besides.
And of course, Himitsu didn't give in. Ryuden stormed out, disgusted, as he said, "by the boy's impudent desire to kill himself on his blade." No, Himitsu wouldn't have backed down from Ryuden. Ryuden said he returned to his room and went to sleep. Then the guard woke him, told him Himitsu was dead, and implied he was responsible. He repeated once more that he did not kill Himitsu.
I didn't see why he would. He was certain he would kill Himitsu in the duel in the morning anyway. He had the least reason of anyone to kill him secretly.
Before I could look at Fibi to gauge Ryuden's honesty, Meili asked a question. "Did you kill the guards at Himitsu's door?
I winced, and Miyara Ryuden jumped to his feet and directed a tirade at her. How dare she insult his honor, and so forth. But I became angry myself, as he began to direct some of his invective my way. He implied she would only ask such a question, behave so, because she was nothing more than a gaijin, and no kind of samurai at all.
When he was done, Meili stood, her eyes snapping, but said merely, "I am samurai and will prove it. I will defend my honor with my sword if need be."
Her surprising coolness steadied me somewhat. Ryuden looked to be ready to accept her challenge, so I stood between them to keep them from coming to blows. I then directed my anger at Ryuden, and I made it clear to him that I found his implications insulting and he should watch his tongue in the future.
He subsided, and I sat back down. Fibi then spoke up, in Imperial, and said everything he'd said was the truth, save his last actions of the night. He had not gone to bed and to sleep after speaking with Himitsu last night.
After having forestalled a fight, I asked him gently about that, without casting doubt on his honor. I merely suggested perhaps he'd forgotten something, as I knew he'd been tired that night. He didn't quite say what he did do, but he emphatically denied going anywhere near Himitsu's room that night. He'd left early that night, and Himitsu was definitely still alive. It was also clear to me that his over-reaction to Meili's question about the guards was genuine anger, and not simply to lie about or avoid the question. He hadn't killed them, either.
Again, Meili asked a question, and again I winced. She asked why would Himitsu act in so offensive a manner? It wasn't a bad attempt, since she was really asking what Himitsu had on Otomo-sama. But her underlying question didn't get through to him. That left her asking a question that only had one answer. To my relief, he didn't leap up yelling again. He gave her a look of complete exasperation, but gave her the answer politely enough: "Because his honor demanded it."
Ryuden and I both knew Himitsu would never make up something like that. This left Himitsu doing what his honor demanded of him, and Ryuden doing the same: protecting the honor of the woman he assumed he would marry. Ryuden's honor demands that he ensure whatever information Himitsu had would never be heard or believed. I wasn't sure where I stood yet, and my responsibility here was to keep Miyara Ryuden out of trouble. A task I had utterly failed at so far.
Meili apologized, and then Tony asked an equally ignorant question, "Is there someone else who could help restore your lost honor by explaining where you were this evening?" Before Ryuden could become angry again, Meili carefully reworded his question, "Is there anyone else's honor you could help by knowing where they were over night?" It wasn't really a better question, but at least it wasn't outright insulting to Ryuden, who answered shortly, "No."
I couldn't bear the thought of one of my barbarians asking another exasperating question, so I pressed him on what he really did after speaking with Himitsu. I rushed myself, and didn't ask my question as diplomatically as I wanted. I stressed to him, though, that I needed his help in clearing the Miyara name. I needed him to tell me what really happened.
My appeal to Miyara honor, no matter how crude, did the trick, and he responded. "After I left Miyara Himitsu, I returned here. After more sake," -- he actually said After some thought, but I knew what he meant -- "I wanted to reassure Otomo Yoroshiku that I would do anything to defend her honor, even to killing That Dog. Any stain on her is a stain on the Emperor. I would gladly die before seeing dishonor placed on Hantei. I would gladly die to defend her honor."
"I slipped out of my room, jumping from one balcony to the next, and I slipped back into the next room over. On my way to her rooms, I met one of her maids, Kakita Nantoko. She convinced me that Otomo-sama was already asleep. We talked for a long time, and she assured me that Otomo-sama expected me to win the duel and save her honor. She convinced me to return to my chambers, and I did so. I spent the rest of night in my room and never went near Miyara Himitsu's rooms. I did not kill Miyara Himitsu or his guards."
I glanced at Fibi, who nodded. All truth this time.
Meili said out loud exactly what I thought. "I can't believe you would kill him in his room when you could defend the princess's honor by doing so in the morning."
Miyara Ryuden asked me, "Who has spoken against me?" Poor man. I couldn't tell him, not until I knew what was going on. Isawa Tomo had, at least, but I couldn't defend against it without knowing why. I managed to convince him I had no idea. But I was worried: why had he and whoever was with him designated Ryuden as the culprit? Who would this benefit?
I was finished with Ryuden, at least for the time being, so we returned to our suite. The entire walk back, I wondered why Ryuden, and what was arrayed against me? It would be a dishonor to the emperor if the princess were not truly the emperor's niece. And yet, how much worse would it be to leave a false Hantei in place, perhaps to become the emperor if things went badly enough? The play the other evening stated it well enough: Hantei is the soul of the empire. What if there is no Hantei at its head?
What truth do I need? What truth does Miyara need? What truth does Hantei need?
Niban held the key to this, and I intended to take Himitsu's place for the meeting. Toni wondered if the note was legitimate: perhaps it was merely a lure into an ambush. I sent him to bring Koan in, so I could discover what he knew. In the meantime, the only way down to the lake was by using Grieg's unusual ability. I would never make it past the guards once, let alone twice. Even more, I had a great need for secrecy: I didn't want anyone to know what I knew and what I was discovering.
Grieg sat down and quietly meditated on where he wanted us to land. We'd come to the castle by the road, and the best meeting place I could think of was the bridge. Since he'd been there before, he said this would be a fairly easy move, but it's always safest if he can spend time to fix his destination his mind.
Koan arrived within minutes, and I asked him simply, "What do you know?" I didn't want to lead him anywhere: I needed to know truly what he knew.
"I know very little about it. Niban's had something against Otomo Yoroshiku since he first saw her at the festival. He has something against everyone, and doesn't forgive past insults. But he wouldn't lie. If he says so, he has something real against the girl. I trust Niban, and I trust his word. Niban was supposed to arrive this morning with information he wanted to bring forward. Miyara Himitsu was going to sponsor him. There's another witness whose name I don't know. I do know they were also worried about one of the lords here -- Niban never said the name, but someone of rank was going to try to kill them when the information was released."
I glanced at Fibi, but had no need to. She spoke directly to him, "You know much more than that."
"No, that's it," he replied. Fibi shook her head.
I said, "I need to know everything you know." I hoped he heard what I else I said, that he owes me.
He did. He answered, "I acknowledge that I owe you more. But I will be dead if I tell you more." Koan may be a talented shugenja, but he did not have the soul of a samurai: he feared mere death more than dishonor.
I could think of nothing to say to him, and Toni stepped in, asking where Koan was after the poetry reading, since he wasn't in his room. A masterful question.
Koan said carefully, "I did return to my room after the poetry reading, and I meditated for several hours. Then I wanted to try to talk Miyara Himitsu out of the duel in the morning. I spoke with Miyara Himitsu for a half an hour, but got nowhere. He was very drunk, and angry, and adamant about not backing down. I gave up, returned to my rooms, and sent Yisako to tell Niban about the duel in the morning."
"When did you leave Miyara Himitsu's rooms?"
"It was about 12:30 when I got there, and about 1 when I left."
Since I was guessing at where Niban and Himitsu were meeting, I asked Koan if he knew where the meeting was to take place, but he didn't. Koan had corroborated the note and the meeting, Himitsu's statement of something against Otomo, and the dangers of knowing the wrong thing. I had nothing else to say to him.
Traveling with Grieg was oddly uninteresting. One moment we were standing in the suite, the next we were on the bridge that led to Castle Gisu. Nothing more than that, and nothing else. Less than a blink, and we were simply elsewhere, with no feeling of movement whatsoever. I glanced around, in case we had landed in an ambush. The bridge was as open as I remembered. No-one would try to set an ambush here.
Nobody was here.
Grieg settled down to fix our return into his mind. I watched, and waited.
Niban and Yisako appeared within half an hour. We exchanged greetings, and Niban said, "It's a surprise to find you out on the road so early in the morning."
"I came here to speak with you."
"I know what Himitsu said at the poetry contest, and I know what you wrote to Himitsu."
Niban said gladly, "Ah, you and Miyara Himitsu!" He believed I was adding my testimony to that of Himitsu.
"Miyara Himitsu is dead, murdered after the poetry contest, and before the duel with Miyara Ryuden." He was saddened by the news, but not surprised. This is dangerous knowledge.
He began speaking to me, laying on the flowery words. Said simply, he acknowledged that he already owes me a great deal, and he hoped I would continue to be his benefactor and support him in his statement. More favors, with nothing to balance.
"And what is your statement?" I asked him flatly. I was not interested in being manipulated by him again.
He answered me with yet more flowery words, which boiled down to, "Noble lady, this open road is not a good place to talk about these things."
Well, he was probably right about that, but there were so many reasons I didn't want to take him to the castle. Not just because I didn't want to show him with Grieg can do, but I also didn't want to be so obviously linked with him, regardless of whether I would eventually support him or not.
"Where would you prefer to talk about these things?" I hoped he had someplace nearby.
"In the privacy of your rooms."
"And did you have some way into my rooms?"
I smiled at his naivete. Did he believe Miyara Himitsu would be murdered and yet the castle would be open to visitors as usual? I explained that no one was able to get in or out, and I hoped he wouldn't think to ask how I got here and how I expected to return.
He didn't, instead addressing the larger matter. "Clearly this is a complicated situation. Sixteen years ago, I learned that Otomo-sama is not the rightful heir to the Hantei throne. Lady, I will not and cannot say more until I have your word that you will support me in this testimony."
He was asking too much, although he had every reason to. He asked me to promise to give testimony on something I knew nothing about. If I didn't promise, and he told me anyway, and I did not agree, I would be honor-bound to kill Niban. And he knew I would, without a second thought.
Still, Miyara Himitsu had agreed. Why? What did he know that I didn't? "Miyara Himitsu agreed without knowing more?"
"Himitsu and I have had several conversations about the princess. But he had no information that you don't have." It was apparent that they had built some sort of relationship that Niban and I lacked. As Niban said a little in a lot of vague words, it was also apparent that Himitsu had agreed to accept Niban's information. Without that understanding from me, Niban needed more direct assurances from me.
Although sure of the answer, I asked Niban when he and Himitsu had met and spoken with each other. At the festival, of course.
"Can you say how you learned about this?" Perhaps knowing a little of the history would tell me something more. Anything.
Niban began coldly, but became quietly angry as he continued. "I was told by a man. A man who is like so many of his kind, who treat bushido as a ... religion to keep themselves in power and make fools of the rest of us." He continued for some time, saying that bushido and honor are nothing. Just people who pretend to be honorable and really aren't. This told me nothing about the current matter, but volumes about who Niban was.
He paused, and looked around for an answer. Finally, he said wearily, "I've tried very hard to put that whole history behind me. I saw her at the festival, and it brought it all back."
"Does the maid know what you know?"
He nodded. "She knows."
"She's been silent all these years, and you think she'll speak up now?"
"I don't know."
"Why are you doing this? What is at stake?"
Instead of answering me, he asked me, "Is bushido merely a religion for fools, or is it real?"
His voice was weary, bitter. He believed once, sixteen years ago. He'd like to believe again.
We are nothing without honor.
Years ago, I was Shinjo Gidayu's second in command. I was at the palace on business for him, and the emperor's brother's wife was dying. She had just given birth to a girl. I visited her, and she mistook me for Shinjo Gidayu. She was dying, so I let her think I was him, to comfort her.
She confessed that her daughter was Shinjo's, not her husband's. I said nothing at the time, but when I returned to Shinjo's castle, I told him what she said. He said, "All who know must die to protect that secret." He ordered me to fall on my sword.
I refused. I told him he couldn't let this stand. He couldn't let everyone believe this girl was the emperor's niece by blood when she wasn't. He again ordered me to fall on my sword. Again, I refused. He ordered my men to kill me. I killed several of them and made my escape.
For years, I simply lived as ronin, but as I've gotten older, my goals have changed. I wish to settle in the village we've founded, and lead my men into an honorable clan, as they deserve.
At the festival, I saw her again. I've tried to put it behind me, but seeing her brought it all back. I cannot allow her to remain in place, on my honor.
My mind raced. It was hard to find any honor in here at all. But Niban is right: Shinjo acted dishonorably when he allowed his daughter to be taken for another man's. I must stand with Niban: this cannot be allowed to go on.
"Are you staying in this area? I have some work to do," I asked him.
"I am returning to Nightingale. If you should need me send Kocho." That's a couple of days away. I was hoping he'd be nearby, in case I had more questions later. Toni and Meili always think of more questions: they're far more paranoid than I am.
"Have you told me everything I need to know?"
"You may as well take Yisako with you. She won't be allowed to return to the castle."
He agreed, but she asked if she could simply stay here, outside, until they re-open the castle and let her in again. Niban nodded, and I agreed.
I saw them off, and Grieg and I waited until I knew they were well out of the way. Then, we returned to our rooms.