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Chapter split into three(3) pages
Kaldia’s Budding Spring – Part Eight
“Uuuh… Right, that’s it. Gunther, there’s something I wanted to ask you…”
With both hands around the now moving snow snake that had sprung from the bag, I decided to resume the conversation.
He would probably want to understand the bizarreness of the situation as soon as he could. Gunther responded in the positive, with a small ‘Sure’ and a nod. Wishing to avoid beating around the bush any further, I decided to cut straight to the point.
“Thing is, someone handed in a marriage certificate with your name and Nadje’s inside.”
At that moment, Gunther’s voice and tone had gone soft and low. I could see both Nadje and the village chief twitch back a bit as they restlessly peeked over to Gunther.
Just as I was about to warn him that it was best not to make expressions that dangerous, Rashiok’s head – its owner still fixated on the snow snake – grazed against my side, and my back became recipient to the thrashings of a rather long tail. It eased the atmosphere a bit, admittedly.
“… Yes, I thought this was more of a one-person ordeal, but I really can’t have falsified documents stamped with the seal of approval, can I? I had it looked in to.”
Gunther did not give a single response, and instead let the bag slung over his back ungraciously drop to the floor. A heavy silence took over the house. Gunther was giving off oddly intimidating vibes.
The space between his eyebrows wrinkled as he fell into a deep silence, and Nadje could only barely open and close her mouth, again and again.
“… Exactly what do you mean by ‘falsified’?”
“In the Kaldia area, it’s necessary for both the man and woman meant to marry to be willing. The very thing that shows that willingness is their combined signature. Nadje, on the other hand, doesn’t know about the certificate and is therefore unwilling. I mean that we have a document with a forged signature on our hands.”
“I see… Look here, boss… You think I could talk this over with Nadje for a little bit?”
Gunther was madly scratching away at his scalp, almost as if his head itself was in pain. The oppressing air dispersed, and the others let out a breath of relief.
Possibly due to the dissipation of tension, Rashiok’s head began shoving against me repeatedly and forcefully, almost as if to tell me that we’d done enough here. Nose pressing against the snake that drooped from the palm of my hand, the thrashing against my back became even more violent
“It is, of course, best for the two parties in question to talk it out. Had some measure of ill will or malicious intent been involved, then we’d be going about this differently. But I’m, in essence, an outsider. Actually… even if that was the issue, I’d still have to apologise and leave this seat. Hold on, Rashiok. Don’t push me. Stop.”
Now I was forced to speak while stumbling about like some half-wit, and Rashiok was to blame. Nadje and Gunther said nothing as they looked my way, but then simultaneously burst into unsure smiles.
Now outside the house, I decided to quickly deal with the snow snake. For my travel companions mostly, since they seemed to have time to kill.
Adamant on the simplistic choice of skewered, grilled meat, I decided to borrow the village’s bonfire and improvised further by using a branch as a make-shift spit.
I asked Mefuri to step on the end of its tail, restraining the snake so that it couldn’t writhe about any longer. I then used my short sword to cleanly lop off its head.
Seeing the decapitated snake still wriggling and writhing about, Vanita backed away, looking rather taken aback.
Mefuri and I turn to one another. Mefuri appeared to be of one mind with me, seeing snakes as a type of animal clearly meant to be eaten. Looked like my own thoughts really came across.
“Mefuri, could you do me a favour and borrow a pan and some salt from that house over there?”
Snakes were much more delicious as a soup. Snow snakes especially.
Mefuri, having already seen the Village Chief’s wariness towards me and therefore able to extrapolate the more minute details, gave me an obedient nod and ran to the nearby house.
Vanita threw me a glare that screamed, ‘But I could’ve gone too!’. I deliberately ignored it. Why? Simply because Mefuri, once she realised that she was too little to carry the pot by herself, would come back soon enough.
Mefuri, her gaze dancing between Vanita and I as I preoccupied myself with chopping up the snake, eventually adopted a somewhat reluctant approach and spoke to Vanita.
“Um… Vanita. I can’t really take the pot, so… D-Do you think you could help me out?”
“Huh? Oh… Sure.”
Well, it looked like my original plan to bring the two of them outside with me and have Mefuri start talking to Vanita out of her own accord had been a success.
My protective gaze lingered on their backs as they raced for the house. Then Rashiok invaded my field of vision.
“… I get it, I get it already.”
Heaving a sigh, I tossed half of the snake’s head and body into Rashiok’s mouth. And here I’d thought that I could skin it, at least… Well, its worth was bound to sink quicker than it did during winter anyway, so I supposed I could let it get eaten this one time.
Making use of the pot Mefuri and Vanita carried over, I removed the bones and entrails of the snake and threw it in along with salt and water.
Letting a thick tree branch fall in the meantime, I broke it up to pieces and chiselled out its insides to make a sort of utensil. I’d decided to make spoons while I was at it, and had even prepared my short blade.
“… Excuse me.”
“How can be used to that much if you’re a domain lord? Do the nobles in Arxia train to infiltrate foreign forests or something?”
There was a rather pure perplexity underlying Mefuri’s question as she presented some herbs that looked like they might add some taste to the meal.
“Ah… No, not really. There was just a time when I lived in the barracks of the region army for a while. The region soldiers back then just sort of made their own dinner from what they found.”
I had hesitated for a brief moment before responding, unsure of how to answer. Then I realised that there wouldn’t be much in the way of deception, and decided that I might as well explain to her the bit about my past where I’d been an apprentice soldier of sorts.
“I didn’t really have a lot of stamina back in the day either. Couldn’t even protect anything right. I think I ate pretty much anything that could be eaten. The regions just happened to be pretty poor at the time too. So, snakes aside, the meat of animals like squirrels, rabbits, and birds were handed over to the populace… It wasn’t easy to keep up the spirit to take ingredients back to the barracks and cook them either, so it was pretty inevitable to make the tools on the spot and eat there.”
I’d spoken with a tone of fond reminiscence, but now it wasn’t just Vanita who turned toward me with a distasteful expression; Mefuri did the same thing.
… Vanita, with a mind forged by a higher education was once thing. But when Mefuri, who’d probably had to go through the same things I had did the same, I couldn’t help but feel a little put-off by the whole thing.