Chapter 20: That Shapeshifter, Faraway

That night, Yin slept in the side room on the maid’s futon.

She had scowled when she first put her head on the inn’s unfamiliar pillow, muttering that the assassins wouldn’t notice even if they swapped her matching silk pillow for this one. ‘I won’t be able to sleep tonight,’ she sulked.

So Reika offered to retrieve her pillow once the assassins were gone.

But when the fight in the inner room ended and Reika brought the pillow over, Yin had fallen so deeply asleep that Reika couldn’t wake her up.

Kii thought about the young mistress’s hard gaze when she ordered the death of Neko-chan as she looked at the child-like figure curled up in front of her and murmured softly, ‘She only acts her age when she sleeps.’

Yuzuru, who slept by the door in the outer room, was already sound asleep, snoring.

The next day, Yin made her way to Saga Castle in a simple black and red kimono with her hair in a single braid. She couldn’t do anything more elaborate because she refused to let Reika or Kii touch her.

The gatekeeper mistook her for an ignorant brat trying to make trouble and refused to open the castle gates until she floored him with her daimyo’s seal.

Lord Nabeshima’s thin face looked more haggard since the last time she saw him. Word of the bakeneko killings all over the city had become widespread now. He heaved a big, troubled sigh as he settled down in front of the young daimyo.

Yin didn’t keep him in suspense. ‘Let’s catch the culprit behind the rumours today.’

The old daimyo stared at her blankly for a moment, unable to believe his ears.

‘Y-You know who did it?’

Yin smiled as she played with a loose strand of her hair. ‘No. But I know how to find him.’

He leaned forward eagerly. ’How?’ 

‘You have a garden in the east, near the barracks for your samurai guards.’

Lord Nabeshima was stumped. ‘How do you know this?’

In a corner of the room, Yuzuru asked Kii in a low voice, ‘How does she know?’

Kii elbowed him to keep silent.

Yin pursed her lips. Her eyes warned the old daimyo not to pry into her information sources. It was disconcerting to know a little girl—especially since she was the shogun’s spy—knew so much about the inside of his castle.

’Bring the man in charge of that garden over,’ she ordered. ‘He knows the culprit.’

Helpless, Lord Nabeshima waved his hand and ordered several samurai guards to do as she asked. Yin gestured for Reika to follow along.

A maidservant served them tea in the meantime.

Yin made small talk with him while they waited. ‘The streets of Saga were very lively. I had fun walking around yesterday.’

The daimyo gave her a perfunctory smile. ‘I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.’

Kii raised her eyebrows at Yuzuru. Did the young mistress go outside yesterday? Yuzuru shook her head. As far as he was aware, she stayed in her room all day.

Yin pretended to drink her tea and continued, ‘Everyone I spoke to has heard the rumours and they are all afraid that they’ll be next. Since they are afraid to die, they consider themselves loyal to you.’

She giggled.

‘Which makes them targets the culprit might choose to kill next.’

Lord Nabeshima knitted his brows together. What was this young daimyo trying to imply? How should he respond?

As if she could see through his thoughts, Yin huffed helplessly. ‘This means your people have never considered restoring the Ryuzōji family to power. Their family fell naturally, so to them, this is expected. So all that’s left is…’

Yin narrowed her eyes.

‘Which member of the Ryūzōji clan’s main branch have you accepted as your retainer and given a position of power out of kindness?’

Lord Nabeshima was stunned. How did she know this as well?

When Tokugawa Ieyasu became shogun, he was obviously dissatisfied with the Ryuzōji clan who sided with Hideyoshi and only turned to support him later when it became clear who would be the ultimate unifier of Japan.

Thus, when Nabeshima Naoshige (his father) became daimyo, he sent the remaining members of the Ryūzōji family away and only allowed a few to serve as high-ranking servants.

When Nabeshima Katsushige came of age, he took over from his father. He had grown up with some of the Ryuzōji servant boys and considered them friends. Thus, he quietly appointed the capable ones as his magistrates to restore a bit of their family’s honour.

They had worked alongside him for many years since then, serving the people faithfully and were rewarded for their work. Why would they kick up a fuss now when they had been satisfied with the power and riches he shared with them all this time?

‘Impossible!’ he murmured, his eyes clouding over.

Just then, the samurai guards returned with a jumpy middle-aged man with deep-set, shifty eyes. ‘This is the manager of the east gardens.’

The man was forced to kneel before Lord Nabeshima and Yin, his arms trembling with fear.

Reika came in behind the guards with two cats in her arms.

The old daimyo’s eyes widened.

’Your name,’ Yin demanded casually.

‘M-My name is Tamaki.’

Kii saw the cats Reika brought over and immediately ran forward to take one of them from her. Yuzuru rolled his eyes, but when the two servants returned to their positions, he reached over to stroke its back.

‘Which family are you from, Tamaki-san?’ Yin asked again.

Tamaki glanced at Lord Nabeshima nervously, wondering why he allowed a little peasant girl speak to him this way.

Yin glared at him fiercely, so he lowered his head again. ‘M-My family name is Yoshinaga. Our family has managed the gardens of this castle for many generations.’ 

‘Who paid you to raise these cats against the orders of your daimyo?’

The spineless man didn’t even hesitate to reveal the culprit in order to save his own skin. ‘It was Magistrate Haku! I-I still have the koban1an ovoid gold coin worth 4000 bronze mon he paid me. If…If it wasn’t because he offered me so much money, I wouldn’t dare to do such a thing. I-I didn’t know people would die…’

‘Of course you didn’t know,’ Yin said with a snort. ‘Once you receive a bribe, you wouldn’t feel the need to know anything else.’

Tamaki glanced at Lord Nabeshima again, as if looking for a sign that he was allowed to put this rude child in her place.

Only, Lord Nabeshima was stunned by the revelation of the culprit’s identity and had no headspace to pay him any mind. He was muttering to himself in a trance, ’Ryūzōji Masamune? But we grew up together. Our friendship was the reason I went against my father and made them ministers of my domain…’

Yin turned to the samurai guards. ‘Arrest this Magistrate Haku traitor for your daimyo immediately.’

The old daimyo’s eyes widened when he heard this. ‘No! Don’t arrest him. Just…ask him to come here, say I want to meet him. I need to know why first…’

She looked down at the kneeling gardener, who had pricked his ears to listen to things he shouldn’t be allowed to hear, and added, ‘Execute this man as well.’

The guards saluted and dragged a protesting Tamaki out of the room with them.

Yin crossed her arms. Derision for the old daimyo’s sentimentality caused her to speak up, ‘Nabeshima-san, this is a good opportunity to get rid of all the Ryūzōji ministers once and for all. Friendship between tigers is impossible.’

Lord Nabeshima stared at Yin with tired eyes. His wrinkled hands trembled where they rested on the top of his knees.

‘It’s not impossible, it’s just difficult,’ the old man insisted. ‘Terazawa-san, trust between friends is the most beautiful thing in the world.’

Yin felt her scalp itch in frustration. Even in such a distressing situation, he still wanted to nag at her!

‘Whatever!’ she sulked, rising to her feet, patting the wrinkles out of her kimono as she got ready to leave. ‘I have to write a report for the shogun about this matter, so I’ll get going now.’

A faint smile crept up on the old daimyo’s thin face. ‘Take care of yourself, Terazawa-san. Thank you for letting me deal with Ryūzōji Masamune instead of resolving it in your usual way.’

Yin smiled sweetly in return.

However, her smile disappeared as soon as she turned her head. ‘What a naive old man. How did he live so long without getting killed?’

An hour after Terazawa Yin and her servants left Saga Castle, the samurai guards sent to fetch Magistrate Haku over returned without the man.

‘Daimyo-sama,’ the leader reported, ‘Magistrate Haku is dead.’

Extra Scene

[After they left Saga Castle]

Kii: Please let me keep these two cats!

Yin: …Both of them?!

Kii: Please?!

Yin: [Sulky]…Whatever you want. If you don’t keep them out of my way, I’ll get Yoka to kill them.

Kii: You heard that, Shiro-chan? You can stay with us! I’ll take good care of you.

Yuzuru: Shiro-chan? Why would you name him Shiro-chan?

Kii: Because his sister is Kuro-chan, so of course he has to be Shiro-chan.’

Yuzuru: That’s so lame!

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