5-8 That evening they arrived at a city called Kakuraku, a city as big as Kasai.
Youko had traveled with a person from this world before, but compared to then they were on a much tighter budget. They ate dinner at a roadside stand and spent the night in the cheapest inn. A single night costs fifty sen, and for that you got a bed in a big room sectioned off with folding screens. Because Rakushun was picking up the tab, Youko was in no position to complain.
Rakushun passed off Youko as his younger brother. If nobody had a problem with him having a human mother, they shouldn't have a problem with him having a human brother. And, in fact, no one gave them so much as a second glance.
It was at first an uneventful journey. As they walked along, Rakushun helpfully explained things. "The Twelve Kingdoms are made up of four Great Realms (Taikoku), four Principalities (Shuukoku), and four Outlands (Kyokukoku)."
"Four Great Realms?" Youko glanced over her shoulder at Rakushun, tottering along beside her.
"That's right. The four Great Realms are the Eastern Kingdom of Kei, the Southern Kingdom of Sou, the Western Kingdom of Han, and the Northern Kingdom of Ryuu. The Great Realms are not particularly bigger than the Principalities, but that's what they're called. The Principalities are En Shuukoku, Kyou Shuukoku, Sai Shuukoku and Kou Shuukoku. The four Outlands are Tai, Shun, Hou and Ren."
"In other words, Tai Kyokukoku, Shun Kyokukoku, Hou Kyokukoku and Ren Kyokukoku?"
"Correct. Each is ruled by a king. The Royal Kou is known as the Mountain King. His palace is in Gousou, in Ki Province. It is called Suikou, the Palace of Green Bamboo."
"Gousou is a city?"
Nodding, Rakushun pointed off to the left at the mountains coming into view. The land was very hilly here. In the distance she could see a rising line of foothills, and beyond, dimly visible, an even more formidable range of towering mountains.
"In that direction, far beyond those mountains is a mountain that reaches up to heaven. Mount Gousou. At its peak is Suikou, the Palace of Green Bamboo. Around the foot of the mountain is the city of Gousou."
"From there the king rules the country. He appoints the province lords, promulgates laws, and allocates public lands to the people."
"What do the province lords do, then?"
"The province lords are the de facto rulers of each province. They are responsible for the disposition of provincial lands, the welfare of the citizenry, and the conduct of the military. They formalize and execute the laws, conduct the census, collect taxes, and mobilize the troops in times of emergency."
"It sounds to me like the king isn't the person who's really running things."
"It is the job of the king to provide the guidelines for the administration of the government."
She didn't really understand it, but perhaps it was like the federal system in the United States.
"The king lays down what is known as the Law of the Land. The province lords can also legislate but they cannot go against the Law of the Land. And neither can the Law of the Land violate the Divine Decrees."
"The Divine Decrees?"
"The Divine Decrees are handed down to the sovereign, declaring how a kingdom must be ruled. If you think of this world as broad pavilion, the Decrees are the pillars that hold it up. They're also known as the Pillars of Heaven, or the Great Colonnade. Even kings bow to their authority. As long as a king does not tread upon the Great Colonnade, he may rule his kingdom as he sees fit."
"Huh. So who decided what this Great Colonnade was? You're not telling me it's some sort of God, are you?"
Well, Rakushun chuckled. "The story is that a long, long time ago, Tentei--the Lord God of the Heavens, the Divine Creator--destroyed the Nine Dominions and the Four Barbarian Domains that comprised the Thirteen Realms. Five gods and twelve mortals were spared and all the rest of humanity were returned to their eggs. In the center of the world, five mountains were created, and presided over by Seioubo, the Royal Mother of the West. The realm encircling the five mountains was transformed into the Yellow Sea. The five gods were appointed the Dragon Kings of the Five Seas.
"A creation myth, in other words."
"So it is. Each of the remaining twelve was given a branch of a tree. Around each branch was wrapped a snake, and each branch bore three fruits. The snakes unwound themselves from each branch and lifted the sky to the heavens. The fruits fell down creating, in turn, the earth, a kingdom and a throne. Then each of the branches turned into a calligraphy brush."
This is was a creation myth different from any Youko had heard of.
"The snakes are the pillars of the Great Colonnade, the earth represents the census, the kingdoms stand for the law, the thrones symbolize justice and virtue, or the Saiho, and the brush records the history of the people." Rakushun twitched his whiskers. "At that time none of us had been born, so nobody knows how true is really is."
"Naturally." When she was a lot younger, she'd read about Chinese creation myths in a children's book. She remembered none of it now. Even so, she had a hard time believing there could be any similarities. "I take it this Tentei is the head God?"
"I guess you could put it that way."
"So if you're going to pray to anybody, Tentei is the guy to pray to?"
Pray to? Rakushun seemed to say, tilting his head to the side. "Well, if you were praying for a child, yes, you would petition the Tentei."
"Other than that? What about praying for wealth and prosperity?"
"If you were asking for wealth and prosperity, you'd petition Gyoutei, the August God. Speaking of which, there are sects that worship Gyoutei. And in that same vein, to escape floods, there are those who look to Utei. To escape youma, there's Koutei."
"So there are all kinds?"
"Yes, and there are religions that worship all of them, too."
"But it's not something people normally do?"
"No need to. If the weather is good to us, the harvest will be bountiful. Whether the weather is good or bad depends on the conditions of the heavens. The rain falls on the happy and the sad, on the just and the unjust alike. When it doesn't, there's a drought. Praying about it won't do any good."
Youko was taken aback by this. "Yeah, but if there's a flood, isn't that going to cause problems for everybody?"
"In order to prevent floods, the king orders that dikes and dams be built."
"Or, say, frost damage?"
"So there won't be famine at such times, wouldn't it be up to the king to manage the distribution of food?"
I don't get this at all. What she did get was that these people weren't like the people she knew at all. "So what you're saying is, nobody says prayers to pass a test, or save money, or stuff like that."
It was Rakushun's turn to look surprised. "Don't things like that all depend on the effort of the individual involved? How would you go about praying for them?"
"Well, yeah, but . . . . "
"If you study for a test, then you'll pass. If you work hard, you'll earn money. What exactly is praying about it supposed to accomplish?"
So that's what this is all about. Youko laughed cynically to herself. Nobody crosses their fingers, nobody makes promises to God. So if you've got the chance to sell a kaikyaku into slavery, make yourself a little on the side, hey, what's the problem? Waste not, want not.
"Yeah, I guess it figures," she muttered, but there was a coldness in her words that made Rakushun look up at her and made his whiskers droop in disappointment.
It was something he usually boasted of only to himself, but Rakushun was well-studied and had an unusually sharp mind. He found it painful to think that despite this he should become a burden on his mother, and only because he was a half-human hanjuu.
Rakushun wanted to ask more about Youko and about Japan, but she had nothing more to say.
And so it was, on the sixteenth day of their journey, that the attack came.