4-3 Shoushun said to Rokuta, “Do whatever you can for En.”
Shoushun was a wizardess on Mt. Hou. Wizardesses were immortal beings. Having stopped aging when she ascended, she appeared no older than twelve.
“My village was destroyed by Emperor Kyou. Only a few children and adults survived—but only by the skin of our teeth. So I went to the shrine of Seioubo and petitioned the Queen Mother of the West to make me a wizardess. I was the biggest of the children left behind.”
The shrine was in an awful state. She had to brace up the broken beams with her own body while she beseeched Seioubo, swearing with her heart, mind, and soul that she wouldn’t leave the shrine until the day she died. She would do whatever it took. She went without food and water, holding up the beams with her trembling limbs for two whole days.
She’d sung a thousand paean to Seioubo when an envoy arrived from Mt. Hou.
“I hoped I could be even the slightest bit helpful to En. I was indeed fortunate to look after Enki. Enki would grow up strong and healthy and choose an emperor. As the Taiho, he would return to En and serve the emperor as the Saiho and save our kingdom.”
“Think again!” Rokuta called out from far off. “Do you really think an emperor can save a kingdom? Can save its people?”
All emperors did was call forth the dogs of war, kindle the fires of hell, and cast people into the flames.
“You’re kidding yourself, Shoushun! People can scrape by without an emperor. It takes an emperor to truly destroy a kingdom, turn it into a wasteland where nothing can survive.”
“Do whatever you can for En,” said Shoushun.
“I’m not about to put any more children in the same position as you. I’m not going to place an emperor on the throne!”
The smile on Shoushun’s face crumbled. Tears ran down her cheek. She was crying. How could the kirin abandon his kingdom and run away?
Or were those falling tears his own?
Jostled from sleep, Rokuta stared up at a clear blue sky. Sunlight shone in his eyes, momentarily blinding him.
A coarse dry hand reeking of fish shook him again by the shoulder. From a nearby small hut, several pairs of eyes stared out at him.
“Oh, for goodness sakes.” The old man let out an exasperated sigh. “You wouldn’t open your eyes for nothing, like you was dead to the world.” He glanced over his shoulder and said in a relieved voice, “He’s conscious. Seems he was alive all along.”
Debilitated by a land soaked in blood, possessed by a fever, worn out from walking, Rokuta had taken a nap on the rocky shore. That was the last thing he remembered. He took a deep breath and drew in the fresh sea air, untainted by gore and pestilence.
The man patted him on the cheek. “That young man picked you up and carried you here. You should say thank you.”
Rokuta followed the old man’s gaze. The tall young man was sitting on a rock in front of the hut.
“Still among the living, eh?”
He smiled. Rokuta felt a cold shiver down his spine. Not from fear. The sheer feelings of joy brought out goosebumps on his skin. So this is what divine revelation feels like. Even the smallest kirin had it in him to choose an emperor.
After leaving Kyoto, he’d wandered at will. At first he journeyed east in search of his parents’ home town but soon grew discouraged. Turning toward the west, his spirits had lifted. As if in search of the setting sun, he’d ventured over the ravaged hills and fields until he arrived at this village on the shores of the Inland Sea.
“Where are you from?” The man got up and squatted down next to Rokuta.
Rokuta was so happy he could cry.
“Are you alone? Were you separated from your family?”
“Who are you?”
“A son of the Komatsu clan.”
Now I know, Rokuta thought to himself. Here is an emperor. The emperor who would lay waste to the Kingdom of En.
The man’s name was Komatsu Saburou Naotaka. He was a member of the family that governed this land facing the sea. According to the fishermen, he was third heir-to-be of the Komatsu clan, destined to take over as head of family. He got along well with the farmers and fishermen who worked outside the castle walls.
“You do have to wonder what a man like that will make of himself when he becomes lord of the manor. He’s not a bad person but is something of a rogue and a scoundrel.”
“So he’s big-hearted.”
Rokuta didn’t hear many charitable opinions about him. They all lambasted him with a smile. Less out of love and affection than because of a friendly sense of familiarity, probably because Shouryuu—as the characters for “Naotaka” were pronounced in En—left the confines of the castle on a regular basis.
There apparently being nothing to keep him busy in the castle, he came down to the shore almost every day dressed as a common foot soldier. He played with the children, flirted with the young women, and rounded up the young men to practice fencing with wooden swords.
At other times, he went to sea and pretended to be a fisherman. He certainly had plenty of things to keep him busy outside the castle.
“You’re really an important aristocrat, aren’t you?”
Shouryuu smiled. The fishing line he’d cast onto the waves hadn’t budged in a while.
“But aren’t you destined to become lord of this domain?”
The castle sat at the crest of a hill overlooking the sea. The manor house and the town faced a small bay. A solidly-built fort sat on a small island at the mouth of the bay. This stretch of coast and the surrounding mountains along with the islands scattered across the bay constituted the territory of the Komatsu clan.
“I’d be embarrassed to call this speck of land a domain,” Shouryuu answered with a broad grin. “The Komatsu started out as pirates. Their stronghold was here in the Inland Sea. Being distantly related to the Taira, when war broke out between the Taira and Minamoto clans, they were ordered to establish a navy. A dubious proposition at best. But the motley crew of fisherman they scraped together managed to distinguish themselves and were rewarded with titles as country samurai.”
“My pigheaded father strong-armed irregulars here and there into joining his retinue, enough to put on a convincing performance as a local nobleman, though he remained at the beck and call of the more powerful warlords. He had pledged to muster a navy in emergencies and the Ouchi clan finally granted him an autonomous fief. Or so the story goes. My oldest brother was an Ouchi retainer. He died on his way to Kyoto soon after the outbreak of the Onin War. My second oldest brother was with the Kouno when my father grabbed one of their islands and was killed as a result. As a result, the only person left to inherit is this idiot of a third son.”
“Sounds like it’s the commoners who ended up with the short end of the stick.”
“No doubt about it,” Shouryuu said with a loud laugh.
“Do you have a wife or children?”
“I do. The wife comes from an Ouchi branch family. To be honest, not that I had any choice in the matter.”
“A good person?”
“Hard to say. We’ve hardly ever met.”
“Seem having a bunch of pirates in the family tree rubbed my in-laws the wrong way. When I got around to visiting the bedroom on the night of the wedding, I found two old hags blocking the way. They weren’t letting me in come hell or high water. The whole thing turned into such a farce I never went back. All the more surprising that a child ended up in the mix.”
“Whoa, hold on a minute.”
He had, in fact, more concubines than he could count, sent to the castle by the country samurai he would one day ostensibly rule, his wife and daughter being but one example. But he never had much of an inclination to keep their company in the first place. Shouryuu spelled out the details to Rokuta, a complete stranger, without a second thought.
“Don’t you find that kind of life rather lonely?”
“I’m not complaining. Get out of the castle and go down to the town and there are plenty of professional young lasses happy to be there and eager to entertain. Far preferable to some pathetic girl shouldering the obligations of her family.”
Rokuta drew a deep breath. “You are quite the ass.”
“An opinion widely shared. You’re a well-informed man.”
“My heart goes out to these people.”
Rokuta couldn’t tell whether he was a fool or just too big hearted for his own good, only that he hardly seemed a man made for these troubled times. He didn’t appear to have a clue what was going on outside the borders of his tiny fief. War had reduced Kyoto to ashes. It inexorably ate away at civil defenses. Garrisons were stationed everywhere. It was practically impossible to escape the scent of blood in the air.
This particular corner of the world was at peace, but there was no telling how long that would last.
“All the while you are being entertained by your young lasses, the country is falling apart all around you.”
“There is that. One minute you’re on top of the world. The next, the wheel of fortune is rolling over you.”
“Your subjects all have this monkey on their backs. When war comes, they won’t know which way to turn.”
Shouryuu only smiled. He said with an indifferent air, “Better not to fight at all. If the Kobayakawa show up on my doorstep, I’ll raise my arms in surrender and tell them I’m on their side. If it’s the Amago, then we’ll call ourselves Amago. If it’s the Kouno, then we’re all for Kouno. Seems the most practical way to approach this thing.”
Rokuta’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “That settles it. You really are a fool.”
Shouryuu laughed out loud.
But however stunned he was, Rokuta couldn’t resolve to pack his bags and leave. He had to make this man emperor first. That was the only thing he understood.