This is the 8th 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 moral 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 second half of the original chapter 3,
“The Rainlands” by Haruka Asahi: Chapter 8
That night the clouds finally dispersed. When I went outside and sat among some rocks, I was greeted by a full moon shining brilliantly in the sky.
Of all the places I’d been to in my life, I’d never seen the moon this bright, this large.
In contrast to the cave’s interior, the wind outside was damp and chilly. I looked around just as a strong gust blew and found a few others like me who had come outside to watch the moon. There was a shadow of two people huddled together, perhaps lovers. Far away, separated from everyone else, another person stood motionless looking up at the sky as if lost in thought.
I heard the soft voice of someone singing. As I listened carefully, I had the realization that I’d never heard anyone singing inside the cave before. Maybe to these people singing was something only to be done outside on clear days.
It was a simple song with a monotonous rhythm, yet possessed a certain solemnity. It may have actually not been a song, but rather a type of prayer.
I wondered if those boys would survive.
It terrified me to think about that. If they didn’t survive, would I ever be able to forgive the people living here, not to mention myself?
Gazing at my hand set aglow by the moonlight, I remembered Yakt’s warm hand.
Some part of me knew that sensation well.
One day when I was young, I had led my younger brother by the hand through a dark forest. The soil in my native village was surprisingly poor given the amount of rainfall there. When the crops were bad, children went out to the mountains to search for mushrooms and other edible plants.
Wolves would sometimes appear deep in the forest that teemed with poisonous snakes and insects. Unfortunately, the part of the forest closest to the village had already been tapped dry of anything edible, so if one aimed to find food they had no choice but to set foot in the deep forest. The dense, dark woods were frightening, but fear of starvation surpassed any dangers that might lurk there.
Eventually my brother and I got lost somewhere deep in the forest. We had been traveling on an indistinct animal trail, doing our best to mark the path by breaking off branches and placing rocks strategically. But when we realized it, we’d completely lost track of these landmarks.
Soon night fell. Thinking back, I now know we should have just stayed in one place until morning came and wait for the adults to find us. But at the time, driven by fear, we just kept walking blindly as we held hands, some part of me hoping that if we continued on a straight path we would eventually reach a familiar place. I walked a long, long time through the pitch black forest as I pulled along my exhausted, complaining brother.
As we walked, my brother got a scrape on his knee from falling too many times and was practically dragging his leg along. I guess the reason he kept on, teary-eyed the entire time, was because he was too afraid to stop in the middle of the gloomy forest.
I lacked sufficient energy to carry him on my back. So I just continued walking slowly, gripping his small hand tightly.
In the end, we miraculously managed to make it back to the village safely. But after all that, my brother suddenly died several months later from starvation caused by the massive flood.
I remembered my brother’s tiny hand, which I’d held the entire time in that eerily dark forest; it just like Yakt’s: slim, bony, and very warm.
Lost in thought, a shadow suddenly entered my field of vision. I raised my head to see the same young girl standing there.
“Did something happen?”
She ignored my question, unmoving with her eyes on me. There was something urgent in those amber eyes, almost like she was pleading with me.
Gazing back at the girl in the moonlight, I realized she had become much thinner since I’d last seen her.
This girl, who had laughed so cheerfully on that clear-skyed afternoon, had begin to show signs of despondency right around the time those two boys’ fasting started. She might be one of their relatives.
Did she know about what I had tried to do? Or perhaps she thought that an outsider like me, not bound by local laws, would be able to help–that it would require someone like me with broad knowledge of many different cultures to convince the people here to change their ways. Or was she expecting me to escape with the boys from these lands?
In the end, she said nothing. After a long time passed, she simply turned her back on me and walked away.
As I watched her skinny, yet beautiful form disappear into the cave, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what to say to her.
In the afternoon, several days later, the boys were at last released from their dark cells.
On the morning of that day, a tension hung in the air as people cast glances towards the tunnel which lead deep into the cave, whispering anxiously amongst themselves. This included even the older folk and the women who always came to pester me for more stories, as if this was not the time for such things.
Cheers suddenly burst out from somewhere in the tunnel. The two boys came into view, wrapped in blankets and carried on the shoulders of men. The moment I beheld that sight my heart shrivelled up. Their limp bodies looked like corpses.
However when a group of people ran up and embraced the boys’ gaunt bodies, I clearly saw both of their hands move ever so slightly, as if trying to return the embrace.
The boys had survived.
From a distance I watched as the others offered words of gratitude and patted the shoulders of the boys and the family members holding their loved ones. I saw tears faintly gleaming in the eyes of the celebrating crowd. There were even some whose faces crumbled up, unable to hold back their joy.
Not a single person had wished for the boys’ death.
I took some consolation in knowing that. Nobody had sent them to those cells to kill them. They just had been unable to oppose the custom handed down generation after generation.
Surely it would be difficult for the boys to swallow any food after fasting for that many days. Women rushed to help them, carrying bowls filled with something like honey. I saw that young girl again, standing alone a distance from the crowd.
She glared towards the overjoyed crowd.
The hatred of her people’s ancient custom most definitely surpassed mine. I sensed that she alone was cut off from the crowd’s rejoicing.
The man carrying Yakt’s small body walked to the center of the room and laid it down upon a carpet spread on the ground.
When an elderly woman nudged the young girl, the tension on her face visibly relaxed and she began to hesitantly approach the two boys.
She crouched down and gripped Yakt’s hand cautiously. Even in the dim lights, I could see his hand twitch in surprise. The young girl’s face distorted and she began to sob uncontrollably.
While squeezing the girl’s hand in return, Yakt glanced at me for an instant. There was something peaceful in the boy’s expression.
I was truly relieved to not see even a hint of hatred in his eyes. I couldn’t help wondering whether Yakt had eaten the scrap of food I’d left for him that day. But ultimately that didn’t matter to me because he’d come back alive.
It would take some time until the boys could move around on their own. I left the room as the boys’ family members were busily attending to their needs. Today was the one day when I was certain there would be no need for stories of exotic lands.
I should leave this place soon. As I thought about that, I felt a massive weight finally lifted from my shoulders and walked briskly down the hallway. But I overheard people talking in one of the smaller rooms that I passed by.
“You know, I really thought Yakt was not going to make it.”
“Yeah, I’m really surprised that those two…”
I was shocked to hear this.
Apparently the first person speaking had meant he was worried that Yakt wouldn’t make it out alive and was glad he survived. However, I detected an uncomfortable pause until the second person spoke, a man I wasn’t familiar with.
Hoping to shake off the bad feeling in my chest, I quickly left that place behind.