THE TWELVE KINGDOMS (aren't mine)
Title: Discussion, with Tea
Characters: Youko/Rakushun, some original.
Summary: Rakushun gives a history lesson, with tangents
Notes: An attempt to explore what Youko would be like a capable ruler, since the anime has a lot of testimonials, not a lot of evidence.
"Minister Hanshukun criticized my relief plan for the southern provinces at the strategy meeting today."
"Yes, he mentioned someone called Ran-ou," Youko said.
"Hmm," Rakushun said. Coming from anyone else, it would only have been an indication of polite interest, but Rakushun could make even noncommital noises sound like deliberate, reasoned thoughts. Youko smiled. She's been right to ask him to tea.
She and Rakushun were seated in the smallest room of the imperial apartments, a private tea room with thick green carpeting. Like all of the rooms designed for Youko's personal use, there were no windows except for skylights, generations of architects having conspired to hide Her Glorious Imperial Self away in the heart of the palace. Youko was determined to remodel as soon as the kingdom of Kei could comfortably support the expense. Tradition was all very well and good, but she didn't like the enforced distance between herself and her court.
And, she privately admitted, few more windows wouldn't hurt either.
Until that time – and it might be a very long time before Kei was prosperous enough – she preferred this room to any of the others. The walls had been painted with an abstract leaf pattern, and the ceiling was retractable. When thrown open to the sky as it currenly was, the lavishly decorated room was transformed into a simple forest meadow. Rakushun had also confessed to liking the room, although it had taken her a long time to get him to say so.
"Rakushun? Who is Ran-ou?" Youko asked.
“...mmm? He was the emperor of Kei a thousand years ago. His reign ended very badly.”
Youko waved this detail away. “They all end badly,” she said. “I want to know why one of my ministers would mention him.”
“You’ll have to tell me what the discussion was about before I can tell you that,” he said. Was that a twinkle in his eye?
Clink. A young girl with tightly bound hair set the tea service between them. Kneeling, she began to remove the lids from pots, dishes, and small sauce containers. Her eyes were on the empty space to the left of the low table, while her mouth formed silent syllables.
Her mind was obviously somewhere else. Youko waved her away. “It’s fine, I’ll do it.”
The girl focused abruptly. “But Highness, for you to pour your own tea is…”
“Unheard of. I know.” Youko looked her over, consideringly. The girl blushed and looked down, her hands working the edges of her sleeves. After a moment, Youko said, “You have another job to do, don’t you? I heard there was a minor crisis concerning our guest from Kou this morning – something about the wrong color robes. Why don’t you see to that.”
“If I find myself unable to pour my own tea, I’m sure my guest will be happy to do it for me. Isn’t that right, Rakushun?”
Rakushun fought back a smile, glad his rat’s face made such expressions difficult to determine. “Right.”
“There, you see? Go on. I’m sure your fellow servants need you much more than I do.”
The girl bowed – not a full bow, but a sincere one. “Thank you, your Grace,” she said, with feeling.
“Good. Here, take these two dishes while you’re at it. We won’t be needing them.”
Youko turned back to the table. Shifting her weight forward onto her knees, she picked up the tea in her right hand and a cup in her left. She began to pour, the motion business-like. “We were discussing the dangers of preferential treatment. Councilor Herbert believes the grain shipments to be sent South, being so much in excess of what is to be sent North, might be construed as favoritism. He advises me to govern more even-handedly --why are you smiling at me like that?”
Rakushun quickly brought up one hand to cover his mouth, pretending to clear his throat. “It’s nothing," he said.
"Rakushun. Really, what is it."
"I was just admiring your way with the serving girl just now." Rakushun admitted. "It wasn't so long ago that you wouldn't have known what to do with a servant pouring your tea, nevermind felt that you could give her different orders."
Youko’s mouth twisted wryly. “That was hardly a state of affairs I could afford to continue. The ministers were laughing at me. And I suppose it’s true what they say -- human beings can adapt to anything.” She offered the cup to Rakushun. He accepted, but refused to allow her to pour her own tea.
“No, let me. So having servants doesn’t seem strange to you anymore?”
“Only when I stop to think about it.”
They paused to drink. Youko followed Rakushun’s gaze up, to the clouds passing by overhead. From the shadows she could see that the sun was just beyond the eastern wall. In less than an hour it would be directly overhead -- so it was around eleven, then, as she'd used to reckon time.
Here, of course, things were different. Youko contemplated the differences through most of one cup of tea. It was a peaceful day, and she was in no hurry.
Eventually Rakushun gathered his thoughts and began, “Ran-ou is the posthumous name of Emperor Shingeki. He ruled Kei a thousand years ago, and he was a duran, which is very rare.”
“One of two children born from the same fruit. The parent plucks the fruit, and…” Rakushun pantomimed the process, putting his paws together and then allowing them to fall apart. He wiggled the fingers on both, his rat’s face taking on a comically alarmed expression as he glanced from one to the other. Youko laughed, and Rakushun wrinkled his nose at her.
“So it’s like finding an egg with more than one yolk.”
Youko poured herself another cup of tea. “I’ve always wondered about that. Why are there eggs in this world, when birds are born from Yaboku trees like all the other animals?”
“What do eggs have to do with birds being born?” Rakushun looked genuinely confused.
Youko explained, “In my world birds are born from eggs, in the same way that babies come from a woman’s stomach. But in this world, eggs don’t serve any purpose.”
“Excuse me, but I disagree. Eggs do have a purpose. Didn’t you have an omlet for breakfast this morning?”
Rakushun nodded. “A more religious person would say that Tentei gave everything in this world a purpose, but I think it is just that we find uses for everything in this world.”
Youko drew up one knee to place an elbow on, her head in her hand. “So eggs exist to be eaten. I suppose that makes sense. And why shouldn’t there be eggs? After all, men and women in this world still…” Youko cleared her throat and fumbled with her cup. Rakushun watched curiously until she recovered.
“But anyway, back to Ran-ou. So he was a twin? I mean, a duran?”
“Twin, is that what you call it in Hourai? I’m not sure how it is in your world, but in this world there is usually one duran who is more successful. He does better in school, he is more popular, that sort of thing.”
“Yes, that’s true in Hourai as well. So that was Shingeki?”
“No, that was his brother Shungatsu. Shingeki was said to be the secondary brother. Together they were co-captains of the Sixth Division, and no one who’d known them before his ascension understood why the Kei Taiho chose Shingeki as Emperor over his brother, least of all Shingeki himself. At least, this is what I have heard. You should ask someone else; I may have heard wrong.”
Youko rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you heard just fine. So there was trouble?”
Rakushun shook his head. “Not for many years. Shungatsu was very supportive of his brother. The problem was that they did everything together. It is said that Shungatsu did not consciously dominate his brother, but that when they were together, he naturally assumed leadership, just as he always had. Neither of them could help it.”
“And the ministers didn’t like it.” Youko shook her head. “This story is beginning to sound familiar.”
“Yes, exactly right. The ministers called the situation improper, quoting the proverb 'Tentei’s rule is ‘one king, one kingdom.' They were persistant and eventually convinced Shingeki that Tentei would become angry if he continued to rule in conjunction with his brother.” Rakushan shook his head again. “This might be why there have not been any other duran rulers. It is a shame, really – with Shingeki and Shungetsu, the kingdom received two capable rulers instead of one. Perhaps if the ministers had not gotten involved…”
“You can say that because you don’t believe in Tentei,” Youko reminded him. “What happened next?”
“Shingeki was convinced that the best course of action would be to separate himself from Shungetsu. He made his brother the provincial minister of Len, the southernmost province and the furthest one from the capital. The previous minister of Len was, to put it mildly, displeased.”
“I can imagine.”
Rakushun nodded. “And to make matters worse, Shungetsu continued to dominate Shingeki, even from so far away. But now it was worse, because Shungetsu’s requests were for things that would only benefit his own province. With such consistent imperial favor, it wasn't long before Len became the richest of all the provinces. Of course, the other provinces were far from impoverished. Still, the ministers grumbled.
"Eventually they conspired to overthrow the Emperor and his brother, who they termed ‘the false second Emperor.’ I have heard the struggle was long and bitter. Shungetsu defended his brother to the last, and he had more money and more soldiers than any of the other provincial lords. The fighting is said to have lasted many years, and to have ended only with the death of the Kei Taiho.”
“From shitsudo, of course,” Youko said. She snorted. “I felt bad for Shingeki, but I don’t feel bad for him anymore.”
“There was no excuse for his actions. He had to have known what his favoritism was doing to his kingdom. And when the war started, the last thing he ought to have done was rely on his brother’s protection. That was what lead to problems in the first place. No, as much as I hate to admit it, in this case the ministers were correct. Shingeki had obviously gone astray.”
Rakushun poured himself the last of the tea, and then lifted the cup to his mouth with both paws. Over the rim, he asked, “And are the ministers correct this time as well?”
Youko's right hand moved unconsciously to her shoulder where, Rakushun knew, the Ceremonial Sword of Kei was worn. It was the closest thing she had to a crown. She wasn’t wearing it now, of course.
“No,” Youko said, baldly. “The situations aren’t even remotely alike. I am giving more relief to the southern provinces because Youma continue to attack from across the Kou border. They need more relief. And now that I know what councilor Hanshukun was implying in that insufferably roundabout way of his, I’ll be sure to tell the ministers that as well.”
It had the ring of an imperial pronouncement. Rakushun smiled and finished his tea.