The group of men had an incredible aura about them.
They were the four men of the Wu clan.
Standing at the front was probably the clan head Donda Wu. Judging from both age and his demeanour, that should be him. He was above 180cm tall, and should be over 90kg.
He had a cape made from kiba fur, a sleeveless shirt and a piece of cloth tied around his waist. Around his neck was a necklace with a huge amount of tusks and horns. On his feet were shoes tied with strings, and he also had a large sabre and a knife — The four of them were dressed similarly.
But Donda Wu was exceptionally imposing.
Be it his arms, shoulders, thighs and calves, his muscles bulged like mountain ranges. His chest muscles were incredibly thick, and his waist looked powerful, just like a tree trunk.
His appearance was imposing too, his messy dark brown hair looked rough like a kiba, and a beard covered the lower half of his face. His eyes, mouth and nose were large, and the wrinkles on his face were as deep as cracks on boulders.
He was getting on in years, but his blue eyes were full of spirit. His large body that look as if it was carved from stone was brimming in life and give off a real sense of pressure to others.
If I had to describe him in one sentence — This large burly man was just like a kiba in human form.
The men behind him felt more like human.
Especially the one standing to Donda Wu’s right, he felt gentle and kind.
He wasn’t as bulky as his father, but his body was still solidly built. His arms was as thick as my calf, and he was carrying a 50kg young kiba with one arm easily.
That man had a similar face as his father, as hard as a boulder. But his brown hair was shaved really short, and his eyes were narrowed to a slit as if he was smiling. He had a very calm expression.
He might look gentle and kind, but his large body emitted an intangible prowess different from his father. I had a faint feeling that I must not anger this man.
He was a bit old too, while the other two men were younger.
One of them should be a few years older than me. He had a tall built and solid muscles, like a young wolf.
His face was a bit long and the bridge of his nose was high, with his mouth shut in a serious manner. He was handsome with black hair seldom seen in the settlement, and his long hair tied behind his neck.
However… his narrow eyes under his thin brows had a beast-like light about them, very similar to his father. In terms of the aura emitted, he resembled his father the most.
The last boy was younger than me. In my world, he would be in middle school.
Slightly shorter than me, he was slender when compared to the other men, but didn’t feel weak at all. He was carrying a kiba that weighs about 100kg with a krilee stick together with the younger man I mentioned earlier.
He had mid length yellowish brown hair, with eye colours that was lighter than his hair. If not for his delinquent-like rebellious expression, he could be considered cute. The red haired girl who received Ai Fa’s cape reluctantly resembles him a lot.
By the way, while carrying the kiba on one shoulder, he slung a bow and quiver on his other shoulder. This was the first time I see someone from this world carrying this weapon.
Anyway — This were the men of Wu clan.
Clan head Donda Wu and his three sons.
「Oh Rimee, what a considerate way of welcoming me.」
Rimee’s father picked up the fruit wine his daughter was carrying with his stout fingers.
「Ah, you can’t, that is for culinary use!」
「Hmmp! Culinary? Don’t use those smartass terms.」
Donda Wu had white and tough teeth, just like a kiba. He bit off the cork off the bottle, and swig the red fluid down his throat.
Fruit wine wasn’t as concentrated as red wine, but it still had a substantial amount of alcohol content. He emptied it in one go and tossed the bottle by his feet.
「Yo, the female hunter of House Fa. We haven’t met since your dad died two years ago. It’s been a long time, aren’t you even going to greet me?」
His glowing eyes stared at Ai Fa.
Ai Fa pushed me behind and walked to the front of that burly man.
「Head of the Wu clan Donda Wu, long time no see… On Rimee Wu’s bequest, my family member Asuta and I are here as temporary caretakers of the Wu clan’s hearth.」
「Hmmp, you’re an unlikable brat as usual. If your eyes didn’t look so sharp, you would be a beauty just like your mother.」
Donda Wu had a large face, looking just like a cross between a kiba and a lion. He leaned his face near Ai Fa’s nose.
「You are actually wearing the horns of a kiba like a man. But no matter how brave you are, you are still a weak girl, seems like you still can’t understand this, huh? Ai Fa of house Fa?」
「I will watch over my home as the head of house Fa. I already told you that two years ago.」
I was surprised by how unfazed Ai Fa was in the face of such a scary man.
I couldn’t see Ai Fa’s expression from the angle I was standing from. But a fire that could rival Donda Wu was probably burning in her eyes.
This was like a scene of a wild cat facing off against a horde of kiba.
「Hah! Darum, how about it? Why don’t you marry into the Fa house then? Then the Fa lineage will carry on. But you will need to be the hearth caretaker and raise the children then!」
The burly man leaned back and laughed thunderously.
The second youngest man who had eyes just like his father reacted.
His eyes that had a dangerous gleam turned towards Ai Fa, his gaze filled obviously with mockery.
「She has eyes like a beast, I don’t want to marry such a woman. No, that’s not a man or a woman, just a garbage.」
When I heard that, I wanted to step forward on reflex.
But Ai Fa who was standing diagonally before me, restraint me quickly.
「We still need to prepare dinner. We will talk after it’s done.」
「That’s right! We are about to start cooking! Don’t bother me!」
In the eyes of a daughter, this beast like giant was just a father. Rimee yelled as she waved the empty bottle around without any fear at all.
On the other hand, Leina Wu held the sieve with the aria as she looked troubledly at the men facing off with Ai Fa. After looking at his daughters, Donda Wu turned and left with a 「Hah!」
「All of you are really ridiculous. Delaying your other work in order to prepare dinner so early? It’s just eating the life of the kiba, there is no need for unnecessary work!」
「I already told you! We are cooking for the sake of grandma Jiba! Asuta’s food is soft and delicious!」
The next moment, Donda Wu turned his back to his furious youngest daughter and changed his tone a little.
「… If we can’t consume the meat of the kiba, only death awaits the denizens of Forest’s Edge. Even a Wu or the greatest grand elder can’t violate the law of the forest.」
His giant figure walked away slowly.
And then, something incredible happened.
Rimee Wu kicked her father’s back.
「Daddy Donda you dummy! Why did you say something so mean to grandma Jiba!? You also cherish her a lot!」
「That’s right! Grandma Jiba is the grand elder of the entire Forest’s Edge, not just the Wu clan. How can the Wu clan head say something so reckless?」
Even Leina Wu yelled at her father’s back with teary eyes.
「… Hmmp.」 Donda Wu grunted disinterestedly and disappeared into the depths of the building.
「Alright, let’s take care of the kiba meat.」
Someone said nonchalantly with a deep voice.
The dangerous atmosphere chilled down.
「Ah, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m the eldest son of the Wu clan, Jiza Wu. Ai Fa and Asuta of house Fa, I am very grateful to you two for making a trip here for grand elder Jiba Wu’s sake.」
And of course, the one who spoke was the tall man who looked kind with narrow eyes .
「… But the Wu clan handing over the caretaking of the hearth to an outsider is an important event, right on the level of us offering our blades to the western god selva. I beg your understanding that our clan head Donda Wu can’t just welcome you without any reservation.」
「Hmmp! Father always spoils that brat Rimee too much!」
The youngest boy with yellowish brown hair commented.
Rimee Wu glared at him immediately.
「What, you wanna fight? Bratty Ludo!?」
The boy and the girl glared at each other like two puppies.
Compared to that scene earlier, this was much more heartwarming.
「This shorter boy is my youngest brother, Ludo Wu. And this is the second son, Darum Wu. Jiba Wu’s condition hurts all of our hearts. If you can save Jiba Wu’s soul, we will show you our utmost gratitude and respect.」
He smiled slowly.
However, I couldn’t read his emotions because his eyes were narrowed to a slit.
「… But if you harm the Wu clan’s hearth or the lives of the Wu clan, we will have to cross swords. I hope you can keep that in mind. I will take my leave… Let’s go, Darum, Ludo.」
The three brothers went into the dismembering room with the two kiba.
I sighed in relief after their figures were completely gone.
「Ara… They sure are intimidating. This is the first time I have seen the men of Forest’s Edge from up close. Is everyone like them?」
「… The Wu clan is exceptionally powerful in the Forest’s Edge settlement. It is only natural that the men who supports the entire clan is extraordinary.」
It had been a while since Ai Fa looked at me straight in the eye like this.
「Asuta, you can’t back down now even if you’re scared.」
「Don’t worry, I live under the same roof with a scary mistress, so I’m used to it… that stings.」
She kicked my leg.
「That old man might be scary, but the most intimidating should be the eldest son. But what he said did stir up my fighting spirit.」
When I said that, the two close sisters looked my way at the same time.
「Asuta, you’re amazing!」
「Jiza-Nii is the most scary when he gets mad. If Jiza-Nii scolds me now, I will definitely cry like a child.」
<TL: Nii suffix means older brother>
「Also… When Rimee Wu wants to invite you and Ai Fa to our place, the one who objects most vehemently wasn’t father, but Jiza-Nii. Jiza adheres to rules strictly, he can’t accept outsiders caretaking the hearth in our house.」
「… Thank you for your valuable information. My fighting spirit is burning more intensely now.」
I felt like scratching my head, but I couldn’t do that with my hands full of aria.
「Well then… Rimee Wu, are there more fruit wine in the food store? To be honest, it will be bad if there isn’t any.」
「Don’t worry! There’re loads! Father will drink 3 or 4 every day. We need to trade for it in the post station frequently, it’s so tiring!」
Excellent, looks like I could safeguard my head.
No matter what, the things I needed to do remained the same. To use the ingredients I have to cook the best dish I could.
Not just grandma Jiba, I also need to make that father who is as large as a kiba, and that big brother who looks kind but is actually the hidden boss, speechless. Or else my life will be at peril...
With such a strong clan head and successor, I think the Wu clan’s future would be smooth sailing.
Ah, speaking of which...
This wasn’t the first time I met a man in Forest’s Edge.
That first night when I came into this different world, didn’t I encounter a burly man?
That burly man once visited Ai Fa who was depressed because of her father’s death with ulterior motives. He was beaten up badly and thrown by Ai Fa into the river.
… That’s the successor of the Tsun clan?
In that case, the match was already decided if war ever breaks out between the two clans, right?
I thought about these things and returned to the stove room with the other women and my mistress.
「Ara… have you already finished dinner preparation…?」
When this person appeared, the dinner preparation was heading into its climax.
Right now — We have prepared the aria and kiba meat soup. The poitan for everyone had been grilled, and we were about to start grilling the hamburg steak and aria.
「Oh? What is it, Vena? It’s rare seeing you in the stove room when you’re not on duty.」
Ditto Min who was in the kitchen with everyone turned her head back.
The person standing at the entrance looking at us — was the eldest sister of the Wu clan, Vena. She twirled her long brown hair lazily and revealed a sexy smile.
「I didn’t have any task at hand right now, so I came to take a look… But seems like my help isn’t needed...」
As she could see, dinner preparation was almost complete even though there was still some time before sunset.
Rimee Wu, Leina Wu and grandma Ditto Min were more efficient than I expected, so work progressed this quickly.
This was a good miscalculation.
「After that, we just need to grill the kiba meat and we will be done, no problem…! Vena-Nee, you will burn it if I leave it to you, so no thanks.」
「Rimee, don’t say that… we have guests...」
Vena Wu squirmed her elegant body bashfully.
This big sister was one sexy girl.
「But, I’m a bit worried… Father Donda looked even more unhappier than yesterday…?」
「Ignore him! Ai Fa and Asuta only took this tedious job for the sake of grandma Jiba!」
Rimee Wu stood beside Ai Fa and said with her cheeks puffed out.
By the way, Leina Wu stood beside me.
Vena Wu’s crimson eyes looked between me and the second daughter of the Wu clan.
「That might be so, but if you incur the wrath of father Donda and Jiza-Nii, things will become complicated… What do you think, Leina…?」
「It will be fine. Asuta’s cooking is amazing! I think grandma Jiba will be happy to eat it!」
Leina Wu announced. Her eyes was filled with her confidence in me, which made me embarrassed.
Vena Wu muttered as she looked at her sister, then revealed a cheerful smile.
「Since Leina who is good at caretaking the hearth said that, I can be at ease… But what is that pile of thing over there...?」
「Ah, that’s poitan. After cooking the poitan, I dried it under the sun. After dissolving it in water and grilling it, it become like this.」
When she heard my answer, Vena’s droopy eyes opened wide.
「This is poitan…? The shape of these meat is also strange…」
「This is because we minced the kiba meat before kneading them into this round shape. The tough kiba meat will turn soft like this.」
Vena Wu muttered 「Hmm…」 again after hearing my reply, and fell into deep thought.
「I have never seen such strange dishes even in the Genos post station… You really are from a nation far far away...」
「Yes, this is a common way of cooking in the place where I was born.」
After I answered like that, I turned towards Leina Wu beside me.
「But it should be difficult to remember this cooking method in just one day. From tomorrow onwards, you can just mince the meat like this and toss them directly into the soup.」
「Tossing the minced meat into the soup?」
「Yes, if you do that, you don’t need to chew much. You can just drink the soup together with the meat. You can grill the meat before adding it into the soup, it will add more flavour and make the soup tastier.」
「After mincing the meat, grill it a little then add it into the soup? Do we need to cook it over a slow fire like today?」
「Yes. Add in the minced meat and aria at the very end, but add in the sliced meat at the beginning and cook with a slow fire. You can then get the essence release by two types of meat, making the stock more delicious.」
「I see. Thank you… Asuta, you are really knowledgeable, that surprises me.」
「Not at all, my family makes a living through cooking, so I would know a little about this.」
Her gaze filled with respect only made me feel embarrassed, and even a little painful. I was just a half assed apprentice chef.
However, since grandma Jiba who Ai Fa treasured so deeply had turned so frail, I have to work hard so she could find joy in eating again.
Eating is for the sake of survival — Ai Fa once told me that.
Even though this brave and simple tribe didn’t care about how food tastes, they would be able to derive joy from it if they just paid a little more attention from eating.
Ai Fa and Rimee Wu both complimented the food I made, saying it’s 「delicious」.
They acknowledged the value of tasty food, and experience it’s joy too.
In that case, even though I was raised in a completely different environment and had vastly different values would be of use too.
I didn’t know whether my arrival in this world was a prank by fate, but I want to live on here while maintaining my own way of doing things.
Culinary skills were the only thing I was proficient in. If my abilities could help a person Ai Fa treasures live a serene and fulfilled life, it would fill me with the utmost joy.
As I was thinking that — Vena Wu moaned at the same time and muttered:
「Asuta, you’re really an unfathomable man… I heard the chef profession only exists in cities surrounded by stone walls…」
「I’m not born in an incredibly prosperous city though. This is probably just the difference in culture between our worlds.」
What was Vena Wu’s objective?
The men led by Donda Wu showed clear hostility. I didn’t feel that from Vena, and she didn’t seem to be to guarded towards me. However — I have a feeling that she was observing me very calmly.
「But I don’t know anything about cooking… If grandma Jiba can feel the joy of living, I will be very glad… Please work hard then…?」
Vena Wu left after saying these words.
After the source of excessive pheromones left, I sighed in relief.
「The lady named Vena Wu is an incredible person.」
「That’s right, of the seven siblings, she is the most eccentric.」
Grandma Ditto Min’s tone became friendlier and answered me spryly.
「She isn’t a bad kid, but it’s hard to tell what she is thinking at times. Although she is already twenty, there’s still no sign of her marriage.」
「I see, that’s strange since she is a very charming woman.」
The instant I said that, everyone’s gaze gathered from all directions.
Well, there was just five people including me in the stove room, so all directions might be too much of an exaggeration.
「…Asuta, so you think Vena-Nee is very charming.」
One of the five people, Leina Wu looked at me with very sad eyes.
「Hmm? No, I’m not commenting subjective based on my perspective, I’m saying this from the view of normal people.」
「… Yes. Although she is my family, I think she is charming too.」
Then why did she looked at me with those eyes just now?
「But Vena-Nee is already twenty though. Asuta, you’re seventeen just like Ai Fa, right?」 Rimee Wu said.
Surprise was written all over her face.
「T-This has nothing to do with my age, right? By the way, why’re you paying so much attention to my words? I don’t understand.」
「… If you compliment a woman so openly, everyone will think you intend to take her as your wife.」
Even Ai Fa who had been quiet all this while said such things to me.
I couldn’t rebuke her icy tone and gaze, and changed my attitude immediately.
「So that’s what’s going on. That was rude of me. I still don’t know the etiquettes of Forest’s Edge well, please forgive me… I don’t mean anything else when I said that.」
「Don’t worry, of course we won’t mind hearing you compliment our family.」
Despite what grandma Ditto Min said, Leina Wu still showed a sorrowful face, while Rimee Wu stared at me incredulously. Ai Fa averted her face and seemed to be in a bad mood.
I really don’t mean it...
Considering my current circumstances, I didn’t have the mood for romance.
But this was a different world.
Their concept of love and marriage would probably be very different from my world, so I have to be more careful.
But no matter what—
Right now, Ai Fa was the only one in my heart.
What was this feeling then? The urge to repay my benefactor? A sense of closeness that develops naturally towards a housemate living under the same roof? Respect for her kind personality? I couldn’t figure it out myself.
However — I wanted to live a proper life in this world because Ai Fa was here.
There was no question about that.
「… Well then, let’s begin the last job.」
Following my announcement life returned to everyone’s faces as they snapped out of their pondering expression, and they looked dependable and cheerful.
We were from different families and circumstances, but we worked together towards the same goal.
For Jiba Wu — the grand elder of the whole Forest’s Edge to regain peace in her heart.
It was finally time for the match.
Dusk, the time between day and night.
Inside the large hall within the Wu main house, candles were lit in all directions.
Accompanied by Leina Wu, the grand elder of the Wu clan Jiba Wu appeared with unsteady steps — And so, everyone was present.
This hall was about 20 tatami mats large, roughly twice the size of Ai Fa’s house.
The room setup was not much different from Ai Fa’s place, but many items adorned the walls in the hall. The men’s blade and bows, fur capes and a spear-like weapon with a short handle all hung on the hooks made from kiba bones.
The clan head sat in the seat of honour, with a monstrous kiba hide hung behind him, as well as an ominous looking skull.
This Kiba was gigantic, it should weigh several hundreds of kilogram when it was still alive.
As a chef, I wouldn’t be fazed even if I saw the hide or skeletons of animals. But that piece of hide was incredibly big it struck fear into my heart.
「Hmmp, everyone’s present.」
Donda Wu took generous swigs from his fruit wine bottle as he said haughtily.
Jiba Wu sat down carefully beside him.
She looked really small probably because the man beside her was too massive.
Aside from the long dress married women would wear, she had a something like a shawl draped over her shoulders. She also had decorative items on her that seemed to be related to witchcraft. Her body had shrivelled so much that she looked like a piece of dried fruit.
Her back was hunched, so I couldn’t tell her height, but she was definitely more petite than Leina Wu. Her head covered in silver hair was about the same size as Rimee Wu.
Jiba Wu’s hair that had lost its colour pigment was tied into two low pigtails, similar to Leina Wu beside her. Her face was just like a monkey with plenty of wrinkles. I couldn’t tell where her eyes were as she had too many wrinkles.
Her slim fingers extending out from her shawl was weak and boney like dried twigs. Her existence was as frail as a fog in the open plain. As if she would crumple if Leina Wu who was sitting down with her was to let go.
… Fortunately, she still have the strength to walk.
But letting an old lady eat meals centered around meat was asking for a bit too much.
But the die had been cast. We could only await the results.
Two longish stove was situated inside the hall, and the iron pot on the stove was making cute bobbling sound. These small stoves were not meant for cooking, but to keep the food warm.
Cooking wasn’t done in the hall, and the food store was situated in another building, so there wasn’t any smell of fats in the room. Hence, the fragrance of the food we cooked filled the room.
Fourteen people sat around the stove in an oval
At the top of the oval, which is the seat of honour, were Donda Wu and the grand elder Jiba.
Ai Fa and I were seated opposite the two of them some distance away, at the seat of least honour.
From my perspective, to my right were the three brothers, Jiza, Darum and Ludo.
Further in were the third sister Lala and youngest sister Rimee.
To my right was the wife of the previous clan head grandma Ditto Min, spouse of the clan head Mia Lei, wife of the eldest son, Sati Lei, and the eldest daughter Vena. To the left of Vena were Leina Wu’s utensils.
Leina Wu was the representative of the hearth caretaking group today, and needed to help Jiba Wu eat. She could only dine after her work was done. Not just today, someone needed to take on this task every day. The elderly Jiba Wu was too weak, and couldn’t eat by herself.
By the way, behind Sati Lei Wu was her baby, Kota Wu, who was sleeping soundly in a crib.
「… We offer thanks for the forest’s grace…」
Even though Donda Wu looked like a beast he still announced with a serious tone.
He placed the fingers on his left hand that was as thick as a baseball glove before his mouth that was covered by his beard.
「…We offer thanks to Sati Min, Leina, Rimee, Ai Fa and Asuta for tending the fire in the hearth, so our lives can be extended tonight…」
Everyone repeated what he said, and drew a horizontal line with their fingertips.
This action — was exactly the same as what Ai Fa did every night before dinner.
Ai Fa always said it softly, so I couldn’t hear what she said. So she was praying to god like this.
The thought that Ai Fa had been saying my name secretly every night made a weird feeling rose up in my heart.
After the short prayer ended, everyone started eating suddenly.
They didn’t even wait for me and Ai Fa to pick up our spoons. If we had poisoned the food, they would be dead now.
They believed that we wouldn’t do that — This was what 「tending the hearth」 meant.
That was why we couldn’t afford to fail.
Specifically, I couldn’t fail.
The five of us cooked this meal, but I was the one in charge. If there was any problem with dinner tonight, I would need to take full responsibility. Even if they spoke up for me, I was still prepared to take all responsibility for this.
I wouldn’t like anyone else be harmed, be it Rimee Wu, Leina Wu or Ditto Min Wu — And of course, Ai Fa too.
Please, Leina Wu. Help grandma Jiba.
I finally reached for the utensils as I cheered Leina Wu on in my heart. She was a few metres away from me, right next to grandma Jiba.
I made the same dish as last night as per Rimee Wu’s request.
The menu was 『Kiba hamburg steak with fruit wine sauce and a side of grilled aria』.
However, on top of the 『grilled poitan』, I also prepared 『kiba meat soup』.
As the soup wasn’t the main dish, I reduced the amount of meat and aria in them. This soup was meant to complement the main dish. Right now, the iron pot being heated up was filled with this soup.
After the pre meal prayers had been said, everyone started eating in silence. Grandma Ditto Min stood up immediately and poured soup into everyone’s bowl.
During this time, Leina Wu who was beside grandma Jiba remained still.
Everything was going according to my plan.
I used this chance to check how dinner was and observed everyone’s reaction — Simply put, everyone was just moving their spoons quietly.
Before dinner, when the five people in charge of cooking started filling the plates and serving them, everyone yelled loudly like Rimee Wu did yesterday. 「What is this?」「Is this kiba?」「What is this flat thing?」. But after my simple explanation about the dishes, I taught them how to eat these and what to look out for and they turned silent. The atmosphere was like a farewell party.
Some of them looked very unhappy, some were excited, some had sparkling eyes and those who decided to keep a straight face throughout. Their reaction all varied, but they were all very quiet as they waited for Jiba Wu to take her seat.
Then everyone turned quiet and concentrated on moving their spoons a little too anxiously.
Kiba hamburg steak, aria and kiba meat soup and grilled poitan. These three dishes was one set meal.
As the women had less appetite than men, I adjusted the portion when I was cooking. The hamburg steak for women used about 300g of minced meat, while the 700g was used for men. Ai Fa and I had normal 500g portions. Grandma Jiba had a smaller portion of about 200g.
Worth mentioning was that these weren’t mini hamburg steak, but normal sized ones.
As there were several stoves in the Wu clan, I could cook hamburg steak in a normal way. I started by grilling the surface of the steak with a strong fire, then cook it thoroughly with a small flame. The women had one piece of steak, while the men’s 700g steak was divided into two pieces. Every steak was thick and filling.
In the end, I still use fruit wine to steam them to add flavour. However, the decision to change the size of the steak made this product vastly different from yesterday. 「The hamburg steak not being thick enough」 was the only thing I was dissatisfied about yesterday, and I have finally overcome this.
This was the right call. The hamburg steak increased to about 3cm thick, and was juicier than the steak I made yesterday. As a bigger portion of it wasn’t grilled, it was more tender and juicy.
I was very satisfied by this dish.
As for the Wu clan — They remained silent as expected.
Some of them had a sour face like they did before the meal, some were smiling happily and some turned expressionless. There were all sorts of reactions, but no one expressed their views. Ai Fa was like this too, maybe they weren’t used to chatting during meals.
By the way, the representative of the sour faces was the clan head Donda Wu. The representative of the happy faces was the eldest daughter Vena Wu, and the representative of the expressionless group was the second son Darum. The others could probably be categorized under being expressionless.
And of course, Rimee Wu eating nonstop with a big smile, but her blue eyes would turn grandma Jiba’s way every now and then.
「Grandma Jiba, time for dinner. The dish today is very special. Our guests helped us cook a delicious meal.」
Leina Wu said as she moved her spoon towards grandma Jiba’s mouth.
In the spoon was kiba meat soup. Leina tore off a piece of poitan and soaked it into the soup.
This was a method I thought up.
「This meat is soft, grandma Jiba should be able to eat this!」 Even though Rimee Wu said this encouragingly, I was from another world, and thought that 「hamburg steak is too greasy for an eighty year old grandma」.
So I decided to take it step by step.
First, let her eat the poitan soaked in soup.
Then the aria in the soup.
When both were done, then move on to the 『kiba steak』.
But the hamburg steak has to be soaked in the soup. That way, the minced meat would dissolve in her mouth even without chewing.
When she had tried all of the above, and she could eat the normal hamburg steak, then just feed it to her.
I didn’t know how many teeth grandma Jiba had left. If she couldn’t eat it, I don’t think it’s necessary to feed her hamburg steak.
Hence, I prepared the 『kiba meat soup』.
I served this dish for grandma Jiba’s sake.
In terms of menu planning, it would be better to have a soup complement the meal, and I think the others would be able to enjoy this soup too.
However, this soup was still specially made for grandma Jiba.
I sliced the aria thinner than what I preferrred, and boiled it until it was so soft i couldn’t feel the texture. As I used a lot of kiba meat on the hamburg steak, I only used a little meat for the soup.
The purpose of the kiba meat soup was to soften the poitan and hamburg steak.
This was actually the dish I prepared specially for grandma Jiba.
「Ah…」 Rimee Wu gasped.
I noticed it too.
Grandma Jiba kept shaking her head unhappy no matter how Leina Wu coaxed her. But she seemed to have given up now, and started sipping the soup in the spoon.
「It’s tasty, right? There’s still plenty more.」
Leina Wu said happily as she tore another piece of poitan and tossed it into the bowl.
But grandma Jiba didn’t react.
It might be rude to say this, but she seemed to have ascended to the heavens after that mouthful — And didn’t move at all.
「What’s the matter? It’s tasty, right? This is made by Rimee, grandma Ditto Min and me.」
Leina Wu seemed a little anxious and moved the spoon a bit forcefully near the old lady’s mouth.
No, there’s no need to rush. Let her eat at her own pace. As I said that in my heart — Grandma Jiba’s mouth opened slightly.
Leina Wu seemed relieved as she pushed the spoon into the mouth that looked like a crack in the ground.
「Well then, how about some aria? It’s soft and delicious too.」
When we were cooking, Leina Wu tried all the dishes.
This was my suggestion. If we want to coax grandma Jiba who didn’t want to eat, it would be better for the one feeding her to know how it tastes.
「Asuta put in so much thought for the sake of grandma Jiba you have never met before…」 Although Leina Wu’s eyes had turned red, as a chef, I think this was only natural.
I was also doing this for the sake of Rimee Wu and Ai Fa who cares about grandma Jiba. And as a chef, I also hope everyone can enjoy the dish I prepared. If a chef didn’t consider all these, then he wasn’t fit to be a chef.
「It’s delicious right? How about some meat? The meat is also very soft.」
Leina Wu finally reached for the 『kiba steak』 with her spoon, and soaked about a half mouthful into the soup.
How would Jiba find it?
I cut the aria in the hamburg steak a little smaller than usual, but it was cooked in basically the same way.
I instructed Leina Wu to avoid the slightly charred surface, and feed grandma Jiba the tender meat inside the steak as much as possible. But if all her teeth had fallen off, she might choke on the minced meat and aria. I warned Leina Wu on the danger of this very clearly.
Leina Wu sent the meat and soup into grandma Jiba’s mouth.
Her wrinkled mouth moved slowly.
A clear liquid flowed from where her eyes should be.
「This meat is delicious… Is this really kiba meat...?」
Grandma jiba’s raspy voice reverberated inside the quiet hall.
「Yes, this is kiba meat. It’s tasty, right? Please have some more.」
Leina Wu’s voice was choking a little.
Rimee Wu and the others held their plates and wept quietly.
And Ai Fa —
Stopped eating and lowered her head slightly with her eyes closed.
「Well then, let’s try eating just the meat. The red gravy is fruit wine essence, it’s very sweet and tasty.」
After a few mouthful of meat soaked in soup, Leina Wu cut off the 『Hamburg steak』 directly and sent it into the old lady’s mouth.
All her front teeth had probably fallen off. Grandma Jiba opened his black hole like mouth and ate the 『kiba steak』.
She chewed the meat, her jaws gradually moving more and more powerfully.
「This is really delicious... Really delicious. Kiba is actually so tasty…」
「What’s so good about this thing? It’s as soft as rotten meat, not fit to be eaten by humans!」
An angry roar erupted in the hall.
It was the clan head Donda Wu.
Donda Wu finished his meal faster than anyone else, then threw the empty plate onto the floor and took large swigs of fruit wine.
「Adding the fruit wine into the dish makes it disgustingly sweet. The aria is soggy as if it’s rotten! Hey! You say this isn’t just kiba thigh meat, you also used meat from the shoulder and back too, right?」
Donda Wu was furious, his face which was as hard as a boulder squeezed out a vicious wrinkle.
「Only Monta that feast on rotten meat will eat the torso of the kiba! You think we are beasts lurking in the forest!? We are humans! We are honourable and proud hunters of Forest’s Edge! And you’re making us eat Monta feed!? What are you thinking!?」
「You are really a noisy child… Aren’t behaving like you did before becoming clan head…?」
Grandma Jiba’s eyes that were hidden behind her wrinkles looked slowly towards the clan head.
Donda Wu might be the clan head — But he was also the grandson of the grand elder.
The burly man glared at the old lady who was less than half his size.
「… If this is the food of Monta, than the Monta is more high class than humans… But maybe that is the truth of this forest…」
I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination, but the old lady’s voice seemed to have more strength in them.
「… Clan head Donda, it’s fine for you to think this way. Everyone is free to decide what is right or wrong… but for your grandmother, this meat is fine...」
「Amazing… Grandma Jiba is talking spiritedly like before...」
Rimee Wu muttered.
Grandma Jiba’s eyes which I couldn’t discern the whereabouts of, turned toward Rimee this time.
「Rimee helped in this dish too huh… It tastes wonderful. Thank you, Rimee…」
Rimee Wu shook her head hard and shoved the rest of her hamburg steak into her mouth in tears.
After looking at Rimee for a while, grandma Jiba asked: 「Ai Fa… where are you?」
The shoulders of Ai Fa who was beside me quivered.
「I’m sorry, but my eyes are getting bad. I can’t see anything in this dim light… If you’re here, can you come over so I can look at you…?」
As Ai Fa didn’t move, I elbowed her sides.
Ai Fa glared at me and stood up slowly… But for some reason, she grabbed my wrist tightly.
「Huh? Hey? Wait!!」 I yelled as I put my bowl of soup onto the ground.
She pulled me with a strength that refused me to break her restraint, and made me kneel beside grandma Jiba together with her.
Donda Wu glared at us with menacing eyes.
「Jiba Wu… I’m Ai Fa of house Fa. This man is a member of my family, Asuta.」
And of course, Grandma Jiba didn’t even look at me. Her wrinkled fingers reached for Ai Fa’s face.
Her rough fingers that seemed to be just skin and bones touched Ai Fa’s smooth cheeks.
「Ah… It’s been a while… How many years has it been… Ai Fa, I wanted to see you...」
Observing grandma Jiba from up close, I could see that she wasn’t dried fruit, but a proper person.
Her face and fingers were filled with wrinkles, and her large nose and thin lips were carved with the chasm that marks her age. As her front teeth had all fallen off, I had a hard time understanding what she was saying.
But hidden under her drooping eyelids were blue eyes that had an unexpectedly sensibility in them. Her dried fruit-like face showed a face of kindness and affection.
She looked really gentle.
Her expression was really warm.
This was the first time in my life that I have seen an old lady smiling so blissfully.
「Leina Wu, have a taste of these delicious food too… Ai Fa, will you please feed me…?」
「… If you wish me too, I will gladly do so.」
Ai Fa took Jiba Wu’s arm gently. Leina Wu wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up.
「What do you want to eat? The meat? Or poitan?」
「Kiba meat… This meat tastes really good…」
Ai Fa remained expressionless as she send the wooden spoon to the old lady’s mouth with slightly clumsy movements.
「Ah, this is really good… Ai Fa, did you make this for me…?」
「No, I only watched from the sides. This is cooked by your family and Asuta over there.」
「…Asuta…」 She narrowed her eyes to a slit and looked my way.
If I could face that eldest son, Jiza Wu, from so close — Maybe I could catch a glimpse of his thoughts.
The old lady narrowed her eyes, and an obvious light of joy appeared in her eyes that could barely see.
「Asuta of house Fa… You made these dishes…?」
「Yes. Rimee Wu asked me to cook these… In a foreign country far away, my father works as a chef. I might just be an apprentice helping him, but I will be glad if these dishes suit your tastes.」
Grandma Jiba’s hand groped about in the air.
Ai Fa looked at me calmly, and I timidly took grandma Jiba Wu’s hand.
She held my fingers. Her fingers seemed drier than dry twigs, but there was warmth within her rough fingers.
「Thank you… I already feel that living is very painful… I couldn’t walk properly nor eat tasty food… I’m now just some old bones that troubles my family… I feel sad every day, and wish that god will send my soul to the heavens right away.…」
「We don’t feel troubled at all…」
Rimee Wu shouted midway when her red haired sister beside her knocked Rimee’s head, making her shut up.
「I came to this forest when I was five… I was one of the one thousand people who abandoned the southern god Jaguar and offered our souls to the western god Selva.」
「But I couldn’t bring myself to like Forest’s Edge… The southern forest had a wealth of resources. Although there were animals like large apes and poisonous snake that would attack humans, we could pick fruits any time we want… We would dig up insects burrowing in the ground, and grill colourful lizards before eating them… The people from the city mocked us as savages, but I was really happy back then…」
Grandma Jiba wasn’t looking at me or Ai Fa.
She was looking into empty space, her clear eyes were filled with tears.
「But soldiers burned our tribe’s forest… We fled to the west, and moved into the forest here. The people from the western city ordered us to hunt kiba, and prohibited us from touching the forest’s resources… Even so, everyone was happy in the beginning. We didn’t need to eat lizard meat any more. Or pick rotten fruits or fungi. We could eat all the kiba meat we wanted and taste the crops planted by others…」
Maybe I didn’t need to answer in the first place.
The scenes from the past was probably flashing across the old lady’s eyes.
「But Forest’s Edge was a terrifying place… In the first year, a hundred men was killed by the kiba. Another year passed, and another hundred men fell. As the men fell, the same number of women and children died from hunger with them. In the first years, we lost more than half of the one thousand people we had...」
「The Gazze House fell. Then the Lima House fell. The Tsun clan and Wu clan leads our people after that, and we established our current lives now… We hunt kiba, eat their meat, sell their horns and tusks to buy crops. And so, we learned how to survive in Forest’s Edge… However, I always wanted to return to the forest where I was born.」
When I realized it, everyone had finished their meal and was listening to the grand elder’s speech quietly.
「But our forest was burned and those who knew that forest had all passed on, only I was left… I feel lonely and sad, even though I have so many family with me, my heart still longs for that forest, not Forest’s Edge… Kiba meat don’t taste good at all, and neither were the crops. As I thought about all this, my teeth fell one by one, and I couldn’t eat kiba meat any more. I realized I angered the god of the west… But I can finally be reunited with everyone… I harboured such thoughts in my heart… and keep wishing to return to the forest in the south…」
Her rough fingers that was full of cracks held my fingers with unexpected strength.
And suddenly, her clear blue eyes stared at me once again.
「I kept reminiscing my dead family and the forest that was gone. But now, I can finally think of my living family and this Forest’s Edge. I can finally give my soul to the god of the west, Selva; not the god of the south Jaguar. I made up my mind to dine on kiba with my living family and live on… I have to live on… I can finally think of something that is so natural.…」
「... You must be depressed because you couldn’t eat tasty food when your teeth fell off earlier.」
Ai Fa looked tensed when she heard my casual reply.
This couldn’t be helped, I was just an apprentice chef, I didn’t know how to hold a elegant conversation with the grand elder of Forest’s Edge that lived through hardships for 85 years.
「Before you became depressed, you must have cherished the people around you a lot. If not, Ai Fa and Rimee Wu wouldn’t have worked so hard to help you and make you remember the joy of living. Because they harboured such thoughts, I also wanted to contribute what meagre abilities I have to help you.」
Grandma Jiba turned towards Ai Fa quietly.
Ai Fa bit her lips gently and stared back at grandma Jiba as if she was angry.
「If you want to offer thanks, please thank them. I’m already satisfied after you said that my dishes were delicious.」
「It’s delicious… very delicious… I hated kiba meat the most, and think that poitan isn’t food that people should eat. But I found the appetite to continue eating… To continue living in this forest…」
Grandma Jiba smiled quietly, then muttered:
「Ai Fa, take my necklace off for me.」
Ai Fa still looked angry as she took off the necklace as requested, and placed it in the old lady’s small hands.
Grandma Jiba took out the kiba tusks and horns with her trembling twig-like hands.
「Jiba Wu of the Wu clan wish to gift blessings to Ai Fa from Fa house and her family Asuta… Please accept this...」
Out of the three tusks and horns on the necklace, she took out one each for Ai Fa and me.
「Hey, grand elder, this—」
With her back facing Donda Wu who was shouting, grandma Jiba smiled brilliantly.
「The tusks and horns of the Kiba holds the fate of the denizens of Forest’s Edge… I am indebted to the two of you, and I hope that this tusk and horn will become a part of your flesh, your blood and your life… Jiba Wu of clan Wu bless your souls.」
This was the first time in this different world — that I received a tangible reward for my work.
Intermission: Wu Clan’s Youngest Daughter
On the 25th day of the yellow month, Rimee Wu encountered that foreigner for the first time.
That morning, Rimee Wu completed her chores at the water source, then ran on the flat yellow path towards the Fa house. It was rare for her to not have any chores before the sun reached the middle of the sky, so she got permission from her mother to go out, and charged out of the Wu clan village.
As Ai Fa had to complete the chores at her place alone, she was much busier than Rimee Wu. Ever since Ai Fa’s father Gill Fa passed away two years ago, it was hard for Rimee Wu to meet her.
When was the last time she met Ai Fa?
Maybe it had been about ten days.
Just the thought of seeing Ai Fa after such a long time brought a smile naturally to Rimee Wu’s face.
However — the Fa House was empty.
Was she washing up for last night’s dinner at the water source? Rimee Wu made a trip to the water source, but Ai Fa wasn’t there.
Did the Tsun clan abducted her? — Rimee Wu felt a strong sense of uneasiness, and went to the house closest to Ai Fa’s place to knock. She remember that this was the Fou house.
「Excuse me! I’m Rimee Wu from the Wu clan! Is anyone home?」
Someone pulled open the door slowly, and a skinny woman who didn’t look well poked her head out.
「What’s the matter? Why is someone from the Wu clan here at the Fou house…?」
「Sorry! I’m looking for Ai Fa, do you know where had she gone off to?」
Rimee Wu had met this woman a few times.
But now, her figure was frailer than what Rimee Wu remembered, and her eyes had turned so sad.
Rimee Wu remember that she was always carrying a baby the previous time they met.
The Wu clan also have a baby named Kota, but the baby in this lady’s arms was smaller than Kota.
That baby was too little… anyone who see the baby would worry, wondering if the baby would be able to grow up properly.
「Ai Fa, huh… Ai Fa went into the forest early in the morning…」
The woman who was really skinny answered in a weak voice.
「Forest? She went in so early?」
「Yes… She brought that foreigner no one knew with her…」
Rimee Wu didn’t know what that means.
She could see countless foreigners by going to the post station town, but they wouldn’t take a single step into Forest’s Edge. The people there were afraid of the kiba and Forest Edge’s denizens who hunt kiba, as if they were monsters.
「What do you mean by foreigner? What is Ai Fa doing with someone like that?」
「I don’t know either… Ai Fa and that foreigner were walking in the Forest’s Edge settlement last evening too…」
Rimee Wu was confused, but it was better to ask Ai Fa directly. So she bowed and thank that woman.
「Thank yo! I will wait for Ai Fa to come back at the Fa house!」
「Ah… Sorry… Is Ai Fa still refusing to marry into the Wu clan...?」
「Huh? Yes… what about it?」
「In that case… You are a part of the Wu clan, so it’s better for you to not get involved with her, right…?」
A glimmer of life appeared within the woman’s lifeless eyes.
「The eldest son of the Tsun clan was loitering around the Fa house… If the Tsun clan and Wu clan clashes, it will lead to the destruction of Forest’s Edge…」
「This has nothing to do with me or Ai Fa!」
Rimee Wu yelled, and that woman showed a frightened expression and shirked away.
This woman was fearful of the two most powerful clans in Forest’s Edge.
So she didn’t want anything to do with Ai Fa who was on bad terms with both the Tsun and Wu clans.
And that was why Ai Fa was ostracized.
Rimee Wu felt a little sad. She nodded at the woman and said 「Good bye」.
But that woman spoke again:
「Please wait… I couldn’t help being a busybody, but not just Ai Fa, the Wu clan shouldn’t get involved with that foreigner either… You should check with your clan head properly first...」
The image of her father Donda Wu, the Wu clan head appeared in Rimee Wu’s mind.
Donda Wu did mention quite often to 「not get involved with foreigners」. Rimee Wu basically wouldn’t leave Forest’s Edge, so she had no chance to meet foreigners. Hence, she didn’t know how serious the taboo was.
If Rimee Wu made the wrong judgement, her family might forbid her from interacting with Ai Fa.
She didn’t want that to happen.
… I just want to get along with Ai Fa…
And now, even Ai Fa wants to break off relations with Rimee Wu.
Her reasons were the same as what that woman said earlier.
Ai Fa was on terrible terms with the Tsun clan, so the Wu clan shouldn’t have any relations with her.
And Ai Fa even refused to marry into the Wu clan.
They weren’t on hostile terms, but Rimee’s father couldn’t care less about Ai Fa after this incident.
Ai Fa marrying into the Wu clan — it felt really unreal to Rimee back then, so she didn’t think it matters much when Ai Fa turned down the proposal. But now, no one wish to see Rimee Wu continuing to get along with Ai Fa, which troubles her a lot.
The woman from the Fou house gasped softly.
Ai Fa and an unfamiliar foreigner was walking along the path before their eyes.
On their shoulder was a krilee stick, and a large kiba was hanging on it.
She hunted a kiba so early in the morning, Rimee Wu was in awe, and concentrated on observing that foreigner.
Foreigner — He was indeed one through and through.
He had black hair and eyes, and compared to western people, his skin was yellowish ivory.
He looked young, and should be around Ai Fa’s age.
His clothes was strange. Both his clothes and shoes were white, with only the skin on his face and hand exposed. He also wrapped a white piece of cloth around his head.
How should I say this… He looks really weak.
Even though the two of them was carrying the kiba, that foreigner looked out of breath and had unsteady footsteps, as if he would fall with just a slight poke.
But — That foreigner seemed to be in high spirits.
His face lacked any distinct features and was as pale as the people in the city. But his black eyes were strong and shining.
Only his eyes were different from the people in the city.
That might be so, but he didn’t look like someone from Forest’s Edge either.
The foreigner was different from any person she had seen, and had a strange aura about him.
Never mind… He doesn't seem to be a bad guy...
But he was still a person from the city.
Forest’s Edge denizen and the people of Rock city didn’t get along.
Why was such a person acting together with Ai Fa? Rimee couldn’t understand.
Ai Fa and the foreigner didn’t notice Rimee and company, and disappeared from their sights.
「Did you see that? There had never been a foreigner in Forest’s Edge before, this might be an ominous sign…」
「In that case, I have to help Ai Fa!」
Rimee Wu crossed her arms and lowered her head in deep thought. But no matter how she thought, she couldn’t find an answer.
She was just eight and her capabilities were limited. She didn’t even know what she could say or do to help. She needed to find out about taboos related to foreigners after all.
Although she made the trip here, she had to return home without even speaking with Ai Fa, which felt like a pity to Rimee Wu. But she couldn’t find any other way even if she stayed.
The woman from house Fou showed a worried expression, and returned the way she came when Rimee Wu bade her farewell.
「Hmm? Rimee, where did you run off to?」
When Rimee Wu returned to the Wu clan village, her third brother Ludo was loitering lazily in the plaza.
Even though the men didn’t have any work before noon, Ludo Wu always got up early.
Rimee Wu ran all the way back from Fa house, and she grabbed her brother’s arm with ragged breath.
「I want to ask you! I think a foreigner is staying in the Fa house! What should I do?」
「… Ah? What are you saying?」
Rimee Wu didn’t know how to explain either.
But she told everything she saw this morning and everything she heard to Ludo Wu.
「I don’t really know either, but why is that woman Ai Fa getting involved with a foreigner… By the way, you haven’t broken ties with that woman yet?」
「Of course! Ai Fa and I will be friends forever!」
「Right. Whatever. Anyway, if you want to solve the problem about that foreigner, you have to tell father about this. If Rock city is related to that man, it would violate a serious taboo.」
「… Ai Fa has to obey that weak man because of that?」
Rimee Wu looked up at Ludo Wu with a desperate face. Ludo then scratched his yellowish hair and said: 「What nonsense are you saying?」
「That woman is very self centered, and didn’t even want to care about our father and the Tsun clan. It’s impossible for her to listen to the people from the city. She probably grabbed someone from the city to work for her…? That didn’t make sense either.」
「That’s true. What is Ai Fa doing with a man from the city? I have been wondering about this since just now, but I couldn’t find the reason.」
「Hmmp… but she can only rely on the people from the city now, right? She made enemies with both the Wu and Tsun clan, and the other people all fear her and kept their distance.」
「The Wu clan is not Ai Fa’s enemy!」
Even though Rimee Wu was shouting angrily, her mean brother just shrugged and ignored her.
「Even if she isn’t our enemy, she still refused to marry into our clan. We can’t have any relations with her now. No matter how much you scream, we won’t go rescue an outsider.」
「I don’t want to talk to you anymore! Ludo is a brat! Dummy!」
Rimee Wu stamp her foot angrily and ran into the house.
「You are the brat!」 Rimee Wu heard her brother yelling behind her and pulled open the door.
She didn’t see her father.
He was probably still sleeping. In the room was her eldest brother Jiza Wu and his wife Sati Lei Wu. They were chatting softly with their son Kota Wu sleeping between them.
「Ara, what’s the matter Rimee?」
Sati Lei Wu shooked the cradle made from woven grass and smiled at Rimee.
Rimee Wu was so anxious that she didn’t even take off her shoes. She sat down before the three of them.
「I want to ask you! I think a foreigner have moved into the Fa house! What should I do?」
Her eldest brother Jiza Wu was scarier than her father Donda Wu.
However, her brother was more adamant on following the rules of Forest’s Edge than anyone else. At a time like this, her brother should be able to tell Rimee what she and Ai Fa should do.
But — when her brother heard Rimee’s explanation, his words was hard for Rimee to accept.
「Rimee, don’t come into contact with the people from the village as much as possible. Before that foreigner leaves, don’t go near the Fa house.」
「But why? If that foreigner is a bad guy, won’t Ai Fa be in danger!?」
「Be it the people from the city or the denizens of the forest, they won’t fall into danger if they obey their respective laws. Since the head of the Fa house claims to be a hunter, she won’t lose to the people from the city.」
「The head of the Fa house must have thought it through before bringing a man from the city into the settlement. If there isn’t any problems, then no one can blame her actions. But if you get involved and upset their relationship, then the head of the Fa house would need to take responsibility for any problems that arises.」
Jiza’s face remained calm as he explained.
「So Rimee, you shouldn’t get involved.」
Rimee Wu couldn’t agree at all.
But Donda Wu who appeared later only said: 「Don’t get involved with foreigners.」
Donda Wu looked displeased, she was lucky that he didn’t ask Rimee to break off relations with the Fa house. Rimee Wu didn’t argue with her father.
Why isn’t anyone worried about Ai Fa?
That was what saddens Rimee Wu the most.
Two years ago, the Wu clan once asked Ai Fa to marry into their clan.
Before that, only Rimee Wu and the grand elder Jiba Wu had interacted with Ai Fa before. But when Donda Wu heard that Ai Fa harshly punished the eldest son of the Tsun clan, he jokingly said he want Ai Fa to be wed to his second son Darum Wu.
It was sudden, but no one objected to this. Only Jiza Wu appeared unhappy about this.
Ai Fa lost all her family at the age of 15, and also had a falling out with the Tsun clan that rules Forest’s Edge. Everyone sympathizes with Ai Fa’s circumstances and would be happy to see this forthright and strong woman marry into the clan — Most of them was supportive of this.
For Rimee Wu, Ai Fa was her childhood playmate, and she becoming family made her feel bashful and uneasy. At this time, Jiba Wu couldn’t walk too well and couldn’t visit Ai Fa. As everyone thinks this wasn’t a bad idea, she agreed to this proposal.
However — Ai Fa turned down the marriage. She said she will become the head of the Fa house, and make a living through hunting.
When Rimee Wu heard her say that, she felt relieved.
When Ai Fa’s father Gill Fa was still alive, he often brought Ai Fa into the forest as a hunter to assist him. Ai Fa looked very happy back then, and Rimee Wu couldn’t imagine her abandoning her work as a hunter and becoming a housewife.
Rimee Wu was just six, and couldn’t organize her thoughts too well. But when she heard that Ai Fa turned down the marriage, her feeling of relief outweigh that of regret.
They might not be relatives, but Rimee Wu still treasure Ai Fa deeply.
She hope they could maintain the relationship they had.
But Ai Fa changed.
She said that she was on terrible terms with the Tsun clan and shouldn’t have any relations with the Wu clan, and kept her distance from Rimee Wu.
And her family also lost interest in Ai Fa.
When they heard that Ai Fa turned down the marriage proposal, some people felt angry or disappointed. Everyone slowly stopped talking about her.
Even though she didn’t become a member of the Wu clan, her circumstances remained the same — she didn’t have anyone to rely on and was an enemy of the chief clan. Ai Fa survived alone, but no one sympathized with her or felt sad for her.
Only herself and Jiba Wu had the right to call themselves Ai Fa’s friend.
But Jiba Wu couldn’t walk anymore.
So only she could stay by Ai Fa’s side now.
With this in mind, Rimee Wu kept visiting the Fa house no matter how cold Ai Fa treated her.
This carried on for two years — and then, that foreigner appeared.
Just who was that foreigner?
Even though her father and elder brother told her not to go near the foreigner, she couldn’t just stand idly by and watch. So she had been running to the Fa House every day since she first saw that foreigner.
If they didn’t notice her when Rimee Wu goes near their house, it won’t be a problem.
And Donda Wu and her brother only warned Rimee Wu not to go near the foreigner, so she wanted to wait until Ai Fa and that foreigner was apart before grabbing Ai Fa and questioning her.
But that chance never came.
Be it morning or night, they always stick together like glue.
When the sun reaches the middle of the sky, Ai Fa would head into the forest alone to hunt. It was a good chance, but Rimee Wu have chores at home during this time.
Time flies, and before Rimee Wu could take any action, five days passed in a flash.
It’s getting late too...
It was getting dark outside, Rimee Wu was running fast.
She had to help her family tan hides, so she was held back much later tonight.
She wouldn’t be able to make it for dinner now, and her father would definitely yell at her. But even so, Rimee Wu wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly if she didn’t check on Ai Fa.
What does Ai Fa plan to do with that foreigner?
After observing the two of them, she realized the atmosphere between them wasn’t sinister.
They might fight at times, but neither side seemed to be angry for real.
Even so, she still didn’t know why Ai Fa let that foreigner stay at her place.
Was that foreigner trying to take Ai Fa as his wife?
Was that why he barged into Ai Fa’s place?
But if Ai Fa wasn’t willing, she wouldn’t let him into her home. But if she was willing, she would probably take other actions. At the very least, Ai Fa didn’t trim her long hair that symbolizes a unwed woman, or wore a long dress that covered her entire body.
… I don’t want Ai Fa to leave Forest’s Edge...
That’s what worries Rimee Wu the most.
Ai Fa had broken ties with the all the denizens of Forest’s Edge. Only Rimee Wu and Jiba Wu think of Ai Fa as a friend. But now, she wanted to break off relations with the two of them too.
Could she really live on alone?
Rimee Wu couldn’t imagine that.
So if Ai Fa grew tired of Forest’s Edge and wanted to head towards a faraway land, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
All that matters is that Ai Fa is happy...
But she didn’t want to say goodbye to Ai Fa forever.
She didn’t want this to be goodbye while they grew further and further apart.
That was probably why Rimee Wu visited the Fa house every day.
Like what Ludo Wu and Jiza Wu said, she didn’t think Ai Fa would be defeated by a weakling from the city. But Ai Fa might abandon Forest’s Edge and elope with the foreigner — As Rimee Wu couldn’t wipe away this feeling of unease, she had to confirm Ai Fa’s presence everyday.
When the sun shifted to the west of the forest, Rimee Wu arrived at Ai Fa’s place.
She sighed in relief when she saw the candle light through the window.
Great… She’s still here.
She just needs to make sure she was safe, then she could go home for the day. Rimee Wu thought as she approached the window with quiet movements.
When she reached the window, Rimee Wu almost gasp in shock.
Ai Fa was having dinner with that foreigner.
That foreigner — was wearing Forest’s Edge clothing.
He had a white cloth wrapped around his head and wore white clothes. But clothes from Forest’s Edge was definitely draped on his body! Those were clothes Gill Fa wore when he was alive.
Does this mean Ai Fa had accepted this foreigner into the Fa house? Is this foreigner going to become Ai Fa’s husband?
Unease and doubt suddenly filled Rimee Wu’s heart.
This meant that this foreigner was compatible with Ai Fa? She felt confused and uneasy about this.
Rimee Wu tried her best to make herself taller, and peeked at the two of them through the window.
She was good at keeping her presence hidden, even the sharp Ai Fa had never detected her before.
The two of them seemed to be quarreling.
「Eehhh, but why? Are you still bearing a grudge over what happened this afternoon?」
The foreigner couldn’t keep his voice down.
Aside from his pale skin, there wasn’t any distinct features on his face.
His body was as slender as a woman, which was similar to the people in the city. So that wasn’t really distinct either.
But his black eyes were still sparkling and appeared rather forceful.
What strange eyes.
Even though his eyes were sparkling, there was a hint of unease in them.
His eyes were as gentle as a woman and as strong as a man, so it was hard to categorize him.
However — Rimee Wu didn’t hate his eyes.
「What happened this afternoon...? Ah, you mean that mean thing you did to me because you got too caught up? I already forgot about that.」
Ai Fa answered in a quiet voice.
What was that mean thing? Rimee Wu tilted her head confusedly, and the expression of the foreigner changed drastically. His face was panicky just now, but it turned into surprise.
「You forgot… Then why won’t you tell me what you think?」
「Shut up! I don’t want to talk about it, that’s why!」
Ai Fa suddenly yell loudly, surprising Rimee Wu.
The foreigner seemed shocked too.
That foreigner has an expressive face, so it was easy to tell what he was thinking.
But Ai Fa’s face was even more obvious.
Her face was blushing for some reason, and she was lowering her head a little and covering her face with the wooden plate in her hands.
The foreigner was sitting opposite Ai Fa, and probably couldn’t see her expression. But Rimee Wu was observing them from the side, so she could see very clearly.
Ai Fa — was showing a bashful face.
「Enough! Stop looking at me!」
Ai Fa usually wouldn’t show her expression to others.
Be it happiness or sadness, it was possible to see some hints from Ai Fa’s brows and eyes, but she wouldn’t show how she really feel. Since Gill Fa passed away, she tend to do this even more.
That was why Rimee Wu was very shocked when she saw Ai Fa showing so much emotion.
On the other hand, the foreigner fell into deep thought with a sigh of pity.
So — he didn’t notice.
He didn’t notice Ai Fa lowering her plate and staring at him.
There seemed to be a faint smile on Ai Fa’s face.
Her cheeks were still a little red, and she stared at the foreigner with a look of satisfaction and happiness.
Ai Fa was just like how she was when Gill Fa was still alive — Rimee Wu really likes the warm and gentle light in her blue eyes.
In this two years, Ai Fa had never shown such an expression.
Ai Fa’s face was always cold and stiff, as if a part of her had died along with her father.
Is this the person who made her show such a face?
It didn’t matter where he was from. Foreigner or not, if he could make Ai Fa feel comfortable and at ease, that would be enough.
Rimee Wu thought as she gaze at that foreigner — he was also smiling with his head slightly lowered too.
He had a disappointed face earlier, but his black eyes were filled with satisfaction and happiness just like Ai Fa now, as he stared at the weirdly shaped meat in his wooden plate.
He probably shared the same feelings as Ai Fa.
So this was family.
Even though Ai Fa lost Gill Fa, refused to marry into the Wu clan, she still needed family.
Living alone like this was too depressing.
Rimee Wu wiped away the tears in her eyes with the back of her hand, and tried saying in the most cheerful voice she could:
「Hey, what are you eating?」
Volume 1 end