This is the 6th 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 and his encounter with its indigenous people and culture.
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“The Rainlands” by Haruka Asahi: Chapter 6
It wasn’t until three days later that I finally got my chance.
After making sure no one was around, I entered the tunnel that led deep into the mountain. Just then the wind suddenly picked up, obscuring the sound of my footsteps.
But something startled me when I reached a fork in the path.
Silence. Even though I’d come this far, the only sounds were that of the rain and wind.
I ran to the boys’ cells, afraid of what might have happened.
I called out their names, but there was no response. How many days had they been imprisoned here? Was I too late?
After calling the boys’ names a few more times in a panic, I heard a faint groaning sound.
When I repeated his name, Ian emerged from the darkness of his cell, crawling as if he was dragging his body along. Soon after I also heard a frail, thin voice whispering my name from within Yakt’s cell.
Thank God. I breathed a sigh of relief and sank to my knees in the dimly-lit passage. It was then that I finally began to feel Ian’s eyes on my chest. His nose had sniffed out the scent of the food.
Ian let out a low groan.
It was like the voice of a wild beast. I shuddered, retreating a step back. Ian crawled towards the bars and clutched them with a terrific strength that I was surprised he still possessed.
For a moment I stood frozen, paralyzed by an illogical fear of being devoured. But once I came to my senses, I walked back to the cell and impatiently withdrew the remainder of dinner concealed in my sleeve.
Ian extended his hand through the bars. The lights in the passage revealed a set of gnarled fingers, like those of a skeleton.
His hand, with its uncanny strength, snatched the small piece of fish from my palm. Long fingernails quickly withdrew into the cell, leaving a scratch on my hand. I stared fixedly at the boy’s mouth, half in fear and half in relief.
But Ian’s hand had stopped moving.
His emaciated fingers quivered, on the verge of placing the small shred of food into his mouth.
The boy was caught in between two conflicting forces: the customs of his people and the urgent cry of his instincts.
A difficult battle was also raging within me, between the guilt of doing such an atrocious thing and the desperate hope Ian would accept my gift. I’m begging you–just eat it!
Stuck in that pose, his body trembled for an uncomfortably long time.
The tremor in his hand gradually spread to his arm, shoulder, and eventually his entire body. Not long after, he screamed and flung the food through the bars towards me. It was only a small piece of fish but was nonetheless considered a rare treasure in these parts. It broke into tiny pieces, scattering within the cavern’s dim illumination.
Ian gripped the bars and growled something in deep voice. It was a barrage of profanity.
I was about to say something, but no words came out. Part of me wanted to simply ask Ian why. Why don’t you just eat the food? To hell with the custom–is it really more important to you than life itself?
At some point his cursing died down to a quiet whimper. I could tell that his voice–sporadically fading out only to return a moment later–was calling out his father’s and mother’s names.
Was he calling out for help? Or cursing parents who hadn’t come to save him? If so, then why was he refusing food? If he was going to start cursing like that, why not just eat the food?
But not even a single one of the questions that popped into my mind ever left my mouth.
Unable to take any more of this, I turned away and faced Yakt’s cell, towards the small body that lied there, motionless in the depths of the darkness.
When I called his name, I saw Yakt slowly blink in the shadows. I cast my eyes down, unable to meet his gaze directly.
But he didn’t stand up or crawl towards me like Ian had. Perhaps he lacked the energy.
I squatted down, withdrew the tiny bit of food remaining from my sleeve, and slid it to him through the bars. Once that was done I finally raised my head and looked Yakt right in the eyes.
The boy was completely still; he only gazed at me in silence.
I stood up and turned my back on Yakt without waiting for him to speak. I was terrified to see what he would decide.
By the time I left Ian’s whimpers had already stopped. Nor did I hear any other sounds coming from behind me. Whether this was because the boys hadn’t stirred, or because their sounds were hidden by the wind, I couldn’t say.
What had been the target of Ian’s ranting? In the days that followed, I thought about this time and time again. Was it me? Starvation? The custom that had forced it on him? Or the adults who had abandoned him in order to follow that custom? On the windblown nights, the rainy mornings, and the days when I myself suffered with hunger from skipping meals, these questions crossed my mind countless times.