Hills of Silver Ruins

Chapter 7

13-7 Chou’un exploded in a rage as soon as the secretary opened his mouth. “That’s what he said?” he bellowed, “Again?” He kicked the nearest chair across the room.

Ansaku looked on, absolutely taken aback by his behavior, but kept his counsel to himself.

The day before, Chou’un had gleefully rushed out of the office, stating there were a few things on his mind he had to share with Taiki, only to return fuming with anger.

“May I ask what this is about?” Ansaku said, though he could well imagine. Once again, Asen or Taiki or both of them had given Chou’un the cold shoulder. High officials were already whispering behind his back about how Chou’un should probably stick to picking fights with people like himself, who were already easy to manipulate.

The kirin was the keystone of the kingdom. Unlike Chou’un and his ilk, who were listed in the Registry of Wizards, the kirin and the emperor were listed in the Registry of the Gods, making them residents of a completely different world.

Among the courtiers, the kirin alone held the rank of duke. The kirin by nature wielded authority equal to the high office of the Chousai. The Saiho worked with the emperor but not directly with the ministers, much less issuing direct orders. Because that particular rule arose out of custom and precedent, Taiki would not have been aware of it. Once he got it into his head to exercise his authority in regards to the civil service, the only person who could stop him was the emperor.

p. 75

Open hostility was a loser’s game, but none of the parties involved were exactly receptive to that kind of advice. Enraged, Chou’un dashed off a missive to Asen seeking reprisals against Taiki. As per usual, “Your petition has been heard” was the answer he got back.

Sure, it was hard to stomach, but Chou’un should have known he never had a chance going in, Ansaku thought, looking on as Chou’un cast blame all around him.

“Who do they think I am? Damn, this is annoying.”

Having spent his fury on the chair, Chou’un heaved a deep breath and turned to Ansaku. “Get Shison.”

“Shison is confined to quarters.”

Having defied Taiki and been shuffled out of his post, home confinement was the best outcome Shison could hope for. If he wasn’t careful, an accusation of sedition wasn’t out of the question. Of course, Chou’un pulled the strings behind the scenes to ensure that the necessary allowances were made.

“I know that! Just get him!” Chou’un barked, the veins throbbing in his forehead.

Ansaku bowed respectfully and issued an order to one of his subordinates to fetch Shison. This was not a matter that could be resolved by simply issuing an order. The reason for his dismissal in the first place was insubordination, so as a matter of course, the Minister of Fall was required to review the case to make sure it did not warrant any weightier charges.

p. 76

Shison was being detained at his residence, and was being watched by the Ministry of Summer to make sure he didn’t flee. Permission had to be granted to hold the meeting and the Ministries of Fall and Summer had to make the necessary arrangements for Shison to leave his villa.

Ansaku hurried about getting everything done. But even towards relatively high ranking officials, Chou’un’s small-mindedness was on display as usual, as if to say that whatever inconvenienced Chou’un had to inconvenience everybody else in equal measure.

What a pain in the ass.

Though it was precisely because Ansaku put everything in smooth working order that Chou’un was able to maintain his hold on power. And as long as Chou’un remained in control, Ansaku’s position was secure.

The summoned Shison arrived in a bedraggled state. He’d always been a bit of a scarecrow, and now he looked barely substantial enough to cast a shadow. He entered the room like a cowering dog fearing his master’s wrath. Perhaps believing he’d finally been cast a lifeline, as soon as he spotted Chou’un, he threw himself at his feet and spewed out a stream of servile apologies and entreaties.

“Will you shut up!” Chou’un thundered.

Shison shut his mouth like a trap.

“Have you reflected on the error of your ways?”

“Yes,” Shison answered. “That and more.”

Looking on, Ansaku was struck by the sheer absurdity of the conversation. He could not help feeling some sympathy for the man. From the start, Shison had only been doing what Chou’un ordered him to do.

“You acted without thinking and incurred the Taiho’s displeasure, and yet you bear the Taiho no malice?”

p. 77

“Of course not! Not at all!”

“And if granted clemency, you would wish to work on behalf of the Taiho?”

“From the bottom of my heart!”

Chou’un nodded and said with a self-satisfied smile, “Good. I hereby appoint you the Naisai.

“The Naisai—” Shison raised his head, the surprise evident on his face.

“As recompense for your past errors, you shall serve the Taiho with all your heart and soul, and every ounce of respect due his office.”


But of course. Ansaku couldn’t help smirking to himself. If nothing else, Chou’un’s forte was a knife in the back disguised as a grand display of excessive loyalty. It was a strategy he’d used to great effect before becoming the Chousai to kick out of the way anyone obstructing his climb up the social ladder.

He would deliver to the target of his ire subordinates like Shison whom he could twist around his little finger, who would then proceed to exhaust themselves with demonstrations of fidelity and attentiveness. Piling on gifts and goods and more and more servants, all the excessive meddling left the target with hardly the time to breath

If rejected, he would weep aloud with disappointment. If reprimanded, he would publicly lament his own foolishness. All that any onlookers saw was him going above and beyond the call of duty. Interceding as a matter of course, they would rush to his defense, especially had he been dealt with in a severe manner.

Already annoyed to no end, the true victim in all these antics was likely to feel the walls closing in, wondering why he had suddenly become the bad guy. Applied repeatedly, these tactics steadily chipped away the target’s standing and self-confidence, until he lost any desire to fight back.

p. 78

All the while, Chou’un made public displays of admiration for his own master and disparaged all others. Having already seeded the grapevine with exaggerated claims of his deeds, he insisted that the credit for the achievements of others really belonged to his master. Of course, everything he said was only and always the product of his steadfast loyalty and good intentions.

However, all this adoration notwithstanding, it was the target’s reputation that ultimately suffered.

By couching his praise in relative terms, the persons he was comparing his master to naturally felt belittled by the comparisons. On top of that, rumors he was taking credit for their good work were sure to arouse feeling of animosity. As a result, without Chou’un lifting a finger, someone was bound to take it upon himself to take the target down a few pegs. And when that happened, few were liable to rush to his defense.

How very much like you, Ansaku muttered to himself.

But could Taiki be so easily knocked off his perch?

From the events that had transpired thus far, Ansaku had confirmed that Taiki had a tenacious streak quite unlike that of a kirin. Usually calm and composed, he exhibited a willingness to act boldly and decisively to get things done, such as sneaking into the Rokushin. Moreover, his position placed him well above Chou’un in terms of social and professional rank.

Going forward, Taiki would likely prove to be the toughest opponent Chou’un had ever faced.

He certainly has so far, Ansaku thought.

Chou’un had come to treat Taiki like a prisoner. And on the surface, Taiki appeared willing to accept the status quo. But not, Ansaku believed, because he was being kept under lock and key.

Taiki always had the right to march into the Rikkan and tell the ministers what to do. He possessed the aura and authority of the kirin. If he started issuing orders, the likes of Chou’un couldn’t stop him. He couldn’t dismiss Chou’un from his office because that fell under the jurisdiction of the emperor. But with Asen never venturing into the public arena, it should not be difficult to render Chou’un a Chousai in name only.

p. 79

Taiki had surely grasped as much, Ansaku believed, but at this juncture didn’t dare push things that far. Determined to work around Asen, who appeared only committed only to the neglect of his duties, Taiki needed the cooperation of the Rikkan to save the kingdom and the people. In order to prioritize that relief and aid, Taiki was as likely as not to play along with Chou’un’s underhanded strategies.

“Ansaku.” Having drilled Shison in the fine art of doing wrong by others, Chou’un next turned to Ansaku.


“Dismiss the kirin doctor. That includes whatever medical officers are assigned to him as well.”

“As you wish.”

Ansaku communicated Chou’un’s directives to the Ministry of Heaven. But Taiki was one step ahead of them. No one at the ministry knew the whereabouts of Bun’en and Tokuyuu, the kirin doctors. The medical officer, Juntatsu, had already resigned and been commissioned a minister in the Zui Province government.

Stands to reason, Ansaku thought.

At the same time, he decided to hold back on a few other bits of advice in his report to Chou’un. Assigning Shison to Taiki meant dismissing the current Naisai, who was not one of Chou’un’s proteges. What must he be thinking after losing his post clean out of the blue and for no good reason? If he hadn’t been well compensated in one way or another, the chances were good he’d be harboring more than a few ill feelings after this.

Well, I’d better keep an eye on him too.

Though not, of course, on behalf of Chou’un.

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