This is the 9th chapter of the fantasy novel “The Rainlands” (雨の国) by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) which I am translating from Japanese with the author’s permission. It is about a man’s journey to a mysterious land where he has a ideological conflict with the indigenous customs there.
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You can see a synopsis and table of contents with other chapters (as they are posted) referenced here. You can find the original Japanese text for this chapter here. Because the original story is made from four long chapters, I have broken it up into shorter ones, and this chapter comes from first half of the original chapter 4,
“The Rainlands” by Haruka Asahi: Chapter 9
Unfortunately, my fears were not unfounded. I began to hear similar whisperings throughout the cave.
Of course, I doubted anyone would express their discontent with Yakt directly to him or his relatives. But it was clear that he was getting strange looks from those around him as he gradually recovered.
Maybe I was just being overly paranoid, especially with my guilt about helping him.
And yet, there seemed to someone else who felt as I did: that girl I kept coming across. She was always at Yakt’s side, glaring back at anyone who threw him a odd look. It was as if she was trying to defend him from the others by herself. But her obstinance might have actually made things worse, increasing suspicion about Yakt.
Ian’s attitude was the worst of all.
In the beginning he, like Yakt, was too weak to even stand. But thanks to a strong constitution, Ian’s strength began to return from very early on.
Lying on a bed next to Yakt in one of the larger rooms where a group of women took care of them, Ian would periodically sit up and glare at Yakt for minutes at a time. One of my questions was answered, mercilessly, by the harsh gleam in his eyes.
Yakt had eaten the food I had secretly passed to him. Ian, out of arm’s reach on the other side of the bars, had seen the whole thing.
Had Yakt known that Ian was watching?
I prayed that he hadn’t. But some part of me knew all too well this was an unreasonable request.
Surely, it would be cruel of me to ask Ian to not blame Yakt for what he did.
Someone whom Ian had treated like a brother had succumbed to a devil’s temptation and broke one of their ancient customs, betraying the trust of the entire village. That is how Ian would see things.
No one had yet confronted Yakt face to face. But what about after the boys had recovered completely? That thought always carried with it a terrible feeling of dejection.
On the other hand, maybe things would remain forever unspoken. Regardless, those disapproving eyes would most likely accompany him for the rest of his days, at least as long as he continues to live here.
This made me realize that I should reassess what I’d done here.
Had I truly done anything wrong?
If I hadn’t helped Yakt that day, would he have managed to survive on his own?
What a relief it would be to state with certainty how Jakt would have lost his life without that food. Come to think of it–didn’t the men gossiping that day say the very same thing: of the two boys, Yakt probably wouldn’t survive?
But, being a mere human, not a God, I would never know the answer to that question.
Besides Ian, there were several others who had stared resentfully at Yakt. I never learned exactly who they were. I was too scared to find out.
But I felt that, for the most part, I already knew.
Those men had undoubtedly endured the same trial and survived, fairly and without help.
On the other hand, they might have been the parents or siblings of someone who hadn’t survived.
There were moments I could swear I heard their unvoiced cries. Because of someone’s shameless intervention that violated our tradition, that boy had survived. So why did my son have to die?
Late at night, several days after the boys were released, I quietly sneaked out to the room where they were staying.
I wondered if I’d be able to speak with them once, without anyone else around. But some part of me knew the odds of this were slim; all throughout the night one of the women was always attending to their needs.
But, in any case, I just couldn’t sleep that night. Even if I didn’t get to speak privately with them, maybe the sight of their sleeping faces would bring me some comfort. This weighted heavy on my mind as I walked the tunnel late at night. On the way I didn’t come across a single person.
Just as I reached the room, someone was leaving.
It was her.
Seeing me, she froze in place. She pressed her lips firmly together and bowed deeply, as if making up her mind about something, then soundlessly walked away through the dark tunnel.
What was that about? Dumbfounded, I watched her disappear, then I hesitantly stepped foot into the large room where the boys were staying.
In the semi darkness, I caught a sickening whiff of candle wax.
The torch on the wall was nearly burned out, its unreliable light casting a flickering shadow of the boy onto the far wall.
Ian sat upright, resting his back against the wall. His sparkling eyes gazed at Yakt’s small body which slept alongside the wall a short distance away. I could see a painful expression as I watched his face from the side, but I found no sign of the severity it had carried a few days ago.
His face slowly turned towards me. I stood motionless, petrified from shock.
For an instant, Ian’s face was distorted by something like hate, but the next moment his expression relaxed and he lowered his gaze.
Despite the fact I had been really hoping to speak with the boys, I struggled over how to start the conversation, in the end failing to actually say anything. Remaining silent, I reluctantly approached them as Ian’s eyes followed me.
It looked as if Yakt’s strength had not yet returned; he slept curled into a ball, breathing quietly.
Even so, I let out a sigh of relief when I noticed his cheeks were slightly less emaciated than the day he was freed.
When I glanced once more towards Ian, I saw hims still staring fixedly at me, as if trying to figure something out.
Eventually, Ian moved his lips slowly.
“When are you leaving here?”
His questioned me in a low voice, either to avoid waking up Yakt or to prevent from being heard by others. His tone was strangely controlled, lacking emotion. It was hard for me to believe this was the same voice of that mischievous boy, bursting with curiosity, who had just the other day pestered me to hear stories of distant lands.
“I haven’t decided yet. But it should be soon.”
“Take Yakt with you.”
Ian’s words completely caught me by surprise.
Truth be told, that possibility had already flashed through some corner of my mind. For some time now, the idea that saying here would not benefit Yakt had been with me. But some part of me also knew how difficult that would be, and I never expected Ian, of all people, to make such a request of me.
I did not answer immediately and instead turned back to look at Yakt’s curled-up form. His tiny, gaunt body was completely still. From a quick glance I couldn’t tell if that was because he was sleeping deeply or because he was simply pretending to be asleep.
“We can’t allow someone who has broken the rule stay here.”
Ian said that with a whisper, but I had trouble taking him seriously. That’s how quiet his voice was.
“We’ll have Rafa inform the village chief.”
As Ian continued, he never took his eyes of Yakt’s bony figure. Rafa was probably the name of that girl. I was going to confirm with Ian, but I changed my mind. I would be leaving here soon anyway.
“Alright. As long as Yakt is in agreement.”
“We’ve already talked.”
I forced myself to keep quiet and stared at Ian.
There was something peaceful about the boy’s expression.
Until a moment ago, I had wanted to ask Ian if he truly felt no pity for Yakt, if he truly couldn’t forgive him. I knew this was extremely selfish of me. But still, I had thought about trying to convince Yakt to forgive Ian.
But I had, perhaps, completely misunderstood Ian’s feelings.
It was Ian–more than anyone else–who had seen Yakt’s suffering up close in that dark cell where they were left alone.
I could just picture Ian, doing his best to encourage to his blood brother Yakt, complaining about hunger as he slowly wasted away.