Saturday, November 25, 2017

Cooking with Wild Game Volume 3 Chapter 2

Remuneration and Resolve
Translator: Skythewood

1


「Ah, I can see the water source, it feels that we’re finally home.」


I muttered to myself with ragged breath, and Ai Fa who has been quiet all this while finally turned back.


「What’s with your voice? Asuta, your stamina is just like a ten years old child.」


「Yeah, I just need to beat Rimee Wu in that… Ai Fa, you are finally willing to talk to me.」


「Hmmp.」


Ai Fa faced forward again and sped up.


「Ah, wait for me! At least let me drink some water! My throat is completely patched since just now!」


I just hiked through the hill for an hour with over 16kg of load after all. The ropes had cut into my shoulder, and my legs and waist was trembling. I over exerted myself physically today, maybe even more than that day when we erected the stove.


By the way, how I did I cross that scary suspension bridge? In order to carry my baggage, Ai Fa made two trips, and she even went another time to guide me over while holding my hand. She was probably worried that her panicky family member would hug her again. Anyways, there were plenty of embarrassing things in my life that I didn’t want Rimee Wu to know.


Let’s hydrate myself first.


「What a wimp…」


While Ai Fa’s words stabbed deep into my head, I scooped up the clear water flowing between the rocks and drank it.


Absolutely refreshing.


Ai Fa who didn’t speak with me for a long time changed her tone and continued:


「…Asuta, why aren’t you asking anything.」


「Hmm? You mean what that uncle said? I have loads of things to ask, but you will tell me things about this world every night.」


I rubbed my hands on my knees, and looked up at Ai Fa’s face as I caught my breath


「You will choose what to tell me based on your judgement. I won’t find any faults in your judgement, since I don’t really understand this world too well yet.」


「……」


「However, if you are already calm, then I want to discuss something with you… What do you think about that uncle?」


I cast my gaze to my feet when I said that.


Over there was a large bag filled with poitan and tino leaves, and bottle of fruit wine.


Ai Fa wanted to leave the fruit wine behind and go back, but I think the fruit wine wasn’t at fault in the first place, so I volunteered to bring it back. The bottle’s design was different from the usual kind, which made me curious what kind of wine this was.


「He is a weird guy, but I don’t think he is a bad man. I’m a bit curious about what you think of him.」


「… Not worth mentioning.」


「You’re going already? Hey, wait!」


With no other choice, I heaved up the bag and chased after Ai Fa painstakingly.


Despite her heavy baggage, Ai Fa’s strides were steady.


「I won’t force you if you don’t want to talk about it, but you seemed really tense. You’re not good with guys like him?」


「… I have nothing to say with people from the city.」


「But you said plenty. Now that you mentioned it, I’m more of an outsider compared to that uncle, right? If you try talking to him, you two might get along well.」


「… You think I get along with you?」


「Ahaha! I already noticed, but you are still angry! The things you have been saying made my heart aches!」


「… I don’t mean it.」


Ai Fa’s eyes turned gloomy.


「Am I acting weird?」


「Weird or not huh… I thought you were in serious thought about something. You seemed troubled after we set off from the post station town.」


「I don’t know. This is the first time I spoke with someone from the city, my mind is a mess.」


She looked at me with gloomy eyes.


Like a little kid who was lost.


「Am I weird?」


「… No, you’re not weird at all.」


I said firmly.


「It’s only natural for you to be confused after hearing someone say that so suddenly. I only half understand what that guy said, but for you—— For the denizens of Forest's Edge, this will affect your future.」


「……」


「I already told you a long time ago, you don’t need to shoulder such a big responsibility. If you don’t think you can handle it, then just forget it ever happened.」


What I said was rather irresponsible.


But half of it was my sincere thoughts.
If what Kamyua Yost said was true—— the Tsun house will lose power, and the Wu house will take over Forest's Edge, things might end peacefully.


However, things wouldn’t proceed so smoothly.


We had yet to understand Donda Wu. If that burly and violent man replaced the Tsun house and rule Forest's Edge in their stead, he might be more of a tyrant than the Tsun house. And we wouldn’t be able to raise our head before Rimee Wu and Grandma Jiba.


On the other hand, what that uncle said might be just a load of rubbish. Kamyua Yost seemed to have a good grasp of the situation in Forest’s Edge. He might be trying to tease us on a whim, so we couldn’t believe him so easily.
I want to believe his words, and I hope he had the authority to strip the Tsun house of their chief status.
That way, we wouldn’t need to look out for that despicable Diga Tsun. And we made an enemy with another Tsun house member today.


The man who called himself Doddo Tsun was a small fry like Diga Tsun, but someone so shameless was more scary. He got drunk in the afternoon and create trouble in the post station town. It was hard for me to imagine that someone so crude was living in Forest's Edge.


They were not qualified to rule Forest's Edge—— That was definitely so.


Darum Wu of the Wu house might be a problematic character, but he isn’t as bad as these guys. If Darum Wu is a wolf, then they are just wild dogs… No, that will be rude to the wild dogs.


In the end, he is still 「human」.


Probably someone 「poisoned by civilization」.


「… You also turned quiet too.」


A voice of a girl throwing a tantrum reached my ears.


I was wondering who it was, but it was just Ai Fa.


「Asuta, you’re so troubled too, but you want me to forget about this.」


Ai Fa would sometimes show an expression that looked younger than her age.


Moments like this always made me waver—— I was rather flustered now too.


「No, I’m not troubling over something that deep. I’m just thinking that dogs exist in this world too.」


「Dogs? You mean the descendents of Farbu wolves that lived amongst humans being friends of mankind? That’s just a legend in the western kingdom, there’s no telling if it is true.」


Ai Fa pouted.


「If you want to eat that dog thing, then go to Rock City. I don’t want any part of that.」


She turned her head to the side really hard.


My mind was a mess, wondering if I should be angry or soothe her.


「I get it! I get it! Let’s talk about happy things! Since our match with Donda Wu is over, I want to try out new dishes. We have been taste testing steaks this few days, so my jaws are tired.」


Ai Fa kept her head turned and glance at me sideways.


「… Will the new dish be tastier than hamburg steak?」


「We will only know if we try. By the way, the steaks are delicious right?」


「That’s true… But I still prefer hamburg steak.」


「Huh!? You told me that the steaks are as tasty as hamburg steak right? That’s why I made up my mind to use steaks in my match with Donda Wu.」


「Steaks are as tasty as hamburg steak… But I still prefer hamburg steak.」


I was planning to rebuke her, but I forgot what I wanted to say from surprise.


Because I realized that this was the first time Ai Fa used the term 「prefer」.


Ai Fa once said that 「food has no distinction of being delicious or not」, but not only did she said 「tasty」, she even used the term 「prefer」.


To me, this was a dramatic change.


「… You once said that eating soft meat all the time will make our teeth weak, but there’s no need to worry about it if I continue to chew on jerky.」


Ai Fa lowered her face that was turned away a little, then looked up at me sideways with her mouth slightly pouting. That expression of hers was so sly.


It was even worse since she didn’t show that face on purpose.


「So, I still prefer hamburg steak.」


「I-I get it. I will make hamburg steak tomorrow, so let’s try out a new dish today first.」


Ai Fa lowered her head further, she seemed to be suppressing a smile.


I could only say that it was a good thing that both of my hands were full.


We just concluded our match with Donda Wu, even though there were new troubles in our hearts, it shouldn’t be too much to ask if we spent this day leisurely right? We could then rest up and worry about Kamyua Yost’s issue tomorrow! When we reached our home with this in mind, another new problem was there waiting for Ai Fa and me.


It came in the form of a matching couple.


They were Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min who would be wed in six days.


2


「Head of the Fa house Ai Fa, and house member Asuta, we have been waiting for your return.」


Kaslan Lutim’s face was squarish, and he had a pair of large eyes and a large nose. He wasn’t handsome, but emitted an air of honesty and sincerity. He said after a deep bow:


「It’s great to see you, it’s almost time for us to return to the Lutim house.」


Ema Min bundled her dark brown hair up tidily, and her mature face showed hints of intelligence and cheerfulness. She bowed too.


「Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min. What are you doing here?」


Ai Fa had not switched to her house head expression yet, and asked them puzzledly. The two of them smiled and answered as if they had agreed on this in advance:


「We have some urgent matters for the two of you, so we came to visit.」


To be honest, I had an ominous feeling when I heard him said that.


We have already asked Donda Wu to turn down the matter of tending the hearth for the wedding when we went home in the morning.


But even so, the ominous feeling persisted.


「It’s too conspicious to stay here, come on in… Asuta, care take their steel.」


Ai Fa grabbed my bag of poitan with her hand that was holding the fruit wine, and hurried into the house.


I was momentarily surprised, and quickly took the long and short blades Kaslan Lutim proffered to me.


「P-Please come in.」


Ever since Rimee Wu’s visit quite some time ago, we finally have some guest.


I didn’t know how to receive them at all.


Ai Fa finally returned from the food store, and sat down in the seat of honour in the large room. The two guest sat down an adequate distance away opposite Ai Fa.


I was at a loss, and finally knelt down besides Ai Fa, with the blades placed right beside me.


Since no one complained, my actions probably didn’t violate any customs of Forest's Edge.


「First, we want to thank you both. Ai Fa and Asuta of house Fa, thank you for the amazing feast you prepared for us last night.」


「That’s right, dinner last night was delicious. For us, this irreplaceable pre wedding celebration was a joyous night we will never forget.」


When I hear the honest and sincere thanks from the both of them, I wanted to thank them too.


Or rather… I just came back from the motley post station town, so the sight of these two who represented innocence and purity gave me an entirely different impression from last night.


Kaslan Lutim was a young man with such forthright eyes.


Ema Min was actually a woman with such a bright and clear expression.


I wasn’t sure if it was just their family, or this differs by the individuals, but many of the Wu house members emits dazzling life force. But these two had a more stable quality, as tenacious as a rooted tree.


Ai Fa finally reverted to her serious expression as a house head. Sitting with one knee up, she looked at them and said:


「We are glad to tend to the Wu house’s hearth too—— But what are you referring to when you mentioned you have a request for us? We have already rejected the request about the wedding through Donda Wu.」


After Ai Fa got right to the point, the two of them said 「yes」 at the same time, and lowered their heads:


「That’s the matter we would like to discuss with you two! Back then, it was my father Dan Lutim who proposed this matter which goes against the customs of Forest's Edge when we heard his proposal…」


「We also think it is a wonderful idea. If it comes through, it would be a truly blissful night.」


Their hearts were so in sync even before the wedding.


Their expressions and eyes were filled with pure longing and joy—— I could feel their honest character from how they try their best to convey their thoughts.


But these were two different matters.


Of all the kin house of the Wu house, Kaslan Lutim was the heir to the strongest Lutim main house. It would be too heavy a responsibility for me to care take the hearth during his wedding.


I could only count on Ai Fa’s decisiveness.


「Neither the Lutim house nor Min house has deep relations with the Fa house, so the Fa house can’t bear such a heavy responsibility. A family joyous occasions should be shared with your kins… Asuta already said that last night.」


She was right.


I nodded in agreement.


The next instance, Kaslan Lutim looked at me with his forthright eyes.


「Asuta, I heard that you are a Fa house member, but didn’t come from Forest's Edge, but a foreign country. And that you work as a chef in your hometown.」


「Yes, I might just be an apprentice helping out at home, but what you said is true.」


「I don’t understand what that job entails in detail. Simply put, it’s similar to the merchants peddling cooked food in the post station town, correct?」


「Yes, you are correct.」


「In that case—— can you sell me the dishes you prepared?」


「… What?」


I didn’t understand what he meant.


Selling dishes—— How do I sell them in Forest's Edge?


「I’m not asking you to care take our hearth out of your good will, friendship or kinship, we will trade for your work with proper remunerations. Just for one night, we hope to purchase your cooking skills, knowledge and labour—— That is our wish.」


And I——


Was dumbstruck.
「Asuta, you are a member of another house, so we won’t demand for your blessings. And we just met last night, so we can’t force you to offer us your kindness and generousity. In that case, we can only pay for you to render help.」


「If that is so… But——」


「I plan to pay you with everything I have, your cookings is worthy of me doing so. I want to share the joy of eating I experience that night with Ema Min and my father Dan Lutim, with my family and kins. Asuta, I need your strength.」


When Kaslan Lutim said that, he took off the tusks and horns hanging on his thick neck with a crisp clinking sound.


On the necklace was several layers of horns and tusks, far greater than the number of Ai Fa’s neck.
Ema Min took off her necklace with a calm smile.


On it was the three tusks and horns gifted to her by her family.
They offered these necklaces that represents the pride of hunters and the love of their parents before me.


「Not just the Lutim, the hundred odd kins of the Wu house will also attend this banquet. I know this isn’t enough to pay for everyone’s meal, but every participant will gift us with one blessing each. That will be two hundred for Ema Min and me. If that still isn’t enough, I will hunt kiba until it is enough…」


「Wait! That’s too much, I can’t accept this!」


I felt an emotion close to terror, and yelled loudly:


「I-I’m just a immature half-baked chef, I can’t take on such an important job… And I’m an outsider, and don’t know the rules of Forest's Edge too well yet, if you leave such an important job to me…」


「You have already shown us your capabilities, we are not worried about that.」


「B-By capabilities, you mean yesterday’s steaks? Like I said, it’s a dish a family can finish on their own. I will tell you the menu right now——」


「According to what you described, in order to reproduce the taste, we have to start from hunting the kiba right?」


「I will teach you! I will teach you how to bloodlet and slaughter them! Actually, I have only slaughtered three kibas. You already possess the skill to skin them, so you will learn it in no time.」


「The hamburg steak that was brought up repeatedly last night——」


「It’s fine even if you don’t try it. It will be harmful to your bodies if you get addicted to that dish.」


「We are not that foolish.」


Kaslan Lutim—— suddenly smiled.


It was a strong smile, filled with the pride and dignity of a man.


「If that dish will harm the body of a hunter, I will not touch it at all. But you said that there wouldn’t be any effects even if we eat it one thousand or two thousand times, isn’t that right Asuta?」


「T-That’s just my assumption, I don’t know the actual facts. However, it is certain that eating soft food all day will definitely make one’s teeth and jaws grow weak.」


「If someone allows their soul to corrode even after hearing your words, then they are the ones who are too weak. You don’t need to feel gloomy about this. You are telling us this to warn us right?」


Kaslan Lutim gently placed a fist onto the floor and leaned forward.


The righteous youth didn’t show any changes on his face, but his emotions might be getting heated up quietly:


「I’m a hunter, so I can’t explain as clearly as you—— Anyway, I want to share my feelings with everyone. If there is more joy in life, we will have a stronger will to live. The happiness you brought to us gave Ema Min and me strength, and I want others to know this strength too. Not just house Lutim, I want to share it with the Wu house, Min house, Lei house, Mamu house, Lilin house and mufa house—— In the face of such a situation, we need to obtain a greater strength to fulfil our obligations as hunters.」


The situation he was referring to—— was it about the Tsun clan becoming depraved?


But I couldn’t think about so many things at the same time.


「T-That’s why I told you… that I will impart all of my skills to you. Including bloodletting, slaughtering, grilling poitans and how to cook the steaks you ate yesterday. Give me six days, I will teach everyone the details. I have already taught some of the skills to the women of the Wu clan——」


「… And the hamburg steak?」


「There’s no need to go out of the way to learn that dish. Hamburg steak takes too much effort to prepare, and doesn’t really fit the denizens of Forest's Edge right?」


「It might be rude for me to say this, but whether hamburg steak is suitable for the denizens of Forest's Edge should be decided by the denizens of Forest's Edge… No, you’re already a member of the Fa house, and a part of Forest's Edge now. I’m not taking your words lightly, but I wish to choose my own path.」


「If we can get tremendous joy out of this, we will choose that path no matter how much extra efforts it will take.」


Ema Min finally chipped in.


「What should we do in order to live? Forage for firewood? Dry pico leaves? Tan hides? What are the things we should do and which path should we take? Eighty years ago, our forebears also considered these things, and impart them to us. One day, I will bear Kaslan’s children—— And I hope I can guide them down a path that leads to greater happiness.」


「No one will neglect their other chores just for the sake of cooking. But if anyone is willing to put in the extra effort, that means there is value and meaning in doing so. If someone finds the value in hamburg steak, then she is definitely willing to spend the time make them. If not, then she wouldn’t bother… that’s how simple it is」


「But you have not tried hamburg steaks before, so why are you adamant about it?」


「We are not only after the hamburg steak, we are hoping that you can give it your all.」


Kaslan Lutim said.


「That’s why we are asking you. I won’t ask the people who learned from you, we just want to ask you. Just for one night, we hope you can do everything you can for us—— and this is the payment for our job request.」


「Please wait. I——」


But I didn’t say anything more.


My mind was more confused than I thought, and I was wavering.


The next moment, Ai Fa who was quiet all this while said:


「Asuta seems to be tired, he’s stamina is no different from a ten years old child after all. Just carrying the goods back from the post station town was enough to leave him exhausted… I’m sorry, but can we give our reply tomorrow?」


「I see, of course it’s fine—— Well then Asuta, we have one last thing to ask of you.」


「… Pray tell.」


「Last night, you said that you want to be a medicine, not poison—— and I sincerely hope so too. Your strength must not become poison. If it becomes medicine, then the denizens of Forest's Edge might obtain more joy, bonds and strength to continue living. I rushed here because of this thought in my mind. May we pick the same path—— Alright then, we will take our leave.」


3


The sun sets.


We met Kamyua Yost in the post station town at noon, and after returning to Forest's Edge, we had a long discussion with Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min. This had far exceeded my brain capacity, so I immersed myself in cooking as a brief respite from reality.


The menu for today was simple. Not counting the time to grill poitan in, it was finished in less than an hour.


Aria and tino leaves were boiled inside the iron pot.


On the fake rubber leaves were additional aria and tino leaves. The aria was cut into either round or semi-circle slices, while the tino leaves that had the texture of cabbages were cut into bite sizes.


Besides the vegetables were the kiba meat. There were belly meat, shoulder meat and thigh meat. I tried my best to cut the meat into 5mm slices, and arranged them into a beautiful circle.


A thick red liquid was glistening on the wooden plate, a condiment made with fruit wine as its base. After bringing the fruit wine to a boil and the alcohol evaporates, I added salt and pico leaves to flavour it slightly. It had a tangy sweetness to it which will definitely make Donda Wu complain if he eats it.


「Alright! Ai Fa, it’s done!」


Ai Fa looked at me with an expression that says: 「What’s this?」


That’s right, this was just a plate with raw meat slices displayed on top, so a denizen of Forest's Edge wouldn’t understand.


「This is Shabu shabu, a dish where you can cook and eat the meat yourself.」


Even after hearing my explanation, the question mark on top of Ai Fa didn’t disappear.


Instead of explaining with words, it was simpler to show by hand. I took out the secret weapon I prepared for this day——


After slicing the krilee branches that has almost no taste into thin sticks, I dried them and made them into 「chopsticks」.


「First, put the meat into the pot like this.」


「Uwah!」


I turned my head because of the strange noise, and found Ai Fa covering her mouth with her face red for unknown reasons.


「What? Something happened? I didn’t do anything that will make you embarrassed.」


「S-Shut up! What kind of disgusting movement is that!」


「Hmm~? That’s how you use chopsticks.」


I opened and close the chopsticks a couple of times, and Ai Fa continued her 「Uwah, uwah」.  Her face was getting redder… She seemed embarrassed that she couldn’t suppress her cries.


「I will carry on with the demonstration—— Put the meat into the soup like this, and slowly move it from side to side, until the slices aren’t red any more. Shabu~ shabu~」


「… What sort of spell is that?」


「It’s a spell to make the meat turn tastier.」


I then placed the well cooked belly meat onto Ai Fa’s plate.


After that, I picked up a piece of aria and tino leave floating in the pot for her.


「The problem is that it will take some time to finish three arias. Ah, try it first. If you don’t like it, I will change it into a normal meat soup.」


「……」


After she finished mumbling to herself—— I already know what she was saying softly. After Ai Fa gave thanks to the grace of the forest and to me, she picked up the plate suspiciously.


She scooped up the meat and aria coated in the condiment, and ate it.


「Shabu~shabu~… how does it taste?」


「… it’s tender.」


「Belly meat is tender right? Here, this is thigh meat.」


「… It’s tougher than the meat in meat soup.」


「Shabu~shabu~」, I was getting tired of saying that.「And finally, shoulder meat.」


「… It’s soft.」


「Like I said, our intense match with Donda Wu is over, so we don’t need to care about the toughness of the meat. If it don’t fit your taste, I will cook some meat soup instead. What do you think?」


Ai Fa fell into deep thought with a troubled face.


In the meantime, I said 「shabu shabu~」 repeatedly and cooked some belly meat for myself.


「Don’t be so troubled, just tell me what your honest thoughts are.」


Despite what I said, she still didn’t reply, so I placed a slice of belly meat into my mouth.


Ah.


Delicious.


For the past ten odd days, our dinner was either steak or hamburg steak, so the texture and refreshing taste of the thin pieces of meat felt delicious.


I drank plenty of meat soup at the Wu clan, but food cooked from 「simmering 」 and 「dipping」 still have some difference.


On top of that, dinner tonight was Shabu shabu. Aside from the aria and tino leaves, only a bit of salt was added into the soup. The only condiment was the fruit wine sauce, so it couldn’t conceal the taste of the meat.


There wasn’t any need to conceal the taste of the kiba, I could feel the energy from these meat. The kiba was juicy and tasty, and the juice spew out every time I chewed, so I didn’t know when I should swallow.


There was still a bit of a stench in the meat, and it was tougher than pork, but it would be fine if I slice it thinly like this. When I tried the thigh meat which was the toughest body part, I could actually chew and enjoy its wonderful texture.


「Wow, it’s really good…! That’s what I think, what about you?」


Ai Fa thought for a moment, then said: 「it is delicious.」


「But… I can only eat a little at a time, this is too slow.」


「Yes, I know how you feel. I will often feel it is troublesome towards the end, and throw it all into the pot. Especially pork—— No, kiba meat has to be completely cooked, until it loses its red colour.」


「If that is so, why not cook it all from the start?」


「Hmm? Well~ cooking it all from the start is one way of eating it. The advantage of cooking one piece at a time is that we can eat freshly cooked and steaming hot meat. To be honest, I don’t eat this too often either.」


「I see.」


「That’s right, and our restaurant don’t have Shabu shabu either. We seldom eat out, when my mother…」


I couldn’t help stopping, but I had to finish it since I already started the sentence.


「… When my mother is still alive, we will eat this occasionally.」


I told myself in the post station town that I shouldn’t tell Ai Fa about my world in too much detail. Was that the right thing to do?


Ai Fa squint her eyes a little, and cast her gaze on the pot that was boiling.


I ruffled my head, and threw a small piece of wood into the stove.


「… How old were you when your mother passed away?」


「Hmm? About seven, what’s the matter?」


「That early?」 After she said that, Ai Fa lift her head and ask in surprise:


「Which means you tasted this dish before you are seven?」


「Probably, yeah. It’s too lonely to have hot pot with just me and my dad… Ah, no, I won’t feel that way when I eat hotpot with you though.」


「……?」


「Damn it, I’m digging my own grave…! It’s nothing, simply put, this is a standard home cooked meal for an entire family… So when a family of three becomes two, it makes me feel that eating hot pot feels lonely! Sorry for saying something so depressing!」


Ai Fa blinked her eyes, and didn’t seem to understand what I was saying completely.


「I don’t understand. Will it make you unhappy to eat this dish with me?」


「I wouldn’t have prepared this dish if I feel that way.」


「I see. That’s great… Looks like I don’t need to beat you up.」


「That’s a relief!」


「… Lend me that.」


Ai Fa reached out her right hand.


「Hmm? The chopsticks? Don’t you find them disgusting?」


「Then why did you make another pair?」


She found out.


I prepared another pair of chopsticks, and had placed it quietly in the shadows of the plate and ladle used to remove foam from the soup.
「I made another pair for you of course. But it’s not easy to use though.」


「If you can use it, so can I.」


Ai Fa pouted again.


So as I kept an eye on the aria and tino leaves so they didn’t overcook, and gave a simple lecture on how to use chopsticks.


「Hmmp, that’s simple.」


Three minutes later, Ai Fa picked up a piece of aria successfully.


Hmm~


Nevermind, it works if she can pick up food firmly —— I told myself.


In the end, Ai Fa didn’t learn the right way to hold chopsticks. She held one stick with her thumb and index finger, and the other stick with her ring finger and pinkie. And she was better at it than me.


The positioning looks perfect though, so let’s keep it at that.
「Okay, let’s continue eating! Eat more aria okay? If there are leftovers, I can fry some meat with them.」


「Yes.」


After seeing Ai Fa, I added another firewood, then ate some grilled poitan.


「Asuta, what meat is this?」


「That’s the meat from the shoulder and back.」


「I see.」


Ai Fa dipped the meat into the iron pot——


「Shabu~shabu~」, she started mumbling.


I couldn’t help spitting the poitan I chew half way out, and choked on my food.
「What are you doing, don’t waste food.」


Ai Fa said as she glared at me, then continued: 「Shabu~shabu~」.


I tried my best to stifle my laughter and decided to wait until I had thoroughly enjoyed her demeanor before telling her 「You can just say it in your heart if you think it is a hassle」—— I promised to myself in my heart.

4


The peaceful dinner ended smoothly.


We tidied up the cutlery as usual, put out one of the candles, and it was time to think over the troublesome matters properly.
「…Asuta, I will be blunt.」


Ai Fa lifted her hands to let down her blonde hair as she said quietly:


「What Kaslan Lutim said earlier was meant for you. As the house head, I will tell you my opinion. But you have to make the final decision yourself.」


「Yes, I know.」


「And also, you don’t need to worry about the Fa house’s position for this matter.」


「Huh?」


「This is a proper trade. Even if you fail, no one will be punished. If you succeed, the Wu clan and the Fa house won’t get any closer. Aside from the remuneration, we won’t be affected at all.」


Her hair swayed in the darkness.


Unwed women didn’t cut their hair, so Ai Fa’s hair was rather long.
「… But what will happen to the two of them? If I fail, how will that affect them?」


「Nothing much, they will just lose their kin’s trust, and be mocked. Everyone will say that the heir of the Lutim house messed up the entire ceremony, and is a fool who tarnished the pride of a hunter for some retarded game.」


「Uwah. I’m glad that you don’t hold back at all during times like this… Ah~! What should I do!」


「Be quiet… What are you so worried about? To me, this is a safe bet with nothing to worry about.」


Ai Fa leaned against the wall and tilted her head confusedly.
「Kaslan Lutim’s request is for you to cook the dishes you made before, but create anything new. Kiba steak, hamburg steak, meat soup and grilled poitan… You just need to serve these dishes, and the guests will be surprised and awed.」


「That might be so… but they would add all sorts of vegetables into the pot lavishly during banquets right? Mama Mia Lei mentioned this yesterday. That’s why I didn’t hesitate in adding tino leaves and pula into the meat soup meant for the guest.」


Ai Fa flicked her hair again.


The candle was probably too dim, and I couldn’t see her face as clearly as usual.
「And so, no matter how great the dish I served was, there will be people unhappy about the bland palatte of ingredients, feel that something is amiss and get angry. Not just that, if my cooking isn’t to their liking—— Then it will mess up the banquet they were looking forward too, right?」


「……」


「And this is a formal wedding ceremony. There might be old men with archaic thinking, or people more stubborn than Donda Wu who prefers the poitan pot stew usually served at banquets. Everyone have their own preference after all, and I keep forgetting something so obvious. That’s why my pride as a chef was hurt when I heard Donda Wu disparaging me. I don’t think everyone will accept my cooking unconditionally anymore..」


「Asuta, what exactly… are you afraid of?」


Ai Fa’s voice was a little puzzled..


「Even though all that might happen, Kaslan Lutim still wish for you to care take their hearth. This is an important banquet for him, but he wants you to tend to the lives of his irreplaceable family and relatives. Isn’t this a great honour?」


「It is a great honour. I’m so afraid because I’m not worthy of it. Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min believe me from the bottom of their heart and want to entrust me with such an important task. I could feel that—— and it makes me afraid.」


「… I still don’t understand.」


Ai Fa shrugged in the darkness.


I stood up, walk to Ai Fa and sat down.


「… What’s the matter?」


Ai Fa looked at me quizzically.


She was frowning, but her eyes were calmer than I imagined.


「Sorry, I feel uneasy if I can’t see your face. If you feel uncomfortable that we are too close, I will light another candle.」


Ai Fa shook her head slowly and said:


「Asuta, you already finished the agreement you had with Donda Wu successfully, so why are you still so worried? This is the first time you act so timid about your own cooking.」


「… What happened back then was because of my ideals and emotions. I want to give Rimee Wu and Grandma Jiba more strength, and to be acknowledged by Donda Wu. I only took on these seemingly impossible matches because of this strong feelings—— But it’s different this time.」


I looked into Ai Fa’s beautiful blue eyes and said:


「I don’t have any bonds with Kaslan Lutim, and I don’t know if what he said is true. Even though it has nothing to do with me, I can’t decide if it is right. Because I——」


「You want to say that you are not from this world?」


There was a gleam of displeasure in Ai Fa’s eyes.


「……Asuta, your eyes are gloomy today. When we met Donda Wu, you found the right path forward. But now, you can’t see anything.」


「W-What do you mean?」


「Don’t you get it? You don’t need to worry about favours or blood relations, there’s no right or wrong about this either, and the decision isn’t made by you. Kaslan Lutim already told you right? They just want to borrow your strength.」


Ai Fa suddenly grabbed my arm.


Her face was already to close to mine, and she was right at my nose now.


The aftertaste of dinner was overwhelmed —— by Ai Fa’s fragrance.


「Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min will decide your value, not you. You don’t need to worry about favours, blood relations, goodwill and generosity. They acknowledged your capabilities, and wish to 『purchase』 your strength for one night with money.」


「That’s because…」


「It doesn’t matter if the results meet your expectation, that’s the responsibility of the buyer, the seller don’t need to worry about that. Asuta, you——」


Ai Fa seemed to be in deep thought, and then said:


「……Asuta, you bought some food in the post station town today right?」


「Yes. It wasn’t delicious, but it’s not horrible either.」


「Why did you spend copper plates to buy them?」


「Hmm? That’s because… It smells great and looked fine.」


「Do you think the taste was worth it?」


「No, it’s the price of a bottle of fruit wine, that’s too expensive for me.」


「In that case, are you going to complain to the shop and ask them to refund you?」


I——


My vision turned clear.


「You found value in that food and paid the price. Kaslan Lutim also found the value in your cooking and wants to pay you for it. The customers are free to think whatever they want after buying the product. But even if they are unhappy, they won’t grumble about that.」


「Ai Fa…」


「Furthermore, Kaslan Lutim and the others already tried your cooking. They are after the taste of your dishes, and are willing to pay the price. You also make a living by cooking and selling food back in your hometown, so why are you turning them down…? This is what confuses me.」


「I get it—— I get it now, Ai Fa. I finally understand what I’m so afraid of.」


Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min were just normal 「patrons」.


I had no links or bonds with them. Even if I turn them down, they had no grounds for complains. Even if they find faults with my dishes, I wouldn’t need to take any responsibilities.


That was why—— I was so afraid.
Seeing a 「price」 set for my cooking, and sold as 「merchandize」—— This filled me with fear.


「I… never had a shop of my own before. The shop owner was my father, and I’m just helping him.」


To make the thoughts in my mind clearer, I tried articulating them.


Ai Fa listened to me quietly.


「Back then, the customers are paying for my father’s dishes. Even if I cooked the rice, roast the meat and cut the vegetables—— the dishes were still my father’s cooking, not mine. That’s what I always thought.」


「Yes.」


「And after coming to this world, I met you and started preparing the dishes for you and myself. I then met Rimee Wu, Grandma Jiba and Donda Wu. I then cooked for many people—— but that wasn’t selling my cooking. I only cooked for them because I wanted them to try it.」


「Yes.」


「Hence, I didn’t prepare the dishes for Donda Wu personally last night. Because they didn’t need me as a chef. Hence, I think that only the home cooking prepared by his family can satisfy the heart of that old man.」


「Yes.」


「And this time—— it is the opposite from the last time, they needed me as a chef.」


A chill ran down my spine.


It was cooler at night than in the day, but we could still manage with our thin clothings—— and my knees started quivering badly.


「That’s the thing—— that frightens me.」


「……」


「This is different from the blessings given to me by the Wu family members. I’m just a half baked chef, and isn’t sure if my cookings has any value. The thought of people unrelated to me judging my cooking calmly—— makes me very uneasy.」


「Even if you say that——」, Ai Fa who pulled had her face away leaned in again.


「Lights is coming back to your murky eyes.」


「Yes… This is the first time anyone has placed their faith in me as a chef. It scared me—— but it also filled me with pride.」


「Then, will you accept their job request?」


「… I want to take the job.」 I squeezed out these words.


My stomach was constricting, and the meat and poitan I ate looked as if they were going to be pushed out.
「Since they trust me that much… I want to work hard to properly earn the remunerations they are offering. As a chef, I hope my skills won’t bring me shame.」


My whole body was shaking.


I was really going to puke.


I was shocked, I never thought I was so cowardly.


The next instant —— Ai Fa brush her palm over my cheeks. Her eyes looked into mine from an extremely close distance.


「… I’m very proud.」 Ai Fa said quietly.

Under Ai Fa’s gaze—— My trembling finally stopped.


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