Chapter 5: A dazzling smile.
He was surrounded by what appeared to be dozens of villagers.
“Hey, I know you are hiding. Come out already.”
He spoke those words from inside the house. Strangely enough, he couldn’t feel any murderous intent coming from them.
As they suddenly showed up themselves, he couldn’t be sure they were here to attack. So perhaps he thought he might be misunderstanding something.
While firmly holding his self-defense weapon, he took a look at the other party through a window.
“I’m sorry… we didn’t mean to surprise you…”
Along with those words, a person who seemed to be their leader came closer out from the shadows of a nearby building.
There were quite a few of them, but none of them were armed.
Kids? …Children from the village?
What had surrounded him were children from the village.
Their ages seemed to span from kindergarten children, up to upper elementary school students. They were about half and half boys and girls, but by their looks one could speculate about their ages.
Taking a closer look at them, they are extremely thin… probably on the verge of malnutrition.
While thinking so, he unconsciously furrowed his brows at the sight of these children.
Their arms and legs sticking out from their colorful clothes were surprisingly slim. Their skin also looked dry, although it was supposed to be smooth due to their growth period.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that they couldn’t eat enough because of the lack of food.
But… at least their eyes are not dead.
Strangely enough, every one of these children had a shine in their eyes. They kept staring at him, as he walked out of the house, almost as if they were watching something rare.
“What do you want? “
While wary of the surroundings, I asked the boy who appeared to be the leader. Being the only one in the group with a good physique, they probably gathered around him.
“I heard it from Liscia-neechan. She said that an amazing person, who defeated several Big Rabbits, had come to the village. ”
“That’s right, and with his amazing swordplay he cleaved through them. ”
“She also said he was a traveler from a foreign country! “
The children started speaking all at the same time. Seemingly hearing it from the girl Liscia, they had come to take a glance at the sudden guest.
The wonderful swordsman who saved Liscia from danger while she was in the forest. The wandering warrior who wore strange clothes but had a gentle look on his face, those were the words they kept saying as they came closer.
“Tell us, from which country do you come from?”
“The rumor says that he came from the west, beyond the Great Mountains! ”
“Where were you heading in your journey?! “
Obviously dropping all wariness, they flocked all around Yamato, asking one question after another.
Their innocent eyes shone as they stared straight at him. Pure and interest eyes, without any intent of hostility.
They apparently mean no harm. I wonder if they are just really hungry for entertainment…
They wanted to listen.
About stories and event of distant lands that couldn’t be heard in this remote village. About a hero’s tale and his journey as a brave warrior.
The purity in their eyes reminded Yamato of the times when he was traveling the world.
Something similar happened to him with the inhabitants of a mysterious isolated village in Tibet. For those in the tribe who lived while refusing contact with the outer world, they lived as the happiest people, not knowing even how to doubt others.
“Hey, everyone, calm down! You’re going to be a bother! Don’t forget the reason why we came here in the first place! ”
“Oh, you’re right! ”
“Hey, everyone has it?”
After the leader boy spoke to the rest of the children, they calmed down a bit.
Some of them placed their hands inside their pockets and took something out. They handed it over to the leader boy and he then moved in front of Yamato.
“We thought about giving Nii-chan this, that’s why everyone came…”
What the boy offered were some tree nuts.
They were a variety Yamato had not seen yet, but they closely resembled walnuts. One could tell from its shape, they had already taken the task of breaking the shell, and they could be eaten just as they presented them.
“It is a custom of Urd Village, to give a present to the travelers who come. It is a sort of a proof of being welcomed! “
Urd was a remote village in the mountainous region, and probably only few people had ever come even since a long time ago.
So the villagers prepared a gift as a sign of welcome, to those travelers who took the trouble to come all the way to here, with pure sincerity. Their gifts were something that was considered valuable to themselves.
Once he careful thought about it, this reasoning explained it so.
“But this is your food, isn’t it? isn’t it precious to you? “
In truth, he always had a hard time dealing with children. So, he tried his hardest to inquire while using gentle words.
“Yeah… Lately there’s barely anything to eat. All because the Lord took it all away. All of us children in the village can only get our hands on a small amount of food…”
“I see, I figured as much.”
The food shortage appears to be more serious than he first thought.
The limited food was probably given preferentially to those who could perform some kind of job. So, the first ones to eat were the old people who could still move around, and the older children.
But for the others, the amount of food they got was like a drop in a bucket.
I guess… they are trying to reduce the amount of mouths to feed.
Even in Japan, there were areas where the number of children was reduced by that same practice during poverty times. So, the food shortage in the village was apparently very serious, enough to even make them use such practice.
“But if you give this to me, then your share will be reduced.”
“That’s true… but regardless, this is a welcome custom. And we really want to get along no matter what! ”
“Get… along? “
To his question, the boy answered some unexpected words. And being late at understanding their meaning, he ended up repeating them.
“With Nii-chan… Who is like the Hero-King who appears in the legends of Urd, I wanted to get along with a strong and sturdy person like yourself! ”
“Ahh, that’s sly. I also want to be friends with him! ”
“Me too! ”
The children started to raise their hand with loud voices. They surrounded him and tried to be the first to talk to him.
It was a strange sight, one he had never experienced before.
Every one of them was a starving child.
They probably hadn’t even eating anything decent in the last few days. Both their arms and legs looked scrawny.
But even so, they’re shining… so much it’s dazzling…
Everyone’s eyes were shinning. Even in such a situation, where they were practically at the abyss of despair, their eyes were sparkling.
They should be already exhausted from their situation, and suffering hunger beyond what he could imagine. What was more, with their parents taken away, their days should be filled with nothing but loneliness.
But despite that… their expression was a lively one, one that purely believed there was still hope.
“Ok… I guess it’s fine. I’ll tell you stories about my country…. about the place where I came from…”
As he tried to soothe the crowd of children, he decided to speak in a lower tone.
And so, he began telling them the story about the lush countryside where the town he was born was in.
The winters were severe, there were areas with heavy snowfalls where even going outside was a hard task.
But after that, during spring, the beautiful cherry trees bloomed, giving hope to the hearts of people. After that came the preparations for the summer festivals, while also putting efforts towards the agricultural work at the farmlands.
And after enjoying the short summer days from the depths of the heart, it finally came the busiest season. Everyone came together to do the rice harvesting, and also the fruit harvesting. Everyone helped with the harvest, all the adults as well as all the children.
And after the harvest festival, came the preparations for the tough winter. That was the unchanged life that happened year after year.
But that same scenic change during the four seasons was what gave people hope.
『Surely the flowers will bloom brighter after a tough season. 』
That was to tell the children the importance of the concept of nature.
“It will get dark soon. Take care going back home.”
With the story over, the kids then returned to their homes. Since the adults were taken away, the houses surely felt lonely, with only children and old people.
“Well then, let’s start making dinner…”
Before he knew it, it was already past sunset, which meant it was time for dinner.
In a village like this, where fuel was valuable, it was normal to make dinner before the sunset, and then go to bed after it became dark.
As an outdoor hobbyist, he didn’t worry about waking up late, since his body clock always woke him up when he was outdoors camping.
“A meal, huh…”
He was transported to a strange, different world. But luckily, for the moment he had secured some food.
And at the very least, he still had the emergency food stash at his backpack for mountain climbing. And also the already bled and dismantled Big Rabbit meat that he hunted in the forest earlier.
Aside from that, there were also the wild vegetables, the mushrooms and herbs he had gathered while they came to the village.
Especially, the quantity of Big Rabbit meat was considerable, and since it was raw it needed to be eaten with top priority.
Lucky for him, he had the proper cookware to cook it.
“A tree nut…?”
He spew those words as he glance at the little nuts in his hand.
With a shape similar to walnuts, they were given to him by the village children. A welcoming gift that caused them to reduce their own share of food.
“They sleep in beds like this… and eat this kind of food…”
While muttering so, he made up his mind.
Taking the nuts in his hand, he tossed them into his mouth.
He savored them slowly as he took his time chewing them. As he did so, he remembered the dazzling smiles of the children.
“It won’t fill their bellies at all, if it’s something as small as this…”
In just a quick moment, the nuts he was eating disappeared inside his stomach.
Even if he tried to swallow a lot of saliva along with the nut, it did nothing to sate his hunger. And this was probably true for the whole village.
“I guess I should go to sleep soon. Tomorrow’s morning will be a “busy” one…”
He decided to lie down after having eaten ‘dinner’.
He didn’t touch the emergency food, nor the Big Rabbit meat. What he ate was just a token meal that didn’t add anything to cheat the feeling of hunger.
“I guess this is where ‘a debt of gratitude towards a night’s lodging and a meal’ came from, right…?”
(TN: read as “accepting one’s kindness”, written as “a debt of gratitude towards a night’s lodging and a meal”)
That quiet mutter got lost inside the house. Those were absolute words taught from his parents from an early age.
“Seriously, I guess I can also be pampery sometimes…”
After whispering those words, he finally fell deep into sleep.