Chapter 1: Travel by Water
On a vessel of strangers,
I stand alone, still.
~ Miyara Miwa
I traveled by land until I came to the Upper Raishu river. I can travel much further, faster, by boat than on foot. I have little money left, and I am hoarding it carefully. Therefore, I am huddled on the deck with all these western peasants, cold and wet in this miserable weather. I must be fated to succeed, or I surely would have died of pneumonia by now.
These westerners are very forward, and I will never get used to their way of addressing me as though they had known me all their life, asking personal questions that are none of their business.
There is an average-looking young faerie man who, upon seeing me, immediately thrust his hand out at me and said "My name is Sutoiko, who are you?" I answered more politely then he deserved, "Miyara", and stared at his hand. He eventually got the hint, and said "You don't shake hands where you're from, huh?" I said "no", hoping he would take the hint and go away. But he persisted, asking what "my people" do instead, and I replied, "We bow". He thought that was very civilized, of course, and I waited for him to bow. He stared at me for some moments, and then bobbed his head a trifle, grinning and looking sideways at me, clearly wondering how far he was supposed to bow and waiting for me to bow to him. I could see that was all I was going to get from him, so I inclined my head very slightly, and he grinned and thought it was fun. He was greatly interested in my two swords and missing eye, and suggested we could spar together for practice. He would like to see how I compensate for my vision. I agreed, realizing he did not mean to be so rude. If he has some skill with his sword, practice will help me. He might also be a warrior, despite appearances, rather than just a peasant.
A youth, perhaps only a boy, it is hard for me to judge them, asked if I would hire him as a servant for food and board. In a weak moment, I agreed. I asked his name, and he said Sun. So I now have a servant to look after, and I have my doubts as to how useful he will be.
There are some other interesting people on this boat as well. There is a tall man, perhaps around 6 foot or so, who wears small axes on his belt. He is very quiet and spends his time in carving. He is very talented and carves lovely animals in a realistic style, somewhat reminiscent of Makato Yatsui, of the Barada era. I believe his name is Ash.
There is an even taller man, the tallest I have ever seen, over a foot taller than Ash. His name is Mongo, and he carries a large knife.
There is also a faerie. He is very white, and short but large and powerful looking. He carries a very large hammer, which I believe his people call a maul. He knew who I was, and the others too, because he has seen us in a dream. I take his presence as a good sign. His name is Goludirimu Machuluku. Very hard to say. I shall call him Goludi I think, or perhaps simply the White Faerie.
There is little to do here aside from watching the others on the boat. I have been making origami figures, and my pouch will be overflowing with them before I can get off this boat.
After a couple of weeks, we reached Nulun. It took forever for the cargo to clear customs, leaving the passengers to wait. While we waited, Sutoiko asked where I was headed, and I told him into Nulun, then south and east. He thought perhaps the group of us could all travel together, as the roads are dangerous in that direction. No one had any objections, so we decided to travel together at least for a time. I and all the other passengers finally debarked at midnight, in the cold rain, as always. While waiting, I fashioned a paper fish, which I left on the deck. All the inns on the river were full by that time. The six of us conferred on what to do. I felt uncomfortable here at night among the docks, and was grateful for the company of the others.
Sun asked if I would like him to find us a room, and I said yes. He ran off into the night immediately, to my surprise. Sutoiko said that perhaps letting him go off on his own at night in this kind of neighborhood was not a great idea. I could hardly admit that I had not really meant to send him off like that, nor would I admit that I was nervous in these surroundings, so I asked why to stall. Sutoiko explained about this being night and a bad neighborhood. When he was done, I said we should follow Sun and try to catch up. It was not long before we were lost in what was obviously a bad area, and Sutoiko again stated the obvious, that this was not a good idea. Ash suddenly pointed in a direction and started walking. Mongo figured that Ash wanted us to follow him and that he knew where Sun was. How Mongo got that from pointing is beyond me. We followed Ash, and soon found ourselves back at the docks, where we did indeed find Sun.
Sun was standing next to a scruffy looking man. I looked carefully, but the man was not threatening Sun in any way, and Sun looked relaxed. The man looked at us, and addressed himself to me. "Lady, I have an excellent room". I doubted that very much, and expressed that doubt to him. "You have an excellent room". He said that no, he did not have an excellent room himself, but knew where one was. He would lead us to it for three shillings, which is about what the room itself would cost.
I did not want to pay that much, and was quite certain that the others would not either. But I was not brought up in a merchant house, and I am unaccustomed to bargaining with peasants. With the expedition, we had people to take care of things like this. In a moment of genius, I realized I was not alone, and asked Sutoiko to negotiate with the man. He seemed surprised, but started bargaining immediately, with some success.
Ash actually offered the man his beautiful bear sculpture, which was far too fine for such as he, but luckily the fool declined it, believing it worthless. Sutoiko continued to bargain, and finally got him to 2 pence apiece, half in advance, half once we arrived and approved of the room. We all considered that he could be a front for thieves, so I said that he should walk in the middle of us, next to me. I assured him that he would be dead long before any friends of his hurt any of us. He agreed that his life would be forfeit if he did not keep up his end of the bargain.
Sutoiko asked the man his name, and he muttered "Goloshu" or something akin to that. He led us through dark and winding alleys, filled with stinking debris. We finally arrived at a building that looked acceptable, barely. It had a sign with some symbol no one recognized.
Without warning, he leapt towards the door. Assuming treachery, I immediately drew my katana and struck him; he fell to the ground, bleeding. A woman started screaming inside the building.
Before we could move again, a voice came from the darkness, as did several people. We were surrounded. The man leading them told us to simmer down, and put our weapons and purses down. We naturally refused, and battle ensued.
The fight lasted only a few seconds. Someone appeared suddenly in back of the thieves, and attacked them, helping us. At the end, Sun was down, four of the ruffians were down, as was Goloshu still. The rest ran away into the darkness. And I finally saw the stranger, who was not so strange to me. I had no idea how my young cousin Kyosuke had conjured himself here, and any discussion would have to wait.
Mongo asked if I would like him to look at Sun, and I said "Yes, please do". The woman slammed her door shut and locked it. This was obviously no inn. I do not know what Goloshu's game was, but he lost.
Mongo took care of Sun and then stripped the bodies. We discussed what we should do with Goloshu. I tired of the debate and I killed him and Mongo took his purse. It was no more than he earned, as part of the contract, to which he agreed.
We left quickly, before whatever authorities exist here found us with bodies. These westerners value the lives of peasants far more than we do, something I forget sometimes. I did leave a small paper token behind me, however -- I refuse to skulk as if I were a criminal. Sutoiko led us to another dark, dingy lane, where he saw a sign that he thought meant an inn. As we stood outside discussing the possibility, a voice within shouted "shove it!", and Mongo did so. He shoved the door violently, right off its hinges. We walked in. The first thing the man said was that we will have to pay for the door. From its appearance, I guess this is not the first time the door has been knocked off its hinges.
Sutoiko asked for rooms, and the man said a crown a room. Mongo asked if we could just sleep by the hearth, for half a night, he stressed. The man said no place by the hearth, 6 crowns for the door, and 1 crown each to share a room. That about cleaned us all out, but it was a decent rate, and it was late. I did not think our chances of finding another place were high. We accepted, but Mongo said he would fix the door tomorrow. That was acceptable to him, as well, and he led us to the attic after we handed him the money. I paid for Sun, my new servant, and Kyosuke, my new charge.
The attic was up very creaky stairs. The dingy room had one window. It was filthy and we could not see anything through it, although we could smell the canal, even with the window shut. There were six beds, at least. Some did not even want a bed, preferring to sleep on the floor. I could see their point, but the mattresses were not really any more filthy and bug-ridden than most.
Sutoiko offered to arrange the unused mattresses to grant me a small private area in a corner of the room. Kyosuke was wearing only summer clothing and was shivering, so I gave him my cloak to cover himself up with. I will have to get him some better clothes tomorrow.
I had a brief conversation with Kyosuke. He has not learned to speak the language here. It seems he has been following behind me since I left two years ago. He has always been odd and shy. He is very apologetic, but obviously very determined to get whatever it is he wants. I did not have much time to talk with him. We were tired and injured, and getting some sleep was the priority for us all. I will talk with him fully in the morning.
Sutoiko did what he could for our injuries with a salve and some careful bandaging, but we are almost all injured at least a little. With his characteristic rudeness, he said he could fix my wound so it would not scar as badly as my face. Mongo lay down in front of the door, I settled myself in my corner, and everyone else lay down where they pleased.
I woke up to a commotion. I could not see around the barrier of mattresses, so I picked up my katana and peeked out, just in time to see a stranger go out the window, and Kyosuke follow him.
Mongo said that he had been woken up by hands rummaging on his person. He said the man immediately ran to the window, and he threw his sword at the man and hit him. So, the would-be thief was injured. I assumed Kyosuke should be able to catch the injured man easily. He had received some training, after all, although I did not know of what sort and knew it could not have been much.
I opened the door, and no one was there. I closed it again, and said that we should set a guard. The White Faerie said he would stay awake, and I told him to wake someone else when he got tired.
I was worried about Kyosuke, who had not returned yet. Should I have followed him immediately? But he has been taking care of himself the last two years, and I did not want to insult him by suggesting he could not handle a single wounded thief. I waited, thinking maybe if Kyosuke did not return in a few minutes, that Ash could find him as he did Sun earlier.
Thankfully, there was a knock at the window before too long, and I heard Kyosuke's voice saying he caught the thief. I rushed to the window and helped him in. He had been hurt, and I asked Sutoiko to help him. He got out his salve again and bandaged Kyosuke.
I asked Kyosuke to tell us what happened, and I translated the story for the rest of the group.
Kyosuke followed, caught up to, and collared his quarry, sometimes on rooftops, finally on the ground. Kyosuke wrestled the man down, and subdued him. He found himself surrounded by several men. Kyosuke said he explained that this man was a thief, and asked them to fetch the guards. But they did not understand him, of course, and they threatened him. Finally, the leader poked him with his sword, and then attacked Kyosuke.
Kyosuke assured me that he tried only to defend himself and keep the thief prisoner. Finally, he was forced to render the man unconscious with a kick, and fight back. He actually beat them all off, by himself, then picked up the thief and carried him back here.
I was amazed that he had accomplished so much, unarmed, all but untrained. I told him he had done well. I will have to train him.
Mongo searched the still-unconscious thief, and found some cash, and a map with a fig-leaf letterhead. Sutoiko read a list of dates (the last two days and the next seven days), each followed by a word. The word by the next three days is Melindi, which means nothing to any of us.
It has been a long day and night, so we lay down for the night to hopefully get some sleep. I now have people to travel with, a servant I am responsible for, and my cousin to look after. And a statue to find, of course.