2-2 "Say, do you think maybe Youko's getting a little down in the dumps?"
The water in the lake was warm. Rokuta took off his shoes and sat down on the shore and splashed around with his feet. Rakushun sat down next to him.
"It's hardly surprising that you would come to that conclusion."
Rakushun glanced over his shoulder at Rokuta. He'd thought he was the only one this had occurred to.
"Yeah. I have to wonder if Youko and Keiki are getting along."
"Don't be silly."
"But you hardly ever see them together."
"That's true." Rokuta rested his chin on his hands. "It could be that Keiki's just uncomfortable around guys like us. That's why we never see him. Shouryuu and I being the way we are, you know. We're not the kind of company that a super-serious guy like Keiki wants to hang with. And then you have to consider that he and Youko got off to a pretty shaky start."
"You think so?"
"Like I said, a super-serious guy. If Youko was all kicked-back like Shouryuu, they'd probably be at loggerheads already. But Youko taking herself pretty seriously as well, Keiki just keeps himself busy as a bee. Not to mention that Youko is Keiki's second liege."
"How's that factor in?"
"It factors in all over the place. When you've served two kings, you can't help comparing the two. You invest a lot of yourself in your first king. No matter what, the next one's going to take some getting used to. For example, even if the previous king was a bad man and his reign short-lived, the kirin's going to regret it. It's going to stick with him. No doubt it would have been better had Youko been a boy."
Rakushun exhaled. "Probably so."
"Youko can't help but remind him of the Late Empress Yo-ou. On top of that, there's his straight-laced personality, and the man doesn't exactly have a way with words. Makes him hard to read. Not to mention that hardly any time has passed."
Rakushun brought to mind Keiki's brusk, blunt manner, his expressionless face, his limpid, golden hair. Golden hair was particular to kirin, but comparing Rokuta and Keiki, their hair was each golden in its own way. Rokuta's hair was more of a bright yellow, while Keiki's was a colder, translucent color. It almost seemed an extension of his personality.
Rokuta laughed brightly. "One way or another, I'm sure Youko will make it work."
Rakushun nodded. "I'm sure she will."
Youko glanced at Rakushun and Rokuta, sitting there at the water's edge, absorbed in conversation. She said in a low voice, "I still don't get this place."
Shouryuu responded cheerfully, "No, I'm sure you don't. Anyway you look at it, it's different here." He chuckled. "Children growing on trees, now that was a shock."
Youko smiled thinly. The smile faded. "Not knowing all this stuff seems to irritate a lot of people."
"You mean Keiki?"
Youko glanced at him and shook her head. "The ministers and officials, too. Everybody seems taken aback by how totally clueless I am. And who can blame them?"
Every time she said, I don't get it, Keiki and the ministers shook their heads and sighed.
"It's because I'm a woman, that's why they're not happy with me." She'd heard the whispers plenty of times already. This is what you get with an empress.
"Not quite," said Shouryuu.
Youko looked at him. "No?"
"When I came here, the most perplexing things to me were that woman could become ministers and the strange relationship between parents and children."
"In Yamato, women were at the center of the family. They never ventured into the outside world. But here, women will leave their children in the care of the father and go to work. Because the Late Empress Yo-ou expelled all the women from the kingdom, Kei doesn't have many female ministers, but in En they make up almost half of my staff. As you would expect, men predominate in the military. Even there, a good third of the soldiers are women."
"Really . . . . "
"If you think it over, there's nothing unusual about it. The kirin choose the kings, and as many of the kirin are female as male. Every generation, the scales may tip one way or the other, but in the long run it balances out to about fifty-fifty. The kings chosen are about half women and half men. Go through the historical records and do the calculations and you'll see that neither sex is favored in the long run."
"No kidding," said Youko, her eyes growing wide.
"There's nothing wrong with a king or kirin being a woman, and there's nothing wrong with a minister being a woman, either. Women here do not give birth, and raising children is not by default the woman's job. So the woman's place is not necessarily in the home. Simply because of raw physical strength, they are not as suited for the military, but where delicacy is called for, or a comprehension of the intricate workings of business, they are unsurpassed. As government administrators they can go far. Secretariats are often staffed by women."
Youko laughed. "Of course."
"That's why I don't think the ministers of Kei are giving you a cold shoulder because you're a woman. At the same time, however, being a women does have something to do with it, Kei having had such bad luck with empresses of late."
She gave him a good long look.
"These last three generations have seen a succession of incompetent monarchs who just happened all to be empresses. The last king Keiki chose was an empress and her reign was singularly short. And then he goes and chooses another empress. So the ministers must be thinking to themselves, What? Again?"
"That's what it's about?"
"That's what it really is about. The Royal Kyou of the northwest kingdom of Kyou has reigned for almost ninety years. And the empress who ruled before her did so for an extraordinarily long time. So if you were to spring a male king on the people of Kyou, they probably wouldn't be very happy about it. In the final analysis, that's what it amounts to. Don't worry about it."
Youko sighed and then smiled. "Thanks for straightening me out."
"No problem," Shouryuu replied with a grin. "If there's any way I can help out, let me know and I'll do what I can."
Youko bowed to him. "I am truly grateful for all you've done."