16-2 "You're back!"
The cheerful cry arose from the decrepit brothel in a corner of Takuhou. Having brought the shipment home safely, Suzu was bombarded with praise.
The crates were opened and winter weapons of various sizes taken out and inspected. These valuable weapons had been collected from all of the kingdoms. Buying one or two was one thing. But more than ten, and an arms dealer would definitely suspect a rebellion in the making. Putting a large cache of weapons together without considerable connections would have been well-nigh impossible.
"Thirty swords, twenty lances we had on hand from before, thirty bows and a thousand arrows--our entire stash." Koshou looked at everybody gathered in the hall. "I know that eighty winter weapons are hardly anything divided among our thousand comrades. I'm sorry, but this is the best we can do." His voice echoed in the silent room. "I'm also aware that going up against the governor with a mere thousand comrades-in-arms is something of a joke. Afterward, we will have no choice but to appeal to the people of Shisui and ask them to join our cause."
"We'll be fine!" somebody called out. "Once we raise the head of Shoukou, all those who cowered before him will surely come to realize that it is not too soon to give up the fight. I'm sure that's how the tide will turn."
In a corner of the hall, Suzu felt herself shiver. The man's words sounded more like an attempt at self-persuasion. When she glanced at Sekki, standing next to the man, he had a look of forbearance on his face that no doubt matched her own.
Suzu vaguely believed that things would turn out all right for Koshou. But she didn't know if Koshou and the rest of them understood that things weren't fine at all.
"Sekki!" Suzu sought out Sekki from the men exiting the hall. She caught him by the arm and dragged him into a nearby dusty guest room. "Is Koshou really okay with this?"
Sekki leaned against the wall and shrugged. "I have to think so."
"Are a thousand really enough?"
"More than enough to take out Shoukou. He's got a hundred guards at his private residence and take no more than fifty with him when he's on the road."
Suzu sighed in relief. "So one way or another--"
"The problem is what comes afterward."
"If we can bring down a provincial governor and end up with twenty men who can still wield a sword, we'll consider ourselves lucky. It's not our intent to take out Shoukou merely for our own self-righteous satisfaction, and then run away as fast as we can."
Sekki countered with an ironic smile. "That's what criminals do, Suzu."
"If we assassinate Shoukou and go on the lam, the people of Takuhou will be thrown into the maelstrom. Shoukou's colleagues within the prefectural castle walls will surely not let the matter rest short of coming after us. This is our opportunity to execute a most meritorious deed. But Shoukou and his underlings who have been living the good life along with him are all birds of a feather. They will surely put the people of Takuhou on the rack and root out the wrong-doers. That's why our object is not to strike at Shoukou and then quietly fade away."
"But if you don't--"
"Those underlings of his will be made to understand who we are and why we did what we did. While contending with those seeking retribution against us, we will attempt to flee to a neighboring province."
"Won't a thousand be too few to accomplish that?"
"Laughably so. Three battalions of five-hundred provincial soldiers each are stationed in Takuhou, along with a thousand prefectural guards and five hundred praetorians."
"Not only that, but our opponents will be trained in warfare, while there are few among us who can wield a sword with any skill. On top of that, as time passes, troops will no doubt be sent from Meikaku. After a few days, if only provincial troops end up garrisoned in the vicinity, I'd estimate three thousand. It's even possible that all four divisions of the provincial guard will end up on our doorstep."
"You can't possibly--"
"If the people of Takuhou do not act in concert and resist them on our behalf, we will all die."
"This is insanity! To what end?"
"To raise the banner of revolt. Killing Shoukou is not the goal. His death is not the end of our cause. After that, the people of Takuhou must show their mettle."
"There is no other course. If you cannot condone Shoukou and others of his ilk, then raise the banner of revolt, and let the ministers and all the higher-ups know that we will not stand for their kind any longer."
Suzu pursed her lips. "You're right."
"You are free to leave."
Suzu shook her head. "No. I'm staying right here."