Chapter 39

10-2 The way I see it, there's two kinds of crying.

It's true, Suzu thought, gazing at the casket being lowered into the grave. She had never wept such heartbreaking tears. The lamentations tore at her chest until she was out of breath, until there was nothing left inside her but emptiness.

The sad little shrine stood alone in the cemetery outside the city of Takuhou. The barrel-like casket sat there throughout the night and now disappeared into the hole.

Stop, Suzu had begged the grave keeper. Don't bury him. It's too sad. She knew it was a meaningless request.

He reassured her with a pat on the back and all but tore the casket from her grasp and hauled it away. Again, she repeated the same vain request as a stone struck the top of the casket and the grave was filled in.

The round shape of the casket symbolized the egg from which people were born in this world. From the husk you were born, to the husk you shall return. The ranka containing the child was plucked from the riboku. The parents would tap on the ranka with a stone to create a crack, a good luck charm to ensure a quick birth. Following that custom, they used a round, egg-like casket made from fired-clay, and then, presaging the reincarnation of the dead, opened a fissure in its surface with a stone.

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The hole was filled in, leaving behind a small mound of earth. Even after the grave keepers left, Suzu stood there dumbly.

I knew it all along.

She knew that Seishuu was going to die. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she had always known it was going to happen. The symptoms were too severe. He couldn't eat. He was wasting away. He was getting worse all over.

Could even the Royal Kei have saved him? The empress surely should have been able to. On the other hand, far from everything turning out okay, it was just as likely that neither the empress nor the royal surgeons could have done anything for him.

"But he didn't deserve to die like that."

Why'd he have to get killed in a hit and run? Even if he hadn't, he wouldn't have lived that much longer.

"I am an idiot." Suzu clutched at the earth. "I put all my faith in the Royal Kei. Why didn't I take him to a doctor in Goto!"

Taking him to a doctor might have proved pointless as well. That fear, coupled with the conviction that the Royal Kei would save him, had created these foolish expectations. Better to have taken him to a doctor in Goto, right after they got off the boat. If they only hadn't come here.

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"Seishuu . . . I'm sorry." The sobs still filled the throat. Her tears had not dried. "I'm sorry."

A cloud passed across the sun. Suzu stared at her own shadow.

"Miss, the gates are closing."

She turned blankly toward the sound of the voice. She saw a figure of a smallish person. For a moment, she grasped at false hopes.

"You going to be here long? Your teeth are chattering."

"Leave me alone."

He looked three or four years older than Seishuu. About fourteen. A small-framed boy with black hair. The boy said, "In Kei, it's still not safe to be caught outside a city at night."

Suzu glared at him. "Leave me alone. Don't worry about me."

"You want to get eaten by a youma? You got some sort of death wish?"

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"You wouldn't understand. Go on ahead."

The boy didn't answer. For a little while, standing behind her, she felt his eyes on her back. "Nobody understands how I feel at all!" she cried.

The boy answered quietly, "Crying out of self-pity does no respect to the dead."

Suzu's eye widened in surprise. People who cry because they feel so sorry for themselves. "Who are you?"

"I'm from Takuhou. Shall we return together?"

Suzu got to her feet. Once again she looked down at the small mound of earth. "Do you know who he was?"

"Everybody knows about it. You came from Sou?"

The boy held out his hand. Suzu took it. He had a warm, delicate palm. She said, "This child is a child of Kei. He fled the kingdom and went to Kou. Then he fled Kou and went to Sou. And now he was returning to Kei."

"I see," the boy said to himself. He looked back at the mound of earth. "That is sad."

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"Yes," Suzu nodded. The tears spilled down her cheeks. Still weeping, the boy's hand in hers, they returned to the city.

"Are you from Takuhou?"

They arrived back at the city just as the gates closed. Inside the gates, Suzu averted her eyes from the right-hand side of the road and more tightly gripped the hand in hers. She didn't let go until they had crossed the main boulevard.

"Are you from Kei, then?"

"No. From Sai."

"That's a long voyage. Do you have a place to stay?"

Suzu nodded her head. "Thank you for talking to me."

"Sure," said the boy. He looked at her. "Cheer up. If you don't walk facing forward, you'll end up falling into a hole."

"Into a hole?"

"The hole of your own self-pity."

"Yeah," Suzu muttered to herself. That would be disrespectful to Seishuu. She could hear Seishuu still scolding her. "You're right about that. Thanks."

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"No problem."

"What's your name?"


"Hey," said Suzu, looking into his face. "Do you know if that guy who ran over Seishuu has been arrested?"

Shh, Sekki said, signaling with his eyes. "Better you don't talk about such things so people can hear." He led her into a nearby alleyway. "That guy won't be arrested."

"You mean you know who it is?"

"Not an acquaintance, if that's what you mean. I wouldn't want to be known as an associate of that beast."

The vehemence with which he spoke surprised her. "Who is it?"

"Everybody in the city knows: The governor killed the boy traveler."

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"The governor?"

The governor, Shoukou. Remember that name. The most dangerous man in Shisui Prefecture."

"He killed Seishuu?"

"The boy fell down in front of Shoukou carriage. The carriage stopped. And then--"

"And then--he would do something like that?"

"Shoukou is completely capable of it."

"That's awful." Suzu slumped against the wall and slid to the ground. "Seishuu couldn't even walk straight." She hugged her knees. "I should have carried him on my back." Why had she been so unwilling to? He hardly weighed anything at all. She could have done it.

"You shouldn't blame yourself, Suzu."

Suzu shook her head. There was no way she couldn't but blame herself.

"And it does no good to blame Shoukou."

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"Why not!" A fierce expression rose to Suzu's face.

"To begrudge Shoukou is as good as getting murdered by him all over again." He turned and added almost as an aside, "I guess no one taught you that until now."