The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Chapter 8.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.
"Youka, can I go outside?" asked a restless Taiki, who had only entered Hoto Palace not too long ago.
Youka smiled. "Of course. Did you want to go see Madam Risai?"
"...Is that not good?"
"Of course not. Madam Risai is a good person. She is a general and we believe her to be a trustworthy person."
Obtaining permission, Taiki exited the palace surrounded by the nyosen who had been on the platform.
As the days went by, the nyosen had gotten to know quite a few of the mountain-climbers. First one nyosen, then another would encounter someone that they knew and stop to chat with them. Slowly the number of nyosen walking with Taiki would become smaller and smaller. Even Youka stopped just shortly before they reached Risai's tent to talk with an attendant from some other place. Taiki ran the remainder of the distance.
Currently the number of people who stopped to greet him had lessened, but there were still a lot of people who took the opportunity to befriend and chat with Taiki. Taiki had learned a way to avoid being bothered by idle people: he just had to run as quickly as he could.
Even before Taiki said anything, Risai had already come out of her tent.
"You knew I was coming?"
"When you're coming, Hien calls out happily."
"Yes, perhaps Hien thinks you're really his master!"
"That can't be."
"We'll never be sure. Youju are not able to speak, otherwise you could ask him." Risai laughed as she lightly patted Hien's neck. "Am I right, Hien?"
The tenba suddenly turned its head and rubbed it against Taiki's chest. Risai smiled wryly and said, "Look, didn't I just say so?"
- - - - -
After they washed Hien and brushed his fur, Taiki and Risai used the remainder of the morning to stroll around. Risai very patiently answered all of Taiki's questions in detail. In addition, if there were any strange things that Taiki was unfamiliar with, she would explain all of them to him without exception.
Risai would also introduce Taiki to her friends. It seemed as though these people had gotten to know Risai after they had climbed the mountain, and they all felt like good people. Walking around with Risai always made Taiki feel an unrestrained happiness.
"Are all the people who come here from Tai Kingdom? Are there no people from other kingdoms?" asked Taiki casually as he and Risai were walking slowly through a vast area surrounded by spring water that gushed from the bottom of a crag.
Risai couldn't help but lightly chuckle. "Of course. The ruler of Tai Kingdom is decided from the people of Tai Kingdom."
"Is that so?"
"Could it be that you didn't know?" Risai had a slight surprised look on her face.
"I wasn't brought back to live on Mt. Hou until recently, so there are a lot of things I don't know."
Risai nodded in understanding. "I wasn't aware. How rude of me. It is a rule that says the ruler of a kingdom must be from that kingdom."
"So all these people here, they're all from Tai Kingdom?"
"Well it's not limited to just that. It just requires that one is born in Tai Kingdom."
Risai held Taiki's hand as they walked for a bit when he suddenly stopped.
"Madam Risai, look at the really beautiful beast over there."
Risai turned to look where Taiki was looking and nodded.
"Yes, that's a sugu. They are very beautiful."
This creature looked a lot like a tiger. It had a long tail and an incredible multi-colored radiance. Compared to the gentle impression the tenba gave people, the strength it displayed was much fiercer by far.
"The sugu makes the best kiju. It can cross a kingdom in one day."
The nyosen had said before that it took an entire month's time for a horse to completely cross a kingdom, which gave him an idea of how considerably big the land was.
"Yes, sugu are extremely obedient to their masters and are also very smart. You will not be able to find a beast braver on the battlefields than this one." Risai looked admiringly at the sugu and walked slowly towards it. "I would very much like to have a sugu."
"You want a sugu? Then what about Hien?"
"Of course I would like one. Hien is cute and docile, but his personality is too gentle to bring onto a battlefield. I am a military commander, so I must consider matters of war first and foremost."
"I'm hoping that I'll encounter a sugu on my way back from Mt. Hou."
"If you run into one, will you catch it and take it back with you?"
Risai laughed. "That's my plan. Before I came, of course I very much anticipated meeting you, but I also looked forward to a chance to capture and take back a sugu."
"If I dared to spend money, I could probably buy a sugu to take home, but it would be very embarrassing to buy a youju. No, I should actually say that for something like a kiju, I would like to rely on my own strength to tame it."
Risai smiled as she nodded, and then called out to the tent next to which the sugu was tied up, "Forgive me for inquiring, but is the master of this sugu available?"
"If you're asking about Keito, he is my mount."
They suddenly heard a voice from behind them. Risai looked surprised as her reflexes put her into a defensive stance.
It was that man. Today, he wasn't wearing that armor from before, but his sword was still at his waist. It had been hard to forget his ice-like hair and his eyes that were like rubies.
After Risai looked at Taiki and Gyousou, she stood up straight. "This is the first time we have met. I am—"
"You are Madam Risai of the Jou Provincial Army, are you not?" smiled Gyousou. Risai looked pleased.
"Why do you...?"
"General, your name is known far and wide. There are few that do not know of you."
"Just as I thought!" Taiki blurted out. Risai and Gyousou both turned to look at him. "Ah... Excuse me."
Gyousou was very interested in Taiki's response. "As you thought?"
"It's like this... I had previously said to Madam Risai that she was a very exceptional general. It seems as if I'm not the only one who thinks so..."
Risai's face reddened a little bit as she turned to Gyousou. "The Kou speaks too highly of me."
"Not at all," said Gyousou with a smile.
"Kou, you have very good insight. It's just as you said. The people exalted when Madam Risai was promoted into the Jou Provincial Army."
"Please don't listen to him, Kou."
Risai became shy, which was unusual for her, so it made her feel awkward.
Gyousou noticed her slight distress and could not hold in a smile. Taiki stood on the side and, seeing Gyousou's smile, realized that he wasn't the scary person that he had originally thought him to be.
"That's right. I don't know if it was Madam Risai or the Kou that had a question about Keito." Gyousou looked at Taiki and Risai.
"The Kou said that he would like to get a good look at him."
"If it is the Kou, then I do not think Keito will have any objections." Gyousou showed them to the sugu.
Observing it from so closely, Taiki discovered that its eyes left a deeper impression than its appearance. He was stunned by the complicated and beautiful colors in it.
"Might I ask...if Sir Gyousou captured this sugu with his own hands?"
"Yes, because I don't like to buy kiju."
"Why is that? Isn't capturing youju really dangerous?"
Suddenly, Gyousou raised the corners of his lips. Taiki flinched at seeing this intense sort of smile, and it scared him.
"These youju originally come from the wild and become kiju when people rein in and restrain them. For us to become their masters, if we didn't risk our lives as payment to them, wouldn't that be unfair to them?"
Gyousou stroked Keito fondly, as the frightening smile that was previously on his face disappeared.
"I captured him with my own hands, and trained him myself. This sugu and my sword are both my treasures."
Risai was very astonished and asked, "You trained Keito on your own?"
"Essentially. The trainer had not done a good job. He does not listen to anyone but me," said Gyousou as he smiled. He leaned his head and looked at Taiki. "Normally, people say that doing this is not smart, because a dangerous accident could happen in a second."
"Oh, that's right." Risai looked at Gyousou. "Is Sir Gyousou's sword the one bestowed upon you by the previous King Tai?"
"It must be an exceptionally fine sword."
"It is most definitely a very sharp blade."
The sword is a weapon, not a simple accessory. When this thought entered Taiki's head, he couldn't help but quiver with fright.
Since Gyousou was a military man, fierce combat was unavoidable for him. He probably received this sword through some great military achievement, and carried it to do battle with.
"So what was the achievement?"
In response to Taiki's question, Gyousou shook his head.
"It wasn't because of some great feat. Once, the late king had asked King En to grant me a duel."
"Did you win?"
"I lost," laughed Gyousou happily. "We fought three times, and I only won once. The late king was very pleased with my one victory, so he bestowed this sword upon me. I do not use this sword to fight with, so it really is a treasure."
"King En is truly very powerful."
"He was too much for me, but I tried my best." At this, that frightening expression reappeared on Gyousou's face. "Had I also lived five-hundred years, I believe that King En would not be a match for me."
This was Gyousou's utmost confidence in himself.
If he hadn't said it with such a serious tone, it might not have scared Taiki. It was just this expression that appeared every now and then that really frightened him.
"I would also very much like to have a sugu..."
Risai looked at Keito. Gyousou quickly replied, "I know a good place to look for them. Why don't I take you there?"
"I have almost completed everything here that I came to do. I was thinking that perhaps I could find another sugu before the next Ankou Day."
"You already have Keito. You wanted another one?"
"If I could get another sugu, then Keito could rest more. Three might be too many, but I think two is a perfect number."
"I understand your meaning. It's just that...are you really willing to let others know where to find them?"
"Why not? If a person wants one, they should catch one for themselves."
"Aren't you afraid that other people will exhaust the place of sugu?"
Gyousou laughed lightly. "What is there to be afraid of? Those who want to become master to a sugu are required to have many skills."
- - - - -
After they left Gyousou, Taiki let out a big sigh, but he knew that he was still very anxious.
"What's the matter?"
Risai could see Taiki's mood in his face.
"Kou, are you still afraid of Sir Gyousou?"
"Madam Risai, it seems like you don't feel it at all."
"I think that he is able to strike fear into the hearts of all the enemies who face him... What I mean is, he truly makes other people feel a little nervous."
"So that's it..."
"He has a frightful ambition. You see a friendly dog and relax, but then you realize that it's really a wolf, and so you're paralyzed with fear. Do you know that feeling?"
This had perfectly described his emotions.
"I know exactly what you're saying."
Risai murmured, "It is just as the rumors said. He has an extraordinary ambition... It's too bad he's not the king."
"Really?" Taiki was truly afraid of Gyousou.
Risai nodded. "A ruler isn't simply a good person. A ruler who is too compassionate will lead his kingdom astray, and one who is too modest will bring his kingdom to ruin... I sincerely believed that Sir Gyousou was the one."
"Madam Risai, do you really mean that?"
Risai looked at Taiki, whose head was raised toward her, and smiled. "After meeting Sir Gyousou, I am a little embarrassed that I came to climb the mountain. —Sir Gyousou is really the strongest of the strong."
"It doesn't look like there's a ruler among those who have climbed the mountain."
When Youka said this, a month and a half had already passed since the summer solstice.
It was late at night with the moon high in the sky, and the insects chirped continuously.
"Then...it should be okay if we don't go to Hoto Palace tomorrow, right?"Youka nodded as she tidied up the bed.
Sanshi silently helped Taiki change clothes.
"I suppose we could just close the gates of the outer palace. That way, we can let everyone know that they should stop hoping."
"And then what?"
"And then we let things happen. If you want to go outside and play, you might as well."
"Yes, since there'll be people to help us watch out for you. You're probably going to look for Sir Gyousou and Madam Risai, right? As long as those two are there, then we don't need to worry. Also, Sanshi will be by your side."
After that day when he talked to Gyousou, Taiki always stopped by to visit him.
Ordinarily, he would first pay a visit to Risai, and then after he played with Hien, he would visit Gyousou. Eventually, it became an unexpected sort of routine.
Occasionally, Gyousou still made Taiki's heart jump, but after a while, he got used to that too. There were normally very few men on Mt. Hou, so after Taiki became familiar with Gyousou, if he didn't visit him, he would feel as if something was missing.
"Then..." Taiki looked up at Youka. "Tomorrow Madam Risai and Sir Gyousou are going out to the Yellow Sea to look for sugu."
Youka raised her eyebrows. "And?"
"...And I would like to go with them... I can't go, can I?"
When Risai invited Taiki, he had told her that the nyosen might not allow him to go.
Youka exchanged glances with Teiei, who was standing in the corner of the room, and then sighed and said, "All right, since you don't usually ask us for anything. Just please do your best to be careful. Don't get hurt or we'll be very worried."
A wide grin spread across Taiki's face. "Okay!"
- - - - -
The darkness was still draped over the sky though daybreak was approaching. Taiki rushed over from Hoto Palace to Risai's tent without stopping.
The surroundings were so hazy that human shapes were hard to make out, but the camp area had been illuminated by torches.
Taiki saw that Gyousou had already put on his armor and was standing with Keito, waiting for him to arrive. Risai was just placing a saddle onto Hien's back, and it was the first time that Taiki had seen her in armor. She turned her head and looked at the nyosen following Taiki and nodded.
"Are we ready to set off?"
Risai smiled. "Almost."
"Am I riding with you on Hien?"
Teiei, who had chased behind Taiki, bowed deeply. "There are none who can replace Taiki's person, so Madam Risai and Sir Gyousou, I please ask that you must take care of him, no matter what."
Risai and Gyousou returned the bow.
"We earnestly believe in both of your abilities, so the danger shouldn't be too great that Taiki is with you. However, please be sure that you return him before noon."
Teiei nodded, and then noticed that only a tenba and a sugu were ready with saddles.
"Are you not bringing any attendants with you?"
"If we bring attendants on horses, I'm afraid that we would not be able to make it back by noon," said Risai difficultly. Teiei creased her brow.
The Yellow Sea is quite a dangerous place, and though it protects the Five Mountains, countless numbers of youma reside there. Youju will obediently listen to their masters as soon as they are subdued, but they are originally born wild, so they are dangerous and will attack people.
Besides youma and youju, there are countless other hazards hidden in the Yellow Sea, such as quicksand, swamps full of poisonous vapors, boulders falling off the mountain, and the like.
"Can the both of you guarantee that you will bring the Kou back without the slightest injury?"
Risai nodded her head solidly. "We will definitely make sure he does not get injured in the least."
"It's too bad we can't come with you. The nyosen need the permission of Genkun to leave the Five Mountains. I know it's very dangerous there, so please consider the Kou's safety first while you're hunting. He must not come into contact with blood. This I ask of you."
"Yes... Of course." A labored expression floated onto Risai's face. Teiei ignored it and continued speaking.
"If you really must kill a youma, one of you please take the Kou away first...even if it means abandoning the other person."
"Teiei..." Afraid that Teiei would keep talking, Taiki gently tugged at the bottom of Teiei's dress.
"We are not setting off on a sightseeing excursion," said Gyousou with a stern look upon his face. "The main purpose of this trip to the edge of the Yellow Sea is to hunt for youju. Thus, I cannot guarantee you that it won't be dangerous. However, we are most confident that we can protect the Kou, so that is why we have invited him to come with us. For you to give us these instructed again and again, I must say that the nyosen of Mt. Hou are being a bit too discourteous."
Teiei looked unwaveringly at Gyousou. "...You are really full of self-confidence... I suppose that it would be useless to say anymore..."
Gyousou fearless looked back at Teiei, the unyielding glimmer in his eyes becoming more intense. "I must please ask the nyosen not to worry. The Kou is the Kirin of our Tai Kingdom. Protecting the safety of the Kou is the absolute responsibility of the people of Tai Kingdom. Can the nyosen accept what I have said?"
The two looked at each other for a moment, until Teiei looked away briefly.
"What you've said does make sense... Then that is all I ask of you."
When Teiei turned to make her way back to the palace, Gyousou grasped his sugu's reins and said, "The daylight is almost here. We should head out, Madam Risai."
Though the tenba was galloping very quickly, riding upon it didn't feel shaky.
Whether it was leaping across the crags, running upon flat land, or passing through the dense forests, it completely didn't affect those who rode upon it. This steady feeling was not at all like riding on the back of an animal. Sitting on top, Taiki felt both surprised and blissful.
It seemed as if the tenba had exceptional eyesight in the dark. Even if it was going through areas where rocks and trees were blocking the moonlight, it didn't slow down at all.
"...What does it feel like?" asked Risai, who was holding Taiki with her arms as she clutched the reins with her hands. Taiki turned back to look at her.
"It's a lot like a kirin."
Risai showed a little surprise. "You've ridden a kirin before?"
"Yes... Is that strange?"
Risai smiled wryly. "Now that is quite a rare experience. —Also, how could Hien compare to a kirin? I feel rather embarrassed."
"Yes. Of course, since you are a kirin, you may not think that riding a kirin is anything special. But for someone like me, I wouldn't dare to dream of riding one."
Taiki had never thought about that before. Certainly, when he recalled riding upon Keiki, he felt a little bit bewildered, but not that it was anything terribly special.
"But really, I would never have dreamed that I would actually have the opportunity to ride upon the same saddle with you."
After Taiki looked up and saw Risai smiling, he tilted his head, which meant that he didn't object to what she had said.
Taiki had wanted to ask Gyousou for his opinion, but when he turned to look at Gyousou, who was riding Keito next to them, he only saw Gyousou's profile as he looked ahead with a stern expression on his face. Taiki supposed that Gyousou hadn't heard the conversation between himself and Risai.
That frightening feeling emanated from Gyousou once again, and he looked like he was still irritated with what Teiei had said before.
Taiki had originally been cheerfully riding on the tenba, but that feeling rapidly disappeared.
He felt as if it had all been his fault.
- - - - -
Hien and Keito entered into a deep part of the Yellow Sea, gracefully passing through the rocky crags, and arrived at a place south of the Five Mountains—the base of Mt. Kou.
Gyousou, who had been riding in front, stopped Keito upon a hill that was connected to a savage-looking rock which was protruding upward, and came down off the saddle. At this time, the moon could still be seen in the sky.
"Sir Gyousou, is this the place?" asked Risai, after she had stopped Hien. Gyousou nodded gravely.
Risai lifted Taiki down off the saddle. He looked at the ambitious Gyousou from the side.
"Uh... Sir Gyousou..."
"Yes?" Gyousou's tone was impatient. He unloaded the packs that had been tied to the saddle, not bothering to look back at Taiki.
With Gyousou's back towards him, Taiki lowered his head. "Just then...the nyosen were a little disrespectful."
Gyousou stopped what he was doing and sighed. His air of determination subsided as well.
"...You do not need to apologize to me."
"No... Actually...I am very sorry, Sir Gyousou, and Madam Risai too."
Risai had found a suitable place in a corner surrounded by crags to prepare a fire. When she heard Taiki say this, she couldn't help but laugh a little.
"You need not think about it. I know that it's very normal for the nyosen to worry."
"No!" Taiki looked at the two of them.
"I...am an ailing kirin."
The two looked at Taiki, making him feel embarrassed, so his face turned red."That's just a metaphor..." Taiki tried his best to find a suitable way to describe it. "Teiei wasn't doubting the abilities of Madam Risai and Sir Gyousou. It's because I can't quite take care of myself, so that's why she was so anxious."
Risai smiled warmly. "Kou, in this world, you are someone whom no one can replace. You shouldn't sell yourself short."
Taiki shook his head. "No! The nyosen worry so much because I can't do any of the things a kirin is supposed to be able to do! That's what I think it probably is... I...don't even have any shirei."
Gyousou and Risai both opened their eyes widely, and then exchanged glances with each other.
Since kirin cannot stand blood, they have no way of holding a weapon and fighting with others, even if their opponent is a youma or a youju.
Thus, the ones that are able to help protect the kirin are his shirei. It is common knowledge that a kirin possesses a countless number of shirei. If a kirin does not have any shirei, that means that he has no way of protecting himself.
"And it's not just that. I cannot transform either."
After hearing this, Gyousou and Risai were even more shocked.
"I should have a lot of shirei and depend on those shirei to protect myself, but I don't have even one. If we have to run away, I should be able to run away by changing into kirin form, but I don't know how to transform."
Telling other people about how useless he was made him feel ashamed. Taiki couldn't help but shrink down his body a little bit.
"That's why the nyosen are so extremely worried about me. They've thought up all sorts of methods to try to cure me, and even specifically asked the Taiho of Kei Kingdom to come help me.."
When he thought about how worthless he was, and how that made everyone around him worry about him and concentrate their care upon him, Taiki had no choice but to feel sad.
Gyousou gently patted Taiki's head with his big hand.
Taiki looked up and saw only a warm expression gazing in his direction. Though it was still the Gyousou who sometimes frightened people, he occasionally had a kinder side to him.
"We were not planning on using any shirei, so please don't worry."
"At least...I still have a nyokai."
Gyousou smiled. "That is reassuring."
Gyousou's hand, which was bigger by far than Keiki's hand, stroked Taiki's head.
"What kind of bait are we going to use?" asked Taiki to Risai as she was setting a trap.
"A gem. Sugu are especially fond of agate."
Risai took out a piece of agate about the same size as a chicken's egg for Taiki to look at.
"Wow... It's so big... The sugu will really eat it?"
Risai smiled. "It's just like a cat and the silvervine."
Risai put the piece of agate in Taiki's hand, turned to Gyousou and said, "I'm going to lay out some bait to lure them over here."
Risai jumped onto her tenba.
"The shattered pieces of agate. Sir Gyousou, I leave the Kou in your care."
After taking a giant leap, Hien flew outward. At this time, the eastern sky had slowly grown whiter.
The middle of the night was the most suitable for hunting, because very few youju wandered around in when the sun was high in the sky. Currently, there was still a stretch of time before it was light out. This wasn't the best opportunity to hunt, but taking into consideration Taiki's safety, Gyousou and Risai chose this period of time.
After Gyousou tied a rope onto a stake that had been driven into the ground, he lightly patted his hands, stood up, and walked towards Keito who was laying on the rocks by the fire.
"Kou, would you like to rest?"
Gyousou leaned on Keito and motioned for Taiki to come beside him, whereupon Taiki obediently walked over and sat next to him.
"Do you think we'll be able to catch one?"
"We'll have to see how lucky we are."
"Did you catch Keito here?"
Gyousou nodded. "In all the Ankou Days that I passed through, I think it was my sixth attempt that I caught him."
"It must be pretty hard then?"
"To be honest, it's a lot of trouble just to set all those traps."
Since he didn't know how the complex apparatus formed by the chains and ropes would be operated, Taiki sunk into his fertile imagination almost immediately.
"Are you scared of me?"
Faced with such a sudden question, Taiki lifted his head and looked surprisingly at Gyousou.
"Sometimes I feel that when you look at me, it seems as if you want to get far away from me. Or is it perhaps you smell something horrible on me, and you're afraid that it's contagious?"
"It's not like that!"
"Or are kirin afraid to look at me?" Gyousou revealed a sliver of a bitter smile. "Kirin are very compassionate creatures. It looks like I have been spared compassion, hasn't it?"
"Not at all..."
"I am a warrior. I cannot be compassionate. That is unavoidable... Kou, if you recognize anything in which I am lacking, I hope that you can tell me, because I would like to know in what area I have not done well."
Gyousou's tone was still and his voice was so light that it felt like it dissolved into the night. Taiki was at a loss.
"...I think perhaps Sir Gyousou has misunderstood."
Gyousou looked inquiringly at Taiki.
"Or perhaps, it is the color of your eyes... It reminds me of blood, and that frightens me a little..."
"I appreciate your concern for me, but it is not necessary to be too kind to me."
Taiki calmly gathered up the courage to look back at Gyousou and said, "...I really don't know how to explain it."
"You can say anything. Do not worry about me."
"I...I've always considered my personality to be weak. The nyosen often tell me that I lack ambition, that I should have more confidence in myself. I don't know why I'm like this."
Gyousou looked at Taiki with a deep silence.
"Sir Gyousou, you're not the same way. You're full of self-confidence. Truthfully, I'm not sure if I would describe it as ambitious, but I think the sense that you give people is that you are driven, especially...when that determination sometimes rises up very intensely. —Do you understand what I'm talking about?"
"So that's why I get a little scared. It's a little bit different than envy."
Taiki looked at the fire next to Keito.
"Fire...is warm and bright, but at the same time, it's strong and scary, right? So that's why I'm afraid... I think that's probably how I feel about you."
Even Taiki himself didn't understand why he felt this fear.
"But I'm not down on myself because of this. I don't think it's because of any sort of violence that I feel scared. It doesn't feel quite the same. And it isn't like the fear I feel when I see blood. That feels different too..."
No matter how he said it, he just couldn't find a way to express what it was that he was feeling. The more he thought about it, the more flustered Taiki would get, and suddenly, he felt like crying.
"It's not quite an unpleasant feeling. A big fire is frightening, but it's also beautiful and amazing. That's what I've been trying to say. I feel like you're very great, but at the same time, I'm a little scared of you."
He put his hands to his face.
"There's no need to cry."
"It's my fault for asking such a strange question."
"Not at all..."
Gyousou laughed warmly and gently stroked Taiki's hair. "You are a good child."
"You are both honest and kind. I believe Tai Kingdom will definitely get better."
"Do you really think so?"
Gyousou nodded. He hugged Taiki's shoulders with the arm he was using to stroke Taiki's head as he looked into the fire.
Afterwards, neither of them said anything. Previously leaning on Keito, Taiki shifted toward Gyousou's body and sunk into the silence.