The Twelve Kingdoms
Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Maze
by Ono Fuyumi
translated by Cheng Jianrong and Mina
and then translated again by Retrooo
©ONO FUYUMI, KODANSHA LTD.
last modified, 05.29.2005
"Taiki, you can leave the palace today."
The summer solstice had actually passed some time ago, but it wasn't until now that Teiei spoke these words.
The day had finally arrived. Taiki put down the chopsticks with which he was using to eat breakfast.
He had gotten up earlier this morning than usual, and even the clothes that Sanshi had prepared for him were all much more ornate than usual. Taiki had already mentally prepared himself for this.
Youka patted his back gently. "You don't have to be this nervous."
"Youka, will you accompany me when I go?"
Youka smiled. "Yes. I'll also be by your side the whole time."
"What about Sanshi?" Taiki had a feeling that she would say no.
Teiei nodded and her answer wasn't far from the one he wanted to hear. "Of course Sanshi will come with you. Except, Sanshi has to hide herself. You might not be able to see her, but she'll definitely be nearby."
Taiki heaved a disappointed sigh. If Sanshi had to hide nearby, that meant that when the time came, she wouldn't be holding his hand, not to mention that she wouldn't be able to gently stroke his back.
Teiei and Youka were in the front, followed by over ten ceremonial nyosen, and Taiki was in the middle as they walked onto the small paths, all the way to the gate of Houro Palace without stopping.
The nyosen in front of him took down the bolt of the door.
Before the door was opened, Taiki remembered the vast wilderness that was the exterior of the maze, but after the door was opened, the scene outside had underwent a complete change.
The towering crags stretched out in layers, creating waves upon waves of green, and between these rocks was an expansive grassland, upon which there was a flood of colors. Tents had been pitched one after another, and countless flags had been raised everywhere. Fences had been built with stakes to which horses and unusual animals had been tied, and on which harnesses and cloths had been hung to dry. Not to mention that there was a variety of people, dressed in a variety of styles.
Just like this, a busy little village had appeared.
Taiki began to feel apprehensive and couldn't help but grab Teiei's hand.
"There is no need to be afraid. Would you like to adjust your breathing?"
Taiki used his eyes to express consent and then straightened his chest even more and took a deep breath.
Teiei held his hand and prepared to walk forward. A man at a nearby tent saw this and kneeled down to bow. This movement spread outward like a ripple, as the people scattered about the grass in discussion all kneeled down to bow.
Taiki tightened his grip on Teiei's hand, as he looked straight ahead at the quivering hairpins on the heads of the nyosen walking in front of him, hoping to rely on this to shake off the torment of being stared at by innumerable eyes.
"Are you still all right?" asked Youka's gentle voice from behind.
"Yes... Can we speak?"
"Yes, there's no need to be so shy."
The ceremony seemed not to be as difficult as he had thought it was going to be. At this, he heaved a sigh of relief.
"Is this all the people?"
Teiei replied, "No, only half of them have come first."
When he looked around, he saw a great many people wearing armor. There were many very young people and a lot of old people as well, and there were numerous men, but also lots of women.
"I didn't think there would be so many women here."
Teiei smiled, but her smile was not as natural as it usually was, as if she were suppressing her emotions. It was probably because Teiei was also very nervous, but just had a different way of expressing it.
"Well, of course... would you rather serve under a king or a queen?"
"I don't know."
The road from the great gate to Hoto Palace was paved with stones. Many adults had gathered on either side of the road, kneeling down with their heads lowered. This sort of scene looked unnatural.
"Why is everyone bowing?"
"They are paying their respects to you." Teiei knew that had she used the word "status" to explain it to Taiki, he probably wouldn't understand, so she stopped herself from using it.
"Should I greet them?"
"You do not need to right now. If you wish to speak to someone, you can invite them to stand up."
"Can I chat with them?"
"You may after the incense ceremony. Then, you can ask them whatever you want."
"There are a lot of big animals here..."
"Those are youju. Everyone has ridden their youju here."
Some of the beasts looked like tigers, and others looked like lions, while still others looked like horses and cows.
"Can youju be subdued too?"
"Youju are caught, and after they're tamed, they go through training. Come, and watch your step. After we go inside, please remember to bow towards the alter once."
Taiki stopped looking around, turning his eyes forward, and realized that Hoto Palace was right in front of him.
Hoto Palace was not quite like the structures inside Houro Palace, as all four sides had walls, and as soon as he was out of the view of all those people, Taiki was really able to heave a sigh of relief.
The interior of Hoto Palace was both high and spacious, and an altar faced the entrance; it felt a lot like the central hall of a temple.
Taiki did as Teiei said, and after he bowed towards the altar, he walked to the wall and made an incense offering. Then he was taken onto a platform adjacent to the wall on the right side of the room. If this were a Japanese-style room, we could say that the platform was about eight tatami mats wide. It was backed by the wall of the palace, while bamboo blinds hung down on the other three sides. The blinds facing the front had already been pulled up, and inside there was a chair. When sitting on the chair, one could see everything between the entrance to Hoto Palace and the altar.
Taiki sat peacefully in the seat and quietly watched as the nyosen busily offered incense. Suddenly feeling eager eyes gazing upon him, he looked over and realized that many people had gathered at the entrance to Hoto Palace. After the nyosen finished offering incense, a large portion of them came to the platform in succession. When they had all assembled themselves on the platform, the blinds were then lowered. Taiki heaved a sigh.
"You should feel much more relaxed now," said Teiei as she smiled.
"I get really nervous when so many people are staring at me."
"You'll get used to it in no time."
"Can I call Sanshi to come here?"
"Yes, as long as the blinds are down."
After Teiei said this, Taiki called upon Sanshi, and in the blink of an eye, she appeared next to his feet. He laid on her leopard portion as she wrapped her arms around him, making him feel much more at ease. Sanshi comforted Taiki by hugging his head, and Taiki felt that her hands were so warm.
"You look so nervous. But actually, you don't need to be so tense," said Teiei with a smile.
"My mind knows this, but my body isn't listening to its commands... What do I do now?"
"Those who've climbed the mountain will come and offer incense. Before we return, all that is required of you is watch them one by one as they do so. If you become bored with this, you may go outside and chat with the people outside."
When Teiei had finished speaking, there was already a person inside of the palace offering incense. The movements of this first person to come in were abnormally stiff, and he walked like that up to the altar.
"Taiki, do you feel any ouki?" inquired Teiei next to Taiki's ear. Taiki shook his head, signifying that he didn't know. Teiei understood what meaning Taiki was expressing.
"No matter. If you do feel the ouki, then you can call us to you and whisper it to us."
The person for whom offering incense was not easy, walked in front of the platform, and after taking a bow, he kneeled down. This man was old enough to be someone's father, and his build was big and fat, like that of a sumo wrestler. Taiki struggled to listen to what the nyosen and the man were talking about by the platform. However, the revelation--up to now, Taiki still wasn't clear on how it would manifest itself--did not seem to come with this man.
Seeing Teiei's expression of inquiry, Taiki shook his head.
Nothing strange happened that could have been the revelation.
Taiki quietly watched people entering one after another to offer incense, and after two days, he began to feel bored.
On the fourth day, he finally decided that he wanted to walk around outside.
The offering of incense occurs for only a few hours in the morning. Taiki sat on the platform and watched those offering incense. At first, he had thought that these people who weren't nyosen were very refreshing. Since everyone's appearance and clothes each had their own special traits, it was interesting to see everybody's differences. However, very quickly, he began to feel that sitting in the chair was very bothersome.
He only had to stay until noon before he could return to the palace, but the length of time that he had to sit was too long.
"Can I walk around outside?"
As soon as they heard Taiki ask this, the nyosen on the platform twittered with joy, because they had also felt bored.
"Of course you can," replied Youka with a big smile on her face.
"Were you all just waiting for me to ask this?"
"Not completely," said Youka as she laughed. "However, I can't say that it hasn't been a little annoying, because, since this morning, we've already seen Pumpkin Daibu's face six times."
Though the nyosen tried to suppress their laughter, they were unable to hold it in and began laughing.
Among those who have offered incense, some will do it several times a day. And of those people, the first person to enter the palace and perform the rite on the first day had come every day and offered incense at least ten times before Taiki returned to Houro Palace. That man looked like a daibu from some kingdom, and his face was round and red, like a pumpkin, so they privately gave him the nickname, "Pumpkin Daibu."
"Will it be dangerous for me to go outside?"
Teiei smiled and said, "We'll all be by your side. With this many people, you shouldn't worry. Even if we did encounter someone up to no good, you can believe that the people in the vicinity will not stand idly by. They will definitely help you out, because everyone wants you to see their best side."
Ten foolish people who had tried to sneak into Houro Palace had already been expelled from Mt. Hou, but none of the nyosen intended to inform Taiki of such a thing.
"When the time comes, a lot of people will surround you and want to greet you, but that would be better than sitting here as if you were doing penance, right? I think for sure that there will be those who are too impatient to wait for a ruler to be chosen, and I'm afraid that you'll eventually you'll be scared by all the flattering."
"Then...what do I say to them?"
"If you find the ruler, then you follow the ancient customs and bow before him..."
"And then I vow never to abandon him, never to disobey his royal command, and pledge my loyalty to him?"
Teiei nodded. "Correct."
"What if they're not the ruler?"
"Since it's the summer solstice right now, it's tradition to say, I wish you well from the solstice until the equinox, or you could say, I wish you well from the equinox until the solstice."
"So I just wish them well until the next Ankou Day."
"What if I can't figure it out and I mess up?"
Teiei smiled and comforted Taiki. "Don't worry. That won't happen."
"Will Sanshi come with me?"
"Sanshi will hide herself nearby. However, you must not call her out when we're amongst the big crowds. If you do that, she'll frighten the horses and kiju."
The nyosen on the platform surrounded Taiki, and they all walked towards the outside of the palace. The nyosen that were not on the platform could only look on with envy, since it was their responsibility to stay in the palace for the whole day and look after the people offering incense, as well as handle the various problems of those who had climbed the mountain.
To those who want to become the ruler, it could be said that the mountain-climbing season is a magnificent ceremony. For the nyosen, it could also be counted as an amusing activity.
Extremely few regret becoming a nyosen, but living such a long time still makes some of them weary. Over the summer solstice, the nyosen spend a lot of time on their appearances, though it wasn't done to convey their dignity. The nyosen teased the men who had climbed the mountain with their affection for fun. While this went on, the playing would sometimes become serious, and it's not unheard of for a nyosen to descend the mountain with a man.
It had not been easy for Taiki to leave the palace, so it was unfortunate that the first person that came to greet him was the aforementioned Pumpkin Daibu. He must have set up his camp near Hoto Palace, so that when Taiki and his group came out of the palace, he could immediately hurry to him with the utmost speed.
It sounded like something heavy had been dropped onto the ground when he kneeled down, and he hit his forehead upon the ground probably because he used too much force as he was preparing to bow. The nyosen tried with all their strength to keep straight faces, but after seeing this, they couldn't contain their laughter anymore, nor could the other people who had gathered around and seen him.
"M...Mt. Hou Kou, you look very pleasant today." Pumpkin Daibu was so nervous that the tone of his voice sounded strange. "I am the Shiba of Sui Province in Tai Kingdom. I am called Rohaku. I...I'm originally from Nan'you County in Ba Province--"
Since he was crouched on the ground and speaking quickly, and also stuttering because he was nervous, Taiki couldn't hear very clearly the flattery that was directed toward him.
"It is an extreme privilege to be able to pay my respects to your honorable self today! I wish the Kou a very long life!"
Taiki didn't know what to do, so he glanced up at Youka. She then raised her eyebrows a little towards him. He understood the meaning in her eyes, and said to the man who was bowing, "I wish you well...until the equinox."
The man immediately looked up, and then his shoulders suddenly drooped.
"...Re-really? I... I see..." said the man, thinking outloud as a dejected expression came to his face. Youka stifled her laughter and lightly pressed Taiki's back.
"Let's go. Just do as you did as we walk around."
Taiki was surrounded by a group of nyosen who were looking back at the men again and again as they walked. After a stretch of road, one of the nyosen quietly said to Taiki, "It's a good thing you stopped him from saying more. Who knows how long we would have had to listen to him otherwise!"
"...I couldn't find an opportunity to interrupt."
"Thank goodness he won't become your master, or else he wouldn't have been worthy to serve under."
Seeing the relief on the nyosen's face, Taiki tilted his head and asked, "Was that guy not good?"
"If you discover the revelation, it doesn't matter if the person is good or bad. It's just that it would be too embarrassing for Tai Kingdom if even a pumpkin like that could become the king. Although it isn't too important whether the ruler looks good or not, all people are even a little bit vain. At the very least, the person who becomes the ruler should have a bit of dignity."
Youka smiled and said, "Don't listen to their nonsense. The most important thing is whether or not you receive the revelation."
The other nyosen heard Youka explaining things to Taiki so earnestly yet again and lightly flared up at her. "Come now, Youka. You say that, but from ancient times until now, has an ugly person ever become the ruler?"
"Right, right. That's because a person's dignity can be seen from their appearance. Moreover, those who want to become ruler, whether it's their looks or their personality, must fit with the manner of a ruler."
"When we're out in public, speak a little more quietly," warned Youka softly, and the nyosen immediately stopped talking.
Youka saw this and couldn't help but smile. She bent down and said to Taiki, "Don't mind their idle talk. Your duty is to wait for the appearance of the revelation."
Many people surrounded Taiki and continuously flattered him, but Taiki didn't feel anything unusual happen.
The number of mountain-climbers, together with all their servants, added up to more than three-hundred people. Besides the masters who had come to see if they could become the ruler, the servants that followed them also had the opportunity to be chosen the ruler.
There many who saw Taiki and rushed to be near him, but there were also people who saw him and chose not to speak with him since they hadn't planned on going forward and talking with him. The nyosen had also once mentioned to him that even if he didn't talk with the ruler, he would still recognize the ruler's presence. Unfortunately, no sort of revelation showed itself to him.
Regardless of whether it was the people who were talking to him or the people who were not, their eyes were all filled with anticipation. When he thought about the fact there was no way to fulfill the expectations of most of them in the end, Taiki couldn't help but feel sorrowful.
After getting a break from the crowds, Taiki heaved a sigh. Youka heard it and was concerned, so she tried to gauge his mood.
"Are you tired?"
"No. It's just that meeting so many people in so short a time..."
"It's already past noon. Would you like to return to Hoto Palace? You probably want to rest a little bit. Or, we could just go straight back to Houro Palace."
Taiki nodded and looked around. He spotted something and yanked on Youka's hand.
"Youka, look! That dog has wings!"
Not far from the tents, a huge dog had been tied up among the horses. At the moment, a few men and women were tending to this mount.
"That is a tenba. Would you like to go over and look at it?"
"No problem." Youka held Taiki's hand and lead him closer to the tent that the dog had been tied to.
The dog's shape was enormous with a white body and a black head, not to mention a pair of wings folded against its back. It was beautiful.
"Isn't this...Mt. Hou Kou? I wish you the best of health." Among the men and women who were caring for the tenba, a tall and strong woman recognized Taiki and hurried to pay him her respects.
"Is this tenba your mount?"
"Would you let the Kou see him for a moment?"
"It would be my honor."
The woman smiled and encouraged Taiki to get closer to the tenba. Under Youka's protection, Taiki moved slowly towards it with apprehension and realized that in reality, the tenba was much bigger than he had first thought it to be.
"He's so big..." Taiki mumbled.
"He's actually relatively smaller compared to most tenba," replied the woman who had kneeled down. It looked as if out of all the people who were taking care of it, she was his master.
"Please get up. May I pet him?"
"Thank you, Mt. Hou Kou. Of course you may pet him. His behavior is quite docile."
After he heard her say this, he hesitated a moment and then cautiously reached his hand out. The fur of the tenba looked shiny, but it felt much harder than it looked. Taiki rubbed its neck, and the tenba closed its eyes with a comfortable look on its face.
"He's really tame... Does he have a name?"
"He is called Hien."
"Hien," repeated Taiki. With its eyes still closed, Hien nuzzled against Taiki's hand as he stroked it under the ears.
"Does he bite?"
"Don't worry. He doesn't randomly bite people. Tenba are already a relatively docile kind of youju. Moreover, Hien's personality is especially gentle. It's very clear to him that there are people whom he should not bite."
Taiki talked with the woman about tenba for a good stretch of time. He was very interested in how she caught the tenba, how she takes care of it, and what it feels like to ride upon its back.
The woman's answers were very easy to understand. In addition, her tone was kind, her words polite, and her voice was very clear. It all gave Taiki the sense that she was a strong person.
To be honest, Taiki could still not determine an adult's age by looking at them. He could only guess from her appearance that she was probably older than Youka and Teiei by a lot.
Though, this could possibly just be due to the impressions she held. It was very hard to compare the impressions of the nyosen to regular people, so he also felt like the woman's age was very far from a nyosen's.
Nyosen in general are all very pretty. They always wore beautiful clothes and ornate hairpins, each one more extraordinary than the next.
Opposite to that, this woman wore deep-colored men's clothing and had not even one accessory upon her body. Her dark brown hair had also not been arranged into a knot, but instead, it hung freely down to her shoulders. She was tall and her movements were graceful and gentle. She was pretty, but it was completely different than the beauty of Gyokuyou and the nyosen. It was very obvious that she was a different type of person.
"Thank you for letting me look at Hien." Taiki was reluctant to take his hand off of Hien's body.
"It was nothing. I believe Hien was also very happy."
"Where are you from?"
"I am from Jou Province. I am a General of the Jou Provincial Army, called Risai. My name is Ryushi."
A glimmer entered Taiki's eyes.
Every kingdom has nine provinces, each of which is ruled by a Shukou, a provincial governor. The military that the Kou controls is called the Army of the Provincial Kou, which is shortened to simply the Provincial Army. The size of this military varies in each province from two armies to four, depending on how big the province is. Thus, it follows that for each province, there are anywhere from two to four people holding the rank of general.
"So you are a general." No wonder she felt so different from the nyosen.
"Yes, to the best of my ability."
Since Taiki got along so exceptionally well with her, he couldn't bear to disappoint her, but no matter which way he looked at it, he had not received the revelation.
"...I wish you well until the equinox."
Risai's face revealed a sliver of a self-deprecating smirk, but it lasted only a very short moment. She immediately recovered her previous smile and bowed to Taiki.
"Thank you very much. I respectfully wish you a healthy body."
Having to choose a suitable person was a painful task. It seemed as if the revelation would not base its occurrence on Taiki's likes and dislikes, which made Taiki feel even worse.
"Oh... If I have time, can I come back and see Hien?"
Risai smiled clearly and said, "Of course, anytime."
Taiki encountered a fight on his way back from taking a stroll around after he had left the tenba.
Not a small amount of people had gathered at a place in front of him, and Taiki was wondering what was going on when he heard the nyosen whispering. He heard the word "fight" and anxiously grabbed onto the lower part of Youka's dress.
Regardless of what kind of creature was involved, any sort of violence frightened Taiki for the same reason that he was scared of blood. But it wasn't that he was fearful of getting hit. It was the actual act of hitting that he was afraid of, and at the same time, he was terrified of the people who did such things.
"Why is there a commotion?"
It wasn't until they heard the nyosen's voice that the people noticed that Taiki had arrived, whereupon they bowed down.
"Uh... That is..."
The masters of Mt. Hou inherently hate blood and violence, so incidents that cause bloodshed are strictly prohibited here. However, when they do occur, those who caused the trouble are immediately expelled from Mt. Hou.
"Really! How can you people from Tai Kingdom be so careless and hot-blooded!" A nyosen couldn't hold it in any longer and yelled at them as she approached the crowd.
Because every kingdom had different local customs and practices, they all also had their own national character. The people of Tai Kingdom were famous for their drive to outdo others. Originally, every kingdom's characteristics would also flow into their kirin, but exceptions do occur.
"Stop! Where do you think you are?"
When the crowd of spectators heard the nyosen, they opened up a path.
In the middle of the gathering stood two men. One of them was a big fellow, built like a rock and holding a long sword. By comparison, the other man whose hands were held in fists, looked short, though one could see that he still had a capable figure. The latter of the two men was wearing a sword, but he had not drawn it. Also, any discerning person could tell that this spirited man, though shorter, was superior to the other.
It was this bold man who had attracted Taiki's attention.
His black armor contrasted sharply with his white hair, and the sun had made his complexion dark. He was tall, and his physique and movements were frighteningly agile, giving off the impression that he was a fierce beast.
The nyosen passed through layer after layer of people, intending to put a stop to this fight, not expecting that the fight had already resolved itself. After dodging an attack from the sword, the bare-handed man had knocked the big fellow over with his fist.
The big fellow hit the ground and was not able to get back up. The man looked at him and said, "How dare you draw your sword in the honorable residence of the Mt. Hou Kou! You should be extending our gratitude to the Kou."
The man's movements did not contain even a bit of the arrogance of a winner, and his speech held a modest tone.
After he said these things coldly, he turned and met Taiki's line of sight.
--The man's eyes were crimson, like the color of blood.
Taiki couldn't help but grab Youka's dress tightly. Taiki feared this man from the deepest part of his heart.
As Taiki, who was ready to leave, tugged at Youka, the man slowly made his way over and kneeled to him.
"I didn't think the Mt. Hou Kou would be here as well."
The man's expression softened greatly, very much warming Taiki's first impression of him. People came to greet Taiki, so he had no choice but to stand there, tightening his grip on Youka's dress.
"I'm extremely sorry to have done such disrespectful things here. I must ask the Kou of Mt. Hou to please forgive me."
Taiki wasn't able to reply, so Youka spoke to the man for him.
"Please refrain from cause any more trouble on Mt. Hou."
"I really am very sorry!"
Youka had been holding Taiki's hand and moved it in order to soothe Taiki. She then pat his back lightly and pushed him forward slowly.
"It's okay now. There's no more fighting. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt."
It seemed as though Youka was telling this to Taiki, so he could only nod. Taiki was truly unable to say anything because the man in front of him really scared him.
The man kneeling on the ground looked like he was older than Risai. His hair had been tied up in the back very simply, and its silver color seemed to radiate a slight blue sheen. Perhaps it was because of this that he looked older. He had handsome features, and the corners of his eyes revealed a shrewdness. The line of sight that he had directed over to Taiki was as sharp as an arrow.
The man smiled and said, "It looks like I've really frightened you. I'm extremely sorry."
"Don't be..." Taiki finally spoke. "I was just a little shaken... Where are you from?"
"I am from Kouki. I am General Saku of the Tai Kingdom Kingun."
When they heard his name, the people nearby began talking to each other, causing a small commotion. It looked like this man was well-known.
The Kingun consists of three armies that belong exclusively to the ruler. Together with the three armies of the Kou of the capital province, who is appointed by only the kirin, it is called the Rokushi, the Six Armies. Because of the nature of kirin, they aren't able to command the army, so in reality, the ruler directs the army in the place of the kirin. Thus, the Rokushi is also called the Oushi, the Royal Army.
"My name is Sou, and I am called Gyousou."
Taiki was frightened by his direct gaze, but he had to say a few words. Being pulled in two directions by these conflicting conditions, he could only toughen up and speak.
"So... You're a general."
Even though they were both generals, he felt like Gyousou was much more stern than the gentle impression he had gotten from Risai.
The difference between Gyousou and Risai was either because of their personalities, or the fact that their positions were not the same since one was a Kingun General and the other was a General in a provincial army. Taiki really had no clue why.
"Yes. I am humbly most satisfied with my skill with the sword."
Though he said this, Taiki could feel that this person believed in all of his abilities. His body was filled with ambition.
Taiki could not stay here any longer.
At this point, he felt that the other person must be wondering if he could be the king. After Taiki was sure nothing unusual had occurred, he pulled on Youka's sleeve lightly.
"...I wish you well until the equinox."
It wasn't easy for Taiki to say this, but it wasn't until he finished that he was able to look away. Gyousou nodded in respect. As to what expression he had on his face, Taiki had no idea.
The group of people surrounding them made another commotion.
"So it wasn't Saku?"
It was not known who said this, but it sounded like he had a renewed hope in becoming the ruler.
"Gyousou? Oh, the Oushi's General Saku."
The next day, Taiki asked the Risai, the female general that he had just met, if she knew Gyousou.
She didn't look discouraged at all and gave an enthusiastic welcome to Taiki, who had come to pay Hien a visit. When the nyosen were chatting with Risai's servants, Taiki sat next to Risai and Hien.
"Madam Risai, you're also a general, right? Do you know him?"
Risai shook her head. "I am a general, but I'm a general in a provincial army. Sir Gyousou is a general in the army under the direct control of the ruler. Our social positions are not the same."
It could be said that the difference between a general in a provincial army and a general in the Kingun is very great. A Kingun general may enter the royal palace and speak directly with the ruler. They can also participate in the morning court council and assume a role in government. A general in the Army of the Provincial Kou is simply a person in the military. Thus, if one were to become a Kingun general, there is no doubt that they would be an important subject to the ruler.
"You say that, so is he very famous?"
"Yes. He is considered a very well-known swordsman and receives the genuine respect of his soldiers. I've heard others say that he is direct and tough, but that he is also intelligent and well-mannered." After Risai finished saying this, she looked at Taiki. "Do you have an interest in Sir Gyousou?"
"...Yesterday, I came across a fight..."
Risai nodded. "So I heard. Someone was irritated and purposefully provoked Sir Gyousou. The fault is with the other person, not with Sir Gyousou. Supposedly, that person seriously insulted Sir Gyousou's character. Otherwise, this quarrel would never have occurred."
"So that's how it was..."
Risai looked directly at Taiki and asked, "Is Sir Gyousou the king?"
Taiki quickly shook his head. "No. It's just that he makes me feel scared..."
Since this wasn't what she expected to hear, a look of disappointment appeared on Risai's face. "Oh... So it wasn't Sir Gyousou..."
"I heard people say that yesterday too."
Risai smiled. "He isn't a warm person, but he also isn't terrifying. I think he's a very strong man. There are 12500 soldiers in an army, and to get every one of them to respect him is not an easy task. He has made enemies along the way, but there are far more that admire him. For Sir Gyousou to not be the king, it's a little disheartening."
"Do you also admire Sir Gyousou?"
Risai ran her hands thru Hien's fur. "Yes! Though I've never had the opportunity to actually meet him, I definitely respect him a lot, since I have also lead troops before. Thus, if Sir Gyousou were to become king, I would certainly recognize his authority."
"I had no idea he was such a capable person."
Risai nodded. "If we're talking about swordsmanship, King En ranks first, and second is Sir Gyousou."
"I think you might be able to find another person comparable to Sir Gyousou, but a person who possesses such a deep public support, and has both a talent for military and administrative leadership and also a high nobility and prestige, is few and far between."
(...But, he didn't prompt any revelation...)
"It is regrettable." This came from the bottom of Risai's heart.
Anyone who had something to do with the military knew that talented people like General Saku of the Kingun were hard to come by. It was an exceptional case that Gyousou was still young when he became a general in the Kingun. It has been said that early on, the people of a rebellion that Gyousou quelled came to respect him greatly in the end.
It's not hard to find a military officer in other kingdoms who is strong or one that is honorable, but to find a person who is both of these things and also whose fame resounds through all the kingdoms, that is extremely rare to come by.
In truth, when she was hurrying along the Reikon Gate road, Risai had heard that Gyousou was among the crowds climbing the mountains, at which point she knew that she was not to ascend to the throne.
Because she was a compassionate general, the people thought of her as a very kind and honorable military officer. She received the attention of the people and their utmost expectations. They believed that she had what it took to be chosen, so she climbed the mountain. However, Risai herself had never thought herself to be the best candidate. She believed that if she really compared herself to others in the world, she would not be able to surpass Gyousou.
"It really is...very regrettable..." mumbled Risai to herself.
Taiki felt bad when he heard this, so he said, "I think Madam Risai would make a great queen..."
When Risai heard this, she laughed. "You compliment me with these words. I thank you."
"I really think so."
"I am honored, but perhaps you believe in people too easily! There are those who will flatter the Kou for the sake of honor and wealth," said Risai, half in jest as she looked at Taiki. Taiki was surprised.
"Yes, these kinds of people are everywhere! There are many among the mountain-climbers who aren't capable of ascending to the throne, so they rely on this opportunity to befriend the Kou or the ruler in order to pave the way for their own future."
"Are there really?"
"It's unfortunate, but there are. For instance, a person like me might hope that after you've descended the mountain and gone to Tai Kingdom, you will promote me into the Oushi."
Taiki held his head askew. "I think...you're not that kind of person."
Risai laughed even more happily. "Kou, you really know how to speak. I am overjoyed by your words."
"Really," laughed Risai as she stood up and lightly brushed off the straw that was on her clothes. "It looks like the nyosen who accompanied you here have also finished their conversation. If you don't mind, please allow me to stroll with you around this area."
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