Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Chapter 14: Mealtime
It was the night Ashiyowa was taken to the palace.
He was guided to the bath, but shocked by its milky waters, Ashiyowa shook his head and ran away. The secretary of Ryokuen, dressed in grey, chased after him, but it took much convincing and persuasion on his part to finally get the younger man out of his ragged clothes and into the white kimono they provided.
He was shown to the room beside the one that he was originally brought to, prepared for his use. The room was wide but was rather empty inside. Ashiyowa had no clue as to why he was brought to the room; wondering what they were going to use the room for and what would become of him.
But no matter how long he waited, he felt no other presence, and finally, he figured he would be allowed to sleep there. It wasn’t too cold during summer nights, and it was clean inside the palace, more so than he expected. Ashiyowa made his way to the corner of the room and sat himself down, before finally lying down to sleep.
Yet almost immediately, the older man came busting into the room, panicked. He showed Ashiyowa to the bed at the centre of the room, propped up a bed frame, and told him to sleep there.
In fact, the older man not only pointed him to it, but woke Ashiyowa up and brought him there.
The moment his hands touched the bed, goosebumps erupted on his skin.
It was a new sensation.
It was completely different from the futons he was used over the course of travelling to the Capital.
Ashiyowa took a breath, unable to go along with this, and returned to the corner.
The older man bent down and called him.
Who? Whose brother was he supposed to be?
Ashiyowa shook his head desperately.
“I-It’s fine. I’ll rest here…”
The man’s expression softened, nodding after a moment of silently staring at Ashiyowa. Taking a few steps back, he knelt on both knees and placed his arms in front of him, politely bowing, the headpiece sitting on his head, bobbing along as he did so.
Ashiyowa looked back, checking if there was someone watching over him from behind.
Finally, he was alone/he found himself alone in the bedroom…
He finally relaxed, closing his eyes and curling up his body, wanting to escape from all the confusion. In his dreams, he vaguely remembered seeing golden hair.
When he woke up, he found himself on top of an unbelievably neat, wide futon, surrounded by the pillars of the bed frame.
Dazed, Ashiyowa raised his upper body with his arms. He was on the soft, silky bed. The curtain held up by the pillars were pushed apart, and he was met with the older man from last night, bowing respectfully.
“Good morning, Ashi-sama.”
Such mornings continued for several days. Ashiyowa would sleep on the floor but would always wake up on top of the futon. As he expected, it seemed he was being carried there while he was asleep.
The older man was incredibly patient.
However, Ashiyowa wouldn’t lose. Although he had fearfully accepted that he would be brought to the bed every night, he still hadn’t touched the robes presented to him each morning, not tempted even once to run his arms through its sleeves.
The robes in question were blue and extravagant enough to make you wonder if they actually belonged to a member of the royal family.
Every morning, Ashiyowa, in his white nightwear, would be taken aback upon seeing it.
“Um, this is…”
While saying that, Ashiyowa clenched his chest, the cloth of his nightwear gathering under his fist.
The nightwear was a white kimono that extended to his ankles with a long collar that crossed over his chest. There was a string attached to the end of the cloth to tie the inside and outside to the left and right. Underneath, he wore nothing.
To Ashiyowa, what he was wearing now was more than enough. He didn’t understand why they were making him change each time he went to bed or woke up.
This was something Ashiyowa couldn’t understand. He would spend the whole day, even weeks at times, in the same clothes, yet they expected him to change clothes so often. It was simply absurd to him. He would only change out of his clothes to wash them once they became reasonably dirty.
And even if he was being lent some clothing, the robes they’d presented to him were much too elaborate.
Without showing any intention of wearing the robes placed above the platform the bed was resting on, he walked around the room, avoiding his personal attendant.
He walked about ten steps from the bed and finally reached a window.
The window was as wide as his two arms, stretched out. The window itself was woven from thin bark and had two panels. Resting above it, were two shutters.
The curtain hanging from the top of the bed frame looked like a mosquito net to Ashiyowa.
… It’s my first time seeing such a beautiful mosquito net.
Everything here was beautiful.
It made him constantly nervous over whether he would one day clumsily lose balance, and knock something down, breaking it.
There were as many bedrooms as there were storage rooms in the palace, large enough that a whole field’s worth of crops could be stored. There was a door to go from the corridor to the inner palace, but no door from the living room. The rooms were connected to each other with curtains hanging at each end, and between the bedroom and the living room was the royal chamberlain’s waiting room.
His room was small compared to larger rooms of the palace, but it was still much bigger than the hut Ashiyowa lived in.
Even if wanted to go for a walk, he was clueless on how to navigate through the palace.
Ashiyowa is greeted by the Emperor every day, and each time, Ashiyowa tells him that he wants to return to the mountains.
“You must stay here until I can confirm you are not my brother.”
Is what he is told when he asks. Even through his fear, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something strange to those words.
Knowing that Ashiyowa barely touched his meals, the Emperor decided to delay his as well, ordering to be presented with the exact portion Ashiyowa consumed.
Originally, he wanted to accompany Ashiyowa for all three meals of the day to confirm with his own eyes that he was properly eating. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ignore his responsibilities as Emperor, and his hands were full with the days’ audiences. He wanted to do all he could for the country, soon to be without an Emperor.
As the last member of the royal family, it was his duty to fulfil their promise to the people of this country.
That morning, the meal served to the young Emperor who ruled over these green lands was――
A bite of a side dish, a plate of Rinze slices, and another fruit, Homarai Shaabe, with water to finish off.
“… Is this all?”
At his feet, the head of the royal kitchen, his assistants, and the deputy chef, who made up the kitchen were kneeling down, nervously waiting.
“A-Ashi-sama likes fruits and vegetables… We prepared dishes using those ingredients as well this morning, but… Please forgive us, Your Highness.”
The chef replied with a dread-filled voice.
“I am familiar with your culinary skills. It’s just, my brother did grow up in a special environment… I guess it must not match his tastes…”
Upon saying that, the Emperor placed the fruit lined up on the table into his mouth one after another, silencing the worried attendants and chamberlain, then left for Ryokuryū Palace without eating any more.
The Emperor would alternate between Ryokuryū or Ryokuen Palace to have his afternoon meal. No matter what, a set made by his exclusive kitchen would be prepared.
A different room was prepared for his meals at Ryokuryū. The Emperor took a seat, his blue eyes wide open.
On a beautiful white plate, was a single potato, looking somewhat pitiful, with its roots and skin still attached, and two whole Rinze fruits. In addition, there was water.
Rinze was a fist-sized red fruit. Its juice was refreshing, both sweet and sour.
The Emperor stared intently at the food in front of him.
He called for the head chef, demanding an explanation on Ashiyowa’s selection of food.
An assortment of colorful appetizers, shark meat made three ways, deep-fried rolls of Mamashi surimi2 with thin skin, stir-fried Mamashi and Nuran seasoned with with salt, shellfish and jellyfish drizzled with soy sauce, stir-fried beef and seasonal vegetables, fried rice with dried scallops…
Just imagining them made his mouth water. All of them had some kind of twist to it, a unique flavour. Yet…
The Emperor lifted up the plate on which the potatoes were placed and looked away.
“Can you explain this?”
“This is… After lunch, he dug it out of the soil while on a walk. He ate it raw after washing it…”
“He didn’t eat much this morning either. With only two Rinze’s for lunch, he must be hungry…”
The Emperor placed the plate back onto the table and turned his face down.
The inner corners of his eyes became hot and he raised an arm to cover his eyes.
His surroundings began to buzz. A panicked voice cried out.
“Call the secretary right away. Get the doctor!”
“–Your Majesty, are you feeling alright? Would you like to lie down?”
The Emperor shook his head, blonde hair swaying along.
“Am I.. truly the Emperor?”
Everyone present knelt down and answered.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Do I not rule over these lands?”
“Yes, Your Highness. You are the one and only ruler of these lands.”
“If I wish for it, there isn’t anything I can’t have. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Your Highness. All the wealth and fortune of the world belong to you.”
The Emperor brings both his arms up to cover his face once again.
“…Ahh, but even if that is true, my brother remains starving. As the Emperor, is it my only talent to bring suffering upon him…”
After saying that, the Emperor stood up and left without eating. All who were there were left speechless, unable to move for a while.
“His Majesty is fasting. Because he is royalty, he should be able to last three days without food or water. But…”
The secretary frowned upon receiving the report.
Not only Ashiyowa, but even the Emperor had almost stopped eating.
The middle-aged, plump royal chef looked pitiful with his pale complexion, staggering about.
And so, the ‘Gray Wolf’ went to the Emperor to make a proposal.