Publication Celebration side-story.
Eliza’s Straw and a Series of Events Concerning Food
This side-story was posted on August 2016.
I wrote it as a special thank you after getting published, it had been inserted here to fit the timeline.
I don’t quite understand it, but I had a dream where I was walking through the our lands with a straw in my hand and a feeling of happiness in my chest.
It just happened to be the day after I went out to see the wheat fields, so the dream must have been drawn from that experience.
It was probably due to the dream coming back to me, that I even saw the single straw carried by the spring wind to my feet. It was just when I had gone out to take Rashiok on a walk.
Usually, I would never have given it any thought. But I picked it up, not because I believed in anything spiritual or of destiny connected to dreams, but it was just a whim. I had every intention of throwing it aside after holding it for a moment.
“…What is that?”
“Ah, this. Well, I actually returned to the village just last night. Father gave this to me to share with the men at the barracks when I return.”
It was halfway up the hill where the mansion stood, where I found the quietly walking soldier. He had a somewhat troubled expression on his face and carried a basket that contained bread and a variety of vegetables that were wrapped in a cloth. I had only encountered him due to an old habit from when I was at the barracks, where I would exit the grove used for hunting.
“He wants me to share this measly amount. Bah, but I can’t just eat it alone either. And it will be most bothersome to have to boil the vegetables at this hour. I’m not sure what I’ll do…”
Bread and vegetables were quite valuable in the lands of Kaldia, which was now impoverished, but this was too small an amount to share at the barracks. And so he was at a loss of what to do with these gifts.
In fact, along with training, soldiers were responsible for acquiring their own food. I didn’t see the problem with him taking several days to go through the food by himself, but apparently, he would not do this.
There was an unwritten rule among the lord’s soldiers to share any food that they received. It was likely a remnant from their days as bandits.
I thought about this for a moment, before taking the basket off of my back. Inside of it was scarlet runner beans that Rashiok had found as we walked in the grove.
We had gone hunting a bird who had stolen the straw in my hand. Had we stayed on the usual walking path, we would never have found them. In fact, no one had ever found them, as they still grew in large clusters which I was able to tear away. It would be more than enough for a soldier to share with his roommates.
“If it’s troubling you, perhaps you would want to trade? Although, it’s not worth as much as bread and vegetables.”
“Oh? Are these scarlet runner beans? How did you manage to find them! Are you certain?”
“I’d rather have bread than beans.”
He laughed knowingly but accepted my offer with gratitude.
I kept a small handful of the beans and gave the rest to him. In exchange, my hands were now full with bread and vegetables. I put these on Rashiok’s back, and we continued our walk.
Rashiok’s body had grown much since the winter, and the amount of time he insisted on having for his walks increased. Recently, he would descend the hill and then make a complete circle around it.
As I was now busy making preparations to take in the refugees, I would usually leave it to Kamil, though Rashiok tended to get sulky if I didn’t accompany him once in a while.
As it really would not be good for one who was still young to receive inadequate exercise, and so today we stayed out for the entire evening. Of course, Kamil had to do that much more work instead.
It was just as I saw an elderly woman with a troubled expression, walking on the road between the mansion on the golden hill and Claria village, that I thought in wonderment at the succession of coincidences.
“….Hey, you over there. Has something happened? What’s the matter?”
But then I remembered the atmosphere during the birthday celebration and hesitated for a moment, but ultimately called after the woman.
“Hmm? …Ah, you. You’re the lord’s daughter…”
The woman appeared to be a farmer, and she went pale as soon as she noticed me.
Perhaps I should have just left her alone. I could not help but regret having frightened her for no reason.
However, while there was bewilderment in her expression, she continued to stare at me carefully.
It was the kind of reaction one would expect from someone encountering a wild animal, but I didn’t sense any ill will either. But in any case, she was clearly not able to feel calm with me around.
“Uh, um, I thought you might need help… But if not, then nevermind.”
I said and was about to move away, but the old woman with the troubled expression called after me. “No, please wait.”
“…I was on my way to the Mansion of Golden Hills anyway. This morning, I found these rare-looking eggs that were red like burning embers. I was going to the mansion to ask what I should do with them.”
“Eggs? May I take a look at them?”
The woman mumbled something about the futility of showing it to a foolish girl, but still opened the cloth she held and showed its contents to me. Indeed, inside were five eggs that were in a vibrant shade of red. Though, they were not hot to the touch.
It was like burning charcoal in color but without heat and one size larger than an average chicken egg.
And they were eggs laid towards the end of spring… Was it from a firebird? I remember eating them several times during my days at the barracks.
Firebirds were slightly larger than chickens and mostly ate fire moths.
They flew around this area often, and would occasionally attack people with their claws if you threatened them.
But they were usually quite cowardly and avoided being near people. A knowledgeable soldier had once told me that they usually laid their eggs near the groves by the river…
“I know of these. They are eggs from a firebird. I don’t think there is any problem with them. You can boil them and eat them.”
“You can eat these eggs? But, um… Unfortunately, the base of my pot fell out yesterday. So I won’t be able to boil these eggs until the next merchant comes along. But they might spoil before then…”
She felt a tinge of deja vu but took the basket off Rashiok’s back all the same.
“I have some bread and vegetable that should last you a while. Would you trade some for the eggs?”
“Oh, are you sure? I would be grateful to have some bread.”
The woman smiled as if she needed no time to consider the offer. She took an eighth of the bread and vegetables and gave me the eggs in return before setting off.
“…Oh, well. Maybe it’s a good thing that I got some eggs. You can eat some too.”
I stroked Rashiok’s neck as he stood beside me. His tail wagged happily.
A similar thing happened after that. Now I only had two eggs left, and in return received a bag of flour and potatoes with sprouts. These all went on Rashiok’s back once again.
I had made this transaction with a merchant who was on his way from the east back to the royal capital to the west.
He had bought wheat seeds in Kaldia before, and so he called after me upon seeing me walk by. ‘Lord of these lands, do you think there are any in this village who will take these potatoes with sprouts? I’ll make them very cheap.’
Potatoes with sprouts were considered poisonous, and their value as food would be lowered considerably. The knowledge that it was dangerous for children to eat had spread far and wide, yet not many knew that they were edible once you removed the sprouts and the peals. In the first place, most people ate potatoes with the peals still on after boiling them. Not many would have even considered the idea of taking the time to peel them when their lives were busy enough as it was.
But in any case, it was towards the end of spring and there was no land left to plant any potatoes. It was not very economical to buy potatoes that could neither be eaten or increased. Regardless of it being a favor or due to sympathy.
But I traded them for the firebirds eggs, saying that the adults at the mansion and the soldiers would be able to eat them. The merchant did not feel like nearly inedible potatoes were a fair trade for eggs, and so he had added a bag of flour to my surprise.
Umm…what was it? I had a memory of a similar folktale from my previous life.
I remembered the outline being about a series of strange events that started with a straw and ended with the protagonist receiving all sorts of things. But the details were foggy.
I thought about such things as I looked down at the remaining vegetables, potatoes, eggs, and heel of bread and flour. It was a little escapism. But I too wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of this. All of them were too little in amount, I was sure the cook would just find it a nuisance if I brought them to the kitchen.
–But it was coincidentally the perfect time to begin thinking of memories from my past life. Because I was able to realize that there was one dish that I could make with these very ingredients.
You would cut off the inedible parts of the potatoes, boil and mash them and then add the other vegetables after chopping them up. Create flat patties and cover them with the egg and shredded bread before deep frying.
I think they were called croquettes. The memories of the woman in my past life would only buy premade ones and eat them. But it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate.
Though, not if I were to make it. The size of my body was not even compatible with the size of the kitchen.
“I suppose I’ll ask Kamil about it…”
I mumbled to myself. Then Rashiok’s tail swung around to hit me lightly on the back.
Unconsciously, I had been staring at the ground, deep in thought. And upon raising my head, I saw Rashiok’s face staring at me with an almost human-like sulky expression.
His damp snout pushed into my cheek. Hey, that’s cold, stop it.
“What is it? …Oh, the eggs.”
Because I had traded the eggs for the potatoes and flour, the amount he would be allowed to eat had decreased. He was clearly not very pleased about this. And I was thinking about using the last eggs for the croquettes,
“I’m sorry, I was wrong. We’ll go hunting for snakes next time, as an apology. Hey, stop hitting my head with your tail. I said I was sorry.”
Ultimately, I had to apologize to Rashiok all the way back to the mansion. It seemed that even dragons held grudges over food.
This was the day that I swore that I would never again accidentally decrease his portion of food.