Phoebe's Journey Part 3

Chapter 3: The Approaching Storm

Lady Miyara thought better of waiting to read us the note, and she took it back out again. She read through it a couple of times, then repeated it to us in Imperial, so the guards outside didn't know what she said.

Your words are kind, and I was glad to have them. I hope we can become friends, and in time even become part of your proud clan. However, there is something I must first finish.

I have discovered that Otomo Yoroshiku is not what she seems, and I must bring this to a formal court. But I can't do it. This requires three testaments. I suggest you talk to her maids. One, at least, knows more than she offers. She may help for honor. Years ago, she was willing to speak. Perhaps others may be able to provide the necessary testimony.

I will be waiting for you at the lake at the hour of the rooster.

Miyara Himitsu was going to testify against the Emperor's niece. Niban is a witness, but apparently can't come forward and testify because his status is still not known. One of Otomo's maids was a witness, but may or may not testify. It takes at least three witnesses to be taken seriously.

I must say that Nipponese justice isn't. It has little to do with justice, and nothing at all to do with truth. It seems to be that whoever shouts the loudest wins. Or rather, whichever side has the most samurai willing to speak, or win duels, gets to define the "truth". Very strange people. This meant that Lady Miyara's actions wouldn't depend at all on what was true, or what was just; it would depend only on what she thought was best for Miyara, Phoenix, and the Emperor. I'm not sure about the order of importance there.

They talked a lot about the details of Himitsu's death. Tony and Miyara Miwa figured the two guards might have been killed by one very skilled swordsman, or two. And the guards didn't see whoever it was as a threat. They also discovered that the woman next door was the witness who saw Miyara Ryuden come to Miyara Himitsu's rooms. Through a tear in the wall: she might have seen the real killer, too, but we can't talk to her until morning. Miyara Himitsu fought off his attacker for quite a while: impressive for an unarmed man against a man with a sword.

Tony said, "Either Himitsu was a really good unarmed fighter, or the battle started unarmed. It may have started as a fist fight and then escalated. The guards would have heard a fight inside, so the guards had to be killed. Maybe two men, one who stayed outside with the guards, one who went inside. When the fight started and made the guards curious, the second man killed them before they could yell." Then he turned to me and asked, "Phoebe, are there spirits in the hall?"

"Well, the spirit world doesn't really correlate with this one, so I'm not sure. I wasn't looking there earlier. I'd be willing to try to find spirits out here, though. If we have some time." It turned out nobody cared enough to wait for me to sit in the hall in a trance trying to find spirits right now. Maybe later, though. And there might be more of them around, after things settle down from the violence.

It was night, and everyone was asleep. Even as the frustrated assistant to a retired magistrate, Miyara Miwa couldn't just barge into rooms and demand to talk to them. It would be rude. There was one she could talk to now, though: the official suspect, Miyara Ryuden. And so a guard escorted us to his room and explained to the guards at his rooms that we're "working for Hiruma".

Inside, Miyara Ryuden was sitting on the balcony. A guard stayed inside, granting him his privacy but also keeping a close eye on him. A bowl of rice sat on a table next to him, but he hadn't touched it. His eyes were hollow and dark.

"I didn't do it. I was willing to give him an honourable death. I was asked to remain here, in my room, and out of honor to our host, I do so." He looked at Miyara Miwa. "So you must be the one to clear our family's name. "

He told us his story. "After talking to Miyara Miwa, I visited Miyara Himitsu to see if I could talk him out of the duel." He obviously believed he would kill Himitsu easily, and preferred not to have to. "I just wanted an apology and to be done with the matter."

He rambled for a while, going back and forth and changing what he said. I was paying close attention, though, and I listened to the spirits' opinions. He was telling the truth as he remembered it; he just wasn't remembering very well. He was pretty drunk last night when we saw him, and I'm sure that wasn't the end of his drinking. It wasn't surprising that he was foggy about the details. At any rate, Miyara Ryuden and Miyara Himitsu, both drunk as lords, did not come to an amicable agreement. Ryuden left, shouting, disgusted by "the boy's impudent desire to kill himself on my blade." He said he went to bed and to sleep.

But the spirits said he didn't. Everything was true, until that last line.

He continued, "The guards woke me, and said Miyara Himitsu was dead and implied I did it. I didn't do it!" That was the truth.

I tried to look very foreign and said in Imperial, "He spoke mostly the truth. He didn't kill him, but he also didn't return and go to bed and to sleep."

Mehli asked him outright if he killed the guards, figuring maybe he was the second of two.

Miyara Ryuden jumped up and just went off on her. How dare she slur his honor? He insulted her, doubting her status as a samurai because she is gaijin and probably she's because faerie, too. They don't seem to trust walking spirits. Mehli took the tirade, but when he finished, she put her hand on her sword and said, "I am samurai and will prove it. I will defend my honor with my sword if need be." At least she didn't just spring forward and strike at him.

Miyara Miwa was angry, but she stepped forward between the two and calmed them down. She turned to Ryuden and made it clear that he shouldn't insult either her or her retinue again. I breathed easier, happy that my Mehli wasn't going to duel a man and his katana with her delicate rapier. No matter how skilled she is, I feared that would be an uneven match.

Ryuden silently granted Lady Miyara the point, I think, and he sat back down again. All calm, Miyara Miwa began speaking and wound her way to ask very subtly what he really did after he was finished speaking with Miyara Himitsu.

He didn't state exactly what he did, but he said emphatically, and truthfully, that he didn't go back to Himitsu's suite or anywhere near it again. It was still early in the evening, and Himitsu was definitely still alive when he left. I nodded: it was all true.

Mehli asked another question, perhaps to push home Miwa's declaration of her status. She asked why Himitsu behaved in so offensive a manner. The hidden question beneath was what did Himitsu have on Otomo.

It was an attempt at the Nipponese art of speaking at cross-purposes, but she missed the point that truth just doesn't matter to these people. He might very well lie, if the lie would forward his agenda and if he could make the lie accepted as truth. Ryuden answered, with a look of complete exasperation, "Because his honor demanded it."

Realizing her mistake, Mehli bowed her head and apologized.

I briefly wondered which "truth" Lady Miyara would want. Leave everything as-is, or create turmoil? I supposed a false heir was bad, but then if everyone accepts her for who they all want her to be, then would it matter? What if she actually became the empress, if the current emperor and his son both died? What a puzzle. I thought probably the lady would find out what she could, but then leave it alone. All she she was really responsible for was ensuring that Miyara Ryuden wasn't judged guilty of killing Miyara Himitsu. That would be hard enough to bring about, since someone wanted him to take the fall.

It all seems to come down to opposing ideals of personal honor. Miyara Ryuden's honor demanded that he protect Otomo, whether she's real or not. Miyara Himitsu's honor demanded the opposite. And there's someone out there willing to kill indiscriminately to keep Otomo exactly where she is.

While I was tracing that tangle, Tony asked something the wrong way, and Mehli tried to reword it. "Is there anyone else's honor you could help by knowing where they were overnight?" Yikes. Tony must've asked if there was someone else who could corroborate his statement. And he still had his head.

"No," said Ryuden very shortly, not really liking Mehli's question either, but letting it stand.

The lady stepped in and tried carefully to ask what Ryuden really did after speaking with Himitsu without calling him a liar. She said, "Help me clear the Miyara name: tell me what really happened."

He responded to that, as she knew he would. "After I left Miyara Himitsu, I returned here. After some thought," I think he meant sake, "I wanted to reassure Otomo Yoroshiku that I would do anything to defend her honor, even to killing That Dog. Any stain on her is a stain on the Emperor. I would gladly die before seeing dishonor placed on Hantei. I would gladly die to defend her honor."

"I slipped out of my room, jumping from one balcony to the next, and I slipped back into the next room over." And no-one there noticed him? "On my way to her rooms, I met one of her maids, Kakita Nantoko. She convinced me that Otomo-sama was already asleep. We talked for a long time, and she assured me that Otomo-sama expected me to win the duel and save her honor." I would have loved to hear that conversation. "She convinced me to return to my chambers, and I did so. I spent the rest of night in my room and never went near Miyara Himitsu's rooms. I did not kill Miyara Himitsu or his guards."

Every word he spoke was the truth. Mehli said straight out, "I can't believe you would kill him in his room when you could defend the princess's honor by doing so in the morning." That was telling and true. Why had the powers-that-be settled on Miyara Ryuden as the culprit?

Miyara Ryuden asked who spoke against him? Someone had to have stated officially that he must have killed Himitsu. Lady Miyara somehow managed to not tell him it was Isawa Tomo and satisfied him at the same time. She can be slippery.

This interview was over: we'd discovered what Ryuden knew. We returned to our suite.

Tony wondered if the note was legitimate, or if it was a plant to cause trouble. Lady Miyara wanted to know the same thing, so the next person to speak with was Koan. Tony went to his rooms, hoping he was awake. He returned some minutes later with Koan. In the meantime, the lady said she was going to meet Niban in Himitsu's stead. With the castle locked down, Grieg was her only way out and back in again. They looked down onto the valley, and remembered the way in: there was one good place to meet, so that's where they would go. Grieg sat down to meditate and fix the position in his head.

Lady Miyara did not mince words with Koan. She asked him directly, "What do you know?"

"I know very little about it. Niban's had something against Otomo Yoroshiku since he first saw her at the festival. He has something against everyone, and doesn't forgive past insults. But he wouldn't lie. If he says so, he has something real against the girl. I trust Niban, and I trust his word. Niban was supposed to arrive this morning with information he wanted to bring forward. Miyara Himitsu was going to sponsor him. There's another witness whose name I don't know. I do know they were also worried about one of the lords here -- Niban never said the name, but someone of rank was going to try to kill them when the information was released."

Except for his first sentence, every word he said was the truth. But he knew more than he was letting on. I decided I would challenge him directly on that. I'm not sure why: with his being shugenja, maybe he would accept that I can know things like that.

I looked him in the eyes and said, "Oh, you know much more than that."

"No, that's it," he tried, but that was still a lie, and I shook my head.

Lady Miyara told him, "I need to know everything you know."

He sighed and said, "I acknowledge that I owe you more. But I will end up dead if I say more than that." He muttered something about honour, death, life, and so forth. I'd met my first Nipponese who openly preferred to live than to die with honour. I suppose some must, or they would have killed themselves off long ago.

Tony asked where he was after the poetry reading; he wasn't in his room. Tony didn't believe that he was in his room asleep when his assistant Yisako told Miyara Miwa he was.

Koan said, rather carefully, "I did return to my room after the poetry reading, and I meditated for several hours. Then I wanted to try to talk Miyara Himitsu out of the duel in the morning. I spoke with Miyara Himitsu for a half an hour, but got nowhere. He was very drunk, and angry, and adamant about not backing down. I gave up, returned to my rooms, and sent Yisako to tell Niban about the duel in the morning."

Tony asked, "When did you leave Miyara Himitsu's rooms?"

"I got there about 12:30, and it was about 1 when I left."

Lady Miyara asked, "Do you know where Niban was going to meet Miyara Himitsu?"

"No, just somewhere on the road near the castle."

Lady Miyara nodded at that. At least everything he said confirmed the note we found. She dismissed him, saying she had an appointment to make, and Tony had a guard escort Koan back to his rooms.

I briefly wondered if Nightingale was purposely setting up the Miyara family for a fall, and what other, more powerful people might behind the plot. Starting with the initial problem with the scrolls, which Miyara solved rather neatly. But that seemed paranoid, so I dismissed it. Probably just some spirit whispering odd things in my head. Some of them are mischievous and like to mislead me.

And so Grieg moved himself and Miyara Miwa through the veil, so she could speak with Niban. I wished I could be there, to help her know when he spoke the truth and when he lied. But Grieg could only carry one person at a time. So I waited, with everyone else, in a tense silence. Mehli smiled at me, but her eyes were worried.

I couldn't shake the feeling of approaching doom.