Ashiyowa placed his arms around the Emperor’s neck and allowed himself to be embraced, leaning his face against the Emperor’s shoulders.
Until now, all he’d wanted was to go back to the mountains. Yet, he just willingly pushed himself further away from returning. He felt faint. The pounding in his chest made his face bright red. And yet, he wanted to believe in the kindness reflected in the Emperor’s gentle eyes.
Ashiyowa raised his head and found that they were on the bridge that connected Ryokuryū and Ryokuen Palace. The Imperial Guards and chamberlains followed behind. The chamberlains carried his chair from the podium and the cane he had forgotten. They also brought his crown, which he had left behind after stepping away from the podium.
He was called again, but as he turned his face, his lips were met with another’s.
The arms wrapped around him squeezed tighter as they hurried through the corridor. He was kissed relentlessly on his cheeks, temple, and lips, and when the Emperor’s lips brushed over the nape of his neck, Ashiyowa’s whole body trembled.
“Aniue, I’m so happy you’ve decided to stay…,” the Emperor said in a muffled voice, his nose buried in Ashiyowa’s neck.
“I won’t hurt you anymore. Close your eyes. I’ll make everything feel better…”
Ashiyowa felt an inexplicable urge throughout his body to struggle and free himself from the Emperor’s arms, to cry aloud. But he just shut his eyes tight.
Ashiyowa was laid on the bed as a chamberlain helped the Emperor out of his crown and royal attire. Then, it was Ashiyowa’s turn to be undressed from his blue silk robes.
The Emperor climbed on top of Ashiyowa, pulling their bodies together, skin against skin. He was already deep in ecstasy, rubbing their lower halves together as he showered Ashiyowa with kisses. The canopy’s curtains were let down and, for that moment, only the two of them existed in this world.
Ashiyowa’s lips were licked until they became plump and soft. Their mouths were locked against each other until they ran out of breath and finally broke apart, both panting, mouths agape. In between their quickened breaths, the Emperor nibbled his tongue, sucking his sweet saliva.
Ashiyowa clung to the Emperor’s upper arm, both hands in fists.
The Emperor paused and Ashiyowa could finally breathe. He stared longingly at Ashiyowa, at his wet tongue, entranced by the soft moans leaving his mouth. Ashiyowa’s tongue was sweet. He hadn’t felt the desire to kiss anyone like this before, but Lafoseine was different.
He couldn’t hold back anymore. He would do what he couldn’t do that day in the forest.
You could say it was partly because of the ministers’ pleas, but Ashiyowa, who long desired to return to the mountains, had changed his mind and decided to stay. In other words, he had accepted Lesheinu ― was what the Emperor thought.
Ashiyowa’s body was melting. His lower half pulsed with desire under Lesheinu. It was fine even if Ashiyowa just laid down and closed his eyes, Lesheinu was happy that he was there. He gently pushed Ashiyowa’s legs apart, trying to ease his body, when an overwhelming desire to make Ashiyowa his surfaced.
He caressed Ashiyowa, attempting to soothe the tension in his body. The smell of burning incense circulated throughout the room; it was meant to help him relax. Reaching out of the curtains, he grabbed a small glass bottle. It was a perfumed oil made from the purple Arasui flower, highly valuable because it only grew in the South Anasan district.
The oil was strictly for the royal family’s use and even aristocrats wouldn’t be able to get their hands on it.
It was used between two royal members when they made love to each other. For twelve years, the Emperor didn’t have much use for it, but this changed ever since his brother was found.
He poured the oil over Ashiyowa’s lower abdomen and spread it with the palm of his hands. He rubbed their bodies together, blending the oil. The Arasui’s fragrance became increasingly intense as their bodies warmed up, seductive almost, as even Ashiyowa couldn’t help but feel compelled to spread his legs.
Lesheinu flashed Ashiyowa a bright smile, whose eyes were half-open, resembling crescents. He ran his fingers through Ashiyowa’s short black hair, combing it up, and stroked his cheeks.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of… Nothing…”
He leaned into Ashiyowa, stretched on his back across the silk bedding, his hands and tongue running all over Ashiyowa’s body.
“A-Ahh… Nhh… Ahh”
Their skin was flushed red, and the fragrance thickened. Lesheinu’s hands were covered with Arasui oil, trying to coax Ashiyowa into his touch with soft caresses. It wasn’t like what Ashiyowa felt that day in the forest, there was no fear. Instead, any feelings of unease slowly melted away.
Ashiyowa’s hips shot up in surprise and he reached for Lesheinu’s arm.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Aniue.”
As Lesheinu began moving his hands, Ashiyowa buried his forehead in Lesheinu’s collarbone, his hot breath tickling his chest. It sent shivers down Lesheinu’s body, stirring something within.
“―Guhh…,” Lesheinu endured, clenching his teeth.
He bent Ashiyowa’s legs and pushed them apart, placing himself between the other’s limbs, then pulled Ashiyowa into a tight embrace, bringing their hips together. He nibbled on Ashiyowa’s skin, leaving a trail of small red marks across his neck.
“Ani…ue… Don’t be scared… It’s alright. I won’t hurt you…,” the Emperor whispered into his ear, leaning in to steal a kiss.
He let go of Ashiyowa’s body for a moment, grabbing one of the pillows to place underneath Ashiyowa’s hips. Then, he placed Ashiyowa’s left leg over his shoulder and emptied the second bottle of perfume oil onto his fingers and in between Ashiyowa’s legs.
The first finger went straight in, coating Ashiyowa’s entrance with the oil. Ashiyowa’s right leg thrashed about as he moved his finger left and right.
“D-don’t touch that place…”
“I won’t hurt you, Aniue.”
The third bottle of oil was soon emptied into Ashiyowa’s entrance. He could feel Lesheinu’s finger moving in and out. Just as his hips bucked up, Lesheinu grabbed his waist and pulled his finger out. Perfume oil trickled down his hips, and he seemed to have turned a shade redder from his neck to chest.
“Something like this… I-I…”
He covered his face with one of his hands, rough breaths leaving his mouth.
“It’ll be alright, Aniue. I won’t do anything scary. I love you.”
Tiny droplets trickled down Ashiyowa’s eyes and small quivers ran through his body.
Ashiyowa’s breaths sounded painful, his knees rubbing against each other as his waist trembled.
“It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine… Aniue.”
Lesheinu placed his hands on Ashiyowa’s legs and spread them apart. There were now two fingers inside.
As Ashiyowa opened his eyes, he was met with Lesheinu’s smiling face. In the meantime, Lesheinu was slowly moving his fingers, loosening Ashiyowa. The scent of the perfume oil reminded Lesheinu of those nostalgic times when the rest of the royal family was still here, of when he used to play around with them. Both men and women laughed together, desired each other, and learned together.
As Lesheinu’s fingers explored his insides, Ashiyowa felt a throbbing sensation pulsate through his body. The scratches and marks that used to litter Ashiyowa’s body had disappeared. Oil trickled down his body, leaving warm tingles wherever it touched.
“Just a little more. It’ll be alright,” he reassured Ashiyowa, flashing him a smile before leaning in for a kiss.
Yet, no matter how much Lesheinu tried to pleasure him with his hands, Ashiyowa’s reaction seemed weak and tired. Even if he did seem fine, Ashiyowa still hadn’t recovered from the earlier sensation. In truth, Lesheinu wanted to go faster but dismissed the thought. They were not meant to overdo it, after all. In a sense, this was also Lesheinu’s way of letting Ashiyowa know that he was capable of gentleness, that he would never hurt him again.
A third finger slipped in. Ashiyowa’s knees tightened around Lesheinu, trapping him between his legs. But the oil was slippery, and he didn’t have the strength to grip onto Lesheinu for long, so his legs slicked down and fell onto the bed.
Lesheinu brought out the fourth bottle of oil and applied a generous amount for Ashiyowa. It made a bubbly noise before it was swallowed into his body. Lesheinu moved his fingers in circular motions, stirring his insides.
In between their feverish touches, the perfume’s aroma continued to intensify, and as if invited by the scent, Lesheinu repositioned himself between Ashiyowa’s legs. He had been holding himself back, but it was finally time. After spending much time, effort, and love into preparing Ashiyowa, he was ready to join their bodies together. Pressing firmly against Ashiyowa’s entrance, he slowly applied pressure.
Then, all too fast, he was all the way in.
Ashiyowa’s back arched up and after a short pause, he let out a cry.
“Aghh! Ah. D-don’t…”
“I-It hurts… It hurts…”
Lesheinu saw white. Just putting it in had tipped him over his limit.
He hugged Ashiyowa’s hips and began thrusting in small motions. It still wasn’t enough. He was still hard and hadn’t calmed down at all after the first time. He took a breath, then went in deeper. Sweat fell in his eyes, down his neck.
“Leshe―. Aghh… It’s too deep. I’m scared… I-I’m scared.”
Lesheinu wanted to kiss him, to say something to reassure him, but he was in a tight position, half-inside Ashiyowa. Slowly, he pulled out.
Ashiyowa writhed in agony as he felt Lesheinu pull out of his body. Lesheinu turned his body sideways and quickly embraced him. Slowly, Lesheinu entered Ashiyowa again.
“It’s all right, Aniue. It won’t be scary. I’m right here. I love you,” Lesheinu whispered.
His lips brushed against Ashiyowa’s neck as their bodies rubbed against each other, his chest against Ashiyowa’s back. He hadn’t forgotten about Ashiyowa’s front half, reaching for Ashiyowa’s still-limp member, caressing it.
“See, it’s not scary, is it? I want to make you feel good. It’ll be alright.”
“A-Ah. Inside… Inside me. Leshe…Lesheinu”
“Yes, it’s me. The same Lesheinu that loves you deeply, Aniue.”
Slowly, he pushed forward into Ashiyowa’s slippery insides until his pelvis touched Ashiyowa’s entrance. His insides were hot and wet, clenching tightly against Lesheinu as he began to repeat the movement, moving back and forth.
“U-Unhh. Ahh… Leshe―. Ahh.”
Ashiyowa grabbed Leshienu’s arm, whose hands were running all over his chest. His head was spinning, his body drenched in sweat. Each time they rocked back and forth, small whimpers would escape his mouth and he would shake his head.
After twelve long years of emptiness and loneliness, Lesheinu had finally found someone he could love. He held him close to his chest as the proof of his love spilled into Ashiyowa.
The next day, while Ashiyowa was having his breakfast in the pavilion inside the forest, the Ryokuen Palace’s secretary came with a very dark expression on his face.
“Good morning, Aniue-sama. The Chancellor and the ministers are saying they want to have an audience with Aniue-sama by today if possible. What should I do?”
Ashiyowa was eating food made of flour from the toumoreiya fruit with honey poured over it when he heard a word he didn’t understand.
Looking across the pavilion’s floor from where he was seated to avoid making eye contact, Ashiyowa saw the secretary raise his face while kneeling on one knee.
“Does this mean that Leshe told the Chancellor and the Ministers that he would really abdicate?”
His voice trembled.
“Yes. The secret decree has been made, the Chancellor and the Ministers have been notified as of last night.”
“This means they want to talk to me about that matter, right? ”
“Yes. I think that is the case. It is also possible for you to decline the audience.”
Somehow he couldn’t understand the secretary’s words.
Ashiyowa found it strange that the Chancellor and the Ministers would want to have a “meeting” or an “audience” with him.
He wondered why having a conversation with a wild man was being called “audience” or “meeting” by the nobility. It violated the grammar rules he’d learned from the old man.
“Um, I don’t understand. C-Can I ask Lesheine…?”
“Yes. Then, I will guide you to His Majesty. ”
Ashiyowa took his cane and stood.
Last night, the Emperor’s surroundings became busy after it was announced that he would abdicate for an unknown reason.
“Just a minute, I’ll be going outside to hand down a secret decree. Aniue can just take his time and continue having dinner.”
After saying so, he left the balcony, accompanied by his servants and guards.
Then from that time, really… his abdication…
As Ashiyowa hurriedly followed the secretary, the bright face he had seen from the Emperor the previous evening came to mind.
“His Majesty is in the Imperial Court so let us head to the Ryokuryū Palace.”
To return to the palace, they need to go through the corridor, cross the bridge, pass through the gate, and go up the palace steps. The palace was the symbol of the Imperial Capital and called with the nickname “Facade” by the Emperor.
Ashiyowa was surrounded by Imperial Guards wearing gray armor to the extent that it was hard to see who was walking from outside.
Unlike the Ryokuen Palace that was exclusive to the royal family, green and blue servants, guards who served the nobles, and the black-clad officials came and went in the Ryokuryū Palace. Everyone bowed their heads towards the group that came from the back of the palace until they were out of sight.
When they entered the Emperor’s waiting room, the Emperor was already sitting on the ornate chair and sipping his tea.
When the Emperor saw Ashiyowa, he stood up to greet him with a smile brighter than the sunlight streaming in through the windows. Though Ashiyowa tried to sit in another chair, instead he was seated next to the Emperor while still in his arms.
“Good morning Aniue.”
“G-Good morning. Did I disturb you?”
“It’s okay. I heard that the Chancellor and the ministers asked for an audience.”
“Oh… I can’t easily meet with such important people of the empire by myself.”
The Emperor who stroked Ashiyowa’s back with his hand laughed softly.
“That’s simple, then let’s meet with them together.”
As he said so, he nodded to the secretary and recommended tea to his brother.
During the audience, the Emperor entered holding Ashiyowa’s hand.
Before coming in, Ashiyowa put on the headpiece bought by the chamberlains. He thought that doing it this way must be necessary for meeting the Chancellor and the ministers, so he obediently put it on his head and had the strings tied. The design was dazzling with the ornaments clattering; it was as if the silver birds around the vermillion beads would fly off. But it felt a little painful because he was not used to the string tied under his chin.
Above the platform was a golden chair, lined up with a carved partition screen and bronze vases, the tapping sound of the cane rang in the room.
When the Emperor sat on the throne, Ashiyowa was guided to a shining chair placed next to the Emperor’s seat decorated with a frightening number of ornaments and narrower than the throne. Unable to sit properly, he perched on the edge of the chair.
It was there, for the first time, he saw the nobles kneeling below the platform wearing headpieces with beads hanging down from them.
“You are permitted to speak; you may raise your faces.”
According to the words of the Emperor’s attendant, the Six Ministers raised their heads slightly, lowered their foreheads to the floor again, and then raised their faces.
Ashiyowa’s face stiffened because he could see that the eyes of the Six Ministers were directed at him.
“I heard you wanted to have an audience with my brother. If it’s about my attendance, I have received Aniue’s permission. Now, state your business.”
A noble with small stature took a step forward. There were six beads hanging from both the front and the back of his headpiece ― there were twelve pieces in total. The only one who could have that number of beads was the Chancellor.
“―Your Majesty and His Highness, we are extremely delighted that our impudent plea has been granted.”
“The reason we asked for an audience with His Highness is the secret decree last night. We wish to ask His Highness to stop Your Majesty from abdicating.”
Ashiyowa was overwhelmed by the concise report and the pressure from the glare that unexpectedly came from those narrow eyes.
Not knowing how to reply, he grabbed the elbow rest of the chair and glanced towards the Emperor.
The Emperor was sitting on the throne with a familiar look on his face, without a hint of nervousness, looking at Ashiyowa.
The crown above his head, the golden royal robe, even the sash clip and the necklaces he wore all seem to be unnecessary decorations before his imposing attitude.
―This guy is really the Emperor…
Yes, this was the current God ― the Emperor they had an audience with as a group when they came to the Imperial Capital. This face, this man.
He was the man who confined Ashiyowa in the Ryokuen Palace, pushed luxurious gifts onto him, treated him violently, healed his wounds, confessed love to him, and even said that he would abdicate for the sake of going back to the mountains together with him.
Within the continuous deafening silence, Ashiyowa swallowed his saliva and opened his mouth.
“…I-I, particularly…think that His Majesty doesn’t have to abdicate. Originally, I intended to go back to the mountains by myself. I think it’s best if His Majesty remains here.”
The Chancellor and the ministers’ faces burst into a joyful expression.
“You people will eventually have to manage the country without my presence. If so, why is everyone making a fuss? Isn’t it just happening a little faster?”
“Your Majesty, if you will allow me to answer, it’s not just about happening a little faster. The country will be in turmoil. The remote regions will be upset and in front of an empty throne, we would still be in a daze.”
“Twelve years have passed since the coronation but all of you are still like this?”
The Emperor leaned against the backrest, pulled the fan attached in his sash, and opened it with a sharp snap.
“We are very ashamed but… it is evident that the existence of the royal family is too important in our country. Please, Your Majesty, we ask on behalf of your subjects, please reconsider your abdication.”
The ministers also followed suit and said “Please reconsider,” following the Chancellor.
Only the snap of the fan echoed through the audience.
“I intend to go together with Aniue, no matter what he says. If Aniue heads for the mountains, since I can’t follow him as Emperor, I will abdicate and go.”
For a moment after the Emperor’s announcement, the Six Ministers corrected their posture and bowed their heads towards Ashiyowa.
“We would like to ask His Highness. If you consider the people of this country pitiful, please have mercy. Please do not return to the mountains.”
Ashiyowa quickly got goosebumps all over his body and at the same time, he felt his blood draining.
“The people wish for the Emperor to reign for as long as he can; more than a year. I hope that His Highness will understand the wishes of these subjects and the common people, and continue to live in the Imperial Capital.”
“Please keep it within the limits of playing in the mountains. However, if His Highness still prefers mountains, we will arrange to increase the number of mountains in the Ryokuen Palace. ”
After the ministers reported in chorus, Ashiyowa sat still in the chair above the platform and became stiff while he still had goosebumps.
He shifted his line of sight away from the vassals kneeling on the floor to his side. When their eyes met, the Emperor said this.
“Aniue, they may be saying those things but Aniue can do whatever it is you wish. Aniue has always been saying that you wanted to go back to the mountains. Our lineage has been here for a thousand years. It’s time for us to leave. I’ll make them prepare for you to be able to move out by the end of the year. Now, let’s go further.”
The Emperor did not seem to care about the desperate pleas of the Six Ministers who had practically stopped breathing, but calmly reached out and grabbed Ashiyowa’s hand.
Even the secretary from the Ryouken Palace who stood in the corner of the platform just looked at the two royals with a gentle expression, as if the kneeling nobles were invisible.
Ashiyowa did not move even when his hand was grabbed by the Emperor. He looked down to avoid seeing anyone’s face. When he did, the ornaments on his headpiece rattled.
“…Why are you making me choose such difficult things?… I just want to go back to the mountains. That’s all, isn’t it? There’s no problem even if you don’t follow me. There would be no need to trouble your vassals and the people.”
“There is a problem. I don’t want to be away from Aniue. What’s the use of leaving the capital and leaving me alone? Maintaining the country? The Six Ministers can just have a discussion and decide. Judging at trials? Then what’s the purpose of having an Attorney General? For the sake of the verdant lands? They can just promote further advanced irrigation projects. We saved up for ten years for that. There’s no need for Aniue to be bothered by my abdication. As I have said before, if Aniue wants to head to the mountains, I will go with you. I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
The last words he uttered were so heavy that they stirred Ashiyowa inside. He raised his gaze from the hand that was caught and looked up at his Emperor’s blue eyes.
He didn’t expect them to have a gentle colour.
Ashiyowa reached his conclusion after he saw those eyes. He grabbed the Emperor’s hand back and looked down at the kneeling vassals.
“―About going back to the mountains…I won’t be going for a while…after all His Majesty will take back his abdication, won’t he…?”
When he looked up beside him, the Emperor stood up without haste.
“As of now, my abdication will be as Aniue said. However, you shouldn’t be relieved with this change of mind. Be more active in considering how you will manage without the presence of the royal family. Understood? ”
“Ha! We are grateful for this happiness, Your Majesty.”
When the Emperor made this announcement, he picked up Ashiyowa, who was stiff from nervousness, in his arms and walked off the platform just like that.
He was having dinner with the Emperor while talking about horses bit by bit on the balustraded balcony.
Their surroundings were bright with torches and a luxurious candlestick was placed on the table.
How is the taste? said the Royal Chef and due to their persistent efforts, Ashiyowa’s unbalanced sense of taste which was a bit of a headache was gradually being alleviated. Still, it was undeniable that the difference between the dishes spread before the Emperor were worlds apart.
Ashiyowa was eagerly eating the cold nahisui with his bare hands.
The Emperor was in a good mood and was talking about going on a trip sometime. Ashiyowa paid no attention to it halfway and sat still on his seat.
“Shall we take a trip to the county where Aniue’s mother’s grave is?”
The half-eaten nahisui was placed on the plate.
“Leshe ……. I.”
“Is there something wrong?”
He hardly had any awareness about his own parents. Even if he was aware, it was a useless thing after all.
When he was born, he realized that there was only the old man.
When he learned about the mechanism of how babies were born, he thought that he must have also had parents. As a stray, he was abandoned by his parents, so he didn’t consider wanting to meet them.
“Father is sleeping in a grave in this garden. Let’s visit him together sometime soon. To father and everyone, I have to report that Aniue was found.”
Father, half-brothers and sisters…….
Ashiyowa felt his mouth drying up so he grabbed the heavy looking gold colored wine glass.
But before he lifted it, Ashiyowa put his elbow on the table and rested his forehead on his hand.
“I, I-I……parents, a mother, I don’t have, anymo-……”
His emotions heightened up that he wasn’t able to speak well.
――Talk properly! Although I’m the one who taught you, I won’t forgive that ambiguous way of speaking and violent use of words.
Snap! The old man’s distant voice along with the bending of branches were heard; Ashiyowa stretched his back. After arriving in the Royal Capital, he inevitably dug up the composition ability that had been lost in his memories. He was now able to speak much more smoothly.
“Leshe, is that mother really my mother? You call me Aniue and the others also address me that way but if I’m not really your older brother, it’s not the time for visiting the grave. I’m just being rude.”
When he turned his body towards the Emperor to talk, both of his hands got wrapped together.
The blue eyes were staring straight at Ashiyowa.
“You are my older brother”
“There is no proof for that……!”
“There is. It’s my feelings. The one I love is only Aniue”
“Can that even be called a proof……!”
Ashiyowa had a warped expression on his face. The stars were shining over their heads, the half-brothers were illuminated on the balcony with the moon.
“The Royal Family truly…….from the bottom of our hearts, can only love blood relatives.”
Ashiyowa shook his head while both of his hands were still in his grasp.
“I am a wild man raised in the mountains! I grew up and I will die in the mountains! There’s no way someone like me is royalty. Stop your joking already. Release me. I want to go home ― I want to go back to the mountains.”
With his eyes becoming damp, Ashiyowa shouted towards the Emperor.
The cool breeze shook the torches and swung the Emperor’s golden hair.
The Emperor stared at his brother’s hands that were still within his grasp with his head slightly looking down.
“―Then, I will abdicate.”
There were crackling sounds coming from the fire. The waiters, chamberlains and the guards were watching from a distance that would not interfere with the two.
Ashiyowa blinked his eyes.
“Yes, I’ll abdicate and live on that mountain with Aniue. If I continue staying on the throne, vassals will follow me to that mountain after all. I have the role of ending this dynasty eventually. It will be faster than others expected but it is something I will do someday. Please tell me your tips for living in the mountains. I will learn them immediately.”
After saying that, the Emperor had a bright expression on his face.
That night, the cabinet ministers under the Chancellor received a notification from the Emperor about his secret decree.
―I am thinking of stepping down from the throne by the end of the year.
After changing to formal attire, the ministers who received the Emperor’s decree fainted on the spot.
Just a while ago, when the Emperor’s lifespan was extended and his reign became stable, they had just found a path to transition and reform the system.
Then there was the secret decree this midnight.
Fortunately, it hasn’t been made official yet.
The ministers woke up their vassals, prepared the horses, and quickly headed towards the Imperial Palace.
Gathered in the room for the cabinet meeting were the ones that were called as the Six Senior Noble Ministers of La Seine, but every face was pale as if they had seen a ghost.
“What on earth―”
“Why such a decree as that―”
“How is His Majesty doing?”
They all started talking all at once and soon turned their eyes towards the Chancellor who was seated in the upper seat of the Six Ministers.
The Six Ministers had a sitting order and the one seated in the upper seat became the Chancellor. The next seat was for the Deputy Chancellor and when the Chancellor retired the seating order moved up.
“If it is His Excellency then you must know something.”
“About why His Majesty is like that…”
After the Chancellor who had a small stature and a thin white beard on his chin coughed, he opened his mouth. His eyes were thin like thread and it was unknown if he could see even if he raised his head.
“From what I’ve discussed with the secretary from the Ryokuen Palace, it seems that His Majesty wishes to live quietly in the mountains after hearing his brother’s wish. He wanted to abdicate himself from the throne to become free to live with Aniue-sama.”
The ministers who were sitting on the black Raden chairs were dumbfounded.
“Oh, What such……!”
“Does His Majesty want to abandon us?”
“Even though I’ve come all this way for His Majesty, if it’s like this there’s no meaning.”
“Can’t it be stopped somehow?”
“Isn’t it also possible to live quietly in the Ryokuen Palace? Until now the Royal Family have also lived there without complaints!”
Aside from Zenyo, the grief and indignation of Ayoru, Kamiuru, Hakkasu, Muhou, and the ministers resounded in a room in the Imperial Palace throughout the night.
The youngest of the group and the one seated next to Kamiuru, Ajen had a deep thinking expression and stayed quiet by himself.
“Did the Gray Wolf not admonish His Majesty?”
“……Originally the Gray Clan is a clan that serves the Royal Family. For them it’s enough as long as the Royal Family is alive. They are that kind of clan, and their position is different from we who manage the country. If His Majesty heads for the mountain they would follow him naturally on their own. Far from admonishing, they would help him.”
And then the Chancellor coughed again and looked towards the pale faces of the ministers as if he was glaring at them.
“―The only way to change His Majesty’s mind is to appeal directly to his brother.”
The ministers nodded their heads at the Chancellor’s words.
Summer quietly arrived and soon the whole land was enveloped in warmth.
The castle was built with the wind’s direction in mind, so the heat was bearable. If you left the doors open, the passing currents of wind were enough to cool the room.
Ashiyowa was asleep in a cool forest. The pain had disappeared since the day he collapsed in the forest and found himself drenched with sweat, wrapped in the Emperor’s arms. He could move around and eat normally.
He still met with the Emperor, but kept his distance, unable to forget the pain he’d felt. If the Emperor played around and hugged Ashiyowa, his body would immediately stiffen, afraid that any movement would overexcite the Emperor. If it was just a light peck on his lips, he endured it.
Right now, Ashiyowa was concerned about the balding mountains.
The Emperor presented him with a one-seater carriage since he often travelled to distant places. The carriage came with curtains attached, its body embellished with gold trim and an engraving of a mythical creature chasing after a gem. In front, there was a coachman watching over the handsome black-maned horse as it pulled the carriage. Ashiyowa was fascinated by the jet-black horse.
“―He’s a fine horse.”
“He’s named Alsephone. He comes from East Fosetteau. That region’s famous for its horses.”
“… A horse like that just to take me around.”
“It is because it is you, Aniue-sama, that he chose Alsephone. Alsephone is gentle and very smart. If you’d like, you can ride on him instead of using the carriage. But just because you can ride him, you still shouldn’t overdo it.”
Ashiyowa was stroking Alsephone’s coat when he looked back and saw the Emperor. He was dressed in summer attire and wore a faint smile underneath a parasol being held by a chamberlain.
“I-I’d like to be able to ride him someday…”
The Emperor nodded instantly.
“From now on, you shall teach my brother”
“It will be an honour, Your Majesty,” the grey coachman replied as he knelt down and bowed his head.
Ashiyowa was interested in the mountains because they reminded him of the place he’d been brought up. But here, their sand-like soil was dry so crops couldn’t take root and when it rained, the earth would crumble away, weakening the mountain’s foundation. They were different from the mountains that Ashiyowa knew.
He rode the carriage towards the mountains. As he wandered aimlessly, he felt a buzzing in his chest. What was it trying to tell him?
Truthfully, all Ashiyowa wanted was to return to those familiar mountains, to his home. But his memories from that night were still painfully clear. He remembered how his face had been slammed down as he shook off the Emperor’s hands, how he was attacked as he desperately tried to escape. He could only imagine how the Emperor would react if he said he wanted to return home again―.
Ashiyowa bit his finger as he stared at the ground, reflecting on his dark shadow. Instead of a crown, he wore a straw hat. He’s been advised to wear the crown several times, but he was no aristocrat, and his hair wasn’t long enough to be tied up. He was told that he was part of the royal family, but he didn’t feel that way in the slightest.
He was just being cornered by a young man who people happened to call the Emperor. That was all. A terrifyingly beautiful, violent, but sometimes childish man who was surrounded with riches beyond his imagination. A lord who commanded numerous soldiers and servants. As someone who had never admired or longed for the royal family, that was how Ashiyowa thought of Lesheinu.
I wish they’d just let me leave…
All he’d wanted was to buy a book he could bring back to the mountains. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.
A magnificent palace standing proudly in vermillion, gold, and white and the vast, elegant garden, surrounded by mountains; it was easily larger than his hometown. Everyone there existed for the sole purpose of serving the Emperor and his half-brother. He wondered if he had mistakenly wandered into a strange, foreign land.
Luckily, there was still some good in all this. As requested, he was allowed to get closer to the horse.
Once he was done strolling the mountains and gathering his thoughts for the day, the coachman taught him how to ride the horse. He started by teaching Ashiyowa some basic knowledge of horses before they moved on to practice riding. Ashiyowa also asked the coachman to teach him how to care for the horse once they returned to the stables and learned how to wipe its sweat, prepare its food, and clean its straw bedding.
The plain blue silken robes Ashiyowa usually wore were a hindrance, so he often took them off while caring for the horse. It was hot anyway, so it worked out fine.
But he was also reluctant to get his under-robe and shoes dirty as they were also quite luxurious, so he ended up barefoot in his undergarments. The servants around him panicked, eventually offering him some clothes that appeared more extravagant than the coachman’s but were easier to move in than the blue robes.
“But this is too much. I’ll be sweating in it anyway,” Ashiyowa refused.
The coachman’s expression changed. Away from the scorching sunlight and summer bugs, the horses stood in the shade, basking in the cool air.
“Forgive me, Aniue-sama, but would you be willing to put on these robes? If you must undress, we servants dare not wear anything more.”
Ashiyowa was sitting on a chair they’d prepared for him and almost choked while sipping on cold water.
“Surely there’s no way…”
He wanted him to say it was a lie, but it wasn’t just the coachman. All the servants around him were kneeling down, black whorls of hair faced towards him. His eyes met with a chamberlain’s, who nodded in response.
“Please bring me the clothes from before.”
Ashiyowa stared at the cup he was holding. The servants around him thanked him and left. More than anything, he wanted to leave. To return to the mountains where no one lowered their heads for him―. Such thoughts occupied Ashiyowa’s head as he stared at his reflection inside the cup.
It was an auspicious summer day when news that the Emperor’s brother had been found was announced throughout the country.
For three days straight, taverns were kept open and liquor was served freely. Small offences were forgiven. Officials crowded into the worship hall and cheered as Lafoseine’s name was revived on the royal list. The retainers’ initial worries disappeared and their faces shone brightly as they celebrated the Emperor and his half-brother. The depressing, dark clouds that had once covered the Royal Capital and Imperial Palace were gone and the roof tiles of the palace seemed to shine even more from a distance as if they had been meticulously polished.
What a difference it made…
Wang, a former scribe, looked up at Ryokuryū Palace, squinting. He was now an official, set to appear at the Imperial Court today.
Enthroned at the age of fourteen, the Emperor quickly gained the respect of his subjects and people with his earnest efforts to listen and conduct fair trials, and through the implementation of the Ritsuryo legal system.1 Year after year, his beautiful appearance remained unchanged. Yet, perhaps out of loneliness, the brilliance he once possessed faded and the Royal Capital and palace were shrouded in darkness, veiled by grey clouds.
Along with that, Wang was also here to report the discovery of fertile soil across the country’s various districts. It was part of his duty to observe each location and summarise any details and it was how he was recognised as a government official.
Only those with front row seats in the worship hall could see the Emperor but rumours of his appearance spread throughout the Imperial Palace. In the blink of an eye, everyone heard about the Emperor’s newfound radiance. As he sat on the throne, his golden hair seemed to glow even brighter than the crown, soaking in the sunlight. It was like he was a different person. His blue eyes were bright and clear, purposeful and intelligent, and his pale skin seemed healthier, a slight blush extending across his cheeks. He carried himself elegantly, wearing a pleasant smile across his face as he nodded to the celebration. He was no longer the lone member of the royal family and it was obvious to everyone that he had changed.
Raseinu had a founding myth. Before the ancestors of the royal family arrived, the country was desolate. The land then was not even one tenth of what it was now, cursed with bare mountains and sparse water resources, and even the animals had fled. The people on these barren lands were one step from death.
But then the royal ancestors appeared. The clan they belonged to possessed unique abilities and, as the myth went, the once dismal lands immediately transformed into rich soil.
Crops took root and the land turned green, forests revived and rivers were born, animals returned and the country became prosperous. Upon witnessing the clan’s power, the people of the land pleaded with them to rule over the lands, and at their repeated requests, the clan finally agreed. They replied that they would rule the country for as long as their bloodline continued and the one who accepted their pleas became the first Emperor.
Unlike the black hair, black eyes, and yellow skin that were common among the people of the land, those of royal blood had blonde hair and blue eyes and their skin was white as snow.
Consanguineous marriage was a common occurrence between Raseinu royalty. While it was still considered unethical at the time, people turned a blind eye; they liked to think that the royal family was different. But even if they were royalty, there were sages who strongly opposed such marriages, calling them disrespectful and impure. Much of this, however, was ignored by the government and the public.
That wasn’t the only difference between ordinary people and royalty. While the average lifespan of a rich, sheltered citizen was only 70 years, the royal family had an expected lifespan of 150 years.
When the previous Emperor died, the current Emperor was thrust onto the throne at the age of fourteen, taking the place of his predecessor. As he was declared the last Emperor, subjects clung to the small hope that he still had more than a hundred years left, conveniently forgetting the other ‘unique’ characteristic of the royal family: that they couldn’t live without one another. This, of course, served as no guarantee and recently the Emperor’s condition seemed to be deteriorating at an alarming rate.
In a panic, the Imperial Court offered a concubine to the Emperor and bowed, requesting that he produce an heir. The country was in a state of turmoil at the demise of the previous Emperor, its structures collapsing one after another. How long will the new Emperor be able to endure this loneliness? Would there be a child with an outsider? Needless to say, even if the child’s power was halved or lost, it was the policy that he should still continue to serve as the country’s ruler. That was the most effective way to unite the land and for the country to continue living in peace, undisturbed.
Those chosen to succeed the throne were said to be the best of the best within the royal family. At the demise or resignation of the ruling Emperor, he would be replaced by the one with the most power, strength, wisdom, and skill. Regardless of whether they were a direct descendant of the Emperor, anyone who possessed royal blood could inherit the throne. The throne would usually be entrusted to the heir once they turned twenty and since the royal family did not discriminate between gender, there had been a mix of male and female rulers across the years.
Coincidentally, the current Emperor’s father happened to be the previous ruler, and his mother was his sister. Conceived between father and daughter, Lesheine was born a pure royal, blessed by his relatives.
Lesheine experienced sexuality at a young age as he learned and played around within the clan. But ever since the royal family was struck by misfortune, he had become the last royal. No matter how many beautiful women or men were offered to him, Lesheine desired none of them. That much was clear.
Government officials attempted to soothe the public, but, despite their sentiments, the royal family had no political reason to marry. If the Emperor were to marry, he wanted to feel attraction to his partner. Without love, he couldn’t truly acknowledge the other. Though at this rate, it seemed the Emperor’s lifespan would be more of a concern than the matter of an heir.
“Rumours say the royal family can’t live without one another, but with this it’s clear.”
“Did you see all the fuss they made searching for the lost prince? I heard it was a big affair…”
Wang sat beside Oryo, a fellow student and senior. Oryo had become a government official a few years earlier and was helping Wang with the current report.
Currently, they were seated in the room designated for Imperial Court officials to enjoy lunch. In front of them, food was spread out across low tables. The room’s doors were left open and it was lively inside the vast space, filled with appetizing scents.2 Over there, you could buy lunch with small change or leave the Imperial Palace to have a meal elsewhere.
“I’m not supposed to say this aloud, but as soon as His Majesty embraced his brother, the Hyakuhana Ryumeen flowers at Ryokuen Palace were in full bloom. They say it blossoms only once every 100 years.”
Oryo was a dark and tall man with a horse-like face. He worked under someone that served the secretaries of prefectural lords, who reported directly to the Emperor and announced any imperial edicts to the public.
“Ah, is that so? That’s a little early isn’t it.”
“That’s right, even the concubines that were left untouched for many years were finally called upon. The royal family must really be different.”
The two of them were munching on steamed meat buns together.
“Just like that, the lost prince was found and His Majesty was revived. By all means, we must establish a system to govern this country by ourselves while His Majesty is still alive. That’s why you became a government official, isn’t it? We’re counting on you.”
It was hot. His breath was heavy and his body was drenched. Sweat ran down his forehead to his eyelids. As he drew in a breath, Ashiyowa opened his eyes. He saw white.
“―Does it still hurt?”
The voice came from above and when he looked up, he found his self-proclaimed half-brother.
Ashiyowa was naked. Stripped from his nightwear, he was left completely bare aside from the bandage wrapped around his waist down his right leg. He was lying on top of the Emperor’s body, equally bare, and when he tried to move away, his wrists were held down.
“Aniue, look… You’re still…”
The Emperor’s body was similarly coated in sweat, his warm breaths brushing against Ashiyowa’s ear. Laying down on his back, the Emperor entwined their fingers, squeezing Ashiyowa’s hand. Ashiyowa wanted to scream.
Struggling to pull his hand away, Ashiyowa trembled, only to fall back onto the Emperor’s chest. He was by himself the last he remembered; he should have been sleeping alone in the forest. Yet, before he knew it, a white tent with a cone-shaped ceiling and circular walls had been set up and a futon was laid onto the ground. There were now two of them under the candlelight.
Ashiyowa felt something hard against his thighs, the other man’s desire was obvious. But, he was still frightened and hugged himself even tighter. It had only been about a day since. He tried summoning the last of his strength to move away from the futon, but pale arms wrapped around his waist and he was pulled back into the Emperor’s embrace. The Emperor buried his face into Ashiyowa, his mouth and nose rubbing against his chest.
“Aniue is in pain…”
His muffled voice made Ashiyowa sick.
Speaking of which, the discomfort in his body seemed to have subsided, along with the sharp strokes of pain that tormented his head. Though his leg was bandaged, he felt like he could bend and stretch his knees.
Without thinking, Ashiyowa looked down onto the face that had buried itself in his chest. Dishevelled strands of golden hair scattered across the Emperor’s face, but his misty blue eyes had a certain clarity to them as he faced Ashiyowa. His plump lips were glossy and red, and his white skin was like a snowfield, flushed with red.
Ashiyowa flinched at the sight. You wouldn’t think the person in front of him wore the same face as the beast who had hungrily devoured him the night before. His arms stretched out, grabbing Ashiyowa’s shoulders and stroking his back. Ashiyowa felt the Emperor’s hot breath against his skin, his face pressed against Ashiyowa’s chest.
Without thinking, Ashiyowa almost let out a strange voice, but desperately suppressed it. Beads of perspiration continued to drip down his body.
It felt like the very core of his being was burning. He recalled a sensation that awakened every corner of his body. He remembered the Emperor’s intoxicated face, excited by the heat, and suddenly, his waist and legs felt lighter. Looking down, the white bandage around his right leg had come undone. With the bandages loosened, he could now bend his knees, just as he thought. Freed from the restraints, Ashiyowa let out a breath. With the bandages off, Ashiyowa had nothing to hide his body and was now completely naked, like the Emperor.
To prevent any further misunderstandings, the Emperor visited the dense forest with a group, carrying Ashiyowa’s lunch. Seeing his half-brother curled up as if to protect himself, he gave instructions for a tent and futon to be set up. He approached Ashiyowa, whimpering, and embraced his curled back, trembling from the cold. He was pushed away this morning, but with a glance at his hands overflowing with so much power, he knew what he had to do.
He began stripping the both of them, placing Ashiyowa onto the futon before climbing in. Wherever their bare skin touched, he felt a sweet numbness arise. Through his lips, he transferred some water into Ashiyowa’s mouth and hugged him tightly. At a glance, Ashiyowa’s body looked long and lanky, but his muscles were well-shaped, and as you could guess from his diet, he had no fat at all. The Emperor ran his eyes over Ashiyowa’s body, admonishing himself as he almost forgot his purpose. Gently, he lifted his palm and gradually began exerting his power. The relentless bite patterns and bloodstains that littered the nape of Ashiyowa’s neck, shoulders, and chest slowly disappeared. In the midst of his fever, Ashiyowa felt a strange sensation from his core. It was as if he was melting, the pain slowly dissolving.
He woke up, soaked. Though people with black hair and eyes were common in the country, Ashiyowa’s features somehow seemed a little different. As Ashiyowa’s hot breath stabilised, the Emperor became excited when their eyes met. Their wet skin was stuck together, melded to each other, and the bandages that were wrapped around Ashiyowa had untangled earlier as he was turning around in the bed.
Ashiyowa’s right leg could bend without any issues and the pain was gone.
Despite the events of the previous day, the Emperor desperately fought against the urge to press his body against Ashiyowa’s. But as he released Ashiyowa, a quick peek at his body told him that he wasn’t ready to accept the Emperor again, both physically and mentally. Yes, that was only natural. Not much time had passed since he had done that.
I want to touch him…
No, he couldn’t. Not now.
I don’t want to hurt him again… I want to put my finger in.
Not now. It’s too soon.
While pressing his forehead against Ashiyowa’s chest, the Emperor’s internal struggle to fight against his instinct continued.
I want to taste him…
He didn’t want to subject his brother to such brutality again, he wanted to bring him pleasure, to properly join their bodies together.
The Emperor clenched his teeth.
“… Aniue … I’ll never do such a terrible thing again … I won’t hurt you … I won’t be rough. Please forgive me…”
He released his hands and broke apart from Ashiyowa for a moment, before squeezing their fingers together even tighter. Drops of sweat trickled down the tips of his hair.
“I love you.”
Ashiyowa was surprised by the Emperor’s sudden behaviour. After tucking Ashiyowa into the futon, the Emperor left the tent.
Stars stretched across the night sky. A chamberlain offered him an outer robe as he stepped on the soil and walked away.
“I’ve released the pain. Help him refresh, he’s drenched,” the Emperor spoke to the Secretary of Ryokuen in the dark.
“Please, Your Majesty. You must take care of yourself. We’ve readied the bath and prepared some food.”
“―Before that, call a concubine,” the Emperor interrupted. He had to get rid of the heat within his body. If not, he might be tempted enough to turn back.
“Certainly, Your Majesty.”
At his request, a chamberlain was promptly sent out.
The sight of his pale, dewy skin tinged orange under the candlelight was bewitching. The Emperor knew then that even if he called upon the most beautiful princesses, none could compare to Ashiyowa.
Despite the darkness of the night, the reflection of white flowers in full bloom stretched across the garden pond. He vaguely remembered that only half of these flowers were predicted to bloom at this time. For a while, the Emperor gazed at the elegant flowers in silence.