Everybody, please check the FAQ first before asking me questions.
If it’s not on there, please feel free and ask. I only get annoyed at questions when the same one has been asked 10+ times, and by then I’ll have updated the FAQ.
Thank you for your consideration, guys!
Vote for Izumi here!
Under the starry heavens, a man hummed as he stirred a pot.
Ingredients that seemed to be mushrooms and vegetables bobbed up and down in the boiling liquid.
The white steam spread freely an appetising aroma, as it drifted into the sky.
Izumi’s stomach growled.
It had been a few hours since dinner, and she was feeling a little peckish now.
But she knew that if she ate now, she would regret it much later on.
“The coconasso will be done soon, so wait just a little, okay?”
Hearing Izumi’s stomach, the man smiled amiably, before accepting the zhaltkane from her.
He pressed a knife against its bamboo-like opening, and split it open.
“I’ve told you many times already. I’m fine.”
“Come now, don’t be shy.”
“No, I’m not being shy about it. I told you, if I eat before I sleep, I’ll get fat so I don’t need it.”
The man stopped his stirring hand, and carefully beheld her.
“You have nothing to worry about. In fact, I think getting a little fatter would do you good.”
“If I let my guard down because of your words, I’ll become a fatty in the blink of an eye!”
“Really? But, look, there’s really nothing in here but mushrooms and vegetables. You’ll really be fine. Honest.”
Izumi sighed at his irresponsible words.
Oh? Wasn’t Coconasso the fantastic food that saved Tohji from famine? Then wasn’t it also perhaps high in calories?
Paying no attention to Izumi, the man places slices of zhaltkane into a mortar and began to grind.
“My, you’ve really helped me out. To be honest, Coconasso Hotpot is really no good without a good dash of zhalt. Ah, it’s not that I hate it or anything, okay? It’s just that after eating the same thing for ten days…”
A complicated look of grief appeared on the man’s face, as he gazed into the distance.
“Now then, time for the finishing touches.”
After scraping the mashed zhalt into the pot, he gave it a light mix, and then tried the taste with a big spoon.
“Mn, yummy. It really does bring out the taste,” nodded the man with a smile.
After spooning it into one of two wooden bowls, he held it out to Izumi.
“Here. I wonder when the last time I shared a meal was. After all, I’ve been travelling alone for a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time.”
Apparently he had already decided that she would be eating.
Izumi reluctantly accepted it.
When she tried a spoon of the thick, white soup, what she first experienced was a gentle, mildly sweet taste. Passing down her throat, was this umami flavour the zhalt?
“How is it?”
She could see the expectation in the eyes of the man. When he tilted his head a little, the tied, shoulder-length silver hair made a pleasant sound.
“Aah, yeah… It’s delicious,” she replied, eyes still glued to his hair.
This person… really is Princess Aqua’s brother, isn’t he…
Rare for a man, he had a beautiful face, and it closely resembled Princess Aqua’s.
Most importantly, his rare silver hair was proof of royalty.
He was the Prince of Jebas, who heard the Old Maestro’s tales of the world-travelling Conyork the Second, and who then left the country himself.
And he was now sitting in front of her, slurping coconasso soup.
Izumi stole glances at him, as she slurped from her bowl.
If he returned to Jebas, then wouldn’t the King, Princess Aqua, Utaseyu and Aschu all become happy?
But this was a prince who ran away from his own country. If she clumsily brought things up, then he might run away.
Not only that, but ‘to make the people of your motherland happy, become a sacrifice for them’ wasn’t right to her. No, but then, shouldn’t he at least return before Princess Aqua came of age?
Izumi continued to watch him, as she was confused by her own half-baked thoughts.
“It’s good, isn’t it,” smiled the Prince, who met her gaze.
“It is,” she replied without much thought――
After she heard the news last night from the woman with the stomach problems, at first she thought that she needed to tell Roten.
But then when she placed her hand against the window, she hesitated.
What if the people of the Ottko Yu tribe abandoned their current village to live together witht he arrijighock?
If they followed the sunarabi and arrijighock, in the future they would only been se as invaders, wouldn’t they?
It wasn’t guaranteed that the final destination of the sunarabi would be uninhabited like the plain with the tree.
Since she was seen as an angel, she couldn’t give careless advice to them.
Because of that, Izumi wished to be connected to somebody who could solve the problem, or perhaps somebody who give her a clue, but…
Why then, was it this person?
“Umm… is there something on my face?”
His words made her realise that she had been staring, and she looked down.
“Aah, I’m sorry for being impolite. It was nothing.”
Even she knew that she was being awfully suspicious, but the Prince showed little sign of minding, and simply replied,
before going back to his soup.
“You’ve been travelling alone for a long time, right? Do you have some goal?”
“Hmmm. Good question. I suppose to widen my world-view?”
I see. He’s probably following the footsteps of Conyork the Second.
Izumi was impressed with him.
But then, the Prince furrowed his brows, and then shook his head.
“No, I’ll stop this. I’m sorry, I was just putting on airs. I’m simply out having fun. It’s incredibly fun to wander here and there, and experience various cultures and specialty products. At the moment, my source of income is from using various materials that I’ve gotten, and selling balms made from them. But well, what’s actually been getting me the most money recently is the soaps and bathing powders that I sell on the side.”
“SOAPS AND BATHING POWDERS!?”
When he came clean, at first she considered trying to convince him to return and discuss things with Princess Aqua, but his next words blew such thoughts right out of her mind.
“Yes. The soap can be used from head to toe. Once you try it, your skin becomes smooth and without blemish. Not only that, but the bathing powder is multi-purpose, dealing with things from moisturisation to anti-perspiration. It’s extremely popular with housewives.”
Izumi’s eyes glittered. She couldn’t just swallow his story, but then again she had already experienced mysteries like the fire stone, or the frostsnow grass, so she believed in him just a little.
“Shall I give you one to try? As thanks for the zhaltkane.”
“IS THAT OKAY!? …Ummm, should I bring you something? I know. I got some good liquor the other day…”
In her joy, Izumi was about to climb through the window, but she suddenly grew embarrassed about openly wanting it so much.
“Nono, it would be unthinkable to accept anything else from an angel. Please, take this.”
The Prince opened up a large sack, and retrieved from within an olive bar of soap, and a porcelain jar wrapped in cloth.
“Froth up the soap well, and as for the bathing powder… Let’s see. If it’s a bath the size of that one, then perhaps two spoons would do? Please test the amount as you go.”
“Wah! Thank you. This might be the happiest trade I’ve ever made.”
Izumi gleefully accepted it.
Upon opening the lid of the jar, she was met by a fragrance similar to roses.
Not only that, but unlike the forceful rose smells of the bath powder she already used, this one was natural-smelling, fresh, and refreshing.
“What a nice smell. It’s amazing. You made this yourself, huh.”
The Prince nodded at her.
“Yes. From collecting the ingredients, to doing the mixing, all of it was done by me. But still, to think that at the end of my journey, not only would I dine with an angel, but that angel would so happily accept something I created. I really am a lucky one.”
The Prince gave a genuinely happy smile.
“Eh? End… of your journey?”
Izumi stared inside the jar. When she breathed on it, the powder danced like sand.
“Could it be that this is why you gave this to me?”
“No, certainly not. Well, it is the last one, but…”
“Then how come?”
“Once I return to my country, I won’t have the time to work hard at creating medicines or bath powders any longer. To begin with, I wouldn’t be able to obtain the ingredients any longer.”
Izumi hung her head in dejection, but then shook it vigorously to expel those thoughts.
It was a happy thing for those waiting at home for him.
And what would become of her as a person if she valued bathing powder to this extent.
“But, why so suddenly?”
“A storm is…”
No sooner had he spoken did the Prince fall silent, gazing up into the sky.
Izumi watched him think, and waited for his next words, but the Prince stopped moving completely, as though his heart had been taken by the stars.
Under the moonlight, his silver hair glittered like a jewel.
Frozen like that, his beautiful face made him seem like a doll with no soul.
“What about a storm?”
The Prince seemed somehow terrifying, as he was absorbed with the night sky, so Izumi urged him to continue.
“The storm in I’Jibro. Before long, my country will also be…”
For just an instant, the Prince turned a desperate look to Izumi. But he immediately lowered his gaze, and then smiled as though it had never happened.
“The reason that I’m going back to my country, is because I’m going back to where I belong. That’s all.”
While the Prince seemed to have gotten over something, in contrast Izumi was panicked.
“W-Wait, wait. What do you mean ‘storm in I’Jibro’? What happened to Prince Hinoki!?”
“Prince Hinoki… Aah, the tragic prince of I’Jibro.”
“Yeah, the one that was confined in the tower by his step-mother! He better have left the tower!”
After her reflexive threat, she came back to her senses. The Prince of Jebas had nothing to do with it.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised, but the Prince shook his head and told her not to mind.
“Prince Hinoki. Yes, I hear that he left the tower.”
Izumi fell to the ground in relief.
Thank goodness. You managed to get out.
Tears of joy gathered in her eyes, but his next words made that joy vanish.
“Because the place he’s confined now is the Yohk’Zai royal castle.”
“Prince Hinoki is presently confined in Yohk’Zai. Do you know him?”
“Why is he confined in Yohk’Zai’s royal castle!? Who did it!? Who trapped him somewhere like that! …Could it be that Queen Akka…”
Had Huuron failed? It couldn’t be that Queen Akka killed him…
Izumi blanched at the horrifying thought.
“Why would Queen Akka be the one to trap him in Yohk’Zai’s castle?”
The Prince’s voice was deeply confused.
Izumi questioned him in a trembling voice.
“Then who did it?”
“King Huuron of course.”
It felt like something had struck her in the head.
When she heard ‘Yohk’Zai’ earlier, she had also considered this, somewhere in her heart. But she simply didn’t want to believe it.
“But, why would he… What about Queen Akka?”
“Queen Akka has passed away.”
Izumi gazed at the Prince of Jebas in a daze.
“An explosion of unknown origins occurred in the castle. It was reduced to rubble, and Queen Akka was discovered beneath that rubble.”
Her heart skipped a beat.
She recalled what those soldiers had been desperately protecting, and suddenly it felt like her chest was being crushed.
“They say that because of the tragedy at the castle and the death of his step-mother, Prince Hinoki was in no state to govern due to the emotional shock. Because of that, King Huuron sheltered the Prince, and was also asked by him to govern I’Jibro in his stead… Or so the rather convenient story goes. Anybody with the slightest desire to think would realise the truth.”
――Wine and gunpowder.
Huuron had told her the contents of the carts.
“King Huuron had come to I’Jibro’s royal castle, there just happened to be an explosion, Queen Akka and many high officials just happened to be casualties, and Yohk’Zai’s soldiers just happened to be completely unharmed. How could anything so convenient happen by change.”
“――Is it… my fault?”
The Prince furrowed his beautiful brows at Izumi’s feeble mutter.
“I asked him to. When he was on the way to I’Jibro, I asked him to save Prince Hinoki from the tower. So Huuron…”
“Please calm down. That should absolutely not be the case.”
The Prince firmly rebuked her.
Izumi sluggishly raised her head.
“Because you asked him on the way, King Huuron took possession of the I’Jibro castle? Do you think he could destroy the castle and take over I’Jibro with no preparations at all? Of course he had planned to do this with his soldiers from the start.”
In other words, even before Izumi’s request, Huuron had known about Queen Akka’s trap, and still intended to march to I’Jibro.
“With Prince Hinoki as a good reason, nobody in I’Jibro would be able to revolt against him. While everybody gazed on in shock, I’Jibro fell under Yohk’Zai’s rule――regardless of whatever they say on the surface.”
“And now, King Huuron is going to bear his fangs against Jebas…”
Izumi was calm again.
According to Prince Hinoki, Jebas was called a paradise. She knew why Huuron was aiming for it.
She recalled his eyes filled with brilliance――and the ambitions that burnt behind it.
“So you really did know who I was, Angel.”
How could she not. Just look at his hair.
“The Prince of Jebas, right? Because Princess Aqua almost got married to a much older man, she really hates you now, you know.”
The Prince’s handsome face cramped a little.
“What on earth is Father thinking… No, I suppose I’m not one to talk.”
Both this Prince and Princess Aqua were beautiful. If it was their father, surely he was beautiful too, or so she thought as she was imagining his face when, suddenly, a bearded man came to mind.
“But wait, isn’t there Triht in between Jebas and Yohk’Zai? As I recall, the leader of Triht, Setsugen, was looking for Yohk’Zai’s fire stones.”
Could it be that Triht joined hands with Yohk’Zai?
“Triht is in a crisis right now. Apparently the ground is frozen, and they need fire stones. And so they asked Yohk’Zai for assistance, but Yohk’Zai rejected them. With their backs to the wall, Triht declared war on them.”
“That can’t be… They told me that fire stones could be found lying about just anywhere.”
“Just because it is a common stone, you believe it natural to offer it out of the kindness of your heart?”
Izumi looked at the Prince.
His tone was unexpectedly grim.
“That is wrong. Even a common stone is still an asset of Yohk’Zai’s. If Triht needed fire stones no matter what, they would have no choice but to enter into negotiations with Yohk’Zai. If that wasn’t possible, they would need to take other measures. If you gave aid without reward, Triht would grow used to having things handed to them. And Triht would rot because of it. ――Things you receive without paying back for will end up hindering you.”
Izumi could only stay silent.
The Prince tilted his head, and smiled amiably. Suddenly, his severe aura disappeared.
“――Just kidding. That was a saying handed down in a certain Yohk’Zai village. I just wanted to try saying it once. On an individual level, you are most definitely correct. But most of Yohk’Zai is covered by sand. You couldn’t call it fertile. If they saved Triht for free, the citizens would surely find it unforgivable.”
However he interpreted her silence, the Prince took her hand to comfort her.
“As an angel, it can’t be helped that you’re unfamiliar with the circumstances of the lower world. Were everybody as selfless as you…”
He was wrong.
Izumi wasn’t selfless at all. Even just now, her feelings prioritised bathing powder over the people waiting for this Prince.
No human was selfless.
“Triht erred in their choice. Now that I’Jibro has fallen into the hands of Yohk’Zai, Triht will stand little chance. And King Huuron has gained yet another excuse. An excuse to destroy Triht, you see. And using Triht as a foothold, Jebas would be next…”
After the Prince bitterly declared this, a strong wind extinguished the campfire.
The moon seemed even brighter, and illuminated the surroundings.
The overlapping mountains of sand were blown into new shapes.
Somewhere in this very desert, Prince Hinoki was held captive.
Izumi recalled the words the Insen woman had shouted during their parting. She hadn’t managed to catch it all, but it was surely about Prince Hinoki…
“Hey, Prince of Jebas. It really is my fault after all,” she quietly declared.
His eyes grew dark as he watched her.
“They were seeds that I sowed. That’s why…”
“You’ll reap them yourself?”
Izumi shook her head.
“Things are going to get a little busy for me. Perhaps I might need to borrow your strength in the future. When that time comes, would you perhaps lend it to me?”
“As you wish, Angel.”
As the Prince of Jebas bowed reverently, she bade him goodbye and closed the window.
Just as she told him, Izumi was about to become busy. Relaxing in the bath would have to wait.
She was going to have to meet a great many people. And she was going to have to talk with them.
But she had already decided who she would be meeting first.
Izumi closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.
She remembered the face of the man with the earrings.
“The King of the Desert, descended from Yohk’Zai’s Founding King, Tenuhg. Please. Connect me to him.”
Izumi lent an ear to the pounding of her heart as she opened the window.
Please. Connect me to him.
――And as she prayed for this in her heart…
One chapter left until the end.
^ That was the author’s note.