In the middle of the night Shushou woke to the sound of human screams.
At first, she thought she was dreaming. The screams were her father’s, and from the depths of her house, concealed by iron lattices, Shushou desperately stared at the shrubbery in the nearby park. The voice was coming from the other side of the trees. There, her father was being attacked. I have to save him, Shushou thought to herself, but because her house was completely wrapped in the lattices, there was no way for her to get out.
Even though she was in such a hurry, there was no way out. While cursing the lattices, Shushou also was relieved that she was unable to help. Because if she couldn’t leave, she wouldn’t see her father being attacked……
Unsure whether to scream or cry, Shushou grasped the lattices and awoke, at which point she realized it was all a dream. But she didn’t have time to feel relieved. In an instant she realized that something even worse was happening. In surprise she made as if to jump into action, but even though she was awake she couldn't make a sound. Someone’s hands reached out from behind her, covering her mouth.
There was no time to think. She could hear tempestuous voices calling out. Unsure whether to be happy about being restrained or not—Shushou was being pressed against the suugu—as it stood all Shushou could see was the face of her captor, Rikou. She could make out the tenseness of his face in the darkness of the night, and that in hand of his right arm, which he was using to embrace Shushou, he held a sword, and he was staring fixedly back over his shoulder. She had no idea what was happening. But she could hear the screams. The dismayed shouts of men and angry voices. The cries came in spurts, and Rikou whispered surreptitiously in her ear.
”Stay quiet. You remember what you were told?”
“Shushou raised her eyes to his and nodded.
What she had been told by Gankyuu. She must not leave their group. No matter how to the road she thought she would be, she must not leave the path and enter into the forest. Even if she were to see a shadow she must not look up, she must stay beneath the trees. Should youma come, she was to hide beneath trees or inside shrubbery, drawing herself towards them, and not call out or move—because youma have poor vision. Should you perfectly align yourself with a tree, the youma would not be able to distinguish you from the tree. And if it were an especially fragrant pine tree or somesuch, as long as you did not move and the youma did not get too close, the youma would not even realize you were there.
She remembered what she had been told. Maybe it was because she remembered, but she wasn’t even shaking.
The screams and the cries of horses, the shouts of the hunters—what was happening? she wondered. Not knowing was frightening, but she also couldn’t help but think that ignorance was bliss. If only she could wait to find out until after it was all over.
Filled with impatience and anxiety, she pushed her cheek against the suugu. Seisai was as quiet and clam as if he were still asleep. That withstanding, his breathing was deep and rapid. Seisai also knew what he had to do.
Anxiously she closed her eyes and scrunched her body in on itself. At last, instead of screams she could hear cheers At the same time Rikou loosened his grip.
Is it over? But what happened?
Hesitantly she opened her eyes and made to look at the clearing over Rikou’s shoulder, but before she had the chance she heard Gankyuu call out.
“—Hurry! We have to get away from here!”
As he shouted Gankyuu ran over to the from the direction of the clearing. The smell of blood was pungent. The clearing was lit by fires, but they weren’t bright enough to make things visible. The only thing Shushou could make out was the indistinct figures of people going this way and that.
“Gankyuu, what happened?”
“I told you to hurry!”
As he shouted angrily, Gankyuu was saddling the haku and began loading the stuff they had laid ready for instant departure on its back. He also loaded leather satchels onto his own back. Before could Rikou make similar preparations, Gankyuu had gathered the reins in his hands and mounted the haku. Falling behind for only a moment, Rikou and Shushou leapt onto Seisai’s back. With a curt “let’s go” from Gankyuu the haku began to run. Without Rikou having to do anything, Seisai voluntarily followed suit.
A shout of “move!” from Gankyuu got the people milling around in the clearing to scatter out of their way. In panic, fear and in abstraction they moved. In front of them the outline of a large bird could be seen. It lay on the ground and didn’t move.
“Rikou…what happened?” Shushou asked into his back as she clung to it, and Rikou turned around. In the light of the moon, she could see his slightly worried smile, but Shushou felt slightly relieved. His collectedness was reassuring.
“It was just a little scuffle.”
“Most likely,” agreed Rikou succinctly, and quickly turned back to Gankyuu who was galloping alongside them.
“Is it okay if we move?”
Gankyuu nodded. At the same time peoples’ voices came from the nearby copse of trees, and others who had similarly packed up and mounted kijuu came dashing out. The people who came out, and those who followed after them, and also the people who had been gaping about absentmindedly all came dashing out and called out to them.
“Hey! Where are you going!?”
They weren’t asking Gankyuu. One of the men who had rushed out after Gankyuu answered them.
“Run. The scent of blood will draw more youma.”
The men who had run after with their mouths hanging wide open and voices raised in panic ran back to collect their luggage as if running from the very jaws of death.
As they left those people behind, before she knew it there were only ten of them in a group heading onwards. Speeding down the road, as they finally left the light and the peoples’ voices behind they slackened their hurried pace, but even so the legs of the kijuu did not stop moving.
“Gankyuu, is this okay? Will youma not come out from hiding?”
Shushou tried as much as possible to hold on to her dignity as she said this, but even she had to admit that her voice quivered.
“It’s fine, little lady.”
The one who answered her was not Gankyuu, but a man who had at some point lined up his roushoku beside their suugu.
“Those guys are very territorial, and usually there’s not more than one of them in an area. We have a little more time before other youma make it over there.”
“Is that right…”
The man nodded. He was a crag-like man with a longsword strapped over his back.
“Leaving that all aside, it’s you who hired the shushi (朱氏), no? Is that him?”
The man nodded with his chin at Rikou, but Shushou had no idea what the man meant.
Rikou replied in her stead.
“Not me. It’s him on the haku.”
“Is that so,” said the man and turning his roushoku away from the suugu, rode up beside Gankyuu and started talking to him.
“Rikou, what’s a shushi?”
Rikou turned towards Shushou and brought Seisai to a halt.
“Come in front here. You’ll like that better.”
For sure hanging onto Rikou’s back was disheartening and hardly bearable, so she heaved herself off Seisai and then lifted herself up in front of Rikou. Compared having her view blocked by his back, being in between Rikou’s arms as he held the reins gave her a greater peace of mind.
“The term shushi refers to ryoushishi,” said Rikou as he brough Seisai back up to a walk. Seisai calmy and indifferently followed his lead.
“People like Gankyuu are called ryoushishi, but they themselves, those who go in and out of the Yellow Sea, refer to themselves as shushi it seems.”
“But Gankyuu calls himself a ryoushishi.”
“That’s because Gankyuu has that sort of personality. People who instead of capturing their targeted prey instead prioritize bringing back the corpses of their comrades, those guys can’t call themselves that. The name (ryoushishi) is one that make ridicules what they do so they don’t use it for themselves.
“Hmm….” Shushou murmered as she watched Gankyuu ride alongside and chat with the giant man she’d spoken to before.
“They’re all either called shushi (朱氏), goushi (剛氏) or shumin (朱民).”
“What are shumin? Are they different from shushi?”
“You’ve seen shusei (朱旌, read tabigeinin=gypsy), haven’t you? Do you know why they’re called shusei?”
“Umm… because their travel documents are stained red, is what I’ve heard.”
Rikou nodded in agreement.
Without settling down in any one place they wander through all the different kingdoms performing, selling their wares—so they call these drifters shumin. Because their passports are red. At least originally,” Rikou smiled.
“Don’t people who lose their passports notify the government, and are able to get a replacement? And to show that it’s a replacement a red line runs across it. Soon enough that sort of passport came to be called shusei, and the people who receive these red passports, who aren’t settled in one place but roam across the kingdoms, came to be known as shusei. So they call people who hold these shusei—these red passports—shumin (lit. red people).”
They call ryoushishi as shushi. They’re the leaders of the shumin so they’re called shushi (the shi in shushi is used as a formal way of indicating higher status). People like Gankyuu who hunt in the Yellow Sea are the most revered of the shumin.”
“Really? Then goushi are?”
“Goushi are also shumin, they enter the Yellow Sea because they have been hired as guards by non-shumin. To shumin, the shushi, who are not hired, are more admirable than the goushi, who are.”
“I can understand that.”
“Shumin (朱民) are also known as koumin (黄民, yellow people). Or putting the two together, they can also be called the koushu (黄朱) people. In spirit, they consider themselves citizens of the Yellow Sea. It’s said that in the olden days they would dye their passports yellow of their own accord. But because yellow is the color of the kirin, or because someone had scruples about it, or maybe for some other reason altogether, at some point this practice was forbidden.
“Hmm…” Shushou murmured and at that moment the voices of those behind them could be heard approaching.