Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Chapter 21: In the Forest
As the secretary approached the room where Ashiyowa was resting, he heard a fall.
He quickened his pace, willing his legs to move faster, only to find the door had already been opened when he arrived.
It was past noon and the Emperor did not show at the Imperial Court today. Clean air surrounded the palace as if it were a blessing. Yet in the midst of all this, a storm brewed at Ryokuen Palace, betraying the otherwise clear skies.
The secretary was met with the sight of a pale Ashiyowa, clinging onto the shoulder of one of the chamberlains with a cane in hand. He now had stubble and dragged his right leg, stretched out straight, as he headed towards the corridor.
“Aniue-sama, is there something wrong?”
No matter how many times the secretary called out, Ashiyowa would spare him nothing more than a short glance before he continued making his way from the corridor to the garden. He stuck to the chamberlain for support and behind them, three guards followed.
Sensing a presence behind him, the Chief of the Gray Wolves turned around and kneeled on one knee. The Emperor stood with an arm on the door, his eyes tracing Ashiyowa’s steps.
“…Wolf, check where my brother is headed. Make sure he remains within palace grounds; he must not leave. Understood?”
The Emperor paused for a moment, staring into the dazzling sky before he turned and walked away with his shoulders hunched. A chamberlain and guard followed behind silently.
Ashiyowa searched for the deep forest in the palace gardens. Though he was still leaning on the chamberlain’s shoulder, it seemed as if he would collapse at any time. Inside the shadowy forest, he felt more power in his steps as if it had become easier to move around. He continued further, even deeper into the forest.
Suddenly Ashiyowa stopped on the spot and laid on his back with a thud. A different chamberlain put an outer robe on him as he only had on his white nightwear. He accepted it quietly and hugged it around himself. Silently, he closed his eyes and sunk into the robe, hiding his sweat-drenched forehead.
The forest was full of greenery, and you could feel the cool air as you stood beneath its shadows. The ground was moist, covered with fallen leaves and soil. The chamberlains and guards watched over Ashiyowa’s curled form laying on the ground between trees from a distance. When the secretary received confirmation of Ashiyowa’s whereabouts, he had a servant inform the Emperor.
Ashiyowa had ignored the Emperor’s words and ran away from the bedroom, away from his arms. He proceeded through the room, staggering, and just as he was about to fall, he was approached by someone. It was one of the chamberlains, the one who was always by his side.
“Please grab onto me,” he said as he extended his shoulder to Ashiyowa.
In all honesty, Ashiyowa didn’t know why he accepted his offer so obediently.
“Outside… I must go outside,” Ashiyowa muttered as he dragged his right foot along, gripping his cane tightly. His whole body only felt pain.
Surrounded by the scent of vegetation and soil, Ashiyowa felt his tense body soften. Having come this far, he was curled up on the ground because he couldn’t walk anymore. His legs, his joints, everything ached all at once. The never-ending pain dulled his consciousness. His head felt heavy and chills ran down his cold, sweat-covered body. He closed his eyes and willed himself to fall asleep, but it all hurt too much.
In the midst of his hazy consciousness, he muttered “It hurts,” without realising. At that moment, all he wanted to do was cry; he couldn’t even move anymore and there was no place for him to properly rest his body. That being said, the more he tried to relax, the stronger the pain became.
Hot droplets ran down his cheeks and onto his hands that rested above them. The mixture of grass, trees, soil, and clean air smelled like the mountains. It felt safe. But even then, whenever he closed his eyes, he still felt nauseous and his head wouldn’t stop spinning. Pain constantly pushed up.
Just as his breathing turned shallow, his lips came into contact with something soft and plump, and water was poured into his mouth. With no energy to open his eyes, he accepted the water. He felt a big hand around his neck, fingers brushing away his tears. He was being embraced, his body warmed by another. The hand stroked his waist and right foot, tracing over the bandages, and he felt the pain from before subsiding. His tear-soaked eyelashes quivered and he let out a sigh.
Finally, he fell asleep and dreamt of a world without pain.