7-4 A military officer arrived not long after the kirin physician left. Kouryou recognized him. If memory served, his name was Keitou. He was a staff officer in Asen’s retinue.
As soon as Keitou entered the side room off the main hall, he offered Taiki a respectful bow. “It is good to see you back home again.”
Though Keitou appeared to speak with heartfelt emotion, his words rubbed Kouryou the wrong way. Who did he think was responsible for Taiki leaving Hakkei Palace in the first place?
“How are you feeling?” Keitou approached Taiki, who was still lying on the ottoman. Kouryou made a point of standing in his way. Keitou looked at him and said, “You were one of Eishou-sama’s men.”
Kouryou answered that statement with an icy glare. Keitou faltered and looked away. After a moment of silence, he again turned to Taiki and said, “My name is Keitou. I was ordered by Asen-sama to see at once to the Taiho’s welfare.”
Or so he said. In fact, he was not there to care for Taiki but to keep an eye on him. Sensing that, Taiki said, “I do not see the need. I’ve got Kouryou here and Bun’en assigned one of his doctors to handle my case.”
Keitou turned his attention to Tokuyuu, a dubious expression on his face. But when Tokuyuu explained that Taiki’s condition required the presence of an attending physician for the next while, he nodded.
“We do not object to the Taiho keeping a retinue on hand and by no means wish to diminish the capabilities of Kouryou-dono. Certainly, any injuries suffered by the Taiho require the services of the kirin doctor.”
However, he added, there were a limited number of courtiers able to serve Taiki. “You’ve been assigned a valet and a lady-in-waiting from the Ministry of Heaven. But the ministry alone cannot summon the necessary human resources. There are likely not enough civil servants on hand even to swap out individual personnel.”
Moreover, under normal circumstances, as Saiho and province lord, Taiki enjoyed the support of two separate chains of command, comprised of the imperial and provincial ministers. The authority of Heichuu and Shouwa from the Ministry of Heaven only reached so far. Taiki needed someone who could work across bureaucratic boundaries when dealing with the Rikkan.
What it came down to was, Asen had given that responsibility to Keitou.
“I am well aware that the Taiho will need time to heal from his wounds. During that time, I will put the various organizations in order.”
Taiki asked, “Are none of the Zui provincial ministers available?”
Keitou was momentary at a loss for words. Taiki was, by rights, the Zui Province Lord, leading a government independent of the imperial government. The Ministry of Summer provided his security detail and the Ministry of Heaven tended to every aspect of his personal life. If the Zui Province administration still existed, there should be no need to rely on the imperial government or Asen to handle any difficulties arising from the ordinary demands of daily life.
“What of Seirai?”
“Seirai-sama is—” Keitou started to say. He looked down, searching for the right words. “Seirai was arrested for a serious breach of trust.”
“Is he still alive?” Taiki asked. “I would like to see him.”
“Regrettably, arranging such a meeting is not at my discretion.”
“I returned to see Asen elevated as the rightful ruler and to save the people of Tai. To that end, my power and authority as province lord are indispensable, and in order to properly exercise that power and authority, so is Seirai.”
“I completely understand. After this, as we move towards Asen’s enthronement, we will address the reform and reorganization of both the imperial and the Zui provincial governments. But for the time being, until then—”
“Then tell Asen-sama to hurry things up.”
“Yes,” Keitou replied with an earnest bow.
“Next, I need to know how long I am to stay here. I’d like to go home and rest. And preferably not in that jail. But in my own manor.”
Keitou explained that they were making the arrangements with all due haste and rushed out of the room, head hung as if abashed by the encounter. Kouryou watched him leave. He took no little satisfaction in the surprisingly cool and brusque way Taiki addressed Keitou, though at the same time, there was something to be pitied in Keitou’s flustered demeanor.
With all due haste, Keitou said. But Kouryou was pretty sure they’d be heading back to their jail before long.
Except that Keitou returned a short time later. “Your living quarters have been made ready. Unfortunately, damage to the main hall rendered it unusable. A small villa in a corner of Jinjuu Manor managed to survive unscathed. Would that meet with your approval?”
“That’d be fine with me.”
With a respectful bow, Keitou led them out of the side room. A palanquin was waiting in front of the building.
Taiki declined. “I don’t need it. I can walk.”
“If you are concerned about my physical condition, then please bring around our kijuu.”
The request left Keitou at a loss. He said only that he would look into it.
With Tokuyuu supporting Taiki, they and Kouryou followed Keitou to the west end of the Imperial Palace. The scenery surrounding the Naiden was little different than before, but as they made their way west, the damage grew more apparent. Here as well, few of the buildings showed any signs of being repaired.
Further on, structures had been completely leveled. In some places, the rubble had been cleared away, exposing the bare ground. In others, the wreckage was simply left as is. The faded and worn facades clearly indicated the remaining buildings had been left to nature, with no effort being made to maintain them.
Like the ruins of an abandoned castle.
Below the Sea of Clouds, the scene remained unchanged as far up as the Administrative Palace, while the destruction visited upon the Enchou, which could be said to comprise the innermost sanctum of the palace, was a shock to the senses.
Six years had passed since the meishoku. What could explain the derelict state of the Imperial Palace? Seirai’s “misappropriation” of the ledgers for the Imperial Treasury was not unrelated. Except the sight that met the eyes felt completely out of proportion with any reasonable expectations. Even given the insufficient funds, there were surely those who could bring some order to the chaos with the resources on hand.
Halfway down a dark corridor, the cooing of a dove rang out. Drawn to the hushed silence of the ruins, the bird must have nested there. The hollow echo of the cry seemed a fitting symbol for the setting.
As expected, they did not encounter many other people. A number of them took note of Taiki, stopped in their tracks, and knelt on the ground as he passed, some bowing with joyful expressions rising to their countenances, others with pained looks on their faces. And then there were those who walked on by without showing a hint of interest. Either they did not recognize Taiki, or for any number of reasons, simply didn’t care.
Exiting the Inner Palace to the west, Kouryou came to a halt in utter amazement. Taiki did the same, drawing a sharp breath of surprise.
Jinjuu Manor, home to the Saiho’s residence, and Koutoku Hall, that housed the offices of the Zui Provincial government, no longer existed. Only small mountains of rubble. Beyond those ragged hills, once hidden behind the magnificent ring of buildings, the cove and the shattered remains of the gardens came into view.
“The destruction was this severe?” Standing there stock still, Taiki’s voice shook.
“Yes,” Keitou replied in a low voice.
“How extensive was the damage?”
“No one has made an actual count,” Keitou said. “But you can probably imagine by the state of things.” He added in consoling tones, “Not all of these buildings collapsed because of the shoku. Many remained standing afterwards, thankfully sparing the lives of those inside. However, with the walls bowed and buckling, it was too dangerous to just abandon them, so they were demolished.”
Now that he mentioned it, none of the buildings were left in a half-fallen state. Many of the remaining structures here and there had missing tiles and collapsed walls, but the frames and footings were sound.
They proceeded north, casting sidelong glances at the mountains of debris. Though still showing signs of damage, the number of intact buildings began to increase. They entered a compound through a well-preserved portal and passed down a relatively unscathed corridor that led them to a small cluster of residences.
Keitou led them towards one of the guest houses. They were now just west of a small grove of trees to the north of Jinjuu Manor. Through the entranceway and across the front yard, they came to the main gate that opened onto a modest reception area. They crossed an unadorned outer courtyard to a portico and a second gate. Continuing on brought them to the inner courtyard, landscaped as a compact garden. The corridor adjacent the east wing took them to the main hall of the house.
A framed signboard hanging beneath the eaves identified the hall as “Nightingale Villa.” As the name suggested, the inner courtyard was landscaped as an orchard and lined on both sides with rows of old and weathered peach and plum trees, which the poets said attracted the nightingale when they blossomed and heralded the coming of spring.
The manor house where the Saiho normally resided had three large courtyards. This residence had only the inner and outer courtyards.
“I apologize for the cramped quarters, but please make use of these facilities for the time being. We have completed the basic preparations, though I am aware they will prove lacking in many respects. We will be putting things in order by and by, so please overlook these shortcomings.”
As Keitou pointed out, they’d only had time to give the place a quick cleaning and furnish the rooms with the minimal amount of furniture and household goods. The villa had obviously not been used in some time.
“Your valet and lady-in-waiting will be along presently, and we will arrange for as many servants as you think necessary to look after you.”
“For now, there’s no need to increase the number of servants. More importantly, I’d like you to arrange a meeting with the Zui Provincial Rikkan.”
Keitou said with a courteous bow, “I shall ask you to please wait on that request a little while longer. Please focus your efforts instead on recovering from your wounds. I will be sure to communicate your desire to be reinstated as province lord without delay.”
“I’d also like to see Ganchou and Rousan.”
Keitou clearly wasn’t sure how to respond to this request. “That is—”
“I just saw Rousan but wasn’t able to speak with her. I’d like to see her again. Ganchou too, and make sure for myself that they are doing okay.”
“I shall make your wishes known,” Keitou said in a way that implied he wasn’t making any promises. Taiki nodded and Keitou added, “If there is anything else you need, don’t hesitate to ask. After reporting to the Chousai, I will try to stay out of your way. We will make use of a room in the wing next to the portico. You can send any requests to me there.”
Keitou briefly described the grounds and the facilities and then took his leave, looking rather dejected. After seeing him off, Tokuyuu asked Kouryou, “He was wearing military dress, but who exactly was that man?”
“One of Asen’s subordinates. He was a staff officer back in the day when I first got to know him. No idea of his rank or status now, other than he’s been tasked to look after the Taiho.”
“Given the demands of the moment, I guess they had to make do with whoever they had on hand.” As he talked, Tokuyuu checked out the accommodations off the inner courtyard. “These look in presentable condition.”
He indicated an apartment to the right of the main hall. The apartment was divided into front and back rooms. The front opened onto the main hall, laid out as a study with an expansive entranceway that gave it a fine view. A set of folding doors set apart the back room. It faced the fairly large back courtyard, considering the size of the house. The back room was tastefully furnished as a comfortably-looking bedroom.
“You must be tired. I am sure the Taiho wished to see for himself the state of the Imperial Palace, which is why you have kept up a frenetic pace until now. But you really do need to take a break from all this walking around. Today has been quite an unusual day, after all.”
As he talked, Tokuyuu propelled Taiki toward the bedroom, where he helped him into his night clothes and drew back the futon and plumped the pillows.
Taiki lay down without protest. “To be honest, it is a relief to finally get off my feet.”
“I can well imagine,” Tokuyuu said with a smile. “The medicines should be fully effective for the time being, but they will start to wear off. If the pain wakes you up, I’ll be in the next room, so just ring the bell. Don’t worry at all about inconveniencing me.”
“If you don’t mind,” Taiki answered politely, and closed his eyes in relief.