Chapter 2: East
Ah, Mehli. What can I say about her? She is a spirit living among us mortals on this side of the veil. To watch her practice her archery technique is to watch another make that direct connection to the other side. I have helped others to that secret place where no one else can follow, but of course this is different because she is going home.
She draws her bow, looks around, sets herself into position, and closes her eyes. She is still, and you could walk right by her and not know she was there. Her eyes closed, her mind completely in the spirit world, seeing our world from the other side, through the veil. I wonder what that must be like. It's not something I've been able to accomplish. It's so tranquil to be in her presence when she is in her own trance that I can enter mine more easily.
But when she is entirely on this side, she seems so like us. She is warm, fun and funny. She is mine and I am hers, and we wrap around each other, and reach through each other, and our spirits meld on both sides of the veil. She is like no one else, spirit or mortal, that I have ever met. I don't know how long we are fated to be together, and it doesn't really matter. We are now, we are a thousand years ago, we are tomorrow. We are forever.
Lady Miyara is completely mortal, and hard. She seems barely acquainted with the spirits, but they are certainly acquainted with her, and her apparent deep rooting in this world is not all there is to her. The spirits sent me to follow her. They sent Mehli to follow her. They sent Tony to follow her. Interestingly, they have previously sent others to follow her, to perform specific duties. This is one the spirits guide closely. Her path is a difficult one, but they also always provide what she needs, if she only pays attention and accepts. Surprisingly, she does. Lady Miyara accepts those the spirits send her into her circle, and then she considers they are hers. She has a very strong sense of duty to care for those she considers hers.
I watched this odd phenomenon on the ship. The spirits needed to give her another person so badly, they snatched one from the Empire and threw him at her from the sky. He fell from the sky into the ocean, and the sailors saved him from drowning and brought him onto the deck of the ship.
Mehli and I had been dancing together. She loves to dance with me, usually to some of the weird Nipponese music. She says that's still better than dancing in silence. It doesn't matter to me. Their music is jarring and I haven't felt it down deep yet, but it's easy enough to close my eyes and just float along with Mehli.
The sailors dropped this person on the deck, waterlogged and barely breathing, almost drowned. I rushed to his side, but Peter was there first. He did some essential and basic first aid, but the young man was close to death. I pushed Peter aside, touched the stranger, and closed my eyes. I called Arati to me, and she came, as she always does. She restored his health and strength, although he still looked to be exhausted from his struggles. Rest would cure that. As it would mine. I felt Mehli right behind me as I sank to the deck. Arati had taken a great deal of my own vitality to heal the stranger, as she always does. I leaned against Mehli, so grateful to feel her, solid at my back. I knew I could let go and she would take care of everything.
And then, I felt another's hand on my arm: Peter. I opened my eyes as I felt energy pushing back into me, from him! He serves the spirit Shallya, and she works though him as Arati does through me, only Shallya gives back what Arati takes. I tried throughout the voyage to contact Shallya, but she is shy and only works through Peter.
The stranger is young, 16 or 17. He has not learned who he is yet, and is uncertain. Very unlike the other young man, Tony, who knows exactly who he is. Grieg has been working as a merchant. As we saw later in the voyage, he can ask the spirits to move him through the veil at will. He somehow angered one of the samurai. Grieg grabbed him, and instantly they were both not there anymore, but about 10 meters off the side of the ship in the air.
Of course, they immediately fell into the water. Then Grieg reappeared, without the samurai, on deck. He bowed to the other samurai, who had been watching, and said, "next". They bowed to him and walked away, not seeming concerned about their fellow at all. I was considering leaping into the water to save him, but Grieg did his trick again, and reappeared, dripping, with the samurai on the deck. Grieg yelled for a doctor.
I immediately rushed forward, and discovered the samurai had somehow stuck his sword into his stomach while he was trying to swim in the ocean! The others were all milling around uselessly, and this man was dying, bleeding in front of them. I shouted at Grieg to take the sword out so I could heal him. Peter had come running with me, but he stepped back when he saw what had happened.
But the other samurai came running, and pulled me away, and wouldn't let me help the samurai, who bled all over the deck and died while we watched. One of them even chopped the poor dying man's head off. I struggled against them, pleading with them to let me save their fellow, but they held me firm. Lady Miyara watched impassively. Even Peter just watched. I could hear Arati helplessly raging, screaming wordlessly in my head.
They finally let me go, when it was too late, and Mehli took me in her arms, not saying anything, just being. Lady Miyara finally explained what had happened. The samurai had shamed himself completely by his actions in the last few weeks. He did not accept Grieg's place as one of Lady Miyara's spirit-warriors. These Nipponese have a complicated relationship with each other, with their spirits, and walk complex and intersecting paths. I don't yet understand it, but I can understand that he strayed from his path and from the spirits, and thus was obligated by their rules of conduct to return himself to the spirit world.
I believe Arati likewise understood and will not refuse to heal someone next time I ask her to.
It was a draining day, and I slept fitfully. Only Mehli's strong arms encircling me anchored me to the bed. I awoke late, with Mehli still there, holding me and waiting for me. Her kisses were all I needed, and when we emerged for lunch, I had recovered my calm. I spent the afternoon seated on the deck, eyes closed, and drumming my way along the spirit paths.
The rest of the voyage was quiet. Lady Miyara taught us all to speak Nipponese. As it was when Kent taught me the Imperial language, the spirits came to my aid and I learned the complicated Nipponese language more easily and quickly than the others. She also taught us something of her people's ways. Their paths are very complicated indeed. Lady Miyara said nothing of the sort, but I have a feeling she goes home expecting some difficulty of her own. The Nipponese are an insular people, and I wonder what they will make of her leading a group of foreigners into their land and their homes.
When we crossed the eastern seas where the sea spirits escort ships through the treacherous pirates, Mehli took care to stay out of their sight. She was resigned to spending weeks mired in our cabin, if she had to, but her fellow spirits remained on their own ships and merely guided us and warded the pirates away. She left them to wander among us mortals under some sort of cloud. They did not understand or accept her way. Or perhaps that was their way of pushing her along her path, and otherwise Mehli would not have gone where she was needed.
The long months spent on the ship were spent outside of the normal flow of time, or at least it felt that way. It was a long interlude of utter pleasure, with the spice of learning new things. After four months, we reached the Nipponese port that was our destination, we rejoined time and the world, and we stepped back onto land with joy.
The others, after months at sea, were unsteady at first and staggered around. Mehli and I were unaffected: she is a spirit, and I am guided and steadied by spirits.
It was a short walk to Lady Miyara's home: Shira Miyara, Castle Miyara. She led us through its gate in the early afternoon sun. She was at point, we her spirit-warriors followed her, and we all walked with the honor guard of the samurai. Our parade gathered spectators, who obviously recognized Lady Miyara, and bowed respectfully to her when she passed them.
We entered the gate to find a bewildering array of buildings, courtyards, gardens, and twisting, random paths. I look forward, if I am allowed, to learning their ways. I'm certain there are patterns here, hints perhaps of the spirits that guide this land.
Lady Miyara walked directly into the entrance of the main house. In the courtyard, the samurai peeled off on their own mission, and Lady Miyara walked to the side, where she removed her shoes. That reminded the rest of us what she had said about shoes inside, and we all removed our shoes too. There was a place alongside a bench to neatly line them all up.
Servants welcomed the lady home and carefully asked her what should be done with us. She told them our status (very important to the Nipponese). She calls Peter and me "priest", because that is what they call all servants of the spirits. Mehli and Tony she names as samurai. She doesn't seem certain of where Grieg falls, and sometimes calls hims a samurai and sometimes a wielder of magic. I think there's some overlap in the status of each.
At any rate, we each were assigned a private room, but all near one another. I was happy to see Mehli's was next to mine, so I could find her easily later. Once inside, I had a servant to help me with everything. She helped me undress and covered me with a robe and took me to a bath, which felt heavenly. Back in my room, she helped me dress in clothes that were waiting for me in the closet. Such clothes! I couldn't wait for Mehli to see me in them! Thin silks and cottons, such pretty and fluttery things. My servant was nice enough not to make a face when I put my own jewelry back on and wove the beads and feathers back into my hair. I twirled around in my borrowed finery, the soft and luxurious fabric swirling around me, and my own bracelets and anklets, earrings and necklaces jingling merrily. I couldn't wait to see Mehli in this clothing, either.
That evening, we all ate dinner with the Lady Miyara's family. Her father is simply Miyara-san, her mother Miyara Keiko, and Lady Miyara is Miyara Miwa. Her parents just call her Miwa, of course. She introduced us one at a time, and Miyara-san welcomed each of us. He said he was certain we will serve his daughter well. He meant that not only as a polite observation, but as an order. He obviously cares deeply for his daughter.
This was a family dinner, although they are far more formal than the somewhat raucous dinners with my family, and The Miyara wanted to hear our stories from the west, a place he's never been. Lady Miyara told him her stories of her travels, and Mehli and I entertained him with our stories for much of the evening. Mehli is an excellent story-teller.
Finally, we finished story-telling, and Miyara Keiko politely retired for the evening, wishing us well. Then Miyara-san brought up business. He had a job for Miyara Miwa. A Phoenix diplomat has been visiting a Crane castle on a diplomatic mission. While he was there, the Crane lord was murdered. He needs Miyara Miwa to go immediately and investigate the lord's death. She asked questions and learned who was there.
I am certain there's a great deal underneath that I didn't catch. But we will all go with her, of course. That is why we are here, after all. Until the spirits tell us differently.
We returned to our rooms. I was going to just join Mehli in hers, but she is careful of other's expectations and asked Lady Miyara quietly if it was OK if we shared, or if we were to remain in the room we were assigned. Lady Miyara said where we slept was our business; the rooms we were assigned were a matter of assigning us status in the household.
Did I mention how exotic Mehli looks in Nipponese clothing? Gives me shivers.