*The miko bows from the courtyard of the Temple. Long overdue but my typist really wanted to finish. Please excuse the delay. Iyou turns and walks back into the Temple, Belldandy hanging on her arm, while Yamada-sama and Father wait at the top of the steps.*
A small procession comes over the top of the hill leading to the Temple, their images shimmering in the heat waves that rise from the stone surface of the road. More then a few bearers carrying bundles suspended from bamboo poles comprise its members but the leader of the group is the one who stands out. Clad in the kimono of the shrine maiden, her katana strapped to her back as always, the markings on her traveling jacket are faded but announce to all that is a kunoichi from the unspoken clan; Iyou has come home at last.
Shortly after the parade clears the hilltop the deep tones of the Temple bell announce the arrival of one thought lost. The gates slowly swing open but before they are done, a figure with blazing red hair comes flying out and runs down the road to intercept Iyou and nearly throw her to the ground with the force and energy of her greeting.
“Iyou, you have returned!!! Thank all the gods large and small my prayers are answered!”
“Bell-chan you almost did what the yakuza wanted to.” I laugh and return her fond hugs and kisses. I had forgotten how much I missed my sister-miko.
Belldandy’s eyes open wide and her smile vanishes like mist in the sunrise. “I know, come we must get you and all this inside the walls at once.”
The line of bearers walk into the courtyard and place the bundles where I ask. After lining up in a row they all bow and smile. Their smiles grow even larger as they see I have included a bit more in wages than we agreed upon at the docks. They were very polite and none of the packages are damaged much less dirty. They so remind me of the urchins in Babbage. Just a bit cleaner.
They all leave and the great gate closes with a whisper of wood on rock. At once the staff, monks, and mikos surround me. Questions fly through the air like cherry blossoms in a high wind and everyone wants to hug me, or bow, or kiss my cheek. It is all very emotional and I tear up quickly. Then they all become quiet and step back as the senior monk comes from the front steps. I drop into a low bow and then kneel as a proper miko should.
“Iyou, welcome home. You have been greatly missed although your letters have always been of great interest to us and a joy to read at the meals. I hope you have brought home some nice adventures to tell us after dinner.”
“Hai, Yamada-sama. I think I can keep everyone entertained for a while. I have brought home a few gifts and some presents along with items that I wish to offer to the Temple. I also have some things which I must show in private to you and Father. I hope you do not mind.”
“Not at all child. Say hello to everyone and when you are done come to my study. Your Father and I will await you there. Take your time as your Father has brought some sake from Edo with him and wishes to share it with me.’
“Hai Yamada-sama.” As the senior monk returns into the coolness of the Temple I once again am surrounded by all my family.
“What have you brought back with you Iyou?” This seems to be the most asked question so I turn to the bundles and start to unwrap them.
“I know that the cooks always like to try new foods and welcome a challenge. I brought this to test their skills. I have not seen this prepared decently yet.” I give the cooks several tins of wigglyfish and a package which contains quite a number of salted ones.
“Is the royal accountant and his wife still living in the town yet?”
“The woman who never smiles and believes to be a member of the Emperor’s family?”
“The very same. This is high fashion in England. I would like this package delivered to her.” Inside is the tightest corset I could find along with a bustle one size too large. I love payback to those who disrespect the Temple.
“What is in the box?”
I smile softly as I uncrate the box. Inside is a one cylinder coal fired steam pump which moves water quite nicely. I will never have to run water up to the bath in buckets again. Charcoal should be acceptable as a fuel and bamboo pipes instead of copper and brass for the water lines. A nice fusion of Babbage and the Temple. Why shouldn’t we be cutting edge?
“The others I shall open later”, I say to the awww’s of the younger monks and mikos. “I have to meet with the elders. Don’t worry, I am home for a while. Will four of the younger monks carry that long box and follow me?” I select a smaller box and carry it with respect and head for the senior monk’s quarters.
“You did what?” Father queries me. He frowns in disbelief as the senior monk nods his head in agreement. I have just explained the contents of the long box and the small one and I expected a bit of confusion. “You brought him back to Nihon in pieces so to speak?” The four younger monks stare and Yamada-sama waves a hand to dismiss them. I am sure the story will grow in the telling and I will have to explain my side for a week. “My dear, I understand why you did as you did and I am surprised that the spirit shrine worked as a trap. However, why did you bring the body of your killer home with you?” I smile at that question from the senior monk and have the answer ready for him. “It is simple Master. The spirit, whose name is Nakamura Hiro by the way, has agreed to be set a task if we only accord him a burial within the Temple grounds. He follows Shinto as we do.”
“What is this task you speak of dear?” The senior monk and Father both look puzzled.
“I must whisper it to you both as it will be effective if only done the right way.” They both lean in and I explain the condition of the task. Father starts to laugh so hard he spills his sake and the senior monks’ face widens into a very satisfied smile.
“Oh my, the Temple agrees to this of course. A proper burial ceremony shall be done and it will be small thanks to Nakamura-san.”
Father refills his cup and pours for Yamada-sama and to my surprise, myself. “To the honor of the clan and the Temple and to this kunoichi.” “Hai!”, replies the senior monk and the cry banzai rings in the study. I bow very low in respect to this honor and smile happily. Home is always the best.
*The yakuza headquarters – the chamber of the council *
“She dislikes bad news. What action will this provoke?” “I do not know but I am prepared to meet my ancestors.” “You were always the wise one. I wish that I had done that.”
She sweeps into the room and smoothly seats herself upon the cushion. Her silks rustle and sigh as they settle about her. As delicate as her robes are just as hard is her face set.
“What nonsense am I hearing about our gambling shrine? Is it true that no dares set foot in it?”
“Hai, great lady. All the stories you have heard are true.”
“A ghost? A ghost has been seen at the shrine? Why is this a problem? Everything has a resident spirit, why should this ghost stop our operation?”
The minion bows again, “This ghost protects the monks who have declared the shrine returned to the Temple. They have destroyed all our equipment and burnt it.”
Her face starts to color upon hearing this, “Why weren’t the monks beaten as before?”
“We tried. The ghost reached inside one of the hired thugs and he collapsed with a terrible scream. The rest ran off. They are spreading the story that it will happen to anyone who touches the monks. When the healers opened up the dead one, they found his heart crushed to a pulp.”
Whatever color she had in her pale features disappears as she listens, “The ghost is a killer?”
“Hai. Some are saying that the ghost’s face resembles the ronin that we sent to slay the miko. The younger monks are saying in the streets that she brought him back in pieces and has ordered him to slay the yakuza that would ruin a shrine.”
Long fingers slowly stroke the hilt of her katana. The minions start to sweat. The council chamber is so silent that the only sound is their fear-fed panting.
Minion speed records are set as they crawl away backwards and out of the chamber. After a long moment she reaches next to her to strike a bell with the hilt of the sword. A retainer crawls into the chamber. “Paper, ink, and a brush. I have a note to be delivered. Bring out a bottle of the best sake. It will go with the note.”
The supplies are brought and the retainer waits. She draws back her sleeve and writes….
You have taught her well old man. Enjoy your victory with that fool Hermit with my compliments.
“You know where this should go?”
“Hai, I leave at once.”
* Once I get a high speed connection do not be surprised if Iyou returns to her second home. There is just so much that one can do in Babbage, she would be disappointed if she didn’t come back. All she needs is Father’s permission; and what girl doesn’t have her daddy’s heart wrapped about her finger? *