Seirai left with two junior ministers, who had also donned ceremonial court dress. On their way out, they passed Sougen and Asen coming to visit Taiki. They'd already changed out of their traveling clothes.
"You must be pretty tuckered out by now," said Sougen.
Sougen had previously served under General Gyousou. With the establishment of the new Imperial Court, he'd been appointed commander of the critical Zui Provincial Guard of the Right. He wasn't the giant of a man that was Ganchou of the Palace Guard of the Left. But he possessed a towering stature and a calm dignity and bearing that reminded Taiki of the fairy tale samurai he used to read about back in Japan.
"I'm okay. Look—" Standing at the window, Taiki indicated the gardens outside the inn. The two generals sauntered up to the window and looked where Taiki was pointing. "There are flowers in the garden."
Gyousou had said that Ren was a place where there were flowers in winter, but it hadn't seemed possible that such a kingdom existed in this season. No snow lay on the ground. Even this close to the window, he didn't feel the cold. In Tai, the frigid draft leaking through the nooks and crannies in the window sills always made him shiver.
Sougen narrowed his eyes contemplatively. "What kind of flowers, I wonder. They would seem to be coming into bloom. I wouldn't have believed that there was a kingdom where no snow fell at this time of year."
"Me neither," agreed Taiki, pressing his forehead against the glass. "Since Tai is covered in white, I though it'd be like that everywhere here."
"Yeah. It only snows now and then where I lived in Yamato. It wasn't uncommon for there to be no snow at all. But it was never this warm. Still, Tai being the way it is, I figured that all the kingdoms here were the same way. Because this is my first winter here. I guess Tai is the only kingdom that cold."
"Indeed," Sougen nodded quite thoughtfully.
"This world must be really big."
"The fields outside the city are still awaiting the harvest."
"In these southern kingdoms, it looks like there's no letting the fields lie fallow during the winter months," observed Asen.
"I've heard that they can grow a wide variety of grains."
"Wow," said Taiki. "Crops even grow in the winter. You can go to a field in the middle of the winter and pull vegetables out of the ground."
"That would be the case."
"It'd be nice if you could do that in Tai," Taiki said mostly to himself.
The two general heartily agreed.
"Children can run around outside. And livestock put out to pasture."
Just how did these people live here in this warm climate— Taiki stared raptly out the window as if he couldn't get enough of even this tiny slice of Ren.
"How about we take a little stroll?" said Asen. "I'm getting my second wind back, so I'd be happy to accompany you."
"Really. Is that okay?" Taiki said, jumping up.
Asen smiled and nodded. Both he and Gyousou had served in the Palace Guard under the previous king, and Taiki had heard them referred to as the two jewels in the crown. Asen was renowned as a skilled soldier, and perhaps for that reason was also compared in appearance to Gyousou as well.
Except that now and then Gyousou could put on a fearsome front, possessed of an almost frightening ambition that Asen never displayed. So Taiki never felt cowed by Asen's presence.
Taiki looked at Sougen expectantly. As Sougen thought the request over, Asen interjected, "There can't be anything wrong with taking a look at Juurei, can there? It seems to me that expanding the scope of the Taiho's world is a good thing."
Sougen nodded. "Well, with Tansui and the rest of there, I don't see anything wrong with that."