Chapter 2-2

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Volume 1: The “Borderland Hero-Wannabe” Arc

Chapter 2: Fusetatsu, Part 2/2

Right when he poured himself more kumis, a soldier in light plate armor and a helmet walked in leisurely.

This man was solidly built, as was characteristic of people whose trade depended on strength and stamina. He looked around the place, paying special attention to customers’ faces.

He seems to be searching for somebody. Is he from police patrol? Could it be, somebody’s on the run, and they’ve followed his trail to Tart?

Thinking that, Seirin looked at the soldier one more time and met his stare.

What?

There was no time to be surprised, though. The soldier briskly walked up to their table and turned to Fusetatsu. He took his helmet off and bowed his head before him.

“Aniki! So this is where you’ve been hiding all this time!”

The soldier with a white-toothed smile was still young… The same age as Fusetatsu, or maybe a bit older.

“What? Ah, Ryuuhi. Aren’t you in the middle of work?”

The man called Ryuuhi shook his head.

“No, I’m on my way home, actually. Had an early shift, so I came here straight from the station.”

“You should leave your armor at home! You scare the customers when you’re in uniform.”

“Haha, yeah, there’s that. I just really wanted to have a drink with you as soon as possible. When you drink wine with smart people, you become smarter as well, that’s what I think”.

Ryuuhi plopped into a chair next to Fusetatsu and yelled out his order.

“Hey! I’ll have the same as Fusetatsu-aniki!”

“Aiyo!”

Ryuuhi smiled happily at the hostess who came out of the kitchen to answer him, before turning to glare suspiciously at Seirin.

“Aniki… Who’s the guy?”

“Ah, that’s Sen’ya Seirin, he’s in His Excellency’s personal employment. He’s fresh from the capital, came to serve as that Wildcat princess’s tutor.”

Ryuuhi opened his eyes wide in surprise.

“How unexpected! So this person is a sensei as well?”

“That’s right. He’s still young, but a full-fledged teacher already. You should pay him proper respect.”

“Well, that goes without saying!”

The serious-looking Ryuuhi faced Seirin and bowed.

“I’m called Seigou Ryuuhi, head of a ten man unit in the Tart’s garrison. Twenty three years old, been a soldier for five years, and pleased to make your acquaintance!”

“Ah, thank you for introduction. I’m Sen’ya Seirin. I don’t mind if you just call me Seirin, as I’m actually four years younger than you.”

But Ryuuhi only shook his headSeirin’s words.

“No, no, no, that won’t do. I really admire educated people. Aniki is still aniki, no matter the age. Take Fusetatsu, for example. I think of him as someone two years older since I respect him so much.”

“That’s right,” Fusetatsu laughed, poking at his stew. “Your attitude towards Seirin reminds me of our first meeting. You said the same thing to me then.”

Ryuuhi nodded gravely.

“Yeah, meeting you made me sure of my beliefs. ‘That guy’s younger than me, but smarter. He must be a great scholar of some sort. Best to listen to him!’ That’s what I thought.”

Fusetatsu tilted his head.

“I recall meeting you here, but… Did I do something then? I’d shown off for you or won a dispute…”

“No way, Aniki, have you forgotten already? I came to close my drinking tab, remember?”

“Right, they delivered your pay from the capital, so you practically flew here to pay the bill.”

“And Aniki immediately calculated the sum in his head. Without anything, just – papapam – and he told me how much to pay. The hostess spent a long time counting on the abacus and got the same number in the end. Everyone was so shocked!”

“Yes, yes, I remember it now. It’s simple arithmetic. Sum up the tab, then substract it from the wages. That’s no cause for admiration.”

Ryuuhi shook his head vigorously.

“Aniki, that’s not true! We soldiers are good at using our fists, not our heads! You only need to be strong to get promoted. Be it the head of a fifty man unit or a hundred man unit, it’s all the same. If you can count past twenty, you’re like a god already!”

“Why twenty, though?”

“Well, that’s easy,” Ryuuhi answered seriously. “You have only ten fingers and ten toes.”

“What about your eyes and your mouth? That’s three more if you use them,” Seirin joked. However, the soldier started counting in earnest.

“Ten, if you use your fingers. Twenty with toes. Left eye, twenty one. Right eye, twenty two. Mouth, twenty three… Wow, there’s really three more that way!”

Ryuuhi stared at Seirin excitedly, with admiration in his eyes.

“You’re a genius! Sorry, but will you allow me to call you my older brother, after all?”

Seirin was taken aback by this reaction. He thought Ryuuhi had actually been in on the joke before.

“B-but…”

Fusetatsu shrugged at his troubled expression.

“Don’t make such a long face, Ryuuhi means it seriously. Also, he’s a rare case among his peers. Not many in the army think that seeking knowledge is admirable. Do you know why?”

“… ‘The military man is to achieve respect through his skills with the sword, not through books’… Something like that?”

“Exactly. The law passed by the third emperor states that any promotion inside the military is to be based on this principle. Even if you are well-read, it won’t do you any good. Why learn any letters and numbers? Better to spend your time training. Do a mock battle or learn to split roof tiles with your bare hands, it’ll get you further in life.”

Fusetatsu pointed at the small pot of stew on the table.

“Imagine this pot is the enemy.  Seirin, what tactic would you use to attack it?”

“Me? Well, first I would have some troops lie in wait on the enemy’s path of retreat. Then I would attack from the other three sides. When the enemy withdrew, my soldiers would cut it down. A retreating army is vulnerable, so even a small number of troops would be enough to deal with it.”

Fusetatsu smirked.

“I’ll award you thirty points for that.”

“It’s not that bad of a plan, is it?”

Seirin was puzzled. Still smirking, Fusetatsu answered.

“True, it’ll work, but only if you find a soldier who is as smart as you. For the Imperial army, this plan is too complicated. It assumes they’re able to think ahead. No, the Engi military does things another way.”

Fusetatsu brought some jars and sake cups on plates to surround the pot.

“You surround the enemy en masse and crush it… The victory is decided by numbers. That’s a hundred point answer.”

“What? That can hardly be considered a valid battle plan!”

“Wrong. It’s exactly the plan our military uses. Charge straight at the enemy in big numbers. The simplest plan ever. Everybody from the general to the common foot soldier can understand it.

They all think the same thing: gather strong people together and you’ll win. That’s how our dear imperial army operates.”

“How the hell have we managed to win up until now…?”

In response to Seirin’s disappointment, Fusetatsu pointed at the tableware around the pot.

“I’ve shown you already. Think about it. As long as an army is big enough to overwhelm the enemy, the Empire won’t lose. ..Some people in the government thought that this way of doing things was outdated, so they started reforming the military as Tsukihara Genzai led the way. But…”

“…But he got exiled to the border and that was the end of the matter.”

“I think his return to the Capital is coming closer. However you look at it, an alliance with the Shan clan is a big deal. Even his opposition in the government can’t ignore that kind of achievement.”

He gulped down another cup of kumis.

“By the way, there’s this rumor circulating about how Genzai-sama is returning to the Capital soon,” Ryuuhi remarked offhandedly from beside Fusetatsu.

“What? Where did you hear that?!”

“Wait, it’s just a rumor…” he explained hurriedly to his shocked friend. “I don’t know the details myself, but people are talking about a new governor. If the new governor comes, that means the current one – Tsukihara Genzai – has to go away, right?”

“Well, yes, but…”

Fusetatsu paused to look at Seirin.

“…What will happen to your job?”

“Give me a break! It hasn’t even been a day since I came here!”

 

*

As  Seirin was busy fighting back tears, a certain conversation took place in the Goovernor’s palace.

“Princess? Are you listening to me?”

Inside the Southern dorms Mirin was trying to talk to Mine as she bit into her lamb steak.

“Mohyuhihyu mohaha, homo hihe”

“…This Mirin fails to understand the meaning of your words.”

Although she said so, Mirin could make an educated guess or two. One had just look at how the princess frowned while taking another big bite of her meal.

“Despite that, I have to note that unless I approach you during the meal, I won’t be able to find you anywhere. This is an important conversation, so please listen to what this Mirin has to say.”

“Hyomumumu, homumumu. Mume mumu momo!”

“Again, your humble servant fails to grasp what you are talking about.

“However, my princess, you only deign me with your presence after I inform you quite loudly that a meal has been prepared. I have been trying to talk to you since you woke up this morning, asking for your attention until my voice became hoarse from the effort. You turned a deaf ear to my pleas and ran off to play with the horses as soon as you were able to.

“And yet the moment I mention food, you hurry back faster than any horse. Such a perfect example of a wildcat, you are!”

Mirin scolded her mistress emotionlessly. It occurred to her that she was overstepping the boundaries of polite behaviour quite a bit, but then again it was rather useless to behave respectfully towards someone, who absolutely, categorically, straight out ignored such matters. Lack of etiquette didn’t hinder Mirin in accomplishing her duties, and so she had continued to serve the princess faithfully for eight years already.

Mine continued gnawing on her meat, chewing noisily while Mirin spoke. She swallowed as her maid went on exclaiming about wildcats.

“Isn’t today’s lamb overcooked?!”

“I am aghast at what I hear from this wildcat! If you are finished with your food, listen to what I have to say like any civilized person would!”

“What’re you talking about! That’s important. They overcooked the meat! Steaks should be raw, that’s when they’re delicious!”

“Are you a princess or a cat? For once somebody from the capital was taking you seriously, despite your behaviour! That is the first time a tutor is willing to try doing his job properly for your sake. Don’t ridicule him so much, will you?’ Mirin lectured dispassionately.

The handmaiden was distantly related to Shan’s chief Ishil. Of course, in a tribe everybody was related to everybody else in some way, but in Mirin’s case she was eight people away from the chief. That’s what allowed her to call herself a distant relative.

Her duty was to look after the chief’s youngest child, princess Mine. Normally, being a handmaiden meant she needed to arrange dresses for the princess and help with her make-up. In truth, though…

…She was responsible for feeding the wildcat.

However, when she nonchalantly declared that to her family during one of her visits, her parents couldn’t decide between fainting and scolding their child for her impertinence.

Well, anyway.

“This young man came all the way from the capital to teach you. Don’t you dare send this one home crying, I beg of you!”

The first one ran away after only half a day with Mine. Mirin hadn’t even seen his face. Nobody knew what happened during his audience with the princess. The girl herself said only that the guy was a bore.

Just what kind of “interesting” things had she done to the man?

Ultimately, the truth remained unknown.

But the tutor after the first, his face Mirin knew. On his second day he came out covered in bruises and crying pathetically. He bolted for the capital immediately.

Again, nobody knew what had really happened that day. And Mine only complained the tutor was dull.

Just how did the wildcat “entertain” herself, Mirin wondered. Alas, the answer remained a mystery.

And the teacher who came today was the third one.

“If I may be so bold, Princess, wait at least five days before getting rid of your tutor. If you do it earlier, Ishil-sama’s pride will be at stake. It has nothing to do with me, of course, but it should matter to you. So please refrain from anything “interesting” and “entertaining” for now.”

Mine completely ignored her maid’s admonition. There were smudges of grease on her face.

“I was right, they did overcook the steak, yeah…” she muttered.

 

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