Chapter 18: The Art of Death
Winter comes to all--
Freezing buds and the old oak as one.
Weeds that choke as well as crops that feed.
And for some, winter is hastened by the chill wind
That blows early.
~ Miyara Miwa
This time, our knock at the door of the elf was opened, and we were politely admitted to the house and led to a front room with many small tables, chairs and couches. Our host arrived within moments. Also within the room was a man who introduced himself as Jahn Mari Arito. He appeared young and not especially striking. His voice was quite irritating, being rather high, and his words sounded odd. He was the other artist, the writer. He said he was writing a novel about a murder. I wondered how life-like it was.
Leafglow told us Mimi would join us soon, as she was missing from the group. I presented my scroll to him, which he admired. He asked me to read it to him, but I did not wish to try to re-write it in poetry in this barbaric language. I simply told him it would not translate properly. I did read it to him in Nipponese. I winced at my poor phrasing, but he did not notice, of course. Strangely, as I read it to him, he smiled rather widely, as though he did somehow understand the words. If he did, I wonder if he understood my meaning. He did appreciate it, however, and placed it in a safe place as Mimi arrived.
Hosei asked him about Tasuke, but the elf did not seem to know very much about her. Hosei said she seemed to be a dark person, and the elf agreed. He said she seemed frightening, and not at all a person of delicate tastes.
Hosei then asked if last night he had noticed anyone behaving in an unusual manner. Leafglow said everyone was strange because it was the night of the double full moon. He would not find anything particularly strange on such a night.
I was curious about this, and I asked him what sort of strange things happen here, because our traditions of the night of the double full moon, Harushi, are very different. He said the "chaos encourages those of chaotic bent to be more so, and causes those of more lawful bent to be somewhat more reserved or fearful". That did not really answer my question.
Hosei said to Leafglow that his "bent" was obvious, so how does it affect him? I think he meant the elves tend towards chaos, but I am not certain. He said he was mostly neutral in that way, like most of his people.
Hosei then asked how the elves observed the Harushi, but he said they do not observe the day in the way western humans do. They recognize the day, and there are certain rituals often observed by the more devout. He said they mark the day, rather than protect against it. This is more like how we observe the Harushi. As a girl, I remember the evening walk to the shrine, ringing the bells, smelling the incense. It was much the same for the Nurushi, the night of no moons.
The housekeeper announced that dinner was ready, and our host led us to a room with a table and chairs. He sat in the middle of one side, and requested that some of us sit in particular places. He had the White Faerie on his right and Res Li next to him. Those chairs did not match the others in the room. but instead were sized to allow each to sit and eat comfortably at the table. He requested that I sit at his left, and that Ravena and Caramela sit across from him. Everyone else sat where they pleased in the remaining chairs.
Leafglow asked each of us where we came from, and what caused us to be here, together, that evening. We each told a short tale of our histories, mostly quite brief. He was interested, but he was a polite host and did not press anyone for details.
Hosei said he had been a brother in training at a monastery northwest along the Black mountains. Now he was traveling on his journeyman's trip. His specific interest was the direct influences of chaos on man, that being the use of magic, the misuse of wines and beers and other spirits, and many other things, all as influences of chaos on man. He said that was partly what his journey was about: to find a focus for his future study.
Ravena was also from a monastery, apparently a different one. As a physician, she travel led to collect medical knowledge, help those who needed it, and to pass on her learnings to monasteries along her way. She also told him that "we" have been acting for the Druidess in the Yetsin Valley, and that we were here looking for Bastiyan for her. He seemed quite impressed by the fact that we were "from" the Yetsin Valley. I have gathered that the place is held in some awe for being a land of chaos. Hosei was surprised that we did not know the Druidess' name.
Leafglow told us a humourous story about an art dealer in Buretonia. He said he was here to escape from his home in a forest.
The first course had meat in it, and I ate little, only some bread that was on the table. The servants were quite perceptive, and I was served nothing that held meat for the remainder of the evening. It was the best meal I had in a long time.
During the meal, Leafglow told another story, much different than his other one. He spoke of a merchant who was caught smuggling stolen elvish artwork from the Loren forest, where he lived. He said he had stolen wood carvings and silver sculptures mostly. He was not certain how long ago his story took place, he said, maybe years ago. But his fellow elves were eager to stop such traffic. He asked us, if we come across stolen elvish artwork, to please let the faerie authorities know. His story was rather vague on the fate of the merchant, but it was clear that the thief had been dealt with appropriately by fate, perhaps with a little assistance. We all read between the lines: Bastiyan was likely the thief and was properly killed by Leafglow for his transgressions.
The writer was very quiet and spoke only when addressed by others. He seemed to pay attention to our conversation, but had a faraway look in his eyes and I doubt he really heard much of anything. Mimi was much more sociable, and enjoyed the tales we shared. I do not believe she made any connection between Bastiyan, Leafglow, and Leafglow's rather pointed tale.
He told other stories, too. One I remember about his father, who was a ship captain who sailed between the mainland and another land far away. I have heard rumours of this land, called Lusuria, but this was the first who knew of it at first hand. We all contributed tales of our own. I myself told the popular tragedy of the gardener and the samurai's daughter.
Once we were finished with dinner, our host led us back to the front room. There, we were offered some sort of pastry, alcoholic drinks, and some sort of dreadful-smelling substance to smoke. The pastry was acceptable, although I declined the other two items of course.
Hosei and I wished to view some of his art, and he seemed glad to give us a full tour. He told us all about certain pieces, discussing where the faerie art came from, where they were made, and their place in art history. With the non-faerie pieces, he told us about the artist and what he liked about each one. Apparently, he chose the human pieces because he liked them, while he chose the faerie pieces for their importance and prestige. Although I looked, I saw nothing from home, nor anything stylistically similar to the dragon statue which I seek.
At the end of the evening, our host escorted us to the door and bid us a good night. Hosei was the last one out the door, and as he left, he turned back and said something to Leafglow which I could not hear. As we walked back to the inn, he told us he had asked Leafglow in elvish why Bastiyan had been killed. Leafglow replied, in a rather offhand manner, that Bastiyan probably got on the wrong side of some faerie concept I assume to be similar to karma. Several times over, apparently. Anyway, Leafglow had already told us what had happened. I think elves share some similar ties of culture with my people.
At the end of the day, we had two killers with motives for each poisoning death. We suspected Tasuke for the death-by-dart, but only on the village gossip's hint, which could be completely worthless. Hosei thought perhaps Bastiyan was supposed to deliver something to her or her employer.
Having returned to the inn, we discussed our findings with those who had remained at the inn for the day, but none of us came up with any other ideas. We divided up the three rooms we had and retired for the evening. Hosei continued to sleep in the common room. Ravena, Caramela, and I took one room; The White Faerie, Ash, and Res Li took the second; and Jeisan, Kyosuke, and Sun shared the third.
As we prepared for sleep, Ravena called Caramela and me to the window and pointed out the baker, who was taking his pig for a late-night walk in the woods. These barbarians get stranger all the time.