11 Monkey 1169
The problem with events like the death of a comrade is that they are, within hours, a part of the past. The present will not wait and neither does our duty. Having met with no success in our interviews with Mirumoto Kaido or his wife, I decided to see if the servants knew anything. Katagi-san offered to learn where we might be able to speak to one of them outside the estate walls and set forth. I probably should have asked how he intended to acquire that information, given the lengths I had seen him go to for reconnaissance, but I confess that I was distracted by guilt. Wandering through the Furukawa district, I got the information from the Firemen on the estate Kaido lived at. It turned out that they had held a party on the 24th of Goat. Ayako’s body had been found on the morning of the 27th. So there was plenty of opportunity there. The only useful bit of information we had managed to wring from Kaido was that he had been out on the evening of the 25th and had returned after midnight. I was slowly but surely building a timeline of events but I was also a very long way away from being able to make any sort of real accusation.
A new rumor helped put a name to the picture I’d seen on a newly one-armed shugenja. Nori, a regular at Iyashite Kudasai, had found a scrap of a paper in an alley beside the bar. He had destroyed it at the behest of his friends who were terrified of the implications (and being caught with it). It referenced some organization calling itself the Kintora Brotherhood and how they would never bow to the “false emperor.” I think the moment those words got past Nori’s lips, I lost the ability to get further information from them. I’m as rough and ready as any samurai I know but I am still a samurai. To speak that way of the Righteous Emperor is treason. That such an organization would be involved in an attack on a member of the Imperial Court now went from bad luck to conspiracy. I knew that such conspiracies lay far far beyond our humble jurisdiction but I also knew a Dragon magistrate, to whom I owed a favor. Perhaps now was the time to reward a good turn.
Overall, the day proved frustrating and the evening did not help. At dinner, Kiminori-sensei announced that she would be going the next day to the 10,000 temples to say prayers on Shinjo-san’s behalf. Our patrol immediately requested to accompany her and first patrol jumped in when Doji-sama realized that Bayushi-sama was going. After dinner, I sat on the porch and tried to come to terms with the war in my head and heart. Hiruma-san had also been taking the loss of Shinjo-san badly and we had an exchange that was part wrestling lesson, part talk. He spent a lot of time getting flipped over and I spent some time learning that, in some areas, Taifuu is far more grown up than he appears. Death is too constant a companion for the Crab for them to take it too harshly; still, no one had expected the duties of a small-time magistrate in one district of the capital to be deadly.
As evening rolled into night I heard laughter coming from Atsumori-sama’s tea house. I meandered over and recognized the voices of Bayushi-sama and Suzume-san. He was flirting like mad and she was…hells, she was mostly oblivious from the sound of it. My squad leader had designs on my subordinate – what am I supposed to do with that? There’s nothing wrong with it, except that Mayu is a brave samurai who, having been told that you were hatched from an phoenix egg and presented with a broken shell, just might believe you. I cannot believe that a Scorpion would do anything but take advantage of such naiveté. Is that unfair of me? Bayushi-sama seems awfully interested in giving tea ceremony lessons to a woman who he would not otherwise give a second glance. Kuso! Why should I think myself responsible to fix such invented problems?
12 Monkey 1169
A day of resolutions, in one form or another.
The Ten Thousand Temples are an impressive sight, even if they “are”, in fact, an “is” – there’s only one temple with 9,999 (in theory) off-shoots to different spots in the complex. Still, the building we were led into didn’t overwhelm us with its grandeur the way some temples do. The greater complex spoke of all the wealth that monks are supposed to eschew and I could probably give you a reasonable estimate of how much these men and women living under a vow of poverty had blown to act as the poor spiritual advisors to the Son of Heaven, but today was not the day to indulge in pettiness.
Today was for Shinjo-san.
We said prayers for his spirit and burned incense. There was a minor pissing contest as several of us tried to show up each other in how much we were putting in the donation box – I give the “win” on that to Suzume-san, whose two zeni may represent far more of her personal fortune than anyone else in our relatively well-heeled cadre. It wasn’t a bad ceremony, per se, but I couldn’t help feeling that remembering a Unicorn while sitting still in the middle of a city was…not appropriate. No Mantis worth the name would want to be remembered this far from the sea.
When we returned home, I reported on our progress to Bayushi-sama. He also seemed perplexed that we were continuing to chase down a whore’s killer but, like everyone else, he didn’t tell me to stop. The rumors about the Kintora Brotherhood, when combined with the tattoo on the shugenja’s arm, held his interest much more intently. When I told him I intended to share the information with Kitsuki Shizuka, he didn’t endorse the idea but he could hardly tell me to keep such stories to myself. I struggled to find a way to tell him to lay off my patrolmate without, well, telling him to lay off my patrolmate, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound like a threat. I have to be a great deal drunker to tell my patrol leader, ”If you lay hands on her, I’ll break both your arms,” which was, in fact, what I was thinking.
Katagi-san had arranged for us to meet with Kaede, the Mirumotos’ servant, at her daughter’s house. I shall have to figure out a way to put peasants a bit more at ease when a group of samurai show up at their home, but I think I’m putting that notion right after figuring out how to dismantle the Great Carpenter Wall with my teeth and a spoon. I sent Katagi-san to Hayai Kame for some of Midori’s noodles and I think both Midori and Kaede’s family appreciated the generosity. The interview with Kaede proved to me, once again, that I really need to stop assuming.
Kaede was angrily dismissive of Ayako and fiercely defensive of Mirumoto Eriko. Her statements exonerated Kaido – the man had been smitten with Ayako and had followed her to the disreputable House of the Lotus Root when Ayako was sold there for disobedience. But that was when the conversation took an odd turn. Kaede was proving evasive…but in regards to her mistress. Finally, I asked her, “Kaede-san, did Eriko-sama go out on the night of the 26th?”
“Iie” was her reply.
My father may not be the financial wizard my grandfather is but years of working as a tax official have given him one talent above all others – a keen ear for lies. Just the threat of a “conversation” with chichiue was often enough to get us to confess all to my mother. When I was made a magistrate in my own turn, one of my earliest tasks was to act as a scribe during his interviews with people. Afterwards, he would discuss what the interviewee had done that told him they were lying. Those lessons were and are the most precious gift my father has given me.
They were now telling me that this peasant maid was lying her ass off.
I asked Kaede’s daughter to please excuse us for a moment and I turned up the pressure. I felt like a churl for bullying this poor grandmother who was only trying to protect her mistress but I will not be lied to. It turned out that Kaede had gone out on the night of the 26th and had returned home very late. Suddenly, the narrative began to take shape: a male samurai who loved a courtesan and kept contact with her even after she had been consigned to whoredom in a rundown brothel. His wife, already jealous, is now protective of the family honor that he is dragging through the mud by dallying in such places and with such people. It all fit but Kaede was determined to protect her mistress at any cost.
She confessed to the murder.
How can I be both repulsed and in awe of an action at the same time. In service to her mistress, Kaede was ready to throw her life away, but she was throwing that life away to protect a murderess. Her honor was impeccable if her devotion seemingly misplaced. I had a ready answer, though: “Sumimasen, Kaede-san, but I have no authority to make arrests in this matter. Thank you for your time.” We made our exits. As I think back on it now, I am fairly certain that Suzume-san was attempting to tell me, without actually saying, what would happen next, but I was determined to see some sort of justice done.
We returned to the Mirumoto estate and asked to see Kaido one last time. I informed him that we had concluded our investigation and would not be troubling his household any further. When he asked us what our conclusions were, I simply stated that we were unable to produce any concrete evidence of what had happened to Ayako. When I saw his face fall and he confessed to having cared very deeply for the girl, I knew what to do next.
“We cannot speculate any further on what happened to Ayako that night. You should probably ask your wife.” He looked at me and his face went through a series of expressions in rapid sequence: confusion, comprehension, anger. I cannot say what will happen in that household but I do not doubt that some manner of justice will be forthcoming.
We made our last stop for the day the local bugyo. Kitsuki Shizuka-san saw us again but dismissed her coworker when I mentioned the Kintora Brotherhood. She said they had been the subject of a great many rumors as of late and the local magistrates were diligently searching for evidence they could take to the Emerald Magistrates but had found little so far. What evidence they had collected pointed to the Kintora as consisting primarily of hotheaded peasants who had grown weary of being pushed around. I think I managed to keep a straight face as an image of Hokichi, Yoshi’s boy, ran through my head. I remembered how eager he had seemed to tell the firemen where they could get off as well as any samurai who told them to shut up and know their place. When the conversation worked its way around to Ayako’s murder, I made vague noises about our investigation being concluded while trying to intimate that she could ask me directly what we had found but then she would know (and possibly feel compelled to act on that information). Kitsuki have a reputation as clever sorts and Shizuka-san is no exception. My mouth got ahead of my brain as I invited her to join us some time for a drink at Iyashite Kudasai – Fortunes only know what a proper samurai would do with themselves in such a place. But she responded with enough politeness that I had no idea if she would ever actually show up.
We returned to Atsumori-sama’s estate relatively late in the evening. As everyone made their goodnights, I suddenly realized that I had not done anything colossally stupid today. Hating to break a streak, I asked to speak with Suzume-san. I’m not sure if I was clear in my stumbling and halting speech, but I put forward what might have been construed as a marriage proposal. That was what I intended – it was the only way I had come up with to get Bayushi-sama to back off. She responded with shock and dismay, as any sane person would. I think I ended up retracting the offer with an apology though I also think I said I might ask again after Obon. I cannot clearly recall because I was very nervous and realizing how idiotic I sounded with every noise that came out of my mouth. I went to bed feeling like a first-class fool; now everything was right with the universe again.
13 Monkey 1169
Today, Kaede went to the local magistrate’s office and confessed to Ayako’s murder. She was executed in accordance with the law. We found out when Kitsuki Shizuka-san came by to inform us and to take me up on that drink offer. I have nothing else to offer on these events.