Marco is a spy.
However, he’s essentially an amateur ― no, he’s the very definition of a novice spy.
In the first place, Marco never received any training as a spy. Originally, he’s a boy born into the family of a lesser retainer serving one of Holmea’s regional lords.
A lesser retainer has status somewhere in the middle between peasant and knight. Normally they are similar to peasants. They get their food by cultivating the land given to them by their lord. However, whenever there’s a war, they pick up their spears, follow their lords and fight. That’s the kind of half-soldier, half-peasant they are.
And a lesser retainer household is never rich. Even the land given to them by their lord is at most a small plot barely allowing them to cultivate a small field. Of course, it’s impossible to get enough food for the family to survive with nothing but that. Hence, it’s normal for many lesser retainers to barely pull through by helping with the farmwork in the neighborhood.
As is usual with such lesser retainers, Marco’s family was poor as well. Ordinary farmers likely lived a far better life than them.
Marco was born into such a family as the third son of nine siblings, and was naturally a dependent.
The family had recognized the eldest son, who would inherit the family, and the second son, who was the substitute in case something happened to the eldest son. However, once it came to the third son and below, they were dead weight. Young men, who were born into lesser retainer families while unable to succeed their house, became the adopted children of farmers or other lesser retainers families that lost their heir, or in the worst case, they had no option but to forge their own path in life.
However, Marco wasn’t an intelligent boy by any standard. Having been born into a lesser retainer family, he had been taught how to handle a spear as basic manners, but he didn’t raise his skill at all, losing to even his younger brothers. Even if he helped out with farm work, his ability to grasp things was so low that he took twice as much time as others.
If he actually became discouraged by this, it would have some charm for a boy of his age, but Marco was a natural optimist. Even when getting scolded or insulted, he took that as encouragement, always smiling cheerfully.
If you were to speak of Marco’s sole redeeming feature, it would be cooking.
At any rate, he loved to make and eat food. The end result was that even he himself agreed with the statement that he was better at grasping a big wooden spoon to stir a soup than swinging a hoe or spear.
It’s understandable that he was scorned as a dullard and imbecile by his own family because of this.
The moment when rumors about the city of Bolnis having been occupied by revolting slaves reached Marco was a turning point in his life.
“Give us someone to investigate the situation of the revolting slaves in the city of Bolnis.”
Such an order from the local Holmean lord arrived at Marco’s home.
Marco’s father was greatly troubled by it. We’re simple, lesser retainers. Hence, there’s no one among us who received training as a spy. It’s quite unbelievable that we could go to a city infested by ferocious zoan and return safely. Even our lord should be fully aware of this fact. In that case, he’s going to use us as a front so as to distract them from the real spies, he was able to vaguely guess.
“I will go.” It was Marco who volunteered as his father was fretting.
Marco was at an age where he had to leave home soon. However, even if he were to leave home, he had no people to rely on nor a destination to go to. He was at the point of having the vague idea that it might be fine for him to go to a large city and find a live-in job there. Accordingly, the lord’s talk about providing a live-in employment, even if it might be as a spy, was a godsend for Marco.
Also, for Marco’s father this was rather convenient as well. He couldn’t send out his important eldest and second sons, on the other hand, Marco’s younger brothers and sisters were still too young. Even in regards to getting rid of a nuisance, Marco was the ideal candidate.
And this is how it was decided for Marco to suddenly become a spy and infiltrate the city of Bolnis.
Marco was briefly taught the basics by a man, who introduced himself as his contact, and traveled to Bolnis. Over there he was introduced as the son of a distant relative and worked as a live-in assistant at the merchant house supplying the feudal lord’s residence with food. Marco was told to investigate the interior of the residence while working, and gather information by listening to the people there.
And then, on that day, there was someone who called Marco, who had been indirectly observing the situations of the people while carrying food into the residence’s kitchen, to halt.
“I haven’t seen your face around here, have I?”
Once Marco turned around, he found there an elven woman who was beautiful to an astonishing degree. Marco, who had examined the kitchen’s interior, was surprised. Just as he was asked, he explained that he had most recently started visiting this place.
“I think as you can see for yourself, this is the kitchen’s interior, is there something of great interest to be found here?”
Marco was stumped by the smoothly returned question of the elven woman who had listened to his words while nodding repeatedly. Even Marco felt that it was bad for him to have investigated the residence’s interior.
A delicious smell drifted into the nose of Marco who was deliberating how to best answer here.
“The zoan’s cooking.” Marco unintentionally said upon the stimulating aroma of the spices. “I’m curious about the zoan’s cooking!”
That’s not a complete lie.
At first, when he started to visit the feudal lord’s residence, there was an occasion where he was treated to a dish with a zoan-styled seasoning, and Marco couldn’t forget the shock and deep impression of that time.
Meat which he could eat only seldomly. The taste of spices that seemed to burn the inside of his mouth, even though he had only known saltiness ― and that quite thinly ― as food seasoning so far. A stimulus that seemed to sharply pierce deep into his nose. A deliciousness of the meat seeping out from within. It was something that made him deeply emotional that something this delicious might exist in this world.
Marco spoke about the zoan cooking with the intent to gloss over his suspicious behavior, but while talking, he unconsciously forgot his initial objective, and became all passionate.
The elven woman became somewhat bewildered by his ceaseless fervor, but interrupted Marco, saying, “I see. So you’re interested in zoan cooking.”
Marco frantically nodded his head. In response, the elven woman smiled sweetly. It was a smile as if a bud bloomed into a large flower.
However, Marco felt scared of that for some reason.
“Very well. Let’s have you working here then. It will allow you to watch the zoan cooking from close-by.”
Marco was surprised by that sudden proposal.
According to his contact, many spies were seen through when trying to slip into the feudal lord’s residence so far, and got arrested or went missing if they didn’t escape. Even though he was told that it was this difficult to get into the feudal lord’s residence, he had actually been invited by the other party.
Moreover, that elf might be fairly pleased with him. She told him that not only would she personally go to the merchant, where he was currently working as a live-in, to explain the circumstances, but even send a letter of apology to the distant relative as long as he told her his contact address.
Marco was delighted, thinking, Just how fortunate am I.
If I do my job as a spy skillfully here, I’m sure I will be praised by the lord, and my family will be happy as well.
And above all, I will be able to watch that zoan cooking from close-by. Maybe it will be possible to get them to teach me the way how it’s made. No, no, I might even be able to eat it!
Marco accepted both her offers.
Fortunately, a little while after this conversation, a letter stating “Don’t mind me and make sure to devote yourself to your new job” was delivered from his contact person.
Marco had suspected that he might be told to not do it since it would be dangerous, and therefore felt relieved. However, what slightly bothered him in the letter was the unduly stressing about not minding him. Interpreting it as the contact person simply telling him to focus on his job in the feudal lord’s residence, Marco began to work as live-in in the residence in high spirits.
However, immediately after he began, Marco ended up troubled.
The size of the meals was too small.
Many people working as live-ins in the residence at this time were elven women. For this reason their appetite had also become the criterion for the meals.
This was a serious matter for Marco.
Just like in other fantasy novels, the elves of this world were forest dwellers. However, although they lived in forest, they weren’t the rulers of the forests by any means. Even the growth of their ears was owed to allowing them to quickly sense attacks by enemies within the forest with its bad visibility. This was proof that the elves were preyed upon by carnivores, just like rabbits.
Moreover, the elves’ natural enemies weren’t limited to only carnivores. Great numbers of small killers like poisonous snakes and serpents hid themselves in thickets and grassy places within the forests.
For the sake of escaping those enemies, the elves lived high up in the trees. They have been building villages by constructing houses in the upper areas of large trees and spanning suspension bridges knitted out of ivy between the trees in order to associate with each other.
Probably because of that life, the elves had the custom of avoiding becoming fat. This might also be one of the points why they were in conflict with the dwarves who regarded well-rounded bodies as beautiful.
Anyways, the meals of the elven women were extremely modest. Mostly it was just a fist-sized piece of bread, several dried apples or grapes, and a small amount of nuts. Once in a while they also added the meat of a bird or another animal to their meal, but even that in a limited amount.
Such small portions weren’t possibly enough for Marco who had the healthy appetite of a growing boy. However, there was no way for him to complain about it, seeing as he was simply thankful for them allowing him to eat at all. Having said that, his stomach was honest. No matter how much Marco put up with it, a stomach rumbles if it’s hungry.
Even on that, the stomach of Marco, who had finished his afternoon work, announced its needs when he was taking a break.
As might be expected, Marco considered allowing someone else listening to his stomach’s rumbling as embarrassing. He walked towards an unpopular place so as to not let others hear his stomach. Thereupon he discovered a thicket that seemed just right for hiding.
Marco decided to sit out his feeling of hunger in there. Marco squatted while holding his empty stomach for a while, but no matter what he did, all that came to his mind were dishes. The more he tried to expel those thoughts out of his mind, the more dishes popped up in his mind.
And, when he finally became unable to bear it any longer, Marko unconsciously voiced out his feelings, “”Ah, I really wanna eat something delicious…””
“Yo…,” Souma called out.
“Hello…,” Marco replied.
Both of them had spoken to themselves while believing to be alone. Yet there was someone nearby. And moreover both said the same thing by coincidence. Souma and Marco, who were surprised by this unexpected happening, stared at each other in silence for a while.
At some point, a loud rumbling sound could be heard. It was Marco’s stomach. Souma unintentionally burst out into laughter by the ridiculous stomach rumbling that broke the silence. Contrary to that, Marco blushed in embarrassment.
While holding back his laughter, Souma split the bread in his hand, and offered one half to Marco, “Wanna eat this?”
Without hesitating even for a moment, Marco gratefully accepted the bread. And then both sat down on the ground next to each other, and started to eat the bread together.
Souma silently chewed the bread for a while, but then sighed, “…It makes you wish for something delicious to eat, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does…” Marco fully agreed with Souma.
As of yet Marco hadn’t been given the opportunity to eat the zoan cooking which he had looked forward to. Nonetheless, he was tortured daily by being forced to smell the aroma of the dishes prepared by the zoan woman assisting the feudal lord three times a day.
As he was pondering about such things, his dissatisfaction towards his current meals has been gradually gaining in strength.
“In the first place, if the lord here hadn’t driven out the cooks from the residence, I would have been able to eat something slightly more delicious!” Marco voiced his discontent while puffing up his plump cheeks.
Hearing this, Souma was on the verge of choking on the bread.
At the time when Souma gained total control of the city, there had been a human cook in the feudal lord’s residence. However, the dishes he prepared were only somewhat better than the dishes Souma had eaten in the bar he visited when coming to the city for the first time. Besides, those dishes were being served as if they were an ultimate feast, but it was no more than a whole roasted pig.
Shyemul commented, “If it’s something like this, the food I make is much better,” and hearing Souma reflexively agreeing with her words, the cook became enraged. What Shyemul then held out to the cook, who roared about letting him eat her food, was a piece of jerky she had on hand. Souma’s face became pale, believing that matching march provision like jerky against a whole roasted pig, which took time to grill, would be regarded as discourtesy, no matter what.
The cook, who tasted the jerky as he had apparently been hurt in his pride quite deeply, left with tears in his eyes, never showing up again
Having just been pointed out about the fact that the food situation has deteriorated on that part, Souma couldn’t help but smile bitterly.
Not knowing about this, Marco further yelled, “To begin with, there’s no need to bake bread, which will be eaten right away, twice, right!?”
That was something Souma heard about for the first time. Once he asked Marco just what he was talking about, he was told that the bread, which could be eaten in the feudal lord’s residence at present, was dried by baking it once, and then baked once more to improve how well it preserved.
Now that he mentions it, Souma remembered, I did previously give the order to make the bread I’m served just like the one the commoners eat with the intention of disallowing luxury. Maybe that was the bread which was baked twice.
At the thought that he could have eaten a slightly more decent bread if he hadn’t said anything unnecessary, Souma ended up becoming crestfallen.
“I’m sure the lord here never ate something delicious.”
Souma, who felt down, got sullen at Marco who was seriously angry, identifying this as the reason why the lord didn’t try to eat anything delicious. Souma couldn’t ignore the words just now. He didn’t want to be told by a person of this world that he never ate something delicious.
“In my eyes, the cooking in this area is somewhat bad.”
Having become obstinate, Souma told Marco the truth about the food he had eaten in modern Japan. Beginning with soft, sweet bread, he fervently talked about sweetened buns with various fillings, the daily bread, ordinary meals such as ramen and curry rice, the local specialties he had eaten during various family trips, and finally he even mentioned high-class ingredients such as foie grass and truffles he had never eaten himself either.
The talks about sushi and sashimi didn’t sit well with Marco since it was about eating raw fish, but he attentively listened to the stories of the other dishes with sparkling eyes.
The one that interested Marco the most among all these was the dish familiar to himself, bread.
“The bread in the place where I lived was a lot sweeter, softer and fluffier. It was such a delicious bread that the stuff here can’t even hold a candle to it.”
As Souma talked about the hard bread here, Marco looked as though drool would run down his chin anytime soon.
Until now, Marco had never seen, heard of, and of course eaten such bread.
“Sweet, soft, fluffy…!”
Is it a bread like that pure white cloud floating in the sky? I’m pretty sure that it’s a bread that would make me float in the sky just like that because of its excessive deliciousness.
“Where do I obtain that bread? How do you make it?”
Souma was pleased that Marco was clinging to the bread topic more than he had expected, and proudly informed him of the way to make the bread. The talks about mixing in dry yeast to accelerate the fermentation in a warm place and similar caused Marco’s cheeks to blush in excitement upon hearing about a bread that didn’t exist in this world.
“Wow! If you bake it like that, it will definitely become a fluffy, soft, and delicious bread!”
Even though Souma curtly answered, “Well, yeah,” his pride was at its peak. However, Marco’s next words caused Souma to freeze.
“So, what’s that 『dry yeast』used to make the bread soft and fluffy?”
Souma suddenly came to his senses upon that question of Marco.
Until now Souma didn’t try to spread the way how to make modern era bread. It was also because he had scruples about making bread himself while having Shyemul next to him who makes food for his sake everyday, but even more than that, it was because he couldn’t get his hands on yeast cells.
“W-Wait a moment. Do yeast cells exist in this world to begin with?”
Wheat and soybeans existed, but he hadn’t found things like corn or potatoes. Just like them, it was best to not assume that all the things, which existed in his former world, existed here as well.
“But, since making wine is possible, there’s no doubt about those kinds of microbes existing, is there?”
Alcohol shouldn’t be possible without those microbes either. Because at least beer and wine exist, I think it’s safe to say that such microbes are present in this world.
However, if Souma were to be asked where to find yeast cells in such a case, he would be hard pressed to give an answer.
“We aren’t talking about wine, but bread, though…”
In a hurry, Souma explained to Marco, who pestered him to teach him how to make soft and fluffy bread, “Eh? No, I mean wort also turns into alcohol because of creatures so small that you can’t see them. And yeast cells are the friends of those small creatures.”
“How do you know that they’re alive, even though you can’t see them? Why do you know about their existence?”
Souma was at a loss for words after having sharply pointed this out by Marco.
Marco didn’t ask those questions with the intention of talking Souma down. He simply and purely expressed his doubts.
However, Souma ended up troubled with only that much. He didn’t know how to explain the existence of microbes to a human of this world, and thus only babbled meaningless things.
“…-ma! Where are you!? Don’t play hooky and get back to your work!”
At that moment he heard Shyemul’s voice calling out for him in the distance.
“S-Sorry! I have to go now.”
As if taking advantage of this, Souma shook himself free even though Marco tried to stop him, and left as if running away.
“Argh, he’s gone…” Being left behind by himself, Marco felt downhearted.
He was disappointed as he wanted to talk a lot more about various dishes, and not just bread.
However, he couldn’t be the only one allowed to rest. Marco psyched himself up a bit, and started to walk towards the kitchen, his workplace.
As he inadvertently looked up on the way back, he caught sight of a single, round, pure white cloud which was simply drifting through the bright blue sky. Marco gulped down his saliva.
“A fluffy, soft, delicious bread, huh…?”
In order to save on precious fuel, the bread in Marco’s village was baked altogether. And, Marco, who was always called a dunce or dullard, was a popular person in the village only at that time. He was asked by the people in the village to bake their share of bread as well, and not only his family’s.
At those times seeing the faces of his family and the villagers, who joyfully ate the bread he had baked, made Marco very happy.
Recalling all that, Marco felt an urge to bake bread.
“…Alright, I’m going to bake some bread!”
Marco’s plump cheeks became all loose.
A single court lady visited the place of Eladia, who was in the middle of doing her daily routine tasks deep inside the feudal lord’s residence, to make a report.
“Elder sister, that person is saying that he’d like to borrow a stove.”
Stopping writing with her pen, Eladia pondered for a short moment, and then sighed lightly, guessing that she was talking about Marco.
“…It’s no problem. Let that person do as he likes,” Eladia replied.
The court lady showed her hesitation, and once she resolved herself, she spoke up, “Elder sister, that person is no different from a spy. Why let such a person…?”
Most recently many suspicious people could be spotted in the city of Bolnis. Many of them were merchants who dreamed of getting rich quickly, refugees who were looking for employment in the reclaimed land, mercenaries who tried to rise in the world, and ruffians who acted like bandit wannabes.
And the ones rising in numbers as they blended in amongst all those different kinds of people were spies considered to have been dispatched by the neighboring countries and various organizations.
Their objective was to investigate the actual circumstances of the sudden changes happening in Bolnis, and the person behind all those changes, the “Divine Son of Destruction,” or in other words, Souma.
The one blocking the attempts of those spies to infiltrate the feudal lord’s residence with various means was Eladia, who was in charge of the personal affairs in the residence as the Chief Court Lady. Without her the events taking place in the feudal lord’s residence would have long ago leaked to the surrounding countries, and in the worst case, Souma might have been assassinated, too.
However, Eladia, who had driven all those spies away until now, employed that boy called Marco, causing the other elven court ladies to be puzzled. In their eyes Marco was acting far too suspiciously.
He himself might believe that he had hidden it, but there were too many shady parts such as him trying to look into important places of the residence or him unnaturally bringing up the topic of Souma during everyday conversations.
“I’m well aware of that.” As a matter of fact, Eladia readily approved of the suspicions about Marco being a spy. “Have you ever gone fishing?”
Being abruptly asked about fishing, the court lady shook her head while confused.
“You must select your hook and the bait depending on the fish you’re aiming for. If you target small fish, you use a small quantity of bait, a small hook, and an inconspicuous, thin fishing line. However, if you target big fish, you use plenty of bait, a big hook, and a strong fishing line.” Eladia chuckled.
“I dare say that even those who sent him in have noticed that we’re sheltering him even while knowing that he’s a spy. That’s truly like a big hook and a strong fishing line. If they are somewhat smart fish, I don’t think that they will try to take a bite at it. ―However, what if plenty of delicious bait were to be added to that hook?”
The interior of the feudal lord’s residence, a place no spy managed to enter yet. Marco must be an unparalleled source of information for the people desiring information about Souma.
“Even so, if they are at the level of cowardly small fry, they won’t bite. However, assuming there were fish that would come biting even while noticing the hook and line, I’m sure they will be quite the big catch.”
Even if the organization, which dispatched Marco, was to flinch away from the bait, there might be other organizations trying to get in contact with Marco using other connections. If that were to happen, it would be a great opportunity to catch all the spies that have infiltrated Bolnis with one throw.
“Right now I have just thrown the fish hook with the bait into the water. For a time, the fish will probably remain cautious of it. However, sooner or later there will appear fish unable to hold back any longer, taking a bite at it. I expect them to properly watch the hook and line.” Eladia’s red lips broke into a faint smile. “Let that person do as he likes for a while. Live bait must be lively, after all.”
At this time Eladia hadn’t foreseen that a completely different fish would take a bite at Marco.