7-8 The En stared off into space for a moment. Then he said, "There are people and there are kingdoms. So it stands to reason that there must be people to govern those kingdoms, wouldn't you say?"
"This palace is where the king resides. The king administers the affairs of state. As this responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the king, he must administer the government in accordance with the wishes of the people. Of course, power corrupts, and ofttimes the king ends up oppressing his subjects. I'm not saying that all rulers are by definition bad. But from the time the king takes up the reins of power, he is no longer an ordinary person. And what he knows of being an ordinary person slips away."
"I've heard it said that the Royal En is an enlightened monarch."
The En smiled wryly. "That is beside the point. The point is, when kings oppress their subjects, what recourse do the people have?"
"There's always democracy," Enki interjected. "The people choose a king to their own liking. And when he becomes not to their liking, they choose somebody else."
"Well, that's one way," the En responded. "But here it is done another. If a king is oppressing his subjects, then someone chooses a king who won't. That someone is the kirin."
"The kirin chooses the king on behalf of the people?"
"That's one way to put it. Here, there is what may be called the Divine Will. God in His Heaven created the earth and the kingdoms and established the natural law. According to the Divine Will, the kirin chooses the king and the king, in turn, receives the Mandate of Heaven."
"Mandate of Heaven."
"The king protects the kingdom, comes to the aid of the commoners, and maintains law and order. The kirin selects those capable of carrying out that Mandate. Those chosen are placed upon the throne. The intent is that by means of the kirin, Heaven will enthrone wise rulers. There are those who call me an enlightened monarch, but that is hardly true. All kings possess the character and capability to reign with wisdom, strength and benevolence."
Youko didn't respond. She sat there quietly.
"Still, many enlightened monarchs have reigned in Japan and China. So why is it that these countries have not, in general, remained at peace?"
Youko nodded slightly. "Even if a person is a so-called enlightened monarch, he can go astray in a moment of weakness. And even if he doesn't, the best ruler will die someday, and the person who succeeds him will not necessarily be so wise. So it's inevitable that you'll eventually end up between some kind of rock and hard place."
"That's right. But if a monarch were made immortal, made a god, that would solve half the problem. And then supposing the king does die, better that you eliminate hereditary rule, requiring the kirin to choose a new king and watch him very carefully to make sure he doesn't stray. Do you think that would work?"
"Yeah, I suppose that would work."
As if in agreement, the En nodded once. "For the present time, the Kingdom of En has been entrusted to me. Enki chose me as king. The selection process has nothing to do with how hard a person wishes to be king or strives to be a ruler. The kirin relies on his intuition, the way a man decides upon a woman. Or perhaps I should say, the way a woman chooses a man. I was a ranka. I was not born here. Like you, I had not the slightest idea of what a king was or should be. Yet the kirin chose me and so a king I am. The Mandate of Heaven rests upon my shoulders, and nothing I can do can change that."
"Does that mean I can't go home, either?"
"You may, if you wish. But you are still the Empress of the Eastern Kingdom of Kei. That calling you cannot repudiate."
Youko's head slumped.
"The kirin covenants with the chosen king. Thereafter, the kirin will not divorce himself from the king. It is an unbreakable compact of obedience. After the king takes the throne, the kirin stands by him as his prime minster."
"Enki, too? He's the prime minister?"
Youko looked at the boy sitting cross-legged on the table. The En chuckled. Looks can be deceiving. You might not be convinced by looking at him, but kirin are, by nature, beings of justice and mercy."
Enki scowled. The king smiled. "You will find nothing in the counsel of the Taiho but words of justice and mercy. But justice and mercy alone cannot govern a kingdom. There are times when I have gone forth when Enki said to pull back, when I have acted ruthlessly and without mercy. It is, at times, what the righteous rule of a kingdom requires. If I adhered to every word Enki spoke, the kingdom would fall to pieces."
"Yeah . . . I suppose."
"For example, imagine there is a criminal, a man who murders for money. And let us imagine that this man has a hungry wife and child. In such a case, Enki would tell me to spare the rod. But to leave criminals at large would make the kingdom unmanageable. Regrettable though it may be, the man must be convicted for his crimes."
"Sure . . . I guess."
"On the other hand, let us suppose that I ordered Enki to execute the criminal. A kirin has not the disposition to do such a thing, but, in the end, protesting all the while, he would carry out the order. Enki must obey me. Must. A kirin cannot oppose the will of the king. Even if I were to order him to kill himself--if, in fact, such an order could be given--he would not disobey."
"So, you're saying that after you're chosen by the kirin, you can pretty much do what you want?"
"Therein arises the hard part. It is the Divine Will of Heaven that a king rules righteously. Heaven's desire is that the kingdom be governed with justice and mercy. Heaven's proxy in this regard is the kirin. However, as I said, a kingdom cannot be governed by justice and mercy, alone. There are times when you must be unjust, must act without mercy. But only to a certain degree will Heaven turn a blind eye."
Youko simply looked at him.
"You may act ruthlessly for the good of the kingdom, but only to a point. Go past that point and the king will lose the right to rule. After all, the throne was given him by Heaven. And when a king strays too far and loses the Mandate of Heaven, the kirin falls ill. This illness is called shitsudou, or the Loss of the Way."
The En wrote the characters in the air. "When the king strays from the Way, the kirin will suffer. At that point, the wise king mends his ways. If he does not, the kirin will not recover. But it is not enough for the kirin to simply persevere. The problem is one of character, the same as with all those people who promise to change their ways and do not. There are few cases of kings who were able to remedy the situation after a kirin was struck down with the shitsudou."
"And what happens if he can't?"
"Then the kirin will die. And if the kirin dies, so will the king."
"Dies . . . . "
"Human life is short. The king does not age, does not die, because his name is recorded in the Census of Heaven. Kings are immortal because they are gods. But it is the kirin that makes the king a god. So if the kirin dies, so does the king."
"Aside from the king returning to the Way, there is one other way for the kirin to be cured of the shitsudou."
"And that is?"
"That is, for the king to release the kirin from the covenant. The simplest method is for the king to end his own life. If the king dies first, the kirin will not."
"And the kirin will help him do so?"
"So he will. That is what Keiki did." The En took a breath. "The Late Empress Yo was by nature human, and human beings are by no means perfect. She became romantically attached to Keiki. She would not allow any women to associate with Keiki. She paraded herself around as his wife, grew insanely jealous. In the end, she went too far, expelled all women from the palace and tried to drive all women from the kingdom. And when Keiki protected them, she tried to have those who remained killed. At that point, Keiki fell ill."
"And . . . ?"
"The late Empress parted from the Way because of her romantic attachment to Keiki. The prospect of being the cause of his death could not be pleasing to her. In some small way, she had not fallen so far as to be beyond reason. So the Late Empress Yo climbed Mount Hou and there renounced the throne. Heaven accepted her abdication and Keiki was emancipated from her.
"What happened to her?"
"That royal part of her died, and what made her a god was reversed. No longer a monarch, she could no longer continue to live."
And so the Empress Jokaku of the Kingdom of Kei had passed away.
"You have already been chosen by Keiki as the next king. To accede to the throne, you must ascend Mount Hou and accept the Divine Decree. However, no significant distinction should be made between the convenant and accession to the throne. The Mandate of Heaven has descended. You are the Empress of Kei. Nothing you can do will change it. Do you understand?"
"The king has the responsibility to govern the kingdom. You may, if you wish, cast your kingdom aside and return to Japan. A kingdom abandoned by its monarch will fall into chaos. When that happens, make no mistake, Heaven will cast you aside as well."
"And Keiki will be struck down with the shitsudou and die."
"Most likely, yes. But it is not so simple as that. Think about the subjects of your kingdom as well. A king does not only rule. He also bears the responsibility of reigning in the natural forces and the youma. The youma run rampant. Tempests storm. There are droughts and floods and epidemics. The hearts of men are confused. When the realm falls to ruin, there are no words on the lips of the people but those of suffering."
"Falls to ruin?"
"Yes. It took Keiki a long time to find the Late Empress Yo, and the throne was vacant for an extended period. In that time, the kingdom was left in turmoil and the people were impoverished. An empress was finally placed upon the throne, but her reign lasted only six years. In recent years, as he suffered from the shitsudou, public order disintegrated. And then this calamity. All those proximate to En or Kou have fled the country. But the great majority remain behind in Kei. And during all this time, they have been left to the mercies of the youma and natural disasters. There is no way of saving them."
"So why didn't he go and choose the right king as soon as possible?"
"That is what he has done."
Youko shook her head. "There's just no way."
"Why is that? I believe that you possess all the necessary kingly attributes."
"You are the master of your own soul. You know what responsibilities you bear toward yourself alone. When it comes to a ruler who lacks such knowledge, trying to persuade him of his duties is useless. How can he who cannot rule himself rule others?"
"I . . . can't."
"But . . . . "
"Shouryuu," Enki said in a reproving voice. "You're twisting arms. What the Royal Kei does with the Kingdom of Kei is up to her. Until she is prepared to accept the consequences of her actions, let her be."
The En sighed. "Yes, you are right. But this alone I wish to ask of the Royal Kei. I am doing everything I can think of to assist the people of Kei, but the national treasury is not inexhaustible. I am pleading with you to help save my kingdom, and yours."
"I'll think it over." Youko hung her head. There was no way she could bring herself to look them in the eye.
"Excuse me," said Rakushun, "but has anybody figured out what king has it in for Youko?"
The En looked at Enki. Enki stared off into the distance. He said, "And who do you think it is?"
"Well, I've come to the conclusion that it is probably the Royal Kou."
Youko looked at Rakushun. For just a moment, this young man with the strained expression on his face seemed in no way connected to the gentle rat she knew.
"And why's that?"
"This is by no means definite. But Youko was chased to exhaustion around those mountains. I don't think all of the youma that attacked her were the kirin's shirei. In that case, what could have caused the wild youma living in the mountains to come together like that? Even if half were shirei, that is still too many. I can't help feeling that the Kingdom of Kou itself is on the decline."
The En nodded. "So it is. In fact, I have received from Kou a strongly-worded petition seeking the extradition of a kaikyaku who fled to En. Kaikyaku have fled here from Kou before. But extraditing a kaikyaku is such an unusual step that I had Enki look into it. Somehow or other, someone in Kou has been supplying Joei with funds. Furthermore, Kou is falling into chaos. Not only does this cast all the more suspicion upon the Royal Kou, but only yesterday, we received word that Kourin has fallen ill with the shitsudou."
" . . . with the shitsudou," Rakushun echoed. Bitterness clouded his otherwise lively, young face. "In that case, the end of Kou is near."
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Youko asked.
It was the En who answered. "It would be simple to counsel with the Royal Kou as a colleague, but the man will not agree to meet. And even if we did, nothing can be done if he will not admit to the error of his ways. Our only remaining recourse is that the rightful Empress of Kei accepts the Mandate of Heaven and fills the vacant throne. Why the Royal Kou has meddled in the internal affairs of Kei, I do not know. But if the purpose was to put a puppet on the throne and lead her around by the nose, then only then shall we see his ambitions wither and an end to this insulting pretense."
There was much more in the expression on his face that was left unsaid. Youko bowed her head. "Please give me time."