Volume 7, Chapter 18: Harbinger

Trouble arrives without warning.

Jinshi saw the signs, so it was within expectations.  But its actual arrival was disconcerting nonetheless.

As to what happened exactly…

“We were under attack from the nomadic tribe of the north.”

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There are the odd minor skirmishes, but nothing beyond that. Those usually resolve by themselves.

“It appears they were after the wheat,” Baryou said, summarising the detailed report for Jinshi.

“…thought so.” Jinshi answered while resting his chin on his hands. He did so as only Baryou and Maamei were in the room with him. If Gaoshun were here, he’d probably be frowning.

Even now, Maamei was briskly sorting documents. The brother and sister pair were truly hard workers. Basen, their other sibling, was out training at the military grounds right now. He was holding an unarmed, one-on-one sparring session, one that ended only when he lost. The unsociable Basen didn’t have an abundance of sparring partners, but Jinshi was a little envious of that too.

Nomads are also human. They consume vegetables and grains, not just goat milk and meat products. As they don’t own fields, they often trade furs and meat in exchange for other foodstuffs in town. It wasn’t unusual for the trading to take place in the town on the national border, but—

“This tribe is normally located further up north.”

Many guards were posted in the north, but even so, it seems they only captured a small number of enemy stragglers.

Rather than a sudden attack, it seemed they had tried to purchase supplies from another town. However, they only owned Hoku’aren currency and with communications issues due to the language barrier, negotiations had broken down.

“They don’t understand our language?” Jinshi asked.

“Seems like it. Apparently, their accents were so thick it was hard to follow what they were saying, so interrogation of those captured took too much effort.”

His head hurt.

From the information they managed to gather so far, the nomads normally bought grain from somewhere else. However, they weren’t able to this time, so they went to a different town, but failed to acquire it in the end. Did they attack the farms because they couldn’t return empty-handed?

“Hoku’aren is keeping a tight rein on their supplies, right?”

“Yes. I believe that’s more or less the case.”

It’s not as if Rii enjoyed a good harvest this year either, but only regions with locust damage were struggling to provide products for sale. Taking into account harvest from other regions, they should still be able to make up for the shortage.

“Any news of the sweet potato produce?”

“If I recall correctly, Rahan-dono sent over the documents.”

Maamei passed over the paperwork without a moment’s delay.

The capable woman worked as if it were her second-nature.

“For the most part, the amount of harvest is within expectations.”

“Is that so.” Having prepared himself for the worst case scenario of there being no harvest, Jinshi was relieved. Following that, there were issues related to the preservation, processing and transportation of the crop, but it’s probably safe to leave that with Rahan. Despite his idiosyncrasies, he’s a capable person once you understand his nature. Jinshi felt that he had left too many tasks to the other man recently, so he mustn’t give him anymore.

There’s no problem with leaving work to those you trust, but doing so in excess only leads to bothersome matters.

He was meant to understand that, but–.

It was the moment he placed the document down on the table.

The door was flung wide open.

“JINSHI-SAMA!”

“BASEN!” Maamei raged at Basen’s sudden entrance. However, Basen was out of breath as he stood before Jinshi’s desk. He was in training clothes, so Jinshi assumed he had come straight from the training grounds.

“What’s wrong? That was much too brazen.” Out of consideration for Maamei who had gone red in the face, Jinshi also reprimanded him a little. However, no matter how quick-tempered Basen was, there must be a reason why he was in such a hurry.

“There were signs of a break-in at Ah Duo’s estate.”

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“What?” Jinshi’s brows rose in shock. “I haven’t heard anything.”

“Yes. It’s also my first time hearing of it…. B-by chance.”

Basen was out of breath, so Jinshi looked at Maamei. Although she was angry at her younger brother, the capable court lady passed Basen some water.

Basen drained the bowl of water in one gulp and wiped the side of his mouth. “I happened to hear about it by chance. Around ten days ago, what appears to be a burglar had broken into Ah Duo-sama’s palace, leaving behind a fire during their escape.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I questioned them. They were keeping it under wraps as a secret, but I overheard it when they suddenly spoke of it among themselves.” Basen clenched his fist. Although they had suddenly let it slip, they won’t be speaking about it in detail. Could he have used force to make them spit it out?

The crime of burglary, no, could it be that they choose Ah Duo’s palace on purpose? It used to be the emperor’s villa. Even if it was outside the imperial court, many guards were present.

If it were a burglary, it’d be much easier to go for a wealthy merchant’s house.

Moreover, there were the surviving children of the Shi Clan, Suirei–the previous emperor’s grandchild–and the western priestess.

“….” Jinshi belatedly reflected that they were overly reliant on her.

Ah Duo is a smart, trustworthy individual. However, they still shouldn’t have relied on her to such an extent.

“…after this, we’ll head to Ah Duo-dono’s place,” Jinshi said.

“What shall we provide as the subject matter?” Maamei prepared a wooden slip and a brush. As paper increased in quality, use of wooden slips had decreased significantly, but there were those who take it upon themselves to use it. In Maamei’s case, she used it often, appearing to like scented woods.

“…write that I want to play a game of Go.”

Ah Duo seemed like the type to snap up an invitation to falconry over board games, but it was also too late at night.

“Jinshi-sama.”

“You’re still here, Basen?” Jinshi said with a hint of distaste.

“Please bring me along too!”

“…no.”

“WHY!?”

Basen was indignant, but it didn’t mean that Jinshi hadn’t considered it. And Maamei and Baryou, who were present, understood what their younger brother wanted to do.

“Didn’t you force them to tell you about Ah Duo-sama? Did you do it somewhere outside of the public eye?”

As Maamei’s pressed him, Basen shuddered. Basen was weak to women in general, but was even weaker to his mother and sister in particular.

“I, I led them to the back.”

“You didn’t check your surroundings properly, right? And what’s with your outfit? I don’t know if you were in the middle of training or what, but you stink. You got that? You. Stink. If you walk into the office soaked in sweat and oil, what will people think? They’d be suspicious, right? Even children know, even monkeys know,  so is your brain the same as a monkey’s?”

“….” Basen’s face twisted miserably.

Baryou watched in pity through the gap in his partition.

The women of the Ma Clan are extremely strong.

“You’ve already been exposed. Being covert is impossible for you. That’s why Jinshi-sama also used Go as an excuse to visit Ah Duo-sama.”

“I, I know.”

“You don’t! Come on, go outside. You stink. Uwah, did you eat garlic today? My nose just clogged up.” She covered her nose with her sleeve.

Scary.

She was probably still holding back since Jinshi was there, but she was scary regardless.

Although Baryou felt sorry for Basen, he understood that he would lose even if he spoke up. He could only watch intently through the gap.

“If you don’t do something about that stench, you won’t be popular with women. You’ll be hated.”

“…hated!”

It was a crushing blow for Basen.

“Eh, what? That reaction. Could it be that you have someone you like? Oh my, really. Do tell big sister.” Maamei’s eyes glittered.

Though she has two children, she is still only twenty-two. Since she found a good match, she married at sixteen, but that didn’t mean she was opposed to this line of conversation.

“Wh-what are you saying? W-we’re in front of Jinshi-sama.” Basen panicked.

That has the opposite effect, Jinshi thought.

Maamei nudged Basen around with her elbow.

Indeed, the conversation won’t progress at this rate.

“Maamei, leave it at that. That’s right. While we’re at it, shall we bring some pastries along? Go check if Suiren can prepare those baked pastries,” Jinshi said.

“Yes.” Maamei had a messenger take the wooden slip and headed for the palace Suiren was in.

Basen sighed deeply.

“…so, who is it?”

“Jinshi-sama too,” Basen said quite dejectedly, so Jinshi laughed without meaning to.

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