Hisho's Birds

Chapter 7

That evening, Hogetsu hurried into Eikou’s study. “I heard there was bit of a commotion here earlier today,” he said catching his breath.

Eikou only nodded his head.

“Sorry about that. I should have been here to put a halt to it.”

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for. How did you hear about it?”

“One of the servants. And before that, word came that there was disturbance at the justice’s manse. Though nobody could fill me in on the particulars.”

Eikou said with a sad smile, “Because it happened at the front gate. A few nosy servants must have overheard. Well, fine. People will talk.” He directed his gaze out the window. A cool breeze wafted in from the dark garden. Fall was coming.

p. 146

“What if the Department of Justice or the Shoushikou to catch wind of such goings-on?”

“What happens is this appeal gets remanded. That enough is for sure.”

Even as he answered Hogetsu’s question, such an outcome struck him as an acceptable turn of events. This case was too much for him to handle. Not only get removed from the proceedings, if he bungled things badly enough, he could lose his judgeship. And that might not be such a bad turn of events either.

Eikou looked at Hogetsu. “Whatever happens may affect you as well.”

Hogetsu crouched down next to Eikou’s chair and clasped Eikou’s hand in his. “Please don’t worry about hypotheticals like that.”

“But—”

Hogetsu had only recently been appointed a minister. A scandal could cost him dearly.

“And don’t hold it against Seika.”

Eikou couldn’t imagine what Seika had been thinking, but was sure her actions didn’t come from a bad place. He later learned from others in her circle that she had stolen down to Shisou and not only visited Shunryou’s parents but other bereaved families as well. She would have listened to their stories and empathized with their anger and loss.

However imprudent her behavior, there was no denying the heart behind it.

p. 147

Eikou said as much to Hogetsu, who didn’t disagree. Eikou continued, “I fear I was too short with her. I should have done a better job explaining myself, gone into more detail about what my job entails—what was on my mind, what was making me wrack my brains.”

Even as he said it, Eikou wasn’t sure he could do it. Getting Seika to comprehend such things was no easy task, and he wasn’t even sure she wanted to comprehend them in that way. Not that she would reject them out of hand. Rather, the opposite. Seika wished to attack the problem with anger and righteous indignation.

Except Eikou’s ego-centered reaction only enraged her just as it had probably enraged Keishi. It all started with him and the same careless words he tossed around—at least, that was the thought on his mind when Hogetsu spoke up.

“Grandfather, I don’t think the responsibility rests with you.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Definitely not. It’s not your fault, and neither is my big sister to blame. All this falls on the head of Shudatsu.”

Dragging Shudatsu into the discussion—that prompted a burst of hollow laughter from Eikou.

Hogetsu said with a small shake of his head, “She’s worried. I don’t know why she decided to meet with Shunryou’s parents but I could hazard a guess. Making sure Shudatsu receives a death sentence will alleviate the anxiety she’s feeling.”

p. 148

Eikou said, “As I said, there’s no proof that capital punishment is effective at reducing the crime rate.”

Hogetsu shook his head again. “That is probably not the issue at play. Public order in Shisou is on the decline. At some point it will reach into the Imperial Palace. It may be mere unrest for now, but Shudatsu is proof that among them exist criminals that are beyond redemption. Hard to comprehend, harder to sympathize with. People who trample the most obvious principles of justice underfoot without the slightest hesitation—that’s the kind of thing that gives my big sister qualms, and everyone like her.”

Hogetsu added with a faint smile, “She believes, along with most of the general public, that taking Shudatsu out of the picture will quench that sense of unease. Order will be restored to the world.”

“Seika said so?”

“No. That’s my interpretation. The part of me that’s still an ordinary citizen thinks so too.”

“I see,” Eikou said to himself. “Remove him from society and restore order to the world.” Enga’s words suddenly occurred to him. “Words like monster serve only to dehumanize criminals that people cannot comprehend, sever them from the rest of society.”

p. 149

Hogetsu responded with a puzzled tilt of his head.

“What the Daishikou said. Even at the time, I thought he might have a point. That is the way our minds work. We are bigger cowards than we wish to admit. We seek peace of mind by separating ourselves from that which we cannot understand.”

He had the feeling that was the case back when he discarded the apologies Keishi sent him. It was easy to tell himself he simply didn’t want her to be a part of his life. But the real impulse was to sever himself from her bewildering life and exile it to a corner of the world far out of his sight.

Now that Eikou thought about it, he had requested those letter of apology and made restitution on her behalf. But not once had he met with her in person. He likely didn’t want to even acknowledge her existence. He’d helped her out of a sense of duty and due to the weight of responsibility he felt. Still, he could have talked with her face-to-face and done his best to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Perhaps even a token effort might have put a stop to her committing the same crime over and over.

“It is human nature, after all,” Hogetsu said, giving Eikou’s hand a sympathetic pat. “On the other hand, I am an employee of the imperial government. As such there are times when I must put aside my emotions. Though I don’t belong to the Ministry of Fall, Grandfather, I will do my best to grasp the burden you bear.”

p. 150

Eikou only nodded.

Hogetsu said, “Please let me look after Riri and my big sister so you can devote all your time and energy to your job as a justice.”

Eikou didn’t answer but only grasped his grandson’s hand in turn.

Whatever his own intentions, Eikou ended up listening to what Shunryou’s parents had to say. He didn’t think the incident hindered his ability to carry out his duties, but neither could he keep quiet about it. The next day, he laid out the details for Chi’in. Chi’in told him to await further instructions and admonished him to continue working on the verdict.

Chi’in summoned him three days later. He said, his expression more grim than their previous encounter, “His Highness understands the position you were placed in and says there is no problem.”

Eikou looked back at him.

“I consulted with the Shoushikou, who advised that His Highness be informed. I asked His Highness how best to deal with the situation and he said to deal with it however I pleased.”

Chi’in’s voice trailed off. Eikou felt his spirits falling as well. He was thankful not to escape a reprimand. But at the same time couldn’t pretend he wasn’t disappointed. He would have to render a decision after all. Though not as disappointed as he was to again realize the depth of the emperor’s indifference to the case.

“So His Highness doesn’t have the slightest interest in the Shudatsu case.”

p. 151

“Something like that,” Chi’in said in a practically a whisper.

“What are the Daishikou’s thoughts on the matter?”

“If he has any, he hasn’t said. I can’t imagine he hasn’t heard.”

Chi’in said, “His Highness having said what he’s said, there’s no need for him to weigh in.” He looked at Eikou. “I know I’m asking a lot of you, but I’d like you to hand down the verdict on this one. As long as you and Jokyuu and Sotsuyuu are writing the decision, I’m sure I can get behind it. That’s why I chose you.”

Grateful for the words of support, Eikou bowed deeply. Returning to chambers, though, his mood slipped lower. Jokyuu and Sotsuyuu anxiously awaited his arrival. Seeing their faces left him all the more depressed.

“The one thing that is perfectly obvious is that His Highness is leaving the Shudatsu case in our laps.” That’s what Eikou said before mentioning the matter involving himself. There was no doubt in his mind—the kingdom was coming undone.

Which brought him back to the original problem. With the kingdom coming undone, was this the right time to reinstate the death penalty? Later on, when the kingdom’s downward course grew more pronounced, would Eikou and the Department of Justice be capable of curtailing its abuse?

p. 152

Eikou articulated these thoughts aloud. Jokyuu and Sotsuyuu thought it over. At the end of the day, they were still all at sea. None of them could come to a definitive opinion and bridge the gap between their personal opinions and their public duties. Considering Shudatsu’s crimes and the concerns of the bereaved, execution seemed the only option. Only then would that cowardly fear of death would emerge.

Eikou had gradually come around to the belief that this wasn’t an illogical perspective. The logic that the murderer must forfeit his life was no less rational that his hesitation to impose a death sentence.

He heard Riri’s question inside his head: Daddy, are you a killer?

With all its naive directness, that question plunged to the heart of the matter. Eikou naturally saw the murderer and capital punishment as two separate issues. But was that was he truly believed? He sensed he’d always been aware of this inner conflict. Push come to shove, an execution was nothing less than a murder, the life of one individual being brought to an end by another.

As natural as it was to assert that murderer must forfeit his life, the taking of the life remained abominable. Was not human nature on display in either case? The public wished to see Shudatsu executed, and offered to do the deed if the Department of Justice flinched at the task. But how many of those citizens would willingly kill him face-to-face? Maybe only the families of the victims would step forward, swords in their hands.

To be sure, Eikou wouldn’t hesitate to avenge Riri’s death. In order to revenge himself, the man of conscience had to overcome that part of himself that abhorred murder. Or framed in the negative, lacking a motive like revenge, such a man could not bring himself to kill another.

p. 153

Fear of the death penalty growing out of control spoke as well to its savage nature. At the end of the day, the innate unease that made the average man turn away from the killing of others must have its roots deep in the human psyche.

Eikou expressed these thoughts. Sotsuyuu audibly sighed. “That may be the case. These are very much my personal feelings on the subject. But whenever I advocate for the death penalty, I can’t help thinking about a friend of mine. He was a fellow magistrate when I was a regional minister. Now he’s an executioner general.

Eikou started a bit and looked at Sotsuyuu. The executioner general worked under the direction of the prison warden and carried out the sentence imposed on the prisoner. If Shudatsu was sentenced to death, the executioner general would carry out the order of the court.

“The killer getting killed is reaping his just desserts—at least that’s how it seems to me when I look at Shudatsu. But I can’t help wondering if my friend would have the same reaction. Naturally, there’s no comparing a government-sanctioned execution with the actions of individual killing somebody for selfish motives. However, when the times comes for the sword to fall, an individual will have to take Shudatsu’s life from him.”

“Except,” Jokyuu interjected in a calm voice, “they would probably borrow soldiers from the Ministry of Summer to do the actual deed. Putting it this way does give me pause, but soldiers are inured to the killing and injuring of others.”

p. 154

“Is that really the case? When it comes to taking criminals into custody and quelling insurrections, the soldier is putting himself in a killed or be killed situation. Is the violence dispensed in such cases commensurate with hauling a prisoner—bound so that he cannot resist—to the gallows?”

“The executioner who executes the criminal is no murderer. That death is in accordance with the dictates of justice. It’s not the person of the executioner who does the killing. Rather, his arm is an instrument of the Lord God Creator. Make that understood, reward him fully, and the executioner will come to terms with the situation.”

“Will he really?”

Jokyuu looked down and silently shook his head. Eikou got the feeling he hadn’t sold himself on the proposition either.

Jokyuu said with derisive smile, “I’d settle for handing the job off to the families of the victims. They would happily take on the executioner’s job.”

Sotsuyuu added with a dry chuckle of his own. “I don’t doubt it. Except the name for that is revenge. The Department of Justice exists precisely to guard again lynching, to stem the desire to exact personal retribution.” He took a weary breath and gazed up at the ceiling. “Which is why executioners are asked to volunteer.”

p. 155

Eikou said, “There’s a question I’d like to pose to the two of you.” He looked at them each in turn. “The people are hoping for a death sentence. The junior ministers are for it as well. But the higher the official the more reluctant they become. Why do you think accounts for that?”

“That is—” Jokyuu opened his mouth to reply, then paused. “Being actually involved in the penal process should explain our reluctance to rush to judgment. The rest of the high officials not directly involved by and large tend to be a cautious lot. Think about and that makes sense too.”

“It does make sense.”

“Because we are the kingdom. To do our jobs we must be keenly aware that each of us constitutes one part of the kingdom. Not only the Department of Justice. In some shape or form, our intentions influence every action taken by the kingdom. That is true of any bureaucrat. All are a part of the whole. My intentions become the kingdom’s intentions. The actions of the kingdom become my actions. Therefore, he who is killed in the name of the kingdom is killed in my name too.”

Daddy, are you a killer?

p. 156

The purpose of an execution was to kill. Someone would end Shudatsu’s life. That someone would do so on behalf of the state. Representing the state, as the duly appointed imperial ministers, Eikou and his colleagues in the Department of Justice would sign the warrants.

In short, they were the killers.

“Hoping to balance the scales of justice by putting a murderer to death is probably not good logic. At the same time, asserting that no one should be put to death, that no one should be the hangman, is not good logic either. An execution sanctioned by the state is a death sanctioned by ourselves, hence our desire to avoid the taint. Of course, this is only me giving voice to my emotions.”

Eikou recognized inside himself that instinctive cowardice that recoiled from killing. Surely it dwelled in the rest of the populace as well. But as far as the people were concerned, the government was an extension of Heaven. Heaven chose the emperor and the emperor chose his ministers. From the start, the commoners lived in a separate sphere, their will detached from that of the state. So there was no hesitation in campaigning for the death penalty. Shudatsu would not die by their hand. Heaven would smite him down.

“Even on a provisional basis, we in the Department of Justice do not condone decisions made on a subjective and personal grounds. Nor can the penal code ever be deformed to suit our emotions. For those devoted to the cause of justice, the impulse to not kill another is an unavoidable as the righteous indignation with which the murderer gets sent to the gallows. I don’t want to be a killer, nor the person who tells somebody else to kill.”

Sotsuyuu took a deep breath. “The same way the claim that a life for a life is an illogical reaction, so is the evasion that capital punishment is murder. They both have less to do with reason than with subjective responses closer to instinct. Though I have to say they both pull about equal weight.”

p. 157

“More or less.”

“There’s no ruling out the possibility that reinstating capital punishment could lead to its overuse. But it’s also true that stemming such a tide would be the job of the Department of Justice. Revive it or stand firm on the moratorium—there’s a cogent argument to made either way. And by the same token, insufficient grounds to hand down a decision.”

Sotsuyuu said, “In that case, all that is left is the person of Shudatsu himself.”

Eikou and Jokyuu reacted with a pair of confused expressions.

“If the logic of the debate balance out on both sides, then we need to return to the problem of Shudatsu as a person. His Highness banned use of the death penalty in the first place because the purpose of the penal code was not to punish the criminal but to save the citizen. In which case, wouldn’t such a premise raise the question of whether Shudatsu can be redeemed?”

“Except—” Eikou looked at Jokyuu. “Is there any realistic chance of Shudatsu being reformed?”

Usually for him, Jokyuu appeared no less perplexed. “I did meet with Shudatsu. He did not strike me as a man who had repented of his sins. However, the Daishikou’s words do have resonance. After concluding that the man is subhuman, a monster, shall we now declare our intention to reform him? It’s a good question.”

p. 158

Eikou felt his heart skip a beat. “We still don’t know why Shudatsu killed Shunryou. As the Daishikou said, he has to have a reason, even one that only makes sense to himself. If we can at least clarify that, perhaps reform is not out of the question.” He thought for a minute and then nodded. “Let’s see what Shudatsu has to say for himself.”

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.