Basen was walking down a corridor. Despite the humidity of the season, this building was connected to the middle court and had good ventilation. The presence of swaying willow trees brought about a refreshing coolness.
Along the way, the stone flooring of the corridor changed to timber. When Basen walked there, he won’t make any sound with his footsteps. However, if his concentration were to stray for even a moment, the floorboards will creak. A flaw that normally shouldn’t be in a place where nobles come and go.
It was purposely made to sound like this. The sound was designed to travel to the office inside.
Basen muted his footsteps since he knew about that. This too was, in a certain meaning, training. If he were to carelessly make a sound, his father Gaoshun would drop a fist on him later. His father, being an outstanding personage talented in both the literary and military arts, lived apart from Basen ever since he was young. That was for the sake of being a bodyguard to Basen’s milk sibling, the gentleman whose real name he cannot possibly utter. Basen had always wanted to be like his father one day.
Currently, he was being the imperial brother’s bodyguard in his father’s stead. Basen has an older sister and an older brother, but as he was chosen instead of his brother, he worked eagerly and with bewilderment.
And so, he was currently heading to his workplace.
At the turn of the corridor, he witnessed a flock similar to little swallows. Young maidens – court ladies who work in the imperial court. Those noisy maidens were sneaking around the front of Basen’s master’s office.
He knew their intentions. Their ulterior motive was to take a peek at the imperial brother even from the gap of the window.
How unfortunate, Basen thought.
Even if there is a gap in the window, it was properly sealed up from the inside. It was constructed so that sounds and voices won’t leak from the room. The room soon got stuffy with the bad ventilation, but for that case, they opened a window close to the ceiling.
The noisy sparrow girls made no signs of noticing Basen. It was probable that the only things in their heads was the gentleman with the outstanding appearance, influence and status on the other side of the wall.
It was Basen who got troubled by that.
Basen was bad with dealing with these type of women.
Rather than bad at dealing with them, it was actually that he didn’t want to approach them.
However, he has business there.
Basen reluctantly stood behind the noisy court ladies and purposely cleared his throat. The maidens ignored him. He cleared his throat again, louder this time.
The maidens who were clinging to the window turned around. He saw their faces twist terribly. However, that was momentary, as their expressions changed to flowery smiles.
“Basen-sama. Pleasant day to you.”
It would be better if he pressed them about why they were here, but Basen still wasn’t used to doing that.
“Well then, excuse us.”
The court ladies hurriedly left, all smiles.
“….” He tried to reach out with his hand, but he was already too late.
Despite being twenty years of age, Basen was bad at dealing with the beings called women. He was indeed bad at dealing with the creatures that were much like those women from before.
That pharmacy maiden his master is interested in was more preferable. For better or worse, that person isn’t a woman. She is classified as a woman in terms of gender, but the person herself doesn’t use it as a weapon and seems to take gender differences like you would class an animal.
That’s why he is fine with her.
Women who use their gender as a weapon – he was bad with those types.
And speaking of why he’s like this, it was none other than the fact Basen has people who are like that in his family.
In other words, from watching his mother and older sister, he became bad at dealing with them.
Basen calmed himself, braced his expression, and entered the office.
When he bowed and entered the room, there was a strange scene.
His master was surrounded by a mountain of books. Those books should be the usual documents regarding work, but the things he was reading right now was something different.
Novels have recently appeared on the market in the capital. It was originally popular in the inner palace, reading novels, but it too spread out to the streets. It seems palace ladies who learnt writing in the inner palace had spread it when they returned to town at the end of their service.
There is a trend that saw novels as foolish creative works, but readers were not in small numbers nonetheless.
Basen got quite a shock to see that his master was also one of those people.
And moreover, the things he was reading were in the so-called romance novel genre.
No, it can’t be, only for this person, it can’t be.
Basen shook his head.
Even with that scar on his cheek, there exists no man who is more beautiful than his master in this country. He is a person whose radiance won’t pale even when faced with the flowers of the inner palace.
Moreover, he won’t read such a thing during work, Basen thought.
The spread of novels was encouraged in the centre of the inner palace by his master to raise literacy. The books currently in his hand would have to be reference books for that purpose. The contents seem to be about what palace ladies like.
Even though you are overworking, to think that you are still thinking about the inner palace, Basen squeezed a fist.
“I’ve returned, Jinshi-sama.”
He doesn’t need to use this name anymore, Basen thought. However, he couldn’t utter the imperial brother’s name and his master had also taken a liking to this name, so people close to him were using it.
His master, Jinshi, slowly raised his face. The wrinkles on his brows that were just like what was often on his father, Gaoshun.
Basen presented him the note he was carrying in his breast pocket. The note was addressed to Basen; the sender was the pharmacist who lives in the pleasure district.
Most times, when in haste, it goes to Gaoshun. However, those who know that it is addressed to Jinshi would have no reason to not pass it to him swiftly.
Jinshi took the note. There were small things slipped inside it. They look like some seeds, but they didn’t seem to pose any danger so Basen passed them over as is.
Jinshi read the letter, then studied the seeds.
“Is there anything written about them?” Basen ended up asking involuntary. Most of the things that pharmacist did were crazy. Was it the same this time?
“They seem to be tobacco seeds. Unfortunately, she didn’t write about the cultivation method.”
“On the topic of tobacco, they currently only appear in visitor goods.”
It was unknown if they could cultivate them properly with a few seeds. There was a high possibility the pharmacist had sent it to them in anticipation of that. It was like she was reporting to them that she had gotten her hands on the seeds, but growing them will be a separate fee.
Whether it be that pharmacist or the madam in the brothel, the pleasure district is full of misers, Basen thought.
“If there comes the possibility of cultivating tobacco, we can obtain it for a much cheaper price than now, is that it?”
If we produce it cheaply within the country, we can apply a high tax on it as a luxury good – could that be her intention?
“It seems to have an effect in exterminating insects.”
“However, we won’t make it in time if we start growing them now.”
So was that why the letter came to Basen instead of Gaoshun?
“It seems it is also okay to put tobacco cinders in insecticide.”
That would have been something insignificant. But, it was better than nothing.
And even if there is no locust plague this year, there’s no knowing if they will come next year or the year after.
So for that reason, there would be the idea that it will be better to know the uses of tobacco.
“She’s really shrewd.” Jinshi’s lips drew a gentle arc as he talked smack of her.
After putting the letter and seeds in the letterbox, Jinshi’s expression returned to normal.
His expression was extremely serious, but there were romance novels on his desk.
When Basen dropped his gaze onto that, Jinshi gave a complicated look. “Basen, I want to ask you one thing.”
“What is it?”
It was unusual that his master was asking Basen like this. What could it be about?
“I want to defeat just them – do you have someone where you think that?”
It’s quite vague. If put that way, he can both say that there is and that there isn’t.
He was told since he was at a young age from study, that this thing was self-judged. For that reason, he was taught a long time ago that the person he wanted to defeat would be his past self. Jinshi was also the same; in other words, he had learnt martial arts from Gaoshun. And yet, he said something like this after all this time.
Gaoshun had told Basen that Jinshi was more outstanding than him. About that, Basen had understood it very well. He knew that he was inexperienced; that’s also why he made transgressions.
Himself aside, if Jinshi came to such a point, it would have to be an opponent that he really couldn’t ignore, right?
Basen gulped. “Jinshi-sama, is the opponent such a master?”
“You can say that. Like a willow tree, it’s like when you press your arms onto a curtain, no matter how many times you hit it, there’s no indication of resistance.”
Between Basen and Jinshi, theory aside, if you look at it from the practical side, Jinshi was much more skilled. If that opponent could parry such a Jinshi, what kind of warrior were they?
At least, was there such a personage in the imperial court right now?
Basen didn’t know, but somebody might be a master.
Basen squeezed his fists.
He thought they were milk-siblings. He thought that even if they have a difference in social status, even if they have the relationship of master and follower, the closest subordinate to Jinshi, save Gaoshun, would be Basen.
By knowing that Jinshi has such an opponent that he hadn’t known about, he felt terribly resentful.
He was ashamed that he hadn’t been aware of it.
“…I may be presumptuous, but is my being your training partner, insufficient?”
Jinshi’s eyes widened at Basen’s offer. “That… would be unfeasible for you.”
In response to Jinshi who turned away somewhat awkwardly, Basen felt his entire body burn.
“Of course, I think that I am not as trusted by Jinshi-sama as my father. However, am I that unreliable a person that you would arbitrarily decide that from the start?”
“Basen…., if you have to say that much.” Jinshi slowly got up and stood before Basen. Basen was three sun shorter than Jinshi. It wasn’t that he is short; Jinshi is tall. Since he gets mistaken for a female with that, Basen could only think that the making of Jinshi’s appearance was granted by the heavens.
“Can you stoop down a little?”
“Like this?” He bent his body to Jinshi’s instructions. With this, the height difference was now closer to one shaku.
“Okay, face up just like that.”
It was quite a strenuous posture, but he faced up.
And then, Jinshi’s face slowly inched closer.
With an excessively perfect face descending upon him, he got befuddled but returned to sanity.
Inadvertently, he interrupted the face that was closing in with his hands.
“What are you doing?”
“That’s what I want to say. Just what are you doing?” Basen had retaliated in his confusion, so he gave it his all.
However, Jinshi looked strangely understanding. “Certainly, she gave such a reaction. As expected.”
“U-uh. What are you talking about?” With his shoulders pinned while his body was bent over, Basen was totally flustered. Could this be a stance that he didn’t know about? No, then what was the reason his face was getting closer?
“This might be surprisingly useful.”
“Ummm, really, what are you talking about?”
At the incomprehensible Jinshi who was taking a strange stance, Basen couldn’t dodge it with his hard to move posture. It was a defensive battle where he couldn’t use strength all the way.
And so, before he knew it, he was cornered to the wall.
“You can no longer escape. And yet, she still slips away.”
“…uh, ummm, Jinshi-sama, Jinshi-sama–!” His chin was lifted; his face could only turn red.
When he made a face of panic, lost on how to retaliate, the entrance to the office opened as if they had timed for that moment.
The number of people who can walk the corridor without making a sound was limited, so of course, the person who showed up was someone Basen knew very well.
“…I didn’t see anything.”
After saying that, Gaoshun closed the door with a click.