Phoebe's Journey Part 4

Chapter 8: I Will Not Go Softly Into the Night

When we returned to the house, the outer courtyard was filled with boxes -- gifts! -- and even some merchants waiting around to personally deliver more gifts. All for Lady Miyara, all for her birthday.

She walked through the outer courtyard and into the inner courtyard without a glance to the side, as though the courtyard were empty. Confused, the rest of us followed her silently. She spoke most briefly to Sun, and to Furedu, mentioning seemingly out of nowhere that her birthday is in the month of the Dragon. (That's in spring I think.) She never once spoke of the gifts out there for her.

After a while, everything mysteriously disappeared, and it was never brought up again. I don't really understand it all -- how painful could it be to simply correct a mistaken assumption of a birthday date? But Lady Miyara is awfully careful with everything she does, so I suppose that was the correct thing to do somehow.

She seemed to be glowering a bit and she took out her frustrations against Tony. He, of course, was more than happy to spar with her. Two accomplished artists in death.

We all amused ourselves for the rest of the afternoon, and dinner (and after dinner) turned into another session with our thoughts and the scrolls meant for Bayushi Yojiro.

Someone asked about Ide Baranato, and Lady Miyara started with a note by Shigeko -- the Emerald Magistrate before Ashidaka who'd retired -- about him. She agreed with Ashidaka's widow that Ide Baranato ran the Unicorn clan here, though he wasn't the titular head. Shigeko said that Lord Ide was a man of honor and a skilled healer. Tony asked if that meant that he was shugenja, or a doctor like Peter, but Shigeko didn't say.

She had a run-in with a ronin named Ample, and went to Ide Baranato to have him put her arm back into its socket. I guess she was being tough, like they all are here, and he told her that she shouldn't be afraid to tell him her arm was in pain, that if she told him where it hurt he would be better able to make the pain stop. "Or would the shame of admitting pain be worse than the pain itself," he asked her. She said he was joking somewhat, but she could also see that her pain hurt him as well. She wrote, "Ide Baranato was a compassionate man, but there was more than kindness. Something unyielding was at the back of his gaze, something I had seen in the eyes of the Emerald Champion, and of a couple of other people. Those men who had seen death, naked suffering, and understood these things but had not been broken by them, it gave them strength, and I believed Baranato had the same strength."

Then Lady Miyara summarized an entry from Memoirs of an Opium Eater. The girl said Ide Baranato blamed True Word for his son's death, and turned him away from the funeral. Miyara Shonagon figured if True Word could be blamed, then you may may as well blame everyone at the funeral. Lord Ide didn't seem to see it that way.

I remembered something I thought about earlier. Ashidaka was pragmatic -- that word again! -- and would have turned a blind eye to the illegal opium trade as long as it didn't get out of hand. I didn't know ... but his death was one that couldn't be ignored. I carefully said, "We all knew that Ashidaka wasn't making waves, but at the same time got someone mad enough to kill him in a visible manner. Something had to have happened that couldn't be ignored by the Emerald Magistrate, and that got him killed. If we figured out what that was, then we'd be closer to understanding."

Then Lady Miyara continued to read Shonagon's account of his death. He was found dead in the upstairs room of the Morning Star, in the Licensed Quarter. A pipe by his side, an empty sake cup, and bottles. Someone said he had been drinking Liquid Void.

I met Lady Miyara's eyes, and I think she knew what I suggested. The the death of the son and heir of the man who acted as the head of the Unicorn clan would certainly have been too much to ignore, would have forced Ashidaka to look into things too deeply for the opium cartels to ignore.

Lady Miyara returned to the Memoirs, reading silently for some time, and then told us about a horse race the young Ide had been involved in. None of us could tell if it was significant in some way, but maybe it gave context that would make sense later.

She said, "Ide Michikane and Bayushi Otado wagered their horses on a race three times around the city, with True Word acting as spotter at Fisherman's Gate to make sure no-one took a short cut there. The Peasant's Gate was allowed as a permissible way back into the city so that the contestants didn't have to go through the leatherworkers' quarters. Ide Michikane rode through anyway, thus saving a considerable amount of distance and winning the race." She said it wasn't necessarily cheating, but it was somewhat questionable. But young Ide refused to take Bayushi Otado's horse. About nine months later, Ide Michikane was found dead.

Lady Miyara then told us what Shigeko said about Bayushi Otado. "The opposite of Korechika in looks and personality, despite being his son." Lady Miyara said Shigeko implied that Otado wasn't really Korechika's son, although Shigeko seemed to doubt his other would have done such a thing. Lady Miyara continued, "she also admitted there was some small likeness after all, so I don't know what to make of her innuendoes."

Shigeko said Michikane was "charming, handsome, a fine hunter, and a warm and sincere courtier. He was widely liked and admired, and seemed to have no enemies within the city. His parents loved him and he seemed like he had a strong future."

Lady Miyara poured a cup of tea for herself, and Tony spoke with Lady Miyara briefly about something, and then with Furedu, who joined us later in the evening. Mehli was sort of listening and sort of thinking about something else, and I was listening to the spirits' voices. I'm sure that someday I'll learn to hear them more clearly. In the meanwhile, it's more of a disturbing noise that sometimes makes it hard to hear what's going on around me, and hard to think.

Then Mehli muttered something about visiting the Licensed Quarter some night soon. I perked up at that and said I'd love to go. She smiled at me and said that would be lovely, but she'd also like someone else to go with us, someone who could provide better backup than I can. I smiled at her: that's only good sense. I'm of no use in brawls or fights at all. More of a liability, really. I'm only good once things are over, for directing Arati to heal those hurt.

Then Lady Miyara asked Furedu about Bayushi Yojiro himself. Who he is, what's he like, where he might be instead of here. That sort of thing. I think she imagined that he would ask around and return to her in a day or two with information for her.

Instead, he told her about him. "He's known as the honest scorpion," Furedu began. "Bayushi Yojiro was sent to the Scorpion's school for courtiers." That meant he was trained neither as a bushi nor as a shugenja. He's a professional politician, I suppose. Scorpions have a reputation of being dishonest, and harsh, and underhanded. To them, an enemy is one for a purpose, and anything that works against your enemy is counted as a good. Then he told a story.

Bayushi Yojiro is not like a typical Scorpion. He was a quick study, he understood all the courtier's techniques that he was taught, and he used them well. But he didn't have the cold-bloodedness his teachers naturally expected of him.

So they tested him. They told him that a certain Crane had been to Scorpion lands, where he visited a brothel. He was apparently unhappy with the service he received, they told him. He had killed everyone inside it, burned the building down to the ground, and then returned home without a thought. Bayushi Yojiro was given the task to set the man up to die. He was to arrange for someone else to dishonor and kill him, to destroy him utterly. This, apparently, is the Scorpion way. Others would make the challenge openly.

With that information, Bayushi Yojiro instantly hated the Crane for his utterly despicable and depraved actions. So he went about fulfilling his task gladly. He arranged everything, carefully and thoroughly.

On the night before the final events were to take place, Bayushi Yojiro's teachers came to him and explained that everything they'd told him was a lie. The Crane had done none of those things -- it was actually another Scorpion who had killed everyone in the brothel and burned it down. Simply to set up the test for Bayushi Yojiro, not even out of his own pure rage.

Destroying someone out of hatred is an entirely selfish act, his teachers explained to him. Doing so for clan loyalty was appropriate, however. Bayushi Yojiro was expected to see out his task out of loyalty, instead of hatred. Or, he could end everything and walk away.

Furedu implied, and I would have guessed myself, that had he walked away from his assigned duty, he would have been dead by morning.

Bayushi Yojiro chose the path of loyalty, and ever since he's served the Scorpion clan well. But he has gained the reputation of being the only honest scorpion. It is believed that the Emerald Champion chose him for an Emerald Magistrate because of that reputation. Although assigning the man to Ryoko Owari still seems like an odd decision.

It is rumoured that Bayushi Yojiro has been delayed at his family home, caring for his dying mother.

Some brief emotion flitted across Lady Miyara's face at that, and I knew she wondered and worried about her mother all over again. There was something ominous in there. I just wasn't sure what exactly.

I'm also not sure exactly where the "honest" part comes in. Perhaps after thinking about the story for a while, I'll get it. To me, he seems just another Scorpion, willing to do anything dirty and underhanded that his clan asks him to do, for any reason or no reason at all.

The evening drew to a close after that. Lady Miyara was preoccupied and tired of reading so much. Mehli and I retired to our room, and I fell asleep against her, as usual.

Then I woke up.

I wasn't in bed, next to Mehli.

I wasn't even in the house.

Instead, I was standing outside in the street, shivering in my nightclothes. I stood still, knowing something was wrong, but not sure what.

Then I saw it: A man on a horse, in full armor, was riding fast towards me, veering directly at me and leaning down to me, and grabbing me and dragging me up to lay across his horse's shoulders and riding off with me!

My mind reeled for several seconds; I hadn't even woken up entirely and hadn't quite come to terms with standing out in the street instead of being in bed where I belonged. The saddle dug into my gut with every jarring stride of the horse, and it was all I could do to breathe. I kicked and squirmed, but he had a hold on me and I wasn't going anywhere. Mehli, where are you?

Finally, I found my voice, and I screamed in terror. I'll admit I wasn't thinking clearly. I was just plain terrified. I did nothing but scream and kick ineffectively for several moments. Then my head started working again, just a little, and I tried to reach out to the spirit Marlen, to convince her to steal my kidnapper's strength. If he was just too tired to stay on his horse, I could escape.

But I failed in that, too. I tried several times, but the spirit world receded farther and farther away as I just couldn't hold onto it with the stranger's hand gripping one arm painfully, with the bruising blows to my stomach, and with my mind so far from tranquility.

I gave up and simply did what I could to make people -- anyone, but especially Mehli and the others -- hear me and know something was wrong. I poured all of myself into my voice, something I learned back home, and screamed as loudly as I could.

One of my arms was free, and I scrabbled for something in reach, on the saddle maybe, that I could pull off and drop into the street, in case someone might see it and know where I was being taken. In the end, all I could do was tear a scrap of my sleeve off and drop it behind us. I didn't hold out much hope for that, but it was my best try.

Finally, the man growled at me, "Shut up, woman." His words and tone made it instantly clear that he didn't realize I was counted samurai.

I pulled myself together a little. Perhaps this was salvageable after all. I tried to channel Lady Miyara and used my voice to its best effect, "Put me down, you unmannered lout." I wanted to insult him, I wanted him to know I wasn't nobody.

I felt his body stiffen in surprise. "Oh shit, who are you?"

I suddenly realized this might not be my salvation after all. If he'd made a mistake, the easiest thing would be to kill me and drop my body in the river. Rattled, I told him, "I'm Phoebe and I belong to house of Miyara." It wasn't quite the right way to say it, but surely that should give him pause. Surely he wouldn't want to anger Miyara ... I just backed him into a corner, hadn't I?

But no. He didn't stick a knife into me, but neither did he put me down. We continued to ride through the dark streets of the Noble Quarter. And I resumed my screaming.

For just a moment, I thought I heard someone I recognized. "Stop the craven thief!" It was Tony! Wasn't it? Were he and the others chasing after me? I hoped so. I continued to scream, hoping my voice would guide them our way.

We turned a bit, and the rhythm changed ever so slightly. "Open the gates! Now!" My abductor yelled at someone. Gate? To where? Oh, don't let us leave the city! I smelt water. The river!

Then I heard a most welcome voice close behind us. Lady Miyara snapped coldly to the guards, "Keep those gates closed, by the order of the Emerald Magistrate!"

They must have decided to obey her, because he reined his horse to a rapid stop, pushed me off and onto the street, and wheeled back around to charge at Lady Miyara, who I now saw. I hit the road hard, lost my breath, and simply lay in the street dazed and unable to move, speak, or think. My lungs screamed for air. The lady, dressed only in nightclothes, charged at the man in full armor. I doubt she put a second's thought into it.

My eyes closed for a moment while I sucked air desperately, and when they opened again, it was to see Lady Miyara and the mysterious horseman disappearing from view. I sat up painfully, still gasping for air, and a few guards came to my assistance. One asked who I was. I explained, as eloquently as I could, "I am Miyara Phoebe, and that man snatched me up in the street and made off with me." I think I called my kidnapper a few unflattering names, but the guards didn't seem surprised by that.

They bowed to me respectfully, and another one came to me -- probably the one in charge judging by his higher quality armor and clothing -- and asked what help I required. I told him what I required was an escort back to the Emerald Magistrate's house.

"Yes, please come with me," he said and led me into a place I could sit down, which I did rather shakily. Reaction was setting in, and I was trembling head to foot. The guards worked at getting a carriage ready to return me home, and another group went out riding after Lady Miyara and the other man. I asked one guard, rather forlornly, if he had a cup of sake he could spare for me, and within moments, my two hands were holding one. The sake helped calm my nerves somewhat, and quiet the spirits, who were extremely agitated and shrieking wildly in my head.

As I finished the soothing drink, the guard captain returned and asked me politely, "Lady, what happened to you?"

I told him briefly and clearly. "I woke up in the street, that man grabbed me, hauled me up on his horse, and rode off with me."

"Why were you sleeping in the street?" He asked, somewhat suspiciously.

"I wasn't. I was sleeping in my bed at the Emerald Magistrate's house." He seemed confused, and I explained further, "Sometimes the spirits walk off with me in the middle of the night."

"Oh, ok," He seemed to accept that.

I was just getting into the carriage, when a guard -- this one wearing the livery of the Emerald Magistrate's house -- rode up at full gallop, and called out for me. The Lady Miyara was badly injured, and they needed me at her side at once.

He had a horse for me, and I followed him to where Lady Miyara and Tony were. The carriage arrived shortly thereafter. I slid off the horse at her side, in the middle of the street. There was another body in the street, but I had no time for it. I learned later it was my abductor, dead. Tony looked worried as hell over Lady Miyara.

I placed my hand on her, calmed my mind, and called for Arati. She came to me at once, and she drained my strength into Lady Miyara, then left. Lady Miyara was perfectly healed ... but still unconscious. For a moment I puzzled, then one spirits' voice sounded clearly above the background cacophony of the rest.

sss...ssssh...shshshe's been poisoned...nssss...sssss...dying...nnnnnggssss...sssss

I looked wildly at Tony, who was watching me. "Poison! We've got to get her to Peter at once! She's dying!"

I was distraught and hanging onto myself by a thread. I remembered something someone once said about a straw and a camel, but jerked myself back to the here and the now. This was no time for hysteria. Tony moved fast, thankfully. He bundled me into the carriage with Lady Miyara's ever-slowing body, and told the guards to get us to the Emerald Magistrate's house as fast as they could.

As he closed the door, he leaned over to me and told me intently, "Tell Peter she was hit by a dart and poisoned." I nodded, and we were off.

I spent the short but wild carriage ride watching over Lady Miyara as her breathing became shallower, as I could feel her spirit's bond to her body weakening.

As she came closer and closer to death, while I could do nothing.

We wheeled into the courtyard, careening to a stop. I tumbled out of the carriage, and saw Peter standing right there, to my relief. Somewhat incoherently, I grabbed him and yelled into his face, pointing to the carriage, "Lady Miyara! Poisoned! Fix her! NOW! She's DYING!

Peter went into action without a word. He pulled her out of the carriage so he could work on her, called Shallya to him, and she did something. I could tell Lady Miyara had halted her journey into death.

But she was just barely alive, barely breathing. So grey. Caught in the middle somewhere between life and death.

Then Peter did something I'd never seen him do. Shallya healed Lady Miyara from near-death to complete wellness in one moment. She used Peter's energy, like Arati does mine, but to a much lesser extent that Shallya just did. And, of course, Peter absolutely hums with energy, anyway.

In the meantime, the rest had arrived. My Mehli had nearly brained herself trying to come after me. I was just so glad to see her. I healed her at once, and buried myself in her arms, weeping uncontrollably for a few minutes until I got a hold of myself again.

When I calmed down and apologized to Mehli, Tony and Lady Miyara had told their stories to the city guards. They questioned the house guards and left, promising Lady Miyara to return tomorrow and tell her what they discovered about the night's activities.

All at once, the night was quiet again. We stood in the courtyard, just us, shivering in the cold, still in our nightclothes. Mehli put her arm around me and gently escorted me back up to bed. You might think I would have a hard time relaxing enough to get back to sleep, but I dropped off quickly in Mehli's soothing presence. And slept late.

We straggled out, one-by-one, for lunch the next day. We talked over what had happened until we all had the full stories. Mehli, Tony, and Lady Miyara had come out after me as fast as they could, carrying naked blades and still in their nightclothes, not even taking time to grab a cloak, let alone armor.

Mehli had the most surprising story. She said she'd awoken in the middle of the night, standing in her room with a death-grip on her rapier's hilt, heart pounding and knowing something was wrong with me. Somehow, she felt a little of my terror. I don't know if it's because we're so attuned to each other that we're connected spiritually, or if perhaps some kindly spirit took what he could to alert her of my distress.

The day was a lost cause. We did nothing but rest and recuperate. Towards the end of the day, the captain of the city guard arrived and gave us the results of their investigation.

The samurai who abducted me was a minor member of the Scorpion clan, of no importance whatsoever. Nobody knows why he was out in the first place, or why he took me. His family stated firmly that they had nothing against me. I think that meant that they didn't send him out after me.

It was as I thought last night. He was just out for his own reasons, whatever they were, and saw some random woman in a cotton shift standing in the street in the middle of the night. A peasant he could snatch up at will, and nobody would care. He grabbed me just for the fun of it, because he didn't think I mattered. Because nobody but a samurai does matter to these people.

For the first time since I left, I sincerely wished I was home.