Juuni Kokuki — 十二国記
(The Twelve Kingdoms)
Seijō no Ran — 青条の蘭
(The Blue Orchids)
Translated by o6asan
A light snowfall night, a man crouches down and leans against a tree which is dull silver-gray in color. The man dresses in rags, pulls a part of the rags over his head and tightens it around his neck, and then he lowers his eyes and endures the cold wind. A cracked and rusted pot lies at his feet. He has a small fire in the pot where firewood was gathered. The fire is the only light and it is the only fire to keep him warm.
The branches hung down around him, and their color is dull silver-gray as same as the tree. The several branches have neither twigs nor leaves, which form hard lines and hang down, and they look as if they were made of smoked silver. Therefore, the branches environ the man, which look as if a cage caught him.
The tree is in a building, but the building is partially destroyed. Its roof almost fell, and there is nothing to block wind and snow because the walls were torn down. There is no light except the fire which lies at his feet. And no sign of life, either. A village that surrounds the building is almost the same condition. The buildings in the village are almost destroyed and the roadside of the village is blocked by a heap of rubble. A few houses still ran from destruction, but they also have neither sign of life nor light. The village walls are the same condition. Through the hole of the walls, you can see the silhouette of steep mountains in the dark sky of night.
In the midst of devastation, the village has barely lived, yet.
The small village is surrounded by the steep mountains, which is located near the border. To begin with, the land of the village is nothing but slope, which is not suitable for cultivation, although people brought a bit of flats into terrace, but the terrace seems to be neglected for a long time. The mountainous forest, which used to bring food to the village, is also desolate because the village has not taken care of it anymore. Near the village, fruit trees stand dead and conifers grow crowded, and the conifers have dark and thick distorted green leaves. On the higher slopes than that, deciduous trees which lost all leaves line up as if dead bodies. The deciduous trees formed a forest. The forest makes slight noise when the cold wind runs through it, but there is neither sound nor sign of life.
The mountainous area is going not to belong to humans. The village like as remains is isolated, and it is also going to be a ruins. The only light in the village, is the small fire which lies at the man’s feet in the dilapidated village shrine.
In the night, he seems like all living thing are extinct, but he is just crouching down.
The fire is bursting small, and the flames flicker. For a moment, the flickers profile the cold texture of the branches that environ him.
The man looks at the branches in silence. The top branches that would be white normally have turned into rusted black here and there. ― The tree is dying.
That’s natural. Because the village doesn’t have enough people anymore, so there is little left that the people say a prayer to the village tree. Only a few houses, only nine people. The village tree is going to lose the unnecessary branches by itself.
―It might be too late to recover.
This village might have no other way but go to ruin.
The man bedded down himself near the village tree, and he is waiting intently. Despite such his behaviors, the villagers do not suspect him nor care him. The impoverished people have no afford to be interested in outward things even at daytime, and they are lying huddled in order to ease cold and hunger at night. Oil to light a lamp is running out. Willingness to warm a cold night is running out, too. As if accepting a slow death, the people close their vacant eyes and sleep.
But, the things which are going to sink into the devastation are not only this village. The road is dotted with other villages and hamlets, and all of them are on the point of dying.
―More disaster will kill all living things.
He wants to believe such end will not come to the world. He is waiting evidence intently.
He tightens the rags over his head and looks closely the fire lying at his feet.
The wind sounds like a requiem, and small snowflakes are fluttering.