Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)
Seijō no Ran — 青条の蘭
(The Blue Orchids)
Translated by o6asan
Beyond the dim light, Hyōchū finds a fire. The fire, which an old man keeps by himself, is greatly made in a small place. It’s surrounded by a difference in level by the hillside cut and evergreen bushes at the foot of the hill.
Finally, he can manage to come through the wasteland. He has reached the foot of the mountain which he saw before the snowstorm beginning.
“―What a surprise! Did you come through this wasteland?”
The surprised old man asks to Hyōchū and Hyōchū nods to him while staggering over to the fire and sitting by it.
To cut the road side slope made the difference, on which there are thick evergreen shrubs that block the wind. The place is small, but at the center there is a rockwork has charred black spot, and there, the fire is made now. Two shabby cabins line up at the back of the place. One of them probably has a kitchen range because of smoke from a chimney on the roof. The cabin is maybe a store to serve hot water for travelers. So the fire is not free. He have to pay for firewood fee.
“So relieved when I see the fire.”
Hyōchū says and draws out his purse. But the old man who has called to Hyōchū waves his hand.
“Don’t mind. I cannot accept money on a day like the weather.”
The old man tells Hyōchū that he doesn’t take money on a day of life and death. For travelers he makes a fire instead of lighthouses, then gives warmness and hot water. In some cases he also lends a bed. His other cabin is short and narrow, and only has roof and posts and a tent is pitched inside. It has no floor but people can sleep with crouching there and it defends them from freezing death.
“I decide to take money from people that stop here for ease. Anyway, make yourself warm. Give me your stone.”
The old man says and Hyōchū appreciates his words and gives him the stone. The old man puts it into the fire and his old wife brings a bamboo pipe with full of hot water.
“Did you come from Yosen not San’yō? I’m very surprised you could come through the wasteland.”
She says with shocked eyes. “I’m used to it.” Hyōchū replies while warming his hands on the bamboo pipe.
His job is to travel over fields and mountains. Even in bad weathers he is accustomed to walk pathless roads by helps of wind directions and a compass. For this travel he’s thought it is good that he’s familiar with these things.
“How is the road conditions to San’yō from here?”
The old woman shows a confused face for his asking.
“It is better compared with to here, though…very hard to walk. Because both sides of the road are beech forests, which don’t block wind well.”
Hyōchū has felt intimidated by the words of her.
“Near the cabins my husband and I planted the trees that block wind, so the wind is getting a little milder here, but.”
“Recently…I sometimes see trees that are discolouring in forests. Have you seen them?”
Hyōchū asks and the old woman replies. “Yes, I have.”
And her husband nods and answers.
“They become white as if decoloring. Are they dying?”
“They haven’t died, yet?”
“I don’t see the dead beeches. I hear of a lot of fallen beeches in the northern area. I also hear about the high price of decoloring beeches.”
The old man says so and laughs.
“So, I hope a few fallen beeches around here.”
“You are silly.” His wife laughs breathly. “Apparently, when a fallen beech is found, officials come very soon these days. They plan selling it off by themselves. We will get a sharp reproach from them if selling the beech off by ourselves.”
Her husband grimaces.
“Yeah, they are very fast in such cases only. We have some landslides in the mountain paths ahead. When we walk, it is not really dangerous. But when we ride horses or drive wagons, we have the biggest difficulty. We’re demanded to restore the places, but they’ve shown no intention of work.”
His wife nods and sighs.
“They would have their eyes on our business if we repeatedly-press.”
The old couple lived in a village of the wasteland. But banks collapsed and rivers overflowed, which destroyed their roka and farmland. Then they couldn’t get enough to eat, besides they had no places and people they asked for help on. Even before the flood, Rifu and village home were not working already. After the banks collapsing, most of village families broke up and the village almost had no residents. Though they were towards other villages reluctantly, people in anywhere used to severe against the others from different villages.
“They can’t afford to support strangers. And I hear the more people the more Yōma.”
Hyōchū just nods in silence. Yōma are said to take good aim at places people gather. On the other hand, they say Yōma overlook villages with a small population, but it’s not true. His elder brother, who was making a bare living with his family to feed in Seiin, was attacked by Yōma at his hamlet. All of his family were killed.―Just after Hyōchū started looking for the medicine.
“We would get on the wrong side of them even if we begged eagerly and received permission to live there. So we built the cabins and lived here.”
They provide small amount of food, and hot water in winter or cold water in summer. They also offer the cabin to travellers who cannot arrive before the gate closing. They are managing to get by on the incomes, a field around the cabins and charcoal they make in the mountain. About all of them they have no permission from any government offices. The very offices aren’t working normally, so their business is overlooked. But they can get kicked out if they persecute officials with claim.
“Well…is staying here really alright? I hear the people have mountains collapsing and beasts attacking, who live in the areas where beeches died.”
Hyōchū says so but the old couple laugh in unison.
“It would be nothing to do with beeches.”
Hyōchū holds his tongue.―This is the common people’s reaction. Even if officials like him give them such advices, the people keep living in their old places near mountains. Because they have no other choices. They have no other places they can live in and they have no other way they earn income if they leave from their land. His younger sister was in the same situation. His elder brother, too. Also people in his hometown, Seiin, are the same. Nevertheless the only effective workaround they have now is to leave dangerous areas.
“But another hope is here.” he thinks and clasps the boxy knapsack unshouldered.
The only salvation is in it.
It was the year after the death of Hyōchū’s sister and others, in other words the fourth year after starting looking for the medicine, that they got their first glimpse of a ray of hope which Hōkō brought.
“No doubt, this is the medicine.”
Hōkō said. Hyōchū and others still could not find the method of the seedling cultivation by that time. Each time Hōkō gathered countless numbers of the seedlings that were dead, and studied methods of halting the beech epidemic. He finally confirmed it halted the disease by beech roots took up the liquid, which made from the boiled down the seedling leaves and diluted with water.
“If we can halt the disease progression at the roots, we can save the beeches by trimming dead branches from healthy parts. To save mountains is possible as long as we are able to increase the seedlings.”
This was a bad news as well as a good news. Because they still could not succeed the key part which was to raise the seedlings. Yaboku continued to bear a relentless number of ranka of the seedlings as if appealing to them that the seedlings were the only hope for salvation. They frequently saw the clumps here and there. Though the number of clumps was large, they never had the amount enough to save sick trees. They had to make the seedlings proliferate by themselves after having the seedlings take root, bloom, and fruit. Otherwise the speed of their treatment would not surpass the speed of the disease invasion.
They finally found a way out the next year, and saw the first flowers, which was in the spring of the following year.
The flower petals were pure blue color. The flowers resembled orchids’. A bell-shape center and a neck of the petal, which was slightly rolled back, were greenish white, but a head of the petal was colored in beautiful blue. The flower itself looks like Hakujō used for medicines. The differences from Hakujō are leaves slightly thicker and pure blue petals. Hōkō named it Seijō after the flower.
The shape of Seijō is very similar to Hakujō, but its nature is quite different. Hakujō likes sunlight and soil with abundant water and grows up such as banks of mountain streams, but Seijō doesn’t like direct sunlight. Besides, it grows upon trees. Soil have to be removed from its seedlings as soon as possible and the seedlings have to be put trees on. They don’t like young trees. They require old trees more than one hundred years old and like the trees like beeches whose bark hardly peeled off.
This is the medicine for beeches, so it is natural it likes beeches. Though Kyōkei blamed himself why he hadn’t found it much earlier, it was not totally unnoticed by Hyōchū and others. They already tested soil of beech forests. They knew that beech roots emit toxin. They tried the leaf mold of beech roots again and again because they thought the seedlings might like the toxin. For nursery bed, they sometimes mixed soil and cutting roots themselves and at other times made compost from roots to rot, which brought better results than in other cases. However, Hakujō likes the soil with rich water, which prevented them from the idea of putting the seedlings on trees.
But the result finally rewarded them after many years of struggles. The efficacy had already been identified by Hōkō. And the branches of beech with Seijō are never affected by the disease.
At the same time, they found the plant, Seijō, does not increases easily. It can bear fruits if flowering and it increases by the seeds, but its seedling is very difficult. It doesn’t like all parts of beech bark. It can settle such places only, the places bring up moss and mold and have moldered soil, which are a knot made by broken branch, crotch of branches or wounded branches. Besides, it drops with the soil if soil falls from trees before its taking a root into the branch even after settling.
It was too late to wait increasing naturally. At the time, the beech forests in the northern areas of Stare Kei were collapsing and disappearing in abnormal speed.
‘How can we increase them?’―When they were thinking and worrying about how, they suddenly had a good news in early summer.
New Ruler to the throne.
Finally, they could have a Ruler again.
“We can increase them by this.”
Hōkō’s eyes beamed with joy.
“We should make the Ruler pray for it. The Ruler prays to Roboku for Seijō, and all village trees over the country bear fruits the next year. And we only need to tell people how to produce them.”
If only wanting to get the medicine, they can make the seedlings take roots to beeches that they cut down from healthy parts and decayed. This method cannot keep the plants until they bear flowers and fruits but can increase them, so the people can get the medicine.
Hyōchū and his company were very pleased. However, the situation was by no means an easy job―.
Hyōchū, who slips into thought, might look being depressed. The old couple might be worried that he feels flat because they didn’t accept his advice. They sit around the fire and say in a soothing tone.
“Well…we will watch the mountains.”
Said the old man and his wife nods.
“Yes, we will. Because we have no neighbors for help.”
The old man shakes his head in wry smile.
“We have neither kith nor kin. If we cannot live here anymore―well, we go to somewhere like villages. Recently, the situation is different from when our village was destroyed. People accept strangers than they used to be.”
Hyōchū nods. The new Ruler took the throne and people are delighted their lives will become better. Actually their current lives are not improved still now, but they have a little bit room to breathe than they used to be because of the hope for the new Ruler.
“Soon it will be better…I’m sure.”
The old man murmurs himself. At least, disasters are decreased. Unfortunately today is a snowstorm, however, it is natural at this place in this season. During Rulers’ absence, unexpected disasters happened. The banks collapsed was one of them. The downstream had unbelievable heavy rain rather than the upstream, which made the river flow backward.
“We live here and watch the road until then.”
The old man’s tone is calm. In spite of their misfortune they are satisfied with modest peace, which really gives a pain in his chest. Hyōchū knows this is to throw a blanket on them and feels really sorry, but he says.
“But, beeches falling is bad omens. Mountains collapse, beasts hit villages, bears attack houses or mice come.”
The old woman smiles him.
“Yes, we have mice. It means we have more harvest by grace of the new Ruler. Good signs. We didn’t have even a mouse before.”
Hyōchū does not have words more than that. It is difficult the people unrelated to mountains understand the mechanism of mountains. Hyōchū and his company talked to people many times, but the people generally laughed. Even if they seriously listened to, they did not arrive at a shared sense of crisis. It is very difficult that people understand important but non-urgent issue all the more because they get a hope with the new Ruler now. The new Ruler to the throne possibly makes the situation be worse than before.
While thinking so, Hyōchū receives the stone from the old man. He pockets it and rises up. The old couple look strangely at him.
“What’s with you?”
“No way! Are you still going ahead?”
The old man panics and tries to stop him.
“Don’t do that. It is impossible today. You’d better stay our cabin, which is terrible, though.”
“I have to go.”
Hyōchū thanks the two.
“Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.―I say this out of kindness. If you see the turbid water from slopes, watch and prepare an escape. Because it can be a sign of landslides.”
“Especially the season of thaw.” adds so and Hyōchū begins to walk with dragging sore foot. Though the two follows and tries to stop him for a while, he shakes them and heads out to the mountain path. After getting out of a small enclosed square in front of the cabins, the wind is blowing and loud around there. Fortunately, the snow is entered a lull. He has the road ahead with better visibility now.
―Watch them. Disasters have just started.
Muttering in his gut, his hands clench the bands of the boxy knapsack.