Chapter 25: Mergers and Acquisitions
A secret garden;
Small brook, fish, flowers, green grass.
A dream? Home calling.
~ Miyara Miwa
The San Jiovisis invited us all to the Red Bull for dinner again, and we were happy to do so. The inquest had taken nearly two hours, and we went to the Red Bull immediately. Ravena and Ash, with the village leader's permission, walked around the village and emptied any barrel of water that was tainted.
Upon their return, Hosei asked if they had inspected Sir Thio's water. If it were tainted also, perhaps that might explain his odd behaviour. Although from Burun Hilda's long statement, he had never been not odd. Several of us decided to hike out there with Ash and Ravena: if his men were still there, Ash and Ravena might need our protection. Hosei, Res Li, Caramela, Kyosuke, and I accompanied them.
Outside the large house in Wailuburu we could see its water barrels. The gate in the wall was open. Hosei shouted, "Hello the House!" There was no response, and we entered the grounds.
We found four barrels, but Ash smelled nothing odd in them so we did not drain them. Hosei knocked on the door, and again there was no answer. He jiggled the door handle and said it was locked. Then Res Li looked through the door inside the house and said he saw nothing unusual and also no people. Then he jiggled the lock and the door opened easily. I was unsure why we would go into the empty house and asked: the water was outside, and there was no one here. Hosei said to check on the servants. I did not think there were any, or they would have answered the door. With Sir Thio dead, surely they would have returned home, or perhaps left to find other employment.
We went inside. Hosei said he felt no signs of magic, it appeared that nothing had been touched, and we found no people. We left, and Res Li locked the door behind him.
We returned to the Red Bull, where Hosei drank himself slightly tipsy waiting for the village leader. He said he may not have the opportunity to drink anything in any quantity in jail. I told him that I foresaw him spending no time in jail. I thought the inquest had gone well. Even if it did not, we would not be staying here to be thrown in jail. I was confident in our abilities to remove ourselves from harm's way quickly.
The village leader did not arrive until after a rather tense dinner. Rather than speaking of the inquest, he asked to speak to me and anyone else who might be interested. We all gathered around him. He said he wished to hire us to find whoever was terrorizing the village, and asked what it would cost. More silent bargaining: if we refused, he could decide against us. Perhaps he could then say that finding the people working against the village was our punishment. I called Caramela to answer him. While she dickered, we discussed the possibility. The White Faerie was loudly adamant that we not stay here in this "nasty place". I could sympathize.
We had places to go, but Iri was next, and it was only a few days' travel, and it was still late summer. We had enough time. I hated the place, but even here I feel a samurai's obligation to those who work the land, and they have no noble now to take care of that task, due to our actions. Even though he may not have stirred himself on their behalf, we were still responsible for his absence.
I could see the rest would do as I decided, and I told Caramela to settle the price, and to ensure our room and board at the Red Bull was included. This was a nicer place, and they served better vegetables than the Black Eagle.
Once that matter was settled, the village leader rendered his decision, in our favour as I thought he would: "Sir Thio was killed in a lawful and justified battle between him and the Nipponese noble lady Miyara and her entourage". This included Hosei, as he was at that time associating with me, and it was quiet on the matter of his using magic in the battle. I was glad that we would not have to fight our way out of incarceration.
Hosei discussed a few matters with the village leader. He discovered that Gerig was not native to the village but had moved here several years ago. He was quite wealthy, but no one knows how he acquired his wealth. He owned half of Kurusa Hoven, and the village leader said it would not be in his best interest to destroy the town. Hosei said it could be a scheme to buy the rest of the town inexpensively and easily: scare off most of the people, buy what he wished, then advertise that the scare was taken care of and wait for people to re-settle. It was at an important point in the river, and traffic would not cease permanently.
Ravena told us more about springwort: she said it grows in upland meadows, and is usually harvested in spring and summer. That seemed to fit the description of this area, plus she said it was usually dried anyway and was easily attainable just about anywhere. She said it had most likely been brewed into a tea and then added to the water. Its effect is small but cumulative.
It was likely to rain within the next day, so we decided to set watches on the water barrels to see if anyone added more.
The village leader stood up in the inn and asked for everyone's attention. He officially announced his decision on the inquest, and everyone there cheered. Then San Jiovisi-san stood and made his own announcement: the Red Bull inn was officially closing as of that moment to arrange transfer to new owners. He asked that everyone settle their bills and suggested that anyone who had rented a room could move to the Black Eagle. I had seen the village leader speaking with him and wondered about our just-agreed-upon deal: was he reneging? He had acted honorably thus far and such a thing surprised me.
I was not left to wonder long, as San Jiovisi-san came over with the village leader and a pile of papers. He said he wished to give us the Red Bull. Hosei said at once that he could not own even a portion of the inn because of his vow of poverty. We discussed what to do, since we were all interested in leaving the village as soon as we discovered those who were acting against it. We would need a manager, and San Jiovisi-san said he might know someone in Hailia who would be willing. That would take at least a month to discover and arrange.
No one else seemed to share my reluctance to become an innkeeper, though, and Caramela signed the documents and the village leader signed everything.
I was then told "we" also own a house in another town, Morituhomu, which was on the other side of the Yetsin Valley. Plus, of course, the tower in the valley itself, which Caramela claims to be queen of in some mysterious way I do not understand.
The whole thing -- being a property owner when samurai are forbidden to own property, being proprietor of an inn which is completely beneath my station, being responsible for property and employees in the sunset lands -- left my head reeling. I spend the evening drinking the wine at the inn and trying not to think too hard about my situation, which seems to get stranger by the day.
Jeisan and the White Faerie took charge of moving our belongings from the Black Eagle to the Red Bull, going against traffic as everyone else was moving in the opposite direction. The staff of the Red Bull remained intact: only the San Jiovisi family were leaving in the morning. They were concerned about their situation, and I told them to continue running things as usual for now. The San Jiovisis said they would go over the accounts with one of us, and I told Caramela to take care of it.
As we previously discussed, we sent Ash, Jeisan, and Kyosuke into the woods to watch the water barrels of the village leader, Leafglow, and the doctor. From upstairs, we watched the baker's, the Red Bull's, and the general store's. Nobody saw anything through the night, though.
Early in the morning, some small sound woke me. As I moved, stars obscured my vision and it felt as though someone had shoved a knife through my missing eye. Since the day I lost it to a bandit's sword, I have occasionally been afflicted with these monstrous headaches. I lay in the dark and breathing hurt.
In the morning, Caramela and Ravena readied themselves to go downstairs for breakfast and their usually quiet speech sounded as though they were shouting directly in my ear. I told them I was feeling unwell and would remain in bed for a while longer. I had to shoo Ravena away, and she left some concoction behind that she said might help. It did not.
Late in the morning, my head returned to normal and I started downstairs, wondering if there was some cheese left from breakfast to settle my stomach. As I came out onto the landing, I heard the screams of many people outside somewhere. I turned and ran back into my room for my weapons, cursing my failure to arm myself properly before leaving.
Downstairs, Kyosuke told me that the girl who yesterday had discovered the fake vampire attack had herself been murdered earlier in the morning, but he did not know what the present screaming was. We ran outside and saw Jeisan and Hosei across the bridge in the village's cemetery. We could not see what was happening, but something surely was. We ran towards them.