Chapter 4: A Warm Meal and A Visitor
“Of course, I thought that it would be ungrateful of me, as a person, to not do this much.”
Astraea exaggeratedly drooped her shoulders at the young man’s words.
“Have you ever considered respecting someone’s opinion?”
“I do apologize for that.”
“…If you want to apologize, don’t come here.”
Why is he here? The young man cast an apologetic face at Astraea as she glared at him.
“No, rather, I actually wanted to come here earlier to be quite honest.”
“…Did you not hear what I just said?”
“But after repeatedly asking for leave from my superior officer at the fortress I was newly assigned to… Finally, I was granted one.”
“Your superior officer at the fortress… Wait, you’re a soldier!?”
The fortress he’s talking about is probably the one in the town nearest here. Compared to the capital, this territory is by no means below it despite being an extremely rural area. Still, this town was once a national border. Regardless, there was only one town, and the rest were mostly villages.
Despite those thoughts, a problem arose in Astraea’s mind.
Why is a soldier this carefree!?
The current era may be peaceful, but soldiers, in Astraea’s mind, were extremely odd people.
And at the same time, she thought:
“Just why did I have to save this man?”
She was sure that even if time were to rewind, she’d save him once again. Still, then she’d ask herself why she passed through that place to begin with.
At the very least, if this man were the type to listen to what others were saying — He wouldn’t have shown up in front of her like this again, she wouldn’t have thought such things.
“Which reminds me, I haven’t given you my name yet. I’m Eos–”
“I didn’t ask you though!”
The young man — Eos — stared at her for having been interrupted, but he immediately let out a strained smile.
“And so, this is a thank you present.”
With a slightly theatrical pose, he presented a basket to Astraea. Inside were bread, cheese, and what looked to be dry-cured ham. Even the cloth that was spread within the basket looked to be of high-quality. But Astraea only grimaced.
“Don’t want it.”
Astraea didn’t need food preserve her life, and after entering the forest, she almost never had to eat. It was not because she couldn’t eat, but rather, she didn’t need to. As such, the food didn’t stimulate her appetite, even being a thank you. She only had one thought in her mind: I just want him to go back.
But it seems that for Eos, this reaction of hers was within his expectations. Despite being somewhat surprised, he took out something else as if he wasn’t offended at all. What he took out was a stone cylinder.
Eos opened the lid in front of Astraea who scrunched her brows together. When he did so, an airy and gentle smell drifted from somewhere.
“Don’t tell me you hate bean soup?”
Astraea wanted to say no, but she couldn’t. As she was about to raise her voice at him, that smell drifted past her.
Yet, if she were to eat this right now, it might encourage the young man to overstay his welcome.
Regardless, the conflicted Astraea made her decision at that moment because of a sudden noise that resounded.
The noise was a stomach growling loudly.
Of course, it didn’t come from Eos.
It came from Astraea’s stomach.
Only birds chirping could be heard after it stopped growling.
Wait a minute! Was that my stomach!?
Both of them stood like statues for a while, but slowly, Eos brought out a slightly long, wooden spoon from within the basket. He then presented them to Astraea together with the cylinder.
“Here you go.”
I wonder if he’ll believe me if I insist that it’s not because I’m hungry. Wait, no, probably not. In that case, wouldn’t it be fine to be lured in by such a delicious smell? Such thoughts swirled in her head. There was no helping it. Even now, such a delicious smell that hardly comes by in that forest tickled her nose.
No, but I should definitely avoid eating this to keep from having anything to do with him. But if I don’t, Eos won’t go back… When her thoughts turned towards that direction, the next grumble of her stomach quickly pressed her for a decision.
“…I’ll eat it.”
“I did bring a lot, so please don’t hesitate.”
Although Astraea thought, Who would hesitate in this kind of situation? she started off by taking a sip of the soup. The soup that gradually spread warmth from the tip of her tongue was, as Eos said, bean soup whose smell was strong. Yet, despite that, the taste was mild. Furthermore, thanks to the smokiness of the small cuts of meat, it was also savory. On top of that, the sweet vegetables were simmered to the point that they didn’t taste as they usually did.
Astraea, who unconsciously murmured her inner thoughts, heard what she said, and began to throw the bread into her mouth in quick haste.
What did I say just now?
“It also tastes good if you dip the bread into the soup. You could also cut and put pieces of dry-cured ham in between it.”
Despite being frustrated at Eos’ words, Astraea couldn’t oppose his words at having once again found the charm of eating. Frustrated, she was frustrated, but when she realized, It’s already turned out like this, she continued on eating the meal as Eos had instructed.
“Sorry, I didn’t prepare an after-meal dessert, but… did you enjoy it?”
Even though I said I won’t eat, and that I didn’t want it, look at how pitiful I am— Thinking that, Astraea was filled with frustration, but she couldn’t deny the truth that it was delicious.
“…Thank you for the meal.”
Eos slightly opened his eyes wide at Astraea’s reply, and afterwards, smiled sweetly.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
But Astraea wanted to object, Why did you have to be surprised at what I said after the meal? Though it doesn’t seem like he realized… he’s taken a somewhat rude attitude about it.
That’s exactly why it was more annoying.
“…But with this, you’ve now returned your gratitude. Quickly go back.”
And also, don’t come again, Astraea tried telling Eos with her eyes.
“That’s true, this place was much farther than I originally thought. A lot of time has already passed.”
“What are you doing not resting during your day off? Do your job as a soldier more properly.”
Eos gave a wry smile at Astraea’s words, said, “Goodbye, unfortunately,” and rode Lazool back home. What do you mean by ‘unfortunately’?
Even after she couldn’t see Eos anymore, Astraea felt unsettled at the lingering taste of the soup remaining in her mouth. For soup to be this delicious…
I won’t die even if I don’t eat— The thought faded partway as she faintly remember the meal.
Still, there won’t be a next time. The things in this forest are things you can’t quite prepare on your own.
But a few days later.
“…As I said, why did you come here?”
“I came today to bring dessert.”
“Wait, that’s not the problem here.”
Eos once again showed up, and Astraea was at her wits’ end.