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Chapter 1: Downhill
※Beware, this work contains sexual depictions and portrayals of violence in war.
On that day, Ashiyowa (Weak Legs) decided to head down the mountains.
He still had plenty of salt, but he wanted to see other people; wanted to hear their words. Also, he’d be able to buy more books if he saved up a bit. But, his main reason for going down was to see the farm couple he always visited whenever he went; especially the wife, who had a rather voluptuous chest.
While blaming his impure self, Ashiyowa made sure he was as presentable as possible before he left, carrying a basket of herbs he collected. He did tend to some herbs near his hut, but the ones inside the basket were requested by the pharmacist and grew naturally on the mountains.
Though he tried to make himself neat and tidy, it was just washing his hair and body by the river the day before and changing into something relatively better than his usual shabby clothes. Ever since he broke his only bronze mirror half a year ago, he hadn’t shaved. It might be better to buy a new mirror if he got his hands on some money, rather than more books.
Ashiyowa slowly descended the steep mountain with a cane he made from a branch. As expected, there were not many paths.
Ashiyowa had been living here alone for over a decade now, on a remote mountain in the depths of a tiny village, located at the West edge of this abundant kingdom. He’s been alone ever since the old man who picked him up and raised him had died.
“This is… Ashi!”
The only person who would call him this was the village farmer, Hong.
Ever since he helped Hong from an accident in the mountains a few years ago, Hong has felt indebted to him. So if his lonely self ever came down the mountains, Hong asked to seek him out if there was ever anything he needed help with and explained to the villagers that he was not a suspicious figure. It was then, when he saved Hong, that he first learned about what names were and was named by Hong.
“– He always called me Ashiyowa back then…”
After finally managing to string together some words, having not spoken in a long time, Hong told him that ‘Ashiyowa’ was by no means a nickname, pet name or, needless to say, name to be proud of. From then on, he was called only ‘Ashi’ whenever he came down the mountain.
Ashiyowa was tall, his height being five ft seven (around 175 cm), comparable to the La Seine people, who were said to be the tallest within the neighbouring kingdoms with an average height of five feet and four inches (around 165 cm). And, as his name suggested, his legs were weak. Though he could walk without the cane, his right leg was bent, so he would have to drag his leg after walking for long periods of time; until the pain makes it so he can’t continue anymore. Even so, Ashiyowa understood how his body worked, living in the mountains alone. The pain in his legs grew stronger every year, but when he thought this was how it was going to be, it was no big deal. Even if it bothered him, he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Been quite a while, hasn’t it. It’d be nice if you’d come down more often. You’re free for the day, aren’t you? I’ve got a whole bunch of stories to tell.”
The warm words of the man soaked into him. The husband was a great guy, but the wife was also a good woman, bringing out some warm drinks upon noticing the two men conversing among the rice field ridges.
“It’s fine, Ashi. Ah, you’ve brought the herbs, haven’t you. Well then, I’ll go give Honma a call.”
Honma was the farm village’s pharmacist. Ashiyowa always found the herbs he requested and brought valuable herbs when he came, so Honma requested for the couple to call him whenever he came.
The drink poured into the bamboo tube was just tea. Tea was originally a drink for the aristocrats, but in this abundant country, even the general public could get their hands on it. He sat down right on the pathway. Rice paddy fields spanned across his sight. It was still early during the harvest, so you could only see the brown ploughed soil and the occasional weed. Over here, it was as if you could forget that there were in fact thirty other households occupying the village.
Upon taking off his hat, woven with straw poking out here and there, his jet black hair fell out. It was tied with a single straw behind his neck and his bangs extended to the tip of his nose. It made him look hairy, especially with his beard covering the lower half of his face. Avoiding his hair, Ashiyowa brought the bamboo tube to his lips.
“…Looking at you like this, I can’t help but wonder how young you are.”
Hong placed a foot onto his lap, smoking a pipe stuffed with tobacco.
“Ashi looked neater when we first met, so at the time I thought for certain he was younger than me.”
“Right, Ashi’s a little different today, but you definitely look younger when you shave.”
Xie came to join the conversation, taking off the handkerchief wrapped around her head. She was a short and plump thirty-year-old woman. Her arms were squishy and her waist was wide. Her chest, described in one word, was voluptuous. It bounced when she moved and shook when she laughed. Being too conscious of that chest, on the contrary, Ashiyowa didn’t dare sneak a peek.
“My hair… the mirror… broke…”
“Oh right, that so? Well then, if you earn anything today, you’d want a new mirror, wouldn’t you?”
He left the mountains early in the morning, then, taking a shortcut, camped out to rest before heading for the village a little after noon the next day. For his meals, he ate the vegetables and grains he had just harvested from the fields. It was that time of the year where winter was at its end and spring had just arrived; it was refreshing.
“Could it be that Ashi, you’re in your late thirties?”
Hong, who was over forty, brought up the topic of age again. And Xie, who was supposed to be away, came back closer.
“I’m not too sure.”
Ashiyowa answered truthfully.
The old man picked him when he was still a child. Ashiyowa himself has only ever remembered being in the mountains ever since he was young. It was only after many years passed that he came to know of things like ‘years’ and ‘age’. He knew he wasn’t a child. But he wasn’t an elder. Though, he wouldn’t consider himself a young man either.
“If you don’t know, it’s possible you could be in your mid to late thirties.”
For some reason, that age seemed to be important to the couple.
“–Ashi, wouldn’t you like to see the Royal Capital?”
Hong looked at the boy wide-eyed, even forgetting to smoke his cigarette.
“Since last year, men in their mid to late thirties across the nation have been notified to head to the Capital. What’s more, it’s not for free. They’ll pay you a proper fee. For going, it’s four pieces of silver. Upon return, six. Oops, I forgot something important. What’s amazing about this is that everyone who went to the capital can have an audience with His Majesty, the King!”
The couple was persistent in getting him to consider it, but Ashiyowa couldn’t even give a proper response. Beneath his long bangs, he blinked. In this country, the king was regarded as the king of the world.
Xie’s chest shook as she laughed.
“Ashi doesn’t seem interested.”
“But, you know, Xie… I just can’t keep what I know about Ashi a secret; I’ve gotta tell the village elder!”
“That’s right, it’s not exactly a bad thing anyway.”
While sipping the tea, the conversation went on.
“Well then, I’ll take my leave.”
While saying that, Hong put out the pipe and stood up, quickly lifting himself from the ground before running off on the path.
Panicking, Ashiyowa stood up as well, but with his right leg not working, he toppled over, moving both his arms to regain his posture. By the time he looked up, Hong was nowhere to be found.
“Ashi, why are you so reluctant to have an audience with His Majesty?”
Being stared at by Xie, he didn’t know what to say. He looked down, shaking his head.
She prompted him to sit down again.
“Ten from next door, he was thirty-eight last year when he went to the Royal Capital. He said there were lots of people there. He showed me the cloth he brought back as a souvenir, and it was amazing! I’ve never seen such brilliant embroidery. And the king too. Being able to see the god of the world; I’m so jealous. They say he’s very beautiful. You know, Ashi, if you decide to go to the capital, you must let me hear all about it once you come back.”
While accompanying Ashiyowa in place of her husband who had left, Xie talked about this and that, fully intent on getting the man to head to the capital. But in front of her swaying chest tucked inside her clothes, Ashiyowa couldn’t help but feel distracted.
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