Kimyona & Kaiteki - Continued
by Danny Wall
Goshoku was indeed in the main hall, at the same table Oh herself was at, a subtle way to claim a significant place in the room. Others dotted the room as well, but more casually, simply there to process the tiredness of morning and the momentous events of the day. Goshoku sat with two retainers on either side, young women who looked more like statues flanking him, somewhat removed, as he nibbled his breakfast. Oh wondered if she were watching a kabuki performance or someone actually consuming a meal.
“Forgive my rudeness if I dare introduce myself,” Oh played her part with appropriate formality. “I heard you would be taking leave very soon and I would feel unlucky without having met the most honored Goshoku, son of Gokenin and friend of Watanabe.”
Goshoku smiled thinly but widely, in a way to show that he actually appreciated the gesture. Oh lowered herself to the cushion opposite to him.
“As you know, I have the honor of being a humble matchmaker, and a well-positioned and blessed young man such as yourself deserves a special wife indeed.”
Goshoku seemed amused by the turn of the conversation. His chuckle was a high-pitched, slow staccato. “I’m afraid my position is not as lofty as you suggest, Onēsama. As I live, I live to serve my father’s desires only, and certainly he has yet to determine the time of marriage for myself.”
“Ah, forgive me. But your father… remains unmarried at this time?”
This gave a pause to Goshoku’s performance, and he reversed the motion, replacing a bit of rice to its bowl.
“Should my father,” Goshoku was actually picking his words slowly, “deign to remarry, I am not sure he would choose your services.”
“Oh, I am sorry, of course,” Oh bowed her head, but noticing with a hidden smile how he emphasized the ‘your.’ It did give her a secret thrill to offend certain people’s sensibilities. “Dear Goshoku, as you must appreciate, we are all living at the dictates of our station. Mine is to make an objective, considered match between two people, and this time at the behest of the Shogun himself. If this has happened to offend your father, I apologize but must ask you to consider the divine inspiration.”
“Divine inspiration is difficult to understand, of course. My father and I deal with the world of men, you see. From such a point of view, it is very curious indeed that someone of the Watanabe is the selected. Is the Shogun concerned of the growing strength of the governors? The line seems to grow fine between being the keepers of the land and being kept in line.”
As if to emphasize his passion, Goshoku took up a fan with a flourish, snapping it open and turning his nose at the air he waved in his face. Despite the movement, Oh recognized a special spirit immediately in the old bamboo sticks and faded, painted paper. A landscape, a fisherman in a boat. Fishing, indeed.
“Please correct me if I am mistaken, I believe I saw you leaving the Watanabe estate last night? I hear your offer of apology was grand and heartfelt.”
“Really?” Goshoku was surprised but happy for affirmation.
“Of course! To humble yourself at dinner and then the evening! Many would not consider a gift at such a time, but you chose so wisely! Mochi, so that fortune and luck may stick throughout the year!”
Goshoku didn’t seem to have chosen correctly, but he wouldn’t contradict an unsolicited compliment.
Oh continued, “To have the foresight to bring mochi from your father’s lands! Certainly you must be particularly proud of your mochi!”
“Ah, well, that I ordered from Mochiba-san here at the inn. An apology and a gift should never be overlooked, father says.”
“Well, you are truly a honorable son to follow your father’s passions.”
The fan slowed, but Goshoku kept his face aloft. “I follow my father’s instruction, of course. My father is a strong man. He will do what it takes to remain strong, and I will do what it takes to remain his son.”
“And your mother’s?” Oh pressed the question. “My, that’s a lovely fan.”
The fan now stopped, and Goshoku softened as he examined it anew. “It was my mother’s, in fact.”
“She tried to do ‘what it takes,’ too, didn’t she?” Oh leaned forward to share in his softening. “Mothers always do.” And she turned conversation to the fan again.
Returning to the Watanabe house, Onēsama noticed without surprise she encountered fewer and fewer people. If people could break from work, they must all be retreating to the safety and purity of houses and shrines. Despite the spring day, even the sun seemed to shy away, ducking behind clouds, and the soft wind could easily just have been the remnants of some spirits rushing for hiding spaces.
The Watanabe dare not reenter the house without its cleansing, which Shiromei dutifully helped officiate. Oh found him and only him in the house, in Tamiko’s room, presiding over an offering of incense, two sticks slowly burning from a bowl of ash in the center. As he knelt he held his beaded necklace, running it through his fingers and thumb.
Oh asked if the body was being prepared, and Shiromei nodded. She placed her hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for being here to bring peace. I fear this was not a happy passing.”
“No passing is happy,” Shiromei said.
“But we may hope for simplicity and significance.”
Shiromei sighed. With reluctance, he turned his full attention to Oh. “Enlighten me.”
“We forget, I think, how tenuous the Shogun may bring peace to the lands. And while Watanabe may serve the Shogun dutifully, I wonder if those days are about to change. Governors versus governors versus samurai versus shogun… I fear forces are moving, and if someone is simply being in-between…”
“Tamiko, a victim?”
“I have gathered together some items of conversation,” Oh said. She hoped her flair for the dramatic moment wouldn’t be too impolite. Shiromei, too, tried to keep his smile from being too, too wide.
She set the items in near the incense. A good luck charm with a lotus emblem, Bushi’s. A well-kept old teacup, the Mochibas’. A worn fan with a picture of fisherman in a landscape, Goshoku’s. Oh took her place just beside the wall-hanging of the word Peace, drawn by Yanagi Watanabe.
“Tamiko was poisoned, eating of deadly mochi cakes last night, correct? And she brought them into the room alone, and of them alone?”
The painting’s square intoned a soft “Yes” in response. Oh said “thank you,” and Shiromei marveled, hearing just one side of the conversation. He remained kneeling but settled in to watch Oh’s performance.
“But, these cakes were not given to Tamiko directly, as she was not present when Goshoku gave them as a token of apology. Correct?” Oh asked the fan. The fisherman looked up from his boat and shook his head to agree. “Goshoku is a good boy,” it agreed.
“So let’s consider if the intended victim was not Tamiko after all.”
Shiromei joined in, “Goshoku’s disruption at dinner! There’s some rivalry between Gokenin’s lands and Bushi’s.”
“And Gokenin hoped to marry Tamiko, allying their lands in a position against Bushi, and therefore against the Shogun.” The fisherman nodded. “But if Tamiko were indeed to marry the Shogun’s son, it would sideline Gokenin and his ambition. Whether or not Goshoku agreed with this of course, there’s no doubt he would take to any extreme to further his father’s wishes.”
The fisherman remained a bit indignant. “Goshoku is a good boy,” it maintained.
“By contrast,” Shiromei said, “with the Watanabe dishonoring the Shogun, they would lose their lands, perhaps even making it possible for Gokenin to take the lands directly.”
“Or another!” Oh noted, turning now on the lotus charm. “Bushi!” The center of the lotus turned into a face with eyes wide circles of surprise.
“The Shogun of late has shown increasing favor to the samurai class, and not the governors. With that trend continuing, Bushi in fact might be the best positioned to gain advantage with the Watanabes’ death.” The lotus flashed as a giant “X” to show its frustration.
Shiromei wasn’t convinced. “Inconceivable. The man is honorable, noble. A warrior.” The lotus agreed, striking a pose of a mounted samurai.
“Ah. But there was love. One must never discount the power of love,” Oh said. The lotus became a face shedding a tear, then became a heart. “Unrequited, of course, and from afar. Would it be enough, I wonder, to hatch a plan to take Tamiko in the wake of the tragedy and upheaval, especially if Goshoku is framed?”
The lotus changed once again into the samurai. “Yes, you are probably right. Bushi is far too proud to resort to certain underhanded means to get what he wants. He would prefer a direct confrontation.” The picture was of a powerful fist.
The picture then changed into a box, then three round mochi cakes. “Ah!” Oh considered. “Good point. How would Bushi have had access to the cakes with which to carry out his plan.”
Shiromei looked from the charm to Onēsama and back. It was a good point, and surprising when hearing only part of the conversation. “Well, he stayed at Mochiba’s inn like all the guests.”
“Which brings us back to the inn,” Oh turned to the teacup. “Did you see Goshoku receive mochi from the inn?”
“Who prepared the mochi?”
“I cannot say, ma’am. I would not have seen that.”
“Did you see Goshoku put anything in the mochi?”
“Wait. Who gave Goshoku the mochi? From whom did he request it?”
“Toribo!” Oh echoed softly.
“What?” Shiromei leapt to his feet. “What did they say? What about Toribo?”
“I wouldn’t have believed it, but I suppose…” Oh said. “If Toribo loved Tamiko, it must have been tortuous to see her caught between the forces at play. Seeing her betrothed could have been the final straw. What if he hoped to disrupt everyone’s plans, to finally have a chance, even in his lowly position? Ah, dear ‘Ro-ro. I think Toribo must have done it!”
Shiromei shook his head, still trying to clear it from confusion. “No. No, you don’t understand. Toribo wasn’t in love with Tamiko. Tamiko is .. was his sister!”
“What?” Oh actually lost her breath. “Sister?”
The wall painting shuddered, its mouth breathing “sister…” Shiromei actually caught the movement with his eye. “Wait! Did you see..?”
The painting tossed itself against the wall. Shiromei’s eyes widened, and Oh realized he saw the Tsukumogami move. Without taking his eyes from the painting, Shiromei continued. “Watanabe was concerned about the purity of the ritual, and I explained how the family should prepare it. He … confided in me that Tamiko was actually not of his family. She is a Mochiba!”
The teacup joined the echo, “Sister!” It managed to give a little leap in agitation.
“The Watanabes couldn’t conceive children! They arranged to adopt a child from the innkeepers. It was meant to be a secret, but they wanted to arrange their lineage with people from their lands!”
“Sister!” “Sister!” The fan opened and closed itself, causing Shiromei to cry out and sidle closer to Oh. The teacup was hopping up in fits and starts, and the lucky charm squirmed. Shiromei gripped Oh’s sleeve, his wise old eyes fill with wonder and fear.
“Arrange,” Oh wondered about that word. “I see now.”
“YOU!” she turned toward the wall hanging, which visibly flinched. “Madame Yanagi was the person who directly gave Tamiko the cakes, wasn’t it?”
The mouth moaned “Yes,” and then the house itself gave a shudder.
“She gave pretty words, too, didn’t she? Words about being in the right place, about playing the role of the daughter?”
“Yes.” The walls shook; the items jumped and murmured.
“But her role was over now, wasn’t it? She hoped her daughter could remain fixed in that role forever, didn’t she?”
“Look at you,” Oh gestured at the painting, even as Shiromei tried his best to hide behind his friend. “Every line placed perfectly. Calligraphy posing as art when it’s really just about the control. Just like her home, just like her daughter?”
The painting didn’t say anything, but shuddered once more and fell to the floor. The teacup managed to invert itself completely in one jump, and the wooden frames of the paneled windows and doors begin to split and shatter.
“Onēsama! We must flee!” Shiromei tugged at her side.
Oh scrambled to gather as quickly as she could the objects from the floor, and Shiromei overturned the incense sticks to snuff them. Huddled together as best they could, they made their way through the shuddering walls and warping, curling tatami mats. Skittish items were crying in nearly intelligible turmoil to Oh, who could only offers a “sorry!” “sorry!” as they scrambled through the house. They made their way outside and left Yanagi’s carefully-managed mansion crumbling at last.
Later, Shiromei had the honor of returning Bushi’s blessed charm to him. It would unfortunately be the beginning of a conversation asking for justice.
Oh regarded the scene from a distance, in the shade of a sakura tree whose blossoms yesterday offered a sense of hope and promise. Now, their soft petals fell like snow, reminding her of winter and of endings. She held the golden comb that was a gift from Tamiko and offered her apologies to its spirit.
“I had always thought that our place gave us purpose, Little Comb, and an opportunity to develop one’s spirit.”
The comb agreed, its crane saying “Mother, daughter, matchmaker, comb!”
“But I suppose it’s not enough, really. A ‘place’ is only good, or bad, as its relationship to others. Force a person to be just a place, and, well…”
She took the comb and placed it atop her own head, a privileged place atop her own pins. “How’s this place?”
“Perfect!” the crane said.