Phoebe's Journey Part 4

Chapter 3: A Visit with the Governor

Eventually, I set aside my vision as something to be discussed later and listened to the rest of the lunch conversation. We had a visit to the governor of the city that afternoon, and everything had to be just so, of course. I thought the Empire was stuffy and too concerned with protocol. They seem like freewheeling, wild plains barbarians in comparison to the Nipponese.

I missed most of it, but caught the important bits, and Mehli filled in the rest as we got dressed. Apparently if you dressed Nipponese, you would be expected to act as perfectly as a native would. Most of us, including Lady Miyara, thought that was a danger. Her position is precarious here, so it's best if we don't invite mistakes.

This was a formal occasion, though, so I pulled out my best festival clothing from home. I had several colorful and wide skirts that overlapped, with the top layer ending at the knee and the rest cascading in layers to my ankles. The loose blouse was simple, but the long leather vest wasn't. It was covered all over in colorful embroidery, and fringe draped to my knees.

That took only a few minutes to put on, but doing my hair took a lot longer. Braids all over, and feathers and beads and bells and stuff were threaded through. I had bells on my soft boots, too. And bracelets and necklaces and earrings. I couldn't breathe without chiming. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I had no need to carry my drum.

Mehli dressed simply, as a warrior of the sea spirits. Leather armor, and her slim sword and her bow. Unstrung of course, but she carried a quiver of arrows and I knew how fast she could ready her bow. Not that we were going into a fight, of course.

Mehli had never seen me so completely decked out. I was afraid she thought I might look a little strange: Dressed like this, I stood out like a sore thumb in the Empire, let alone here. But she smiled with admiration and said I looked delightful.

Tony was dressed in his mercenary getup, and looked quite good, if hard. He's always dangerous, whether he's carrying his own sword and shield or the katana and wakizashi Lady Miyara equipped him with. Or a simple knife. He'd probably more than hold his own if he were attacked in the bath while he was stark naked. I'm sure he'd find a way to kill someone with a bar a of soap or a towel or something.

Grieg had his own clothes on, too. He only had what he'd worn when he splashed into the water near the ship plus the Nipponese clothing he'd acquired since. But the servants had gotten at his Imperial clothes, which had been of good quality to begin with. Now fully repaired and thoroughly cleaned, he suddenly looked more like the prosperous Imperial merchant's son he was. Which to the Nipponese just meant he could pass as samurai instead of peasant.

Peter had elected to dress in the Nipponese style after all. The soft and fine robes suit him well. Of any of us, he's adapted to Nipponese social expectations the best. He's soft-spoken and tends to stay in the background, not drawing attention to himself.

Finally, Lady Miyara appeared. I have never seen her in full ceremonial regalia before. She was an amazing sight. Metal and leather and Miyara and Phoenix colors -- reds and oranges and yellows -- everywhere. And she had Miyara and Phoenix crests displayed in several places, too. We had each been supplied with her crests to wear somewhere on our own clothing.

I've seen her wear her armor, of course, and it's awfully complicated. But this was a step beyond. She carried her helmet instead of wearing it, and Toni took it to hold for her. That, too was a frightening thing. I can't imagine what a battle must look like here -- probably like warring demons from the nether hells. I've gotten used to her, I guess. I'd forgotten how scary she is. I wouldn't want to stare at her over a blade, that's for sure.

Lady Miyara had explained what this visit would be like. First, we were unlikely to see the governor herself. I think she warned us of that so Tony wouldn't take offense on her part. An interesting point is that the actual Emerald Magistrate outranks the governor, and she would have to really see him. If Lady Miyara's position was more solid that it is, she could force the issue. But she won't do that.

We were quite the procession, walking through the streets in the middle of the afternoon. We were met at the gate and it seemed to take forever before he led us into a room where would meet with a Yogo Osako, one of the governor's magistrates.

Lady Miyara had explained that, too. They couldn't know ahead of time how many people she would bring with her, nor who we were exactly. So the fellow at the gate's role was to delay us -- politely of course -- until they were ready to receive us properly.

It's a strange game. The host must look as if he was perfectly prepared for his guests, even if he had no idea ahead of time how many or what kind of guests there were to be. If the host isn't prepared, he loses face. And so the guests dally along until he's ready, pretending that they don't know what's going on: rushing things would be extremely rude. And yet, of course, each side knows exactly what the other is doing and why, and each side knows the other side knows as well. Yet acknowledging the simple truth that the host can't know who's coming would cause either an insult or a loss of face. Really, it's a wonder anything ever gets done around all the careful maneuvering that takes place whenever two or more people have to meet.

So we played along. Lady Miyara patiently waded through the formal welcoming and pretended to be interested in the art he pointed out in the halls as we walked so slowly along.

We waited only a few short moments before Yogo Osako walked in. Her appearance was surprising. In general, she should have brought a retinue to match Lady Miyara's in number. Or, she could have brought either a few less or a few more, and that choice would have sent some sort of message to the lady. Likewise, since we were dressed so very formally, I expected her to be as well.

Instead, she came in alone and simply wearing her on-duty clothing: basic armor and weapons and such. I couldn't figure out what any of that meant, and Lady Miyara said later that she didn't, either.

She did introduce herself formally, and Lady Miyara did the same. Yogo Osako was probably about the same age as the lady, in her late twenties I think. She seemed very straightforward and immediately asked what the governor could do for the Emerald Magistrate. The lady replied just as forthrightly that the matter of prime concern was the former Emerald Magistrate's death. The city magistrate declared that the report would be sent over today.

Less than five minutes, and it seemed everything had been covered. But no, Yogo Osako asked Lady Miyara when she expected Bayushi Yojiro to arrive, which Lady Miyara of course didn't know, and said so.

That paused the conversation for a moment. Yogo Osako just looked at Lady Miyara. Her face said plain as day that she "knew" Lady Miyara had some deep game going on. Lady Miyara didn't outwardly react, but just stood there projecting confidence.

Until that moment, I hadn't really thought about what Lady Miyara was doing. She didn't really have anything to back up her position. In effect, Yogo Osako was right: she's claiming something she may not have. Yet she doesn't have another option, since her father's letter made it clear that someone high up had ordered her here. Was it a genuine posting, or was she set up for a fall?

I don't know, and now I'm worried. One thing I do know: Lady Miyara won't go down alone.

Yogo Osako seemed to struggle with what to do next, but the uncomfortable silence didn't last long. In a studiedly off-hand manner, she asked Lady Miyara to introduce her retinue. Tony smiled suddenly, and Lady Miyara also seemed pleased by that. I didn't know why for several minutes.

Lady Miyara first introduced "her second," using Tony's full and very foreign-sounding name. The magistrate asked him what he thought of Nipponese sword-makers. I don't know what she expected, but his praise of them spoken in perfect Nipponese seemed to surprise her.

My Mehli was next, "of the Sea Elves," and the magistrate was curious where they lived. Mehli's explanation of spending most of her time on a ship, but with some settlements on land seemed to satisfy some personal curiosity.

I was next, but before Yogo Osako could ask me some strange question, the reason for Tony's and Lady Miyara's earlier satisfaction was made clear.

The double doors into this room sprang open, and a woman followed by a large number of people strode in. The magistrate introduced her at length -- in short, she was Shosuro Hyobu, the city's governor. The introduction was formal, complete, and long, and Lady Miyara's self-introduction was in the same vein. Although she's here in the capacity of the assistant to the Emerald Magistrate for Ryoko Owari, she did not fail to remind the governor that she is also daughter to the Phoenix Champion and therefore not someone to underestimate.

Not that it seemed likely the governor would forget that fact. The magistrate unobtrusively left, and at least half of the group following the governor stepped back. This left us, the governor, and several of the governor's people. I imagine her people mirrored us as Lady Miyara's people.

So, somehow something in the conversation with the magistrate prompted the governor to see us personally, and the magistrate played the delaying tactic until the governor showed up. How that happened I don't know: There was no one else in the room with us. Actually, I guess I do know how. Obviously, someone was watching from somewhere hidden. I'm going to have to pay much better attention to things here.

Once the formal greetings were done with, the first thing the governor asked was how the Phoenix Champion was. The lady just said he was enjoying the Emperor's Court.

Then she said, "It would be helpful to understand 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."

"I'm sure your magistrates have performed admirably."

The governor responded with a hope that the Emerald Magistrate found them deserving of Lady Miyara's praise. She paused, perhaps waiting for more priorities, which Lady Miyara did not provide. I suppose routine tax collection on the Emperor's behalf wouldn't interest the governor.

After a few breaths of silence, Shosuro said, "My magistrates are at the Emerald Magistrate's disposal for any questions he might have about the death of Ashidaka." She closed with a speech that was clearly the beginning of the dismissal, "Ryoko Owari is an extremely complicated city, and if you should have any questions on matters of jurisdiction or priority, I am more than happy to help."

Lady Miyara thanked her, and the governor said she was welcome in a somewhat condescending manner which the lady ignored.

The closing farewells were formal, but nothing more of interest was said by either party, and we finally went back "home".

By the time we returned, it was late afternoon and we had no further scheduled activities. I shed my festival getup and wrapped myself in Nipponese house robes, preparing to relax the rest of the night. Mehli's lounging in the room we share, also dressed in house robes. The casual Nipponese clothing suits her well, better than the formal gear. I can think of a good way to while away the time until dinner, and since I've gotten this journal caught up ...

A couple hours later, we were summoned to the magistrate's office. The whole group was there, as was a man. He was introduced as one of the city magistrates, there to give us the report on Ashidaka's death. Although he carried a packet of the written report that he would leave here, first he told us everything verbally. And we asked questions.

A quick note on time-keeping in Nippon. In the west, everyone divides the night and the day into twelve hours. Well, not everyone, but most everyone, and certainly in the Empire. In Nippon, they divide the night and the day into six hours, and each hour is named for an animal. So one Nipponese hour is about two western hours.

Ashidaka and True Word died between the hours of the ox and the hare on the 3rd day of the month, 4 months ago. That's a span of about four western hours, from not too long past midnight until dawn, or thereabouts.

There were no witnesses to the actual event. I suppose most people were asleep in their homes at that time of the morning. And anyone who might been wakened was probably not interested in getting involved. Ashidaka himself was found inside the burned wreckage of his own carriage. As if burning to death wasn't bad enough, someone had also stabbed him multiple times, probably through the very walls of the carriage. There was some evidence that the carriage was splashed with something flammable, to make sure it went up like pyre, and the carriage door was blocked shut to be sure Ashidaka couldn't possibly escape. As Tony muttered, they really wanted to make sure he was dead. Mehli said it sounded like a professional job.

Lady Miyara determined by her questions that they didn't actually know for sure if the carriage door was blocked with something. Nothing was actually found. It was assumed because Ashidaka "was neither old nor infirm, and he could easily have smashed the door open if necessary."

Of course, as Mehli pointed out, being stabbed first could easily incapacitate him so he couldn't escape. And Tony wondered about poison, either with the blade or maybe earlier. But I think that came later, after Lady Miyara dismissed the magistrate with directions that tomorrow he needed to take us to the place Ashidaka was killed.

To get back to the poisoning ... Tony figured he was out at the time for a reason, and that reason was likely to have been a "late-night sort of establishment," he said rather delicately. Anyway, maybe he was poisoned there, either to kill him or just to keep him from being able to escape. Although if he were poisoned and was about to be burned, why then also stab him? Except for the fact whoever this was really wanted to be sure the man was dead.

The report had more information about True Word, the other man who died. He apparently really did die defending Ashidaka. He was a shugenja, and was found dead with his scrolls scattered around him on the ground. Someone had thrown something in his face -- probably vinegar -- to keep him from being able to read his scrolls and therefore cast his spells. Vinegar in the eyes is also a perfectly good way to prevent swordwork as well, of course. It looked like True Word had been killed on his knees, hand on his undrawn sword.

It seems it's unusual to have people actually look at bodies of murder victims, but then the Nipponese have a rather cavalier attitude towards Truth in general. Anyway, some samurai whose name was mentioned but which I cannot remember -- I'll have to ask someone later -- had a man named Eyebrows inspect the body, and that's why they know as much as they do. I wonder why the governor had any kind of investigation done in the first place. It wasn't really her job to do anything at all.

Someone's hiding something, obviously. Are there connections to the governor? If so, I guess Lady Miyara will find someone else more convenient to pin it on. That seems to be the way things work around here.

Dinner, at least, was quiet and enjoyable. Donku appeared to have everything together now, and the food was both delicious and plentiful. The household in general seemed happier.