Part 2: The Foreign Birds
I will confess that my first reaction to Tomi’s precipitous departure consisted mostly of a species of chagrin at how easily the little sneak had whisked away the multitude of sweets I’d had in my pockets. Without my even noticing! Which just goes to show the child was certain to turn out no good. If anything proves an aptitude for the life criminal, it’s skills of petty thievery. He’d even taken my father’s Silver Moon of Valour.
There was nothing for it but an immediate search of the environs, so I made my way through the thronging crowd as best I could, keeping bent over so as to catch sight of the ugly pup. It was true that such a posture would also cut down my profile, but I’m man enough to admit that just at that mome, being difficult for my beloved Highness to find seemed a distinct advantage.
I don’t know if you’ve ever attended the Palace festival here at Touch-Moon, but it most certainly attracts the crowds. Of course all us Touch-Mooners have a go, but it’s one of the few days foreign folks can move freely about town, so you’re having to deal with no end of curious coves rubbernecking, just generally getting in the way. I don’t know how other clans get along, but slowly, and without concern for a chap desperately seeking a thievish young lad seems to be at the heart of it.
I pushed aside a pair of such birds, commented in a friendly fashion on their black outfits picked out with a bit of crimson doodling, and was on my way past the lineup for the noodle stand when one of them tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, my good sir.”
I turned back, ever friendly. Let no one accuse an Isamoto of harbouring resentment towards the foreign classes.
“What what? What ho! What?”
They stared at me for a moment, then one of the pair (I’ll confess I don’t think I could tell them apart) pointed back the way I’d come.
“Was that not Princess Haoki you were talking to only moments ago?”
“Ah, you noticed! Yes, well, a gentleman doesn’t like to say too much, but it’s true Her Highness and I are somewhat friendly, not to say…”
I trailed off as the two coves turned and slipped away into the crowd, appearing to simply melt though the throngs around us.
“Well, I say. I mean, I say.”
I should like to learn that trick, I have to say. I spent the next little way struggling to melt through the crowds as they had, only to exhaust myself bumping into frustrated mothers, exuberant teenagers and yet more surly visitors from foreign ninja clans. With no sign of the dashed Tomi, I was a fair fright when startled by an all-too-familiar cascade of blonde.
“You! You were supposed to be watching Tomi-chan! Where is he?”
“What what! What? Ah, Princess. what ho? How, ehm, how was Your Highness’ trip? Bracing? Refreshing? Quite a festival here don’t you–”
“Quit blathering, you insipid fool. I’ll speak slowly. Where. Is. Tomi-chan?”
I could see that familiar withering stare was warming up. I like to think of myself as a nimble sort of ape, quick on the verbal feet, but it had to be confessed she hadn’t left me a great deal of maneuvering space. Straight-out brazen was the only path to freedom, I decided.
“Hm? Oh, the, er, the young master! Well, bless his heart, what an angel he is, don’t you think? Yes, sure to grow into a fine young–”
She reached forward with those elegant, long-fingered hands. I was in the act of raising my own, slightly less elegant hands, in the hopes of a romantic intertwining, when I felt long fingers reach around my throat.
They really were quite long. And elegant those hands may be, but I’m here to tell you there’s no end of strength in them. She squeezed, and not without a little effect on my atmospheric intake.
“Where is he?”
“Ag. Uck. Yes. Well, it’s funny Her Highness should– erk! Yes, well. Rather. He’s gone to the little boys’ room, of course. It’s, well, just around the corner. I’m sure.”
“You’re lying to me, you thickheaded moron. What happened?”
“Me? Lying? I–”
I had to pause for a moment and allow Her Highness to shake me vigorously. Once she was done, I found the festival whirling around me as though I’d just taken Her Highness out on the dance floor.
“I don’t suppose you dance, Your Highness?”
Her Highness gave a sort of a growl, the kind of thing you might expect to hear when you’ve mistakenly gone too far into what looked like a jolly comfortable sort of cave, only to discover, via said growl, that it somebody else has gotten there ahead of you, perhaps someone of the heavy-set, well-taloned wild thing variety, offering you the choice between departing forthwith or remaining behind to serve as the amuse-bouche.
It was disconcertingly easy, just then, to imagine Her Highness with a set of talons.
She unloaded the famous withering glare, and I was duly withered, boasts to old Higuchi notwithstanding.
“The delightful young chap scarpered the moment your back was turned, Your Highness. I’ve been–”
“What did you do to him? You monster!”
“Ag. Erk. Your Highness, I did nothing. I gave him a bit of candy and the next thing I–”
“Don’t you know he’s not allowed candy? What mad spirit possessed you?”
Just then she released me. We stared into each other’s eyes with a steady, soulful gaze. I smiled my most charming smile, the one where I raise my left eyebrow slightly. Cousin Noriko says it’s practically irresistible. There was definitely a moment, there. Call me a hopeless romantic, but a lad knows when he’s making a hit.
Her Highness scowled.
“You search that way, past the noodle stand and up towards the Old River Temple. I’ll go this way, and we’ll meet at the Temple steps. Don’t speak! Don’t open your mouth. Just nod if you understand me.”
Any number of clever rejoinders came to mind, but I decided the b. part of v. and whatnot, and so just nodded. She turned and left.
I ensured the old breathing apparatus remained still operable with a few careful ins and outs. It does quite put a chap on the defensive, you know, having fingers, never mind how elegantly long, digging into his windpipe, cutting off the fresh and cool.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but replay our conversation in the memory as I poked about the crowd. The way her blue eyes sparkled, the delightful lift of her cute nose, and the sheer drama of the previously-mentioned blonde cascade. Now she knew who I was, and now she would see what sort of a fellow I was, and if that didn’t put me well enough ahead in the race to lope home, well, I wasn’t deserving of the name Isamoto.
As I made my way past the Try Your Strength contests, younger clan members giggling and lining up for a try at the hammers and the rope pull, I all but ran right into those same foreign coves who’d been so kind only moments ago.
“What ho! What a surprise, running into you lot again. Enjoying the festival, are we? Impressed with the spread, no doubt. The thrilling displays. What?”
They looked at me with a flat sort of stare that I have to admit somewhat put me in mind of my Goddess. Withering.
I was most definitely starting to feel over-withered.
“I say. What?”
At that moment, I caught sight of a sullen little face peeking out from behind the foreign chappies.
“Aha! There you are, you little… gentleman. Your young aunt is searching everywhere for you, don’t you know. And you better have that Silver Moon of mine, or there’ll be trouble. Come along with me at once!”
I tried rapturously to picture Her Highness’ smile at the sight of her beloved nephew safely in tow. I’d never seen her smile, which made it all more work than the brain was really up for just then.
Still, radiant girl. Positive cascade of blonde, you know.
“Well? No more tricks, young man, come with me.”
Dashed if the boy wasn’t moving. I noticed one of those foreign birds had a hand on the lad’s collar.
“Here now. That’s young master Tomi you’re heaving about there. He’s nephew to Her Highness, Princess Haoki, the very girl you were asking about not–”
I paused then. It seemed the thing to do, with the fellow’s sword blade so suddenly at my throat.
“You’ll come with us, too.”