The story is about Taiki (Kirin of Tai Kingdom) to pay any ambassadorial visit to Ren. For those who know the Juuni Kokki story arc at the Tai Kingdom, Taiki is a kirin who got swept to Japan by Shoku when he was young. Taiki was summoned back to the Juuni Kokki world by the Kirin of Ren. Therefore, this ambassadorial visit is mainly a gesture of gratitude to what the Kirin of Ren had done.
Why translate this? Because this is exactly where the anime has left off. Now that Taiki and the emperor of Tai is missing, the emperors in other kingdoms are trying to find Taiki back. Where has Taiki gone? You might discover something from this "last record of Taiki's public appearance."
You can also get accustomed to the top officials in the Tai government. One new character is introduced here also: the Emperor of Ren. He will play a big role in the story. See it yourself.
The story is within the latest book of Juuni Kokki, "Kasyo no Yume (華胥の幽夢, the Dream of Kasyo)." This book is a collection of short stories on different Juuni Kokki kingdoms. The book before it, "Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora (黄昏の岸 暁の天, the Shore at Dusk, the Sky at Dawn)," starts off at exactly where the anime has left off, about the search for Taiki.
So, in order not to spoil the appetite for all Taiki fans, Toei should serve as a light introduction, both in content and in ambience^^
No, Toei is not the Japanese movie company (that is 東映!!!)
No, Youko does not appear in the story. Sorry.
P.S. About the translation of the title "Toei"... It's not easy. "To" is winter, no dispute. However, "Ei" has two common meanings: (1) Prosperity (as in 繁栄); (2) Glory (as in 光栄). Both meanings work well in the title, but I incline to use "Prosperity," due to the context of the story. See for yourself, and refute if you think otherwise^^
= 白陽 Hakuyou =
As Taiki (泰麒) left the building, he noticed that the palace looked totally different.
Halting his footsteps at the corridor, Taiki blinked, and scanned the surroundings several times. The changes didn’t come from the buildings themselves. The palace wings that stood tall in a row, and the inner garden that extended out didn’t change. The white walls, the dark blue roof tiles, and the lower officials that shuttled underneath, all the scenes are just the same as before. -- Except that everything seemed to elude a faint glow from the inside now.
A soft light surrounded everything. As if covered by a silk gauze, the blue color of the rarely clear winter sky was tinged with white from the sun. Even the shadow at Taiki’s feet became the color of faded black ink. However, the surrounding scenery had become even brighter than that in the morning.
It wasn’t exactly fog. But this unknown something enveloped the surrounding. This something was indiscernibly fine, and contained a faint glow within it, Taiki believed.
A voice came from behind. It was Seirai (正頼), who left the palace wing after Taiki.
Taiki turned back to Seirai, and showed to him the wide inner court without saying anything, as if he asked, “What is this?”
“Oh, how rare. Hakuyou! (白陽, lit. white sun)”
Seirai laughed while looking up at the sky. Seirai was assigned to Taiki as Fusyou (傅相), and was also the vice lord (令尹, [Saisyou]) of the province of Zui (瑞州), where the capital of Tai (戴国) was located. A Fusyou is often assigned to a young Saiho (宰輔) like Taiki for his upbringing. The Fusyou was always by the Saiho’s side, looking after everything from the trivialities of his personal life to administrative affairs, while being the teacher at the same time.
“It is how we describe this kind of weather. The lower world must be sunny.”
Taiki cocked his head.
“The clouds at the sea of clouds have broken up, and the snow from the lower world reflects the sunlight.”
Taiki scanned again the surroundings that was enveloped by the white glow. It looks just like the sun shining through window binds, Taiki thought. At the far away homeland which is now “the other world”, if I wake up in the morning at the very best of weather, it will look just like this, Taiki remembered nostalgically.
“This won’t happen unless the clouds are all dispersed. That is why we must thank our lucky stars to witness such weather. This cannot be seen many times in a year. What a lucky day!”
“Do you think we can see the scenery of the lower world?”
“Why not go and take a look?”
= 白陽 Hakuyou =
Taiki gave a big nod. The palace is at the middle of the sea, floating like an island. It is possible to see the scenery at the lower world through the crystal-clear sea of clouds that surrounds the palace. However, that becomes impossible after winter comes; the clouds below the sea of clouds block the view.
Seirai laughed and extended his hand. Taiki grabbed the warm hand and looked up at his Fusyou.
“If we don’t hurry, the clouds might appear again.”
Seirai smiled understandingly.
“Okay, why not take the shortcut?”
Taiki nodded with joy. Taiki loved the shortcut mentioned by his Fusyou. Using the small trails and paths that only the lower officials used, he could sometimes sneak pass closed palace wings or gardens of government offices. He was deeply interested by the rare discoveries that “such a place exists in the palace,” and he also enjoyed hiding in the shadow every time people came, so as not to surprise the lower officials.
This day, led by Seirai’s hand, Taiki took the shortcut, and tiptoed as he passed a corner of a government office. As they sneaked underneath the balcony of a tower and left the inner garden, they coincidentally bumped into several people that left a nearby building with their kijyuu (騎獣, lit. rides).
Someone stopped their steps and spoke in surprise. Hiding in a hurry, Taiki and Seirai looked at each other in the shadows.
“Seems that we are caught.”
“Just walk out obediently. Seems that we cannot but get scolded.”
Laughing together, Taiki and Seirai showed themselves from the shrubs. At the stone steps right next to them, a few people with armor stood waiting for them. There were the imperial guard generals Gantyou (巌趙) and Asen (阿選), together with their kijyuu. The only armor-clad female among them was Risai (李斎), the army general at the province of Zui, with her kijyuu. Together with them was Senkaku (宣角) the Daishito (大司徒, Minister of State Affairs), which implies it should not be a military meeting. Then, at the back of the pack, there was the smiling master of Taiki. His grayish white hair and sapphire-like eyes exuded a remarkably unique glow.
“Taiho always appears and disappears mysteriously.”
Right in front of Taiki, Risai bent her knees and sent her greetings with a smile.
“I am going to see the sea of clouds under such rare weather. Maybe I can see the scenery below... Can I pat Hien (飛燕)?”
“Sure, as you please.”
Risai answered in a friendly tone.
“However, Taiho... I am aware that you can see nothing in such weather even if you go to the sea of clouds.”
Taiki cocked his head as he stroked Hien’s fur.
“Aren’t there no clouds?”
“Yes. Therefore, the ground reflected all the light, and you cannot see anything.”
Surprised by Risai’s words, Taiki looked up to Seirai. He was looking somewhere nonexistent and stifling his mischievous laughs. Suddenly, Gantyou laughed, shaking his enormous body. The bighearted laughs suited his rock-like big body well.
“Got tricked by Seirai, right?”
Hien howled as if to comfort Taiki. Taiki stroked Hien’s neck as he drew a deep sigh.
“Seirai is so cruel. One time, I asked what a vice lord is, and he said it is something like a baby-sitter. I told Gyousou (驍宗), and got laughed at.”
“Well, Seirai must have been scolded by your majesty afterwards, so that would be a tie wouldn’t it?”
Asen said and laughed, and Taiki burst into laughter as well. Seirai also chuckled. Asen was originally an Imperial Army General, and the new emperor Gyousou was originally also an Imperial Army General, the two were in very friendly terms as colleagues. Risai also had befriended with Gyousou, and Gantyou and Seirai were originally Gyousou’s subordinates. An amicable atmosphere unique among close friends enveloped the people.
Seirai urged Taiki as he continued laughing.
“I will take my leave before I get scolded by your majesty again. It is a pity that we cannot see the scenery of the lower world, but we can see the spectacular rare sight of the sea or clouds gleaming.”
“Can I leave the Forbidden Gate and see the lower world?”
They had come all the way out from the inner palace. If they passed through the building Risai and others had gone out of, they would reach the Forbidden Gate. Seirai raised his eyebrows.
“The lower world is freezing cold. Taiho is still young, you will instantly get frozen from the inside out.”
“Just for a second.”
Taiki begged, and Gyousou -- the emperor of Tai Kingdom, the master of Taiki -- stepped up.
“I’ll take you there.”
Taiki felt delighted but a little guilty. The newly enthroned emperor must be so busy, he should have no free time to spare to play with Taiki.
“But... what about work?”
“Risai and others would like to return their kijyuus to the stable, wouldn’t they. I can spend this free time with you.”
Seeing his master smiling, Taiki broke into a smile as well. Gyousou is the one and only master, so Taiki was unconditionally happy just to be at his side. Taiki turned back to Seirai. “I’ll just wait here,” Seirai said as he smiled and watched Taiki fondly.
“Sorry for stopping you from going back to your residence.”
I don’t mind at all, Gyousou turned back and said with a smile. The door that just swung open had a very large window behind it. Outside the window the sea of clouds stretched out far. To Taiki, who was born at the alternate world, the sight of a sea up in the sky was just impossible.
From the sea came the soft beating sounds of waves. The sea, which had been always grimy gray, became white today. The sea surface turned pearl white, and faint glowing could be observed, as if something got lit at the seabed.
Taiki gave a shout of joy and rushed to the side of the window. A heavy cotton robe was put on his shoulders.
“Put this on. It is really cold outside.”
“But, don’t you feel cold, Master Gyousou?”
“Why, this is nothing to me.”
Taiki felt a little guilty but much overjoyed by Gyousou’s thoughtfulness, and he nodded. He chased Gyousou, who had been walking towards the stairs before him, caught his feet at the long robe, and nearly tripped himself up. Seeing that, Gyousou pulled the robe together by the collars and lifted up Taiki with it.
“You are still so light.”
“I think it is because I am a Kirin (麒麟).”
Taiki was in fact not a human, but a beast called kirin. This shocked even Taiki when he knew of it. Therefore, his queer steel-colored hair is in fact not hair but his mane. Also, he is light, with his weight comparable to those beasts that can fly.
I see, Gyousou briefly replied. Carrying Taiki, Gyousou walked down the stairs at one corner of the hall they were in. The flock of stairs is definitely not short, but when they walked down, they traveled at ten times the speed. Places that are mysterious like this are everywhere in the palace. Taiki at first felt so strange that he couldn’t accommodate, but he gradually got used to all of those. Beasts flying in the sky, a sea floating in the sky, people having strangely-colored eyes and hair... This was such a mysterious realm.
At the bottom of the gentle and broad flock of stairs, there was a huge hall. At the hall’s front there was a gate. The door guards standing at two sides recognized Gyousou and Taiki, and opened the gate. Piercing wind and sharp rays of light surged through the crack of the doors.
The Forbidden Gate opened at a high spot near the sea of clouds, at Mt. Ryouun(凌雲山)’s hillside. It stood deep within a huge cave. In front of the gate was a huge plaza that was surrounded at three sides by rocks, and extended to the edge of the only open side. Taiki slid off from Gyousou’s arm, held Gyousou’s hand tight and peeked out. Under them sprawled the snow-covered city of Kouki(鴻基, lit. Grand Base). The surrounding mountains stood tall, with razor-sharp edges covered by snow and glittering with white light. They made a sharp contrast in color with the blue sky.
As Taiki mumbled to himself, the warm air inside his throat clashed with the cold air outside. The stimulus made Taiki cough uncontrollably. His skin had turned numb with cold as he walked the short distance from the Forbidden Gate to the edge of the plaza. His eyes got smarted from the cold air. The dizziness from the bright light and the coldness of the surrounding air were just painful.
“This is really cold.”
The mouth turned stiff and couldn’t move at will. Gyousou nodded.
“Tai is the land at the furthest north. When winter comes, snow falls quickly and covers the whole city completely. This sunny weather lasts for very few days. We might not feel a bit of it at the palace high above the sky, but the people are all living in such bitterly cold weather.”
“If one loses his home, he will be frozen at once. The snow covers the wild, and the soil is so frozen that you cannot even dig grass roots. If the food stored in the fall runs out people can only starve, but the fall harvest totally depends on the weather. The preparation for winter means life and death to the people. --This is the kingdom of Tai.”
Taiki gazed at the city that was white and frozen as if lifeless.
“This piece of land might look flawlessly beautiful now, but it is mercilessly dreadful at the same time. --Never forget this.”
Yes, Taiki nodded. The ambience turned very serious.
Soon, Taiki was urged by the hand on his shoulder to return to the Forbidden Gate. But the ice-cold ambience didn’t change even after the cold wind was shunned from behind. In a short time, his hands and feet were freezing cold, and his fingers were in pain. But those alone could not explain the cold lumpy feeling in Taiki’s chest.
“Weren’t it cold?” Gyousou asked, and his voice turned into a brighter tone. “Well, would you like to go to somewhere warm?”
“Somewhere warm?” Taiki cocked his head.
“It is a warm place with flowers blossoming instead of snow falling,” Gyousou replied.
“But now it is winter, right?” Taiki doubted.
Gyousou bent down slightly, put his hand on Taiki’s shoulder, and smiled.
“I’d like to ask a favor of you, Kouri (蒿里, Taiki's given name from Gyousou).”
Taiki cocked his head again. He didn’t know how “somewhere warm” and “the favor” are related.
“--I would like you to go to Ren(漣).”
“Ren... The Kingdom of Ren? The kingdom at the far south.”
“Kouri, at Mt. Hou(蓬山), you were indebted a lot to Ren Taiho(廉台輔). I would like to extend my gratitude. Also, I would like to inform them that due to Ren’s help, Tai finally got settled down. However, I have no free time.”
“But, why me?”
“In fact we should have sent ambassadors right after the coronation, but it was said that revolts had broken out in Ren earlier. At the time of coronation, the revolts had just got suppressed, but Ren should have been busy dealing with the aftermath, and we finally postponed the visit. Now, everything seemed to have settled down. Therefore, I would like you to visit the Emperor of Ren (廉王) in place of me.”
“I go... alone?”
Taiki started to mumble.
“Of course there would be someone with you. --It might be a heavy task, but can you do it for me?”
Leaving Gyousou, Taiki trudged back to the inner garden where Seirai was waiting. Recognizing Taiki, Seirai approached him, and immediately cocked his head in suspicion.
“I was sent to visit Ren.”
“Oh, the cat was finally let out of the bag.”
“You know of this already?”
“Your majesty has been discussing with us on whether this would be too big a mission for Taiho. I assured that in no doubt, Taiki can take on this mission successfully.”
Saying that, Seirai peered at Taiki’s face.
“--Do you dislike going to Ren, may I ask?”
Taiki shook his head strongly. He didn’t dislike it at all, and he didn’t want to make the impression that he disliked it.
“Then are you unnerved?”
Taiki shook his head as he looked down.
“...That is not it.”
“That is a big responsibility, but Gyousou is not with you.”
Seirai was originally a subordinate at Gyousou’s army, so from time to time he could skip the honorific “your majesty.”
“... Rei is very far away, so it should take some time to make the round trip, shouldn’t it?”
“Yeah. Even if you use kijyuu and take shortcuts, it would take around half a month for one way. Even if you hurry through the trip, you probably would still miss the New Year ceremony.”
“Is it alright that I am not present?”
“In fact, the emperor and the kirin should both be here for the ceremony. However, even your majesty believes that this is exactly the right timing for you to be the ambassador. Around this time in preparation for the New Year ceremony, there would in fact be fewer important matters to deal with. --Also, if you don’t go at this time, the other side will also be troubled.”
“Yeah, I guess...”
“Maybe you feel lonely without Gyousou at your side?”
Taiki looked up at Seirai, and Seirai nodded understandingly.
“Gyousou is busy these days, that’s why.”
In fact, Gyousou was at that time busy to the point of confusion. He had been busy before the Winter Solstice Ceremony, and the situation didn’t improve even after the ceremony. After Seirai became Fusyou, they had no time together for administrative work in the afternoon. They didn’t often eat together, and they barely had the time to exchange words before or after administrative meetings.
“You two don’t even have the free time to chat in leisure. Now that my dear sir is being sent to such a long trip, my dear sir is feeling helpless, am I right?”
Taiki knew full well how busy Gyousou was. However, Taiki also felt unsettled. Did I do anything that annoyed him? Back at the time when Taiki was at his homeland, he had always been thinking in this pattern.
Taiki was a child who always failed to fulfill others’ anticipation. He knew that the people surrounding him was anticipating, but he didn’t know what they exactly wanted him to do. Everything he did that he thought was right turned out to disappoint his family. Everything will never go well with my presence, Taiki always thought of himself, and his thought hadn’t changed a bit.
“Do you think I am an annoyance here? That is why I got sent to Ren, right?”
How can that be, Seirai said as he broke into a smile.
“Wow were you so disheartened? --You know that this can’t be true, don’t you. You are the one and only one Taiho!”
“Because I am a Kirin?”
Taiki's voice trailed off. Seirai tilted his head and waited for the words that followed, but in the end, Taiki shut his mouth and shook his head. Seirai gave a gentle bitter smile.
“So you are feeling so helpess, my dear sir? Rather, I think you will definitely try your best and succeed in the end! If so, there might be good things happening to you.”
Yes, Seirai said laughingly and raised his hand.
“It is a secret.”
Without second thought, Taiki tucked Seirai’s sleeve.
“--Come on, Seirai.”
“No, no. Taiho is so good at coaxing that I feel so compelled to tell you a bit of it. However, if I tell you, Gyousou would definitely scold me to death.”
= 出使 Syusshi =
After that, the Kokufus (国府) between Tai and Ren discussed arrangements frequently, and settled on the schedule and the ambassador party.
Taiki is the chief ambassador, followed by Seirai the Fusyou and Tansui (潭翠), Taiki’s bodyguard. The vice ambassadors of the party includes Sougen (霜元), the general of Zui Province’s left army, and Asen (阿選), the general of the Imperial Guard’s right army. The four follows each brought along with them a subordinate, making the party be of nine perople. They intentionally didn’t raise the Imperial messenger flag, and set off for Ren in ordinary clothes. Even though the ambassadorial trip was described as official, in the end it was apparently a trip in which Taiki himself send people to the Emperor of Ren personally.
The Kingdom of Ren is at the southwest of this world, and is separated from the mainland by the Empty Sea (虚海, Koukai), like the Kingdom of Tai. It is the furthest kingdom to Tai. In fact, Tai and Ren have no relations whatsoever. Up till then, the two kingdoms had no diplomatic relations. To put it bluntly, the two kingdoms have no necessity to build relations. It is only that Taiki had once been indebted to Renrin (廉麟, aka Ren Taiho), the kirin of Ren. Taiki was once drifted to the alternate world, and Renrin was the one who summom Taiki from his “homeland” back to this world.
“What do you think Ren Taiho would be like?”
Taiki asked Seirai immediately after they left Kouki. The party used kijyuus to go to Ren, but of course Taiki couldn’t ride a kijyuu. Therefore, he sat comfortably in a cage-like carriage, which was carried on the back by two cattle-like kijyuus. Seirai served byTaiki's side.
“Oh my,” Seirai said surprisingly, “Taiho didn’t know about her as well?”
“No. I haven’t met her before. Well, I have seen her face, but I was just brought to this world at that time, and I was so afraid that I didn’t remember her face well.”
Taiki confessed a little sheepishly.
“In fact, I cried. I don’t know why, but I cried. I fell into sleep while crying, and when I woke up, Ren Taiho had already returned to Ren.”
“Oh, is that it... I don’t know Ren Taiho myself. In the Kingdom of Tai, there should be no one who knows who the emperor or the kirin of Ren are.”
“There are only twelve emperors and twelve kirins, so it would be great if we can become friends.”
Taiki said, and Seirai broke into a smile.
“Yes indeed... However, Taiho will sooner or later knows why they cannot be friends that easily.”
Taiki, upon hearing that, stared blankly at Seirai. However, he later definitely learnt of the reason.
The distance is just too long for frequent contacts.
Even using fast-running kijyuus, it took one night and day to just get out of Tai (戴). Then, one night and day was required to cross the sea. After that, starting from a harbor city in the Kingdom of Ryuu (柳), they traveled along the coastline of the Empty Sea (虚海, Kyokai) and reached the Kingdom of Kyou (恭). After travelling south along the coastline of the Kingdom of Han (範), they again crossed the sea, and finally saw Ren (漣)’s coastline. The whole journey took them half a month by air.
“... I know full well now.”
Taiki murmured as they landed at Jyuurei (重嶺, lit, layers of mountains), the capital of Ren. Seirai tilted his head.
“We can’t possibly make friends! This is so far away, if we come here to play and then return, we will not have any time to do anything else!”
You got it, Seirai said with a laugh.
“It is really a long journey, isn’t it? Are you tired?”
Taiki and others got off from their kijyuus at a vacant plot within the bounds of Jyuurei.
The city of Jyuurei before them was decorated with gorgeous decorations in preparation for the coming new year.
“Not at all. We had only flown for half a day today.”
“Oh really,” Seirai gave a sigh as if he was disheartened. “Thanks to such great perseverance of Taiho, this old man feels very bored.”
Taiki lifted his head and gave a blank stare to Seirai.
“Seirai, you are bored?”
“Of course! It is my job to grab a naughty kid by the neck and keep nagging him. To this old man, there would be no fun in life unless he sometimes plays a big trick, and hit that revered ass hard.”
Seirai mischievously made a grimace, and Taiki chuckled.
“I will try.”
“That I will be most grateful.”
As Seirai laughed, the huge Gate of Gomon (午門) by their side opened, and two lower officers who were earlier sent to station immediately at Jyuurei got out. Another two officers had gone first to the hotel, and arrange the ambassador party’s stay for the day.
“Ah, here they come to receive us. --I sure hope that today’s hotel would be comfortable.”
Jyuurei was unbelievably warm. Everyone feels the gradual heat as they moved from Ryuu to Kyou, then to Han. In the winters of Tai, coats that were stuffed with feathers and lined inside with wool were indispensable. However, when the ambassador party entered southern Han, everyone finally took off their coats.
It was so hot that Seirai, who had been wearing his formal clothes ever since he left Kakkei Palace(白圭宮), looked as if he had already got sick and tired of the heat when he entered the hotel.
“... This is so hot.”
Taiki commented to Seirai, who walked out of the bedroom. Seirai sighed embarrassingly.
“I heard that Rei is warm, but I don’t expect it to be so warm. This is exactly like spring or fall in Tai.”
“Anyway, this is Tai’s formal clothes at this time of the year, so we can do nothing about it. I will pay a visit to Kokufu(国府), to exchange greetings and inform them that we have arrived.”
“Don’t I need to come as well?”
“This is just our greeting at arrival. Taiho should now take your time to cool yourself, as you need to put on your formal wear when it is time for you to pay a visit. I will be back at around sunset, I guess.”
“Then, before you return, I guess I will play a lot of pranks.”
Taiki said, and Seirai laughed out loud.
“That is good. Make Tansui and others mad.”
Seirai replied, and turned his glance to the bodyguard who was standing at a nearby corner as if he were a shadow. Tansui, as usual, didn’t talk back to Seirai’s joke, but only remained silent and gave a quick bitter smile.
“Keep this a secret from Tansui, but I have always wanted to see Tansui’s face turn pale, just for once.”
“I will do pranks that makes Tansui’s hair stand!”
“Try your best! Then this old man will just tie you up at a tree in the garden as soon as he come back.”
After Seirai left, Sougen and Asen visited Taiki’s room with their casual travel wear taken off. ogether with them were their subordinates, who also put on their formal wear.
“You must be tired, my dear sir.”
Sogen was the one who spoke. Sougen was originally the commander of the Gyousou army, and was now the General of the Left Army, the main troop in the Province of Zui. Though not huge in physique like Gantyou of the Left Imperial Army, he is tall and masculine, with a somehow courteous, composed ambience. Every time Taiki met Sougen, he thought of the term “knight” in those stories he had read in his homeland.
“Not really... Rather than that, look!”
Taiki stood by the windowsill and showed the garden outside. The two generals happily approached the windowsill and looked at the direction Taiki showed them.
“There are flowers in the garden!”
Gyousou had said that “it is a warm place with flowers blossoming,” but Taiki never expected that there exists a country where you can see flowers immediately in front of you at this season. Nowhere could snow be found. One don’t feel cold even when he leans by the windowsill like that. If it were in Tai, cold wind and wind blowing through door gaps surely would make one shudder.
Sougen narrowed his eyes as he looked outside.
“What spectacularly flowery scenary! All flowers bloom all the way from here. It is just unimaginable that there is a country free from snow this time around.”
Me neither, Taiki said as he stood chins in hand by the windowsill.
“Tai is spotlessly white everywhere, so I thought that it would be the same everywhere on this side.”
“Yeah. At my home in Hourai, snow only comes occasionally. It is quite common to have no snow at all. Of course it is also not that warm there. However, Tai is always like how it is now, isn't it? So, I thought every country on this side is like Tai. You know, this is my first winter on this side. However, I know now that only Tai is that cold.”
You are right, Sougen said and nodded seriously.
“It comes to me again that this world is very big.”
“The fields outside have not been harvested…”
“It seems that in the southern kingdoms, the fields don’t need to rest even in winter.”
This time, it was Asen who spoke.
“I heard that they plant crops other than wheat and rice.”
Really, Taiki blinked.
“So, plants can grow even in winter, right? So, people can go to the fields outside to pick vegetables even in the midst of winter?”
“It seems so.”
“It would be great if Tai can be so as well.”
Taiki gave a sigh, and the two generals agreed with deep emotions.
“Kids can run around outside, can’t they? Maybe they can even leave their poultry outside.”
How do those in warm kingdoms like this live their lives? Taiki stared outside the window to see whether he can get a glimpse of their lives, and Asen spoke.
“Then, how about a little walk outside? If you are not tired at all, let me be your company.”
“Can I? Really?”
Taiki hopped and jumped around, and Asen nodded with a smile.
It was said that at the previous emperor’s reign, Asen and Gyousou, who were both the generals of the Imperial Army, were dubbed the Two Pillars of Tai. Asen was courageous, mastered martial arts, and enjoyed extreme popularity. In most cases, he possessed the same image as Gyousou. However, sometimes Gyousou was more frightening. Gyousou eluded the overwhelming awe of an emperor that could take one’s breath away, but not Asen. Therefore, Taiki never feel timid in front of Asen.
Taiki looked at Sougen with anticipation. Sougen sank into thought whether he should agree or not, but Asen butted in.
“It is not bad to see around Jyuurei, isn’t it? I believe it is for Taiho’s good to let him boarden his horizon.”
Sougen nodded in agreement.
“Nothing should go wrong if Tansui and we are around.”
Jyuurei (重嶺), like Kouki (鴻基), sprawled from the foot of Mt. Ryou-un (凌雲山, the tall mountain in every kingdom where the palace is located). It was mid-winter, but people were everywhere, and the whole city was enveloped by free ambience. How strange, Taiki thought.
That was so different from Kouki. Houses in Kouki were covered by snow, and people lived on with the warmth kept within the thick walls. The outside was covered with only snow, and people could not leave livestock outside, let alone anticipating any fruits. No one would be willing to get out unless strictly necessary. Even when they did, they wore wadded kimono, pulled up their collars, covered their heads with cloth or fur, and shrugged their shoulders as they hurried forward. It was just like they were using all their efforts to stuff everything inside themselves. -- This was the kingdom of Tai (戴).
Ren (漣) was the opposite. Even in the midst of winter, many things threw themselves open, Taiki mused. One could see the interior of buildings through their open windows, and a great number of citizens buzzed among shops with wide open doors. People stood in the streets talking, childrens ran around playing, and livestock wandered around resting farmlands, eating withering grass that grew everywhere on the ground.
“What a sight…”
Taiki murmured under his breath. “Yes, definitely,” Asen replied with a slightly bitter smile.
“Tai’s people would be leading a totally different life if Tai’s winter could be half as mild as this.”
Very true, Taiki thought. The kingdom didn’t look affluent; Kyou (恭) and Han (範) were much richer. Nevertheless, everyone in the city looked somehow very relaxed. Ren should still be in civil war not so long ago, but no tension could be sensed anywhere in the country. Tai was nothing like that. Even in cities like Kouki there were people who died from starvation. Some towns had their residents died because of depletion of resources. Other residents abandoned the towns, lined up and trudged their way across deep snow to nearby towns, knowing full well the dangers that lay ahead.
The harvest from the lands were basically enough for the people to live, and abundance was in the form of precious stones, gold or silver. Such abundance was scraped up completely by the previous emperor, and the people of Tai had long been tolerating their meager lives. Even now, after the new king was enthroned, there were not much improvements.
“It would be great if God could make Tai warmer.”
Taiki said, and Sougen gave a smile.
“Tentei (天帝, i.e. God) instead granted Tai a new emperor.”
Yes, Sougen trailed off his voice, and lowered his glance.
“A good emperor joins hands with the people and the country, and they overcome any ordeals together. There is no heavenly gift bigger than that, isn't there?”
“Is anything bothering you?”
No, Taiki only shook his head, unable to give a answer. Escaping the shocked gaze of Sougen, Taiki turned his glance to the boundless green, where people were working relaxingly with hoes and plows.
After Asen and others returned to the hotel, Seirai returned briefly, and left the bedroom again to prepare for tomorrow. Even till everyone had left, a thought still whirled around Taiki’s head.
--Only if Tai were like this.
Only if Tai could be as affluent as Kyou or Han.
Only if Tai could be as mild in climate as Ren.
Ever since his visit to the Forbidden Gate with Gyousou, a cold lump formed in Taiki’s chest. There were people who lived in such cold climate. According to the officials' reports, the people were not living well. Hearing that people were frozen to death and starved to death made Taiki feel colder and colder.
(Many people are troubled.)
In that brutally white scenary.
However, Taiki could not do a thing.
Taiki is a kirin (麒麟). It was said that he is created by the heavens and granted to the people. He knows the heaven’s will, and obeys the heaven’s order. He is the child of Tentei, the representative of the heavens. However, Taiki possesses no power to save the people. He cannot change the climate, let alone create any miracles.
Kirins choose emperors -- but that’s all of it. In this way, Gyousou was selected by Taiki to become the new emperor. That alone had used up all the miraculous power he had, Taiki felt.
(There is no power whatsoever left within him.)
There was nothing left that Taiki ought to do. In theory, Taiki should also have administrative work to do as Saiho (宰輔, official title for Taiho) and as a provincial lord. However, Taiki was not old enough to handle the jobs. In fact, all the real work was taken over by Seirai and Gyousou, and Taiki only needed to nod to whatever was told to him. Of course, everything that couldn’t be solved just by explaining to Taiki would be shouldered by Seirai as extra work.
Taiki knew the great hopes that everyone heaped on him. Taiki could tell by Seirai, Asen and the other adults’ actions. Those wonderful adults treated Taiki, who was just a kid, with absolute respect. Seirai told Taiki that was the courtesy the adults showed to “the one and only one.”
However, what is “the one and only one” thing within Taiki? Maybe it had existed once before. However, in the future, what if Gyousou lost his way like the previous emperor and abdicated? When a new emperor was needed, Taiki might not be “the one and only one” anymore. However, Taiki was now nothing but a kid who was about to turn eleven. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could understand. He was just a burden to the people around him.
That was where Taiki’s uneasiness stemmed from.
He knew people were anticipating, but he didn’t know what he should do. He could do nothing but watch. He couldn’t but feel that he was either of no use or a nuisance to others.
Are you thinking of me as so? Isn’t it normal that you think so? Seirai? -- Gyousou?
= 紅嘉祥 Koukashou =
The next day at dawn, Taiki changed to formal clothes, and entered the Gate of Koumon (皋門), the entrance to the palace located at the north of Jyuurei (重嶺). The palace is called Urou Palace (雨潦宮, lit. Showering Rain), and it is the residence of Ren-ou (廉王), the Emperor of Ren.
The receptionists (大行人, daikoujin) that came to meet the ambassador party led the whole party through the Five Gates one by one. Every time they passed through a gate, they walked through a staircase tunnel that penetrates the inner of Mt. Jyuurei (重嶺山). They climbed up the third, the fifth and the seventh tunnel within the huge mountain that cuts in the sea of clouds. After climbing up the last tunnel, they passed the Gate of Roumon (路門), and reached the peak that rose from the sea of clouds like an island. There stood the Imperial Hall (燕朝, Entyou), and the design of Urou Palace is basically of no difference to Hakkei Palace’s.
Above the sea of clouds, it was even warmer than the world below. Mt. Jyuurei has a less rolling terrain than Mt. Kouki (鴻基山), with a gently-sloped, wide peak. The palace buildings that loosely sprinkled on the peak were bigger than Hakkei Palace’s. Even though it was winter at that time, the palace was covered by lush green. Upon seeing this scenary, Taiki felt nostalgia welling up in his chest.
In the palace that spreads itself on the thick lush green turf, buildings have many openings, and corridors and summerhouses mostly have no walls. The palace harmoniously mixed with the surrounding green, and Taiki was reminded of the scenary of Mt. Hou (蓬山), the mountain he had once briefly lived in.
Taiki and others left the Gate of Roumon, and was immediately led to the nearby Outer Hall. Cool wind circulated in the wide Main Hall, and at the middle of the hall stood the throne. However, no one was sitting on it.
Seeing the empty throne, Taiki was shocked, and Seirai and others were confused, but it was the Ren officials that led the party to the Main Hall who took the biggest shock. They looked confusedly at one another, and looked flustered around the huge Main Hall. Finally, one officer rushed into the empty hall from the side. He whispered something to the receptionist. The receptionist looked surprised, and pressed more questions onto the officer. In the end, the receptionist kneeled in front of Taiki, with confusion written all over his face.
“We are sincerely sorry for the discourtesy before. Please do not get offended. We are deeply afraid of being discourteous, but... please get inside.”
Seirai said while staring to Asen and Sougen. Normally, the Guest Hall (掌客殿Soukaku Den) which receives foreign guests was located at the west of the Outer Hall. To go inner still means to enter the Inner Hall. Aside very close friends, even foreign emperors can in no occasion step inside easily.
“Yes. We are told to lead you to the emperor’s residence.”
The receptionist answered with confused expression and sweat drops on his forehead.
Carriages were prepared hurriedly. Taiki and others had no choice but to silently ride on the carriages, pass through walls in the palace, and enter the Inner Hall. Moving deeper and deeper into the Inner Hall, they saw two layers of walls that were even taller and sturdier than what they had seen at the beginning.
Taiki whispered secretly to his Fusyou sitting beside him in the carriage.
“That building that we saw earlier, isn’t it Jinjyuu Hall (仁重殿)?”
Yes, Seirai nodded confusedly.
“...I thought so from the very beginning, in fact.”
“If that is Jinjyuu Hall, then this must be Roushin (路寝), right?”
“Yes... This would be it.”
“Entering the gate at the innermost of Roushin, we would enter the Back Palace (後宮, koukyuu), wouldn’t we?”
“Yes... That should be so... shouldn’t it?”
Seirai’s face twitched as he spoke. Profuse sweat formed on his forehead, and it seemed not to be solely due to the temperature.
For the palace that stands on top of the sea of clouds, its innermost is called the Imperial Wing (燕朝, Entyou), and that is separated into a number of blocks by folds of walls and gates. The innermost of all is the North Palace (北宮, Hoku-guu) where the empress lived, with Soushin (小寝) on the side, and the whole block was called the Back Palace (後宮, koukyuu).
At the east of the Back Palace stands the block of East Palace (東宮, Tou-guu), which consists of palaces like Tyoumei Palace (長明宮) and Kaei Palace (嘉永宮), where the direct relatives of the emperor live.
At the west of the Back Place is the block of West Palace (西宮, Sei-guu). Buildings in the West Palace include Godou Palace (梧桐宮), where the five mystic birds such as the phoenix (鳳凰, Hou-ou) and the Hakuchi (白雉, lit. white bird) are kept. The Grand Shrine (太廟, Tai-byou) is where the emperor worships. Fukujyu Hall (福寿殿) is where the Roboku (路木), the tree to which people prayed for children or fruits, is located.
Back Palace, East Palace and West Palace are collectively called En-shin (燕寝). As Back Palace is the center of En-shin, En-shin is sometimes refered to as Back Palace. However, now at Hakkei Palace of Tai, all palaces were closed except West Palace. Even when all palaces are open, even Saihou cannot enter palaces except West Palace as he pleases. Even Taiki knows this.
Nevertheless, the receptionist stopped in front of the gate that undoubtedly leads to Back Palace. He asked the ambassador group to get off the carriages, and kowtowed before them.
“Well... We are terribly afraid of being discourteous, but please move inside. We cannot enter from here onwards.”
“Well, but...” Seirai said in confusion, but the receptionist interrupted.
“It is commanded to invite all of you. There should be doormen at the gates to introduce you to the emperor. So, please.”
“So only we enter?”
We are sincerely sorry, the receptionist dropped his head really low. His already-red forehead was sweating profusely like a waterfall. Taiki, sensing that the receptionist was really suffering, urged Seirai and others.
“We were invited with open arms, don’t you agree?”
Seirai peeked inside and outside the gate. “Then,” it was Asen who spoke up quietly.
“Leaving the subordinates here would be a good idea. It would be rude for us to bring them along.”
The Back Palace was quiet and deserted. No officer came forward to receive, and even when the ambassador party walked straight across the stone pavement and reached a gate at the inner side, there was no sight of any officers anywhere. The doormen who should be guarding the gate were also absent. As far as they could look, there was no sight of any people to introduce them to the emperor.
“No one is here...”
Taiki peered into the ajar gate. Behind the lush green front yard stood the buildings of Syuushin (小寝), but there was not even the trace of any person.
“What shall we do?”
Taiki turned back to the adults around, but they seemed to be the ones really at a loss.
“Even... if you asked me what to do...”
“I have never entered the Back Palace. Have you?”
“Well, if you count just entering, I have entered several times. Even though the Back Palace of Hakkei Palace was closed, I was there sometimes, but that was when the Back Palace was really empty... and that was no Back Palace of another kingdom...”
Sougen and Asen showed the same perplexed expression, not to mention the subordinates.
Taiki tentatively stepped through the gate. Looking around but finding nobody in sight, Taiki could not but cross the front yard, and went to the next building for a look.
Climbing up the foundation, Taiki peered into the inside of the building and the middle garden deep inside, and quietly spoke. “Sorry for intruding.”
Taiki turned around.
“But there are nobody around. We can do nothing but try calling for attention, right?”
“Sorry, anybody home? Sorry for intruding.”
Seirai and others stared with widened eyes at the unexpectedly bold kirin. But that is not anything strange; Taiki was just using his habits when he visited people’s homes in his homeland.
“There seems to be nobody around. What shall we do?”
“Even if you ask me...”
“Shall me be rude and walk all the way to the garden?”
“That is a little too...”
“But we cannot just leave like this, can we?”
“No, I guess, but...”
“It would be okay as long as we don’t enter the rooms, I guess. I’ll go then."
But that’s..., Seirai muttered, and suddenly tightened his fist into a ball.
“I will accompany you. --Sougen and others, please wait here.”
“Above all, Taiki is the kirin of a kingdom, so they cannot put harsh punishment on him I believe. I am prepared.”
Me too, Tansui said, but Seirai stopped him.
“The gates are open like this, so there shouldn’t be any danger. Also, Taiho has his Shirei (使令). So I am going with Taiho.”
Taiki, hand in hand with Seirai, went inside to take a look. Crossing the middle garden, they saw a shrine, but there was nobody inside as well. However, it didn’t seem deserted; it was neatly cleaned, and brand-new incense and flowers were offered on the altar where the ancestry was worshipped.
Taiki, with no particular reason, headed west and walked towards the North Palace. He crossed the corridor, went into another middle garden, looked around, and stopped his tracks as he entered the garden of the North Palace.
Taiki looked at what was in front of him blankly for a while, before he looked up at Seirai.
”There are fields.”
“Yes, there are...”
“There are no fields in Hakkei Palace, are there? Do all Back Palaces have fields?”
“It would be normal not to have one, I believe...”
“Ren was said to have civil war just a while ago, right? Was the situation so bad that they needed to grow vegetables within the castle?”
“That... that might be the case...”
In any case, Taiki held Seirai’s hands as he walked down the footpaths between the vegetable fields, which were right next to the gorgeous garden of shrubbery. Passing a building corner, they saw distinctively arranged fields extending from their feet. They walked down the neatly aligned footpaths, and reached a corner where low trees lined up in perfect order. That was most likely the scene of an orchard.
Taiki caught Seirai’s attention. They finally found a person. It was a farmer who was holding a pair of scissors and cutting branches from a unknown tree bearing red fruits.
Taiki spoke. He let go of Seirai’s hand, and ran noisily across the orchard under the bright sun.
“Excuse me for interrupting.”
Taiki spoke, and the person in noragi (袍子 a type of waist-length upper garment that wears like a robe) turned back. He stared at Taiki, then looked at Seirai behind Taiki, and gave a gentle smile. The young man wiped his face with his sleeves, put the fresh-cut branch on the pile of grass at his side, and bowed his head.
“I am so sorry to come inside without permission. We are searching for people. Well, nobody is around at the gates, so...”
Oh, the man gave a small exclaim as he tilted his head.
“There are nobody outside, huh? Then, everyone might be having their morning nap.”
“I am very sorry to interrupt your work, but are there anybody who can introduce us to the emperor? I... I come from the Kingdom of Tai, and my name is Taiki.”
Oh, the man gave a friendly smile on his face.
“Really, so you must be Tai Taiho. It is said that Taiho is a small child, but you are really small, I can see.”
“Well, may I ask who you are?”
“Oh, my name is Ou (鴨). Ou Seitaku (鴨世卓).”
“What a gorgeous garden!”
Taiki exclaimed, and the young man smiled brightly.
“You think so?”
“What are these red fruits?”
“They are called Koukashou (紅嘉祥, lit. Granted Crimson Fortune). Why not try one?”
Seitaku freely extended his arm, and picked one of the sparkling red fruits from a branch. He then threw the fruit into a water bucket right beside him, and wiped it clean with a handkerchief.
“So, Tai Taiho, please try one. There are seeds inside, so please be careful.”
Taiki said, and looked up at Seitaku.
“But... is it right for me to accept it? Doesn’t it belong to the emperor?”
“I grew it, so nobody else should be troubled by it.”
“But won’t the emperor scold you?”
Seitaku showed a slightly bewildered expression.
“I am the emperor, so I won’t get scolded.”
Taiki, with the red fruit in his hand, stared blankly at Seitaku.
“Are... are you Ren-ou, may I ask?”
“Yes, I am.”
Taiki turned back to Seirai, flustering for a response, but Seirai was only frozen there staring with widening eyes. Taiki then turned his confused glance back to Seitaku’s bright smiley face. Taiki had learnt about the decorum in front of an emperor at the Main Hall, but how should he respond in this condition?
Oblivious of Taiki’s confusion, Seitaku reached out to pick another fruit, and turned to Seirai.
“What about you? Try one!”
“... Thank you, but... No...”
“Oh, how rude of me to let everybody standing! There is a summerhouse nearby, so let’s move there!”
Taiki nodded tentatively.
Seitaku plucked a few more Koukashou into a hand bucket, and carried the bucket outside the orchard. A few steps later, they reached the side of a pond lined with gorgeous rocks. The pond, which is of an intricate geometric design, has bridges built over it everywhere, and summerhouses and balconies gather at the sides as if they were attracted by the water.
Seitaku arrived at one of them, and waved Taiki and Seirai over by the pond side.
“Taiho, please take a seat. Your formal wear looked so hot to wear. Why not take the coat off?”
“Well... Thank you, but...”
Taiki looked back as Seirai. Seirai smiled twitchingly.
“We kindly accept your offer.”
“... How about you?”
“Oh, you don't really need to worry about me.”
“But it is hot, isn’t it?”
“Well... Yes, in fact. I will kindly follow your words then.”
Seirai stuttered, obviously flustered by the emperor’s hospitality. While watching Seirai with his bright eyes, Seitaku washed his hands and the fruits in the bucket in the pond. Then he put the fruits on a stone table right beside the pond.
“If Taiho was called with his formal wear on pristinely, what I am wearing now would definitely be a disgrace. I heard that you come for personal reasons rather than formal work, so...”
“Oh… But anyway we should be the one to apologize.”
“Taiho have done nothing wrong. I am a very careless person. When I heard this is not for official work, I thought that it would be just like neighbors coming by to drink tea. I would definitely be scolded by Taiho.”
Oh no, Seitaku said laughing.
“This kingdom’s Taiho……God, this has turned so complicated. I am always like this, and I always get scolded by Renrin.”
Seirai gave a roaring laugh as he said.
“These Koukashou are so attractive that I thoughtlessly invited you to come over here. Seems that I should listen to Renrin, wear my formal wear and waited at the Outer Hall.”
“What were you doing earlier?”
“Trimming branches. Cutting those branches with fruits that would most probably not grow can make other fruits grow bigger.”
“Ren-ou is pretty familiar with these things.”
“I am a farmer, that’s why. These are work for a farmer.”
Taiki looked at him blankly.
“What about the work of an emperor?”
Seitaku’s eyes opened wide as if he heard something unexpected, and he then cocked his head.
“...That is duty, I guess. I believe it is most probably not really work. Because you cannot feed yourself by it.”
Taiki blinked his eyes while he tried to understand his meaning. Seitaku laughed.
“A farmer’s work includes growing crops and raising livestock, right?”
“Well... yes,” Taiki nodded.
“But... Isn’t it work to fulfill one’s duty?”
“Maybe not, I believe.”
“Are work and duty two different things?”
“Work is one you can choose. Duty is one granted by the heavens.”
As Taiki stared blankly, he heard a familiar voice. Seirai, who had been standing aside silently, quickly looked back at the coming people. “Sougen!” Seirai yelled as if his life depended on Sougen’s. At the same time, there was a gentle female voice.
“Oh my... you receive Taiho with such an appearance?”
The lady who spoke in surprise had blond hair that shines like sunshine.
“Also, meeting in such a place! Though this is said to be a private visit, there is a limit to it. I have advised you about it, haven’t I?”
“Yes, you are right. It is exactly as Taiho said. This is very, very discourteous.”
“Also, you made the followers wait at total loss in front of the gate. --Oh my, you are really trouble-making.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Seitaku apologized like a child, but his face still showed a beaming smile. The lady, who looked at Seitaku and smiled as if she was slightly annoyed, kneeled in front of Taiki so as to make their eyes to be at the same level.
“Are you Tai Taiho? Welcome! Please don’t feel bad about this.”
“Are you Ren Taiho?”
“Yes. It is to my greatest pleasure to meet you.”
“Me too. Well... Thank you so much.”
“I have heard from Lady Gokuyou (玉葉) at Mt. Hou (蓬山). In the past, when Lady Gokuyou sent Sanshi (汕子) to summon me back, Ren Taiho had lent a very important tool. Am I right?”
“Is it the Gogou-kanda (呉剛環蛇, lit. Snake Loop of Gogou)? That was kindly lent out by our emperor. Please give your thanks to our emperor, or so I would like to say, but our emperor must go and change beforehand...”
“Oh yes,” Seitaku, receiving Renrin’s bitter glance, muttered.
“I am so sorry but I must take my leave. It would not be long, so please wait for a moment.”
Seitaku beamingly returned to his residence, and Taiki and others were once again led to the outer palace. Finally, everything began to go on according to formal rituals.
= 世話 Sewa =
It was planned that Taiki would be staying for three days. Taiki and others received official welcoming and participated in formal ceremonies, but they were mostly received as private guests. Their designated place for accommodation was not a corner at the Guest Hall, but the big garden at Seishin. Only officials above the rank of personal servants were sent to accompany them. Moreover, Seitaku gave astoundingly simple order to let the ambassador party visit anywhere they want within En-tyou.
“...Is it really a good idea to have such low security level?”
Sougen seemed to have trouble understanding. Everyone else were equally puzzled. That might be uncomfortable to others, but Taiki in contrast was able to enjoy his days in the palace. Taiki didn’t understand most of the various rituals or decisions. Even for things that Taiki knew in theory, he didn't feel accustomed to them, and he was always tense about not failing. However, in Urou Palace, Taiki could put everything aside and relax.
“To have such low security level should mean that the palace is that safe, I believe...”
Asen said with a bitter smile, and Seirai gave a sigh.
“Should I say it is safe, or should I say they are too lenient? ... The people in Ren are so generous in everything...”
“Is that not good?”
Taiki asked, and Seirai ashamedly dropped his shoulders.
“It is not bad in any way. This old man is a little unaccustomed to it, that’s all. You know, I was originally in charge of the books in the army. I am used to being tied up by discipline and got pressed on to the verge, but in reverse…”
Sougen and Asen nodden in agreement.
“Having nowhere to let my body feel at ease, or something like that… Well we turned small at this place, so Taiho, please go out and play. Taiho seems to grow a liking towards this place.”
“I don’t dislike Hakkei Palace at all!”
“We know. For me, Urou Palace is not an unpleasant place at all. Especially when I could see that Tansui in a total loss three times in just two days!”
Exactly, Taiki laughed.
“Yesterday, Tansui turned stiff as a board as Ren Taiho brought his breakfast and poured him tea!”
“This must be said in secret, but it is a sight of a lifetime to see Tansui like that!”
Taiki could barely hide his laughter. Tansui, who was standing by the side of the doorway, behaved in his usual way as if he hadn’t heard anything, but he looked somehow frustrated.
“Well, I’ll go then.”
Upon saying, Taiki exited to the sprawling buildings. Tansui silently followed. Taiki headed directly to North Palace. Whenever Seitaku had no administrative work on hand, he would definitely be at the fields. Taiki walked towards the fields in such belief, and as expected, there was Seitaku, wearing noragi as he was working.
Seitaku said with a bright smile. The completely frank and sincere smile delighted Taiki. Whether it was within administrative work or within formal rituals, Seitaku would go to the field whenever he had free time. Taiki would always accompany him to the fields and helped him with his work.
Well, instead of saying “to help,” it might be more accurate to say that he wandered around Seitaku’s side, and was told from time to time on what to do. Taiki had no previous experience in farming. Even if Taiki offered to help, he didn’t know what on earth he actually should do. The situation was no different from that in Tai: Taiki was still running here and there according to Seitaku’s instructions.
“I... I must be a nuisance to you.”
Taiki said as he collected the scattered branches he had knocked over. Seitaku, who was collecting the branches with him, smilingly dismissed the matter. This emperor is always smiling, Taiki was given the impression.
“I know that I am a big annoyance here, but today is my last day here... Would you mind bearing with me for a little longer?”
“I have never thought of you as an annoyance at all! When I was small, I stayed by the neighboring workers’ side and learnt the trade while helping out like what Tai Taiho is doing.”
“Oh,” Seitaku exclaimed midway, and gave a wide smile.
“I see. Even if Taiho learnt how to farm, it would be of no use to Taiho. I must have forced you into doing something strange, haven’t I?”
“That is not the case at all! Well... I am so happy that you allow me to help you out, but...”
Taiki really meant what he said. It was the first time Taiki saw farm work in front of his eyes, and that is very new and interesting to Taiki. Seeing Seitaku working so briskly was also very pleasant. Above all, Seitaku’s bighearted ambience made Taiki feel very close. For Taiki, the common sense of this world or the common sense of adults were unfamiliar, and being only surrounded by adults was already a big feat that made Taiki tense with anxiety.
“But... If I am bordering you in any way, I guess I should go to somewhere else, shouldn’t I?”
Taiki doubted in a low voice, and Seitaku cocked his head.
“... Is there anything wrong?”
Oh? Taiki asked, and Seitaku said,
“I mean, there are no such things as being a nuisance by helping out, are there? Then why do you have such an idea?”
“Well, I can’t do anything...”
“But you have been carrying so many branches earlier, haven’t you? And you helped out with carrying water and moving straws.”
“I am just moving stuff around.”
“Then you have been helping me out haven’t you? But Taiho, I can sense from your words that you believe you are of no use at all.”
Taiki nodded upon Seitaku’s warm clear gaze.
“...Glad to hear that I’m not so... But I really think so...”
“Why is that?”
“I cannot do anything. Not only in farming, I cannot do even one single thing... Mister Gyousou always comforts me that I am still young. But he must be very disappointed by me.”
Seitaku asked, and Taiki drooped his head. Seitaku gently patted on Taiki’s back.
“Why not we take a break?”
Seitaku suggested, pointing to a pile of grass.
“No, please carry on with the work.”
“I am also tired. Why not have some tea as well?”
Laughing, Seitaku shouted to the other side of the field.
“You who accompanied Taiho, want some tea?”
Tansui, who stationed a little further away, made a gesture of firm declination.
“He must be also having a hard time, sitting still like that for so long.”
Seitaku said as he served tea from a big clay pot.
“It is hard to take up the job of a bodyguard (大僕 Daiboku), but the hardest time of all might be when there is no danger at all.”
I guess so, Taiki said with a smile, but the smile quickly withered. Seitaku peered into the tea cup he dished out.
“…Ren-ou, you once said that a job is different from a duty, didn't you?”
Yes, Seitaku nodded.
“When I heard that, I told myself that’s right. The duty of a kirin is to choose the emperor. After that, my duty is over. So I should be attacking hard on all my jobs. However, I am still unable to carry out my job as the Saiho and the provincial lord, because I am still too small.”
“...Isn’t the duty of a kirin to deliver mercy to all the people?”
“It is not choosing the emperor?”
“I mean, isn’t choosing the emperor a part of it? It is nevertheless to choose the best emperor for the people.”
“So... my duty is not finished, is it?”
“I think not.”
“So what is a kirin’s job?”
“The job for you, Taiki, is to grow up.”
Seitaku said with a laugh.
“It is the same for any child, isn’t it?”
Seitaku picked a Koukashou from the branch that dangled on top of his head, and put the fruit into Taiki’s palm.
“... You will have a lot of worries. But that is a part of your job. Eat well, sleep well, laugh and cry a lot. Those are all parts of your job.”
Taiki looked into his palm. It was a bright red, beautiful fruit.
“... Is it all right for me just to grow up? The people are suffering a lot. Tai is very cold. Many of the people are tortured by the snow. I am the Saiho and the provincial lord, but I cannot do anything. Doing nothing else but just grow up...”
But, Seitaku said.
“Even I am not doing anything great. I am a farmer, so I don’t really know anything about politics. Renrin is more familiar with stuff like that, so I just leave everything to her. What I can do are thing like raising livestock and grow crops only.”
“Even though you are an emperor?”
That’s right, Seitaku laughed.
“Exactly because I can only do those, I make fields like these to farm. I guess they have a little use after all. They clear a part of the garden, and save some fees for maintenance. And they help a little with the budget. I believe it is much simpler and more economical than buying from the merchants in Jyuurei.”
“So you are selling food to the imperial cooks?”
Yes, Seitaku nodded very seriously.
“I cannot live without selling, that’s why. I am a farmer. Those I need to fulfill my duty are given by the kingdom. The salary given to the numerous officials. The formal silk wear. The extravagant banquets we hold to entertain guests. If I don’t work, we cannot sustain everything. But Renrin said that I should not work to supplement the budget. The kingdom will lose face, she said.”
“I... guess so.”
“So I am completely useless. --However, there is God (Tentei), and he knows that I only can do so much.”
Taiki stared stunned at Seitaku.
“It must be the heaven's will that a farmer like me can become an emperor. So I will do nothing. I believe it is fine for me to do nothing. It is fine to take care of a kingdom just like taking care of the crops.”
“Taking care of a kingdom...”
“A tree grows tall at its will. A kingdom prospers at its will in the same way. Trees know the best way for themselves. I am only a helper to them. Withering leaves are signals that the plants need water. So I will water them. I believe a kingdom works in similar ways. God wants to grow this kingdom in this way, and so he chose a farmer like me, I guess.”
“...How about Ren Taiho?”
Taiki muttered as he looked at Seitaku.
“When Ren-ou is taking care of the plants, what does Ren Taiho do to help?”
Nothing, Seitaku answered brightly.
“Renrin is not a farmer at all. She cannot distinguish good branches from bad branches, and cannot separate the periods to water from the periods not to water.”
“So, she cannot help with anything.”
Rather, Seitaku smiled brightly.
“She takes joy when the fruits grow well.”
Taiki nearly dropped his jaws.
“That alone means a lot! When it is very cold outside, or when I am worn out by my duties, I feel too weary to get out into the fields. However, when I think that Renrin would be very saddened if the fruits wither and fall, I will regain my strength to step outside.”
Seitaku said, looking up at the trees in the orchard.
“I am watching over this kingdom. Are there any bad signs? Is there anything deficient? I keep watching these issues, because these are the duties of a caretaker. And Taiho is watching over me the caretaker. Am I fulfilling my duties completely? Are there any bad indications? She is also constantly watching. I can say that my success is indebted to that those eyes that are watching over me.”
Watching over, Taiki repeated the phrase in his mouth.
“Is it... is it alright for me to do just that?”
“Never overlook that as trivial. Watching is a very difficult job itself. Just look at your bodyguard over there.”
I guess you are right, Taiki said as he looked at Tansui. All along, Tansui stood close and still, keeping an eye on the surroundings.
“Running around and doing this and that are not the only difficult things, are they?”
Taiki nodded and looked at Seitaku in awe.
Of course he would, Seitaku said smilingly.
“I know nothing about politics or being a kirin, but I know about crops and being an emperor. I believe that Tai-ou would also asking for Taiho’s watching.”
Really? Taiki thought to himself. It is barely imaginable that Gyousou asked for a favor from a child like Taiki.
“If I am the guardian of this kingdom, Renrin is my guardian. Perhaps that is the real job of a kirin.”
After more than a month of journey, Taiki returned to Kouki (鴻基), only to find that Kouki was still buried in pure white snow. Looking down to the white landscape, Taiki finally landed at the Forbidden Gate.
The moment Taiki and others got off from their kijyuus, the door guards immediately stepped out of the gate and lined up in two neat rows to greet them, white breath coming out of their nostrils. The door guards called, handed the kijyuus to the soldiers, and opened the gates solemnly.
“I was reminded again that we are different from Ren not just in temperature.”
Taiki said, and Seirai laughed.
“I cannot agree more.”
“Seirai, you must be relieved now, aren’t you?”
“Just a little.”
They laughed as they passed through the Forbidden Gate, and headed towards the Inner Hall. Apparently the report that the group's return had reached everyone without miss. When they entered the Inner Hall, they found officials lining up at both sides, and the emperor sitting on the throne.
Feeling the uptight and tense atmosphere inside the Inner Hall, Taiki moved to the front of the throne, and kneeled down to pay his respect.
“I have returned safely.”
Gyousou nodded, and waved Taiki to come up to the throne. Taiki stood up, and walked to the side of the throne. He felt the inexplicable relief that he had finally arrived home.
“How was Ren?”
“There are really flowers booming.”
Really, Gyousou smiled and said,
“I’ll listen to the details later.”
Gyousou then turned to speak to the prime minister.
“Write a report on the details. They all must be very tired, so we will just let them rest sooner.”
Yes, the prime minister replied articulately, and gave his congratulations to Taiki for his finishing the grand mission. Sougen gave a simple report to all the officials. After the remaining rituals were done, Gyousou had the bind shade lowered, signaling the end of the meeting.
“You must be tired. Rest well today. I’ll walk you to your room.”
Urging Taiki by patting him slightly on the back, Gyousou exited the Inner Hall.
“No, I am not tired at all... But, oh, Mister Gyousou, shouldn't you go to attend administrative matters?”
I have heaps of things that I want to tell you though, Taiki thought as he said.
“Today is the special day of Taiki's return, so I guess it doesn’t matter for me to take the day off.”
Taiki was so happy that he felt like dancing around.
“What are the emperor and the Taiho of Ren like?”
Taiki clang to Gyousou’s sleeves as he rained stories on Gyousou. The story of how he bumped into the Back Palace. The story of the fields in the palace. The story in the morning when Renrin woke up Taiki and others, opened the windows, brought water for washing their faces, made tea, and made Tansui and others really uneasy.
“I also helped with farming work. Ren-ou...”
Gyousou suddenly pushed Taiki on the back as he talked.
“Kouri, this way.”
Oh, Taiki looked around. It should be the right way to return to Jinjyuu Hall (仁重殿).
Cocking his head, Taiki looked up at Gyousou.
The path Gyousou walked on led to Seishin (正寝). Thinking that Gyousou would like him to have a stay at Seishin, Taiki rambled on about the appearance of Urou Palace and Jyuurei, and about Kyuu and Han where they stopped over during their trip. One month is too long for Taiki. There are so many things that he would like to tell. By talking, Taiki felt that he could bury behind him the time he was not at Gyousou’s side.
Taiki continued, but suddenly stopped his track. He had been walking along as Gyousou pushed him on his back, and now he entered a place he had never seen before. Looking around, he could see the Main Hall of Seishin nearby. The building he was looking at now was located at the immediate west of the Main Hall.
“What was up with Seirai?”
Gyousou asked as he passed through the building into a cozy little garden. Right at the back of the garden, there was a door to the main building, and there stood Tansui. That was the reason for Taiki’s shock. Tansui should have returned to Jinjyuu Hall (仁重殿) after leaving the Forbidden Gate.
What’s the matter, Gyousou smilingly asked, and Taiki was urged hurriedly into the main building. He saw his familiar female servants and his luggages all moved to there.
Taiki turned to look up at Gyousou, and suddenly remembered Seirai saying, “There might be good things happening to you” before they went to Ren.
“Does that mean I am moving to here?”
“If you do not want to stay at Jinjyuu Hall, that is to say.”
Taiki knew that he face was scorched with joy. It was so close to the Main Hall where Gyousou was. Taiki had also been longing to talk to Gyousou, however short the conversation would be. However, the Palace was too big to walk for Taiki, and his wish had long been denied.
“However, this is further to Koutoku Hall (広徳殿), the provincial office.”
“That is absolutely fine with me. I will just hurry to there as fast as I can go.”
“But, can you legs carry you that fast?”
“If they can’t, I will just run!”
“Doing that every day would be hard, wouldn’t it?”
“Fine with me! It is good for health, and now that I want to grow up, I would surely grow much faster if I run every day. ... And, well...”
“You hate the carriage as usual, am I right?”
Taiki nodded as Gyousou asked with a smile. Taiki could never get used to carriages. Being carried around by adults on their shoulders made Taiki somehow guilty and uncomfortable.
“Then Kouri, you must become an apprentice of Tansui for a while.”
“There are young horses. Ask Tansui to teach you ride a horse.”
Really? Taiki jumped.
“I can ride on a horse?”
“It might be more fun to be able to ride on a kijyuu (騎獣). However, riding kijyuu in the palace is forbidden. Moreover, kijyuu might be a little too large for Kouri’s body size. We can put a saddle on the carriage like what we did in journeys, but you will feel bored of it, won’t you?”
Taiki’s mind was filled with only glee.
“Thank you for your perseverance in the long journey.”
“But... it isn’t that hard, and there are many joyful moments. But do I deserve such a praise from you?”
Yes you do, Gyousou smiled, and walked up to the second floor. There was a warm bright room that was decorated at all sides by glass windows.
“It is not just solely for you. I also would like you to be close to me.”
Taiki eyes opened wide. That moment, Taiki felt the concern that Gyousou had over him. Taiki always felt lonely and helpless, so Gyousou showed his concern in this way, Taiki thought.
Taiki didn’t want Gyousou to think he was not happy. However, Taiki’s heart was sunk by the burdensome concern in Gyousou. As Taiki fumbled for words to express his feelings, Gyousou gave a bitter smile.
“I rush too much, I guess.”
Gyousou took a seat in one of the chairs, and pointed to another chair, which Taiki obediently sat on.
“There are people saying that I am too ruthless and hasty, and I believe the allegations were not all wrong. However, I was not good at easing my rein since long ago. Therefore, I would like to see Kouri’s face.”
“I like it when Kouri asks what things are and talks with me, like that time when we just moved in Hakkei Palace. I need you to be my paperweight and soothe my rash. Otherwise, I will leave all officials behind and run on my own.”
Taiki stared blankly up at Gyousou.
“… What’s the matter?”
Nothing, Taiki shook his head.
“So today, I’ll just sit back and relax on Taiki’s travelling stories. Recently, Gashin (臥信) said that my mood was so sullen that it became scary to be beside me.”
“Gashin? From the Army of Zui Province (瑞州)?”
Gashin was in Gyousou’s army before. He was now leading the Right Army of Zui Province.
“It was like staying beside a hungry tiger.”
Gyousou smiled bitterly, and Taiki laughed out without thinking. He thought it might really be the case in some sense: Taiki was the caretaker of Gyousou, looking after him so that he would not be hungry.
“Then, let me try my best to make Mister Gyousou’s stomach always full.”
Please, Gyousou laughed, and suddenly he raised his hand.
“Oh, you brought that from Ren, I bet.”
Without knowing what Gyousou was referring to, Taiki looked at the direction Gyousou was pointing at. Outside the glass window, huge ume (梅, Japanese apricot) trees stood crowded outside the fence.
At branches close to the window, there are two white, small flowers.
The long winters of Tai was finally to draw its finale.
*** END ***