Dreaming of Paradise

Chapter 7

Like Kouki, Juurei spread out beneath the towering Ryou'un Mountain. Though it was the middle of winter, the streets were filled with people. A bright and open atmosphere seemed to embrace the whole city. Taiki found it all very strange.

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Kouki was pretty much the opposite. Its citizens lived under roofs covered with snow, and depended on the thick walls of their houses to keep warm. The mountains and valleys were a solid blanket of white. Not even the livestock could be let outdoors. Any nobody would think for a moment that any crops out there awaited any kind of harvest.

Only those who absolutely had to ventured far from home, and then dressed in a thick, padded long coats with a high collars. The head wrapped in a scarf or fur, ducking into the wind, moving as fast as was possible, pressing on with firm determination from shelter to shelter—that was the kind of kingdom Tai was.

Ren was the exact opposite. Even at this time of year, much of the city was wide open. The shutters of the windows were open. Taiki could see inside the building. The doors to the shops along the high street were also open, and great crowds of people came and went. People paused to chat in the streets. Children ran to and fro. And in the fields, livestock grazed on the dry grass covering the fields.

"This is really something," Taiki exclaimed.

"Yes, it is," Asen agreed with a small smile. "If winters in Tai were half this temperate, the lives of the people would be completely different."

Taiki thought so too. This kingdom did not strike the eye as particularly wealthy—Kyou and Han seemed much richer—but there was a carefree air that somehow seemed to suffuse the streets and the people. Ren had apparently been afflicted by chaos until recently, but no sign of that tension was anywhere to be seen.

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Tai was never like this. Not much time had passed since the change in the Imperial Court, and it was not unheard of for people to freeze to death on the streets of cities like Kouki. There were towns that had exhausted their stores and people starved to death. So despite the tremendous risks, lines of people could be seen leaving their home towns behind and setting off through the deep snow for a neighboring village.

Despite having to scrape by harvesting whatever they could from the land, all their spare time and energy was spent mining gems and silver and gold. The previous king had hoarded all of it for himself, laying that heavy burden on the backs of the Tai people for a long time. And though a new king had acceded to the throne, not much had changed.

"It'd be nice if God had blessed Tai with warm weather," said Taiki.

Sougen smiled. "Tentei was good enough to give us a new king instead."

"Yeah," said Taiki, lowering both his voice and his gaze.

"As long as there is a good king, the kingdom and the people can join hands and overcome any hardship together. That's the only blessing we can hope for."

"Sure."

"Was there something else?"

Taiki shook his head and didn't say anything more. He avoided Sougen questioning eyes and turned his gaze toward the broad fields of green, where farmers were working with spades and hoes at a relaxed pace.

It'd be nice if Tai was as warm as this, he couldn't help thinking.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.