Tales of the Sea Bitch (29)
We'd run out of things to ask Ashidaka's widow, so
we headed back to the house for lunch. That afternoon we would
have our meeting with Bayushi Korechika.
On arriving at the house, Furede was standing there
obviously waiting for us. As we pulled up, he explained that
there were five monks from the school of something-or-other. They
were here to see Toni, and would not tell him what they wanted.
Toni asked him if he had any suggestions as to how
he should proceed, other than just walking in and saying "Yes?"
He of course assumed it was about the encounter on the streets.
He glanced over at Miwa and said to Furede, "We will see them now."
Toni and Miwa lead us into the courtyard to meet the
Five men waited in the courtyard. They were
sitting cross-legged, dressed in dull brown pajamas. The mon on
their shirts was not one Toni or Miwa knew immediately, although it
would be reasonable to assume it was that of the school. They
were staring into space, presumably meditating. They were all
fairly young, perhaps around 20 give or take a few years.
Toni walked towards them. As he neared them,
the middle monk hopped to his feet and bowed thoroughly.
Toni bowed appropriately in return.
The monk said that they were from that school.
The samurai Toni killed yesterday (which he said by name) was a member
of the school. The master of their school had bid them to come
here and test him.
Toni said, "To test me, or us?"
The monk to Toni's far left hopped up, ran at him,
and made a flying kick at him as the monk in the center answered Toni
with a simple, "You."
Toni drew his sheathed katana with a fluid movement.
Miwa stepped back with a little, looking around to
make sure the rest of us did too.
Toni dodged the strike, as the monk flew past behind
him. Toni swivelled around quickly to bring all five monks to his
front. He stepped forward to attack, and for a short while he and
the monk traded blows, until the monk fell to the ground.
Toni twisted around to face the next test, which he
was sure would follow,
It did. The second monk came at him with
another flying kick. Toni deftly slipped aside and followed up
with a strike from his sheathed katana. That monk too went down.
Toni turned and waited for the third, who also came
in with a flying kick. This one landed, although it clearly
barely struck. Toni retaliated, a double blow that the monk
dodged so easily that the Tylean dropped his sword. The monk
again flicked a kick onto Toni, while in return he stuck him with his
wakazashi. That monk went down too.
Toni sprung around, poised for a tumbling
dodge. The fourth monk struck a light blow, while Toni struck him
hard. The monk collapsed.
That left the leader of the monks. He stared
at Toni for a moment, then came flying at him, kicking him hard.
Toni's return swipe was easily dodged by this master and he struck
himself in the leg as well. The monk struck again, then dodged
Toni's next blow too.
Now, however, the monk did not strike but bowed.
Toni slipped his wakazashi into his sash and bowed
in return. He said he would like the honor of visiting their
master, and would the monk ask his master if that was possible.
The leader bowed and said "Hai."
Three of the monks then turned and simply walked
away. The other two remained on the ground.
Phoebe quickly walked up behind Toni and touched
him. Her spirits healed Toni immediately, and he bowed in
Nipponese fashion in thanks. He then picked up his katana while
Phoebe tended to the two monks on the ground.
Miwa explained to Toni that certain small schools
used this technique as a recruiting tool. Major schools did not
need to do that, she said with a hint of scorn.
Toni's face was an open book. This unarmed
combat was a weapon he wanted to add to his armory.
Phoebe healed the monks, but was left rather
weak. Peter walked over and restored the strength her spirits had
drawn from her.
We retired to lunch. Miwa pulled out the
scrolls of the city and told us a little about Bayushi Korechika.
The magistrate before last liked him less than any
othe Sxcorpiuon in thecify, but felt suprisingly comfortable around
hijm. He seemed so much the typical scorpion: venal, slippery,
dishonest, selfish. When he took power, he took the edsting
Bayushi network of merchants and added new ones, taxing them until they
begging for out. He was constantly jockeying for position among
hte merchants of hte city, and had become a signficatnt force in a
short preiod of time. He seemd to have little time for persoinal
concerns except that he collected rare foreign birds. She
suspected that his real concern was opium, and of course we knew that
was the case.
There was an interseting little anecdote about a
craftsman of theirs charged with possession of liquid opium.
Bayushi turned up with a writ from the governor and chief magistrate
Osaka claiming that since he was going to distribute it locally, it
fell under their jurisdiction for questioning. They took him
away, and of course he did not live to see the next morning. She
believed that he was executed not for being a criminal, but for being
an incompetent one.
We had prepared for our next visit. Toni had
cleaned up from the matter with the monks, and his armor had been
cleaned up too by the servants and the sheaths repaired. His fan
had arrived too.
This meeting had no prearranged purpose. Miwa
instructed us to look impressive. Toni was exactly that, dressed
in chain with a broadsword, two short swords, and a shield.
Bayushi Korechika struck us exactly the way the
former magistrate had described. We had been shown to a room that
was not the main audience hall, but not as out of the way as the one in
the governor's mansion. We had to wait a little longer than Miwa
considered appropriate, but not too long.
His party contained exactly the same number as ours,
although he had only one shugenja with the rest being bushi.
Bayushi was clearly bushi too. I could see Toni flinch at the
presence of the mage. The Tylean soldier did not like mages, and
the way his faced looked he believed that the mage hated him too and
was looking at him. Paranoid Toni might be, but at least he was
Bayushi was completely correct in all matters of
etiquette, of course. He could not be faulted in any way for what
he said and how he said it. Nevertheless, he managed to give the
distinct impression that we were wasting his time. The underlings
never said a word, but were itching for us to give them the slightest
excuse to take us out. They couldn't wait to protect their
In perfect etiquette, referring to Miwa as "daughter
of the Phoenix" -- nothing to legitimize her connection with the
Emerald Magistrate -- he in effect snapped, "What do you want?"
Miwa responding in kind, playing Daughter of the
Phoenix Champion for all it was worth. She said it was the
correct thing to do, since she was new to the city, to visit the
important people in the city, to make the appropriate social
calls. She managed to give the impression that this too was a
waste of her time but something she was obliged to do.
Bayushi's attitude changed significantly. Oh,
that's the game we're going to play, he communicated. He asked
after Miwa's father, polite and wordy, a bland question.
Miwa replied in many words that he was fine.
He asked then about her mother, with an added tone
that implied that of course he knew her mother was in a lot of trouble,
but besides that, how was she?
Miwa had no intention of letting him see any
reaction to that, and answered as blandly as the previous one.
He then asked after events at the Winter
Court. He was making small talk, so he was not directly poking
about any of the nasty business, but asking after certain people who he
knew were there.
Miwa continued the tone, answered as innocently as
he had asked.
In the middle of this conversation, we heard off in
the distance, somewhere else in the house, a woman wailing her head
off, crying and sobbing, frightened even. As soon as Bayushi
heard this, for a moment or two it was clear that he was disturbed by
it, but then he just carried on as if it had not happened.
We all tried not to notice it. No-one was
looking at us anyway, of course, but Miwa carried it off just fine.
The sound was coming from a floor or two above
us. I could see that Phoebe was talking with her spirits, half
not in our world.
We noticed that their mage had noticed Phoebe and
was mumbling something.
We all tensed up, the others responding to us.
I had been visualizing a perfect shot through the mage's eye.
Phoebe came back and saw the mage looking at her,
showing that he noticed. She smiled at him and winked, looking as
innocent as a strange gaijin could.
The shugenja smiled as a cat would smile at a mouse.
It had no effect on Phoebe. Good girl.
Bayushi and Miwa continued as if nothing had
happened. He said that he understood it was Miwa's birthday in a
few days. It was not, of course, and he would know that.
That actually caught Miwa slightly off guard, not knowing that Toni had
used that as an excuse in one of the shops when we'd been looking for
information. Her best guess was that he was trying to find out
how she would react if he committed a social gaffe, whether she would
call him out for being stupid, or what she would do. She very
politely and gently corrected him as to when her birthday was, and
again ever so politely wondered how he could make such a mistake.
The point was to show him she was not just going to lay down for
insults, but also not go out of her way to insult. Pushing back
sweetly and gently.
We all started to relax. They looked as
disappointed as I did. I nodded slightly at one of them out of
respect, acknowledging that we were thinking the same thing.
Without missing a beat in the conversation, Bayushi
checked out his own men apparently in reaction to my nod. He
seemed to notice something, because as he wound up the current line of
small talk, he asked Miwa if she enjoyed a particular kind of
food. This was clearly a lead into a future invitation to dinner,
asking ever so indirectly if she would be amenable to it.
Miwa accepted in the same manner, saying it might
not be her favorite food but faintly unusual.
Bayushi thanked her for visiting him, and said that
if his house could be of any help to the Emerald Magistrate not to
hesitate to contact him.
Miwa accepted that as blandly as everything else.
We left as the crying continued off in the
distance. Phoebe was clearly still disturbed by it, but we could
do nothing more.
We returned to the house. This time, when we
arrived, we discovered that there were about 30 packages for Miwa
congratulating her on her upcoming birthday from various merchants, and
several were being delivered in person by the merchant
themselves. None of the items were of significant value, but none
were cheap either.