Chapter 95: Dueling With Words
We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.
I gestured my horde to follow me and Tsume to his office, where general Shizuma joined us. Tsume and I knelt on the mat, facing each other. The general knelt behind and to the side of Tsume, and my own retinue fanned out behind me. I started simply. As my father's representative, I first passed on Miyara's condolences on the death of Tsume. Tsume Takashi accepted and I moved onto the first item on my mind.
I told him of the man who claimed to be Tsume's magistrate at the prayer gate and demanded taxes of Miyara. And who ran as a coward when I was about to defeat him and prove my point. I told him I left him there, as he had a warrant that to my eyes appeared genuine. I did not say, but my meaning was clear to him, that either he had a coward for magistrate who needed to be told how to do his business correctly, or he had bandits he needed to take care of.
He turned to Shizuma and asked if there were any Tsume magistrates out collecting taxes. He shook his head and said no, they must have been bandits. Tsume turned back to me, and I told him he needed to take care of them. He nodded agreement, and said they would do so immediately. If young Tsume didn't realize the problem, the general certainly did. Tsume Retsu, as much as everyone hated him, was strong and I doubted bandits had bothered Tsume lands much in a long time. But now he was dead, and his young, unproven, unknown son was the Tsume. It didn't take long for someone to test him, and others will follow unless Tsume Takashi shows that he will not put up with bandits. He will have to prove himself to them.
Tsume also said, "If you should ever be accosted by tax collectors on my land, legitimate or otherwise, inform me immediately." A good sign, I thought. He did not give me, a Miyara, carte blanche to take out bandits I found in Tsume's lands. A weak man might have done so. Instead, he asked me to tell him of their presence, so he could have them dealt with. I nodded my approval, agreed, and thanked him.
Next on my list of questions was one that touched on both the murder and relations between Miyara and Tsume. I asked him what his intentions were towards Miyara. Unspoken but understood were the rumours of Tsume Retsu's apparent gatherings for war, very similar to those before he attacked and took the Lion castle I knelt in that night. The reason Miyara Katsuda was here, trying to form an alliance few, if any, knew of yet.
He gave me a well-considered answer, but of course it was the answer I expected from him whether he intended to back down or attack Miyara Katsuda. "My father's actions toward Miyara Katsuda were ill-advised. I hope to dramatically improve relations between myself and Miyara Katsuda."
I wondered what Fibi's spirits thought about that. She knelt silently and unmoving. But I plowed on: it was time to approach the murder directly.
I asked him, "How much do you want to know about what I discover? Do you want to know who killed your father? Or are you more interested perhaps in who didn't kill him?" I wanted to ask him how he felt about the fact that I was the only magistrate sent to investigate his father's murder. But that would have been needlessly cruel.
Again, his answer was careful, but seemed honest to me. "My father had many enemies. I would be interested in knowing whatever you discover. I have no desire for vengeance, but I do have an interest in shining a light on the dishonorable and cowardly assassin who killed my father."
Of course, I knew that "the assassin" didn't necessarily mean the man who physically stuck the blade in him, but the one who ordered the kill; the one who was ultimately responsible for the murder; the heart, not the hand. That one could be one who was also out of his reach. He was thinking clearly and strategically here, too. Shining the light on who was ultimately responsible would reduce his effectiveness as an enemy of Tsume.
Despite myself, I was beginning to appreciate this young man. He might make it after all, although he had a long length of tightrope yet to walk.
I asked him to tell me about the visitors who visited for the Bon Festival. I had the information father had given me, and the little bit of corroboration others here had provided. But Tsume Takashi was here and was the one person alive who would know the most about the visitors and who might actually tell me.
The three I already knew about were the only visitors of note here. One Crane, one Phoenix, one Lion. They were here for the festival, to enjoy themselves, and they all brought their families with them. They all left the next day, after the murder was discovered.
And finally, the question nagging at me. I asked, "Do you know what your father and Daidoji Uji were arguing about the night your father was killed?"
He shook his head and said no. There was some regret in his voice, but not a great deal. I would have moved on, had I not felt a finger in my ribs. Fibi was paying attention, and she was telling me this was not a truthful statement. Which probably meant all his previous answers were true, since was the first poke she'd given me.
Did I want to push the issue? I hated to do this to him, but I had to.
"No," I said, trying to channel father, "I'd like the truth."
He stiffened and anger flushed his face. Apparently I succeeded. He answered me coldly, "It is of no matter. My father is dead and the issue will be resolved. As I said, my father had made many enemies. Crane was exceedingly disapproving of my father's recent actions. While my father was a loyal Crane, he behaved as a Lion. I have heard a rumour that my father made a statement to the effect that only death would stop his actions that Crane disapproved of. It is my intent that Tsume will return to the good graces of Crane."
He stopped there, but I felt he might say more if I gave him the room, so I knelt silently and waited. After a few moments, he did continue.
"Of the three men who were visiting my father, you already know why Miyara Katsuda may have had some dislike for my father, and you have some understanding of Crane's dislike as well. In case it's already not clear to you, Ikoma Ujiaki disliked my father because these lands once belonged to Lion."
His voice was cold and his statement was almost, but not quite, insulting. Without words, he told me that either that was the last question I should have for him, or the next one should be a very interesting one, and one that was not so challenging. He did not appreciate me calling him on his lie, not at all.
He was ready for the interview to be over, and I swiftly considered my other questions. He would not admit to any visitors on the Tsume floor that night and I was not about to challenge him again over that. I knew someone was there, and he would never tell me who. I wondered about the marriage alliance, whether it had been discussed, what had been decided, who the parties were, and so on. But all those questions would be better asked directly of Miyara Katsuda, not Tsume Takashi -- it's a Phoenix matter. It was no use pressing him on details of conversations between his father and the three visitors. He had told me all he would. And so it seemed I was finished with the interview as well.
I bowed my head and thanked him for his help. He bowed his head to the perfect degree and answered, "You're welcome. Don't hesitate to ask if there's anything I can do to help." He sounded sincere enough to pass, although I was certain that wasn't how he felt just then. We stood, bowed, wished each other a good evening, and I and my horde departed for the inn.
I was glad I had elected to stay at the inn. It shows me to be neutral. It also means I'm not sleeping under the roof of the man I just pushed to the limit.
Tony, Grieg, and Peter chatted amiably on the short walk. Fibi and Meili strolled close by each other, holding hands and sharing a private conversation.
As always, I walk alone.
It didn't used to bother me.
We all gathered at the breakfast table early. We discussed the plans for the day. Peter and Tony were going to track down the eta. In the evening, the men could return to the Pine house and see what else they might ferret out about Rika. There was little else to do, though. I had some questions for Miyara Katsuda, but he was a full day's travel from here. Likewise, Ikoma Ujiaki, the Lion, was a similar distance but in the opposite direction. And Daidoji Uji, the Crane, was a good three days' travel away. It looked as though I would be twiddling my thumbs this day.
Peter and Tony left, clear on their mission and knowing what to look for. Meili rather slyly poked at Grieg, saying he may as well spend the day at the Pine house enjoying the geisha as anything else. Of course, it would be closed for the day, but that was not her point. Her point seemed to go right over Grieg's head, however, as he merely agreed in a vague manner that his first visit had been interesting. Fibi, Meili, and Grieg all wandered off in different directions, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Quickly enough, I left my thoughts behind and went out to tire myself with my swords. Then a little target practice with the bow. I am very rusty.
Peter and Tony returned later, with an interesting story. They essentially corroborated everything we'd heard and guessed about the death. One blow to the heart, by a sword that did not go all the way through the body. Everything else was in place as we found it.
The interesting part was a servant in the castle, the one assigned to clean up after the Tsumes. There was some wine left in Tsume Takashi's room, and he drank it. It set him tipsy far beyond what the small amount should have, getting him in trouble for being drunk and dropping and shattering a tea set. It took him quite a while to sleep it off.
Tsume Takashi had wine up for two, him and Rika, surely. It was drugged, and he would have slept soundly that night, leaving Rika free to crawl around the ceiling and kill his father. She could have brought her own swords, if she had one, or used either of the Tsume's swords and then cleaned and replaced it.
Who is Rika?
As Sun correctly pointed out earlier that day, the people at the Pine would know for sure if Rika had gone out that night. The men could find out tonight.
I wonder, if either of the Tsumes' sword is the murder weapon, if it would tell Fibi anything useful. It might be worth trying.
Who is Rika?