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samurai champloo fanfiction: kitsune in koshu chapter 34

 

Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Champloo or any of its characters.


Chapter 34


There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.


Extract from Act 4, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


Kitsune's Keek and Kitsune's Ken, Part I


I. Kitsune's Corner: From the Viewpoint of Manzou and Hiroko's Kitsune


Ah, I wish I could retain a memory of these visions, or whatever they are, when I wake up. Or perhaps I should say 'go to sleep' rather than 'wake up.' Perhaps this is the world in which I truly live and the other one is a product of my imagination, a world of dreams. It is hard to tell. But it goes without saying that I am a more powerful being in this one. There is knowledge and insight, and the sense of liberation that comes with those things.


But certain things are disconcerting. For instance, I am not quite sure who I am in this world. Am I Sakami Manzou, the person who is an onmitsumawari doshin in that other world, or am I Hiroko's kitsune, the being that has possessed the shell of Manzou? Or am I an amalgam of Hiroko's kitsune and Sakami Manzou? What does the kyubi-no-kitsune of Tomoe think about this when he answers my questions?


"You are a different entity now, an entity with a nature that is a mixture of the natures of both creatures," says the kyubi-no-kitsune, replying to my thoughts. "Sometimes it is your Manzou-nature that motivates the questions, and sometimes it is the Hiroko-kitsune-nature."


"Whether this world is the real one, or the other one – that is a question I cannot answer. Perhaps both are real. That world is the world of your conscious mind, and this one that of the universal subconscious mind."


"Why am I here? Do others from the world of the conscious mind visit the world of the universal subconscious mind? And do entities of this world visit the other world?"


The kyubi-no-kitsune appears to be laughing. "Hmm, both of you – Hiroko's kitsune and Manzou – are curious creatures. Questions, questions, and more questions!"


"It is your fault. If you want to have a conversation, you must ask questions too. I am happy to answer any that you might have."


That must have been the Hiroko-kitsune-nature speaking. The Manzou part of me would never address that magnificent creature in so audacious a manner. It is definitely relieved to see that the kyubi-no-kitsune hasn't taken offence.


"All right then, maybe I will ask some questions. Although, it is difficult since I am likely to know the answer to most of them! Hmmm, let's see – ah yes. The Hiroko-kitsune part of you has received some training recently, in travelling across time and space dimensions. Perhaps you can explain to me why the Manzou part of you is so worried about the things you have observed."


"Well, the Manzou part of me is worried about Lord Munefuyu's intentions, and the Hiroko-kitsune part of me is confused about them. The Hiroko-kitsune part doesn't understand why Lord Munefuyu was so friendly towards Jin, even though he still intends to fight him in a duel. The Manzou part of me, on the other hand, accepts this behaviour for what it is – a type of deception that is common in the world Manzou lives in – but is nonetheless worried about it. It is worried because Manzou considers Jin a friend."


"It is quite odd, really, to have two distinct layers feelings inside one, not quite merging together, but occupying the same space, in a manner of speaking."


The kyubi-no-kitsune looks at the space I am talking about, and is amused to see it alternating between the form of Manzou and Hiroko's kitsune. At least, the Manzou part of me thinks that he is amused. The Hiroko-kitsune part of me thinks that this is just the way he looks at beings less than five hundred years old. Both parts of me know that he is ignoring these latest thoughts as he says, "At the moment Munefuyu is the least of Jin's concerns. There are other dangers ahead, for Jin and Fuu, and also for Mugen."


"Have you seen something I haven't seen? In that case, I could do some more travelling. But I don't have the ability to travel much of a distance in terms of time. Without your assistance, I can only travel a few days back into the past or a few hours ahead into the future."


"That should make things easier for you. Take my word for it – the less information you have the easier it is to digest and interpret. In any case, events too far into the future aren't – how shall I put it – ah yes, they aren't determined yet."


"So do you mean to say that there is 'free will' in the world I am observing?"


"I am in no mood to enter a discussion about free will and determinism. But I will suggest some locations in time and space that might be of interest to you," the kyubi-no-kitsune replies, as he telepathically conveys a number of time and space coordinates to me.


I get ready to travel. The itinerary is quite an exciting one. I travel first to the immediate past in Edo, to have a keek at the Tairo, Sakai Tadakiyo, who hired Inuyama in that failed attempt to kill Jin, Mugen and Fuu.


-xxx-


II. At Sakai Tadakiyo's Residence


It was a depressing and uncertain time for Sakai Tadakiyo, a state of affairs he felt would continue if he did nothing about it. For a few years now, there had been a decline in the control he had exercised over the shogun – a decline so gradual that he hadn't noticed it until a few months ago. The sign that had alerted him to this loss of control had come in the form of a disagreement – of a very vociferous kind – with a member of the Council of Elders he led as Tairo. Whether this member, an upstart by the name of Hotta Masatoshi, had spoken against him upon instigation of the shogun, or of his own accord, was irrelevant. In the past it would have been unthinkable for anyone, no matter how important he was in terms of rank or influence, to have spoken against the 'geba shogun', the virtual ruler of the land of Japan. After all, there was no person of greater influence in comparison to Sakai Tadakiyo. Certainly, the shogun outranked him, as did the Emperor in Kyoto, but in his view the titles of these persons had taken on a de jure rather than a de facto connotation.


Perhaps he had miscalculated his influence, and it had been premature to suggest a successor to the shogun Ietsuna outside of the Tokugawa line. He should have waited until Ietsuna was dead. On all accounts, Ietsuna had already one foot in his grave, so he wouldn't have had to wait long.


No, on second thought, he was glad he had brought it up when he did. At least, one of his potential enemies had been identified. He would keep quiet about the issue of succession at this time, but he would be better prepared when he brought it up later, after the passing of Ietsuna. Until then he would discreetly cultivate individuals who could be potential allies in the implementation of his vision, and also work towards marginalising the likes of Masatoshi.


It was a pity, though, that this Masatoshi was a rather high-profile individual; an accidental death or an assassination was bound to be investigated. Even if things were covered up well, there would be fingers pointed towards him; his dislike for Masatoshi was only too well known among the higher echelons of the bakufu. And at such a time as this, he would rather not draw any attention to himself. The Tokugawas had obviously been offended by his suggestion, and it would be better not to provoke them any further. At least, he could not afford to give them any direct and obvious reasons to dismiss him, or to make any pre-emptive moves to circumvent his plans. Getting a high-ranking official such as Masatoshi killed would make him too large a threat to the Tokugawas; they would be compelled into taking action against him. Instead, he would have to resort to playing a game of brinkmanship. That too would be a risky approach, given the climate of the times, but it was a risk he had to take.


It had been very inconvenient, when Kariya Kagetoki went missing. Of course, it must have been one of those two men, either Takeda Jin, or Mugen, who killed him. Until then, Kariya had been a very useful ally, and very competent at getting things done. Kariya had several assassins at his beck and call, so it was easy to get rid of people who were proving troublesome. In fact, one didn't even have to do anything; the mere presence of Kariya acted like a deterrent that kept his detractors in check. For fear of Kariya, most of them preferred to keep in the good books of Sakai Tadakiyo.


But in the end, even Kariya had his shortcomings. What an embarrassment it had been, not to have been able to implement that execution order efficiently. It had taken quite a bit of persuasion to manipulate Ietsuna into ordering the execution of Kasumi Fuu and her bodyguards. That, in and of itself, had been an indication of changing times; previously Ietsuna would simply rubber-stamp all his decisions. And then there had been the mortification caused by the fact that Ietsuna eventually rescinded that order. Ietsuna's decision must have been among the series of events that led to a gradual diminishment of the aura of invincibility and power around him – people just didn't fear Sakai Tadakiyo anymore. Masatoshi's outburst was merely a symptom of these trends.


He had made another attempt to get those miscreants assassinated, partly in order to stem this adversarial tide in his affairs. By getting them killed in spite of the shogun's revocation of the execution order he would have indirectly signalled – to Ietsuna and others – that he was the man in charge of ruling Japan, and in one way or another, what he desired was to prevail. But that Inuyama fellow had botched it all up somehow. In the end, hiring a freelance assassin hadn't been a good idea. Perhaps he should have entrusted the job to one of his own men.


But he hadn't wanted the assassinations to be traced back to him – that may have given Ietsuna the grounds to dismiss him, or maybe even order him to commit seppuku. While a hint or rumour of his involvement was desirable, or even required, a direct proof of it would have been disastrous. He had therefore been very careful about the hiring of Inuyama – a retainer had got in touch with one of his contacts from the yakuza-underworld to arrange it. Even so, he had heard rumours that Ietsuna's brother and heir Tokugawa Tsunayoshi had been urging the shogun to dismiss him and appoint Hotta Masatoshi as Tairo.


So what was he to do now? He still wanted to get those two vagrants and that girl killed, but was reluctant to use his own men. Well, perhaps he could use them, but in a subtle way. But there was just one man, Takamatsu Hanzo, who could pull off what he had in mind.


Deciding he would send for Hanzo right away, he attempted to rise from the seza position he had been seated in. It was a clumsy effort, given that Tadakiyo had a pot-belly on his moderately sized body-frame, making his movements reminiscent of a pregnant woman attempting to get up from a similar position. His legs were experiencing the 'pins and needles' feeling, so he walked up and down his reception room for a bit, giving the impression that the rest of his body was trying to keep up with his mid-section. Eventually, he clapped his hands to summon an attendant.


"Send the gardener Hanzo over here. We are not to be disturbed," Tadakiyo said to the elderly retainer who had appeared at the door.


The retainer wasn't surprised at the request. He had been in the employ of the Sakai family for a long time; Tadakiyo was from the second generation of Sakais he had served. He knew that Hanzo was really a shinobi working for the Sakai family, and as such Tadakiyo's request was not an unusual one. But he disapproved of shinobi in general, and was particularly suspicious of Hanzo, who had the unpleasant habit of creeping up on you before you noticed his presence. Nevertheless, an order was an order, and he was careful not to show any signs of reluctance in obeying it.


Hanzo, a wiry thirty-five year old man with a tanned and weather-beaten face, arrived quite promptly, his eyes making a very quick and furtive assessment of the reception room, as if to scan for any presence behind the paper walls, before they settled on Sakai Tadakiyo. Almost by force of habit, he couldn't help analysing the heavy-lidded and bleary-eyed look on his master's round face, and concluding that he had over-indulged in sake the previous evening. But he lowered his eyes almost immediately, and waited for Tadakiyo to speak.


Tadakiyo scratched the centre of his almost perfectly spherical head, in the part that was traditionally shaven by upper-class samurai. In his case, though, there was no need to shave, as he had turned bald in precisely that spot. "Ah. You are here. I wanted to discuss something with you – a little errand I want you to run for me."


Hanzo waited to hear what the "little errand" was, but had already conjectured its nature from the tone of Tadakiyo's voice. No doubt, this was to be a shinobi-style mission. This might have something to do with the events in Kofu.


Tadakiyo's beady eyes looked speculatively at Hanzo from under knitted, bushy eyebrows. "Knowing you, I suppose you may already have some idea why I have asked you to come here. I think you anticipate that I am going to send you to Kofu. And you are right; I am going to send you to Kofu."


"I want you to go there and deliver a message to Lord Yagyu Munefuyu. You will convey my best wishes for his forthcoming trip to the Ise Grand Shrine, and give him a small gift on my behalf."


Hanzo looked up at Tadikiyo in surprise before bowing his head again. Yes, he had certainly expected to be ordered to travel to Kofu, but what Tadakiyo had just asked of him was rather odd. Surely there was more to it.


There was a smirk on Tadakiyo's face; he seemed to have enjoyed surprising Hanzo. "You will also give Lord Munefuyu, a little, ah, dossier of information I have prepared for him. Say that I had heard of the assignment the shogun has given him, and I wanted to be of help. Also tell him you just happened to be going to Kofu for a few days – to visit relatives, perhaps. If you don't have relatives in Kofu, make up some other plausible reason to be there. It must seem as if it was a matter of chance you were going there, and I took the opportunity to send him the dossier. Otherwise, I was planning to send it via courier."


Hanzo was still a little puzzled and tentatively ventured to ask a question. "Ano...Is that all I am to do? And, if I may ask, is this dossier about the three people you wanted out of the way?"


"Ha-Ha! No, I am not going to say that I want them out of the way! How can I go against the shogun's wishes? Actually, the dossier is mainly about Takeda Jin, the man Lord Munefuyu has been asked to investigate. Since it is at the shogun's request that this investigation is taking place, I am not doing anything wrong by sending Munefuyu-sama some additional information."


There was a nod from Hanzo, who was just beginning to understand Tadakiyo's intentions. "I wonder, Tadakiyo-sama, what will Munefuyu-sama do with the information you will be sending him? And wasn't he part of the o-metsuke some time ago? In that case he would probably have access to the information you are sending him."


"Hmm, I suppose so. There might be some titbits my own spies have gathered. But that is irrelevant."

"Then why...Do you want to influence Munefuyu-sama into not giving him that certificate?"


"Ah, Hanzo, I see that you are a good ninja. You keep your eyes and ears open, and you have heard about that menkyo certificate. But I don't really care about whether Jin gets it or not."


Tadakiyo rubbed is face vigorously, as if attempting to wipe the puffiness out of it. "Even so, I know something about Lord Munefuyu. He has lived his life in the shadow of his father and brother, both of whom were illustrious swordsmen. The funny thing is he was just as good as them; at least a lot of experts in the martial arts who had the opportunity to observe his skills said so."


"They say that he is a spiritual man, and that he doesn't crave fame of that sort. He certainly didn't try to establish a name for himself by going on a musha shugyo warrior pilgrimage like his brother did. But what if opportunity knocks on your door, and you have the chance to gain some glory for yourself? I think Munefuyu-sama is human enough to want to take advantage of it."


"So you think Munefuyu-sama might challenge Jin to a duel? And there is something in the dossier that will influence him to do so?"


Tadakiyo smiled enigmatically. "It is a definite possibility."


Sakai Tadakiyo must be quite desperate, thought Hanzo, to cling to the belief that somehow a dossier of information sent to Yagyu Munefuyu – consisting of facts he must already be privy to - would lead to the results he wanted. But he concealed his scepticism. "I see. And if all you did was to send a dossier, then no one can point fingers against you for having gone against the shogun's wishes."


"Precisely! But mind you, this requires a very delicate touch. Munefuyu-sama must in no way feel that I am attempting to influence his decision."


"Of course, I understand. But I was wondering...Do you want me to do something about the other two people – the friends of Jin?"


Tadakiyo, who had perceived Hanzo's scepticism about his plans despite his effort to conceal it, smiled condescendingly in his direction. What he was about to say to Hanzo would probably make him even more sceptical. But he didn't care – all he wanted of Hanzo was to carry out his instructions to the letter. "We don't have to do anything about the man. He is very fond of fighting, and is bound to want to avenge the death of Jin, so I am pretty sure he will challenge Munefuyu-sama."


Tadakiyo-sama seems to think that in the event of a duel it is Munefuyu-sama who will prevail over Jin. What if it is the other way around?
"And the girl?"


"As for the girl...Hmm. I suppose you have heard about the goings-on in Kofu. Quite intriguing, really. There is a 'kitsunetsuki' epidemic, and some sort of a gambling operation associated with it; apparently people place bets on whether a person is going to be alive at a certain date, and that person catches kitsunetsuki! Hmm...It would be convenient, wouldn't you say, if this girl ended up catching the kitsunetsuki? It is quite contagious, I believe."


Hanzo smiled. So he was to arrange a kitsunetsuki for Kasumi Fuu. "Tadakiyo-sama, it would indeed be convenient. When do you want me to leave?"


-xxx-


III. At Takeda Yoshinori's Residence


Munefuyu was a sensitive enough man to have noticed the funereal aura around and inside Yoshinori's mansion. He now felt even more uncomfortable as the gloom in the atmosphere intensified with the darkening of the evening sky. He felt he was intruding on the Takedas at a very private time, a time in which they would rather be left alone to mourn for their son. To have been asked instead to play host to a daimyo must have been difficult. Given the circumstances, their hospitality had been admirable; they made every effort to conceal their feelings so that Munefuyu would be comfortable. Yet he couldn't fail to notice the emotional strain both Yoshinori and Hitomi were going through. Hitomi would occasionally lapse into silence without being aware of it, while Yoshinori's face took on a faraway look whenever the conversation turned to the exchange of customary pleasantries and small talk.


But his presence here couldn't be helped. Nor could he avoid giving further pain to them in the process of carrying out the task he had been given. Proper investigation of Jin's character and performance would inevitably entail questions that would remind the Takedas of their son's death, given that it was deemed to be one of the kitsunetsuki cases. And at the present moment his concern was particularly for Yoshinori, who was in the reception room with him, for the purpose of entertaining his guest with some after-dinner conversation and sake. Would it be all right to broach the topic of the kitsunetsuki case now? Or should he restrict himself to harmless subjects like the weather in Kofu, and the cherry blossoms in the garden?


To his surprise and relief, it was Yoshinori who brought up the issues that had been on his mind. "Munefuyu-sama, I wonder if it is premature to ask this, but what do you think of this man Jin?"


"I was about to ask you the very same question!"


"Well, I am not sure what to think. He certainly seems to be an intelligent and capable sort of fellow, and on the surface I cannot see any serious flaw in his character. There is an air of confidence about him though, which can be a little irritating, if you know what I mean. And as you might have observed, he can be provoked into revealing a certain, ah, attitude about the bakufu. He is definitely not a conventional bushi – or rather, one doesn't get the sense of absolute loyalty towards the shogun and the emperor that characterizes the ideal samurai.


"Besides, there are some rumours I have heard about him. He is supposed to have killed his kenjutsu teacher Mariya Enshiro. Whatever the circumstances of that killing, it makes me reluctant to publicly endorse his character. That is the reason why I hesitated when you suggested that I represent his side of the family as a distant relative."


Munefuyu laughed. "Ah, Yoshinori-san, you must admit there are other reasons for your reluctance! You are not sure of his family background. His social rank, by virtue of being a ronin, is considerably inferior to yours. But I didn't make that suggestion lightly. He does have a family background that would make you a lot less reluctant to represent him. And with this case, he has been given the opportunity to further his social position."


"Ooooh, I knew it! Is he then the son of Takeda Jinemon?"


"Hmm, I see that you have been speculating about his family background. Well, yes, he is the son of Takeda Jinemon."


Yoshinori rubbed his hands, seeming a little excited with this piece of information. "I must tell Hitomi. She was the one who guessed it, you see. She's a distant cousin of Jinemon, and was acquainted with Jin's mother Lady Masako. But... why didn't he say so?"


A deep sigh escaped Munefuyu, as he gazed at the landscape mural decorating one of the walls of the reception room. "Yoshinori-san, you said that you didn't think Jin was the ideal samurai. Perhaps you are right – in some ways he isn't. But I can't help thinking that there are many other ways that he embodies the very spirit of a true samurai. His heart is like that of a warrior; he would want to be appreciated on his own merit, rather than because of family connections."


"But how can a 'true samurai' have betrayed his own teacher? And if you don't mind, Munefuyu-sama, can you explain to me why you think so highly of him?"


Munefuyu was somewhat startled by Yoshinori's question. He hadn't intended to convey the impression that he thought highly of Jin. Indeed, as far as Jin's character was concerned, he hadn't officially made up his mind. And yet, Yoshinori's question made him re-assess his thoughts on Jin. What did he really think about the young man he had met today? He couldn't help but admit that he liked Jin. Perhaps that was the reason why he had behaved so impulsively this afternoon. When Jin had confessed his predicament in relation to that love-interest of his, Munefuyu had felt an almost paternal desire to go out of the way to help him. This was in spite of the fact that he knew Jin's love-interest to be the daughter of Kasumi Seizo. He didn't think that a girl of such a background was suitable for Jin, and yet he had wanted to help.


Or had he? In the back of his mind, there had certainly been the idea that, given time, he would be able to persuade Jin not to pursue that connection. He had also realized that he was still very keen to fight a duel with Jin, and if either he or Jin were to die in the process, his promise to act as go-between would become irrelevant.


And what was it about Jin that made him like the man so much, and yet want to fight a duel with him? Perhaps his heart yearned for days from the past, a time in which it was common for swordsmen to be willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of martial art by going on a musha shugyo quest. You travelled the country to improve your skills in the martial arts by challenging other martial artists in a fight to the death. Generations to come would probably think that this was foolish; they would not understand a warrior's need to go on such a pilgrimage. How, they would ask, could you improve your skills if you ended up getting killed? Yet it was precisely this willingness to die that made it worthwhile – and if you did end up getting killed, it would be a glorious death.


He remembered the time when his brother Jubei Mitsuyoshi had gone on such a pilgrimage. Both Munefuyu and his father Munenori had been envious of him; being constrained by their duties to the state they weren't at leisure to undertake the musha shugyo rite. His father, at least, had lived a considerable part of his life during the Sengoku Jidai era, in which there were plenty of battles to be fought, and a warrior felt useful. In a time of peace, however, there was very little use for a samurai's skills. As he grew older it had saddened him see the decline in the martial arts; one rarely came across warriors with skills comparable to legends of the past.


The prospect of meeting Jin, about whom he had heard a lot, had stirred his blood. This was a man who had killed Mariya Enshiro, and possibly Kariya Kagetoki. After meeting him, it had been a case of instincts confirming facts; Munefuyu the warrior had felt that he was in the presence of a legendary swordsman. He had also felt that he was in the presence of an honourable man, so when he told Yoshinori that Jin was a true samurai, he had certainly meant it.


He had been particularly impressed by Jin's conduct during the conversation they had about Mariya Enshiro's death. Munefuyu hadn't told Jin about Enshiro's diary confession, but he had been very sympathetic in his behaviour towards him, suggesting that he interpreted the facts in favour of Jin. He had thought that Jin would inevitably pour out all the details of what had happened; he had certainly been in a very emotional and vulnerable state after reading Enshiro's death poem. But Jin never mentioned that he had been attacked in his sleep, and spoke of his 'Shishou' in tones of love and respect. Munefuyu knew that this was because of a deep sense of loyalty Jin felt towards his teacher; he didn't want the world to know that Mariya Enshiro's last act had been a cowardly one. This act of grace had touched Munefuyu deeply, and he felt the urge to tell someone about it.


Nonetheless, he thought it prudent to avoid revealing the full extent of his feelings about Jin. He would somehow have to answer Yoshinori's question and give him a credible reason for his behaviour, without committing to having formed an opinion about Jin. So he said, "There are certain aspects of him that I admire. You see, he is like a warrior from another time – one doesn't get to see the likes of him anymore."


"Do you remember the moment I entered the tea-room? A very strange thought had occurred to me in that moment. I had wondered, 'What if I was to bring in my sword and attack Jin?' I know, Yoshinori-san, that it was kind of dishonourable and sacrilegious to have had such a thought – we were in a tea-room after all! But it was just a thought, and sometimes we can't help the thoughts that enter our minds, can we?"


Munefuyu chuckled at the look of puzzlement on his host's face. "Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that this young man actually perceived my thoughts! He didn't have his sword with him, but his hands involuntarily positioned themselves as if to draw a sword."


"It reminded me of an incident from a long time ago. My father Yagyu Munenori had been meditating in the garden outside his room, when one of his assistants brought in his sword without announcing himself. Seeing my father in a relatively vulnerable position, with his back towards the assistant, he too had a thought very similar to the one I had upon entering that tea-room. But my father immediately leapt up and turned around, and was very surprised to see that it was only an assistant!"


"And this bothered him quite a bit. Surely, he was getting old, and losing his edge. Otherwise, why had he perceived danger when it had only been an assistant bringing his sword to him? He spoke to one of his retainers about this incident when the assistant was also in the room. The assistant, who was very young and obviously an artless, innocent sort of chap, then admitted that he had the 'thought' of attacking my father."


"My father then concluded that he wasn't losing his edge, but had reached a higher level of swordsmanship, one in which the perception of impending danger is heightened to such a degree that one can anticipate it from an opponent's thoughts!"[1]


Yoshinori raised an eyebrow. "Surely, Munefuyu-sama, you are not suggesting that Jin has abilities similar to that of your legendary father?"


"I see that you are sceptical, Yoshinori-san. But one has an instinct about such things. I haven't had the opportunity to observe his skills, but I get the feeling that the rumours about his ability are not exaggerations; he is genuinely talented. Such abilities, however, are not merely the result of extraordinary talent. They are the result of single-minded dedication towards the study of the art of swordsmanship. That is the reason I respect Jin."


The reasons provided by Munefuyu for 'respecting' Jin seemed somewhat dubious to Yoshinori, but decided not to comment on them. Instead he remarked, "It is a pity though, that a person of great ability may not have a good moral character to go with it. He used his ability to kill his Shishou, Mariya Enshiro! Of course, there is another rumour I have heard – that he was attacked by Mariya Enshiro first – in which case he would be innocent of any wrongdoing."


Yoshinori had looked speculatively at Munefuyu, hoping that he would either confirm or deny his previous statement. Munefuyu paused for several moments before he answered, as if reluctant to reveal the information he was privy to. "Yoshinori-san, there is good reason to believe that Jin was attacked first. In fact, Mariya Enshiro may have attacked Jin in his sleep."


Yoshinori gasped. "Munefuyu-sama! Is that really true? I can't believe Mariya Enshiro would do something so dishonourable!"


"Please do not jump to conclusions, Yoshinori-san! Didn't I tell you about Jin's abilities? And do you think Mariya Enshiro was unaware of these abilities? No. When he attacked Jin, he expected Jin to perceive the danger in advance of the attack. And he expected Jin to be able to defend himself."


"But I don't understand. If he expected Jin to be able to defend himself, why did he attack him?"


"Because he had been ordered by Kariya Kagetoki to do so. Once he had sworn allegiance to Kariya, he had no choice. A samurai can't disobey his master."


The politics of Edo never failed to puzzle Yoshinori. He knew that Kariya had been one of the senior hatamoto of the shogun, and was a power-hungry corrupt sort of a man aligned to the 'geba shogun' Sakai Tadakiyo. He wondered what Jin had done to offend Kariya. And where did Munefuyu stand in all this? Kariya, being a direct retainer of the shogun, and also part of the o-metsuke, was, in a sense, a colleague of Munefuyu. Had he too wanted Jin dead? Perhaps he could find out by asking some indirect questions.


"Am I to understand Munefuyu-sama, that there are some other reasons to doubt Jin's character? When I heard you were here to investigate him, I thought it might have something to do with Mariya Enshiro's death. But since he killed in self-defence..."


"Yoshinori-san, I simply said there was evidence to suggest that there had been an attack of that kind. But we don't have conclusive proof of it. The killing took place during the night, in Jin's room. Jin's futon and the area surrounding it were covered in blood. If Jin had initiated the attack, it would have been a rather strange place to do so, wouldn't it?"


Munefuyu had avoided Yoshinori's eyes. For the first time, he felt a stab of guilt about hiding the information regarding Mariya Enshiro's diary confession. Even the shogun didn't know about it, and that was probably the reason he had been asked to investigate Jin. A handful of others, Sakai Tadakiyo among them, knew of it too, but didn't have any incentive to inform the shogun. Initially, he hadn't bothered to inform the shogun because of inertia – there had been no reason to trouble the shogun with such a trivial piece of information, especially given that the shogun had more important matters to deal with. But when this assignment came up he should have informed the shogun. But something held him back. The prospect of meeting Jin had unexpectedly stirred up a latent desire in him – he had wanted to test his skill against Jin's and fight him in a duel. And in spite of the fact that he had ended up liking Jin a great deal, he still couldn't bring himself to inform the shogun, or anyone else for that matter.


Yoshinori interrupted his thoughts. "Ah, I see. But what do you expect to find in this investigation? Surely Jin's ability to solve the case has nothing to do with his character."


"A few moments ago, Yoshinori-san, you said something about Jin's 'attitude' towards the bakufu. There is, shall we say, an anti-establishmentarian streak in him. He got quite angry, didn't he, when you made that suggestion about getting a confession out of one of the kitsunetsuki suspects? And you are right, that is not a very desirable trait to have. Mind you, though, he was careful not to make any seditious statements. But I will definitely like to watch him carefully in the next couple of weeks to make sure that he doesn't have any ideas that are...unsavoury."


"But then...why were you so nice to him?"


"Strategy, Yoshinori-san, strategy!"


-xxx-


IV. Kitsune's Corner: From the Viewpoint of Manzou and Hiroko's Kitsune


Otane's kitsune has taken the form of a human female. She is tall with porcelain white skin and hair like a dark waterfall that falls up to her knees. A silk kimono, the colour of susuki grass, adorns her lithe figure. According to the Manzou part of me she is a very beautiful woman.


Otane likes to be referred to as Masako in this form – apparently she resembles the late Lady Masako, Jin's mother. The kyubi-no-kitsune isn't here at the moment, so we ask 'Masako' about the dossier Sakai Tadakiyo is planning to send to Munefuyu. She replies, "Don't you know? You were there, so it should have been easy to find out."


The Manzou part of me finds her beauty very distracting. On top of that her behaviour is kitsune-ish, if you know what I mean. At the moment she is exploring the texture of her human skin by licking and biting her hands, and occasionally sniffing at them. Under the circumstances, it is only the Hiroko-kitsune part of me that can ask questions. "How am I supposed to have found out? We are only allowed to observe when we travel. One doesn't go around peeping into dossiers and documents. You should know; you're a more experienced time traveller than I am."


"Yes, I see what you mean. Hmm, human females have such smooth skin. And it is a strange feeling to wear clothes...About that dossier; I think I'll have to show you a scene from the past. Are you ready?"


"Wait a minute. Where are you taking us?"


"Nagasaki. Three years in the past."


In the next moment we find ourselves at the bank of a river. It is dark, but the moonlight illuminates the surroundings, in addition to a camp-fire that has been lit by Jin, Mugen and Fuu, who are sitting around it, broiling fish. Of course, we are invisible to them. We hear the following conversation, started by Fuu, who has a wistful look on her face.


Fuu: Isn't it strange, we have been travelling all this while, yet we don't know much about each other? How about this, let's take turns and tell each other one secret from our past. Who knows, this is the end of our journey, so we may never get a chance to do this again.


Mugen (whispering to Jin): What's with her?


Jin (whispering back to Mugen): She's sentimental.


Mugen: Senti-what?


Jin: Sentimental. It's a woman's emotion, discovered in Western Europe.


Fuu: Mugen, you start.


Mugen: Why me? I don't have any secret. But, uh, I have been getting into trouble off and on.


Fuu: We knew that.


Mugen: I like women with big boobs.


Fuu (wryly): We knew that too.


Mugen: Oh yeah, I once got into an argument with a weird old dude. (Mimes the mannerisms of the 'old dude' as he continues) He said, 'Don't you see this seal case,' and I said, 'I don't care about stuff like that' and then I just killed him.


Jin and Fuu stare at him incredulously.


Fuu: Isn't that really bad?


Jin: It's not just bad; it is surprising you are alive.


We are back in the kitsune lounge. I address 'Masako': "Are you suggesting that the dossier has something to do with Mugen's confession? But the dossier is supposed to be about Jin, not Mugen."


She smiles and the Manzou part of me is dazzled. "It is about Jin. You see, the man killed by Mugen showed him a seal which had the Tokugawa family crest on it. This man happened to be an aide of Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu and a cousin of the shogun. Mitsukuni is also the daimyo of the Mito domain, and a very influential man. He often travels incognito, with the purpose of identifying corruption and other evils within the country."


"Now luckily for Mugen, there were no witnesses to this incident, and it remains classified as unsolved. Furthermore, it is fortuitous that it was an aide, rather than Tokugawa Mitsukuni who got killed.[2] But due to the high-profile connections of the victim, it is a case that is routinely brought up among the council of elders. Sakai Tadakiyo, a man of some cunning, thought that he could take advantage of the fact that it is still an open case. What if he fabricated some evidence to suggest that Jin was in the area around that time? Of course, he wouldn't be able to prove that Jin was the killer, but some sort of circumstantial evidence could be 'cooked up'. That is exactly what he did. It will take a long time to confirm the veracity of the evidence, and in the meantime a lot of suspicion will centre on Jin. Tadakiyo is hoping that it will be enough to influence Munefuyu's decision. And even if Munefuyu doesn't believe it, it provides him with an excuse to fight Jin."


"But will Munefuyu really fight Jin? He seems to like Jin a lot. He is keen to test his skills against Jin in a real battle, but couldn't he change his mind?"


"I don't know the answer to that question. As the kyubi-no-kitsune says, the future hasn't been determined yet."


"I found it strange that he said that. Isn't he supposed to be omniscient? But if he is omniscient, the future would have to be determined, in order for him to be able to claim that he is omniscient."


The kyubi-no-kitsune suddenly materializes before us. "I never claimed that I was omniscient."


"You are a kyubi-no-kitsune. They are supposed to be omniscient. So you should be able to tell us what Munefuyu will do."


The kyubi-no-kitsune sighs and simultaneously thumps its nine tails. "That is folk lore – I didn't make it up, people from Manzou's world did. As far as Munefuyu's intentions are concerned...Well, I believe in the ideas postulated in the theory of quantum mechanics, applied in a broad sense to macroscopic phenomena. That is, I believe future events can be predicted only in terms of probabilities. Of course, at the microscopic level there is the wave function and the Uncertainty Principle...You know, delta x into delta p is greater than or equal to h/2, where h is the Planck's constant, and x - "


The Manzou part of me can't control the Hiroko-kitsune part as I blurt out, "Uncertainty Principle, my foot! Just answer me, what will Munefuyu do?"


"As I said, there are many possibilities. This is because there are many aspects of Munefuyu's character. There is the desire to test his skills against Jin, which stems from the fact that he has trained very hard in kenjutsu all his life, and has reached a high level in it. In the kind of atmosphere he was brought up in, fighting Jin would simply amount to 'following the Way'. There is also the desire for recognition – prevailing in a duel against Jin will give him fame as a swordsman. And then there is the fact that he likes Jin, and that may influence him not to fight Jin. Which of these desires will prevail at the time of decision making is a matter of chance."


Otane's kitsune, aka Masako, says: "It seems to me you are saying that free will is a combination of chance and determinism. Are you?"


The kyubi-no-kitsune looks irritated. "Ah, here we go again. I don't want to enter into those philosophical debates about free will. Every Tomo, Daichi, and Haruki has something to say about it. I have heard it all, and I am sick of it. If you are interested, go to the twenty-first century and look up the internet. There is a site called the Wikipedia that has a good summary of those debates. Although, I have observed that some academics of that time hate it because students simply reference the Wikipedia rather than reading the original sources for their assignments."


I interrupt again. "Ahhh both of you are impossible. I only want an answer to my question. What will Munefuyu do?"


The kyubi-no-kitsune replies. "Well if you want an opinion, I will give it to you. I am inclined to think that there is a very good chance that Munefuyu will fight Jin."


[1] This particular 'legend' about Yagyu Munenori is described in the Wikipedia article on him.

[2] The AMALGAM Samurai Champloo fansite speculates that the person Mugen killed was actually Tokugawa Mitsukuni, rather than an aide, as I have assumed here. But I prefer my assumption, for several reasons: (1) Mitsukuni as per historical fact dies in 1701 of natural causes; (2) If Mugen killed Mitsukuni it would be very hard to save him from execution!

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