Chapter 15: That Shapeshifter, Summoned
The letter was short and simple, written by Tokugawa Iemitsu’s own hand. It did not resemble an official decree from the shogunate at all.
‘Dear Rin-chan, I heard that an interesting rumour is spreading around in Saga Domain. Have you heard of this? A bakeneko1a single-tailed ghost cat is wandering the streets, crying for justice… I’ve sent someone to tell you more. Will you find it as entertaining as I do? Let me know. Iemitsu.’
Yoka read out the letter for her young mistress who scowled at the placating tone the shogun was using.
‘What’s he pretending to be friendly for?’ she sneered. ‘I know my place very well.’
When the shogun agreed to clear her father’s name and return her domain, it didn’t come out of the goodness of his heart.
There were conditions.
Terazawa Rin would be the shogun’s spy, a hidden dagger at his disposal, someone who shed blood for the cause of the shogunate and eliminated those who threatened Japan’s peace and prosperity.
She was to operate quietly, using whatever methods necessary. And if her underhanded dealings ever came to light, she was to bear the blame alone and die a traitor’s death.
Her only other option was to rebel against the shogunate and have Yoka kill indiscriminately until she thought her revenge was complete.
That kind of revenge wouldn’t quench the resentment in her heart at all.
She wanted to hunt down every single person who plotted her family’s death and watch them die an agonising death in front of her own eyes.
Rin’s obsession with revenge was advantageous to the shogun who simply wanted to use the shapeshifter’s powers she possessed for his own goals. They had no reason not to be allies.
After reading the letter, Yoka smirked.
The young mistress narrowed her ink-black eyes at her. ‘What is it?’
The maid placed the letter down and said, ‘After you were kidnapped in front of me, I learnt something interesting from Forty-Seven.’
Rin frowned. ‘Is there a reason you’ve waited until now to tell me about it, incompetent yōkai2supernatural entity?’
Light-grey eyes glowed. ‘Indeed. I couldn’t be certain that it is the truth. Shapeshifters are fond of lying when unbound by oaths.’
‘What is it?’ she demanded.
The shapeshifter smiled. ‘It spoke of the existence of a private and secretive mercenary group operating in Saga that might have been paid to eliminate your clan.’
Rin hummed and contemplated this information. ’Did that creature say what’s so special about this group of mercenaries?’
Yoka smiled. ‘It did. They never communicate face-to-face or inform their clients of how and when they’ll carry out the deed. Also, they charged extremely high fees that Matsukura Aoko couldn’t afford to pay.’
‘Saga, huh…’ The doll-like girl tapped her fingers on the enigmatic letter from the shogun thoughtfully.
Unlike the frantic rush to Kyuragi Village and then to Shimabara, Rin gave the servants ample time to prepare for the trip to Saga.
That’s right, this time, she was bringing the freeloaders along. She needed them there to complete her ruse of a daimyo on a holiday.
Yoka procured a carriage from the city and spent a few days loading supplies onto the back of it. In the meantime, Rin leisurely completed all the administrative work she needed to do in Nagasaki and gave detailed instructions for the other officials to follow in her absence.
Based on the shogun’s letter alone, Rin predicted that this trip wouldn’t be a short one.
But not because finding the source of a rumour was a tricky task.
Rin held up the letter and read it for the fifty-sixth time, wondering how the shogun discovered there was something suspicious about this particular rumour.
Such gossip about yōkai appearances were very common because they a form of amusement for the people. It’s not surprising for such a thing to spread like wildfire amongst the populace and become all the more fantastical as time passed.
Aside from damaging the reputations of the people involved, there was very little threat to a rumour like this.
It seemed more likely that the shogun was sending her on a wild goose chase to remind her that she was at his beck and call.
The failed Matsukura rebellion probably spooked the old man, so it was possible he wanted to test her loyalty to the Tokugawa shogunate and reevaluate her worth.
If it wasn’t because she wanted to confirm the existence of that secret mercenary group, she might have just sent Yoka to investigate the rumour alone.
How would the shogun deal with her then?
The carriage rolled into the city of Saga just as the sun began to set and they headed straight for the castle. A daimyo visiting another’s domain had to go pay their respects and present gifts as a symbol of peace.
Rin had crossed paths with the daimyo of Saga in her capacity as bugyō3administrative magistrate, but only briefly, so she knew nothing much about him except that he was Nabeshima Katsushige, once a vassal of the Ryūzōji clan, now its leader, and also the official responsible for the defence of Port Nagasaki.
Lord Nabeshima wasn’t at all surprised by her appearance at his castle. He smiled politely when he saw her and remarked, ‘So the shogun sent you to deal with this matter.’
Rin knew immediately that he was the one who reported the rumour to the shogun.
A servant brought tea and Rin was invited to join the other in the formal living room.
Lord Nabeshima had the appearance of a withered old man who could be easily swept away in a gust of wind—not at all like a robust samurai. But his demeanour was noble and resolute, his eyes alert as he examined the doll-like girl in front of him.
Rin ignored his probing gaze and sipped her tea while she patiently waiting for the old man to tell his story.
But when he finally opened his mouth, what he asked was this, ‘In what capacity did the shogun ask you to investigate this?’
Rin smiled faintly. ‘As the shogun’s dog.’
The old man sighed.
Nabeshima Katsushige, like Koriki Tadafusa of Shimabara, knew about Rin’s accord with the shogun. He had been ordered to cooperate with her and offer assistance whenever she needed it.
‘It would have been fine if he ordered his people investigate this the usual way. It’s unlikely that there’s anything his normal justice protocols can’t resolve. There’s no need for him to send you.’
The young daimyo raised an eyebrow. ‘Why don’t you tell me what happened first? I’ll know for certain after I investigate.’
Lord Nabeshima shook his head. ‘You’re a smart girl, Terazawa-san, so why do you insist on walking this thorny path? You–’
’Nabeshima-san,’ Rin interrupted. ‘I know what I’m doing. Nothing you say can change my mind. So just let me walk down the path I’ve decided on, even if there’s only ruin at the end of it. It’s none of your business.’
He sighed again. ‘There are other ways to achieve the same ends. Terazawa-san, you are a young lady with much potential.’
‘You’re a loyal vassal to the shogun, yet he only considers you a tozama4a class of daimyo considered to be outsiders by the shogun, non-hereditary vassals who only declared their loyalty after the Battle of Sekigahara daimyo who is dispensable. You have to provide free labour and expend your personal resources to maintain Nagasaki’s defence for him. Is this the kind of potential you’re talking about?’
Lord Nabeshima’s frown deepened, accentuating the wrinkles on his thin face. ’Revenge is a destructive force that could destroy you. I know you have suffered injustice, but isn’t peace a better alternative?’
Rin laughed. ‘It’s really none of your business, Nabeshima-san. Why don’t you stop stalling for time and tell me why a mere rumour has troubled you enough that it had to be reported straight to the shogun?’
The old man was stunned for a moment, but instead of getting offended, he let out a snort of self-deprecating laughter.
‘Terazawa-san is sharp. But I hope you will consider my meddling words sincere advice from a senior.’
He downed his last mouthful of tea and said, ‘Actually, the rumour of the bakeneko is based on a real—and embarrassing—incident that really happened…’