Part 12: In Which We Are Posted to the Back of Beyond

Chapter 113: Maneuvers

I base most of my fashion taste
on what doesn't itch.

~ Gilda Radner

The conversation over lunch was largely about how to handle the visit to the city's governor. Such a visit has many layers, and my sticky situation adds more layers to the mix. Although our appointment is with the governor, it would be something of a triumph if we actually saw her. Most likely, we'll be seen by one of her people. We're an attention-getting group, I'll admit, but the question is whether she finds us interesting enough to see, and mere weirdness isn't likely to be enough.

More layers... The Emerald Magistrate outranks her, and she would have to see him. Playing that game piece would be too dangerous, though, since I can't really back up my appointment as his assistant. I'm skating on thin ice as it is. I explained the nuances to my horde as best I could, and we got around to what to wear to the meeting.

This required some delicacy. Toni, for instance, has taken to dressing as a Miyara bushi. But anyone dressed in the Nipponese style will be treated as Nipponese and not as an ignorant and unmannered foreigner. So the slightest slip in words or actions will be judged harshly. Toni decided to dress as he used, and Fibi also, to my relief. Peter decided to dress as a Nipponese, but since he's generally quiet, I felt better about that. Meili, too, dressed in her preferred style.

I, of course, had to get into every bit of formal armor I had, which took most of the afternoon. And so we set out on foot for the governor's palace. Peter dressed as a samurai but not bushi, and I looked ready to take the battlefield. Toni wore his old armor and carried his old sword and shield. He wore his helmet, freshly shined, and carried my helmet for me. Toni walked next to me, and Meili took rear guard, wearing her leather armor, her rapier, and carrying her unstrung bow. Grieg wore his own simple clothes, which had at least been cared for and repaired as needed so that they didn't look as shabby as they had. Fibi pulled out her own clothing, looking exotic and completely barbaric, even by the western standards I'd learned. I idly wondered what the governor would make of Fibi's beads and bells and leather and fringe and bones and feathers. She'll get a full report, even without seeing us.

The palace wasn't a far walk, and we arrived there quickly. Some minor functionary waited at the gate for our arrival, and I hid a smile. Growing up in father's court, I knew what the next several minutes would bring.

Somewhere unseen, I knew some other minor functionary counted us and took quick stock of what we looked like, and then rushed off to make the necessary arrangements. The one who stayed was there solely to delay us until everything was ready.

So we all spent many minutes on the polite formalities of greetings and discussing only the innocuous parts of our journey here. He very slowly walked us through halls, showing off pieces of art along the way. Our only job was to aid in the small talk and to politely not notice how long it took him to escort us to our meeting.

He finally ushered us into a room and informed us that Yogo Osako, one of the governor's magistrates, would meet with us shortly. And she walked in within moments.

I brought my entire retinue of five, which is a trifle overblown, but so far I've been able to get away with it. I expected whoever met us to have a comparable retinue. Whether a matching number, more than mine, or fewer than mine would send a particular message to me. I also expected that those meeting us would be dressed to match us, formally.

Instead, Yogo Osako walked in alone. I had no clue what message that was supposed to send. None at all: I'd never witnessed any such thing. And she was dressed in her working clothes, rather than as formally as we were.

Yogo Osako looked to be in her late 20s. I remembered that Yogo is a minor family within Scorpion. She was certainly samurai, and bushi as well. She introduced herself and welcomed us formally. I echoed the formal introduction, and she asked immediately, "how can Governor Shosuro Hyobu be of service to the Emerald Magistrate?"

Short and to the point, a simple and honest question of what we wanted. I liked her directness, although of course I can't help but wonder if her very directness was a screen. She is, after all, Scorpion.

I answered her forthrightly, "What would be of the most use to the Emerald Magistrate at this time is the official report from the investigation into Ashidaka's death."

"It will be sent to your office immediately."

"Thank you."

Is there anything else?"

"Not currently, no."

"When will Magistrate Bayushi Yojiro be arriving?"

"I do not know." The truth seemed safer than inventing a date.

Her look said she knew I'm playing some sort of a game, but she said nothing. I played the game, saying nothing but trying to appear confident in my position.

She was silent for a long moment, and I thought maybe she was struggling with herself over something. In an overly offhanded manner, she asked, "Would you mind introducing me to your retinue?"

Hello, what was this? A delaying tactic, perhaps? I nodded and said, "Certainly."

I started, of course, with Toni. "This is my second, Anotonio d'Tagliaboschi." I gave his full name every foreign nuance I could.

She bowed politely and spoke to him directly, "Welcome to Nippon. How do you find our sword makers?"

He bowed back and replied in flawless Nipponese, "The ones I have had the honor of dealing with are among the best in the world, I am sure."

She seemed a bit taken aback, probably by his perfect Miyara-accented Nipponese. All my horde had worked hard, and most of them spoke as though they had been born and raised here. Of course, since I taught them, they picked up my inflections. She turned back to me, and I moved on to the next.

"This is Meili Tashonai, of the Sea Elves."

"Where do you live?" Meili looked a trifle confused by the question, and our host added as an afterthought, "When you're not in Nippon?"

Meili said, "On board ship."


"We do have settlements, but my family spends most of its time at sea."

Yogo Osako seemed enlightened by this somehow, as though it were something she'd always wondered. She turned back to me, and I introduced "Fibi, a priestess of her people." Just who her people were I left off. I was interested in how this conversation would go: Fibi tends to say surprising things sometimes.

But before she could say a word, the doors to our room were opened wide, and a woman strode through them. She was obviously Scorpion, and equally obviously, she was Shosuro Hyobu, the governor of the city. Behind her was a large number of people, and I couldn't tell immediately where her retinue ended and court functionaries began. At least ten entered the room with her.

Yogo Osako stepped back and introduced the governor formally: all her titles and connections and so forth. The functionaries stepped out of the room, leaving only her actual retinue.

I bowed, assistant to the Emerald Magistrate to the city governor, and I introduced myself equally as formally. I might be merely the assistant magistrate here, but only very stupid people would forget that I am also the daughter of the Phoenix Champion. I was certain she was not stupid.

In fact, her first question was "How is the Phoenix Champion?"

"He is currently enjoying the Emperor's court."

"It would be helpful if I understood the Emerald Magistrate's priorities."

"Of course the most pressing business is the death of the previous magistrate."

"Of course. We have neither the skill nor the resources of the Emerald Magistrate, but we have gathered the evidence in preparation for the next magistrate."

Her statement was a little out of place, since evidence doesn't play a huge role in Nipponese justice, not like it does in the west. Perhaps it was different in this city, or for Scorpions, but that seemed unlikely. Shosuro Hyobu would have been perfectly within her rights to have done nothing: it simply wasn't her job. I couldn't put my finger on why, but I felt that the mere fact she acted on this was significant.

"I'm sure your magistrates have performed admirably." I had no idea what else to say, but general flattery rarely goes wrong.

"I hope the Emerald Magistrate finds everything deserving of your praise." She paused, waiting for me to add what else the Emerald Magistrate might want. I added nothing. The simple matters of collecting taxes and running the household were of no interest to her, and it would have been insulting to waste her time with such mundane matters. After it was clear I had nothing else to add, she said, "My magistrates are at the Emerald Magistrate's disposal for any questions he might have about the death of Ashidaka."

She brought our interview to a close, "Ryoko Owari is an extremely complicated city. If you should have any questions on matters of jurisdiction or priority, I am more than happy to help."

I gave her a small, polite bow, "Thank you, you are too kind."

"You are welcome, child." I wondered at that last. She's a little young to be calling me child. I let it slide. We went through the formalities that ended everything, we were escorted back to the gate, and we returned through the streets to the house.

The rest of the day was clear. The first thing we all did was get out of our formal gear. Toni and I dressed to spar, and spent a couple of hours in the courtyard practicing our sword work. There's nothing better than weapons practice to empty my mind of political maneuverings.

As we were winding down, a city magistrate arrived. I had him taken to the magistrate's office, and gathered everyone there. He carried the written report to give to us, but he first gave us the report verbally.

The main points were simple. Ashidaka died, with his deputy, between the hours of the ox and the hare on the 3rd day of the month of the Snake, eight months ago. He was found in the neighborhood of the Little Gate. There were no witnesses. He was found inside the burned wreckage of own carriage. The eta who examined his body reported he was both burnt and stabbed through carriage walls. It is believed his carriage door was blocked, preventing him from leaving the carriage. There also seemed to be some evidence that his carriage was covered with some flammable substance.

As Toni observed in Imperial, they really wanted to get him.

Toni asked if someone could take us to the location of the murder tomorrow (since it was now dark). The magistrate is at our disposal.

I asked, "What was the door blocked with?" When he said they didn't know because nothing was found, I asked, "Then what led you to believe something was blocking it?"

"Because he didn't leave the carriage. Ashidaka was neither old nor infirm, and he could easily have smashed the door open if necessary."

Meili muttered, "Aside from the stab wounds, of course."

I asked, "So the stab wounds weren't serious?"

He said of course they were serious, but it was obvious he had no clue at all. The state of dead bodies is not fitting for a samurai to look at too closely. He simply knew the magistrate had been killed by some combination of burning and stabbing. Rather sadly, I wondered when I had lost that proper distaste for the dead. A long time ago, and a lot of friends' bodies ago.

Of course, it was somewhat odd that they'd bothered to have eta examine the body at all. In the west, they do that sort of thing almost routinely, at least in the Empire. But things are different here.

Toni asked, "Did someone ask the eta to look at the body?" At the affirmative answer, he continued, "Who directed that be done?"

That was an interesting question, and the answer was interesting as well. The eta used was one skilled at this sort of examination and had been used in the past for such things. The eta is known as Eyebrows.

We had no further questions for him just then, so I dismissed him and told him we'd see him tomorrow. He handed me the scroll and left.

For the most part, the scroll covered the same ground as his words. It did have additional information on Ashidaka's man True Word. He was found a good eight paces in front of the carriage, with several scrolls scattered around his body. His body was beaten and stabbed by short bladed weapons. True Word was found clutching his undrawn katana, and he apparently died on his knees. There was a strong acrid smell around his face, and his facial hair and his kimono were wet. It is believed that his face was sprayed with vinegar to prevent him reading his scrolls.

True Word was apparently a shugenja, and from the description, he was definitely trying to protect his master. In addition, it was obvious this was a well planned assassination. There were probably at least two attacking True Word and at least another two on the carriage itself. We'll have to ask what sort of spells the scrolls held tomorrow.

Meili agreed, saying this was a professional job. Toni wondered if Ashidaka was poisoned in some way, perhaps by whatever weapon was used to stab him through the carriage walls. Peter wanted to exhume and examine the body. I shuddered at that thought. Impossible, of course.

Toni observed that Ashidaka died in the early morning hours. Perhaps coming back from a late-night sort of establishment. He might have been poisoned there ahead of time, either to kill or just enough to render him unable to fight or escape. And what about the horse or horses? Cut free, probably, so they wouldn't panic and run away.

We continued our musings and planning over dinner. My cook had apparently put the fear of the Emperor into the hearts and minds of some food merchants, and there was plenty of food and drink available. We're not yet up to serious entertaining, but at least there was a real meal on the table. I am happy that Sun thought to hire him away from the ship.

The household, and the taxes, and Ashidaka's death are good distractions from the real problem: what happens when Bayushi arrives to find an assistant he knows nothing about? And who put me in this position?



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