Volume 8, Chapter 15: The Man Called Gyoku’ou

Rikuson’s pen glided across the parchment. How many shorthand cursive signatures has it been? Occasionally, he would compare it against the first signature he wrote to check whether its shape has changed.

As he only ever affixed seals when he was in the capital, his hand had never been this tired.  Shaking his wrist now and then, he checked over the documents.

“Rikuson-sama. This one please.”

A civil official brought over the new documents. This particular official has dropped by a total of five times, and owing to his near-flawless accent, seemed to hail from the Kaou province. His earlobes were large–a shape that invites good fortune. As if he frequently carried loads on his right side, his right shoulder was slanted downwards.

“Thank you. Then, these ones.”

“Certainly.”

The documents passed onto him could be described as odd jobs. What the lord of this region deems as odd jobs, at least.

The majority of Seii Province’s population is concentrated within the towns alongside the trade route that links the east with the west.

The odd jobs, as they were called here, were appeals from residents of lands isolated from these trade routes. Rather than towns, were they closer to villages or settlements? Most of these communities pastured livestock or cultivated dried goods such as grape. These odd jobs were requests for building waterways for irrigation, concerns over night burglars frequently stealing livestock, things like that.

“Hahaha.”

He laughed despite himself. The civil official glanced at Rikuson warily on his way out.

Has it been over half a year since he was summoned to the western capital from the imperial capital? Rikuson had come here officially on the grounds that they wanted a person who understood the government of the capital, but he was only ever given odd jobs. Was his workload increasing be what has changed since the beginning?

“They don’t seem to trust me,” Rikuson spoke to himself in the office that he was provided.

Moving around his right hand which was on its way to wrist strain, he checked the documents.

After looking over the bulky paperwork every single day, even Rikuson could recognise a pattern. Besides remembering people’s faces, he wanted to believe he had some sort of special skill.

“I give proper reports though.”

Gyoku’ou was the one who allocated the work. If he doesn’t report what he noticed, there was a chance that once something careless happens, he would get his tail cut.

Is that why they intentionally sent for me? Rikuson had his suspicions.

Gyoku’ou. The current, temporary lord of the western capital. Being the eldest son, if Gyoku’en didn’t return from the central region, he was next in line.

“Excuse me.”

Once again, the next civil official brought in documents. This time, it wasn’t an addition to the workload, but the return of the documents Rikuson had addressed to his superior. Rikuson had only met him twice, as the civil official worked directly under Gyoku’ou. The first time was when Rikuson travelled to the west last year, and the second when he passed by the civil official on his way to greet Gyoku’ou.

“I’m returning this.”

There was nothing written on the documents. Not even a signature or a seal.

“This means it failed to get approved, yes?” Rikuson said.

“Yes. Certainly it might be necessary, but there is more important work. He said to prioritise.”

The civil official spoke plainly.

As the corners of Rikuson’s lips rose, he placed the returned document in the drawer.

“And one more thing,” the official said.

“What is it?”

“A summon from Gyoku’ou-sama. Not right now, but how about a tea party once official duties end in the afternoon?”

It was phrased as a question, but Rikuson had no way of turning it down.

“Certainly. Is it okay if I visit the gazebo in the courtyard before the afternoon bell?”

“Yes.”

The civil official left with a cool expression.

It was where Gyoku’ou always held his tea parties. It was an oasis of sorts, a location cooler than everywhere else. Rikuson was well aware of this as insect repellent incense is lit from the morning before the tea party is held.

The man called Gyoku’ou isn’t incompetent. As the child of an influential man, he was well-educated. Perhaps due to the influence of Gyoku’en who was once a merchant, even Rikuson was well-aware of Gyoku’ou’s passion to try develop the western capital.

His eyes were unchanged from his youth, possessing aspirations akin to ambition.

Perhaps for that reason, Rikuson as far as sensed a danger from them.

“…is this also under my jurisdiction?”

Rikuson secluded himself in the office often, so his conversations with people had deceased. Developing a habit of muttering to himself was inevitable.

“I want to talk to people more often.”

His special skill of remembering people’s faces was also a hobby of his. As he can not forget a face he has seen before, he tires of seeing the same faces all the time.

Before him was a bill for accessories such as silk and jewels. Being a trading post, the price was no doubt less than that of the capital, but still, the order of magnitude was different. It wasn’t hard to guess what it was for.

When Rikuson first arrived in the west, he had walked past a woman. Around fifteen or sixteen years old, a girl whose aura resembled Empress Gyokuyou’s.

When he asked the official who guided him around, he was told she is Gyoku’ou’s daughter.

There’s no resemblance though, the official had whispered, but it might have been wise to say nothing more.

“He truly is ambitions.”

Rikuson’s lips quirked up and he glided the pen again.

.

.

.

Aside from his tanned complexion, the gentleman with thick black hair bore characteristics rarely seen among the western population. Although he has deep-set features, his appearance was quintessentially Rii; straight hair, a relatively round face, and a physique more slender than the average western capital citizen.

Speaking of whom, before Rikuson sat the man called Gyoku’ou.

He was past his forties, but looked ten years younger amongst the residents of the western capital with their beer bellies. His white teeth when he smiled cheerfully gave a favourable impression.

Upon seeing the long double tooth, Rikuson quietly looked away.

“Thank you very much for the invitation.” Rikuson slowly bowed his head.

“No, no need for that. Please sit,” Gyoku’ou said.

A manservant pulled out a rattan chair. As he sat down, fruit juice was placed on the table.

“Would tea be better?”

“No, I’d crave something sweet whilst doing civil official work,” Rikuson answered.

Was it chilled by underground water? There was condensation on the glass container.

“Don’t be so stiff. Do you think I have something to hide?”

“Hahaha. It’s the nerves.” Smiling, Rikuson swallowed a mouthful of fruit juice. “I can’t relax, knowing I was dispatched from the royal capital for a position above my station. You must be disappointed.”

“Hahaha. Father’s personnel selection can’t be wrong. More importantly, you worked under that Rakan-dono, so there’s no way you’re incompetent.”

Rakan-dono, is it?

Rikuson put down the glass cup. Colourful fruit juices were served in the middle of the table.

“By the way.” Gyoku’ou stood up and turned around. Rikuson saw that the man was facing a group of merchants.

“Is there anyone you recognise in this group?”

“…there are three. Two are from the caravans that visit the capital every year. And other worked in the centre of the sea trade route.”

A manservant approached and set down some writing utensils before Rikuson. Rikuson wrote down their names and passed it over. “I can only remember the names of two people. The rest are faces I’m seeing for the first time.”

“All right. We’ll confirm those.”

Were they checking for suspicious characters, or were they just testing Rikuson’s special skill?

The civil official came back a short while later and whispered into Gyoku’ou’s ear.

“Hm.” Gyoku’ou stroked his beard, as if satisfied with the answer. “As expected of you. All correct.”

“…I just happened to remember them.” Rikuson slowly lowered his head, in a show of modesty.

“How mysterious. How can you remember people’s faces, even though there are some dozens or some hundred in a day? Are you a blood relation of the Ra Clan from the capital, the one rumoured to possess unusual abilities? Is this why you serve Rakan-dono?”

“H-how can that be?” Rikuson smiled for the first time that day. Rather, this might be the most interesting conversation he’s had since coming to the western capital.

Thinking he is related by blood to the Rakan, how can that be–it was more amusing than any travelling jester’s one-liner.

“Members of that clan are aberrant. In my case, let’s see. Would it be something like a habit?” Rikuson said.

“A habit?” Gyoku’ou implored.

“Yes. My mother taught me to never to forget a person’s face.”

“That reminds me, you said that you were from a family of merchants.”

“Yes, forgetting a customer’s face would beget obstacles in business. Think of it as a life or death situation, my mother had said.”    

As if his nerves had been allayed by laughing, Rikuson spoke at length.

“What a strict mother you have.”

“Yes.” Rikuson drank the fruit juice like he was inhaling it. Tactician-sama would like what I’m drinking too, he thought, when Gyoku’ou said something surprising.

“Would Rakan-dono also be pleased with this taste?”

“Are you aware that Rakan-sama can’t drink?”

“It is well-known.”

Rikuson also knew that it was well-known. After that person passes through, it was as if a typhoon had stormed through.

“When he comes to the western capital, let’s include this in the fruit juice we prepare.”

“When he comes to the western capital?” Rikuson repeated despite himself. He started to sweat.

“Oh, you’re on guard again. That’s right. Are you hearing this for the first time? I’ll tell you some good news.”

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Rather, Gyoku’ou was speaking as though this was the main topic.

“Rakan-dono will be coming to the western capital. For some reason, the imperial brother will also be coming along.”

He declared it like the imperial clan was a bonus.

The lifting of Rikuson’s lips was perfunctory, as he sighed deeply in his heart.


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- my thoughts:
I swear when Rakan arrives, he's gonna burn down the western capital. And Gyoku'ou's gonna be in for a huge surprise lmao (unless that's what's he's going for, then hmm......)
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