The Mackerel Pike of the Old Capital (Part 1)
Eleanora looked at her desk, which was messy as usual, and heaved a small sigh.
It was already dark outside by the time she finished her work, and today’s fatigue was weighing down on her shoulders.
There were bundles of parchment paper, her familiar quill pen, and a bottle of ink on the big wooden desk, which had been cut from a piece of the gigantic Mongolian Oak.
Even though everything was of high quality, she did not particularly seek extravagance. Since she used a desk a lot at work, it would actually be more expensive to replace or repair a cheaper desk. As the Guild Master of one of the three Water Transportation Guilds in the Old Capital, she had many things to handle.
For example, this pile of letters.
It was due to the Guild’s deep connections with the Eastern Kingdom and the Northern Three Territories that they had risen to this point, so having a letter written by the Guild Master, Eleonora herself, was a powerful weapon and a lifeline at the same time.
Due to her bewitching aura that went hand in hand with her beautiful looks, there were rumours that Eleonora left all her work to her subordinates. It was a serious misunderstanding of her, but she believed that she knew the origin of the rumours.
Due to her mother’s negligent management of the business, Eleonora had to write dozens of letters every day, and fingers became callused.
This guild had been succeeded matrilineally every generation, and its rapid expansion was also due to her mother’s influence.
She had pulled skilled members from Reinhold’s collapsing guild, and they had become the second most powerful guild in the Old Capital in one fell swoop.
Everything was thanks to her womanly charm.
Eleonora’s mother, whom even her daughter recognized as extremely beautiful, knew the value of one’s own beauty better than anyone else.
If the expansion of the guild relied on a woman’s charm, then maintaining the guild was also dependent on it.
That was how Eleonora grew up to be a misandrist.
However, she didn’t intend to let anybody know that.
Even though she was seen as an amorous woman who seduced men, she could count the number of men who had held her hands before on one hand.
Besides being beautiful, she had a relatively high-level of curiosity.
This was due to not wanting to lose to her mother as a woman. Although she was more beautiful than her mother, she did not want to use her beauty in the same way. That was Eleonora’s principles on beauty.
However that was all.
She worked during the day and during her free time.
Recently however, Eleonora had found a secret pleasure.
Eleonora returned the usual warm greetings with a small nod and sat down at one of the seats by the counter without hesitation.
She received a warm, wet towel from Shinobu with her weary hands and couldn’t help but enjoy the feeling.
Eleonora looked at the menu while enjoying the sensation of blood flowing through every nook and cranny of her stiff hands.
The lager of this store was certainly delicious, but recently, Eleonora preferred to order reishu exclusively.
It was her clever tactic to wash down the delicious dishes and her occupational sorrow at the same time with cool, clear sake.
(TL note: reishu = cold sake)
「I will have this Dewazakura today. And then, some delicious fish.」
(TL: Dewazakura: a sake brewing company brand)
「Do you want it grilled? Or do you want it stewed?」
「Oh, right…then, I want it grilled.」
Shinobu, who was serving an otoshi of kinpira gobou, conveyed the orders and brought out a beautiful glass immediately. Unlike the ‘Toriaezu Nama’, which was served after it was filled, the reishu was poured from the bottle, in front of the guest.
It was a refreshing sight to see the clear reishu fill up the glass with a ‘glug-glug’ sound, and she welled up with joy marvelling at it.
(TL note: kinpira gobou = braised burdock root and carrots in a sweet and salty sauce)
Her first order of business was to wet her mouth with a sip of the Dewazakura.
She enjoyed the aroma. While she was enjoying the refined taste of the liquor, she brought her chopsticks to the kinpara gobou.
It had a crunchy texture, and a tingling spiciness that intensified the flavours.
Then she brought the cup to her mouth again. The taste of the soy sauce from the kinpira gobou was washed down, leaving only a refreshing aftertaste in her mouth.
At first, Eleonora had eaten with a knife and fork, but since she realized that eating that way wasn’t considered “elegant” in the store, she started using chopsticks.
In the store, the usual sentries were drinking lager with tempura, while seemingly having a serious talk.
The area around the Old Capital was very peaceful after settling the problem concerning the Northern Three Territories.
It seemed that they were telling a story about a witch, but Eleonora had no inkling on what it was about at all.
Eleonora did not have a good impression of the duo, especially the one growing a moustache, Nikolaus. He had an aura similar to that of a womanizer about him.
This did not mean that he was an enemy of women. Rather, she felt that they treated women as beings who needed to be treated gently.
However, it may have also been due to Eleonora’s fear of her true nature being seen through. She believed that he would be difficult to deal with.
「Sorry to have kept you waiting, Eleonora-san. This is sanma.」
(TL note: sanma: mackerel pike fish)
「Sanma, you say?」
Shinobu was carrying a slender and long fish grilled with salt.
It looked like a sand lance fish, but the body was slightly thicker than that.
The fatty body looked perfectly grilled, and the fragrant smell tickled her nose.
「It’s the first catch of the season. This year’s mackerel pikes are very fatty and delicious, you know.」
「It seems to pair well with reishu, doesn’t it?」
Eleonora, who was nodding along to Shinobu’s words, was already eyeing the delicious-looking mackerel pike.
She gulped while looking at the dish, which had been served on a rectangular plate and had soy sauce dripping from it, with white grated daikon piled on top of it.
When she brought her chopsticks to it, the skin gave way with a crispy sound, and the flesh inside was revealed.
She impatiently tore off a piece of flesh, and then carefully brought it to her mouth.
Delicious. It was delicious.
The forceful flavour of fish oozed into her mouth with the oils as she chewed on the fat.
Finally, she washed it down with Dewazakura.
It was irresistible.
Next, she took another bite with the grated daikon on top.
The refreshing taste of the grated daikon gently washing away the taste of the oils was truly a work of art.
Something that was reddish brown appeared from inside the white flesh.
Were those the mackerel pike’s internal organs? She became uneasy for an instant, but it was impossible for Izakaya Nobu to cut corners. The fact that it was here meant that it could be eaten.
Eleonora timidly extended her chopsticks towards it while thinking so.
She ate it in one bite.
She drank the Dewazakura by reflex.
At that moment, something strange happened.
It was still bitter, but it became delicious.
Even though Eleonora had not particularly liked bitter things ever since she was a child, she could eat this mackerel pike’s internal organs. In fact, wasn’t it pairing well with the reishu?
The refined taste of reishu, and the mackerel pike’s innards.
Eleonora was captivated by the strange harmony between them.
「Does the mackerel pike’s wata suit your taste?」
(TL note: wata: guts)
Shinobu handed Eleonora another wet towel to wipe her greasy hands off on.
「The innards of a mackerel pike…are called wata?」
「Yes. We remove them from other types of fishes, as only the mackerel pike’s is delicious when eaten. It goes well with cold sake, doesn’t it?」
「Yeah, this is very tasty.」
It looked unattractive, and tasted bitter.
The bitterness complemented the taste of the cold sake really well.
Eleonora, who was filled with wonder at this discovery, held the chopsticks on the mackerel pike.
It was a delicious fish, but it was difficult to eat.
She had poked at in various ways, making the mackerel pike become a disfigured lump of meat on the plate.
There was only a little reishu left too. Just when she wanted to order another dish, someone called out to Eleonora from behind.
「Ah, that’s so wasteful. There is still a bit more that you can eat.」