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Deep in a cold jail, Seien exhaled chilly breath. The season was in midwinter, and it was bitterly cold. It was all right with him, but he was worrying about his mother, who was also thrown into jail. She must be in a pretty bad shape.
It was his older brother who came first when he was imprisoned. He was so excited that he kept screaming meaningless words and laughing like a mad man. His mother, the first concubine, came following him, but backed off with a pale face at her son’s insane behavior. She finally realized her son’s crookedness. The jailers pull him out in no time, and after that, no one except people involved came in probably because Ou Ki gave some orders.
… Seien remembered that the first concubine turned to him when she left. Unfortunately Seien was in jail and could not do anything to stop his brother for good. He thought how she could expect that of me now, but did not feel sarcastic. Maybe she knew something was going wrong but could not do anything just like Seien.
Seien stared the red bean bag his father gave him. When he shook it, the red beans inside it made dry sounds. It was said that red beans avert evil..., but Seien could not escape from it.
His father must be terribly disappointed of his son who was so easily taken in.
Thinking about it made him depressed to death.
He repeated what he thought for a million times.
Who brought haphazard concubines together behind the scene without being detected by Seien’s information network, and framed his grandfather as the main culprit of the treason. Who committed the Hyou family.
He thought of Ou Ki’s face, but denied right away. He couldn’t be the one---.
“Do you know who it is? Seien.”
Seien gasped at the voice that rang out suddenly. He looked up disbelievingly to find his father standing with his arms folded on the other side of the bars. He did not sense him approaching not to mention his footsteps, but it felt like all the gloomy darkness was colored by his father’s rule from that moment.
Receiving his father’s glance, Seien turned his back instinctively. He did not even realize he was biting his lips.
He did not care if other people laughing at him. But he did not want his father see him like this. … He was not sure why.
“Why did you come here, father.”
“There is nothing wrong for a parent to come see his child.”
He felt dejected. He completely neglected him until now.
“… It is completely unnatural, father…”
He was about to say yes, then felt a sense of déjà vu. Seien only remembered his father’s back and profile. Because he was busy, he didn't even see him often. He often went out to somewhere when he felt like it and wasn’t always at the palace.
Yet, he didn't know why, but it didn’t feel unnatural to be stared by his father. Like he was always stared by his father.
‘… It can’t be.’
Even if his son followed after him, he wasn’t a kind who was concerned about his sons. He was not supposed to.
... Seien asked by way of trial.
“… Father, do you know how old I am?”
“No. I am not even interested.”
He gave an immediate answer proudly.
He was this way even for the most basic question as a father and a child. It was just a wishful thinking after all.
“… Then, please go. Please let me keep the last piece of dignity at least. If Director Ou acted, my capital punishment is inevitable. I am prepared for it.”
It had been more than a month since he was thrown in jail. It meant the Ran family had no intention to act. Then, no one else would act, either.
--- Seien was abandoned, and defeated. The emperor raised one eyebrow lightly.
“You are strange. Me being here is the most important thing to you?”
He couldn’t say yes. He did not show that kind of weakness to his father. He didn't want to become a mere child. He wanted them to be an emperor and a prince, not a son.
“Seien, I exile you and the concubine.
The emperor declared. Seien didn't understand what he said. What is it….?
“Don’t be ridiculous! Treason is one of the ten great crimes. Even a prince will be executed without a question. If you make a compromise even once, it will undermine your authority. The aristocrats will take advantage of it far into the future. You are not someone who would do something like that.”
His father being not a parent but an emperor was only thing he longed for.
He did not want a special treatment. He could not endure to be pitied. If his father, who murdered his relatives to become the emperor, reduced the sentence for his son, what would the aristocrats and the bureaucrats think? They might start regarding him becoming weak, underestimating him and taking advantage.
“No. I don’t want it this way.”
Seien grimaced. He didn't want to be a burden for his father this way.
He couldn’t accept it no matter what.
Both the Ran family and the Kou family would keep distance from the imperial court, and the concubines, who lost Seien as the common target, would involve the bureaucrats and devour the imperial palace.
The change would happen gradually, but surely. He could see it. It would be him of all people who would trigger it.
Seien held the bars tight and screamed.
“No. No! Give me a capital punishment, father!! It will be playing right into the hands of the Hyou family!”
“Exile. I decided already.”
“Because you are a child.”
Seien never found out the real meaning of those words. But it was the last words he wanted to hear.
Seien’s strength ebbed away from his body. Feeling pitiful, he frantically held back his tears.
The father whom he always followed with his eyes never looked back to Seien. It was all right. If he was capable, he would notice. Seien wanted to become a figure like Advisor Shou or Sa Enjun for his father.
The last duty as a prince was to die, but he said he would be exiled because he was a child. He didn’t even regard him as an adult.
Seien realized his desire to be acknowledged by his father for the first time, and was in despair for not being able to be.
“Seien, I’m going to ask you one more time. Did you find out who your enemy is?”
Seien shook his head slowly.
The emperor nodded. His eyes are unconcerned without any contempt or disdain.
“All right. Your enemy outdid you well. You lost.”
“… Please order a capital punishment…”
“I won't reverse your exile. If you want to die, die as you wish. I won’t stop that. The concubines will send assassins one after another anyway. If you don’t do anything, you will die.”
Seien responded to the word concubines.
“You decide your own fate. I’m not kind enough to give you an easy end.”
The emperor turned around.
“You will be exiled to Sa Province. You will leave right away tonight.”
When the emperor was leaving the jail, Ou Ki was standing there waiting. The emperor gave him a brief order.
“Understood? Seien and Suzuran will be exiled.”
“The punishment of treason is a capital punishment even if he is only implicated. He should be executed as well as his mother.”
“You heard my order. Do not defy it.”
Ou Ki pulled his chin, and stared the emperor fixedly.
“… I do not accept you as the emperor.”
The emperor loosened the edge of his lips.
It was a familiar phrase. Ou Ki kept saying it many times since long time ago.
The emperor returned a familiar phrase as well.
“—But, I am the emperor. Kneel and obey me. If you don’t like it, usurp the throne yourself.”
Ou Ki did not avert his eyes from the emperor.
The emperor laughed with his armed folded.
“Enjun returned to Sa Province to contain the bandits called ‘Satsujin-zoku,’ and Kai Yu took a local appointment. Neither of the Ran family or the Kou family acted. It’s just like you to take advantage of this opportunity without hesitation, Ou Ki. Now Seien will disappear from the imperial palace as you wished. Are you satisfied?”
“I am. … For now.”
“You must have had it investigated when the sixth concubine died. Why didn’t you make an arrest back then?”
Ou Ki grimaced for the first time.
“I could not find definite evidences.”
The emperor shrugged.
“Defeated utterly. Both you and I.”
Ou Ki nodded. Yes, defeated.
“—Stuff Seien and Suzuran into a carriage and send them to Sa Province tonight. I don’t care who send what kind of assassins, but if there is even one assassin from the Hyou family among them, I will kill you.”
“… As you wish.”
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