Chapter 111: The Case of the Missing Magistrate
Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games. We got everything you want, honey, we know the names. We are the people that can find whatever you may need. If you got the money, honey, we got your disease.
~ Guns 'n Roses,
"Welcome to the Jungle"
We were all eager to be off, it seemed, and we left the following morning. Unsurprisingly, Iruko was "recalled" by Shinjo. I felt a certain relief in that. Although she served me well, I never said a word or made a move without wondering what she might report back to him. It is perhaps better to keep the spies you know nearby, but I do trust the rest of my horde, and they are the ones traveling with me. Besides, it's not like I had the choice of keeping her.
We left after breakfast, on horseback and with carts and servants. The morning was brutally cold, and we talked little. The weather warmed gradually as we traveled out of the mountains and towards Ryoko Owari. The entire trip was completely uneventful. This time of year, there are few travelers. Some days we had snow, but overall we made better time than I expected. We reached the city around midwinter.
One evening, early in the trip, Toni asked me who actually sent us to Ryoko Owari. I couldn't satisfy his curiosity, as I didn't know. I told him, and the rest of the group, what I did know. The order came from someone high up. In general, the Emerald Champion chooses all Emerald Magistrates, who then choose their own assistants. I suppose it's possible that he might assign me to be someone's assistant, but it seemed wildly unlikely.
Ryoko Owari Toshi: Journey's End City. It's a large, busy city on a major river, and several trade routes come through it. We approached through vast poppy fields, now covered by snow. One of my horde expressed surprise that they should grow an illegal substance so publicly, and I explained the nuances of the law to them.
Opium is illegal for any but medicinal purposes. It's perfectly legal to grow it, keep it, or store it. What is illegal is selling it -- only certain temples are licensed to sell it as medicine -- or turning it into one of the proscribed forms.
We entered the city gates, and the guards paid little attention to us. As odd as we are, we don't stand out as much here as anywhere else in the Empire. Although Ryoko Owari is in the middle of Nippon, it attracts foreigners and misfits. You could spend your entire life traveling around Nippon and never see a foreigner except for those here. I even saw mixed-blood people, which probably came as a greater shock to me that it should have.
We arrived mid-morning, so I figured I may as well meet this magistrate, inform him that I am his assistant if he doesn't already know that, and find out what my role is to be. He would also be the one best to advise where I can find a place to stay while I'm here. So we followed the road to the gate into the Noble Quarter, and passed through. Again, the guard paid us little attention.
I ended up asking a few people along the way to direct me to the magistrate's office, but we finally found ourselves in front of a good-sized house. I noticed Toni sizing up the building and coming to the conclusion that it was built to be much more defensible than the other noble houses here.
Toni pounded on the door. Again and again, while we waited impatiently. After a much longer wait than was appropriate, a young girl finally opened the door and bowed low. She couldn't have been the head of the household servants, and I wondered uneasily why she had been the one delegated to open the door to us. She said nothing in greeting, and I informed her I was there to speak with Bayushi Yojiro. She invited us into the outer courtyard. She asked us to wait and closed and bolted the doors into the inner courtyard behind her.
I frowned. This was a very odd reception. For any guest, even one uninvited and unexpected, the door should have been answered properly, by a samurai or at least the head of the household servants. Even in winter, gardens need tending, and the courtyard gardens hadn't been. They weren't entirely wild, so this change was recent. If the head of the house servants was ill, dead, or otherwise gone, surely the magistrate would have replaced him quickly, more quickly than the garden's appearance showed.
We waited far too long in that empty outer courtyard. Finally, an older gentleman arrived. He wasn't samurai, but he might well have been the head of staff. He rushed in, still fumbling with his obi, his robes not straightened properly. It was very late to be still abed. He bowed low and asked politely, "How my I help you?"
Did the girl not pass on my message? Somewhat irritated by now, I replied, "I am here to speak with Bayushi Yojiro."
"I am very sorry, you have the wrong household." He was politely regretful. "This is the magistrate's house."
"Where is the magistrate, then?" I asked, now completely confused.
"I am so sorry. The magistrate Ashidaka Naritoki has been dead for several months now."
"Is there an acting magistrate currently?"
"I am so very sorry. I only take care of the house."
I considered this for a moment. I supposed that Emerald Magistrates are in constant contact with the Emerald Champion, sending messages and reports and such, so the Emerald Champion would notice one was gone after a while. I could guess that the previous magistrate, Ashidaka Naritoki, had died and the Emerald Champion appointed Bayushi Yojiro to take his place. Perhaps it was possible that Bayushi Yojiro preferred to use a different house, and so was living and working elsewhere. I asked the man if he knew of Bayushi Yojiro, but the name was not familiar to him at all.
Well, if anyone would know who and where this Emerald Magistrate was, a guard at the gate to the noble quarter would. So we left this odd house and returned to the gate, where I learned the guard had likewise never heard of Bayushi Yojiro. The guard said that to his knowledge, no new magistrate had been appointed. Then he opined this was such a safe city there was no urgent need for a magistrate anyway. I managed not to laugh in his face for that.
This could only mean that somehow I had arrived before Bayushi Yojiro. Now what? I was the assistant to a magistrate who, as far as the city was concerned, did not exist. We could stay at an inn, although that would get expensive and would not be comfortable for a lengthy stay. I knew of several Phoenixes who lived here, and I could impose on one of them for a place to stay. I didn't like either option, and after all, magistrate or no, I am the magistrate's assistant.
And so we returned to the magistrate's house.
This time, the elderly gentleman opened the door himself, and he'd managed to make himself fully presentable during our brief absence. He waved us in, and I told him that I am the assistant to the magistrate, who has apparently not yet arrived, and I and my entourage were moving in and setting up in advance of Bayushi Yojiro's arrival. He bowed, said, "One moment, please," and left us alone in the outer courtyard, again.
Servants entered and exited the courtyard, on their own business, and we waited again, far too long. Toni again kept careful watch, as did I, and we noticed a young samurai, perhaps in his mid-twenties, stare down at us from a window above with a puzzled look on his face. He disappeared, and Toni glanced at Meili, who had also seen the observer. He loosened his sword, adjusted his shield, and settled his armor. Meili nodded and strung her bow. They both watched the balcony, the windows, the doors, and even the gardens.
I had the harder job: I merely stood in the middle of the courtyard, an unmoving target, appearing unworried and uninterested in the possibility of an ambush. I did not move to place my back to the wall; I did not place my hands on my swords' hilts or anywhere near them. On the other hand, I was certain that Toni and Meili would buy me more than adequate time to respond to an attack.
Finally, the double doors to the inner courtyard were pushed open, and the young samurai from above stood in the door, obviously blocking the way, a pleasant expression on his face. Bushi, and Crane. He nodded his head and introduced himself, his name only and no rank or title. "I am Doji Furedu." No welcome, no questioning what I required.
I answered him, "I am Miyara Miwa, and I am the magistrate's assistant."
Surprise, or perhaps uncertainty, flickered over his face for a moment. "Ashidaka Naritoki has been dead for two months, and it is unlikely you are his assistant." His tone remained politely disinterested, but the insult was obvious. Toni took a half-step forward, his hand gripping his sword hilt, to response to that insult. He stopped himself, but the Crane's eyes widened and his hand went to his sword's hilt as well. And there matters rested, allowing me to address the insult myself.
"I have been appointed to the new magistrate, who apparently has not yet arrived." My words were mild, as was my voice, but he did not miss my warning.
He was silent for several breaths, then he bowed. "Please tell me the name of the new magistrate."
He bowed again and apologized. "I was unaware that a new magistrate was assigned, and was standing on the memory of Ashidaka. I was an assistant to Ashidaka for several years." He turned his head and barked some orders into the main courtyard behind him, and servants started bustling around. He turned to me and asked, "Would you like me to show you to your room?"
The room was not large, but comfortable with a sleeping mat, a desk, and a chest. He stalled for a few minutes, apparently not certain what to do with my entourage. There were not enough rooms for everyone.
Meili quickly spoke up for them. "Fibi and I can share a room, and so can Toni and Grieg." She grinned at Grieg. Peter would have a room alone, and that was fine.
While we all were settled in our respective rooms, my escort remained with me, chattering. Since I desperately needed information, I encouraged him and listened closely. I didn't learn a great deal. Ashidaka, it seemed, never had a very large staff and this young Crane was all that remained. Without the magistrate here to collect taxes, the household was running low on funds, so most of the staff has left by now. He asked when I expected the new magistrate to arrive.
"I expected he was already here." That seemed to surprise him, but he said nothing. Then again, it surprised me, too.
Toni joined us first, and then the rest of the group trickled in. Toni asked, "How did the old magistrate perish?"
"So it's been taken care of." Toni prompted.
"Why would you assume that?"
"You are a samurai." Toni said with a hard look. Toni's not one to forgive insults.
"The investigation of the murder of an Emerald Magistrate is way above my station." Even Toni caught his real meaning: he had neither the position nor the status to do anything about it, and if he managed to somehow anyway, he'd be murdered too.
Toni replied "Then you think the murder is politically involved, and it was more than a common criminal who did it."
The Crane stated simply. "There are no common criminals in Ryoko Owari." Toni accepted the truth of that with an ironic bow.
Meili said in Imperial, "Then I figure we find the old magistrate's deals and keep them up."
I nodded. As the officially appointed assistant, I can get away with whatever I can carry off. As far as I was concerned, I was here to act on Bayushi Yojiro's behalf until he arrived. The first thing that needed doing was to put things back in order for him.
Opinions amongst my horde were mixed. Meili seemed eager to act as enforcement to re-establish and continue whatever deals and extortions the previous magistrate had working. She had no interest in butting into the old magistrate's death: it was none of our business, since we serve the new magistrate and not the old one. Grieg believed that if I was going to act as the magistrate's assistant, then I should take on all the duties, which surely included investigating the murder of the previous magistrate. Toni agreed, although for pragmatic reasons rather than Grieg's idealism. The household can't be run without taxes, so that's necessary. As we put the deals back into service and take over the former magistrate's job, it seemed likely that we would run afoul of whoever killed Ashidaka. It would be better to find him before he found us. I was in agreement with Toni, though I said nothing just then.
Toni asked how we could send a message to the Emerald Magistrate, at the Emperor's court. He seemed to be under the impression that they used magic to keep in constant contact. In reality, we would have to send a conventional message by way of some courier. Either in the hands of someone I trust, or use an official courier and hope I could trust him. I considered using Grieg, who could get there very quickly, but no. A gaijin traveling by himself, even with whatever papers I could create for him, would probably encounter problems. And what if I needed him and his peculiar magic here? No, what I would do was write a message to the Emerald Magistrate, a simple statement of the situation and what I was doing about it. Then wrap it up within a message to my father, also at the Emperor's court. He would get it to the right person, and I could be more free and open in that letter, using the Miyara code. The bundled scrolls can be sent with a courier pretty safely. Although it will be many weeks before I can hope to hear anything back, in that time, perhaps the missing magistrate would appear.
I asked the young Crane samurai, assistant to the former magistrate, who oversaw the magistrate's financial dealings. I hoped he was the one, but another man, now vanished into the city, had kept the accounts. I asked him to show me his former master's office. He hesitated for a moment, but then escorted us there.
The office was the outer room of a suite. It was very neat and business-like, with a locked cabinet against one wall and a brutally empty desk. The room had two meeting areas. One was arranged so that one person, presumably Ashidaka, would be the clear superior to the rest. The other was arranged so that all would be equal.
The key to the cabinet was missing. Toni caught Meili's attention and nodded to the cabinet, asking wordlessly if she could open them. She gave him a somewhat puzzled look and shook her head.
The Crane did tell us how Ashidaka was murdered. His widow remained in the city, taking up residence in another house about a month ago. Ashidaka had been the magistrate here for several years. Fibi sat his desk for several minutes, in one of her trances.
Much to my interest, the young Crane was uncomfortable being here in his murdered master's office, and much more so that we were in the office.
Babbling a little, he said he might find the man who had kept the accounts and persuade him to come speak to us. He looked at me expectantly.
I nodded to him, "Yes."
"Would you like me to set up visits with a few people in town, perhaps a social call with the wife, perhaps an appointment to the governor, perhaps social calls with a few others?" He mentioned names I didn't know.
"Yes, to all that. In addition, there are several Phoenixes here, and I'd like you to set up social calls with them as well." I briefly considered the order of operations. "First, find the man who managed the accounts. Then arrange calls with the Phoenixes whose names I will give you, then arrange the rest as convenient for them, within the next week or so."
With clear orders, he nodded sharply and left on his various missions.
By the time he left us alone, Fibi had awakened from her trance. She said in a thoughtful tone, "The spirits said nothing with emotional significance has happened at this desk in at least the last few years. As I sat there, in the same place as the man who used that desk often for many years, I felt a bit of his spirit." She closed her eyes for a moment. "He was a man with a finely developed sense of appearances, mixed with a sense of stability and predictability and a healthy dose of realism."
Not, I thought, the type of man who typically gets himself murdered. I wonder what he touched that had such a strong backlash. In this city, almost anything was possible.