So, as mentioned in the preview, this story does indeed involve a marriage proposal. Actually, it involves two! ^^; Tei Yuushun (formerly an Assistant Governor of Sa Province and the assistant originally sent with Ensei) agrees to becoming Prime Minister of the Ministry of State Affairs. When requested to take the post, Yuushun lists ten conditions to his agreeing to the post which Ryuuki agrees to. However, not all's well for Ryuuki as the assistant head of the Ministry of the Enlightened Ones Uu-sama has taken to chasing him around the palace trying to get him to take a wife. The elderly official is extremely persistent in chasing Ryuuki about that Ryuuki has since been reduced to hiding under desks in order to escape the man. (In fact, after returning to the palace one evening to do more work, Ryuuki does his work under the desk so that Uu-sama would think nobody was in the room. Kouyuu was given quite the shock the next morning when he accidentally ended up stepping on Ryuuki who had fallen asleep under the desk while working.)
Shuurei has returned from Sa Province and is currently suspended from all duties and denied permission to go to the palace. Using Seiran, she sends a short note to Ryuuki "--Until the cherry blossoms bloom".
At the castle, a couple of issues have come up recently, but Ryuuki, Kouyuu, Shuuei along with Yuushun try to keep things quiet for the time being. Instead, they learn that Heki Yuukoku, a very famous artist, is supposed to be in the capital and so they want to hunt down the artist and ask him to do a picture for the Emperor. Yuushun gives Ryuuki permission to go out during the afternoons to look for the artist provided that he returns by sunset and that he still does his work.
Since the artist is part of the Heki clan, Kouyuu calls Hakumei to his office and tries to get any information he can out of the young official, but when he asks Hakumei about Yuukoku, Hakumei gives him an answer as per the Heki clan. He won't tell him anything about the artist. Apparently Yuukoku is considered a living treasure to the Heki clan and is being considered to be the next clan leader. So valued by the clan, Hakumei tells Kouyuu that even if he were to threaten to kill him, he wouldn't say anything. However, when Kouyuu mentions that Yuukoku was supposed to be in the capital, Hakumei is shocked and becomes uneasy. He eventually tells Kouyuu that if that were true, Yuukoku might be downtown. Armed with this information, Kouyuu, Ryuuki, Shuuei and Seiran, who'd come upon them as they were about to set out, decide to start their search being seeking information from Kochou.
Shuurei instead tries to find things to do during the day to keep herself busy when she receives a note from Kochou telling her there's someone she'd like her to meet when Ryuushin sneaks out of work to see her. Ryuushin tells her that she's too soft on the townsfolk since she listens to all their problems even though they should be going to the provincial office to lodge any problems or complaints they may have. Keichou (Santa) then drops by as Shuurei prepares to visit Kochou and tells Ryuushin that his father was looking for him. Santa brought a picture that he was hoping to get checked out. While he knows alcohol well, his family's not knowledgeable when it comes to artwork. He also wanted to talk to Shuurei but since he's having trouble getting his courage up to ask Shuurei something, she continues reading through her letters. While a little annoyed that Shuurei is doing other things at the same time, Santa can only hem and haw and can't seem to say what he's wanting to. However, he finally gets his courage up and blurts out "I've come today, to ask you if you would!" Confused, Shuurei looks at him and tells him that she doesn't recall his having made any requests of her, and he realises he'd forgotten the most important part to his request.
Santa decides to try again later and instead sets off with Shuurei to visit Kochou when a young man approaches Shuurei asking if she's Kou Shuurei. When she admits that she is that person, the young man, holding a letter and scroll, as well as a gold tanuki, tells her he's come to ask her to marry him and gives her the letter and the scroll. Utterly confused by the young man's actions, they can only watch as he leaves.
Shuurei and Santa continue to Kougarou when, a scheduled release of upstream water takes place as they cross a bridge. However, underneath the bridge an alarm goes up as someone gets swept downstream in the sudden rush of water. Santa and Shuurei can only wonder at the man's foolishness at being under the bridge during a regularly scheduled release of water like that, and continue on to Kogarou.
There, Shuurei is introduced to Heki Karin, who's been staying at the brothel for ~two months. As Shuurei asks Kochou about the artwork that Santa had brought, Kochou tells them that it's a forgery but Karin, seeing the piece suddenly goes rushing out of the brothel. As they continue to discuss the forged work, an unconscious young man is brought to the brothel having been rescued from the river. He apparently had a map to Shuurei's home on him and one of the rescuers, who knew that Shuurei would be visiting Kochou that day, decided to have him taken to the brothel. Shuurei tells Kochou about the strange incident in front of her home earlier that day and how the man had asked her to marry him.
Kochou wakes the young man and they try to learn who he is. The man tells Shuurei that he'd been waiting for her under the bridge as per the arrangements in his letter he'd given her. Shuurei remembering the letter the man had given her along with the scroll, reads the letter and is confused. He tells her that it's a love letter and that with it, the gift and arranging a meeting place, his request for her hand in marriage was complete... although a bit backwards in order. Shuurei tries to read the letter again, but both Santa and Kochou grab it from her and read it. Like Shuurei, Santa doesn't understand the letter, but Kochou can't help laugh at the contents and admits that Ran-sama would have a hard time mimicking the young man. "The frog goes hop, hop, and a hop, hop."
The man tells Shuurei he hadn't intended to get washed away in the river but he had arranged to meet her under the bridge. Shuurei, still very confused asks the man just who he is, and he realises that he must have forgotten to write his name (Shin Suou) in his letter. Keichou, put out by Suou's request for Shuurei's hand in marriage, tells her that he has work to do and goes to leave Kougarou.
Outside Kougarou, Ryuuki, Shuuei, Kouyuu and Seiran run into a confused looking man who asks them if a woman named Karin was at Kougarou. Shuurei, familiar with all the courtesans at the brothel tells him that no woman by that name is there. A bit more confused, the man thanks them and leaves while Kouyuu asks Shuuei if he's certain no one by that name was at the brothel.
As the men enter the brothel, they hear Shuurei's voice coming from upstairs as she chases after Santa asking him what was wrong with him all of a sudden. The four then hide behind the stairs as Santa and Shuurei get into a fight at the top of the stairs about how Shuurei was being treated unfairly by the Emperor and the Courts. While To Eigetsu was now Assistant Governor and eventual successor to Kai Yu, Ensei's position was unchanged, and Tei Yuushun had now become Prime Minister, only Shuurei was being punished for what had occurred in Sa Province losing all rank, becoming an official in name only, and being suspended. Shuurei can't deny what Santa says as she herself is all too aware of how differently she's been treated with regards to that incident. Santa leaves without noticing the men while Kochou comforts Shuurei and they return to the room where they left Suou.
Downstairs, Shuuei and Kouyuu feel guilty that, if a similar matter came up again, they'd use Shuurei in the same way again. However, Seiran tells them that would ultimately be Shuurei's decision and that Ryuuki didn't regret anything, so they shouldn't either.
Shuuei asks Ryuuki if he wanted to go upstairs and see Shuurei, but he decides to wait and asks Seiran to go with Shuurei instead.
Back inside the room, Kochou and Shuurei find Suou weighing some gold coins. Apparently oo-danna asked him to weigh (count) some money for him and he'd taken it very literally. Suou had coins on both sides of the scale and it was clear that he didn't even know how to weigh money to count it (even though it would have been much easier to simply count the money). However, as Shuurei stared at the scale, she realised something was wrong and goes very pale. When asked what was wrong, she tells Kochou to look at the scale very carefully. Kochou then realises that the weight was off and that they were dealing with counterfeit money.
Shuurei decides to investigate both the counterfeit money and the forged art and convinces Suou to go with her. Shuurei's on suspension but Suou, for all that his position was essentially bought, was still a proper official. Suou doesn't want to as it would be a bother and he didn't really want to spend time running about because of Shuurei, but Kochou whispers to him that if he didn't go, he would learn what hell was. Kochou then tells Shuurei to visit Rakan, whom she'd passed all the counterfeit art that they'd run across so far to, along with Seiran who she noticed standing in the doorway.
After Shuurei's group leaves, Shuuei and the other men slip into the room through another door. Kochou tells Shuuei that Shuurei had run off to investigate the forged artwork and counterfeit money when, given Shuuei's reaction, she realises that he knew about both matters but hadn't said anything. Shuuei then asks Kochou about Heki Yuukoku. While Kochou didn't know Yuukoku, she figured that Karin might know something. Surprised, Shuuei realises that there had indeed been a Karin at the brothel unlike what he'd told the man outside earlier. The men decide to set off and find Karin and Kochou gives them a final warning, Karin is very hard on men.
Outside Kougarou, Suou tries to run only to be grabbed by Shuurei who complains that he'd promised to help. As Shuurei tries to convince him to go with her, Suou's suddenly hit on the back of the head by something. With tears of pain in his eyes, he turns to see Seiran catch a bamboo shoot and pay the merchant for it.
What, is he a devil?!
Shuurei had introduced Suou to Seiran, her "family retainer," as "someone who'd come seeking her hand in marriage". At that instant, Suou had definitely sensed danger to his life.
"Tantan-kun, don't you think a man should keep his word?"
(Apparently Tantan-kun came from tan-tan-tanuki).
"No, not really."
Suou then slips and falls hitting his head and a leaf from the bamboo shoot lands on his face. He realises that it wasn't a coincidence that that leaf ended up under his foot.
They then visit Boss Rakan and while Shuurei and Seiran are busy talking to him, Suou debates slipping away, only the other thugs at the gambling den decide to play against him. However, lucky for Suou, after Shuurei and Seiran come out again, the men give him back everything he'd lost.
Elsewhere, Ryuuki, Shuuei and Kouyuu try to track down Karin who they discover has been visiting various art shops in the area. As they walk down the street, a woman yells, "Get out of the way you three manservants!" and rushes right past them. Kouyuu can only wonder at the woman, while Shuuei conceded that she was actually quite beautiful and seemed to be in her mid-twenties. Ryuuki could only wonder that, for the first time in his life, he'd been called a manservant.
As the three recover from the shock of the woman's passing, they notice running down the street only to have some unsavoury types block her path. Thinking to help her, Shuuei and Ryuuki take a step towards them, however, the woman doesn't stop and instead kicks the men in the groin taking them all down. "Honestly! The other name for men is pest!!" As the woman disappears down a small side street, Ryuuki can only wonder if he was included in being called a pest.
Shuurei, Seiran and Tantan-kun end up going around visiting various shops, stopping often to talk to various people on the streets. While Shuurei is in one shop, Suou asks Seiran his age. Seiran tells him that it's difficult to tell his age and that he should think about it. Suou then tells him that undoubtedly he was over 30. He goes on to explain to a surprised Seiran that people for whom it's difficult to tell their age, like women, were generally 5 years older than they seemed. Seiran tells Suou that, no doubt, he had no luck with women because he tends to say too much. Suou is surprised, but Seiran tells him to say what he'd just said to Seiran to a woman; he'd see Heaven in an instant.
Last, they go to Master Ou's shop. Seiran goes in to talk to Ou while Shuurei and Tantan-kun sit across the street at a shop eating dango and drinking tea. (Seiran at this point calls Tantan-kun "saifu so no 2" or "wallet #2". Suou can't help but wonder who wallet #1 was). While at the dango shop, Suou talks to Shuurei and tells her that she works too hard and that all her effort wasn't going to make a difference to the world.
By the time Seiran comes out, Shuurei has eaten ten sticks of dango. Since it was getting late, Seiran and Shuurei decide to call things a day at that and let Suou go home, but that they'd resume the next day.
The next day, much to both Shuurei's and Seiran's shock, Tantan-kun comes and meets them at Shuurei's home.
"...that scary family retainer there told me that if I didn't come, I'd be cursed by raccoon spirits..."
However, unlike the previous day where they'd gone about visiting various shops, this day, Shuurei decides they'd pay a visit to the Assistant Secretary of Public Works Ouyou Gyoku. Shuurei talks to Ouyou about the forgeries and asks him for his help in finding out who's behind the forgeries.
While Shuurei's talking to Ouyou, Suou talks to Seiran and tells him that he's realised why Shuurei had visited some of the shops she had yesterday, but admits he has no idea why she went to the salt merchant. Seiran explains that not everything Shuurei did the previous day was connected to either the forgeries or counterfeiting, and that as Suou had seen, Shuurei was often stopped by the townsfolk about other problems.
While they'd been walking about the day previous, Shuurei had been stopped by a young girl who clung to her crying. Apparently, her mother had recently died from complications after giving birth to a child and her father was away, so she'd gone to Shuurei relying on rumours about her because she had no idea what to do with a newborn baby. That day, the girl was thanking Shuurei for all her help and asked her to do something to reduce the risk to women due to childbirth.
Likewise, recently, the servant of a wealthy man had recently come crying to Shuurei begging for her help. "The sheep, Mii-chan, that our master loved as his own daughter just died, but the master's saying, 'Mii-chan's my daughter. I'm giving her a funeral as my daughter! Go buy a kimono, jewels and coffin for Mii-chan.' Please do something!" And apparently Shuurei managed to take of things beautifully. Curious, Suou asks Seiran how she'd taken care of that issue, but Seiran tells him that if he wants to know, he should ask Shuurei.
Suou then tells Seiran that he takes back his comment yesterday about Seiran being over thirty. Seiran graciously accepts the apology when Suou goes on to say that, no doubt, Seiran was over forty! Seiran tells Tantan-kun that something good would happen if he apologised immediately - the day he died would be extended likely by fifty years from that day. However, Tantan-kun refuses to apologise and ends up being bullied by Seiran until Shuurei comes out to get them.
Ryuuki, Shuuei, and Kouyuu also continue their search the next for Karin. The previous night, Karin had stopped by Kougarou and seen the picture that Oo-danna put up at the front of the brothel. Come morning, the picture was gone although she'd left a note that she would return it later. As Ryuuki, Shuuei and Kouyuu try to find the woman, they realise that that day, unlike the previous day, she was now hitting all the tree nurseries, and groundkeepers. Confused, they continue to try tracking her down.
Shuurei leaves the forged artwork with Ouyou telling him that there was too great a risk of the roof leaking at their home. After talking to Ouyou, Shuurei decides that she's done as much as she could and that she would submit some reports, and Tantan-kun gives her a small bag. Inside, were some counterfeit coins that he'd discovered after going through the money they had at home as well as one of his earrings. He explains that he'll come get the earring later.
After Shuurei's group leaves, the man that Shuuei had accidentally ended up lying to the previous day comes out and sees the pictures and realises who'd drawn them. At the same time, Hakumei forces his way into the residence having finally being freed from work and learning from his own home that a strange man had come to visit the previous day.
That night, after dinner, Shuurei has tea with Shouka as Seiran works on fixing the roof. Apparently, during the year they'd been in Sa Province, Shouka hadn't done any repairs to the residence and the place was in much the same state as it was prior to the renovations done after the deal with Shou Taishi. Shuurei, hesitatingly tells Shouka that she'd asked Dr. You something while she was in Sa Province. As Shuurei tried to muster the courage to tell Shouka what she'd learned, Shouka holds her hand and tells her that he understands and that she doesn't need to saying anything more.
"You know, Father..."
"Some day, Seiran will probably leave this house, too"
"When that happens, would it be okay being just the two of us? Is it okay if it's always only the two of us?"
"......As long as you're here, I'll be happy with just that. I don't need anything else."
"............Thank you, Father...... I'm sorry......"
"Why? There's nothing to apologise about."
"I won't marry anyone."
"It's all right, as long as you're here, that's enough."
"We'll always be together, Father. If Seiran's not here anymore, in order to manage, at least learn to repair the roof okay?"
"That would be easy"
"You lie. It's hard to say if you'd even be able to climb onto the roof. ...Hey, Father"
"What is it?"
"......Don't leave me behind too soon, okay?"
"That's my line."
Later that night, Shuurei writes up some reports of what she'd observed in town that day, when she decides to work outside by the moon and starlight. Outside, Tantan comes and pays her a visit and commenting about how she always works so hard at things. He admits that he'd made a bet with himself that if Shuurei were never to ask why he was always so quick to give up and didn't try, he would give her a reward. He then tells her that it was likely he'd end up getting hit by that scary retainer if he took her out of there alone and that she should go bring him too. Before she goes to get Seiran, he then tells her that he wanted her to tell him something on the road; how did she manage to take care of the problem of Mii-chan's funeral.
Having followed Karin's tracks from the various groundkeepers, Ryuuki, Shuuei and Kouyuu find her outside one residence trying to scale the wall to get inside. As they confront her, they come to realise that she's Heki Yuukoku, when a carriage pulls up behind them. Tantan is surprised to see so many people outside his residence while Ryuuki and Shuurei are surprised to see one another there. Tantan however lets them all in and tells Karin that what she was looking for was indeed at that residence and that he'd show her the way.
Inside the gates, Tantan asks Seiran if he's any good at fighting and points out a lone man standing in the garden. They needed to take care of the guard in order to go further, and in a flash Shuuei and Seiran take down the man and tie him up. Tantan can only remark at how quickly and practised they seemed at rushing in and taking down guards and wondered if the two were robbers.
Once past the guard, they find a young boy surrounded by various artworks when Karin runs to him and holds him tight. Banri had apparently been led away from Hakumei's home and taken to Tantan's residence by someone and had been copying various artworks. However, they also find a carving very similar in design to what would be used to make the country's currency, and realise that for all that he was a young boy and didn't understand, he'd unwittingly helped counterfeit money. And that was an automatic death sentence.
Attempting to protect her son, Karin claims that it was she, Heki Yuukoku, who was responsible for the counterfeiting, but Ryuuki tries to protect both the mother and son saying that the die was a trial piece and that he'd come to request Yuukoku to carve a new, difficult to counterfeit die to be used to make money.
However, while everyone is sorting out exactly what was happening and where, inspectors invade and have Tantan and his father arrested for forgery and counterfeiting. From their actions and attitudes, they all realise that the Shin residence wasn't involved in the counterfeiting and weren't ultimately behind the forgeries but that whoever was behind it all, was getting them to take the fall for everything. That night, inspectors also barged into Sai Rin's and Ouyou Gyoku's homes and took away all the evidence that had been gathered. The art dealer who had been caught in Ouyou's trap likewise died suddenly before he could be questioned.
Days later, Tantan hears footsteps in the jail. After Tantan had been arrested, Shuurei then worked quickly to get him freed from prison and try to prove his innocence. Since all the evidence against him was circumstantial, he was being freed. Likewise, he was being left in his dead end job as an official, but if he managed to carry out an important work, it might be possible to save his father from execution.
"Ah, not possible. Really not possible. Absolutely impossible."
"Why do you give up so quickly Tantan? Show you're a man!"
"A man, huh?"
Suou then starts to undo his loincloth when Seiran uses the darkness to stop him.
"......Tantan-kun, if you show anything strange to her ladyship, you'll die in an instant. In an instant. For starters, are you so confident so as to show it off?"
Several days later, Santa visits Shuurei and asks her if she'd marry him. Shuurei thanks him but...
Before she can tell him his answer, Santa tells her that he'd save the rest of her answer for later. He then goes on to admit that he was leaving for Sa Province that day and that, if she'd agreed, he was prepared to see Shouka and Seiran and get hit for taking Shuurei away, but that if she said no, he'd go to Sa Province without saying a word. Apparently, he was going to help research alcohol especially as can be applied to medicine at the new institution being built there thanks to Shuurei's and Eigetsu's original plan when they were still co-Governors. Santa tells Shuurei that if he becomes a really good man while in Sa Province, he would come back and ask for her hand again... and when he did, for her to call him Keicho.
After Santa leaves, Shuurei asks Seiran if he would have hit Keicho if he'd gone to give his regards, and Seiran readily admits he would have half killed him.
"......Seiran's scary when angry. It would be best for the other person too, that I not marry......"
Seiran asks Shuurei if she remembers what she'd said long ago, when she was still studying under Shouka and it wasn't possible for her to take the National Exams.
"In the future, I'm going to become Prime Minister, so you become a Shogun and spank the Emperor well Seiran, and together we'll protect this country! So do your best and rise through the ranks!"
Seiran admits that he'd been unsure about things, but that now, he was thinking that maybe it would be all right to rise further in the ranks. Shuurei happily plans to put meat on the table instead of only vegetables, but realises that it might be that they wouldn't be able to eat together too often any more. However, Seiran reassures her that he would do whatever he had to to ensure that he came home for dinner when she was at home. When he tells her that she seemed even happier than he'd expected, Shuurei admits that it meant that rather than being a burden to Seiran, that it meant that he, Shouka and Shuurei would be able to go through life together instead.
Seiran then admits that he was a little relieved that Shuurei refused the marriage proposal.
As written in Shuurei's letter, Ryuuki visits Shouka's residence along with Shuuei and Kouyuu. There, they're greeted by Shuurei and Shuuei and Kouyuu leave the two to talk. Ryuuki tells Shuurei that he can't apologise and Shuurei tells him he doesn't need to. Ryuuki then goes on to tell her that while he can't apologise, if similar circumstance were to arise, he would likely do the same thing again. Shuurei says she knows that and that was part of his job of being Emperor.
Switching to "Shi Ryuuki", he repeats what he'd said a couple years earlier when they'd met under the cherry trees.
"I know the Emperor well. If there's something you want to tell him, I'll pass it on."
Shuurei asks him if he's sure, and that he might be killed for passing on the message, but Ryuuki tells her it would be safe. Shuurei then takes a deep breath and yells:
"Dammit! Suspended?! Give me a break!!"
Shuurei tells him that that's all she wanted to say to him, much to Ryuuki's surprise. He was expecting much more.
"Rather than that, the Sa Province dishes I'd promised you I'd make will get cold. Is that all right?"
"No, I'll eat. ......Hot radishes?"
"I didn't add any."
"I'll play whatever songs you like."
"Taking a walk?"
"If it's in this garden, I'll join you."
"I made absolutely no such promise."
At the palace at one of the ministers' meetings, a motion is put forth, following Tei Yuushun's ten conditions to take on the Prime Minister's post, that deadweight officials be fired or otherwise let go.
A letter reaches Shuurei on the day she's finally taken off suspension, and at the same time a similar letter is sent to Suou. Suou can only apologise in his heart to his father that he might not be able to help him.
Wow! That was long! But I'm with Suou, how did she solve the problem about Mii-chan?!?