A Strange Meal
Count Hartwig insisted that he accompany us in order to avoid any troubles. I didn’t have any real reason to refuse so I indulged on his kindness.
And so we’ve lined up our carriages next to his, but he made me play shogi with him the entire time. Well I was quite bored anyways, so it served as a great way to kill time.
Aquido, who was on horseback outside, casually jumped into the carriage and reported, “Grey, we can see it.”
I exited the carriage to see giant castle walls that covered my entire view.
“Wow, so that’s the largest commercial city in the empire—Sutherland,” I said.
If Straheim were the adventurer’s paradise, then Sutherland would be a merchant’s utopia. A commercial city distinguished even around the world, Sutherland also had the Central Commerce Guild’s congress building where the Commerce Guild heads of various countries gathered.
By nature, Commerce Guilds began in the empire before spreading out to the world. So despite the guild’s headquarters being located in the capital, many heads expressed their disapproval of long stays in the capital and thus everything was shifted to occur here in Sutherland.
In a recent letter, Rainer initially planned to migrate everything from Sutherland to the capital, but due to the fierce resistance of wealthy merchants born to noble families in the empire, it hasn’t been going very well.
In any case, I’ve got no objections with making Sutherland the most important location—it turning into a battlefield would equate with the empire losing its influence after all. At the very least the empire’s Commerce Guild would experience a remarkable decline in their influence if we lost Sutherland.
“Woww, it’s huge~” Carla said.
“Ya, it’s huge!” the Eight-Headed Dragon agreed as they both stuck their heads out of the carriage.
“Grey-sama, where are we heading to once we arrive?” Satella asked before taking out a piece of parchment and a pen from her bag.
“I think we’ll first register at the empire’s expedition force’s headquarters. Maybe find an inn or something after.”
The current emperor, Georg Rose Archive, had send the expedition orders to all around the empire. We were considered outsider nobles and thus incorporated into the empire’s expedition force.
As long as we didn’t desert, we would actually fulfill our duty to serve by registering in the expedition force, so you could say that this registration was the most important thing right now.
“Very well. I’ll grab some rooms for us then,” Satella said.
“Thanks. Once you finish the annoying paperwork let’s grab a bite to eat.
“As you wish.”
Satella bowed once before beginning to write something down; she’s probably planning our schedule in Sutherland or something.
“First Grey and now Satella-jouchan. Are all brats like this……” I heard Aquido complain as I turned to look at Sutherland, which towered in the distance.
The empire’s expedition force’s headquarters lay in the giant plaza, located adjacent to Sutherland’s inner castle walls. They were still inspecting the number of soldiers and other things, so we’d have to wait a while.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Carla said.
“A bad feeling,” the Eight-Headed Dragon imitated as they turned to glare at us.
“Leave it alone. It’s not like I can do anything about it,” I said and closed my eyes to take a nap.
“Grey-sama, wake up please.”
“Hm? Oh, it’s Satella. Were you able to grab some rooms?”
“Yes. I have acquired enough for us all.”
That Satella, she’s working faster and faster.
“Good work,” I said as I yawned and stretched my arms.
“We’ve arrived at the inspection office.”
I jumped down from the carriage to see a black-haired middle-aged man, who I could tell was a noble with a single glance, standing in front of me, stroking his whisker-like mustache.
“What group and how many?” he curtly asked.
“I’m the representative for the current head of Millard, Grey Millard. I have 156 people.”
The mustached man stared at me for a while before snorting.
“Must be easy for a poor noble in a remote area like you to not have to worry about losing your pride,” he sneered.
“You said it.”
I couldn’t stop myself from agreeing there, as it was just too appropriate. I mean, if they had even a speck of pride, there’s no way they’d send a 12-year-old kid like me to war as the head’s representative.
“What a cheeky brat,” he spat out before signaling to what looked like his subordinates to begin our inspection.
“From the Millard territory, 156 people, everything’s been confirmed. Please remain on standby until any orders come in,” the mustached man said haughtily before leaving towards the next group.
After that, I instructed them to raise the Millard flag in the corner and set up a tent before I teleported them to the inn.
The only ones left in the tent were me, Aquido, and vice-leader Zem. As if only natural, Satella and the others strongly opposed this, but I managed to push through by ordering them.
A conversation with nobles is too heavy for them; they actually wouldn’t even be able to hold a conversation without me. Someone has to welcome them, which is a bit troublesome, so it’s vital that I remain in the tent.
“Are you okay with us?” Aquido rested his vegetable-peeling hand before asking this ridiculous question.
“What a foolish question,” I said. “Stop talking and start peeling.”
Tonight’s menu was Wind Cow sukiyaki. Count Hartwig-dono presented us with a clump of Wind Cow meat, so we’ve gotten stuck with preparing it. I’d really like if someone could do something about how overbearing he can be.
Honestly, I’m completely unsatisfied with the variety of vegetables going into the pot. I mean, there’s no tofu, no shirataki, nor is there Chinese cabbage—definitely not a proper sukiyaki. I’m not sure whether Count Hartwig-dono, a gourmet, would enjoy this pseudo-sukiyaki, but I’d be troubled if he expected too much out of the third son of a puny noble family.
Finally, we finished cutting all the vegetables and could finally begin the important process of setting up the hot pot.
I made a fireplace with an iron pot and charcoal and placed a wire mesh above. Then, I placed another pot above the mesh and began boiling water in it.
In the hot water I threw in salt, water, soy sauce, and other seasonings created by Sagami Co., as well as the vegetables and Wind Cow meat. Now I just had to wait until it was done cooking.
“Woah, what a great smell. Right, McBurn?” the blonde giant with wounds all over his body expressed his admiration as he and several companions entered the tent. He then looked to see if the tall gentleman with a nice mustache felt the same.
“Yeah, you’re right. Grey-kun, I can’t wait to try your food tonight,” Margrave McBurn said.
Aquido and Zem glanced at the gentleman before freezing.
“It’s been awhile, Margrave McBurn-dono,” I said.
He wore nicely tailored green clothes leather boots, and a red cloth on his right shoulder that exuded an elegance that ordinary people like us could never hope to match.
He was a man from a powerful family that boasted top-class military and economic power, Margrave Sigma McBurn.
“It looks delicious,” a handsome man well over two-meters tall said as he entered the tent and plopped himself on a nearby chair. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The man, who had long golden hair like a lion’s mane, had said that a bit haughtily, but I didn’t sense any sarcasm. He was wearing simple clothes, but they looked strange on him.
He had come with Margrave McBurn and Count Hartwig, two high-ranking nobles, so this man most likely had quite the position as well.
Well, no matter who he was, in the end he was just another esteemed customer—I’ll just serve him the most delicious food I can make. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Then please have a seat wherever,” I said.
“You guys sit too,” the handsome man said forcefully. “There’ll be none of those stupid formalities here.”
The other two nobles and the man’s assistants locked eyes before sitting down as well.
“Aquido, Zem, bowls and chopsticks for our customers.”
I confirmed the customers had sat themselves around the fireplace before ordering Aquido and Zem to hand over the bowls off beaten egg and chopsticks.
I deride anyone who uses spoons and forks to eat sukiyaki. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, after all, so you definitely need chopsticks for sukiyaki.
I checked that everyone had received everything, then turned around to see Aquido and Zem standing around in a daze behind me.
“What are you guys doing. Sit down.” I pointed to one of the many seats next to the fireplace.
“N-no, but—” Aquido began refusing as he turned to the other attendants for help.
“Just sit down,” I said again.
He probably has some reserve for sitting down with others as a mercenary, but a hot pot only holds significance once you eat it with others. I’m the host, and you’ll follow my orders tonight.
“Sir Grey don’t go back on what he says,” Count Hartwig said. “Just give up.”
“That’s—” A young man, who looked to be one of the golden-haired man’s assistants and had a gaudy ornament on his black hair, began to reject.
“There ain’t no ranks tonight. Didn’t he explain that before? If ya got any problems then you can leave. Or ya tryin’ to spit on honor or something?” Count Hartwig said as his smile grew 30% larger and a vein bulged on his forehead.
“Nothing of the sort.” The black-haired young man said before going silent.
“Take these ‘chopsticks’ and grab something from the hot pot. Then dip that into the scrambled egg and dig in. Now enjoy your meal!”
I put my hand together before grabbing a piece of meat from the hot pot, dipping it into the scrambled egg, and shoving it into my mouth.
A delectable taste spread throughout my entire mouth as the Wind Cow meat melted on my tongue, and the bittersweet dashi and egg combined to create the most exquisite flavors
“This is truly interesting,” the handsome golden-haired man said as he clumsily dipped a piece of meat into the egg and brought it to his mouth. “!!?”
His eyes shot open and completely froze, but, contrary to his composed manner before, soon began horfing down the food.
The other servants stared at their master in shock, but soon followed suit. After taking a bite, they froze as expected and began furiously eating as if possessed.
Before long, the food was completely gone, all in our stomachs.
Right now we’re drinking cold water in an attempt to rest our stomachs.
“That was delicious. I give you my thanks,” the golden-haired man said.
“No, it wasn’t very good.” 
“Not good? This god-like food?”
The golden-haired man made a strange face at me as I lightly bowed, and the servants around him knit their eyebrows.
I messed up. The humble virtues of a Japanese aren’t understood here. I began planning how to solve this misunderstanding when thankfully, Margrave McBurn cut in. “It’s just a pleasantry.”
“I see. There’s no need for that here, Grey.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I lightly bowed once again, and the handsome golden-haired man stared at my face before saying, “I can’t believe you’re the same age as Ronald.”
I don’t really understand.
“Taking into account his age, Ronald-sama, too, is quite wise. Sir Grey is just a bit special; I can’t believe that Sir Grey is just a kid as well,” Count Hartwig said.
So he’s the type that adds -sama. That gives me the chills, frankly.
“For the first time ever, I agree with that simpleton,” Margrave McBurn said. “Our empire birthed this monster. You’re probably still underestimating him even with your current impression.”
They say some crazy things. I’d really like if they would stop treating me like some mysterious specimen that they had just found.
Especially you guys, Aquido and Zem! What are you nodding your heads for?!
“Grey, you should join in on the Imperial Council tomorrow,” the handsome golden-haired man suggested.
It wasn’t just me: his servants’ eyes widened like saucers too. It was only natural. The Imperial Council was the highest decision-making committee where the top brass of both the Imperial Army and the expeditionary force gathered. Even the emperor, Georg Rose Archive attended. I could understand if he had invited the other two nobles here, as they were proficient in military matters, but there’s no way I, the kid of some poor noble, could join in.
“Nonono, you’re surely joking. I only brought a hundred something soldiers.
“There’s no way this ridiculous suggestion would get accepted. Right, everyone?”
My face cramped up. Only now do I not feel the need to chide myself for putting on such an unseemly face. I mean who could blame me? In what world does there exist a person who would decide if someone could join in on an important meeting during a life or death crisis for their homeland, just on the fact that it could be interesting?
“So even you make these kinds of faces. Truly, how interesting.”
“Seriously, I feel like your proposal had at least some merit after seeing Grey-kun’s face.
They’re just saying whatever they want now. They’re all so eccentric.
“You guys are……” I trailed off.
Everyone else, without exception, glanced at me in sympathy as they knew all too well how useless it was to go against those three. In the meantime, I chugged some water in desperation.
↑ There’s a saying, お粗末様, which is an expression of humility often said by the person who provided a meal after it’s eaten. Normally, I’d translate it to “It was my pleasure” or something, but the next person plays on the literal meaning, so I had to translate it literally.
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