Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
Arc 1 The Strongest Man and the Cursed Merchant
Chapter 4 Favorite Food
Puzzled, I scooped up the hot water and began to clean the dirt off my body.
My joints creaked, but somehow I managed to get my hands around my back and scrubbed it with the dried vines that were provided in the bathroom.
Bundles of these rough-surfaced vines were commonly found in the forests around the area.
I’d heard that they sold well in other towns because they were perfect for getting dirt off your body.
I once tried to pick them myself, but they were too tough and I couldn’t cut them with my strength. Yet, in the towns, even children are sent by their parents to go and pick them.
“–Okay, you can get out now.”
I heard Ideal’s voice coming from the living room.
Ideal had stopped me many times because I kept trying to leave without soaking properly because I didn’t want to contaminate the hot water.
After repeated attempts, once my body was fully warmed up and my skin was tinted pink, Ideal finally permitted me to get out.
“Why is my bath time subject to your approval? …Oh, my clothes…”
“I’m getting them washed. Put these on instead,” he instructed.
I had folded the clothes I took off and placed them behind the screen, but what I saw in their place was a basket filled with brand-new clothes and a robe.
“I can’t accept such things,” I said.
Maybe the innkeeper had prepared them for him.
They weren’t very expensive. A shirt and pants like a normal person in town would wear, and a light, sturdy robe that a traveler would prefer.
However, I could never afford to buy these things with my meager weekly income of a single copper coin.
The only clothes I could wear were rags that had been left at the garbage dump, worn until they were threadbare by someone else but somehow still retaining their shape.
“The room is heated, so I suppose you could just stay naked?” he offered.
“Are you kidding?”
“I wonder. That’s all I have for you to wear anyway. My clothes are fine, but I think they’re a little big for Shuka-san.”
When I thought of Ideal’s clothes, I recalled shirts made of much finer fabrics than those of the townspeople that looked like they were easy to move in. They followed Ideal’s body beautifully and must have been tailored by a skilled craftsman for him to wear.
“…I’ll borrow these for now. But I’ll wash and return them,” I conceded.
“Okay. Got it.”
The long-sleeved shirt and pants were just right for my body and were much easier to move around in than my previous clothes, which were so long on me that the hems dragged.
I put the large robe over the rest of the outfit.
A robe that could cover my entire body was truly a blessing for me. The better concealed I was, the less I would spread the curse.
–In the end, my clothes never came back.
It was only natural.
The innkeeper, disgusted by the mere sight of me, would never have taken the trouble to wash those rags and return them.
I didn’t mind because I still had a few things secured back at my dwelling, but Ideal seemed to have reprimanded the innkeeper.
With a face contorted by disgust and humiliation, the innkeeper bowed to me and gave me three beautiful sets of clothing as an apology.
“I’m sorry, Shuka-san. I shouldn’t have trusted him with them,” Ideal apologized.
“I don’t care, really. I didn’t have any attachment to them,” I replied, and the apologetic Ideal looked relieved when I said it was okay.
I looked at his face and my heart fluttered.
Perhaps, Ideal doesn’t hate me? I mused.
The scar on my leg felt hot and itchy, as if to tell me that it couldn’t be true.
* * *
Giving in to Ideal’s persuasion, I somehow ended up staying at the inn.
“Oh, I should probably be getting back,” I told him.
“Today is a national holiday. It’s our civic duty to rest, right?” he persuaded.
Last night he treated me to dinner, and this morning I had been served breakfast.
Unable to resist the temptation of the soft, steamy bread on the table, I bit into it, but then I realized that this wasn’t the time for such things.
Indeed, today was one of those days, several times a year, when I was obliged to take a day off.
Some merchants opened their stores in secret, but, in my case, I had to close my business because I would get in trouble if I didn’t.
But if I couldn’t open the store, that left me with a lot of other things to do.
I had to look through the dump to see if there was anything I could use, and I needed to build up a stockpile for the winter.
I couldn’t move very fast, so time was always in short supply.
“If there’s anything you need to do, I’ll help you, so just stay with me a little while longer.”
“No good, Shuka-san?”
As I stood up, Ideal grabbed the hem of my robe and, still seated in his chair, looked up at me by the slightest of margins.
Ah, here we went again.
For some reason, I couldn’t resist those eyes yesterday either and ended up staying the night.
Looking into Ideal’s red eyes, I couldn’t help but feel a stirring in my chest.
“I… I accept. But just today.”
“Thank you Shuka-san. Oh yeah, what’s your favorite food? We should eat that for lunch.”
“…Noodles with meat.”
“Ah! That’s great, I like that too!”
When asked about my favorite food, I thought there would be no such thing, but what came out of my mouth was indeed a food I used to like.
It was often sold at food stalls, and although the taste varied from stall to stall, it was always delicious. I had forgotten how much I used to like it. When was the last time I ate some?
“I guess even someone like Ideal eats street food,” I noted.
“I eat normally, okay? I’m just a humble mercenary.”
“What kind of humble mercenary stays in a room like this?”
Laughter spontaneously spilled out of me.
My chest felt warm.
When was the last time I had laughed? I’d never had such a relaxed conversation with anyone, except in distant memory.
“Ideal, what’s wrong?”
For some reason, Ideal was looking at me as if he wanted to devour me.
I tilted my head as I realized that he was staring, covered my mouth with my hand, and turned my face away.
“Ah, no! I mean… It’s nothing,” he replied.
“Why are you acting so serious all of a sudden?”
I laughed again, thinking that even Ideal could get upset.
–I wondered why he was getting agitated. The branding of the curse throbbed and ached.