Targes and the Platinum Satchel, Part One
This interlude is about Targes’ past, when he served as a knight in the royal palace. I found it really sad… I kept thinking about how in another life, this would have been Ernst’s future.
These chapters are some of my favorites (and part 3 includes Ernst and Ganche), so I hope you’ll read them!
His Majesty looked terribly old.
His age of 217 years had crossed well beyond the limits of our lifespans. His Majesty the King’s health had begun deteriorating fifty years ago, and he lived his life alternating between sleeping and waking up.
The rule was that the succession to the throne would occur after the current reigning king passed away.
That was why, even though everyone in the kingdom knew that it was really the Crown Prince performing the King’s duties, it didn’t change the fact that this sleeping elderly man before me was the ruler of the kingdom.
“You there, your name.”
I had thought the King had been sleeping. When he spoke those words in his hoarse voice, I was so surprised that I almost choked and started coughing.
The person whose name the king had asked for was me.
I know this because in this room, there was no one else other than the king, who was laying down, and me, who was standing guard. It was a truly deficient level of protection for the current ruler of the kingdom.
This past spring, I had become a royal guard serving His Majesty.
At the time, I had been ecstatic over being chosen for such an important task; after a while, however, the king became just a nameless old man whose room I had to stand guard in all day as my job.
But even though I had been serving at His Majesty’s side for half a year, I had never once heard him speak. This was a matter of course. I didn’t have the social status to directly receive His Majesty’s words.
So that I wouldn’t show any of the panic in my heart, I fell into thought.
Well then, what should I do. Would it not be considered blasphemy if I answered His Majesty’s words, I wondered.
“It matters not, so answer.”
His Majesty had already been able to tell I’d been conflicted.
“Understood. If I may humbly speak… Targes is what I am called.”
“Humm. Targes, you say… I see. Targes…”
His Majesty murmured my name as if rolling it around in his mouth, his lips mouthing the words.
“So then, where do you come from.”
“Respectfully… I was born in the city of Your Majesty, here in the royal capital.”
“Hoo. Then, have you ever visited another city or such?”
“No, I was born and raised in this place. I have never left the royal capital.”
“How could that be…”
His Majesty’s words carried an air of disbelief. He stopped himself from continuing that phrase.
“Not even once? You have not left the capital even once? Not even to go traveling?”
I answered briefly and bowed my head.
I had absolutely no idea what His Majesty was so surprised over.
It was common for people to meet the ends of their lives in the same place where they were born. Peasants, for example, were such a people.
It was true that I, as a soldier of the kingdom’s army, only needed a single order to head out anywhere in the world. But since I had not been a soldier for long, I still hadn’t left the capital yet.
I have also never traveled, or anything like that.
My mother was a knight, just like I am. After she left me in the care of my grandmother, she moved all over the country, staying in different places up until she passed away.
Yet until the end, she had never been the type of person who would bring me over to let me live together with her.
I couldn’t leave behind my elderly grandmother to go traveling, and as a result, I had never set foot outside the capital.
“I see… so there exist people who are unable to move, even if their bodies are free…”
His Majesty murmured as if releasing a sigh.
The senior knight finally returned, and His Majesty, as always, began to sleep again.
He had only spoken to me for a short period of time, but for some reason, his words remained in my mind like stones sunk into the bottom of a lake.
What did His Majesty want to speak to me for, anyway?
A few days later, I gathered up my courage and went to go talk to the platoon leader who was my superior.
Surprisingly, the platoon leader neither looked surprised, nor did he scold me for speaking with His Majesty.
The reason for this was because it was normal for His Majesty to speak to the soldiers who stood guard by him.
He would ask where they were from, and if their answer wasn’t the royal capital, then he would ask for stories about those places they came from. If they said that they had gone out on a journey, then the King would ask for stories from those travels; and if they said that they had been stationed in another land, then the King would ask about what it was like to live there.
As long as it was a place that wasn’t the royal capital, whether inside of the country or beyond the country’s borders, His Majesty ask questions in fascination about it, listening to stories of those places at length.
The platoon leader also taught me this:
This might all be common knowledge amongst the guardsmen, but because of the worry over the rule that soldiers were not allowed to exchange words with His Majesty, the number of people standing guard over His Majesty would reduce to a single guard in order to allow them to speak.
While seeming as if he was sleeping, His Majesty always watched the soldiers’ movements. As soon as a soldier was alone, His Majesty spoke without caring how frightening it was.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t the kind of person who could satisfy His Majesty’s interest.
The duty of guarding the bedridden King wasn’t the kind of position that had a lot of turnover.
When I, a new face, had been assigned this duty, I wonder what ran through His Majesty’s mind.
Where did I come from, had I ever traveled to any unusual places, did I have any stories to tell him that would be unlike any he had ever heard before?
As this elderly man had been quietly sleeping, on the inside, his heart had been secretly beating with excitement as he waited for whenever I would be alone.
Yet nevertheless, I was only a boring, uninteresting person.
Several days after that, the senior knight once again left his post on a whim. It seemed like he had something going on with one of the maids who served His Majesty.
As if he had been watching for when I would be alone, His Majesty once again spoke.
For a mere soldier like me, who had the lowest position in the Imperial Guard, to speak to the King would be such a reckless act that no one would comment if I were beheaded for it.
But this time, I didn’t have the feeling that I might commit some unknowable impiety.
Just as I was able to confirm that this elderly man who looked like he was sleeping was actually awake, I was able to understand that I was allowed to speak to His Majesty.
“Your Majesty, respectfully, this is…”
Saying that, I brought out the tea bowl that I had hidden in my pocket. It was small enough to hold in my palm.
“Your Majesty. This is something used by the citizens of Qobou Country, a nation of the Hel people.”
His Majesty sat up and took a hard look at what I carried in my palm.
“This is… such a small object.”
“Yes. The people of Hel are a truly small people whose heights do not reach even up to my waist. Because of this, the tools they use are also small, like this one.”
There was once a place called Hel Continent where the people of Hel lived.
Yet after it had been swallowed up by the continents of Schell, Grude, and Sout, there was no longer a place that could clearly be defined as Hel Continent.
The people of Hel had seven countries. Three of them were above ground, and four of them were underground.
Qobou Country was a nation of the Hel people located above ground on Schell Continent.
“In the days where I had been able to walk on my own feet, there had been a time where a Helesian, an envoy from Yll Kingdom, had come to visit. Yet at that time, it was the Crown Prince who had gone to meet the envoy, not myself. I see. So the Helesians are like what was written in the books, a people with short stature… Is that not inconvenient for them?”
“Yes. Of the countries they have founded, four of them are below ground. For them, a height that is too tall would be a hindrance to living underground.”
His Majesty took the tea bowl I offered him from my hand, and he pantomimed drinking from the cup.
“Humm. So when it comes to living underground, there is no inconvenience for them. Even in this room, if one extinguished the candles, it would immediately fall dark. How could one get by underground? Or would it always be necessary to keep a fire lit?”
“They use something like a glowing moss. The moss exists underground, and it emits a faint green light on its own. The eyes of the Helesians are able to use that faint light given off by the moss to see.”
“Such a thing! Glowing moss, is it. So the moss gives off light… I see. So there is something like that…”
His Majesty seemed truly surprised to the core, and his completely-white eyebrows moved up and down.
“I see. I see… Such a mysterious, intriguing thing it is.”
It was just a crudely-made tea bowl that a commoner would use. I had gone searching the marketplace and had only bought this just to show him, but His Majesty seemed completely taken by it, and he imitated filling it with tea many times.
Just like that, I had to leave that crude and shabby tea bowl in the residence of His Majesty.
A few days later, as I was walking through the halls of the royal palace, I overheard a conversation between some maids.
His Majesty was extremely fond of some child’s toy tea bowl that came out of nowhere, and every day they would have to fill it up with tea. Since it was so small they had to keep refilling it over and over again. It was such a pain.
Alone in the shadow of a pillar, I couldn’t stop laughing to myself.
Now, I eagerly waited for the senior knight to leave his post.
At that time, I would hurriedly present to His Majesty the object I had purchased from the market, along with the story that I had heard from the weaseling merchant.
Several days after I had shown His Majesty the tea bowl, I was once again left alone with His Majesty. His Majesty stirred beneath the bedding.
It seemed like I wasn’t alone in not being able to wait for this time.
“Your Majesty, please take a look at this.”
I pulled out a single piece of paper from my pocket. It had been folded up, so I spread out the paper and handed it to His Majesty.
“This is a picture depicting a country of Sout Continent, Souka Country.”
Five days earlier, I had managed to find an artist who had gone to Souka Kingdom.
As I urged the artist to hurry, he spent three days illustrating the image. Along the way, I was also able to hear about Souka Country.
Of course, what I heard was not the national politics of Souka which His Majesty would know, but the details of the lives of the common people there. The picture also depicted the lives of ordinary people.
As I had expected, His Majesty displayed immense interest, staring at the drawing as if devouring it.
“Hoo… so they really do live in the water… Just what manner of existence is the ‘ocean’, I wonder… I had heard that it was something like water mixed with salt, but does something like that truly exist? For people to be able to live their lives in this water, just how vast must it be…”
After His Majesty whispered these questions, I answered them with the information that I had hastily gathered.
“If I may… The people there do not live their lives entirely within the water. They live half in the water and half on land. When they sleep, they leave only their faces in the water, and they rest their heads on the rocks. The ocean is extremely vast, even wider than our Schell continent. The continent of Sout refers to an area that is at least 80% ocean.”
“Then, does it truly taste of salt?”
“Yes. It is very salty to the point where it is undrinkable.”
“I see, I see… So it isn’t like freshwater at all. Souka Country is always at war with Souge Country, isn’t it. I wonder what sort of life their people must lead. For them to have to live through a war that has lasted for so long, I wonder if they must be suffering…”
Even though he had grown old, he truly was the King of a nation. He worried over the lives of the citizens in war-torn countries.
In Sout Continent, there were two countries: Souka Country and Souge Country.
The people who lived in the two countries had mingled and mixed together throughout the countries’ long histories, so there were no differences between them.
I was only recalling the stories that the painter had told me, and none of what I spoke was something that I had seen with my own eyes.
“The two countries have warred over those few pieces of land for several hundred years, and the war continues even now. Their borders are always shifting, and neither of them is able to establish new ground. However, that area is abundant with trade items, so even though these are war-stricken lands with uncertain borders, they are also extremely wealthy. As such, they use the money earned from trade to employ a large number of mercenaries from Grude and Sistica, and nearly all of their on-land battles are done via proxy, fought entirely by people hired from other lands.”
The trade products sold by Sout Continent were primarily fruits. They were able to harvest fruits that couldn’t be grown on other continents.
But because growing those fruits naturally needed to be done on the ground, the countries fought back and forth over the distribution of the land in the continent.
“The people of Sout fight most of their battles underwater. However, their bodies are slightly different from ours, allowing them to spend time in the water more easily. They have very little muscle, so they are unable to wield swords or use them to inflict fatal wounds on their opponents. As such, even if they throw themselves into battle, they won’t necessarily die – and though their antipathy for the other side may deepen, it is rare for any of them to experience the grief of losing their family in battle.”
The only ones dying in the front lines of battle were the mercenaries hired from other lands.
“…If that is the case, then the battle will never end, will it… War, is something which must be avoided at all costs. If, however, there is a time where there is no other choice but to go to war, then that battle must be fought by the people of one’s own country. The royals and the nobles who serve in the Senate must go to the front lines and lead the charge.”
His Majesty quietly spoke this in a firm tone.
“Whether someone starts a war out of anger, or is forced into war against their wishes, it is inevitable that they will be sick of it by the time it is over. The citizens of the country, and even those people who were burdened with the country’s decisions, will without a doubt detest the war.”
These words didn’t seem like they had come from someone who had departed from government for over fifty years. The man who was laying down in front of me truly wasn’t just some old man.
I had lowered my head without realizing it.
Sout Continent’s war would never end. It was a war where the people who started the fight weren’t hurt, themselves.
No matter how many hundreds of the Grude mercenaries died, no matter how many thousands of the Sistica people perished, as long as the only people who were able to end the war weren’t hurt, it would never end.
I had narrated the story that the painter had told me as if it were my own experience.
But, when I had been listening to that story, I had only been thinking about how I would share it with His Majesty. I hadn’t thought anything about it.
I hadn’t thought anything about what kind of battle the Sout Continent’s war was, or why it had dragged on for so many centuries. I hadn’t questioned it at all.
Even when His Majesty had been reduced to a state like this, he was still thinking about the country, and about the people.
Suddenly, a memory of a scene flashed before my eyes.
The citizens of this country did not know this, but Rintz Kingdom had experienced countless crises where it was on the brink of being invaded by other countries. Every time, His Majesty the King had been able to overcome those crises.
In order to protect the people of this Kingdom, and in order to preserve the position of Rintz Kingdom, His Majesty demonstrated genius tactical ability and crafty negotiation skills.
That was what the captain of the imperial guards and the chief chamberlain who served His Majesty said. The two of them had chatted together with adoring expressions over His Majesty’s greatness.
His Majesty the King loved his people more than anyone, they said.
At that time, I had looked at these mature middle-aged men with cold eyes, wondering what the hell they could be talking about.
Just like before, the drawing that I brought remained in His Majesty’s hands.
There were many paintings on display in the royal palace which were drawn with the skills of famous painters. Yet even so, His Majesty adorned the side of his bed with this drawing made with cheap paint on coarse paper, occasionally taking it into his hands to gaze into it.
Whether it was that tea bowl or that drawing, the maids who served His Majesty all cocked their heads in puzzlement over these crude objects that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
The next time I was alone with His Majesty was also a few days after that.
This time, I had sincerely requested the senior knights to allow me this time. Both of my seniors accepted my request.
I carried a small basket in my hand as I began my guard.
I was trembling inside as I worried over whether I would be reproached by my squad leader and the head butler, but anticlimactically, they quickly gave me their approval. They didn’t even bother to look inside the basket.
With the basket in hand, I approached His Majesty’s bedside, where he lay on his bed. According to the maids, His Majesty hadn’t been eating well as of late.
As I gently peered at him, I felt that he had gotten thinner.
Somewhere in my mind, I understood that His Majesty’s life was coming to an end. Even the air around His Majesty felt like it had gotten heavier.
After I quietly called out to him, His Majesty slowly lifted his eyelids open.
“I haven’t died yet.”
He looked at me and laughed gently. I also laughed, then lifted up my basket.
“Today, I have brought this along with me.”
As I spoke, His Majesty tried to sit up.
I had heard that along with not eating, His Majesty was always sleeping and not sitting up in bed.
Yet despite this, His Majesty showed an interest in the breath of the outside world that I brought with me. This, in itself, made me happier than any reward.
I assisted His Majesty in raising his body, then took the cloth off of the basket.
Compared to the first time His Majesty had ever called out to me, his voice now barely had any energy. The tips of my fingers which were carrying the basket trembled, and I felt something sharp pierce my chest.
In the past, when I had listened to the chief chamberlain and the others grieve and lament over His Majesty’s body wasting away, I had only thought was that it was natural for an old man to go to his death.
The me of that time had only been a fool of a young man who had gotten tired of standing around in a room all day.
After having been spoken to by His Majesty, and after having shared conversation with His Majesty so many times, I felt a serious, weighing regret that I had not been able to serve His Majesty sooner, and even that I had not been able to serve him when he had been in good health.
Each and every word His Majesty spoke weighed heavily inside of me.
It was because in those words, I was able to feel the deep love His Majesty had for his people.
“This is called chapa. It can be purchased from the marketplace. It is a treat eaten by children.”
Chapa was made from mixing wheat flour with water and salt. After the dough was stretched out thinly, it was baked. The pastry was then covered in honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
In truth, it tasted best when it was freshly baked, but that ended up being impossible to bring. I arrived at my post right after buying freshly-made chapa from the market, but even though I had ran all the way to the palace, the chapa had already lost its steaminess.
After receiving His Majesty’s permission, I took a plate out from the basket and placed it upon his lap. I then cut the chapa into pieces on the plate with the accompanying skewer. His Majesty grasped the skewer with his withered fingers, his shaking arm delivering the chapa to his mouth.
“Hoo… this… how delicious it is.”
I let out a sigh of relief, glad that it met the tastes of His Majesty, whose mouth was accustomed to lavish, palatial meals.
Chapa had been my favorite treat when I had been a child. I had begged my generous and sweet grandmother for chapa many times, and every time we went to the market, she bought me some.
After going to that marketplace for the first time in a long while, I tried to eat some out of nostalgia. By now, I found it far too sweet, so I was unable to eat it all.
Was I really able to eat so much of this kind of thing? I wondered, and as I ate, the taste mingled with the memories of my now-departed grandmother, a wave of nostalgia washing over me.
Did His Majesty enjoy sweet things? In the first place, would an elderly person with no appetite want to eat something like this?
Up until this moment, I had been plagued with these sorts of worries, but I now watched a wide smile spread over His Majesty’s face as he continued to leisurely eat the chapa.
After His Majesty ate up all of the chapa on the plate, I respectfully offered him some tea.
Of course, the tea was served in that tiny tea bowl.
“Aah, what a good flavor that had. This confection called ‘chapa’, is it something which can be eaten often by the people of this kingdom?”
“Yes. Chapa is simple and inexpensive treat. If a child pleads their parents for some, their parents can freely buy this sweet for them without needing to worry about it.”
“I see, I see. This is something which can make children happy, I see…”
Saying that, His Majesty smiled, warm and soft.
Six days after that, His Majesty fell into critical condition.
The royal palace was stifled under an oppressive, heavy atmosphere, and the butlers and maids who served His Majesty came and went in a flurry, their faces turned down.
But the Kingdom did not come to a stop.
The Crown Prince, who had long performed the duties of the King, continued to smoothly conduct his affairs. The chief chamberlain who served the Crown Prince excitedly began preparing for the prince’s coronation.
There was nothing that a guardsman could do.
Feeling as if the ground were sliding out from under my feet, I went to the market.
I wanted to know the state of the market, the state of the common people of this kingdom.
Nothing had changed in the market. They should have been informed that His Majesty the King was now on his deathbed.
Yet, nothing had changed.
Still dressed in my uniform, I stopped in at a shop and asked a question to the shopkeeper, pretending as if I wanted to gossip. Did you know that His Majesty is in critical condition, I asked. The shopkeeper turned a suspicious gaze on me. His Majesty the King is still young, ain’t he, the shopkeeper said.
What I felt upon hearing that, more than anger, more than anything, was only stupefaction.
The shopkeeper thought that the Crown Prince was His Majesty. Now, as he laid on his bed hidden deep within the recesses of the royal palace, the existence of His Majesty had been entirely forgotten.
This person, who had loved his people more than anyone, who had devoted his entire life for his kingdom, had already been long forgotten by that kingdom’s people.
The market was full of bustling noise.
As I stood, my feet weighed to the ground like stones, children cried out shouts of joy as they ran past me.
The merchantwomen called out to customers with shrill, high-pitched voices.
The curtain of night came falling down, and people lined up along the bars of the taverns.
The men who chatted like they were bellowing as they drank. The women who shrieked out piercing laughs. The barking merchants who tried to pull in customers, their voices like a whore’s.
No matter if it was morning, afternoon, or evening, the marketplace was always, unchangingly busy.
None of them, not a single one of them, realized that the tall guardian tree who had protected them was now about to fall.
The market was turbulent and active, even though nothing in it mattered at all.
When I returned to the royal palace, I went to the guardroom where the knight guards gathered.
The platoon leader saw that I was there even though I was off-duty, but he didn’t say anything about it.
I poured some hot water into my cup from the pot sitting over the fireplace, then drank tea.
No one around here was taking their meal break. There were people who were sitting in chairs and sipping tea, people who were just sitting in their chairs, people sharpening and maintaining their swords, and people who were re-stringing their bows.
Not a single person spoke.
Everyone was passing time however they wished, all of us waiting for that time.
The wood in the fireplace crackled as it burned. As the fire burst, it filled the room with popping, snapping sounds. Occasionally, embers flew out from the fireplace, then faded away.
In my throat, it felt as if I had swallowed lead, or rather, as if my throat itself as it swallowed was made of lead.
Not just me, but many others who were off duty were here. All of them were people who had served by His Majesty’s side. That knight who had left his post to make a pass at the maid was here. Everyone had been spoken to by His Majesty before.
In this room, all of the soldiers waited, their hearts filled with a helpless, powerless sense of loss. They waited for the moment when the great and all-embracing light flickered out.
It was dawn when His Majesty drew his final breath.
I had spent the entire night without sleeping, and barely moving.
When the Captain of the Royal Guards himself brought word of what had happened, all of the soldiers in the guardroom silently stood, turned to the royal palace, and saluted.
After opening his reddened eyes, the captain also saluted.
Of all the salutes I had seen up until now, that one had been the most beautiful salute I had ever seen.
The royal palace raised its flag at half-mast, and the word was immediately sent out to the common people.
The market became only a little more restrained, but the merchants were dissatisfied. We can’t do business like this, they complained.
The people of the capital were also displeased. We can’t go shopping, they grumbled.
So His Majesty’s great love for his people was that one-sided, was it?
Disappointed, grieving, and angry, I drowned myself in alcohol.
A few days after His Majesty had passed, my station changed, and I was sent off to guard the border.
The day before I was supposed to leave the royal capital, I went to the markets on my off time.
Sitting in front of a fountain, I watched people come and go through the market as they ate the sweet, fragrant chapa.
The market was, as it always was, full of buzzing noise.
Only one regiment was dispatched to the border.
There wasn’t any turbulence or unrest along the border; it was simply a shift in the guards.
A dispatch order was to be carried out with a simple ceremony, but the supreme general of the army wouldn’t come out for just a relocation.
On that day, the lieutenant general of the army would carry out the ceremony.
Before the ceremony, I had poked my head into the guardroom and exchanged farewells with the knights I was familiar with.
His Majesty the Crown Prince would safely become His Highness the King, and for a while, the only person the guards would have to protect would be the King alone.
The present King had long since invited his first consort, yet no matter how many consorts he had met with in the royal palace until now, none of them had gotten with child.
The situation seemed to be that until a crown prince was born, the number of guards in the palace would be decreased.
After I had finished giving my farewells and went to leave the guard room, my platoon leader called out to me, making me pause my steps.
The captain is calling for you, he said.
The captain of the guards, like the chief chamberlain who served the previous king, was spending the rest of his next few days wrapping up his duties.
The two of them were retiring a little early, but both of them had requested that they wished only to serve the previous king, and their request had been accepted.
This was my first time entering the captain’s room. The room was just as big as the guards’ room, but only one person lived here. The captain motioned for me to take a seat in the chair across from him.
Even though the captain himself had specifically called for me, all the captain did was just stare piercingly at me, not saying a word.
Yet even so, the atmosphere didn’t wasn’t heavy at all. He was looking at me like an elder appraising his grandson. The captain was still young, but over these past few days, he somehow gave the impression that he had grown old.
Eventually, the captain smiled with a chuckle, then offered me a small satchel.
It was a truly small satchel, not even as big as a pinky.
“I’m entrusting this to you.”
I took the offered satchel in my hand.
Even though this bag was so tiny, even I could tell that it was made out of the finest silk.
Gold-and-silver-threaded embroidery was carefully stitched over the platinum cloth. The thin thread which pulled the opening of the bag closed was also made of silk.
“I ask you to go out and, along with His Majesty, explore all that the world has to offer.”
Saying that, the captain laughed.
Within this small satchel was a single bundle of His Majesty’s hair.
This hair that the chief chamberlain had secretly cut was handed over to the captain of the guards, and then, finally, made its way to me.
If I were ever released from my duty to the Kingdom, then he wanted me to go out and see the world in freedom.
That had been His Majesty’s wish. That had been his dying will.
Other than to the chief chamberlain, His Majesty had told no one of this final, heartfelt request. It was this last wish that the chief chamberlain sought to fulfill.