21-2 The second regiment of the Palace Guard sent to Meikaku returned to Takuhou five days later.
Youko had stayed behind to help put the ship of state aright in Takuhou. But she eventually got fed up with the people of the city prostrating themselves at her feet right and left and confined herself to the palace compound. There she could converse at ease with Suzu and Shoukei as they inventoried the weapons and prepared meals for the wounded. Koshou was the same old Koshou. Having fought the long battle alongside her from the beginning, Koshou’s mates also grew relaxed around her and went back to calling her “Youshi” the same way they had before.
Kantai and his lieutenants remained on a more formal basis with her. That was no doubt because he was a general in the military and it was too late to teach that old dog new tricks.
“The imperial forces have arrived!” came the shout from one of the turrets.
Youko climbed to the top of the palace wall in time to see a horse-drawn wagon entering Takuhou. She ran toward the main palace gate. The wagon stopped as soon as the driver recognized Youko. He climbed down and bowed deeply, then helped a small man off the wagon.
Enho turned his gaze from the soldier to Youko. “Well,” he said, his face breaking into a smile, “I see you’re doing well.”
“Are you all right?”
Enho nodded. His eyes darkened. “Rangyoku and Keikei?”
The question was like a dagger in her chest. She buried her face in her hands. “Rangyoku, she—”
A big hand thumped down on her shoulder. It was Koshou. He pointed at the middle gate. “Don’t keep the old guy standing around chatting like this. Find a place to sit down.”
Youko nodded and Enho’s eyes narrowed a bit. “I believe we’ve met once before.”
“You were a great help to my little brother.”
“And how is he?”
“Doing well, thank you. I’d like to bring him by later, if you don’t mind. He’s been wanting to see you again.”
“I look forward to it.”
Koshou bowed and continued on toward the main gate. At Youko’s urging, she and Enho headed to the middle gate.
“I’m really sorry.”
“What are you apologizing for?”
“I wasn’t at the rike when I should have been. If I had—”
“How is Keikei?”
His soft query stung her ears. “He’s in Gyouten. He seems to have made it through the worst.”
“I see,” Enho said with an understanding nod. “It’s not your fault, Youko. Stop tormenting yourself about it. If anything, it was my responsibility. They were aiming for me, after all.”
Youko lifted her head. “Why would Gahou—or Seikyou—wish to harm you?”
“Well—” said Enho, hanging his head, “I previously lived in San County in Baku Province.”
“At the Evergreen Seminary, you mean?”
“So you’ve heard about it?”
“Then you were there?”
Enho flashed her a self-deprecating smile. “I was. Seikyou made overtures to me there, overtures I rejected. That was the beginning of the trouble.”
“The imperial government had uses for the seminary, he said, and we were all to become his underlings. Seikyou is a crook at heart. Cooperating with him could only divert us from the Way. I consulted with the superintendent of the seminary and urged him to turn down Seikyou’s offer. As a result, many people lost their lives.”
Enho’s shoulders slumped as he walked.
“Did they hurt you in any way?”
“I’m as well as I need to be. Don’t worry about me. My resolve was to stay fast to the Way, not to sacrifice so many innocent lives in the process. What is such a personal resolution worth, then? Even at my age, this is a question I cannot answer.”
“Now and then, more than teaching the Way, I have to believe that tilling the land or taking up arms to fight would be more meaningful. Look what happens when I try to stay above it all and only teach. The farmer who plants in the spring and gathers his harvest in the fall sees a far greater reward.”
“But haven’t you been sowing seeds of righteousness among the people all along?”
Enho looked up at Youko. “I see. “ He smiled and sighed. “Even living as long as I have, some things take a while to sink in. But a young piece of work like yourself gets it right off. There’s no need for you to think so little of yourself.”
“I suppose so.” Youko hung her head for a moment, then nodded. “There’s something I like to ask of you, Enho.”
Youko stopped in the courtyard. “I’d like to invite you to the Imperial Court and appoint you Lord Privy Seal.”
Enho laughed heartily. “What, put an old fool like me in charge of the Sankou?”
“I need a tutor.”
“True,” Enho said. “After all the pains the marquis went through to find me a place to live, I suppose there wouldn’t be much point in going home again. But if you’d like me to be there, I’ll happily come.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Okay, then,” Enho said with a nod.
“Did the marquis attend the Evergreen Seminary?”
“He did. I wasn’t teaching at the time but the principal brought him along. I taught him as I taught you. He was a good student.”
“I really have to apologize. I swallowed everything Seikyou told me, hook, line and sinker, and dismissed Koukan.”
“Simply admitting that goes a long way in clearing up any misunderstandings.” Enho smiled. “Saibou will be happy to hear it.”
“The chief minister of Baku Province, also an alumnus of the Evergreen Seminary. When Koukan was relieved of his post, so was the chief minister. After that, they became wanted persons. Nevertheless, he visited me several times on Koukan’s behalf. I believe you met him on at least one occasion.”
“He came to the rike. The next day you asked me who he was.”
The man who wore the veil. “Oh, so that was Saibou?”
“Yes. It was good meeting an old student but painful seeing him brought so low. And it undoubtedly caused Rangyoku and the others a great deal of distress.”
Youko looked up at the sky. “But why?”
“Who knows? I think it was just one misunderstanding following another.” He tilted his head to the side.
“Still, it’s good to know you’re okay. I worried that you’d been injured.”
“Oh, my injuries were nothing to be worry about. In any event, I’m a fast healer. The brigands who attacked the rike were pretty surprised. That’s why they took me with them.”
Enho smiled and didn’t answer her directly. “Well, at any rate, it’ll be nice to see Kinpa Palace again.”
Enho chuckled. “When the time comes, though, you’d better use my proper name, Otsu.”
Enho nodded. “I was born in Shikin, San County, Baku Province. The present-day city of Shishou. My full name is Otsu Etsu, also known as Rou Shou.” Enho laughed heartily. “Emperor Tatsu used to call me Count Shou.”
“Eh?” Youko leaned forward with a puzzled expression. Enho only continued to smile back at her.