Chapter 17: Flower of Death
Hana no kage
utai ni nitaru
On a journey,
Resting beneath the cherry blossoms,
I feel myself to be in a Noh play.
On our way to Leafglow's house, the White Faerie spoke of a vision he had had while Ravena was inspecting the body. It had so disturbed him, he had kept it to himself whie he pondered its meaning.
He had seen a single black flower in bloom, which he believed represented Bastiyan: black stands for death here. Five hands approached the flower from five separate directions concurrently, apparently unaware of each other, and crushed the flower all at once.
This greatly agitated Ravena, who wished to return to the body as soon as possible. She was upset that she had missed something and only detected four deaths. We convinced her that we should speak with the elf first, as we were nearly there.
Leafglow's house was another large one. At our knock, a woman in plain working clothes opened the door and stared at us. Hosei told her we wished to speak with Mr. Leafglow, and she asked who we were. He spoke his name, and she seemed to think that name belonged to us all. Aparently not a bright woman, even for a western peasant. He told her she could call us Hosei and friends. She asked if Leafglow knew us, and Hosei said yes, they supped the previous evening. She told us to wait, and left us at the door. We waited for quite some time, and then knocked again. Another woman opened the door, dressed like no other westerner I had seen yet. A voluminous dress, with ruffles and lace and embroidery all over it. It made her look like a highly decorated bell. She seemed friendlier than the first woman. Hosei mentioned the village leader this time, and she lead us into the house. She held a hammer and chisel in her hands.
We wandered throughout the house following her, and finally reached a solarium in the back. In the middle of the room was a large piece of granite, being carved into the shape of a large elf. On a small stool, positioned so he could look out the window and also watch the carving, sat Mr. Leafglow. The woman returned to her sculpting, ignoring us.
Leafglow did not stand up, and seemed to ignore us completely. This was a very rude household, beginning with the owner. Hosei walked over and greeted him, and then Leafglow stood and seemed to be friendly enough. He was very young for an elf, tall, slender. I noticed that Leafglow was wearing a well-made and ornate knife. His clothes were also of fine cloth and he wore much jewelry which appeared to be of similar high quality. I assumed his clothing and decorations were in the elvish style. He remembered Hosei from dinner last night, and we all introduced ourselves. Then Hosei went into the usual explanation of what we were doing and the usual questions.
Leafglow remembered Bastiyan as the dark melancholy man at dinner. He had not talked with him, had paid little attention at all, and remembered only that "his spirit was too black". He said he could not help us. Hosei recalled that he had spoken with Tasuke, and asked if they had discussed Bastiyan at all. He said no.
The White Faerie asked, "Why the long face when we mentioned Bastiyan's name?" He answered, "He was a black man: black heart, black soul, black mind," with some anger. Ravena asked if sickness could have made him black. He answered, but I did not understand what he said: he spoke in the common western tongue and I understood his words, but not their meaning.
I returned to his earlier statement, and asked in what way did he know Bastiyan's soul was black? He merely said, "We have our ways," which I suppose meant that elves just know those things. That was not what I had tried to ask, but I could not think of how to ask what made his soul black. Hosei said something to Leafglow in a strange language, in which the elf replied. I believe it was elvish. It sounded fairly pleasant, unlike the harsh tones of most of the barbarian tongues. Hosei is apparently talented at learning languages, aside from his magical ability. I do not know what they said to each other, but Hosei returned to the language I knew, and asked him to come and speak with us if he remembered anything about Bastiyan or anything else that could help us.
He then asked how many artists were here now. Leafglow said two. The one is the sculptor, and I wondered if the first woman we saw was some sort of artist, although I could not imagine that being true. I asked about the other one, and he said he was a writer. So the first woman was indeed just the housekeeper.
His household reminded me of visits to the clan house of Watanabe Ryushi, a friend of my father's. Watanabe-san collected art. Scrolls, bonsai, screens, tea sets: one could find nearly anything in some corner or other. When I was a child, he taught me to fold paper into the shape of a lily. Thinking that perhaps this strange western elf might appreciate a piece of art unlike anything he had, I offered him an origami finch I had folded while on the boat. He was quite taken by it, and showed it to Mimi, the sculptor, and then disappeared down a hall, looking for the right place to display it.
Upon his return, he had become more friendly to us, and invited us to stay for a while. We all looked around at various pieces of art, and came to the conclusion that some was true art, while other pieces were junk. He is not an artist himself, but a parton of the arts, he said.
He then spoke to Ravena about a pendant which she wore around her neck. She told him they had met some elves while travelling in the chaos lands. After working with them towards some purpose, the elf in charge said they had the right to wear the pendant. Leafglow seemed to recognize the elve's name, and was impressed. He invited us all for dinner, and was interested in sharing tales over the meal. I asked him if stories were another art form he collected, and he said yes, he was a patron of all the arts. I told him he probably had some interesting stories of his own, but he insisted he was a boring person. I did not believe him. We accepted his invitation. As we left, he spoke to the White Faerie, apologizing for his earlier anger and extending his invitation to dinner.
On the walk back to the inn, the White Faerie said "Leafglow's last statement was sincere in the apology, but he was trying to make it seem that the purpose of the apology was because he was afraid of me, but he was not." I am not entirely certain, but I think he was just saying that Leafglow was not afraid of the White Faerie, but wished him to think so. I do not know why.
Back at the inn, Ravena immediately returned to the basement to inspect the dead body again. A peasant woman, whom some recognized, wished to speak with Res Li privately, and they went outside accordingly. Ravena and Res Li returned at about the same time.
Ravena said he had actually been poisoned twice with manbane. Once, mixed with something to slow its action, and later unadulterated. This made sense to us. The doctor likely slipped Bastiyan manbane in the afternoon, and Leafglow later at dinner. Which still left three other killers unaccounted for. He must have been a very unpleasant peasant, for so many to have wished to kill him.
The lady Res Li had spoken with had seen Bastiyan when he went to see the doctor. When he left, she saw the two saying goodbye in the doorway, but the doctor was dressed in a disguise. She said he wore a false mustache, strange glasses, stooped more than usual. It was not enough to hide his identity from someone who was familiar with him, but perhaps it was enough for someone who only knew him in a passing manner, or who had not seen him in a long time.
Clearly, we needed to speak with the doctor again. Hosei suggested we all go to one of our rooms upstairs and decide on some questions to ask. Then, he could go speak with the doctor alone, as he had already said he would. Hosei said if Bastiyan knew about the doctor's magical abilities, that would be motive enough for Bastiyan's death by the doctor.
While Hosei went to speak with the doctor, I repaired to the room assigned to me, Ravena, and Caramela. They both went downstairs with everyone else, so I had some quiet time to myself at last. I spent a short while in comtemplation of of my current circumstances, then I arranged myself to compose some poetry.
I had no rice paper scrolls, but I did fashion something from the paper available to me here in the sunset lands. I mixed a little black powder and a little red powder with water. The black ink I made thick and opaque, the red a mere tint. As I laid out the materials and prepared my inks and brushes, I considered carefully what the poem should be. I assumed few, if anyone, would ever understand the poem aside from Kyosuke and me, but I still wished it to be appropriate.
My skills with poetry have never been as high as they should be, and more than a year of disuse has not improved them. I struggled to find the right words. I was not entirely happy with the end result, but it did say what I wanted. It simply implied that a wrongful death could expect retribution, while a rightul retribution would cause death against which none would argue. I was not sure which side was true here. I was certain Leafglow had been the cause of one of Bastiyan's deaths, but I was not convinced that Bastiyan did not, in fact deserve it in some way. My poem was poor, yet my skills in calligraphy had not waned: the scroll would do. A fitting piece of art for display by Leafglow, whichever death was true.
I neatened myself as best I could for dinner, and took myself and my scroll downstairs to meet everyone for dinner.
Hosei had returned, and told us what he had learned. The doctor had met Bastiyan in Nulun, and he learned of the doctor's "curse", as he called it. At that time, the doctor was concerned that Bastiyan would not be discrete, so he left Nulun to come here. Then, Bastiyan showed up here. The doctor said he did not believe Bastiyan recognized him. We all believe otherwise, or at least that the doctor was not sure and took steps to take care of the matter.
These westerners are very odd about the practice of magic. I do not fully understand their ways, but apparently one needs a license from a noble, or a priest, or someone to be allowed to do anything with magic. Also, they view magic as "evil". Magic is certainly of chaos, but the world is a mixture of chaos and order both: one cannot have the one without the other.