Two days later saw a faithful Takehiko return to the palace, to work. A little boy, barely reaching upto his shoulder, followed behind. The boy looked around nervously as they entered the palace. When he saw Toshi approaching, the boy hid behind Takehiko with his head bent.
"Who do you have here Takehiko?" Toshi asked, trying to get a glimpse of the hidden face.
"Just a boy I picked up on the streets, Toshi."
"Really? I certainly would not have taken you for the type to go picking up children from the streets!"
"Why not? I, myself have been brought from there by Advisor Ro, have I not? Besides, I am not keeping him."
"You are not?" Toshi asked, puzzled.
"No. He seems to be good with numbers and I remember Shin asking for an able assistant in the finance department."
"Ah, yes! He asked me this morning as well! That aside, how is Keiko-san? Is she with you still?"
There was sound from behind Takehiko but it quickly turned into a yelp and a consequent cough. Toshi appeared more confused. "Are you alright boy?" he asked.
The boy nodded from behind Takehiko. "Yes, yes he is fine." Takehiko replied, forcing Toshi's attention back to him. "And Keiko is still with me. I could not allow her to live alone in those woods so I convinced her that she must reside with me until Yuuta – her brother – returns."
Toshi nodded. "I agree. I am glad she is not living alone. Well then, I have some work to attend to now but I will see you in a while Takehiko! And by the way, Shin is in his office chambers."
"Thank you. I will meet him first and introduce the child before going to work."
Toshi then tried to peek behind Takehiko again with a smile. "You are a shy one, are you not? One might mistake you for a girl! Good luck… err… what is your name?"
"Kai" Takehiko supplied.
"Right! Good luck Kai!" With a nod to Takehiko, Toshi was off in another direction.
As soon as Toshi was out of eyesight, Takehiko dragged the boy to a secluded part of the castle gardens. After looking around and double-checking that the coast was clear, he turned to the boy.
"You did not have to stamp my foot back there, Takehiko!"
"Did I really not? You were about to blow your cover in front of Toshi! You look like a perfectly regular boy but if you keep this up, nobody will believe that you are one Keiko." He said, taking in the hair tied up in a bun, the padded clothes and messy face.
"I still do not understand why I need to pose as a boy! I could work in the royal harem as a maid and that would be just as useful!"
"No indeed, it would not." He sighed. "We have gone through this before Keiko. Firstly, nobody in the royal harem is likely to even know about Yuuta or about the officials we need to uncover. Also, posing as a boy is necessary because the men who work in the court still look upon women as secondary and incompetent." He noticed her indignant expression and continued, "I know how you feel. However, it is not something that can be changed within a day. It takes time to change society, Keiko. ...In any case, the finance department attends to the royal court in whole; meaning that working in the finance department will help you spy on ministers and officials from all the other departments. Working in any other department would make the officials from the other departments be wary of you; they are always looking for ways to down one another."
"That is completely messed up. Are you telling me that the court does not function in harmony? What will become of the people ruled by such a dysfunctional government?!"
"It is how every government works, Keiko. There are always those that seek more power and there is nothing we can do about it. However, do not concern yourself; as long as the emperor is a good man, the ones beneath him cannot cause any major harm."
"And is he?" she asked, dubiously.
"Yes, he is." Takehiko smiled with a pride that Keiko did not understand.
"You still have not told me how you came to work in the royal court or the nature of your work." She said, eager for an explanation.
"You do know Keiko. I work as an aide, and my master answers directly to the emperor." He replied, telling himself that a half-answer was better than a full lie. She was about to enquire further but he cut her off. "You, however, need only concern yourself with what you have come here to do. Do you understand?"
"Of course I do! Yuuta's life is at stake."
"I know. Now, let me tell you a secret. To be a man, you must prideful. The more prideful and confident you are, the more manly you will seem. And the ladies will be all over you!"
He earned a good kick for that last remark and a haughty Keiko walked ahead, albeit with a more confident countenance that made him laugh.
"Kuu Shin!" Takehiko called, strolling into the chambers with Keiko following behind.
Keiko peered from behind Takehiko's back to see a man slumped over a mountain of paperwork. He had dark, shoulder-length hair and pleasantly chiseled features, if one ignored the frown that then creased his brow. He looked up on hearing Takehiko's voice and the frown faded away, giving way to a teasing grin.
"Have you finally decided to take me up on my offer of working for me, Takehiko?"
Takehiko chuckled. "Unfortunately, I live by my sword and that will not change. However, I have brought somebody that I hope would stop you from trying to persuade me to work for you."
That seemed to catch his interest. "Really? Who is he?"
"This is Kai." Takehiko gestured towards Keiko. She took that as her cue to step forward and bow.
"It is very nice to meet you, Kuu-sama" she said, speaking a husky, male voice that surprised even her.
"Kuu-san will do! Although, I must say Takehiko, his manners do not match his attire. He seems to be a well-bred lad. Where did you find him?"
Keiko fidgeted nervously. Was I too polite? Maybe I should have acted more roughly. It is all Yuuta's fault for bringing me up a lady! I am sure he would not have had a problem with any disguise!
"On the streets. You can thank me for the manners, Shin. It occurred to me that you might appreciate a well-mannered boy, as opposed to a rude peasant." Takehiko replied smoothly.
To her relief, Kuu Shin accepted his cocky remark and started laughing, shaking his head disbelievingly. "I suppose I do!" he said, recovering from his bout of laughter. "You do not mind if I tested the boy do you?"
"Not at all. Please do as you wish."
The finance minister turned his attention to Keiko, who looked back, expectantly.
"How many copper coins are worth one silver coin? And how many silver coins a worth one gold coin?"
"A hundred copper coins are worth one silver and ten silver coins are worth a gold, sire."
"Good. But any fool would know that would they not? Now let me ask you a more worthy question. There is shopkeeper who has sold goods worth two silver coins to a lady. The lady only has gold coins to pay with and therefore, the shopkeeper exchanges the gold coin for ten silver ones at a neighboring shop. He gives the lady eight of those coins and keeps two as his payment. A little while later, the neighboring shopkeeper claims that the gold coin he had exchanged was a fake and demands to have his money back. If the first shopkeeper returns the money to the other one, how much loss will he have incurred?"
"Two gold coins sire." She replied without a pause.
"Are you sure?"
"Explain your answer."
"Well sir, along with the money he returns to the second shopkeeper, he has already given eight silver coins to the lady, the customer."
"But that only amounts to one gold coin and eight silver."
"Not if you count the goods he has already sold to the lady, sire. Those goods were worth two silver coins."
He took in Keiko's self-assured expression for a few moments, before he turned to Takehiko with a wry smile on his lips.
"It looks like your replacement might protect you from my pursuit after all. The boy shall work as my assistant."
"Thank you very much sire!" Keiko replied, gleefully. Finally! I will find you yet brother. Wait for me.
"Thank you, Shin. I shall leave him in your care." Takehiko turned to leave. "Good luck" he whispered to Keiko on his way out.
A/N: I cannot excuse myself for the late updates, except that I've had major writer's block! Forgive me? I really love this story and want to see it through to the end though, so I will! Depend on it! And I know where I want it to go... just that the road in between is shaky. Anyway, love you guys! Hope you liked it! Let me know what you think! :) -Jo