Chapter 105: A Tangled Web
Practical politics consists
in ignoring facts.
~ Henry Brooks Adams
Grieg stood up, his eyes somewhat vague as I suppose he was concentrating on where he was about to be rather than where he was just then. Again, it was less than an eye blink between standing on the bridge, looking out on the water, and standing in our suite's common room, looking at my horde.
I looked for Shinjo Iruko first, and she was still here, to my relief. I considered for a moment. She did not know the contents of Niban's note, since I had read it in Imperial in Miyara Himitsu's room. She absolutely knew Grieg and I went down to the lake to speak with Niban on some matter.
In the end, her loyalty had to be to Shinjo Gidayu, not to me. There was nothing I could do about it just then, though. Just watch her carefully, going forward. I was going to have to explain my meeting with Niban in Imperial, which is rude, but there's no help for it. I can't afford to have her know everything I know right now.
I quickly summarized what I learned from Niban, and what I had promised on my honor. It will be tricky to do the honorable thing without dishonoring everyone else. I may have spent too much time among the western barbarians: I find myself too interested in individual matters.
After finishing Niban's story, I looked around at everyone. If nothing else, my horde always has strong opinions, flights of fancy, and multi-layered conspiracies. I wondered what they would come up with this time.
I was met with a deafening silence.
I looked at each person, and each looked back blankly at me. From the quick glances, I surmised they did catch the difficulty of Shinjo Iruko. But I was to get no bright ideas apparently.
Well, then. What now?
There were two problems: the princess' true identity, and the murder of Himitsu. Technically, I'm not the person to "do something" about the princess. It's really a matter for family and clan leaders, and for the emperor. If Father were here ... but he's not.
There are two ways for me to handle this: give the information to someone more qualified and let him take care of it, or simply speak up and make the knowledge public. I have promised Niban that I will do something, and I feel that something needs to be done as well. Shinjo Gidayu has done nothing for years, and I will let someone else try to solve the problem. If nothing is done, then I will have to take care of it myself.
The murder, though, is in my lap. If Himitsu had been killed outside of Winter Court, it would merely be something for Miyara and Phoenix to solve. But Winter Court is here, and this incident reflects badly on us. Isawa Tomo and Asako Kagetsu pinned it on Miyara Ryuden quickly, to resolve things as quickly as possible. Using a Miyara as the scapegoat also helps fix this as an internal problem.
Hiruma Usigo, of course, came to me because he thinks someone ought to look a little more deeply. He chose me simply because of the Tsume situation, and he would like my opinion, in case someone else ought to be made responsible. That, I can do.
Retired or not, Hiruma is probably the best person to discuss Otomo with as well.
So, I had my plan: take care of the murder first. It was morning now, and people would be available to speak with me. Toni mentioned the guards on duty last night, and of course, there's Himitsu's neighbor. I decided the guards were first.
Our guard escorted us to the Captain of Asako's guards, who was very helpful after some liberal use of Hiruma's name. He had the woman on the post outside of Himitsu's room last night awakened and brought in to us. Asako Hensuko was very helpful, and Fibi indicated she was never less then completely truthful.
She saw a large man smash out of Himitsu's balcony door and climb down to the ground, balcony by balcony, and then down the cliff face. That was certainly not impossible, but it required both strength and skill. More than I thought a drunk Miyara Ryuden had available last night, even if I didn't already know he didn't kill Himitsu.
Toni asked when she saw that, and she said late in the 2 o'clock hour, perhaps near 3. It was already snowing, she said. That was certainly the murderer, then. Niban and Ryuden are both large men. Yet I knew it wasn't Ryuden and I didn't think it was Niban either. She didn't recognize him, but said she would if she saw him again.
I think it likely she saw whoever someone wanted her to see. I can't help but think Shosuro is involved in this. I think now that Shosuro Tage, at least, knows. I think she was wondering if Otomo knew, when she was looking for a reaction from the princess after the play about Hantei.
Her shift began at midnight. Toni said when Ryuden went visiting Otomo last night, he only hopped one balcony over and then went back in through an empty room. Nothing very noticeable.
I asked the captain if anyone else reported anything last night. The guards on Miyara Ryuden last night were Asako Innasai, from 8 until midnight, and Asako Budo, midnight until 4. Innasai reported that he accompanied Ryuden in the eleventh hour to Miyara Himitsu's room. They argued. Ryuden was very drunk and angry, and their conversation almost came to blows. In the end, Himitsu refused to be provoked, and Ryuden returned to his room. Himitsu was still very much alive, as Innasai knew. Asako Budo never saw Ryuden at all.
The guard at Himitsu's door before midnight didn't see Koan's visit, since that was after midnight. The midnight guards were dead, of course.
That was all the questions we had for the guards: they corroborated everything we thought we knew already. As our guard escorted us to Himitsu's neighbor's room, Fibi said none of the guards had said anything but the truth as they understood it.
Tonbo Jehenko was an elderly Dragonfly lady. She was obviously shaken, and seemed like she was usually a shy and timid lady. Toni stood back so as not to frighten her, and I greeted her politely. She would have to be handled carefully so she would speak fully. I took my time, was very polite, and subtly praised her honor and courage in coming forward with her testimony. She seemed pleased, and was very helpful.
Miyara Himitsu had three visitors last night, she said.
The first one was Miyara Ryuden, in the eleventh hour. He was drunk and angry, and he shouted a lot. After several minutes of yelling, he left. She thinks one of them knocked over the sake table.
The second visitor was the ronin Koan, shortly after midnight sometime. That discussion was much quieter, and she fell asleep. She didn't know when he left.
The last arrived late in the night, sometime during the second hour. More shouting woke her up. She peered through the tear in the wall, and saw a small woman she didn't recognize fighting with Himitsu. The fight shifted out of her sight. When they came back, it was Ryuden fighting him. The bloody, horrible fight frightened her terribly. She hid for a few minutes, until all was quiet again, then screwed up her courage to tell the guard at her door what was going on. The guard reported to the captain, who reported it to Asako. Asako came to the room and discovered bodies, and we knew what happened after that.
I thanked her and politely took our leave. We returned to our suite to discuss everything.
Toni summed what he believed to be our goals, and he spoke in Imperial:
- Make the murder problem go away for Miyara
- Deal with Niban's information in some way
- Come out smelling of roses ourselves
My goals were somewhat different from that. I needed to find someone other than Ryuden to blame for Himitsu's murder. I needed to remove a false princess from the line of succession. If I could do all that without dishonoring anyone else, my honor was satisfied, regardless of the personal consequences.
We returned to speak in Nipponese of the murder, which did not need to be linked to the other matter. Toni mused that if Koan had arrived after the poetry contest, he would suspect that Himitsu was already dead and the argument was staged. But he'd been there the whole time, and one mage would probably recognize the magic of another. Toni said we could ask Koan. Of course, Meili had thought that from the start, and I briefly considered that, too. But I don't think so now. It's unnecessarily complicated. It makes sense that Himitsu was disturbed and drunk, and it certainly makes sense that someone would have him killed before he could say anything in the morning.
Himitsu had spoken to me a few days before the contest, sounding me out about the princess. I had no idea what he was looking for at the time, but now it's obvious. Meili asked if I was sure Himitsu was really Himitsu when he spoke with me. I had no reason do think otherwise at the time, of course, and I still think he was himself. Surely the simple explanation is more probable than convoluted conspiracies, right?
Toni was full of questions. He wanted to return to Miyara Himistu's rooms to discover what his token was, so he could figure out who else he might have spoken with. He wondered if Kocho knew what token Hida Yauta had, something I wanted to know as well. But Kocho shook his head. Toni wanted to speak with Kakita Nantoko, who had spoken with Miyara Ryuden. I remembered suddenly that after that comic skit that followed up the disastrous poetry competition -- after the princess and all three of her maids left, during the skit -- Nantoko had returned to the room, to play her biwa by the fire.
Someone asked about Miyara Himitsu's retinue. Poor boy; he was part of my father's retinue, which all left with him for the emperor's court. Himitsu had no one with him here; he faced his murderer alone, without support. Barbarians or no, I'm glad for my horde.
Ryuden had his retinue with him, but they're more distant from him, or perhaps he keeps them distant. Either way, none of them had any particular place here at court: they were simply Ryuden's men, and kept to themselves. Once Ryuden was confined to his suite, his retinue was removed from him. They would have nothing to say to us, that was certain.
Toni, in Imperial, still, said there was one obvious reason to take Himitsu down: to stop his testimony. THat may not be behind it, of course, but seemed likely. There are people who know it's true and want to keep it hidden. Hida Yauta and Shinjo himself for two.
He wondered which side are the actors are playing? Are they acting for themselves, or for someone else? Toni believed them to be hired hands. He didn't suggest hired by whom, but Shinjo would be the one who most wants this information hidden. I hope that's not what's going on.
I felt a surge of impatience and frustration. It's so much easier to simply to kill people who get in the way. This constant play of egos, of power struggles, of machinations in the dark -- it seems so petty. I also realized that perhaps I was in the west too long. I want the real truth. I want justice. Five years ago, I knew they don't mean anything. Now, though... What is honor if you only use it as a sledgehammer against others?
Meili muttered something about another way out: kill the princess! And for god's sake don't get caught. Oh, yes, she understands how things work here better than I do anymore. But the princess doesn't deserve that -- she's merely a wronged pawn.
I put aside what I felt and used my head. Calculate. What to do about the princess is above my level. If I feel something must be done, and I do, the most honorable thing to do is to come out say what I know. The best thing to do politically is to reveal it to someone higher up and let him figure it out. Hiruma Usigo is the one to speak with here. Hiruma came to me because of how I handled the Tsume Retsu situation. He would like me to actually look deeper and get my take on it. And so I have a clear way to take this to him.
This murder, at Winter Court in Phoenix territory, makes Miyara and Phoenix look very bad. We must solve it quickly, and Isawa Tomo and Asako Kagetsu had already picked the one to blame.
Toni asked me who would become the next heir to the Phoenix Champion, since Himitsu's now dead. The true answer I can't know. But it wasn't hard to figure out who most people would be likely to think might be the new heir. I could think of two myself: Miyara Katsuda and Miyara Sanru, particularly if he married the princess. Which was looking unlikely now, since I was apparently going to make sure there was no longer a princess.
Toni wanted to speak with the maid who might know about the princess, Hida Yauta, next. He was still interested in additional corroborations of the truth. We may speak with her later. But for now, it was time to speak with Hiruma Usigo. I had a fair amount of information on the murder itself, and I needed to find out if anything could be done about Otomo quietly, by those with power.
I stepped out to ask our guard to escort us to Hiruma, but he was gone. The new man at our door explained that the other was off duty, and we're free to move about as normal now, anyway. A sign that I had very little time to come up with a murderer other than Ryuden.
There was less traffic in the halls than before, and voices and demeanors were muted. There was a tangible chill. I didn't think solving the murder, or throwing Ryuden to the wolves, would return the court to its previous state.
At the stairs to the second living level, I sent a message to Hiruma, asking to speak with him. The response was to have us join him for lunch in his rooms.
Toni said he'd like to return to Himitsu's room, to see if he could find his token. I didn't think it mattered, but it would take little time and I had nothing else to do until we spoke with Hiruma anyway. But we found his rooms already cleaned up. Nothing was left.
All at once, we realized it was mid-morning and we'd been awake and busy since the middle of the night. Perhaps a couple of hours of rest and an opportunity to clean up was a good idea.
This matter is something that those higher than me should take care of. Of course, in sixteen years, no one -- including Shinjo -- has. I will tell Hiruma-sama about this. I will give everyone one more chance to make this right. But she cannot remain the Emperor's heir, and if nothing is done about it by those who should, I will speak.