This was supposed to be a side project since I know not many people read these Utawarerumono fics, but I had an urge to write some fantasy so here I am with another chapter. I'd love to hear what you think, even a "Good job" or "I didn't like it" would be nice. I'd appreciate feedback also, I'm trying to be a better writer. Your feedback and reviews are also what keep me going, they let me know people are reading my work.
The rains from the night had turned the road to mud but as soon as the rain ceased, the cold turned the mud into a crusty, uneven surface for the trio to tread on. They chose to step on the grass alongside the path, which was easier to walk upon. In the distance, occasionally peeking out from behind the patches of forest dotting the valley, they could see their destination.
The town of Fasamakaia was rather large. Farmland stretched into the rolling plains to the west while the flats to the north supported great water paddies. The homes themselves were very similar to the ones in Tusukuru. But all homes and larger structures were topped with large, pin shaped roofs of thatch and straw around a wooden frame.
It was as if a multitude of spikes had been planted into the earth. The larger the structure, the larger the pin shaped roof. Because Fasamakaia was just a farming community that slowly grew to the large size it was today, no planning was given to development, leading to a chaotic spread of houses and town structures.
As the distance between the town and the three travelers lessened, the land began to flatten and they started to tread through the outer farmsteads. It was the middle of the afternoon and many were working diligently in the fields and paddies. The three of them were given very little attention beyond a first glance as it was not uncommon for Fasamakaia to receive visitors.
Winter would be upon the land soon, so this was most likely the last harvest before the season changed. Traffic coming from the town was increasing as they got closer, wagons and travelers like themselves either returning with goods purchased or sold, or moving on to other areas before the winter settled. From what Oboro had learned and what his retainers had told him, this entire valley became isolated when the snow arrived.
Ahead of them, the road began to rise along a natural embankment formed between two gardens hollowed into the earth. It was a weak if working funnel for traffic into the otherwise open town. At the top of the embankment were four men in thatch capes and cured leather armor. They were checking the outgoing traffic, checking receipts.
Seeing the approaching trio, one of the town militiamen turned to greet them with a warm and friendly smile. If he was suspicious of the three travelers it didn't show.
"Ho there! Welcome to Fasamakaia. Have you been here before?"
Oboro was a little taken aback by the man's familiarity. Oboro took off his jester's cap and ran a hand through his brown hair, folding his hat in his hands afterwards as he nodded.
"No, we're just going to sleep in a bed for a change before we move on." Oboro tried a smile. The man seemed to take it in stride.
"And are you planning on staying long?" He looked between the three of them. They shook their heads.
"Just for the night, we'll leave tomorrow." Oboro replied, but the man was distracted by the charming smiles of the twins.
"Alright then, just don't cause any trouble. No weapons and keep your bows un-stringed." The man nodded at Oboro's swords, which hung from his left hip and the twins with their bows and quivers on their backs. All three of them nodded.
"Enjoy your stay then. The inn is the building to your right when you reach the town center over by those three large buildings. You can't miss the sign. Town hall is across from it, and the big building to the north is the temple incase you want to pray. Have a good day."
The guard turned to help one of his friends with the counting on an abacus that was being used to check the authenticity of a receipt. Oboro flashed a smile over his shoulder at the twins, who returned it before following him past the checkpoint and into the town.
Since there were no set roads or paths, the trio simply chose the largest pointed roofs and walked through the maze of homes and the stalls outside them. Most of the stalls sold produce and spices, although a few homes had smaller stalls beside them that sold miscellaneous items, tools or trinkets. Heavier farm tools were manufactured by a blacksmith's hut with an adjoining carpenter.
The population looked healthy and content with their otherwise rigorous lifestyle. There was moderate traffic and the locals were easy to spot since they all wore rather plain, utilitarian clothes. A few had some jewelry or leather items that were perhaps status markings but there appeared to be no rich/poor segregation.
They arrived in the triangular clearing that marked the town center. Stopping to admire the buildings, it was easy to see the hard work and dedication it had taken from the people to construct. The inn was a large, circular building with what appeared to be two, perhaps three floors if the roof was misleading. The wooden supports and frame were carved with flowing lines and what looked like celebratory figures. A sign above the heavy wooden door pictured a dancing jester, juggling.
Oboro grinned at that.
"The dancing clown, huh…" He remarked, turning to observe the other buildings.
The town hall had a larger width than the other buildings, forming a bit of an oblong. It had a sturdier feel to it and the larger frame allowed for more noticeable carvings. This time, the artwork was leaning more towards figures performing every day life tasks. The front doors were large and heavy, like the inn.
Finally, Oboro turned his eyes onto the most impressive of the three town structures, the temple. This was the only place in the town that had mortar and stone in its construction. It was circular and squatter than the other two structures, but bore a larger, longer pin for a roof. The wooden supports here were carved almost exclusively with prayers to Witsuarunemitea. The archway leading into the temple was closed and a wooden effigy symbolizing the god with its arms in welcome stood on either side of the entrance. There were no doors, apparently Witsuarunemitea accepted worship at any time.
Seeing this caused Oboro to cast a soft smile. Hakuoro, former Emperor of Tusukuru and Oboro's precious elder brother, had revealed the truth to his family and closest retainers. And the truth would remain a secret between them, for this world was not ready to hear the tale of the god who became a man, and the man who became a god.
Feeling something touching his hands, Oboro looked down to either side of him to find the twins holding his hands and looking sympathetic to their lord's plight. Oboro nodded and squeezed their palms before turning to look at the inn again. In their travels together, Oboro's retainers had grown bold in their actions towards him. There was a time when they would kneel and avoid eye contact in his presence, but Oboro preferred this. Following his brother's death, Oboro had needed friends rather than vassals and his loyal retainers seemed to slip comfortably into those roles. They walked directly up to the inn and Oboro opened the heavy door for them to pass through.
The inside of the inn was warmly lit with lanterns that hung from the four sides of the center post and those that hung from the walls. The tables scattered around the ground floor held candles for the customers if they wished to light them. Besides the tables which could seat four comfortably, there was a long bar manned by two keepers who seemed to be related to one another, perhaps father and son.
A wide staircase rose up the right side of the wall, curving onto a balcony that stretched over the ground floor. Doors leading to rooms presumably were located here. Another staircase circled off from this balcony into the roof above.
Walking forward, the inn wasn't crowded at the moment, probably because it was too early for drink and any merchants staying here were out doing business with the townsfolk. The elder gentleman and his younger self were stacking tankards and cups in preparation for this evening's festivities, both of them regarding the trio with a curious expression.
"Welcome to the Dancing Clown, what can I do for you?" The elder said, standing forward with a smile that formed crow's feet on his weathered skin. Oboro and his companions smiled back, the twins flanking him.
"I'd like to reserve a room for me and my companions, for one night, to leave tomorrow afternoon." He stated as he pulled out a money purse from under his cloak.
The old man nodded, gesturing with a thumb for his son to get on it. "You're in luck, we have one room left. It'll cost you two shares."
Oboro paid the man with three hollowed coins. "We would also like to eat after we've put our things away." This caused the old man to grin as he took currency from his customer.
"You really are lucky. Tonight we're serving a Fasamakaia specialty, stuffed Maulka peppers. I guarantee you'll love it, my wife is the best cook in the valley!" The old man exclaimed proudly as he put the coins away somewhere behind the bar. "Follow my boy to your room, you'll find a wash basin for you up there as well. Get yourself cleaned up and I'll go let the wife know to prepare them peppers." He pointed to the top of the stairs to where his son was. The son waved back and waited patiently for their new guests.
"Thank you, I'm looking forward to it." Oboro bowed his head politely before leading the party up the steps to the second floor where their room waited with the door open.
It was nothing fancy, featuring a wide, low bed on a wooden frame with a window above it and a dresser against the wall nearest the door. Inside, the three deposited their packs side by side along the eastern wall and explored for a little. The twins felt the bed and seemed happy, beaming at each other and having a silent conversation while Oboro turned to the innkeeper's son as the man spoke.
"Come down and ask us if you need anything, we'll do our best…" The young man glanced at Oboro's sheathed swords before walking away.
Clucking his tongue, Oboro pulled the swords from his waistband and stacked them by the bows and quivers of the twins. With a sigh, Oboro sat down at the foot of the bed and fell back. The futon was a little soft and had warm thick sheets. He closed his eyes and smiled, taking pleasure in something softer than the earth under his head. He felt the twins lay down next to him with their shoulders on his arms.
He opened his eyes again and chuckled, looking at each twin before they all looked up at the ceiling together and let themselves be lazy for awhile.
The three of them had walked downstairs after their brief bout of laziness to find the innkeepers son setting chairs and fresh candles for the tables. From the door beside the counter, Oboro could smell something exotic. It made his nose tingle like sniffing something spicy. He hoped the food wouldn't be terribly tongue razing.
Looking up at the three guests as they descended the staircase, the innkeeper's son smiled and gestured for the trio to have a seat at the table he'd finished.
"Have a seat, Ma should be done with those peppers soon. Can I get you anything to drink?"
Oboro glanced sharply at his companions, something he did every time whenever someone offered beverages, especially in a bar.
"Water or milk please. We're not heavy drinkers."
The twins pouted, their furry ears lowered with a disappointed expression. They made pleading eyes at him, and Oboro almost gave in. He recovered and resisted their adorable attempts to win him over. Once, back at the castle in Tusukuru, the twins had gotten him completely smashed and the next thing he knew the three of them woke up naked in his room.
The exact events of that night were still unknown to him, although his vassals assured him that nothing inappropriate took place. Despite the fact that he believed his companions had intentionally gotten him drunk that evening, he also believed them when they said nothing happened. They wouldn't lie to him about that. However, it was still uncomfortable knowing that he had been in such compromising circumstances with the twins…
The innkeeper's son arched a brow at the looks the three shared between one another. Shrugging to himself, he turned away to the bar to get them tankards of goat's milk. The milk in his opinion was better than water when taken with the peppers. Returning to the table that the three of them had sat at, he placed the half-pint wooden cups on the table and poured all three cups full of milk from the water skin he'd retrieved.
"Goat's milk will taste better with the peppers…ah!"
The innkeeper saw his father emerge with wooden bowls in his arms containing the large, full peppers that he placed in front of the three.
"Stuffed Maulka peppers, enjoy you three." The innkeeper grinned toothily before taking his son away. The three stared curiously at the orange colored item in front of them.
About the size of Oboro's fist, the thick shelled pepper was flat bottomed and topped, except the top on this one had been removed. The inside of the pepper had been hollowed out and filled with a mixture of wild rice and diced vegetables until the sides of the pepper had become rounded. There were no chopsticks just simple wooden spoons that the trio had learned were used in place of sticks in certain countries.
With a shrug, Oboro picked up his utensil and pushed it against the lid of the hollowed pepper to try and scoop some of the rice out. He was surprised with the shell of the pepper began to peel under the weight. It must be a lot softer than he thought. Using the spoon, he filled the spoon with part of the tender pepper skin and some rice inside, and put it into his mouth.
He became aware of the twins staring at him, obviously waiting for their lord's opinion on the meal. It was a little spicy, but not too bad. The rice had a weird flavor to it and was not sticky or soft like the rice in Tusukuru, but it wasn't bad. Whatever the meat was, it went well with the tiny bits of mixed vegetables that were in there. It was an interesting item and the more Oboro chewed, the more he began to enjoy it. He flashed the twins a smile and nodded, at which they beamed gleefully before digging into their own peppers.
After finishing the exotic and satisfying meal, the three relaxed with their goat milk and talked until the evening.
"My lord, forgive me for asking but don't you think we should return to Tusukuru? We have been traveling for almost a year now and the people need their Emperor." Gura said. Dori followed with, "General Benawi is a capable man but it is you who is Emperor."
Oboro sighed and looked into his cup of milk. The twins were simply reminding him of the thoughts that already plagued him in the back of his mind and in the night. Traveling and learning from wise men and leaders from the countries he had visited, Oboro had begun to learn that perhaps his leaving Tusukuru was not a wise decision. By the time he returned, the people would already be used to General Benawi as their leader.
Oboro knew that Benawi would step down as soon as he returned, but the people did not know Oboro beyond his exploits in war time. And during those wars, while Oboro had led forces occasionally, he was known as being a fierce warrior rather than a leader. In truth, Oboro had no idea why his brother had chosen him over Benawi, who seemed to be far more suited to the position of Emperor. The fact that Benawi was fanatically loyal and would do everything to make sure that Oboro would be Emperor did not sit well with him.
"I know…I've thought about it a lot, and it's true we have come far in such a period of time. But I am worried about what I might do to the country if I were to suddenly return. Benawi managed to cover for me by telling the people that I had gone on a pilgrimage, but I fear that I may have already been gone too long. I don't want to upset the balance, now that Tusukuru has finally achieved peace…"
Dori and Gura lowered their ears and sank back in their seats, sipping their milk quietly. They hadn't known that their lord was so worried about his Empire. They were both saddened by the burden he carried and proud of the mature man he had become. It was their duty to console him, and the twins looked at each other and nodded before turning back to their lord.
"My lord, I'm sure the people will be behind you. They all know what a wonderful man Emperor Hakuoro was and for him to have chosen you as his successor is more than enough reason for the people to believe in you. We'll follow you in whatever decision you make my lord." The two said simultaneously. Oboro chuckled and smiled gratefully at the two. He didn't deserve such loyal retainers. With a deep breath, he nodded.
"Very well…I will consider seriously the possibility of returning to Tusukuru at the end of the year." The twins beamed happily, pleased that they could be of service to their master.
As the sun began to dip behind the hills, the township began to retreat indoors. A mix of travelers and locals filtered through the front door of the inn and soon the room was alive with the noise and laughter of merry making after a hard day's work or a successful transaction. One of the locals seemed to double as the inn musician, sitting on a high bench that jutted from the center post and playing a lyre to match the jubilation of the customers.
Oboro and his two companion's eavesdropped on conversations around them, something they did to learn more of the land around them. It was a rude but nonetheless learning experience. From a nearby table, Oboro's long, slender ears picked up the word Tusukuru. Focusing intently on the group discussion, Oboro listened.
"…-in't even worth traveling there no more. No one has any money and the people are taxed almost as much as us merchants. And we have to pay tariffs the whole way!"
"What? I went through there a year back or so, things seemed pretty good. What happened?"
"Well I heard the old Emperor passed away and this new guy they got is pretty strict. He's a very law and order kind of guy. Crime is low, but I tell you, the people don't look so good there. Everything gets taken by the Empire and then distributed evenly among the populace. I mean sure it sounds good in theory, everyone helping everyone right? But the economy can't handle it so the government tries to get more funds by raising taxes and tariffs but the people and we merchants can't keep up. The people have no money themselves to circulate because the Empire controls the flow of coin in the realm. They try to spread it around, but free enterprise is non-existent so in the end the entire thing is like a snake eating its tail…"
Oboro was no longer listening as he gawked into his cup at this news. Rumor? But the man sounded like he believed what he was saying. He was a merchant judging from his conversation and clothing, so that lent credit to his story. But Benawi? Imposing upon the people like that, knowing Hakuoro as he did? It just wasn't possible. There was no way Benawi would do this to the populace, he believed strongly in the idea that the people are the country and that it was the duty for the ruler of the realm to serve the people.
Oboro slowly set his cup down and looked up at his companions. The twins were looking at him with a similar expression on their faces. Something in Oboro snapped, and the young man was suddenly on his feet and at the table of merchants in discussion.
"Hey! Are you serious?" The young man put his hands on the table and stared intensely at the merchant who supposedly visited Tusukuru recently. The man frowned up at the youngster, leaning away from the passionate look in Oboro's eyes.
"What are you talking abo-!" The old man was cut off as Oboro grabbed him by the collar with both hands and yanked him to his feet.
"Tusukuru! Is General Benawi really in charge?!"
The altercation drew the eyes and silence of everyone in the room, but Oboro was focused only on the man in front of him. "You're lying! Benawi wouldn't do that to the people!" The merchant gulped, rested his hands on top of Oboro's to keep the young man from choking him.
"H-hey, I'm just saying what I saw. I didn't mean no offense!"
"Stop that! Cut it out young man or I'll throw you out!" Boomed the innkeeper as he approached with a rolling pin in his hand.
Oboro tore his eyes from the merchant to glare at the innkeeper for interrupting his questioning of the merchant. That was when he noticed the entire inn looking at him. Calming down, Oboro swallowed and slowly released the man's collar.
"…I apologize…forgive my rudeness…" Oboro turned away and looked to his companions. "We're leaving." He strode determinedly towards the staircase.
Seems we'll be returning early…Benawi…Eruru, Aruru…I need to know!