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Chapter 9: The Day of the Audience
Ashiyowa was woken up early in the morning to get dressed. Though, it wouldn’t be until late afternoon that he would leave.
The whole process was lengthy. Before the audience, they would have the candidates line up in order, so as to avoid any confusion later on, and there were also breaks between the sessions, to allow His Majesty some rest.
Ashiyowa clutched his cane and walked towards the Imperial Palace. Wearing the robes he was lent by one of the mansion’s servants, he finally blended in with the rest of the townspeople.
He crossed the bridge, taking him past the seemingly depthless moat, and was checked if he had any weapons in possession. He was then pointed towards a gate surrounded by guards, and past that, he arrived at a large plaza. Everyone from the West Ryokannan party walked in a line with their mouths agape.
“On busy days, officials serving the Imperial Court would line up here, in this square, waiting under the sunny skies for their turn to enter.”
Wang was beside Ashiyowa, nodding his head as he explained.
While walking towards the palace, they passed by one of the groups exiting.
The mens’ faces were flushed and their eyes were wide open, trying to suppress their voices, but unable to completely do so.
“Oh, he was so graceful――”
“――That magnificent hair――”
“Truly a living god――”
Walking past the group, Ashiyowa overheard their whispers in bits and pieces.
Not just him, but everyone in the group was now burning with excitement and expectation.
It was a six storey castle where the Emperor would conduct audiences and hearings. It was also here that important meetings were held with State Ministers to determine the country’s future, where laws were enforced, and orders were decreed. Its spaciousness was once again, nothing to scoff at, and being at the south of the Continental Tianbao Mountains, it represented a calm and dignified aspect of the country.
The men, led by officials, were taken to the left entrance, their excitement rising as they walked past the tall ceiling and the stone corridors and golden and crimson pillars that were polished such that they could see their faces reflected back.
It was quiet and warm inside the worship halls, yet, at the same time, there was something depressing lurking about these halls, the suffocating atmosphere thickening the further they proceeded.
Ashiyowa felt it. That darkness he felt at Ranukan; it was coming from here.
The official stopped, signalling at the rest to remain silent and get into position.
“It won’t be long now. Don’t forget what you were taught and don’t be rude. In the case you are reprimanded for inappropriate behaviour or struck by the guards, please remember we take no responsibility for your actions.”
Upon saying that, the official approached Ashiyowa and grabbed his cane.
“If you can stand and walk on your own, it would be better to leave the cane behind. I’ll return it when the audience is over.”
Ashiyowa obediently let go of the cane.
“Are you alright?”
He nodded his head to Wang’s question.
Ashiyowa was nervous and filled with anticipation. He figured it would be fine, thinking it shouldn’t take too long.
Truthfully, Ashiyowa didn’t have a great impression of the Emperor.
According to one of the books he read, the current dynasty’s Royal family had some horrible tastes, things commoners could never imagine.
There was an understanding amongst most people that being born into royalty, was to give up part of your humanity, to maintain an unfaltering facade of calm and collectedness. But Ashiyowa, guided by only the knowledge passed down from the old man, and from the books he had read, was naive, and never truly understood why the royal family was regarded differently.
It was to the extent that he felt indifferent about the current situation of the royal family, of the current Emperor being the last. It was something that couldn’t be helped.
Yet, having journeyed to the Capital and being able to clearly witness the deteriorating condition of the country’s lands, he couldn’t help but think of the Royal Family, the blue-blooded clan, they were also often called.
No matter how ambiguous their morals may be, there is no doubt that they have made these lands fertile and have protected it…
Upon approaching a door, the West Ryokannan group stopped, but remained in a line.
From there, their names were called, and the men would respond accordingly. There were sounds of people moving in unison, and of footsteps growing closer.
“Well then, next will be the West Ryokannan District. Eighteen people.”
There were two rows, the first with ten people and the second with eight. Ashiyowa was at the very end of the second row.
First, they would have to proceed to the left side of the room and walk to the front row by row. Then, each person would have to bow to His Majesty, sitting atop a platform.
At this point, the men wouldn’t have been able to see His Majesty’s face yet.
Starting from the far right, an official began calling out their names, to which the men would have to raise their faces and reply with a “yes.”
“Hoh. The next one.”
Unlike the official’s calm voice, unwavering as he read out their names, the men themselves replied in varied tones, some too loud, some too small, there were even those whose voice cracked and stuttered, stumbling over their words.
Ashiyowa stared at the screen. On the other side was the Emperor.
Loud voices echoed throughout the hall.
“――Well then, the next line may now proceed to the front.”
By the time Ashiyowa noticed, the line was already moving. He followed the rest of the line, his steps, stiff and awkward.
Upon getting into position, he kneeled down, placing both his hands on the floor and bent his head down. Despite his poor form, Ashiyowa continued to kneel and bowed his head down, making sure to avoid any sight of the Emperor until he was called. It seemed that they were informed of his situation as no one said a word of his clumsy worship.
Just as he was about to feel relieved, they began calling their names.
A chorus of ‘yesses’ followed.
His voice, a scribe’s gentle and dignified voice, resounded in Ashiyowa’s ears.
Ashiyowa faintly heard Wang take in a breath. Everyone in the line had the same reaction upon lifting their heads. Even Wang, as a scribe.
He raised his face.
In front, there was a platform of about seven to eight steps, and on top of it was a chair, the throne. Seated atop the throne, was His Majesty, the Emperor, dressed in a yellow robe, the colour of royalty.
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