Hills of Silver Ruins

Chapter 2

13-2 Yari stood at the rear window of the main hall, observing the two figures standing beneath the arbor. The pavilion was perched on a mountain of boulders at the far end of the garden.

What an interesting kirin, she thought.

From what Yari had observed so far, Shouwa was a spy. Yari assumed the court ladies Shouwa selected reported to her as well. One way or another, Taiki must have figured out where their loyalties lay. Or was he simply being extra careful?

Either way, he’d shooed Shouwa out of the main hall to keep her from tagging along. And even if she had, he moved his conversation with Kouryou to the pavilion in the garden well out of earshot.

Yari glanced at Shouwa, who’d returned to the living room and was now fidgeting about doing nothing. The two leaving in her absence clearly bothered her, but it wasn’t up to Yari to chase her away. After another look at Shouwa, Yari again directed her attention to the pavilion.

“Must be cold out there.”

Getting Shouwa out of the main hall for even a short time was hard enough. Getting her to budge while Yari was in the building was practically impossible.

p. 28

Yari didn’t know what kind of a creature a kirin was, except this kirin was not at all like what she’d imagined. She hadn’t found the right words to describe what she’d seen. Highly calculating and deeply distrustful were the closest she’d come up with so far.

She’d once believed that the kirin only saw the best in the human heart. As the kirin acted only with the purest of intentions, so it followed that others must do the same. Such a good-natured and even simple-minded creature.

Were that not the case, those inexhaustible measures of mercy and compassion would surely not continue to well up.

The kirin of Tai was different. There was nothing simple or sweet about the Black Kirin. He was guarded, suspicious, and extraordinarily cagey. At times, he created an intimidating aura and spoke using surprisingly heartless language, though from Yari’s perspective, he did so with specific ends in mind.

Before coming to Nightingale Villa, Yari asked Ganchou what Taiki was like. Ganchou remembered him as an ingenuous though sensitive and thoughtful child. The kirin Yari had gotten to know was anything but ingenuous. Thoughtful, yes. But his mind worked in cool and calculating ways.

Ganchou also said the kirin he knew was at ease around others and unconcerned about his social position. And perhaps that hadn’t changed. She saw no evidence that Taiki cared, but he appeared keenly aware of the extent to which others were constrained by class and rank, and knew how to use those concerns and constraints.

Reading his thoughts and actions proved extraordinarily difficult. At times, when confronting a provincial minister, for example, his attitude changed abruptly. Yari often came away with the impression that this being, who was at once open and receptive to the whole outside world, could also close down completely. In order to keep his real feelings and intentions hidden away, he simply slammed the door shut.

p. 29

She had to wonder what had happened to that ingenuous child to cause such a change. She suspected it had something to do with the shoku that swept him away to a strange and distant land.

“Fascinating.” The depths of her curiosity knew no bounds.

As she stood there, watching and wondering, one of the figures in the pavilion turned and looked in her direction. Probably Taiki. He had agreed to her posting in the manor as his bodyguard.

He waved with a beckoning gesture. Yari nodded. She said with a glance back at Shouwa, “He’s probably getting cold out there. I guess he’s ready to come in.” And exited the main hall into the garden.

Shouwa at first seemed keen to tag along, but after a moment of hesitation, decided against it. Yari suppressed a smirk. Shouwa wasn’t very good at being a spy, and by this point was likely only going through the motions. Whoever her handler was, she owned him little in the way of loyalty and had no great passion for the mission given her. In any case, it wasn’t worth braving the cold.

Yari cut through the wintry garden and climbed up to the pavilion. The freezing wind was all the more severe around the pavilion and chilled her to the bone.

Yari knelt on the cold floor. “You called?”

p. 30

Taiki nodded. “I have a job for you, Yari.”

“As you wish.”

“I’m going to sneak out of the villa tonight. I need you and Kouryou to cover for me.”

Yari blinked in surprise. Again, the Taiho is being as incomprehensible as ever.

“Will one of us be accompanying you?”

“No. Better that you do not.”

“Yari,” Kouryou said in a pleading voice, “tell him to reconsider.” Then a moment later mumbled, “Not that it would do any good coming from you either.”

Though she hadn’t served the Taiho for long, she had gathered that when he made up his mind, he was unlikely to deviate from that decision. Once he voiced his resolve in words, he would not budge from the actions that followed. Grumbling and complaining did not sway him. Kouryou never could read him right when it came to that aspect of his personality, probably because he too had a hard time shaking his preconceptions about what a kirin was supposed to be.

“Well, take care of yourself. You can leave the rest to us.”

p. 31

Taiki slipped out of Nightingale Villa at midnight. To the east of the rear courtyard, a side gate exited into the adjoining landscape park. In the shadows of the decorative boulders, the gate created a narrow passageway difficult to discern from a distance. It had likely been installed to allow the servants and gardeners to move back and forth between the park and the rear courtyard.

The landscape park might have once been a part of Nightingale Villa—or the villa had been part of the park—either way, it was now closed. It had been open at first, but sometime after soldiers started appearing around the manor, barricades blocked off the path through the park.

“Because it is dangerous,” was the explanation.

That wasn’t the real reason. But boarding the place up and physically securing it with chains and locks must have set their minds at east, for no soldiers were posted inside the park. Though they patrolled the perimeter, any appearance of the manor being under siege would make it obvious that its occupants were under house arrest, an accusation Chou’un clearly wished to avoid.

Even Kouryou was pretty sure anyone could sneak through if he really wanted to. Though Taiki would be doing so alone.

“Everything will be okay,” Taiki assured Kouryou as they approached the gate. “For the time being, I’ll have less to worry about than you or Yari.” Kouryou answered with a nod, and Taiki added, “Just make sure nobody comes to check on me.”

p. 32

Taiki was supposedly asleep in his bedroom. Juntatsu was resting in own room today, so if all went as planned, nobody had any reason to enter the bedroom until Shouwa arrived in the morning. Yari would be on watch in the main hall. The servants who worked the night shift and waited on call in the portico rooms would stay put unless specifically requested.

The only real concern was Keitou showing up because of some emergency, though that wasn’t likely

“You take care, now.”

“I will,” Taiki answered politely, and disappeared through the side gate.

Kouryou watched him leave and returned to the main hall. “The place is in your hands now,” he said to Yari. “I’ll be pretending to sleep in my room. If you need anything, let me know right away. I’ll be up all night.”

“Understood,” Yari said with a nod.

With a goodnight wave, Kouryou let out a long sigh and left the main hall and went to his room off the main courtyard. No sooner had he closed the door but he headed straight for the window facing a small walled garden and climbed out of the building.

Like there is any way I am going to let him wander off alone.

He understood Taiki’s assurances that he had little to worry about. There weren’t that many soldiers on patrol around the villa and they didn’t pass by very often. It should be easy to evade any prying eyes. Even if someone did spot him, they weren’t allowed to physically lay hands on the Taiho in any case. All they could do was block the way and plead for him to return to the villa

Taiki was not officially on hostile terms with Asen or Asen’s Imperial Court. Quite to the contrary. Taiki was the Saiho. Asen had formally condoned his return and ushered him into the Imperial Palace. As far as the ordinary soldier or bureaucrat was concerned, Taiki was the one laying down the law. There wasn’t a chance of him coming to any harm.

p. 33

Rather, Kouryou was the one venturing into harm’s way. If he got caught by the soldiers, arrest and detainment was inevitable. Detainment would undoubtedly be followed by severe punishment. Taiki would no doubt do his best to cover for him, but having assumed the role of the Daiboku, and yet standing accused in the past of committing the serious crimes of insubordination and deserting the army, Kouryou would hardly have any grounds to complain about whatever discipline was meted out to him.

But I really cannot allow him to do this by himself.

He had no idea what was going to happen next. Gyousou—and Tai itself—was only as safe as Taiki.

There was an unused bedroom west of the main hall. Kouryou had reconnoitered the room on a previous occasion and left the back window open. Now he snuck in through the window, quietly crossed the unlit room, and from there exited into the rear courtyard. He came to the gate Taiki had passed through earlier and put his hand on the door.

That was when a voice whispered out of the darkness, “Yeah, I thought as much.” It was Yari. “I figured you’d try to follow him.”

His hand resting on the gate door, Kouryou sighed. Yari’s figure appeared out of the gloom. He said, “I’m not about to let him go wandering around the Imperial Palace in the middle of the night by himself.”

“I figured you’d say that too.”

“I’m not worried about the soldiers. They’d be the last ones to treat him with anything but kid gloves. When it comes to Asen’s inner circle, though, there’s no telling who they are or what they are capable of doing.”

p. 34

“Those mindless mannequins? They could stare straight at him and not know who he was or care.”

“You don’t know that for certain.” He couldn’t overlook the risk, no matter how slight the actual danger to Taiki might be.

With a sideways tilt of her head, Yari pondered the possibilities. “I understand your concerns. The mannequins only do as they are told. But Asen has laid down the law on previous occasions, that nobody should be allowed into his presence. If those orders still stand, calling for any intruders to be summarily removed, even the Taiho could face an armed assault, no questions asked.”

That’s what I’m afraid of.

Kouryou pushed the gate door open just as a hand clapped down on his shoulder and yanked him backwards. He didn’t feel that much force in the move, though it made him throw his head back and retreat several stumbling steps to regain his balance.


Kouryou gave her another long look. I can use her, his gut told him the first time they met. He wasn’t wrong. A sufficient force applied to a human being in motion could knock that moving center of gravity off balance. For the average person, much easier said than done. But clearly it was second nature for Yari.

“You should go back home.”

“I cannot allow the Taiho to put himself in danger alone, no matter how small a risk that might be.”

p. 35

“I know. Which is why, in this case, you belong at the villa. I will go.”

“Yari—” Kouryou started to say with evident exasperation.

She cut him off. “Precisely because I know the risks is why I should go instead of you. You would be putting yourself in more jeopardy than the Taiho.”

“I could say the same about you.”

“I’ll be fine,” Yari said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “Nobody will catch me. I’ve snuck into the Rokushin on many occasions and haven’t been caught once.”

“On many occasions?”

“I know my way around the palace better than most. It won’t be a problem. The Taiho won’t even know I’m on his tail. As long as he doesn’t get into any trouble along the way, he’ll be none the wiser.”

A startled Kouryou peered at the face of the utterly calm Yari. “Why the Rokushin?”

“Oh, there’s a place in the Rokushin I like to visit. You see, I don’t appreciate people telling me where I’m allowed and not allowed to go.” She added with a small smile, “Getting told a place is off limits only makes me want to check it out all the more.”

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