Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Chapter 10: The Emperor
On his head, he wore a gold crown decorated with jewellery.
His wavy hair, resting on his shoulders, resembled melted gold.
The sun was beginning to set, and under the hints of sunlight peeking through the left of the hall, the sight of the Emperor dressed in gold was so dazzling, it was almost blinding.
His skin was like snow, fair white, and his eyes were a deep dark blue, a colour that Ashiyowa had never seen before.
His eyebrows were straight, as if clear with intention, and his nose was long and slim, followed by his soft lips, ever so affectionate.
It came into Ashiyowa’s vision all at once, his striking features, burnt into his head.
It was certainly a rare sight, given there weren’t many people on the street who could wear such colours.
In his royal robes, he sat atop the throne with a rather casual demeanour, nodding nonchalantly at Ashiyowa as he raised his head up, just as he had done with the other commoners.
His mind seemed to be elsewhere, distracted, but with a sudden blink, his eyes snapped back to Ashiyowa’s face and remained fixed on him.
At that moment, Ashiyowa felt a pang in his chest, as if something inside of him was about to be taken away. He stared back at the Emperor’s youthful appearance, his mouth, half-open in protest, wanting to say something. Only, words seemed beyond him at the moment.
For reasons he couldn’t yet understand, his right hand trembled with the urge to reach out and grasp the sight before him.
“That has been eighteen people. The audience is now concluded.”
Ashiyowa let out a sigh, relieved to hear the official’s voice. He noticed he was still kneeling and turned around to see Wang’s back, three steps ahead.
Ashiyowa stood up with his left leg, followed by his right. But as soon as he shifted some weight onto his right leg, his knees gave out.
Wang turned around, noticing Ashiyowa’s soundless squeal, quickly returning to his side to help support him.
Wang caught his arm and helped him balance himself. But upon looking up, Ashiyowa realised that Wang was looking elsewhere, his concerned expression evident from his side profile. Following Wang’s line of sight, Ashiyowa was met with――.
The Emperor’s gaze, staring back at them.
His mouth was open, about to say something.
“Your Majesty, is there something wrong――”
His aides called out, but the Emperor only turned his head away, indifferent.
With Wang’s arm supporting him, Ashiyowa re-joined the line.
They headed out the castle gate and crossed the moat once again, returning back to their designated residence at the mansion.
“Thank you, Wang.”
“Huh? Ah, don’t worry about it. By the way, Ashi-dono, will you be able to ride the carriage back to Ryokannan tomorrow?”
The group received their six silvers upon returning back. Ashiyowa immediately repaid Wang the silvers he had borrowed.
“I got what I wanted, and I got to see the Capital.”
“… That’s good to hear. I guess this will be goodbye, then.”
Ashiyowa bowed his head deeply.
It was thanks to Wang that Ashiyowa avoided completely collapsing in front of the Emperor. It was also thanks to him that he was able to purchase the books he wanted, and the souvenirs.
“His Majesty sure looked young though, didn’t he.”
A man’s voice echoed within the carriage.
Unlike when they were headed to the Capital, there was no rush to reach their destination this time. The guards were also sitting in a carriage this time, with the peddler’s supplies.
“He was enthroned at fourteen. Hmm… But if I’m not mistaken, he should be in his mid-twenties now.”
The carriage left around midday, and, Ashiyowa included, the three men in the carriage were the first group to leave Ranukan.
Earlier during the morning, he had once again said his goodbyes and thanked Wang, who had decided to remain in the Capital, before he left.
Wang, being his usual dignified self, stared silently at Ashiyowa for a moment before starting to talk. With a nod, he responded with a ‘It was nice knowing you, even for a short while’, and then lowered his head into a bow.
Ashiyowa came with nothing but returned with a thick book and souvenirs. There was also some leftover fruit, so he had also bought a cloth and basket to carry them.
He was back to wearing what he wore before coming to the Capital.
A loose straw hat, his ragged clothing and his wooden slippers, covered in mud. Only, his hair was now much neater, having borrowed something from the mansion to shave his beard with.
Ah, I should have bought a mirror too.
He only noticed once the carriage departed, but it wasn’t something that he necessarily had to buy at the Capital. If he had an opportunity to come back in the future, he would search for it then. It wasn’t as if he was expecting something like this to ever happen again, so it was fine either way.
He placed the straw hat back on his head and the souvenirs on his lap, leaving his body to the sway of the carriage.
“Still, it’s been more than a year since the search for His Majesty’s brother but there’s been no progress.”
“There’s also been talk that all this is just some kind of excuse to circulate money to commoners under the name of the search.”
“Ooh, that’s a wise opinion. Was it from that scribe?”
“No, I heard it at the bar.”
“As expected, being amongst the residents of the Royal Capital makes you think and speak smarter.”
Half-listening to the men’s ramblings, Ashiyowa recalled the Emperor’s appearance.
I see… He’s around his twenties…
At first, the Capital seemed so bright and dazzling. Yet, everything around it was engulfed in gloom. The Imperial Palace too, was decorated so lavishly, but when he recalled the Capital, Ashiyowa could only remember how dark and depressing it was.
That man is the last Emperor.
The dynasty’s last Emperor.
It was His Majesty, the last Emperor of the royal family, who had made these lands rich and fertile.
A land without hunger or starvation… If the Emperor were to disappear, this would surely become part of the past.
Wouldn’t thinking about this make just about anyone gloomy?
No matter how you put it, there were no members of royalty left.
There was also the fact that the Royal family had not declared a single heir.
Normally, families were blessed with children. But the Royal family seemed to be an exception, as if the closer you were tied to royalty, the less likely you were to conceive a child. That the members of the royal family had been deeply ingrained to be drawn to certain preferences in their partners probably didn’t help either. Even if it were the wish of his country’s people, the Emperor was powerless in this sense.
Ashiyowa felt his stomach tighten.
Inside the rattling carriage, he gazed at the landscape from beneath his hat and thought of the people who would suffer once these green lands eventually perished, a future burdened by hunger and political turmoil.
He rubbed his nose before placing both hands onto his knees and staring at them.
“――Hey, what’s that?”
“A horse? Ah, they’re coming this way.”
“Huh, they’re pretty fast. Look, there’s even dust clouds rising from the ground. There’s no carriage either… Wait, aren’t they Imperial guards!?”
The panicked voices of the men flew across the carriage as the sound of horseshoes approached closer.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s an Imperial decree. Stop the carriage!”
At the sudden stop, the horse neighed and the carriage shook, Ashiyowa falling over onto his belly on the seat.
Both the carriage the candidates were occupying and the carts carrying the peddler’s supplies stopped, as they were ordered to.
The sound of horseshoes clacked one after another, surrounding them.
“Amongst the men here, is there an Ashi-dono of West Ryokanan, residing in the mountains of Tenho village under the Tenhou region? We don’t mean any harm. Is Ashi-dono present?”
The guard’s dignified voice echoed across the area.
“… Hey, you said your name was Ashi, didn’t you…? What did you do?”
Ignoring the piercing gazes of the men in the carriage, Ashiyowa turned his head and glanced outside, attempting to grasp the situation.
What did I do? I haven’t done anything.
But, he couldn’t put those words to his mouth.
The voice was getting closer, the guard, stepping into the carriage. His large build appeared in front of the three, staring at them domineeringly.
Ashiyowa slightly raised the brim of his straw hat, but was met with the man’s eyes as he looked up.
The man in grey armour flipped his grey cloak and kneeled on one knee.
“――May I ask, are you Ashi-dono?”
Under the man’s gaze, Ashiyowa could only nod weakly.
“Please follow us. We will have you return to the Royal Capital. We’ll carry your belongings for you, so please leave it with us. Now, let us depart――”
The man extended his hand to him, but Ashiyowa, bewildered at the whole situation, placed his arms on the seat as if he were about to lift himself up, only to reposition himself on the seat.
“Um… I-I’m heading home so…”
“I’m terribly sorry, Ashi-dono. But this is an Imperial decree, we are to bring you back safely――”
Without waiting for a reply, the guard grabbed Ashiyowa’s hands and tried dragging him along, but ended up having to carry him down the carriage upon noticing his struggle to walk.
“To bring you back safely to the Royal Capital, back to my lord.”
Upon placing his foot down and removing his straw hat, which had been obstructing his view, Ashiyowa found that the group was already surrounded by the Imperial Guards.
Everyone, the men in the carriage, and even those in travelling with the supplies’, had their eyes on Ashiyowa, dumbfounded at the whole situation.
“…Your lord is…”
Ashiyowa’s head came to a stop upon this realisation.
The grey armour signified that these men were Imperial Guards; and Imperial Guards report directly to the Emperor.
“His Majesty, the Emperor. Well then, Ashi-dono, let us head to that carriage.”
This carriage was different, it was luxurious, lavishly decorated with four heads. It far surpassed the one Ashiyowa had rode in back and forth from Ryokannan to the Royal Capital.
The coachman was also dressed in grey.
Once again, the guards had to carry Ashiyowa, who was unable to walk properly, onto the carriage.