The Color of the Phoenix’s Tail – Part Five

Seien is learning how to deal with the ministers. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Shi Seien, Shou Yosei

Seien sat beside Shou-taishi, listening to the ministers debate, and practiced looking calm.

“… the merchant clans are starting to move their operations, of course the province has petitioned for Imperial aid!”

“Upkeep of towns and roads has always been a local responsibility!”

“Oh, always? What money was it that built the canals, then?”

The two ministers glared at each other, nearly baring their teeth. Seien sighed; some days he felt more like a nursemaid than any kind of ruler, even one in training. Keeping the ministers away from each other’s throats sometimes reminded him quite a lot of trying to keep a five-year-old Shuurei from dunking herself in the fish pond.

Fortunately, he’d found ministers responded fairly well to much the same cajoling that had worked on her.

“Gentlemen,” he said, voice soft, “let us hear all of the reports before we seek any decision.”

The ministers settled back grumpily, letting the poor provincial official reporting to them talk again.

Actually, Seiran thought, Shuurei would probably love it if she could be here. He could just see the sparkle in her eyes as she rolled up her sleeves and waded into the argument. He could see her standing here with her hands on her hips, scolding everyone like a miniature mother about how skimping on money to repair a roof only meant spending more on ruined floors and furniture. For a moment, he had to fight to keep his smile calm. Thirteen years old, and the girl was already wiser than most of the men in this room.

Well, he could at least bring her wisdom here.

“Kei-jirou,” he turned to the representative from Finance before anyone could start arguing again. “Is it possible to project how much repairing these roads would cost in another three years?”

“Three years?” Kei flipped through his papers and named a figure that made the minister who had suggested such a delay turn pale. Seien nodded, flicking a look at the Secretary of Public Works.

“And there would, of course, be the lost revenue to deal with, as trade slows down in that province.” He hid satisfaction behind his smile as Kan started chewing on the end of his brush. The senior minister for State was also looking thoughtful.

“There’s also the cost of cleaning out bandits, after,” the Secretary for the Military put in. “They thrive when travel is difficult, and the provincial Governor would surely call for help with that since,” he cut a glance at the minister most against the whole thing, “that’s his undeniable right.”

Seien relaxed. With a majority of the Secretaries plus the Minister of State, he could carry this. Carry it without the assistance of Shou-taishi, that was, who was leaning back in his chair and not helping at all. He seemed to get some obscure enjoyment out of leaving Seien dangling with his ambiguous and partial authority, letting him piece together consensus on his own. It did, Seien had to admit, make for stronger policies. He had mostly stopped resenting it.

Mostly.

He still thought he’d give almost anything to have a few more thoughtful, competent officials around here, to help him take care of all the children.

As the officials who would be his grumbled themselves into agreement, he made sure to keep smiling soothingly at them, and tried not to wonder if it would help if he offered them sweets as an incentive. It had always worked on Shuurei, and it was one of the only bribes he could currently produce out of his own resources. He stifled a sigh and tried not to glare at Shou.

At this rate, he was going to wind up looking forward to that damned throne.

End