Hills of Silver Ruins

Chapter 30

6-3 They were escorted to a standalone building in a back corner of Fukyuu Temple. Isolated from the rest of compound, it was off limits to the refugees. The building was surrounded by cart sheds, stables, and workshops for formulating medicines.

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“The accommodations are rather run down and I apologize for that.” Ki’itsu opened the door. “The artisans who build and maintain the hearths and kilns live here. The main temple compound being in the condition it is, when priests from other temples come here to learn how to make our herbal medicines, they use these facilities too. You should be able to stay here safely out of sight.”

Showing them around the tidy interior, Ki’itsu further explained, “I will have meals brought from the kitchens out front. I’ll see to it that you are served in a timely manner. Given the current circumstances, much here is not up to our usual standards. We appreciate your patience and understanding.”

There was no way Risai’s kijuu was not going to attract attention. So as not to involve Fukyuu Temple in their affairs any more than necessary, they cleared out the stables for the kijuu and lent them the use of their horses in exchange.

“We deeply appreciate the lengths you all are going to.”

“No, not at all,” replied an abashed Ki’itsu. “We really are deficient these days in every respect. We can only offer you the same food that we eat, so I’m afraid you’ll have to endure it the best you can.”

“Not a problem,” Risai said. She looked at Kyoshi. “With so many people to take care of already, at the very least, we should donate the cost of our meals.”

“A good idea—” Kyoshi agreed, except Ki’itsu batted away the idea with a frantic wave of his hands.

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“That is out of the question. No, we simply could not accept such an offer. Even rumors of a change in the status quo going around would cause no end of problems.

“But—” Kyoshi started to object.

Houto interceded at that point. “You have already done more than we could ever ask for. We are humbled to accept your kind offer. We are the ones imposing on your good offices and would be delighted to accept whatever you have to offer, no matter how meager. Please do not trouble yourself any more on our behaves.”

Houto paused and said, “More importantly, to return to the matter at hand, would you know if His Highness’s retainers are still being pursued?”

“Ah,” Ki’itsu hesitated. “I wouldn’t say they’re on the run. We don’t see a great effort being made these days to track them down. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re being given a free hand. According to some of the more dubious rumors going around, the gendarmes will show up at a moment’s notice to break up any gathering of refugees and displaced people.”

Risai asked, “Are you going to be all right here?”

“For the time being, as long as the Taoist temples and monasteries do nothing to attract unwarranted attention, they are being left alone. Because the local authorities ultimately answer to Asen, I attribute that less to any sense of magnanimity and more to simply letting sleeping dogs lie.”

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Risai nodded. Support for Asen usually came down to self-interest. Asen had no strategy or big ideas for governing the countryside. As a result, the political operatives pulling the strings in local government made a show of backing Asen and little else. They didn’t treat Asen’s policies concerning the refugees with any seriousness and were just as likely to exploit them for their own gain.

“Which is why the activities at this temple have been largely overlooked.”

Nevertheless, any attempt to foment rebellion against Asen would not be tolerated in the least. Joukan took great pains to ensure that no such accusations could be directed at Fukyuu Temple.

“The last time I was in these parts, anything in the vicinity of Tetsui had been wiped clean. What about now?”

“That hasn’t changed. The regions to the northwest of Rin’u are mostly burnt fields. In the vicinity of Tetsui, the land has completely gone fallow

“What about the residents of Tetsui?”

“It looks like they’ve have gathered in small hamlets in order to support their local Rishi. They all keep their gates shuttered, so it is hard to get good information about the conditions inside.”

The burned and abandoned villages along the road to Hakurou were struggling back to life, somehow managing to maintain the form of functioning municipalities.

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“Is there anybody left still holding out against Asen?”

“Anyone who openly resisted was long ago eradicated. Not a trace of them left. The campaign against the remnants of His Highness’s retainers was relentless. I don’t think any of them remain around here.”

“The campaign against the remnants,” Risai murmured to herself. “I see no evidence of an armed struggle here in Rin’u. How did such an eradication campaign leave no trace behind?”

“Because none of it took place inside Rin’u,” Ki’itsu said, and the explanation clearly pained him. Before the campaign launched, the prefectural mayor shut the gates of the city.”

“Shut the gates?”

“Yes. The Imperial Army bivouacked north of the city. When it disbanded, as soon as it became apparent that the reprisals were imminent, the prefectural government drove off any soldiers within the city limits and ordered the gates closed.”

“Even though Asen himself appears utterly apathetic about the fate of the rank-and-file soldiers and the citizenry,” Houto observed.

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“At the time, nobody knew Asen’s thoughts on the matter. The prefectural mayor was watching out for his own interests. He made sure that any spark that might start a fire was quenched immediately. That meant cutting the Imperial Army loose, with a large number of soldiers getting arrested and even executed. At one time, a hill not far from the fallow land at the outskirts was heaped with their remains. We did not dare interfere and let them decay where they lay. At some point they simply disappeared. I could not say whether they turned to dust and returned to the earth or someone interred them elsewhere.”

“I see.”

Many of Risai’s acquaintances would have been among the targeted members of Gyousou’s senior staff. General Eishou, General Sougen, General Gashin—and so many others. She could only hope their remains were not numbered among the dead.

Perished like dogs at the side of the road and ended up food for the crows.

That old folk song came to mind. However common a fate it was for soldiers to meet their end in a field, their bodies exposed on the ground, the dead were never far from her thoughts.

Risai having fallen unexpectedly silent, Houto picked up the conversation in her stead. “We must renew the search for them. Would inquiring about the city put you here at any risk?”

Ki’itsu paused, flustered by the question. A moment later he said, “I can’t really say. Asking around might attract attention from unwanted quarters. So, yes, there could be some danger there. And I have to wonder if anybody would speak to you in any case. The inquisitions following the strife with the land gangs were so severe that the man on the street is going to keep his own counsel on the subject. Most shrink from even mentioning His Highness’s name.”

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“How about we speak with the refugees here in the temple?”

“That alone—” Ki’itsu said with a deep bow, “If nothing else, we must quash any rumors you came here to search for His Highness. Were such a rumor to escape these walls, an official investigation would be inevitable. So far, we have managed avoid the prying eyes of the government inspectors and they have not paid close attention to the conditions here. But given a reason to glance our way, the number of refugees alone is certain to arouse their suspicions.”

Ki’itsu then added, “It pains me to say this, but Fukyuu Temple privileges the safety of the refugees above all else. I truly understand how important the search for His Highness is for the kingdom, but certainly we must also avoid inflicting any more suffering on these poor folks who have already lost so much.”

“In other words,” Kyoshi said, “don’t do anything that would draw the attention of the powers that be.”

“He’s asking us not to get Fukyuu Temple caught up in our crusade,” Risai interjected. “That is not something we want either. I think Ki’itsu has every right to insist that the people under their care are their first priority. We shall take every precaution possible.”

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Ki’itsu let out a long, relieved breath. He bowed and headed for the door. Then he hesitated and glanced back at them. “And when will—” he started to say and stopped. “No,” he muttered to himself, bowed again and left.

“I imagine he wanted to ask how long were going to be hanging around here,” Houto said, looking at the now empty doorway.

“I suspect so,” Risai agreed with a wry smile. “And I completely understand, given the number of refugees here. If you ask me, cramming so many people into one place is asking for trouble. The only reason it hasn’t become a problem is because the government is looking the other way. But all it’ll take is for some bureaucratic to start wondering aloud what in the world in going on at Fukyuu Temple and you can bet the blame will come raining down. That’s what they want to avoid.”

“Sorry about all this,” Kyoshi apologized in a dispirited tone. “I’m sure Enchou-sama never imagined Fukyuu Temple was in such a state when it penned the request.”

“It says a lot about the dire straits Bun Province is in everywhere,” Risai observed.

It was tough not being able to count on willing allies. But then they probably shouldn’t have been harboring such expectations in the first place. Because going head-to-head with Asen would mean leaving a lot of victims in their wake.

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“Nevertheless,” Houto pointed out, “if we’re not going to do anything that might on the off-chance cause trouble for Fukyuu Temple, that’s going to severely limit our options.”

“We can’t very well go around asking people if they’ve heard anything about His Highness. To start with, we’d have to keep everybody from figuring out that we are guests of Fukyuu Temple too.”

“That’s what it comes down to,” Houto said. “When problems do arise, we want to be able to claim that Fukyuu Temple knew nothing at all about our activities. We begged and pleaded and they gave us a place to sleep. We’ll have to be able to sell that story.”

“That’s why we can’t make any donations?” Kyoshi asked.

“That’s one reason. Taking our money would raise suspicions they were doing our bidding too. We have to maintain the appearance of being strangers to each other.”

Risai let out a long breath. Things were not going the way she wished, but wringing her hands wasn’t going to help either.

“We want to cause as little distress as possible to Fukyuu Temple and the refugees struggling to get by here. That means watching our steps however well we can.”

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Houto responded with a heartfelt nod. “We need to establish a home base somewhere else. As long as we’re staying here, Joukan-sama and Ki’itsu-sama aren’t going to rest easy. And without more freedom to act on our own, coming here to Bun Province will end up a waste of time and effort. Let’s see if we can rent ourselves a room or a house.”

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