Chapter 29: That Shapeshifter, Delayed
Daan Vandervort was a carelessly-dressed merchant. He wore a thin, white shirt that was unbuttoned at the collar and no coat. His tricon hat was terribly battered and worn, yet he squished it unceremoniously under his arm as he reached out his hand to shake Yoka’s.
The maid met the man’s eyes for a moment, then lowered her eyes and bowed. ‘Vandervort-san is mistaken. I am only a maidservant. This is my young mistress, Lord Terazawa, bugyō of Nagasaki.’
The Dutch merchant retracted his hand and ran it through his wind-swept blonde hair instead. He smiled at Yoka. ’My apologies. I didn’t expect the bugyō of Nagasaki to be so young! You must be talented.’
Rin did not respond. ‘What do you know about the silent gun?’ she demanded directly. Since he was a shapeshifter, she was certain that he understood Japanese and was only pretending not to know.
Vandervort’s light-grey eyes glowed with amusement but he smiled awkwardly and turned to the interpreter to ask for help.
The leader of the Dutch convoy raised a hand to dismiss the interpreter and spoke to him in Dutch. The merchant smiled carelessly, said a few things back and then turned to Dr. Schamberger, the other man Lord Kampjan had called forward.
Dr. Schamberger was a quiet man in his forties with a black cloak over his shoulders. He nodded in response to something Vandervort said, then faced the young bugyō with a serious expression.
‘I have heard speculation about such a thing during my travels,’ he said in fluent Japanese, ‘but I have not come across someone who had succeeded in creating a silent gun yet.’
‘But it’s only a matter of time?’ she asked.
Vandervort said something that made Lord Kampjan laugh and pat him on the shoulder. Lord Kampjan repeated it in Japanese to the Imperial Commissioner, ‘If someone can imagine it, it most certainly can be done. Perhaps your people might succeed before we do. We’ll be asking you for a favour then!’
The Imperial Commissioner laughed along with the leader of the Dutch convoy and returned his flattery with more polite words.
‘Lord Terazawa!’ Nobuyuki called breathlessly. He lumbered up to her, panting from the exertion, while Yuzuru kept pace with him quietly, arms folded, deep in thought.
Rin could guess the results of the search from the both of their expressions but she let the yoriki speak anyway.
‘We couldn’t find any silent guns on the Dutch ships. I’ve sent the doshin to check the warehouses just in case they were concealed with the imports but I don’t think…’
‘Report to me at my residence when they return,’ the young bugyō said in reply. ‘In the meantime, return to Nagasaki and finish re-writing your report. I want to see it tonight, with every minor detail thoroughly elaborated.’
Nobuyuki nodded like a woodpecker. But he didn’t depart right away. He hesitated, looking like he still had something to say.
Rin sighed and gestured for him to speak.
He scrunched up his face in embarrassment, ‘D-Did their captain say they have it? W-We really couldn’t find it!’
Frustration filled her lungs with heat. ‘No they didn’t, but they’re foreigners—why should we believe what they say? Go and do what you need to do or I’ll make you search their ships again!’
The yoriki fled.
‘Let’s go as well,’ Rin said to Yoka and Yuzuru. ‘Talking is just a waste of time.’
They left the Imperial Commissioner with the Dutchmen and returned to the bugyō’s residence.
A saddled horse was tethered by the gate. It wasn’t one of theirs.
Rin pursed her lips. Why were there so many people making themselves at home at her residence?
‘Ojou-sama, you’re back!’ Kii greeted them in the corridor with a bottle of sake and some cups. ‘That Shinji boy came while you were out and refused to leave until he met you.’
The young mistress slid open the door and stared at the upright back of the seated samurai in the spacious main hall. The young man’s armour was stained with blood and torn in some areas, but he didn’t seem affected at all.
The last time Shinji Tsuguru came to find her, she had chased him from her castle and told him to never come back. Why did he come looking for her again? And why did he look like he had fought with someone?
Tsuguru turned when the door opened and his face brightened when he saw her. ’Rin-chan!’
He closed the gap between them with a few big strides. She could smell the sweat from his clothes.
Did he grow taller in the time they had been apart?
Rin felt like she had to crane her neck higher than before just to look at him.
‘I went to Kara-, no, Shin-Karatsu Castle to look for you but found strange men living at the samurai village instead. I thought something happened to you.’
Rin narrowed her eyes. ‘They’re my people.’
Tsuguru scratched his temple with a rueful smile. ‘That’s what I found out after I picked a fight with them.’
Why wasn’t she surprised to hear that?
She motioned for him to take a seat. Kii set the sake down on the low table and poured a cup for him to drink. The young mistress stared at him with an impassive face until he had quenched his thirst before she asked, ‘Why did you come here?’
His face turned solemn. ‘I’ve told Lord Ogasawara about our betrothal and he has given me permission to return to you. Rin-chan, let’s get married.’
Rin’s ink-black eyes widened with surprise, but her voice remained steady, nonchalant even. ‘So that you can take over as daimyo of Karatsu?’
Tsuguru’s expression changed. ‘No! That’s not what I meant!’
His dark eyes were pained as he tried to explain, ‘Rin-chan, I only want to protect you for the rest of your life. Your title, your domain, I don’t want any of it.
‘I’ll even give up my family name and take on yours if that’s what you want. Our children can carry on your lineage as part of the Terazawa clan.
‘I just…don’t want to leave your side again.’
Rin stared at him, unblinking. His earnest words touched and frustrated her at the same time. For a moment, she could see a glimpse of them both from two years ago, an 8 year-old boy and a 10 year-old girl, sitting across from each other as their parents laughed and planned their future together.
Tsuguru had grown into a handsome, young samurai, gallant and bursting with youthful energy. She, on the other hand…
In a nightmare that lasted two years, she had been touched by countless men in places too private to mention and burned by the flames of lust on the altar of demented desire as an unwilling sacrifice.
Rin clenched her fingers into fists to keep them from shaking, nails digging blood out of her own flesh so Tsuguru wouldn’t notice.
There was no longer any point in pursuing happiness now. She would never be able to erase the past, so there was only one thing left for her to live for.
‘Leave,’ she spat. ‘I don’t have time for this.’
Tsuguru folded his arms and lifted his chin stubbornly. ‘No way. My other daimyo has dismissed me, my parents are dead. I’ve got nowhere else to go.’
Rin wanted to storm out of the room like she did before, but she was shaking so much, everyone would see if she tried to stand up now.
‘That’s none of my business,’ she retorted. ‘I’m very busy right now, I’ve got no time to think about marriage.’
A satisfied smile flickered faintly across the young samurai’s face. He stood up with a spring in his step. ‘Then, I’ll let you work in peace. I’ll sit quietly in one of the guest rooms until you need me!’ He disappeared to the back of the residence before she could make any further protests.
Yoka smiled blandly at the stunned young mistress.
Yuzuru and Kii had made themselves scarce the moment Tsuguru began to speak, so she was the only other person left in the main hall.
Rin watched Yoka tidy up the dishes on the table wordlessly.
It wasn’t until the shapeshifter’s mocking light-grey eyes collided with hers that she scowled. ‘I’m not going back on our blood oath. You heard him yourself, he refused to take no for an answer.’
Yoka stood up and replied with a straight face, ‘I didn’t say anything.’
Rin’s cheeks flushed pink. ‘Damned shapeshifter!’ She muttered under her breath.
Yoka smiled politely. ‘Then, I’ll be taking these dishes to the kitchen now, Ojou-sama.’
For the rest of the day, both master and servant tacitly pretended that conversation with Tsuguru never happened.
The young samurai also didn’t appear in front of her again. He left the manor to run errands in the city, which gave Rin a few hours of peace.
However, that fragile peace was shattered at the end of the day, just as the sun began to set.
One of the doshin she met previously burst into the residence with a loud, frantic cry, ‘Lord Terazawa, Lord Terazawa! Nobuyuki’s dead!’