A Thousand Leagues of Wind

Chapter 5

1-2 In the southwest quadrant of the world was the Kingdom of Sai. In the province of Ho, in the county of Jin, there was a mountain that reached beyond the clouds. It was one of the Ryou’un mountains, called Mount Ha.

Those Ryou’un mountains that didn’t house the palaces of the emperor or the province lords were deemed the property of the emperor. They were often used for the imperial gardens or the imperial villa or the imperial mausoleum.

As for Mount Ha, it’d been presented to a woman by an emperor who’d ruled many generations before, the Late Emperor Fuou. The woman built a manor on the side of the mountain near the summit. It was known as Suibi’dou, the Cave of Delicate Green.

The Late Emperor Fuou had also invested the woman as a wizard. Because she lived on Suibi Peak on Mount Ha, she was known as Lady Suibi. Her given name was Riyou. She had once been the favorite mistress of Emperor Fuou.

At daybreak Riyou stood in the entranceway to the manor. Her servants notwithstanding, her life was a lonely one. She sought out human companionship in the cities near the mountain. But practically immortal, never aging, there were few people she could really bond with. She could count on the fingers of one hand the people she really knew, and all of them were wizards, too.

She was setting off from the manor to visit one of them.

Suibi Peak looked down at the distant world below. No human being could scale the bottomless cliffs to the entrance of the manor. Riyou took up the reins of her flying tiger. The tiger’s name was Setsuko, another present from the Late Emperor Fuou. With her flying tiger, she could come and go from her front doorstep. Though she could also descend the mountain through tunnels by foot or on horseback, the idea of sneaking out through secret passageways was an affront to her dignity.

“Please come back soon.”

Her servants lined up at the entranceway to the manor to see her off. They knelt on the ground and bowed low together, their breath puffing pale white in the clear fall air. Looking over the scene, Riyou narrowed her eyes slightly. There were twelve of them altogether.

“You’re always in awfully good spirits whenever I go anywhere.” A sardonic smile came to her lips. “Must you be so happy to see me go? Well, I suppose this bothersome old cat being away gives the mice more room to play.”

Riyou chuckled to herself. Her servants didn’t answer, hunched over like birds huddled against a winter wind. Riyou’s eyes fell on a girl. Aside from her being the youngest of the servants, there was nothing exceptional about her. Her name was Mokurin, though Riyou never addressed her by that name.

“If you don’t wish me to return, well, why not be honest about it? Wouldn’t you say, Honma?”

Jackass, the nickname meant. Riyou addressed her with a sneer on her ruby red lips. The girl hesitantly raised her eyes, eyes that seemed overly large on her thin face. Riyou’s smile reflected in those large eyes. “You really don’t want me to come back, do you?”

The girl shook her head as if offended by the very thought. “All of us humbly await your return. Please . . . please take care.”

“Well, with or without your blessing, I should be back within a fortnight. Are you saying you’d like me to return sooner?”

The girl glanced around, as if confused by the question. “Yes,” she said, casting a frightened look up at Riyou’s face.

Riyou laughed out loud. “But of course. That being the case, I’ll hurry back as quickly as possible. I’m sure you’ll want to do all you can to make my homecoming a pleasant one.”

“Yes. Of course.”

With that, Riyou turned to the rest of the servants. “Then why not brew me some gyokkou stones? Oh, and let’s make things tidy around here, shall we? And tend to the gardens.”

The girl blanched. Gyokkou were stones created on the Five Sacred Mountains at the center of the world. These stones contained magical powers that when brewed created a kind of mystic wine. These were not stones she could simply pick up and carry home with her.

“What’s this? Won’t you be waiting to greet me with open arms? How about some roasted proverb fish and simmered jewel grass? There should be a scrap or two around here somewhere. Though I’m not aware of a single wilted leaf left in the garden.”

Riyou smirked, knowing full well the absurdity of her demands. “While you’re at it, apply a coat of paint to the walls and pillars. Nothing pleases me more than a freshly-painted home. And only because Honma was thoughtful enough to ask.”

The girl looked nervously around at the others. None of them raised their heads.

Gazing down at them, Riyou adjusted her ermine coat and picked up the reins. “Well, don’t you work too hard, now. I am a forgiving taskmaster. I’m not going to scold anybody for letting their hair down a little. While I’m out, I leave everything in your capable hands.”

“As you wish.” The servants scraped their foreheads against the ground, as did the girl, who looked about ready to cry.

Riyou climbed onto Setsuko. With a shout of laughter, the flying tiger leapt from the entranceway and down into the wintry desolation of the world below.

The servants raised their heads and watched Setsuko sail out of sight to the north. As one, they looked over their shoulders at the girl.

“You had to go and open your big mouth!”

“Don’t you know when to put a cork in it?”

“A laundry list of impossibilities! Honma sowed this mess and now she can reap it!”

“How about we send the little witch to the Five Mountains? By the time she returns, Lady Suibi will have been back for ages.”

There was rank among wizards as well. Riyou herself was a class-three wizard. In order to qualify as one of Lady Suibi servants, she had to have barely enough talent to be listed upon the Registry of Wizards. But nothing more than that. The girl called Honma was the lowest-ranked of the lesser wizards.

“What a fine mess. In the middle of this freezing cold, we’re supposed to go to Mount Go and dig up gyokkou stones? And then to the Kyokai to catch proverb fish? And on top of that, jewel grass? At this time of year, with winter coming on, tell me, where’s anybody going to lay their eyes on jewel grass?”

“Damn it all, with her finally leaving town for a few days, I was counting on taking things easy for a change.”

“Honma can do the cleaning and painting. That’s all she’s good for, anyway.”

Their censorious eyes fell upon the girl. She fled.

She ran into the garden, to the trunk of an old pine tree in a corner of the garden nestled up against the cliff. There she wept.

When Riyou spoke to her in that manner, how else was she supposed to respond? If it had been any of the other servants, they would have said the same thing. It wasn’t her fault. In the first place. Riyou had no intent of letting her servants slack off during her absence. This was always the way she did things. Everybody in the manor should know that by now.

“What’s this now?” came a voice behind her. It was the old man who kept guard over the garden. “Oh, don’t let it get to you. They’re taking it out on you because they don’t have the guts to stand up to her either. It’ll be okay once they get it out of their systems, Mokurin.”

The girl shook her head. “That’s not my name.”

Back in that world she so dearly longed for, she was called Suzu. An itinerant monk taught her the three Chinese characters that made up her Japanese name: Ooki Suzu.

People here, though, combined the second and third characters. Because in Chinese ki (or wood) was pronounced moku, and suzu (or bell) was pronounced rin, they called her Mokurin. At least when they weren’t using some insulting term like Honma, among others. None was her real name.

Her old home on a gently sloping hill amidst the rolling mountains—the moments of warm conversation—she’d lost it all. A hundred years had passed since she’d been swept away to this world. The slave trader had taken her away, and while crossing the mountain pass she’d fallen from a precipice and ended up in the Kyokai.

“Why does she have to be like that?”

“Because that’s the kind of person she is. Don’t let her get to you. After all, being so headstrong was what got her sent packing in the first place. Giving her this manor was the tactful way of easing her out.”

“I know that, but . . . ”

Suzu had been suddenly thrust into this strange world, not able to communicate and not having the slightest idea what was going on. And she was only fourteen years old.

From the small seaside village, she’d been sent to a bigger town. She was trundled here and packed off there for days, not knowing what was going to happen next. Finally she was taken to a big city and was handed over to a troupe of traveling entertainers.

She’d spent a little over three years with the troupe. To Suzu, a solid blur of incomprehension. They visited cities hither and yon, high and low, and met many people. All she figured out was that she’d somehow gotten separated from the land of her birth and was now a great distance from it. There were mountains that pierced the heavens, cities surrounded by high walls, strange manners and customs, and a strange language.

Everything was far beyond her grasp and forever would be. That was the conclusion she was forced to come to.

With each new city, Suzu harbored fresh hopes that, by some happy accident, she would run into a person who understood her and could send word back to her village. Every expectation was dashed. About the time she began to abandon hope that such a person existed, they arrived in Jin County. There she met Riyou.

In four years she hadn’t learned a single one of the troupe’s performances. She was consigned to cleaning duties precisely because she didn’t understand what anybody was saying.

No matter where they went, she didn’t recognize the language people spoke. No matter how many times people talked to her and she talked to other people, nothing made sense. Nobody knew the way home. She had no idea what to do. Every day ended with her in tears.

People would just laugh at her when she said she didn’t understand what they were saying. Eventually, Suzu stopped talking all together. It was too intimidating to speak or be spoken to.

So it was hardly unreasonable that she should be delighted beyond belief when, in a city in Jin County, she met Riyou. It wasn’t long before Riyou was deriding her at every turn. But Suzu relished at least being insulted with words she understood.

Riyou could communicate with her because she was a wizard. Learning that everybody would understand her and she would understand them too, Suzu begged to be made a wizard. She’d happily become a servant, work as hard as she had to. And so, answering her pleas, Riyou invested her as a wizard.

For a century, she had been all but a prisoner in this place.

She’d thought of running away any number of times. Yet if she left the manor without Riyou’s permission, Riyou would have her name erased from the Registry of Wizards. And if that happened, she’d be plunged right back into that incomprehensible world of misfortune.

“Well,” said the old man, patting Suzu on the shoulder. “You’d better get back to work. No rest for the weary.”

Suzu nodded, clenching her cold fingers together. Somebody, she repeated to herself. Somebody please save me.

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