Chapter 48

6-4 The inner sea was so wide that Youko could not see the opposing shore. Standing on the deck, breathing in the salt spray, it looked like a perfectly normal sea. The ship left Fugou and crossed the bright blue water, heading north to Ugou as the bird flies. From Fugou to Ugou it was a journey of three days and two nights.

When the coast of En first came into view, it looked no different than Kou. But as the ship drew closer, the differences became apparent. A well-maintained harbor and the huge city looming up behind it. Ugou was bigger than any city Youko had seen in Kou. Save for the buildings, she could have been looking at a city in Japan. It was obvious that a fair percentage of the passengers gathered on the deck were seeing Ugou for the first time, too, and along with Youko stared in amazement.

The city itself was set off to the side of the harbor, surrounded by walls that enclosed the city in the shape of a "U." The city wound leisurely up the side of the facing mountains. In the distance, the richly-colored architectural decor ran together into a subdued, rosy hue. Around the circumference of the city and about its center, she observed tall, finely-built stone buildings. One was a clock tower, and her eyes opened wide as she saw it.

The harbor was developed to a degree to which Agan could not compare. The number of ships lying at anchor far outstripped those at Agan. The harbor was alive and bustling. The masts stood together like trees. The furled white and pale red sails accented the gorgeous panorama. Having finally arrived here after escaping such a harsh country, Youko gazed at it all as if there could be nothing else to compare to such a spectacle.

Descending from the ship, Youko looked out over the throngs. This was a city that left its inhabitants in good spirits. The faces of the people streaming by were full of vitality and life, and her own face was likely the same. Down on the dock, Youko found herself in the midst of bedlam. Men working madly, children running around doing heavens knows what, the voices of people and peddlers, thrumming together in a frenzied rhythm.

She was standing there on the pier when the voice called out to her.


Her head snapped around at the sound of a voice she could not have possibly expected. She saw the charcoal-gray coat, fine whiskers gleaming silver in the light of the midday sun

"Rakushun . . . . "

The rat pushed his way through the crowds to Youko's side. With his small, pink paw he grabbed the bewildered Youko by the hand. "This is so great. You arrived safely."

"How . . . ?"

"Take a ship from Agan and you're bound to arrive in Ugou. I've been waiting for you."

"For me?"

Rakushun nodded. He tugged on Youko's hand. She was still frozen with surprise.

"I waited for a while at Agan. When you didn't turn up, I thought maybe you'd gone on ahead of me. But there was neither hide nor hair of you here. So I decided that every time a ship came into port, I'd come down and look for you. I figured you might have gotten delayed, but made it through just the same."

The rat looked up at Youko and smiled.

"But why, for me?"

Rakushun rounded his back and bowed his head. "I wasn't thinking. I should have let you have the money, at least half. You must have had a rough time of it getting here. I'm sorry about that."

"But . . . I'm the one who ran off and left you behind."

"I blame myself for that as well. I really messed up." The rat smiled bitterly. "And a good thing you did run. If the guards had arrested you, then what? Better if I had told you myself and given you the purse, but I kind of got myself knocked out cold."

"Rakushun . . . . "

"I was really worried about what happened to you after that. I'm glad to see you're okay."

"It's not that I abandoned you because I had no choice."


"Really. The idea of traveling with another person gave me the willies. I didn't think I could trust anybody. I thought I was surrounded by no one but my enemies. That's why."

Rakushun twitched his whiskers. "Does that include me now?"

Youko shook her head.

"All's well, then. Well, let's get going."

"Don't you hate me for double-crossing you?"

"I might think you a fool for doing so, but, no, I don't have any particular reason to hate you."

"I even thought of going back and killing you."

Rakushun started to walk off, still holding her hand. He stopped in his tracks. "You know, Youko . . . . "


"To tell the truth, when I realized that you had gone off and left me there, I was a little let down. Only a little. I knew that you didn't trust me. The whole time, you were worried I was going to try and pull something. Still, along the way, I had hoped the truth would sink in. When you ran off without me, I knew you hadn't. So I was a little disappointed. But if you've finally come to your senses, then it's all good."

"It's not all good. You've got every reason in the world to tell me good riddance and send me packing."

"Whether I do or not, that's up to me, isn't it? I wished for you to trust me. If you do, then that makes me happy. If not, then not so much. But that's my problem. Whether you trust me or not, that's up to you. Trusting me may be to your benefit or to your loss. But that's your problem."

Youko humbly bowed her head. "Rakushun, I don't deserve your friendship."

"Hey, hey, what's this all of a sudden?"

"It's just that I get myself into these snits and convince myself that I have no friends in this world."

"Youko." Rakushun tugged on her arm with his small hand.

"I am so totally messed up."

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am."

"You're not. Youko. After all, I'm not the one who was washed ashore in a strange land and then chased around it from one end to the other."

For a moment Youko stared down at Rakushun's face. Rakushun looked up at her and laughed. "You've really pulled yourself together, Youko. You're in a fine fettle."


"I knew it as soon as you came off the boat. A blind man couldn't miss it a mile away."


"Yes, you. So, shall we get going?"

"Go where?"

"The prefecture building. If you're a kaikyaku and get yourself properly registered, people will do what they can to help. The officials will write letters of introduction for you, or so I've heard. You were taking your time getting here, so I did a bit of wandering about myself and went to the local prefecture building and checked it out. That's what they told me."

"Rakushun, you're unbelievable."

For whatever reason, one by one, doors now seemed to be opening up to her.