Arc 2, Crescent Moon
Though Ernst and his entourage had wanted to camp outside here as well, the villagers stopped them.
Most of the village had left to find work. The villagers told them that they could stay in the vacant houses.
Though they hesitated over selfishly intruding in someone else’s house while they were away, the villagers just gave a laugh. Don’t worry about it. It wouldn’t matter if anyone went inside, they said.
When Ernst timidly entered one of the houses, he found that there was certainly almost nothing inside. There was only a shabby bed, as well as tableware carved clumsily out of wood.
Ernst gratefully accepted the villagers’ offer.
Ernst’s party consisted of 25 people, so they decided to use 5 houses. They didn’t have enough firewood or bedding, so they would have to directly lay on the floor to sleep, but just having walls to shield them from the open air was a great help.
In this village, there really was nothing at all.
Yet even so, the village head wanted to somehow offer Ernst something to eat.
Unfortunately, until their migrant workers returned safely in the spring, the villagers themselves didn’t know if they would be able to eat.
But in spite of this, they took their food that had enough to feed seven elders and five children for one meal and added snow to it over the fire, turning it into a thin, thin soup.
Ernst approached Targes, who had been chatting with Brez, and spoke in a low voice.
“I would like you to take two pieces of the dried meat we had brought from the mansion, and after finely chopping it up, to add it to that soup.”
“Two pieces… you say? That would only be enough of a serving for a single soldier of the militia.”
Their current march would end at Arruca Village. They would stay in the village tomorrow, and they would return to the estate the day after tomorrow. The food they had brought should be enough to last them for four more days.
“Humm. But that amount is exactly right. If this kind of soup is what they always eat, then if they suddenly ingest too much meat, it will poison their bodies.”
After being convinced by Ernst’s words, Targes nodded.
“That… does sound about right. In their state, having a stomach breakdown would be a matter of life or death for them.
After all, he was someone who had been a mercenary for many long years. The captain had most likely experienced how it felt to be on the verge of extreme hunger, as well.
“When you add the meat, don’t let the villagers find out if at all possible.”
As Ernst took his leave, he added these parting words.
It seemed that Targes had executed this well.
The pieces of meat that had been mixed into the soup were chopped so finely that even when he knew they were there, Ernst couldn’t see them unless he carefully studied the soup. Judging by the villagers’ appearances, they weren’t at all aware of what happened.
Ernst, the villagers, and the militiamen encircled the fire lit in the town square. The villagers seemed quite pleased by this giant fire that the militiamen had prepared.
Everyone drank the thin soup together, happiness on their faces.
The happiness that others gave to you was like rain which fell during a drought.
Even if it was a life-saving and blessed rain, if it was fickle and given at a whim, then it wasn’t truly something that saved people. If people relied on something like that, then none of their problems would actually be solved.
The people of Arruca village had gotten used to giving up. They might even have lost their sense of worth as human beings.
It wouldn’t be difficult for Ernst to hand out food to Arruca Village. It would be easy to give them the twenty-five people’s four days worth of food which he currently possessed.
But in the long run, he would be failing these villagers.
As they were now, they would accept what Ernst gave them as a matter of course, then request for another.
Like that, the other people of the fief would covet what only the Arruca village received, envying them.
They couldn’t be allowed to become used to being given things by other people.
If they did, then what they were given would become a poison which killed them.
As the villagers murmured and chatted in low voices with each other, Ernst watched them quietly.
The next day, Ernst took a look around Arruca Village.
Five sheep were digging their noses into the snow and eating grass. These sheep looked somehow different from the ones in Caralime Village.
“Is this the same type of sheep as the ones in Caralime Village?”
Ernst asked the young boy who had come with him. The seven elders had weak legs, so they left the village less often.
“They’re different from Caralime’s, or so I heard.”
The boy had said that he would be turning 30 on the New Year. He was half Ernst’s age, but he looked around the same as Ernst.
Would this person also develop Kleber’s disease? Ernst pondered over this boy’s near future.
“Humm. In that case, is there a reason why you raise a different one?”
“I don’t really know, but… the Caralime’s sheep is one that Caralime made, and it’s a really good sheep, but since Caralime absolutely wouldn’t hand any over, we don’t have any here.”
“So is this sheep the kind that Arruca village has always kept?”
“Yes. This one’s wool is short, but it’s thin and glossy.”
As the boy said this, he lovingly petted the sheep. Ernst guessed that all five of these sheep were cared for by this boy. Except for this boy, the other four children of Arruca Village were all under 10 years old.
“But even if it’s glossy, it’s hard to make yarn out of this wool. That’s why Arruca’s wool has such a super low price. And on top of that, this sheep has very little hair. I heard that just one of Caralime’s sheep can fill a whole bag, but it takes three of ours to fill one bag.”
As the boy smiled wryly, one of the sheep pushed its head into his hand. The boy softly patted the sheep’s head as if soothing it.
This sheep’s white hair certainly did look shiny. This boy probably raised them extremely carefully, but they lacked the same luster as the sheep in Caralime.
Ernst gently reached his hand out toward the sheep.
The boy stared at Ernst as if he was gobsmacked.
“Caralime Village sold its wool as it was, but is that also the case for Arruca?”
“Eh… ah… no… even if we wanted to sell this sheep’s wool, it wouldn’t be worth even the price of the jute bag we would use to pack it… so, we just use it to make rugs for the village…”
The boy’s earlier openheartedness disappeared, and he answered falteringly.
Though Ernst wondered about the change in the boy’s attitude, he didn’t bring it up and asked another question.
“Yes… um… to make that small little rug at the bottom of the bed, it takes ten of these guys to make one. Since there are only five of them right now… after saving up for two years, you can end up making one piece somehow…”
In the royal palace, there were many beautiful rugs, but the ones beneath the bed and the ones used for footrests were very small. If those took ten of this sheep’s wool to make, then even if this village wanted to sell rugs, there was no way it would work out on an economic scale.
The effort put into painstakingly raising ten of these animals didn’t match up to the price of that one small piece of rug.
Those five sheep kept on eating without a care in the world.
In that way, they resembled Arruca Village itself, working hard just to be able to eat.
On the night of the second day, they once again received the villagers’ all-out hospitality. Without letting the villagers know, Targes mixed tiny pieces of meat into the thin, watery soup. They gathered around the fire and ate together.
Ernst thought back to the days of traveling with the hunters. The wood burned, letting off atmospheric sounds. The children of the village had gotten used to Ernst and the militia, and bit by bit, they started chatting again.
This might have been the first time the people of Arruca Village had ever seen a Dunbertian, so the children always crowded around Ganche. The five children grabbed onto Ganche’s arms, and he lifted them up all at once. The villagers and the militiamen were also chatting up a storm.
The voices of delighted children echoed across the night sky over the snowfield.
They decided to depart after breakfast the next day. It was six hours from Arruca Village to the estate. A little bit of snow had begun to fall.
All of the villagers had gathered to send them off. The boy who cared for the sheep looked at Ernst with a crying face. Although their ages were completely different, it had been a long time since Ernst had met someone who shared his same height and physique.
Ernst grasped the boy’s thin hand and gripped it. The hand of this boy, whose body jumped and stiffened in surprise, was a rough hand made of only skin and bone.
The snow kept on falling. Ernst wondered if this village would continue to be engulfed in an air of despair until its migrant villagers returned.
Ernst prayed that they would be able to return safely in the spring. And then, he forged a resolution in his heart that just like last night, he must be able to let this village laugh even in the midst of winter.
As if trying to convey his determination, Ernst firmly grasped the boy’s hand.
This boy, who was so bewildered that his eyes had been darting around as if seeking guidance on what he should do, now steadily met Ernst’s gaze, and he returned Ernst’s grip.
Though Ernst had the strength of a boy because of his unchanging appearance, in comparison, the strength of this boy was far greater than this.