Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Chapter 36: Change
Starting the next day, Ashiyowa worked with fewer boards to reduce the burden on his right leg. If his legs became numb, he would do something else, instead choosing to plane the wood or cut the branches and tie them together. But even small tasks like these became a burden on his legs. When he returned to sawing the boards, he no longer had any strength to step on them and collapsed on the ground.
The saw landed in front of him and his hat flew away; Ashiyowa lay crushed under the board and work table.
Immediately, the guards were by his side, frantically lifting the table and boards to let him out.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?”
“It’s alright; I’m okay.”
“Call the doctor!”
“It’s fine. I’m alright.” Ashiyowa tried to calm the panicked guards but to no avail.
He was carried under the shade of a tree and was being treated for his scratches with water when the doctor arrived in a carriage. While being examined by the doctor, he heard the clacking of approaching horseshoes. The Secretary of Ryokuen had arrived.
Despite his long robes, he had come here horseback. He knelt beside Ashiyowa and the doctor. “―What is his condition?”
“There are some scratches, bruises, and small cuts. There’s some numbness in his right leg, but there isn’t anything wrong with his bones.”
The secretary nodded then glanced at the chamberlains assigned to Ashiyowa. Once they were away from Ashiyowa, they began to speak. It ended with the chamberlains kneeling and after that, only the secretary returned to Ashiyowa’s side.
“Aniue-sama, I’m glad you are safe.”
“I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here. They’re just small scratches. Please, you don’t have to stay. I’m doing fine.”
“Understood ― I shall appoint you some new chamberlains immediately. Please understand,” the secretary added casually and bowed.
Before he could leave, Ashiyowa caught the hem of his sleeve. Immediately, the secretary stopped and knelt down.
“―Is something the matter?”
Though he had been resting under the shade, Ashiyowa yet again found himself having to wipe away his sweat.
“Will… Will that change be permanent?”
“Yes, for the two who have been assigned to you.”
“I’ve determined they are unsuited to serve you, Aniue-sama.”
“…They’ve been so good to me.”
“It must be hard to let them go, but the new chamberlains will serve you with equal sincerity.”
Distantly, Ashiyowa saw Inochi and Nukumori bowing, their heads lowered.
“―There’s no need to substitute them.”
“Please, you don’t have to think much of it. It is not unusual.” The secretary put on a smile as he responded to Ashiyowa’s words.
“How are they unsuitable for me?”
The secretary lowered his head respectfully, unable to respond to Ashiyowa’s unyielding eyes.
“It is our duty to serve and protect the royal family. Those who cannot properly fulfill their duties cannot be trusted to remain by their side. It is the one rule we must follow.”
“―These are just small scratches…”
“They were only scratches today, but what if the saw had fallen on your neck? It would have been too late.”
“I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing that until now. My injuries are my responsibility to bear.” Ashiyowa stared at the secretary in a near-glare, squeezing out his voice.
“Aniue-sama, please do as you see fit. We only wish to serve you in any way we can.” Those words reminded him of his exchange with Inochi the day before, when he had just finished his bath and was receiving treatment for his right leg.
“―I don’t need anyone else! Please don’t take them away. If they are happy to be by my side, I want things to stay as they are.” His voice echoed through the bald mountains, through the rivers and sparse forests.
“Is there any member of the Grey Wolves who would wish to leave the royal family’s side… If they are to remain, please promise that you will stop working for today and return to the palace. Until the doctor allows it, please halt all work. And when you do continue, please let us help. ―If you can agree to these terms, I will overlook it.”
Ashiyowa raised his eyebrows, quickly glancing at the two chamberlains, then towards his work table where boards lay scattered across the ground. Finally, he nodded.
A few days later, Ashiyowa was back to work, sawing the boards as Kenjitsu held them still. Once they were cut, Ashiyowa put aside the parts he would use for the hut while Kenjitsu carried a new board to the table and collected any excess wood chips so they wouldn’t get in the way. It was clear they were making faster progress, and the strain on Ashiyowa’s body had lessened.
Maybe I was being too stubborn…
It wasn’t that Ashiyowa regretted what he did, but he felt like the secretary had cornered him. He had seemed far too calm announcing the replacement. If Ashiyowa hadn’t accepted his conditions, he had no doubt that the secretary would not have hesitated to proceed. He was serious.
After sawing a few more boards, Ashiyowa decided to take a break. A chair was set up under the shade and cold drinks were served.
“Would you like some chilled Houmai as well, Aniue-sama?”
“Ah… It’s one of my favourites.” Ashiyowa accepted the plate from the chamberlain and handed some to Kenjitsu, urging him to have a bite.