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Chapter 2: To go or not to go
From the village elder, talk quickly spread across the region.
While creating the necessary documents to submit to the governor general, it was confirmed that Ashiyowa was not under any family register.
“So that’s why you haven’t had to pay any tax; there was no one to receive any notices issued from the capital.”
Ashiyowa stood up, not understanding a thing the official in black was saying.
……What a splendid place this is.
Having heard about Ashiyowa from Hong, the village elder called him to his home and had him shave his beard to have a good look at his face, confirming that he was of the right age. The elder let him stay for the night, before sending him off with an ox cart the day after. It would take two days to get to the prefectural castle from the village.
Being his first time heading there, Ashiyowa was spaced out the whole time, his mind completely blank.
In his hometown, all there was to see were wooden houses topped with roofs made of dirt or planks thatched with straw. As for the castle, it was a place where residents from his hometown would take refuge during famines, when bandits would often attack the area. Being prone to attacks, it was protected by tall plaster walls and surrounded by a moat. Brown tiles were also lined up onto the triangular roofs of its walls, built to endure fire arrow attacks.
“That being said, be sure to keep your money safe in your pocket. They’re mean-spirited people. Truly vicious.”
The short statured official, a little older than Hong, expressed his disgust as he ran a brush over the paper.
“It’s preposterous that even such guys were summoned to the royal capital. How could these barbaric men be his precious older brother?”
“Hm… After staying quiet this whole time… Looks like you can speak after all. But that’s right, the more you speak, the more your lies become obvious.”
The official continued talking, making one-sided assumptions.
“Here you go, you damn tax thief! Take this document with you.”
On the document he was handed, it said ‘Permanent resident of West Ryokanan, Tenhou region, resides in the deep mountains of Tenho village, Ashi, single, parents and family unknown, estimated age, mid to late thirties, black hair and eyes, tall and lean figure’.
He stayed in the castle that night. It was a small room, and was almost too clean, similar to when he stayed at the village chief’s house. Looking at his dirt trodden clothing, his plain, worn out wooden shoes and unkempt black hair tied with a piece of straw, Ashiyowa felt reluctant to lay down.
The castle servant brought Ashiyowa his meal, consisting of steamed taro and mushroom stew, not much different to what he ate back at the village, so he felt relieved eating it.
In any case, this was a trip he wasn’t expecting.
I wonder how the garden and herbs are doing.
That was what bothered him the most.
The garden surrounded his home, which was more like a hut than a house. He used to tend to it together with the old man, from when he was still alive. Year after year, it would bear plenty of fruit. Ashiyowa had never gone hungry while living on the mountains. The farm couple would always praise the land’s richness every time he saw them, and now more than ever, he thought about how true this was.
If I knew this was going to take long, I would have locked the door.
He wasn’t worried about thieves, but rather, he was concerned about dead leaves blowing in and if any dormice had snuck in because he didn’t close the hut’s opening properly.
And also, of the medicinal plants he was cultivating. That grass had a pain-relieving effect, and ever since he found out, he had been growing it to use on his weak right leg, in case anything happened. It was always reliable, providing him with a sense of ease. Ashiyowa didn’t bring any of the grass, named ‘Omae grass’ by the old man, thinking he wasn’t going to be away for this long.
Outside of winter, the grass always looked green and healthy, not requiring much maintenance. Even if it was left alone, it probably wouldn’t wither but…
There wasn’t anything important he had left behind, but even so, that small hut in the mountains had been his home for many years. The only place he had to return to.
The next morning, Ashiyowa was given a steamed potato again and left with a group who also had business in the royal capital, walking in a line. The government officials rode carriages pulled by horses or cows.
Because of his weak legs, Ashiyowa gradually lagged behind the group, dragging his right leg along. Unable to continue, he sat down on the side of the road, staring at the sight of the group, growing further and further.
I’ll just catch up after resting.
Gathering his thoughts, he moved into the shade and wiped away the sweat under his chin with his sleeves.
Ashiyowa’s belongings included the coarse cloth clothing he was wearing, his wooden shoes, his hat, the small knife on his waist and the few coins he earned from selling the medicinal herbs. The knife was encased in a wooden sheath, and after a little rest, he went into the woods searching for any fallen branches, using it to shape that branches into a cane.
With the cane, Ashiyowa chased after the group as though his legs weren’t tired at all.
By the time the sun set, Ashiyowa was still unable to catch up with the group. He went into the woods, starving, as he hadn’t eaten anything since noon.
Ashiyowa knew very well what could and couldn’t be eaten. It was something he was proud of. And, he’s always been lucky when it came to foraging for food in nature. He’s never once entered the forest without leaving with something. That day was no exception, Ashiyowa continued to be blessed by the rich land.
He found a vegetable called Saiseika, that tasted sweet like a fruit. He also found a grass called Horei, which could be eaten raw, and a bunch of small fruits known as Tessen. He put the gathered plants into his hat and brought it to a tree, close enough that he could see the road from the forest, leaning on it as he ate. The night was cold, and Ashiyowa would have preferred something cooked and warm, but he couldn’t afford to be picky in this situation.
The mountains Ashiyowa lived on were cool during summer and warm during winter. There also wasn’t much snowfall; a fitting place for the old man to have chosen to reside at.
Ashiyowa woke up the next morning, fortunately passing the night without any thieves attacking. He consumed the remainder of last night’s dinner for breakfast before resuming his journey.
But after a while, he stopped.
–Shall I go home?…
For what reason was he moving forward?
Even if there had been a notice, it wasn’t as if he was obliged to go and even more than that, he was concerned about his garden and house. At this rate, how was he going to make it to the Royal Capital? And, how many days would it take to get back?
The Royal Capital, Ranukan was full of people. Lavish goods filled every corner and wise men from all over the country gathered to serve the king of the world. If he let go of this opportunity, there likely wouldn’t be a second chance to head to the capital again.
Also, he wanted to bring back some stories of the capital to the farm couple. He was conflicted. Suddenly, Ashiyowa was reminded of the travel money.
He’d be handed the four silver coins for going there, surely.
With four silver coins, I’d definitely be able to afford more books. And in the capital, there must be all kinds of books.
That prospect was certainly very attractive to him.
The old man had taught Ashiyowa how to read and write.
He owned a single book back at the hut, and, he’d already read it over and over again, to the point that he had memorised everything by heart and there wasn’t any need to open the book anymore. The book itself also seemed to be at the end of its life, looking as though it would fall apart whenever he turned a page.
A life in the mountains, isolated from others.
Whenever he went down the mountains, he couldn’t help but wonder if there were any books nearby– Thoughts like that circled in his head.
That’s right, books, I want books. Something thick and bulky; a book that wouldn’t end no matter how much I read it. And, wouldn’t I be able to buy some souvenirs for the couple? They’ve always taken care of me…
This was going to be a terribly long adventure, Ashiyowa thought to himself.
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