2-3 By the time Rokuta got back to the palace, Itan and the rest had left. Shouryuu was seated at his desk.
“Done with all the blood and guts talk?”
“For the time being,” Shouryuu said, his eyes focused on the work laid on in front of him.
Looking to see what had so captured his attention, Rokuta saw on the desk a sheet of paper and a volume of Divine Chronicles of the Great Colonnade. “So Shukou gave you homework too. Makes me wonder who’s really in charge around here.”
“Exactly.” Shouryuu folded his arms as if deep in thought.
Rokuta leaned closer and examine the rough handwriting: The emperor shall rule his kingdom with money. “Hey, what’s this, old man?”
The emperor shall rule his kingdom with mercy, was how the well-known phrase went.
“You don’t want to be giving Shukou more reasons to get ticked off. He takes these things to heart, you know. He’s not simply hardheaded like Itan and Seishou. He’s like an elephant in that regard. He’ll be cracking wise for the next century or two, a smile on his face the whole time.”
“It’s all the same to me. If you don’t care what people say about you, all the wisecracking in the world is so much water off a duck’s back.”
“Now you’ve got me feeling sorry for him.”
“I’d resolved to transcribe the whole thing right. But this is a bit of a mess.”
“Now and then I am forced to conclude that you are a complete fool.”
“Only now and then?”
“Yeah. The rest of the time I only think you’re a big idiot.”
Rokuta dodged the fist that came flying at him. He vaulted nimbly onto the big desk in the middle of the room and sat cross-legged with his back to Shouryuu.
“So, is a civil war going to break out?”
“Looks like it.”
“A lot of people will die.”
“Kingdoms are built from the blood wrung out of the common people. The fact of the matter is, they’d all be better off without kingdoms and the like.” Shouryuu added, a smirk in his voice, “But the powers that be are clever enough to make sure they never figure that out.”
“The last thing I’d expect an emperor to say.”
“It’s the truth. Life for the people goes on without an emperor, but an emperor can’t go on without his subjects. The emperor eats the food they harvest by the sweat of their brows, no different than a poacher or a thief. In exchange, he does those things they cannot do as individuals.”
“An emperor exists by killing and exploiting his subjects. So he should keep the killing and exploitation to a bare minimum and do it as nicely as possible. Keep the numbers low enough and he may even deserve to call himself an enlightened despot. Though the numbers will never reach zero.”
Rokuta didn’t answer.
“There are five surviving province lords. Three were assassinated by Emperor Kyou, their provinces now under the thumb of their ministerial bureaucracies. Sei Province has the only province lord worth his salt.” Shouryuu raised his voice. “Yo, Rokuta, tell the province lord of Sei I’d like to borrow his army.”
“What’s mine is yours. It’s not like I’ll be leading them into battle anytime soon.”
The Saiho also governed the capital province. In the case of En, that was Sei Province. It had land and people and an army, but the emperor commanded the army and the land was divvied up and enfeoffed to the ministers as compensation for services rendered.
Shouryuu said, “You find war that frightening?” When Rokuta glanced over his shoulder at him, he grinned and said, “Naw, it certainly won’t be as bad as the fighting up till now. If you’re scared, run away and hide.”
“That’s not it. When it come to the people, war is an unmitigated disaster. That’s what I can’t abide. Because I embody the voice of the people, you see.”
Shouryuu chuckled. “Because kirin are cowards.”
“Because kirin are creatures of benevolence and mercy.”
“Try too hard to kill no one and instead of sacrificing hundreds now, you’ll end up slaughtering tens of thousands later.”
Rokuta gave Shouryuu another look. “Don’t you go saying things like that to me,” he said, jabbing his finger at him.
“Don’t take it so personal. If I could settle this thing with a hundred casualties, I’d crow about it.”
“A hundred or a hundred thousand?”
Shouryuu answered Rokuta’s glare with a smile. “Do you think there are a hundred thousand fighting men left in En?”
Rokuta jumped down from the desk. “So you’ll be content to be remembered as the Prince of Destruction.”
With that, he headed for the door. Behind him Shouryuu called out, “Like I told you before, leave everything to me.”
When Rokuta turned to respond, Shouryuu had already returned to his desk. Shouryuu said, showing him nothing but his broad shoulders, “Close your eyes and stop your ears. If this is the only road we left to us, then down it we will go.”
Rokuta stared at Shouryuu’s back for a minute before spinning on his heels. “I wouldn’t know. I left it all up to you.”