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THE GOLDEN PRINCESS

by S.M. Stirling


 

CHAPTER TEN:

 

Barony Ath, Tulatin Valley
(Formerly northwestern Oregon)
High Kingdom of Montival
(Formerly western North America)
May/Satsuki 25th,Change Year 46/2044 A.D./Shōhei 1

 

“These are very handsome horses,” Reiko said, smoothing a hand down her mount’s neck.

“Hard on the arse as any,” Egawa said, obviously deep in thought. “Majesty,” he added hastily.

Reiko smiled slightly; she found she could do that naturally now, though the pain remained.

“I’ve heard the word before, General-san,” she said dryly, reproof and forgiveness in one.

Poor Egawa. Now he has to treat his lord’s daughter as his lord, and sometimes he slips while juggling the cups.

The pain was like a wound indeed, scabbing over very gradually, the scars themselves pulling unexpectedly on the inside when you moved. But she had been raised to control pain. Pain hurt, but that was no reason to let it affect your doing what was proper. You let the hurt happen, without concerning yourself too much with it, and trying to block it was paying attention. That was more difficult with a hurt to the soul, but the principle was the same.

The Japanese party were all mounted, on animals that had been waiting at the train stop; a wagon bore what baggage they had brought on the headlong trip northward. By their standards the horses were once again sleek muscular giants, all at the least a quarter again taller than the biggest she recalled ever having seen at home. She shuddered at what it must cost to feed them, having seen that they ate grain that might have gone to humans, as well as grass and hay.

Japan had enough food now in years of good harvest, enough that nobody actually starved—not to death, at least—even in poor ones, but there was never much surplus and what there was had to be jealously guarded as a reserve against bad times or losses from enemy attack. Food was life and thrift was a necessity. Even at a feast for the wealthy and powerful there was more emphasis on quality and arrangement than lavish quantity.

The mounts—they were called destriers—ridden by their two-score armored escorts were larger still, though long-legged and deep-chested and surprisingly graceful for animals that weighed over a half-ton apiece, and wore armor themselves—articulated plates riveted to soft padded leather backing, protecting head and neck, shoulders and chest. Egawa had examined them with an attention that might as well have had a microscope involved, and she was interested herself; how far and how fast could even these great horses carry the weight of that protection and an armored rider?

But arrows are the weakness of cavalry, neh? Horses are such large targets. The armor will help.

Fast-moving horsemen were the standard response to a jinnikukaburi raid, but you had to be cautious lest you run into an ambush or a hail of archery. These looked like they could ride down any raider crew ever born. Though...

I doubt these are very agile, but with those long legs they might well work up a fair speed given a little while to run, and maintain it long enough for a charge. Certainly they came down on the jinnikukaburi like a hammer on an egg in our last fight, though I only saw that at a distance.

Her memories were blurred by the shock of her father’s death, but she did remember afterwards seeing the bodies of men lying skewered like pieces of grilled octopus on a splinter of bamboo, the lances driven right through both sides of the tough Korean plate-and-mail shirts by the terrible impact. Or bodies trampled into half-recognizable bags of flesh inside their armor, or skulls crushed through the helmet by the serrated war-hammers the riders also carried.

There was a rattle and ring along with the massive hollow clock of their shod hooves on the smooth pounded crushed rock of the roadway as they paced along at a fast walk. This trip wouldn’t take long at all, from the description. The men-at-arms in their black harness rode with their visors up and their shields across their backs, blazoned identically with a kamon in the form of a flame-wreathed lidless eye, crimson and yellow on black. Twelve-foot lances with bowl-shaped metal hand-guards just ahead of the grip were their primary weapons, colorful pennants fluttering below the bright blades.

There was a fair bit of traffic on the road with them, riders on horseback, carts and wagons and carriages, bicycles and pedestrians, now and then a Christian monk or priest or nun in their long robes pacing along or praying at the little roadside shrines with their crucifixes and images of saints or the blue-robed Virgin.

Reiko felt a little irritation at the naked stares she and her followers attracted.

Though I must admit, if as many Montivallans were riding through Sado-ga-shima, with our samurai escorting them, the peasants would stare and point as well. The shi would have better manners, I hope.

Their party didn’t slow for any of it; a single scream from a trumpet and a harsh bark of Make way! Way, in the Crown’s name! and everyone pulled to the side of the road, bowing to a degree that varied with their rank as the riders went by. That much was homelike in general outline, if not the details.

She could smell dust ground out of the pavement by steel-shod hooves and steel-rimmed wheels but little of it rose, because the season of rains was just tapering off. Low mountains rose in the west, forested and green-blue, just on the edge of vision though rising a little with every pace; higher ones stood even further behind them to the east and fell away as gradually, including peaks with snow on them and one tiny white cone as perfect as Fuji, called Mt. Hood.

This is a beautiful country, even just the bones of it, she thought. I wish I could see more of it, but I have no time to spare.

Here in the valley the land was for the most part flat or only gently rolling; the road swerved several times to keep the gradient low and avoid hills or ridges covered in oaks, firs, maples and trees she did not recognize. But those were exceptions, as were the odd clumps of trees and bushes growing over the site of a pre-Change building whose foundations were too tough to be removed without excessive trouble. The occasional creek was always followed by a strip of forest on both banks, fenced against livestock with poles and rails, or quickset hedges of hawthorn starred with pink-and-white flowers in this season.

They hadn’t seen any fields abandoned since the Change today, though those had been common enough further south in the Willamette; now one cultivated stretch succeeded another as they did on Sado’s central plain, but for far longer. Beech trees stood beside the highway beyond the verge-side ditches, planted in neatly spaced staggered rows on either side; the road was lavishly wide for one through arable land, thirty feet including the shoulders. The trees had leaves of a striking purplish-bronze color, sometimes meeting overhead and turning the long road into a tunnel of shade and flickering brightness. From the countryside to north and south of the roadway came a smell intensely green and fresh, a scent of vigorous growth and damp soil. It was stronger than the familiar odor of horse and leather, and occasionally livened with the pungent scents of manure or a deep flowery sweetness.

What she saw was wholly different from the rural parts of her own country beyond the most basic elements of forested hill and river and cleared cultivated soil in areas that were not too steep, but she recognized the slightly metallic green with hints of blue, wheat or barley rippling around knee-high, and some of the other crops—potatoes and turnips, flax and beets and more, though it was odd not to see any rice or millet or soybeans. Where the worked soil showed it was a very dark brown, deep and stoneless, moist but not wet, looking as rich as the sweet azuki bean paste filling in the buns on a street-vendor’s cart.

No terraces here, either, she thought.

Parts of Sado were staircases of green up the hillsides.

They don’t need to use every inch, you can see they farm carefully but it’s all so... lavish. Lucky! If we could just get free of the jinnikukaburi long enough to really resettle the main islands we might have more good land than we needed too.

What caught her eye was that the actual fields were regular squares that must cover hundreds of acres, bizarrely huge compared to those on Japanese farms, bordered by hawthorn hedges and poplar trees. By cocking her head and looking closely she could see that though each big field was planted to the same sort of crop they were subdivided by ankle-high ridges within into a patchwork of rectangular strips each of seven or so acres.

Which is still larger than a good-sized peasant’s farm back home.

Peasants were at work among the crops, quite a few though never as densely as she was used to, cultivating with some very ingenious-looking horse-drawn machines as well as long-handled hoes or just stooping and pulling up weeds. They stopped to remove familiar-looking conical straw hats and bow deeply as the mounted party passed, with the hats held in their hands; Heuradys d’Ath waved back at them with her riding crop, and a few of them replied with waves of their hands and called her name.

The men among the landworkers wore a long belted tunic that came to their knees and loose trousers beneath, of a cloth that mixed linen and wool, with wood-and-leather shoes on their feet. Women wore the same tunic over ankle-length shifts, and the older ones had kerchiefs around their heads beneath the hats. Some of the children were barefoot, and most wore only the short tunic. From what she could see all the peasants were as roughened by work and weather as any countryfolk, but big and well-fed as well.

The strips that divided the fields showed very slight differences in the precise texture of what grew, like a larger blanket composed of pieces that didn’t exactly match. About two of every five of the large fields held a mixture of grass and clover, thick with crimson blossom now in late spring that turned them into sheets of an almost lurid red.

Sometimes the bees working among them were numerous enough to make the horses shy a little as they crossed the road bearing pollen and nectar back to their hives. Cattle with hides of black or creamy yellow or red bodies and white faces grazed the fields, or sheep looking comically naked after their shearing in others, and now and then they saw sounders of pigs or herds of horses. Calves and lambs and colts born that spring played, kicking up their heels and butting at the udders of their dams, a sight that made her smile a little.

The sweet smell became overpowering when the field to their left was being mown for hay. Reiko looked closely; that wasn’t much of a part of the farming she knew, since the limited number of oxen and horses her people kept were fed from verges and roadsides or with the byproducts of crops meant for humans, while pigs ate scraps or foraged in the woods and chickens pecked for bugs and the odd spilled grain.

Here a staggered row of a half-dozen machines each pulled by two horses mowed broad swathes and left the cut grass behind to the accompaniment of a whirring, clacking sound. More horses pulled complex devices of wire and wood that raked the hay into swathes and left it to dry.

“This is wealth,” she said quietly to Koyama. “They can afford to use nearly half of their land to grow food for animals! No wonder they use so many horse-powered machines.”

He nodded agreement as he looked around at the countryside. “The more so as the Montivallans are not showing us this to impress us, I think. This estate is just the most convenient place to put us, nothing extraordinary.”

“Wealth and power, Majesty,” Egawa added. “I can see why they have much cavalry, too. Good country for it, difficult to find terrain features to anchor a flank, and lots of fodder.”

Further away in the same field workers with long-tined forks on six-foot handles were pitching the dried hay cut on earlier days onto carts with high latticework sides, these pulled by oxen.

Egawa grunted again. “And now we know how they can bind their bowels with all that meat they eat.”

Koyama snorted, and Reiko ignored the byplay as she studied the scene. You could see the smaller strips were there too amid the hay once it was cut, and she thought she could see two groups—families, she supposed, they were each of men and women and children—arguing with each other as they pitched the fodder onto their respective carts. The dispute grew more heated, then stopped abruptly as the train of mounted warriors went by.

Heuradys d’Ath rode off the road and into the field, spoke briefly to the peasants, shaking the riding crop like an admonishing finger. There were more bows, but when she turned her horse back again one of the peasant men raised his hand to the other group with the fist clenched and middle finger extended, and got a clod of soil kicked back at him by a man who then spat on the dirt and ground his clog on it as if he wished it were an enemy’s face.

Heuradys dropped back to ride beside the Japanese leaders when she returned to the road. Reiko was glad of it, though she missed Órlaith. Partly because of the simple ease of conversation, and partly because...

Because we share a loss and a burden no others do. We may become friends, I think, or as close as those in ruling families may be.

But Órlaith’s retainer was able.

And someone to respect.

She also seemed to be someone very close to the Crown Princess; not a lover, she judged, despite their sharing a tent and the obvious affection, but a confidant-friend-right-hand, truly a hatamoto, one who stood at the base of the lord’s banner.

I have nobody that close, she thought a little sadly. I have many loyal retainers, but few friends at all.

“Your Majesty,” Heuradys said politely, bowing in the saddle.

“Heuradys-gozen,” she said. “Lady Heuradys... those strips in the big fields... they are what, please?”

The Montivallan noblewoman frowned for a moment as she bowed again, obviously thinking how to put the answer in straightforward terms to strangers. Reiko made an inaudible cluck of frustration to herself; she could handle spoken English much better now, enough to carry on most of the time without a sweat of concentration breaking out on her brow, but it was still work. Not like real conversation where the words did what you wanted without thought. And she was continually checked because she didn’t know the common unspoken things everyone took for granted.

“These are the Five Great Fields of the manor,” the noblewoman said.

She was making her speech slow and distinct without being too obvious about it; her manners were exquisite, though not exactly the same as those of a Japanese.

“The strips are each part of the peasant holdings; one strip of land in each of the Five Great Fields, as well as their toft in the village—“

“Toft?” Reiko said, frowning; she was sure she hadn’t run across that word.

“Their home and garden and sheds. And with the holding go rights in the meadow, the common waste and the woodland—grazing for so many beasts, so many cords of firewood, the right to cut timber to repair houses and barns. They pay a part of their crops and of the yield on their animals... usually a quarter... to the lord, and provide a worker for the lord’s demesne two or three days a week. Though the lord feeds the ones who work, on those days.”

She pointed with her riding whip, using it as a conversational aid the way Reiko would have her fan.

“Those fields over there beyond that row of poplars are demesne land—you understand, Your Majesty, Montinore is where I was born, and my brothers and my younger sister; it is the home manor of the estate, right next to the castle. But all manors in the Association lands work in roughly the same way, that was established at the very beginning by the first Lord Protector, according to his plans. He was a scholar of the ancient ways, and in those terrible days it was a way that worked, so it was easy to spread far and fast. My lord my father’s original estate, the Barony of Forest Grove, is just north of here.”

“Demesne is lord’s land... how different from peasant, tenant?”

“All that the demesne produces is the lord’s; but a peasant’s land and its product is his as long as he meets his dues, and he can pass the holding on to his descendants. On this particular manor a lot of the demesne is in vineyards; Montinore wine was famous even before the Change. And there are other dues, payments on inheritance and at marriage, milling and grape-press fees, cartage of firewood and building timber from the lord’s forests, and service in the household.”

Reiko glanced at her advisors. Ishikawa was looking at a tall slender windmill pumping water into troughs for the livestock in a field; it seemed to need no human attendance, and the water flowed when the animals pressed little flat levers with their noses. He was tracing the mechanism with his eyes, his lips moving silently as he analyzed; he was a good ship commander, but at least as much interested in things as people. Her folk used wind and water power a good deal too. That specific trick might be worth copying, to save labor, especially in a fortress where many horses were stabled, though otherwise it was probably not worth the trouble and materials with the far smaller herds of her land.

Koyama and Egawa were both listening to Heuradys with close attention—land tenure was important, and just as important to a lord as to a peasant—and Koyama in particular seemed to be understanding a fair amount of the English, though neither spoke as fluently as she yet.

“Why sose... those... peasants we passed, they yell each other and shake fist?” Reiko asked.

Heuradys chuckled. “Your Majesty, one family accused the neighbors of taking a forkful of hay from their strip.”

“That happens much?”

“Every once in a while, but those are the Johnsons and the Kowalskis. The bailiff should never have let them cart their hay on the same day but they probably leaned on him so they could watch each other.”

“Families have quarrel? No, s... those families have a quarrel?”

“They’ve been at it as long as I can remember,” she said, and rolled her eyes in exasperation. “And even they aren’t sure how it started, though they’ll talk about it for hours if you let them. They’ve been at it as long as my mothers can remember. A forkful of hay, a sheaf of wheat, a handful of potatoes thrown into the wrong basket—their kids steal apples from each other’s trees and throw rocks at each other’s dogs and the youngsters get into fights around the wine-barrel at festivals. We’ve tried fines, we’ve tried the stocks, by the Dog of Egypt, we had the heads of household flogged when they drew knives—that time was when they accused each other of plowing the boundary furrow wrong and shaving a sliver of land from each other’s strips, which is serious business. And when we had the surveyor in to check it against the cadastral survey of the manor it turned out they’d both done it, so we fined them again and they howled louder than they had at the flogging.”

Reiko translated it; her councilors laughed, and she could see that several of her guardsmen were smiling behind their impassive faces. The details differed, but there wasn’t a village where that sort of thing didn’t happen now and then. Living at close quarters could mean, often meant, closeness. Unfortunately it also meant that if you quarreled with someone, you were stuck with the results for the rest of your life. That was what manners were for, in large part; to smooth over life’s frictions among people who had to live with each other whether they liked it or not.

Heuradys shook her head. “But when we offered to move them to different manors, they wouldn’t. I think they need the quarrel to give their lives savor, like salt on boiled potatoes.”

“What does the lord owe, Heuradys-gozen?” Koyama asked, and only had to repeat it once before he was understood.

“To the tenants, protection and order, settlement of disputes—well, we try—fair judgment in court if things get that far, assistance in bad times, care for orphans and the sick, maintenance of things like drains and buildings and roads and bridges, the church and schools and clinic. And a sort of... mmm, general duty of help, what we call good lordship. Helping an able youngster get an apprenticeship, for instance, that would be good lordship.”

Reiko had to translate that last, since good lordship wasn’t a combination of words familiar from the pre-Change English they’d studied, but her retainers nodded. The concept was certainly one they knew, or something close to it.

Heuradys went on: “To one’s overlord, or the Crown if you’re a tenant-in-chief like us, the one who holds the fief owes the mesne tithes—a share of the revenue—and upkeep of the public works; we repair this road, for example. And of course service in war. Equipping and training your menie... your fighting tail, your armed retainers. Lancers, infantry spearmen, crossbowmen, to numbers specified in your indenture of vassalage. A baron or higher lord will have vassal knights in turn, either paid or enfeofed with land of their own; we have three manors we keep in hand on this barony besides this one, and a dozen subinfeudiated to our vassal knights. There’s a peasant militia, but that’s only called out in real emergencies. Associate vassals—” she touched the jeweled dagger on her belt “—can be called whenever there’s need for as long as the Crown requires.”

“Sank... Thank you, Heuradys-gozen,” Reiko said; the th sound was the hardest of all, and she reminded herself to press the tip of the tongue to the back of the front teeth to make it.

When the Montivallan noble had bowed again and legged her horse forward to talk to the commander of the escort, Koyama nodded thoughtfully.

“That sounds sensible, Majesty,” he said, after making sure he’d caught the terms.

“Not precisely as we do things, but not totally different,” Egawa said. “Perfectly workable way to organize their armies, if they take care about things... which it looks as if they do. At least here. This Montival is a very big place.”

“And this Protectorate is only part of it, though itself quite large, and we have had only a glancing look at anything else. I was right that Montival is a federation of sub-kingdoms with quite different customs,” Koyama said.

“I wonder what they’re guarding against?” Egawa said thoughtfully, looking at their escort; those included mounted crossbowmen as well, in lighter gear. “This looks like peaceful country. You can see nothing’s been raided or fought over for quite a while. The peasants aren’t carrying any weapons except knives on their belts, and those are tools. Most of the travelers we’ve passed have no more than knives and staffs, except for the bushi, and hardly any of them are riding in armor, they’re just wearing their swords because they wear swords. If all this armor is precaution against us... should I be flattered?”

“They let us come near their Crown Princess armed, including armed with distance weapons like bows,” Reiko said. “I think this escort is a gesture of respect.”

Egawa was still having some trouble following English, much less speaking it, and was feeling a bit suspicious and resentful because of the sense that things were going on around him he could not understand. Of course, an Imperial Guard commander was supposed to be suspicious, and it must grate on him terribly that his charge was essentially helpless in the hands of foreigners, however polite.

“In this part of Montival, it is the mark of shi, gentlefolk is the English word, or Associate, those with the jeweled daggers, to ride horseback with their swords at their side,” she went on.

She touched the hilt of her katana. Wearing the two swords was a mark of rank in the homeland as well, an old custom revived not long after the Change. She went on:

“And great lords ride with their warriors beneath their banner. The escort is to give us further consequence, I think.”

Egawa’s chuckle was harsh. “Not so very different from us, then, Majesty.”

“And these are the Protector’s Guard—the High Queen’s own household men. Notice how all bow and give them passage.”

Hai, Heika,” he said with a pleased half-growl.

She nodded to herself at the sound of satisfaction in his voice. Most of it would be for her; a slight to his overlord would make him far angrier than one to himself. Likewise, a gesture of respect to her would impress him more. Unconsciously, that would also affect his analysis and advice.

And while I do not doubt their courtesy is genuine, I also think I have met several people here quite clever enough to see that themselves. Gestures are important—how else do we make ourselves known to each other, and what is speech itself but a set of complex gestures? On the other hand, when considering gestures... remember that even if you intend to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.

Koyama was more thoughtful.

“This is very different from anything that I expected,” he said. “Here, especially. That Corvallis place, it was a dem-oc-ra-cy, more or less, from what I caught—some sort of representative assembly sent that delegation to Princess Órlaith. In the name of the kokumin—the People—and the Faculty Senate.”

“She was much more polite to them than I would have been,” Reiko said. “Those speeches!”

Hai, Majesty, but her patience is itself significant. The McClintocks have their assembly to decide great issues under the Clan chief’s direction, and they say the Mackenzies do as well. But this here... this is very strange.”

“Why?” she asked. “We also have returned to many of the ancestral customs, Grand Steward. Or something fairly close to them. If I remember correctly, those ancestors of the Americans who came from Europe lived much like what we see here, once. My history tutors remarked on it, and said that the resemblance to Japan perhaps explained why we alone in Asia stood up to the Westerners successfully when they arrived. They beat the Chinese like dogs and burned their Emperor’s palace, but they soon learned better than to try to bully us even though they had more deadly weapons.”

“And soon ours were as good, or better,” Egawa said.

“Yes, Majesty, Egawa-san, true as far as it goes. But our ancestral customs were much closer to us in time. After all, it was only two long lifespans from Meiji to the Change. So I would have thought them more... more accessible, as it were. More a part of the way our parents and grandparents thought even without knowing it, and so of what was natural for them to fall back on in the terrible times. Americans never lived so, not on this continent, whatever their more remote ancestors might have done many, many centuries ago. Something truly strange happened here—in this part of Montival in particular.”

It wasn’t very far from where the train had stopped to the han estate of the local daimyo...

No, manor of the baron, use their words, they are less likely to deceive with false assumptions, Reiko reminded herself.

“It is disturbing. But not the most disturbing of many disturbing things, Majesty,” Koyama went on.

“I am disturbed myself,” she admitted after a moment. “Principally by... There is such a great deal of this Montival place. We knew that old America was very large and populous, but I was not... prepared as well as I could have wished. Seeing a map and reading numbers is not altogether the same thing as traveling through real lands.”

The trip up the Willamette valley had taken days, even traveling rapidly on the railroad—a wonder in itself of which Ishikawa Goru and Koyama and others of her party with engineering training had taken many notes. None of the islands of refuge were large enough to make it worthwhile, but when Honshu and the other great territories were reoccupied it would be time to consider it.

The valley began where the mountains ended, and there they had passed the ruins of Eugene. That was nothing strange in itself; she had seen the dead cities on the main islands of her own country, suburbs overgrown with renascent forest and the huge scorched, rusting, canted remains of the old world’s buildings blanketing mile after mile at their centers.

But dangerous, and besides that haunted by the mad and savage offspring of those who survived the collapse by preying on their fellows.

They were few and lived on rabbits and birds and pine kernels now, but they were still ready to butcher and eat a salvager they caught alone. Her father’s soldiers rescued their children where they could, those young enough to forget, but for the rest... the sword was the only true mercy.

We don’t like to remember it, but they are just as Japanese as we in blood, Reiko thought; it was something her father had told her to keep in mind, if privately. To become jinnikukaburi, one does not need to have Korean grandparents. Misfortune will do.

No, what had been daunting about Eugene was the scale of the salvage work going on—long trains of railcars coming out, hundreds of tons stockpiled under unwalled sheds, from gearwork to be incorporated into modern machinery down to huge buckets of broken window fragments to serve the furnaces of glassblowers, and bundled rebar with lumps of concrete still clinging to it, stock for the anvils of blacksmiths. With officials to tax the process and the only soldiers needed a small bored garrison who enforced the officials’ will and kept order between rival salvage groups. Eugene was dead, yes, but not the haunt of terror except in memory and dream. She did not think the workers there rested easy or would stay long by choice and they had to be careful where they put their feet or what might fall on their heads, but they were not in constant risk of attack.

“Do you notice that we haven’t seen a single automobile or truck wreck on the roads for hundreds of miles?” Egawa said, echoing the direction of her thought. “Since we left the mountains, and there weren’t many there. All hauled off to break up for useful parts long ago.”

They nodded, thinking of the rusting hulks that still sprawled by the millions on the roads of most of Japan. Traveling up the valley of the Willamette and crossing it several times by bridge to let each important community say they had seen their High King’s remains on their journey had been even stranger than Eugene. Corvallis was a living city, ten times larger within its wall than any of the castle-towns in modern Japan.

Fifty thousand people in one spot, in our world of today! And Portland and Boise are said to be even larger!

Corvallis was surrounded by manufacturing villages to take advantage of power from streams coming down from the mountains, as well as farms on the flats. A large part of the raw materials coming out of Eugene evidently went there, and the charcoal smoke of the forges and smelters and the ring of hammers and the hum of spinning machines had been noticeable.

And even with the vacant spots in this Willamette, gone back to swamp or forest, so much farmed land! she thought. The first true wealth of any nation, tilled ground and the men and women who tend it, and their children. From that all else springs.

The forms had varied—scattered farms of astounding individual size in the rural hinterland of Corvallis, each one with its house and barns in the center. Then clumped villages (called strategic hamlets, for some reason) in the area north of it inhabited by a group whose name seemed to be the Killers of Bears, and cottages and farms like strips strung along the sides of the roads in the area under the protection of an order of Christian warrior monks. Fortified villages behind great log palisades, surrounded by smaller hedged fields, among the kilted Mackenzies. Villages again here, huddled around castles and manors, a weird combination of the familiar and alien to her.

And all that only a fraction of Montival, she thought. I hear of entire other domains, Boise and New Deseret and the Nakamtu and the San Luis and the Lakota Tunwan, weeks of travel away, and all part of the same kingdom. There is no inhabited area at home that cannot be crossed in a single day. Now the maps begin to seem real, and it is frightening.

Koyama and Egawa both looked frustrated; they didn’t have time to linger even if their hosts had allowed it, but they’d also wanted to spend time on their slightly different investigations.

“I was impressed by that regiment that lined the tracks in Corvallis,” Egawa said. “Perhaps that is why she was patient with the speechmakers.”

They had stood close by the passing train that held their High King’s ashes and his heir, immobile as neatly ranked statues in a light rain, their weapons reversed and colors lowered. She had been close enough to see through the streaked window that many wept as they remained in their motionless brace. A group of middle-aged veterans, many with missing limbs or hideous scars, had grouped together under a unit banner that had obviously been sewn back together from tatters, bearing a slogan: We Stood!

Egawa had saluted, when he heard the story of how they’d earned it. His voice was musing as he went on:

“Those long pikes... the crossbow companies... and the field artillery. Not much use against small groups of jinnikukaburi raiding from single ships, but in a massed action... and the Bearkiller cavalry, also.”

“And the production of food and goods that makes it possible, such as we see around us now,” Koyama said. “I confess to bitter envy, Majesty. If we had such numbers, such power, we could crush the jinnikukaburi in a year or two at most, not fight all our lives to hold them off while trying to clear fields in the intervals between raids.”

“And if it were not all six thousand miles away from Dai-Nippon, Lord Grand Steward,” Egawa reminded them sardonically.

Reiko quoted an old saying: “Fukoku kyōhei. Rich country, strong army, neh? We are few and poor compared to these Montivallans now, but Japan has suffered disasters before, and by hard work and discipline has recovered. This part of old America has recovered so, from the Change and the wars that followed it, though much altered and diminished. That shows that they may be strong friends. We need such.”

Then, firmly: “But someday we too will be a great and numerous and prosperous people again, strong and respected, a nation whose friendship is worth cultivating and whose anger is to be feared.”

“Yes, Majesty,” Egawa said. With a thin smile: “Good to have powerful friends. Even better to be a powerful friend, neh?”

Hai, General Egawa, truly it is as you say. Until then, we will do as we must and as we can.”

A thought formed, and she proceeded slowly: “And... even so we may be very fortunate right now. These people had a war against jinnikukaburi of their own. Not cannibals, but otherwise just as wicked, inspired by similar evil akuma. Princess Órlaith and I spoke a little of it.”

“Yes, and they won,” Egawa said rather sourly; he had spent his life in a perpetual holding action, like a farmer walking on the treadles of a pump against a rising flood, with decisive victory a wistful dream. “That’s very fortunate, Majesty. For them.”

Koyama looked at her with real respect. “No, I think I see what the Majesty means. What if they had lost, General Egawa? What if they had lost? What would that have meant for us—and for Japan—if we had come here and found a jinnikukaburi kingdom with the size and strength we have seen, ready to make alliance against us and with the bakachon?”

Egawa’s face blanched slightly, though only one who knew him well would be aware of how much that meant.

Chikuso!” he blurted. “Damn! That would have been a total disaster! Enemies on both sides of us, ready to grind us into paste like soybeans for miso!”

He fell silent as Heuradys d’Ath dropped back beside them.

“We should be at Montinore village and manor within a few minutes. Welcome to my family’s fief, Your Majesty, you and your retainers. Our house is your house; enter and use all as you would your own.”

Reiko inclined her head slightly. “Thank you, Heuradys-gozen. Lady Heuradys, I should say?”

“I thought -sama meant that?”

-sama means that if...” Reiko frowned in thought. “If said from low person to high? It says also of the ranks of the one speaking and the one spoken of? -gozen, means Lady if from other person of high rank. -dono, also that, but it is... out of fashion. You do not have this difference?”

“Not really, or at least not formally. Lady is sort of ambiguous. Sir and the name is the title for a knight, but most Associate knights are men... a knight’s wife or daughters would be called Lady or my Lady, or Lady and the first name, by almost anyone except close friends and family. And a noblewoman’s daughters are called Lady unless you’re using a specific title; since my mothers are a Countess and a Baroness I would be called Lady Heuradys. Or sometimes Lady Heuradys d’Ath, but that would only be in an official document or at court. That would be my title by birth, but in my own right I’m just a household knight and an Associate. It’s a little complicated in my case because I was adopted by a woman, so I don’t lose the honorifics due because my father is a Count.”

“So this is your mother the Baroness’ land?” Egawa asked, and Reiko translated it.

“Oh, we’ve been on her fief for an hour now. This estate stretches from the railroad to the crest of those mountains ahead, we call them the Coast Range,” Heuradys answered cheerfully. “It was established early, long before the High Kingdom came to be, as Crown demesne... that is, land held directly by the Lord Protector of the Portland Protective Association. Then it was granted as a fief... han, is that the word? ...to my adoptive mother, Baroness Tiphaine d’Ath, about a decade after the Change, and added to afterwards, for services to the Crown.”

Egawa blinked as he worked out the amount; an ability to make quick estimates of area and distance was an essential skill for a warrior. That was more land than any individual family in Japan possessed by a considerable margin, even counting lords with colonizing grants on the main islands that were still mostly empty. Whereas most of this seemed to be tilled land or carefully managed forest.

“A family of very wealthy and powerful daimyo, then, Majesty,” he said calmly to Reiko. “Perhaps no insult is meant by not immediately lodging you in their equivalent of the Imperial Palace.”

“They have their reasons,” Reiko said. “If the circumstances were reversed, we would want time for ceremony and consultation among ourselves as well.”

And besides, our Imperial Palace these days is just the old Shogunate provincial governor’s house on Sado-ga-shima, which was a museum for a while, with a few modest extensions. We will be great again, my faithful bushi, but that time is not yet. You and I will not live to see it ourselves, but we will build the foundations and our descendants will raise the towers upon them.

She went on: “And we need a breathing space too, General Egawa. There is absolutely no point in worrying about home until we can do something about it. Focus, neh?”

They crossed a small river flanked by a strip of thick forest, on a bridge whose timbers boomed beneath the hooves. The road rose again; the mountains of the Coast Range were much closer now, and the ground grew a little hilly. They went past a mill with an overshot wheel twenty feet high and entered a largish village of several hundred people, with streets paved in patched and remelted asphalt bordered with trees. Cottages lined them behind fences, each at the head of a long strip of land ending in farm buildings, with a stretch of vegetable garden between; they were of different sizes and construction, with half-timbering and brick most common. There was a broad paved central square faced with a Christian church and what looked like other public buildings—she recognized the bathhouse and a tavern, and the workshops of blacksmiths and carpenters, potters and leatherworkers were obvious, just as they would have been in a castle-town at home.

People lined the streets, including many children; they waved little flags on sticks, the Crowned Mountain and Sword of Montival alternating with the Hinomaru of her Empire of Dai Nippon—the white flag with the red sun-disk in its center symbolizing her ancestress the Sun Goddess. Reiko felt her eyes prickling a little at the sight.

“Sa... Thank you very much,” she said to Lady Heuradys.

“Your Majesty, I’m as surprised as you. That would be my mother, Lady Delia.”

“She is... Countess, yes?”

“Well... ah, yes, as wife of my lord my father, Lord Rigobert, Count Campscapell. But she, mmm, lives here as Châtelaine to my adoptive mother Baroness d’Ath. And on Barony Harfang, our other estate, for part of the year.”

“Châtelaine is?”

“Sort of a manager—one who directs the estate officials, sees to the household and to hospitality; usually a lord’s wife, or a mother or other female relative if he’s a widower or single.”

Reiko nodded; that was very much what a lord’s wife did in Japan, an okugatasama. Plus defending the home, when the lord was away.

“My lady my mother has been Baroness d’Ath’s Châtelaine for a long time. Thirty-six years. My eldest brother Lioncel and my younger sister Yolande bear the name of de Stafford; I and my brother Diomede are adoptive children of the Baroness as well.”

Ah so desu ka,” Reiko said politely; that was all plain enough, without being rudely blunt. “It is... very nice... gesture, you say? The flags.”

“She has a... very nice sense of manners. And she’s quick. The news would only have gotten here a few days ago.”

Reiko looked up as they emerged from a stretch of orchard. Off to their right a castle stood on a hill. It was very unlike any in the homeland, but quite similar to others she had seen here, and to pictures of the European models, tall crenelated walls, square towers and a dojon-keep. Banners flew from the towers, and as they watched a heliograph began to snap bright flashes towards the east. The construction was quite different from its ancient models, and much stronger, but it looked very much like them, stark as a mailed fist.

“Castle Ath,” Heuradys said. “My lord Egawa, we’ll be quartering most of your men there.”

He began to stir a little restlessly, and Reiko made a sharp gesture with her fan. “Two men at a time will do for a ceremonial guard, in a quiet country place,” she said to him. “All thirty-two could not protect me from treachery, if our hosts intended it. See to the rotations when we arrive, General.”

“Majesty,” he said to her, bowing; her tone had not been overly sharp, but it brooked no opposition.

Then to Heuradys: “Conclete, sis Castle?” he asked. “Wiss steel leinfolcement?”

“Yes,” Lady Heuradys said. “Covered in buff stucco, as you see.”

The rolling hills here were blanketed in green rows of grapevines, each with a flowering rosebush planted at its head, or with orchards. Reiko found the taste of wine rather odd compared to the beer and sake she was used to, though she could see it would grow pleasant with familiarity and she could already tell the difference between good and bad. The road wound again, and they caught glimpses of white buildings on a nearer hill through the trees. Then the road broadened, and there was a wall—not a fortification but a marker and barrier to stray beasts, stone posts joined by curling screens of black wrought iron. Two taller stone posts on either side of the road were each topped by a yard-high statue of an owl; between them stretched a metal arch, comprised of Latin letters that spelled out: Montinore.

The lancers and crossbowmen of their escort split and lined the road on either side with smooth precision, facing inward. Even the horses scarcely moved. Servants in tabards with the d’Ath arms—which Reiko found pleasingly austere, after the busy complexities of many of the Association blazons—pushed the iron gates open. Heuradys reined aside and bowed, moving an arm in a gesture of welcome.

As Reiko and her retainers rode forward a command barked out, and the long lances dipped as one until the points nearly touched the ground. They held as she passed, and then each came back upright—a long smooth undulating ripple like the spines on the back of a fish bristling. Trumpets sounded, a long brassy note; as soon as the last of the Japanese had passed the gate the commander raised his sword before his face in salute, another order was called, and the column of guardsmen reversed and trotted away in the same easy unison.

“As I said,” Reiko said to her own guard officer. “To give us consequence.”

“Yes, Majesty. Very prettily done, too.”

The gardens beyond were a bit of a shock, totally unlike the spare, restrained Nihon style; there were sweeping green lawns like velvet, great trees of a dozen varieties scattered thinly or standing in clumps, brilliant flowerbanks beside winding pathways of white stone or frothing down terraced slopes, pergolas covered in an extravagance of purple wisteria, statues and benches and a tall fountain like an ascending series of shells where water leapt skyward. As the path rose towards the buildings they could glimpse a small lake beyond, and a hill westward covered in tall firs that seemed to mark the edge of the mountain forests.

“Gaudy,” Koyama said behind her, with a bit of a wince as he looked about at the gardens. “And chaotic.”

“Perhaps not altogether,” Egawa said equally softly, surprising her a little. “It’s not how I would do it, Koyama-san, but there is structure here, I think. I cannot see it yet—too unfamiliar. The flesh hides the bones too thoroughly.”

“Like a message written in a different script. Hmmm. Perhaps. It will reward contemplation.”

The buildings were in the Western style, familiar enough from surviving examples she’d seen in Japan, the central one with tall pillars, others looking as if they had been added from time to time in a different manner—windows topped with pointed arches rather than square lintels, for starters. They dismounted, and grooms came forward to take the horses. A small guard of spearmen and crossbowmen saluted and stood to attention; the servants knelt.

Reiko blinked. The tall slender woman of about sixty dressed in a darker version of Heuradys’ costume was certainly the Baroness d’Ath. When their eyes met for an instant she saw with a shock that they were of an inhuman color stranger even than blue, a pale gray like ice on a winter’s day. A slight chill ran through her, and she felt Egawa stiffen a little behind her, with an unconscious grunt of appraisal as his hand tightened on the hilt of his katana.

The middle-aged woman beside her would be Lady Delia, dark-haired and with those odd blue eyes by now half-familiar... and she was in a kimono. So was the barely-adult woman beside her who had a strong family resemblance; Lady Heuradys had mentioned a younger sister.

Delia’s kimono was a formal iro-tomesode of a rather antique style, a deep crimson, with golden dragons below the obi and the full five kamon; her daughter’s was pale sky-blue above with a pattern of a silver phoenix below. Baroness d’Ath used the flourishing gesture with the hat and a bow over an extended leg, respectful-looking even to one unfamiliar with the system of etiquette from which it sprang.

Lady Delia and her youngest managed a well-executed deep formal bow in the true Nihon style, only a little stiff and as old-fashioned as the kimono, but obviously something over which they had taken a good deal of care. So was the careful, and just-understandable pronunciation of:

Heika! Youkoso irasshai mashita.”

Reiko felt a melting of a tension she had not been fully conscious of until that moment.

 

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