Phoebe's Journey Part 4

Chapter 10: Making Inroads

Mehli went back to her bow, after Lady Miyara announced Kakita Kabe wouldn't be here for a couple of hours. I watched, entranced by her stillness, her other-worldliness, her concentration. I'll admit I also admired her slender, athletic body, posed so gracefully and powerfully.

Eventually, Tony came to fetch us. Kakita Kabe was here, Lady Miyara was in the office, and she wanted us all at the interview. She was already in place, and we arranged ourselves around her. Tony opened the door for Kabe and took his place with us.

Kabe bowed, and said, "I am Kakita Kabe."

Lady Miyara replied, "I am Miyara Miwa, and I am acting as the Emerald Magistrate until his arrival here in the city." She sounded very sure of herself. I settled myself, reached out to the spirits, and turned my attention to Kakita Kabe.

The lady spoke at length, and I watched Kakita Kabe's energy move from negative to positive. Eventually, she got down to business.

"I have heard that when you were in Ashidaka Naritoki's household, one of your duties was to collect information for him. Is that true?"

He nodded, "Yes, I did that for him."

"Would you be willing to act in the same capacity for the office of the new Emerald Magistrate?"

"I cannot. That is, it would be an honor, but I'm afraid I must decline."

Tony asked her quietly, in Imperial, "Can you ask him to act for the Emerald Magistrate on a temporary basis?"

Lady Miyara ignored the question and asked Kabe, "What is your reason for declining?"

He hemmed a bit, but the gist of his answer was because the actual Emerald Magistrate isn't even here, and besides, he's a Scorpion. And one he didn't know.

She asked him, "Would you be willing, then, to serve in that capacity for me personally?"

"Yes, if I can obtain release from my current lord."

Tony whispered to the lady in Imperial, "We might be able to influence that lord and the widow to release him." "Yes, we might," she answered him quietly.

Tony began asking Kabe questions. Lady Miyara looked at me, and I smiled and nodded. He'd been honest and above-board the whole time.

Tony asked, "What was the complement of the house guard when you were on duty here?" The number he reported was impressively large.

"Do you know of any qualified Phoenix samurai that we might approach to hire to our guard?"

"I know of a few," he admitted. "I can contact them on your behalf, or simply provide you with their names if you'd prefer." Lady Miyara told him he could contact them himself.

Then Tony asked, "Have you heard anything about the reputed ninja attacks in the past few months?" I grinned. Lady Miyara was clearly very tired of the whole "ninja" thing.

"I know nothing about ninja attacks," Kabe said rather drily. I guess he had the same opinion of ninjas as she did.

Tony let it drop and went on to his next subject, "Do you know where Ashidaka Naritoki was on the night he was killed?"

"Yes, he was returning from the Licensed Quarter." Just as we thought.

"We were planning on looking into the Licensed Quarter. Is there a particular place that might be more likely to yield information pertaining to his murder? Can you suggest where we should look first?"

Kabe answered slowly, "I don't know if it will yield pertinent information, but I believe Ashidaka Naritoki preferred the House of Foreign Stories."

Mehli laughed out loud at the name. "Sounds like my kind of place," she said in Imperial. Her laughter made Kabe uncomfortable.

Tony said, "One last thing. We've heard lots of other theories. Do you have a personal theory on how and why Ashidaka Naritoki was murdered?"

Kabe thought for a few breaths. "No." He paused again, and then said, "I cannot imagine anyone would have the ... foolish courage ... to kill the Emerald Magistrate. I wonder why the Emerald Cham..."

Mehli grinned rather broadly at his honesty. He just barely stopped short before what I suspect would have been a keen insult to the Emerald Champion, one that Lady Miyara might not have been able to ignore. It's a question we've asked: why hasn't more been done about the blatant murder of an Emerald Magistrate?

Lady Miyara ignored his implied criticism of the Emerald Champion and simply said, "Thank you for your time." He bowed, thanked her, and left.

Before we moved, Tony said, "The protection afforded by being an Emerald Magistrate only partially conveys to an acting Emerald Magistrate. Therefore, the risk and danger is probably greater to us than it would be to the actual Emerald Magistrate. A larger house staff should be arranged relatively soon."

The lady nodded agreement. She called Furedu in. "Tell me about Ashidaka Michitaka, the lord whose house the Naritoki's widow is staying in."

"He is an atypical Crane. He's large and boisterous and ... very plain-spoken." Furedu obviously did not think highly of him. "Ashidaka Michitaka was a cousin to Ashidaka Naritoki. And he took great advantage of that position. After his cousin's death, he has diminished greatly in influence, if not in bluster."

"I intend to hire Kakita Kabe away from him."

"I always found Kakita Kabe to be an honorable man."

"I'd like to see Ashidaka Michitaka soonest."

He thought a moment and said, "You could ask him tonight, but you don't want to look desperate."

"No, and I have plans tonight anyway. Tomorrow afternoon."

"Should I tell him why?"

"A social call on Miyara Miwa."

Lady Miyara said it was time to start getting ready for the night's trip to the Licensed Quarter. She said we needed to dress well. She, Tony, and Mehli were to carry their weapons, even thought they'll have to leave them at Swords Polished, but wear no armor. Tony looked rebellious at that but acquiesced.

I soaked luxuriantly in the bath for a long while, and then it was time to get dressed. My maid, Tsukimi, and I had long ago come to an understanding. She swathed me silks in Miyara colors and piled my hair high in the severe style of a Nipponese samurai. Then she decked me out with the decorations I liked. Jingling bangles, bells, ribbons, and other ornaments. The pretty comb from the Winter Court at Lord Asako's castle. Finally, the one thing she completely approved of: the little ward I bought at the Festival of the Ki-Rin. She always dressed that into my hair somehow.

Lady Miyara looked much more elegant than usual, in lady's clothes instead of bushi clothes. The rest of us looked quite presentable, too. I found myself grinning with anticipation. This promised to be a great deal of fun. The other side of the Nipponese coin.