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Chapter 4: Departure
“But, isn’t this a little too courteous?”
“Yeah, such care even for men like him…”
“…–His Majesty must truly be longing to meet him.”
In the midst of the chatter, a clear voice cut through the noise, seeping through his consciousness, prompting Ashiyowa to wake up from his half-asleep state.
“When he went missing, they really did search the whole country, didn’t they?”
“Well, even if he is an illegitimate child, he’s royalty. It’s not something they can just ignore.”
“I figured. How many years has it been already? He’s still missing.”
“My, you’re well informed, as expected. That’s right, it’s been about thirty-three years of continuous searching… It just feels impossible at this point.”
“This must be their last hope.”
As the man with the clear voice spoke, the once lively men became quiet. The depressing atmosphere only became heavier.
“Dear candidates, have you awoken?”
It was the official who had requested treatment for Ashiyowa, his voice resounding throughout the room.
Ashiyowa opened his eyes. Using his arms as support, he lifted his upper body, earning the gaze of everyone in the room.
They stared at him in surprise, unable to even greet him.
“How are you feeling, Ashi-san?”
The elderly official approached him.
“Oh, th-thanks to you…”
At the village elder’s house, he slept atop straw mats placed above heaped soil. Compared to that, he thought of this as such a luxury.
Possibly because of that or because of the painkillers from last night, the pain in his right leg was gone.
As the other men were saying, this treatment was much too gracious for mere commoners.
――Older brother… Investigation
From the bits and pieces he’d gathered here and there, everything was starting to connect.
“Well then everyone, shall we get up. Breakfast will be served shortly. Once everyone is dressed, we will depart to the Royal Capital, Ranukan. Since this is the Western border, it will take about a thousand hundred miles to the capital; about a hundred days by carriage. We will hand out the four silvers after this.”
“Can we really ride the carriages?!”
“Silver! Travel money!”
The men raised their voices in joy.
The servants entered the room, folding the futons and stacking them to the corner of the room. Screen partitions were set up and meal trays were brought in.
“Oh, the food’s here! It’s here! There’s so much rice!”
“His Majesty’s brother may be among you candidates. Please enjoy the meal to your heart’s content. Permission to use carriages has also been given to those travelling from lands far from the Royal Capital.”
“–We shall depart for the capital shortly.”
While searching for the voice he heard while dreaming, Ashiyowa’s eyes met with a kind-looking man sitting upright. He was beardless and though it was early in the morning, his hair was tied up neatly under a headpiece. He seemed like a scribe, dressed in many layers of clothing, each impeccably neat.
“Indeed. Us citizens and the Imperial Court have long-awaited His Majesty’s brother. Well then, please enjoy your meal.”
Upon saying that, the official left the room and only the servants serving the food remained.
The silver was shaped like a boat. On it, the pattern of the La Seine Dynasty was stamped, and a decoration reminiscent of the country’s lush lands were engraved.
Being his first time seeing silver, Ashiyowa observed it with intrigue, placing it on his palm.
“Ashi-dono, silver is expensive so it would be best to put it away for now.”
Upon raising his face, the man who he thought was a scribe stood up. The men in the room gathered in the castle’s garden and were each handed their travel money.
Ashiyowa, like he was warned, lost his silver.
“Um, excuse me… May I ask if you are a scribe?”
“Yes, indeed. I’ve travelled all around the country to further my studies. But, I’ve never been to the Royal Capital, despite my age. So this time, I’ve decided to make full use of this opportunity.”
“Ah, how thoughtful…”
The scribe was a student, so to speak. For promising students such as him to study freely, he is given an allowance. Some of them become scholars, from scribes, others become local officials and enter the Imperial Court in the Royal Capital.
And scribes were allowed to wear headpieces.
Headpieces were not for commoners. They were reserved for officials and for those of higher ranks, but were also worn by the rich.
To wear it, they would tie their hair up into a bun before placing the cylindrical hat on it, securing it under the chin by tying together the two short strings attached to the headpiece.
Usually, it was black in colour and often made from a mix of bamboo and wood cloth, but the better your social status, the more luxurious the material and design. Even those with short hair wore a headpiece if they had status.
As for the Chancellor, being the subject with the highest authority, his headpiece was even more elaborate, adorned with hanging beads.
Commoners instead covered their buns with a cloth or would just leave it as it is.
“It looks like the carriage is ready. Shall we depart.”
Ashiyowa picked up his cane, the one that the official who fetched him with his horse reluctantly brought along, and followed the scribe.
He didn’t notice because he ate alone at the village father’s house and at the Regional Castle, but when he was served breakfast this morning, he ended up embarrassed seeing everyone sitting upright or crossing their legs.
Ashiyowa was not good at sitting with his legs folded. It was even more burdensome than walking. At a loss, he decided to stretch his right foot and take a tray. One of the servants raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
He boarded the carriage, recalling today’s breakfast.
The scribe sat next to him. Six people were in each carriage, and two horses were assigned to each carriage. There were three carriages in total, surrounded by guards on horses.
“I wonder why they’ve assigned guards.”
“Because bandits know about the money.”
As expected of the scribe’s quick thinking, answering Ashiyowa without delay.
“Ashi-dono, excuse me if I’m being rude but, you seem to speak rather politely, despite your appearance.”
Wang, the scribe with neatly arranged hair, said that.
“I learned how to speak from the old man and a book.”
“Yes, he picked me up and raised me.”
“Ashi-dono is an orphan …?”
The carriage started to move, shaking up and down, but it wasn’t as painful as riding a horse.
The carriage had no walls but had pillars on all sides, where curtains were set up. Boards were also placed so that three people could sit on each side, and one for the coachman.