Under the darkness of night, Ashiyowa passed through the palace chambers one after another.
He looked back many times, and as the figure chasing him approached, he moved his legs faster in desperation. The chamberlain’s and guards’ voices and footsteps could be heard throughout this, along with the opening and closing of doors. Though it was dark outside, candles lit the palace corridors so you could still see what was inside the rooms. Ashiyowa ran, avoiding chairs and tables, dodging vases.
His right foot had long been cramped, but he ignored it and continued sprinting.
He kicked a chair backward, obstructing the path behind him, and ran past the fringed curtains towards the exit, placing his hands on the door.
The door wouldn’t open, so he tried using the momentum of his body. He bashed himself against it, hoping he could force it open. He tugged at the sides of the door, but it still wouldn’t budge. In a panic, he ran his eyes around the room and tried rattling the window shutters.
Why — —
As if a strong gust of wind had blown in, the door behind him was slammed shut. Ashiyowa ran his shoulders into the window trying to break it, but only bounced off and fell to the floor.
Against the flecks of light leaking out from the closed door, a shadowy form had entered the room with the wind, his figure melded into the darkness.
Haa — Haa —
Both men were panting, shoulders rising and falling.
Ashiyowa’s sweat-drenched body instantly froze.
He tried to get up, only to realise neither his arms nor legs would move.
“— Ah — Ah?”
A bunch of candlesticks were suddenly lit, even though there was no one else there.
The Emperor, dressed in white undergarments, looked down at Ashiyowa. His golden hair glimmered under the light, framing his pale face like a crown. But there was something sinister behind his blue eyes. Silently, his form covered Ashiyowa’s.
Ashiyowa could feel his breath on his chest. His clothes were shifted around and before he knew it, he was stripped.
His dry lips uttered. Ashiyowa remained paralysed as his legs were spread open, welcoming the man in between his thighs. With the rustling of clothes, the Emperor removed his undergarments.
He exhaled loudly.
The Gray Wolves rushed to the corner of Ryokuen Palace, cries echoing throughout the corridors. As they got closer, everyone there became tense.
“This voice is…”
Murmurs filled the room. Candlesticks hung from the ceiling at regular intervals across the long, wide corridor. Even with the light, the Secretary of Ryokuen only felt unease building in his chest.
Several guards ran into the door, decorated with tassels. Despite their efforts, it wouldn’t open; they couldn’t get to where ‘that’ was being carried out.
It must be someone’s power.
The ordinary person was no match when it came to royal abilities. They stopped trying and he instead arranged for a doctor and the hot spring to be prepared. That was all they could do.
As if driven into a scorching stake, his body swayed, struggling to keep up with the Emperor.
“A-A-Ah… Gyaa… N-No.”
The smell of blood drifted throughout the room. His face, neck, and chest were licked, sucked, bitten. The sensation from his lower half became numb.
Sloppy sounds resonated across the room, accompanied by their rough, animalistic breathing.
Between the pain from his right leg and from being pierced with the Emperor’s length, Ashiyowa was stuck in a cycle of consciousness and unconsciousness.
“Fuu… Gyaaah… Ahh!”
The man wrapped Ashiyowa’s legs over his shoulders and moved violently. With a thrust, his body trembled, pausing for a moment before resuming once more. His hands rested on either side of Ashiyowa’s face and he continued to sway back and forth, in and out, as if possessed by something.
“Hyaahh… Ah… Hii… Hii…”
Ashiyowa finally managed to regain freedom of his limbs after being tied up, but it was too late. He resisted, hitting, scratching, and pounding against the man on top of him with both hands, but he was being overwhelmed by a violence with which he could not compare.
The deepest parts of his body were invaded endlessly and the burning liquid filled him mercilessly as if it would kill him. The affection of the noblest man was something that not even the most beautiful of women could receive even if they begged. Yet, it was poured into Ashiyowa until he bled.
You could feel the heavy air and heat from behind the closed door. Occasionally, you could hear voices, indicating that they were still in the act. Outside, chairs were lined up along the corridor, the Grey Wolves patiently waiting. Among the Grey Wolves was the Secretary.
From that warm atmosphere during dinner, it instantly shifted to the bedroom and naturally, to what lovers would do in the bedroom. The older brother’s rejection was followed by an explosion of passion at the end of the chase.
His Majesty was too… He must have been so terrified.
It made him wonder how much the royal family must love their own blood. Was it necessary? It had been twelve years since the subject of the Imperial bed-chamber was cut off. In the midst of the Emperor’s loneliness, summertime had finally brought with it a bright light. The Emperor, who would have been exhausted and starved, must have had neither the calm nor the ability to accept any rejection from Ashiyowa. In fear of losing him, he acted as if crazed, driven only by instinct to seek the person in front of him who shared his blood.
The Secretary gently closed his eyes.
— With this, there’s no denying it.
Even though it had come to this, the only person the Emperor could ever desire was his own kin.
There is no doubt that Ashi-dono was Lafoseine, the illegitimate son of the previous emperor who went missing when he was three years old.
Illegitimate children were very rare within the royal family. The royal family only loved their relatives and usually kept to themselves, so it was very rare for them to embrace or be embraced by others. But — something must have possessed him to do it. It wasn’t uncommon for members who were rejected by the other party to use an outsider to ease their heartbreak, to detach themselves from their feverish love. Perhaps that had been the reason.
Previously at Ryokuen, lower-ranking tasks were done not by the Gray Wolves, but by a lady-in-waiting, who coincidentally also cleaned the gardens. She must have caught the previous Emperor’s interest.
With one touch, Lafoseine had been conceived. The lady-in-waiting had been approached from behind. Before she even realised what was happening, it was over.
In fear, she requested permission from her superior to return to her hometown and live with her parents before the Gray Wolves caught up. In less than a year, the child was born at her parents’ house. Many messengers invited both mother and child to the palace, so she agreed. But the previous emperor himself wasn’t keen on meeting anyone other than the royal family. After naming the child, he coldly brushed them off, ordering the Gray Wolves to take care of arranging the baby’s protection and necessities.
But around three years later, the Emperor’s attitude changed. He sent a messenger to fetch his son, also giving him some new clothes. The existence of a half-blooded child had become an interesting topic of conversation within the royal family. The carriage, along with the accompanying guards, fell into a river below a cliff after a landslide on the way to the Royal Capital. The river was flooded from the heavy rain a few days prior, and even with the guards’ outstanding skills and physical strength, they managed to rescue only the Emperor’s concubine. Soldiers were injured and some were seriously wounded, but none of them died.
Immediately after the news arrived, reinforcements searched the river for Prince Lafoseine. Yet, he remained missing. Though they were unable to retrieve his body, he was labeled ‘dead’ on the royal list.
The Secretary broke out of his recollection and raised his head.
A cold night wind blew against his skin. He sat up from the chair and placed his hand on the door. It opened without resistance.
The moment he stepped into the room, he smelled iron. Under the swaying fire of the candlelight, the room was a disastrous sight.
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The Emperor lifted Ashiyowa and carried him away from the dining room, one arm supporting his back and the other under his knees.
“W-What is it—”
He was still unsure of how to address the man and was left unanswered.
The Emperor called him ‘Aniue’ or ‘Lafoseine.’ But, whenever Ashiyowa called him ‘Your Majesty,’ he would be corrected with “My name is Lesheine.”
Lesheine… The Emperor’s name. A name only members of the royal family could use. A name that the Emperor hadn’t heard in a long time, ever since he became the last royal. Between someone without a name and someone who had a name but no one to use it, who was lonelier?
Passing through numerous chambers, they arrived in a room much larger than the one Ashiyowa was using. Inside, there was a four-poster bed, decorated with a luxurious canopy. The room had a high ceiling and was wide enough that if two people were to sit at opposite corners, they wouldn’t even be able to have a conversation.
Just like that, Ashiyowa was placed on the bed.
Distantly, he heard the pattering of the chamberlain’s and guards’ footsteps.
“What is it?”
He was made to lie down on his back and the Emperor, who had climbed on top of him, stuck the lower halves of their bodies together. Remnants of the chocolate remained smeared across his lips.
“Ah…I love you… Lafoseine, my Lafoseine.”
Ashiyowa couldn’t tell which was more uncomfortable, being told ‘I love you’ or being called by his real name, something he wasn’t used to hearing.
“I-I’m not Lafoseine… Your Majesty.”
For a moment, he paused.
“I’m not ‘Your Majesty.’ Lesheine. Call me that. Call me Lesheine.”
The chamberlain and others who had caught up disappeared once again after lighting up some candles.
The Emperor’s golden hair fell onto Ashiyowa, occasionally shining under the candlelight that dimly lit up the room.
“Call me Lesheine…”
Hearing the Emperor’s voice by his ears, Ashiyowa’s throat tightened and goosebumps stood all across his skin.
Blue eyes watched him.
“Yes, that’s right. Lesheine. That’s my name. Ahh…”
The Emperor, delighted, buried his face into Ashiyowa’s neck and took a deep breath, inhaling his scent.
If I’d known he would be this happy, I would have called him that earlier.
Ashiyowa raised a hand to pat the Emperor’s back, only for his face to be raised and brought closer to the Emperor’s. He felt a peck on his cheek.
Ashiyowa drew back his neck. But as he tried to turn his face away, his lips were met by the Emperor’s.
Still in shock, his lips were pried apart and the familiar sensation from dinner was back.
Ashiyowa tried to say “T-There’s no chocolate anymore!” But he couldn’t speak because his tongue was tangled with the Emperor’s.
The Emperor, panting, briefly let go to take a breath before joining their lips together once again.
No matter how much Ashiyowa moved his head, he couldn’t escape. The Emperor licked Ashiyowa’s lips as he pulled away. But without even giving him time to breathe, their lips were reunited, the Emperor’s tongue inviting itself in.
As the two tall men struggled on the bed, they gradually stumbled to the centre. At some point, Ashiyowa felt a slight breeze on his body.
His blue robes were in a mess, the string holding them together had been pulled apart by the Emperor in a flurry.
“Aniue, it’s fine, isn’t it?”
“I want to hold you, Aniue.”
The Emperor removed his own outer robes and was now left in nothing but his white undergarments, sprawled across Ashiyowa, staring back at him in disbelief.
——To hold? E-Eh— As in, to—?
As far as Ashiyowa knew, this was something that only couples did together, an act between husband and wife.
It happened sometime during his adolescence. He was washing his body in the mountain’s rivers, when he felt a strange sensation in the lower half of his body, reacting to the pressure of the gently flowing river. Panicked, Ashiyowa quickly returned to the hut and asked the old man, who as always, scolded him but taught him what it meant in the end.
“Do you not know, Lesheine?”
Ashiyowa struggled, but the Emperor pressed himself firmly against his waist, running his fingers through Ashiyowa’s short black hair. He replied seductively, in a tone unfamiliar to Ashiyowa.
“What is it?”
“This is something only husband and wife can do.”
He paused, his hand remaining still on Ashiyowa’s head.
“Then let us marry, Aniue.”
Ashiyowa hurriedly placed a hand on the Emperor’s chest, pushing against him.
“That’s wrong. Marriage is between man and woman. We can’t do this.”
“Aniue, it matters not to the royal family. You may not know, but for us, whether they are men or women, whether there is love between two men or two women is of no concern. Gender doesn’t matter, and neither do familial ties. All that does is that you like it, that you want it. Do you desire it? Or do you not.”
Upon hearing that, Ashiyowa remembered. Yes, the one vice of the royal family ruling over La Seine; consanguineous marriage. An act that ignored all morals. It made his hair stand on end. The royal family can only love those who share the same blood. Whether it’s your sister, mother, aunt, or cousin, whether it’s your brother, father, uncle, or cousin, the royal family longs for each other and loves regardless of gender.
The very same royal family that possessed unique abilities and prospered the lands were cursed to love only their kin—
Ashiyowa slapped the Emperor.
“Don’t touch me!” Ashiyowa screamed at the Emperor who was holding his left cheek, stunned.
“I-It’s weird! It’s immoral! And you’re defending it? I-I’m leaving. Leaving from this place. I’m going back to the mountains!”
The Emperor desperately reached out to Ashiyowa, who had already jumped out of the other side of the bed.
“I’m not your brother! I don’t ever recall being part of the royal family!”
“Aniue! Aniue! You’re my brother! I can tell. I-I can’t stop thinking of you. Without you, the royal palace is barren. Please, please don’t say you’re leaving.”
Ashiyowa shrugged off the Emperor’s hold on his hand, goosebumps standing all over his skin.
“—Listen well, Ashiyowa. It is because we have morals that we’re human. Those who cannot distinguish between the moral and immoral are beasts. Just look at the royal family, they’re all just beasts with beautiful fur. No matter how prosperous the land is, their true nature will eventually pollute this country.”
The old man’s words echoed in Ashiyowa’s head.
“… I’m leaving. Don’t expect me to come back. I’ll return to the mountains; I’ll live like I always have.”
“Aniue! I’ll go too. I’ll go with you.”
Ashiyowa glared at the Emperor, whose cheeks were now wet with tears.
“Don’t follow me! Don’t ever show yourself before me again!”
But the moment he spoke, an animalistic roar erupted from the person in front of him.
Ashiyowa had finally escaped from hunger at the country’s richest palace.
Ever since the Emperor began having him served miso soup, vegetables with simple, bland flavours and ripe fruits would accompany all his meals along with a cooked dish. The head royal chef, Yukidoke, would always ask him what he thought of the dishes after.
The living room, wider than several normal-sized rooms combined, seemed to be designated for Ashiyowa’s use. Inside, he could often be found sitting in the corner, at a circular table. 1 Buried under all the elaborate and ornamental furniture, it was plain and thus more familiar to him.
Ashiyowa’s belongings comprised the souvenir he bought for the couple back at the village and the cloth that wrapped it, the book he bought with Wang, the rest of his money, and a small knife.
Ashiyowa moved through the furniture carefully to avoid touching it and searched for his clothes, shoes, and hat. The cane that he had handmade of branches was also missing. As he wandered around, the chamberlain offered him a cane.
The cane was shiny, lacquered black, and smooth, carved and inlaid with coral and ivory.
Ashiyowa drew back his outstretched hand.
“What happened to my cane?”
“His Majesty wants you to have this.”
Ashiyowa timidly accepted the cane into his hands. He tested it out on the floor which was covered with tiger fur, slowly putting weight on it.
“How is the height?”
The elderly chamberlain with a kind face asked.
“Yes, it’s just right…”
“Um… about my clothes and belongings…”
“For now, we’ve removed them.”
“Ah, would I be able to change back into my clothes? Please?”
Upon saying that, the chamberlain’s smile stiffened and he knelt on the spot.
“Aniue-sama, are you perhaps dissatisfied with the clothes we have provided?”
At first, Ashiyowa would spend the day in his white nightwear, refusing the robes offered to him each morning. But when the Emperor questioned the elderly chamberlain about this in front of Ashiyowa, he turned pale. He didn’t think the chamberlain would be reprimanded for his actions. In a panic, he blurted to the Emperor that he would wear the clothes if they were plainer and more modest.
That being said, Ashiyowa’s idea of modesty was much different from those who lived in the palace.
It was true that the robes they presented this time had less embroidery and fewer layers. But they were still flashy.
“This is… plain?”
“Yes, His Majesty and us servants ended up deciding on this, after much deliberation and restraint.”
Hearing the chamberlain’s voice in such pain, Ashiyowa decided to put his arms through the sleeves of the robes for the first time. His first impression was that it was heavy. When he was asked if he was dissatisfied with it―
Ashiyowa looked down at his clothes, absent-minded. The robe was blue. It was decorated with some black embroidery, which was on the conservative side, and had black pearls sewn onto it. They glimmered whenever he moved. His shoes covered his feet with embroidered cloth and the bottoms had wooden soles.2
He was also given a yellow belt, which was a colour worn only by the Emperor and members of the royal family. Ashiyowa did not consider himself royalty and was reluctant to wear the belt.
“Not dissatisfied… But it’s just a little too much.”
“If it does not displease you, please wear it. It suits you well.”
Just like that, Ashiyowa’s objections had been quashed.
―At this rate, he would never be able to return to the mountains.
The Emperor anticipated his brother’s arrival with excitement as he listened to the approaching clacking of a cane. As the chamberlain opened the door to the dining table, Ashiyowa appeared in his blue robes.
The Emperor unconsciously let out a smile.
His brother was finally starting to eat his meals properly and his cheeks were no longer hollow. He also heard that Ashiyowa had accepted the cane he offered him today. Upon hearing that report, the Emperor announced that he would finish dealing with state matters early and invite Ashiyowa to dinner.
He chose a circular table. That way, they could eat side by side. Having to sit opposite each other would be much too confrontational for Ashiyowa.
In front of the Emperor were Shashan steamed with spicy sauce, an assortment of sea grapes and raw Nulu, homemade salted venison, fried venison, shark heart, pepper-flavored skewers, and some clay pot stew combined with winter melon that had been cooked until it was soft. A variety of simple and mostly unflavoured dishes were lined up before Ashiyowa. However, the kitchen still insisted at least on the elegant presentation of the food, using elaborate techniques to carve the vegetables and decorate the plates.
“I-it’s the palace!!!”
Ashiyowa’s eyes widened at the sight of a Ryokuen, reimagined with a green vegetable called Homeisho.
The tableware the Emperor used was made of gold. He demanded the same for his brother and was delighted that they were eating with matching chopsticks. Ashiyowa picked up a small bowl and was surprised at how heavy it was. Out of curiosity, he decided to ask.
“Ah, that’s because it’s made of gold.”
And then, pretending that he hadn’t asked, Ashiyowa quickly returned the small bowl to the table as if he had touched something hot.
The Emperor recommended some sake to Ashiyowa.
“Sake? — Oh, sake.”
The Emperor himself poured him a cup and Ashiyowa placed it gently to his mouth, tasting it slowly.
“How is it?”
Ashiyowa twisted his neck and then turned his eyes, wide open, toward the Emperor.
“Ah! Somehow, my throat and chest are hot!!!”
“Don’t worry. Sake is supposed to warm your body from the inside. Here, would you like a little more?”
Upon being refused, the Emperor decided that, if sake was no good, it was time to bring out some desserts. He clapped his hands together.
“This is chocolate. It’s very sweet and nourishing.”
On a large golden plate, a small, well-shaped piece of dark brown chocolate stared up at Ashiyowa. The Emperor took a piece and tasted it.
“It’s delicious. How about it, would you like to try a bite?”
The Emperor stared at him in anticipation, and Ashiyowa could only nod his head in defeat, wearing an expression that seemed to say, ‘Will you let me go if I eat the chocolate?’ Perhaps it was because of the alcohol, he felt bold enough to throw a huge chunk of chocolate into his mouth. His cheeks swelled as he rolled the chocolate around in his mouth.
The few servants attending to them and guards protecting the room were smiling along with the Emperor when Ashiyowa, who had been melting the chocolate in his mouth, suddenly leaned forward and put his hands in front of his mouth.
“I-It’s too big…!”
“It’s fine to spit it out. Spit it out!”
Ashiyowa tried pushing it out by moving his tongue, but despite his efforts, he couldn’t seem to spit it out. It was stuck. Suffocated and in tears, he looked up to see the Emperor patting his back.
And then, the Emperor brought his lips to Ashiyowa’s. As he slipped his tongue in, he was greeted by a sweet taste.
He stretched his tongue further, searching for the largest mass of chocolate to draw it out, muffling Ashiyowa’s voice.
As he took the chocolate into his mouth and peeled his lips off Ashiyowa’s, he found remains of the dark brown chocolate smeared over Ashiyowa’s mouth.
Ashiyowa was panting heavily, his lips shining with chocolate and saliva.
“Aniue, are you alright?”
Ashiyowa nodded, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Though this of course just smeared the chocolate further across his lips.
The white cloth offered by a servant remained unnoticed by Ashiyowa, still pure white.3
“T-Thank you. Ah, I left some behind.”
As he said that, Ashiyowa reached out to the Emperor’s lips and brushed away the remains of the kiss with his fingers.
“That was a bit too big4… It was more painful than sweet, huh?”
Ashiyowa stared at his fingers, dirtied by the chocolate, and let out a shy laugh. And that was all it took for the Emperor to lose all restraint.
Hasr: Evelet to the rescue! Hope you enjoyed the puns here~
Ashiyowa didn’t like staying in the room, so he often walked around Ryokuen Palace.
He decided to head out because he felt overwhelmed indoors, but was surprised once he actually went outside.
The land they owned was so large, one wouldn’t think it was private property. A whole village could probably fit there. Countless gardens, ponds, rivers, forests and valleys ran up and down, and there were even mountains. The embanked mountains served as some sort of dam for when it rained and it was said that they would turn bald every time it rained, with all their forestry being washed away.
Ashiyowa spotted a triangular pyramid from far away.
“That is the royal family’s grave.”
One of the grey clothed servants following him explained.
One day, that blonde, blue-eyed Emperor will rest there…
Ashiyowa narrowed his eyes.
And then, he sat on the spot without any warning.
Ashiyowa had spent most of the morning walking. The mountain roads weren’t necessarily steep, and he didn’t go far, but continuously walking without a cane would of course, bring about a dull ache in his right leg. He wanted to rest there.
The elderly chamberlain, who had become accustomed to Ashiyowa’s habit of walking and abruptly sitting anywhere, would kneel from a distance and had stopped making a fuss each time.
While unconsciously stroking his right thigh, Ashiyowa gazed at a large pond from the forest. It was surrounded by flowering aquatic plants and in the centre, were two water birds swimming. There was a semi-circular bridge made of white stone, connecting the pond to another.
Beyond that, he could see the vermilion roof of Ryokuen Palace, followed by its red pillars and the dignified appearance of its towering white walls.
Every time he saw those vermilion gates scattered in front of the long wall, he would ask the guards to open them and let him through. But the guards were persistent and only shook their heads politely.
No matter how much he tried, this was the furthest they would allow him to venture. Even though there were markets outside, with food he could eat…
He placed his hand, resting on his thigh, onto his stomach.
Ashiyowa’s diet was fairly simple considering the environment he grew up in.
The fruit and vegetables he harvested were his staples and the only seasoning he used was salt. Before this, he hadn’t ever put anything elaborate enough to be called ‘cooking’ into his mouth. For winter, he stored salted and dried vegetables and fruit which he would often eat with boiled or roasted grains, crushed and ground.
Perhaps because the palace’s forest was landscaped, it wasn’t blessed with the usual abundance of vegetation you would find in natural forests. Despite Ashiyowa’s exploring, he only managed to find a single miserable potato. The mountain embankments were as he expected, a foolish choice.
In the ponds, koi fish scattered about. The image of their shadows flickered in Ashiyowa’s mind, only having eaten river fish occasionally.
Would they be mad if I caught one to grill and eat…
Ashiyowa, still unaware of his position within the palace, worried about such things in his hungered body.
Just like that, he began to feel sleepy. For malnourished bodies such as his, drowsiness would overtake the moment he let his guard down; it was a defence mechanism.
In a corner of the vast and beautiful garden where almost no one wandered, Ashiyowa sat down and began to nod off, the chamberlain and several other servants following at a distance.
In front of him, was a bowl of miso soup.
The Emperor himself carried the tray. The bowl was rimmed with gold, accompanied by chopsticks made of ivory and gold.
To Ashiyowa, this was a nostalgic scent.
As he took in the scent, the Emperor moved forward with even more excitement.
It was almost noon, and he had been hungry for a long time.
The Emperor crouched in front of Ashiyowa and pushed the tray towards him to pass the bowl. Ashiyowa looked like he had lost some weight and was sitting on the ground rather pitifully.
Without even looking at the Emperor’s blue eyes, he turned his attention to the bowl, steam puffing out of it. He stirred it with the chopsticks and slowly tasted the soup.
――Ah, how nostalgic…
When Ashiyowa lifted his head in surprise, the Emperor, who had passed the tray to the chamberlain, was staring at him, sitting on a stool.
“Please, have some more.”
Upon being urged, Ashiyowa took more sips. He was impressed that the mushrooms and root vegetables were so delicious.
He swallowed the soup with a gulp and emptied the bowl.
Upon letting out a deep breath and removing his face from the bowl, they heard a voice, sobbing loudly, from outside the circle surrounding them.
Ashiyowa was confused, but the chamberlain took the bowl, and placed a plate of taro on the tray.
The taro was sliced into several pieces while still retaining its original shape, its white flesh exposed to the Sun.
Ashiyowa lifted the plate with a hand and was met with the Emperor’s gaze, who nodded at him to take a bite. He grabbed a piece with the chopsticks and carried it to his mouth.
It was slimy but had a slightly sweet flavour. Simple flavours like this were familiar to Ashiyowa. And, before he realised, it was all gone.
Witnessing this, the Emperor let out a laugh. His laughter resonated through the ears of those present and seemed that it could reach the heavens. It was as if today was a day to celebrate.
“Is it tasty, brother?”
“This… tastes like the taro from the mountains.”
“It’s not similar, this taro is in fact from Tenho village itself. So were the miso, mushrooms and other vegetables. ――Brother, I have starved you for too long. I will make sure you never have to experience this again.”
As the chamberlain collected the plate and chopsticks, the Emperor sat up and grabbed Ashiyowa’s hand, prompting him to rise from the ground.
“We have prepared more inside. Please take your time enjoying it. I shall accompany you.”
The Secretary of Ryokuen gave a pat to the royal chef’s chest, whose cheeks were soaked with tears that he hadn’t bothered to wipe away.
Speaking of food, it was considered a rather big deal to the citizens of the Royal Capital. At times, it was almost comedic.
The Emperor had proposed an urgent investigation on Ashiyowa’s diet during his trip from West Ryokannan to the Royal Capital. With his permission, one of their fastest soldiers was sent out on horse in the early morning. At the same time, other guards were sent to secure ingredients and seasonings from the village closest to the mountains where Ashiyowa lived.
This was the result of their investigation.
“Ah… This… This can’t even be considered cooking.”
The best chef of La Seine muttered regretfully.
Out of all the food prepared, miso soup required the most skill, and even then, the other kitchen staff had to restrain him from adding more soup stock and deepening its flavour.
Regardless of where the ingredients were from, to be reduced to just boiling taro in salt was, to him, an insult to his reputation.
But, it was a flavour that Ashiyowa was familiar with.
Starving Ashiyowa was the same as starving the Emperor, and so the royal chef was in no place to complain.
Even more than being fired, he feared the remaining members of the royal family, that had now become two, would die of hunger.
Yukidoke believed that feeding the royal family what they truly wanted to eat would also nourish them from the core, and so as a member of the Grey Wolves, he resolved to pick up the kitchen knife.
It had been several decades since, and his efforts had paid off. More than anyone, his devotion was admirable.
He received high praise for his skills and would often prepare banquets for visiting Emperors of other countries to introduce La Seine’s flavours.
Yet now, the very same Yukidoke was sitting crouched in the gardens of Ryokuen, weeping.
After watching Ashiyowa filling his stomach with food, the Emperor returned to his usual diet.
The royal kitchen was located next to the Ryokuen Palace, adjacent to the food storage room. It was the most convenient place to get to and from the palace. Recently, the atmosphere had been heavy in the kitchen, but as the two royals finally finished their meals, you could hear cheers and the sound of cooking utensils clapping together coming from the kitchen.
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It was the night Ashiyowa was taken to the palace.
He was guided to the bath, but shocked by its milky waters, Ashiyowa shook his head and ran away. The secretary of Ryokuen, dressed in grey, chased after him, but it took much convincing and persuasion on his part to finally get the younger man out of his ragged clothes and into the white kimono they provided.
He was shown to the room beside the one that he was originally brought to, prepared for his use. The room was wide but was rather empty inside. Ashiyowa had no clue as to why he was brought to the room; wondering what they were going to use the room for and what would become of him.
But no matter how long he waited, he felt no other presence, and finally, he figured he would be allowed to sleep there. It wasn’t too cold during summer nights, and it was clean inside the palace, more so than he expected. Ashiyowa made his way to the corner of the room and sat himself down, before finally lying down to sleep.
Yet almost immediately, the older man came busting into the room, panicked. He showed Ashiyowa to the bed at the centre of the room, propped up a bed frame, and told him to sleep there.
In fact, the older man not only pointed him to it, but woke Ashiyowa up and brought him there.
The moment his hands touched the bed, goosebumps erupted on his skin.
It was a new sensation.
It was completely different from the futons he was used over the course of travelling to the Capital.
Ashiyowa took a breath, unable to go along with this, and returned to the corner.
The man’s expression softened, nodding after a moment of silently staring at Ashiyowa. Taking a few steps back, he knelt on both knees and placed his arms in front of him, politely bowing, the headpiece sitting on his head, bobbing along as he did so.
Ashiyowa looked back, checking if there was someone watching over him from behind.
Finally, he was alone/he found himself alone in the bedroom…
He finally relaxed, closing his eyes and curling up his body, wanting to escape from all the confusion. In his dreams, he vaguely remembered seeing golden hair.
When he woke up, he found himself on top of an unbelievably neat, wide futon, surrounded by the pillars of the bed frame.
Dazed, Ashiyowa raised his upper body with his arms. He was on the soft, silky bed. The curtain held up by the pillars were pushed apart, and he was met with the older man from last night, bowing respectfully.
“Good morning, Ashi-sama.”
Such mornings continued for several days. Ashiyowa would sleep on the floor but would always wake up on top of the futon. As he expected, it seemed he was being carried there while he was asleep.
The older man was incredibly patient.
However, Ashiyowa wouldn’t lose. Although he had fearfully accepted that he would be brought to the bed every night, he still hadn’t touched the robes presented to him each morning, not tempted even once to run his arms through its sleeves.
The robes in question were blue and extravagant enough to make you wonder if they actually belonged to a member of the royal family.
Every morning, Ashiyowa, in his white nightwear, would be taken aback upon seeing it.
“Um, this is…”
While saying that, Ashiyowa clenched his chest, the cloth of his nightwear gathering under his fist.
The nightwear was a white kimono that extended to his ankles with a long collar that crossed over his chest. There was a string attached to the end of the cloth to tie the inside and outside to the left and right. Underneath, he wore nothing.
To Ashiyowa, what he was wearing now was more than enough. He didn’t understand why they were making him change each time he went to bed or woke up.
This was something Ashiyowa couldn’t understand. He would spend the whole day, even weeks at times, in the same clothes, yet they expected him to change clothes so often. It was simply absurd to him. He would only change out of his clothes to wash them once they became reasonably dirty.
And even if he was being lent some clothing, the robes they’d presented to him were much too elaborate.
Without showing any intention of wearing the robes placed above the platform the bed was resting on, he walked around the room, avoiding his personal attendant.
He walked about ten steps from the bed and finally reached a window.
The window was as wide as his two arms, stretched out. The window itself was woven from thin bark and had two panels. Resting above it, were two shutters.
The curtain hanging from the top of the bed frame looked like a mosquito net to Ashiyowa.
… It’s my first time seeing such a beautiful mosquito net.
Everything here was beautiful.
It made him constantly nervous over whether he would one day clumsily lose balance, and knock something down, breaking it.
There were as many bedrooms as there were storage rooms in the palace, large enough that a whole field’s worth of crops could be stored. There was a door to go from the corridor to the inner palace, but no door from the living room. The rooms were connected to each other with curtains hanging at each end, and between the bedroom and the living room was the royal chamberlain’s waiting room.
His room was small compared to larger rooms of the palace, but it was still much bigger than the hut Ashiyowa lived in.
Even if wanted to go for a walk, he was clueless on how to navigate through the palace.
Ashiyowa is greeted by the Emperor every day, and each time, Ashiyowa tells him that he wants to return to the mountains.
“You must stay here until I can confirm you are not my brother.”
Is what he is told when he asks. Even through his fear, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something strange to those words.
Knowing that Ashiyowa barely touched his meals, the Emperor decided to delay his as well, ordering to be presented with the exact portion Ashiyowa consumed.
Originally, he wanted to accompany Ashiyowa for all three meals of the day to confirm with his own eyes that he was properly eating. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ignore his responsibilities as Emperor, and his hands were full with the days’ audiences. He wanted to do all he could for the country, soon to be without an Emperor.
As the last member of the royal family, it was his duty to fulfil their promise to the people of this country.
That morning, the meal served to the young Emperor who ruled over these green lands was――
A bite of a side dish, a plate of Rinze slices, and another fruit, Homarai Shaabe, with water to finish off.
“… Is this all?”
At his feet, the head of the royal kitchen, his assistants, and the deputy chef, who made up the kitchen were kneeling down, nervously waiting.
“A-Ashi-sama likes fruits and vegetables… We prepared dishes using those ingredients as well this morning, but… Please forgive us, Your Highness.”
The chef replied with a dread-filled voice.
“I am familiar with your culinary skills. It’s just, my brother did grow up in a special environment… I guess it must not match his tastes…”
Upon saying that, the Emperor placed the fruit lined up on the table into his mouth one after another, silencing the worried attendants and chamberlain, then left for Ryokuryū Palace without eating any more.
The Emperor would alternate between Ryokuryū or Ryokuen Palace to have his afternoon meal. No matter what, a set made by his exclusive kitchen would be prepared.
A different room was prepared for his meals at Ryokuryū. The Emperor took a seat, his blue eyes wide open.
On a beautiful white plate, was a single potato, looking somewhat pitiful, with its roots and skin still attached, and two whole Rinze fruits. In addition, there was water.
Rinze was a fist-sized red fruit. Its juice was refreshing, both sweet and sour.
The Emperor stared intently at the food in front of him.
He called for the head chef, demanding an explanation on Ashiyowa’s selection of food.
An assortment of colorful appetizers, shark meat made three ways, deep-fried rolls of Mamashi surimi2 with thin skin, stir-fried Mamashi and Nuran seasoned with with salt, shellfish and jellyfish drizzled with soy sauce, stir-fried beef and seasonal vegetables, fried rice with dried scallops…
Just imagining them made his mouth water. All of them had some kind of twist to it, a unique flavour. Yet…
The Emperor lifted up the plate on which the potatoes were placed and looked away.
“Can you explain this?”
“This is… After lunch, he dug it out of the soil while on a walk. He ate it raw after washing it…”
“He didn’t eat much this morning either. With only two Rinze’s for lunch, he must be hungry…”
The Emperor placed the plate back onto the table and turned his face down.
The inner corners of his eyes became hot and he raised an arm to cover his eyes.
His surroundings began to buzz. A panicked voice cried out.
“Call the secretary right away. Get the doctor!”
“–Your Majesty, are you feeling alright? Would you like to lie down?”
The Emperor shook his head, blonde hair swaying along.
“Am I.. truly the Emperor?”
Everyone present knelt down and answered.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Do I not rule over these lands?”
“Yes, Your Highness. You are the one and only ruler of these lands.”
“If I wish for it, there isn’t anything I can’t have. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Your Highness. All the wealth and fortune of the world belong to you.”
The Emperor brings both his arms up to cover his face once again.
“…Ahh, but even if that is true, my brother remains starving. As the Emperor, is it my only talent to bring suffering upon him…”
After saying that, the Emperor stood up and left without eating. All who were there were left speechless, unable to move for a while.
“His Majesty is fasting. Because he is royalty, he should be able to last three days without food or water. But…”
The secretary frowned upon receiving the report.
Not only Ashiyowa, but even the Emperor had almost stopped eating.
The middle-aged, plump royal chef looked pitiful with his pale complexion, staggering about.
And so, the ‘Gray Wolf’ went to the Emperor to make a proposal.