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Chapter 5: To the Royal Capital, Ranukan
During the long journey, Ashiyowa admired the various landscapes and sceneries they passed through from the carriage.
The path they were using was naturally formed, widening as they progressed further, and before long, they passed by a stone statue at the side of the road, even larger than a human.
Wang, Ashiyowa’s newfound acquaintance, politely informed the rest of the passengers, “This represents the road to the Royal Capital, the state route, in other words.”
Patterns of the Sun, sky, river, and land were etched onto the statue’s head in that order.
Spring came and the temperature rose day by day, signaling the start of a new year.
The snow was beginning to melt, and everything sparkled. The dense, green mountains, crop fields lined up one after another, boundless meadows, birds soaring high up in the air, grazing herds of animals, and rivers filled to the brim with water; they all looked radiant.
“… Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Ashiyowa let out a sigh.
“I’ve heard that the national treasury has ten years’ worth of reserves. Not only is there almost no tax, each region or prefecture is provided with more than enough reserves. This country is indeed rich. There’s probably no place like this down South, only here.”
Each one of the passengers in the carriage let out a sigh, admiring the scenery.
“I heard that the Chorai visited.”
One of the men who came from a farm family, opened his mouth, agreeing.
“Indeed, I’ve also heard about it, that one of the neighboring countries, Chorai, visited last year. They were suffering from a famine, and knowing this, His Majesty supplied them with food free of charge. Touched by His Majesty’s kindness, the Chorai, who was initially against him began to worship him. “
It wasn’t only Wang, but everyone listening swelled with pride and admiration, their faces dyed with joy.
“As expected of His Majesty, the Emperor of the World. Just the thought of being able to meet with him intimidates me.”
A man with a large build let out a broad smile and laughed, revealing several missing teeth.
“Have you ever seen His Majesty, Scribe-sama?”
The man sitting next to Wang looked at him curiously.
“I’m afraid not, scribes aren’t granted the honour of requesting an audience with His Majesty. Like everyone here, this is my first time travelling to the capital.”
“But I feel like His Majesty would meet anyone, regardless of status.”
“That’s true, of course, but within reason. Do you think it would be acceptable to interrupt him, ruler and protector of this wonderful country, just to see his face?”
“Oh, that’s true as well…”
Upon revealing his knowledge as a scribe, those from commoner backgrounds began pestering Wang with questions, asking everything and anything that came to mind.
Wang answered each question politely without complaining, but Ashiyowa noticed that he sometimes wore a dark expression while looking at the scenery.
On the way to the royal capital, the party spent the night at an inn. With a pass from the governor general, those heading to the Capital as part of the “search for His Highness’ brother” were promised, under royal edict, the utmost priority and hospitality.
A variety of stone pillars stood in front of the inn, Ashiyowa fascinated by their forms.
Though, he soon learned that they were for connecting the ropes of cows and horses; another insight from Wang.
It was Ashiyowa’s first time using a hot spring.
Since leaving the village, he had at most wiped down his body with a bucket of hot water, but there was a hot spring nearby and from there, spring water was pumped up to the inn, making for a rather fancy bath. A stone tub was placed on the stone floor, surrounded by boards, letting out puffs of steam.
Ten men entered the bath.
Ashiyowa went into the bath with the other party members.
Unsure of what to do, Ashiyowa observed the rest, mimicking their actions, gently scrubbing himself with the soap being passed around. It was rather hard to make bubbles, and it didn’t help that his hair was coarse.
Even after everyone left, Ashiyowa remained, washing and squeezing his clothes. He had constantly been placed in unfamiliar situations, and having never travelled together with others like this before, his movements were unusually slow.
He wrapped a towel – he had borrowed – around his hips.
Ashiyowa lifted himself out of the hot spring, refreshed after a good sweat, but soon felt troubled over his body as the sweat kept flowing no matter how much he tried to wipe it off.
H-hot springs are hard to deal with…
Though, he couldn’t deny that he did feel invigorated.
He asked one of the inn workers where he could hang up his clothes and borrowed an old kimono to wear to sleep.
He entered the room the party was allocated and changed there, but while wrapping the kimono across his body, he felt a gaze, turning his head around to find Wang staring at him. Ashiyowa tilted his head, puzzled, and in response, Wang bowed, apologizing for his rudeness.
“Ashi-dono, you have a rather fine body. Do you regularly train?”
“…No… It’s just because I live in the mountains.”
“I see, just from your daily lifestyle in the mountains you’ve become quite muscular.
“I am… muscular?”
Ashiyowa was confused, he had never cared much about his body, other than his right foot. But, this was probably a compliment. His cheeks got a little hot.
“You’re lean and well-muscled. But still, it was rude of me to stare; I’m sorry.”
He finished wearing the kimono, wiping off his wet hair before placing it to his back but felt another gaze. As his eyes met with Wang’s once again, he couldn’t help but wonder why. Wang bowed his head, saying sorry. He couldn’t understand why the scribe seemed to be so intrigued in him.
Fifty days had passed since they’d begun travelling and they were now past halfway. During their travels, the group had come across many spectacular sights, some so magnificent they could only gape in awe.
“… What is that…?”
The three who were raised on a farm stared with wide eyes, almost forgetting to breathe. It was a dead field.
There were trees withered without a single leaf and some of the cliffs had collapsed, but the most tragic of all was the parched river, completely dry.
“Such a thing…”
Before he could finish the statement, Wang spoke up.
He looked at everyone with that same dark expression Ashiyowa recognised, and in a voice barely loud enough to hear inside the clattering of the carriage said:
“――And that is why people like us go to the capital, grasping for even the tiniest semblances of hope.”
The carriage continued to rattle as they moved forward under the blue sky.
“At the King’s coronation ceremony, he announced that he would be the last King of this dynasty. That in about a hundred years, we, and this country, will inevitably have to live in an era without his divine protection. This must be a sign. For the past twenty years of his enthronement, His Majesty has remained the single and only member of royalty. You could say that he’s almost at his limit. At this rate, he might not last…”
Frustration cast over everyone’s eyes.
The man with the large build stomped his foot with a ‘bang’.
“Is… Isn’t there anything that can be done?”
“The only thing that can extend His Majesty’s lifespan and ease his loneliness may be the existence of his brother. With that time, we must hurry, we have to discuss how we can protect the country without His protection. While he is still here, that is.”
Having spoken this much, Wang was now pale, silently burying his face into his hands.
The carriage was struck with a pensive air, weighing heavily on all. You could say this was the tragic fate of all the people of this country.
Ashiyowa looked up into the sky.
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