PART ONE, CHAPTER TWO






"I guess there's a bit more green..."

Upon the palace terrace, Rokuta squinted through the Sea of Clouds to catch a glimpse of the greenery spreading out from Kankyuu.

Twenty years had passed since the new king's ascent to the throne, and the country was beginning to revive.

In the Kingdom of En, the capital city of Kankyuu can be found at the foot of the mountain from which it takes its name. Genei-kyu, the Palace of Forgotten Heroes, sits atop its summit. It was as a tiny island, floating in an endless sea of clouds.

The Sea of Clouds separates the heavens and the earth. When one looks to the sky from the ground below, it is impossible to imagine that an ocean churns at its dizzying height. One cannot distinguish the crest of the waves from the crest of the mountain upon which they break -- they are seen only as light, white clouds. And when in the sky, one sees a sea of transparent blue. It seems to only have the depth of a man's height -- however, were one to dive into its waters, one would find it impossible to reach the bottom. However, through it, one can see the earth below.

The fields of wheat now formed another sea of greenery. Grasses had retaken the hills. The forests that had once protected the towns and farmlands stood anew, straight and firm.

"Well, of course, twenty years still isn't that big a deal..."

Rokuta stayed lost in his thoughts, chin buried in his arms resting upon the balustrade. The waves of the Sea of Clouds came to break at the foot of the terrace, at regular intervals, bringing with them the iodized smell of the tides.

"Taiho!"

Rokuta, absorbed in his reflections, did not hear the call.

"So what...it's not so bad, I guess. I remember when we first got to Genei, there was nothing but black, burned ground as far as your eyes could see."

In twenty years, the country had risen from the ashes. It was to the point where the green had spread rampant across the land. Those who had fled to neighboring countries were returning in droves. The sounds of their songs as they worked their fields became louder by the year.

"Taiho!"

"...sorry, what?"

Rokuta, arms still sprawled across the balustrade, turned his head. A choushi, a royal commissioner, addressed him with a fixed smile and a pile of documents in his hands.

"Thanks to your efforts, Your Grace, it seems to me that the harvest of wheat will be good this year. Despite your heavy burden, you have taken the time to concern yourself with the world below. I extend my most humble thanks to you, and in addition, the most humble thanks of the people of the kingdom. However, if my lord Taiho could pay but equal attention to this report -- "

"Yeah, I can hear you. What've you got?"

"Please excuse my impertinence, but if Your Grace would just listen more attentively..."

"I'm listening, I'm listening."

The man gave a heavy sigh.

"I would advise my lord Taiho to please stop acting like a child. You could at the very least face me as you listen to what I have to say."

Rokuta was seated on the head of a decorative porcelain lion. The statue was a bit too high for him to be able to touch his feet to the ground, allowing him space to swing his legs restlessly. His feet knocked against the balustrade with gentle thuds. He turned his head to give the man a mischievous grin.

"Well, I am still a child, y'know."

"Would His Grace be so kind as to tell me his age?"

"Thirty-three."

Clearly, Rokuta did not carry himself in a manner befitting a man of his rank, much less one who had entered his thirties. To tell the truth, when one looked at him, one would have trouble believing that this boy had even reached his thirteenth birthday. This was not strange for those that dwelled above the Sea -- for those that gazed down upon the clouds did not age. Rokuta could have stood to age a little bit more -- in general, a kirin reaches physical maturity between fifteen and twenty-five -- but his growth had suddenly stopped upon his entry to Genei Palace. Had he kept his childish personality because his physical development had been interrupted? Or perhaps, he acted like a child because he was treated like one.

"A responsible man of your mature age should not behave himself like this. The duty of the saiho is to assist the emperor and to serve in all situations as the Voice of Humanity. It is your duty! And as the grand counselor of the emperor, you have preeminence above all other ministers. I ask you, Your Grace, if you would simply be more conscious of your behavior..."

"I'll listen good now. You wanna talk to me about the Rokusui riverbed, right? But you know, for that kind of problem, you'd be better off talking directly to the emperor..."

The man raised his finely-arched eyebrows. He had a fair complexion and delicate features, but one should never rely on appearances. His name was You Shukou. However, the emperor preferred the name "Mubou": "imprudent," or, more exactly, "he who does not waste his time on reflecting upon the consequences of his actions." The name was certainly not unwarranted.

"...really. Well, in that case, would Your Grace please tell me where this humble commissioner might find His Majesty?"

"My best guess is that he went down to Kankyuu to have fun with the girls."

Shukou's mild smile did not fade.

"It seems that Your Grace does not quite grasp the reason that I speak of the Rokusui."

"Oh, I get it, I get it," said Rokuta, drumming his hands against the railing. "But the Rokusui thing, it's usually the high ministers that ask me questions about it. That's not even your department, is it?"

A middling officer in the hierarchy, the choushi's principle charge was supervising the low-ranking officers in the Ministry of Autumn, and was charged with issues of Justice and Foreign Affairs. Logically, all questions concerning fluvial development were the domain of the Ministry of Earth; that is to say, the Ministry of State Affairs. A project such as dam repair on a river as important as the Rokusui required at the very least the authority of a suijin, a vice-under-secretary of the State. And if the question was truly urgent, it was the duty of the minister that headed the Six Ministers -- not a lowly choushi -- to deliver a report to the emperor.

"Indeed, it isn't my department, my lord. But our country will soon be greeting the rainy season. If we do not proceed with flood control measures, the green fields that Your Grace cherishes so will be completely flooded. We must obtain the approval of His Majesty with all due haste. So, where is the emperor that we so urgently need?"

"Beats me..."

"His Majesty is the one who set the hour for his audiences. It is a bit regrettable that a man who holds such great responsibilities can go back on his word and not present himself at a meeting that he himself scheduled. The emperor should be setting an example."

"It's like I've always said; that guy never thinks with his head."

"The emperor is the pillar of the country. If the pillar is not stable, it is the entire kingdom that falters. He does not attend morning Council meetings, and he is nowhere to be found when his input is needed for administrative issues. Do you truly think that the kingdom can be maintained in these conditions?"

Rokuta lolled his head to shoot Shukou an upward glance.

"It'd probably work better for you say all this directly to Shouryuu."

Shukou's fine eyebrows twitched with anger. With one sharp movement, he struck the desk with the documents he held in his hands.

"My lord Taiho! How many times have you attended morning Council meetings this month?"

"...well..."

Rokuta counted off on his fingers, a bit sheepishly.

"Today, the other day...and then..."

"If you would permit me. Four times."

"Well, aren't you well-informed..."

It was not the place of a simple choushi to attend morning Council -- he was too low in the hierarchy. Rokuta, a bit surprised that someone had been keeping track of his absences, stared at Shukou as he put on another mild, sanctimonious smile.

"I was informed by listening to the endless lamentations of the high ministers throughout the palace. I don't think you understand that Morning Council is supposed to be held every morning."

"Well, yeah..."

"And yet His Majesty has so decreed that they are only to be held once every three days. A Council once every three days; ten meetings every month. We are nearly at the end of the month, and yet my lord Taiho has only attended four of these. What do you have to say to that, Your Grace?"

"Uhm, well..."

"As for His Majesty, he has not presented himself more than once! If Your Grace would be so kind to tell me, how do His Majesty and my lord Taiho think they are governing our kingdom like this?"

A loud noise interrupted the conversation. A chair had been knocked over. Rokuta caught a glimpse of Itan, a suijin, who had not previously announced his presence. A dark cloud of anger roiled above his head, and his shoulders shook with emotion.

"Why is it that His Majesty and my lord Taiho cannot behave themselves in our palace?!"

"Itan, I didn't see you there! When did you get here?"

Rokuta's welcoming grin was in turn welcomed with a glacial glare.

"To be perfectly frank, with this pair of slackers at its helm, it's a miracle that the kingdom of En still stands!"

"Lord suijin, if you'd please calm down."

Shukou, an embarrassed smile on his lips, stepped toward him to calm his temper, but Itan had already turned on his heels, setting off with purpose.

"Where are you going?"

"To find that emperor!"

Rokuta watched Itan stomp away, sighing.

"He's got a really bad temper, doesn't he."

The emperor had nicknamed Itan "rampaging boar." This name was also not unwarranted, and fit like a glove.

"In effect, yes," said Shukou, smiling at Rokuta. "But even though I prevent myself from outbursts, I too am quite impatient myself, you know."

"Really?"

"We have waited a long time now for His Majesty's approval on this project. When I dared to speak to him myself, he told me to wait until later. I finally was able to secure an audience with him today, and it was eventually evident that he was not coming. On principle, in this kind of situation, you -- you, Taiho, who advises the emperor -- must make him hear reason. It is unfortunate that you are just as negligent as he."

"Um."

"If this happens again, know that I have made up my mind on the matter. In spite of the impropriety of my actions, may His Majesty and Your Grace not forget this."

Rokuta gave a tiny, nervous laugh and lowered his head.

"Sorry, I'm sorry."

Shukou laughed lightly.

"You are thus capable of lending an ear to this humble servant's reprimands. For this, I thank you. But is my lord Taiho certain that he understands the situation?"

"Perfectly. Crystal-clear."

"In that case..." said Shukou, and handed Rokuta a scroll from an inside pocket of his robes. "Here is the first volume of the Book of the Heavenly Laws, in which is written all that His Majesty and his saiho need to know. As a testament of the sincerity of your remorse, you will write me a copy of it for as many times as you have been missing from morning Council."

"Ah! Shukou, come on, please... I mean, this month -- "

"I expect six perfect copies of the volume by tomorrow. I dearly hope my lord Taiho will not back out of this assignment."

"If I'm busy doing this, you know, administration will get even slower."

Shukou smiled mildly. "At the point we are at, one day more or less won't change much, don't you think?"







NOTES: Special thanks to Jamie, Corinna, Pukjie, and Chin-Chin for translation suggestions this chapter! Holler up, word word, where my bitznitches at.



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