Chapter 24: Western Law in Action
As flies to filth fly,
As sparks of fire the sky seek,
So truth upward flies.
~ Miyara Miwa
We had been gone from Kurusa Hoven for two and a half days, arriving back in town well after the dinner hour. The San Jiovisi brothers asked us to dine at their inn. They fed us very well, in thanks for saving the younger's life. San Jiovisi-san invited the entire town, but few others came, as it was very late.
Unsure of just how and when we would return to the Druidess' temple in the forest, I thought Ash might know how to send the knowledge we had gained of Bastiyan to her so that she may remove her curse from my cousin's hands. During dinner, I asked Ash how we might contact the Druidess. He believed that if we merely walked into the woods with the intention of speaking with her, a messenger would appear to us. We shall do so tomorrow morning.
San Jiovisi-kun announced to all at the inn that he was the rightful Duke of Mariliano, surprising the villagers. He apologized for having put everyone at risk, and he said it was time for him to return home, I assumed to take his rightful place. His short but honorable speech reminded me of that of Takahashi Kenji, Lord of the island Sentai. As a child, I had memorized his famous speech to the family that had sheltered him from his enemies for so many years, all unknowing, until he could reclaim his heritage. San Jiovisi-san was surprised, but immediately announced that he would accompany his adopted brother.
After dinner, the village leader pulled me aside and spoke quietly with me. They had been shorthanded on watch the last two nights, but since no beastmen had been spotted since that first afternoon, he asked was the watch necessary? Were we planning on standing guard that night? I asked him if the beastmen had been there to begin with, now certain that the two inn workers had been mistaken or fooled. He bowed his head, but said nothing, agreeing silently; he deferred to my judgement on the matter of the town watch. Before giving my answer, I asked about the inquest, and he said it depended on whether I thought there was still a beastmen-related emergency.
I told him I believed it best to hold the inquest tomorrow, so as to close matters quickly. I did not mention setting a watch for the night. He agreed with me and also said nothing more about a watch, nor did he insist that Kyosuke, the White Faerie, and Hosei return to his guardhouse. And so ended the silent bargaining behind the spoken word.
The night passed quietly. I awoke in the morning to see the dawn spirits spreading their rose paint across the sky. At the usually unremarkable breakfast, the beer and the water smelled off, but the wine seemed normal. I ate only the cheese and drank some wine, as Ash still avoided the bread and I trusted his sense of smell.
The watch captain brought a message for us from the village leader, and Ravena read it aloud. It proclaimed that the inquest would be held two hours after noon. It specifically said I and my party were to be there, and Hosei as well. I pondered that: Hosei was still considered as separate from us. Since he had been responsible for the ball of fire that apparently killed Sir Thio, I could work that to our advantage. However, he had been acting in every way as one of us, and I was beginning to feel responsible for him, too. I found I did not wish to throw him to the wolves to save the rest. Of course, he is allowed to practice magic legally under their system, so the only question might be, was his attack provoked? If we could make the provocation clear, I believed that the village leader would absolve him, and us, of any crime.
After breakfast, I nodded to Ash and Kyosuke: it was time to go into the woods and try to speak with the druidess. However, before we completely left the village, we heard a bloodcurdling scream in front of us. We ran up quickly and saw a young woman of the village screaming at the sight of another young woman from the village lying on the ground unconscious, bleeding lightly from her neck. Kyosuke cleaned the small wounds, and Ash cast around for a trail. It looked like a gaki who dines on blood had attacked her. Vampire, they call them here.
I told the screaming girl to take the other girl back to town, so that we could follow the tracks Ash found. Gaki do not leave tracks, so perhaps it was not one after all. The girl ran off though, saying she would get help. I told Kyosuke to go back to the inn himself and bring back some real help. Omi would translate his words for him.
Ash walked into the woods to follow the tracks, leaving me with the body to wait for the others. The girl returned quickly with her brothers. They agreed with their sister, shouting "vampire!" as soon as they saw her, and began rooting around for some stout sticks. I pointed out to them that it was broad daylight, so it could not be a vampire. They abandoned logic and were then afraid of the rare and powerful vampire that stalked its prey under bright sunlight. They began whittling stakes and I began considering how best to render them unconscious.
Shortly before I needed to do so, Kyosuke returned with Ravena, Hosei, and Caramela. Ravena inspected the body and Hosei performed some sort of a blessing ritual and told us everything was safe now. He winked, and I believe he did the showy ritual only to comfort the villagers.
Ravena stood and said that the girl had first been hit over the head from behind, then something had punctured the neck, missing the main artery by at least half an inch. She could not tell what made the wound, but no vampire would hit his victim on the head from behind and then proceed to completely miss the blood he was after.
Ravena said she was fine, just unconscious, and she would wake up soon and well. The brothers agreed to take her back home and promised not to stake her until she tried to bite them. Ravena obviously did not trust them and returned with them to watch over the girl.
Ash reappeared, stammering, "Trail disappeared. 5 foot, 120 pounds, boy or woman." The trail was simply going away from the town.
We walked back into town to speak with the village leader, and stopped at the doctor's house on the way. We told him to check on the girl, as a local opinion could only help. We told the village leader what had happened, and said it was obvious that someone was trying to scare the town. He said they were succeeding. The question was who would want to? A descendant of an escaped victim from the burning? Legends say they all perished. There was no vampire, and we were certain now that there were no beastmen. Zigi's death was likely murder rather than suicide and pointed the town to look with fear into their own past. Also, water, beer, and bread had been tainted in some way. The village leader was overwhelmed by the situation. The doctor peeked in and confirmed Ravena's diagnosis as we discussed the problem.
We still had some time before the inquest, and the village leader wished to think quietly for a while. I gathered Ash and Kyosuke and we went into the woods again, a different place that I hoped would be quieter. I asked Ash what to do, and he said we just needed to think. I told Kyosuke to think about the Druidess, and the three of us stood silent in the woods meditating upon the Druidess.
Soon, three large black birds appeared before us, waiting. I told Kyosuke to tell his bird everything he know about Bastiyan, and I did the same. Ash told his about the visit to Wanda, the Druidess here in the Ghost Wood whom he had visited on behalf of the other. Our birds flew away when we were done. Kyosuke flexed his hands, and said they no longer ached as they had been constantly. And so our obligation to her was ended, and my debt to Kyosuke for placing him in harm's way and not protecting him as I ought was also ended. He needed a great deal of looking after, as he seems to leap into trouble wherever he goes.
When we returned to the inn to gather for the inquest, Hosei asked Kyosuke if he had seen dew on the girl's body when he cared for her slight wounds. He said no, there had been no dew, which proved that she had definitely been attacked well after dawn.
Ravena said the girl had awakened, but remembered nothing. Foolishly, she told the girl what had happened and she became hysterical, believing herself to be a vampire now. Ravena could not convince her of the truth, so she gave her a potion to make her sleep for a while, then she had to argue again with the two brothers of the girl who had found her.
On the way to the inquest, Ash stopped, scenting something strong from a water barrel. Ravena inspected it, and she could smell it easily as well. She said it was tainted with springwort, which she said was a mild stimulant. Being in the water, it affected the bread and the beer as well. Apparently, as one continues ingesting it, it can induce paranoia. So we had that to contend with, as well as their natural superstition. There was nothing to do about it at that moment, so we proceeded to the inquest.
The entire town attended the inquest, and I could almost feel waves of fear and hatred directed at us. I surreptitiously loosened my two weapons. If I needed them, I would need them quickly.
The village leader began the inquest as soon as we found seats and he called me to testify first. I told the entire story, beginning to end. The truth could only help us, as I was certain Sir Thio was either completely dishonorable or insane. Likely both.
He asked me who threw the fireball, and I said truthfully that I did not see, as it was thrown from behind me while I was in combat. Hosei stood up and said, "I did!" The village leader questioned him, and his answer was that was the only way he had to defend himself from the attack. He said he was surprised when Sir Thio fell from it because he had thrown it at his two men.
The village leader asked if any of the rest of us had anything to say, and the White Faerie stood next. He reported about the snotlings on Sir Thio's lands, which quite shocked everyone. I was not sure if they were shocked because the horrendous little things were on his lands or because the group was actually retreating from them, carrying their wounded. I was ashamed for them.
He called upon the doctor next. He gave a thorough explanation of his horrific death from the burn injuries. He cleverly pointed the finger of blame at us while pretending to do so reluctantly. I was somewhat surprised, as he had seemed to be quite neutral until that point. Was it the springwort acting upon him? Or was he guilty of more than Bastiyan's murder? The village leader seemed a little annoyed at his extra statements of opinion, though.
He then called Sir Thio's gamekeeper, and then three other of his men, none of whom were present. Clearly annoyed by that, he cast it open to anyone who wished to speak on the case. Until this point, I felt we were likely to be exonerated, despite the villagers' clear feelings on the matter. But now I was worried: surely the villagers would only stand up and curse us. I had to purposefully stop my hand from fidgeting with Kita's hilt.
San Jiovisi-san stood up first, and I began to breathe easier. He lived up to his word and spoke quite eloquently on our behalf. The villagers respected him, and some of the animosity towards us evaporated.
As soon as he sat down, Burun Hilda (one of Bastiyan's murderers) stood up and spoke, if not specifically on our behalf, certainly against Sir Thio, which equates to much the same thing. It was odd to hear a peasant such as she speak about what an awful man was the town's lord, and that he never did anything good for the town, and list many bad things about him. Yet truly he was not her better in any way that matters: he was an honorless, faithless noble who did not deserve his position. Many villagers nodded in agreement with everything she said.
By the time she sat back down, the villagers seemed energized, but not against us anymore. Then Gerig stood up. He spoke about crime and how they could not allow strangers to come into their town and kill people. He rambled at first, and it was a few minutes before the villagers listening were entirely certain of what he was saying. He became quite angry, calling us outlaws and renegades and my hand began to play with Kita's hilt again. To my surprise, though, the villagers became unhappy with him rather than us. He was not popular, and they began to stand up and heckle him, which only enraged him further.
The village leader, seeing things were getting out of hand, slammed his gavel a few times, stood up, and told everyone to sit down. He thanked Gerig for his addition to the proceedings and said he would go home to consider all the evidence. His decision would be announced later today. In the meantime, he urged everyone else to go home as well and calm down.
It seemed like a good idea for us to leave quietly, both setting an example for the villagers, and getting out of their sight before they could change their minds again. Several of them went out of their way to be friendly with us. Ravena, Jeisan, and Caramela stayed behind to speak with the village leader about the springwort in the water.