Chapter 4: That Shapeshifter, Waiting

Even though Yoka walked into main keep and up the stairs to the young mistress’s bedroom, she could still hear the conversations in Moon Gazing Hall as clearly as if she was there.

‘The little brat’s got taste, the freshest squid…even the tea is fragrant. She sure knows how to enjoy life. I’m looking forward to the sake.’

‘She has no filial piety at all, holding parties in her brand new castle instead of mourning the dead.’

‘Didn’t the Terazawa clan get wiped out a long time ago?’

‘It’s only been three years. Her clan was murdered in such a brutal way—even Karatsu Castle was burned to the ground—and then rumours spread that her father did it before committing suicide to atone for causing the Shimabara Rebellion. But when she was found alive one year ago and the truth was revealed, what did she do? Pestered the shogun to return her domain and then ran about garnering sympathy votes from the masses.’

‘She even managed to get this whole castle rebuilt in a month. I heard the shogun sent an army to help her do it.’

‘How shady! Do you think something underhanded happened? The shogunate has never returned a domain they once confiscated—and to a brat at that.’

‘Indeed, it’s very suspicious.’

The five officials were quiet for a while when Reika entered the room with the sake. But once she left, they started talking about Yin again.

‘She’s just a brat, so what if she’s the appointed bugyō1administrative magistrate over us? She’s only a figurehead.’

‘Thank goodness for that, otherwise our little arrangement would’ve been revealed.’

‘So what if she finds out? We haven’t done anything wrong. The prosperity of Nagasaki’s officials is the prosperity of the country.’

Sake cups clinked and laughter echoed.

‘Hahaha! What a glib tongue you have.’

‘You’ve said it yourself, she’s just a brat. How can she understand the affairs of the state?’

‘That’s right, Hirayama-san! Thanks to you, we’re able to live a better life than before.’

‘Come, let me pour you another cup!’

Yoka knocked on the door of the study before calling out, ‘Ojou-sama2polite form of young lady, the guests have arrived.’ There was a rustling of paper and a clink of porcelain as Yin set her brush down.

The young mistress slid the door open with a scornful expression on her face. ‘Let’s get this over and done with.’

As they neared Moon Gazing Hall, boisterous laughter echoed throughout the corridors. One of the men was saying, ‘…and we’ll just keep her maid for ourselves.’

Yin could hear the raised voices of her guests all the way from the second floor of the main keep. She frowned. ‘You served them sake?’

One corner of the maid’s mouth quirked up. ‘The guests requested for it to be served.’

‘Tch!’ Yin scowled. ‘Ridiculous old geezers.’

And she entered Moon Gazing Hall by sliding the door open and slamming it against its wooden frame.

The brash conversations within came to a sudden halt.

Five red-faced men turned their heads to look at the girl that walked in. The officials were sprawled around the low table, elbows leaning against it, hands clutching their cups like they were beloved treasures.

How shameless…

The quietest official, Kuwahara, bolted upright immediately, his eyes shifting nervously. The rest grudgingly shifted into more polite-looking positions. Hirayama, the boldest of them all, even continued reaching for the sake pitcher to pour himself another cup.

Yin sat down on the zabuton3large, flat cushions for sitting/kneeling on the floor Yoka prepared for her and remarked, ‘It seems you have all made yourselves at home.’

Nakatani stroked his white beard, laughing awkwardly, ‘Terazawa-bugyō is magnanimous. We appreciate being invited to your castle for a meal.’

Yin turned to the maid who had retreated to stand beside the door. ‘Start the banquet.’

After Yoka left, she turned to the five Nagasaki officials. ‘It’s only good manners for me to develop goodwill with those the shogun has appointed under me.’

She looked at each of them in turn, her dark gaze boring into their souls.

‘After all, we’ll be working together for a long time.’

Teshima put down his cup with more force than necessary. Even though he was the youngest of the five officials, he was still significantly older and more experienced than Terazawa Yin. There was no way he would mistake the young daimyo’s words for anything but a threat.

‘Kouhai4someone who is of lower experience, hierarchy, level, or age,’ he said, almost sneering, ‘one year will pass in a blink of an eye. Just leave everything to us.’

Yin’s eyes sparkled meaningfully and she replied, ’Teshima-san is too kind.’

Before they could continue exchanging more of such meaningless pleasantries, Yoka knocked on the shoji door and entered with a tray of dishes.

Their attention was immediately diverted to the aromatic food set down in front of them. With glazed eyes, they picked up their chopsticks and tucked in.

‘Please enjoy yourselves,’ the maid said pointlessly as she retreated, closing the door behind her.

None of the men heard or noticed her leaving.

‘What tender beef!’

‘This peppery taste… Could it be black pepper imported from China?’

‘How luxurious!’

Yoshimoto stuffed a large chunk of meat into his mouth, chewing vigourously. ‘Is this the kind of food you eat everyday?’

Yoka returned and laid out more dishes on the table.

Everyone tucked in immediately.

‘Every dish is exquisite.’

‘The taste of the vinegared salad is balanced perfectly. Goes well with the black pepper beef.’

‘Which of Kyūshū’s famous chefs did you hire to cook for you?’

Yin laughed. Yoka, who was about to slip out unobtrusively, turned back when her young mistress replied, ‘There is no famous chef here. My maid prepared these dishes.’

The maid, whom the five officials noticed for the first time, bowed elegantly.

Although they stared so hard that it seemed as though their eyes would fall out, none of them would remember what the maid looked like. Her face was so ordinary, it couldn’t be recalled definitely. The only thing they were certain of was the colour of her eyes.

That soulless light-grey that sent an inadvertent chill down their spines.

After the last dish was served, Yin stopped pretending to pick at her food. She looked up and smiled at the indulgent officials shovelling food into their mouths like they hadn’t eaten in three weeks.

‘Now that your stomachs are being satisfied, please satisfy my curiosity.’

Hirayama paused mid-chew to narrow his eyes at the young daimyo. Nakatani dabbed the sauce from his beard with a handkerchief, ‘What are you curious about, Yin-san?’

‘I’d like to know in whose residence I’ll find an embezzled portion of the shogun’s tribute.’

Yoshimoto almost spat out the sake in his mouth. Teshima choked on his rice and began coughing violently.

Hirayama’s dark eyes flashed. He slammed his chopsticks down on the table. ‘What do you mean by that?’

Yin took out a book tucked in the folds of her kimono and placed it on the table next to her. She tilted her head and smirked. ‘I’m just a brat, so maybe I’ve misunderstood. Senpai5someone who is of higher experience, hierarchy, level, or age, can you explain to me why the shogun’s tribute doesn’t correspond with the amount delivered to the warehouses?’

The official next to her, Kuwahara, picked up the book hesitantly and passed it to Hirayama. Nakatani caught sight of the title as the book passed hands. His gaze trembled. ‘How did you get this?’

The young daimyo reached out for the tea pot and poured herself a cup of osmanthus tea. ‘As the bugyō appointed over Nagasaki, it’s not hard for me to get the delivery records kept by your subordinates, you know?’

She blew at the steam dancing over her cup and lifted it to her lips to cover the smirk on her face.

‘What should I do, senpai? The report you sent me doesn’t match the warehouse records.’

The officials began to exchange looks with one another. Only Hirayama was unperturbed. He put the book down, slid it over to Terazawa Yin and picked up his chopsticks again.

‘This is not the original copy of the warehouse records.’

Yin pretended to think and come to a realisation. ‘Ah, so that’s why the amount of tribute in all your past reports also don’t match.’

Nakatani cleared his throat. He frowned. ‘Terazawa-bugyō, if you had taken the warehouse records, the subordinate I put in charge of it would have informed me.’

Yoshimoto snorted and refilled his sake cup. ‘You have been tricked, Terazawa-san. The previous daimyo who was bugyō before you didn’t find anything wrong with the past reports.’

The young daimyo glanced at the tattered cover of the book and hugged her arms inside her sleeves. ‘Is that so?’

You think I’m a fool? The previous bugyō was also one of you.

Yin’s fingers wrapped around the glass phial inside her sleeve and squeezed it gently.

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Even though Yoka walked into main keep and up the stairs to the young mistress’s bedroom, she could still hear the conversations in Moon Gazing Hall as clearly as if she was there.

‘The little brat’s got taste, the freshest squid…even the tea is fragrant. She sure knows how to enjoy life. I’m looking forward to the sake.’

‘She has no filial piety at all, holding parties in her brand new castle instead of mourning the dead.’

‘Didn’t the Terazawa clan get wiped out a long time ago?’

‘It’s only been three years. Her clan was murdered in such a brutal way—even Karatsu Castle was burned to the ground—and then rumours spread that her father did it before committing suicide to atone for causing the Shimabara Rebellion. But when she was found alive one year ago and the truth was revealed, what did she do? Pestered the court to make her daimyo6Japanese feudal lord and then ran about garnering sympathy votes from the masses.’

‘She even managed to get this whole castle rebuilt in a month. I heard the shogun sent an army to help her do it.’

‘How shady! Do you think something underhanded happened? The court has never let a brat become daimyo before—and a girl at that.’

‘Indeed, it’s very suspicious.’

The five officials were quiet for a while when Reika entered the room with the sake. But once she left, they started talking about Yin again.

‘She’s just a brat, so what if she’s the appointed bugyō7administrative magistrate over us? She’s only a figurehead.’

‘Thank goodness for that, otherwise our little arrangement would’ve been revealed.’

‘So what if she finds out? We haven’t done anything wrong. The prosperity of Nagasaki’s officials is the prosperity of the country.’

Sake cups clinked and laughter echoed.

‘Hahaha! What a glib tongue you have.’

‘You’ve said it yourself, she’s just a brat. How can she understand the affairs of the state?’

‘That’s right, Hirayama-san! Thanks to you, we’re able to live a better life than before.’

‘Come, let me pour you another cup!’

Yoka knocked on the door of the study before calling out, ‘Ojou-sama8polite form of young lady, the guests have arrived.’ There was a rustling of paper and a clink of porcelain as Yin set her brush down.

The young mistress slid the door open with a scornful expression on her face. ‘Let’s get this over and done with.’

As they neared Moon Gazing Hall, boisterous laughter echoed throughout the corridors. One of the men was saying, ‘…and we’ll just keep her maid for ourselves.’

Yin could hear the raised voices of her guests all the way from the second floor of the main keep. She frowned. ‘You served them sake?’

One corner of the maid’s mouth quirked up. ‘The guests requested for it to be served.’

‘Tch!’ Yin scowled. ‘Ridiculous old geezers.’

And she entered Moon Gazing Hall by sliding the door open and slamming it against its wooden frame.

The brash conversations within came to a sudden halt.

Five red-faced men turned their heads to look at the girl that walked in. The officials were sprawled around the low table, elbows leaning against it, hands clutching their cups like they were beloved treasures.

How shameless…

The quietest official, Kuwahara, bolted upright immediately, his eyes shifting nervously. The rest grudgingly shifted into more polite-looking positions. Hirayama, the boldest of them all, even continued reaching for the sake pitcher to pour himself another cup.

Yin sat down on the zabuton9large, flat cushions for sitting/kneeling on the floor Yoka prepared for her and remarked, ‘It seems you have all made yourselves at home.’

Nakatani stroked his white beard, laughing awkwardly, ‘Terazawa-bugyō10administrative magistrate is magnanimous. We appreciate being invited to your castle for a meal.’

Yin turned to the maid who had retreated to stand beside the door. ‘Start the banquet.’

After Yoka left, she turned to the five Nagasaki officials. ‘It’s only good manners for me to develop goodwill with those the shogun has appointed under me.’

She looked at each of them in turn, her dark gaze boring into their souls.

‘After all, we’ll be working together for a long time.’

Teshima put down his cup with more force than necessary. Even though he was the youngest of the five officials, he was still significantly older and more experienced than Terazawa Yin. There was no way he would mistake the young daimyo’s words for anything but a threat.

‘Kouhai11someone who is of lower experience, hierarchy, level, or age,’ he said, almost sneering, ‘one year will pass in a blink of an eye. Just leave everything to us.’

Yin’s eyes sparkled meaningfully and she replied, ’Teshima-san is too kind.’

Before they could continue exchanging more of such meaningless pleasantries, Yoka knocked on the shoji door and entered with a tray of dishes.

Their attention was immediately diverted to the aromatic food set down in front of them. With glazed eyes, they picked up their chopsticks and tucked in.

‘Please enjoy yourselves,’ the maid said pointlessly as she retreated, closing the door behind her.

None of the men heard or noticed her leaving.

‘What tender beef!’

‘This peppery taste… Could it be black pepper imported from China?’

‘How luxurious!’

Yoshimoto stuffed a large chunk of meat into his mouth, chewing vigourously. ‘Is this the kind of food you eat everyday?’

Yoka returned and laid out more dishes on the table.

Everyone tucked in immediately.

‘Every dish is exquisite.’

‘The taste of the vinegared salad is balanced perfectly. Goes well with the black pepper beef.’

‘Which of Kyūshū’s famous chefs did you hire to cook for you?’

Yin laughed. Yoka, who was about to slip out unobtrusively, turned back when her young mistress replied, ‘There is no famous chef here. My maid prepared these dishes.’

The maid, whom the five officials noticed for the first time, bowed elegantly.

Although they stared so hard that it seemed as though their eyes would fall out, none of them would remember what the maid looked like. Her face was so ordinary, it couldn’t be recalled definitely. The only thing they were certain of was the colour of her eyes.

That soulless light-grey that sent an inadvertent chill down their spines.

After the last dish was served, Yin stopped pretending to pick at her food. She looked up and smiled at the indulgent officials shovelling food into their mouths like they hadn’t eaten in three weeks.

‘Now that your stomachs are being satisfied, please satisfy my curiosity.’

Hirayama paused mid-chew to narrow his eyes at the young daimyo. Nakatani dabbed the sauce from his beard with a handkerchief, ‘What are you curious about, Yin-san?’

‘I’d like to know in whose residence I’ll find an embezzled portion of the shogun’s tribute.’

Yoshimoto almost spat out the sake in his mouth. Teshima choked on his rice and began coughing violently.

Hirayama’s dark eyes flashed. He slammed his chopsticks down on the table. ‘What do you mean by that?’

Yin took out a book tucked in the folds of her kimono and placed it on the table next to her. She tilted her head and smirked. ‘I’m just a brat, so maybe I’ve misunderstood. Senpai12someone who is of higher experience, hierarchy, level, or age, can you explain to me why the shogun’s tribute doesn’t correspond with the amount delivered to the warehouses?’

The official next to her, Kuwahara, picked up the book hesitantly and passed it to Hirayama. Nakatani caught sight of the title as the book passed hands. His gaze trembled. ‘How did you get this?’

The young daimyo reached out for the tea pot and poured herself a cup of osmanthus tea. ‘As the bugyō appointed over Nagasaki, it’s not hard for me to get the delivery records kept by your subordinates, you know?’

She blew at the steam dancing over her cup and lifted it to her lips to cover the smirk on her face.

‘What should I do, senpai? The report you sent me doesn’t match the warehouse records.’

The officials began to exchange looks with one another. Only Hirayama was unperturbed. He put the book down, slid it over to Terazawa Yin and picked up his chopsticks again.

‘This is not the original copy of the warehouse records.’

Yin pretended to think and come to a realisation. ‘Ah, so that’s why the amount of tribute in all your past reports also don’t match.’

Nakatani cleared his throat. He frowned. ‘Terazawa-bugyō, if you had taken the warehouse records, the subordinate I put in charge of it would have informed me.’

Yoshimoto snorted and refilled his sake cup. ‘You have been tricked, Terazawa-san. The previous daimyo who was bugyō before you didn’t find anything wrong with the past reports.’

The young daimyo glanced at the tattered cover of the book and hugged her arms inside her sleeves. ‘Is that so?’

You think I’m a fool? The previous bugyō was also one of you.

Yin’s fingers wrapped around the glass phial inside her sleeve and squeezed it gently.

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