Ai Fa and I lodged in the empty house in the Wu clan village again.
Ai Fa was adamant about going home tonight, but Donda Wu said that it would be more appropriate for us to stay in the Wu clan village until the 15th of the White Month.
“Isn’t the Fa house in a place far away from all the other houses? If dozens of enemies surround your house, can you protect your family?”
After being told that, Ai Fa could only bite her lips.
And right now, she was pouting unhappily. The way she leaned against the wall, with one knee propped up, face turned to the side and pouting, was far from the image of a dignified house head. Instead, she looked as adorable as a child.
There was another reason why Ai Fa was displeased. Aside from us, there were four other people lodging in this house.
They were Ludo Wu, Shin Wu, Barcia, and Leito. Aside from us, these people were also ordered to live under the same roof as us.
“But, Asuta, you can rest in the main house, right? Dad also said it’s safer there. We can watch these guys.”
Ai Fa didn’t respond to Ludo Wu who was telling us all that. The more people staying in the same house as her, the unhappier Ai Fa would get.
In any case, I found it hard to stay calm too.
“Hmmp. There are so many cuties here. Does the clan head intend to entertain me, since I lost my husband when I was young?”
Barcia who was seated in the middle of the living room drank fruit wine as she laughed heartily. It had been several hours since I met her, but I still couldn’t believe she was a woman.
When I mistook Dell for a boy, I was lectured by everyone, but I was confident that no one would fault me this time.
Firstly, she was really big. She was 180 cm tall, had wide shoulders, a buffed build, and the muscles in her arms and shoulders were like small mounds, making her as swole as Jiza Wu or Kaslan Lutim.
She had bindings around her chest under her tunic, but I couldn’t tell she was a woman from that. She sat cross-legged on the floor with a fruit wine bottle in hand and observed us fearlessly. At a glance, she looked no different from the mercenaries and ruffians I often saw in the Post Station Town.
“You seem rather skilled, but don’t try anything funny. Even if you are our guest, I won’t let you off if you do something strange.”
After being called cute, Ludo Wu responded angrily, while Barcia just shrugged and said: “You are a scary kid.”
“I know you are not as cute as your appearance suggests. I’m honored by how wary you are of me, even though I’m alone.”
Ai Fa, Ludo Wu, and Shin Wu had their blades with them, while Barcia’s scimitar was safekept in the main house.
I also checked with Ai Fa right from the start, and she said: “Barcia isn’t as strong as her son.”
But she didn’t seem to fear the hunters of Forest’s Edge and looked resolute and arrogant at times.
She stared at Ai Fa and me with her dark eyes that had a strong gleam in them.
“Well then, it’s time for me to get about my business. You are… Ai Fa and Asuta of the Fa house, right? Have you spoken with my son, Geta? Tell me everything you know of my wayward son.”
“Okay. In the Forest’s Edge, we are probably the ones who had interacted with him the most.”
Ai Fa was still moody, so I was the one who answered.
It seemed that Barcia came to Genos to search for her son.
“After all this time, I don’t intend to seek revenge for the head of my family anymore.”
Barcia already said so during the day.
“We were a gang of bandits. People might have called us righteous thieves, but we still violated the law. The reason behind the execution didn’t match up, but our gang was still guilty. When Goram was caught by the guards, that was the end of the road for him.”
After losing her fellow gang members and lover, she brought her infant son to the Marsala mountains to live in seclusion. It wasn’t easy to live as a hunter in the mountains where dangerous beasts roamed, but she managed to make a living.
“But I wished for my son to live proudly, so I weaved the story of his father Goram into lullabies and sang them to him since he was a baby. But it caused the opposite effect.”
After learning the skills of a hunter, Geta felt he should avenge his father for being framed. However, his mother didn’t permit it. He then left his home and hunted alone in the Marsala mountains, and didn’t appear before his mother again.
She continued to live as usual, hoping her son would calm down and return to her. But Geta trained his skills in that one year and came to Genos alone. He heard from peddlers that his father’s enemy, the denizens of Forest’s Edge, had started doing business in the Post Station Town… and it was the fuse that led to his reckless actions.
After hearing that, Barcia leaned her face towards me and said: “… Then, you must be the denizen of Forest’s Edge that is running the business.”
Her face seemed to have the feel of cured leather and looked yellowish brown from tanning. Her eyes were large, and her eyebrows were almost gone. Her nose and mouth were very large, and her jaw looked tough enough to crush kiba bones. She looked around 35 years old and had a dignified face like a stone guardian lion.
“The Forest’s Edge denizens who framed the 'Red Beard Gang' were outlaws that were more terrible than a bandit gang. Detestable outlaws like them would be executed by the people from the city one day, even if we leave them be. That’s what I always told Geta.”
“However, there was news that Forest’s Edge denizens have started doing business in the Post Station Town in Genos and even gotten rave reviews. So my stupid son got mad and said that Forest’s Edge denizens won’t ever be punished for their crimes.”
Geta did say something like that. That was why he targeted my stall, huh.
“Anyway, Kamyua Yost told me a lot on the way here, so I won’t bear any grudge against you all. Also… With how good your cooking tastes, it’s only natural for it to earn rave reviews. I never thought that I could eat such a sumptuous meal in the forest.”
I helped with dinner preparations tonight too.
Earlier, Barcia cleaned her plate with an appetite that rivaled Donda Wu. She showed a ferocious smile, before reverting back to a serious expression.
“However, the mastermind is actually a noble, which makes things complicated. Even Geta can’t escape unscathed when facing nobles.”
“That’s right. But Geta said he won’t do anything before we uncover Pyschkurewuss’ crimes. We have to think of a way to deal with Pyschkurewuss for Geta’s sake too.”
“Ehh, for Geta’s sake?”
“Yes. If the denizens of Forest’s Edge can bring Pyschkurewuss to justice, Geta won’t need to do it himself.”
“Fufu, you people have a strong sense of duty.”
“Rather than a sense of duty… Even if Pyschkurewuss is the mastermind, the Tsun clan from the Forest’s Edge was still involved in this crime. So it’s only natural for us to feel responsible.”
I was conscious of Leito who was standing beside Barcia. He was the son of the wiped out caravan’s band leader who fell victim to Zattsu Tsun’s crime, the crime which the 'Red Beard Gang' was framed for.
“I think the Forest’s Edge denizens have atoned for their sins when Zattsu Tsun and the others confessed to their crimes. Moreover, the other denizens of Forest’s Edge are also victims of their tribal chief’s betrayal.”
“We didn’t really do much. Before Kamyua took action, we didn’t even realize the crimes committed by Zattsu Tsun and his company.”
Ludo Wu said unhappily, but Leito’s smile didn’t change.
“Didn’t you impeach the Tsun clan before Kamyua took action? If the Tsun clan was still the tribal chief back then, wouldn’t the Forest’s Edge be in an even tighter spot now?”
“… Don’t you hate us?”
“My father’s murder by Zattsu Tsun happened before I was born. My mother passed away shortly after, and my relative Milano Mast also didn’t say anything about the villain of the Forest’s Edge, so I don’t think of myself as a victim.”
But he shed a tear when Zattsu Tsun was apprehended. Did Ludo Wu see that too? Ludo Wu stared at Leito who was smiling innocently and scratched his blonde hair.
“Isn’t it tiring to live like that?”
“Well, I’m too young to feel tired.”
There probably weren’t any other ten-year-olds in this world who would answer this way.
“You make things sound complicated.”
“Back to the topic, did Geta show up in this village before?”
“When I last spoke with him, he made it sound like this was goodbye forever. But his attitude towards the denizens of Forest’s Edge was bad, so it’s hard to say.”
“But didn’t he went out of his way to search for you after you got locked up by the nobles? I’m not proud of this or anything, but he isn’t someone who will go that far for someone he didn’t know.”
Barcia looked at me and continued:
“So he likes you that much, huh… Or did he feel guilty for bearing a grudge against innocent people?”
“He took it very hard upon finding out that the Forest’s Edge villain was also manipulated by others.”
I thought back on that time in front of the Fa house, when Geta’s face was on the verge of crying.
But with all those responsible dead… Who should I point my blade at…?
Geta said that back then.
I didn’t think seeking revenge was the right course of action.
However, Geta, Barcia, Leito, Milano Mast, and others all lost their families because of the scheme of unsculpturous people with insatiable greed.
Zattsu Tsun and the others paid for their crimes ten years later with their lives. But if there were still criminals not brought to task, we couldn’t just leave them be.
“But I don’t think getting someone like me to show up will be enough to incriminate the nobles.”
Barcia said after taking a big swig of fruit wine.
“Who can be sure that the 'Red Beard Gang' has never committed murder? I was a member of the 'Red Beard Gang' before the birth of my son too. I don’t think the people in the city will believe the words of a former 'Red Beard Gang' member.”
“But you did come into contact with the people in the city, right? That’s why Kamyua wants you to be a witness to prosecute Pyschkurewuss’ wrongdoings.”
This was a new fact I just learned today.
Before the 'Red Beard Gang' was framed, they came into contact with Pyschkurewuss’ henchman.
“I can’t tell if he is from the city though. His attire just seems very extravagant.”
“But that person did coerce others to attack the envoys from Banam, right? Pyschkurewuss probably planned to use the ‘Red Beard Gang’ to do his dirty work before he used Zattsu Tsun to do that… Kamyua told me that.”
This was brought up for discussion with the tribal chiefs during the day.
Pyschkurewuss was planning to control the 'Red Beard Gang', and formed a subjugation unit when that plan fell through.
He was probably planning to use both the 'Red Beard Gang' and Zattsu Tsun at first, but when his plan to rope in the 'Red Beard Gang' failed, he had to use just the difficult to manipulate Zattsu Tsun instead… Who knows what the exact details actually were. In any case, that was his attitude towards the 'Red Beard Gang'.
“There’s one thing I don’t really understand.”
I decided to bring up some doubts I had during the day.
“This might be information only people from the 'Red Beard Gang' or Pyschkurewuss camp know. Even so, Kamyua was still confident right from the start that you are the key to victory. Just how did he learn of this secret?”
“It’s not a secret. Goram and I already knew Kamyua Yost.”
“It had been ten-odd years when that fishy man said very suspicious things to us. That ‘guardian’ Kamyua Yost met my Goram in a tavern somewhere and hit it off. Maybe that blonde guy also joined the 'Red Beard Gang'.”
I turned gloomy.
Just how much did he intend to toy with others?
Leito looked at me with a smile again:
“Kamyua had wandered around the Western Kingdom for more than ten years. He visited so many places and met so many people that it even surprises me. Weaving all these meetings into a scroll he likes must be Kamyua’s raison d'être.”
“Hmm… So this isn’t a coincidence, but something inevitable?”
“That’s right. After meeting hundreds and thousands of people, Kamyua selected the 'Red Beard Gang', me, Milano Mast, the Genos landlord, and others to create a scroll to defeat Pyschkurewuss. That’s how I understand it.”
“I’m shocked. This is like the gods toying with the fates of men.”
Barcia said unhappily, and Leito tilted his head adorably.
“And Kamyua recognizes that he is just a thread in all this. That’s why he always says with a smile that we won’t get the desired results unless we work hard for it.”
“That blondie will definitely die a horrible death. Never mind, I’m not in any position to say that about others either.”
After saying that, Barcia swept her gaze across the room:
“Anyway, it’s too reckless to defy the nobles in the Western Kingdom. There is no chance of winning, and my husband could only resist for a time by pretending to be the leader of bandits. In the end… he was executed.”
“Yes, but Kamyua knows the Genos landlord Marstein and managed to pull the noble Malfreed to his side. If things go smoothly, we can rope in the Count Satolas house, that runs the Post Station Town as well, and isolate Pyschkurewuss.”
After saying that, Leito looked my way:
“However, Kamyua didn’t expect the Forest’s Edge would get into contact with Polarse. The original plan was for me to contact Polarse tomorrow, in the place of Kamyua who can’t return to Genos yet.”
“Right, as mentioned during the day, because of my negligence, we had to depend on that person.”
“But that was incredible; Kamyua never thought that Pyschkurewuss’ daughter would do something like that. However, this served as the catalyst that turned the public opinion in the Post Station Town against Pyschkurewuss, so what Asuta went through wasn’t in vain.”
So I should be happy about this, huh. Ludo Wu looked displeased.
But Leito still had a refreshing smile as he continued:
“This was similar to that time when Kamyua set a trap to capture Zattsu Tsun. Before Kamyua could put his plans into action, the Forest’s Edge denizens already steered the situation to a favorable outcome. We have a common foe, so even though your experience was unpleasant, I still think things are turning out to our advantage.”
“Erm, little one, you might be Kamyua Yost’s disciple, but do you really have to mimic your master’s every move?” Barcia admonished Leito with a scary voice. “Nothing good will come from toying with the fate of others, you understand?”
“I have no intentions of toying with fate. I just think that I won’t be happy with the life that god has given me.”
“I’m saying your attitude isn’t good…”
Barcia said with a frown and made a star-like gesture with her finger before her chest as she mumbled something. She was probably asking for the Western God’s forgiveness.
“In any case, the die has been cast. Kamyua will keep going until he brings Pyschkurewuss’ crimes to light.”
“But Kamyua can’t make it back before the conference, correct? Isn’t Kamyua worried about entrusting everything to Zashuma and Malfreed?”
I interjected, and Leito showed a cute pondering face.
“The best outcome would be Kamyua coming back in time. But if the town guards that made camp to the north are a subjugation unit formed in order to arrest the bandits disguising themselves as denizens of Forest’s Edge… It will be hard to break through them.”
“Is Pyschkurewuss trying to pin the crimes of the bandits on Kamyua and the Wu clan men with him?”
“I’m not sure, but when we were lodging in Banam city, news about the bandits have already spread. That’s why Kamyua already took precautionary measures.”
Even when that man was that far away, he was still cooking up some scheme with a smile on his face.
A silence that felt exhausting engulfed us, and Barcia spoke loudly as if she was trying to break the silence:
“Your people are also involved in troublesome matters. Hunters just need to stay in the woods to avoid any trouble.”
“Yes, but this has nothing to do with Kamyua Yost, this is between the Forest’s Edge and Pyschkurewuss… Given the situation, Forest’s Edge denizens will have to face this issue.”
“Oh? That will be interesting. It’s rare to see several hundred outstanding hunters living in the mountains.”
Ludo Wu reverted to his usual expression and leaned forth:
“By the way, you are a hunter too, right? Aside from Ai Fa, this is the first time I have seen a female hunter.”
“Well, I was born in Marsala after all. I left my home when I was 18 and met Goram… After my new life didn’t work out, I returned back to my home despite having no family there.”
“Fufu. But you aren’t wearing a hunter’s cape. The leopard hide cape that Geta was wearing.”
“Gaje leopard hide, right? I can’t move freely if I wear that, so I left it at home.”
Our discussion during the day was heavy, and everyone was getting tired of talking about Pyschkurewuss.
In any case, we traded all essential information. Donda Wu decided to provisionally trust Barcia and permit her to stay in the village. We just needed to wait for the 15th of the White Month now.
I relaxed my shoulders as I thought about all that. Ai Fa, who had been quiet all the while, suddenly spoke, which surprised me.
“Barcia of Marsala, did you… inherit the bloodline of a hunter from birth?”
Barcia scratched her chiseled jaw and said to Ai Fa:
“It’s not really the heritage of hunters or something. I was born in the Marsala mountains, but I only hunted critters like baro baro birds. I got acknowledged as an adult after killing a Gaje leopard when I was 15.”
“… I was 15 too when I hunted my first kiba.”
“Oh, kiba are ferocious beasts just like Gaje leopards, right? It’s amazing that you managed that with your slender limbs.”
Barcia laughed happily.
“But your eyes are determined, just like a hunter. There aren’t many female hunters in Marsala either. Hunters like me don’t need to do strenuous labor, but it is still difficult for a woman to hunt in the forest.”
“It’s nothing but… you are a hunter, but you had a child?”
I held my breath.
“Didn’t I mention it just now? I gave birth to Geta after leaving Marsala. I lost all my family to the Gaje leopards, so I couldn’t marry anyone and left my hometown. I was scouted by the 'Red Beard Gang' and joined them. Less than two years later, Geta was born… And then my husband and my gang members all died, so I decided to live on as a hunter.”
“… I see.”
For some reason, my heart skipped a beat.
No… I already knew why. Like what Ludo Wu said, aside from Ai Fa, she was the first female hunter I met.
I overlooked this because I was too focused on Pyschkurewuss… And because Barcia was more buffed than the shorter men.
“Basically, Marsala female hunters don’t hunt again after giving birth. The woman can’t hunt for several years after childbirth and will lose her skills gradually over this time.”
“Is that so.”
“However, I always had strength that can rival the men. Without any skills to make a living, I worked hard to regain my skill as a hunter.”
“… I see.”
“If not for Geta, I couldn’t have worked so hard. Because I had that child, I didn’t lose my reason for living.”
Ai Fa had a very expressive face.
The light in her blue eyes seemed really troubled. I felt like I was sitting on pins and needles, and looked to the others.
Leito was listening to their chat with a smile.
Shin Wu who was calmer than Ai Fa looked out the window, staying on guard.
And Ludo Wu… locked gazes with me and winked cheekily.
I shook my head and sighed softly. That didn’t ease my mind at all.
“By the way, I need to stay in this village until the 15th of the White Month, right?”
Ai Fa didn’t say anything, so Barcia shifted her gaze to Ludo Wu.
“We just don’t want you to go to town; you won’t be confined to the Wu clan village. Hmm, the nobles probably won’t send people to infiltrate here in broad daylight, but staying put at home is the safest.”
“Don’t joke with me, it’s too boring to stay in for four days.”
“Tell that to my Dad. Never mind… If you are bored, how about chopping some firewood or doing something else?”
Ludo Wu was probably kidding, but Barcia looked delighted.
“Right, I won’t complain if you can let me work out my body. I can’t rest easy if I just sleep and eat without doing anything. Kid, can you ask your Dad to not let me feel bored?”
“I’m not a kid, I’m Ludo Wu.”
“Ah, that’s rude of me to treat an outstanding hunter like a child. Ludo Wu, I will be counting on you.”
Ludo Wu then laughed happily:
“You are a strange one. Compared to the normal people in town, you are probably closer to us.”
“Because I’m half a hunter; I abandoned my hometown before and can’t say things like my soul will return to Marsala… But compared to the bustling towns, I feel more comfortable in the mountains.”
Barcia did have a unique aura that was different from the townsfolk and hunters.
She wasn’t as pure as Forest’s Edge denizens and seemed very free-spirited. Rather than fearing the nobles in the city, she seemed to think it was foolish to interact with them.
As for losing her husband and hunters offering their soul to the forest… She probably felt the same way. She looked so boisterous not because she was cold-hearted, but because of how tough she was mentally.
“Anyway, let’s leave tomorrow’s troubles for tomorrow. It’s getting late, let’s turn in.”
Ludo Wu stood up with his blade.
“Yes, it’s almost time to have a good sleep.”
The others also got up one by one.
Ludo Wu looked down at Ai Fa and me who had no intentions of getting up.
“Asuta and Ai Fa will be sleeping in the living room, huh? There are so many rooms here, you two are strange.”
“… The Fa house only has one storage room, so we have always been sleeping in the living room.”
“Is that so. Do what you will; just ignore us.”
Ludo Wu started whistling as he left with the other three.
There was a corridor down the living room that led to the rooms where Barcia and Leito were resting. Donda Wu still didn’t completely trust Kamyua Yost, so Ludo Wu and Shin Wu would take turns watching them.
Only the two of us stayed behind in the living room.
The silence was heavy.
“Well… Let’s sleep too.”
Ai Fa answered me but didn’t move at all. Her blonde hair was still tied up.
With no other choice, I lied down and started thinking. Even if female hunters in Marsala were acknowledged by others… and even if Barcia continued hunting after having a child, all that had nothing to do with us.
I didn’t have the resolve of getting married in this world yet.
And Ai Fa had already resolved to offer her life to the forest.
And so, we thought our relationship was the right path… Probably.
But… Is that really true?
Only Ai Fa knew what she was actually thinking. And I still haven’t sorted out my mind yet.
I might disappear from this world at any moment. I didn’t even know how I got here. And I didn’t have the resolve to start a family given these circumstances.
And, what kind of resolve would I need to make?
With my fleeting existence, how was that different from dying at any moment?
Up until yesterday, I spent several days without Ai Fa. Life felt surreal then, and it was more painful than I imagined. If I couldn’t see Ai Fa ever again, would I regret it?
I hid my feelings of not wanting to lose Ai Fa in my heart and stopped myself from crossing the final line because of ethics and morality… But would I really not regret it?
At this moment, I felt a warmth from my back.
I already expected it, so I wasn’t surprised. But my heart was still pounding.
I heard Ai Fa’s voice behind me.
Ai Fa leaned closed to my back and held my shoulders tightly.
“I’m very happy with Asuta by my side.” Ai Fa said quietly. “The time I spend with Asuta feels satisfying. That’s how I really think…”
I answered in my heart that I felt the same too.
I made the resolve to welcome this blissful future.
But was Ai Fa seeking an even greater happiness?
These questions stabbed deep into my heart, that was how this night was like.
Chapter 2: Reopening
The next day, 11th of the White Month.
As I had planned, I started running the stall today.
I got kidnapped by Lifuria on the 5th day of the White Month, so I was reopening after six days.
The 『Kiba burger』 stall was tended by Leina Wu and the others as usual, while I took care of the 『Myam-roasted meat』 stall. We prepared 100 portions of each.
I sold the same amount on the second day after my first off day, so I decided to prepare the same amount this time too. I will decide on the amount to prepare tomorrow based on the sales today.
“Ara, it’s really different after stopping for such a long time! I haven’t seen so many customers since the day right after the house head conference.”
Lala Wu beside me was all smiles. She was helping with my stall today.
After the morning rush was over, we sold 40 『Myam-roasted meat』. We should be able to sell all the portions we prepared, and I felt relieved.
The 『Myam-roasted meat』 stall was finally reopening after closing for several days, which made the customers, especially the southerners, very happy. Just looking at my patrons’ smiles filled me with delight.
This wasn’t too different from my work at the inn, but getting to see the smiles of my patrons from up close brought me irreplaceable satisfaction.
With this joy and satisfaction in mind, I turned back to Leina Wu, who was resting beside the stall, and said:
“Leina Wu, how is your side doing?”
“We sold about 30 portions, similar to yesterday.”
Zwei interjected unhappily: “It’s not 30 portions, it’s 28. Yesterday was 34, and the day before was 37, our sales have been affected.”
Leina Wu looked down at her petite body puzzledly:
“Zwei, why are you so mean towards Asuta? It’s all thanks to Asuta teaching us to cook that allowed us to do our business here.”
“I know! I’m not complaining about it!?”
That high-pitched voice was the same Zwei as usual.
But I still quite liked that girl who had a more developed economic sense than other denizens from Forest’s Edge. Considering that she grew up in the twisted environment of the Tsun clan, her character was still acceptable to me.
Anyway, Leina Wu’s group still rented two push carts after I reopened my stall, so another person joined us at our stalls.
In the 『Myam-roasted meat』 stall were Lala Wu and me. The two 『Kiba burger』 stalls were manned by Leina Wu, Shela Wu, and Zwei. Leina Wu and I had to leave the stalls at noon, so Rii Sudora and Emma Min Lutim were to cover our duties.
The Lutim house that couldn’t send anyone to work for me obtained two new family members in Zwei and her mother Aura and had enough manpower now.
So, nominally, the Fa house only employed Lala Wu and Rii Sudora, while the rest were working for the Wu clan.
Using her own judgment to form a contract with Milano Mast, prepare the ingredients, and sell the completed product, Zwei didn’t have to worry since the proceeds for all sales belonged to the Wu clan. The Fa house’s income dropped by half, but Ai Fa and I didn’t mind that at all.
Ai Fa who was one of the escorts asked me quietly: “… Asuta, how do you feel about restarting work after stopping for such a long time?”
Meanwhile, Shin Wu stood beside the 『Kiba burger』 stall.
Including Ludo Wu, there were 6 escorts today. The other four were hidden in the woods behind.
“Yes, I’m feeling much better. I hope we can resolve this incident properly and continue doing business in the Post Station Town.”
Ai Fa stole a glance at me and then couldn’t help smiling:
“… You look really happy.”
“Yes, it’s thanks to everyone’s help.”
After one night, Ai Fa returned back to normal.
Not just me, Barcia also caused quite a ripple in Ai Fa’s heart… In any case, Ai Fa seldom showed her true feelings before others.
Anyway, Ai Fa’s incredibly gentle smile gave me strength.
Lala Wu who noticed that leaned over to me and whispered:
“Hey, Ai Fa is showing more varied expressions nowadays. She even argues loudly with Ludo Wu occasionally too.”
I didn’t feel that Ai Fa looked that more expressive to me, as I answered: “That’s right, Ai Fa is mingling with everyone in her own way.”
Lala Wu laughed happily:
“The men are quite enthusiastic about Ai Fa. Now that you mentioned it, Ai Fa is a hunter, but she isn’t cold-blooded.”
“How mean. Lala Wu, did you always think this way about Ai Fa?”
“Hmmp! She acted coldly to us all this time, so Asuta who had always boasted about being close to Ai Fa has no rights to complain, you know?”
“You call that boasting? You are exaggerating.”
Right then, Ai Fa called out: “Asuta.”
She probably heard Lala Wu and I whisper to each other. I pulled away from Lala Wu, but it seemed I was mistaken. Someone I had met before came my way from the north.
It was an old white-haired westerner with a buffed body wearing rags covered in soot, Michael of Turan.
Before I could finish, he cut me off with a: “You really came back. You are lucky to escape after getting captured by a noble. You are even doing business casually here, how surreal.”
Michael was glum and stubborn as usual. His face, that looked as if it had been carved from a tree, didn’t change either. I was elated to see that he was the same as always.
“I’m sorry for the trouble I caused you lately…”
“That’s right; you got into this trouble because you didn’t listen to my warning. You were lucky this time, but if you continue to defy the nobles, you won’t stay lucky forever.”
At this moment, Ai Fa walked up and said: “Michael of Turan.”
I broke out in cold sweat, but the truth was the opposite of my worries, and Ai Fa bowed to Michael:
“Asuta came back safely thanks to your help. As the head of the Fa house, I give you my thanks.”
“… What are you talking about, I don’t get you. A red-haired brat I have never seen before asked me where the Count Turan house was, and I simply told him.”
“That was the thing that saved Asuta. I will never forget how you helped us after repeatedly warning us about interacting with the nobles.”
Michael fell silent.
Ai Fa bowed again and backed away.
“Whatever, I don’t want to be involved with the nobles. I’m hungry, so I came here to buy lunch.”
With that, Michael put his copper plates on the counter.
“Alright, thank you for your patronage. Erm… Did Geta show up after that?”
“That’s impossible. That kid is a wanted criminal in the Post Station Town, right? I don’t have any business with criminals.”
I thought about defending Geta, but this wasn’t something that I could share with Michael, so I just made the 『Myam-roasted meat』 quietly.
Michael took a bite, and the eyes below his tidy brows shone:
“The taste, it’s different. Did you use Tau sauce…?”
“That’s correct; as expected of Michael, I can’t hide anything from your tongue.”
I had always wanted to add Tau sauce into the 『Myam-roasted meat』.
But I didn’t want to change the dish that was so well-liked. So after closing for five days, I used this chance to execute this plan.
I limited the Tau sauce to an amount that wouldn’t affect the cost price too much, but I still felt the taste improving too. 『Myam-roasted meat』 was inspired by Ginger-roasted meat, so I always wanted to season it with Tau sauce.
“To think that such a high-class seasoning can be procured in the Post Station Town. This is a good taste.”
“Yes, those dealing with Jaguar people can buy this in the Post Station Town. It is expensive, so I can’t waste it either.”
Michael grunted and slowly ate his 『Myam-roasted meat』.
Something flashed across my mind and I said:
“Erm, Michael, do you know a person named Roy?”
“Roy? Don’t know.”
“I see. Roy is an employee in the manor I was abducted to. He seemed to know you, Michael.”
I felt that I shouldn’t ask too much about his past, but Michael didn’t seem to mind… He had his usual irritated expression as he said:
“Speaking of which… When I was working in the ‘White Dress Lady Inn', there was an apprentice by that name…”
His jaws suddenly stopped moving.
“Yes, Roy mentioned that inn too. He is a youth with curly brown hair and about my build. He said he was 19.”
“Ho, it’s that kid, huh. It’s impressive of him to get scouted by that manor at such a young age.” Michael started eating again lacklusterly. “However, the people recruited by that manor have to either cook for their master forever or lose their reputation and get chased out. No one in the city will hire a chef that got kicked out of that place, so it’s a real gamble.”
“… There is such an unreasonable rule? What a horrible way of doing things.”
“If you have a problem with that, get out of Genos. The nobles are the ones who set the rules, so commoners will only be treated like fools for resisting.”
I wanted to ask why didn’t Michael leave Genos, but I felt that I shouldn’t touch on his troubled past.
But Michael glared at me with a strong gaze and said:
“I also have a family. Before they can fend for themselves, I won’t leave or let myself die. You also didn’t leave Genos because there are people tying you down, right?”
“… That’s right.”
“Then watch yourself and don’t cause trouble for your family.”
After saying that, Michael suddenly leaned forward:
“By the way, did you serve a dish you made to the master of that manor? The gossip in town is that his daughter is the culprit.”
“No, her father didn’t eat anything I cooked.”
“I see. Don’t forget my warning. If he knows about your skills, he won’t let you out of the rock walls ever again.”
Using any means possible to get the chefs he favored and cutting off any retreat for the chef he wished to hire… The chefs who turned down his invitation would be exiled from the city… It sounded really lawless.
“Why is he so obsessed with delicious food? From what I heard from you, his obsession appears more intense than normal.”
“Hmmp… He is more afraid to die than anyone else, so his obsession isn’t strange. He possesses so much wealth that he would want to rule the world forever.”
I still didn’t understand what Michael meant.
Michael took his last bite and then glared at me:
“Haven’t you seen that man? He is tormented by illness. A sickness of the organs that only the wealthy nobles would contract. He wanted to cure an illness he got from expensive food by using lavish food, and suffered for it.”
I was dumbstruck.
I thought his face was sickly… But Pyschkurewuss was actually troubled by an illness.
Speaking of which, his dark green eyes… Could it be his kidneys? Or his liver?
Neither of them were organs that would recover easily from illness.
“You were forced to work in that manor’s kitchen, right…? Didn’t you see all sorts of herbs from Semu, dried Gyama organs, and other medical ingredients?”
“N-No, I didn’t. I was in a small kitchen used to cook for the servants. There was plenty of sugar, honey, oil, and other valuable ingredients, but nothing particularly special.”
“Hmmp. You didn’t go into the kitchen that man treats like his treasure trove. How fortunate.” Michael half-closed his eyes as he stared into space. “He fell ill because of his extravagant dining habits, so refraining from lavish dishes should be the right move. But that man possesses immense wealth and chose the opposite method. He gathered all sorts of ingredients from the continent and ordered his chef to make food to cure his illness. That man can’t stand living his days drinking bitter medicinal soup.”
“B-But, he wouldn’t need Tau sauce, sugar, and nyuushi, right? I don’t know what his illness is, but since it was brought about by extravagant dishes, he should eat less salt, sugar, and Tau sauce.”
“… He can’t stand such a lifestyle, that’s why he adds a bunch of medicinal herbs to neutralize the effect of salt, sugar, and Tau sauce. Despite his illness, he can’t give up on his craving for delicious food.”
Michael shook his head hard and then held his right wrist with his other hand.
The nerves on his right hand were cut, ending his life as a chef because he turned down Pyschkurewuss’ invitation.
“He can’t cure his illness completely with such a method. I don’t want to spend my entire life cooking things that would wreck a person’s body. But whatever… I might die before that man does anyway.”
After saying that, Michael reverted to his usual impatient look and glared at me:
“… Enough talk. If you want to be a real chef, don’t get involved with that man.”
I thought about Roy and nodded.
Did Roy know about Michael’s incident? If he knew and still went down this path to hone his cooking skills, I had nothing to worry about… But if he didn’t know, I worried about his future.
“… So, even if we leave that noble be, he won’t live for long, correct?”
Ai Fa suddenly interjected.
Michael glanced at her:
“How would I know? If the medicine takes effect before the poison of the food does, he might live for five to ten years more. And… His obsession will be inherited by his daughter.” He said as he looked at Ai Fa and me. “Even if he dies, the next house head will be his daughter. And you people will be dealt with like an eyesore.”
Was Pyschkurewuss’ daughter, Lifuria, beholden by gourmet food too?
After hearing all sorts of things, I needed time to sort out my mind.
“If it’s possible, leave this town. Never mind… I will just buy your cooking before you get caught and locked up behind the rock walls.”
With that, Michael walked away briskly.
At noon, I handed the stall over to Rii Sudora and Emma Min Lutim, then left together with Leina Wu and the six escorts including Ai Fa to the 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》.
However, the head chef today was Leina Wu. Vena Wu, Lala Wu, and I accompanied her as assistants.
I could start work from tomorrow onwards, but there was no telling what would change after the 15th of the White Month. I accompanied them in order to explain this complicated matter to the innkeepers.
“But if Asuta is cooking in the inn, who will be his assistant? Right now, the Fa house is employing Lala and Rii Sudora, correct?”
Leina Wu asked, and I thought over it for a moment.
“In this case… When Lala Wu and I will make our rounds to the inns, I think Emma Min Lutim should be counted as the Fa house’s employee.”
“I see. So Lala is here to accompany Asuta, but not me and Shela.”
“Yes. Leina Wu and Shela Wu are in charge of the Wu clan’s stall now. I can’t treat you like a mere helpers anymore, right?”
After I said that, Leina Wu’s face turned gloomy.
“Huh? Did I say something wrong?”
“I think Shela Wu and I still need Asuta’s guidance. If we go on like this, it would be hard for us to make anything aside from 『Kiba burgers』… When Asuta starts working at the inn, rather than Lala, I hope you can let Shela Wu and me follow you instead.”
“Oh, I see. Since that’s what Leina Wu thinks, I won’t harp so much about who is in charge of which stall.”
Speaking of which, when I had to leave the stall, Lala Wu and Shela Wu switched places. Right now, only Shela Wu and I could make 『Myam-roasted meat』.
I could only leave things to Shela Wu when leaving the stall, and didn’t want to relegate the Leina Wu to an assistant either… But, to be honest, I hoped Leina Wu and Shela Wu could gain more experience.
“Yes, that’s right… I think it’s about time to let Rii Sudora make the 『Myam-roasted meat』. Then Shela Wu can come along with us to the inns.”
“Yes… But I still haven’t learned that skill either, so it’s a little frustrating.”
Leina Wu had not mastered the way to grill the stronger tasting 『Myam-roasted meat』 meant for sale yet.
Despite her still short time working at the stall, she had already taken exclusive control over the 『Kiba burger』 stall and took part in the work at the inns, so this couldn’t be helped.
“How about letting Leina Wu practice how to make 『Myam-roasted meat』 that taste the same first…? If Shela Wu also learns to make the 『Kiba meat soup』 for the inns, we will have more freedom in our schedules.”
I felt that Leina Wu and Shela Wu could learn that in just a few days.
“Also, I plan to visit the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 every day, so if Leina Wu and Shela Wu can assist me, we can solve all our problems. When Leina Wu is the head chef, I will be the assistant, and when I’m the head, Leina Wu will assist me.”
“Alright, that will make Shela Wu and me happy too.”
Leina Wu’s sorrowful face turned into a bright smile.
“… However, if the meeting with the nobles fell through, all these arrangements would be for naught.”
“Yes. Donda Wu and Kamyua Yost are trying their best to avoid this, but I have no idea how things will end.”
“If they need more time to resolve the issue, we can continue staying in the Morga Forest’s Edge and continue with our business, and I will be fine with that. Compared to the time, when Asuta was abducted, I feel much more relaxed now.”
After saying that, Leina Wu showed an even more innocent smile. It was so pure and free of worries that it reminded me of her sister Rimee Wu. I nodded and thanked her sincerely.
I felt a gaze on my nape and turned back. But no one was staring at me, although Ai Fa was looking at the pedestrians on the streets with a pouting mouth. She probably used her hunter’s reflex to avert her gaze before I turned my head.
“What is it?”
Leina Wu asked confusedly, and I shook my head and answered: “It’s nothing.”
Ai Fa was probably happy to see Leina Wu and me building a wholesome relationship through cooking and business… Probably.
We finally arrived at the 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》.
But at this moment, I felt like sighing.
The large totos carriage from the Count Taliem house was parked along the street of this residential area.
“Well, well, I have been waiting for you, Asuta. Let us go straight into business.”
Neil ushered us to the dining hall. Aside from Polarse, there were three slender middle-aged men in lavished attires waiting for us.
I suppressed the urge to sigh for the second time and sat down opposite Polarse.
“What brings you here this time? I thought we already discussed everything yesterday…”
“Yes, we grilled the poitan perfectly by using the method you taught us! So we are here today to research how well poitan can be preserved before and after grilling. It would be great if the grilled poitan that is made into powder could be preserved as well as fuwano powder, but we couldn’t be certain of that yet.”
I was surprised at how far he had progressed.
I have always wanted to test how long powdered poitan could be preserved for.
“Well then, before selling powdered poitan, we still need to let the farmers increase their poitan yield, so I have decided to do some prep work and advertised the deliciousness of poitan in the Post Station Town first! The Count Satolas house will also help, and we are choosing the stalls and inns that will use poitan as a substitute for fuwano. Aside from that, we plan to sell poitan products ourselves too.”
“Sell yourself? Are you going to set up a stall?”
“Yes! The best way to gain popularity is to sell delicious food! Although the Forest’s Edge dishes are well-received in the Post Station Town, there are many westerners who hate kiba too. Even I don’t have the resolve to try eating kiba too.”
“That’s why I plan to make the dish with ingredients from the city. My goal isn’t to make money, so I can just serve luxurious dishes without caring about profits. However… The head chef from my house lectured me, saying that won’t do.”
It seemed that the middle-aged man beside Polarse was that head chef.
He looked a little nervous before Ai Fa, Shin Wu, and the other Forest’s Edge hunters, but he still straightened his body.
“This is the head chef of the Count Taliem house, Yang. Yang, can you repeat what you told me?”
“Understood. Pardon me… But it’s obvious that we can make luxurious meals by using expensive ingredients. But even if we get rave reviews with this method, the poitan would get relegated to the sidelines. In my humble opinion, food to be sold in the Post Station Town should be made with ingredients from the Post Station Town.”
“That’s how it is. I’m here to consult with Asuta who already had success in Post Station Town.”
“I see, that makes sense. But a major factor in my success is the kiba meat. Because of the high fat content in the kiba meat, it is actually a higher grade ingredient than karon thigh meat and skinless kimyusu meat.”
“Yes, skinned kimyusu tastes bland. I have never tried karon thigh meat before though…” Yang answered emotionlessly. “Karon thigh meat is sold in the Post Station Town, while the other parts are sold in the city. It had been this way for ages”
He was less than half as fat as Polarse, and his thin face had a determined face.
“Speaking of which, Yang is from the city but treats high-quality ingredients with disdain. In any case, the expensive ingredients have all been bought out by chefs working for Pyschkurewuss, so he has the belief that how delicious a dish is doesn’t depend on the price of the ingredients.”
“I see. I think the same too.”
I answered sincerely.
I was surprised that such a gutsy chef lived in the city.
“However, it would be hard for the dish to gain acclaim. The Post Station Town doesn’t have reten oil, mamaria vinegar or Jaguar sugar, right? I don’t think it’s possible to make any decent dishes without those seasonings.”
“No, please wait. Other than kiba meat, I’m also researching on karon and kimyusu meat dishes. I’m wondering if karon milk can be bought in the Post Station Town… Is it hard to make nyuushi and curd from karon milk?”
“You will need to prepare the facilities. Making nyuushi isn’t that difficult…” At this moment, the head chef’s eyes shone in enlightenment. “… It’s true that karon thigh and kimyusu meat lack sufficient fats. If we can’t use reten oil, we can only make some simple dishes. By using nyuushi… we can improve the quality of our cooking by several levels.”
“Is it possible to make nyuushi ourselves?”
“We can if we have the manpower. First, the karon milk needs to be left to sit for one night, then, we can scoop up the fats on the surface, put them into a bag, and beat them.”
“Yes, we can separate the water and the fats that way.”
I got excited for some reason.
“But what about its price? I heard one copper plate is enough for one bottle of karon milk, but we can only get a small amount of nyuushi from one bottle.”
“That’s true, but the amount of nyuushi used for each meal is minuscule too. We just need to make poitan and nyuushi popular in the Post Station Town.”
“That’s great. I finally see the light in the tunnel.”
“By the way, can you procure Jaguar sugar and Tau sauce here? With these two seasonings, we can make a wider variety of dishes.”
“I bought Tau sauce from an innkeeper, but sugar can only be bought from the city.”
“Is that so? Is sugar that expensive?”
In response to Polarse’s question, the head chef shook his head:
“Sugar isn’t as expensive as Tau sauce. The problem is, Lord Pyschkurewuss spares no expenses in buying out all the stock of sugar. The sugar we buy in the city are just the leftovers.”
“I see. I’m more eager to topple Pyschkurewuss’ reign now.”
Polarse said something dangerous with a calm face.
“But first will be the karon milk. Does Lord Pyschkurewuss buy out their supply too?”
“No. The merchants from Dabag are selling it, but only in the neighboring towns. They are probably just selling the leftovers too.”
“Then we can procure karon milk in the Post Station Town and make nyuushi ourselves.”
I said happily, but the head chef glared at me for unknown reasons:
“You must be Asuta of the Fa house. Are you really happy about this…?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“If nyuushi is freely available, we can make top quality dishes with karon thigh meat. If that happens, won’t the kiba lose its advantage of being rich in fats?”
I wasn’t worried at all.
“Kiba is already delicious by itself and won’t lose out to skinned kimyusu meat. If having nyuushi is enough to stop the sales of kiba meat, then kiba meat doesn’t have any commercial value in the first place.”
“You are very confident.”
“It’s not because I’m confident of my culinary skills. I’m just confident in how delicious the kiba really is.”
The head chef fell into a deep silence, while Polarse laughed in stark contrast:
“You are really humble. I had the good fortune of trying your cooking too; that deep-fried kimyusu you made is exemplary! Despite your young age, your skills are outstanding; that’s why I want to discuss this with you.”
“You flatter me, it’s my honor.”
After answering that, I asked something in response to what he said about fried food:
“I wish to clarify something. How long can grilled fuwano be kept? And if we leave the grilled fuwano to dry, will the texture change?”
“Grilled fuwano will turn hard after one night. Fuwano tastes the best fresh out of the oven… It won’t spoil for a few days. I heard many travelers on short trips bring dried fuwano and cook it together vegetable stew. But… It doesn’t taste much better than poitan, so travelers still buy poitan.”
I was happy to hear the head chef’s answer:
“Thank you very much. The truth is, I want to break dried fuwano into crumbs and add it to food that needs to be fried. I already bought some fuwano and will leave it to dry overnight.”
Fuwano was similar to wheat; after grilling it and leaving it dry, it should be similar to breadcrumbs coating. Pancakes and crushed nuts could substitute for breadcrumbs too.
“Drying grilled fuwano and grinding it into powder? That’s a strange idea. Can you make delicious dishes with that?”
“Yes, I can. I think it is possible to make the deep-fried kimyusu that Polarse tried a few days ago as well.”
If I could buy eggs, I could challenge making cutlets and croquettes.
These dishes all required a large amount of kiba oil, so it would be hard to recreate them in the Post Station Town… But just imagining what Ai Fa and the others would think of these dishes made me feel pumped.
I then remembered what Michael said about indulgence in delicious food resulting in organ illness.
Deep-fried food is the prime example of high-calorie dishes.
If it was just the calories, all Forest’s Edge denizens were engaged in laborious chores, so there was no need to worry. However, dishes that contained lots of fat still made me worry.
I should complement it with some vegetables… Something with dietary fiber and citric acid, so tino, tarapa, and gigo? I can make something like Worcestershire sauce by using Tau sauce, but Forest’s Edge denizens will probably prefer shiru fruit flavored sauce.
Similar to Michael, I didn’t want anyone’s health to suffer from eating my food.
As I was thinking about that, Polarse said energetically: “Okay! Despatch a messenger to Dabag immediately! Give him some money and make him return with the karon milk tomorrow. Yang, get ready to open your stall the day after tomorrow.”
“Huh? We are opening the day after tomorrow?”
“Yes. To be frank, I wanted to start tomorrow. Anyway, we need to act before Lord Pyschkurewuss realizes that something is afoot. You also want to throw Lord Pyschkurewuss off-balance before the 15th of the White Month, correct? That’s what I heard from Zashuma.”
“Yes, it is as you say…”
But the 15th of the White Month was just four days away.
Would this abrupt action really be effective?
“It will be fine. I’m also in danger of being disowned by my father. For the bright future of the Count Taliem house, denizens of the Forest’s Edge, and the citizens of Genos, I will do everything within my powers. Let’s work towards a good show two days later!”
After that, Polarse kept laughing until he left.
Nothing of note happened after bidding Polarse farewell, and we ended today’s work peacefully.
We catered 『Kiba meat soup』 and fresh kiba meat to the 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》 and 《Big Tree of the South Inn》, and used karon to research a new meat dish in the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》. At the same time, Shela Wu and the others finished their job at the stalls.
Worth mentioning was that we sold everything at the stalls.
I wondered how long this trend would continue, but in any case, we had to prepare the same number of dishes tomorrow.
Milano Mast had decided to sell the “Kimyusu meatball” since last night. We tried adding the plum-like mashed kiki, and there didn’t seem to be any issues. Milano Mast commented that: “Thanks to you, only the karon meat didn’t sell out.”
Which meant the prototype we made earlier, 'Fried shredded karon", could be sold tonight too. By tendering the tough karon thigh meat and cutting it as thin as possible and frying it together with aria and pula, it was then seasoned with fruit wine and pico leaves, becoming a dish the people in the Post Station Town had to spend money to buy.
The taste could be improved with Tau sauce, but Milano Mast didn’t permit to buy Tau sauce from his competitor.
Milano Mast said: “Using fruit wine and pico leaves is luxurious enough. No one will complain about this.”
And so, the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 known for having mediocre food got to revitalize its reputation.
“Let’s work on soup and vegetable stew tomorrow. Karon thigh meat might be suitable for these dishes, so things will go smoothly.”
Not getting to use Tau sauce was a pity… Could we use tarapa for the vegetable stew?
I tried picking Leina Wu’s brain.
“Tarapa, huh. I think it will work! If we cook it a bit longer, the karon and kimyusu meat would produce stock too, and if we are mindful of the cost when using vegetables, we should be able to make a wonderful dish.”
“… Hey, did you forget your initial goal?” Milano Mast interjected with a frown. “You are teaching me to cook in order to sell your kiba meat dishes, right? If I can cook a good meal with kimyusu and karon meat, your work is over.”
“Is that so? But won’t it be nice to prepare a new soup dish?”
“If the menu is so varied, there won’t be any market for kiba meat, correct?”
“It’s fine. Milano Mast, you know how tasty kiba is.”
I joked intentionally.
Milano Mast closed his mouth unhappily.
“Anyway, let’s do what we can before the 15th of the White Month. As I said, we don’t know if we can continue doing our business after that.”
If we failed to uncover Pyschkurewuss’ true nature, we had to stop our business indefinitely.
It would be a month before the Fou house and Sudora house could take over the escort duties from the Wu clan… When I told them I might have to stop for a month, Neil, Naudiz and the others all looked so sad that it surprised us.
“But when that time comes, we can let the Wu clan send fresh kiba meat over to them for sale. We can also make the dishes at home and send them over.”
When they heard that, Neil and Naudiz both answered: “Please do!”
As for the 《West Wind Inn》, when I told them I couldn’t continue the business discussion until after the 15th of the White Month, Yumi couldn’t help sighing.
“Sigh… If only Asuta met my Dad before all this happened… Are we not fated to work together?”
“Not at all! If I can continue my business, I will definitely have a proper talk with Yumi’s Dad!”
“Really? Can I trust a man who didn’t keep his words last time!? My Dad is still angry, you know.”
“Well… Please let me apologize to him for missing the appointment.”
“Let’s talk about this later. If you don’t calm down, blood might be spilled in that conference. Anyway… Please work hard so you can continue your business in the Post Station Town!”
“I will, thank you.”
That was all we talked about.
I learned on the way back to the Forest’s Edge about another thing that was bothering me.
It was about Kaslan Lutim. With permission from the tribal chiefs, Kaslan Lutim went to the Post Station Town alone to meet with Zashuma and informed him about the plan.
He told Zashuma that Forest’s Edge denizens suspected that Pyschkurewuss was the one manipulating Zattsu Tsun. The Forest’s Edge denizens would also hold a conference with Pyschkurewuss on the 15th of the White Month with regards to the disposition of the Tsun clan main house members. And if Forest’s Edge denizens couldn’t accept what Pyschkurewuss said, they would not hand over the Tsun clan main house members even if they had to clash swords.
“Well… Anyway, we can’t sew people’s mouths up. Instead of waiting for weird rumors to spread, it’s better for us to relay the accurate message directly.”
That was what Zashuma said.
“I understand. I don’t know how effective this will be in just four days, but we will do whatever we can to spread the word.”
After informing Shela Wu and the others at the stalls about this, Kaslan Lutim immediately returned to the Forest’s Edge.
What will tomorrow bring? I thought on our way back to the Wu Clan village.
“Oh, good work today.”
I parked the wagon behind the main house, and Barcia was really chopping wood there.
There were two men chopping wood with her, and I was surprised at the sight of them:
“Ryada Wu and Mida… What’s happening?”
Shin Wu and Shela Wu’s father, Ryada Wu, and member of the Wu clan, Mida.
“This guest is as strong as a Forest’s Edge denizen. A man has to watch her if she picks up a blade.”
Ryada Wu who was so slender that it was hard to imagine him being Donda Wu’s brother answered me with his trademark calmness. He was a middle-aged man with a straight face, dark brown hair tied behind his head, and a nice beard on his face.
“However, the other men have started their hunting preparations, so Mida and I who aren’t hunting have to watch her.”
Ryada Wu used to be a hunter like his son, then he took a kiba tusk in the knee. Mida was training his endurance to avoid dragging the others behind.
The choice of candidates made sense, but the three of them together gave a big impact.
“Asuta… You sell many food…?”
Mida held freshly chopped firewood in his huge arms as he looked down at me.
He seemed to be thinner now, but his body was still like a balloon.
“Yes, it’s been a while since we last sold 『Myam-roasted meat』 after all. I prepared a lot, but it all sold out.”
Mida grunted quietly but didn’t move his body. He stared at me with his pig-like beady eyes.
Two nights ago, I returned after several days of absence, and Mida looked at me with the same eyes. After hearing that I was kidnapped, Mida had been in a daze. He did his daily work as usual, but spoke much lesser. And when his work was done, he stood in place like a small hill and stared into space.
And… When I returned, Dan Lutim showed up, and it was as rowdy as a wedding. Mida then returned slowly to the main house and said:
“Mida, no cry…”
I almost broke down in tears when I heard that.
Yamiel Lei said Mida was missing a part of his soul, but I knew that the part that cares for others still remained with him.
He lived with Zattsu Tsun, but he didn’t get twisted mentally like his other family members. Was it because he was slow-witted, or was he strong…? I couldn’t figure it out, but I had no doubt that in his huge body was the pure spirit of a denizen of the Forest’s Edge.
“By the way, that’s a lot of firewood. You chopped this much in one day?” Ludo Wu stood behind me and asked.
Mida moved his head slightly: “No…”
The fats on his throat and shoulders stopped him from moving his head further.
“Fetch water flasks… tan hides… I do many many chores…”
“Is that so. Thank you for your hard work. That’s enough firewood, have a break until dinner.”
“If your chores are done, how about training with me again, Mida?”
That was Shin Wu.
After finishing his escort duties, Shin Wu had a test of might practice match with Mida. Shin Wu definitely felt regret because he failed to protect me from Sangjura. Ludo Wu glanced at Shin Wu sideways and scratched his head.
“Shin Wu, you have guard duty in the day and at night. You should rest when you have the chance.”
“It’s fine. I want to be stronger.”
“Yes… Mida is fine too… But Ryada Wu, fine to not chop wood…?”
Ryada Wu looked at his son’s stubborn face and nodded with a calm gaze.
Mida and Shin Wu then left together with the other hunters that guarded us, leaving only Ai Fa and Ludo Wu behind.
“Huh? By the way, where did that boy go?”
“Leito went to the Post Station Town. He had an errand to run.”
Ludo Wu frowned after hearing that from Ryada Wu.
Ludo Wu seemed unsure how to treat Leito. It wasn’t because Ludo Wu didn’t trust him, he just found it hard to speak with that young boy who was as elusive as his master, which was also a little worrying. I felt the same too.
“Then let’s get to work. If possible, I want to help make dinner. Where’s Mia Lei Wu?”
“Isn’t Mama Mia Lei in the kitchen? She’s on duty today.”
I nodded in response to what Lala Wu said and picked up Gilulu’s reins again.
Barcia suddenly asked: “You are preparing dinner? Can I watch? I’m curious about how the delicious food I ate last night was made.”
“Well, you will need permission from Mia Lei Wu who is in charge of the women.”
Our group walked towards the kitchen as we spoke.
I was about to peek inside the open kitchen door when Vena Wu came out.
“Ara… Everyone came back…”
“Yes. Is Mama Mia Lei in? Asuta says he wants to help make dinner.”
“Yes… Mama will be right here… Asuta, you are going to help today too…?”
“Yes, if it’s not troubling you.”
“No one in the Wu clan village thinks of Asuta as a burden…”
Vena Wu said with a smile. Her flirtatious figure made my heart race.
Vena Wu had always been like this; it made me wonder whether her hormone suppression was really working.
But recently, her flirtatiousness increased a little every time I met her. It seemed that she was different from before… The melancholy in her face was deeper, and she seemed tired and distracted.
She was clearly speaking less, and she didn’t show her innocent smile at all. Even when looking at someone, her gaze seemed to be staring far away and out of focus. This melancholy made Vena Wu more beautiful.
… Having half a year to think over it might be a bit too long.
“I wish, marry into Wu clan.” After saying that, Shumimaru left Genos. It had been ten days since then.
As I was thinking about that, Mama Mia Lei appeared from the back of the house.
“Oh, are you going to help with dinner tonight? Thank you very much.”
Mama Mia Lei said with a refreshing smile.
“Of course, we are happy to have you. But I will feel bad if Asuta helps us every day.”
“I’m also worried whether my help in preparing dinner so regularly will infringe on some customs in the Forest’s Edge.”
“Don’t worry; given how close the Wu clan and the Fa house are, you can be more casual about this.”
That might be so, but dinner was a sacred action for the people of Forest’s Edge to receive life to live another day. I had to keep Jiza Wu and the others, who were opposed to the Fa house, in mind and not act recklessly.
However, since I was staying in the Wu clan village, Ai Fa wouldn’t be able to eat the food I cooked if I didn’t assist to make dinner, so I wanted to help.
“Feel free to come any time. We have to start preparing the Poitan and soup.”
“Thank you very much, I will do my best to make a dish that will please everyone.”
But first, I had to prepare the ingredients for tomorrow.
Leina Wu, Shela Wu, and Lala Wu started making the meat patty, while I cut the meat for the 『Myam-roasted meat』. Ryada Wu went back to his home, while Ai Fa and Ludo Wu stayed behind to watch over Barcia.
“Fufu, so this is kiba meat, huh. The bright color makes it look tasty.” Barcia stood in a corner to not get in our way and said to us with an energetic voice: “I’m envious that you can eat the prey you risk your life to hunt. Gaje leopard eats people, so we can only sell their hide and fangs.”
“Oh, so Marsala hunters don’t eat carnivorous animals?”
In Genos, there were taboos on eating the carrion-eating munto and gizu too.
“Of course. But we have to venture into the territory of the Gaje leopard to hunt the baro-baro bird. For a Marsala hunter to do their job properly, they need to be capable of killing a Gaje leopard.”
“I see. The hunters on the mountains have it hard too.”
I replied to Barcia as I cut the kiba loin with my Jaguar made meat cutting knife.
By the way, this meat was brought here by Ai Fa in the morning. Before I got abducted, Ai Fa’s work had been going smoothly, so I could still use the Fa house’s meat for my business for the time being.
“What’s for dinner today?”
Ai Fa asked when I just finished cutting the meat.
“It’s been a while, so I decided to make ‘Roast kiba’. I will use diced aria and Tau sauce as the base to make something known as a Japanese style sauce.”
“… Is that so.”
Ai Fa’s eyes were saying “Why aren’t you making hamburg steak.”
Donda Wu and the others wouldn’t complain if I made hamburg steak and meat soup, but they weren’t that popular here. I replied with my gaze that since we were guests, we shouldn’t take things too lightly.
Ai Fa turned her head away. There were still four days before the 15th of the White Month. Could Ai Fa bear with this until that day comes? And could we return to the Fa house after that? It seemed that peace within the Fa house was still so far away.
As Leina Wu made the hamburg steak patty that Ai Fa was craving so hard for, she stole a glance my way.
“Asuta, you will be using that powder for tonight’s dinner?”
On the working counter was the fuwano powder that I brought from a fuwano store Milano Mast told me about on my way back.
“Yes. We will use a bit of this tonight. Erm… Mia Lei Wu, sorry, but can I help with dinner tomorrow too?”
“As I said, there’s nothing to apologize for. If you are fine with it, you can come and help every day, Asuta.”
“Thank you very much. I will prepare tomorrow’s merchandise first.”
I took a large plate, then poured water and fuwano powder in.
And so, after two days, I finally made a fuwano pancake again.
Shela Wu asked: “So that’s the fuwano that the people in town are eating? It’s quite different from poitan.”
She seldom shared her feelings, but Shela Wu was as passionate as Leina Wu towards cooking.
“That’s correct. Poitan is in a semi-liquid state before grilling, while the fuwano powder is solid; that’s the biggest difference.”
There wasn’t any need to mold it into any shape, so I decided to grill the fuwano in the flat frying pan.
The grilled fuwano had a texture similar to poitan but was whiter. Lala Wu, Mama Mia Lei, and the others looked curiously at my work.
“So what are you going to do with this? Isn’t it just like a poitan after grilling it?”
“I will let it dry, and it should be ready tomorrow. I’m going to use it as an ingredient for my new dish.”
I recalled Shela Wu and the others saying that the shape of the grilled poitan wouldn’t change even if left alone for one night. In any case, Polarse should be doing poitan research on his side too, so I had to concentrate on research whether fuwano could replace breadcrumbs.
If poitan becomes the staple food in Genos just as Polarse planned, fuwano won’t be completely useless either.
Unlike fuwano, poitan didn’t have wheat-like properties.
For example, fuwano was more suited for making desserts and vegetable stew.
As of now, I had only seen two types of cereal— poitan and fuwano, so I wanted to make further use of their characteristics for cooking.
“Alright then, let’s start dinner preparations.”
When she heard what I said, Leina Wu made a weird squeal:
“A-Asuta, can you wait for a bit!? We will be done here soon!”
“Oh, is Leina Wu in charge of dinner tonight?”
“No, it’s Lala’s turn. But I don’t have any pressing matters to attend to, so I want to learn from Asuta too.”
Shela Wu also asked: “… Can I learn too?”
“I’m fine with that, but Shela Wu, don’t you have to do the chores in your home?”
There was still some time before the sunset, but there were only Shela Wu and her mother at her house. After finishing preparing the ingredients to be sold, she still needed to hurry home and do her chores.
Shela Wu was working on the tarapa sauce after finishing the meat patty and looked at me with sad eyes:
“But… It’s a rare chance for Asuta to cook in the kitchen here, so I want to learn too. If not, I will fall behind and trouble Leina Wu…”
“Shela Wu, what are you saying? You are more skilled at making the food we are selling.”
“That’s not it. I can’t cook the soup as well as Leina Wu, aren’t you better at cooking than me?”
“I don’t think so. Shela Wu who has been helping Asuta since the beginning is more knowledgeable and experienced than me.”
Leina Wu who was as bright as the sun and Shela Wu who was as dreamy as the moon argued without stopping their hands.
They thought of each other as rivals, but they were still kins. If the older Shela Wu wasn’t so formal with her words, this would be like a squabble between two sisters. This made my heart feel at peace.
Lala Wu, who was tending to the hearth fire, suddenly said: “W-What about Shela Wu and I switching? Tali Wu can’t do this alone, so I will go over and help.”
Shela Wu looked at her in surprise:
“I’m very grateful, but if you help in the kitchen there, you can’t eat dinner over here, you know?”
“Ehh… Then I’ll eat at Shela Wu’s place, and Shela Wu might eat at my place. It’s fun to switch every now and then.”
Lala Wu started to blush while speaking.
Seeing her like this, Ludo Wu exclaimed: “So that’s what you are after! And at the same time pretending to be considerate of Shela Wu, how dirty! You are the one who wants to visit Shin Wu’s place.”
“Who said that! Stupid Ludo, don’t say such incomprehensible things so loudly!”
“What else could that mean? Never mind, Shin Wu will be happy too, so it’s all good, right?”
Lala Wu grabbed a firewood and chucked it at Ludo Wu.
“Vena-nee and Leina-nee aren’t married yet, but a thirteen-year-old like you is already so thirsty… Could the first one to marry out of the main house be… Hey, what the hell!?”
Firewood flew towards Ludo Wu from three different directions. The sisters displayed great teamwork in their simultaneous attack, and Ludo Wu used the firewood in his hand to knock away the projectiles in a panic.
“Hey, take it outside. Don’t let the splinters get into the food.”
Mama Mia Lei scolded them with a smile.
At this moment, Barcia said with a grunt.
“Being with your family is better after all. I want to hurry up and find that wandering son of mine.”
I looked back and saw a surprisingly gentle smile on Barcia’s stone lion-like face.
Mama Mia Lei smiled at that.
“Your son is your only family, right? I will pray to the forest, may you reunite with your son soon.”
“Thank you very much. To be honest… I have doubts about believing Kamyua Yost. But after learning what kind of people Forest’s Edge denizens, the enemies of my husband, actually are, I think leaving Marsala was worth it.”
Mama Mia Lei who had seven children and took care of the household chores, and the outlaw Barcia who made a living as a hunter for the sake of her young child. This was a meeting between two strong mothers.
I then glanced back at Ai Fa.
Ai Fa was expressionless as she observed this scene with an eye closed.
Upon noticing my gaze, she calmly turned her face towards me.
Having a family sure is nice.
I wondered what Ai Fa was thinking about.
But for the two of us who lost all our family, we gained an irreplaceable family in each other.
As I thought about this, the sun set slowly.
Could we protect our peaceful lives? The decisive moment slowly inched towards us.