Phoebe's Journey

Chapter 7: Interviews

Somewhere along the way from the dining table to Tsume Retsu's office, Lady Miyara Miwa became The Miyara. Once settled, she first offered the condolences of Miyara to Tsume, which were as graciously received as they were given.

Then she said, before she moved on to the discussion at hand, that she had another matter to cover. She quickly summarized the confrontation with Tsume tax-collectors at the prayer gate. Tsume heard her out and turned to his general and asked if there were tax collectors acting in his behalf anywhere. General Shizuma said emphatically there were none, and those we met must have been bandits.

Miyara told him he must take care of them, and he said he would do so. He also told her that if she should ever be accosted by tax collectors on his land, legitimate or otherwise, she should inform him immediately.

Interesting. He did not tell her that she should feel free to take out the bandits herself, but to simply inform him. So I suppose she was right in letting the bandits be rather than killing them or driving them off herself. These Nipponese are very territorial, I suppose. Perhaps clearing out bandits for him would be an insult: like saying he can't take care of his own land.

Setting aside the question of bandits, she continued on yet another subject, although I could see she was now homing in on the true purpose of her visit. Miyara asked him about Tsume's intentions towards Phoenix lands. This time I could hear the unsaid. What she really wanted to know was, if his father had intended on attacking Miyara Katsuda as he had the Lion from whom he'd stolen his castle, did the son intend on following the same path? Was there to be war between Tsume and Miyara, and perhaps between Phoenix and Crane?

I listened carefully to his reply. His answer was almost certain to be no, regardless of his real intentions. And so whether he lied or spoke the truth would say volumes about our mission here, and our actions in the future.

His words were, "My father's actions toward Miyara Katsuda were ill-advised. I hope to dramatically improve relations between myself and Miyara Katsuda." And the spirits told me that, deep in his heart, he believed he was telling the truth. He may change his mind in the future, but at least for now, he was not planning on raiding Miyara Katsuda and enlarging Tsume holdings into Phoenix territory.

Now she began striking at the true subject: the murder of Tsume Retsu. She asked Tsume Takashi if he truly desired to know who had killed his father, or if he was more interested in who did not kill him. That was an odd question, I thought. His answer, too, seemed odd to me. Perhaps I was missing something.

"My father had many enemies. I would be interested in knowing whatever you discover. I have no desire for vengeance, but I do have an interest in shining a light on the dishonorable and cowardly assassin who killed my father."

Miyara asked some simple questions about the visitors here for the Bon Festival. Just the three we already knew about. They were there for the festival, for socializing, for fun, and they brought their families with them. They all left the day after the murder.

Then she went in for the kill.

"Do you know what your father and Daidoji Uji were arguing about the night your father was killed?"

"No," Tsume said, regretfully, and shook his head. I poked the lady in the ribs, having carefully knelt down where I could do so and not be seen. Tsume had lied: he did know what they were arguing about.

Lady Miyara hesitated just a moment, I supposed to decide what to do about his lie. Of course, she went for his throat.

"No, I'd like the truth." She said quietly and coldly, but there was no threat. She was simply The Miyara insisting on the truth from The Tsume. I'm pretty sure Miyara outranks Tsume, but since they're in different clans and we were in Tsume's castle, I'm not sure how it all balances out. I didn't expect a direct confrontation, but with these stiff and easily-insulted Nipponese, one could never be sure. We could take this boy and probably the general easily enough, but I didn't like the odds on getting out of the spiral castle past all of Tsume's men.

At any rate, Tsume Takashi answered, equally coldly for all his face flushed.

"It is of no matter. My father is dead and the issue will be resolved. As I said, my father had made many enemies. Crane was exceedingly disapproving of my father's recent actions. While my father was a loyal Crane, he behaved as a Lion. I have heard a rumour that my father made a statement to the effect that only death would stop his actions that Crane disapproved of. It is my intent that Tsume will return to the good graces of Crane."

He paused a moment, and Miyara knelt in silence, waiting.

"Of the three men who were visiting my father, you already know why Miyara Katsuda may have had some dislike for my father, and you have some understanding of Crane's dislike. In case it's already not clear to you, Ikoma Ujiaki the Lion disliked my father simply because these lands once belonged to Lion." And were stolen by his father, he did not add because it was not necessary.

There was anger in his voice at being called out. The lady hesitated a moment as if considering whether to ask further questions, but said only, "Thank you for the information you've shared and the help you've given."

Stiffly, but not as coldly, he answered her, "You are welcome, and I am happy to do anything to help." He wasn't entirely sincere, but sincere enough. They exchanged bows, we all got up, and we all exchanged bows and words of parting, and we returned to the inn.

Mehli seemed very happy to remove her lovely silk casings, and I admit mine came off quickly enough. This was more like the night I'd planned the night before, had the sake not gone to my head.

Mehli and I woke, dressed, and met the rest for breakfast. There was less to do today, but all was at a standstill until that little was done. Lady Miyara told Tony and Peter that they should both go together, find the ones who had taken and prepared the body for burial, and question them. She left what they were looking for open: we really wanted any details they could get. Enough about the wound to guess at a weapon, the depth of the wound, the presence of any other wounds, the positioning and state of the body, and wherever else those basic questions might lead. She trusted Peter and the naturally suspicious Tony to follow any leads they might find.

After breakfast, the two of them set off on their mission, leaving the rest of us with little to do. I picked a niche in the garden and communed with the spirits for a while. The dancing and the drumming settled me down a bit.

The Nipponese handle death differently than do my people, and pretty much everyone else I've met so far for that matter. For all that they almost worship death, they also have a strange fear of it. Combine that with the strictest class hierarchy I've ever seen, and you get eta. The untouchables. Farmers and other peasants may be far beneath Miyara's class, but I've seen her and others here treat them with some amount of respect. She would kill one in a heartbeat if he insulted her in some way, yet she also regards farmers as an integral part of society. The eta handle all those things the Nipponese view as unclean. The dead, diseased, butchering. That kind of thing. So only these untouchables touch the bodies of the dead, even that of the highest lords. These were who Peter and Tony were interviewing, and why the Lady Miyara wasn't.

I've seen anger pass over Mehli's face when eta are discussed, and I don't think I've heard her even speak the word. At home, there are not enough of us to divide into strict classes. Each has his place, but all places have value. And death is not unclean: how could it be?

I rejoined the rest for lunch. While we ate, Sun pointed out, apparently in response to a discussion I'd missed, that someone at the Pine would know whether Rika was there for the night, or if she'd gone out. It seemed Rika was a prime suspect. A visit by the men tonight to the Pine will give us the answer to that question.

When Peter and Tony returned, they had an interesting tale. A father and son together handle all the burials for the castle and the village, and Peter and Tony had no difficulty finding and speaking with them. They told us the basics first. There was one and only one wound, straight to the heart. The cut was sword-width and had not passed all the way through the body. The pool of blood was about the right size for such a death. Tsume's swords were neatly in their place. He was wearing his nightclothes, and there was nothing else there that we hadn't seen ourselves.

Miyara said the killer had either brought his own sword with him, or he could have used the Tsume's own. He had time to clean it and put it away again.

Tony said after they'd discovered everything they could think to ask, the son asked if they wanted his opinion on who the culprit was. Of course, they said yes. He said they should look at one of the servants, found very drunk the day after the murder. He dropped an extremely expensive tea set because he was drunk, which of course brought attention to his drunkenness.

So Tony and Peter went to find this servant, which they did. The upshot is that Tsume Takashi's wine was drugged. He would have been out cold that night.

More and more, things seem to point at Rika. She would have been admitted to Tsume Takashi's room and her presence would have been information that the guards would protect. She could have drugged his wine. She could have then climbed up into the ceiling and dropped into Tsume Retsu's room, then stabbed him. She could have either taken her lover's sword or used Tsume Retsu's own and cleaned and replaced it when done. Back in Tsume Takashi's room, she could have stayed as long as looked good, then been on her way.

I was not certain how the information from the spirits about the hair comb fit in. I also couldn't figure out why. Was Rika someone else of higher station, having established herself as a geisha for this particular task?

Lady Miyara gave me a speculative look that chilled me. The murderer could have used either of the Tsume's swords, besides using his own. Or her own, as it seemed we were beginning to think it was Rika.

Even Mehli wants me to speak with the spirits about those two swords. She hasn't said anything yet, but I can tell.

I don't really want to let the swords enter my head. If either really is the murder weapon, I don't want to see it. Not from a sword's point of view.