Dreaming of Paradise

Chapter 4

The bird crossed the kingdom in three days. A grain of silver was all it needed to fly that far. Their words flew back and forth between Kankyuu and Gyouten literally on the wing. Due to the distance between the two capitals, a letter delivered by surface mail would take a good two months.

The bird flew through the skylight high up on Gyouten Mountain and was promptly snagged by a bureaucrat, who caged it and bore it reverentially to Kinpa Palace on the shores of the Sea of Clouds. The bird couldn't fly above the Sea of Clouds under its own power. It set down at the highest point it could manage.

The cage was passed from an official of the Outer Palace to one of the Inner Palace. After another transfer, it arrived at heart of the Imperial living quarters in the Seishin and was delivered to the Empress's paper-strewn desk just prior to her retiring.

Youko perched the bird on the bookcase next to her desk and stroked its wings. The bird opened his beak and spoke—the words of her first true friend in this world, his voice.

I'm doing pretty well myself. I've more or less gotten used to university life. The dorms are pretty comfortable. The homework is tough but I'm managing. Nothing too out of the ordinary, which isn't to say that I haven't stumbled over a few oddities. The food here in En is good too.

p. 177

So you met my mom, eh? I'm sorry she didn't show you a little more respect. I did tell her. Well, that's the kind of a woman she is, not one to bite her tongue. So give her a break, please. Though I don't think you would take it personally.

But surely she would have minded her manners if the Kei Taiho was with you? Don't tell me you were just wandering around there on your own. Good grief, at least take a bodyguard with you next time.

I do understand you wanting to go back to Kou to see what was what. I'm glad you were able to get it done. I'm curious as well about how Kou is doing and would like to catch up on conditions there. My mom's a tough lady. I wouldn't normally have any concerns about her getting by on her own. But I do worry about natural disasters and youma and the like. Knowing that nothing's out of the ordinary so far puts my mind at ease. I'm really glad you went to visit her.

Yeah, I heard from the En Taiho that the Kou Taiho had died. He drops by the university now and then. So does the Royal En. When do those guys ever work? You always hear about how competent and efficient the En ministers are. I think that's because they don't do anything.

I'm telling you, when they drop by, it's like being visited by a couple of cat burglars. It'll be the middle of the night and I'll hear tapping on the window and go to take a look and there's somebody floating there in the air. Practically gives me a heart attack every time.

p. 178

The subject of my grades, though, hasn't come up. I got that recently from another source. I can't resist patting myself a bit on the back. I had a pretty good feeling when I was taking the test. On the other hand, there is this folklore about students who matriculate first in their class never graduating. There are stories like that all over the place. It's kind of ironic to hear them at a university.

I guess the En Taiho would know about these legendary difficulties when it comes to graduating. There's no shortage of exemplary public servants here in En, so knowing you're in the running is a real compliment. Needless to say, hearing it certainly beats just knowing it. I'd better keep serious and graduate. The time to give thought to my future is after I've put these myths and rumors behind me.

Conditions in Kou are definitely going to get chaotic after this. I'm not sure what use I could make of myself in that regard. There's not likely to be much recruiting of government officials going on in Kou by the time I graduate. I never anticipated that Kou would face a dynasty with an empty throne. The Royal Kou certainly had his problems, but things will likely turn for the worse without him.

No doubt about it, a kingdom just can't do without a king. Of course, when people say stuff like that, I imagine it's got to weigh heavy on your mind, Youko. You just can't go take a stroll whenever you feel like it. No matter how confident you are in your own abilities, I'm not sure you should be frequenting a place where youma are bound to be popping up. You've got to take care of yourself. Your being in the world really counts for something now.

p. 179

When I say stuff like that, I probably sound like the Kei Taiho. But he's got a point, you know. You don't have a king where you came from, so it's no wonder you don't understand all the ramifications. The dignity of the kingdom and majesty of the monarch are very important. It's all well and good to resist getting too full of yourself, but to a certain extent, the people won't devote themselves to a king who isn't full of himself. And his ministers will be less inclined to follow his orders.

Social status matters, and slighting it often leads to trouble. The king is the top dog, and bears the greatest responsibility when and where he acts as such. The higher the rank, the greater the privileges and the more substantial the duties. A king who doesn't take the position seriously will be seen to be taking his duties just as lightly. The tendency is to see such a king as trying to avoid doing his duty. You've got to know when to put on airs and when not to. All things in their season.

At any rate, not having had a king or social status, I don't suppose you'll suddenly "get it" just being told these things. I think it'll come to you in time. Until then, the Kei Taiho will be there to nag you. You won't go wrong listening to what he has to say. A good king is a happy king. Since coming from Kou to En, I've becoming totally convinced of that. A good king is one who works on behalf of his subjects, or as the Kei Taiho says, does nothing except that which is done for the good of the people. Pay attention when you're around him. It'll pay off in the long term.

p. 180

The two of you seems to be getting along fairly well. And getting along with the bureaucracy as well. Sure, there will be things you aren't used to, but ultimately competence will win out. And it sounds like you've got good people around you.

Ah, Gyokuyou is the name of a Goddess on Mount Hou. She's the one in charge of the wizardesses. It has come to mean a beautiful girl. Any talented, attractive girl is called "Gyokuyou." Lose those attributes and you'll lose the name. It's mostly a nickname. My mom's little sister was called Gyokuyou. She died before my mom and dad got together, so I never met her.

When you become a notable Empress, you can count on a lot girls being named Youko. Though when I think about it, that'll be kind of odd.

Yeah, a person's nicknames tend to pile up. People start calling you something, and soon everybody does. Before long it's as good as your real name. Coming up with nicknames doesn't take a lot of ingenuity, so like breeds like. It's a surprising phenomenon. Here at university you'll get tagged with one in no time at all. I ended up with the same nickname as my father. Not a bad thing, but a tad awkward on my part.

p. 181

Ah, what is it about names? Seriously, you're really going with "Sekiraku"? I dunno. It's all news to me. The era name is proudly proclaimed on the occasion of the opening of the new dynasty, in order to pray for the happiness of the people and the tranquility of the realm, and to solemnly usher in the new era. Not to indulge in personal whims like you're naming a pet. Mind you, I've just sharing my opinions, that's all.

Well, ah, hmm. I forgot what I was going to talk about next. Going to school here is a pretty good deal. Most of the professors are fair and approachable. Most of my dorm mates are good people. The facilities are great, the library is well stocked, many of the professors live here and you can drop in on them whenever. The food's good—but I think I already mentioned that.

The Royal En is always looking out for me. He says I can crash at the Imperial Palace if I want, and has offered to get me a house. Turning him down all the time can get to be a pain after a while.

I mean, I'm grateful and all, but, well, you know. Not the kind of thing I can go showing off in front of the professors and other students. And even taking all that out of the equation, I seem to have been deemed a member of your retinue, like when the store manager throws in something extra for free. I hate to have to say it, but this degree of attention is getting on my nerves. If the opportunity ever comes up, I'd appreciate if you'd tell you-know-who to back off a little.

Though after a bit of thought, I suppose that sounds rather rude. After all, the king lives way above all the rest of them who live above the clouds. I wonder if it's thanks to you that I'm so at ease around people like that. Or maybe I take after my mom.

p. 182

Well, it's okay either way. That's why I've been able to live such a good life. One of my professors got me a scholarship, and that'll take care of my tuition and dorm fees. At this rate, if things turn for the worse in Kou, I'm thinking I'll go get my mom. Seeing as she's getting by working for other people, she can do the same thing anywhere. One of my professors said that they could hire her as a dorm mother. I'm really indebted to so many good people. My luck really started improving since I met you. Youko. I'll never be able to thank you enough.

The En Taiho told me about your upcoming coronation ceremony. He invited me to tag along, and I'm thinking I just might take him up on the offer. I'm looking forward to seeing you deport yourself as an Empress. Not very many people can count royalty among their acquaintances.

Speaking of which, I'd better keep my nose to the grindstone so I can afford to take the time off from my studies. You too, Youko.

Talk to you later.

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