Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)
(The Birds of Hisho)
Translated by o6asan
First edition released on 2009.Jul.15
Second edition released on 2013.Apr.28
Third edition released on 2013.Sep.7 : Current
At Third edition, Delonix helped me so much, which gave the story more reader-friendly English.
By o6asan (2013.Sep.7)
The mountain was a pillar piercing through from the ground to the sky. The peaks rose to the sky almost at a right angle, each looking like the tip of a writing brush, and they are tied together making a huge massif. The summit of the mountain actually pierced through the clouds. Under the clouds the sharpened peaks stood close together, which made the shape of small waves falling toward the base rapidly. The foot was a vast slope. The city spread out in the shape of stairs there. —At the east of the world, it is Gyōten, the capital of Kei.
The mountain itself was a royal palace. On its summit, Enchō, where only The Ruler and high officials lived, spread out. The big distance between Enchō and Gyōten is the same as between the ground and the sky. And both were completely separated by the transparent sea. Even if you looked up from the ground, you couldn’t know that the sea was there. You only saw white clinging clouds which rolled as waves in to the summit. But just underneath the clouds Jichō, where the lower class officials lived, spread among the peaks. The rock ledges faded in color, clung to the huge massif, and countless public offices and countless official residences were built and located there in a row.
Kakan-fu lay in the southwest. The buildings surrounded the courtyard squarely, even though their heights were different, they were connected on all sides and they formed the vast public office. The Sekichō-shi’s office lay in a corner of them. Hisho was summoned by the Sekichō-shi. It was the newly appointed Sekichō-shi who had summoned Hisho here, from his home, at the end of July, Yosei 7 by the Kei calendar.
A lower official, an usher, took Hisho to the innermost room. The room faced a large balcony, which jutted out in midair. On the other side of the balustrade, which was carved out of stone, was an abysmal cliff. The old willow located on the corner of the balcony, had branches which hung down like disheveled hair, resting over the balustrade. A bird similar to an egret crouched down under the tree. It perched on the balustrade and turned its spindly neck towards the bottom of the valley, and was immobile as if it was examining it.
Hisho wondered about what it was looking at.
It did not seem to sleep. Was it watching the lower world? Although it was not visible from the place where he himself stood idly, the scenes of the lower world should have spread in front of the bird. The city flagging by the heat and the stagnation. The exhausted fields and mountains which surrounded the city.
Probably, it only saw desolation.
He did not understand why he thought that, but he thought the bird was gazing just at the desolation. Was it because the bird seemed to be anxious about something?
Strangely, it made him recollect a woman. Although she hadn’t resembled the egret closely, she had always looked at the scene of the valley like that. However, she hadn’t shown any signs that she had been anxious about something. As if she didn’t have any interest in the lower world at all.
―It is meaningless if I look at the desolate lower world, isn’t it?
She had said so, laughed and thrown a pear. She had said briefly “I’m indifferent about the desolation and the lower world. I don’t want to see the cruel things, either.”
Why did he think she and the bird resembled each other?―While he thought and looked at the bird, he heard someone’s restless footsteps. The sound probably surprised the bird and it flew away. When he turned around, a poor-looking man was just coming into the room. Although he had never met the man till this day, this would be Suiryō, the new Sekichō-shi. Hisho assumed this and knelt down, losing no time in making a bow to the man.
“Sorry for making you wait. — I’m happy you could come.”
The man extended both hands in a gesture of greeting. He looked over 50 and had an unnatural big grin on his thin and sick looking, dark face.
“I guess you are Hisho, the Ra-shi(羅氏)? You don’t have to do that, please stand up — there.”
He showed Hisho with his hand to a table on the side of the room. While he also sat down on a chair, he pointed to another chair signaling for Hisho to take a seat. This, Hisho thought, was unusual. Fundamentally, two chairs put on opposite sides of the table were the seats of the host and a guest. Of course, Hisho was not a guest.
“You shouldn’t hesitate, have a seat. I would have seen you before, but I was busy with one thing or another these days. Today I have a little time, so I think I would go see you, but I had not have enough time to do so. Then, I sent for you, I’m glad you could come in spite of being so sudden. I’m sorry.”
Suiryō was polite as if he were flattered. The Sekichō-shi manages Ra-shi(羅氏). If Suiryō has business, it’s natural to summon Hisho to his office and Hisho doesn’t have the right of refusing. There was no need to apologize about his being summoned not to appreciate about his coming.
“Have a seat.”
Suiryō looked back at a lower official. The lower official lifted up a vessel of alcohol. Suiryō called him and made him arrange it on the table. This was also an impossible treatment according to custom.
Suiryō told Hisho to have a seat again and pushed out a cup for him to drink, and leaned forward.
“I heard you have been a Ra-shi(羅氏) for a long long time, right? Is it true you have been a Ra-shi(羅氏) since the Ruler Ri(悧)’s era?”
Hisho replied with only a nod. Suiryō groaned “uh-huh” and gazed at him.
“You look younger than me, but you are very old really. Actually, I became an official and gained a senseki(仙籍) the year before last. I know that a person after gaining a senseki(仙籍) doesn’t get older any more, but I can’t understand that still now. How old are you really?”
“Well — I can’t remember that.”
This was completely true. When Hisho was assigned and given a senseki(仙籍), it was the Ruler Ri(悧)’s era, after ten years or so of the Ruler Ri(悧)’s enthronement by his memory. It already exceeded more than 100 years since his becoming an official?
“It’s too long for you to memorize. That’s great. Therefore, people call you the Ra-shi(羅氏) in Ra-shi(羅氏). I hear you have a lot of anecdotes. When Ruler Yo(予), the previous Ruler, came to the throne, you obtained words from the Ruler personally.”
Hisho gave a slight smile. Rumors spread and warped in a polite way
Probably, Suiryō misunderstood Hisho’s smile, giving nods and clapping his hands with a broad smile.
“You must use your skill again.”
He said and he brought his face close to Hisho’s, lowering his voice.
“—The new monarch will accede to the throne in the near future.”
Hisho looked back at Suiryō’eyes. Suiryō nodded.
“I hear a Ruler has finally brought down the fake Ruler.”
“… She was the fake? I suspected it.”
At this period, Kei the country where Hisho was born and grew up, had no Ruler. The previous Ruler abdicated after her short reign, then her younger sister named Joei(舒栄) acceded immediately, but in the palace, their opinion was that she seemed to be a fake.
Originally, a Saiho(宰輔), the prime minister of a country, chooses a Ruler. All Saiho are Kirin(麒麟), and Kirin(麒麟) makes the person take the throne according to the will of God. To be attached to the throne without Kirin(麒麟)’s selection is never allowed and the Ruler without Kirin(麒麟)’s selection is called a fake Ruler.
If Joei(舒栄) was a true Ruler or not. —Only Saiho(宰輔) knew the truth. But he was not here at the moment. His health was bad since before the Ruler Yo(予)’s death, and he returned to Mt.Hō(蓬山) which could be called the mother country of Kirin(麒麟) after the Ruler passed away. While The Saiho(宰輔) was absent, Joei(舒栄) rose up and requested to get in the palace, but they had no way to check whether she was a true Ruler or not. Officials resisted the request after the long argument.
Actually, Hisho did not know particularly about those circumstances. Although Hisho was one of the officials who lived in the palace, his position was not as high as to be involved in affairs of state. To begin with, Ra-shi(羅氏) did not have any power over affairs of state. Though the division Ra-shi(羅氏) belonged to was Kakan, it took charge of the shooting-arrow ceremony which was completely unrelated to an army and a battle. As the shooting-arrow ceremony was held when the state had important guests or celebratory occasions, Ra-shi(羅氏) which received Sekichō-shi’s instruction made Tōshaku for it. Therefore it should not go into his ears, such big problems of state, based on his position and job. It was all high-level decision. Quite literally a talk on clouds, so he could only hear the story as rumors leaked.
They say if a legitimate Ruler with Kirin(麒麟)’s selection gets the throne, the Ruler would bring happy and wonderful events in the depths of the palace. But nothing happened like that. So, high-level officials would have judged she was not a true Ruler. Though Joei(舒栄) requested to get herself in the palace, she was refused and locked out. It was said that angry Joei(舒栄) set camp to the north of Kei, and she raised the voice of impeachment that officials appropriated the palace and did not get her who was the Ruler into there.
“But, I heard the rumor that the Saiho(宰輔) was close to the Ruler.”
The Saiho(宰輔) appeared in Joei(舒栄)’s camp. Such rumor flowed out and the officials lapsed into panic for a short time. If Joei(舒栄) was the true new Ruler, responsibility was imposed on the officials who shut her out. If Joei(舒栄) as a new Ruler came into the palace formally, there were no doubt that they would have had a severe punishment. Some of the officials who lost their confidence escaped the palace, and gathered at Joei(舒栄)’s camp. Suiryō’s predecessor also did so and left the palace.
“I also knew about it. It made most of state governors slide into Joei(舒栄)’s faction, but, probably, it was a mistake. Because they say she was a fake Ruler. We believed in the god and stayed here, and now came the time when our difficulties are rewarded.”
Suiryō said with deep emotions, but did he really have such a deep preparedness at the time? There were rumors suggesting that she was a fake Ruler and the legitimate Ruler was fighting against her. Since the officials shut Joei(舒栄) from the palace, it was very problematic if she was the true Ruler. — This must be the real intension of the high officials who had stayed at the palace.
“― But I heard the new Ruler is a female.”
Suiryō curled his lip.
“A female one is it…? Again?”
“Yeah.” Suiryō showed displeasure. It was reasonable. Kei did not get along with a female Ruler. These three generations, they had incompetent female Rulers.
“Well, the legitimate Ruler who was selected by god is the Ruler whether it is a female or not —Soon, the new Ruler will come into the palace with the Saiho(宰輔). Then, the formal enthronement will ensue immediately. Make urgently the preparations of Taisha(大射).”
Taisha(大射) is a very special shooting-arrow ceremony which is held at the national big festival. The shooting-arrow ceremony consists of the throw of ceramic targets which are likened to birds and the hit of the targets. The target called Tōshaku are ceramic birds. When the Ensha(燕射) is performed at a party, they compete and simply please with the number of successful hits, but, Taisha(大射) is completely different both on the scale and on the purpose. At Taisha(大射), missing the target is very ominous, so the archers must be sure to hit. Of course, the skill of archers is required though, Tōshaku is also made to be hit easily. Tōshaku were crafted with great skill, itself being worthy of admiration, flying in beautiful and complicated manners, and making exquisite sounds when it was broken with an arrow. It even needs to play sweet music by its breaking sounds. He had also made Tōshaku play music in the past. A bird-throwing machine which resembled a hill was made for Tōshaku to be thrown correctly, and only the famous skilled archers were selected. The archer shot down the bird in order, its breaking sound made a tone, then it became music by linking the tones. For it to sound like ancient music by a big band, he arranged 300 archers in lines. Various Tōshaku flew in the royal yard. The flying Tōshaku were hit, which was extended radically like a large flower opening, and sounded like Kei(磬), —a stone percussion instrument, a rich music spinning in the atmosphere. When he corrected pitch, he wasn’t able to give them an aroma, so he prepared 6000 bowls of trifoliate oranges to compensate an insufficient scent. — It was a long time ago.
“Do it again. It will be an anecdote and remain. — Huh?”
Suiryō said and looked up at Hisho’s face as if measuring his reaction.
“You can hardly wait for the chance to put your skill to the test again, can’t you?”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You need not to be modest to me. — This shooting-arrow ceremony will be very first time for the new Ruler. If we show her an excellent ceremony, Her Majesty will be very glad. If Her Majesty is delighted at it, we Kakan will preserve our honor. She might give us not only praising words but a certain prize. If that happens, all Kakan will appreciate it and be proud of you.”
At the moment Hisho got it and giggled in his mind. If like at Ruler Yo(予)’s ceremony he were given some praise words by the new Ruler directly, all Kakan who engaged in it would have a bright future. — He knew that this treatment for him expected to it.
“Well, do you have some plan for obtaining the praises, sir?”
As Hisho asked, Suiryō suddenly shut his lips. He knitted his brow dubiously and tried to see Hisho’s face.
“I need directions to what kind of Tōshaku we should make. Actually, you know that Tōkan(冬官) make Tōshaku, of course.”
Normally, Sekichō-shi plans the next shooting-arrow ceremony. Sekichō-shi thinks about what kind of ceremony is made and orders Ra-shi(羅氏) to prepare Tōshaku. Ra-shi(羅氏) let artisans who belonged to the Tōkan-fu(冬官府) make them. Especially, Ra-shi(羅氏) uses expert artisans called Ra-jin(羅人) who make Tōshaku.
“I heard you would have done it all by yourself.”
“No way. Because they say my predecessor couldn’t distinguish between Taisha(大射) and Ensha(燕射).”
It is true. It was not only his predecessor. ALL Sekichō-shi except the first one Hisho served knew nothing about the ceremony. ‘The Ra-shi(羅氏) in Ra-shi(羅氏)’ does everything, so you needn’t to do anything. This is an easy duty although not juicy. — He thought Suiryō was also said so.
There are two types among the officials, one is self-made men, and the other is appointed by orders from above. Suiryō was the latter certainly.
“If Sekichō-shi were too incapable, I would have no choice but to help him. I think such a thing could be seen, though, sir.”
This bare bitterness gave Suiryō an unpleasant expression, but, he regained immediately a smile on his face.
“I was just nominated as Sekichō-shi. Of course, I understand my duty and I am going to learn urgently, but not enough for this Taisha(大射). I would be sorry if there were a failure for forcing things. It’s safer to leave this to you.”
“I would have been delighted to do so, but unfortunately I feel short on ideas because of my very long service. As a matter of fact, I would have had my position changed or asked for leave soon.”
“No, you can’t…”
Suiryō was confused, murmured and shortly leaned out striking his knee.
“How about the Tōshaku which was praised by Ruler Yo(予)? Is it enough to add a hand and make it showier?”
“You can’t be serious.”
Hisho had a wry smile. Suiryō seemed to be pleased with the Tōshaku, but he might lose his official rank which he had just got, if he had the same praise word from the new Ruler as the one from Ruler Yo(予). He was the happy person who never knew the truth.
“Why? Increasing the number of birds or changing the color ―.”
Hisho bluntly refused by waggling his head.
“Tōshaku is made by Tōshō(冬匠). The Tōshō(冬匠), who had made that Tōshaku, is no longer with us.”
“You can let someone else make the same style one. The notes or the plans regarding it still remained, didn’t they?”
“I don’t know if we could or not. If we have them, I couldn’t tell if the Tōshō(冬匠) we have now could make the same one, and, we have little time, sir.”
After receiving Tenchoku(天勅) at Mt.Hō(蓬山) and acceding to the throne formally, the Taisha(大射) would be held during one month or so according to past experience.
“It is Ra-shi(羅氏)’s business that you let them make decent Tōshaku.”
Finally, Suiryō made clear his discomfort with Hisho.
“We have to hold a good shooting-arrow ceremony in front of the new Ruler. You must show the splendid Tōshaku that pleases the new Ruler.”