“My master needs access to Her Majesty’s palace hall.”
“I thought that was what you said to me.”
“Then why did you ask me to repeat myself?” Kagetoki’s thin face was unflinching.
“You cannot be serious, Kagetoki.” The courtier’s buggy eyes fixed intently on the servant. “I cannot allow even Naka no O’e to enter alone without Her Majesty’s knowledge of it. What is the Crown Prince hiding that she cannot know?”
“He is hiding nothing from you, Courtier. There are things that are too terrible for Her Majesty to know, too dangerous for her. She must be protected.”
“And it is my duty to protect her; I am a shield for the Empress. Therefore I must know his intentions.”
“But must she know?”
“Why do you speak in riddles, Kagetoki?”
“You know what I speak of, Yashimoto. The Soga have ruled in place of Her Majesty far too long. I know you share our ideals. The power of the Imperial family comes from the Deities. These men have built statues in their own honor, but they have no right to the throne. You must help us stop them.”
“Her Majesty favors Iruka and his father. I can do nothing to stop them. I must do the will of Her Lordship.”
“Empress Kogyoku is a trusting woman. She cannot be blamed for their manipulations. She cannot see their motives.”
“Are you questioning her royal wisdom, Kagetoki?”
“Do not be foolish, Yashimoto. You know what I say is true. Help us. My master seeks the best interest of Her Majesty that she may rule this land truly and not only in appearance.”
“Your master looks out for his own best interest, not the interest of Her Majesty.”
“I must disregard that insult, but I assure you, my master seeks the best interest of all the Imperial family, the traditions of our people, and to do the will of the Deities.”
“And why do you expect me to trust your master’s motives more than the Soga? You speak of their manipulations while you try to manipulate me also. What do I have to gain from trusting Naka no O’e?” The Courtier smiled thinly.
“Do you seek Her Majesty’s best interest or your own?”
Yashimoto gave no answer and Kagetoki shook his head. “Yes, you will be rewarded for your help.”
“What does that mean, servant of Naka no O’e?”
“He is offering each of you three golden sheaths with long swords in each, given to the Imperial family from the Tang Dynasty.”
“So I will help him.” And Yashimoto’s grin grew larger.
Kagetoki bowed slightly. “My master will be pleased to hear it. The palace gates must be closed after everyone has entered. He instructs you also to tell no one of this, but the palace guards. If you fail, you will all be less than rewarded, eightfold.”
“Tell you master not to threaten after he has offered rewards. It does not leave his friends with sweet tastes in the mouth. None will know of this here but the palace guard and whoever else has joined with your master’s cunning.”