A flurry of communiqués between the Foreign Ministries of Tai and Ren followed. Schedules were set and the mission members were selected.
Taiki was designated head of mission. His retinue included his bodyguard Tansui and Regent Seirai. The deputy ambassadors were Sougen of the Zui Provincial Guard of the Left and Asen of the Palace Guard of the Right. Serving those four were a handful of junior ministers, bringing the total to only nine (in addition to Taiki, Seirai and Tansui).
They were not escorted by any Imperial heralds and traveled in civilian dress. Although in name a diplomatic mission, in fact Taiki was traveling as a personal emissary of the Royal Tai at the personal behest of the Royal Ren.
The Kingdom of Ren was an island in the Kyokai, separated from the main continent to the south and west. A mirror image of Tai, it was the kingdom furthest away. In fact, Tai and Ren had no formal diplomatic relations. Up to this juncture, they had not once exchanged ambassadors, the necessity having never before presented itself.
The only change between then and now was that Renrin had personally helped Taiki out. She had been the one who'd brought Taiki back to this world after he was swept away to the strange realm of Yamato—then his home country.
"What kind of person is the Ren Taiho?" Taiki asked Seirai soon after they left Kouki.
They employed kijuu on the way to Ren, but Taiki still couldn't fly one on his own. Instead, they rode comfortably in a palanquin strapped to the backs of two oxen-like kijuu.
Seirai raised an eyebrow and said in an almost startled voice, "I thought that'd be something the Taiho would know about."
"I haven't met her either. Well, I have met her, but she just brought me back here. I was really startled at the time and only remember her face." He confessed with a touch of embarrassment, "To be honest, I spent most of the time crying. I don't really understand it myself. And when I wasn't crying I was sleeping. When I woke up, the Ren Taiho had already returned to Ren."
"So that's how things went. I don't know her either. There really isn't anybody in Tai who's familiar with the Ren Taiho or the Royal Ren."
"There are only twelve of us, so it'd be nice if we could all get to know each other."
Seirai grinned broadly. "That's certainly true. Though it should become clear why the getting-to-know-you part is not so simple."
Taiki responded with a blank look. After thinking about it, he couldn't disagree. Ren was too far away from Tai to visit on a regular basis.
Even using these fleet-footed kijuu, leaving the territory of Tai had taken a day and a night. Another day and night to cross the Kyokai. Then setting out from a port city in Ryuu, they skirted the coastline toward Kyou. At Han, they turned south, and then again crossed the ocean. After two weeks of flying, the coastline of Ren finally came into view.
"Yeah, I get it now," Taiki said as they alighted in Juurei, the capital city of Ren. "It'd be hard to get to know anybody when they live so far away. The going and coming won't leave much time for anything else."
"Exactly," Seirai smiled. "That was a rough trip. How are you holding up?"
They set down in an open field on the outskirts of Juurei. The city before them was still festooned with the decorations celebrating the New Year.
"We only spent half a day in the air today."
"Ah, yes." Seirai sighed with an air of disappointment. "You've got much more perseverance than I do. An old man like me is so much dead weight."
Taiki peered up at Seirai. "You think you're just dead weight?"
"Unfortunately so. My specialty is seizing young ruffians by the neck and giving them a good dressing down." He grimaced playfully. "If I didn't give you the occasional paddling for pulling the occasional prank, my life would be completely devoid of fun."
Taiki giggled. "I'll have to try harder."
"If you wouldn't mind," Seirai laughed.
Two junior ministers—who'd arrived at Juurei ahead of them—emerged from the Horse Gate adjacent the huge main gate. Among the four junior ministers, two alternately went ahead to arrange the night's lodgings.
"Ah, the reception party has arrived. Tonight's accommodations should be a cut above the usual."