does anybody read the messages in this top section?
Author: Kiyo Date (伊達きよ)
On the day of the next double full moon
Setsu stood in Xiao Ya’s little kitchen. Looking over the ingredients in front of him, he rolled up his sleeves.
Today’s main dinner course was fish. After infusing the flavor by steaming light white fish and plain vegetables with strong sour white wine called mar mar, he mixed minced herbs and grated citrus peel, as well as roasted nuts into it. He also used frog root, an edible root like ginger, to cook a spicy soup. He steamed a salad for Xiao Ya, who, as a resident of Lan Huang, wasn’t used to eating raw vegetables. Setsu had also made something like thin bread from flour, salt, water and yeast, and prepared fresh fruit for desert. All this food had been made with the appropriate energy intake for breakfast, lunch and snacks during the day in mind.
While he was cooking, Setsu stretched from time to time. Since he had to stand the whole time, he wanted to make the most of it.
To Setsu, cooking and his diet were gravely important. The things you consumed would become part of your own body. You were what you ate. No healthy body without healthy ingredients. If one thought about it that way, there was no way to cheat, and eating the things you liked became much more enjoyable.
His grandmother had taught him how to cook. When Setsu hadn’t known the first thing about food, she had taught him how to prepare meals and how to enjoy them. For teaching him about the joys of food, he was eternally grateful to her. It would be better if he could use produce that he grew himself, like his grandmother had on her fields, but he didn’t have any land here. Besides he currently had his hands full with magic and his other studies. He was at his full capacity right now, so cultivating his own fields would have to remain a dream for now.
In between cooking, he cleaned up, and when he was done with that there was nothing to do but wait for Xiao Ya to come back from work. He fetched one of the books he had borrowed from the library.
The book had a lot of specifics about dragons, and had a realistic drawing of one on its cover. The image showed a dragon calmly swimming in between clouds, thunderbolts and rain. As he traced the dragon’s outline with his fingers, he thought back to the run-in that had happened a few days ago.
Right now, there were less than a hand full of people in Lan Huang who were able to transform into a dragon. The Emperor, the Emperor’s younger brother, the last emperor’s brother (the current emperor’s uncle), and his son, making it four people.
The one that had turned from a dragon into a human in front of Setsu’s own eyes was one of those four. Guessing from the whole situation and how he had called him “his son’s sweetheart”, he had to be Li Huang’s father. Which undoubtedly made him Lan Huang’s current reigning emperor.
While Setsu was catching his breath, taking in this sudden imperial appearance, the other people in the garden all fell to their knees and lowered there heads. Setsu had learned the appropriate courtesies from his books and wanted to bow as well, but since the Emperor was holding onto his arms for some reason, he wasn’t able to. When the Emperor saw his son across from Setsu, he lifted a hand.
“Li Huang, you’re here.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I certainly am.”
Li Huang was smiling sweetly as he faced the Emperor. His smile was beautiful, but it was the kind to make someone like Xiao Ya shudder when it was directed at him. His eyes weren’t smiling at all, and one could see at a glance that there was no true joy in it. But his father, the Emperor, wasn’t affected in the least.
“So this is the one you took a liking to?”
“There was no reason for you to show up so unexp…”
“Is he or is he not? I heard he would be found in the gardens around this time, and when I saw him, he seemed to match the description.”
“It… is him, but… So what?”
Li Huang admitted, and he slightly turned his face away. The Emperor turned his noble head to look between Li Huang and Setsu.
“I see, I see. I am happy to hear. It may be late for a first love, but it seems spring has finally come for you.”
Li Huang couldn’t believe the Emperor would expose his lack of romantic experience in a public and crowed place like this. All he could do was to stand there and gasp.
His first?! Everybody around them thought at that moment, but luckily, since Li Huang was their crown prince, nobody dared to say such an insolent thing out loud. But the general atmosphere was clearly one of disbelief and shock. Li Huang sensed this, but he wasn’t able to make up a quick witty comment in that moment. His black hair stood on edge while he trembled with a rage that was directed towards the one who had exposed him. The Emperor.
“Did you transform into a dragon and fly all the way back to the capital just to assure yourself of a trivial matter like this? You did not come here to vacation, did you? Surely His Majesty has some official business to attend to. If you have this much idle time, why don’t you use it to attend to your people instead?”
As he kept rattling on and growing more irate with every sentence, he kept pointing to the sky as if to bid him to return to the heavens
“Hm? But it has been ages since I last came to the capital…”
“I did not ask you to come. I’m telling you, I have everything under control here. There is not a single matter that His Majesty would have to get involved in. You surely have your own business to deal with. The rainfall this season will affect the crop yield. Please see to it that the blessings of rain and sun are kindly bestowed on Lan Huang.”
“Alas, so sad, Li Huang. You haven’t seen your Papa in such a long time. Why are you so cold…”
“I contact you once a day at the scheduled time.”
“That is just a part of your usual duties.”
“Do you really need more than that?!”
The subjects surrounding them anxiously tried to follow this war of words that was unfolding between father and son. (Since they were unable to raise their heads, they couldn’t get a good view of it however.)
“And how long do you plan on holding on to him?”
Li Huang coldly regarded the Emperor’s arm still slung around Setsu. Determinedly, he walked over towards them, and grabbed the arm opposite the one the Emperor was holding.
“C’mon, I haven’t even heard his name yet. Right?”
“How old do you think you are? Somebody your age shouldn’t be saying ‘c’mon’. Just let him go please.”
The Emperor looked at Setsu as though he wanted to see if he agreed or not, but Li Huang pulled Setsu’s arm, so that they couldn’t look at each other.
“Terrible. You, your hair color is very unusual, isn’t it. Where are you from?”
“His father is from Gwildada.”
Now the Emperor was pulling on Setsu’s arm, regarding his hair with a queer look. Even though he had been speaking to Setsu, before Setsu could open his mouth, Li Huang had responded for him, before pulling his arm once again.
“Huh, Gwildada? I’ve been there before. It’s a nice country.”
“…Well… That’s enough then right? It doesn’t befit the Emperor to loiter outside the castle without attendants. Please head up to the castle for now.”
“What? But we barely talked.”
The Emperor complained, insistently holding onto Setsu’s arm, as Li Huang pulled on his other one. Setsu was being held in their midst, his expression blank. Xiao Ya imagined his thoughts to be something along the lines of Huh, both the Emperor and the Crown Prince are fighting for my favor. Well it’s not like I don’t understand them, but there’s only one of me in this world. They should take turns to talk to me. You can’t treat me this roughly, my skin will get damaged. But as Xiao Ya was bowing as well, he couldn’t actually see Setsu’s expression either.
“By the way, what is your name?”
The Emperor was asking for his name once more.
The time had come, Setsu decided. Smiling gently, he first softly pulled his hand from Li Huang’s grip, and then freed his other arm from the Emperor. His movement was so smooth that both Li Huang and the Emperor let go of him without a struggle.
Like that, Setsu took exactly three steps, and kneeled on the ground with his right leg in front. He placed his left hand on the ground, and his right hand on his knee. He slowly lowered his head until the hair whorl on the top of his head was visible. This was the most respectful way of bowing in Lan Huang, the appropriate bow to give an emperor. It wasn’t a common way of bowing that people did often, but one that followed a set order of motions and posture. Li Huang’s eyes opened wide at Sestu’s gesture. He wouldn’t have expected Setsu to show the Emperor this courtesy.
Setsu had studied this custom in anticipation of having to introduce himself as the Crown Prince’s Destined Mate some day. He was glad he had done it, since the moment was finally here.
“It is an honor to meet you, Your Majesty. My name is Shima Setsu.”
His words were still a little awkward, but his grace was what stood out, not his speech.
“People just call me Setsu.”
“Setsu. Setsu, hm? I’ve heard that you recently came to the castle.You didn’t have any trouble accommodating yourself, did you?”
“No. Everybody has been very kind to me. Especially His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince.”
“I see. I heard you’re studying to become a Master of Sorcery. Please do your best.”
“His Majesty speaks too kindly. Master Xiao Ya guides me well.”
“Good, good. Please also take good care of my son.”
“Yes, of course,” Setsu replied decidedly, and bowed his head even lower.
When the Emperor nodded, he laughed in satisfaction and turned to look at Li Huang.
“What a nice child…uh, are you alright?”
“Alright? Wh-, What do you mean? Of course I’m alright. It’s alright. Everything. Is alright.”
Li Huang had lost control over his facial muscles and now there was a strange jumble of frowning, smiling, and feeling shy showing on his face. Even though they were pretending to be in love, for some reason the way that Setsu had responded to the Emperor so unwaveringly had made him very happy. That was why he tried to forcibly suppress his smile, which caused him to look rather weird.
“Ah, youth…. Well then. I shall head up to the castle for now. Li Huang, come with me.”
The Emperor said nodding, beckoning Li Huang with a hand.
“I’d come even if you didn’t order me.”
Li Huang said with a dejected look on his face as he obeyed. “But first,” the Emperor said, facing Setsu again.
“Setsu, lift your head.”
If the emperor told you to do something you didn’t have any other choice but to do it of course. Setsu lifted his head and looked up at him.
When Setsu looked up, the great man in front of him gave him a composed smile. Except for his stature, the Emperor much resembled Li Huang. No. It would be Li Huang resembling the Emperor.
But when the two of them stood next to each other it was apparent that they had very different airs about them. If Li Huang was cold ice, the Emperor was a warm fire. His gentle smile was different from Li Huang’s. It seemed like it came from the bottom of his heart.
Setsu stared at him attentively, even though he knew it was extremely rude to do so during their first meeting. He just couldn’t help but look. He was tall, had a good face, a deep voice, and spoke with a soft tone. He was just like…
When Li Huang saw the vacant and almost enchanted look Setsu had as he regarded the Emperor, his eyebrows twitched up. His face that had been so soft a moment ago became cold and hard. Why was he looking at the Emperor like that? Why wasn’t that gaze directed at him? The urge to ask Setsu those unreasonable questions arose in him.
Not knowing about this complicated situation Li Huang and Setsu were in, the Emperor reached out to touch Setsu’s forehead.
Before Setsu could ask what was happening, his hair began to flutter as though a gust of wind had hit him.
By the time Li Huang raised his voice, Setsu’s hair was still again. It fell down, leaving a glittery bright trail in the air. Visible for just a second.
Laughing, the Emperor shook his head. Setsu was blinking, not understanding what was going on. Next to him, Li Huang had his mouth opened as though he wanted to say something. In the end, he decided to hold his tongue, however, and waited for the Emperor to speak first.
“Um, well… Li Huang.”
“Let’s head for the castle then, shall we? Until next time, Setsu.”
He waved a hand at Setsu, and headed towards the castle with Li Huang in tow.
Setsu watched their retreating backs. When they had disappeared, he touched his forehead where the Emperor had done the same a moment ago. He had felt the flow of magic, but he didn’t know what had been done.
Sensing that the emperor had left, the people around also began to raise their heads from their bowing position. Setsu looked to Xiao Ya, who was among them, and saw that Xiao Ya was also looking at him. With his head bowed, Xiao Ya hadn’t been able to see what had happened, and so he shot a quizzical look at Setsu’s dumbfounded expression. Setsu would have to explain everything that had just gone down.
He was lost in thought. As he looked outside the window, long after the sun had gone down, Setsu realized that Xiao Ya would come back from work soon. Flustered, he stood up. He closed his book and went to the kitchen again to heat up the food he had prepared.
The room’s door opened at that moment. It was good timing, Setsu thought, and turned to face the door.
“Welcome ho-, me?”
The person that came in through the door, was the one the chamber belonged to: Xiao Ya. But for some reason he was accompanied by Li Huang. Until now, Li Huang had never come to visit at this time of day.
And why were they both looking so serious?
What in the world was going on? When he saw the confused expression on Setsu’s face, Xiao Ya opened his mouth to say something, but Li Huang motioned with his hand to stop him.
“…He’ll hear it from me.”
Xiao Ya nodded and took a step back.
Li Huang turned around towards Sestu. He looked up to him with an intent expression as he faced him.
“Setsu, uhm, well.”
Since Setsu liked hearing his own name, he’d be happy to listen to it as many times as necessary, but unfortunately, the conversation wasn’t progressing at all. For some reason Li Huang was looking down now. Setsu spoke up:
“Your Highness? What is it?”
“…………it’s been decided….”
He didn’t seem like his usual self at all, letting his head hang and speaking with a subdued murmur. Sestu could barely hear him. As Setsu was straining to hear what he was saying, Li Huang seemingly gathered the courage to look up again.
When he raised his head, his face was almost as red as a boiled octopus (It was unclear whether those existed in this world.)
“On, on the day of the next double full moon, our wedding ceremony will be held. It’s been decided.”
Li Huang seemed deeply troubled as he said this. Xiao Ya was pressing his hands against his head in despair. Sestu’s eyes wouldn’t stop blinking as he racked his brain over what he had just heard.
There was the gently blubbering sound of the pot Sestu had sat on the fire in the kitchen. The sound was telling them that it was time to take the pot off the stove, but none of the three people in the room paid any attention to it. They all just stood silently in front of the door.