Rahan’s older brother stared at the soil. He even stretched his hand out to feel its texture.
“How is it?”
Maomao was watching him from the side. Apparently, farmers were early risers, already working before the sun came up. Maomao, who was exhausted from a restless sleep, overheard the farmer who woke early.
They were in the fields of the farming village they arrived yesterday. They received permission from the village chief yesterday, so they went to look at the soil.
Wheat was growing in the fields. They were worried that it would be eaten up by the sheep and goats, but it was probably fine since the animals were fenced up outside of grazing time.
“The soil isn’t bad. Moisture is also good. It would be better if the soil was a little less fertile, though,” Rahan’s older brother answered.
“Is barren soil better?”
Chue turned up.
(Even though she slept late last night.)
The woman had returned to the tent at midnight. Negotiations might have dragged on, but the person herself was lively.
It was probably for the better that Maomao didn’t know what the negotiations were for.
Chue told Maomao to treat her like usual, so she decided to do just that.
Rahan’s older brother stood up and surveyed the entire field. The fields would be left alone this season. Will there be wheat growing from now on?
“Unlike other vegetables, potatoes grow better in barren soil. With too much nutrition, sweet potatoes will only grow leaves. White potatoes will be more susceptible to disease,” he said.
“Is that how it is? By the way, bread for breakfast alone is insufficient, so I added congee,” Chue said.
“Ahh, thank you for th…”
Chue took a couple of sweet potatoes and peeled them.
“WHAT ARE YOU PEELING?”
He snatched the sweet potato away at lightning speed. Chue spun around, saying “Huuuuh~”
“THESE. ARE. SEED. POTATOES. YOU CAN’T EAT THEM!”
“But they only have wheat here. There’s not much rice in stock either, so I thought to add potato,” Chue said.
“Sweet potato congee sounds delicious.” Maomao was also a little hungry. Rather than bread for breakfast, congee that is easy on the stomach would be good.
“THESE ARE FOR GROWING! NOT FOR EATING!”
Rahan’s older brother yelled like he was disciplining children. The sheep sleeping on the nearby paddock baaed as though to complain about the noise.
“Ahhh, these can’t be used as seed potatoes anymore…”
“Then we’ll eat it,” Chue said.
“Can’t be helped.”
“This isn’t enough, so I’ll take another three.”
Rahan’s older brother immediately stopped Chue. Maomao clenched her fist, feeling this normal guy was in his element.
“Forget about breakfast for now. So, can you cultivate them?” Maomao asked.
She wanted to see more of their banter, but she had to make progress with the talk. At Maomao’s question, Rahan’s older brother crossed his arms.
“This place is similar to Shihoku Province. Although it’s not as north though considering the climate, it’s more suited for white potatoes than sweet potatoes. This place is colder than in Kaou Province.”
“…it’s certainly cold here. I found the western capital warmer.”
Despite the temperature difference, it wasn’t so cold that they needed overcoats. She felt that the wind was strong, though.
(My ears hurt a little.)
Maomao pinched her nose, clearing her ears.
“Apparently, the elevation is substantially higher than the western capital,” Rahan’s older brother said.
“Seems like it,” Maomao agreed.
“Is that so?” Chue took out a map from her breast pocket. “Chue-san is good at reading maps, but it doesn’t say the elevation here. No wonder the air felt thin.”
“I know it from what I heard from my dad.” The normal person puffed up with pride. “The western capital is close to the desert, so the temperature at noon is high. Here, it is chilly even in the afternoon.”
Maomao belatedly felt that the climate was different despite being in the same Isei Province.
“So they really can’t be grown?” she asked.
“I wonder. Fundamentally, to grow sweet potatoes, you would want the temperature of spring to early summer of Kaou Province. Here, whether in a desert or at a high elevation, I can’t say the temperature is suitable. There’s merit in trying, but it’s probably safer to grow white potatoes… although….”
Rahan’s older brother looked gloomy. As if he couldn’t accept something, he barged into the centre of the field and suddenly started to trample on the wheat.
“What are you doing? They’ll get angry at you,” Chue said as she spectated.
“This is what I want to be angry at! They didn’t tread on the wheat on this field, didn’t they!”
“Tread on the wheat?” Maomao tilted her head as she looked at Rahan’s older brother who was sidestepping like a crab.
“You tread on wheat like this to encourage tillering. The roots also grow resilient and it reduces drooping. And yet it doesn’t look like they do it here!”
“As expected of the farmer.”
“WHO’S THE FARMER!”
(Who else but you?)
Rahan’s older brother continued to tread on the wheat while crab-walking like a moron. Whatever his intention, he was completely characteristic of a farmer. Chue, finding it amusing, started to copy Rahan’s older brother. With that, if Maomao didn’t join in, it wouldn’t end.
The three people crab-walked, and the villagers woke up and started to flock together. They observed the visitors’ strange actions from a distance.
“What the hell are you guys doing…”
Basen was there, face twitching.
There were lamb skewers and steamed buns on top of flatly grilled bread. A pot was over the hearth, simmering soup with lamb and wheat noodles. The colour of the beverage was really light for tea, and it used goat’s milk instead of water, so it wasn’t a tea Maomao was familiar with.
(It’s centred on dairy and livestock meat. Not many vegetables, huh.)
If it wasn’t a farming village, there would probably be fewer grains too.
Meals were eaten in the large tent. Maomao and Chue also joined in. Chue’s congee didn’t make it in time, so they will have it for dinner. Furthermore, the peeled potatoes were sliced thinly and roasted over the fire.
Basen sat in front of the hearth. Chue, Maomao and Rahan’s older brother sat in a warm area. Other people sat around them.
The hot soup was slightly mild in taste. Maomao added salt she got from Chue. The skewers were a lot tastier than those from the street vendors in the capital.
The bread that was used as a plate was hard, so it was shredded up and eaten with broth. It was delicious with melted cheese on top.
There was just a sorry amount of vegetables in the broth and steamed bun, so it wasn’t sufficient.
“Like I said, it’s about why didn’t they grow them properly. Do you know how much the crop output changes from treading on the wheat like that?” Rahan’s older brother said.
“Yes, sure. If you’re not eating that cheese, give it to me,” Chue said.
“HEY! DON’T EAT IT!”
Chue quickly snatched the cheese from Rahan’s older brother.
(Even if you didn’t do that.)
The success rate was higher than targeting Basen, who looked fast and inattentive, but Chue probably had done it understanding that.
As they ate, they chatted about what they did in the fields just now.
“If memory serves, I heard that it’s an inspection this time around, but what will you do, Rahan’s older brother?”
Basen had settled on Rahan’s older brother’s name internally. Normally he would put more effort into remembering names, but he might be operating under some super principled action.
“No, like I said, my name is…”
Maomao quickly cut in. “Since you brought seed potatoes, you’re intending to grow some, right?”
“About that, I was told to grow some if there’s a good place for it. I heard it from Rahan. As long as I’ve been asked to do so, I have to do it even if it’s from my younger brother.”
(With such terrible relatives, he’s surprisingly decent.)
But she somehow wanted to poke fun at him.
“I understand about the wheat field incident, but you look really unsatisfied. Do you have problems with it?” Basen asked.
“Plenty. These folks, do they plan to grow fields properly?”
“Although it’s out of my expertise, sorry, is there a right for you to say that much from the fact that they’re not treading on the wheat?”
Maomao also agreed with Basen’s comment. Wheat-treading would most probably improve the plant, but it’s not like they won’t be able to grow it. If they were busy with other work, it was probably something that was fine to leave out.
“There are also other things besides wheat-treading. I understand that their growing methods are also patchy and they’re directly planting seeds, but they need to be consistent, right? If they don’t scatter the fertiliser more evenly, the colour of the soil will be blotchy.”
“How trivial. Are you eating the potatoes?” Chue asked.
“It’s not trivial. Get tired of eating the potatoes!”
Maomao ate the roasted potato she got from Chue. The sweet potato was sweet enough to be eaten as is, but with a bit of butter, the flavour mellowed out deliciously. Chue also seemed to be into it, stealthily starting to slice up another three for roasting.
Maomao understood what Rahan’s older brother was trying to say, but she also had a counterargument. “Don’t farming methods change depending on the region? Grains wouldn’t be needed much if they were originally raised livestock. If it’s not necessary, their technique wouldn’t improve.”
“That’s right. But I’m saying that they’re cutting corners here. With that, it doesn’t look like they get a significant harvest. These folks know this technique while cutting corners.”
“They have other forms of income, so it shouldn’t be a problem. What’s bothering you?” Basen countered as he sipped milk tea.
“Like. I. Said.”
“Why did they bother with agriculture if they have other forms of income, you mean?” Maomao said.
“Th-that’s right.” Rahan’s older brother looked a little relieved when he was finally understood.
“I don’t get you.”
“Chue-san doesn’t understand. Say it in a way that’s easier to understand.”
Basen and Chue both sought for an explanation in their own ways.
“If they can eat and live from shepherding, they should keep travelling while doing that. It becomes harder to raise livestock when you purposely settle down to cultivate fields otherwise. In other words, I think there are more advantages to pasturage than agriculture,” Maomao said.
“Since it would damage the body. To do it while travelling,” Rahan’s older brother added.
“Yes. From what we were told about this tent, it doesn’t seem unusual for pastoral nomads to become farmers. Did they become farmers because they had no other options? Or was becoming farmers more advantageous? If it were the latter, wouldn’t you think they would try to increase the crop yield?”
Hearing Maomao’s explanation, Rahan’s brother nodded, and the other two looked dazed.
“I can’t explain it well, but what should we do?”
“How to say. I know it’s odd, though.”
“You can’t put it into words easily, I guess.”
Maomao, groaning, ate a cooled down potato. There was nothing sweet in this meal so the sweetness of the sweet potato stood out more.
Maomao suddenly looked outside the tent. Two children were peering inside, interested in the visitors. The boy and girl, who didn’t seem to be older than ten, looked similar, so they must be siblings.
“You want to eat?” she asked.
Despite trembling a little, the children reached out for the sweet potato. They took a bite and their eyes widened.
“Sure, but can I ask a question?” Maomao looked at the fields. “About that wheat field…”
She stopped. How should she broach it?
“Does your family grow fields properly? Do you cut corners?” Chue asked, point-blank.
“Cut corners on the fields?”
The brother and sister looked at each other.
“Chue-san, I think that was hard to understand.”
“You think so, Maomao-san?” Chue passed another baked potato to the children.
“…I don’t know about cutting corners, but I was told that we get money if we cultivate a field.”
“Get money? You mean sell the wheat?”
The children, the older brother shook his head. “Umm, that’s not it. I heard that even if we don’t nurture the crop, we’ll get money so it’s easy…”
“Hey, we told you to not approach the visitors.”
The adult villagers called out. The siblings jumped in surprise.
“Ah, wait.” Maomao was too late to call them to a stop. They had already left.
(Get money even if they don’t nurture it?)
What a strange thing to say. If it were the case, they wouldn’t need to look after the wheat field.
“Sorry, did the children do something?”
“No, nothing at all.”
The villages apologised to Maomao’s group.
(It doesn’t look like they’re hiding something.)
What could this be about? Maomao tilted her head as she returned to her tent.