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Chapter 7: Books
Upon leaving the market, Ashiyowa ran into Wang, who was sipping tea outside.
“Wang, what a coincidence.”
“Haha, I saw you a while ago, enjoying some fruit.”
Ashiyowa felt his face turn red.
He was embarrassed at the thought that Wang, a refined and intelligent scribe, had seen him in such a ravenous state.
“If you’d like, please use my bag.” Wang offered.
Gratefully, he accepted Wang’s kindness, and transferred the five pieces of Houmai fruit from his sleeve to the bag, swinging it over his back.
“Ashi-dono, where are you heading after this?”
“Uh… Um… Books… I want books.”
“What kind of books were you searching for?”
Wang asked as he stood up, leaving some money on the table.
“… Something with lots of words… If there is any.”
Wang was shorter than Ashiyowa, but he carried himself with grace and confidence, so it looked like Ashiyowa was his servant as they walked side by side.
“And you’re fine with any genre right? I’ve studied at the Capital before, so I know of a place that deals with books. Would you like to head there together?”
Ashiyowa glanced at Wang, genuinely grateful this time. He nodded and said it was fine. Though it looked like he had lowered his head, Wang’s nod seemed more like he was facing straight, moving his head forward.
“Let me guide you to my acquaintance’s shop. For reference, do you have a budget?”
“Oh, if it’s around the amount of silver we got for travelling…”
“The four silvers? Or does this include the six silvers we’ll receive for the return trip as well?”
People walked hurriedly along the streets, avoiding the two who were talking.
The Royal Capital was blessed with fine weather this morning. Yet, there was a strange presence adrift.
“The couple back at the village… They always took care of me. I’d like to get them a souvenir. Other than that, I don’t mind spending it all on books.”
“Is that so. Understood.”
Ashiyowa had no idea how much the books would cost.
Wang explained that the market would switch locations depending on the day. This would continue for ten days before the cycle was repeated again.
Today was the eighth day and accordingly, was called the Youkachiba1 Market. The market would be gone tomorrow, so it wouldn’t be there even if you went back to the same place.
The Kingdom of La Seine operated on ten-day calendars. Ashiyowa knew this, but he was unfamiliar with the daily activities that accompanied each day, let alone the happenings and events around the Capital.
While talking, they arrived at the bookstore, a charming two storey wooden building, spotless and pristine. Upon entering the store, they were caught between two people in conversation, one of them dressed in a rather flashy ensemble.
They stared at Ashiyowa’s appearance, before one of them spoke up.
“Wang-sama, it’s been a while.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you as well. You haven’t changed, Muki.”
“Have you finally finished your studies? Will you start serving as a scribe?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for. But first, I have an obligation to attend an audience with His Majesty.”
The petite and gentle shopkeeper looked at Ashiyowa intently, as if searching for something.
“While I was in the West, I found out about the Imperial Edict calling for men in their late thirties to the Capital. That’s why I’ve come to Ranukan this time.”
“Oh, I see. Wang-sama is of that age after all. In any case, they’ve gone rather large-scale with the search this time, haven’t they? To summon men from all over the country, even those with a known background such as yourself.”
“This is Ashi-dono, one of my travel companions. He’s searching for some books and would like your help.”
“Ah, Is that so. Well then, please come on in, Ashi-sama.”
Despite his ragged state, Ashiyowa was welcomed into the store, likely thanks to Wang’s introduction.
They were guided into a large room surrounded by bookshelves. Ashiyowa was prompted to sit on one of the tall chairs as the shopkeeper brought out some tea and sat down with the two.
While making small talk, the shopkeeper called for his assistant, asking him to fetch some books from the back and place them across the table.
“These are the thickest and densest books we have. Please, take your time.”
The books all smelled of paper, a sense of elegance to them. If Ashiyowa had jumped into the store alone with his unrefined appearance and demeanour, they would have surely been reluctant to bring these books out. Ashiyowa brought his face close to the books, intently looking through each word. Behind him, Wang and the shopkeeper, Muki, seemed to be discussing something important.
“How was the country?”
“… It’s worrying. The situation hasn’t changed.”
Muki wrinkled his eyelids, blinking, and let out a soft sigh.
“Our abundant lands, the country’s rich culture, it is all thanks to His Majesty. Yet, as exceptional as he is, his abilities are undoubtedly declining. How then, are we to compensate for this? ――Word’s going around that this is related to why people are being called to gather at the Capital. People are saying that this is a ‘parting gift’ drawn up by the Chancellor, that they’re calling for large numbers of people into the Capital to become the foundation of our country’s future.”
“Such rumours are unavoidable. People can’t help but be curious; he is the last Emperor, after all. Doesn’t that make this of utmost importance?”
“The illegitimate brother… Do you think he is still alive, Wang-sama?”
Wang placed down the teacup he was holding and raised his face.
“If only he were here.”
“Ah, that’s what everyone’s hoping for. Especially since His Majesty has no intention of creating an heir…”
Wang stood up, leaving Muki, and walked towards Ashiyowa, engrossed with the books laid out on the table.
Having been coincidentally placed in the same room at the Prefecture Castle, Wang’s initial impression of Ashiyowa was that of a naïve countryman. They were both around the same age, neither young nor old, falling under the age category to be summoned to the Capital.
He was tall and slim, with a bad right leg to boot.
Though his words tended to cut off while he spoke, he was unexpectedly polite and could somehow read. This caught Wang’s eye, being rather different from his initial image of Ashiyowa.
There was something that frustrated the young scribe about this; perhaps it was the fact that Ashiyowa had lived a sheltered life in the mountains――. That’s what he concluded, but then again, it could be that he had a parent figure despite being an orphan, someone that had raised and taught him.
Something about this stuck out to Wang.
But he ignored it, pushing the thought away.
Even with his right leg, there was something beautiful about Ashiyowa. Wang recalled the image of his firm body, fresh out of the bath. Then again, it could have all just been his imagination, fabricated from his desire.
Beneath his drenched hair, his face was fair, with a warm skin tone, and his nose was tall and smooth. But other than that, there wasn’t anything that particularly stood out; he was average.
But, as a man seemingly isolated from the rest of the world; Ashiyowa immediately caught his attention and Wang couldn’t help but pry, occasionally providing some advice.
“How are you finding the books, Ashi-dono?”
His ears, peeking out from his hair, were tinged red. This whole experience was probably all too new for him.
With his dirty nails, he pointed to an encyclopedia of plants.
“My, have you taken a liking to this book?”
According to Muki, the book was ten silvers.
The book’s front and back was covered with cloth, with golden leaves scattered across the front cover. The paper was of high quality and if the writer was a master of the brush, this price would be considered cheap.
Wang turned to Muki and whispered.
“I will pay half the price. Please tell Ashi-dono it is five silvers.”
The shopkeeper widened his eyes, but nodded his head.
Muki approached Ashiyowa and told him the price. They came to an agreement that he would pay two silvers for now, and the remainder once he received the six silvers after attending the audience.
That was what Wang recommended.
“Well then, let me pay the remaining three silvers for now. Ashi-dono can pay me back once he receives the six silvers. That way, we won’t have to trouble Muki-dono to wait for the payment.”
From beneath his long fringe, Wang sensed Ashiyowa’s gaze.
“Are you alright with that… Wang?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Let’s go with that.”
Ashiyowa paid the two silvers and Wang paid three.
It was decided that someone from the store would deliver the book. Wang waited till Ashiyowa was a bit further away before taking five silvers out of his pocket, handing it to Muki.
Muki drew up another receipt, different from the one given to Ashiyowa.
“To receive such kindness from Wang-sama, what kind of person is your companion, if I may ask?”
“That’s something I’d like to know myself.”
Wang called out to Ashiyowa, waiting at the exit, and they both left the store.
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