Chapter 73, Part 3

  ”That's true.
The members of the trading company are probably not used to the mountains.
It would be dangerous if she overreached and fell off her feet.”

Hehe, thank you for your consideration.”


 Kayo, who had been sitting on a stone and taking a deep breath, expresses her gratitude with a sense of dread at my comment as I run up to her.
Her forehead was lightly covered with sweat, so she takes a silk handkerchief out of her pocket to wipe it away.


 While it's understandable for a rural tenant farmer to be used to walking on unstable mountain paths, a capital city merchant's daughter like Kayo would not have such experience.
She was the most tired here.


 ”The sun's getting high.
Maybe we should have dinner here.
Suzune, can you give me a lunch box?”

 ”Don't you prepare that much yourself?”

 ”A man always dreams of a homemade bento made by a girl his age, you know?”


 Suzune gives Kehiko, who naturally begs for food, a look of blatant disdain.
However, she had expected it and throws a handmade lunch box wrapped in a bamboo skin at him with a cluck of her tongue.


 ”Whoa, that was close!? What are you going to do if it falls into the ground!?”

 ”Miss, there are no stones around here.
Please sit down on the mat.”

 ”Are you ignoring me!?”


 The guard shouts as he grabs the lunch box that was thrown at him unexpectedly, but the maid ignores him and lays out a mat for her master to sit on.
On top of the mat is a beautifully lacquered three-tiered stacked lacquer box.
Just looking at the outside of the box, it clearly looked more luxurious than the one she had thrown at Kehiko.


 ”Miss Kayo…
did you bring your own food?”

I apologize for your kind offer.”

 ”No, it's okay.”


 On the other hand, Kayo, who has taken off her hat, sits on the mat as the apprentice child spreads it out.
At the same time, the child pulls out an elegant bamboo basket from his backpack.


 ”How about it? Would you like to come and join us?”

 ”Hmm? …is that for me?”


 Kayo suggested to me with a smile.
I was in the midst of ordering my subordinates to eat first and conduct patrols around the area when she caught me off guard.


Actually, Tsuru went all out and made it, and I was wondering if you could help me finish it.”

 ”No, but…”


 The suggestion came just as I was about to make my rounds.
However, I didn't want to cause trouble because I was dealing with the other party.


 ”Yun-shoku, shall I conduct the patrols first?”

 ”Alright, I'll leave it to you.
I'll take over immediately later…
Be careful, and don't go too far, okay?”


 Chidori, sensing the atmosphere and the situation, immediately offers to do so, and I order him to do so.
Then I respectfully walk toward the daughter of a merchant family.


 ”After our last meeting, have you been feeling all right?”

 ”Please don't worry, I'm perfectly fine.”

 ”I'm glad to hear that.
It was after I had entertained you, wasn't it? I was worried it might have been something I served you.
…To ease your mind, today's lunch was all prepared by Tsuru, so please enjoy it without any concerns.”


 Kayo's words made me look doubtful under my mask for a moment, but I immediately understood what she meant.


 (I see…
she must have been warned of some kind of poison.)


 It is not hard to imagine that she was almost turned into a prostitute by her relatives and that she must have earned some hate as well as some achievement in the trading company, which was a natural concern considering her position.
Thinking about it, it's possible that she only brought along a young boy as an escort instead of many adults because she trusts someone pure and obedient.


 (A pure and honest child is better than a bunch of adults, I guess.)


 I glanced at the child who was pouring tea from a canteen into a teacup, with blonde hair similar to Kayo's and likely of mixed Nanban descent.
This child seemed to be cautious of me…
probably this child was chosen by Kayo as a reliable person who wouldn't betray her given her situation.


 ”Here, please have some tea.”

 ”Oh, thank you for the tea.”


 After adjusting my face, I take a sip from the teacup I have just received.
It was nostalgic, yet had a refined sweetness and astringency.
In this world, I rarely have a chance to drink tea because it is imported, and in my previous life, I had only tasted cheap tea bags, but I could tell from the first sip that the tea leaves were of good quality.


 ”I am sorry.
I know better tea leaves, but I don't have them with me right now…”

 ”No, no need to apologize.
This is still too much for me.”


 I replied to Kayo's sincere apology.
I really meant it.
My dull tongue wouldn't be able to tell the difference even if a better tea leaf was used.


 ”Hehehe, let's put it that way then.
And let's see, the contents are…
sandwiches, right?”


 Opening the lid of the bamboo basket, Kayo tells us the contents of the lunch box.


 What was packed in the bamboo basket was the sandwich I knew so well.
Most likely, she had borrowed the village's stove and baked it there since we would be staying for a while.
It was made with white bread…
eggs or cucumbers, teriyaki chicken, red eggplant, onions, fruits, and even cheese, anchovy, and jam.
Perhaps the latter three were already on hand, along with the bread dough.
It is not likely that such a thing would be available in a country village like this, by sheer luck.


 ”A sandwich, huh? I've been served it before.”


 Kayo and Gorilla-sama have communicated with each other several times and had meals together.
On those occasions, I had eaten sandwiches for them several times after I was reincarnated here as a gift or a freebie.


 ”Yes, please enjoy it.”


 Kayo offered me a teriyaki sandwich with onions.


 ”Well, I'll take you up on your offer…”


 After wiping my hands, I accept the sandwich from Kayo with small white hands.
Oh, it's delicious.


 ”Hehehe, please eat a lot, okay? Oh, you too, Reiō-kun?”

 ”Oh, y-yes!”


 She smiles and tells me what I think of the sandwich, and then offers her own lunch box to the boy standing by her side.
The boy with blond hair and dark eyes accepts his employer's treat with a sense of humility and nibbles on the sandwich like a squirrel.


 (They are like sister and brother, aren't they?)


 Maybe because they have the same blond hair, I thought so for a moment.
Perhaps Kayo is also fond of the boy because they are only three or four years apart in age, and they are close to each other, which made me think so.
If the age difference had been a bit greater, they might have looked like parent and child.


 ”Which sandwich would you like for your second sandwich? Do you want a fish one? Or an egg one?”


 As I was thinking this, Kayo, perhaps noticing my gaze, holds out a bamboo sandwich box and asks me.


 ”…Then I'll have the egg.”

Oh, would you like more tea?”


 After offering me the egg sandwich, she pours me another cup of tea from her water bottle.
It is impolite to refuse, so I have no choice but to accept.


 (….Although we have a relationship or a shared secret, I wish she wouldn't get too familiar with me)


 From Kayo's point of view, it may be a half-rich man's pleasure like Gorilla-sama, but from others' point of view, it might seem like I was trying to curry favor.
Even her attendant, Reio-kun, look at me.
He's obviously clearly wary of me.
He seemed eager to protect the young lady from cunning people, probably being told off by Tsuru-san and other adults.


 ”…I think it's time for me to leave now.”


 After having two cups of tea and three sandwiches, I made my exit.


 ”Already? I thought you gentlemen would want to eat more…
Did you dislike this sandwich, by any chance?”

 ”No, it's not that…
I have the lunch box that was originally given to me, and I thought it was about time my men had something to eat.”


 Having said all that, I make a suggestion for a future storyline.


 ”If you can't finish your meal yet, why don't you share it with them? You might be able to talk with other women of the same age, you know?”


 In the original story, Kayo worked as an item seller, adding color to items and giving information to the main character who was killing youkai all the time.
And her position and authority in this world are even greater than in the original story, so I wanted to take this opportunity to make their acquaintance and, if I may say so, deepen their friendship.


 ”I see…
I guess it can't be helped.
But, please take this at least.
Have it as a snack when you feel hungry.”


 With this remark, Kayo presented me with a bamboo container.
Inside it was…
a bread crust?


 ”I deep-fried the bread crust left over from the sandwich, and then sprinkled it with honey and sugar to make Karin-to (Japanese candy or sweet that is flavored with the juice of the quince fruit).
Though it was fried a little too much.”

 ”No, it's not that…
Wait a minute.
Did you fry them yourself?”

as a snack…
You didn't like it?”


 Kayo tilted her head and looked up at me with an anxious face.
Her seductive and expectant gaze could only be described as bewitching.
At least, no sane person would say malicious words here, even in jest.


 ”…Thank you very much for your kindness, I'll gratefully accept it.”


 I responded without hesitation.
It was a strange emergency ration anyway, and a sweet taste.
Worst case scenario, I could feed it to my men as well.


 ”That's a relief.”


 Kayo said with a sincere expression, and I bowed to her before leaving the area.
Then I keep looking for my men who are patrolling the perimeter, and Kehiko, who is eating a rice ball, comes to my side…
away from the women's view.


 ”Well, well, I can't just leave it in the corner, huh? After what my lady did to you, now it's the daughter of the merchant company? Lucky guy, getting all the attention, aren't you?”


 His words were more like a tease than sarcasm.
At the same time, the words were not that serious.


 (If anything, this guy seems to be much more popular than me.)


 He is from a big family, and although he doesn't look it at first glance, he can perfectly perform the court rituals if he wants to, and despite his lack of spiritual power, his martial arts skills can kill a medium youkai by himself.
To tell the truth, except for his personality, he is a relatively good candidate.


 ”You must be joking.
Do you want some Karin-to?”

 ”Sure, I'll have one.”


 Kehiko picks up the Karin-to I offer him without hesitation.
He said “one”, but he takes about three, but I don't press it.


 ”Anyway, what do you want? You haven't been given permission for the match you mentioned the other day, have you?”

 ”Hey, hey, you're no fun, huh? Don't give me that serious look.”


 Kehiko smiles at me and I frown slightly.
At the same time, I felt suspicion.
Something strange…


 I open my mouth to ask something but stop myself immediately.
My hearing, which had slightly deviated from a human due to the transformation of my body, picked up the sound.


 It was so small that it seemed to disappear into the woods, but it was undoubtedly a blow and a scream…!!





 I was running fast, ignoring the voices behind me.
I enhanced my leg strength with spiritual power, overcoming obstacles in bad terrain.
And before I knew it, I had arrived there.
In my vision, I see it.




 In the next instant, I tried to rush to my fallen subordinate in the thicket…
but I stop as soon as I can.
I knew from experience that at times like this, cunning youkai would dare to use their prey as bait to set a trap.
Just like the first team I was assigned to after I became a servant, everyone was wiped out except for me.




 So I pulled a dagger (tantō) out of my pocket and stopped to look around.
I searched for any signs of movement, but…


 ”…Did they leave?”


 I slowly, still alertly reach my fallen subordinate and kick him in the back with my foot.
There was a small moan.
He was alive, and it didn't sound like he'd been skinned and not replaced.


 ”Are you okay? What happened…?”

There was a shadow…
from the thicket…?”


 My subordinate muttered incoherently in a fog of consciousness.
He must have been hit on the head, perhaps a concussion.
It seems I won't hear anything from him for a while.


 (And if the culprit left already? Then…!)


 ”Hey, hidden group! Contact the young ladies and guard them.
The culprit may be on the way there.”


 At my suggestion, the presence seems to stop moving for a moment but soon moves away.
I'm glad they understand the priority.


 ”Chidori, let me carry you.
Just be patient until we get to a safe place…!?”


 I order and try to carry my men on my back.
And then I notice…
something wrapped in the man's palm.


 ”Is this…


 He probably tore it off as soon as he could, and what remained in his palm was a few hairs.


They were black, yet animal hairs reminiscent of those of a wolf…

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