"So this is a child's shallow thinking..."

In the dining room of the inn where she'd been able to get a room with no problem thanks to Rikou, Shushou let out a breath. She held a teacup in her cold hands, and they grew warm.

"It’s not as if you've thrown everything away."

Rikou sat on the other side of the table, smiling as he sipped warm sake.

"I don't need to be comforted. I can only be offended by such actions, since I chose this for myself."

"Since you had your moukyoku."

"If I didn't have Hakuto, there's no way I'd be able to get to Ken. So even if I didn't have Hakuto I would look strange and immediately be arrested as some sort of vagrant."

.: 67 :.


Rikou paused in his drinking.

"You really plan to go to Ken?"

“That’s right.”

“Where are you from?”

“Renshou. From Renshou to Ken is not a distance that can be traveled on foot—and besides, I’m in a hurry.”

"You have parents, don’t you? They didn’t stop you from leaving?"

“There’s no way they could have. Me going to Ken—they would never have consented.”

So saying, Shushou looked up at Rikou.

“No, that’s not right. That was a lie. Forget it.”

Rikou gave a bubbling laugh.

“Too late. You’ve already let the cat out of the bag. Don’ worry, I don’t intend to contact the authorities in Renshou—though, if you weren’t so confident, I would have done so.”

“I'm not negligent. I had that slip of tongue only because you have such a nice, open face.”

.: 68 :.


Rikou broke out in laughter.

“That’s some praise you give me. You said nothing at all to your family?”

“That’s right. I’m a runaway.”

“Oho? That’s a serious thing—and under those circumstances, you’re going to Ken? Why there?”

“Because Reiken Gate is there. I’m going to Mt. Hou. That's why I said I didn't really know anyone at Mt. Hou.”

Rikou’s smile flickered out.

“You? You’re going to ascend Mt. Hou?”

“Can I not?”

For a few seconds, Rikou examined Shushou’s face with complete seriousness. For some reason, Shushou felt a trickle of nervousness when she met that gaze, and was spontaneously looked away.

“It’s not like I can’t.”

Rikou nodded in assent.

“That's right. It’s not like you can’t. But, it is still a long ways to Ken from here. I came from the south but, the disorder is worse there than it is here. It’s hard to find an inn.”

"It that so..."

.: 69 :.

Shushou bit her lip. She hated to admit it but, she’d been overly optimistic. She thought she’d be fine as long as she had a moukyoku.

“That’s how it is. It’d be better if you had some sort of pass, though. One that said: ‘I have left my kijuu in the care of this girl. Please accommodate them,’ or something like that. If it had the seal of a government official there’s no way you’d be refused. No matter what anyone says, are you set on traveling alone with your kijuu?”

Shoushou opened her eyes and looked up at Rikou.

“Are you saying that you’ll help me, then?”

“Do you know what kind of journey you’ll face, heading to Mt. Hou?”

“I know. ‘It’s dangerous’ is what you’d like to say.”

Rikou nodded, and a smile again returned to his face.

“If you know that then, well, I have no problem with it.”

The next day, Rikou proceeded to the government office had an official of the Fall Ministry oversee the preparation of a certificate. What kind of give and take took place for it to happen, Shushou had no idea. The government office was not a place where children like Shushou were allowed to wander around, so she had no choice but to wait outside with Hakuto and Rikou’s suugu.

.: 70 :.


“You should be alright with this, right?”

The certificate Rikou held out was the one he’d talked about with Shushou last night at the inn. It had the seal and signature of the clerk who’d witnessed it. It was a fine thing.

“...Thank you”

“You don’t like it?”

“It’s not that...”

Shushou’s father was listed as the owner of the kijuu. Shushou was listed as its caretaker. Shushou had thought that Rikou would be listed as the former, and afterwards would be a statement asserting ownership, but from the start Rikou had had no such intention. Shushou had been afraid that if her father’s name was written using the characters that formed his name, Sou Joushou, someone recognize the character of the surname, Sou, from the Sou family’s stores, but since it was his full name there shouldn’t be too much reason for concern.

But, thought Shushou, I wonder how traveler Rikou was able to get this letter and seal. It’s not that simple a thing to do.

“Mister, where do you live?”

“A place pretty far from here?”

“Far?”

.: 71 :.


Rikou nodded.

“In Sou. Do you know it?”

“I do. A kingdom to the south, right? Isn’t it well known?”

Sou. A kingdom renowned for its long-lasting peace and prosperity. Well then, there no way that Rikou lived in this city.

The Fall Ministry does not just judge criminals; it witnesses agreements and other formal protocols, and it guarantees the legality of documents sent to governing officials. Shushou learned about those obligations of the Fall Ministry from studying at the district school. Documents with the seal of the Fall Ministry on them could be trusted.

However, precisely because of that, Fall Ministry officials did not silently affix their seals to any old documents. Normally they would first perform a background check. As Rikou was a traveler, he would have to show them his passport. And the name written on the certificate he gave her was not his name.

“What is it?”

“I was wondering why the Fall Ministry put their seal on it.”

Oh, Rikou’s smile seemed to say.

“Well, I’m a bit better at lying than you are.”

.: 72 :.


“Are you saying that you deceived me?”

“Not at all,” laughed Rikou as he took up the reins of his suugu.

“That is to say, there are a lot of different ways to get that sort of thing done.”

Shushou thrust her hand into her pocket.

“How much.”

“How much?”

Rikou winked.

“It was something like that, wasn’t it? However much it was, I’ll pay. How much did you give the official?”

“From where did you learn that sort of though process, I wonder.”

“Oh really? It’s just a merchant’s common sense.”

Rikou laughed and lightly slapped Shushou’s arm.

“It wasn’t like that.”

“But—”

Rikou bent down in front of Shushou.

“It’s almost time for stores to open, isn’t it?”

.: 73 :.


“Yes, that’s right.”

“At the same time as when they open their stores, merchants suddenly come to the Fall Ministry with their documents and so first thing in the morning the place is bustling with activity."

“Is that so?”

“And at that time a man rushed and began telling the story of a misfortunate girl from a neighboring city whose father just died.”

“...me?”

“That’s right. Leaving his affairs to his brother the dead man, en route with his daughter to take his kijuu somewhere, was killed by bandits. He died protecting his daughter. Fearing for her life, the daughter slipped away. Of course, since she was an admirable girl with a strong sense of responsibility, she thought it was important that, before anything else, she take up the duty her father left behind with his death. She’s continuing her journey in this freezing cold weather, but unfortunately she’s unable to find an inn to stay at—”

Shushou pulled on the sleeve of Rikou, who just kept smoothly talking on and on.

“U-um..”

“—what a wonderful daughter, don’t you think? To do so much during times like these. But in the first place, I think that the brother who the dead man had left his affairs to is a terrible person.”

“Is that what you told them?”

.: 74 :.


“The officials are worried about getting those stores open. At a busy time like that, they are pushed to their limits just signing off everything that passes before them. In spite of that, this guy in front of them just wouldn’t shut up about this poor girl...is all that happened.”

“...I’m stunned.”

Rikou forced out a lighthearted laugh.

“There are times when it is more beneficial to tell a bunch of lies, is all.”

“I’ll study hard.”

Shushou shrugged her shoulders and looked at Rikou.

“Hey, why have you done so much for me? …if you don’t mind my asking.”

Rikou stood, and again took up the reins of his suugu.

“You shouln’t need to ask. Didn’t you tell me that no matter what you were going to ascend Mt. Hou?”

“No matter what. Other than myself, there are no other satisfactory people.”

“Is that right? In any case, take care.”

“Thanks to your help, I think I’ll be just fine.”

“Getting to Ken…don’t get complacent just because you now have that.”

.: 75 :.


“Yes, I know. Thank you.”

Rikou smiled, and urged his suugu forward.

For a short while, Shushou watched Rikou’s retreating form as they faded into the distance.

 

 

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