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

Chapter 115: Violence at the Gate

He searched the land, this restless lad. He was panther quick and leather tough, if he figured that he'd been pushed enough....

Fightin' mad, this rebel lad, with a dream he'd hold 'til his dyin' breath. He'd search his soul and gamble with death...

~ Johnny Cash,
"The Rebel - Johnny Yuma"

Eyebrows was the next order of business. So I dismissed the city magistrate and we returned to our temporary home.

At least, that's where we headed. The gate into the Noble Quarter was narrow -- just enough for one to pass through at a time -- and there was enough traffic flowing in and out that we came to a complete stop for a few minutes. Finally, I led the way through, Toni just behind me.

"How dare you run me down, you dirty gaijin?!"

I turned to see a Scorpion samurai facing down Toni. Toni later told me the man had bumped into his stirrup and pretended that Toni had run into him. I wondered how Toni would handle this matter. He would have to take care of it himself, and I hoped he would respond well. I could step in later, but that would be a serious dishonor for both Toni and me.

The crowds stepped back, quickly leaving a clear circle for the two men. I noticed a second Scorpion, companion to Toni's challenger, standing with his hand resting on his katana's hilt, obviously ready to strike at any moment. They both wore the mon of Shosuro.

Toni continues to make me proud. He swung his leg over his horse's shoulder and very casually slid down, never taking his eyes off the man. "I will accept your apology or your head," he answered in a penetrating voice. "Shorty," he added a personal insult.

I dismounted myself and took control of his horse and mine. It would not do to let them panic and run through the crowds. It also put me in a better position to spring into action against the second one if I had to. While I did so, the man answered Toni, "I don't apologize to dogs."

They stood in the center of the circle, judging each other. Toni was handling this Nipponese challenge perfectly. I gauged the Scorpion myself. He looked skilled enough, but my confidence was in Toni. Neither of the Scorpions were dressed for a simple stroll: they both wore full armor. That confirmed my guess: they set out looking for us.

"I'm not sure you're worth dirtying my sword on," Toni said. I tried very hard not to snicker. I'm not sure I succeeded, but it didn't matter: all eyes were on the pair, and they had eyes only for each other.

And the violence began with that peculiar, ringing sound of swords pulled swiftly from their sheaths, and that answering ringing in the heart.

The Scorpion moved first, but Toni drew faster and struck the first blow. His strike was a strong one, and the man reeled back and fell to the ground, blood spraying.

I wondered for a moment if Toni would follow the barbarian ways and kill him while he was down, but I need not have worried. Toni stood back and waited for the man either to stand up and rejoin the fight or to offer his surrender. I was quite certain surrender wasn't forthcoming, and I was right.

The fight lasted seconds only. The Scorpion landed a few good blows on Toni, but Toni owned the duel, first to last. In the end, the Scorpion lay on the ground, all but dead. Toni did not allow him to live, but neatly sliced his head off. He snapped his katana and wakizashi to remove the blood, but then dropped to the ground bonelessly, unconscious.

I watched the other Scorpion walk off and vanish into the crowds that melted away, the show over. I picked up Toni's swords, made sure they were properly clean, and sheathed them for him. By that time, Fibi and Peter both rushed forward to take care of Toni.

I watched the crowds as the rest of my horde gathered and while Fibi and Peter cared for Toni. I saw nothing, nobody else that caught my eye. It wasn't terribly long before we were back on our way to the magistrate's house.

Toni asked me about his armor, which certainly needed attention. I promised to find an armorer that could be trusted to take care of Phoenix armor.

I had Sun arrange to have Eyebrows report to us here immediately. In the meantime, we all sat down and considered what to ask him. I wanted Peter to speak with him since he understood medical things. Peter took notes.

The interview went as scheduled. Eyebrows showed up about two hours later, Peter got his answers, and Toni asked a few that he thought of as well.

We didn't really learn anything we didn't already know.

Ashidaka had a number of stab wounds in hands, arms, and chest, caused by spears probably. These were defensive wounds, and none were in his back. The carriage had holes on all sides, which seems to say there was only one person with a spear, allowing Ashidaka to turn and meet the spear as it came through the carriage walls at him.

Ashidaka died of burning, not of the wounds. Eyebrows had no idea if poison or drugs were involved with either man's death. True Word was found eight paces in front of the carriage. He was beaten and stabbed by several different short-bladed weapons. His hair and face were wet with vinegar. He was not burned at all.

He had no idea if the carriage was set on fire and spread to Ashidaka, or if the magistrate was caught on fire and spread to the carriage. Some sort of cheap oil was definitely used to promote the fire. Neither man had drawn his weapons.

Toni and I shared a glance after Eyebrows left. Ashidaka could have been killed quickly with the spear. Instead, someone simply poked at him, like a caged animal, tormenting the man trapped in the carriage while it burned around and through him.

Some Nipponese don't deserve to call themselves that. Toni, a gaijin, had more honor in his little finger than those men ever had or ever would.



Supplemental Materials