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Chapter 3: To the State Castle
While heading to the State castle, the road split into three. As he wondered which road to pick, Ashiyowa, who had been separated from the party, encountered an official in black searching for him.
“Are you Ashi?”
He glanced at the cane Ashiyowa was holding.
“You should have told us about your feet; we would have let you ride on the ox carts. I’ve already informed the state of how many people to expect. If you go missing, I’ll be the one who’s held responsible.”
The stern official spoke bluntly, coming down from the horse to help Ashiyowa get onto the horse, before getting back up once again.
“It must be your first time riding a horse.”
“Hold the mane and stay still.”
The official seemed to think of Ashiyowa’s cane as a hindrance, but piled it onto the back of the horse, nonetheless.
“You’re rather tall, aren’t you? I’m considered tall, but you seem a slightly taller than me– it’s hard to see, so keep your head down a bit.”
Ashiyowa admired horses. Only officials or aristocrats, or the rich, could ride horses.
He didn’t necessarily think of them as a symbol of wealth, instead, one of his encounters, by chance, came to mind. He was brought back to the time when an official came to inspect the village. Ashiyowa had decided to head back because the village’s atmosphere felt a little different than usual, but the image of the horse remained etched in his mind. He was fascinated by its features.
Ashiyowa ran his fingers down the horse’s long mane, gently placing his palm onto the nape of its neck.
Its hair was stiff and damp.
But, the up and down movement of riding the horse was gradually causing Ashiyowa’s right leg to act up. A numb feeling spread from his hips to his right leg.
Ashiyowa leaned forward, biting his lips as the pain became harder to bear.
“What is it? You’ll bite your tongue if you talk while the horse’s moving.”
The official was rushing, intent on making up for the lost time, but slowed down as Ashiyowa called out to him multiple times.
“M-May I go down the horse?”
“What?! We’re more than half a day late. The governor general is waiting. Any delays are unacceptable!”
Upon saying that, the official disregarded Ashiyowa’s protests, and made the horse run once again. Ashiyowa desperately clung onto the horse.
The pain became numb, and while drifting in and out of consciousness, they arrived at the State Castle before the day ended, just in time before the gates were closed.
The horse stopped and the official came down first. Ashiyowa remained bent over the horse’s back, as if he were about to fall.
“Hm, what is it?”
“This candidate seems a little strange.”
“What’s going on?”
As the man let out a surprised noise, an official from the castle and another on night guard duty came over.
Ashiyowa was carried by several people into the castle in that state.
There were seven men in the room. Each person wore different kinds of clothing, indicating their varying statuses; some seemed to be children of the rich, but none of them appeared to be as ragged as Ashiyowa.
“Hmm, what’s this, what’s this. The last candidate is a sick person?
“It seems that he is feeling unwell.”
“Could the King’s brother be such a sickly person?”
“That’s true, I thought he couldn’t be a candidate from the start; he’s too far off.”
Futons were set up and Ashiyowa laid down as the men in the room laughed.
“Oh my, this filth is a candidate to be the King’s brother?”
“Even guys like this are allowed into the Royal Capital, huh.”
“Hey, even you could get in, couldn’t you. His Majesty must be so generous.”
Someone shouted out ‘exactly’ once again, and the room rippled into laughter.
A man entered the wooden boarded floor and waved his hand at the laughing men. He wore a headpiece and was clad in black, indicating that he was an official.
“Come on you guys, even if this is just a short trip, don’t treat your companions like this. –Hey, do you need a doctor?”
The last question was directed at Ashiyowa, who was lying down.
Ashiyowa shook his head at the official, stroking his mustache as he glanced at him.
If only I had some ‘Omae grass’ here, Ashiyowa thought, but it was too late.
Ah… There’s light.
The room was lit up with candles.
As the Sun sank, only the sacred gates and homes of the rich remained bright throughout the night.
The State Castle was on a completely different level. Things that even the regional castle didn’t have, you could find here. And even if both places were considered castles, the once impressive clay walled, two-story castle paled in comparison to the three-story State Castle.
“I’ll be fine… Just need some rest…”
“Are you sure? I can’t take you to the Royal Capital in this state. Do you want some fever medicine, or how about a medicinal bath for pain relief?
“Ah, well then, I’ll take the bath…”
The official nodded to the servant at the entrance.
“Prepare the medicinal bath, and some porridge as well. Too bad you couldn’t make it to dinner. You could have talked to the governor general; not to mention the feast.”
The elderly official brought a light and sat down at Ashiyowa’s bedside, probably checking on his condition.
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