Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)
Seijō no Ran — 青条の蘭
(The Blue Orchids)
Translated by o6asan
Following the line of a rolling hill, he finds a low mountain lying ahead. The road exceeds the mountain and leads to San’yō, the largest city in the vicinity.
Though the road near Yosen still has boulevard trees, the trees disappear around the place where Hyōchū finds the mountain lying ahead. Probably, people cut them down to help their living or some disasters downed them. The road aims straight to the mountain and flat and vast desolate fields hold the road between themselves. This might be the wasteland that the lord of the inn said.
After he recognizes this conditions, the sky is getting darker and darker and the snow is really blowing harder and harder. In the wasteland without a single tree, the wind blows with a rumbling of the ground.
Soon he cannot see even short distance, let alone the mountain. His visibility is poor and he cannot look straight ahead by heavy slanting snow. He falls into such deep snowdrifts again and again, which cannot exist on the main road, and he finally finds out himself to swerve away from the road. Each time he struggles to find traces and can return to the road but the snow is piling up deeper and deeper. It is the problem until when he can have a feeling that differentiates the road from the other.
He would be able to run through it before the snowstorm coming if he had a horse. Or he would be able to wait the wind stop while letting the horse warm himself even if the snowstorm attacking. However, Hyōchū lost his horse at the place where he entered the State Ji out of the State Kei. Because he had been overtaxing its strength.
Agen, his horse, fell down when they arrived at a city at last. He wanted to care for it but did not have much time left. He had no other way to leave it along with the money to people of the inn. What was going on with his horse? What is with his horse? Dead or sold off to somewhere? He thinks to sacrifice himself is natural because he had overtaxed his horse so that it fell down. However…
He thinks it would be impossible as expected.
To make up one’s mind is always easy, but to carry out one’s project is not so easy.
Hyōchū is almost suffocating with the strong wind and remembers they had the same situation at that time. To decide to find out the medicine plant was easy. However when they actually started moving, they found themselves to know nothing about how and what they were looking for.
They ordered several local governments to collect unfamiliar plants growing under yaboku but they didn’t know the plants had what kind of nature until the plants grew up. They didn’t know it was medicative or not. But if medicative, how could they extract medicine from the plant? Decoct, powder, or dry? What part have medicinal effect, leaves, roots or fruits? The conclusion about all things they could not have in a brief space of time, and first they did not know the convenient-medicinal plants that would exist or not.
They began all with fumbling, anyway, they collected everything, which was huge amount of plants sent from all sides, to the Hōkō’s office in the prefecture Sekka, the State Kei. And Hōkō and his people grew the plants and checked them to have medicinal effects or not. Hyōchū visited all sides and packed up, and sent them to Hōkō. He took every chance to stop Sekka over, asked the progress, but had bad answers. It was legitimate because all things were nebulous in the first place.
A year passed with experiencing a great deal of difficulty. When he stopped Hōkō’s office over in the prefecture Sekka, Hōkō introduced a man to him and told him the man to help look for the medicinal plants.
“He is Kyōkei who is Ryōboku-shi.”
The man was introduced was mid-40’s. He was a complexionless and skinny man. He wore dark and hostile atmosphere.
Hyōchū muttered in his heart. Ryōboku-shi is one of Fumin that does not belong to any country. They move place to place, look for useful fruits from yaboku and grow the plants and make their living by them. They are like Sekijin, so Hyōchū saw a lot of Ryōboku-shi. However, Sekijin like Hyōchū and Ryōboku-shi are competing roles. From the standpoint of Sekijin, it is a trouble that people occupy the fruitful yaboku on their own and it is unacceptable that Fumin monopolize the profits that they gain from the yaboku because Fumin don’t even belong to the country. Ryōboku-shi also hate Sekijin because they know it. It’s a matter of course because Sekijin eliminate them and try to interfere their living. Frankly speaking, they are opposing groups.
Kyōkei probably thought the same thing, so his attitudes against Hyōchū was cold.
“Kyōkei told me we’d better thoroughly look for the plant in the State Kei.”
Not noticing bad chemistry between Hyōchū and Kyōkei, Hōkō said so.
“State Kei? Why?”
The person answered to Hyōchū’s question, that was Kyōkei.
“That is the natural dispensation”
Hyōchū cocked his head to the side. Hōkō said.
“As far as I know, the disease began somewhere in the State Kei. Seiin might not be the first place. But the disease began somewhere in the northern part of the State Kei. Kyōkei agrees with me and he was around the country.”
‘Yes, about this point I agree with you.’ Hyōchū nodded inwardly.
“So to speak, the God gave this disease to Kei. Then, we can find the medicine in the State Kei.”
“Do you simplify the matter too much? Does it go that good of our way?”
Kyōkei answered Hyōchū’s question.
Though Hyōchū said “But…”, he was interrupted by Kyōkei.
“This disease is completely different from any other plagues. It is clearly abnormal. This is beyond Nature.”
Hyōchū had the same feel about this, so he nodded.
“Of course, trees get diseases. But this discoloring disease is fundamentally different from any other plagues. It is like a fundamental difference between bears and Yōma.”
“Well…I can understand it.”
“This disease is Yōma that attack only beeches. It doesn’t belong to the human world. If so, the God should give us something to combat. We can hunt the disease just like we can hunt Yōma. If we have no way to hunt it, the God gives it to us. Yaboku surely bear the medicine, which is clear.”
Kyōkei said so and indicated a map of the State Kei on the wall.
“It began from northern areas. so, yaboku bear the medicine in the areas.”
“But how can we find out if it is medicinal or not?”
“I said it’s the natural dispensation. When we are looking for under yaboku, if we find a lot of a plant, that is the plant. The plant we can find a large amount of under the particular yaboku or the plant we can find under yaboku at all sides.”
Kyōkei said the plant was never alone. The plant is surely found in clumps. Basically, it cannot clump under yaboku. If possible, it won’t be much. The clumps that exceed the limit are maybe the medicine.
“The God is going to give us the medicine. If you keep this in mind, you can find the plant.”
The moment the words were out of Kyōkei’s mouth, Hōkō raised his voice. The voice brought a scene to Hyōchū. They made the sounds at the same time.
“That must be it.”
Hyōchū and Hōkō looked at each other and nodded each other. Since starting to look for the medicine, there was a grass that was commonly found under yaboku. The grass looked like an orchid and usually made up clumps. Moreover, it was found in the limited areas lay on the northern mountains of the State Kei.
Kyōkei saw the seedlings that lined in the room.
“None of them. It’s not here. We cannot bring it back.”
Hyōchū nodded, too.
“We first found it about three years ago. At that time, we saw that beeches with discoloration started here and there. Do you know the plant Hakujō used for a medicine, which looks like an orchid? The plant that looks like it, which we found as clumps under yaboku, but strangely they never spread out of the yaboku area. Instead all of them die down when we visit them again. We’ve tried to collect and bring them back several times, but we’ve never succeeded to grow them because they die immediately.”
Kyōkei grabbed his baggage.
“Where? Are they near here?”
“Last month, we found them under yaboku in the mountain about a day walk from here.”
Hōkō answered and Hyōchū and others made preparations in a hurry, and headed to the yaboku in the mountain. The grass had disappeared all when they reached, but they finally found a new clump under another yaboku in a vicinity mountain about three months search.
They were in clumps and had thin and small leaves with lush. They saw them again and again in various places. Hyōchū had them hang over his head because of seeing them too much. He thought the God had sent a signal to him and others many times.
They branched out and collected all the young seedlings. Kyōkei told Hyōchū the way Ryōboku-shi do things. Hyōchū had dug soil around the plant and had replanted them with the soil in bowls, but Ryōboku-shi had nursery beds that were made of water moss and wrapped the plant in moss after dropping soil. The ranka sent by the God had no choice, so it grew at the place where it tumbled out of the yaboku, but sometimes the soil of the place didn’t fit for it. So, once Ryōboku-shi dropped its soil and carried it with clean root. After that, they planted the seedlings one by one in dedicated beds which did not include the superfluous and waited to take root. How to make the nursery bed was one of Ryōboku-shi’s secret.
They collected the seedlings under the instruction and brought back them to the office of the prefecture Sekka. When they reached the office and unpacked the baggage, all of the seedlings almost died in just one day. Even if they replanted the seedlings that had survived barely to the nursery bed, they were lost in three days. All the seedlings obtained died and disappeared.
Since then, their life was a battle.
Hyōchū went to the mountains again and again and looked for the yaboku. When he found the clumps, he notified it the office. Then Kyōkei and Hōkō came rushing over to him. How to carry the seedlings was a disastrous struggle for Kyōkei. The plans for how to dig the seedings, the tools and the methods, he tried every conceivable means. In most cases, Hōkō stayed at the place and was observing the seedlings under the yaboku all day. They were also looking for methods to transplant. They mobilized lower officials and tried all soils and conditions. To carry the seedlings to the office brought no progress, so they set tents up and stayed near the yaboku.
Just like that they spent two years. During such two years, they could not grow the seedlings, and they killed and killed huge amount of the seedlings. At the same time the seedlings more than they killed appeared under yaboku here and there. The God relentlessly continued to send the seedlings. Hyōchū and others became convinced this was the plant they were looking for.
While they threw a lot of God gifts up, the numerous beeches changed their color in the mountains. Big trees fell down here and there in beech forests, which made eerie blanks. In conjunction with this, small landslides occurred in many places, and mice increased. Starving animals came down near human dwellings.
In such situations, Hyōchū lost his younger sister and her husband and son.
―In the year, nuts that grow in the mountains were generally poor harvests. And at the end of the autumn, in other words at the beginning of the serious winter, a starving bear attacked the hamlet. When it goes into the freeze-up season, people come back to the village from the hamlet. The bear killed most of the residents who had stayed at the hamlet to get the last harvest before the severe season. His sister’s body lost her lower half. Her husband’s lost his arm and half of his head. And the remains of his young nephew could not be found at all. His shoes piled up his blood in were the only things left at the entrance of the house. The villagers who noticed the accident found this devastation, then hunted in the mountains for three days and killed the bear. But, perhaps, it was also unfortunate for the bear.
―I could expect this disaster.
He told them to be careful. He also asked all offices concerned to prepare against disasters. But, he failed.
Powerlessness of his own that could not help them. He became a national public official, his home villagers were delighted to it, and called him a village’s honor. But, in fact, Hyōchū couldn’t do anything. He could not take part in the running of the country and could not do anything for the sick country. He was Sekijin but he could not achieve just only his own duty―that is to get the medicine from yaboku. Hyōchū had been sending food to his hometown to redeem his sin but he could not save all people of the village by it, let alone he was not able to save the starving people who were everywhere in the country. On the contrary, his mother wrote him to stop sending food after the death of his sister and others. If only Seiin gained, people who lived in other places hated them. When people in other places knew the hamlet of Seiin was attacked by the bear, they said “That’s what they get”. A dingy national public official had been guarding his hometown through nepotism, so the attack against the hamlet of Seiin was the God punishment for it. They said so.
It was natural that his act was called nepotism. Because it was true.
In his mind―he would have wanted to send food to all people near his village, that is people in the prefecture Sekka, people in the State Kei. Actually not only for them, but also for all over the country. But Hyōchū was a national public official in name only. He was hired in small wages like an underling. His income would not satisfy all of their appetite.
“So, I think, at the very least.”
Hyōchū read the letter from his mother and murmured. In front of him, the nursery beds were lined with the seedlings that all died.
“Be patient…We have no choice in this times.”
Hōkō said so in a melancholy tone. His mother fell sick around that time. Starving weakens a human body further. Hōkō himself sometimes looked like sending nutritious food secretly, but his low income as a local public official could not send enough food. And it went into the freeze-up season. In the season the villager had hardly enough to eat, so he really appreciated the food Hyōchū sent.
“Never be ashamed.”
Surprisingly it was Kyōkei that was comfort Hyōchū.
“If you save people in Seiin at least, survivors won’t go to zero. If the people in Seiin need not to buy wheat, people in other towns can share more amount of wheat.”
Kyōkei and Hyōchū were looking for the medicine together for two years, but some kind of groove still existed between them. Hyōchū was deeply grateful to Kyōkei who was looking for the medicine very hard, but he could not get with Kyōkei because of the ill-feeling made from the first bad impression. On the other hand, Kyōkei was basically the silent type and didn’t say pointless thing, so he couldn’t figure out from Kyōkei’s attitude if their relationship coming close or stepping away.
“If the people in other place think your act is nepotism, they won’t change their thought even if you stop sending food. Continue to send.”
“Do you think so?”
Hyōchū asked and Kyōkei nodded.
“In the first place, the official that does not want to save his hometown won’t save the other people. The others will understand it someday.”
He was pleased to Kyōkei’s words because Kyōkei shouldn’t give a favor to Sekijin. He nodded to Kyōkei, and then, he increased the food for his hometown after discussing with the Ryosho.
Even after that, they continued to speak insultingly about Seiin, but since the village home of Seiin accepted the elderly, the sick who can’t move and orphans, they became just to abuse Seiin. That should probably be to say happy. At this time, many officials supplied their hometown with goods but the hometown often had attacks because of the goods targeted. There were some enviable towns that were set fire to because of preferential treatment.
The troubled country can bring the most miserable to the people.
―Hyōchū has been stuck into a snowdrift at several times and crawls out of it, and gets his breath in the snow. The snow is falling and falling and almost reaches to shin-deep. The melted snow penetrates in his shoes and his cold feet ache as if torn off.
He says himself ‘No problem’. Fortunately or not Hyōchū is Sen. So, he rarely gets frostbite. If gets, his feet seldom freeze and won’t rot off easily. The pain is an evidence that the blood is still flowing.
He stretches his squeaky back and raises his face. The snow comes blowing mercilessly. The snow closes his visibility, and like lots of layers of off-white curtain it blocks his ahead.
He asks himself if he is doing right or not. He takes out a compass from his inside pocket and checks it. When he begins to walk again, he finds a dim light beyond the layers of off-white curtain.