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Seijō no Ran #6

Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)

Seijō no Ran — 青条の蘭
(The Blue Orchids)

By Ono Fuyumi — 小野不由美

Translated by o6asan

prologue chap.1 chap.2 chap.3 chap.4 chap.5 chap.6 chap.7 chap.8 epilogue

6

   It is snowing mixed with the biting wind.
   It’s slightly better than when he was walking through the plain, but he still has the strong wind on the road in the mountain. Even he has the stone that was just warmed in his breast pocket, the blowing wind makes his heat loss mercilessly. The snow is letting up but not stopping. He has the new snow which is soft and makes his foot sink. Besides, a rise in the road. Trying to pull his feet out from the snow, he stoops naturally. The strong wind piles on after that. He can’t breath if raising the face and opening the eyes, and he has dry eyes with pain. Then, he cannot see what there is ahead when stooping like that. He almost strays from the right path again and again when walking with the strong wind pushes his back. Each time, he comes back to the right path quickly.
   ―It’s lucky there is no cliff.
   There are beech forests which dropped leaves on the both sides of the mountain road. He cannot know how much beeches have the disease because they are covered with snow.
   After earnestly climbing the meander road, he reaches the place where the road ahead split in two. One is narrow and up, and the other is broad and down.
   ―Finally I’ve got over the peak.
   When he tries to step forward on the road after taking a deep breath, he hears someone call him from behind. “Yoo-hoo!” that he hears and looks back, then he finds a human figure who is shouting and climbing fiercely the snowy road.
   “Hey mister! It is wrong. Don’t go over there!”
   When the figure is approaching, Hyōchū recognizes it is the old man who was the owner of the cabin at the foot. He’s been surprised and the old man runs to him.
   “I’m glad I got you in time. Don’t go over there. That is after the road collapsed.”
   The old man tells breathlessly it’s quite obvious if they have long sight or the ground not covered with snow.
   “But now, the snow. I was afraid of your taking a wrong way.”
   “So, were you chasing me all the way?”
   Hyōchū took the road without listening the words that stopped him. So the old man prepared hastily and was chasing quickly.
   “Well…I’m sorry.”
   The old man laughs for Hyōchū’s apologizing.
   “Well, it’s OK. You walk fast. I think you are used to walk mountains.”
   Then the old man takes and walks to the narrow and up road.
   “We already come up here, so going ahead is easier than coming back. When we go down a little, we will reach San’yō that is at the foot.”
   He is thankful for having a company, but feels too sorry about the old man. The old man looks back Hyōchū who still stays there with a bit of confusion.
   “It easier for me to go to San’yō than to come back home. Don’t mind, I stay at San’yō tonight and buy something to need. And then I’ll come back home.”
   “Thank you so much…I really appreciate your help.”
   Hyōchū gives the old man a low bow and follows him.
   These things make the knapsack on his back heavier. In it just the log with Seijō. It’s just such a thing, but something that owes everything.
   The inn boy who worried about Hyōchū, the inn owner who is the guardian of the boy, and the old couple who makes a fire for travelers like Hyōchū. His horse he had overtaxed, and Hōkō, Kyōkei and the lower officials who were looking for the medicine without rest during six years.
   Especially, Hyōchū is deeply grateful for Kyōkei. For Hyōchū, Hōkō and his lower officials this is the trouble of their own country. But Kyōkei is a Ryōboku-shi. Ryōboku-shi is one of Fumin that don’t belong to any countries, so he has no obligations to countries. He could have dropped from sight after he said he didn’t want these trouble.
   Only once, Hyōchū talked with him about where he was born.
   It was the night that they made a toast to their success of first rooting Seijō. At a hut of the field in the beech forest near by the office, Hōkō and his lower officials who passed out drunk laid over one another. Only Hyōchū and Kyōkei still sat up, and kept sipping the remaining drink. Even if he takes a look back, he thinks it was the only time he chatted with Kyōkei.
   “I was born in . ―However, I remember nothing about that country.”
   “Did you and your parents flee the country?”
   Kyōkei only said “Maybe.”
   Just around Kyōkei was born, the country should have been devastated because of coup d’état. Hyōchū told him they perhaps couldn’t have stayed in the country because of it. But Kyōkei looked like not knowing his own history in details. Or he might not want to talk about it even if he knew. Anyway, his parents left for Kyō before Kyōkei could remember and at the place they sold him, who was a only four-year-old kid, to a master of Ryōboku-shi and disappeared from his sight.
   “Well…You had hard time.”
   Hyōchū said and Kyōkei gave back his smile.
   “I don’t remember anything. ―Well, my parents would have had hard time.”
   “Do you hold a grudge against your parents?”
   “To blame my parents has no meanings. If I have a grudge against something, it is maybe reasonable to hold it against devastated.”
   “Yes, you’re right.” Hyōchū murmured.
   Thereafter, Kyōkei spent his life as a member of Ryōboku-shi by travelling all over the world.
   “Then, you are a master and on your own now. Right?”
   “I have no pupils, so I’m not a master. Just I had a permission that my master let me live independently.”
   “But are you a master someday?”
   “I don’t know.” Kyōkei said dryly.
   “Because I parted my ways with a group.”
   He said that a Ryōboku-shi being independent of his master usually acts in concert with a group made of his same generation. But, in order to help Hōkō, he stayed at the State Kei and parted from his group that was travelling all over the world.
   “You mean you aren’t able to return to Ryōboku-shi?”
   Hyōchū asked in surprise and Kyōkei gave a wry grin.
   “You will think we let ourselves have our own way. But in fact, we have our own rules. I broke them. For the person like me…it’s difficult to return to the old position.”
   Hyōchū did not know that he made such a big sacrifice.
   “Why did you lend us a hand in spite of the sacrifice?”
   “It is very painful to watch mountains destroyed.”
   “I assumed that you would hate officials.”
   “I don’t know enough about officials to lump them together. Of course, I have a common prejudice that they are too busy lining their own pocket and make efforts to save themselves. But I don’t have such a small mind that I decide prematurely all of them are the same before I know enough about them.”
   “I see.” Hyōchū had a wry smile.
   “Everywhere bad people exist, and so good people do. Hōkō is a prime example. Ryōboku-shi like us owe him many things. He’s an expert about mountains. His ability is beyond ours.”
   “Yes, Hōkō is a mountains’ gift-child.”
   Hyōchū laughed and so did Kyōkei.
   “You’re right. ―He knows where he should go and what kind of grace he can obtain there. He knows everything about yaboku where they are and what nature they have. He also knows everything about danger of mountains. Besides, he provids all of his knowledge to outsiders like us.”
   The place they first met was in mountains. When Kyōkei and his fellows were climbing a mountain, they met Hōkō who was coming down. While shutting their eyes they almost passed Hōkō, he called to them. He asked whether they were woodcutters, but Kyōkei and his fellows did not answer. Hōkō maybe got the message of silence and thought loud “Ryōboku-shi”. Then he told them that yaboku on a ridge ahead had a lot of fruits. He also warned them that on the way there they would encounter a wasps’ nests on a slope.
   “Wasps making nests in the ground are rough by nature. They might attack by just approached, and we get serious if having stings. In some cases the person dies. He flagged near the nests, so we could easily avoid them. Honestly, the information was extremely useful.”
   They had a lot of the opposite experience. For the officials that work at mountains or the local woodcutters, Ryōboku-shi mean thieves that steal the land’s bounty. They walk across the public places as if they own there despite they are just Fumin. But Ryōboku-shi have rare crops and medicines, so people allow their existence reluctantly.
   But, Hōkō treated Kyōkei and his fellows as if the people like himself who lived in the mountains. He gave them a variety of information whenever they met and answered everything whatever they asked. Added to which, he arranged the place as a refuge when they had bad weathers.
   “I had the care from his family at his parents’ home in Seiin. Whenever I come by near his home, I make a visit to it. I am always in for a treat.”
   “I see.”
   Hyōchū thought Hōkō was the man for that. He was proud of his friend.
   “Seiin has a large beech forest on the slope just behind it. I cannot overlook it.”
   “Thank you. ―I thank you earnestly.”
   Hyōchū bowed his head and Kyōkei said “Don’t do it” and looked aside.
   Hyōchū thought, he maybe didn’t have a sense of crisis about this situation, which compared to Hōkō’s. Hōkō’s mental horizon is wide. He was purely concerned the mountains were going to die. He must have been anxious about the mountains and the future of the people who lived there. Probably, Hōkō thought the people as a part of the mountains. But Hyōchū’s mental horizon is limited. He had a large fear of the collapse of the beech forest in Seiin. If that slope failed, it would swallow the village. If beasts were unable to live in the mountains, they would attack the village. These things would bring crop shortages to the village. The shortages would afflict and kill the villagers. He suffered from these imagine. So, he thinks it would be so good if other villages don’t fall into the same condition. The other villages have villagers and the villagers have the people who are concerned with about them. He must stop this epidemic disease for the people who live there and for the people who are concerned about those people.
   Each time people give him their good will, he feels the weight of his responsibility is heavier and heavier.
   “―Mister, why are you hurry so much?”
   The old man suddenly asks, which recalls to Hyōchū’s surroundings. While freezing some air out of their lungs, the old man and he are walking next to each other on the mountain road.
   “I have a thing that I should deliver absolutely in a hurry.”
   “I see.” the old man says and makes a sudden stop. Hyōchū stops, too. Their ahead, a large tree lies over sideways and blocks the road.
   “It was done by this wind? ―But the direction of falling down of the tree is strange.”
   The old man says and compares the tree with the mountain. Hyōchū can tell just by looking. The tree is a beech. It changed into a stone and died. It was broken from its root.
   “We must inform this to people in San’yō. Under this circumstances they cannot use wagons.”
   The tree is not so thick, so the people can step over it when they walk, but they could not drive wagons.
   While stepping over it, the old man asks him.
   “Is this what you said?”
   Hyōchū just nods.
   “This tree is in strange dead. Does such a tree really fetch a high price?”
   “Yeah, I heard a rumor.”
   “Good.” the old man laughs lightly.
   “My acquaintance in San’yō and I will cut down it before officials know about it. ―Do you tell…”
   Hyōchū guesses his meaning and nods.
   “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
   “Thanks.” The old man laughs again, “I guess this is brought by the new Ruler taking the throne. Previously, all Nature gives us was disasters.”
   Hyōchū doesn’t answer. Actually, he thought so at the first time. He was grateful for the new Ruler taking the throne, just like the old man. At that time, he really expected the strange beech disease might finish.
   But Hōkō said, “It can never happen. This is not a disaster that happened for there was no Ruler to the throne. Therefore, the situation doesn’t change if the new Ruler took the throne.”
   Like he said, the disease never finished, though other disasters ended as soon as the new Ruler took the throne.
   And that the situation was more complicated.
   Under normal circumstances, each national public official should have visit the Royal Palace to have an audience with the new Ruler. But petty officials like Hyōchū had an instruction that said they need not come to the palace. Higher officials probably thought that they didn’t want to put the petty officials, who were transferred to the countryside, up to speak at the Capital. The higher officials were in great fear because they might lose their current status due to the new Ruler taking the throne. The negligence for duties and tyranny were for a long time, and then, unfair behaviors for the entrenchment began to increase for granted after the new Ruler taking the throne. Officials who cling to current status, win promotion at the expense of the colleagues on this occasion, and officials who thought the reform of the national government is unavoidable and gathered their own property before their status lost.
   The conditions of the country did not have an improvement. It was getting worse rather than before despite the new Ruler to the throne.
   At that time, Hyōchū and others finally had the medicine. They had the new Ruler, too. So, they could have saved beech forests by the Ruler’s pray. Hyōchū reported this with great expectation to his superiors. But he had no response.
   Hyōchū thought they might not have comprehended the significance of his reports. He sent the written report with details of the matter, the danger of beeches falling, and the disasters that already appeared. And about the medicine that already existed at the local office of the prefecture Sekka. They must give this to the Ruler and make His Majesty pray to Roboku.
   But he had no response from the national government again. ―He doesn’t have any responses still now despite four months later from the new Ruler to the throne.
   He would have carried the medicine to the capital if not having any responses. But this was very difficult. Seijō grow on old beeches. Once it settles on a beech and takes a root into the bark, it cannot be transplanted anymore. If separated from the beech, it dies immediately. If it likes a young beech, he would carry it with the whole tree digged up. But it needs an old one which is over 100 years old, so he cannot carry it with the whole tree. Of course he can cut the part of the beech where it settles, but it will die when the log dies.
   Hyōchū should have at least a nimble riding animal. But his mount was just a horse, Agen, then, he asked the superiors to send a receiver or to give a good mount, but he heard absolutely nothing from them. Hyōchū felt like running away. He had no role in his turn despite Hōkō and Kyōkei gave all of their time and energy for making the medicine.
   “Why? what’s going on?” Hōkō and his company asked, but Hyōchū was unable to answer. Hōkō and his company were disappointed deeply because of hoping that their many years’ hard work would have paid off.
   “I demand that answer again and again, though. The reports could be delayed by someone or in somewhere…”
   Do they consider his report is unworthy because he is a titular Sekijin? Or couldn’t they comprehend the danger he appealed about in the reports? Or might someone who have some speculation have shelved?
   “…Sorry.”
   To Hyōchū’s apology Hōkō and his company returned sighs.
   “I didn’t expect a lot about them.”
   Kyōkei spat out in a low voice. His insulting tone stabbed Hyōchū’s chest.
   He thought he deserved to be despised. After all, he is a Sekijin. Originally, his duty is to gather fruits of yaboku and to offer them to the country, so he reported these things for being faithful to his duty. Nevertheless, his reports were not taken seriously at all, which is abnormal.
   These days, the above things are ordinary in this country.
   People’s voice is ignored, and the action to seek relief is shelved at all. Officials think of only to keep their position, neglect the people and the country, and use them only for exploiting. Especially, after the new Ruler to the throne, officials have been driven by anxiety that is how long their own position will last, therefore they have intensified this trend. The people hold the officials, who wouldn’t consider the country, in disesteem. ―In fact, in certain people or some location the people take a hostile view of them. Therefore, Hyōchū hides his official ribbon in his baggage. He cannot travel while hanging it. Recently, he has been unable to do.
   He thinks this attitude can’t be helped. Yosen, which locates in the key point of the road. Why does the city like such size have empty streets? On the snow day, dispite it was the freezing weather, there were no smoke trails from the chimneys on roofs. Why? The answer is simple. ―Because there were no people.
   The city had population enough to keep going itself in the past. But now it is empty. It’s evidence that a lot of human lives had been lost.
   Houses that lost inhabitants go into the devastation deeply, and roads that changed into the wild passes have weeds and snowdrifts everywhere. The town walls are broken and the gate leans. The plain surrounding the town has no decent farmland and hamlets. Even the village home cannot be maintained, there is nothing to administer the people. All lies upon national public officials like Hyōchū. They siphon taxes off the people that make a bare living, grab all of them, and return nothing to the people. It’s normal for the people to blame officials and it’s OK for the people to throw stones at them. Hyōchū thinks they can’t help it.
   Therefore Hyōchū pledges he must go.
   Seijō that he is carrying on his back. Carry this to the palace. ―Take it to the new Ruler. Before Seijō dies.

prologue chap.1 chap.2 chap.3 chap.4 chap.5 chap.6 chap.7 chap.8 epilogue