Chapter 26: That Shapeshifter, Chastised
Since Nagasaki was a shogunal city, two bugyō among the fudai1a class of daimyo who had been hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa clan before the Battle of Sekigahara daimyo were appointed to look after its affairs in alternating turns, so that there was always someone responsible for the port city’s affairs when the other travelled to Edo under the sankin kōtai system2the alternate attendance policy under the Tokugawa shogunate which required every daimyo to keep a residence in Edo and spend one year there with their entire family under the service of the shogun.
As the current bugyō of Nagasaki, she had a residence prepared for her to live in at Nagasaki, but because of her special circumstances of having to revive her diminished domain, the shogun allowed her to move between her domain and Nagasaki freely for the time-being.
The appointed bugyō wasn’t usually the daimyo of his domain himself, but a respected member of his family, however, Rin was the sole survivor of the Terazawa clan, so it couldn’t be helped.
A simple procession of palanquins stopped outside the large manor situated next to the Magistrate’s Office. Yoka emerged from inside the palanquin first, then helped her young mistress out.
It was almost mid-day when they arrived, so naturally, a crowd gathered to see the rumoured young bugyō from the Terazawa clan.
Everyone had heard about the death of Hirayama by now and witnessed the changes in the attitudes of the other four officials who worked at the Magistrate’s Office for themselves after Rin took up her post. They were curious to see what the person who tamed the arrogance of these notorious officials looked like.
Whispered exclamations arose among them as soon as Rin stepped out of the palanquin.
‘She’s so small!’
‘Has she even reached adulthood yet?’
‘How can a girl be bugyō?’
Four familiar-looking officials came forward and bowed low in greeting. The corners of Rin’s lips quirked up in satisfaction at their display of respect. ‘Yoshimoto-san, Nakatani-san, Kuwahara-san, Teshima-san,’ she greeted them in return. ‘I trust you have been well.’
Despite the murmuring of the crowd, the four officials kept their heads lowered until Rin and her servants had strolled past them and entered the bugyō’s residence.
They waited until the gates closed behind her before straightening their backs and letting out a sigh of relief.
‘Look at how terrified they are of her!’
‘What did she do to make them respect her so?’
‘She looks like an ordinary little girl to me.’
She’s definitely no ordinary girl, Nakatani thought to himself as he retreated back into the Magistrate’s Office with the others.
If you knew what she’s capable of, you’d be terrified too.
Terazawa Rin did not send word of her arrival today—after all, she had come here unexpectedly—so she expected nothing to be prepared in advance.
But when she walked through the gates, an attendant stood waiting by the gate to walk her inside. Smoke from a wood-fire in the kitchen rose into the air from the back of the residence and piles of freshly-swept leaves gathered in neat piles underneath flowering sakura trees.
As expected of the shogun’s people.
It was a good thing she brought her own servants with her.
Rin pondered the ominous words in the shogun’s letter once more. Whatever this “ear” sent by the shogun turned out to be, it was definitely a hint that he would be monitoring this re-investigation closely.
Before she could put on the indoor slippers the attendant laid out for her, the shoji screen slid open from the inside to reveal a tall man in a dark red kimono.
Her hackles rose immediately. ‘Who are you?’ she demanded.
A perfunctory smile flashed across the man’s chiselled face and his eyes curved into crescents. ’Greetings, Lord Terazawa. I am the Imperial Commissioner sent by the shogun to assist you in this case.’
With a quick bow, he introduced himself, ‘My name is Inoue Masashige. I have been waiting for you.’
Lord Terazawa returned the Imperial Commissioner’s greeting with a scowl.
Rin and Commissioner Inoue sat facing each other inside the main hall of the residence, with their arms crossed. The young bugyō narrowed her eyes as she sized up the “ears” sent by the shogun, while the other sat languidly, watching her with amusement on his face.
Yoka served them some tea.
The Imperial Commissioner admired the colour of the osmanthus tea he was served, breathed in the aroma and took a delicate sip from his white porcelain cup.
‘You have a talented servant,’ he commented sincerely, ‘She is able to brew this rare fragrant flower into such a delicious tea.’
Rin lifted her chin. ‘She is my servant, so she is expected to able to do this much.’
Commissioner Inoue nodded in appreciation, his entire focus fixed on the cup of osmanthus tea in his hands.
This Imperial Commissioner wasn’t that old—in his thirties perhaps—cleanly-shaven with a tall and imposing figure even when seated down. It was obvious from the way he held himself that he had never fought for his life with a sword.
His large, slender hands were the kind that usually handled the pages of books. Rin guessed that the man’s glib tongue was his weapon of choice.
She disliked him immediately.
‘And so?’ Rin asked, impatience rising the longer he made himself at home in her residence. ‘What made the shogun suspect that these murders are not kataki-uchi3blood-revenge killing where a samurai could avenge the death of his direct family member by killing the perpetrator in a duel?’
The Imperial Commissioner didn’t speak until he finished the last drop of tea in his cup. ‘A deeper investigation into the avenger who filed the kataki-uchi permit revealed that there is no such person.’
The young bugyō pursed her lips. ‘What prompted the deeper investigation?’
Commissioner Inoue held up his cup for it to be refilled. ‘The shogun ordered it.’
That was another way of saying that the reason was secret.
Rin’s expression darkened. She solved the bakeneko case perfectly, but the shogun still doubted her loyalty. Why was he so difficult to please?
‘In any case, it’s not kataki-uchi—merely a series of murders disguised as one. You only need to concentrate on finding the culprit, Little Terazawa.’
Rin’s ink-black eyes darkened. Her lips curled into a sardonic smile. ‘You think I don’t know that the shogun doubts my allegiance?’
Commissioner Inoue spread his hands helplessly. ‘It’s really hard to see you as anything but a spoiled brat pretending to be a grown up. The shogun simply hopes you remember to not be conceited.’
The young mistress sneered. ‘Go back and tell him not to worry. I know my place. I don’t need his “ears” to come off the sides of his head to remind me.’
‘It’s good you understand,’ Commissioner Inoue replied casually, ignoring her taunt in its entirety. ‘Little Terazawa is sensible indeed, worthy of the shogun’s trust.’
A flicker of impatience passed over the little girl’s eyes. He knew she wanted him out of her sight, so he stayed until his second cup of tea was gone before he retreated to one of the guest rooms at the back of the residence.
‘Why does he have to stay here?’ Rin complained, steam rising from her head.
The next day, Rin woke up early, intending to take Yuzuru and Yoka with her to the Officials’ Quarters in Dejima behind the Imperial Commissioner’s back.
Unexpectedly, the shogun’s “ears” were already awake, seated in the main hall, sipping the leftover osmanthus tea Yoka had served to her earlier that morning.
Rin glared at her maid who continued smiling politely.
Yoka placed a tray of food in front of the disgruntled young mistress. “Today’s breakfast is an ichiju-sansai4a Japanese meal that consists of one soup and three dishesof tofu miso soup, shogayaki5a dish of ginger pork, spinach salad with sesame dressing and kitsune6seasoned fried beancurd used in kitsune udon.”
The Imperial Commissioner tapped the table in front of him with a smug look. ‘You didn’t forget me, did you?’
‘Of course not,’ Yoka replied. Another tray with the same dishes was brought over and placed in front of him.
Rin glared at him with resentment. This pretentious intruder!
They arrived at the Official’s Quarters in Dejima on horseback. The yoriki7higher-ranked samurai who served as police officials under the bugyō in charge of the case greeted the Imperial Commissioner and introduced himself as Nobuyuki, then brought out three doshin8lower-ranked samurai who were police officers that needed to have contact with commoners and conduct on-the-ground investigations officers who had participated in the investigations.
‘Since the shogun has requested for this case to be re-investigated, I brought them along for you to question, Lord Terazawa,’ he said in an ingratiating tone to the most imposing figure in the group—Commissioner Inoue.
Rin, who had been passed over because of her age and gender, laughed. ‘You’ve already forgotten all the details about the case, haven’t you? That’s why you brought these samurai to explain everything on your behalf.’
Nobuyuki jumped in surprise. He didn’t know that Lord Terazawa was a little girl because he usually sat in his office picking his teeth and gave the work of investigating and running around the city to his subordinates.
He hadn’t paid much attention to the doll-like girl next to the Imperial Commissioner because he thought she was the Commissioner’s latest plaything.
The tall and imposing man looked handsome and attractive, like the kind of person who would frequent Maruyama9Nagasaki’s pleasure district and occasionally take one or two young girls out for a stroll. He also did the same privately, so he assumed that the bugyō did too when he caught sight of the little girl’s fragile beauty.
Bringing someone like that along on his official business wasn’t exactly very appropriate, so he thought he was being astute by pretending she wasn’t there.
How was he supposed to know that she…
Rin caught Nobuyuki’s eyes flitting about between her and the Imperial Commissioner and guessed his thoughts right away.
‘Tch!’ Her temper flared, ‘I’m Lord Terazawa! What are you speaking to this man for? Do you not want your job anymore? Don’t come to work tomorrow, you’re dismissed.’
Nobuyuki’s eyes widened in shock. This little girl was actually Lord Terazawa? He met the young bugyō’s furious black gaze and shivered at the hostility he saw there.
He mumbled absently to himself, ‘You’re a girl, how can you be Lord Terazawa?’
Commissioner Inoue turned to Rin with a provocative smile on his face. ‘We haven’t started the re-investigation and you want to dismiss the yoriki-in-charge? How are you going to solve the case if you keep throwing tantrums like this, Little Terazawa?’
Rin turned her hostile glare on him and crossed her arms. ‘I have no use for incompetent subordinates who can’t recognise their superiors.’
Nobuyuki’s knees started to shake.
But the Imperial Commissioner only raised his eyebrows and laughed. ’As expected, a child is only capable of childish thoughts. Little Terazawa, listen. The subordinate is reflective of his superior. Only when the superior is incompetent will the subordinate be likewise.’
‘Shut up, you pretentious b*stard! You’re supposed to be the shogun’s “ears” not his “mouth!’
The yoriki’s jaw fell. T-This little girl—uh, no—Lord Terazawa just called an Imperial Commissioner a p-pretentious b*stard?
Commissioner Inoue raised his hands in mock surrender. ‘Alright, Little Terazawa. Have it your way.’ He mimed sealing his own mouth and took a step back to stand beside Yuzuru and Yoka.
Rin took a deep breath to calm herself down and averted her gaze from the pretentious b*stard.
’S-So am I still dismissed from my post?’ Nobuyuki asked in a tentative voice.
Grudgingly, the young bugyō replied, ‘Solve the case first.’
And that’s how Nobuyuki-yoriki became extremely hardworking for a while.