Chapter 106: The Game of Murder
...for in politics there is no honour.
~ Benjamin Disraeli
I was just drying my face when a messenger knocked on the door. My presence was required at Miyara Katsuda's suite. I gathered everyone together and we left within five minutes.
As we reached the stairs, a guard clattered down, speaking fast and quiet to the guards along his way. As he reached us, he said that the princess was on her way down and didn't want to be disturbed. We were politely but quickly shuffled out of the way. Odd, I thought. If she didn't wish to be seen or disturbed by anyone, why come down here in the first place? There are plenty of lovely gardens and places to walk on her level, where no one could be without her invitation.
Within a few minutes, the princess and her partial retinue swept by. Four castle guards, one princess, and two maids: Kitsu Saia and Hida Yauta. Two, not three.
The rest of our trip was quiet. Miyara Katsuda greeted us, and delved directly into his reason for this visit. No small talk from him. Of course, with Himitsu's death and Ryuden's disgrace, he is now the ranking Miyara and it's up to him to Do Something.
"Miwa, if I charge Miyara Ryuden with Miyara Himitsu's death, would you stand for Miyara Ryuden?" he asked me directly.
"Yes," I answered him as directly.
"He didn't kill Miyara Himitsu."
"Why do you say that?"
"I've spoken with Ryuden and I believe him when he says he didn't."
"Would you be willing to die defending your belief that he's innocent?"
"In that case, I won't bring formal charges. But it's possible that someone else may soon, and I may have to carry out my response. Do you know who actually killed him?"
"Will you know later today?"
"I don't know."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" That was more than I expected. He wouldn't hesitate to serve up Ryuden if necessary, but I thought perhaps he didn't really want to, and would be glad of another to blame.
"I don't know of anything now. I will come and ask if I think of something you can do."
"I eagerly wait for good news."
And that was it. Less than five minutes. I'd never actually spoken with Miyara Katsuda. I liked his directness. Anodyne to court.
If Ryuden is charged with killing Himitsu and no one stands for him, he will be executed as an honourless criminal. Reflecting very poorly on Miyara, of course, as well. The traditional way to avoid such a massive loss of face is to tell Ryuden ahead of time and let him kill himself honorably. Some dishonor still, but far less. For Miyara and for Phoenix, that should have been the best way. That's what Katsuda intended, and I stopped that by saying I would speak for Ryuden. If I fail, he dies anyway, loses his honor, and the harm to Miyara is greater. All on my shoulders, on my honor.
I suppose I should have let Katsuda proceed. But I promised father I would keep Ryuden out of trouble. Having failed that, I can at least keep him from the dishonor of being assumed Himitsu's killer.
The princess and two of her maids were wandering around somewhere on this level, which left Kakita Nantoko upstairs. I asked the guard at the stairs to send a message to her, asking to speak with her. The guard said she was sleeping and wasn't to be disturbed.
Tony asked me in Imperial, "Why would someone tell the guard at the bottom of the stairs that a fairly low-ranking samurai who happens to be the maid to the princess was sleeping and not to be disturbed?"
I couldn't tell him. It was odd. In fact, it was odd that she wasn't with the princess at all. She was either very sick or fallen out with the princess. Or dead. Or Otomo was very kind, but I didn't think that was it. It also didn't fall to a maid to tell me I couldn't speak with her. I stressed to the guard that I needed to speak with her because I was investigating Miyara Ryuden's death at the behest of Hiruma Usigo.
But he didn't back down. He politely, though cautiously, said it was by the princess's orders. I glanced at Fibi, who nodded. The princess had told this guard no one should bother her maid. That was just damn strange. Dead or missing, then.
We returned to our rooms to wait for lunch, which was getting soon. We had no useful speculations on the Princess and her maid, so I took the time to explain to my horde how honor and justice might work in this situation.
If someone -- Asako or any Phoenix could, really -- decided Himitsu's death stained his honor, he could challenge Ryuden to a duel. The winner prevails, and that's the end of the matter.
In this case, I didn't think that was likely. Instead, someone would stand for Himitsu -- Asako or Isawa Tomo probably -- and charge Ryuden with his murder. Then, court. Asako, being the host, would be the judge. Technically, he could stand as the only judge, but this wasn't likely either. He's almost obligated, politically, to call in others. The judges would almost certainly be Asako, Isawa Tomo, and Hiruma Usigo.
It could be a peaceful court. One argues Miyara Himitsu's case; Miyara Ryuden or another argues his case. Others might be allowed to argue either side of the case. The judges could decide anything, depending not just on the cases argued but on what they believed was the best outcome. If Ryuden is declared the killer, he might be allowed to take his own life and save some small honor. Or he might simply be executed as a criminal. If they decided in his favor, then all is well.
Of course, that's assuming the court goes quietly.
If during the trial, anyone who feels his honor is impugned -- by someone stating either side of the case, for instance -- can demand satisfaction. The judges decide whether or not to allow that duel. Since I had just pledged that I would stand for Ryuden, I could easily be challenged by anyone who preferred Ryuden be blamed for the murder.
There was another possibility. The judges might decide that a trial by arms was the better way to proceed: between the accuser and the accused. I thought that unlikely in these circumstances.
At Hiruma's suite, his servant, Hiruma Arawa, guided us in and served lunch. Of course, we didn't discuss anything of consequence. We compared opinions on events at Winter Court before yesterday, and most of my horde listened quietly. Once we were finished with lunch, he suggested we enjoy our tea on the balcony. The bitter cold of the last couple of days had subsided, and the sun pleasantly warmed his balcony. Arawa served the tea and then disappeared, leaving us in utter privacy for the real conversation.
Hiruma asked me first, "What do you know?"
"I know that Miyara Ryuden didn't kill Miyara Himitsu."
"I imagine whoever would want to hide the information he promised to make public."
He's right, of course. Anybody with a speck of sanity would never publicly cast aspersions on the Princess' honor, and anyone with any honor at all would defend her honor against anyone so foolish as to speak against her.
And where does that leave me?
I related Niban's story, carefully not naming anyone involved. I stressed where the lack of honor lies: with the unnamed daimyo who has been dishonoring the emperor for sixteen years.
"If such a story were true, it would bring, in addition to disgrace on the house of this unnamed lord, great dishonor on the house of Otomo, and dishonor on the house of Hantei." There was a clear warning there, which of course I utterly disregarded.
"Hantei is the soul and the center of Nippon. What happens if the emperor is not Hantei?"
"That would not be good."
"That cannot be allowed to happen." Naturally Hiruma was very reluctant to allow dishonor to the emperor, rightfully so. Yet, I still hoped he would see my point. Sometime a single person's honor is less important than that of an entire people.
I wasn't getting through to him. He replied poetically, "Truth is belief, belief is truth." He meant that if everyone believes the emperor is Hantei, does the reality matter? I believe it does, in this case. Blood is blood, spirit is spirit.
I tried to point out to him that there were others who could and should solve the problem while keeping the truth quiet, which would save the emperor's honor.
He brought me back to the current focus, "But this is a way to clear Ryuden." Which meant it couldn't be quiet. He was right: I'd gotten pulled into other matters.
These events don't have to be connected," I said.
"So your theory is that this unnamed lord is the actual murderer."
The Princess's problems were getting away from me, and I had to re-focus on the Ryuden's problems. I related Tonbo Jehenko's testimony.
"I know the story. How could that possibly be used to clear Ryuden, when he was the last one she saw fighting Himitsu?"
"I believe one person, not two, and not Miyara Ryuden, killed Miyara Himitsu. And of course, the murderer climbed down the wall and left the castle while Ryuden is clearly still here."
"I agree this is interesting information, but none of it is conclusive of much. Miyara Ryuden could have gotten back into the castle in any number of ways, including by openly walking past the guards."
Tony apologized for being a foreigner, and asked, "Can't Ryuden just say he was just drunk and picked the fight too early? Would that be less dishonor?"
Meili shook her head and asked, "An honorable fight between a man with a sword and a man without one?"
Tony said , "It was the word of the woman looking through a hole in the wall, and how is she to know when the sword came out? Perhaps it would be less dishonor." He shrugged.
Hiruma ignored their statements and looked intently at me, "Who do you believe did this?"
And there was the problem. I didn't really know. But I had one person I was suspicious of, so I brought her into the conversation. "I don't know why this person would do so, but I believe Shosuro Tage has the ability, and she was missing from the skit after the poetry contest, although she was there beforehand. Why would she disappear?" I also mentioned my suspicion from the first play, that the actress at the very end was specifically watching the princess for some sort of reaction. Now after the fact, I thought that perhaps Tage knew and wondered if the princess knew.
"All interesting. I believe that either Asako Kagetsu or Isawa Tomo will bring charges against Miyara Ryuden this evening. If you intend to present a case for Miyara Ryuden, it needs to be better than what you've got so far. I wish you luck with that endeavour. I also suggest you be very careful handling the other matter. And I have one more piece of evidence for you."
He continued, "I was away from my rooms all morning. When I returned just before lunch, I found amongst my writing tools a small note." He pulled out it from somewhere and handed it to me. "I didn't write it, and Arawa can't write."
I read it aloud.
Three little kittens
And the Emperor's Cat
Stares in the mirror
And sees two.
I cautiously suggested, "So someone knows and wants the information known to others?"
Hiruma gave me a playful smile. "I think I know the answer. I'd like you to find out the answer."
Tony asked, "Miyara Ryuden spoke to Kakita Nantoko last night, but we have not been able to speak with her. Were you able to speak with her and confirm this?"
Hiruma answered him slowly, almost sleepily, "No." He never took his eyes off me, though.
Hiruma closed his eyes while I thought furiously. What was that poem really alluding to? Who wrote it and left it for Hiruma? Why? What did this person want Hiruma to do?
Meili said quietly, so as not to disturb Hiruma, "The kittens are Hanteis. But one is an illusion and not really Hantei." That's what I immediately thought, too. But somehow it didn't quite fit.
I glanced at Hiruma, and with alarm noticed he wasn't breathing. Fibi leapt up at the same time to assist him, Peter right next to him.
In frustration, she shook her head. He was dead.
Peter looked at him briefly and said, "poison." Toni stepped to the door and asked the guard if Arawa had left. Yes he had, about five minutes ago to run a message. He looked at me, "Who do we notify?"
"Asako." Hiruma had been murdered as I watched, and I saw nothing.
Tony told the guard that Hiruma Usigo required Asako here, now.
Peter said the poison was in the cup, not the tea. Only in Hiruma's cup, and no one else's.
The murderer was still in the castle, and had pretended to be Arawa. So well that Hiruma never noticed. Arawa was bound to be dead as well. This matter had to be closed quickly, and truthfully. Using Ryuden as a scapegoat would not stop the killer. Asako-sama arrived within a few minutes, and by that time I'd put myself together a little.
I explained quickly what had happened: that Arawa poured the tea and left; that we all drank our tea; that poison was placed into his cup only; that he had died swiftly and very quietly. He told the guards to search the castle for Arawa.
Asako stood looking at the body for an uncomfortably long time. I stood in silence beside him. Finally, he looked at me intently. "Did you do this?"
"I did not." I answered him steadily. I'd expected him to ask.
He stared at me for quite some time, and I just managed to not give way before him. Finally, he asked me, which was an order of course, "find out who did this, quickly and quietly."
Asako left, and Fibi sat down on the balcony with Meili. I sincerely hoped she would be able to find and talk with Hiruma.
In the meantime, Toni searched the rooms thoroughly, not finding anything interesting, and Peter discovered more about the poison. Not that it really mattered. Peter said the poison was some clear, sticky stuff smeared inside the cup. It was obviously powerful, subtle, and fast-acting.
I remembered that Arawa was missing this morning after the murder, when Hiruma used his absence as an excuse to pull me into Himitsu's murder. How long had Arawa been dead?
Tony answered a knock on the door. The guard reported that Arawa's body was found in an empty room close by. Fibi had come back, a smile of triumph on her lips.
Meili said in a low voice to me, "We're forgetting one thing. It might not be important, but we don't know what Koan can do." I nodded. I didn't think he was responsible, but she spoke the truth.
Before we walked to the room that held Arawa's body, Fibi quickly summarized her conversation with Hiruma-sama's spirit, for she had indeed spoken with him. He believed it was Shosuro Tage who wrote the note and gave it to him. That would be easy to do for her, and it took her out of the running as the murderer. Why would she give him a hint and then immediately kill him? But Hiruma didn't know who killed him, and he refused to give her his opinion on who killed Himitsu. Although he would like me to find it out.
Finished, Fibi asked, "Who else besides the Shosuros is wandering around pretending to be other people?" Good question.
Tony mused, "Maybe the note means that there are three heirs and the emperor only sees two. Tage is the third heir." I ignored that suggestion as being completely insane.
The guard took us to a room set up as a public sitting room. In the corner of the room was something completely out of place: a large clothing chest, with Hiruma's mark on it. Within curled Arawa's body. Peter, with a few minutes of inspecting, said "He was strangled by a rope or a cord. Been dead a while: between 4 and 2 hours ago, I'd guess."
So, the murderer killed Himitsu, believing all was well. Then, Hiruma started looking into the matter, and the murderer was afraid he'd figure it out. So he had to die, too. Arawa was the ticket to Hiruma, so he was killed first. The Arawa who served us lunch and tea was the murderer. Right in front of me the whole time. This was now very personal, and the fate of Ryuden, Phoenix, and the Princess mattered less to me than this person who killed right in front of me. That was a stain on my honor that must be cleared.
Meili wondered if more than one person would have to carry this thing. Toni looked the trunk up and down, and said one person could carry it, but he'd have to be pretty strong. He asked if there were other Hirumas here, and I told him no.
Fibi tested out the feeling of the room and the trunk, and said he wasn't killed in this room, and he was dead already when he was placed in the trunk. She had already tried to find Arawa's spirit after speaking with Hiruma -- figuring he was dead -- but had failed to locate him. It would be nice to have him tell us who killed him, but I had a solid lead now. I knew exactly who I needed to speak with next, and I was confident that conversation would lead us somewhere. If the conversation took place.
We asked the guard here who was on duty at Hiruma's rooms this morning. He sent for the Captain for the guard, who arrived within a few short minutes. We asked him if anyone had come and gone from Hiruma's rooms this morning, and he said Hiruma had asked him that question as well. Only Arawa came and went. He didn't know if Arawa ever carried anything out with him, like this chest. Toni grinned and said, "If Arawa brought it out, he carried his own body."
The captain gave him a look and said this was obviously Hiruma Usigo's chest, and equally obviously, Arawa did not carry his own body out of the room.
I said, "I want to know if Arawa carried this chest out of the room this morning."
The captain said he would check. It didn't really matter what the guards said. I already knew the answer.