9-4 In the office of the Chousai, an increasingly agitated Chou’un listened to Keitou’s report.
“Didn’t I tell you?” he barked. “It was a trick all along! If Gyousou returns to the palace and meets the Taiho, that is the end of Asen!”
“But that is what the Taiho said,” Keitou pointed out as he knelt there. “By the way, where is Gyousou-sama?”
Chou’un had no answer for him. Gyousou was not in the Imperial Palace. Haphazard searches were ongoing, but it was unlikely he would turn up within the reach of Chou’un’s authority. In order to escort Gyousou to Mount Hou, he first had to be retrieved from wherever he was being held. Asking Asen was the only to figure that out.
“In any case, bringing Gyousou into the Imperial Palace, into the presence of the Taiho, is out of the question. Not to mention that I cannot imagine Gyousou ever agreeing to abdicate. Knowing that, the Taiho is telling us he will have Gyousou leave Tai and travel to Mount Hou?”
“That is what he told me.”
“Enough,” Chou’un responded, dismissing Keitou with a wave of his hand. He watched Keitou leave and then turned to the assembled ministers. “What do you think?”
They answered in one voice. “Impossible!”
Chou’un nodded and cast a glance at the adjoining room. The door was open, the view block by a pair of folding screens.
“I’m sure you are listening,” Chou’un called out. “How do you read the situation?”
A figure appeared from behind the folding screens. She said, “Unusual, to say the least.”
“The Taiho is obviously up to something.”
“So the kirin is up to something. Huh.”
“Rousan,” Chou’un said in exasperated tones.
Rousan let out a long sigh. “One doesn’t typically speak of conspiracies and intrigues and the kirin in the same breath. Don’t you think?”
“A kirin he may be, but he has an agenda and specific ends in mind. It is only natural that he should avail himself of all the means available to achieve them.”
“At least in emotional terms, the Taiho has been, until now, one of Gyousou’s retainers. The Taiho himself makes no effort to hide that fact. With that in mind, it stands to reason that he would be devising a plan. We have to ascertain his true intentions.”
“He wishes to save the people of Tai,” Rousan stated without hesitation. “Because he is the kirin.”
Chou’un held his tongue. He knew full well the people of Tai had been abandoned to their own fates. But casting them aside wasn’t what he set out to do. That was what Asen did. If Chou’un defied Asen, at some point he was bound to lose everything.
Responding to Chou’un’s silence with a small smile, Rousan sat herself down in an empty chair. “Anyhow, Taiki’s words are definitely unusual. But they do contain a certain logic.”
“Heaven acts according to its own tenets far more than humans think. The forms and formalities matter exceedingly. As a result of Gyousou-sama being separated from the throne, Tai has, in a very real way, entered the era of an empty throne. To Heaven, this is a highly undesirable state of affairs. Thus it becomes possible that forces are at work in order to return that undesirable state to normal.”
“Are you talking about a revolution?”
Rousan nodded. “With Gyousou-sama absent from the throne, Heaven abandoned him and altered the Divine Will. That alone would constitute a highly unusual and unprecedented situation. When dealing with unprecedented phenomenon, Providence seems to prefer to follow the established forms. Having prevailed upon Gyousou-sama to abdicate, the Divine Will would again come into force. Seen in that light, the actions of Heaven become comprehensible.”
Chou’un said in a low voice, “Doesn’t that imply that killing Gyousou would also constitute a favorable outcome?”
Rousan scowled at him. “Do that and everything does return to normal. In short, a state where Providence holds sway in all the ordinary ways. As I keep telling you, what is critical at this juncture is that we prevent Providence from moving in that direction.”
Chou’un felt a chill down his spine. He had no idea what Rousan was thinking. But clearly, Rousan’s advice was intended to maintain the status quo. Not only that, he was beginning to wonder if this crazy lady minister was the one who’d gotten Asen all fired up to commit treason.
The prestige of the position aside, the Lord Privy Seal exercised no real authority. No one ended up in the office unless that was what they wanted. If Rousan wanted it, Asen would make her Chousai in a heartbeat. Because he owed her or because he trusted her, either way, nobody was closer to Asen than Rousan.
Moreover, this was a relationship of equals. Rousan didn’t bide her time and then betray Gyousou and switch her allegiance to Asen. Chou’un had long ago sized them up as fellow conspirators from the start.
“Excuse me,” spoke up Ansaku, the Assistant Chousai. “That is what you always say, Rousan-sama, but there is an element in your reasoning that I do not follow.”
Rousan exhaled as if in surprise at his inability to comprehend her.
“The Divine Will can be altered in only two ways. First, the emperor dies. He abdicates, relinquishes his title, and his life ends. Or someone else kills him. The other way is for Heaven to cast aside the emperor and take his title from him. In other words, the shitsudou.”
Chou’un cast Ansaku a withering look. Thanks for telling us what we already know, he didn’t have to say.
“In the case of abdication, which takes procedural precedence? When the emperor relinquishes his title? Or his subsequential death?”
“Hmph,” Rousan responded, resting her cheek on her knees. “You have touched upon a fascinating point. Yes, that would be of crucial importance.”
Ansaku nodded, his expression blank.
“In the past, more than a few emperors have abdicated. After traveling to Mount Hou and abdicating, it’s not like they expired on the spot. Half a day, at least, several days at most. There is no example of the Divine Will being revised during this time.”
“In short, when an emperor abdicates, you’re saying he remains the emperor until his life ends?”
“I believe so. Even after abandoning the title, the Divine Will remains with him, and only extinguishes when he draws his last breath.”
“After several days,” Chou’un mumbled to himself.
“There is great significance in those several days. When an emperor abdicates, the kirin remains. In the case of the Imperial Sai, the empress was a close associate of her predecessor. Given the importance of having an emperor occupy the office, the next emperor should be chosen the moment after the abdication. The successor is right there, after all. But if only briefly, there is always a delay. I’ve racked my brains trying the understand the delay. Why is the length of time between the moment when the emperor abdicates and the emperor dies not set in stone?”
Why is that, Chou’un wondered himself. It was not for humans to understand the intentions of Heaven.
Ansaku piped up, “Heaven needs times to choose the next emperor. If you think about it in those terms, it does begin to make sense.”
“Sure,” Rousan said with a smile that appeared to communicate her agreement. “Even after relinquishing the title, the Divine Will rests upon his shoulders. After that, Heaven designates a new emperor. The Divine Intent is reestablished and the Divine Will descends once again. At that point, the emperor has no role to fill and his death is of no consequence.”
Rousan let that sink in and then added, “In fact, I have no idea. But when you consider that an emperor can lose the Divine Will because of the shitsudou, the priorities of Heaven become clear.”
“The Divine Will come first. The Divine Will takes preference over all other considerations.”
“Exactly. Heaven chooses the emperor. The Divine Will descends on the person so chosen. But if that person deviates from the Way as Heaven defines it, Heaven amends the Divine Will. The Divine Will changes. A new emperor is chosen. The emperor up to that point is now no longer emperor. The gift of immortality is lost and his life ends. If the emperor steps down of his own accord, he is no longer emperor, but the Divine Will still rests upon him. Heaven must choose a new emperor. The Divine Will changes. The emperor who relinquished the title is left with no further role to play.”
“Makes sense,” Ansaku murmured.
“Up until now, the Divine Will has resided with Gyousou-sama. Hence Gyousou-sama was the rightful emperor.”
“Again telling us the obvious,” Chou’un spit out. “The problem is why Heaven should choose to alter its intentions. Can such a thing actually happen? That’s what we should be talking about.”
“My apologies,” Ansaku said, answering Chou’un’s rebuke with a respectful bow of his head.
“That is what we are talking about,” Rousan shot back. “Okay? By rights, Gyousou-sama is the emperor and the Divine Will still resides with him. However, this emperor does not occupy the throne and has abandoned any attempt to govern. To Heaven, this is undoubtedly an unwelcome state of affairs. But Heaven will revise the Divine Will only if Gyousou-sama sins in a way that brings about the shitsudou or chooses to step down himself. He hasn’t sinned. He does not occupy the throne because Asen deprived him of that opportunity, not because of any lack of desire to do so.”
Ansaku asked, “Then in this situation, short of the shitsudou, the Divine Will cannot be altered?”
Rousan nodded. “Right.”
“As you have said, Heaven acts in accordance to its own tenets and follows its forms and formalities with great precision. Specifically, Heaven does not wish to see an empty throne. However, unless the conditions for the shitsudou are met, Heaven is not going to bring about any changes to the Divine Will.”
“Exactly. If Asen assassinated Gyousou-sama, Heaven would step into correct the state of things. Simply put, an emperor died, necessitating the selection the next emperor. But suppose we took hostages, threatened and cajoled Gyousou-sama into giving up the throne? That again would represent a state of affairs in need of correction. No matter the circumstances, if the emperor casts aside the throne and quits the government of his own free will, the shitsudou follows. Yet it must be kept in mind that neither condition applies to Tai at the present time.”
“Which is why it is critically important not to set the wheels of Province into motion—”
“For us, the choice of ending Gyousou-sama’s life is not on the table,” Rousan concluded in straightforward terms. “As long as it is not, the kingdom remains under Asen’s control.”
Even among the ministers, some insisted that Asen had not attempted to assassinate Gyousou in Bun Province and failed, as so many claimed. In fact, Asen had not failed at all. From the onset, they believed, Asen hadn’t intended to kill anybody.
“If so,” Chou’un said with evidence dissatisfaction, “there remains no reason for a change of dynasty. Asen-sama being the new emperor is entirely a fabrication of the Taiho.”
“As far as that goes, strictly speaking, I do not see how the current state of affairs requires the intervention of Heaven. But it is equally true that Heaven does not wish the current conditions in Tai to continue. So far, the kingdom has idled away in neglect, but steps may have finally been taken to correct that. In which case, Gyousou-sama being blameless, there would be no revising of the Divine Will. The only remaining option is to have the man in question step down. If we believe what Taiki said, that is what Heaven has decided.”
Ansaku asked, “And how does Asen-sama figure into all this?”
“Perhaps he becomes the person upon whom the Divine Will next descends. Taiki spoke of a revision to the Divine Will, but as with the shitsudou, I do not think that means such a revision has already taken place. Instead, Heaven being loathe to remove the Divine Will from a sinless emperor, and yet having tacitly taken note of the abnormal goings on in Tai, we are talking in more classic terms about the abdication by an emperor in favor of a more virtuous successor.”
“I can only imagine the Lord God Creator pulling His hair out over all this somewhere,” Chou’un said with undisguised sarcasm.
“Shouldn’t He be? Supposing He is, events up to now have surely caused Him no end of grief. But He has come to the decision that things cannot go on the way they are. Except He has no desire to remove the Divine Will from an emperor not guilty of the shitsudou. So someone must have him abdicate. And who alone in Tai might that someone be?”
“Only Asen-sama,” Ansaku said.
Rousan nodded. “And so Asen was designated as the next emperor. Or put another way, Heaven did a deal with Taiki. If Asen can exert his authority to arrange Gyousou-sama’s abdication, the Divine Will descends on him in turn.”
Chou’un groaned. “So Gyousou must be persuaded to abdicate. That part of this deal is non-negotiable?”
“I imagine so,” Rousan said with a bob of her head. “It is likely the only option available. Any attempts to eliminate Gyousou-sama could result in Heaven altering the Divine Will with a wave of its hand. After that, whatever the new deal is, it probably wouldn’t include Asen. He was the one who caused Heaven all this grief in the first place. And there are other reasons Asen would not be chosen.”
“Other reasons?” Chou’un asked. “Such as?”
Rousan didn’t answer. She pretended not to hear him and sank into silence. Chou’un cast her an irritated look and said, “Anyway, now we understand at least that much. We’ll have to convince Asen-sama to bring Gyousou to the palace.”
“And there’s the problem,” Rousan said, before sinking into thought again. “Well, we might as well find out what Asen has to say about the matter.”