“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: he believed in me.”
- Jim Valvano
She was still not allowed to go into Father’s war meetings with her much bigger brothers, but she could understand to some extent why, after they had explained it to her. But though she had already begun her combat training, the years and years they had told her that she would have to wait until she was allowed might as well have been an eternity to her five-year-old mind. And while she had grudgingly agreed to be patient anyway (if her brothers could do it, then so could she), Hakuei was not about to sit around doing nothing in the time between then and now. No, she was going to spend that time learning everything she could about what it was her family did and what she would one day take part in.
She knew exactly how she was going to start, too. When he was home, Hakuyuu trained with his sword a lot, but he also sat around reading so much that sometimes she had to push herself up between her brother and his book to even get his attention. Maybe, she reasoned, if she read as much as he did, she could be even smarter than her oldest brother, who everyone was always calling things like “prodigy” and “genius” that sounded wonderful to her.
So this night found her slipping into her father’s quarters, in the study at the back of his library. It was empty, but the door was halfway open and there was a candle still burning on the desk, illuminating the tall shelves of scrolls and books that lined the small room. Perfect.
It took her a minute to find one that looked like something of Hakuyuu’s, but eventually she decided on a fairly thick, new-looking volume, and after carefully taking it off the second shelf, she settled down with her back against the desk to peruse it. It wasn’t recent enough to include the conquests of her father, but the history of the Tenka Plains was interesting enough to hold her attention. Between that and struggling somewhat to read the complicated, formal characters in the first place (her mother always called her a fast learner, but it was still difficult), she was so absorbed in what she was doing that she didn’t realize that someone else had found her until he spoke.
“Are you getting through that all right, Hakuei?”
Hakuei jumped so badly that she almost dropped the book at the sound of the deep, familiar voice, and her stomach lurched with guilt as she remembered that, technically, she was not allowed to be in here with her father’s possessions. Surely she would be in trouble now...
But there was not the slightest trace of anger on Emperor Hakutoku’s face as he smiled down at his only daughter. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Do you like that book?”
It took her a moment to find her voice. “Y-Yes, Papa. It’s a little hard to understand, though.”
“Well, that’s to be expected; it’s a bit advanced for someone your age. If you’d like, I’ll find you a few more on the same subjects, but that will be easier for you. Just tell me which ones you want, and they’re yours.”
“Really? I’d love that, Papa, thank you!”
Hakutoku chuckled. “Good. Now, could you tell me why you snuck down here at this hour of the night? You could have just asked me, and there are much more convenient times of day to do it.”
Truthfully, it hadn’t occurred to her to just ask permission. Her father, when he was around, was always so busy, and she didn’t want to bother him for something she wasn’t even sure he would say yes to. Now she thought that that would be a little embarrassing to admit to him, so she decided to stick with half-truth instead. “But I didn’t want to wait. I want to learn lots so I can be just like Hakuyuu-onii-sama!”
“Is that so?”
The emperor’s smile broadened. “I am a very lucky man, indeed, to be blessed with such ambitious children. But, you know, Hakuei, you shouldn’t try to be exactly like either of your older brothers.”
She blinked, confused. “I shouldn’t? Why not?”
“Because...Come here, I want you to listen carefully,” he said, stepping forward and bending to lift his little daughter onto his hip. “Don’t get the wrong idea; it is perfectly all right to admire your big brothers. They do try so hard to be good role models for you and Hakuryuu, after all. But you shouldn’t try to turn yourself into a copy of either of them, so to speak. You need to focus on being you. You’re a smart, thoughtful girl, and I have no doubt that you will grow up to be a fine and strong woman.”
“Yeah!” she agreed happily, wrapping her arms around her father’s neck. “I’ll grow up really strong and help Papa fight, too!”
“That’s what you’re planning to do, then? Let me show you something...” Hakutoku moved over to sit down at his desk, setting Hakuei on his lap and gesturing to the large map that took up a good two-thirds of the wooden surface. “This is Kou, here in the far east. And flanking us are Gou and Gai. You’ve been taught those basics already, I assume?”
“Yeah. Mama and onii-sama and my tutors told me that we want to make Gou and Gai into Kou, too, right?”
“Exactly. The people of the Tenka Plains have always been at war. Eternal fighting, eternal bloodshed...That is our reputation. That is the only history we have,” he explained, his expression darkening. “I have had quite enough of it, as have all those who follow me now. What your brothers and I are trying to do right now is put a permanent end to the war between our three separate countries, and merge all of them into one unified nation.”
“And then you’ll be emperor of all of it, right? And you and Hakuyuu-onii-sama and Hakuren-nii-sama will get to be home all the time?”
“Is that what you want?” When she nodded, he smiled ruefully. “I would like that, too, very much. But I’m afraid it can’t be that way for a long time. Even after we become one nation, there will still be many other things for us to attend to.”
“Like the whole rest of the map, for instance,” Hakutoku answered, running his hand across the paper. “The Musta’sim Kingdom and the Reim Empire in the midwest...and then Balbadd and the Parthevia Empire in the far west...and so, so many countries in between. I have a great plan for this world of ours, Hakuei. I cannot stop with just Gou and Gai - every last one of these countries will one day be joined into a single, unbroken Kou Empire. A whole world with no war, no conflict, united in the ultimate peace under one king...That is what your brothers and I are fighting for. Do you understand that?”
“I think so...”
Hakuei leaned in closer, scrutinizing the map. The myriad possibilities that perpetually ran through her father’s head slowly began to form in her own. They tried their best to hide it, but when her big brothers and their comrades returned from battle, they were always worn down and weary, with fresh wounds paining their bodies and new memories weighing them down and dull, distant looks in their eyes. And that wasn’t even getting into the things that she had heard could and did happen on the battlefield itself. All that suffering and death...Her father was going to stop it all, for every single person in every single country in the world, and Hakuyuu and Hakuren were going to help him.
“I’ll do that, too, Papa! I’ll help you!”
“You’ll be a soldier, when you’re older? You know you’ll have to work very hard, for a very long time, before you even see your first battle.”
“Yes! I can do it, just like you and onii-sama and nii-sama can do it!”
“Well, then,” Hakutoku said, a glint of pride in his eyes. “I look forward to the day when my daughter can fight by my side as well.”