Volume 1: The “Borderland Hero-Wannabe” Arc
Chapter 1: First Job, Part 1/2
Like in the capital, the administration building in Tart was painted vermillion to keep the wood from decaying. There was some shrubbery growing around, but nothing big enough to be used for the construction purposes.
The roof tiles and other materials were probably brought from the capital, Seirin mused as he waited in the antechamber. His guide then stepped back into the room. He was dressed the same way as before, except he now had two golden cords hanging from his shoulders. These cords, made of silk thread, were worn by every official on active duty. He had a serious atmosphere about him now.
With a slight bow, he said, “His Exellency is calling for you. Please come in.”
Seirin followed the official inside the building. To think that he would have a chance to meet the famous Tsukihara Genzai in person! It was beyond his wildest dreams.
Back in the capital, Seirin would have been lucky to catch a glimpse of him from afar, but here in Tart he could not only meet the man himself, but even get a chance to work for him. If only for this, taking a trip to such a backwater town was worth it! …Why else would anybody willingly come here?
Passing through a hallway Seirin recalled a portrait of Tsukihara Genzai he’d seen before, in his capital-dwelling days.
By imperial order, Tsukihara Genzai was both the head of the Northern Province and the governor of Tart. He was known throughout the empire as a capable official who had been in charge of internal affairs during the previous emperor’s reign. He had also served as the late emperor’s right hand man.
After the previous emperor’s death five years ago, it seemed to be fairly obvious that he would be chosen to serve as the young heir’s guardian. At the time nobody doubted that Tsukihara Genzai would be a great regent and lead the country to prosperity.
Unfortunately, it was not to be so. The widowed Empress You’s father Komono Shingen became the acting regent instead.
The circumstances surrounding this decision were unclear, but as a result, regent candidate Tsukihara Genzai was given the rank of Provincial Governor and exiled to the town of Tart, which was still under the control of Shimur nomads then.
As they’d been at war with the “northern savages” for a hundred years at that point, the motive behind those orders was fairly clear.
Had the government executed Tsukihara Genzai or thrown him in prison, it would have caused a country-wide rebellion, considering how popular he was throughout the empire. But if he died at the hands of the Shimur, well….
However, Tsukihara Genzai didn’t die. In fact, he managed to sway one of the twelve Shimur clans to Empire’s side. To the surprise and eternal gratitude of empire citizens, he managed to overcome the century-old animosity between the Engi Empire and Shimur tribes with his first-rate diplomatic skills.
That was Tsukihara Genzai. A man who was famous not only in the Empire, but outside its borders as well.
And he, Sen’ya Seirin, would get to this man. Maybe he would even wind up working for him. Various fantasies swirled through Seirin’s head.
When he returned to the capital he could boast: “Who? Tsukihara Genzai? Of course I know him. He was my boss, after all.”
Ah, how cool it’ll be to offhandedly say things like that! I’ll be popular with people of all ages. Very popular! Perhaps so popular that people will treat me to drinks when I go to a tavern and pretty flower girls at the market will give me bouquets for free… Smiling shyly they’ll ask me for a story or two…
The delusions running through Seirin’s mind were not to be underestimated. Of course, he was an ordinary youngster and not at all well-versed in stuff like politics and economics. But even a kid like him believed that these fantasies could become reality. Such was the power of Tsukihara Genzai’s influence.
So it was only natural that Seirin felt utterly elated as he walked through the hallways towards Tsukihara Genzai’s cabinet.
It was now thirty minutes later and Seirin was disappointed.
The man on the other side of the table was currently reading through Seirin’s recommendation letter. And he looked absolutely ordinary, like any other forty-something man in the world.
It’s not like I was expecting some muscular giant or someone with a razor-sharp stare, but… How should I put it… He looks like an old geezer.
Is this old man really Tsukihara Genzai? I mean, he resembles the portrait I saw in the capital, but … What if he’s an imposter?
The man probably finished reading the papers while Seirin was contemplating this. He put the letter down with a faint thump and watched Seirin from out of the corner of his eye.
“Sen’ya Seirin. Nineteen years old,” he recited. “The third son born to the Sen’ya clan branch family of loyal imperial retainers. Has two older half-brothers. Father remarried after his first wife died. Terrible at physical activities and martial arts, almost as bad at studying.
“Instead of learning, he went to play at the market, and took a liking to conversing with foreign merchants. Can now speak various languages and dialects.
“But in the capital people look down on foreign languages, calling them “barbaric”, so when Seirin uses his skills at home, he gets scolded by his father.
“Mother, a descendant of borderland royalty, protected him from father’s wraith, but she died two years ago.
“Father, a high-ranking official. Eldest son, a captain of the Right Army. Entered military service because of his physical strength. Second eldest, passed the civil service examination. Following in his father’s footsteps, became a governmental official.
“But you failed the examination repeatedly. Without paying any attention to your lessons, you spent your days wandering around markets and chatting with your merchant friends.
“Am I right so far?”
Wide-eyed, Seirin gaped at him wordlessly.
Everything Genzai said was true, after all. But that wasn’t what was written in the recommendation letter Seirin had with him.
Tsukihara Genzai smirked. “What’s with you? And here I thought they weren’t lying about your language skills.”
“N-no?” Seirin squeezed out. “E-everything is as you’ve said. That’s the truth.” Pale-faced, he nodded weakly.
Seeing this, Genzai continued speaking. His words were unhurried.
“Now you’re probably wondering how I know everything, even though there’s no mention of it in your documents. Yes, there’s no such information in the papers. They were written by a secretary, after all, so they’re packed with flowery language.
“But a truly competent governmental official doesn’t do his job according to what’s written in some document. The real job is in reading between the lines. Anyone who can’t do this will only be crushed under the weight of his own paperwork. …And that’s all I have to say on the matter.”
He put his elbows on the desk, staring at Seirin above the linked fingers.
“Two weeks ago I sent a request to the capital: ‘There aren’t enough people. Please send somebody.’ If I was hiring as head of Northern province, you would have needed official qualifications. But as it happens, I put in the request as the governor of Tart, so there are no such limitations. ‘Just send somebody capable, I have no use for incompetent workers,’ I told them.
“And now you are here before me. So, I have to ask… Can I use you? What are you capable of?”
Genzai’s eyes glittered sharply. Contrary to Seirin’s first impression this stare was deadly, devastatingly serious.
Seirin wanted to cry.
There was nothing he could do. No proper qualifications, no formal schooling. He hated studying and had spent all his days at the market square imitating merchants. He’d actually earned pocket money working as a shop clerk many times, without ever telling his parents.
But there was nothing he could be proud of, nothing he could admit to freely.
He wanted to run away. He was feeling nauseous from the thought of his own naïve belief that he could get hired easily with only a recommendation letter.
I’m sorry, so very sorry. I was too foolish. I’ll let go of my ambition and return to lead a quiet life in the capital as the loser I really am.
Seirin just wanted to bow his head, say the words and run away.
In response to Seirin’s forlorn expression, Genzai smiled. “‘What happened? Haven’t you come here from far away just for the opportunity to get employed by me? I shall ask once more: what can you do?”
Seirin raised his head. He had a feeling that Genzai was giving him a second chance.
Yes, you are an aimless youngster without any qualifications, he seemed to be saying. But don’t you have something you are proud of?
That’s right. Even if it’s no good, I’m already here. So there’s nothing left to do but confess everything without reserve. Decision made, Seirin raised his head and straightened his back.
“I know how to interpret! Since my childhood I’ve been running around the marketplace, so I’ve heard many people speaking many different languages and I can speak them all too, now!
“Southern dialect, Western dialect, Randaru language from overseas and, most importantly, languages of the Shimur tribes, who live here on the northern border. I know I can speak it! And I dare to think that this ability will be useful to Your Excellency Tsukihara Genzai as well!”
For a few minutes Genzai was silent, but then he stood up and smiled. “Very well. If that’s what you are capable of, I have no objections. As the governor of Tart, I am now hiring you.
“…Before you, there were a lot of people who all said the same thing. ‘I will do anything you need,’ they claimed, but what they could do I never heard.
“What you will do and what you can do are different things. What you can do, you do and you have results to show for your efforts.
“But people who say they’ll do anything can usually perform only basic tasks. I don’t want a novice, I want a professional. So I have high hopes for you. Show me what you can do.”
I did it! I passed! I am now one of His Excellency’s subordinates! A superior is like a father to his subordinates, and they are like children to him! When I return to the capital I shall be very popular, ve-ery popular! Oh, how I want to see the surprised faces of my father and brothers, who always looked down on me!
But in reality, there was no time for Seirin to celebrate his new employment. With a serious face, Genzai spoke again.
“As you probably know, this land was under Shimur’s control for a long time. And so the Empire has fought Shimur for it for a hundred years already. But nothing comes out of war. Both sides are tired of the endless fighting.
“If fathers and brothers are not drafted and instead able live together with their families, then there will be more workers, and families will prosper.
“If families begin to prosper, more children will be born. More people will buy goods from merchants. Merchants will prosper and in turn begin to sell even more goods. So the artisans prosper, as do packhorse drivers. Nobody is unhappy.
“The Empire and its people need these peaceful days more than anything else in the world. To protect a country is to care about its citizens. You don’t send them to war. That’s what I’ve always thought. So five years ago I used my promotion as a chance to open peace talks with the Shimur tribes.
“Of course, they didn’t listen to me at first. In their eyes I was a man who’d killed their fathers, their brothers, their ancestors. But I persisted in my negotiations while opening trade with them, and finally succeeded in signing a peace treaty with the Shan tribe. They chose to become Engi’s ally while still upholding Shimur laws…”
Genzai broke off his speech to fish one paper out from the pile of documents on his desk.
“It’s not the first time a borderland ruler has allied himself with the Engi empire. Usually it means that a king or someone from his family must go to the imperial court to swear an oath of friendship in an official ceremony. That should be the end of the matter. But this time the court demands for a daughter of the Shan tribe’s chief to act as the emperor’s concubine as proof of the alliance.
“I can guess why they would request this. The Empire doesn’t want this alliance. To be exact, they don’t want me to succeed. They’re trying to destroy everything I’ve been working for.”
Seirin couldn’t stop himself from asking, “So does that mean the alliance failed? And the peace talks as well?”
Genzai shook his head.
“No. Thankfully, Shan’s chief Ishil agreed to these unreasonable conditions. However, of his five daughters, four are already engaged. He agreed to offer his youngest child, a thirteen-year-old girl.”
“Then everything turned out to be alright, didn’t it?”
“Yes, hopefully that will be the end of Empire’s illogical demands… But the real problem is…” Genzai cut himself off and looked at Seirin.
I have a bad feeling about this.
“The real problem is that Ishil’s youngest, Princess Mine, was spoiled unconditionally while growing up, so she’s a willful, disobedient child.
“As a nomad, she can’t speak our language. She knows nothing about manners or common sense. If you’ll allow me to be frank… She’s like a wildcat in human disguise.”
Nodding to himself, Genzai patted Seirin on his left shoulder.
“So that’s where you come in, Seirin-kun. I want you to use your language skills to teach Princess Mine imperial speech, common sense, and etiquette.
“Her rooms are in a different building in the southern part of the residence. The rules are the same as in the Inner Palace, so men aren’t usually allowed to enter, but I am going to give you a special permit as her tutor. Eight months from now she is having an audience with the Emperor. Until then it’s your job to turn this wildcat into human! I trust you to do this well.”
Genzai patted Seirin’s shoulder once more.
“So to be clear, you want me to serve as a tutor for the princess?”
“Yes, exactly. Start with language, the alphabet… Not only speech, but reading and writing too. Also—and this is the most important thing—teach her some common sense first.”
“Common sense? …You mean manners? I had an audience with the Emperor as a child, but I’m not an expert on court etiquette.”
Genzai shook his head. “No, not etiquette. I mean literal common sense.”
“And I think that’s enough talk for now. Go straight down the hall and to the south wing. I shall tell Ryousou to speak with Mirin, the head court lady, on your behalf.”
Genzai took a brass bell from the desk and rang it.