An old man, who was sitting with his back against the chair, opened his eyes in a sluggish manner. Despite his gaunt-looking face, his eyes, that were hidden behind the lined skin just until a moment ago, were still gleaming with life.
Soon, a man in his forties and a young little girl came through the open door. They came to a stop and lowered their heads as soon as they saw the old man.
“Have a seat.”
The old man rose from his desk when the father and daughter had taken their seats on the sofa. He may be slow-footed, but he managed to keep an upright posture as he walked up to them.
Rahan, the head of the Muen family, then said as he gazed at his son.
“Take the child to that place today.”
The old man’s voice was indeed subdued and raspy. Also, his dry hacking cough showed no sign of stopping after his last words were caught in his throat.
Thas, who was the likely heir to the Muen Family, waited for his father’s cough to subside with a pitiful look before he opened his mouth.
“By ‘that place’, do you mean the underground?”
Structurally, the Muen manor had no underground. Instead, it was a secret code which they frequently used in their conversation.
“But master, Hitasya has just turned twelve.”
There was only one chance for the descendants of the Muen family to visit the underground and there was an age limit. One could only pay a visit just once, before the day of one’s fifteenth birthday.
Rahan fixed his gaze at his granddaughter, whose eyes were full of curiosity all the while, regardless of the two adults who spoke in the words which she couldn’t quite yet comprehend.
“I’m afraid I won’t be alive until then.”
Thas’s face contorted with grief at once. He felt even more miserable when not even a word of empty retort came out from him. As a matter of fact, his father had long been suffering from a chronic disease and his condition worsened as years passed by. And as it happens, he had already passed out several times this year and even his memories were becoming faint from him.
The doctor had in fact said that it was amazing enough for his father to go about his days regardless of the pain he was in. Now that he thinks of it, he had never seen his father’s face contorted in great agony, not even for once. On the contrary, his father had yet lost the brightness in his eyes nor his sense of judgment. So if only his father hadn’t grown gaunter by day, he would have almost forgotten that his father was ill after all.
“Take her now before it gets dark.”
“Right now? But…”
“I’ve already got the permission for you.”
“… Well. I guess I’m not in the least surprised. Especially when she is still so young. As a matter of fact, the age limit is…”
Thas held his tongue upon his father’s low cough. Instantly, he took a sideways glance to his side as he had almost blurted out the secret in front of his daughter, out of animosity. She would learn about the truth eventually, but only in the distant future.
It was their family custom to keep the family’s heir in the dark about the secrets until the time was ripe. As one would likely be bound by it the sooner one learns about the truth of their family. Although it must be one’s fate to be born as an heir of the Muen family, still, a chance to be free from such restriction was given, according to one’s will. In fact, there had been some cases where the heir had chosen to leave the Muen family to lead a normal life.
“I’ll tell Hitasya myself. You may leave and get ready for it.”
After Thas took his leave, it was only him and his granddaughter who was left in his study. Rahan, whose face now looked no more than a friendly grandfather, gave a smile at his granddaughter. Then, he gave a light tap on the empty seat beside him
“Hitasya, come sit beside me.”
Hitasya, who had risen to her feet at once, trotted over and took the seat right next to her grandfather. Rahan then patted the girl’s head with a warm smile on his face.
“You can call me grandfather when no one is around.”
Hitasya broke into a bright smile upon his permission. “Yes, grandfather.”
Rahan was a stern father who was rather strict with his son, the likely successor. In fact, he had given more scolding than compliments to his son all his life. Nonetheless, he couldn’t quite bring himself to treat his granddaughter like he did to his son as she was such a lovely thing which brought a smile to his face every time he saw her.
Although he had already got his mind all sorted on the verge of death, it saddened him to think that he wouldn’t be alive to see his precious granddaughter grow up with his own eyes.
“Hitasya, you are going to meet an esteemed elder of our family today.”
“He is the reason for our family’ existence, the very root of our family indeed. However, you will never get to meet him again after your meeting with him today.”
“Does the elder live in a far place?”
“Then I can go visit him more often.”
Rahan laughed heartily at Hitasya’s words.
“It’s a rule, Hitasya. You only get to meet him once in your whole lifetime.”
“Ah. Then, is there anything I need to do when I go see him?”
“You’re paying him a visit. He would see how much you have grown so far. And when he asks you a question, you just have to answer him honestly. By the way, you shouldn’t tell anyone that you had met with the family elder. It’s a secret which you must keep forever to yourself.”
Hitasya gave him a nod with a determined look.
“Yes, grandfather. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“And if… the elder has message for me, I want you to let me know. Can you do that?”