Even though Jing Yi didn’t respond, Qiu Ling didn’t feel the need to stop talking. Anyway, if Jing Yi didn’t want to listen, he would tell him. Thus, he just continued to reminisce about his past.
“Most of my life before I became king, I was out in the wilderness. Hunting … it was something I did regularly at that time. But after I became king, I felt the need to stay inside, to not venture out because I felt like I was supposed to be here, inside the palace.
“For the longest time, I just stayed glued to the desk in my study or on my seat in the throne room, feeling this need to always be there and … reachable for my people.
“But to be honest, I resented it. I was used to much more freedom and to suddenly lose that was …” He shook his head, not sure how to say it. “It just felt odd, wrong even, like I didn’t belong. I wanted out. And the longer that state lasted, the more unbearable it became.
“Finally, I just snapped and vanished for several weeks at a time. When I realized what I had done, I was frantic. I didn’t want people to question me. And the only thing I could come up with was to give myself an … excuse as to why I had been gone for so long. So I went hunting again and I carried back entire carcasses, dropping them in front of the palace gates, and telling the guards to deal with them.”
He stopped in front of one of the shelves, tilting his head at the objects displayed on it. To be honest, it had been so long ago, while he still knew what had happened, he wouldn’t be able to tell what had he had hunted back then. He had probably chosen something that was difficult to kill to give the impression that he had wanted to return earlier but had taken on a bit too much trouble. It also would have made the dragons feel that his being gone for so long had still had some kind of benefit.
Anyway, even if he were to stand right in front of the remnants of that stupid idea from back then, he wouldn’t be able to recognize them. That … was quite odd. It really made him realize that the passage of time was unforgiving.
“Anyway, I didn’t have advisers back then. I was alone so there was also nobody to question me. The guards went to gather people, the carcasses were dealt with, everything that could be used was either put in the treasury or wherever else it might have been needed, and the rest …” He shook his head, not too sure of that. “To be honest, I didn’t ask. I was afraid that people would ask me questions in return. I just rushed back to my study, looking at the things that had accumulated in the days I was gone, and then wondered if it had been worth it.
“Out there, I was … well, I did feel free. More so than in the palace. But at the same time, I had a guilty conscience. Because I knew that while I was out, nobody would be there to pick up the slack. And a realm can’t exist on its own.
“It might seem that way at first but that is really not the case. No, if things are supposed to work, then somebody needs to hold the reins and steer it in the direction where it is supposed to go. And I knew that as the one who had picked up those reins, I couldn’t just drop them whenever I felt like it. I couldn’t even … hold them loosely. I needed to keep a close eye on them, hold them tightly. But that wasn’t something I wanted to do.”
He sighed and then turned away from the shelf, walking down the rest of the path between this one and the next before he turned at the end. “The problem was that my wishes weren’t important any longer. I didn’t really have much of a choice. I could only grit my teeth and continue. Although I have to admit that when I did the same thing a couple more times.
“Strangely enough, I always got away with it. Maybe it was that I picked good times to vanish. Somehow, nothing ever happened while I was away and when I returned, I brought a lot of prey back so that was good. After all, somebody has to fill the treasury.
“I kept some things for myself but most of it indeed went there. Although I never personally took care of that part, I always handed it over to others. And then later on, after I started to pick up my advisers, I pushed other tasks of mine onto them as well. And that … finally ended with me escaping the rest of my duties.”
Jing Yi had been silently following him and watching the objects displayed next to them, but he couldn’t help and look up at Qiu Ling when he said so. Noticing the faint smile on his lips, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. He knew that Qiu Ling was worried about his performance as king so far. That much had become obvious with time. “You weren’t a bad king. Not in the beginning, not later, and you definitely aren’t now.”
Qiu Ling looked back as well and his smile turned a little brighter, but he shook his head. “You know, there is a lot of room between being ‘not a bad king’ and being a good king. I will say that I did my best most of the time. Even when I didn’t feel up to it, I made sure that there was somebody else to deal with matters. I wouldn’t have pulled back like that if I hadn’t had advisers that I trusted to do these tasks.
“It is just that I pulled back a little too far. I also realize that now. But … well, it’s not too late. Life is long, my reign won’t end unless I say so or happen to be killed. I can still turn things around now, be more serious, and then in the future, when I leave this position, that is what people will remember, not the awkward phase in-between.”
Jing Yi smiled, feeling that this already sounded quite optimistic. To be honest, he didn’t believe that the dragons were thinking in any way like that even now but if it helped Qiu Ling to look forward to the future, then this also wasn’t the worst. Anyway, as long as he was happy, it was alright. What more did he want?