Bolnis is the westernmost city of Holmea.
Originally, in order for Holmea to exercise its authority over the northern Solbiant Plains, it began with constructing a fortress near a river. Farmers that feared the zoan and merchants as well as craftsmen, who did business with those farmers, naturally gathered at that fortress. Before long it developed into a city.
In case of an attack by the zoan due to the large gathering of people, a sturdy brickwork city wall with a height of five melts (one melt is approximately one meter) and a thickness of three melts was built around the city. With the completion of the city wall, the construction that used to be the fortress was converted from a military installation into an administrative facility, and even now serves as the centre of the city.
The city changed completely over time, and now not only trades with the agricultural produce brought in from the northern Solbiant Plains, but also developed into a thriving commercial city. Caravans that headed from the Ocean State Jeboa, which is even further west from this city, towards Holmea State’s capital city often stopped in this city for a short rest.
It’s slightly past noon when Hopkins’ covered wagon arrived at the gate of Bolnis with Souma on board.
“Okay, next wagon!”
Being called out by the gate sentries that are examining the humans visiting the city, Hopkins slowly advanced his wagon forward.
“From where and on what business did you come to this city?”
“Yes, I’m called Hopkins, a peddler from Jeboa, who finished trading with a reclamation village around here.” (Hopkins)
Stating that, Hopkins pointed at the merchant guild’s flag that hung on the covered wagon.
The merchant guild is an organization that allows for merchants to gather together in a group for several benefits, including protection.
One has to pay a set amount of money every year as guild dues, but if one flies the merchant guild’s flag, they can receive various accommodations. In addition, the merchant guild will never forgive a bandit that attacked a merchant belonging to them. It was well known that they would be relentlessly hunted down, with a large bounty placed on their head. This is why one of the benefits of the merchant’s guild can be considered protection from bandits.
“Certainly, it’s the flag of the merchant guild, I suppose. We will inspect the cargo then.”
“By all means, go ahead. Although you called it cargo, it’s completely empty as I sold all the articles for sale as a result of God’s divine protection.” (Hopkins)
The squad leader, who was accompanied by a subordinate that had his spear at the ready, moves the cover of the wagon’s rear aside and checks its interior.
“Whoa! Isn’t that a zoan?”
Tension spreads between his subordinates due to the squad leader’s outcry after discovering Shyemul.
“Please wait! That’s my nephew’s slave!” (Hopkins)
“Nephew, you say!?”
When the squad leader looked once more inside the covered wagon, he found Souma sitting next to Shyemul. In his hands, Souma is grasping a chain connected to a collar that was put around Shyemuls neck.
“He’s the son of my younger sister who married in a distant eastern country, but as he wanted to study the job of a peddler over here, he accompanied me in my work like this.” (Hopkins)
The squad leader checks out Souma again. It’s certainly a hair color I have never seen before. With even his face being smooth with very little roughness, it seems as if there’s no mistake that he’s not a human from around these parts.
“However, recently the movements of the zoan around here have been quite lively. Although she’s a slave, there’s no way for me to allow her to enter the city.”
“Captain, sir, can’t you do anything about it? She’s the favorite pet of my nephew! He brought her all the way from that distant eastern country.” (Hopkins)
Saying that, Hopkins bribed him by slipping several bronze coins into his hand. Because they will be doubted all the more if he bribes too much, it’s an amount of money that allows the sentries present in this place to drink a cup of alcohol each after they get off work.
“Well, in that case it can’t be helped. But, don’t cause any troubles. They may enter!”
When the captain raises his voice as he withstands having his appearance fall apart due to the weight of the bronze coins in his hand, the soldiers who blocked the front of the covered wagon clear the road.
“Phew. That was scary…” (Hopkins)
Hopkins made sure that he was quite a bit away from the gate before wiping away the cold sweat he worked up from that exchange.
“Thank you for your assistance.” (Souma)
Souma bows his head apologetically. Then he turns to Shyemul, who’s next to him, and asks,
“Shyemul, the collar doesn’t hurt you, does it?” (Souma)
“No, there’s no problem.” (Shyemul)
Even though she says that, Shyemul appears to feel uncomfortable due to her constant fiddling with the collar.
No matter how much it’s for the sake of infiltrating the city, putting a collar on Shyemul and having to grasp its chain was something heartbreaking for Souma.
“Rather than that, the city is quite the smelly place…” (Shyemul)
Souma had the same opinion as well.
After entering the city, it stinks with a stench that’s rather difficult to describe. The smell of garbage, the stink of decay and a mysteriously irritating odor mixed with each other in complete harmony and turned into an intense stench.
Once he looked through a gap of the wagon’s cover, he saw that filth and animal corpses, the origin of the stench, had been left lying at the sides of the road. Moreover, orphans that had turned pitch black due to mud and filth are nonchalantly sitting within that.
It’s probably inevitable since it’s still an era with hardly any concept of hygiene in cities, but even so it’s a coarse environment.
Zoan have a far keener sense of smell than humans…this must be pretty hard on Shyemul.
“The stench is extreme, but the dust is terrible, too.” (Souma)
Even the road doesn’t have a stone paving, but is simply tread upon. Once the dry season with barely any rain starts, clouds of dust rise up and dye the city in a faint yellow color. Together with the houses made out of sun dried bricks located on both sides of the road, the sight is similar to a desert city you can find in the Near and Middle East.
As the covered wagon with Souma on it advances slowly along the main street that connects the eastern and western gates, they can observe a reasonably high amount of pedestrian traffic.
Doing that, he saw that the attires of the citizens were actually pretty close to his own.
If it’s the men, they wear tunics, similar to one pieces with cuffs reaching down to above the knees, that are tied with leather straps around the waist. Below that they wear trousers. If it’s the women, it’s long one pieces with their cuffs reaching down to the shin. Although Souma hasn’t seen it, it’s only the men wearing trousers whereas the women don’t wear anything below.
“How many humans live here?” (Souma)
“Heh, don’t be shocked. This city has over than ten thousand people in it! Pretty amazing, eh?” (Hopkins)
Hopkins bragged, but Souma didn’t do anything except returning a smile with mixed feelings.
If you talk about a population of ten thousand people in modern Japan, it’s only at the scale of around a village or a town. However, this is a fairly big city for this world.
Seeing that he is going to attack this city, Souma was anxious about not catching sight of many soldiers in the city, which is something that he has to check out .
“I see less soldiers than I expected.” (Souma)
“That’s only natural. Most of the soldiers are stationed on the city wall or at the gates.” (Hopkins)
“How many soldiers are there?” (Souma)
“Let’s see. I think around four or five hundred?” (Hopkins)
“That’s unexpectedly little.” (Souma)
“Really? I think that’s how it usually is though.” (Hopkins)
Soldiers don’t produce anything.
Because they themselves don’t grow a single grain of wheat, they have to be supported by other people in order to maintain a standing army. Naturally, if the ratio of soldiers in the population is high, that burden will grow large in accordance with that.
Also, the ones becoming soldiers are healthy, young men. It’s the people who would normally be doing the most work in production and logistics. Increasing the number of soldiers doesn’t just add to the burden on the food supply but also takes away people who would help deal with these issues.
Hence, the number of soldiers serving in a standing army in this world are around two to four percent of the population. The number of soldiers in this city isn’t low by any means.
“What will you do next, Mr. Hopkins?” (Souma)
“Hm. Since I came to this city, I want to go drink a cup of booze in some bar then go greet the guild, I think.”” (Hopkins)
Hearing the word bar, Souma’s curiosity stirs.
According to what Souma knows from games and fantasy novels, bars in a city function as places for information exchange. He imagines merchants with get-rich-quick dreams exchanging news and remarkable adventurers talking about their travels in a bar filled with the smell of alcohol and tobacco.
“Is it fine for me to accompany you to a bar?” (Souma)
“It’s not needed if you’re planning on standing guard so that I won’t betray you guys. Even if I look this shabby, I’m still a merchant. I accepted your money, I will properly accomplish my duty. Besides, you guys have my wife and son, you know.” (Hopkins)
“No, I’m interested in the bars over here.” (Souma)
“In that case I don’t mind, but you can’t take the young lady over there along.” (Hopkins)
Souma hurriedly calmed Shyemul who became blatantly displeased due to Hopkins’ words.
“Shyemul, could I have you watch these war funds? If those are stolen, it would be quite the disaster.” (Souma)
Since this is a place with seemingly barely any public order, everyone being gone while the war funds taken out of the fortress sat in the wagon would be like hanging a “Please steal me!” sign right next to them.
Even Shyemul understands that she has to do it.
However, Shyemul cannot help being reluctant to separate from Souma even for a bit inside a city where she doesn’t know when they might get surrounded by human soldiers after having their real identities exposed, and thus she voiced a single complaint.
“Soma, haven’t you actually gotten quite skilled in handling me?” (Shyemul)
Souma instinctively made his gaze wander away.
Souma entered a bar with his chest swelling with anticipation, but the place was considerably different from what he expected.
He sees people drinking alcohol together and messily eating food at crude tables lined up in a densely packed formation, but these people looked exactly like the ones he saw outside. To his disappointment, shady magicians holding magic wands and brawny warriors wearing weapons and armours are nowhere to be found.
Once Hopkins finds an open table, Souma and him sit down on the chairs.
“Hey! Over here!” (Hopkins)
In order to not lose to the hustle and bustle in the bar, Hopkins calls for a waitress with a loud voice. When a waitress with an arrogant attitude turns up without even a brief greeting of 「Welcome」, Hopkins hands her a bronze coin first.
“We’d like something to eat and drink.” (Hopkins)
“Something to drink will be one dinas. If it’s food, that will cost two dinas.”
Due to that Hopkins placed a further three bronze coins on the table.
Souma surveys the bar’s interior wondering about a menu, but it seems like such a thing doesn’t exist. For the time being, Souma ordered the same and also handed over three bronze coins.
However, while looking down on Souma, the waitress doesn’t show any intention to leave.
Owed to that, he remembered that Hopkins had given her a bronze coin to start out with. Souma heard in a TV broadcast that Japanese people, who don’t have the custom of giving tips even in the modern era, are bewildered in stores of foreign countries. He handed over one more bronze coin in a hurry. After that, the waitress picked it up and went towards the kitchen without saying a word.
Souma, a Japanese from the modern era, isn’t familiar with it, but in this world it’s indispensable to give a tip when going shopping.
In reality waitresses like her don’t receive any salary from the store. The tips they receive from the guests become their income. That means the store offers the waitresses a location to get tips and receives their help in exchange.
“Are there no adventurers or such in this place?” (Souma)
During the time until the dishes are served, Souma tried to ask Hopkins about there being no one appearing to be an adventurer around.
“Umm… people who search for treasures by diving into caves, accept requests and subjugate monsters for money.” (Souma)
“You are saying some funny stuff, aren’t you? Are those day laborers? Or prospectors?” (Hopkins)
Souma sensed his expectation wither away due to Hopkins’ reply.
Even though it’s a long-awaited fantasy world, adventurers like those in games and novels don’t seem to exist in this world.
“If it’s requests for day laborer work, you can place an advertisement like that if you ask and pay money to the owner of the bar.” (Hopkins)
Once Souma looked in the direction indicated by Hopkins, he saw a wooden board that was casually leaning against the wall made out of sun-dried bricks. Countless papers that might be considered to be advertisements have been affixed with nails on the wooden board.
Illustrations of 『a person swinging a pickaxe in the mountains』 and 『a person holding a wooden crate』 have been drawn on papers. Below those illustrations several vertical lines were drawn. The illustrations indicate the details of the work and the vertical lines signify the number of people they are looking for, I guess.
“Is the literacy rate in this world quite low by chance?” (Souma)
“Literacy rate*? It’s about whether one can read and write characters, right? Well, if one isn’t a scholar or government official, stuff like that just isn’t happening. Even I only know several simple words to use them in business.” (Hopkins) (T/N: Written in katakana and not with kanji as above)
I considered this to be a possibility from there being illustrations and no characters written on the advertisements, but it seems like the literacy rate of this world actually is pretty low.
At that point the previous waitress noisily placed cups and bowls on the table without saying a word. If it was modern Japan, this kind of service would cause an outrage, but since Hopkins doesn’t show a hint of worrying about it, I guess this is normal around here.
“Well then, let’s eat?” (Hopkins)
What was lined up in front of Souma was the previously mentioned round bread that was divided into one third, a small cup that one can hold in one hand and a wooden bowl with soup in it.
Once he peeked into the cup, it was filled with a dark brown liquid that had things similar to scum and foam floating on the surface.
Inside the bowl is a hodgepodge soup. Chunks of vegetables and fish that were boiled to the degree of almost crumbling apart are drifting about inside the soup that had a color similar to muddy water.
“… This is?” (Souma)
“Ale and soup with bread.” (Hopkins)
Speaking of ale, it’s a well-known alcoholic beverage in fantasy works. It’s a kind of beer that uses barley malt and was fermented by yeast. If you speak about beer in modern Japan, it’s about Lager Beer, but if you talked about beer before Lager became popular, you would be talking about ale as that was the typical alcoholic beverage.
“H-How do you eat…” (Souma)
He pondered about it on the wagon already, but this world’s bread is far too hard. Its surface is hard like a rice cracker and the inside is crumbling as it’s just a clump of wheat that was put into fire.
“The ale’s fine if you drink it after blowing away the surface’s scum with your breath. You eat the bread by softening it through dipping it into the soup.” (Hopkins)
Doing as he was told by Hopkins, he blows away the scum floating on the surface and timidly tastes the ale.
A taste beyond description spread within Souma’s mouth.
It was something quite unlike the beer that Souma’s father sneaked to him during celebrations. If he had to draw a comparison, it’s a lukewarm beer with no carbonic acid that smells like medicine and has a sour, pungent flavor.
Because the technique of filtering out the impurities after brewing is still insufficient, this world’s ale was something with an acrid taste stemming from the impurities and sourness that got fermented even further.
And, the medicinal scent comes from herbs that were put in for the sake of making the ale long-lasting by restraining the propagation of microorganisms.
As they still don’t have the technique to add carbonic acid to ale, the sensation of carbonic acid missing is only slightly alleviated by the carbonic acid that was created by the fermentation. Moreover, since its state of preservation is also awful, it’s even less after that carbonic acid ends up mostly vanishing as well.
His yearning towards ale that the protagonists drank with their comrades in many of the fantasy novels that he had read crumbled apart within Souma, making a sad sound.
Pulling himself together despite that, he decided to challenge the bread and soup next.
However, try as hard as he can, he can’t tear off a piece of bread to soak into the soup because of how inexplicably hard it is. When he looked at Hopkins, he was soaking the entire bread in the soup.
Imitating him, Souma tried to dip the whole bread inside the soup, but looking into the white, cloudy eyes of the small fish, who have only their heads remaining whole as they turned into simply bones with their bodies having dissolved in the bowl, he ends up losing the mental battle.
“Uhh… I must not lose heart at this point!” (Souma)
Spurring on a pointless sense of duty, Souma, who had become obstinate, dipped the bread in the soup.
Swelling up after absorbing the soup, the bread became soft, but that scene isn’t anything that stimulates one’s appetite at all.
However, he still resolves himself and tastes it.
“… !?” (Souma)
The standard soup being served in bars in this world is definitely a hodgepodge.
Cutting the vegetables bought on the market on that day into chunks, it’s barely cooked and is seasoned with salt. A set recipe doesn’t exist. Given that the soup uses ingredients that were bought depending on the mood of the cook on that day, its taste changes according to the days, too.
Furthermore, it’s not like they are making the soup anew each time. If the content of the soup pot decreases, water and ingredients are added so they can use the same batch of soup for longer.
Taking many months and years, it has boiled down to a soup stock consisting of various ingredients and thus it has a complex flavour, but the bitterness and the astringency of the scum that appeared after adding further ingredients didn’t suit the tongue of Souma who was used to the delicate cooking of modern Japan.
“M-My dream of fantasy has been shattered…” (Souma)
Souma ended up hanging his head crestfallen in front of the ale and soup.
Unfortunately gorgeous cooking in this world meant a whole roasted wild boar. Even in his former world something like this existed in the epochs where humans had to do their utmost to eat. Thus it can’t be helped.
However, if I got summoned anyway, I would have wished for it to be a world where cooking is developed better, Souma lamented seriously.