by Nancy Sauer
“A delightful tea,” Shosuro Jimen said, putting down his cup and adjusting his mask. There was not quite half a cup left.
“I am pleased that you enjoy it,” his host said. Seppun Kyuwa finished his tea and set down his now-empty cup. “May I ask how I have merited a visit from the Divine One’s illustrious Champion? I am sure you are a very busy man, with all the threats the Empire is facing.”
“I would have more time for the external threats if I did not have to deal with the internal ones,” Jimen said. “My office is currently investigating reports that food and jade supplies destined for the southern armies are instead being sold at market. If true, highly-placed officials in the Imperial bureaucracy are responsible.”
Kyuwa did not allow his expression to change. “Is such a thing really worth your time? If the responsible parties are, as you say, highly-placed, they have the means to shield themselves from your inquiries. Attempting to dislodge them would only cause a scandal-a terrible reflection on the Empress in this time of trouble, yes?”
“I am not sure I place such considerations above doing the Empress’s will,” Jimen said.
“However they are distributed, the supplies end up in the hands of the Empress’s subjects.” Kyuwa shrugged. “Who can say that the needs of the buyers is not as great as that of the southern armies? They are clearly quite desperate.”
Jimen was silent for a moment. “Those supplies are being sold for large sums of koku,” he said finally. “Meanwhile, the resources of my own legions are being drained by the wars.”
Kyuwa smiled. “Is it so? In the interests of supporting the Empire, I think I can arrange for a sum of koku to be transfered for your personal use. I would not presume to judge how you deal with your own servants in distributing it among them.”
“I think your offer is quite generous,” Jimen said. He picked up the teapot and refilled Kyuwa’s cup, then added a small amount to his own. “Really, this is excellent tea.”
* * * * *
No matter how much time he spent at his desk, Jimen mused, the stacks of paper on it never seemed to diminish. Was this a clue as to the nature of reality? Did paperwork somehow partake of the nature of the Void?
He shook himself out of his fancy, slightly irritated with himself-he had slept poorly, but that was no reason to engage in wild speculation. Kneeling down at the desk he began to read through the reports. After an hour he was disturbed by the sound of discreet clapping outside of his door.
“Enter,” Jimen said.
The door slid aside and one of his more trusted magistrates entered. “I am sorry to disturb you, Jimen-sama, but I believed you would want to hear this at once. Seppun Kyuwa is dead.”
“How startling,” Jimen said. “And he seemed so healthy when we spoke yesterday.”
“It appears to be a failure of his heart, Jimen-sama. He summoned his personal physician during the night, complaining of pain in his chest. The physician prescribed an herbal tea and bed rest, but it was not enough-he was found dead this morning.”
“How inconvenient for the Empress to lose the services of a dutiful servant at such a time,” Jimen said. “I am sure that our Treasurer will find a worthy replacement.” He paused a moment in thought. “On your way out, speak to my secretary. I want Kyuwa’s funeral services to be put on my calendar.”
“Of course, Jimen-sama,” the magistrate said. He bowed and withdrew. Jimen returned to his paperwork, smiling slightly.