The Imperator Doesn't Sleep (first draft; update 1)

Dec 21st, 2016
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  1. The Imperator Doesn't Sleep
  2. By Strange
  3. Translated from the Japanese by OtherSideofSky (http://othersideofskytranslations.blogspot.com/)
  5. A small figure danced in the moonlit garden.
  6. "Wow! Amazing!" A lisping voice cried out in pure delight.
  7. "Look at all the stars!"
  8. There was a radiant smile on the young, excited face gazing up at the sky.
  9. The little girl stretched her tiny hands above her head and jumped again and again, trying to catch dazzling stars. With each jump her dress fluttered, and her hair — which was a brighter gold than the embroidery that adorned her clothes — whirled.
  10. "There are so many of them; it should be alright for me to have one."
  11. The girl's hand, reaching for the stars, clenched tight.
  12. "Oh, honestly!" She complained, upon opening the hand and seeing that there was nothing in it. "They're right there, so why can't I grab them?"
  13. Watching her innocent endeavor, I couldn't suppress a smile.
  14. "Hey! You just laughed, didn't you?"
  15. She spun around, her cheeks angrily puffed out.
  16. The childish gesture reminded me that, however magnificent a dress she wore and whatever gems or precious metals adorned her, she was still a genuine little girl. The pure gleam in her large eyes made them almost miniature starry skies in themselves. I couldn't help staring into them.
  17. "What's that look for?"
  18. The girl's cheeks puffed up still further. I was still smiling, and that must have offended her. She put one hand on her hip, and pointed sternly at me with the other.
  19. "And here I went to all the trouble of bringing you with me without father finding out!"
  20. It was true. We'd slipped out of our rooms in secret from both our fathers and come here, to the palace courtyard. We'd be sure to get a good scolding if anyone caught us. Still, this starry sky was worth the risk.
  21. "Next time, I won't bring you along!" The girl humphed and turned away.
  22. I sensed that it would be a bad idea to offend her any more than I already had and hurriedly apologized. She kept her back to me at first, but as I kept saying how sorry I was, she glanced in my direction, then finally spun around.
  23. "Very well. I forgive you!" She declared, and a new smile bloomed on her face.
  24. The girl's figure stood out under the light of the moon and stars. She looked as beautiful as a painting. I became aware that my cheeks were growing hot and hurriedly shook my head.
  25. "What's the matter?"
  26. She looked confused by my behavior.
  27. "Nothing," I hastily blurted out. For some reason, I felt embarrassed.
  28. The girl stared at me for a little while with a baffled look on her face. At last, she smiled again and started walking toward me.
  29. I was confused. Her smile widened.
  30. "Come on, don't just stand there forever; come here!"
  31. Staring at her innocently outstretched hand, I...
  33. • • • • • • •
  35. A ray of white broke the solid blackness that filled my vision.
  36. The light woke me and I let out a little groan. With the light came the awareness of morning, and I slowly raised my eyelids. Still half-unconscious, I blinked rapidly.
  37. When I raised myself from the bed and looked around, the familiar sight of my room met my eyes. It was lit by the sunlight filtering through the curtains.
  38. "Morning already..."
  39. I felt like I'd been having a dream. A dream about a long time ago. As I awoke, however, my memories of the dream faded. I could no longer recall the details. All that remained in my breast was nostalgia and a faint loneliness. It bothered me, but groaning about it wouldn't help me remember.
  40. I was still staring aimlessly around the room when a reserved knock called my mind back to reality and my gaze to the door. A young woman's voice came from the other side of it.
  41. "Have you awakened, Master Rofus?"
  42. "Yes. You can come in," I replied.
  43. After a quick "Pardon me, sir," the knob turned, and a woman entered the room. She was one of the maids in service to my family. I knew her by sight.
  44. Upon seeing me, she curtsied, then briskly approached the window and drew back the curtains. I narrowed my eyes against the inrush of sunlight.
  45. "Your meal is ready, sir."
  46. "Got it. I'll be there soon."
  47. "Yes sir. Excuse me, sir."
  48. At my answer, the maid made another curtsy, then left the room. I heard the soft sound of the door shutting as I got out of bed.
  49. Outside the window I could see an expanse of blue sky and the townscape illumined by the morning sun. Beyond the roofs of the houses towered the white-walled palace. My thoughts naturally turned to the girl who lived there, and I let out a sigh.
  50. I don't know when it had started, but I could no longer feel genuinely happy about seeing her. We used to smile so innocently at each other, without hesitation. I doubt the change in our positions was the only cause, but I didn't know what I could, or should, do about it now. I didn't even know if I wanted our relationship to go back to how it had been in the first place.
  51. "An audience with Her Imperial Majesty, huh?"
  52. I repeated my schedule for the day. Saying it felt like spitting up something coiled in my chest, but that only made me more depressed. I doubted I'd even be able to enjoy eating the breakfast that had been prepared for me. My heavy heart formed a stark contrast with the clear morning air.
  54. The crimson carpet muffled my footsteps. The sensation made me feel vaguely uneasy as I walked down the long corridor.
  55. This was the center of the imperial capital. The building, surrounded by a moat and strong castle walls, stood on a hill and towered over the city around it. It was the imperial castle, the very heart of the empire's political and economic administration.
  56. The previous imperator had spent a fortune to renovate the palace, which boasted the greatest beauty of any building in the empire. It's many white-walled and blue-roofed spires soared proudly into the sky, imperial flags fluttering in the breeze at their tops. It's majestic appearance awed not only travelers who saw it for the first time, but even the townspeople who saw it every day. It almost seemed to be glaring down at the city; you sometimes felt you were about to be crushed just looking at it.
  57. When the former imperator repaired the aging palace, he had levied a high tax, squeezing a huge amount of wealth from the people. And not just in money; he had also imposed heavy labor on the citizens. More than a few had been ruined or died as a result.
  58. In that sense, it wouldn't be unreasonable to call the former imperator a tyrant who ruled through fear. It was true that he had been an able ruler and expanded the empire's power to an unprecedented extent, but his methods had been self-righteous and severe — the very definition of high-handed despotism. He drove out all who disagreed with him, however capable or high-born they might be. Those who defied him, he suppressed without mercy. The result was that only those who toadied up to the imperator remained, and his tyranny kept picking up speed.
  59. The citizens cowered in fear. Dissatisfaction was rife, but no one had been willing to face the vast imperial family head-on.
  60. A few years ago, the imperator had been taken by illness. Everyone had expected the country to change, although no one had dared say it out loud.
  61. The people's faint hope had, however, been in vain. She, succeeding to the throne at a young age, had become another tyrant like the former imperator. In some ways she was even more autocratic. The people were even now cowering and suffering under her tyrannical rule. Some of her ministers had mustered the courage to remonstrate with her, but every one of them had met a tragic end.
  62. Beneath its gilded surface, this nation had been ruled by fear for a long time now. A look at the city would be enough for even a child to see how dark a shadow it had cast on the people's hearts. There was fear on the face of every resident who looked up at the palace. No one on the street would speak the imperator's name. Everyone was painfully aware of the consequences a careless remark could bring.
  63. Naturally, more than a few had simply abandoned the country. Many affluent nobles had sought asylum in other nations. Apparently even some of the border guards had fled.
  64. To be honest, I wasn't much of a patriot myself. I doubted this tyranny could last forever. Ruin had to be on the way. When you can see the ship sinking, the smart choice is to get out while you still can.
  65. Nevertheless, I stayed. That was partly because of my position as the eldest son of the Laureth family. More than that, however, it was because the tyrant now ruling the empire was my—
  66. "Halt."
  67. The unexpected bark cut off my train of thought.
  68. Looking around, I realized that I had arrived in the audience chamber.
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