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Chapter 39: Impeachment
Ashiyowa slipped out in the middle of the night. Blocking out the chamberlains’ and doctor’s voices, he walked towards the bald mountains in the direction of the white cone-shaped tent. Just as his right leg began to throb, one of the chamberlains approached with his cane.
It was a mess inside the tent. Memories of what happened during the day flashed through his head and struck him with vivid clarity. He paused for a moment on his way out, then continued.
As he wandered aimlessly around the mountains, the dawn began to break. The early morning sky enveloped everything in dim light and a few birds were already in flight. Drained, Ashiyowa sat down on the spot. A chamberlain offered him a drink. Behind that chamberlain stood the other chamberlain and the guards assigned to Ashiyowa.
“―It’s fine. You’re better off not serving me.”
The younger chamberlain shook his head and flashed a smile.
As the adopted child of the old man, the path he should take had been clearly laid out in front of him. He knew what he needed to do. Yet, the thought of the young Emperor haunted him, the image of his dazzling smile etched in Ashiyowa’s mind.
Has there ever been a person who looked at him like that; who greeted him with a smile as bright as his?
―He didn’t want to be alone anymore. More than anyone, Ashiyowa knew the feeling of loneliness. As his thoughts cycled between the old man and Lesheine, Ashiyowa’s chest tightened. At this rate, he’d lose his mind.
He stroked his rough face, then covered it with both hands. “I don’t know anymore…,” he said, curling up on the spot.
Sleep wouldn’t come. As long as he remained in Ryokuen’s halls, there was a chance he could run into Lesheine. He stood up, grabbed his cane, and began walking, dragging his right leg along. There was no time to waste.
Upon reaching the palace’s vermillion gates, Ashiyowa asked the gatekeeper to open the doors. Both the guards and chamberlains following him shook their heads. Ever since Ashiyowa was brought to Ryokuen palace, he had tried to leave numerous times.
“If I truly am royalty, please listen to me and open the gates!” Ashiyowa shouted, pounding his fists on the doors.
“If you aren’t trying to lock me up, why are you doing this! Open the gates!”
“Aniue-sama, you cannot leave without permission― Please wait, I will request permission from His Majesty right away.”
The chamberlain was about to run but was stopped.
“Wait! ―Why do I need permission from him to do what I want?”
“Aniue-sama, this is a matter of your own safety. By no means are we trying to force you to stay.” The chamberlain explained, placing his hand on Ashiyowa’s shoulder, but he wasn’t convinced.
“I was raised in the wild! I don’t need guards or anyone to serve me. I can do things by myself. If I stay here, what’s to become of me?”
“Don’t call him… I don’t want to see him… I don’t want to see him.” Ashiyowa crouched, his fists sliding down the doors. He had on only his nightwear, but when a chamberlain tried to drape an outer robe over his body, he refused.
“Old man, forgive me. Forgive me.” Ashiyowa muttered as he sat down, hands around his head.
The moment he woke up, Lesheine received the report from Ryokuen’s secretary. Pale, he immediately sat upright on the bed with his feet touching the floor. He shot a glance at the window; the sun was already up.
“Where is he now?”
“Aniue-sama is still in front of the gate… He won’t let anyone touch him.”
“―I’m going there now.”
“Please wait, Your Majesty. According to the chamberlains’ report, Aniue-sama seems to be troubled about something. He seems to be apologising to this ‘old man’, who I assume to be the man who adopted and raised him.”
“Could it be that the old man has something to do with why he’s so reluctant to meet me…” Lesheine stood up. Frustrated, he paced around the room in his white nightwear before sitting down on a chair. He remained silent, staring into nothing.
When he finally raised his face, he saw the secretary still on one knee wearing a dark expression. “Aniue doesn’t have an accent when he speaks. His polite demeanour, knowledge from books, even knowing how to design and build a hut ― What do you think?”
“It seems that the old man was rather knowledgeable.”
“I think so too. What was a man like him doing, hidden in the mountains?”
“Perhaps he was upset with the current state of the world. Or maybe he resented it. There must have been some reason for his contempt.”
“That may be true. His heart must have become twisted somewhere along the way. To think that Aniue had been raised by this man for ten or twenty years until the old man died…” When he imagined his brother crouched in front of the gates, Ashiyowa’s contempt directed at him, Lesheine felt a sharp pain cut through his body. He remembered this sensation, this ache: Rejection.
The secretary refrained from saying anything, not wanting to interrupt Leshiene, deep in thought. “The night I attacked Aniue… When I extended my hand to him, he pushed it away. He said it was disgusting; that it was wrong. That was what he said, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, that was what I heard as well.” Lesheine’s bright blue eyes glared piercingly at the secretary as if he were an enemy. His normally pale face had darkened, distorted to the point it was almost unrecognisable.
“That old man, he must have been one of the scholars against the rule of the royal family. Aniue grew up being taught that we were wrong; that we were evil!”
Lesheine brought his fist down, banging the chair’s armrest. “Get me a horse!”
Lesheine hurried to the vermillion gates on a white horse, his appointed guards trailing behind him. A trail of dust followed them as their horses galloped, leaving hoofprints in the ground. Lesheine jumped off the horse and one of the guards took the horse’s reins. Wearing nothing but a pale blue outer robe over his sleepwear, he ran towards Ashiyowa’s curled form where it lay in front of the gates.
The guards and chamberlains kneeled and bowed in silence as Lesheine took Ashiyowa into his embrace, placing his arms under Ashiyowa’s green outer robes. No matter what anyone said, Lesheine loved his half-brother, his one and only brother.
Even if it meant abandoning his duty as a member of the royal family or leaving the palace where he had grown up, Lesheine wouldn’t hesitate to throw it all away. He would give up the throne if he had to.
He peeked at Ashiyowa’s face, wrought with exhaustion. His eyes were shut tight, and his chin had grown some stubble. “Aniue… It must have been painful.”
Looking at Ashiyowa’s face, that was all Lesheine could say. If the situation was just as Lesheine had guessed, Ashiyowa came to the Royal Capital, thinking he would return the mountains. Only, he ended up at the Royal Palace, the residence of Lesheine, the last Emperor and sole member of the royal family. He was then courted by the said Emperor, a pure royal, who he had been taught was dirty and immoral. Not to mention, Lesheine had assaulted him.
Words were lost to Lesheine. He hadn’t realised at first, but Lesheine had fallen for his brother at first sight. The love he felt was overwhelming, and when Ashiyowa had pushed him away and rejected him that day, when he had looked at him with such contempt, his whole being had crumbled. Yet, at that moment, all that mattered was that Ashiyowa was his, and he was Ashiyowa’s, completely and wholly.
After Ashiyowa’s wounds had healed, whenever he had the chance, he wanted to touch him, kiss him, make him his. At this point, Lesheine couldn’t even imagine what his life had been like before Ashiyowa, when he had been so alone. So, when Ashiyowa changed his mind and said he would stay, he had wanted to believe that it had been something more.
He thought that his brother had come to love him just as much as the Emperor loved Ashiyowa. Blind to Ashiyowa’s true feelings, the Emperor had embraced his brother many times. He made love to Ashiyowa’s tense body, giving himself up completely.
But Ashiyowa was raised by a man who loathed the royals. How he must have suffered, being held by the Emperor like a woman, by his brother from a different mother.
“… Leshe… I can’t be with you…”
Realisation struck Lesheine as if he had been stabbed right through his heart. He loosened his hold on Ashiyowa.
No, no, he didn’t want to be here.
“Lesheine.” Ashiyowa wrapped a hand on Lesheine’s cheek and stared at his face before turning away.
“Please tell them to open the gates.”
“A-Aniue, that is…”
During the La Seine dynasty, many scholars had criticised and questioned the royal family’s rule. But there were also citizens who protected and supported the royal family’s rule, weren’t there?
“Aniue, I can’t live without you.”
“If you go through those gates, I will cut my neck.”
Panicked voices broke out around them and Ashiyowa lifted his head silently.
“I don’t want to live anymore. I can’t bear it.”
If Ashiyowa wanted to leave, Lesheine would let him. But he couldn’t bring himself to watch Ashiyowa’s back as he left through the gates. If their eyes met as Ashiyowa walked away forever, he knew that all his will to live would fade.
This chapter is brought to you by Chloe the Cat (she’s the new rescue our editor Evelet got)~