Dreaming of Paradise

Chapter 2

The bird continued in Youko's voice, "I'm doing okay. The best I can, I suppose. I can't help feeling a little self-conscious sitting here talking to a bird. It's like talking to myself. Though I guess I'm the only one here who feels that way. Well, um—" She paused for a moment before continuing.

I'm getting used to life in Kinpa Palace. I've managed to make if from the Seishin to the Gaiden without asking for directions. I'm getting used to the lay of the land, like it's someplace I belong. I took your advice, and my explorations seem to have turned out okay. It turned into a big, two-day expedition. Keiki drew me a map, but I still got myself plenty lost.

The Imperial Palace is so big that two days is hardly enough time to take in the whole thing. There are thirty-two buildings in the Seishin alone! On top of that, there are these little bridges all over the place, and if you go across them, there's this other place called the Koukyuu on the other side—it just makes me laugh! I haven't explored the Koukyuu yet. Make that the Koukyuu and the East Palace. And the administrative offices. I mean, taking a look at the places I'm personally connected to took a whole two days! What am I supposed do with all these buildings?

Just them sitting there doing nothing seems like an awful waste. I've been thinking of maybe renting out rooms to earn a little extra income for the Imperial treasury. Or maybe using them for refugee housing. Or creating an Imperial hospital. Keiki turns all my ideas down flat. He says such things are absolutely not allowed. If we tore them all down, at least that'd get rid of the maintenance costs. But apparently that's a non-starter as well.

p. 149

Illustration

p. 150

Kei is plenty poor, and it seem to me that I shouldn't be living in a place like this. But Keiki goes on about Imperial dignity and etcetera. I've got tons of clothing and jewelry that I inherited from all the rulers before me. Selling it all would make a sizable addition to the treasury. Frankly, when people start going on about the "dignity of the kingdom" and the "dignity of the crown," I don't really get what they're talking about.

Just the other day, I thanked the maids for cleaning my room. Keiki gave me a hard time about it. He says they won't respect me if I'm casual with them like that, but I'm not convinced. Oh, yeah, and no making notes. Most of the stuff that goes on around here I've never seen or heard about before. There's no way I'm going to remember any of it if I can't write it down. So I was carrying a notebook around with me so I could, you know, take notes. Keiki got on my case about that too! He says it makes the ministers uneasy. I'm supposed to be above it all or whatever. So whenever I find out something new, I sneak away someplace and write it down in secret. Though that isn't exactly genius behavior either.

p. 151

I'm telling you, Keiki nags me from morning till night. You wouldn't think he could be so annoying, supposedly being chock full of humanity and charity and all. The only kirin I've met so far are Enki and Keiki, so I've really got to wonder sometimes. The end result is, we get into these big arguments. It must really freak out the ministers.

Though come to think about it, when they treat me with kid gloves, I tend to get overconfident. So Keiki's probably just what I need. With everybody bowing down to me wherever I go, it's easy to think I have everything under control. Him being such a taskmaster keeps me from getting a swollen head. All things considered, I think I'm handling things okay. Though it'd be a lot better if he wasn't so freaking uptight every minute of the day.

I seem to get along with everybody besides Keiki. But that's probably just because I'm so clueless. Whatever the Rikkan says, my reaction is, well, why not? Once I figure out more about what's going on, we'll probably end up having more disagreements.

The court ladies who help me out are very good at what they do. And they're fun to gossip with. Keiki gives me his sour look and says I shouldn't get too attached to the help. But there's no way I can be high-handed with the people I spend every morning and evening with.

p. 152

One of my ladies-in-waiting is named Gyokuyou. She's nice. I really like her. She used to be in the Ministry of Spring. She did something in education. The name of the department completely escapes me right now. Man, I feel like such a pea-brain sometimes. Anyway, I think she worked for the people who build schools. We talk about what schools are like here compared to Yamato. I should get her transferred back to the Ministry of Spring. She didn't lose her position because she did anything wrong. It was because the Late Empress Yo had all the women exiled from Kei. After leaving Kei, she traveled all over the place, and took the opportunity to visit schools wherever she went. She's got a really positive outlook on life.

Speaking of which, I met a girl named Gyokuyou before in Kou. I guess it's a pretty popular name. But as I was saying, the Gyokuyou who's my lady-in-waiting knows all these great stories about the other kingdoms. Hearing them makes me want to travel too. Not just around Kei, but the other kingdoms as well. And not just running from one tourist trap to another, but taking the time to look and listen.

Unfortunately, these days, seeing how things are going in Kou is about the best I could hope for.

You've probably heard this as well, but it looks like Kourin finally died. The word is, yesterday a new Kouka appeared on Mt. Hou. The Royal Kou is near death's door as well. Things are going to get bad in Kou after this. I know you must be worried, Rakushun. I'll do whatever I can to help. Though you know as well as I that's not a whole lot.

p. 153

At any rate, from what I've been able to see so far of Kou, things haven't turned awful yet.

I kept hearing that things were getting chancier by the day in Kou, so I managed to talk Keiki into letting me take a look. We don't really have that kind of time to spare, so it was only two days. But I've been worrying about it a lot. For one reason or another, I felt I just couldn't move on with my life until I'd made a return visit. And on the way I could check out things in Kei as well.

As far as I could tell, things hadn't changed much since the last time. People on the street looked like they had a lot on their minds. Otherwise, they didn't seem any different. It was harvest time, and the fields were very pretty. The farms we passed in Kei along the way were in sadder condition. The faster Kei gets at least as nice as Kou the better.

We visited your mom. She's doing well. We dropped in clear out of the blue, but she gave us a warm welcome anyway. Her steamed bread is as delicious as ever. She didn't seem to have any idea what had happened to me since, so I guess you haven't told her. Getting letters delivered from Kankyuu must be well-nigh impossible. I sensed it was the first time in a long time that somebody she knew had visited her.

p. 154

So me being Empress never came up. We talked about when I traveled to En with you and what you were up to there. Your mom's village hasn't changed a bit. There aren't any natural disasters where she lives, or any youma showing up. They had a better wheat crop this year than last, so her wages went up. While she's aware that Kourin died, she just smiled and said she wasn't sure what it had to do with a little old lady like her.

Of course, she's worried more about you—if you're eating well, if you're living okay, how college is going. In any case, it's nice to hang out with somebody who isn't bowing to you all the time. I really like her. Did I mentioned how good her bread was?

We took a quick look around Shin County, and visited the village where I was first swept ashore—from afar, that is. I have to say, it a kind of took me back, and that surprised me. It was a strange feeling, and not necessarily a bad feeling. It brought back memories, all that self-loathing I used to have. But I'm glad I went. I can live with what I've made of myself, and that's encouraging.

After our tour of Kou and traveling back to Kei, I told myself I really had to get down to business. It's harvest time and still so many farms are a total mess. I have to do something about that.

It's easy to tell people to keep a positive attitude and put their shoulder to the wheel. I have a ton of things to learn before I earn the right to go around saying things like that. To be honest, there are times when I'm completely out to sea. I guess this long lifespan of mine will be useful for something. Otherwise, about the time I figured out how to run this place, I'd be an old granny with one foot in the grave.

p. 155

It'd be nice if there was some sort of news service for the kingdoms so we could get reports on how things are going. The best thing I can do is the Imperial let's-all-get-along ceremony I conducted the other day. It's supposed to keep the youma from getting out of hand, but I'm not sure I see the connection.

What I could see on the trip to and from Kou wasn't enough to get a good grasp of the situation. And inside the Imperial Palace, I don't hear anything about how the real people are doing. I like to be able to take a relaxed stroll through a normal town. Being empress doesn't give you a whole lot of freedom. Though I probably feel that way because the only other ruler I know is the Royal En. I have to wonder how the other kings and empresses keep tabs on their subjects. If we can't walk around like normal people, then we ought to at least devise some sort of reporting system so we can stay up to date about what's going on.

Well, back to the grindstone. I still can't remember the names of the government departments and their portfolios and the names and faces of the important ministers and secretaries to my own satisfaction. Hearing myself say that, I have to wonder if I'm up for the job. Keiki tells me that these things are inevitable, that there's no need to rush. Now and then even he shows me a little sympathy, gives me a little encouragement. Only now and then.

p. 156

Oh, yeah. We're finally getting around to formally conducting the coronation ceremony. It's set for next month. Remembering all the rules and protocols is a real pain. I hope you'll be able to come. I know you have your studies, so I don't want to inconvenience you. Keiki has made arrangements in any case. If you think it's just going to be a waste of time, don't feel bad about blowing the whole thing off. I won't take it personally.

Um, with the coronation, there will be an official change of era. The era name was left up to me. I've been thinking about using a character from your name. If I hadn't met you, I would have died in those mountains. Granted, it's a pretty personal name, but I consider you a real prince of Kei, so I was hoping it'd be okay. It's fine with Keiki. We agreed that the era name should be "Sekiraku."

"Ah," Youko said, as if imagining the expression on his face. "All I'm doing is taking about myself. What are you up to, Rakushun?"

In fact, I was just in a conference with Rokuta-kun discussing what to do about the Kei refugees still in En. Rokuta says that you ranked number one on your entrance exams. Or maybe you haven't gotten the results yourself yet? Either way, congratulations. I'm really happy for you. Now, don't get all full of yourself.

p. 157

So what are universities in En like? I bet you're learning tons of amazing stuff. Rokuta was making noises about recruiting you for the civil service there. If En starts making you offers, we'd like to too. But I guess you'd probably like to go back to Kou. Whatever happens, let's keep our chins up.

Next time, I'll try to come up with some more noteworthy news. Patching a kingdom back together is a whole lot harder than you'd imagine.

What's that? Oh, Keiki just told me he says hello. He's no doubt got a pile of work for me to do. Man, sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel on all these weird words. We should come up with some real words that normal people can understand.

And I'm having Keiki carry my notebooks. He walks around all day, a notebook hanging from a strap around his neck, taking notes for me. I think he looks so charming when he does that. Oops, now he's giving me the evil eye. Time to hit the books.

See you.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.