Cook of the Mercenary Corp

 
 
 

Cook of the Mercenary Corp Chapter 44


Ryouriban – Chapter 44

Chapter 22, A Present and Dumplings. (Second Half)

(Author notes: It’s been a while)

“Shuri-kun, let’s go somewhere.”

On that day, out of the blue, I invited Shuri-kun out.

I said to him suddenly, as he was setting up the table for breakfast in the dining hall.

“You’re probably working all the time right? Why don’t you let your hair down and have some fun?”

Now then, will I get a OK?

Ekress here. I’m really, really worried.

It all started about a week ago, before I had asked Shuri-kun to go somewhere with me.

That night, after I had finished some simple work which had more or less turned into a hobby, I dragged my feet over to the kitchen for some reason.

I was thinking that, maybe, if I was lucky, then I could be alone with Shuri-kun, and maybe get some fried chicken.

But, what I saw in the kitchen, was someone surprising.

“What are you doing? Gann-niisan?”

Under the dim, gloomy light of the kitchen, Gann-niisan was holding a knife and a potato, having a rather tough time.

Since it was technically midnight, I wondered with some curiosity. What on earth was he doing?

“Hm? Ahh, Ekress. It’s just as you see, I’m peeling potatoes.”

Potatoes? Peeling?

Close to Gann-niisan was a pile of potatoes, stacked up high, a container to put the skin in, and a bunch of peeled potatoes, all rolling around.

I see, so it was peeling practice. That was how I came to understand it.

“To practise until so late at night, Brother really has completely become a chef, huh.”

I said as I leaned back on the kitchen wall.

The Gann-niisan of late has truly been hard working.

Even through just a few glances here and there, I could tell how hard he was working.

Brother, who had been working as a Spy officer, for the longest of times, was now engaged in a completely different line of work.

There were probably a lot of things that he had to learn, and relearn right from the beginning as well.

Despite that, Gann-niisan was trying his best without feeling downhearted, so I think he’s amazing.

“Ahh, is it already that time? Geez, Shuri really does peel potatoes at an amazing rate. And they’re so beautifully peeled, it’s as if they were peeled like that in the first place.

Which is why, I put in my effort, so that I can be like him.”

“You shouldn’t really be wasting all those potatoes though?”

“It’s alright, I have Shuri’s permission. It seems we’ll be making Mashed potatoes with them for tomorrow’s lunch.”

“I see.”

Certainly, if it’s that dish then, there needs to be a lot of potatoes. Perhaps, even all of these potatoes that Gann-niisan had been practicing peeling with, would be used up.

….No, maybe, Shuri knew about that, and made Gann-niisan peel the potatoes.

“….Hey, Gann-niisan.”

“What?”

I decided to be bold, and try asking him something I had wanted to ask.

“Are you, having fun right now?”

Gann-niisan used to spy on Gingus under my orders. On the other hand, he was also asked to spy on me by Gingus, and was something of a double agent.

There were also other shady orders I had him do. As his sister, I made my brother, Gann-niisan, do many things.

Which is why, I wondered, how he was feeling right now.

“Of course. It’s something worth doing.”

Gann-niisan smiles and said.

“To do something for someone else’s sake. And to do it so that, that someone else can smile. It’s a wonderful thing, seriously.

Furthermore, at the moment, there’s a good-natured person teaching me from the beginning as his disciple. He’s also taking care of me in various ways, so it makes me warm inside. That is probably just how Shuri is though.

Besides, being a chef is surprisingly fitting for me.

Which is why, I’m having a lot of fun right now.”

“I see.”

I felt relieved, but at the same time I felt the inside of my chest hurt, as if I had screwed up.

Of course it would. If he was speaking the truth just now, then it means that I had always made Gann-niisan do things he didn’t want to.

Being born from a concubine, being persecuted, having techniques he didn’t want beaten into him, and forced to continue doing these things he didn’t want to do.

I was also born from a concubine, falsified into the gender they wished for, had a skill I didn’t wish for awaken, and forced to continue doing a job I didn’t want to.

We, were very similar.

Now, we were freed from that, and are both able to do the things we want to.

However, I felt something tugging at my heart.

It was probably because I see Gann-niisan looking so happy right now. Also, because Gingus, who had been so naked with his hostility, is now working in his special field, while wearing a smile on his face.

The two of them, were doing the jobs they wished for, walking the path they wished for.

However, I’m different.

After being saved by Shuri-kun and the others, I was able to live however I liked. My jobs would also be simple, harmless, easy jobs, and after finishing that, I would be able to be with Shuri, be satisfied, then go to sleep.

Compared to Gann-niisan and the others, I was way too free. No, maybe I just lack their sincerity.

“Tsk, Fuck.”

Just as I was falling into a pit of self-hatred, I heard Gann-niisan swear.

Looking at his hand, the potato’s skin that he had been peeling, had broken off. It looks like he screwed up in peeling.

If Shuri-kun was doing this, then he would probably be able to peel it all off into one beautiful string.

“The knife’s blunted…. The way I’m moving my hands is also not good enough. Again.”

Reflecting upon himself, Gann-niisan starts peeling once again. Although he was starting from the middle, this time, he was concentrating so that he wouldn’t fail again.

Speaking of which, Gann-niisan didn’t have his own cooking utensils… his own knife.

Shuri-kun has a great amount of tools that he takes care of. I heard that everything other than the knife was made by Riru.  The knife… might be the present from that Princess Tebis.

Now that I think about it…. With the equipment, that is, the knife being safekept by them, it might be obstructive to Gann-niisan’s training.

That’s it, speaking of which, we’ve never given a present to each other as siblings before.

We’ve never done this for birthdays, celebrations, nor any kind of special occasion.

Although that’s natural, given that we have such a distance amongst us.

….Let’s get him one. A knife.

I don’t know how I came to think that, but I decided to give him a knife as a gift.

The reason doesn’t matter. I want to be able to help Gann-niisan.

“Well, Gann-niisan, don’t work too late.”

“Yea, of course. Good night.”

After saying that to Gann-niisan, I returned back to my room.

And then, I asked an acquainted blacksmith to forge a knife for me the next day.

Just a good blade, that had a sharp edge and easy to use shape.

I decided to prepare a knife for Gann-niisan, regardless of however much money I may need.

And then a few days passed. The knife was scheduled to be completed today.

Thinking about going to get it…. Somehow, ended up making me feel embarrassed all of the sudden.

At any rate, I’m going to give a present to someone who has been working very hard in his job. Someone in my family, where giving a present, was something we’ve never done before.

It felt somewhat embarrassing, and my face seemed to go red.

On the other hand, not going to get it was out of the question, yet going by myself would be embarrassing.

As I was thinking that. That morning, just as I was in anguish, worrying about it in the dining halls.

I suddenly saw Shuri-kun.

Which is why, I asked him on impulse.

And right now.

I was inviting Shuri-kun.

“How about it? Shuri-kun?”

“Should be fine. I’ll take you up on that offer.”

Shuri-kun thinks for a little bit, and answered me.

“Yay. Just as well, there’s something I wanted to buy.”

“Hoh. Something, you want to buy, you say.”

Then, Shuri-kun looks plainly troubled.

Ah, I see.

“Ah, I didn’t mean that you’re going as the baggage holder. It’s lonely going by myself so I thought, maybe I should take someone with me.”

I’m not like that, but when girls go shopping, it takes some time. Since they also have fun when they’re choosing what to buy, they unintentionally forget about the people they’re with, and end up picking everything.

Although, being able to pay attention to us, and not say a single complaint while being together with us, is a show of a man’s reliability…. You know?

Shuri-kun, you can’t make such a clear, and obvious, unpleasant face, you know?

“If that’s the case then, did you invite Gann-san? If Gann-san says he wants a break, then I can give him the permission for that.”

Shuri-kun said as if he remembered something.

Hmm, if this was a normal occasion then I would ask Gann-niisan.

“No I can’t, I’m buying something for Gann-niisan this time.”

“….Ah, I see.”

Ohh, the usually dense Shuri-kun is being understanding to me. This will speed things up.

“So you see?”

“I understand.”

“Then, I’ll go get ready so, let’s meet up in an hour!”

“Ah, wai-!”

Shuri-kun was confused and wanted to stop me, but I ignore that and left the dining hall.

I rush out without even eating breakfast, and fly into my room.

My face was completely red, and I pressed my hands against my chest.

My face was hot, and my chest was beating so fast.

I invited him out on a whim but this…..

“Wah, wah, wah….. Did I just invite him on a date!?”

That’s right! If I think about this carefully, this is a date. For a man and a woman to go shopping together. That’s obviously a date!

“Ah! I need to get dressed!”

I panic and take out all sorts of clothes as if I was turning my closet upside down, in order to choose my clothes.

What would be good? Should I wear boyish clothes like I always do?

Or should I do something unexpected and wear girly clothes?

No, that won’t work. I don’t know anything about girly clothes.

I can’t help it! After all, all I wear are men’s clothing!

I have to pick out clothes, accessories, and put on makeup!

Ahhhh! Why did I have to go and only give myself one hour!?

I curse at my carelessness as I continued looking for clothes to wear.

After some time, I somehow managed to choose my clothes, found some accessories, and started to put on my makeup, when I heard a knock into the room.

Who could it be? At this time.

“Ekress-san, Are you here~?”

Geh, Shuri-kun!? Why are you here?!

“It’s almost time, so why don’t we go together~?”

Hah?! It’s already been that long?! I haven’t even finished my makeup yet! I haven’t even finished checking my accessories yet!

I panic, and said to Shuri, who was probably standing outside my door.

“Shu-Shuri-kun! In these sort of situations, the man and woman should go out separately, yes!”

“Hah? No, but, it would be like, easier, if we left together….”

I could hear Shuri-kun’s bewildered voice from outside.

Wait, did he just say ‘Easier’? This once in a lifetime gamble of a date is, easy?

What an unromantic person.

I frown, and turn to the door to say.

“Shuri-kun! Don’t you know that all girls treasure the moments!?”

“Eh? I… do know, yes.”

Ahh, that monotone voice meant he had no idea.

“Listen carefully! In these sorts of moments, you have to be aware of the situation! You can’t say words like easy, and the like!”

“Ah, yes.”

“So you know? In these sort of situations, it’s best that we don’t leave together, but rather set a place to meet up at instead!”

“I see…. Understood. In that case, where would be good?”

“Let’s see. Let’s meet up at the water fountain in the central plaza. That place has a good vibe to it, and it stands out quite well so it makes for a good meeting spot. Can you go on ahead?”

“Alright. Then, I’ll be waiting.”

With that last word of his, I could hear the footsteps of the person on the other side of the door going further away.

When I couldn’t hear that anymore, I subconsciously let out a sigh of relief.

“He bought it~…..”

I’ve earned some time with this! I have to finish my makeup in this time! And put on my clothes!

Ahhh, I don’t have enough time! There’s not enough time in the whole world!

Within the restricted amount of time I had, my head was spinning with thoughts, as I dressed myself up.

Finishing all that preparation, by the time I left the castle, quite some time had already passed.

“Oh no, will Shuri-kun be angry?”

I wanted to hurry up, but if I was to run too much, I would sweat and then the makeup would look terrible.

I go as fast as I could, and headed over to the water fountain in the central plaza, controlling the speed at which I was moving so that I wouldn’t sweat.

The time was, around when the sun was approaching the top of the sky. Basically, it meant that I spent all morning until now on dressing myself up.

Of course, people would normally be angry if you make them wait too long.

I hope Shuri-kun isn’t tired of waiting and angry at me.

Just as I was panicking slightly like that, I reached the water fountain.

There were a lot of different people here, and many of them were pleasantly chatting.

Some were like me, waiting for someone. Some were taking a breather here, having a rest. Others were passing by, going to someplace else from here. Many different people.

Now then, I wonder if the person waiting for me is here amongst the crowd?

Well, even if I say that, I found him immediately.

For some reason, he was looking a little troubled, which the surroundings probably couldn’t see, but there stood Shuri-kun.

I don’t know what he was worried about, but in any case, it seems the person waiting for me was here. Great. Although if I was in his place and forced to wait for so long, I would probably have gotten angry and left.

I knew Shuri-kun was nice.

But, I shouldn’t be pampered by that kindness this time around.

It isn’t very good, as a person, to make someone wait for a very long time even though you promised to meet them at a specific time.

I have to reflect on myself.

Anyway, let’s try calling out to him for now. I approach Shuri-kun.

“Shuri-kun?”

Once I do so, Shuri-kun made a face as if he was shocked, and looked over here.

“Hm? What’s wrong?”

However, after that, Shuri-kun had become frozen.

“Ah, no, nothing’s wrong.”

Looking as if nothing was wrong, Shuri-kun fixes himself up.

And then, he took a look at me, from head to toe.

How unusual, that dense block head Shuri-kun, would actually check a girl out like this.

And then, Shuri-kun, with a face as if he realised something.

“Ekress-san… could it be that… today’s shopping is actually…”

“Eh? Um, well you see…”

Ah, huh? Did I make him misunderstand something by looking too eager?

This is bad in its own way…. I was thinking.

As expected, even Shuri-kun would think that this is a date-

“I’m going to take a guess seeing those nice clothes…. After this, are you going to give the present that you bought to the person you like?”

“….What?”

He didn’t think that at all! This guy!

“Saying that you’re going to buy a present for Gann-san and asking me, a man’s opinion, for a present recommendation, you’re probably going to go meet up with the person you like after we separate….. I see, in that case, BUFUN!?”

My fist of fury was sent to Shuri-kun, who was spouting out words, completely lacking in delicacy.

I threw my fist at his collarbone, which I had heard from Gann-niisan was a vital joint which would cause great pain to the individual whilst not causing them any heavy injuries.

Shuri-kun fell to his knees as he screamed. Of course, I hit him with all my might after all.

“Shuri-kun. I know that you are a gentle yet dense oaf, but don’t you think that those words are lacking too much in delicacy?”

“So-soryi….”

Even though a girl had dressed up nicely for the boy she likes, if the boy was to say that it was for someone else’s sake then, it was the same as completely denying all of the girl’s efforts up till now.

Even though I tried my best for Shuri-kun’s sake, why did he have to say that I did it for someone else instead?

I think he should know why I’m angry.

“T-then, what’s with that outfit?”

As well as why that anger had been doubled!

“Shuri-kun, I wonder… do you want to take another hit?”

“EH?! Ah, I’m sorry! You’re right! If you’re going shopping with a man then, as a woman, you can’t let your guard down, right!”

I prepare my fist and Shuri-kun immediately apologises to me.

It seems that he’s understood somewhat.

“Yes, that’ll do.”

Which is why I lowered my fist. The fist that I had raised, planning to completely shatter his collarbone, was gently lowered.

“That’s right. You see, when a girl goes out with a boy, they have to dress their best.”

I tossed some half lie, half-truths at him.

If it was just some random guy then, I would probably only let them have a taste of my 80% effort.

But in a situation where it’s someone I like, or a critical situation then, I would pour more than 100%, even 120% of my effort, just so that they would turn to look at me.

I wonder if Shuri-kun understands this? Even though I tried my absolute best to look the best I can.

Although the design was simple, the tunic was made with quality cloth. The skirt too, which on first look, was rather plain, but was a piece of clothing that made one feel it’s purity.

Even my hair which had been left as is normally, had a headband with a silver flower decoration on it. And topping it all off was a simple earring which I normally don’t put on.

My makeup too, was done so it looked natural, matching the look.

If he was to not notice anything even with this, and even say that it was for someone else’s sake, I would be depressed for a week.

“So? How do I look?”

Might as well get Shuri-kun’s opinion on it.

How is it? What’ll you say?

Shuri-kun thinks for a long while, then said with a refreshing look on his face.

“I think it looks great on you. You’re more feminine than usual.”

“That isn’t exactly the best of praises, but whatever. I’ll give that a pass, just barely though.”

Feminine…. Damnit! I’m the one who’s stupid for hoping that Shuri-kun would say something decent!

It would be useless to keep explaining to Shuri! Was the conclusion I reached, and so decided to head towards my destination together with him.

My destination was the blacksmith where I had ordered for Gann-niisan’s present. It was west from the water fountain plaza, located in the working streets.

You could say that that was where the heart of Sounity laid…. It was a fancy little place created to surround in our skilled engineers.

Skilled engineers, are a type of people which no country, or territory, could afford to lose. Every single one of these people, capable of inventing new techniques, realizing them, as well as put their own original skills out on display, are indispensable talents for the country.

Which is why, they would be treated well, and stay in the said country to spread and display their skill.

For example, say, a carpenter from the Winter Country. They would be able to create buildings which had high insulation so that cold air wouldn’t be able to enter into the buildings. And the Autumn Country would be plenty in knowledge regarding the foods that can, and cannot be eaten.

Talents like that…. A resource such as intellect, is invaluable for any country.

Thus, in order to protect such people, I had pushed for this street to be constructed, and had it officially created officially.

Because of this, the number of workers who left for the outside had decreased, and this was great.Truly.

“Ekress-san, this city is beautiful.”

Shuri-kun looks around at the surroundings, and said his thoughts to me. I was happy too, having that said me with such excitement. I mean, this was one of the greatest projects that I had planned and executed after all.

But….

“You really think so? Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m used to this scene so I can catch all of its flaws.

The materials used for all the buildings are old, the deterioration of the public property stands out, and I want to start paving the roads with stone, but I have to watch out because if I don’t manage those businessmen properly then they’ll start establishing shops by their own means, and the public safety is still quite chaotic right now so I want to recruit guards, but if we get better, then our neighbours-”

“Stop! Stop desu, I won’t understand even if you keep talking.”

Shuri-kun panics, and came to stop me.

Oops, I can’t do that. I was thinking about work. That’s no good. Even though it’s the long awaited date.

“Look, Ekress-san. How about we forget about work, and just enjoy ourselves today? How about it?”

“Eh? Ah, ok, thank you. Shuri-kun.”

Shuri-kun is worried about me all of the sudden?

He was consoling me with a gentle look.

“You’re somewhat, gentle, Shuri-kun.”

“I’m always gentle. So…. gentle.”

“Shuri-kun, you’re not thinking about something bad, are you? What are you scheming behind that fake smile of yours?”

If this dullard, who was like a person magically engineered by combining a bigot and feelings of thick headedness, would suddenly show concern as if he could read a woman’s heart then, something was definitely up.

He looked gentle, but it’s obvious that it was quite forced. What is he thinking?

When I pointed that out, Shuri-kun looked a little surprised.

…..Ahh, seeing that he’s worried about me, maybe it might be good to have him spoil me a bit. As one might expect, seeing him wearing a surprised face, a feeling of guilt started welling up.

But, I mean, Shuri-kun does have a history after all…

“Nothing.”

Hm? That was such a natural attitude for Shuri-kun, and he dealt with it so easily?

In these type of situations, Shuri-kun would usually panic in one way or another, and trick himself out but….

This really is bad of me. I’m falling to the suspicious demons lurking in my heart. I shouldn’t be doubting Shuri-kun’s kindness.

“So, Ekress-san, which way do you want to go now? You said that you want to buy a present for Gann-san, but what do you have in mind?”

Was what Shuri-kun asked me just as I was reflecting on myself.

Ahh, speaking of which, I didn’t mention it?

“Ah, un. I was wondering that it was probably about time that Gann-niisan would also need that. So I’m buying that for him. It would be nice if it’s a quality one.”

Let’s give him a little breathing room, even though it was such an intentional side step. Well, I think that Shuri-kun would immediately realise what that is, seeing that chef’s have quite a few necessities.

Let’s just enjoy this…. Being able to be with him.

Chatting idly as we talk, I gesture to Shuri-kun about our destination.

“Look, here it is.”

The place I lead him to, was the shop I ordered the knife from. This was a well-known workshop around here. It was even a shop I was on friendly terms with.

A few days ago, when I came here to make the order, I only had the thought of giving Gann-niisan a present on my mind, and so I asked for the order so indifferently, that I didn’t even know why I was being so mechanical.

Maybe something changed inside of me, after seeing the hard working figure of Gann-niisan.

Maybe I felt the guilt, seeing Gann-niisan’s sincerity, and my lack of.

Nevertheless, even if I didn’t understand that right now, my feelings of wanting to send him a gift were not false.

Shuri-kun was looking at all the lined up knives. Looking extremely interested.

“Ekress-san, this place is….”

“Well, it’s without a doubt a shop that sells blades, but strictly speaking, they’re rogue smiths. You could say that they….. Process metal, and make something out of them.

Look, there’s quite a few big stores which are decorated with a metal symbol mark on them, right? That’s also made by this kind of shop.”

I answer as so, and Shuri-kun nodded in understanding.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding around this, but blacksmiths do not only make weapons. They make all sorts of products, from daily necessities, to iron art pieces.

This shop also makes weapons, but it mainly creates daily necessities. Things like knifes and pots.

Which is the reason why, for an order like today’s, a daily use item, like a knife, this was the perfect shop.

“While it’s true that in this day and age, if you give the request to a Magic Engineer, they may be able to make it for you immediately, however, there are only a few people with that capability. You either do it yourself, with your own talents. Or make a request with money.

However, blacksmiths aren’t losing out either. They trust their own skills, knowledge and experience, without relying on Magical Engineering, to create a variety of items. It’s brilliant.”

Although there aren’t many Magic Engineers, if the technology was to advance further, then the culture of relying on oral teachings and experiences, like this, may become obsolete.

However, selling metal, and manipulating heat is their thing. I’m sure that it will survive no matter what happens in the future.

Even for the jobs that Magic Engineers could finish immediately should you asked them, these guys will take their time and carefully finish it up for you.

Looking at them do that, I think that my worries were needless.

“Ekress-san, you like these sort of things?”

Shuri-kun asked me with interest.

“Yes. I would often go take a look at construction sites during our territory’s development, and visit these blacksmith workshops where we commissioned our jobs to.

Seeing the beauty in the work by these skilled individuals, specialised in their one field, fills me with joy.”

It’s true. I feel so excited when I look at these sort of things. This part of me, may not seem that feminine.

“Ekress-san, it’s fine to be excited, but can I please ask what we came here for?”

“Ahh, alright. Sorry, when it comes to these sort of places, I really can’t get sick of them.”

Shuri-kun reminded me. Un. It’s quite true that if I was to merely look at these all day, it wouldn’t really be fitting of a date. I should reflect on this.

I look at the shop, and search for the receptionist.

“Excuse me. Are you free right now?”

This woman at the reception, was also the same person who received me a few days back when I suddenly came by.

“E-Ekress-sama!?”

And right now, she looked just as surprised as then.

“Hi, is the order I placed finished?”

“Ah, yes. Of course. I apologise for the mess.”

“I don’t mind. Maybe I should’ve sent someone here first.”

That’s true. I surprised them the other day by coming by so suddenly as well.

That time, I had also thought that the next time I came I would send word first, but I forgot, having my head filled with thoughts about Shuri-kun. I must reflect.

“No, we’re deeply grateful for Ekress-sama’s patronage. There isn’t a shop in town that would refuse Ekress-sama’s visit.”

“I’m happy you’ll say that. I’m already half-retired though.”

“No, We would like it if Ekress-sama would, as always, come by the city. Even if the lord changes, our feelings of gratefulness towards Ekress-sama will not. It is because you are here, that we stay.”

Ahh… The receptionist is glaring at Shuri-kun….

That’s right… there aren’t that many people in this area who think well of Shuri-kun and the others. I even followed up on this though… How troublesome.

In our situation, it would’ve become a problem no matter who came up top. From Gingus, the one who started the problem, to me, who wasn’t able to stop him. No matter who inherited the title of the Feudal Lord, friction would have arisen somewhere.

In that case, there was only the option of passing it on to Ganglabe, the one who would cause the least problems.

『The hero who, despite having his subordinates unfairly arrested, and being dragged into the territory’s problems, managed to regain his comrades and solve the problem』. Under such propaganda, both Gingus and I entrusted everything to Ganglabe.

In the first place, the two of us would not have been able to cross into the warring times ahead. It’s better to leave this to a person who was brimming with talent, and has experience with war.

I do think though, that this method is rather rash. To leave every single problem of the territory to a mere leader of a mercenary corp. If we were even the tiniest bit unlucky then, this territory could have been in quite dire straits.

However, looking at Shuri-kun’s cooking, and personality, and thinking of Ganglabe’s military exploits, and the experiences he has faced until now, I could not think of any other method. If Ganglabe had any unruly subordinates then, that would have been the case where we would have had no choice but risk our lives. And, there was an 80% chance that we would have lost, and forfeit our lives.

It was a risky gamble…. But we won. We had succeeded in leaving everything to them, and thrown away all the obligations that we’ve had up till then.

Which is why, if you look at the end results, I had won my gamble.

However, there would of course be those among the citizens who could not understand that.

Those who wanted a more suitable lord, those who wanted to protect the bloodline of the Feudal lord clan. Furthermore, those would couldn’t understand, or accept it.

For those sort of people, we can only have them gradually understand.

That’s what I think.

“Well, let’s not talk about that right now. Rather than that, I just asked but did you finish what I requested of you?”

“Yes. It’s right over here.”

Since the receptionist also understood that there was no point saying anything more, she immediately went back into the store.

Yes, it’s already been decided and the authority of the Feudal Lord had already been transferred to Ganglabe. There’s nothing left to be said at this point.

Coming back from within the store, the receptionist brought out something wrapped in silk.

A single knife. With a plain wooden handle. It, having a metallic shine from having been recently completed, will probably be helpful to Gann-niisan from now on.

An emblem faintly revealed itself, showing on the flawlessly forged, sharpened blade.

Un. This is good stuff. It’s definitely worth the high price.

“Thank you. Please send the bill to the castle as always. We’ll send the commission afterwards.”

“Yes, thank you very much. We look forward to your next visit.”

The receptionist bent her waist, and bowed.

“Thanks. Shuri-kun, let’s go.”

I replied to her, and started walking. Shuri-kun also panics then chases after me.

“That’s what you came for? A knife?”

Shuri-kun asks as he looks curiously at the knife. As expected of a chef, he seems to have a deep fondness of cooking utensils.

I fix up the silk wrapping on the knife, and answered him.

“Yes. It’s for Gann-niisan.”

“….”

“Gann-niisan has found a new way of life. A path called cooking. Gingus is also reflecting on his past foolish self, and has decided to redeem himself. I’ve decided…. To live the way I want.

This is the least I could give to my brother, who has always followed me…. No, supported me, until now. My gratitude and encouragement for his life to be.”

Exactly. This is my thanks, and encouragement to him. This is very least I could do to repay him.

It’s the very least I could do for him, for all the painful tasks I’ve left to him until now.

I wonder if Gann-niisan will try harder with this?

Since this was a completely different field called cooking, I couldn’t offer any advice or help. What I can do, is give something of excellent quality, like this, to him.

I wonder how he’ll take into heart these considerations of mine.

Completely opposite to these feelings I had inside my heart, Shuri-kun seemed to be worrying over something.

And then, after a lot of pondering and worrying, he made a face that looked as if it said he finally understood.

“So, you going out on a date with someone was just, my misunderstanding….?”

“You’re still bringing that up?!”

I gave him collarbone smash worthy of a god’s wrath. Reflect on yourself!

After that, I gave Shuri-kun a big mouthful.

Basically that, he didn’t understand a girl’s heart.

That, he was too rash with his words and actions.

That, there was a limit to how dense a person can be.

And that, he should seriously get a hold of himself, and get to fixing that oaf-ish side to him.

There would be no end to it if I was to raise all the points, but I continued to extensively lecture him, regarding the numerous times he had made me upset up till now.

And then, after quite a bit of time had passed, I finish up talking, and said,

“I’m hungry, let’s head back.”

As if nothing had happened.

At any rate, it’s probably because a girl is complaining to a guy in the middle of the city that I’m getting all these strange look all around me.

Which is why, as a way to tell the people around me that, ‘This is already over’, I put on a face as if nothing had happened.

The people around us who seemed to have wanted to see something interesting too, dispersed as if feeling, ‘Aw, it’s already finished….’.

“Yes. Understood.”

Saying that, Shuri-kun was hanging his head down, obviously, from being lectured so thoroughly.

It was double the pain from both the hit to the collarbone and the lecture. It would be good if he was to reflect through this though.

Even though I say that, he’s guesses are just way too off!

I bet Shuri-kun didn’t even realise that this was a date!

….Realise, huh. I wonder if I can talk about others.

“Is something the matter, Ekress-san? You’re don’t seem to look too well.”

“Ahh…. so you noticed, of course you would.”

As expected of Shuri-kun. To think that he would be able to catch it, even though my feelings had only swayed a little bit.

Shuri-kun excels at guessing the feelings of people. No well, he’s still quite a blockhead in the ways of love though!

But…. he really is a kindhearted person, seeing that he would so quickly call out to me in worry.

“It’s nothing, I was just thinking about the words I just said. Gann-niisan is working hard towards his new path and Gingus is working hard to redeem himself yet, I’m just living the way I want to.

I was just thinking, if this is alright.”

“Ekress-san.”

“No, it’s fine. Shuri-kun, it’s really ok. This is a problem I brought upon myself after all.

If I look at it from a different point of view, all three of us are walking down the path that we had wished for. It’s strange right? That I’m the only one to be troubled by this.”

“That’s….”
I spat out softly without a thought.

Both my older and younger both have found their own paths to walk towards.

However, I was the only one with nothing. I had found nothing.

I found Shuri-kun, but that’s a different story. I haven’t found the calling…. My passion in life.

Which is why, I’m envious of them, who had found that, and were chasing after that wholeheartedly. I can’t help but find them dazzling.

“Ekress-san. Do you plan on handing over that knife to Gann-san right now?”

“Eh? No….I was thinking of giving it to him after he finished work….”

“In that case, please wait in your room for me.”

Hai!?

Announcing a super urgent development, that was more sudden than usual, Shuri-kun left this place in a rush.

We had already returned to the front of the castle, but that shouldn’t mean that he should just leave me all by myself in front of the gate.

Ehhh…. There’s no way he would do that right.

What could he possibly be doing that warrants leaving a girl all by herself….

Jokes. It’s Shuri-kun. It’s obvious what he’s going to do.

I wonder what he’ll feed me this time?

I returned back to the castle, a little eager.

“And so, this is the ‘Gyoza’?”

Just as Shuri-kun said, he had brought a dish over to me, who had been waiting quietly in my room.

It was almost night time, right about when the light coming from outside was growing dark.

It seems that this dish, was actually made with the help of Gingus and Gann-niisan.

Ahh, so that’s why. That’s why Gann-niisan and Gingus are here.

Since it was a dish that they helped out with, they wanted to hear about it tastes.

“Yes, please try it for yourself.”

“Hmmm, I’m not too sure what you’re thinking about, but I guess I’ll eat up for now.”

I take the fork and the plate of dumplings from Shuri-kun, and quickly eat one.

I put a nicely sized one into my mouth and chew.

“Un…. It’s delicious.”

Delicious. Yup, it’s definitely good.

The layer of skin was crisp, and the filling inside was well cooked and juicy. I can tell that its…. Meat and vegetables.

The umami of the meat juices and vegetables, sealed by the outer layer of skin, all burst out into my mouth as I chew.

The umami of the meat, and the umami of the vegetables…. Held a balance with a sweetness that came from the result of being well cooked.

And there’s still quite a few left. I’m looking forward to this.

Thus, I put another one into my mouth, thinking of the umami from the meat and vegetables…. but a completely different feeling spread throughout my mouth.

“Hm? This one’s a little different…. There’s a strong chive’s smell…. And I can’t taste any meat at all in this one….”

Thinking that it was strange, I put another dumpling into my mouth, when I felt another texture.

The former, was a dumpling with a strong chive’s smell.

Vegetables…. I’m guessing this particular smell is…. from the spring onion and chives.

Perhaps, the taste of the meat was also considered in this, as it had a completely different taste to the first dumpling.

Most likely, mixing the meat with the fragrance of chives and onion, also changes it up. I don’t hate the smell of chives in this, rather I would praise it for giving the dumpling its uniqueness.

Although, it may be a smell that females are a little worried about.

The latter dumpling however…. I couldn’t taste any meat at all. There wasn’t a flavour of fat at all.

It was vegetables, soaked in a soup that complemented it well. Delicious.

The lightness of it really brings out the vegetable flavour…. This is my favourite one.

“Yeah, there’s a good variety, and it’s really delicious. All of them are top quality.”

“This was the one I asked Gann-san to make.”

“This misshapen one?”

“This was the one I asked Gingus-san to make.”

“Oh, this one looks good, but there’s quite a difference with the amount of filling inside.”

The two dumplings that Shuri-kun pointed at.

Gann-niisan’s had a good balance with the filling, but it didn’t look appealing. It couldn’t even begin to be compared to Shuri-kun’s.

Gingus’ looked perfect, but if we cut it open and see then, the filling is all over the place. It feels like he only focused on the appearance and didn’t care about the insides.

“But, both of them tasted great right?”

“Yeah, they were delicious. Leaving aside how they look for now, it seems that these were made just for me.”

The two of them had been taking glimpses at me for a while now.

Perhaps it was because they were relieved that it tasted fine…. Now they felt a little awkward.

It seems, I’ve worried them somewhat.

“….Ekress-san. I think that, no matter what they look like, or what filling they have, dumplings are delicious. There are a lot more types than you see here, after all.

Gann-san found his way as a chef.

Gingus-san chose to move forward on a way to redeem himself.

No matter how they look, or how they are inside, a way of life is beautiful due to its belief.

Ekress-san. I understand that you are lost.”

Lost.

That’s right. I’ve lost my way. I looked enviously at Gann-niisan and Gingus who had jobs they were proud of; jobs worth doing.

At the same time, I felt lost in my way of life, feeling that I wasn’t moving forward.

“Why don’t you speak your mind out to your precious family, to these two, who are already walking down that path ahead of you?”

Hearing Shuri-kun’s words, I felt like my head was being beaten.

Being asked why, I didn’t open up my worries to my family.

I had come from a complicated environment.

Even if we had feelings towards family, it was an environment where we couldn’t honestly rely on that.

It was a time where, if we weren’t cautious of each other, we might be taken advantage of by the people around us.

However, that wasn’t what was happening now. The time of discord is over as well. It should be fine to rely on them, to be spoiled by them, and to be relied on by them.

Despite that, I was holding all my problems to myself again.

This is the opposite of progress.

“Until now, maybe the three of you have been trying your best on your own. As a result, you’ve come to have a habit of trying to fix problems by yourself. You’ve mastered the ability to manage situations.

I don’t think that you need to worry all by yourself anymore.

How about the three of you gather together like this, and open up to each other?”

To open up to each other, from here on out, huh.

“Besides, I think you understand after having eaten the dumplings, but I think that all dumplings are delicious.

Just like that, no matter what path you decide to go down, it will definitely by a wonderful one.

Just like how delicious dumplings are, as dumplings.

You are who you are after all, Ekress-san. Which is why I believe in you.”

No matter what path I choose, it will be a wonderful path.

So that’s how Shuri-kun thinks of me. So that’s how much he trusts in me.

Having that thought, my back itches. Something’s itchy. So itchy I’m going red.1

However, that makes me happy. That he would think that of me.

Just as I was thinking about what to say to Shuri-kun, he was leaving the room.

“I’ll leave the three of you to talking then. We’ve made so much after all. How about the three of you talk about all the things you normally wouldn’t as you poke at the dumplings?”

Saying so, Shuri-kun left.

The ones left behind, us, were stuck in an awkward situation.

All three of us were trying to say something, but couldn’t.

In this frustrating mood, I look down at the plate that I was holding in my hand.

Since so much was made, let’s all three of us eat it.

…I see… Shuri-kun had understood.

That, if we were thinking of talking like normal, then we would run out of honest things to talk about regarding everything that’s happened till now.

Which is why, we would ignite the conversation by using food.

It was a consideration fitting Shuri-kun.

“Gann-niisan, Gingus. Why don’t we eat, since you’ve already made it?”

“….Ahh, alright.”

“Alright, I guess.”

Gann-niisan and Gingus bring over a chair to sit on, and started eating the dumplings.

“These are great. Although all of the filling inside was prepared for us by Shuri.”

“That’s true. But…. Brother(Aniki)…..hey. Brother’s ones are, um, just like Sister(Aneki) said; they look pretty bad.”

“Shaddap. Look at yours. The fillings all over the place. I bet there’s hardly any filling in these.”

The two of them were arguing like this, but it seemed fun somehow.

Actually, isn’t this the first time that Gingus has called us Sister, and Brother?

Sister, huh. It feels a little embarrassing, to be called something new.

“Shuri said that, this would be perfect if there was a dipping sauce.”

“Huh? You mean that this isn’t complete just like this?”

“From what Shuri said, it seems he wanted to create a sauce that matches these. However, it seems that he doesn’t have all the ingredients he wants. I just can’t fathom it at all.”

“Shuri’s perfect sauce, huh. It certainly isn’t something I can imagine. Just how precious it must be….”

Saying so, we started, bit by bit, to talk.

Having a conversation like this, we understood that we really did know too little about each other.

“Ore-sama likes this chive’s one. In the first place, Ore-sama likes dishes that smell good.”

“I like this normal dumpling. It’s simple and delicious. These are my fav.”

I didn’t even know the type of foods they liked eating.

“Actually, Gingus, leaving me aaside, since you’re the one responsible for the army, how about you start looking for a partner? We talked about this before, and you said that you like girls like Princess Tebis. Not her age, but her intellect, right?”

“Shut up. It’s none of your business. Brother, if you’re not going to be staying in the shadows any longer, then go get married with a normal girl. You’re first, right Brother? Considering the order.”

“From here on, I’ll be on the path of a carefree chef, so it’s fine to think about that after I fall in love normally.”

I didn’t even know the type of girls they liked.

“Ahh, but recently, Ore-sama hasn’t been training my horse riding or swordsmanship, so my body’s been feeling a little weak. I need to train.”

“You like that sort of thing?”

“Rather than domestic affairs or paperwork, I like practising fencing and horse riding more. It’s a hobby, a hobby.”

“I don’t get it at all. I’ve come to enjoy cooking. It serves as both a hobby and a practical benefit.”

We didn’t even know each other’s hobbies.

We realised that, none of us knew anything about each other.

I see, so this is what it means to open up to each other. Shuri-kun, I get it now.

“I like Shuri-kun, and my hobbies are tabletop games so, it would be nice if I had someone to play with. It’s been so long…. Since I’ve had someone to play card, or board games with.”

“Isn’t it fine to play with Shuri? You could try to telling him.”

“I wonder if Shuri-kun would do something like that with me?”

We went through a large variety of topics like this, and talked out our hearts.

Us brothers and sister had never had a proper conversation until now, but it felt like we’ve finally returned to some semblance of a family.

What is this feeling…. It’s so warm.

Although the previous Feudal lord…. Father, isn’t here, I wonder if this is the warmth of family.

Yes, it probably is.

“Sister. Speaking of which, you were saying something about being lost, and didn’t know what to do, right?”

“Eh? Un.”

Gingus suddenly brought up the subject, and honestly, I’m feeling perplexed.

“What are you doing right now? Serious question.”

“Eh? …Well…. The transfer and supervision of the remaining domestic affairs. ….And putting into books the relationships we have with our neighbouring countries… things like that.”

“No. Sister, you should just become a diplomat.”

Eh? A diplomat?

“To be honest, it isn’t a role I can take on. Although Ganglabe is a person who can do pretty much anything, there are probably some people who won’t agree or understand even if we left the territory to him.”

That was something I understood just by going out to the streets. The person at the blacksmith had been acting considerate towards me, but didn’t hold any good will towards Ganglabe and the others who…. at its roots, seemed to have usurped the country.

I see, that’s the same for our surrounding countries as well.

The relationship that I had built up with our neighbours until now, will change. There may even be some who hold malicious thoughts.

So he means that, that’s where I come in, and reconcile the relationships between us and our neighbours, as well as with any other country further down the road.

“I see, that seems like something I can do.”

At any rate, the surrounding countries should still think that I’m a man. I mean, up till now, I’ve only ever interacted with them as a man, so of course that would be the case.

Diplomat huh, if it’s that then…

“I’ll do it. I’ll try being a diplomat.”

“Good. You’ve always had a way with words Ekress. You also look good, so it would be harder for them to hold ill-will against you.”

“Ore-sama has my own things to do, so I leave it to you. I mean, there’s no way we can just keep leaving every little thing for Ganglabe to do anyway.”

We all agreed.

I was finally at ease. So this is how much of a relief it is to finally be decided on what I would be doing.

In that case, there’s something I have to do now.

For the relationship with our neighbours, as well as the future of Sounity.

A problem that I must clean up.

“Leave it to me. As well as the matter regarding that person.”

I say so, and both of them stiffen up.

That person. Just with that phrase, the two of them had probably guessed who I was talking about.

It’s just as they thought. It was about that person, who was locked up underneath this castle.

“….Sister, please. Please, anything but her life.”

Gingus bowed. With a grave look on his face.

“No matter what she did, she’s still my mother.”

I know. Being the cause of the mess, if left as is, she was someone who would without a doubt become the seed of friction.

Gingus’ mother…. The legal wife of the former lord.

It was because she was arrested via Princess Tebis’ hands, that we were finding it difficult to decide on how to deal with her.

“I’ll try my best…. So that she doesn’t suffer. I promise.”

“….Thanks.”

Gingus made a truly apologetic face.

I must end this. For the sake of this territory’s future as well.

As well as for Gingus.

After that.

I handed the knife to Gann-niisan, and properly told him how I thankful I was to him.

I want him to try his best from here on. Seeing that he’s finally able to do something calming; something he wanted to do.

I will do what I can.

For the sake of my previous little brother as well.