Phoebe's Journey

Chapter 6: Truth and Fiction

The Lady Miyara obtained Tsume Takashi's maid's name. She gave the maid Ojuno instructions to have word sent if she thought of anything else that might be helpful, but it seemed an afterthought. I don't think she expected to speak with Ojuno again. Dismissed, the maid left, escorted back to the castle by the young samurai.

I told the lady that I thought the maid had told only the truth, and she sat silently for several minutes, lost in her own thoughts. Before long, one of the inn's servants walked into the center of the garden and bowed to the lady. She nodded, and the servant said a group of samurai were here to see her. She instructed that they be brought here.

Eleven samurai marched into the garden and arrayed themselves in front of Lady Miyara. I counted them twice. One stood in front. They all bowed rather deeply to her. The leader said, "We are Tsume Retsu's personal guards who were on duty the night he died. Our lord instructed us to answer any questions you might have for us immediately." I concentrated on every word they said, how they said it, and I listened to the spirits in the background.

Lady Miyara quickly ascertained that although the castle's gates were never left unguarded, the Tsume rooms on the fourth floor were only guarded at night. The guards saw Tsume Retsu come in that evening and go to his room, alone. When asked if anyone else came up to the fourth floor later in the evening, the leader said very clearly, "No." I didn't start, didn't move. I didn't want to tip him off that I knew. But at his "no", the spirits screamed in my ears. He flicked his eyes away from her when he answered, and back quickly. He fidgeted ever so slightly. His tone of voice was shaded. He lied, outright. Someone else had come up that night.

It wasn't the son, because he acknowledged that Tsume Takashi also went to his room that night, by himself. I didn't let myself think about who. No time, as the the lady continued with her questions. I listened carefully.

Both Tsumes stayed in the rooms all night. The guards arrange themselves in pairs at each door and at the stairs. She asked about magic next. None of the guards were magic-users. But when she asked if there were any provisions for protecting against magic use on the family's floor or anywhere else in the building, the answer was no again, and again the answer was off. The spirits were less clear. He was evasive, although not false. He did not know about any magic wards at the gates, and that was true.

These eleven were not the only guards: there was a rotation. The entire guard comes on duty at the same time, and leave at the same time in the morning. They wait at the stairs until Tsume Retsu went to his room for the night, and they remain until he emerges for the morning and dismisses them. They were still there when the maid Ojuno discovered the body.

She opened the door and stepped in, and immediately screamed. The guards came running to see her still standing in place in horror. Poor thing, she certainly was not involved: no time to kill him, no time to steal and secrete the weapon for later retrieval. She merely opened the door, stepped inside, and was immediately confronted with Lord Tsume's body in a pool of blood on the floor. The baby she'd nursed, the boy she watched grow into a man, marry, have a son of us own. I forced myself away from thinking about her before her emotions overwhelmed me. I needed to pay attention.

The leader said Tsume Retsu was lying in his own blood, face up, stabbed in the heart. His two swords were in their rack in the usual place, and no other weapons were in the room.

When Miyara asked if either Tsume had visitors to there rooms in the evenings during the Bon festival, the leader said stiffly that it wasn't his place to say, she'd have to ask them. He did say that the son went to his room about an hour after his father that night. And again, it wasn't his place to say whether any visitors had been at the castle in the days before the festival.

The lady paused a moment and said, "I have no more questions at this time. I may return to ask more questions of you later."

The leader said, "It's important that you ask all your questions right now."

"Will you be unavailable later?"


"How so?"

"Tsume Takashi has given us permission to repair our families honor."

The lady dismissed them anyway. She had asked them all the questions she knew to ask now. She will likely find out more later that would prompt more questions, but it will be too late. I wondered if she couldn't overrule Lord Tsume and at least keep them alive until she's finished with her investigation. But then, I've learned they hold honor much more highly than pretty much anything else. That sense of honor seems to be the foundation on which their entire culture is built. Without that, there's nothing. So I suppose the answer to my unasked question is that she would never consider such a thing. The question would probably shock her if I asked it, which I didn't bother since I figured out the answer on my own.

The samurai left, returning to their castle to kill themselves for honor's sake. I put aside my thoughts for the time being and told the lady where the samurai had lied. She nodded and thanked me, and asked me to go and bring everyone to her here, in the garden to discuss matters. I complied, and within five minutes or so, we were all in the garden.

Magic and blades were discussed, in how Tsume Retsu might have been killed. Geishas and ceiling tiles, getting past guards. Magical, summoned creatures.

I think the answer lies not with the how but with the who and the why. Who wanted to kill him? Just about everybody, apparently. Why? Now that depended on the who. We would discover what happened when we discovered who had the strongest why and who followed up their convictions. Then the how would fall into place.

How could I help untangle the web? The spirits neither see things as we do, nor do they speak to me in words so much as emotions and senses. I can't ask them a clear question and expect a clear answer. All I can do is try to make connections with whatever spirits are nearby and ask for their impressions. I have not yet tried to do this with a living being. If I can get lost in the world of a bead, imagine what reading a person could do to me!

I need to keep some distance between me and other people. I have already discovered a little something about each man, and I didn't think another approach would give me anything more. So, was I just to watch, and listen, and wait for lies?

We weren't finished with samurai yet, though. One strode through the garden, unerringly finding the Lady Miyara where he was told she sat. We all fell silent. Another Tsume samurai, of course. He bowed to the lady, introduced himself, and said, "Lord Tsume sends his compliments and wishes to invite you to dinner this evening." The lady graciously accepted, and he bowed and left.

She gave us a quick run-down of what to expect. This was a formal dinner invitation, but it had been to her as Miyara Miwa and not to her as stand-in for her father. She said that business is generally not discussed openly at dinner, but there would be opportunity to do so afterwards. The rest of us need not sit silently but were permitted to speak to the lord, as long as were we properly polite. And we must dress well tonight. That includes hand weapons, as samurai never go anywhere unarmed. So Mehli will carry her rapier, but not her bow. I travel only with the accompaniment of the spirits. Which now includes Mehli, much to my joy.

Donku appeared to us next. He reported quickly what Ojuno had discussed with him on the way from the castle. She's been at the castle her entire life, and has served Tsume Retsu for entire life. That morning, she was frightened. So much blood everywhere. She hadn't heard a thing. She did let slip that since Lady Tsume died, Tsume had been lonely and never had company.

The servants at the inn had also been gossiping freely around him, and he had listened. There were many theories, even wilder than the ones we'd come up with so far.

  • There's been a coven of uba -- witches, Lady Miyara explained to us -- bedeviling local farmers lately. They complained to their lord Tsume Retsu, expecting him to do something about it. Tsume was looking into it and the ubas killed him for it.
  • Several farmers saw an evil manifestation of magic make its way to the castle across their lands. They believe it was a spell from the Phoenix clan to kill him, probably from Miyara Katsuda himself, because of Tsume's raids on his land.
  • Tsume Retsu owed a great deal of money to certain Scorpions for his gambling debts. They got tired of not being paid and killed him.
  • Ninjas killed him. Donku said they always said that in whispers.
  • Certain Lions wanted him dead because he took Castle Kyotei and its lands from them.
  • The Phoenix clan was worried he would going to attack them next, stealing land from them.
  • His own Crane clan is embarrassed because of his aggressive and barbaric ways.
  • Tsume Retsu was a nail that stuck out too far and had to be nailed back down.
  • Finally, Donku said everyone's current favorite topic of gossip is about their new lord Tsume Takashi. He apparently has a lover, a geisha named Rika.

At that last piece of information, Tony blushed bright red and said he knew the lady. She's a geisha at the Pine. We didn't have to wonder whose comb it was we found in Tsume Takashi's room, then. Did someone come in that evening disguised as Rika and kill Tsume Retsu? The guards would certainly let her onto the floor and would not discuss her presence with anyone else. But she was Takashi's lover, not Retsu's. Would they think nothing of her going into his room?

Certainly Tsume Retsu might have disapproved of his son's too-close relationship with a geisha. On the other hand, it seemed obvious that Tsume's own relationship with his wife was more than the usual emotionless political marriage, so he might have been pleased merely that his son found someone to love. The lady explained that marriage and love had nothing to do with each other, and it was both common and accepted for lords to keep geisha lovers.

How sad these Nipponese must be. Imagine, utterly denying that wondrous melding of the souls between lovers and instead twisting what should be soul-to-soul connections into mere political alliances. Although I have to admit from the little I've seen in Kislev and the Empire, it doesn't seem to be only the Nipponese who do so. They just take it to extremes.

It was mid-afternoon by that time, and we adjourned from the garden. It was time to relax a little and begin to ready ourselves for a formal dinner with the new Lord of Castle Kyotei, Tsume Takashi.

Mehli and I returned to our room. Before we started with the baths, though, I had something to do. I wanted to feel out the box the tea spirit had gifted me. I took it out and told Mehli I was going to ask the spirits about it. She half-smiled at me, and suggested I tie a rope around my waist so I didn't get lost.

Mehli has become my rope. Was she going elsewhere, leaving me alone? Not that I have any call on a spirit, but I had gotten used to her being there for me. I should know better. Spirits come and go as they will: I can ask, but never demand.

"You're going to be here with me, aren't you?" I asked her, hoping I didn't sound as lost as I suddenly felt.

Her half-smile vanished, and she touched my shoulder. Looking into my eyes, she assured me, "Of course I am." That was Truth, and I needed no other spirits to tell me so.

Of course she is. What a wonder Mehli is. Of course she will be here for me, to anchor me to this side of the veil. To hold me when I'm not sure who or where I am, and bring me back to myself. To remind me I am half human and I still belong on this side. And simply -- simply! -- to bless me with her company.

The spirit that she is shines from deep within herself, clothed in the beautiful physical body she wears here. She amazes me, the way she stands with me and offers me so much. I hope I can offer as much back, for however long she remains with me.

It turned out that I got more information from Lady Miyara than from the spirits. The spirits told me nothing in the trance, and so I didn't even need Mehli's anchor. Except that it's so pleasant to come back to this side, open my eyes, and see her waiting for me, a smile on her lips and concern in her eyes.

The spirits having nothing to say, I went to the lady's room and asked for her help. She read the scrolls to me. Each one just had a single phrase. One read, "By the light of the lord of the moon", and the other, "Bo of water". She said the scrolls might be poetry or spells, but that she was certain they were spells. If someone taught me to read the scrolls, I could cast their magic. I thought when she said that that she was reluctant to teach me to read the Nipponese script. But then she said it would be better if someone who knew magic helped me, and that she knew a few people who could do so. I smiled and thanked her, and returned to Mehli. I told her what the lady said as I packed the scrolls carefully into their box. Once we return to Shira Miyara, I will learn about these scrolls.

That being done, it was time for the bathing and getting dressed. Mehli's and my silks swished and rustled as we walked out together to meet the others. Lady Miyara was waiting for us. When we had all gathered and waited expectantly for her to lead us, she stood and stared at us for a minute or two with a measuring gaze. I don't think she was all that happy with what she saw, although to my eyes we all looked quite magnificent in our colorful silks. She seemed to come to some sort of acceptance, because she gave us a rather rueful smile and said it was time to go.

I walked with Mehli, and considered the group I traveled with. Six of us: three women and three men. Three warriors and three others. Lady Miyara, Tony, and Mehli all carried their swords. I had my personal knife stuck up one of my sleeves, and I'm sure Grieg and Peter did as well. No one wore armor, none carried a bow. We weren't marching to battle, but to dinner. A battle of words, but most likely not of steel.

I was curious about Tsume Takashi. I thought I might offer him a fortune. One can tell a great deal about a person by what the spirits think of him, and by his reaction to that.

It was a short walk up to the castle and a fine night. Once there, we were passed quickly through the gates and finally into the courtyard of the inner building, where Lord Tsume waited for us.

I recognized him at once, and gave Mehli's hand a quick squeeze. He was the young samurai who had escorted his father's maid to the inn to speak with Lady Miyara. She didn't respond to that, although she couldn't have missed it. Again, a point of Nipponese culture and the many identities they each seem to carry with them. At this moment, the lady was Miyara Miwa, although later she would become the magistrate, which in some way was almost like being her father The Miyara. Before us stood The Tsume, who was a completely different person than the samurai of earlier.

None of us missed the cue, and we all acted as though we were meeting him for the first time. Which, I suppose, we were, in one sense. We all bowed to our knees, even Lady Miyara, since she wasn't The Miyara at the moment.

He passed his gaze over all of us, but mostly he looked at the lady. She was important to him; us, not so much.

At his table, he asked questions and told stories. We learned quickly that he really wasn't interested in anyone but Lady Miyara. He would listen politely but disinterestedly to whatever we said, but as quickly as he could, he'd turn the conversation back to her.

He seemed particularly discomfited by Mehli and me, perhaps simply because he is uncomfortable around spirits. The others merely bored him. So I tossed aside my offer of a fortune: he was obviously not interested. I listened very carefully to everything he and the lady said to each other, instead.

It was an interesting look into how Nipponese nobles talk business without actually talking business. They traded stories back and forth, and their stories all had a purpose to them. Lord Tsume told ill-concealed allegories that contrasted his war-like father and his more peaceable self. Lady Miyara told true stories, or at least the ones I knew were true and I assumed the others were, too. She spoke of things that happened on her travels in the Empire, plus a few stories about her family and another Phoenix family, Isawa.

I guessed that she was giving him a taste of what to expect, of the sort of people the Miyaras and the Isawas are.

Eventually, he asked a straight-forward question that didn't seem to fit the conversation. Like it was weighing on his mind and he just couldn't wait until after dinner to ask it. Like maybe he'd rather ask Miyara Miwa than the The Miyara, which is who she will be after dinner. It makes sense, really it does.

At any rate, he asked why she was here. He couldn't have been asking her what she was doing here, because he knew that. Maybe he was asking why she, in particular, was here? Why it was the Miyaras investigating and not someone else? I couldn't tell. Lady Miyara didn't seem to want to answer the question, because she gave him the straight answer to his straight question: she was here to investigate the murder.

A few tales later, he asked another question, one that startled the lady. He asked her, "Was my father too much of an annoyance to Phoenix?" Her mug slipped a little in her hand and she set it down with a small thump. She was silent a little too long before she answered, and it was a slippery answer. For the life of me, I can't remember the words, just the feel of it. She did answer him, but she managed not to answer him at the same time. I had a feeling there was another layer somewhere that I was missing, because none of it seemed to fit quite right.

He nodded, accepting whatever her response was, although unhappily, I thought. No, resigned. She gave him, not the answer he wanted, but the one he expected.

Eventually, the pace of the plates being delivered slowed down as we stopped eating. The Tsume asked us if we were satisfied or if there was anything else we desired, and we all assured him we were finished with dinner. He said, "Let's retire to my office, and I'm at The Miyara's disposal."

This would be more open business talk. I was sure that I'd still miss about half the conversation, though. Let Lady Miyara deal with that: I would simply sit and listen, and watch, and feel out the spirits around us. If Tsume Takashi was untruthful, I was determined to know it.