Volume 1: The “Borderland Hero-Wannabe” Arc
Chapter 3: The Treasure of Shimur, Part 2/3
As Seirin contemplated the issue, Mine shook her head and gazed at the Tarim River and the grass plains stretching all the way to the horizon.
“Those paper pushers from the Empire… Even if they saw these wide meadows, this soft grass, they wouldn’t feel anything, would they?”
Mine took a deep breath and turned to look at Serin.
“Do you recognize the scent of the steppe?”
“…Smells like earth to me.”
For some reason, that spoiled Mine’s mood.
“…That’s ‘cause you’re lying face down, you idiot!” She shouted angrily, forcefully flipping Seirin over by his shirt collar.
Strangled by the collar of his clothes, Seirin let out a wet croack, a sound not unlike the one a frog produces when stepped on.
As the young man rolled over, the deep blue sky jumped into his range of sight.
Mine’s next words overlapped with the vision of the unclouded azure, which expanded endlessly in all directions.
“Now try breathing while facing up!” She ordered.
Seirin inhaled; exhaled.
“Can you feel it now? That’s the smell of the grasslands.”
The fragrance was unlike anything Seirin had ever experienced. It could perhaps be compared to the smell of fresh leaves heaped in front of the vegetable market.
But this smell was crisper than that. It simultaneously pierced through your core and enveloped you gently.
The smell and the cerulean skies above sucked Seirin in.
I’ve never seen anything like this. Never felt such an aroma. It’s all new to me. But at the same time I know this scenery, this smell – they’re familiar to me somehow.
Yes, I remember all this from before. Something like…
Reflexively, he muttered aloud.
‘Sun is setting, but grass is still green.
Clear skies, and no moon.
My village on the horizon.
Memories of friends far away’.
Seirin didn’t remember who wrote it. It was just an old poem. There had to be the author, he saw the name when he read the book, but Seirin didn’t remember it anymore. He wasn’t even sure he recited the lines correctly. The rhyme and the meter felt off, so he probably got part of it wrong.
However, faced with the view of the grasslands, he couldn’t express himself in any other way.
And it seemed Mine heard him as well.
Princess peered at him, still lying flat on his back. Two pieces of azure shone at Seirin from her face.
“What were you whispering just now?”
“Those words you uttered, were they a spell?”
“Ah, no, not a spell. It’s a song. Though I only remember it vaguely.”
Seirin got up. He didn’t put weight on his legs, as they would likely cramp, just slowly lifted his torso into the sitting position.
Mine sat down beside him.
“So it was a real song, then? That’s what they sing in the Capital?”
“Ah, sorry. Not that kind of song. It’s poetry. A poem, you might call it. You recite it when you want to describe something in verse.”
“Uhm, can’t say I understood your explanation, but I liked what you said earlier. Maybe because I’ve never heard anything like it before, but… How should I put this, it sounded pleasant to my ears.”
“Indeed? It’s just a stanza I read in a book once.” Embarrassed, Seirin scratched his head. Mine peered at his face.
“I want to learn this poem thingy too. Teach me!” Her big blue eyes stared straight at the young man.
“What? Princess, you want me to teach you the poem?”
Seeing his shocked response, Mine made a sad face. “No good?”
“Well, no. But it might be a bit difficult if you don’t know the imperial alphabet and kanji”.
Hearing this, the girl widened her eyes.
“I see! Ok then, let’s start with the alphabet! After that I’ll be able to read the poem as well!”
“It’s not as simple as it sounds, though…. But alright, I’ll teach you the letters.”
“Yeah, it’s a promise!”
Seirin watched Mine as she smiled happily. She changes her expressions so quickly you never get tired of it. Such an innocent child, that princess is.
The princess laughed brightly.
“And I’ll show you Shimur treasures in return.”
As Seirin raised his head in surprise, she pointed to the ground where he sat.
“Here they are!”
“Every blade of grass you feel under your backside is our treasure. The grass feeds our herds, and they become more numerous. What, if not pastures, can be a better asset to nomads? And the waters of Tarim nourish the grass.
“There are wastelands to the east of Tart. Nothing grows there, because there’s no water. Genzai-dono promised to use water from Tarim not only for the town, but for the Rondo wasteland as well.
“Water can turn even a desert into a meadow. And with grass growing there, winds won’t spread sand everywhere. This will solve the problem of sand for both Shimur and imperial citizens. Everybody will be happy….That’s why the Shan made an alliance with the Empire!”
Seirin mentally compared the steppe before his eyes to the desolate scenery of reddish-brown sand and rocks he saw on his way to Tart.
Can Rondo really be changed into grasslands? Simply watering such an arid soil won’t give any visible results in the near future. A year or two wouldn’t be enough to make even a little bit of progress.
But what about five years later? Ten years? No one can say for sure.
The same way a big river can be formed from the drop of the Mount Reihou’s snow thaw, Genzai-sama’s irrigation plan may change this infertile land into verdant fields with time.
To foresee a future five or ten years from now and acting to fulfill it… Easy enough to say. But how many people in Engi can execute a plan like this in the present…?
His introspection was interrupted by Mine pulling him by the ear.
“That’s for looking sullen! What were you thinking about so deeply?”
“About the steppe… That hurt, by the way.” Seirin covered his ear, pouting.
Mine turned away from him with a huff. “You’re as fussy as the Capital’s officials, you’re probably thinking about how to count the grass in this meadow. Are you going to write it down in the ledger later?”
“Like I would do something that stupid! I was thinking about Genzai-sama, that’s all!”
“Yeah. He’s the reason I came all the way to this remote region. I admire him, you know. And he was the one who ordered me to be the princess’s tutor. He asked me to make you into a lady nobody would be ashamed of, especially in the Capital”.
Mine looked startled.
“Nobody told me that! My previous tutors looked down on me from the start, just demanding that I obey them instead of explaining properly… I hadn’t heard anything from Genzai-dono, either…
“So it was actually because of him… I was sure they were ordered by that official, the one with the sheep. All of them behaved just like him, barking orders here and there. Treated me like some kind of idiot.”
Mine laughed then, baring her white teeth.
“You resemble Genzai-dono, you know… When he first came to the taopike, the home of the Shan chief, he called me a stupid brat.”
To anger that cautious man enough for him to swear at the daughter of his negotiations opponent without any thought for consequences… She had probably done something truly terrible to earn such a response. But Seirin didn’t feel brave enough to ask the details.