The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze, Chapter 12.
from Mina's trans. of Ono Fuyumi's Kaze no Umi, Meikyuu no Kishi.
The Kingdom of Tai is located in the northeast. Its capital is Kouki. Only a day and a night had passed when Genbu arrived at the top of Kouki Mountain, which rose high into the sky.
Genbu was actually a giant turtle about the size of a small island. Before Gyousou and Taiki left the temple, he had waited in the sea of clouds. He motioned to the master and servant to climb onto his shell by way of his head, which was resting on the shore and looked like a great crag. His shell felt like stone and was covered with countless rocky protrusions. He felt a lot like Mt. Hou. It was not known where Genbu came from. His neck and shell were not the slightest bit damp. In the middle of the shell, there was a very small palace hall. There was no one inside, as if it was there for a night's stay and rest.
In the journey of this turtle—it wouldn't be right it a boat—Hakkei Palace, the royal palace of Tai Kingdom had already begun preparing various items for the welcome of the king.
Taiki stood in the front part of the shell, and the first thing that entered his view was a steeply shaped small island. As they became closer, he discovered that on the horseshoe shaped island, along the bay, there were an unclear number of towering buildings.
The walls and the pillars and railings were all white. The blue of the roof was deeper than that of Houro Palace. The winds around the inlet were still and tranquil. The images reflecting off of the surface of the water looked from the air like a beautiful painting.
"That is Hakkei Palace. It is beautiful, is it not?"
A little lost in thought, Taiki nodded at the sound of Gyousou's voice.
"Those are the Outer Halls of the government. The ones on the other side should be the Inner Halls." Gyousou raised his hand and gestured.
"Kouri, when the time comes, you will live in Jinju Hall. It is over there." Gyousou pointed at a structure by the water.
"I'm living there too? Don't I serve you?"
"Yes, Kouri. Although it can be said that you are a minister, you are not like the other ministers. If we were to use a boat as an analogy for the kingdom, the ruler is the sail and the kirin is the anchor. One cannot be without the other."
Genbu finally arrived at the inlet. A countless number of flags had been placed all around the royal palace. A great number of people were arranged neatly in front of the big structure, all prostrating on the ground. For the second time, Genbu rested his head on the shore to let the two disembark.
Passing through the prostrated crowd, the two people proceeded towards the palace in the front. They received the congratulations of the group of people, however Taiki was in a state of dismay.
Whether if it was those who knelt before him or those who served him, he had long gotten used to it. He was already accustomed to a life of luxury. The standard of the things prepared in the royal palace were far from that of Houro Palace.
He wanted badly to call Sanshi to come out and hold his hand. But Youka had already told him time and time again that when he chose a ruler and left the mountain for his home kingdom, he would be considered an adult. Sanshi no longer performed the role of his wet nurse, but that of a shirei. A shirei could not be called out in the midst of a crowd as he pleased.
Thus, only after an entire day of ceremony ended and after he returned to his room and let the curtains above his bed down was he able to really relax.
Eight attendants lived in the room next door and satisfied Taiki's requests as necessary. So, he quietly called out Sanshi's name.
"Is everything all right?"
Every time Sanshi would immediately appear in front of Taiki, yet this time, he heard only her voice, but he didn't see her.
"You are already an adult. I cannot appear whenever you call me."
"You can't?" Taiki sat on a big blanket, though the blankets at Rosen Palace were much bigger than this.
"Although you cannot see me, I will always be by your side."
Since this was all Sanshi said, there was nothing for Taiki to do but to lay down obediently, but he wasn't tired at all.
Suddenly, he smiled. He could feel two hands reach out from under the bedding with his fingers. He knew those were Sanshi's hands.
Sanshi's hands tightly held Taiki's hands
It was very hard for him to calmly close his eyes. He slept very shallowly. Even the dream he had was very clear in Taiki's mind. It had been a nightmare.
When a kirin arrived in his native kingdom, he assisted the ruler in governmental affairs in his position as Saiho. It didn't matter how old or young he was, the kirin could not avoid the responsibility he was born into.
Taiki had to begin playing the role of Saiho.
When the time came, he had to get out of bed and put on clothes that conformed with the protocol of his position; when the time came, he had to go to the Outer Halls and attend the Morning Council. After that, it was necessary for him to be present at the king's side and assist in government. For the time being, he could only sit at one side and listen, because that was the kirin's responsibility and duty.
After midday had passed and the afternoon's work was finished, the king would retire to his quarters. The Saiho could then also retire to his own room, but until Gyousou went to bed, he did not leave his side.
Currently, Gyousou's first order of business was to prepare for his own coronation ceremony.
On another side, he also had to formulate a new organization. Of the things that the previous king had left behind, the things that should be kept will be kept, and the things that should be discarded will be discarded. Other things like the appointments and dismissals of the ministers and the modifications of law are also quite important issues.
"How do you want to address the Daishi's complaints?"
Gyousou laid on a couch in his room as he looked over official documents. Taiki sat on the floor nearby.
"Pay no attention to him."
It was because the previous king was excessively extravagant that he eventually lost his way. Gyousou understood that for this reason, he had to reduce the number of those who served him to as few as possible. As a result, many attendants and court ladies did not have much to do. Even the palace halls not frequently used were locked up.
The Daishi was the head of the palace musicians. He complained that the king had dismissed too many musicians.
"I am a military man after all. I will simply tell him that I do not understand music."
"...But, it will also be difficult for those people who were dismissed..."
"Do you know how many musicians the previous king left behind?"
Taiki shook his head. "No."
"I do not know either. However, I am certain the number is extraordinarily high. It seemed like every time I went into the Inner Halls, a different piece of music would rise out of each palace hall. Also, there was never a break in the music over the course of an entire day. The musicians would play, regardless of whether or not the king was in the Inner Halls or not. We could even hear the music during the Morning Council."
"Is that so...?"
"The talented musicians in the palace should have no trouble finding other employment. We will keep a few of the best musicians here. After all, when there are guests visiting, we will want some music as to not be too improper."
"The Daishi says that there are too few musicians to perform at the coronation."
"It does not matter. In any case, Tai Kingdom is not extraordinarily wealthy."
"The Spring Minister also says that it is the coronation of the king after all. The production standards cannot be too low."
The Shunkanchou, the Spring Minister, was one of the Six Ministers. He oversaw ritual and ceremony.
"If people feel that it's inadequate, then we will let them. They are only those who put on airs. The previous king was wasteful. The treasury of the kingdom is empty. The warehouses are full of debt contracts."
Taiki was young and did not yet understand the infrastructure of government, much less the arrangement of adult society. The current situation in Tai Kingdom was not very optimistic.
Contrary to what was going on, in regard to the ins and outs of the high officials in the Inner Halls, Gyousou didn't actually require Taiki's suggestions—Taiki himself was very clear on this.
"Do we need to find a completely new, suitable candidate for the position of Spring Minister?" Gyousou mumbled to himself as he glanced over official documents. Taiki watched him. "Because the previous king liked extravagant ceremonies, I worry that the current Spring Minister also favors an excessive style."
"...But, I don't think we need to replace him so quickly..."
Gyousou looked at Taiki and smiled. "You have a point. For the time being, we'll first observe the Spring Minister's performance."
Taiki lowered his head. Seeing Gyousou's smile, Taiki knew that it meant he had given in to Taiki.
"...I'm sorry. I've said too much..."
"There is no such thing. I should thank you for your questions, Taiki. They help me calm my mind."
Taiki knew that Gyousou was just saying these things to comfort him. "...I'm sorry..."
Seeing Taiki hanging his head, Gyousou stood up. "Kouri... What are you worrying about? Can you tell me?"
Hearing Gyousou ask this, Taiki hurriedly shook his head. "It's nothing."
Gyousou put down the documents he had been glancing over and suddenly embraced Taiki. "Is it that...you long for Mt. Hou?"
"That's not it..."
"If you miss the nyosen, just tell me. You are a little bit too polite."
"Then...what is the reason you are so miserable? You do not have to say that it is nothing. You are still young. It is not necessary to force yourself to do this."
Taiki didn't know how to reply to this.
"When the coronation ceremony is over, I will send you immediately to Kei Kingdom, so that you can visit with Kei Taiho."
"That's not the reason either..."
"Or do you think that I am incompetent? That it makes you so uncomfortable to have given the kingdom to me?"
Taiki shook his head, even though that was not necessarily untrue. He felt as though it was his duty to watch over Gyousou. He didn't let Gyousou out of his sight for even a moment. It wasn't because he didn't trust in Gyousou's character; it was just that he was worried Gyousou might accidentally make an error in judgement.
—After all, there had been no revelation for Gyousou.
Gyousou looked at the child in his arms and saw a severe look on his face. In his mind, he secretly knit his brow.
What was it that was bothering Taiki so much? It did not seem as simple as that he just missed the nyosen. Or was it that he had suddenly taken on such a great responsibility? Or... When he thought back on it, after he had met Taiki for the first time at Mt. Hou, he wasn't sure if he was just being overly suspicious, but it seemed as if Taiki had become more and more anxious as the days passed by.
Gyousou set Taiki back on the floor.
"In conclusion, I would like you to rest thoroughly. There is no reason for you to accompany me until late at night."
"It's all right."
"I do not think it is all right. Do you realize how unhealthy your color is?"
Gyousou placed his hand on the apprehensive child's head. "This is a command. Today, you may go back to your palace. For now, I am allowing that you do not need to leave your palace until the afternoon."
"I promise you that before I make any sort of decision, I will discuss it with you first. Thus, for the time being, rest up a bit. Your response?"
Taiki looked at the floor. "Yes..."
Besides assisting the king, the Saiho's responsibility included another duty, which was that of the Shukou of Zui Province.
Jinju Hall was were Taiki lived, but at the same time, it was the seat of government for Zui Province. Ordinarily, he would use the short period of time in the afternoon to handle the affairs of government. Though this was the case, a kirin was part of the king's division, so in reality, the rule of Zui Province was still under the control of the king.
Now, after receiving the Tenchoku, he knew just the slightest bit about governing a kingdom, but other than that, most of the time, he actually understood very little about what was said. In fact, his handling of government affairs only involved him listening silently to the reports of the officials and asking questions about things he didn't understand. He spent a majority of his time in study.
When Gyousou had time, he would visit Jinju Hall. Occasionally, he would interrupt and say something or he would watch Taiki from the side. Afterwards, when Gyousou returned to the Inner Halls in order to continue his own work, he would steadfastly prevent Taiki from following him back. At this, having no alternative, Taiki would then spend much of the afternoon in his own palace hall idling.
At first, there were eight people here attending to Taiki. After the drastic reduction in personnel, there were left only two. Considering that in the past, Taiki had spent most of his time with nyosen, the remaining two were both court ladies. This point was probably Gyousou's meticulous arrangement. For dinner, Gyousou did not forget to find Taiki to eat with, which also showed that Gyousou was thinking of Taiki.
Taiki took everything that Gyousou did to heart. On the other hand, Taiki felt even more like he couldn't take it easy.
The better Gyousou treated Taiki, the more Taiki felt like he was being forced into a corner.
- - - - -
On another afternoon of continuous sighing, Taiki was suddenly called on by Gyousou, who had returned to the Inner Halls.
Taiki rushed hurriedly to the Inner Halls—at this time, there were only a few days left before the auspicious day of the coronation ceremony.
"Taiho, you have a guest visiting." There was a visitor room that was used to receive guests from other kingdoms. Gyousou stood in this room on the other side of the open door.
It was rare for him to address Taiki as Taiho in a large crowd of people, and after Gyousou turned his head back, Taiki could see a devious smirk on his face.
"A guest...?" What sort of guest could it be? Taiki cocked his head and tried to figure it out. Suddenly, he sensed something around him.
He felt like something was nearby in his periphery. He looked around carefully again and caught sight of one faintly-glowing, golden bubble floating around. The bubble looked as if it was being pulled along by a very light and thin sash, floating up and down.
Taiki's heart began to race. Could it be the visitor he was thinking of...?
He ran into the room. The person standing inside made Taiki's eyes light up. "...Kei Taiho!"
Keiki smiled a little and then respectfully nodded to him. "I'm very happy to see that you have descended the mountain and arrived at Tai Kingdom without any trouble."
Taiki stopped running. He didn't dare to look directly at Keiki's face. "Th...thank you..."
Keiki looked on with surprise at the child who was hiding his face. He couldn't help but be suspicious of Taiki's change. He understood now why Gyousou had specifically asked for him to come.
It was basic etiquette to avoid as much as possible a visit before his enthronement; furthermore, rulers and kirin actually have very little involvement with other kingdoms. In reality, those who had a friendship with Keiki were only those who had helped him when he went in search of his ruler. They were King En and Enki from the neighboring kingdom.
Gyousou was an important official of the previous king. There was no reason for him not to know these customs. For him to break past conventions and especially invite Keiki for this meeting, it was not hard to understand his reason.
"You see? It's like I had said previously. I am the first to come and see you. Are you still doing well?"
The expression on Taiki's lowered face was grave. Even when he raised his head, there wasn't even a glimmer of joy in his eyes.
"But I don't feel that you are... Did you encounter some situation that has made you worry?"
Gyousou knitted his brow as he watched the two and suddenly interrupted, saying, "I think that the two of you should have much to say to each other. I will ask to be excused for the time being."
Keiki nodded in respect. Taiki could only do as Keiki had done and nodded to Gyousou.
Following this, Gyousou probably returned to all that complicated work that was waiting for him. Taiki knew very well in his mind that even had he asked to go with Gyousou, Gyousou would not have permitted it. Moreover, today, a guest had arrived.
Gyousou lowered his head lightly and immediately exited. After Keiki saw Gyousou leave, he turned toward Taiki and said, "Would you like to take me to the garden for a walk?"
"Okay... But...I don't really know where it is."
"Are you telling me that you have been so busy that you haven't had a chance to stroll around?"
Taiki stopped his hand as it was about to open the door to the garden. He didn't know how to respond to Keiki.
"The wind in Tai Kingdom is very cold." In the garden of the Inner Halls, there was an enormous pond. Keiki stood at the water's edge. "Would you like to sit for a bit?"
After he said this, he looked behind at the trembling Taiki.
There was an magnificent pavilion nearby that amazed anyone who looked upon it. It was built by the previous King Tai, and whether it was the floor or the pillars, it was all made of crystal. Around the pond, there had been plans to create pavilions in the same design with smoke crystal, yellow crystal, red crystal and purple crystal. The four pavilions were in the middle of building, when the previous king died and construction was halted. It had been neglected up until the present time.
"Gems are produced in Tai Kingdom... It's no wonder there hasn't been a way to stop the internal turmoil." Keiki touched one of the giant pillars made out of crystals.
The climate of Tai Kingdom is bad; no one is willing to plant crops. However, in Tai Kingdom there are countless gem springs, and so the people can be considered fairly wealthy. As the name suggests, they are springs that can produce precious gems. All one has to do is place into the spring a gem as if it were a seed, and it will grow into a giant crystal. In Tai Kingdom, gold springs and silver springs are also quite common.
"For one this big, it probably took at least thirty year's time to produce."
It is said that there is nothing left in the treasury of the kingdom.
Even under the rule of such a king, the authority of the government was able to continue for over a hundred years. It was probably due to the fact that he didn't muddle together his pleasure with the business of government. The old king had a group of attendants and court ladies that he had fun with, but he didn't thusly promote these people and give them official positions, nor did he allow them to participate in the governing of the kingdom.
"Are you lacking something?" Keiki looked at Taiki, who was silently standing at one side.
"Tai Taiho, what's bothering you?"
"Nothing..." Taiki's responses were as if he was thinking aloud. His expression was as severe as before. Keiki got the feeling that Taiki was not telling him the truth.
"I've heard King Tai say that you've subdued a shirei."
"And that you can transform."
"It is regrettable."
Taiki looked back at Keiki uncertainly. There was only a self-deprecating smile on Keiki's face.
"I came to see you as we had agreed. I thought that you would be happy to see me."
Taiki lowered his head.
"It really is too bad."
His calm voice stabbed Taiki in the heart.
He was finally meeting with someone he had wanted to see, but he couldn't bring himself to be happy about it. He felt miserable.
Regardless of who it was, even if it was a court lady, he would feel ashamed and not be able to look at them directly. He really didn't know when he would be able to sleep peacefully, or when his conscience would stop torturing him, or when he would be able to hold a proper conversation with someone.
—This is my punishment. Until my crime is exposed, I will suffer without end. Taiki knew that he didn't have the right to cry, but the tears came flowing out anyway.
"Taiki..." Keiki reached out and placed Taiki's hands on his knees, and then gently stroked his head. Taiki took the opportunity to rest his head on Keiki's knees.
"What has happened?" Keiki's voice was without intonation; his words were full of calm.
"...Taiho...have you ever regretted being a kirin?"
"...Then...have you ever regretted the selection of your ruler?"
Taiki looked up. "But, I heard that things weren't the happiest between Kei Taiho and Queen Kei."
"Who did you hear that from?"
"The nyosen, they..."
Keiki sighed. Queen Kei had now completely given up on the affairs of government. She had lost her ruling platform and the kingdom's political situation was in great disorder. The lords looked down on the queen, and the officials were even more tyrannical.
"I have already sworn a vow. I have devoted my life to her, and I cannot abandon her. No matter where my queen goes, even if she does not want me to, I must follow her regardless."
—However, the problem was that the hardship that came from following her was difficult to endure.
Taiki looked at Keiki with his deep black eyes, and then moved his line of sight back toward the ground.
"...If only I could be as certain about things as you, how nice that would be."
"Taiki, do you feel regret?"
Hearing Keiki ask this so plainly, Taiki felt a little flustered.
Keiki simply tilted his head and didn't say a thing. There wasn't any expression on his face either.
At this point, Taiki couldn't hide it any longer.
"I...have done something so wrong there's no saving me." The little kirin lifted his head, and his expression was that of despair. "I...didn't receive a revelation for the king..."
Keiki was so surprised he didn't know what to say. Taiki's confession was far from anything he had imagined. "No...revelation?"
Taiki nodded. "There wasn't any sort of sign. I didn't see any kind of ouki either. At one time, I had even told him that I wished him well, that he wasn't the one."
"...Why did you?"
"At the time...I really didn't want to be separated from Gyousou." The child who was staring down, lifted his head up and looked at Keiki.
"What...should I do?" The hands that had grabbed onto Keiki's knees were trembling slightly. "What should I do to fix my mistake? How do I make up for this?"
"It's all fake! What's going to happen? Will Tai Kingdom be destroyed? Will the king be punished? When everyone finds out about this, what will the response from the Heavens and the people be?" Taiki's tears flowed continuously.
Keiki was about to say something, but in the end, he closed his mouth. He lightly patted the hands at his knees and then stood up. Sitting on the floor of the pavilion, Taiki looked up at him. Keiki nodded in respect. "I'm not sure what to say... For today, I will bid you farewell."
- - - - -
Taiki hugged his knees as he sat in the corner of the pavilion and watched the golden hair getting farther and farther away.
Was Keiki disappointed in him? He would probably never want to see him again.
Was this going to become rumor? Or was his deception going to be revealed?
—When the time came, how would Gyousou deal with Taiki's betrayal?