1-2 Rokuta said, in something of a daze, “It’s turning green.”
He stood on the balcony of the Imperial Palace and gazed down through the Sea of Clouds at the city of Kankyuu. Twenty years had passed since the coronation. The land was slowly recovering.
Kankyuu was the capital of the Kingdom of En. Gen’ei Palace stood at the summit of the mountain, a small island floating in the vast expanse of the Sea of Clouds.
The Sea of Clouds at the top of the sky divided the world above from the world below. Staring up from the ground, the water arcing across the heavens was invisible to the eye, except for the white froth raised by the waves washing against the shores of Ryou’un Mountain.
Looking down from above, the faint blue of the transparent sea appeared no deeper than the height of an average man. But dive in and its depths proved unfathomable. Through those transparent depths, the land below came into view—the young fields of wheat and greening mountains, the forested windbreaks sheltering the hamlets and villages.
“And yet it’d be no less true to say we’ve only come this far in twenty years.”
Rokuta rested his hands on the railing and buried his head between his arms. Waves crashed with a roar against the balcony pilings and washed back out to the Sea of Clouds, leaving the scent of salt water behind in the air.
“To be sure, coming this far is no mean achievement. When we entered Gen’ei Palace there was nothing below us but blackened earth.”
Over the past twenty years, what was once scorched ground had turned noticeably green. The kingdom was on the mend. Refugees who’d fled to neighboring kingdom were making their way back. The celebrations of the harvest festivals grew louder every year.
Rokuta turned and rested his elbows on the railing. The Imperial Magistrate was standing there, a sheaf of document in his hands. He smiled.
“Thanks to your good offices, we have every confidence in harvesting a bumper crop of barley this year. On behalf of your subjects, I thank you for finding the time in your busy schedule to concern yourself with world below. Now if you would only devote but a fraction of that attention to your humble servant’s reports, how much happier I would be.”
“I’m listening, I’m listening. Go on.”
“Pardon me saying so, but I would appreciate it if you could treat the subject with a tad more solemnity.”
“You have my undivided attention.”
The Imperial Magistrate let out a deep sigh. “At the very least, you could stop acting like a child and direct your comments directly to me.”
Rokuta was sitting on the statue of a lion’s head that elevated him higher off the ground than a normal chair. He swung his legs back and forth against the balusters.
He turned around and grinned. “But I am a child!”
“Precisely how old are you?”
Far from a man in his thirties, his outward appearance suggested at best a thirteen year old boy. Those who looked down on the Sea of Clouds didn’t age. In Rokuta’s case, a more mature bearing might have suited him better—kirin normally reached adulthood between their mid-teens and mid-twenties—but Rokuta hadn’t aged since entering Gen’ei Palace.
Perhaps when he stopped growing on the outside, he stopped growing on the inside too. Or that was the result of others treating him like a child based on how he looked. In any case, he did seem stuck with the disposition of a thirteen-year-old.
Technically speaking, because of the demands of conscription and national service, a child’s age was calculated by adding a year on his birthday rather than every New Year, as tradition once dictated.
“Here you are, a duty-bound nobleman in the prime of life and still carrying on like that. As the emperor’s counselor, the Saiho has the duty to exemplify the Path of Righteousness for his subjects. As the sole court official holding the rank of duke, he is first among equals. It would behoove him to act as such.”
“Like I said, I’m all ears. Except isn’t this about the Rokusui River levees? You’ll have to bring it up with the emperor.”
The Imperial Magistrate was a pale, thin man with delicate features. Looks, though, could be misleading. His name was You Shukou. The emperor called him Mubou (meaning “reckless”) and not without reason.
“Then I will do just that. Where might His Highness be at this moment?”
“Search me. Chasing skirts down in Kankyuu or whatnot.”
A slight smile rose to Shukou’s gentle face. “Does the Taiho know why the Imperial Magistrate should be bringing up the subject of the Rokusui River levees?”
“Ah, got it!” Rokuta clapped his hands together. “When it comes to flood control, the appropriate minister really ought to be handling the matter. It’s not your job, is it?”
The Imperial Magistrate was in charge of law enforcement and judicial affairs. More specifically, he oversaw the conduct and behavior of the other ministers. Flood control fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Earth, namely the land and infrastructure portfolio of the Suijin. Though more formally, the Chousai (who presided over the Rikkan and the Ministry of Earth) reported to the emperor.
“No, it is not my job. However, En will soon be entering its rainy season. If flood control measures are not taken, the green land the Taiho takes so much delight in will end up underwater. Such things need his approval sooner than later. Where is His Highness?”
“I was asked to address myself to this matter today, at this time, by none other than the emperor himself. A man of his word does not break his promises. His Highness is the standard bearer for the other ministers.”
“Well, that’s the kind of man he is. He really is making it up as he goes along.”
The emperor is the central pillar that holds up the kingdom. When it wavers, so does the kingdom. He doesn’t attend the Privy Council and is nowhere to be found when the time comes for the performance of his official duties. I ask you, how long can the government continue to stand under such conditions?
Rokuta gazed at Shukou with upturned eyes. “A question I’d appreciate you posing to Shouryuu.”
Shukou’s graceful brows twitched again. He abruptly thumped the desk with the sheaf of documents. “How many times has the Taiho attended Privy Council meetings this month?”
“Umm—” Rokuta looked down at his right hand and bent his fingers. “Well, counting today and the last time and—”
“Four times, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“You’d know better than me.”
The Imperial Magistrate didn’t hold a high-enough rank to attend the Privy Council. When Rokuta looked up at him with a mildly surprised expression, a placid smile rose to Shukou’s face.
“Ministers can be heard complaining about it everywhere around the Imperial Palace. Did you know that the Privy Council was originally supposed to convene every day?”
“Yes, His Highness had scheduled the Privy Council to meet every three days. Even so, every three days comes to ten times a month. What conclusion shall I draw from the fact that the month is about to end and the Taiho has attended the Privy Council only four times?”
“And His Highness has graced the Privy Council with his presence but once! What does he and the Taiho imagine the Imperial Government is there for?”
The loud crash rang out. A chair tipped over on the balcony. Looking in the direction of the sound, Rokuta realized that Baron Itan, the Suijin, must have been waiting there for some time.
No less than Shukou, the Suijin looked fit to be tied. The veins in the forehead throbbed. His shoulders shook.
“Why aren’t you in the Imperial Palace like you’re supposed to? What is it with the master and his underlings in this kingdom?”
“Itan, when did you get here?”
The glare in Itan’s eyes just about froze the amiable smile on Rokuta’s face. “My word! No better than wastrels and layabouts! It’s a miracle En manages to hold together as is!”
“Baron, Baron,” Shukou chided him, a wry smile on his face, but Itan had already turned on his heels.
“Baron, where are you going?”
“I’m going to grab him myself!”
Rokuta watched him stomp off and sighed. “What a foolhardy man.”
Itan’s nickname was Chototsu, which meant the same thing. And, again, not without reason.
“Alas,” said Shukou, grinning at Rokuta, “I am not as short-tempered as he. But not by much.”
“You don’t say.”
“When His Majesty doesn’t attend Privy Council meetings, nothing gets resolved, nothing gets approved. Eventually Itan formally petitions the emperor and is told to put it off to later. Like today. At this hour. And so he waits and waits and His Highness doesn’t show up. Under normal circumstances, he would then turn to the emperor’s counselor, the Taiho, except the Taiho is nowhere to be found.”
“Yeah, well, um—”
“When this kind of thing starts happening on a daily basis, I must also resolve to take the necessary measures. With all due respect, neither the emperor nor the Taiho should expect to be treated with kid gloves when it comes to their imperial duties.”
Rokuta responded with a weak laugh and a bowed head. “I shall mend my ways.”
Shukou smiled kindly. “That you would listen to my remonstrations with an open heart is reward enough. You do understand the point of this discussion?”
“I get it, I get it. Really.”
“In that case—” Shukou retrieved a book from his pocket and presented it to Rokuta. “This first volume in the Divine Chronicles of the Great Colonnade details the duties and responsibilities of the emperor and Taiho. As a testament to this introspection, I would ask you to copy out the section detailing absences from the Privy Council.”
“Six copies by tomorrow should suffice. That surely should not be too onerous a burden?”
Rokuta glanced up at Shukou. “Waste my time doing that sort of thing and the whole government will grind to a halt!”
A guileless smile rose to Shukou’s kindly face. “At this juncture, another day of delay will hardly make much of a difference.”