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Chapter 15: Finished Meals
Ashiyowa didn’t like staying in the room, so he often walked around Ryokuen Palace.
He decided to head out because he felt overwhelmed indoors, but was surprised once he actually went outside.
The land they owned was so large, one wouldn’t think it was private property. A whole village could probably fit there. Countless gardens, ponds, rivers, forests and valleys ran up and down, and there were even mountains. The embanked mountains served as some sort of dam for when it rained and it was said that they would turn bald every time it rained, with all their forestry being washed away.
Ashiyowa spotted a triangular pyramid from far away.
“That is the royal family’s grave.”
One of the grey clothed servants following him explained.
One day, that blonde, blue-eyed Emperor will rest there…
Ashiyowa narrowed his eyes.
And then, he sat on the spot without any warning.
Ashiyowa had spent most of the morning walking. The mountain roads weren’t necessarily steep, and he didn’t go far, but continuously walking without a cane would of course, bring about a dull ache in his right leg. He wanted to rest there.
The elderly chamberlain, who had become accustomed to Ashiyowa’s habit of walking and abruptly sitting anywhere, would kneel from a distance and had stopped making a fuss each time.
While unconsciously stroking his right thigh, Ashiyowa gazed at a large pond from the forest. It was surrounded by flowering aquatic plants and in the centre, were two water birds swimming. There was a semi-circular bridge made of white stone, connecting the pond to another.
Beyond that, he could see the vermilion roof of Ryokuen Palace, followed by its red pillars and the dignified appearance of its towering white walls.
Every time he saw those vermilion gates scattered in front of the long wall, he would ask the guards to open them and let him through. But the guards were persistent and only shook their heads politely.
No matter how much he tried, this was the furthest they would allow him to venture. Even though there were markets outside, with food he could eat…
He placed his hand, resting on his thigh, onto his stomach.
Ashiyowa’s diet was fairly simple considering the environment he grew up in.
The fruit and vegetables he harvested were his staples and the only seasoning he used was salt. Before this, he hadn’t ever put anything elaborate enough to be called ‘cooking’ into his mouth. For winter, he stored salted and dried vegetables and fruit which he would often eat with boiled or roasted grains, crushed and ground.
Perhaps because the palace’s forest was landscaped, it wasn’t blessed with the usual abundance of vegetation you would find in natural forests. Despite Ashiyowa’s exploring, he only managed to find a single miserable potato. The mountain embankments were as he expected, a foolish choice.
In the ponds, koi fish scattered about. The image of their shadows flickered in Ashiyowa’s mind, only having eaten river fish occasionally.
Would they be mad if I caught one to grill and eat…
Ashiyowa, still unaware of his position within the palace, worried about such things in his hungered body.
Just like that, he began to feel sleepy. For malnourished bodies such as his, drowsiness would overtake the moment he let his guard down; it was a defence mechanism.
In a corner of the vast and beautiful garden where almost no one wandered, Ashiyowa sat down and began to nod off, the chamberlain and several other servants following at a distance.
In front of him, was a bowl of miso soup.
The Emperor himself carried the tray. The bowl was rimmed with gold, accompanied by chopsticks made of ivory and gold.
To Ashiyowa, this was a nostalgic scent.
As he took in the scent, the Emperor moved forward with even more excitement.
It was almost noon, and he had been hungry for a long time.
The Emperor crouched in front of Ashiyowa and pushed the tray towards him to pass the bowl. Ashiyowa looked like he had lost some weight and was sitting on the ground rather pitifully.
Without even looking at the Emperor’s blue eyes, he turned his attention to the bowl, steam puffing out of it. He stirred it with the chopsticks and slowly tasted the soup.
――Ah, how nostalgic…
When Ashiyowa lifted his head in surprise, the Emperor, who had passed the tray to the chamberlain, was staring at him, sitting on a stool.
“Please, have some more.”
Upon being urged, Ashiyowa took more sips. He was impressed that the mushrooms and root vegetables were so delicious.
He swallowed the soup with a gulp and emptied the bowl.
Upon letting out a deep breath and removing his face from the bowl, they heard a voice, sobbing loudly, from outside the circle surrounding them.
Ashiyowa was confused, but the chamberlain took the bowl, and placed a plate of taro on the tray.
The taro was sliced into several pieces while still retaining its original shape, its white flesh exposed to the Sun.
Ashiyowa lifted the plate with a hand and was met with the Emperor’s gaze, who nodded at him to take a bite. He grabbed a piece with the chopsticks and carried it to his mouth.
It was slimy but had a slightly sweet flavour. Simple flavours like this were familiar to Ashiyowa. And, before he realised, it was all gone.
Witnessing this, the Emperor let out a laugh. His laughter resonated through the ears of those present and seemed that it could reach the heavens. It was as if today was a day to celebrate.
“Is it tasty, brother?”
“This… tastes like the taro from the mountains.”
“It’s not similar, this taro is in fact from Tenho village itself. So were the miso, mushrooms and other vegetables. ――Brother, I have starved you for too long. I will make sure you never have to experience this again.”
As the chamberlain collected the plate and chopsticks, the Emperor sat up and grabbed Ashiyowa’s hand, prompting him to rise from the ground.
“We have prepared more inside. Please take your time enjoying it. I shall accompany you.”
The Secretary of Ryokuen gave a pat to the royal chef’s chest, whose cheeks were soaked with tears that he hadn’t bothered to wipe away.
Speaking of food, it was considered a rather big deal to the citizens of the Royal Capital. At times, it was almost comedic.
The Emperor had proposed an urgent investigation on Ashiyowa’s diet during his trip from West Ryokannan to the Royal Capital. With his permission, one of their fastest soldiers was sent out on horse in the early morning. At the same time, other guards were sent to secure ingredients and seasonings from the village closest to the mountains where Ashiyowa lived.
This was the result of their investigation.
“Ah… This… This can’t even be considered cooking.”
The best chef of La Seine muttered regretfully.
Out of all the food prepared, miso soup required the most skill, and even then, the other kitchen staff had to restrain him from adding more soup stock and deepening its flavour.
Regardless of where the ingredients were from, to be reduced to just boiling taro in salt was, to him, an insult to his reputation.
But, it was a flavour that Ashiyowa was familiar with.
Starving Ashiyowa was the same as starving the Emperor, and so the royal chef was in no place to complain.
Even more than being fired, he feared the remaining members of the royal family, that had now become two, would die of hunger.
Yukidoke believed that feeding the royal family what they truly wanted to eat would also nourish them from the core, and so as a member of the Grey Wolves, he resolved to pick up the kitchen knife.
It had been several decades since, and his efforts had paid off. More than anyone, his devotion was admirable.
He received high praise for his skills and would often prepare banquets for visiting Emperors of other countries to introduce La Seine’s flavours.
Yet now, the very same Yukidoke was sitting crouched in the gardens of Ryokuen, weeping.
After watching Ashiyowa filling his stomach with food, the Emperor returned to his usual diet.
The royal kitchen was located next to the Ryokuen Palace, adjacent to the food storage room. It was the most convenient place to get to and from the palace. Recently, the atmosphere had been heavy in the kitchen, but as the two royals finally finished their meals, you could hear cheers and the sound of cooking utensils clapping together coming from the kitchen.
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