5-6 Itan slapped the bundle of papers down on the desk.
“Sakes alive!” he exclaimed. “There’s certainly no underestimating the appeal of a new emperor. Even I can’t help but be impressed. In three days we’ve got a thousand volunteers to defend Kankyuu and three hundred more willing to march off to Ganboku!”
“You don’t say,” Shukou said, reaching for the bundle.
“On top of that, cooperation and support is coming from the districts and prefectures outside Sei Province. Villagers from the most distance precincts are flocking to their town council buildings and setting off for Kankyuu. It’s driving the ministers crazy.”
“Those rumors sure are getting the job done.”
“How far can rumors spread in three days? Word is, they’ve reached You Province already!”
“They’re coming from there too?”
“That’s what people are saying. Will they even get here before the troops depart for the front?”
Shukou lifted up the papers in a reverential manner. “I am grateful. And impressed. Expectations toward our new emperor have not diminished in the slightest.”
“Good thing none of them have met the man personally. Once this reaches his ears, maybe even he’ll turn over a new leaf.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Shukou said with a grim smile. “Two provinces have offered their armies. Can we trust them? We don’t want to invite them into Kankyuu only to end up getting attacked from within.”
“We’ll only accept rank-and-file soldiers and supporting materiel,” Seishou broke in. “Any soldiers on loan to us we’ll post outside the palace. How is Kou Province faring?”
“Excepting the province lord, the Rikkan ministers have already left the palace.
“The past Lord Privy Seal has been installed as the next province lord and has left Kankyuu.”
This was a man who’d been so busily engaged in pilfering the public treasury that he had no interest in plotting political conspiracies or leading insurrections.
“His Highness has advised dismissing the entire provincial guard of Kou and confiscating their supplies. And on top of that, soldiers are to be actively recruited during the expedition to bolster the Imperial Guard.”
“But—” Itan interjected. “The soldiers embarking for Ganboku will really have to fight. Any idle soldiers from Kou we pick up along the way—can they be trained and molded into a disciplined fighting force overnight? And what if some among them turn their weapons on the Imperial Army?”
“We’re betting on their expectations vis-à-vis the new emperor.”
“This whole thing has been a gamble from the get-go.”
“That it has.” They all nodded together.
Somebody called from outside the room, “Um, could I interrupt you for a minute?” Mousen timidly poked his head around the screens.
Seishou nodded and motioned for him to enter the room. Looking more than a bit bewildered, Mousen entered with a bow.
“What’s the emergency?” Seishou said, in a manner suggesting that if there wasn’t one, he should leave forthwith.
“Well, not exactly an emergency—”
Mousen glance down at the floor and back at Seishou several times. He seemed entirely out of his depth. “I’m not trying to force anybody’s hand, but I would like to take part in Privy Council meetings—”
“What?” said Itan, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I have no objections. Speaking of which, you were once Seishou’s executive aide.” He glanced at Seishou. “How about it? Will you beckon an old subordinate back to military service? You can’t blame him for wanting to hang onto your coattails rather than bodyguard that wastrel.”
Seishou nodded in agreement. “Such was my intent. If Mousen would agree to become my executive aide once again—”
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s not possible.” Mousen took in Seishou’s reaction with upturned eyes, as if attempting to gauge his state of mind.
“Not possible? Why?”
“Um, I-I mean—I hate to have to say this, but—”
Mousen took a piece of paper from his pocket and held it out with a deep bow. “An imperial order. I’m sorry! I’ve been appointed Daishiba!”
Itan, Seishou, and Shukou gaped at him. As the head of the Ministry of Summer and the Imperial Army Chief of Staff, the Daishiba was a member of the Rikkan. He outranked a general, the position to which Seishou had just been appointed, making Mousen Seishou’s superior officer.
“What did you just say?”
“I’m sorry! B-but this promotion is supposedly only in force for the duration of hostilities. Please don’t take it personally!”
Shukou furrowed his brows. “Taking Mousen to task won’t change a thing. Where is the emperor?”
“Um, he’s out.” Mousen
“Yes. He left a message for the Daiboku—I mean, for the general.”
“He said to make sure not to lose your head. A man can do a lot worse in this world than be made a general in the Imperial Guard.”
Itan covered his face with his hands. “That idiot.”
Shukou was too taken aback for words. Itan pounded on the table with his fist. “In what universe does an emperor join the army of the rebels!”
“I-I’m so sorry.”
Seishou wondered aloud, “Don’t you get the feeling that maybe there’s an inside job in the works?”
“The emperor instructed me to surround Ganboku but not take it. Surrounding the city alone will hardly end the conflict.”
“Oh, about that—” Mousen produced another document apart from the previous Imperial Order. “This is for the general.”
Seishou took it, opened and read it on the spot. He handed it to Itan, who scanned though it and sighed.
“What the hell is that man thinking?”
“Now what?” said Shukou, peering over his shoulder.
Seishou said, giving it to Shukou to read, “He says to recruit laborers during the march and construct levees in the vicinity of Ganboku.”
“So now he’s going to make of show of yielding to the will of the locals, eh?” Itan slumped into the nearest chair. “He’s like a tenant who skips out on the rent and then decides to pay up when the building’s burning down!”
“He must be up to something. No emperor in his right mind would set off for Ganboku otherwise.”
“I am running out of ways to express my astonishment. What if the unthinkable happens? What if he gets cut down in the fog of war? He must understand that is very much part of the equation too.”
“I’m sure he is well aware.” Seishou said with a wry smile, “Taking the Taiho hostage was never going to work with him. However he might hold his life precious and hunker down in Gen’ei Palace, let the Taiho come to harm and it’s all over. For the emperor, this has been a life or death struggle from the start.”