Gyousou returned to the business he had at hand. Taiki trudged back to where Seirai was waiting for him in the courtyard. Seirai saw him and hurried over. He noticed Taiki's changed attitude at once.
"It looks like I'm being sent to Ren."
Seirai nodded knowingly. "Ah, I was wondering when that subject was going to come up."
"His Highness discussed the matter with me. He wondered if it might be too great a burden to place upon you at this time. I said that it'd be a piece of cake for a Taiho like you." He peered more closely at Taiki. "Would you perchance harbor any reservations about going to Ren?"
Taiki shook his head. He really didn't have a problem with going to Ren, and didn't want anybody getting the idea that he might.
"But you must have a few concerns or worries."
Taiki looked down at his feet. "No, that's not it."
"It is a big responsibility. And yet Gyousou-sama won't be there with you."
Seirai had served under Gyousou in the Palace Guard, and now and then referred to him as he once had.
"Ren is very far away. It's going to take a lot of time to go there, won't it?"
"Yes, it will. Using kijuu, going there and coming straight back will take a month at the least. Even at top speed, you're not likely to make it back for the New Year celebrations."
"Would it be okay if I didn't go?"
"This is normally the kind of thing that the Taiho and the King would do together. All the more reason, His Highness believes, to make use of this opportunity to employ you as an ambassador. With all the festivals going on right now there won't be so many pressing engagements on your schedule. Look, the same thing goes for our friends in Ren. At any other time of year, we'd just be getting in the way."
"I guess so."
"Or perhaps the thought of being separated from Gyousou-sama makes you a little lonely?"
Taiki glanced up at Seirai and Seirai nodded to himself. "Yes, Gyousou-sama has been very wrapped up in his work."
In fact, Gyousou had been in a frenzy of activity of late. He'd been that way from before the Winter Solstice, and things hadn't changed since. After Seirai was appointed regent, they no longer attended the afternoon planning meetings together. There was no guarantee they'd eat together either. Exchanging a few words with Gyousou before the Privy Council was often the best Taiki could hope for.
"There's never any time to sit around and chat. And on top of that, being sent on a long journey must seem awfully disheartening."
Taiki well knew that Gyousou was busy, but he couldn't help feeling apprehensive, that he'd done something to tick him off. Back in his home town in Japan, he'd certainly seemed to do that to everybody around him.
For the most part, Taiki was a child who could never measure up to people's expectations. He knew what everybody around him expected, but he didn't know how to give it to them. Doing what was good in his eyes was only apt to disappoint them. When he was around, nothing went right. He felt that keenly, a feeling that hadn't changed much even now.
"You mean I'll just be in the way? Is that why I'm being sent to Ren?"
"Nonsense," Seirai scoffed. "Is that what's got you so down? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Taiho is irreplaceable."
"Because I'm a kirin?"
"That is certainly true."
"But—" he started to say. Seirai leaned forward and waited for him to continue. Taiki shook his head and closed his mouth.
Seirai smiled sadly. "Of course this has all put you a bit under the weather. All the more reason to seize the opportunity and get the job done as best you can. And I strongly suspect certain aspects of your life will see a definite improvement upon your return."
"See a definite improvement?"
"That's right." Seirai smiled raised his hand in an exaggerated gesture. "The details are top secret."
"They're what?" Taiki reflexively grabbed Seirai's sleeve. "Um, Seirai—"
"No, no, no. When you look at me like that, there's no way I can resist spilling the beans. And if I did, I'd catch a tongue-lashing from Gyousou-sama for sure."