Poseidon of the East

Chapter 18

4-4 A junior minister bounded into the room. “We found him!” he called out, and stopped with a start. Not only was Shukou there, but Itan, Seishou, and the emperor himself.

This room in the Inner Palace had originally been reserved for the emperor’s mistresses, so the emperor’s presence shouldn’t have been unexpected. But he’d given it to Shukou, and the government business Shukou conducted there was typically intended for his eyes only. So the minister didn’t expect the emperor to be there too.

Shukou only glanced over his shoulder. “Found him? Don’t tell me. He’s in Gen Province.”

“Ah, yes.”

The flustered functionary faced the emperor, dropped to the floor and kowtowed. With a wave of his hand, Shukou motioned for the junior minister to stand up. “Don’t worry about him. He’s only taking up space. Let’s hear your report.”

“Um, ah, yes. The culprit in question is the Shashi, Baku Kouya. The Shashi reports to the Minister of Summer in Gen Province. Kouya is the name he goes by.”

“Much appreciated.”

p. 144

Another wave of his hand told the man to leave. Under more forgiving circumstances, Shukou would have been more fulsome in his thanks, but he didn’t have the time right now. He watched the stunned junior minister depart and returned his attention to Itan and Seishou, whose eyes were focused on the tabletop. For now, they were completely ignoring Shouryuu, lounging in the divan.

“Of course it was Gen Province. Not only Ribi but the Gen ministers of right, left, and privy seal, including anybody with any power and authority is incommunicado. It would seem that Atsuyu is pulling the strings of this Kouya and the rest of them.”

Itan nodded. He examined the sheet of paper in his hand, a perplexed look on his face. “He got to know the Taiho at some point. Seishou, what kind of numbers do we have on the Gen armed forces?”

“One division of the provincial guard, though it’s the army of the left with 12,500 men under arms.”

Three days had passed since Rokuta disappeared. Atsuyu would not have resorted to kidnapping the Saiho without first having all his ducks in a row.

“All the more reason to worry.”

Itan scrutinized the paper. The emperor currently had at his disposal one division of the Imperial Guard and one division of the Sei provincial guard, except both were at brigade strength, with 7,500 soldiers in the former and 5,000 in the latter. Combined, they barely achieved parity with the Gen provincial guard.

Under normal circumstances, the emperor should command six full divisions of 12,500 men each. En’s decimated population couldn’t support such numbers.

“He’s bluffing,” Shouryuu opined, though nobody rose to the bait. “He’s probably at brigade strength, 7,500 men at most, with 10,000 conscripts filling in the ranks.”

p. 145

The Imperial Guard under the emperor’s command was made up of three armies, designated “right,” “left,” and “center,” each with a stipulated division strength of 12,500 men and manned by professional soldiers. If that wasn’t possible, they could be downgraded to reduced divisions of 10,000 or brigades of 7,500.

The three armies of the provincial guard under the command of the Taiho also normally ran at full division strength. The rest of the provinces maintained brigades of 7,500. In emergencies, another 5,000 in reservists could be added to the ranks. In the direst of circumstances, conscripts could be forcibly drafted.

Provincial armies could be expanded from two divisions to four, but the Divine Decrees forbade both the Imperial Guard and the provincial guard from expanding beyond those limits. Invading another kingdom constituted the most grievous of sins and would result in the death of the kirin and emperor in a matter of days.

Armies were mobilized against internal threats only, with military buildups kept to the minimum necessary to deal with domestic strife.

When expanding the provincial guard to four divisions, an auxiliary division was added to the existing three. This auxiliary division normally had a regimental strength of 2,500 men. Though Gen Province had long maintained four divisions, having lost its right, center and auxiliary divisions, only the left remained.

Shouryuu gazed out at the Sea of Clouds. Six divisions of 75,000 soldiers facing off against a provincial guard with at most four divisions of 30,000 would reduce a rebellious province lord to easy pickings. At worse, all eight provinces together could field an army of 180,000. If the emperor strayed from the Way, the province lords could come together to remove the threat on the throne.

There just weren’t enough people left in the kingdom to justify either option. At the time of the coronation, an original population of three million adults had shrunk to a pathetic 300,000. Refugees returning to the kingdom and children growing to adulthood might at best double that.

Finding 12,500 soldiers to fill the ranks of the Imperial Guard would be a miracle.

“An army of the left at full division strength simply isn’t possible.”

p. 146

“Anyway,” Itan said emphatically. “We need hard proof that Gen Province is at the middle of all this. We can’t very well mobilize the Imperial Guard simple because we’ve identified this Kouya fellow.”

“Except time is of the essence. If by any chance the Taiho is there—”

Seishou said, “Tell the Imperial Guard to start making preparations.”

Hearing that, Shouryuu got to his feet. Where you going? said the scolding glance on Shukou’s face.

“My presence doesn’t appear to be needed here, so I’m going to bed.”

“Your Highness,” said the exasperated Shukou.

Shouryuu only smiled. On his way out of the room, he paused at the door, as if something had just occurred to him. “Issue the following imperial order: the Rikkan and the Sankou are dismissed.”

Shukou and Itan gaped at him. Itan stormed, his face flushed, “What the hell are you thinking? This is hardly the time!”

It was hardly the time to start shuffling ministerial positions when one wrong step could lead to civil war. The selection process alone could drag on for well-nigh forever. Add to that the inevitable internal dissension as the ministers jockeyed for appointments.

p. 147

These arguments didn’t sway Shouryuu in the least. “I’m tired of looking at the whole lot of them. Seishou, contact the Chousai and have him convene the Privy Council tomorrow.”

“Are you in your right mind?”

Showing no sign of having heard the rebuke in Seishou’s question, Shouryuu answered, “I’m the emperor, aren’t I? I’ll do whatever I feel like.”

Shrugging off the abuse from Itan and the others, Shouryuu left the Inner Palace and took aside a retainer.

“Lend me your horse.”

“Your Highness!”

“I’m just going out to clear my head. Don’t give me any grief about it.”

The retainer’s name was Mousen. He took a deep breath. “That’s what you always say. But if word gets out that I’m the one helping you, the Daiboku will have my head.”

“In that case, I’ll make you a province lord.”

“A fat lot of good it’ll do me when I’m dead.”

“Then I’ll appoint you to the Sankou.”

“Don’t joke about things like that. All right. But in exchange, I’m going with you.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

p. 148

The astonished Mousen said, “Do you understand the gravity of the times we are living in? Unbelievable!”

“All the more reason. Something always bound to be afoot.”

“Get back soon. If I keep making up stories about how you got away from me and absconded to parts unknown, the Daiboku is sure to demote me.”

Shouryuu laughed. “Don’t worry. If it ever comes to that, I’ll come up with a much better excuse.”

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