Chapter 22: Swiftly Through the Night
As an arrow, we
glide through the water, seeking
~ Miyara Miwa
After dinner, Benito and Guido San Jiovisi, the proprietors of the Red Bull, and Benito's wife Elanora came into the Black Eagle after dinner, while everyone was sitting around drinking and smoking and talking as usual. At their appearance, however, the inn became quiet. Yohan welcomed them and they exchanged pleasantries between rival equals.
Then the three came directly to us. San Jiovisi-san bowed low and addressed me, calling me "honored lady", and greeted everyone else equally appropriately. He presented us with thanks for our recent services to the town. He openly expressed dismay in the other villagers' cowardice, looking around the inn with some disdain. He then offered his own help in standing watch against the beastmen. He said San Jiovisi-kun was too young, although he appeared to be older than my cousin, but the elder would stand watch with us over the town. He was wearing a weapon with obvious comfort and was well-dressed yet ready. He seems a bit old and out of shape, but I believe his appearance is deceiving and he is likely a quite able warrior. The younger brother had a certain air, confident but not overly so. Almost noble, though just an innkeeper.
We invited him to join us, but the inn was busy and there were no chairs for them. Hosei invited San Jiovisi-san to join the middle watch, with himself and the White Faerie.
As they left, Tasuke stood up and said she would stand watch as well, and she claimed third. Then she left, to get ready I supposed.
That was enough to shame several others, and a few marginally qualified people also offered to stand watch, along with quite a few obviously unqualified people. That would not do: there was no point in allowing a bunch of untrained villagers to stand watch with us: we would have to watch them as much as anything, and I did not even want to think about taking care of them if something actually happened. I stood up and announced that we did not need an entire army to keep watch, but we did need many people to remain in reserve, ready to fight if needed. I picked out a few people qualified to stand watch and told the rest to get a good night's rest and be ready to come to the defense of the town at our call. Relief swept rather obviously through the room at my declaration.
We also set up a room watch: one person to watch all the rooms from the hall, since several of us were standing watch for the town. Omi will stay in the room with the girls, where Ravenna can watch him, for now.
Kyosuke and I had first watch. We had only a parade of inebriated bargemen walking rather unsteadily back to their barges to watch. All else was quiet: no beastmen and no town traffic: the villagers were all frightened and stayed at home. After our watch was over, we returned to the inn to sleep. I was happy that Kyosuke was not sleeping in the jail tonight, at least.
Near morning, I was awakened by Ash knocking on our door. The river was running red. Looking out our window, I could see it was true, and the villagers were congregating at its banks with much wailing. Could they be right after all? Is there a curse on this village? First beast-men, next the river turning to blood; more horrors to come?
We hurriedly got dressed and joined the villagers at the river's edge. Ravena looked at the water carefully, but said she could not tell what caused the color, as it was too dilute. She clearly did not believe the river had turned to blood. Indeed, it was certainly tinted red, but it was obviously not pure blood: it ran like water, smelled like water. Any blood in this river was in very small amounts, and I doubted that's what it was: it takes a large amount of blood to color a river red, and that amount can be smelled by anyone.
In the meantime, the villagers were wailing about the curse of the Raiken-Bakus, and were looking at us with a growing amount of fear as well, at least when we weren't looking at them: then they hurriedly looked away again. Ash and Hosei had disappeared, but returned after a while.
Apparently Ash had seen some Tai Lian men walk to a barge from one of the inns and push off near dawn. He and Hosei had walked up the river in the direction in which the barge had gone. They had found the origin, if not the composition, of the substance in the water. Someone had clearly dumped something into the water, and they said it would clear by afternoon. Even Ash could not detect what the substance was, but said it was certainly not blood. We shared our knowledge with the village leader. He seemed to believe us, but said he doubted the town would without a great deal of evidence. As are all peasants, these people are extremely superstitious.
We asked the Master of the Docks, Gureshen, about the Tai Lian barge that had Ash had seen leave that morning. She said the barge that left at dawn was the Canalia, and it came from upstream last night, stayed one night, and returned upstream. She said it did not seem to have any cargo, but did have many rowers. No passengers were either dropped off or picked up.
Hosei went to the Red Bull, and spoke with a barmaid. She said the bargemen drank nothing and she did not see them this morning. He discovered that these Tai Lian bargemen call themselves Sindicalistas. He asked her who was awake this morning and might have seen them. She said San Jiovisi-kun usually gets up early, but not this morning. Then he asked if he could speak with one of the brothers, but she said they were still sleeping. Instead, she brought Elanora.
Elanora said there were two bargemen last night and they left before she was up this morning. They did stay in a room, not the common area. She said that wasn't unusual: the higher ranking Sindicalistas earn good money.
As Hosei was telling us what he had discovered, San Jiovisi-san stormed out of the Red Bull, cursing loudly, and Elanora followed, screaming and imploring, both in Tai Lian. San Jiovisi-san headed for the wharfs. Elanora spoke with Hosei, but she was very emotional and she kept switching languages and I could not follow what she said. When she was done, Hosei turned to us all and said that San Jiovisi-kun had gone missing and San Jiovisi-san believed that some of their enemies from Tai Lian came and took him. She begged us to go with San Jiovisi-san. The village leader said immediately that we could go if we wished. He said nothing about promising that we would return for the inquest, but of course my honor demands that we return anyway.
We quickly put ourselves together: Omi, Ravena, Caramela, The White Faerie, Ash, Hosei, Kyosuke, and I all decided to go help. Res Li and Jeisan stayed behind, to guard our rooms and belongings.
We joined San Jiovisi-san at the barge, where he was speaking insistently with another man in Tai Lian. Hosei joined the conversation. I do not know what he said, but in the end, more rowers came aboard with us and we were permitted on board as well, and we set off immediately. San Jiovisi-san sat with the rowers and rowed like a man possessed. They, of course, had to match his pace or lose face, and so the barge moved upriver very swiftly.
They could not keep that pace for more than a couple of hours, though, and they finally convinced him away from his post. The rowers changed to a more suitable speed, as it would probably take many hours to catch up with the other barge, which had left hours before we had and was also moving swiftly.
San Jiovisi-san sat looking despondent, and Hosei spoke with him gently. We gathered around and discussed what had happened with him. Hosei had apparently cast another of his spells, because it soon became clear that as Hosei spoke, each person heard his words in their own native tongue. It made for an interesting mish-mash of a conversation, as most people responded in kind. Thus I could understand everything Hosei said, but then others would often speak in languages I did not know. I was able to piece together most of what was said, I think, by Hosei's questions and replies. He has a habit of repeating things anyway, to be sure he understands clearly what was said, and so that habit of his helped me a great deal. Here is the story I pieced together:
Years ago, Mariliano, a duchy in Tai Lia, was ruled by the great family Ravini and all was well. Then the duke Ravini and all his family were murdered, and the Coronuti became the dukes in their stead. (San Jiovisi-san never said their name without spitting to ward off evil spirits.) However, one Ravini child had survived in secret: Guido San Jiovisi, who was rescued and raised as Benito's younger brother.
The Coronuti must have discovered the truth about Guido, and they sent the Family Feshya here to find him. Having done so, they had spirited him away to kill him personally, in front of the Coronuti.
Throughout the day, those of us who were strong enough took our turns rowing.
After about six hours, we saw a boat in front of us, and we began catching up with it. "The Fetusini", someone read from the bow. They sped up, worried, but we continued to gain on them. When we were about 50 yards from it, the captain of the other boat shouted out to us, asking why we were moving so quickly. We let San Jiovisi-san talk to him.
He replied, "Mariliano is on fire!" The captain replied "Benito?" The rest of their conversation was in Tai Lian.
Hosei told us that he explained about San Jiovisi-kun having been kidnapped, and it was clear that he did not consider this the boat we were after. They had not seen any other boats; they left only two hours before we did.
Hosei prepared a rather good meal, even ensuring that I had no meat in my dinner. Ravena gave him some herb to add to the food that she said would give the rowers and the rest of us extra energy.
Even after sunset, we had plenty of light, with both moons just past full, so we continued to row swiftly. San Jiovisi-san said the rowers all know the river very well, and the other boat will also continue swiftly through the night. He said we would reach the tunnel soon.
Indeed, around midnight, we entered the tunnel, where the river flows through through the mountains. The lanterns on the walls within were few, but there was enough light so that boats do not run into the walls. Apparently the Sindicalistas maintain the tunnel: although the tunnel is technically half in the Empire, they do not keep a presence here.
After midnight, those of us who are warriors ceased rowing and went to sleep for a while. It was not a long nap, as we were still in the tunnel when San Jiovisi-san awoke us to tell us to be quiet. Up on deck we could see the lights of another barge up ahead.
They quietly handed out crossbows. I declined, but got my own bow at the ready.