Chapter 90: Honor and Duty
And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
~ William Shakespeare
The voyage was long, but shorter and easier than walking overland was. By the time I get there, it will have been many months, if not a year, since my father sent Cousin Ito to find me and bring me back. I worry constantly over what could have happened.
But I had plenty to keep me busy. For one, I had to prepare my new little band of travellers for Nippon. It was one thing to wander the west with westerners; a totally different thing at home. I will already have problems, and being followed by a group of ignorant barbarians will not endear me to anyone. So, I spent four months teaching everyone to speak Nipponese, some better than others. But all good enough. I also taught them as much as I could of the general conduct expected of anyone over 7 years old. Whether they will remember enough of it is anybody's guess, but they all tried.
I also had a talk with the captain of the samurai and made him aware of their deplorable condition. The man can take a hint. He apologized profusely and set them to work. Within a month they were back where they should have started and no longer a disgrace to Miyara. Toni gave them an extra sparring partner, and I joined in as well. No point to letting my own skills deteriorate along the way. Toni is well skilled and will be a valuable addition in case of, well, I'm not sure in case of what, but if I need to fight for some reason, he'll be a help.
I also learned something of Meili's archery. Really, her approach is very zen and civilized. I practiced along with her, without a bow. Just closing my eyes, reaching into myself, re-learning the movements. It will be long and hard work to regain anything like my former ability with a bow, but I now have some hope that it will be possible.
In four months, I completed what I believe will be a well-read account of Miyara Kyosuke. I poured my heart and soul into it, and I hope I did him justice.
I gathered another person into my horde, perhaps the strangest yet. Fibi grows on one and she seems less strange with time. Grieg, though. He will cause me trouble, I can see already. Under ordinary circumstances, I don't think I would have taken him in. But this; this was just weird, and I've seen a lot of weird things in the last few years.
Grieg came down out of the sky like a meteor. Literally. He fell from the sky into the water off the bow of the ship about two weeks after we left land behind. The sailors rescued him, Fibi showed she has healing skills not unlike Ravena, although different, too. But skilled enough, at least.
I asked who he was and he told me his name. That means nothing, of course, to westerners. I asked him again who he was and told him I didn't care what his name was, and he said a merchant. He is young, younger than Sun. Of course, Toni is also young, but he is old in experience. Grieg is just young, too young to be any kind of legitimate merchant. From his hemming about how he got here, I assume he was carrying some kind of contraband and got caught out.
He dodged the question of how he came to shoot out of the sky. I eventually pieced things together, especially when he demonstrated his powers later in the voyage. He got in trouble and tried to move himself far away from it. I think he tried too hard, or tried to go too far, and got lost.
It wasn't a month before he caused me trouble. The captain was ready to throw him back immediately, if I said the word. But really; here is a youth minding his own business, trying to get himself out of trouble, and the fates actually throw him into my lap. I can assume I will need him greatly at some point in the future. This makes me very worried for Miyara.
So I accepted him. He immediately befriended Toni, and Toni started to show him how to fight with a knife. And that's where he got into trouble.
The samurai accepted all the others with me. Fibi is obviously way out there; her connection to kami may be unorthodox, but it is also unmistakeable. Peter proved quickly his abilities, plus he freely tells all about the kami he serves, Shalya. Toni is a barbarian youth, but it takes only one look at him to know he is a soldier. Plus his proven skills with swords speaks to his status: he is samurai by training at the least. Meili benefits from being a faerie, plus she also carries a sword, knows how to use it, plus was seen constantly practicing with her bow. Add to that her noble bearing, and no one doubts her status.
Grieg, though. He comports himself like a peasant. Yet he carried a knife. Really, I blame myself. I should have seen trouble coming. But I have been among barbarians and their easy ways too long, and I didn't even think about it.
The samurai harassed him, not sure of his status. He merely accepted their abuse, which confirmed to them that he was a mere peasant and shouldn't be allowed a weapon.
I only realized what was going on when the captain gave me his knife, one of the samurai having confiscated it. I had to try to convince him that Grieg was really a samurai, and not a peasant. This was a hard sell, not least because I myself didn't really believe it. I didn't know about his other ability. But I knew he would be important to me somehow, someday, and I wanted him to learn any skill that might come in handy. Knife fighting was a fine place to start.
One of the samurai refused to accept my word, to his ruin.
I tried to quickly tutor Grieg in how to act like a samurai. I tried to give him guidelines. Mostly, they worked. But Tsuboi pushed him, and Grieg pushed back. Insults given, insults returned. All fine, until Tsuboi allowed himself to become angered and escalated to the next level and grabbed him.
Grieg and Tsuboi disappeared, and reappeared immediately out over the ocean, where they fell into the water. A second later, and Grieg was back on deck, dripping, without Tsuboi. He challenged the watching samurai in passable Nipponese, who bowed and turned away, accepting that he proved his point.
Had he left matters there, all would have been well, although killing Tsuboi, even indirectly, was a little over the top.
But Grieg had no intention of letting Tsuboi drown, if Tsuboi were not capable of saving himself. Which he was not. Grieg did his trick again -- I'm going to have to find a word to describe what he does -- and there he and Tsuboi were, back on the deck. Tsuboi had already tried to commit seppuku and was dying messily. Fibi rushed over to try to save him, not understanding anything, and of course the samurai all held her back. She was distraught, to say the least, and begged and pleaded to be allowed to heal him in broken Nipponese, then Imperial, and finally in a language I haven't heard before.
Noriki acted as Tsuboi's second, quickly taking the disgraced man's head off. The deed done, the samurai let Fibi go, and Meili took charge of the sobbing girl.
It was left to me to try to explain where everything had gone wrong, and I had to guess a little, not having seen everything that led up to the debacle.
Tsuboi had not accepted my word that Grieg's status was that of a samurai. Grieg proved him wrong, and being wrong was dishonor enough. But then Grieg essentially killed him, by dropping a man who could not swim, in full armor, into the ocean. And so he was dishonored by having allowed what he believed to be a peasant to have killed him. He would have simply allowed himself to drown, and again all would have been well. But then Grieg added even more insult by coming to save him. He couldn't possibly live like that, so of course he immediately tried to kill himself.
It was difficult to explain to Grieg exactly the point where everything went wrong. But I think I got across the general idea to keep conflicts like that non-lethal if possible.
Strangely, Fibi seemed to understand, or at least accept, our ways quickly enough. I think she is one who sees that everyone has a path to follow, and it is hard to sometimes understand someone else's. Sometimes one must just accept and move forward on one's own path. Many never learn that.
The rest of the voyage passed peaceably enough, and no one else was killed. Nor did anyone else fall out of the sky.
We finally reached home. From the dock, I could see the tops of some of the taller buildings of Shira Miyara, Castle Miyara. The family called it informally the Rock of Miyara. I couldn't wait to see my family and my home again, but still felt worry at what I would find, and worry at what my family would find in me. I fear I have changed a great deal.
I led the small and very strange parade up the road to home. We attracted a lot of attention, needless to say. People gawked at me, having returned from afar after so long, and stared at my scarred face. They gawked at the barbarians who followed me. And the samurai formed an honor guard and kept them all away from us. Through the gate, and I could feel my heart hammering in anticipation.
The buildings and gardens, arranged apparently haphazardly. The twisting walkways and unexpected courtyards, hard for a stranger to learn. Many laugh at the layout of Shira Miyara, and the tales of the drunkard who laid it out. In truth, it is by design. It forms a sophisticated puzzle that most simply cannot see. More, it forms an effective defense against intruders, who would be easily lost and set upon by Miyara troops who know their way.
At the entrance to the main house, the samurai peeled off to the barracks and their own business. I entered the courtyard. Home.
Of course, in a few hours, I may very well be lying on the cobblestones in a pool of blood.
I removed my shoes and left them by the bench, and the others followed suit. So far so good, I thought. Servants I hadn't seen in years welcomed me home. I made our visitors' status clear to them and directed which rooms to put them in, all in just a few words. And finally, I was in my own room, with Kyoko to help me out of my borrowed clothes. She said nothing, but I'm sure she was horrified by what I was wearing. A lovely bath, finally. Barbarians don't understand baths at all. I felt really clean for the first time in years. My hair properly washed, scented, brushed out, put up. Real clothing, that was made for me and me alone. Just when I had finished and was ready, father sent for me. I gathered the scrolls that contained Kyosuke's story and placed the scrolls that contained my own journey on the table, so they would be found after. And picked up the precious statue that cost me so much.
Father greeted me formally, daimyo to long-missing and now-returned samurai, and I greeted him in return. The prodigal. I offered him the statue, which he accepted gravely. I apologized for Miyara Kyosuke's death, and offered him the scrolls to take to his family. His cheek twitched ever so slightly, and I could see he knew what was coming. How could he not?
I bowed deeply, laid my forehead against the floor, and confessed my utter failure in having allowed Isawa Godanji to have been killed by barbarian bandits. I dishonored Miyara in this failure, and I told him I was ready to do my duty. I asked merely for a second, because Kyosuke was not here for me.
And the daimyo refused me.
Astonished, I almost questioned him. Did he really expect me to live so dishonored? Was I to be banished, become a ronin? How could he do that to me?
He knew my thoughts, as he always has. He told me, "Your failure to keep Isawa Godanji alive is not in and of itself a stain on the family honor. You don't win every war; you don't win every battle."
I simply replied, hai. It was not my place to argue with him, even if I don't completely believe he is right. He is my daimyo. I will find a way to live with the dishonor, somehow.
Then, he said, "The family needs you for a few more things before you join the spirits. I have a task for you, an important one. We'll speak of it later." So perhaps I will be able to regain the family's honor after all.
Then he relaxed, and welcomed me, father to daughter. He has grown a little older, a little greyer, since I left, but he has not lost any sharpness or vigor. His smile is the same as it ever has been. It felt good to just be Miwa again. I have had to be the Miyara for so long, out in the west, never relaxing for even a moment.
He said there is something he needs me to do tomorrow. It's amazingly fortuitous that I arrived just in time, he said. Fate provides, of course, I replied. He nodded. Before I took my leave, he asked me to bring my guests to dinner.
The first test of my barbarians was to be tonight's dinner. Not so bad, it was just a family dinner. Good practice. I hoped they didn't completely forget everything I tried to teach them. Of course, I projected nothing but utter confidence in them. The last thing any soldier needs is to know their commander has doubts. That is the first and easiest way to assure failure.
And they didn't fail me. I introduced them one by one, and father greeted them each, accepting their status from me. Once done with introductions, he welcomed them as a group, and said, "I know you will serve my daughter well." And they simply, and correctly, bowed their acceptance of his assignment. Amazing. That couldn't have gone better if we had rehearsed it, which we hadn't. Perhaps this wouldn't be so difficult after all.
We spent a quiet family dinner exchanging stories. Meili and Fibi tell entertaining stories, and they will be useful in the future for functions like this.
Finally, mother retired for the evening, allowing us to proceed with business. Dinner completed, father asked me to follow him to his office again. I could have gone by myself, but I gathered everyone and brought them along. Every little way I can to cement their status as my force here, even if they are barbarians. And again, each one did precisely what he should, and did not embarass me.
He directed me to go to Kintani Valley and investigate the assassination of Tsume Retsu. The lord of Kyotei Castle was killed during the Bon festival just a week ago. Several visiting lords from across the empire were there when he died, including a phoenix lord, Miyara Katsuda.
Miyara-sama gave me a warrant: I am deputized as a magistrate of his court. My word is his word. An honor and a duty I have never been privileged with. That concluded the business, and we bowed our farewells and left. We will leave first thing in the morning.
That ended the evening, and we returned to our rooms for the night. First, Meili asked me if it was acceptable for she and Fibi to share a room. I assured them both that no one here cared where they slept. Miyara servants are discreet.
To my surprise, Sun asked to speak with me before I retired. He said, "I think it would be appropriate if you have a larger number of servants with you." And he asked permission to hire some. Sun is a gem. I have never taught him to be a good Nipponese servant; he simply learned by doing everything right. I suspect he may have been servant to a noble Nipponese in a past life. I simply agreed. With a nod, I granted him the station of head of my household servants, and he knew exactly what he had requested and that I had given it to him. Amazing. I learned the next day that his first hire was of Donku, the cook from the ship we sailed here on.
And so I am home. It feels different. I am no longer just the young daughter of Miyara. I have work to do. It's easier to forget Padraic here. I hope.