The most amazing thing happened the other day—Inoshi learned to speak! Well, actually, he could always communicate, it’s just that now I can understand what he’s saying. I think it has something to do with my kabuto—the old man from Tsume said a blessing over it before he turned into a crane. But in that case, I still don’t know why I can talk to boars (and horses!) and not just birds. Anyway, Inoshi is quite smart, and he is even better company than many humans I’ve met in my travels so far.
That may seem an inappropriate thing to say, and I pray that father forgives me for speaking so about those of his station, but so many of the samurai that I’ve met just seem to pretend they’re honorable when they really aren’t. When we stayed at an inn recently, several of the samurai had consumed far too much sake, and they were harassing the other patrons, including the women and girls. When I saw that someone could be so cruel to those who were smaller and weaker, and when I pictured him even acting that way toward someone like you, I could have drawn my katana and challenged him to a duel right then!
On a completely unrelated note, it turns out that the brazenly drunk samurai was actually murdered later in the evening.
Someone had apparently stolen another samurai’s wakizashi and stabbed the poor Crane samurai in the back while he was relieving himself. But even if he deserved a dishonorable death, the one who committed this crime was guilty of far more heinous violations of the tenets of bushido. Sensei Kage of course ordered us to investigate the murder. He has already been teaching me a lot, and always saying wise things like “Investigating a crime is like hunting a stag…both an investigator and a hunter look for tracks left behind by their quarry.” Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was not able to discover the identity of the murderer; I guess I still have a lot to learn from Kage-sama.
At least Kage-sama is held in high esteem by his colleagues, and my friends that serve alongside me are still worthy of respect, even if many other samurai are not. However, my friends also seemed quite…ineffectual…in helping out with the murder investigation. Uragiri-san was a paragon of courtesy while respectfully questioning all of the other samurai—it was quite pleasant to be alongside him despite the fact that we were investigating such disquieting occurrences. But I despair to say that the most that we learned was that many Crane are very aloof in their dealings with other samurai, and are willing to obstruct the investigation of a murder to feed their petty prejudices. Beyond that, we also learned that the recently-deceased samurai had begun engaging in unseemly behavior since his return from his last assignment in Dragon lands. And also that another of the samurai was taking advantage of one of the young servant girls—what was worse, he seemed utterly unconcerned that he was selfishly benefiting from his deceit! Alas, even the most dishonorable of them still did not confess to the crime.
What’s more, during the investigation Mirai-san focused on learning what the kami had observed at the murder site, but her efforts were equally ineffectual. The kami must have been sleeping just like Inoshi was, because they didn’t see anyone commit the crime either. How could someone be stabbed seven times in the back and not even any spirits see who slew him? It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t mean to insult one to whom the spirits listen so attentively—Mirai was rather exceptional at convincing the kami to tell her where the other samurai were hiding things, but still that only meant that we found out who didn’t commit the murder, since the only “evidence” we found (a bloody kimono) clearly didn’t belong to the one in whose room it was discovered.
At the same time, I fear Mirai-san’s focus on ephemeral matters such as listening to the voice of the kami has caused her to become dangerously naive about the real world. After we continued on our journey (leaving Kage-sama’s friend and fellow Investigator in charge at the inn), Mirai kept nagging me to take off my armor, despite the fact that we had been accosted by an Ogre not two days before! She seemed to think that some other samurai that we had never met would protect us from more Ogres or other such danger. While I have no desire to offend her or her fellow Phoenix samurai who are charged with patrolling the Imperial Road to Pale Oak Castle, Mirai-san has clearly never been on an extended hunting foray with the men of her village, or even spent any time alone in the wilderness, as far as I can tell. I guess it is too much to expect wisdom in such vital matters from one who spent her entire childhood in a library. If she had ever felt the need for watchfulness as I have, she would be pleading with me to ride closer to her in order to guard her, since she even neglects to carry any real weapons beyond her wakizashi. Of course she expects the kami to protect her, and they just might do that—if she has time to summon them. Perhaps if I explain to her about our hunting expedition of this past winter, when Inoshi’s mother burst from the underbrush and slew poor Roku before the rest of us could even level our spears, she might understand the true dangers in which she is placing herself.
I fear this letter may leave you depressed about my current circumstances. But do not fret, dear mother; in my next letter, I expect to have much happier details to describe. After all, we are on our way to Pale Oak Castle in the lands of the Phoenix, where it is rumored the spirits of the blessed Emperors themselves watch over the people gathered there. I can’t wait to see what Kage-sama has planned for us during our visit!