The Female Mercenary (Part 1)
As she rested, she looked up at the blue sky and saw a pair of black kite birds.
Leontaine du Louve sat on her armor chest and wiped the sweat off of her forehead.
The sun shone on the wheat fields on the hillside, giving the waves of grain an amber hue. Castle walls towered over the other side, where the Old Capital, the most strategic location in the northern part of the Empire, was situated.
Leontaine had some confidence in her physical strength, despite being a woman, but she was really exhausted because of an incident that had happened in the last few days.
Everything had been going well until she had been attacked by three bandits. She had managed to chase them away with her trusty beloved sword, but the problem was that her horse had run away during the commotion.
It wasn’t possible to throw away her ancestral suit of armour, so she could only tie a hemp rope to the armor chest and advance westward along the highway, for the time being. Although she had passed by a carriage along the way, the carriage was already packed with luggage, so they didn’t have any room to spare for a single frail woman, who would become a burden, and her armor chest on the carriage.
Leontaine continued walking throughout the night, resenting the narrow-minded Imperial people who disdained others, before she finally reached a hill where she could see the Old Capital.
Even though there was nothing she could do about the heat and humidity, the gentle breeze was comfortable.
Leontaine unintentionally recalled the beaches back in her hometown in the Eastern Kingdom as the wind caressed her now loosened cheeks.
It was ridiculous to set up camp when the castle walls were already in sight. The female mercenary got up with one last burst of energy. She wanted to sleep in the bed of an inn tonight.
The sun had begun to set when she finally reached the east gate of the Old Capital.
The gatekeeper, who sported a short moustache, grew suspicious of the female mercenary, who was dragging along an armor chest, and did not want to let her pass through so easily.
If the situation didn’t change, the gate would close at sundown. Leontaine realised that the gatekeeper was asking for a bribe.
「You’re looking to earn some extra money, huh…」
「It’s work, you know. Work. If something were to occur, I couldn’t possibly report to my superior that a suspicious mercenary was shown into the Old Capital, right?」
「This isn’t really showing someone in, though.」
「It’s fine today. We have to settle the problem regarding the conference with the three northern territories first. The number of people and things that were coming and going were increasing and it became very busy. Even people who were a little bit suspicious were turned away from entering, you know.」
That was true. The fact that the carriage, which Leontaine had previously passed, was fully loaded with luggage was a good sign that the trade with the North was becoming more favourable.
The three northern territories, especially that of Earl Wyndelmarc, had hired many mercenaries; but had since released them. The mercenaries were reimbursed half the agreed payment for breaking the contract. They wanted to hurry back home to spend the money, so the inns along the highways were packed with activity.
「In that case, could you let me through as it is?」
「You seem to be a female mercenary, but are you a Knight?」
「That’s sharp of you…」
「That armor chest is something you would only find with people from your region, and it is something that’s more of a burden than anything else for the ones who do have it.」
「I never would’ve thought my hometown would be exposed. You’re very perceptive for a gatekeeper. Are all the guards of the Old Capital like this?」
The moustached sentry guard shrugged a little as he received the silver coins for the regular entry tax, plus the small extra tip from her.
「That’s impossible. There are no other tactful lady-killers among the sentry guards in the Old Capital here, aside from Nikolaus.」
「C’est la vie. Then, while you’re being tactful, could you tell me where I could find a pub with good alcohol? Frankly, I’m so famished that I could die.」
(TL:Replaced “Such is life” with “C’est la vie” because she has a French name.)
Nikolaus loosened his cheeks and grinned widely at Leontaine’s frivolous talk.
「Pub, huh. I know a good place. There’s no other store like it.」
As she walked according to the given directions, she reached a street with a pleasant atmosphere.
The cargo carriers and the cheap looking lodging houses that travellers used were built right next to each other. There also seemed to be inns where Leontaine, the female mercenary, wouldn’t have problems staying at.
Among them, one bar stood out.
Although all the surrounding shops were made of stone, only one of them was built out of wood and plaster.
The store’s name was Izakaya Nobu. It was written on a big flat signboard, with foreign letters also written on it.
「This is that guard’s favourite place, huh.」
She wasn’t able to shake off the suspicion that the store had given gold to people so that they would recommend it to anyone when asked.
Even so, she had already come this far. It was also troublesome to search for other stores, so Leontaine decided to enter the store without complaining.
When she opened the door, the first thing that surprised her was how cold it was.
Even though she did not understand the mechanism behind it, she did not feel any of the heat and humidity from outside the store. Also, this scent…
The store was pretty crowded, but a person had just left his seat, so there was now an empty seat by the counter.
Once Leontaine slipped into the store and sat down at her seat, she raised her hand to call the waitress.
For now, she needed a drink first, then food.
Anyway, if she did not sate her hunger with various things, it would get in the way of her true purpose for coming to the Old Capital.
「Here is your otoshi.」
(TL note: as previously mentioned, otoshi: appetizer)
The lovely, black-haired waitress served a small bowl that contained simmered shellfish.
Even though they had been removed from their shells, Leontaine, who grew up on the beach, recognised that they were shellfish with just one look. Had they simmered it in alcohol? It smelled good.
Otoshi was not the name of this dish. She figured that it was probably an appetizer that was served before the meal.
「This pub is quite stylish to even serve amuse-gueule, isn’t it?」
(TL note: amuse-gueule: appetizer in French)
「Thank you very much. Today’s otoshi is torigai. It’s delicious, you know.」
(TL note: torigai: Japanese cockle.)
With the carefree attitude of those who worked in the mercenary business, Leontaine picked up the simmered torigai with her fingers and threw it into her mouth. The shellfish, which had a wriggly texture, tasted a little bit like chicken.
The chef was likely very skilled, since the bad smell was completely removed and the soup stock worked well.
She would have eaten as much as she liked if it were not for the small bowl.
「This is good. A store that serves good appetizers can be trusted. Can I have ale?」
Her small bowing gesture was also beautiful.
Leontaine was a knight who was familiar with high society, and it was difficult to find a good maid like her.
She was glad to be introduced to an unexpectedly good store and picked up a second piece of torigai.
「Yes, here’s one ‘Nama’.」
「’Nama’, I have not heard that name before. Is this the local ale?」
「No, this is lager.」
She had heard of the name before.
It seemed that it was made with a slightly different method from that of making ale, and the Empire should have monopolized its production and circulation.
She felt like she had heard rumors about the ban being lifted a while ago.
「He~eh, how surprising.」
The cold lager that smoothly washed down her throat felt soothing beyond imagination.
The deliciousness soaked into Leontaine’s body, which had accumulated fatigue since yesterday.
「The ‘Toriaezu Nama is delicious isn’t it’?」
It was someone other than the waitress from a while ago. It was a waitress with beige-coloured hair who spoke to her while being a little shy. Even though she was still young, she had quite the pretty face.
「I think I heard ‘Nama’ a while ago, but do you call this lager, ‘Toriaezu Nama’?」
「Yeah, all the regulars call it that.」
The minimum requirement for a pub to be good was to have regular customers.
People who did business just to rip off a first-time customer or a traveller were definitely not a decent bunch.
「Customer-san, so what would you like to order?」
「I’m fine with anything except potatoes. As long as it’s not potatoes. I ate so many potatoes up north that I’m sick of them.」
Earl Wyndelmarc was a good noble who made sure that the mercenaries received proper meals, but the meals mostly consisted of potatoes. During her time in the North, Leontaine had eaten more potatoes than anybody who lived in the Eastern Kingdom would ever eat in their lifetime.
「Actually, I’ve been curious since earlier…but what is that smell?」
「Ah, that smell? Which one would you like, customer-san?」
「My ushiojiru or Taisho’s reworked faux bouillabaisse? Both are also delicious, you know.」
(TL note: ushiojiru: clear clam soup)
When she looked at where the waitress was pointing, the words ‘Helmina’s special ushiojiru‘ and ‘Taisho’s special faux bouillabaisse’ were messily written on wooden signs.
The tally marks underneath were probably a popularity poll. Currently, the ushiojiru seemed to be in the lead.
「I understand what ushiojiru is. It’s a salty soup stewed with fish leftovers, right? Then what on earth is a ‘faux bouillabaisse?」
「It’s vegetables that are briefly stir fried, and boiled together with tomatoes and seafood.」
She understood when she heard it. There was a similar dish in Leontaine’s hometown.
But there, it was not called with a fancy name like bouillabaisse. Instead, the fishermen back in her village would have simply called it boiled rockfish with tomatoes.
「Ah, then I’ll get that bouillabaisse. Afterwards, another glass of ‘Toriaezu Nama’.」
「Yes, thank you very much.」
Helmina made a slight bow and returned to the kitchen to convey the orders.
She was graceful and bubbly. Completely different from Leontaine, who had lived her life on a battlefield. It was different like wolves and dogs.
A noble lady’s way of life might be different as well. When she thought like that, her loneliness suddenly re-emerged.
She had decided to disguise herself as a mercenary because of poverty, but if she had wanted to, she could’ve chose another path.
However, Leontaine was already 26 years old this year. She did not feel like dressing up in a dress and making an appearance in high society now. Even though she did not have any regrets, she couldn’t do anything about it anymore.
「I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.」
She took a taste of the bouillabaisse that Helmina served with a wooden spoon.
The flavour of the shrimp and other seafoods were deeply incorporated into the soup.
Even though it was a little different from the boiled rockfish with tomatoes from her home, it had a nostalgic taste.
「This is delicious!」
「I prepared too many ushiojiru ingredients…so Taisho boiled them with tomatoes to make something new.」
「I see. This is a great solution. There is a similar dish in the region of my home, but saffron was also added to that one.」
「Saffron, you say?」
Leontaine guessed that Helmina did not know about the existence of saffron from her blank face. It was understandable. The continent south, and its north.
Even though the soup was cooked with the same fish, the ingredients and tastes were different.
「Ah. Also, I did not expect you to put squid in it.」
「Oh, I’m sorry. Do you dislike squid?」
「No, it’s my favourite.」
Leontaine had an inseparable bond with squid.
「I…am a squid fisherman’s daughter, but my husband couldn’t eat squid until he got married to me.」
「He~eh, that guy is also a difficult one, huh.」
A squid fisherman’s daughter would mean that she came from a port town.
He might be a good-for-nothing man to purposely marry her and make her work in a pub. If it was a good daughter like her, she could have easily found a good family to be married into.
If she had came across Helmina when Helmina was still single and looking for a partner, she probably could have set Helmina up with a trustworthy man.
When she thought about that, Leontaine chuckled to herself.
Instead of worrying for the other party, she should worry about herself first.
She was in a strange mood while she was eating the bouillabaisse.
Would she prepare boiled rockfish with tomatoes for her husband if she got married?
Even though the land was too barren for farming, the seafood around Leontaine’s inherited territory was delicious.
Since the tax was half monetary and half goods, you could eat all the seafood you wanted there. Although she started her mercenary job because she was fed up with endless fish dishes everyday, she became homesick when she was away.
「Customer-san, are you a mercenary?」
「Ah, that’s right. I am a mercenary. I was found out, huh.」
「That’s because only mercenaries carry armor chests.」
She should have found an inn and left the chest there first, but she was very hungry today. Even though the inns served meals, their main priority was to sate her hunger, and the taste was secondary.
「Actually, I am searching for a person.」
「A person, you say?」
「Ah, yes. That’s why I came to the Old Capital.」
The signs of war had passed in the north. She should have returned to the Eastern Kingdom once she received her pay.
Still, she had turned towards the Old Capital since she had a lingering attachment to it.
「If mercenary-san wants to find a person, I have a few connections. Perhaps, I might be able to help.」
「He~eh, connections, huh. That’s reassuring. I would be so grateful if you helped me.」
「Is that person something like a benefactor or an old friend of sorts?」
「No, it’s a little different.」
Leontaine noticed that she had started talking without realizing.
She thought she had already discarded her femininity a long time ago, but from the bittersweet feeling swelling in her chest, it seemed that some still remained.
「The person I’m searching for…is someone similar to a lover.」