The calendar on the South Continent, including the Carpa Kingdom, was a lunisolar calendar based on the moon phases with a leap month.
Their lunisolar calendar did not have three-hundred and sixty-five days per year, but rather had three-hundred and fifty days as a rule, except for when a leap month was added every four years; then the year had three-hundred and eighty days.
Zenjirou had been used to the solar calendar, so it was extremely confusing to him, when some years lasted a whole month longer.
Anyway, the terminology for the beginning and the ending of a year obviously did exist, since there was a basic parameter for one year, probably a solar year, and the custom to celebrate these days obviously did exist as well.
The New Year Festival in the Carpa Kingdom in particular had a lot in common with the New Year in Japan.
Of course that did not mean that they were ringing a bell in the night of the last day of the year, nor were they eating Soba on New Year’s Eve.
Neither did they have the custom to celebrate the first sunrise of the year, nor the custom to visit the shrine first thing in the new year.
Considering all that, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that they had a lot in common.
Nevertheless, the general procedure revealed similarities, seeing as they calmly did a major cleaning at the end of the year and then celebrated extensively for three days starting with the New Year’s Day.
The end of the year was spent fasting and cleaning.
The first day of the new year was spent lively at home without going out much.
And on the second day, the first big event took place.
The people bought a lot of things on that day, because a myth said that “anything you buy on the second day of the new year will last longer”.
Of course the clever merchants did not miss out on that opportunity. All the merchant houses across the country acknowledged that day as the busiest time of the year and prepared all kind of attractive products.
As a result, all the famous shops in the Capital were obviously crowded with customers on the second day of the new year, but even the stalls on the streets and parks, especially authorized for that day alone, were redundant with customers.
“Table wares! Buy your table wares here! Just look at this wild grain and greasy gloss! It pushes the price a bit, but they will last forever!”
“Miss, if you are looking for textiles, I am the right man. Take a look at this cotton cloth. Despite its firmness, it is not the least bit uncomfortable on the skin. I can guarantee you that it will make great trousers or shirts that will last a long time!”
“Kitchen knives, normal knives or pots! Do not forget to buy your ironware today! After all, today the Space-Time Spirit gives their blessing to us commoners as well! If not buy it now, then when?”
It was nothing special for the coarse street merchants, but even the famous shop owners, who were usually picky about their customers, had staff stand in front of their shop today and let them attracted customers with loud voices.
Just like the advertisement had promoted, a myth of the Carpa Kingdom said that the Space-Time Spirit, which usually was only benevolent to the Royal Family, was giving its blessing to all living things in the Carpa Kingdom on the second day of the New Year. It was the reason why it was said that anything you bought on that day would last longer.
Of course there was nothing to prove it, but with a history of hundreds of years, it was no longer a superstition, but rather a myth. Moreover, the myth was extended in the recent years by saying that the blessing of the Space-Time Spirit should be even stronger in the Capital, where the Royal Family resided, since the Spirit was their Guardian. That far-stretched rumour sounded so plausible that more and more people came all the way to the Capital on the second day of the New Year, just to do their shopping.
Thanks to that, the economy of the Capital was flourishing, but the soldiers guarding the Capital got the short end of the stick in exchange for it.
“Hey! No fighting on the street! Or do you want to spend the long-awaited New Years in jail!?”
“The street is getting crowded! Stop haggling over the price! The Spirit won’t bless the miser!”
“No pushing. No pushing… I SAID NO PUSHING! Stop it or I’ll nab ya!”
The leather armoured soldiers were shouting at the top of their lungs while sweating all over.
Trying to hold their temper, the soldiers fended off the pushing crowd with wooden clubs in their hands.
Normally the guards of the Capital would equip a short spear with an iron tip, but they were holding a blunt wooden club just for today.
The usual short spear acted as a “deterrent”, but on the day of the first shopping, they needed an utterly “practical” weapon.
Words alone were just not enough for a couple of soldiers to fend off a bustling crowd. So far, the soldiers were just holding the clubs sideways and pushed away the people, but it was not always that harmless. Sometimes they had to resort to using them as the very “impact weapons” they were.
Sellers and buyers alike became hot-blooded during the dealing and fellow customers quarrelled over the same product, claiming stuff like “I touched it first” and “No, it was me”, not to forget all the drunkards at daytime, since it was a festive day after all.
It was the job of the soldiers to put these people in their place, yell at them or literally punch some sense into them in the end.
If they were carrying an iron-tipped spear for that, it would not end well for sure.
It was one thing to use it against soldiers of a hostile nation or wild beasts, but flashing sharp metal at merely drunk people of the own country was out of the question.
Thus, they carried a weapon with a relative low power on days like this, where they were bound to make straight use of it.
Having said this, the club was still a proper weapon, even if it had less attack power. It could easily break bones, when swung with all its might, and depending on the spot, it could even end up being fatal.
But that only applied for when a minimum of discipline could no longer be ensured. Otherwise, the Capital was just imbued with a chaotic turmoil today.
“Hi there. We are here to relieve you.”
“Oh, wow. You guys are sweating like crazy. Here, a towel.”
A pair of soldiers, who had fought off the masses, turned around, when they were called upon by their fellow shift workers from behind.
“Oh, that late already?”
“Phew. We somehow made it…”
The well-built soldier in his mid-twenties was sweating to such an extent that it would not be strange to see his whole body give off steam, but he could still maintain a composed facial expression to a certain degree. His partner, a young soldiers in his teens, on the other hand could barely stand anymore and looked like he had narrowly escaped death.
The young soldier had relative few muscles for a hard-working combatant and stumbled over to his replacing colleagues like a newborn fawn.
“It’s all yours…”
“You okay? That sounded more like a last will. You better wash of that sweat with some cold water before taking a rest.”
As he no longer had the energy to respond to the joke of his co-worker, the young soldier just nodded once, wrapped the offered towel around his neck and staggered into the distance like a ghost, all the while keeping his mouth half-opened and a blank look in his eyes.
“So that’s how we’ll look after our shift…”
The soldiers from the shift change turned all pale, when the almost soulless appearance of their workmate reminded them of their own fate a few hours later.
“You okay? Here, some water.”
Relieved from the most arduous task for now, the two soldiers walked down a small alley separated from the main street.
All the people were gathering in the commercial district, so once you got away from there, the Capital became unbelievable desolate and quiet.
The task of standing watch on the congested commercial district was one part of their job. The other part was to patrol the almost deserted living district.
In the forlorn living district occurred as many burglaries as quarrels in the commercial district.
Unfortunately enough, it was the way of the world that some shady characters considered it a “great opportunity for burglary” while everyone was engrossed in the New Year Shopping.
“So, you calmed down a bit?”
“Yes. Thank you. I thought I had been prepared for it, but it seems I was too naïve…”
Finally back on his feet after the consideration of his senior workmate, the young soldier reflected on his gullible resolution.
The other soldier gave his dejected junior a shrewd smirk.
“Well, it’s not your fault. You aren’t even from the Capital. It would be ridiculous to expect you to anticipate this ruckus beforehand. Anyway, you learned now that the Capital Guards are by no means a breezing division.”
“And the hard way, at that…”
The young soldier agreed, using his wooden club as a crutch.
Unlike the other divisions, the Capital Guards Division suffered seldom if ever any casualties. After all, they were entrusted with the mission to guard the Capital, so even if war broke out, they would not be sent to the frontlines, nor would they get dispatched for a dragon subjugation like the soldiers based in the other Royal Domains.
The division dealt with “real battles” least of all, but once a year, they had to go through this pandemonium, so it was not really a convenient division.
And even more so, if you considered the fact that they had to deal with a lot more criminal incidents in the Capital than in the other domains, because of its dense population.
Even without an enemy force, it was so much more work to protect an exceedingly large amount of citizens than to face an unorganised enemy in the field.
Anyway, the two soldiers patrolled the living district of the Capital while their clubs made dull noises every time they touched down onto the cobble-stone pavement.
The noisy touchdown of their clubs as well as their more or less loud conversation were on purpose. They were drawing attention to the fact that the “Capital Guards were patrolling”, prompting any potential criminals, who were up to no good, to behave themselves.
Under that pretext, the soldiers casually chatted with each other.
“I’ve gotta say, it’s rather chilly now. Back there, it was as stuffy as during the hottest season.”
The young soldier had almost choked from the sultriness in the commercial district, so he took a deep breath once again and spoke slowly in order to savour the fresh air.
“Well, we’re already in the ‘Vibrant Season’. I would be damned if it were still hot.”
The senior soldier shrugged his shoulders a bit and replied like that.
Unlike Japan, the Carpa Kingdom divided the year into three major seasons, namely the “Rainy Season”, the “Hottest Season” and the “Vibrant Season”.
Based on the seasons in Japan, the “Rainy Season” would be Spring, the “Hottest Season” Summer and the “Vibrant Season” Fall and Winter alike.
In other words, the “Vibrant Season” covered half a year. The first part of it, namely the Fall equivalent, was “a bit hot, but not a hindrance to work”, whereas the last part, namely the Winter equivalent, was chilly in the morning as well as in the evening and mild during the day, so it was the most comfortable season of the year.
“True enough, but you tend to forget the seasons in there.”
“Yeah. That crowd really makes you feel like the Hottest Season has come around again.”
When the soldier in his teens said so in a weary tone, the soldier in his twenties agreed with a wry smile.
Although the people of the Carpa Kingdom were used to the heat of the Hottest Season, they apparently could not stand the heat generated by a dense crowd of people.
“The event only comes once a year. You can’t really tell them to restrain themselves.”
“Duh. If possible, I would have taken part, too. But I know what you mean.”
“Wait, you are after something?”
“Well, you might say that.”
It had been a casual question, but the young soldier flushed his cheek and averted his gaze in response.
The other soldier seemed to have an idea and showed a somewhat sly smirk.
“Oho, let me guess: A present for a girl. Right?”
He jerkily bumped the younger workmate with his right elbow.
The younger soldier apparently resigned himself to the fact that he was not able to avoid giving an answer, so he looked down with his cheeks still flushed
“Yes. I want a ring for my lover in the countryside… If possible, a bronze one.”
and obediently admitted it.
Bronze was an alloy from copper and tin. Depending on the mixture ratio of the copper and tin, the bronze could have a brown, golden or silver colour.
Since the metal was cheaper than gold or silver, it was popular amongst commoners to be used for accessories like rings or bracelets.
Nevertheless, it was quite an expensive item for the still young soldier and not something you bought to simply impress a girl you fancied.
Instead, it was much more a present for an important person with whom you were going to share a future. Realising that, the soldier did no stop the questioning of his junior.
“You mean matching rings? You know, these ‘Wedding Rings’ that are common talk right now.”
Zenjirou had given Aura a Wedding Ring. That custom had spread throughout the Kingdom at an alarming speed in the past two years. The purveyor to the court, who had access to the Inner Palace, where Zenjirou lived, had deliberately passed on that information.
A first-rate merchant would never miss out on such a profitable opportunity.
And as expected, even commoners with enough saving, not just nobility, had picked up the custom of “Wedding Rings” as of late.
Apparently the young soldier was also one of the people, who were eagerly accepting that new custom.
“Yes. I can’t afford anything fancy with my savings, but I should be able to buy two of them, if I count every penny. Besides, they really add to a proposal.”
When the young soldier said this with his typical for a citizen of the Carpa Kingdom dark-skinned face bright red, even the other soldier nodded heartily.
“Yeah, that’s for sure. I would have had it so much easier, if I had something like that back in my days.”
The man was apparently already married and showed a bitter smile, as he remembered how he had asked for the hand in marriage of his now wife.
It was definitely more reassuring to have pair rings for a proposal than to do it empty-handed.
Seen in this way, it was a “reliable weapon” for the proposing man and the proposed woman would not be averse to get a ring as a present, either. Needless to say, the craftsmen or merchant selling the rings were delighted, too. Everyone profited from the custom.
“Certainly. The story of the Wedding Rings has reached my home village, too, so she should know what I want, when I give her the ring by just saying ‘Please accept this’.
I mean, it’s way easier to say ‘Please accept this’ than ‘Please marry me’.”
“Just be careful that she doesn’t mistake it for a simple present, though.”
The senior soldier threw cold water on the passionate speech of his junior, but at heart, he was convinced that it was not possible to imagine a Carpa Kingdom without the custom of “Wedding Rings” in the future.
* * *
The second day of the New Year was celebrated during the day with the “First Shopping”, whereas the end of the day was celebrated with the “Night Festival”.
The people brought out lights and lightened up the night streets to the utmost, as if to assist the small waxing crescent moon, which finally started to regain its brightness, from the ground.
That obviously applied to the commercial district, which had been crowded with people, since the morning for the “First Shopping“ on the second day of the New Year, but all the other districts such as the living district, the craftsmen district or even the shanty town, where nobody but the residents ever went to, were also illuminated with countless fires, banishing the night.
If you could look down on the Capital from above now, you would see that the whole town was illuminated like an excessively decorated Christmas tree.
The brightest spot amongst all was the front yard of the Royal Palace.
Just for tonight, the yard was opened to the commoners and many residents of the Capital were swarming to the place.
Although it was opened to the public, it was still the Royal Palace. An hustle and bustle like in the commercial district was not allowed and the gathered people were behaving themselves under the watch of the Royal Household Guards.
The Carpa Kingdom mainly used oil pans or lantern with fluid vegetable oil as a general light source, but right now, the front yard of the Royal Palace was illuminated by “candles” held up by the gathered crowd.
Compared to the vegetable oil, candles were a lot more expensive, but were all the more safer, because they were a solid fuel.
Due to that, it was mandatory to buy a candle at the entrance, if you wanted to participate in the “Night of Flame Festival” of the second day of the New Year in the front yard of the Royal Palace.
Even if it was only an investment once per year, it still could only be afforded by people with a certain flexibility in their finances.
Consequently, all the people gathering in the front yard were from relatively wealthy families in the Capital.
The front yard was illuminated by countless flames lit by countless people.
Zenjirou witness that scenery from atop the balcony on the second floor of the Royal Palace together with his wife Aura.
When her husband from a different world breathed this utterance of admiration, the Queen put on a smile and said proudly.
“I know, right? It is like a starry sky on the ground. I am looking forward to this sight every year fraught with tension.”
Numerous people held up numerous lit candles.
There was no regularity in the point of lights, because they were not arranged beautifully, but just like Aura had said, it showcased the same unconstrained beauty as the starry sky.
“Yes, it is truly beautiful. Quite the privilege we have here.”
Considerate to his surroundings, Zenjirou replied affirmative to Aura with an humble tone while his gaze was clued on the starry sky imitation on the ground. It was no flattery or courtesy. He was truly fascinated by the sight below from the bottom of his heart.
It was indeed appropriate to call it a “privilege”.
There was no law that forbid to watch the “Night of Flame Festival” from above, but as a matter of fact, the balcony on the second floor of the Royal Palace was the only place in range from where you could oversee the front yard from above.
Sitting next to the Queen on these special seats on the balcony and looking down on the countless lights below, gave him the worrisome illusion that the gathered crowd was worshipping them.
The countless lights banished the night and illuminated the Capital like during the day.
It was passed down that the year had more daytime and less night-time, when the night was displaced by the “Night of Flame Festival” like this.
In this world, the terms “daytime” and “night-time” were not just referring to the time, when the sun or moon were out.
The daytime was seen as the time of prosperity and the night-time as the time of misery. It brought good luck to the year, when they fought against the symbol of absolute negativity, namely the night, with as much light as possible and acquired a prosperousness in form of the sunrise.
(Technically, I’m seeing this for the second time, but I’ve no recollection of the event from last year…)
Experiencing his second New Year after coming into this world, Zenjirou was puzzled at heart.
But he soon hit upon the reason after a bit of pondering.
(Oh, right. Last year, I was still too flustered to recognize this sight as “beautiful”.)
Unless there was a solid reason, royalty absolutely had to attend the “Night of Flame Festival” on the second day of the New Year. The official event was that important.
Last year around this time, Aura had been pregnant with the Crown Prince.
Zenjirou had been worried about his pregnant wife and attended a major event of the country for the first time, so it was no surprise that he did not have the leisure to enjoy the festival.
Right now, he was not wearing the third formal attire, which he had gotten relatively comfortable with lately, but rather the first formal attire, which he had only worn a handful of time so far.
A turban was completely wrapped around his head and was held together by an accessory similar to a crown, heavier and more pompous than a brooch could ever be.
The first formal attire had a lot of ornaments and golden threads worked into it in all places, so his whole body was shining brightly as the flame from candle stand next to him illuminated it.
It worked for Aura, since she was a beauty to begin with, but to Zenjirou it only looked comical and degrading instead, when a boring guy like him was dressed up with these ornaments. That might just be his Japanese value judgment preserving, though.
Queen Aura seemed to sense his gaze on her, when Zenjirou looked at his wife sitting next to him, so she turned to him and gave him a smile.
Needless to say, Aura was wearing her first formal attire as the Queen as well. As a rule, she often wore a dress-like attire that had been introduced by the North Continent, but her formal attire was the traditional dress of the Carpa Kingdom, similar to the clothes of the people of South-East Asia.
The crimson cloth was wrapping around her body gracefully and had even more ornaments than the clothes from Zenjirou. Unlike him, she looked as radiant as the jewels on her clothes, though.
Her appearance was so stunning and elegant that you were under the illusion that Aura herself was causing the glistering brilliance that actually came from the flame. It was the authentic embodiment of the notion called Queen.
The Queen noticed that her husband was looking at her with semi-closed eyes as if dazzled, and happily intensified her smile.
Through an upright effort, Aura had lost the extra kilos from her pregnancy with Prince Carlos and finally regained her initial weight as of late.
It was truly refreshing that she could proudly hold the gaze of her husband again without feeling startled.
The main reason they had refrained from making a second prince so far had been the fact that she could not afford to delay the state affairs due to continuous pregnancies. That much was true, but she could not deny either that a part of her had been “reluctant to completely reveal her fleshed out body” to him.
(My weight is back to normal and Carlos is already two years old. It might be time to consider a second child for real soon.)
Aura averted his eyes from her husband and looked down on the starry night sky of candles below the balcony while she harboured such a sentiment.
By the way, their child Carlos Zenkichi was not present here, as it was expected. According to the counting method of the Carpa Kingdom, Prince Carlos was already two years old, but going by the conventional counting method, he was still an infant under the age of one. To be precise, he was about seven months old.
That difference came into existence because their counting method set the age to one at birth and added one year on each New Year instead of the birthday, whereas the conventional counting method set the age to zero at birth and added one year on each birthday.
That discrepancy was especially harming in the early years. It made little difference whether you were twenty-seven or twenty-nine years old, but it made a world of difference whether you were thirteen or fifteen years old. And it was practically comparing apples to oranges, when you were either under the age of one or two years old, like Carlos right now.
Anyway, it was by no means wrong of Aura to seriously consider a second child soon.
Even if they were to start trying tonight, it would take at least nine month in the best case until the child was born.
In other words, Carlos and the second prince would have an age difference of one and half year according to the conventional counting method, or a one to two year difference according to their counting method.
It was not really a bad timing for the Queen to have a second child. And considering the fact that more inheritors of the “bloodline magic” meant more influence in this world, it did no harm to have a lot of children.
It always came at the risk of causing problems with the line of succession, though.
Zenjirou cocked his head puzzled for a moment, when he sensed an overtone and sex appeal in the smile of his wife, but they were in the middle of the “Night of Flame Festival” right now. A little private chat might still be tolerated, but they certainly could not afford to ignore their surroundings and immerse themselves in a lengthy conversation.
And then, the Queen and her Prince Consort silently kept watching the countless flames of the citizens gathered in the front yard until the sun dawned in the eastern sky.