“Seems like it’s turned into something quite interesting.”
(I feel like it’s been a while since he’s been disagreeable like this.)
Maomao was being kept in after the quack doctor left following the periodic medical checkup. Officially, she was giving a physical examination to Suiren and Taomei, but in reality, she was in a question and answer session with Jinshi.
“You’re quite close to the person called Rikuson, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I don’t think we’re that close,” she said.
Jinshi stared at Maomao.
Chue stuck her tongue out and slapped her forehead with her right hand.
(Yeah. I’m angry at you.)
Chue also knew that it was work, she knew, but…
“Why did you purposely travel together to the farming village?” he asked.
“Commoners know it’s cheaper to take an omnibus,” she replied.
“Mhm.” Jinshi looked uncertain.
“Can I go back now, then?”
Since that day, Court Physician You had told her to make an additional supply of styptics and salves for scrapes, so she was right in the middle of making more.
A high wall appeared before her. Jinshi, who had been sitting down, was now standing over her.
“What?” she asked.
As expected, he wasn’t pleased.
“Even though you’re not that close, he recently proposed to you, didn’t he.”
It came, straight to the point.
“It sounded like a joke,” she said.
“Is this something you’d joke about?” he asked.
“It appeared to be the same as Rihaku-sama’s kanzashi, an empty compliment.” Maomao recalled how it was something rude from the time with Rihaku too. She had faith that there was no problem if she boldly declared it outright.
“….” Jinshi looked around.
Chue, Suiren, and Taomei were in the same room. Though out of sight, Baryou was also close by and Basen shouldn’t be far off, being a guard.
It seems there were a lot of spectators even though he wanted to say something. He looked like he would like to clear people out, but that request probably won’t be granted with the current situation.
(Unlike Anan, he’ll be in plain sight once he goes outside.)
Unable to summon people outside. Unable to chase people away either.
The silence continued. It seems Jinshi himself was wondering what he should do.
“Um.” It was when she was about to ask if it was fine for her to return.
She felt a sensation on her left hand. It was Jinshi’s hand. His right hand lifted up her left hand, entwining fingers. Long fingers gripped the back of Maomao’s hand, and their palms met.
She felt his racing pulse. His nails were beautifully manicured, but there were hard calluses on his palm. His slightly ink-stained fingertips were somewhat sweaty.
(This is taking a while.)
Maomao was starting to sweat too. Wanting to get out before that happened, she opened her mouth. “What are you doing?”
“…some replenishment is fine, right?” Jinshi said peevishly and finally released her. There were faint red marks on the back of her hand. “Replenishment.”
“Is it replenishment?”
“That’s right. Guests have a lot of things to do. They even get tired.”
Maomao looked at Jinshi’s desk. There were unfinished letters. Scrap paper filled the wastebasket. Seeing his stained fingertips, there was no doubt he wrote a lot.
(Letters to the capital, huh.)
Reporting the situation, how much damages, how much support is needed. Even if the lord of the western capital was Gyoku’ou, correspondence coming from Jinshi would be more smooth-sailing. Again, his accomplishments might be snatched away again.
“Jinshi-sama, don’t you feel frustrated that your accomplishments got stolen? The people of the western capital will attribute the distribution to be from Gyoku’ou-sama,” Maomao stated.
Suiren smiled wordlessly. Taomei and Chue nodded in agreement. Turns out the attendants had opinions about it.
“It doesn’t matter what the western capital sees me as. No matter the form, leaving it to Gyoku’ou-dono would allow the smooth distribution of supplies. Besides….” Jinshi trailed off.
Turns out Jinshi wasn’t thinking about standing out, and if the citizens can be helped, that was good enough.
“Rather than how many people acknowledged it, it’s who acknowledged it that is more important.” Jinshi looked at Maomao.
(Who acknowledged it, huh.)
“Can I go back?” she asked.
“Do whatever you want!”
Understood, Maomao left the room.
The attendants’ gazes were oddly flat.
After leaving the room, Maomao leaned against the door and looked at her palms. “….no, wait.”
Because there were eyes around them, there had to be something else to it.
(No, no, no, no, no.)
Lost for words, she slowly slid down the door. “Isn’t it more embarrassing for me?”
Just when Maomao blurted out…
…Basen, who was guarding outside, called out to her. Maomao sprang up, startled.
Day Ten, after the first wave of locusts:
What seems like the second wave came. The locust swarm was smaller than the first wave, so it was able to be dealt with.
Arson. The arsonist was immediately arrested. Likely done to plunder food supplies.
Food supply issues. Everything was being bought out. Quarrels breaking out among the citizens everywhere.
People from other affected locations turned up at the western capital. Some among them demanded for the imperial brother to show himself.
“So you’re alive.” Maomao looked at the vagabond in a daze. ‘Vagabond’ was poor phrasing, but he looked like one.
“I’m alive!” he retorted.
The man had grown a beard, his hair was unkempt, and he wore clothes that were bitten in various places. Although his general vibe had greatly changed, it was the one who had gone on a long journey: Rahan’s older brother.
A refugee had put out Maomao’s name, so an official had called her over. And once she went to have a look, there was a tattered Rahan’s older brother there. Apparently he had been a bit violent, so he had been shut up in a confined room, although she won’t go as far as to call it a prison. As of late, there had been many rioters, so the officials were also on edge.
His clothes were really shabby, so she had Chue prepare him a change of clothes. Amidst that, she decided to ask him about the situation.
Chue constantly accompanied Maomao whenever she went out, so it became the norm. Moreover, she had Rihaku accompanying her as a guard.
“But it’s good that you’re safe. Everyone was worried.”
“Ahh, yeah, we were worried.”
Together with Rihaku, Maomao spoke honeyed words. Rahan’s older brother somehow gave off the feeling that he was tough, but they can’t say that no one had been worried about him. Rather, their lips were sealed on how they had used him as a joke.
“What the hell was up with the locust plague outbreak? It came so much faster than expected! I rushed!” Rahan’s older brother cried out.
“Yes, you told everyone well. As expected of the master,” Maomao said.
“Stop it with the master already! Ah, I really thought I was going to die. I was really on the verge of death. I might actually be dead.”
“You’re alive. It’s okay.” Maomao patted Rahan’s older brother. His body was corporeal.
“Your head got bitten too, huh.” Rihaku slid a comb into Rahan’s older brother’s tattered hair. This wasn’t a guard’s job, so could it be a show of apology to Rahan’s older brother? Although, the large man was a little careless and a bit strong; Rahan’s older brother’s face stiffened.
“It hurts. It huurts.”
“Ah, what’s this?” While Maomao was feeling around, she felt something on his back.
“Ah, this thing.” Rahan’s older brother took off his outer garment that looked like a rag. Stuck to the back was a towel pouch. He opened it up. It contained ears of wheat.
“It’s wheat, right?” she asked.
Maomao and Rihaku peered over.
“Why so much care for wheat?
Even if he said it was to protect the wheat from the locusts, she couldn’t think of a reason why he would carry this much wheat on his body.
“This, you know, was right before the plague started…” Rahan’s older brother started to talk about the village. It was a village that grew a lot of wheat, but the village head had said a certain story. “The wheat came from a certain family. They always had a bigger harvest than others.”
“So I was entrusted with looking around and investigating the family’s growing methods and their field.”
The residents of that house didn’t have a special way of growing, and the soil of the fields, even when exposed to the sun, wasn’t different from other houses.
The only thing different was…
“The wheat. They used the seeds leftover from the previous crop to grow it, but by chance, that family had a lot of a certain seed.”
“A certain seed?” Maomao inspected the wheat closely. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
Chue was back with a change of clothes, so Rahan’s older brother started to change, taking off his ragged outer garment.
“Oh, nice body,” Chue teased.
“Your staring is making me self-conscious.” Rahan’s older brother shooed Chue away.
“No, you do have good muscles. You can be a military official,” Rihaku said.
“Military official? Really?” Rahan’s older brother didn’t seem dissatisfied about being told he could be a military official. Normally he was only treated as a farmer, so it must be a breath of fresh air for him.
“Excuse me, please continue with the story,” Maomao said.
“…got it.” Looking a little disappointed, Rahan’s older brother continued. “Their wheat was quite short compared to other wheat. It’s likely that they created the short wheat during the course of cultivating the fields over and over, and that strain multiplied.”
“What do you mean by short?” Chue asked.
“It’s not restricted to wheat; the same goes for rice. When they grow tall, they will get blown in the wind. It makes them prone to falling over. When the plant falls over the stalk breaks, and if it rots it’s over.”
So that’s why they got short wheat by chance and that multiplied, huh.
“And I have one more hypothesis.” Rahan’s older brother, having changed into a fresh set of clothes, looked a little more decent now. He accepted a hair tie and started to bunch up his clumpy hair. “Compared to other wheat, the grains look like they stick together.”
“During harvest, how much grain is left on the wheat ears? This influences the size of the yield quite substantially. If the wheat grains fall from the ear before harvesting, what happens? The farmers are busy, and won’t have time to pick up grains from the floor, right? If ten per cent of the grains fall off before harvest, that’s a ten per cent loss. If twenty per cent falls off, that’s a twenty per cent loss.”
On the spot calculation.
“Yeah. This has a lot of grains remaining. If I promote the growth of these seeds and cultivate wheat that is short and also doesn’t fall off, I can expect an increase in harvest.”
“So that’s why you brought it all the way here.” Not just Maomao, Chue and Rihaku were in awe too.
No doubt the two people were thinking along the same lines as Maomao.
(A trueborn farmer.)
Come to think of it, it was Rahan’s older brother’s letter that first informed them of the locust plague.
(He surely won’t show appreciation for being treated as someone who rendered distinguished services, right.)
Although our food supply has decreased, I should cook a small feast today, Maomao thought.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.