Berthold vs Squid, A Grand Duel In The Store (Part 2)
「Izakaya Nobu is serving squid today, huh.」
Next to Berthold, Deacon Edwin was stroking his beard.
Berthold stared at the characters on the paper that was attached to the sliding door with complicated feelings, like he was welcoming a death sentence.
「Isn’t that good, Berthold? Perhaps they did this just for you?」
「Certainly, it felt like Shinobu-chan was enjoying herself, but it couldn’t be helped. After all, there is not much time left before the interview.」
「There has also been a lot of suspicious activity recently.」
The Empire had been carrying several sources of conflict ever since its formation.
Just like the three-headed dragon represented on the Imperial Family’s crest, the Empire had been formed by three lineages. Even now, three hundred years after the founding of the Empire, there was a bloody conflict every time a successor had to be nominated.
Although it was under the direct control of the Empire, the Old Capital retained a high degree of autonomy, since it had little relation with it. That was why there were secret attempts to breakaway from the Empire.
As the commander of the Sentry Corps of the Old Capital, it was one of Berthold’s duties to handle the situation if it arose.
「Ah, there’s that too. That was why the matchmaking date was moved up.」
「So, it will be good if I can overcome it today.」
When Edwin opened the door, the smell of squid inside the store attacked Berthold’s nose. He desperately suppressed his desire to return home and walked in.
They received the usual greetings and sat on the reserved seats by the counter.
Shinobu served the appetizer, which was also squid, of course.
「This is squid somen.」
The squid was thinly sliced, making it resemble noodles, and was piled up onto a small plate. Had it been the store’s consideration to serve squid that did not resemble squid?
Instead of squid somen, a small bowl containing something sticky and giving off a strong smell was placed in front of Edwin.
「Deacon, what is that?」
「It’s squid shiokara. It’s made from the internal organs of a squid. It’s sliced and pickled with salt, and it goes well with sake. How’s that? Do you want to try it?」
「No…I’ll refrain from doing so.」
He was unable to overcome the squid itself, so its internal organs were even more impossible for Berthold. To begin with, he wasn’t able to eat anything that had the name “squid” in it.
「Berthold-san, aren’t you going to eat this fried squid?」
「You can eat it, Shinobu-chan. I can’t eat it anyway.」
「Then, please don’t mind me. Eva-chan, come and eat too.」
Crunch. It made a satisfying sound. The two of them stuffed their mouths with the fried squid. Shinobu placed her hands on her cheek and closed her eyes, while her body trembled slightly.
「After the crunchy texture, there is a soft and chewy texture. Fried squid rings are the best after all!」
「It is just like Shinobu-san. This crispy and springy texture is yummy.」
When he saw the two people eating it like it was delicious, Berthold picked up his chopsticks again.
However, his hand didn’t move.
「It’s useless. I can’t eat it, no matter what…」
「Why are you so bad with squid?」
Shinobu tilted her head while slurping down the squid somen.
Eva, who was eating the squid dango next to her, muttered something that she suddenly thought of.
「Erm, it might be my wild guess…but did something happen to Commander Berthold in the past, that caused his dislike towards squid?」
Berthold shook slightly after hearing that.
「Did something happen?」
After seeing Shinobu’s questioning face, Berthold resigned himself and gradually began talking.
「I was brought up by my great grandfather in a small village in the mountains, which was known for its mercenaries. I worked as a sailor there, during my younger days.」
Being a sailor was different from being a fisherman. He had worked on a merchant ship that could carry about fifty to a hundred people and transported luggage from the south to the west.
Even though he had not been used to life onboard a ship, the pay had been sufficient. Since his parents had been able to retire, it wasn’t an exaggeration to say that Berthold’s family had been an influential and wealthy household in the village.
As a child, Berthold had not experienced any inconvenience when it came to food or a place to sleep.
「I don’t know whether Shinobu-chan knows this or not, but the world we are on now is, in fact, round.」
Deacon Edwin judged that Berthold’s story was going to take a turn for the worse, so he left his seat and went to another table with his sake cup and plate.
It was a silent declaration that he wouldn’t listen to the story.
「It’s round, huh…」
Shinobu forced out a response while Eva, squid still in her mouth, was fascinated upon hearing that for the first time.
「My great grandfather said that there is a lot of evidence that the world is round. For instance, the mast of a distant ship would appear first, followed by its hull and so on. The entire ship didn’t appear right away. That is why he said that the world is round.」
「Does Eva-chan understand?」
「Yes! If the world is round, it is convenient because I can begin traveling to the west and return from the east, I think!」
Berthold nodded at Eva’s correct answer.
「That is true. But, there is a big problem there.」
His great grandfather’s employer also thought the same thing as Eva, so he set out in a ship to pioneer a new sea route. However, they were involved in a terrible accident and did not return.
「What on earth could be the cause?」
Shinobu asked while eating the pickled firefly squid.
An innumerable amount of squid were said to have blocked the sailors’ path. The area of the sea that sailors called the “End of the World” did not look blue. Instead, the surface was filled with squid, like they were engulfing the sea.
「It was three parts blue and seven parts white. In other words, 70% of the sea surface was packed with squid. Every sailor who saw the spectacle said so.」
Berthold’s face turned completely pale as he spoke.
The valiant Berthold, said to be one of the top five swordsman in the Old Capital, looked like he was shrinking miserably.
「When I heard the story from great grandfather, it was very, very frightening…that is why I cannot eat squid.」
「So there was such a reason…」
Berthold rolled up his sleeve and showed Eva, who had almost wept in sympathy, an old scar on his left arm.
「This wound was also caused by a squid.」
「Eh, Commander Berthold fought against a squid before?」
「No, that’s not it. There was a mercenary who had a squid crest on his helm…when I saw that, I flinched momentarily and was injured by his attack…」
There was a heavy silence in the store.
Mere dislike could be easily managed through drastic measures. However, if it was dominated by intense fear, it could be impossible to overcome the squid phobia so easily.
That kind of an atmosphere began to fill the restaurant.
「Are squids really that frightening to you…?」
Berthold vigorously nodded in response to Eva’s muttering.
「I had to have confidence in my abilities, or at least believe that I did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be fit for the title of Commander of the Sentry Corps.」
「That is probably true.」
Before Berthold had noticed, Edwin had returned to the counter and was reaching for the pickled firefly squid with his chopsticks.
「Well, to be honest, I think that if you were to see a ten-armed monster that was larger than me, you would be scared as well.」
Everyone in the store tilted their head at Berthold’s words.
「Eh, did I say something strange?」
Shinobu timidly raised her hand, as if she were representing everyone in the store.
「You’re talking about squid, right?」
「Yes, I’m talking about squid.」
Everyone except Berthold shut their mouth, wearing an awkward expression.
The one who broke the silence was Eva.
「Taisho-san, are any intact squid left?」
「Y-yes, there is still some left.」
After saying so, Taisho brought out a big Japanese flying squid and laid it down in front of Berthold.
Even though it was already dead, it looked like it had still been alive recently.
(TL: Japanese Flying Squid = Pacific Flying Squid)
「Berthold-san, this is a squid.」
「Ah, is this possibly a young squid? If it’s only this size, I can somehow manage looking straight at it.」
「No, this is an adult squid…」
At Eva’s declaration, Berthold brought his hands to his mouth, lost in thought. He even started to shake nervously, which was a rare thing for him to do.
「Then, is it just an exceptionally small species…?」
「Nope, this size is normal. If you are talking about small species, then it’s the firefly squid that Deacon Edwin is eating.」
Berthold became silent; everyone else did as well.
Deacon Edwin hesitantly opened his mouth while stroking his beard.
「Berthold, could it be…that you were pranked by your great grandfather?」
After taking two deep breaths, Berthold, who had been staring at the ceiling, grasped his chopsticks. He took a piece of squid sashimi from the plate, dipped it in soy sauce, and threw it into his mouth.
It had a unique, chewy texture, along with a hint of sweetness that he thoroughly enjoyed.
「Taisho! From the array of dishes just now, please make that one again!」
「The round one that Shinobu-chan and Eva-chan were eating. The crunchy one!」
「Ah, the fried squid.」
Meanwhile, Berthold threw the remaining squid dishes on the counter into his mouth, one after another. Then he washed it down with “Toriaezu Nama”.
「Delicious! It goes well with the beer.」
Berthold happily bit on the grilled squid, which was smeared with a healthy helping of mayonnaise, and followed it with a gulp of ale.
「Damn it! That old geezer…if squid are small, you should’ve said so!」
Berthold finished every squid dish the store had to offer, one after another, while grumbling and complaining.
「With how things look now, I guess it is no longer necessary to worry about the matchmaking interview, right?」
「That’s true. Well, instead of disliking it, it might have become my favourite dish?」
「That’s really good then.」
When they saw Berthold’s expression of having completely overcome his fear of squid, everyone felt relieved. Any anxiety that had been present before disappeared, replaced by smiles on everyone’s faces.
On the day of the matchmaking interview, the potential bride’s father presented the largest squid that had ever caught. However, that is a story for a different time.