The Distant War
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I spent three years learning how to ride birds with Rook and knitting from Suzuya. I also did shepherd jobs, while writing about my life in the book at my spare time. I turned seven years old.
When my seventh birthday passed about two months ago, gloomy subjects had multiplied at home.
I lived in an environment with very little information. Nevertheless, I had lived for seven years, so some information came in.
It seemed the people like Rook, Suzuya and me were called Shanti in this country. Shanti was a word pronounced as it was based on the original language. In a sense, we were people of Shan.
The tribe of Shan people was very long lived. It wasn’t uncommon to live until 80 years old if they lived safely. Apparently, they reached the limit of the longevity once they became centenarians. In my opinion, most of Shan people were nice people even though they didn’t think too much about the longevity. In addition, the Shanti were strong against cold. They lived in the north of the continent.
Shanti used to have a unified state called Shantilla Great Empire in the northern part of the continent long time ago. However, there were ups and downs, and it collapsed. The reason was because of an Allied Force of another race called Kuran.
When the Allied Force entered the capital city, the Great Empire became loose, and the Kings of each state became independent. The political system of Shanti was unique. I didn’t understand well, but from the old Shantilla Great Empire, the ruler was decided to be a woman. In other words, the Shantilla Great Empire was ruled by a Queen for many generations, and even after the dissolution of the Empire, the kingdoms had been ruled by a Queen.
Several countries that I wasn’t aware had been dissolved and every time that happened, it was done by the Kuran country. They were overthrown one by one.
And the last remaining kingdom was Kilghina Kingdom, and it seemed to be the Shaluta Kingdom where I was now.
Geographically, there was a large protruding peninsula. The inner part of the peninsula was where the Shaluta Kingdom located, while the Kilghina Kingdom was located close to the peninsula. For that reason, the Shaluta Kingdom hadn’t been attacked much.
However, from the view of the Shaluta Kingdom, if the Kilghina Kingdom perished, their turn would come next. Even an idiot could understand, they had been sending reinforcements many times.
This time, it had been decided that the head family of Hou Household would be sent as the reinforcement. As for the head family of Hou Household, it was called a Lord household. It was a family of military rank called Knight, and it was the highest ranking among warriors. In Japan, it was called Daimyo. And the family head or leader of the head family was Rook’s brother.
By integrating the information occasionally heard, that was such a circumstance. Hence, our cheerful house was always wrapped in a gloomy mood.
Rook had an impressive title of the second son of the Hou Household, but since he hadn’t graduated from the Knight school, he wasn’t qualified to be a Knight, and there was no need for him to go to war.
However, as a second son of the chief of the Hou Household, he seemed different from other. Generally, it was embarrassing for not having the qualification of a Knight.
In this country, if the chief of the main family was called to be the leader of the expedition, the knights under his control must accompany the chief by carrying their own spears.
Unfortunately, the current Hou Household was short of capable people. It was said that there weren’t many family members carried spears. Speaking of Hou Household, it was one of the Lord household, and every time there was a war in the neighboring country, they would come out as a reinforcement. I wasn’t sure whether Hou Household had a weak standpoint among Lord households, but for some reason, they kept getting the short end of the stick. Anyhow, they were being in charged for this matter.
In this way, the Hou Household had been sent as a reinforcement to the neighboring country again and again. Before they replenished the weakened forces due to the previous reinforcement, they were sent back as a reinforcement again. This was repeatedly done, and the army of the Hou Household became weakened.
Therefore, Rook had to be sent to war this time.
Just the other day, a messenger appeared, and it became such a talk as I was sent to the child’s room. But, Rook declined it once and for all.
Rook loved to raise living animals. He was a man who likes to ride birds. He was a man who was unrelated with the violence of the world. He probably dropped from the Knight school because of that. Now, he lived in a small house in the mountains like this with a family of three people. He was living a reclusive life.
It seemed that he didn’t want to engage as much as possible with the main family. When he heard from Suzuya that there was a messenger from the main family who came when he wasn’t there, he didn’t display displeasure, but he made an obvious depressed face. If he was a good-for-nothing NEET, his neck would be grabbed and he would be taken away, but Rook worked hard as he built a ranch by himself. Since his birds were excellent commodity which were required by the royal family, I supposed it was quite impossible to drag him.
Ultimately, Rook wasn’t going to go to the front line. However, in that situation, he had to show his face at the departure ceremony.
The departure ceremony was a feast held on the day before the departure of the army.
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That day, I wore a newly tailored clothes and headed for the feast. Our ride was a Galloping Bird. Suzuya was sitting at the rear, but I was the one who held the rein and controlled it.
I rode the birds every day, and I was thoroughly trained by Rook. Due to my small physique, I couldn’t make complicated movements, but as far as moving the birds, I could do that. But, today was the first time I rode a bird without Rook watching me. It wasn’t a young Galloping Bird, but this was an adult one. Today was the second time practicing it, and the other time was yesterday.
Suzuya, who sit at the rear while holding me, held reins of three Galloping Birds that accompanied us. Rook was supposed to come later.
While being taught the direction by Suzuya, I advanced slowly.
The Galloping Birds, which Suzuya was pulling, would escape if she released the reins. So, this was a show of the arms. If the Galloping Birds misunderstood the instructions and increased the speed suddenly, the reins would be tightened, and she would have to let go of her hands. I manipulated the rein while breaking out in a cold sweat.
After riding for nearly one hour, I saw something like a castle gate.
It was a town, Karakumo, where there was a mansion of Hou Household. Karakumo didn’t seem to be a big town. The stone gate was barely constructed. When I went to the front of the gate, it was opened and it was crowded with carriages.
When the guards looked at the Galloping Birds, they turned suspicious eyes to us, a mother and a child, who rode together, but they still opened the way. It was probably because we were riding a Galloping Bird. The Galloping Birds were animals that were ridden by the warriors or the Knights to be exact. It would be bad idea to deter our movement before the departure. Even fools also understood that. We led the three birds, and went down the road by slowly pushing our way through the crowd of people.
When I entered the town, I knew that Karakumo was a small town that couldn’t be compared with the capital. There were many houses along the road, but most of them were made of wood. Surely, there was no specific industry here. However, in response to the demand of Hou Household and their vassals, merchants and servants under their protection gathered here and the town was established.
Actually, I came here once when I was small, but I couldn’t remember well because I was confused. However, although my father was the second son of the honorable Lord household, he had never brought me, the eldest son of the family, to the head family after conveying about my birth. Not even once in seven years. When I thought about it now, it seemed a bit unusual. Rook probably didn’t want to come here as well.
The mansion of the main family was surrounded by a moat with water. It was a castle town, but the was no castle at the center. Of course, there were walls on the interior side of the moat, and there was a mansion on the inside. There was a gate and a bridge that became the doorway to the interior side of the moat.
As I entered the gate, I was questioned by the soldiers who were patrolling the area.
“Who are you?” (Soldier)
The voice sounded sharp, but it was probably because they were going to depart tomorrow.
“I am Yuri, the son of Rook Hou. My mother and I came to attend the departure ceremony.” (Yuri)
When I said so, the soldiers stared at us blankly.
It was probably because some brat had uttered something unusual.
‘This is bad.’
As I instructed the Galloping Bird to knee, Suzuya got off without saying anything and brought me down.
“I’m Rook’s wife, Suzuya. There should be a message about me.” (Suzuya)
When Suzuya said so, a woman among those soldiers appeared from the back, and asked to come in.
The mansion of the main family was a big two-storey building. Both wings were stretch into a U-shaped building, and there was a garden in the center.
In addition to the mansion, there were about four storehouses that seemed to store grains. There was a building called Bird Cage that was a stable for the eagles. It was a relatively large building to put the Eagle King. The stable for the Eagle King was smaller than the one in our ranch.
Suzuya walked ahead and stopped at the reception. At the reception, there was a woman who was somehow receiving guests, and there was a man who walked from the other side spoke to Suzuya.
“You have come, Suzuya-dono.” (??)
Suzuya quickly turned around, and when she looked at the owner of the voice, she hurriedly bowed.
“Gouk-sama, it’s been a while.” (Suzuya)
Somehow, this didn’t look to be a trivial matter, so I kept my head down. Gouk was the name of Rook’s brother. In other word, he was the chief of the main family.
“Raise your head. There’s no need to be humble. Aren’t we siblings?” (Gouk)
When I heard the word sibling, a question mark floated in my head for a moment, but then, it disappeared. That was probably brother-in-law. Since Suzuya raised her face, I also did the same.
I looked at Gouk again. He was one size bigger than Rook, and he was as big as the guy, Galla, who I saw few years ago.
Although the hair was dark, red hair grew from the ears to the chin. However, he looked like an expert warrior.
“Did you come alone? Where’s Rook?” (Gouk)
He looked slightly angry.
“He has to deliver an Eagle King.” (Suzuya)
Rook planned to ride an Eagle King and gave it to the main family.
We were giving them three Galloping Birds and one Eagle King. He hadn’t come yet probably because he wanted to delay as much time as possible.
‘It’ll be a problem if he’s late though.’
“Is that so? But I can’t forgive him to let his wife to hold the rein.” (Gouk)
As expected, he was angry.
It seemed he was angry not because Rook was late, but because Rook didn’t accompany his wife.
‘Is there a law that forbid a wife to ride a horse?’
“No, this child escorts me here.” (Suzuya)
Then, Suzuya put her hand on me, who was hiding behind her.
‘Eh, don’t do that. Come on, give me a break.’
When I slightly resisted from stepping to the front, the pushing power on my back increased as if telling me not to resist.
‘That is unexpected…’
A meager resistance served no purpose, and I was brought to the front.
I lowered my head.
“Here’s my son.” (Suzuya)
“Did the child hold the rein?” (Gouk)
He was slightly surprised.
“Yes. He was trained by my husband, so he was able to escort me safely.” (Suzuya)
“Is that so? So, you are… Yuri.” (Gouk)
‘Dang, he remembered my name. Well, I don’t mind being remembered.’
“Yes. He’s Yuri.” (Suzuya)
Suzuya said so.
“Are you good at riding the Galloping Bird?” (Gouk)
“He’s good at it.” (Suzuya)
Suzuya answered arbitrarily.
“Is that so? Is he good at riding the Eagle King?” (Gouk)
“He seems to be good at that too.” (Suzuya)
“Is there anything else he’s good at?” (Gouk)
“He can read and write. He is also good Togi. He’s my proud son.” (Suzuya)
“Are you good at Togi?” (Gouk)
‘I’m not sure what to say. Don’t say unnecessary things, Kaa-chan.’
She thought in the same way of a child.
Togi was a kind of board game. Speaking of the earth, it was equivalent to that Xiangqi.
Shogi was something I had played before, but this game had the enemy camp and own camp divided in the middle and as for its system characteristics, the intrusion methods were limited. I was confused at the beginning.
Anyhow, Rook loved Togi. It was something he often forced me to play since I asked him to read me books. However, to become skillful to something that one loved to do didn’t really apply to Rook’s Togi. In one month, I became more skillful than him.
After that, his face looked either happy, or lonely. He also became sulky.
That happened twice to Rook. He thought Suzuya just after they got married, and it seemed that Suzuya became better as well. Suzuya didn’t seem to like this particular kind of game, but as for being skillful, it took me three years to be able to stably win against her.
When Gouk heard that I was good at Togi, his expression changed plainly. Somehow, he look like an excited young man.
“There is still time before the feast begins. Shall we have a match?” (Gouk)
‘What is this guy talking about?’
I looked at Suzuya, and she seemed worried.
“But since we can’t be rude to Gouk -sama, we will…” (Suzuya)
“It’s alright. He is my nephew, and that’s similar like my child, so you don’t have to mind it.” (Gouk)
‘Oi oi, don’t force me. Okaa-chan, say it clearly. Ask him, why does he has to be serious against a brat.’
“Are you sure? I understand. Yuri, please accompany him for a game.” (Suzuya)
‘That was fast. Isn’t this bad?’
Suzuya-mama sometimes changed from being a passionate mother to a lion that pushed its cub in the bottom of gorge. I was actually worried.
“…Please take care of me.” (Yuri)
I reluctantly lowered my head.
After separated from Suzuya, I was taken by the man called Gouk, and we both went into the mansion. In my head, there was a theme song ‘Donna Donna’ of a calf being sold that sounded. It didn’t feel awkward though.
When Gouk gave instruction to the servant, the preparation of the Togi was being done in a place just after taking off the shoes from the porch. Two soft easy chairs, a table and a board were prepared. Compared to what we had in our home, all the items had good quality.
There were a lot of conifer trees in this country, but evergreen wood was valuable because of the severe cold. Conifer wood was generally soft, and it wasn’t suitable for furniture.
For that reason, the furniture made from evergreen wood were expensive. However, almost all furniture of the Hou Household seemed to be using that expensive evergreen wood.
When it came to a board and pieces, hard wood was preferred. The surface was black-shined, and the wood used make it looked very solid.
I took the seat and I could take a close look at Gouk’s face. He was certainly looked similar to Rook. But, unlike Rook who always had a gentle expression, I was somehow feeling tense. Even now, I also felt restless. It might be because his firm expression was a habit. It wasn’t intimidating, but it felt overwhelmed.
However, it didn’t come out on his face. Instead, he seemed to be enjoying a bit. Perhaps, he liked Togi. When I played Togi with Rook, he often had such a face.
“These are good board and pieces, isn’t it?” (Yuri)
‘For starters, let’s give compliments.’
“Ooh, did you notice that?” (Gouk)
“It’s different from the woods that you can find everywhere.” (Yuri)
“Well, yeah. If it’s something like this, there’s nothing much else.” (Gouk)
“I see…” (Yuri)
Since I wasn’t familiar with the subject, I had no way to expand the conversation.
“Well then, shall we? Actually, I’m a bit busy.” (Gouk)
‘Yes, you are. You should be busy.’
Gouk began arranging the pieces.
“I’m not going to think long, so this won’t be a long game.” (Yuri)
“Shall we play without the sand? And, you can have the first move.” (Gouk)
The sand he meant was an hourglass. Generally, the first move was more advantages, but it seemed he gave me the opportunity. Well, since it was rude not to accept the offer, I should accept it.
“Then, I’m doing this with the intention of going against you who have better skill.” (Yuri)
When I pointed to the first hand, I heard a click sound.
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As we produced the clicky sound, the guests and the soldiers invited came to watch. It was a curious and intriguing scene where a brat and a chief were playing with board pieces.
Nevertheless, we didn’t spend much time. That was because he and I made moves without stopping.
I liked the way Gouk made moves. He was strong. I was dominating at the early stages, but he used a lot of tactics that I didn’t know in the middle of the game, and soon I was overmatched.
Eventually, it ended in around thirty minutes. Nevertheless, the number of hands exceeded 100 moves since we used only about twenty seconds.
“I lost. It seems I am still inexperienced.” (Yuri)
Yeah, I lost. Since I was being subjected to unknown tactics, it was a game that made me feel as if I was assaulted by surprise attacks. I only knew the tactics that Rook taught me, so I tried hard, but I still couldn’t do anything.
“Let’s have another game. It ended earlier than I expected.” (Gouk)
I was told that, but surprisingly, I was happy with those words. I felt delighted. Gouk’s play style was without faltering. Moreover, it felt refreshing and I had fun going against him.
“Well, let’s do this. Will it be alright if I make the first move?” (Yuri)
“You got me.” (Yuri)
I put my hands on the board. It took me an hour to try various things. Unfortunately, my ability couldn’t keep up with him.
I was able to counter since I was wary with the tactics that I understood from the previous game, but he turned the table at the very late of the game. It was regrettable, but there was no point of doing it anymore. Plus, I didn’t want to hinder Gouk plan.
“I learned a lot.” (Yuri)
I bowed while sitting.
“Me too.” (Gouk)
‘Eh? What is this? Is it a lip service?’
“Is that so? There was nothing to learn from me.” (Yuri)
“No. It’s been a while to learn many things from a game. If possible, I would like to talk about this all night long. But, it’s not going to be that way today. Let’s have a match again after I return.” (Gouk)
“I am also looking forward to that. Please stay safe.” (Yuri)
I got up and lowered my head.
Gouk calmly nodded.
“It’s a boring feast with only men, and you can’t have alcohol. You should play with my daughter then. I will tell Rook.” (Gouk)
He said so. He told me to play with her daughter.
“I got it.” (Yuri)
‘After attending an adult, I have to babysit now, huh? This is going to be tough when I am also a child.’
- Several terms and a name have been changed.
- Refer to this link to find more about the hierarchy of feudal Japan.
- Refer to this link to find more about Xiangqi.
- Refer to this link to find more about Shogi.
- I never heard Donna Donna song before. After listening to many versions, I think I choose this version. I love it!
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