11-3 Keitou said, “I am—the prime minister?”
Chou’un answered with a reluctant nod. “The Taiho handed down the directive himself. Offer him your earnest regards and do your best.”
Bowing low to the floor, Keitou felt both a surge of joy and a rush of confusion. As far as Taiki was concerned, Asen and his retainers were the enemy. Like it or not, that was the painful impression he took away every time he and Kouryou crossed paths.
In the face of that one undeniable reality—Asen had stolen the throne from Gyousou—he could not begrudge the scornful glances and cool asides
Keitou returned to Nightingale Villa in something of a daze. He requested an audience with Taiki, which was granted, and entered the main hall. Taiki occupied an ornate chair in the living room, appearing a tad encumbered by the document he had propped open with one hand.
Keitou bowed before Taiki and said, “The Chousai has informed me of my appointment as prime minister.”
As soon as Keitou spoke, Kouryou cast Taiki a scolding look. Whether Taiki caught that look or ignored it, he did not return it.
He faced Keitou and said, “Nice to have you on board.”
“The honor is more than I deserve. Am I really the right man for the job?”
“Keitou, you are a sincere person who acts in good faith. I know you are equally concerned with the travails of the kingdom and its subjects. We must do what we can to save the people and ensure that they endure the winter months ahead. I look forward to any and all the help you can provide.”
Keitou kowtowed again, delighted to know that the value of the contributions he had made were being recognized.
“The makeup of the Rikkan is up to you. If necessary, I will handle any negotiations with Chou’un. Just let me know. Unfortunately, I am not as acquainted as I should be with the workings of the government. Please let me know of any pressing issues, even they only involve yourself.”
“Yes,” Keitou said with a bow. He raised his head. “There is one request I wish to make.”
“Please commission a more robust security detail. I’m afraid Kouryou-dono alone cannot fill the position all by himself.”
This time, Taiki did give Kouryou a concerned look. Kouryou said, “No. I’m fine.”
“I do not think so. There are too few people in the Taiho’s retinue. Heichuu is not in the best condition. Tokuyuu looks pale and drawn on a good day. Even Kouryou-dono appears to be under a constant strain. I fear the fatigue is piling up. To be sure, I do not anticipate any great risks to the Taiho inside the palace. Still, something out of the ordinary could happen at any time. We should at least increase the number of personnel assigned to his personal detail.”
Taiki mulled the matter over for a moment. “You’re right. I probably have been relying too much on Kouryou.”
Keitou breathed a sigh of relief, assured that Taiki had grasped the nature of his concerns.
“Do you have any candidates in mind?”
“In any case, I recommend that Kouryou-dono take on the role of Shashi as provincial director of security. And then there’s the Daiboku and his detail. Stipulate that, in order avoid upsetting the Taiho, they cannot have served under Asen-sama. If possible, make the selection from among Ganchou-sama’s retainers.”
“Ganchou—is that even possible?”
“I think it best if I reached out to Ganchou-sama myself. I will make every effort, though it may take some time.”
Taiki nodded and let out a long breath. Asen had gone to great lengths to prevent any contact with Ganchou. Setting aside what Asen actually thought, Chou’un was sure to insist that Asen would not smile on such an arrangement and thus was unlikely to give the proposal his stamp of approval
“The selection process promises to be difficult. Do you have any ideas?”
“At the very least, I believe it is imperative that we find someone who can trade off shifts. I have reached out to Santou for references. He was one of Ganchou-sama’s staff officers.”
“I remember him. Wouldn’t that be the Santou who once served as a regimental commander under Gyousou-sama?”
“Yes. Santou-dono is presently assigned to Hinken-sama, but I don’t think there would be a problem making available some of Santou-dono’s retainers. Such an arrangement would help the Taiho rest a little easier.”
“Will Hinken sign off on the transfers?”
“I believe he will. When I last discussed the matter with him, he agreed it was the best solution to the problem.”
“What do you think?” Taiki called out to Kouryou.
Kouryou said, “If memory serves, Hinken-dono is a man you can trust. He didn’t come up the ranks under Asen. He served under a different general during the dynasty of Emperor Kyou.”
Keitou nodded. “Reserved but sincere and straightforward. At the end of Emperor Kyou’s reign, an outbreak of youma in Zui Province caused a great deal of chaos. The general of the army sent to subjugate the youma got killed during the fight. Hinken-dono was a regimental commander in his army.”
He wasn’t one of Asen’s proteges. Unlike so many of Asen’s other retainers, Hinken had a laid-back and affable side, as did Santou, which was probably why he was assigned to Hinken.
“I think he and Hinken-dono have a lot in common,” Kouryou said, putting in a good word of his own. However trivial, the remark put Keitou a bit more at ease.
“Santou-dono has agreed to start on the personnel selection. After that, within the palace, there are any number of private soldiers. The men who served with distinction under Kaihaku-sama offered to lend us any they still have on retainer.”
Keitou nodded. Many in Gyousou’s retinue had been sidelined with sinecures in unimportant posts. Many more were driven out of the Imperial Palace. Among his senior staff, Haboku and Kaei in particular had deep ties to Gyousou. As a result, under constant suspicious of fomenting rebellion, they fled and went into hiding. Unable to get away himself, Senkaku was arrested and executed.
Eichuu and Kaihaku escaped those repercussions only because Eichuu died of injuries sustained during the shoku, and in the aftermath of the shoku, Kaihaku was nowhere to be found. Eichuu’s associates survived, but with Chou’un seeing them as the enemy within, few stayed long in the palace. Kaihaku’s aides weren’t expelled, but due to their cool reception, most had already left.
Among Eichuu’s closest advisors, Kakei alone remained as vice-minister in the Ministry of Heaven, though he’d been stripped of his official rank and now served without portfolio. Keitou had once been in his shoes, pushed to the side and waiting forever for orders that never arrived. With no rank or title, Kakei didn’t even have a secretary assigned to him.
“He ended up employing an attendant out of his own pocket. From our discussions, I gathered that, being so short-staffed, it pained him to admit there were limits to the number of personnel he could spare. But he would lend us three, one from the military and two from the civil service.”
“The vice-minister—I have the feeling we’ve met before. Is there any way we could lend him a hand?”
“Being stranded without rank or portfolio is indeed a sad state of affairs. What about the post of Provincial Minister of Heaven?”
Taiki nodded, looking to Kouryou for his opinion.
“I don’t see a problem with Kakei-sama,” Kouryou said, with a nod to Taiki. “However, I cannot go along with my appointment as Shashi.”
Taiki responded with a quizzical tip of his head.
“The Taiei is responsible for the overall management of the Taiho’s security at the provincial level. Under the Taiei, the Shashi supervises the Taiho’s security detail in public. Otherwise, his personal security is handled by the Shishi. These officials have always come from the civil service, not the military. I do not see the position as a good fit for myself. Appointing anybody from other than the civil service is bound to cause problems.”
“Ah,” said Taiki, struck by a thought. “Back then, Tansui was in charge of my security. Tansui was the Daiboku, and his supervisor was a regular civil servant. Now that you mention it, I believe his supervisor was the Shashi.”
After another moment of reflection, Taiki added, “I believe the office of Shishi wasn’t filled at the time. Only Tansui as the Daiboku.” Taiki craned his head to the other side. “Tansui oversaw a contingent of guards, but they only worked the perimeter on building security and night watches. I hardly ever saw them.”
“Gyousou-sama was in the process of building an organization that would serve the necessary purposes. As for now, it definitely does not. I think I will do well as a Daiboku, and I won’t deny that having one more person in that position would be helpful. The palace needs more security. There are junior retainers filling that role now, but morale is not good. Reforms are required across the board.”
As he spoke, Kouryou glanced at Keitou, who nodded. The guards that Shison—or rather, Chou’un—had dispatched to the villa were not a well-disciplined lot. While a few took their jobs seriously, many more were constantly absent without leave or just killed time until their shifts ended. Something had to be done at a fundamental level.
“I agree. The status quo cannot go on. The security service must be reorganized with all due speed.” Keitou faced Kouryou straight on. “I will not tolerate anyone making light of the Taiho and his office.”