Hills of Silver Ruins

Chapter 25

11-4 Gogetsu said, as if simply confirming that what he’d heard was true, “So Keitou-dono is the new provincial prime minister?” He let out a big sigh of relief.

Boushuku raised his brows. “Gogetsu-dono, do you know Keitou-sama?”

“I am familiar with all of Asen-sama’s senior retainers. Because they are such talented staff officers.”

An army general had a base of operations. Rank and file soldiers filled the usual bureaucratic positions at the lower levels. Rising up the chain of command, the staff officers occupied the highest ranks.

“Among the staff officers, Keitou-dono was often placed in the top five. When Chief of Staff Shukuyo was appointed Minister of Summer, he wanted to bring him along as a vice-minister or an executive assistant. But for whatever reasons, Keitou-dono was pushed off to the side without rank or position. His situation was widely thought regrettable.”

“Does he have any black marks on his record?”

“No,” Gogetsu answered, with a shake of his head. “I’ve never heard of him failing a performance review or collecting any demerits. At first, it struck everybody as quite unusual.”

p. 313

“At first?”

“Nobody thinks it strange these days, perfectly normal for this Imperial Court.” Gogetsu added with a wry grin, “There are talented and capable people who can’t get on the first rung of the ladder, and those with the rank and the experience who still never get the nod. It’s the same story no matter where you go, on the civilian side too.”

“Huh,” said Boushuku.

Gogetsu took in Boushuku’s perplexed reaction and left him behind in the guardroom. A brisk wind brought with it the penetrating cold. He hunched his shoulders against the cold. With nothing else to keep himself busy, going on patrol was the only constructive way to pass the time. Bearing his lance, he exited Nightingale Villa.

Director Fukushou sat on a stack of lumber in the plot of vacant land in front of the villa. He gazed up at the sky, his breath creating a billowing cloud of white.

“What are you looking at?”

“Oh, nothing,” Fukushou answered. He glanced back at Gogetsu. “Going on patrol? You’re a dedicated soldier.”

“I haven’t anything else to do. I hear Keitou-dono got appointed the provincial prime minister.”

“So it seems. The sun finally decided to shine down on him.”

“Indeed. He’s the right man for the job.”

“Speaking of which, a job has come your way too, Gogetsu.”

“For me?”

Fukushou motioned to the plank of lumber. Gogetsu sat down beside him. The hard wood was freezing cold.

p. 314

“Gogetsu, how many of the soldiers under your command would you personally recommend?”

Like Fukushou, Gogetsu had previously served as a battalion commander.

“Two capable company commanders with good characters to match, and a platoon leader I’d consider their equal. Are you looking to reinforce the ranks of the junior retainers?”

Fukushou nodded. “As the provincial prime minister, Keitou-sama wants to bring some order to the Taiho’s personal and working environments. They’ve been short-handed for some time now, so the word came down to bolster the staffing levels.”

“What of the Shashi?”

Security for the ruling elite was divided into public and private spheres. Security for ceremonial functions and activities that took place on the public stage were the responsibility of the Shashi at the provincial level. The Shishi, in contrast, worked behind the scenes, taking over in the personal settings.

“The post of Shashi hasn’t been filled. The Shishi assumed those duties.”

Given an insufficient number of personnel, the internal and external security details could be combined, either under the Shashi or Shishi. Because the Shashi’s portfolio included public security, the manners and appearance of the guards mattered as much as their skills and character. Consequently, the Shashi held a higher status than the Shishi.

p. 315

Although they occupied the same ministerial office under the Taiei, the tendency to treat the Shashi as higher ranked meant that when their security functions were integrated, it was typically under the auspices of the Shashi. However, no Shashi currently occupied the office, and the Saiho had no public duties to attend to in any case.

Maybe Boushuku wasn’t able to fully grasp what was going on, but this really was a nicely appointed prison.

“What about the Daiboku?”

“As he has up until now, Kouryou-dono will continue as the Daiboku, and another will be joining him. But they won’t get involved with the junior retainers, who will still fall under my direct supervision.”

In other words, going forward, the Saiho’s security would be handled by Kouryou, as it had been all along. Guarding the aristocracy demanded close attention to many sensitive details. In particular, when securing such a person’s personal space, the level of security constantly changed depending on the time of day and the parties involved. The exceptions were always the rule.

When staffing levels were reduced, the Shishi and Shashi could commission military officers to fill the ranks. There were also cases where the Daiboku carried out those duties with no retainers of his own. Some nobles could only relax if surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards, while others preferred to rely on one trusted individual and have no one else around.

Fukushou didn’t mind the Daiboku taking sole responsibility for the Taiho. Doing so was certainly not so unprecedented that it qualified as a legitimate cause for concern. Though it did mean that Gogetsu and his colleagues would be kept at arm’s length.

“I figure these things are what they are. But here’s what it all comes down to in my book. We aren’t trusted.”

“Of course,” Fukushou crisply replied. “The Taiho and his circle are understandably wary when we’re around. Because we served in Asen’s army.”

p. 316

Gogetsu nodded. It was Asen who attacked the Saiho in the first place. And there was no ignoring the whole current state of affairs.

“It’s only natural that we would be regarded as the enemy. Nevertheless, the safety and well-being of the Taiho is, for Tai, the first and overwhelming priority. Even if the Taiho never trusts us completely, we must be prepared to lay down our lives for his sake. He has no lack of enemies, and not only Chou’un and his ilk.”

Fukushou looked him straight in the eye. Gogetsu didn’t disagree. It was unfortunately necessary to consider Asen a foe as well. Until he was officially enthroned, and likely even afterward, the two of them were bound to be at loggerheads. That was the sad present reality of Tai.

“Yes,” Gogetsu answered aloud.

He would protect the Saiho. That was his job. The Taiho’s security took precedence even over that of the emperor.

Fukushou’s expression softened, perhaps relieved to know they were seeing eye to eye. He placed a hand on Gogetsu shoulder. “I’m putting you in a tight spot, I know. But despite the mood around here, I need people who can rise above it all and do their jobs. If you have any suggestions about the best way to get that done, let me know.”

Kisen was delighted to learn that Asen was going to be enthroned.

p. 317

Taiki had chosen Asen as the new emperor. That meant Asen would become the rightful emperor as well. Nothing could please Kisen more. Yet strangely enough, up to and including today, Asen had not done a thing. As usual, he closeted himself deep within the palace, never emerging to deliver orders or instructions to Kisen and his retainers.

With a stab of sorrow, Kisen couldn’t help feeling that all the joy that should accompany the dawning new era had somehow been betrayed.

But now, finally—

“The news has been going around that Asen-sama is going to be enthroned.”

Asen was called a pretender. It was true he’d driven Gyousou from the throne. But instead of condemning his actions, Heaven chose Asen as the new emperor. After this, no one would be calling him a pretender anymore.

Beside himself with delight, Kisen couldn’t help sharing the latest development with everybody he met. But raising his head with a start, it was Santou’s profile that came into view this time. The look on his face reflected his decided mixed feelings on the subject. He averted his eyes.

“Oh, sorry.”

“Not a problem,” Santou muttered, though he continued to direct his gaze elsewhere.

Santou was one of Gyousou’s retainers. To be precise, he was one of Ganchou’s men, Ganchou who was said to be like a brother to Gyousou. General Ganchou had been demoted, stripped of his military and social rank, and confined to quarters. Santou was assigned to Hinken, who was also Kisen’s commanding officer.

For Santou, it must have been a humiliating turn of events. When Gyousou vanished in Bun Province, Hinken had been there with him. He and Kisen were similarly startled by Gyousou’s disappearance and made every effort to find him, but uncovered not a single clue about his whereabouts.

p. 318

Gyousou’s fate was blamed on an attack by the land gangs. That was Kisen’s reasoning as well. Nevertheless, they at least hoped to recover his remains and bring them back to Kouki. Alas, to their great regret, the search came up empty and they returned the Kouki empty handed.

Moreover, Gyousou had ventured to Bun Province in order to defend the city of Tetsui. At the time, law and order in Tetsui was by no means guaranteed. Both Hinken and Kisen asked that they be allowed to stay on until they could help stabilize the situation there. But orders came down stating that they must leave Tetsui at once. Heartbroken, they made their way back to Kouki.

Far more startling circumstances awaited them in Kouki. One day, Hinken and his fellow regimental commanders were summoned by Asen. Hinken returned from the meeting, his face gray.

“Asen-sama rebelled against His Highness.”

Kisen would never forget the grim look on Hinken’s face, shock of surprise that coursed through him like a bolt of lightning. But when the cold, hard reality finally sank in, he accepted everything.

Asen must have had his reasons. It was a pity Kisen was privy to none of them beforehand. But he had no qualms about following Asen down the path he chose. After all, Kisen always believed that Asen deserved to be emperor. Asen had, by his own strength of will, corrected the erroneous course that Heaven had mistakenly initiated.

However, to Gyousou retainers, to a man like Santou, Asen’s actions were nothing more than treason. They would naturally conclude that Hinken and his associates had been involved in Gyousou’s disappearance and view them in hostile terms.

p. 319

Except that Santou, who’d been attached to Hinken’s army, demonstrated no such animosity toward them. Regardless of the circumstances, right now, the kingdom was in dire straits. At a time like this, he said, the work was what mattered, not settling scores. He never showed Hinken anything but respect. If anything, Hinken was the one expressing his regrets.

Santou told him he had nothing to apologize for, not to Gyousou and certainly not to him. Hinken was a man of good character. Santou held him in high regard, and showed Kisen, who had become Hinken’s subordinate, a great degree of consideration. Because Kisen was one of Asen’s retainers and at the same time reported to Hinken, Santou’s attitude was a blessed relief, when he could have just as well demanded that Kisen answer for his complicity in Asen’s usurpation.

Kisen again apologized and backed away. Leaving the office, he happened to meet Hinken. Sizing up the consternation on Kisen’s face, he asked, “What’s going on?”

Kisen explained what had happened at the office.

“No doubt a bitter pill for Santou-dono to swallow.”

Kisen hung his head. “I shouldn’t have brought up the subject that way, but I am happy with this turn of events.”

“We haven’t gotten any clear statements about an actual date for the accession.”

“Yes,” Kisen nodded. “Still, it should take place before long. I do look forward to the enthronement ceremony.”

“Indeed,” Hinken said, and then muttered under his breath, “I wonder if it’s all for the best.”

p. 320

“For the best?”

Hinken answered with a wry smile and a shake of his head. “I suppose that’s a strange way of putting it. The question on my mind is whether Asen-sama becoming emperor by usurping the throne is a good thing.”

Kisen stumbled for a reply. Then he said, “But if he really did usurp the throne, he would never be chosen as emperor, right?”

Hinken looked back at him, a startled expression on his face.

“What I’m saying is, Asen-sama wasn’t in the wrong for removing Gyousou-dono from power.”


“But, you see, none of us saw what was really going on. What if, back then, Gyousou-dono had already succumbed to the shitsudou?”

Hinken’s eyes opened all the wider.

“People were saying that Gyousou-dono was acting in an excessively self-interested manner. There may have already been other things going on that we know nothing about. The Taiho hadn’t reached the stage where he was exhibiting any signs of illness. But isn’t is possible that Heaven had already cast Gyousou-dono aside?”

p. 321

As he spoke, Kisen became more and more convinced that what he was saying was the truth.

“That is why Heaven did not consider Asen-sama striking Gyousou-dono down a sin. And that is why this time Asen-sama was chosen as emperor.”

Hinken furrowed his brows and thought it over. “I see. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss such a possibility out of hand.”

That evening, Keitou brought the new Daiboku to meet Kouryou and Taiki.

“Her name is Yari.”

Kouryou made no effort to hide his surprise. All he saw before him was a young girl. She had the bearing of a soldier, to be sure, but looked the same age as Taiki. Maybe a little older, but not in a meaningful way. Moreover, as it turned out, she was not yet listed in the Registry of Wizards.

She was a private soldier with no military rank or social standing. She’d been chosen as Daiboku on Kakei’s recommendation.

Is this going to work? Kouryou fretted to himself. Except as he observed her standing there, he answered his own question. That little girl is no ordinary person.

Taiki said graciously, “We look forward to having you here.”

p. 322

She responded to Taiki’s welcome with a simple bow. So she wasn’t the talkative type, though her eyes glittered with a deep and abiding curiosity.

“We’ll be counting on you,” Kouryou added.

She turned at the sound of his voice. Those eyes reflected an equally profound interest in him as well. She nodded politely, then said, “You look tired.”

“I probably am,” Kouryou said with a grim smile.

“Will you be retiring soon, or do you wish to spend more time examining my bona fides?”

Though the kind of question that could easily give offense, Yari’s clear voice contained not a hint of disagreeableness.

“Yari will be handling the night watch. She’ll accompany me tonight so I can familiarize her with the Taiho’s routines.

Showa left Nightingale Villa and hurried to the Administrative Palace.

Keitou sent an urgent notice asking her to check on Heichuu’s condition. Taiki was growing quite concerned.

Why am I doing a maid’s job? Showa grumbled to herself. She considered sending a servant in her stead, but thought better it. She hadn’t reported to Risshou in a while. This was the perfect opportunity to slip off to the Ministry of Heaven.

p. 323

At first, Risshou had demanded regular updates, that at some point grew further and further apart. Showa had the sense to pay Risshou a visit whenever she had the chance. Gradually their interactions turned into an afterthought and then more trouble that they were worth. Somehow or other, Risshou lost interest in whatever Taiki was up to.

Pretending to be a spy was a constant strain on her nerves. The weariness had deepened of late. She was thankful for Risshou’s indifference, but at the same time couldn’t help feeling dissatisfied. The elation of being entrusted with such a weighty responsibility had lost much of its value.

With this mix of emotions on her mind, Showa stopped by the Ministry of Heaven. That day, Risshou didn’t make an appearance. Don’t avert your eyes, she’d been incessantly lectured by his assistants. Especially pay attention to any conversations involving Taiki and Keitou and Kouryou. Now she had to wonder if Risshou was at all interested in what they said.

After delivering such detailed instructions, she could only imagine he enjoyed handing out orders for the sake of handing out orders.

Showa left the Ministry of Heaven in a gloomy mood and resumed her original errand to the Administrative Palace. Perhaps it was the accumulated fatigue that made her legs feel so heavy. Shouldering that weariness, she passed through the Road Gate and descended below the Sea of Clouds.

The world beneath the Sea of Clouds was much colder than the world above. The freezing air stabbed at her skin like icy cold needles. Asking for directions along the way, she made her way to Heiwa’s residence.

His house was bigger than hers. At present, she was a lady of the court and he was a valet, which put them on the same social tier as middle-ranked squires. Heichuu had previously been an administrative official at large, which made him an upper-ranked squire. He must have been allowed to keep using the residence he had back then.

p. 324

Showa wasn’t all that surprised. When she was dismissed from her post as a lady in waiting, she had to give up her house as well. She hadn’t had a home of her own since then. Although she was once again a lady of the court, the paperwork must have gotten lost somewhere because she still hadn’t been assigned her own residence.

Keitou had been appointed the provincial prime minister. Once he reorganized the provincial Rikkan, Showa’s status should change. She imagined herself as Taiki’s personal secretary, responsible for organizing his servants and staff. In that case, Heichuu would be promoted to a minister of the Inner Palace as her superior. No surprise there either.

Despite being a man who seemed a bit of a fish out of water at times.

When it came to the effort they put in around the villa, Showa was the harder worker, and much more useful to have around than Heichuu. Not that Kouryou ever seemed to notice. He didn’t take Heichuu for granted the way he did her.

Nursing these feelings of resentment, she knocked on the imposingly grand shuttered gate. A response soon echoed from within the walls. The gate opened wide enough a woman to poke out her head. Showa took her to be the head housekeeper. She looked in Showa, a blank expression on her face.

“And who might you be?” Although the question was itself devoid of intonation, she was clearly puzzled by Showa’s presence.

Showa began with a respectful bow and asked politely, even managing a disarming smile. “I am Showa, a lady of the court. The Taiho is concerned about Heichuu-dono’s health and asked that I inquire directly about his current condition.”

The housekeeper’s answer was, in turn, curt to the point of insolence. “There is nothing wrong with the master’s condition in the slightest. Aren’t you aware that he was promoted to a different post?”

“Eh?” Showa responded, her voice rising. “A different post?”

p. 325

This one time the housekeeper chose to respond with a courteous nod. “The master now serves as the Hokou.

Showa’s mouth dropped open. The office of Hokou made him a baron. A lower class of baron, to be sure, but superior to his previous position as an administrative official at large.

“Heichu-dono is presently—”

“He is at work.” So you can take your leave, she didn’t have to add.

All Showa could do was bow and depart. Harboring deep feelings of uneasiness, she returned the way she’d arrived.

As the housekeeper closed the gate behind her, from somewhere in the building, Showa heard the cooing of a dove.

previous Copyright by Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved. next