While stepping firmly on the lush summer grass, the children played with each other as they fell on the ground. Lauri can’t help but lower the corners of his eyes while seeing the charming appearance of the children, laughing every time they discover a wildflower or an insect.
But, as he moves his eyes away, he can’t help but to draw his eyebrows closer by the sight in front of him. This is Kikomura. Another season has passed since he made arrangements to visit more frequently as a peddler. Each time he comes, Lauri is surprised in one way or another.
(Is that one playing as well? … he’s quite absorbed in it.) (Lauri)
The children are repeatedly throwing stones facing something like a wooden framework, most of them being boys. They are separated by around 5 adult steps as they throw, aiming with serious expressions. The children are throwing the stones with considerable speed, the sound made when the children succeed at hitting the target is particularly noticeable.
“At this distance, it is a match of speed. First, you have to be able to hit your target. Next, you have to hit it consecutively. To achieve that goal there is something you need to do. Your way of throwing has to be without any waste, and the trick to that lies in the wrist.” (Marko)
It is, of course, Marko who is saying this, and immediately after, demonstrates as an example. Lauri isn’t surprised about that any longer. Picking up 3 pebbles, he sharply throws the 3 of them in succession by turning his wrist upside down. *Snap* *Snap* *Snap*, they hit with a gratifying sound. The surrounding children, after observing this with amazement showing in their faces, immediately resume the throwing, emulating his actions.
Collecting the stones a short while later, they increase the distance by around another 5 steps, and once again start to throw. After increasing the distance several times in that manner, the event came to an end after the majority of children could no longer make the stones reach the target.
“You came, Lauri-san?” (Marko)
“Good day, Marko-kun.” (Lauri)
Lauri doesn’t ever take lightly this charming child who’s doing a refreshing greeting. The reason he visits this village so frequently is for the sake of meeting this young boy. He spends his time to build a friendly relationship… and in addition, that’s his sole reason to come to this place so frequently.
“That completely looked like a scene from a military drill. Is it for the sake of defending the village?” (Lauri)
“By no means. The goal is individual self-defence.” (Marko)
“Is that so? I think if it’s in a group like that, stone throwing will become a threat too, but…” (Lauri)
“If the objective was to be group combat, we would train with slingshots. We can get those ready right away if we knit some strings. If it’s in the shape of the previously used rods, you can even increase the range. It will become even more effective depending on the method of manufacture, and by also sorting the stones in regards to their shape and size to a certain extent.” (Marko)
“Eh, ah, uh huh… that’s right…” (Lauri)
With a friendly grin, the child is easily talking about military affairs.
“Leaving that aside, did you get your hands on the thing that I requested from you?” (Marko)
“Yea, just as you told me, I went and checked up on the remains of that battlefield. It really was there. Take a look and confirm it, it’s on the back.” (Lauri)
“You have saved me. With this, I will be able to comfortably pass the winter.” (Marko)
“If you are saying this, I guess it has to be like that. However, you know quite a lot about it…” (Lauri)
“Both armies passed the winter there. After that, the war situation shifted greatly. It would be strange if nothing had been abandoned in the area.” (Marko)
While harmoniously talking, both of them headed towards village headman’s house. A large group of buildings is located in the village surrounded by a mud wall. Firewood and large cooking tools, mixed together with a single heavy-looking jute bag have been placed in an extended room covered by a shingle roof normally used for buildings. As Marko approaches and opens it, there is black soil, withered weeds and a countless number of grains that flowed out.
“Did you carry it all inside, including the soil? I’m sure it was heavy.” (Lauri)
“No, I am not really well-acquainted with agriculture. It’s the dreadfulness of collection mistakes” (Marko)(T/N: The collection here is pointing to the collection of taxes the village headman oversees, I think)
“It seems you were put through various troubles thanks to that.” (Lauri)
“What are you saying, it will be fine if you feel even a smidgen of gratitude.” (Marko)
While talking light-heartedly, the two turn their view on one grain that has fallen onto Marko’s palm. It is a seed. This was the thing Marko had requested from Lauri. It was obtained by searching the ground where the armies of the Asuria Kingdom and the Eberia Empire confronted each other before. In a corner of that wasteland… those were buried amid weeds behind the Asuria Kingdom’s army headquarters.
“But, if you mean this, it is used as feed for warhorses, no? It is qwamp, right?” (Lauri) (T/N: >> kuwanpu <<)
“It’s a root crop you can harvest from spring to winter if you sow it in autumn. Although it isn’t possible to store it after harvesting, since it can be grown well even on barren soil, those are used as the army’s supplement feed at the front. You can also use it as food depending on the way it is cooked.” (Marko)
“And you also know the recipe, right? Honestly, you are a walking library, aren’t you…?” (Lauri)
If you peek into his face as if probing into it, you will find the young boy’s usual blue eyes and thin smile.
“Some things are mysterious.” (Marko)
This type of unknown mystique, the obvious sense of discomfort and the somehow corrupted charm… those are all shining within the indifferent immaturity of his blue eyes. It might be some kind of evilness, Lauri is guessing. Once one is enchanted by him, it becomes impossible to withdraw, but still, he resolves himself to it.
“You are… For what reason are you in this village?” (Lauri)
Suddenly the question escaped from his mouth. Lauri was surprised by his own words. It is obvious that Marko is trying to do something to enrich this village. This is a natural objective for the one who’s set to become the next village headman. Things like education, qwamp and even stone throwing… thinking about it, Lauri picked up on the strangeness there.
Marko appears to have reasonable wisdom and a mature demeanour. The most childish aspect would be that personality of his, but… he wants to integrate everything with the goal of raising the village’s prosperity, even if the methods are devious. The qwamp is fine. As for the stone throwing, without even considering for the children to bear the village’s defence, it’s not like you can reject the possibility of people being stolen by kidnappers or having their lives taken by wolves in the future.
However, Lauri thinks. I don’t understand the education. The subjects Marko is teaching to the village’s children, won’t contribute in any way to increase the village’s productivity. The adults are the ones who negotiate in the city. If it’s complicated business discussions, only Marko will be able to finish the negotiations. There is no need for everyone to be able to calculate.
The fundamental duties of a village and a merchant are different. The former is a primary industry and yields profit by mass producing products, even if it is done by manual labour. The latter is a tertiary industry and yields profits by means of trading. The people, needing to receive education, were those of the trade section. If it’s a production site like the village, no matter how much they are even able to read, write and calculate, it is pearls thrown before swine. Marko said it was something like 「For the sake of not incurring losses」, but… for the ordinary villager, the opportunity of incurring a loss in itself is rare.
To begin with, I wonder if the person called Marko is someone who wants to spend his entire lifetime in this single remote village he comes from? Those piercing blue eyes are always gazing at a far-away place, Lauri thinks. It’s unnatural to imagine him passing the time in this village trying to hide his tremendous intensity from people. It’s as if his seriousness can’t be seen… like he only appears to amuse himself by his own caprice.
“They aren’t yet enough… my hands and feet.” (Marko)
As he said this, he reached out with his right hand. The fingertips looked plump with the softness of a child, but he was extending them towards the sky as if he was yearning for something.
“The length, as well as the strength, are insufficient. These hands can neither hold nor handle eother sword or spear. These feet can’t even ride a horse as they are. It’s impossible to fight with them. This body is far too diminutive… and there is nothing I can do about it either.” (Marko)
He tensely stretches his fingers to the limits and then grasps his right hand tightly. What are you trying to catch? What is it you can’t reach? Why are you grieving? Lauri can’t even give an educated guess. However, Lauri strengthened his conviction due to the impressive words leaking out from Marko. This young boy is unmistakably a dragon among men, when the time comes, he will soar through the skies.
“I thought about the possibility of leaving this village as fast as possible, but…” (Marko)
Marko said with a small and soft voice.
“However, I came from my parents. Father is growing old and mother is laying in bed for long periods. Even if I am able to hand over the duty of being village headman, if I think about the modest happiness of my family, I won’t be able to do something as rash as running away from home.” (Marko)
Mysteriously, he shows a smile on his content facial expression as he speaks about his worries. This appears to be similar to something very embarrassing, seeing this Lauri somehow felt warm.
“I think it will be good if the village is wealthy. And it is the same if the people of the village become determined. I think that will be good as well. Do you know? A healthy organization isn’t successful because of a single person. It is something moderately managed by a great number of people. That way, as soon as the organization becomes complex, any extremes of that complexity will be rejected giving birth to the thing called stability.” (Marko)
The things he speaks about happily are likely about the village’s future after he left. You can sense a certain amount of longing there. Once the future reaches that point, once the children from that open-air class begun managing the village, the figure of the grown Marko won’t be found within this abundant scenery any longer. I wonder if he isn’t feeling the loneliness of hoping for it to be that way, and of predicting it to be so?
“You can’t build up something regular alongside an unusual existence. In the not so far future, I will be standing on the battlefield. The time for staying in this village isn’t long. The remainder is 5 or 10 years… of me being in this place. But the reason for me to be in this village is also to sow various seeds during my stay here.” (Marko)
Turning over the qwamp seed with his finger as if it is important, Marko concludes like that. Lauri couldn’t agree more with his words of considering himself “unusual.”
Rather than unusual, he is abnormal. This young boy called Marko.
As far as Lauri knows there are no other children like him. If they are capable of dressing themselves at 5-6 years, it will be good. If they were able to do simple calculations, I would think of them to be superior to others of their age. Reading through the newspaper, teaching writing, reading and calculation, instructing in the art of stone throwing for self-defence, while also planning to introduce new crops. Is there any other child like this?
(Even as a joke, it isn’t funny… I don’t intend to talk to anyone about this either.)(Lauri)
Furthermore, these are no more than the apparent abnormalities. Lauri isn’t scared about these parts. The absolutely strange things are his look, his behaviour, his tone… his pressure as a human being. According to Lauri’s awareness, this young boy is a far older being than himself.
Although Marko is careful due to the warning of 「You are strangely conspicuous」, no matter what he says, he always does it while using polite honorific language.
And if you are thinking about the foundation of his dignity, it will be the mysterious knowledge he has. When I combine each of the fragments of the stories I come into contact with occasionally, the young boy, Marko, appears to have experience in going to the front and serving in public duty. It’s the personal experience of a member of the volunteer army, rather than the regular army, in a war. He has the same level of experience, as a merchant, as the owner of a large store. It feels like all those experiences are living within his small body.
(It can’t be. It shouldn’t be, but… 『Some things are mysterious』, huh?)(Lauri)
Even though there is a dangerous glint in those blue eyes, without being able to say whether it exists or not, Lauri swallows it all due to Marko’s charm.
“… Will there be another war?” (Lauri)
“I have no doubt about it. Strategically it is already happening. The existence of wars is determined by the existence of both countries, as long as there is a here and there. 『Is the Plain of Wandering Calamity today red as well?』 it is.” (Marko)
“Hahaha. I know that one as well. 『What blood is red?』.” (Lauri)
It is a frontline song previously made when the Asuria Kingdom began to be repressed by the Eberia Empire’s fierce attacks. It has started to be sung once again on the streets in recent years, as the circumstances of those days returned.
““『There is no noble’s wine as red as both country’s commoner’s blood.』”” (Marko & Lauri)
Singing uniformly at the top of their voices, they laughed when they faced each other.
“Ah! There you were! Boy, dancing in such a place!!” (Hannah)
The laughter was brushed away because of the high-pitched angry voice. It was a woman vigorously stepping up in a daunting manner causing her feet to make a sound as it kicked the soil, her name is Hannah. Quirky dark brown hair casually suspended with a square knot, she has caught Marko glaring at him with a face full of unyielding spirit.
“What’s this, in such a place, about? It’s the back of our home, Hannah.” (Marko)
Marko’s expression looks as if he has somehow given up. Lauri was aware of her circumstances, too. Is her age ranging around 20 years? As she quickly lost her husband in an accident, she is the helper who lives and works in Marko’s home by helping to nurse his mother. And, it looks like the term “helper” sometimes extends to Marko as well.
“Although I heard you were playing at the bottom of the hill, you weren’t there when I went to get you! Passing your time by doing something like making things out of dirt… let’s go wash your hands first. Come on, hurry, your mother is waiting for you.” (Hannah)
Getting Marko on his feet like a spring and brushing the dust off his clothes, she takes him away partly carrying him under her arms. With their battle history so far, him, the dragon, has resigned himself to his fate I guess. He shows a blank expression and even his blue eyes are halfway closed. But Lauri saw it. The seed of qwamp he held in his hand… this, labelled as “making things out of dirt,” has been returned skilfully into the bag with a splendid performance before it could be brushed away.
“Hahaha, in all ages, women are a mighty force to deal with.” (Lauri)
Lauri hit the jute bag, which had been burdened with those troublesome seeds, with a slap, after Marko had vanished from that spot in a somehow exciting manner.
(This is his ordinary daily life… looking at it, he leads a normal life. When all’s said and done, I am a sinful traveller who seduces a cute young country boy. It’s my natural luck that makes me not be seen as a kidnapper… or not, I wonder if it was Marko who made the necessary arrangements?) (Lauri)
What are you yearning for? Lauri stood up.
(I want the sleeping dragon, who wears the skin of a young boy, to show me his intention. I want to also know the concrete outlook of things. For the sake of supporting him to the maximum once he starts, I have to accomplish something above what he has asked of me without him arranging it.) (Lauri)
He tries to stretch his right hand towards the sky. The length is that of an adult arm, however, he can’t sense the degree of strength as shown by that small arm. That was the hand of someone cutting through eras. Although he looked as if being strangely dissatisfied with his childish frailness, even that has already surpassed the expectations of an ordinary person I think. To where will you lead the world?
He grasps his hand tightly. I don’t know what he wants to grab with his hands. Even I am unable to predict it to that extent. However, it is plain to see that he wants to seize something with his own hands. It’s a dragon’s scale. As result of that, I will be able to see a future of conquest with my own eyes.
(For that reason… yeah, this is certainly something inevitable. If it’s him, he has realized it. It’s something beyond his power since it’s forbidden.) (Lauri)
Nodding with an uh-huh, Lauri headed towards the entrance of the village headman’s house. There is one set of pretty children’s clothing on the package in his back. Let’s improve my current standing with something like this requested present, desired by Hannah as well as Marko’s mother… he makes the decision.