Chapter 23: Battle Upon the River
Calm lies the river,
The dark water gently flows
O'er the dead, beneath.
~ Miyara Miwa
I preloaded my bow and waited until we were within striking distance. We slowly closed in, and I was tempted to let loose. But I simply cannot be accurate at that distance, so I continued to hold.
Omi asked Hosei to load his crossbow for him, as his arm was still encased in a cast.
As we approached, they finally noticed us and tried to speed up, but we continued to gain on them. As I took aim, they fired on us, and I was hit by an arrow directly in my shoulder. Still, I fired anyway and hit my target. By that time, we were nearly there, so I stowed my dai-kyu and the arrows carefully under a bench, and readied my blades.
Our boat came alongside theirs, and I leapt to the back of their boat, where four men were standing waiting for me: I landed exactly where I had hoped, and there were none behind me. Omi joined me in the other boat as well. Kyosuke did one of his near-magical tumbling leaps through the air, landed on the roof of the boat's cabin, and disappeared on the other side. In the meantime, Omi and I traded blows with the four men and vanquished them all. I ensured they were all dead.
I burst into the cabin, looking for Kyosuke. It was empty, so I continued through to the other side, where I saw only rowers who had long since ceased rowing. Although each held a knife, the rowers were unsure of themselves when faced with a warrior. They did not offer to attack me as I exited the cabin. As I stood looking, I heard San Jiovisi-san and four of his men follow, leap onto the boat, and enter the cabin behind me, as did Omi. Kyosuke had to be in the hold, so that was where I was going.
I told them clearly, "Let us through and you may live," and I walked towards the hold, swords at the ready. The rowers let me through without a murmur and put down their knives. The others followed.
I could hear nothing from the hold, and simply leaped into the darkness, landing at the bottom with grace. I may have smiled as I thought of my old teacher, who had made me practice jumping from diverse high places to low places and immediately enter battle.
There was no battle in the hold. Instead, I saw a man, well-dressed in the manner of westerners, holding a knife to San Jiovisi-kun's throat. A woman stood behind him. I felt a pain in my heart, as Kyosuke's body was crumpled on the floor at their feet. I heard Omi land lightly behind me.
The man commanded me, "Come no closer, or he dies". I ignored his forceful voice. San Jiovisi-kun meant little to me, and I had seen Kyosuke's chest rise and fall with a breath.
As Omi echoed my step forward, I heard San Jiovisi-san behind me, "No!" I immediately attacked the man, and Omi stepped sideways and threw a knife at the woman, as though we had discussed our strategy on deck.
I struck around San Jiovisi-kun at the man, hoping I could kill him before he killed San Jiovisi-kun. Again, as though we had practiced the maneuver, San Jiovisi-kun stomped on the man's foot and ducked. I felt Kita bite deeply into his flesh.
Knowing he was defeated, he dropped his knife and knelt before me. Although his life was forfeit, I held back, thinking that San Jiovisi-san might want to speak with him, but San Jiovisi-kun picked up the knife the man had dropped and killed him. San Jiovisi-san might not be pleased, but it was certainly San Jiovisi-kun's right.
The woman, bleeding, emerged from behind a large box, her hands held up, and pled for her life. She was not my concern: San Jiovisi-san and San Jiovisi-kun could decide what to do with her. I knelt and looked at Kyosuke. He was heavily asleep and I could not wake him. Obviously the woman had spelled him asleep. I looked up, and saw that Omi was directing the men who had followed us to tie her up thoroughly. She put up no resistance.
I climbed back up to the deck, and some of the men below hauled up Kyosuke and the woman. The rest followed.
San Jiovisi-kun and San Jiovisi-san and their men had taken charge of the second boat and were restraining the other rowers. With the many rowers on our boat, we could tow the second boat back to Kurusa Hoven.
Ravena turned her attention to Kyosuke first, physically healing him, but she could not wake him. He would have to awaken from his magical sleep on his own. While she worked on him, the rest of us discussed what to do with the witch. We decided to tie her up, keep her unconscious, and keep a constant watch on her. One of the men immediately whacked her on the head and allowed her to fall to the deck. He and his mates seemed pleased.
Kyosuke woke before Ravena had even finished healing the many wounds he had gathered in the short time before the witch sent him to sleep. He is now used to her and lay still as she finished without me having to tell him to do so.
Kyosuke was ashamed by his abject failure. The witch had apparently sent him to sleep before he landed a single blow. I told him that there was no dishonor in falling prey to magic when one has no armor against it. He obviously did not believe me, but did not argue, as he never does.
Omi teased Kyosuke, comparing his snoring while he was asleep to that of Watanabe Takeo, the older son of the leader of the merchant's guild in Nippon. That accounted for his wretched dialect; he had been taught our language by a common merchant. He then completely offended me, asking if we were related to Watanabe. He was merely being friendly, in his own way, and I let the matter go. There is little point in trying to explain our culture to these barbarians. I was more displeased with Kyosuke: he accepted the insult not only as it was intended, but also as something he deserved.
I turned to San Jiovisi-san and San Jiovisi-kun and asked who the witch was. She was the dead man's wife. I asked more about them, and they said they were rich nobles from Tai Lia. The Coronuti had not merely hired them, but requested this favor of them. Had they succeeded, they would have been well-rewarded. Should they return in failure, they would have lost greatly. Being jailed in the Empire is probably not worse than returning to Tai Lia in defeat. This was the first western event that made perfect sense to me.
I idly wondered if the Tai Lia would now be looking for us, as I would expect back home, and San Jiovisi-san said it was possible. He thanked us, and asked if there was anything he could do in return for us. I could only think of one thing. I told him, "I would like to ensure we are cleared in the matter with Sir Thio's death; if you can help in anyway, I would appreciate it." He replied that he had no official standing, but his words would weigh heavily with the village leader, and he would speak up on our behalf.
It was a long ride back, and I slept for much of it. Ravena healed those who had collected wounds. Sometime during the night, the witch disappeared. It was reported that she had died from her knife wound and they had pitched her dead body overboard. I doubted she was dead when they threw her over the side, unless one of them had stabbed her first.
When we debarked, I left behind a paper fox.