“No, it’s fine if you don’t humble yourself. I think that this is a good village.” (Herman)
As the village headman, Herman, said this, Akseli’s mouth bent into a broad grin. The boy, Marko, produced a faint smile with a once again composed expression. After the dinner was over, small snacks and drinks were lined up on the table at the village headman’s home. 3 people with varied ages were equally illuminated by the orange light.
“I was allowed to examine it briefly, but the wheat fields are nice after all. At that rate the next annual tribute won’t prove any difficulties either. That’s excellent especially as there’s currently nothing but villages crying over the cold weather damage. Is there some secret to it?” (Akseli)
“There’s nothing to the degree of a secret… if I were forced to say something, it’s thanks to the insects living in the soil. This place is also close to the northern mountain range, thus it is easy for ashes and black soil to drift in. However, the insects living in the soil won’t even flinch to small quantities of miasma.” (Herman)
The conversation is held between Akseli and Herman. Unless Akseli doesn’t especially bring up a subject, the black-haired, blue-eyed boy will only listen attentively in silence.
“I see. However, if it’s such kind of soil, I also hear that’s a property you can only achieve by making use of compost. If it’s this village, how are you maintaining this much livestock then? In the recent years many villages haven’t been able to procure feed for their cattle.” (Akseli)
“It’s not because our village brought all of its livestock through the winter. Is it the wind’s direction or the soil… ? The obtained pasture is also more or less important. Even now all the villagers are putting up with chewing on bread made of rough wheat.” (Herman)
“You state that it wasn’t easy. It would even be fine to take these words for their face value, but… how should I think about this? Although I’m not telling you to reveal everything, I shall tell you that deception won’t benefit this village.” (Akseli)
Akseli used strong words, but as the matter of investigating the village was already a preliminary examination for taxation, he could understand their feelings of being afraid of tax increase if they bragged about their success crudely. Especially villages in remote regions have a mettle of 「We didn’t get any help from the king in pioneering this wilderness」. Even while accepting the rule, the tendency to shirk investigations and interventions is strong.
As far as Akseli can see, the reason for the abundance of Kikomaru is neither luck nor the location. Even if he took into consideration the matters concerning actual results, the impression he got within the village was that this village was obviously creating its abundance with its own reliable abilities. But I somehow don’t understand. How do they do it?
(I don’t know how they do it, but… the person, who brought this something into the village, is this boy, just that, I have no doubt about. Let’s see until how far I can get them to tell me about it.) (Akseli)
The boy, whose line of sight was nonchalantly directed ahead, pointed at a single small dish on the table without showing even the tiniest unrest. It’s something that uses finely cut root crops soaked in vinegar. Akseli didn’t eat it yet as it is something unfamiliar.
“First, try eating this please.” (Marko)
“Hmm… the slightly sour feeling, while chewing it, doesn’t taste bad. It has an unknown flavor.” (Akseli)
“It’s qwamp.” (Marko)
His words startled Akseli. If it’s a soldier, they know its name as 「Horse feed on a prolonged battlefield」. This is a weed growing in the winter. It isn’t something you eat as food at the peak of spring. I will try to chew it once again. It isn’t something you can call delicious by any standard, but it wasn’t something so unappetizing you couldn’t eat either. At that point the clear voice of a child can be heard.
“It is a bit more delicious if it’s still fresh, but since this was put into water to preserve it as pickled vegetable, around this much in taste is the best you can do. Because the estimated harvest per square meter is higher than Narukoma and Puck grass, it served the purpose of staving off the starvation of people and livestock.” (Marko) (T/N: Couldn’t find any proper plant for Narukoma, Puck grass seems to be a plant spouting at the beginning of spring)
“That is… but, putting horses aside, won’t poultry and pigs dislike that?” (Akseli)
“Yes. But even that depends how you go about it… well, if humans can endure eating it, other animals can get used to it accordingly.” (Marko)
“… I see, that means this is one of the tricks to the secret, huh?” (Akseli)
The voice of the boy continues on.
“Also, horses, excluding those used as warhorses… you can also limit the breeding to smaller horses.” (Marko)
“Oh? Does that also mean that you don’t use animals like horses and oxen for manual labour in this village?” (Akseli)
“Economise it, if you can. It is compensated by the great effort of the villagers… please view it like that.” (Marko)
“… Ha?” (Akseli)
“I want to keep it a secret that it’s nothing more than eating horse meat even if it’s the meat of small horses. As a village shouldering a part of the territorial horse breeding, I just want to avoid the bad influence of being glared at by horse traders.” (Marko)
“I see… it happens to a degree on battlefields, but there are people avoiding it in their daily lives too.” (Akseli)
“It will save us trouble if we can receive your consideration.” (Marko)
The popularity of warhorses from the Earl Helrevi territory is high. The dense miasma and cold winds have a perfect effect on horses, huh? They are resilient and brave in contests, which makes them the most suitable to deploy on the battlefield. Even so, comparing them to small horses is equivalent to the comparison between a high-class painting and scribbles… at least Akseli, as soldier, thinks so. Small horses are small and stout as their name gives away. Their temperament is whimsy and they are difficult to handle as well. As they can endure with nothing but plain food, they have a merit as livestock, eh?
(They put more priority on this than nurturing and selling warhorses… It’s pretty much coherent with their logic and connects to qwamp, I guess?) (Akseli)
Akseli remembered a small out-of-place feeling. A sense of discomfort might have returned.
(This village is… that’s right. The strange feeling in this village, to sum it up, it’s regulation. The regulation completely feels like the military rule imposed widely at the front lines. It isn’t an assembly of people swinging from joy to sorrow every day. There is a leader using a strong system… and, did that person predict the cold weather damage and the crop failures? Without that it’s not possible to explain it adequately.) (Akseli)
And it was that boy he looked at after all.
Not flaunting his presence and not attracting the eyes of others by hiding among the children, weren’t these qualities of a proper leader? In fact, the children’s mysterious games, all of them were proposed by this boy. It’s one day after coming to this village, merely one day… Akseli thinks… isn’t this boy called Marko in the center of all the surprises I observed during this day?
“By the way, would you lend me some nail clippers? My nails have ended up cracking a bit.” (Akseli)
The reaction to those words of Akseli was divided. Herman was startled. Marko revealed a joyful look on his face. Saying 「I will」, he left his seat. He brought nail clippers and a nail file.
“Those are good items. This kind of nail clippers is fairly expensive even in the territory’s capital. However, it seems to be spread in every household in this village. Dyed textiles as well. This is my opinion, but if you look at the women you will also understand a lot about the standard livelihood of the group. Especially the hands. To make it blatant… in this village there is an income of money that is not included in the regular calculations.” (Akseli)
While polishing the nails of his fingers properly, he brought up his own standpoint. Akseli looked at Herman and Marko in turns. The face of the middle-aged man has become stiff. That is indicating that his wariness has strengthened. On the other hand, the face of the boy, that has traces of immaturity, floated something like a smile. But, the glint in his eyes is intense.
(It’s completely as if a bird of prey has perceived its game. Grasping each and every single move… no, it’s different. It’s not different. There is even more ferocity without any constraints. It’s not just sharp but also profound. He is seeing through every fibre to the depths of the person called me.) (Akseli)
While he didn’t change his expression or put on a façade at all, Akseli put strength into his lower part, that was hidden under the table. Intending to relax, he loosens his middle forehead and cheeks. He doesn’t swallow the saliva that accumulated under his tongue. It’s because he can’t gulp it down without making a sound.
The buzzing of bugs, that were lured to the light, irregularly resounded and interrupted the silence repeatedly. The warmth of the orange light can’t be felt now. Akseli’s view was put under pressure without being even certain whether the blue pupils were merely far away or close-by. If someone told him that he was under some magic effect, he would probably end up consenting to it with a “I fear so.”
“It appears that First Lieutenant-dono has the aptitude to reach the rank of general.” (Marko)
Murmuring this, the boy offered him sake. Akseli wasn’t able to find fault with his impolite remark. His mind didn’t have such composure. Above all, he wasn’t close to a state where he even was able to trade words. He had defied his limit of discomfort and verbal capacity. Nonchalantly receiving the sake in a sake cup, he brings it as casually as possible to his mouth. Without putting down the sake cup, he gulped down 2 and then 3 sips in one go. He catches his breath with the nose while being covered by the sake cup.
Having renewed his preparedness, the glint in the boy’s eyes, that had seized him, quieted down once he put down the cup. Even though he sensed that he himself was being tested, Akseli, far from feeling anger, felt a strange satisfaction. That’s because he discovered something new about the boy beyond what he already knew about him.
“… As jest while drinking alcohol, I want to hear about it, not in my official duty but as private person.” (Akseli)
“Reaching the rank of general… in other words, that means that I haven’t reached it yet. I wonder, what the heck I’m lacking your eyes?” (Akseli)
It was an immediate reply to the degree of being daunting. And, he isn’t able to deny it.
“You look like you know about strategy. Certainly the essential abilities aren’t things you list up at length. But all of these abilities function only after you have a leader you must serve. Being your own master and carrying out all kinds of things at you own discretion won’t let you exceed the resulting personal affairs by yourself, no matter how far you go. People call that a hobby.” (Marko)
Akseli brought the cup to his mouth and faced the boy, who said all this smoothly and bluntly. Mischief is being reflected in the boy’s gaze.
“You, who wastes his abilities on a hobby, have no backbone. Even if you intend to shoulder the lives of soldiers, you don’t plan to bear the fate of a leader. As you look at everything as somebody else’s problem, you only believe in yourself. And you gloat about it. People call that masturbation.” (Marko)
With a warped smile his mouth is grinning broadly, “How obscene!” Akseli felt something terrible travel across his spinal column. Something furious is welling up within his chest. His breath clogged up suddenly. The conclusion has been tossed out there.
“Will you choose the twig? Will you discard your claws… ? Stop being half-assed. Isn’t that a detestable state?” (Marko)
The boy intensified his dubious smile for an instant, but returned to his prim face after he gulped down the sake cup as if nothing happened. Is it the sound of an insect crashing and bursting open with a squish? The small winged insect, done in by the heat, quietly wriggled on the table and then stopped moving.
There is something that was silently extended. It’s Akseli’s hand which held the sake bottle. The boy and the village headman receive it. Akseli also poured sake into his own sake cup and displayed it by holding it up lightly.
“I received wise words. A prayer for the growth and peacefulness of Kikomaru.” (Akseli)
As 3 people gulped down the sake, the sake slid down the throats of 3 people and vanished.
“… This is a nice village after all.” (Akseli)
Akseli tells the truth by merely rounding it off.
“The prime cause for obtaining money is the village headman’s son. As the age of that person is 8 years, there isn’t even anything to say any more. That’s because you have to be 12 years old to be obligated to pay taxes. I, who am the inspection official, hold expectations for the next tax collection. Let’s treat the utilization of qwamp as result of coping with an emergency.” (Akseli)
The talks end at that point. The time has advanced far into the night. If it’s humans, they should lay down their bodies and close their eyes.
It is the village girl called Hannah who performed the tasks of leading him to the guest room, preparing the bed and providing the water for the water basin. Akseli, who observed her taking care of the boy with reverence, asked only one thing. It’s a question where he didn’t even expect an answer. It’s before retiring. He might have wanted to express his agitation without sobering up.
“The boy called Marko… what kind of person is he?” (Akseli)
The girl, who smoothed out the blanket, told him without hesitation in her eyes.
“Bou-chama is “Fate”” (Hannah) (T/N: Bou = Boy, chama = chan + sama … affectionate way of honourable address, I guess)
Akseli laughed. That is the foretold child. Waiting eagerly for something, continuing to search for something and hoping for something, the boy in front of him was the embodiment of this… he was convinced of that. That is certainly fate. My life before today and after today will change, whether I want it or not.
He owns the blood-line of a lower noble in the Asuria Kingdom. As he completed the Royal Military Academy with excellent grades, he was sent to the front since the war situation was deteriorating. Fighting in many battles as essential reinforcement on various battlefields because of his high adaptability, he obtained reliable results no matter where he was dispatched. His wish to return to the military academy after the “Sacred Flame Festival” never came true. He was transferred to the Helrevi territorial army due to his stance of liking the duty of rear support.
And, encountering “Fate,” his name will be known as the sole chief general of Marko’s followers.
As wide-versed person, having both wisdom and courage, exhibiting his keen abilities in strategy and internal administration, Marko’s trust in him was deep. Many of his achievements were partly built upon independent, separate missions. In fact, there are theories that he tried scheming his independence, but on the other hand, the words, he told his adjutant, were left behind.
“I’m aware of my own capabilities and I, who dislikes to go beyond myself, have no aptitude for being king. I’m a lazy person even though I work hard. It’s nice if I only have work that’s worth to be done. Pardon me from something like building a history of being in the lead.” (Akseli)
We don’t know whether it’s the truth or a lie. However, once you talk about Marko’s exploits, it is impossible to talk about it while hiding the name Axel Anel, whose reputation went to the degree of “workaholic.” The activities, where he left his marks, cover a lot of ground, but many historians, who talk about the relation between him and Marko, indicate his inspection of Kikomaru as 「Official for patrolling the remote regions」 as first step. Even if the significance itself can’t be seen, one should pay attention to the exceedingly important consequence of the following second step.
At the time Akseli visited Kikomaru once again after his inspection finished, the name Marko appeared for the first time in historical records. And as a first mark that largely changed the fates of the Asuria Kingdom and the Eberia Empire, it became a day that was talked about for a long, long time.