19-5 Imperial civil servants had taken up arms and conspired to attack Taiki.
The news shook the palace to its core. The provincial Ministry of Summer rounded up the assailants and took them into custody. Imperial ministers wasted no time staking their own jurisdictional claims. The intense interrogations and negotiations that followed resulted in Shison being placed under arrest by the afternoon of the same day.
“What a fool that man is!” Kyoushou spat out in disgust.
Kyoushou was the Minister of Summer. Asen’s coronation should be taking place soon. In that light, the willful murder of the Saiho was the same as assassinating Asen himself.
“It’s grand treason. I’ll be asking for a death sentence.”
But in detention, the weeping Shison insisted that was not the case.
“Why can’t you understand? That person is not the Taiho!” He was an imposter pretending to be the Taiho, Shison insisted at the top of his voice. “Is it even possible to imagine a Taiho so ruthless and coldhearted? The Chousai himself has said the same all along. That person cannot be the Taiho!”
The conspirators had sought out someone who resembled the Saiho and brought him to the Imperial Palace in order to declare Asen the new emperor. That was the plan from the start, all the while mustering forces behind the scenes to crush Asen before he could ever ascend to the throne.
Shison’s excuses sufficiently resembled the stories Chou’un was spreading to arouse suspicions among the interrogators.
When they approached Chou’un, he roared in an apoplectic rage, “How much more of this nonsense do I have to put up with? It is not possible that I should harbor such doubts, even hypothetically! Moreover, I knew at the first glance that he was the Taiho. I would not have the slightest reason to doubt his authenticity!”
“And yet you argued as well on many occasions that the Taiho was pulling the wool over our eyes,” Kashaku pointed out.
“I was only raising the possibility,” Chou’un said, stamping his feet for emphasis. “Keeping His Highness safe and the kingdom secure requires taking all the necessary precautions. Therefore, any possibility must be considered, no matter how seemingly outside the bounds of reason.”
“Are you sure?” Kashaku pressed, his voice taking on a more taunting tone. “As best my memory serves, you were doing far more than raising possibilities on a number of occasions.”
Kashaku turned his attention to the rest of the Rikkan for confirmation. They nodded in the affirmative.
Idiot, Ansaku thought to himself.
No matter how much Chou’un twisted and distorted his own version of reality, he couldn’t revise the memories of others to fit his view of the world. Confronted by those who were there when it happened and knew what went on, Chou’un’s acts of self-deception came apart at the seams.
In the end, convinced in his own mind that he was telling the truth, his lies lacked any convincing logic. His only recourse was to yell louder. He seemed to be under the impression that if he just kept yelling until he wore them all down, his fabrications would take on a truth of their own.
“Like I said, I was only raising the possibility! Why are you blaming me, anyway? Shison is the villain here. Shison deliberately choose to misunderstand me. Whatever violent actions he conspired to commit, he did so without my knowledge and certainly without my participation.”
Chou’un continued with unbridled disgust, “If nothing else, shouldn’t this incident raise questions about Shison’s character? As provincial prime minister, he aroused the Taiho’s displeasure and was removed from his post. After that, at his insistence, I deigned to appoint him Naisai. But once again, he so offended the Taiho he was physically removed from the premises. Can there be any doubt that, resenting the way he was treated, he resorted to violence in retribution?”
“Hoh,” Kashaku said, a cynical smile rising to his lips. “Perhaps the real crime here was appointing a man with such a troubled personality to be prime minister and then Naisai?”
“If I knew so at the time, of course I never would have trusted him with those portfolios!” Chou’un shouted in a frenzy. “I’ll admit this much. That bastard Shison had me completely fooled. But did anybody here object? You were all duped no less than me!”
Chou’un tilted his head back, as if pleading his case to the heavens. “Oh, he had us good and fooled. I never imagined him to be such a crude and cowardly hoodlum. Moreover, after being promoted to positions of such great responsibility, he proceeded to bungle one job after the other. In the end, eaten up by festering resentments, he dared even to attack the Taiho, the kirin of our kingdom!”
Chou’un blathered on and on, directing all the blame at Shison, lamenting how he was misled, and insisting that the Rikkan had been equally deceived and bore the same sins as himself.
The members of the Rikkan looked back at him with cold eyes.
The Chousai is mightily upset,” the Minister of Fall said to Shison. He was conducting Shison’s interrogation. “It apparently grieves him to no end that he entrusted such weighty responsibilities to a person as insolent and insubordinate as yourself.”
“W-what?” Shison gasped through a torrent of tears. “This is all too much for me. I only—what the Chousai—”
It was Shison’s natural inclination to ingratiate himself. Except things had not gone as planned. He directed his growing resentment at Taiki, who stood in his way and left him with no other recourses. He fretted that should the status quo continue, he would lose his position and standing. He worried that he would lose Chou’un’s trust.
In order to curry favor with Chou’un, he did as Chou’un desired and set out to remove Taiki from the palace. Taiki had defied and humiliated not only him. Chou’un had been driven into a corner as well. Taiki was his natural enemy. If that enemy were removed from his presence, though he might not say so in public, but he would surely rejoice in such an outcome.
“The Chousai is calling for the death penalty.”
Shison’s mouth dropped open. “T-that’s inconceivable!”
Such an outcome simply wasn’t possible. Even if he said so in public, behind the scenes, Chou’un should be pulling strings to save Shison’s neck.
Shison asked over and over to meet with an official from the executioner’s office, convinced that Chou’un had sent a messenger to intercede. He was repeatedly told, and in no uncertain terms, that no such messenger had arrived. Shison finally came to accept that Chou’un was not going to lift a finger to save him.
Dragged into court for his deposition, a stricken Shison addressed his interrogators.
“My ignorance and utter lack of discretion seeps from every pore of my body. Given my deplorable and outcast state, I now have no choice but to utter the unvarnished truth.”
He spoke in an enervated voice. When he raised his head, his eyes were filled with an unearthly glow.
“Everything I did I was told to do by the Chousai.”
A stunned Chou’un was arrested late that night. For all his connections, he had not the slightest idea what was afoot.
An equally dumbfounded Ansaku was also detained for questioning. “The Chousai—against the Taiho—?”
Impossible. For all his faults, even Chou’un is not that stupid.
Except Shison insisted that the orders came from Chou’un. Shison was responsible for the planning and execution, but everything was carried out according to Chou’un’s instructions.
Chou’un insisted just as strongly that he did nothing of the sort. Unfortunately for him, every one of the ministers testified that Shison was Chou’un’s lapdog. The fact of the matter was that Chou’un counted on Shison reading between the lines and carrying out his unspoken wishes.
“He is not one of my retainers!” Chou’un thundered in response.
“Oh, what nonsense,” laughed the Naisai, who’d been previously dismissed from his post because of Chou’un. “Shison wouldn’t take the first step without your permission. You made Shison the Naisai specifically in order to undermine the Taiho. Shison repeatedly turned to you for guidance. Money changed hands. There are any number of civil servants in the Office of the Naisai who will say so on the record.”
Chou’un’s rebuttal was a shriek of dismay. He was running out of ways to escape the outrageous trap that had ensnared him. There was only one person he could depend on now. He wrote a long letter and had it delivered to Asen.
The reply arrived the next day. “Your petition to the emperor has been heard,” was all it said.