The set meal was a little extravagant for common people.
The eel stew soaked with sauce consisted of a large broiled eel on a bed of rice layered with a broiled egg and sprinkled with mitsuba (Japanese parsley or trefoil) and sansho (Japanese spice made from the ground seeds of the Japanese prickly ash tree).
The soba noodles were warm because it was winter, and were topped with leek and river fish tempura as condiments.
The rest of the meal was served with fresh incense and green tea.


so this is it, huh?”


 Kayo had a curious look on her face when she saw the set meal brought by the waiter.
It was a simple longing for the taste of the common people that a young lady from a good family would have.


 Eel and soba noodles are luxury items when I ate out in my previous life, but of course, it was in my previous life in 21st century Japan.


 Originally, tempura, soba, and eel were foods for the lowly common people in the real Edo period.
'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)' is also influenced by such historical facts, and these foods are not always, not even oppressed, but they do not appear that frequently on the tables of court nobles and lords.


 (And if it is the daughter of the Tachibana family, she may have more chances to eat imported food than this country's food…
If that is the case, the eating frequency would be even less.)


 She may not be a foreigner, but it is very likely due to her work and her mother's bloodline, and her reaction to the girl in front of her is correct.
The only thing left is…


 ”Shall we eat soon? It's freshly cooked, it won't taste good if it gets cold.”

 ”Ah, yes! That's right!!”


 We join our hands in prayer and eat the food served to us.


 (Oh, I knew she wouldn't make a sound…)


 I thought of that when I saw Kayo struggling to slurp up the soba noodles with chopsticks without making any noise.
Although I'm not a noohara (noodle harassment), I guess noodles are easy to make noises.
Judging from the fact that she was eating without making any noise naturally, I guessed that it was the first time for her to eat soba.


 ”Well, could you please don't look at me while I'm eating? I know I don't know the manners of this kind of meal…
but still, it's not nice to be watched.”


 Kayo opens her mouth with some embarrassment, perhaps noticing my gaze.
Well, no woman would be happy to be seen by the opposite sex while she is eating.


 ”I beg your pardon.
But you don't have to worry about it that much.
You are Yuzu now.
Besides, not many people in a restaurant like this would criticize the way you eat.”


 She says this and looks at the other table.
I can see some men sipping their soba noodles, laughing, and exchanging the contents of the theater with each other.
They do not seem to be taking care not to make any noise.
They were making a sound of vigorous sipping.


 ”…Well, I don't mean to be too elegant, but that was a little too loud.”


 Eating with pleasure is the best, but not to the extent that it causes discomfort to those around him/her is a prerequisite.
Well, it can be said that they are so absorbed in the conversation.


 ”Well, myself…”


 I eat my soba with a small smile on my face.
The sound of slurping sounded not overtly, but it was not that bad.
Yes, it's delicious.
Isn't this the first time for me to eat soba since I was born here? The tempura of the river fish is crispy and nice.
Oh, man, I'm getting a little teary-eyed because I miss it so much.


 ”…Phe~w, phe~w.


 After watching her, Kayo blew on it like a sparrow's heartbeat to cool it down, and then, as if determined, she slurped the soba noodle with her tiny mouth.
It was a lovely little slurping sound that belonged to her tiny mouth.


hamm, hahmmm!!”


 Kayo blushed at the sound she made, but she made up her mind and ate up all the soba noodles without worrying about the sound.
Then, as if to cover up her embarrassment, she started to eat the eel stew with her appetite.


 (She eats so much.
I guess she is still growing up…)


 I was a little worried about whether I could eat the quantity of food, but…
seeing her eat with such vigor reminded me of my little sister back home.
Yukine was also a woman who ate a lot.
No, that comparison is a bit rude to Kayo, isn't it?


 ”Well then, this one too…
Ah, it's delicious after all.”


 I put my hand on the eel stew again.
I lift a piece of eel stew to my mouth with chopsticks and marvel at the rich taste of the eel soaked in the sweet sauce.
In my previous life, the eel was associated with summer and the Ushi day, but that was more a result of the advertising strategy of the Edo period to sell eels that were not sold in summer.
It is the same as the commercialization of Christmas and Valentine's Day.
Originally, the season of eel is from autumn to winter, when fatty and soft-boned eels are more likely to be available.


 (Moreover, it is a common people's food, so the price is reasonable.)


 In the Edo period (1603-1867), fatty and redfish were considered to be lowly because of their perishability, and white fish were preferred.
And in Fusō-Kuni, which was modeled after the historical fact, eels were not so much favored by influential people because of their fatty flesh.


 ”…how about the eel?”

 ”What? Oh, yes.
It's a little fatty, but not bad.”

 ”I'm glad to hear that.
Well, we're here a little early, aren't we?”

 ”Yes? Ah…”


 Kayo tilts her head at my comment, but immediately understands what it means.


 The waiter at the sweet store across the street says a few words to the waiter at the diner and then heads toward our table.
I pay the cash I had received from Kayo in advance and it is served on the table.


 ”Is this…


 It was a dango on a plate served on the table.
They were dumplings covered with soy sauce and sugar.


 ”It's a sweet after-dinner.
I thought you might not have eaten skewered dango so often.”

You're right.”


 Ordinary dango is one thing, but skewered dango, which are often bought and eaten standing up, are not so familiar to many people.
Moreover, it is winter time, so they should be warm, which means that the Mitarashi dango (Japanese dumpling made from mochi (rice flour) and grilled on a skewer) is inevitably chosen as the dessert.
Judging from Kayi's reactions, it seems that I made the right choice.


 ”It's amazing.
I've never had anything like this before.
Actually, I've been on a few outings like this one, but…”

 ”You didn't have much fun, did you?”

Are you reading my mind?”


 She tilts her head and asks curiously.
It seems that in the past city sightseeing, she wasn't allowed to have common people's fun and meals to avoid trouble.


 ”…it can't be true.
If that's the case, it would be soba or eel or only one of them.”

 ”No, you're reading my mind, aren't you!?”


 She says, laughing like a child.
I can imagine that much even if I don't read her mind.


 'If it's just soba and a meal, it's not so difficult, but if it's dango, it's not so easy for a girl of her age.'


 A bee shikigami whispers in my ear.
It is true.
I should have realized that before I ordered the set meal.
I ordered the set meal and the dumplings as well, and it was only after the food actually came out that I realized it.
It seems that I was also excited to have soba noodles and eel stew for the first time in a long time.
I hadn't thought about my partner's stomach.
It was a relief that Kayo had a bigger appetite than I expected.
if you knew, you could have given me some advice.


 'My purpose here is to assist you in securing your safety, not to take care of a child.'


 But then, Botan-sama answers coldly and plainly.
Still, is this okay?


 ”…It's fine if you leave them here.
It's not good to be forceful.”


 Sighing inwardly at Botan's lack of cooperation, I tell Kayo.
It is not good to leave leftovers, but it is also not good to force them to eat.
What is impossible is impossible.
What can't be done is what can be done.


 ”Yes, it's hard to eat all three of them.
that's right!”


 Slightly troubled, the young lady suddenly looks amused.
She then picks up one of the mitarashi dango and offers it to me…


 ”Yes, please 'Aaa' open your mouth!”





 The girl declared in a natural manner and in a natural tone as if she had done it many times before.
Moreover, she added a mock devilish gesture.


 ”…Yuzu, that's the kind of thing you do with someone you're close to.”

 ”Yes, I know that.
My father and mother do it every day.”

 ”Oh, is that so?”


 It's good to know that they're a good couple.
And that's why she has to realize…
It's not the kind of thing she and I would do.


 ”Hmm? This is a date, you know? I don't think it's funny if we're on a date.”

 ”Is that what you really think?”

 ”Gonbei-san, your role this time was to entertain me to my heart's content, wasn't it?”

 ”Are you threatening me?”



 She was smiling at me and giving me a cute and mocking charm.
What a little brat.
That's why she gets beaten up in doujinshi.


 '…I'll give you my opinion, but I'm afraid she won't budge from your attitude.'


 The one who said this was the granddaughter of Matsushige's family.
She gave me such advice in a reluctant tone through the shikigami.
But, thanks for your advice.
It's sh*tty advice.
Well, then, I guess I have no choice…


 ”There's one condition…”

 ”What's that?”

 ”In case I need your protection in the future.”


 It is for Kizuki and Tachibana who are probably watching this scene, and for their report.
The reply? Guess from the fact that I was reluctantly taking a bite of the dango she offered me.
Hmm? Haha, the taste of mitarashi dumplings? It was frustratingly delicious…


* * *


 The sound of a teacup cracking is heard.
Unintentionally, several figures around turn their gazes in that direction.
They were momentarily overwhelmed by the power of the peach-colored girl who was there.


 ”…Oh, my, it must be damaged before.
It broke.
Please bring me a replacement and a hand towel.”


 The next moment, however, the strange power of the girl's brewing dissipates into nothingness, and the girl orders the nearest waiter to do so with grace and elegance, without hesitation.
The witnesses also wondered if they had imagined it, as it disappeared without much of an aftertaste.
It disappeared so quickly that the witnesses doubted their own senses, wondering if they had imagined it.


 …however, only the fox girl standing by the girl's side, with sweat dripping down her forehead, knew that it was neither imagination nor hallucination and that her master, who was gracefully wiping her hands, was boiling, seething, and raging like lava in her chest with violent impulses.




 The white fox unintentionally lets out a small, somewhat cute scream.
Even though she was a servant, and even though she was a child, she was still a half-youkai, so she had a lot of protective charms that sealed her spiritual power and youkai power attached under her clothes beforehand, but she was far more afraid of her master's displeasure than the dull numbness from it or the scorn and strange looks she sometimes receives at this table because she was half youkai in the first place.
Now, with some tears in her eyes, she timidly took the hand towel she had received from the waiter and began to wipe Aoi's green tea-soaked hands.


 ”…really, it's a very boring thing…”


 Aoi, whose hand was completely wiped away, ignored such a fox girl's inner feelings and muttered in a small and cold tone, looking around the surrounding scenery.
She lets out a small sigh of boredom at the déjà vu of the same old scenery.


 For Kizuki Aoi, the Burakuin Hall was a place fresh in her memory.
It was here that she had received her prize and rank only a few months earlier in exchange for the dead fox cub beside her.


 The large garden and the buildings surrounding it, called Burakuin, were the site of feasts and ceremonies of the imperial court and the emperor and were the place for the presentation of rank to the nobles, the courtiers, and the subjects of the court to hold events such as shairei (ceremonial archery, horse races, sumo, and kagura (Shinto music and dance).


 It is an honor to be invited to this event.
In fact, the majority of those invited to this garden party are the heads of feudal lords of the fifth rank or higher who are visiting the capital, as well as those who are in appropriate positions among the exorcists.
Aoi, who was invited as a young teenager because of Uemon's and the Oumi family's legends and her own recent merits, should have been thrilled at the honor.
Yes, if only she had a sense of common sense.


 …And Kizuki Aoi is not a person of common sense.
From her point of view, it would be a thousand times more meaningful for her to watch his entertainment toward that foolish blond-little girl, compare it to herself, and think about the meeting with him, rather than wasting her time in such a place.
In fact, she was already doing so through the shikigami, completely ignoring the delicate dances performed by the priestesses and courtesans in front of her, as well as the gorgeous dishes on the table.


 ”What do you think? How is this meeting, Aoi-dono?”


 The head of the Oumi family asks after taking a glance at the dances held in the garden.
He may feel a little hurt that his prized garden has been ruined by her, but this is a different story.
For him, it is important to have a relationship with Kizuki Aoi, a talented, beautiful, and highly-ranked exorcist with a solid bloodline, and to show it to everyone around him.
For this purpose, the destruction of the garden is probably a trivial matter.


 ”I think it's very gorgeous and wonderful.
Frankly speaking, I am afraid that a lowly girl from the countryside like me might not be suitable for the event.”

 ”Hahaha, you're very modest.”


 Aoi said with a lively smile as if to say, “Of course I am, you old geezer!” Although of course, she does not show it.


 She is planning to make all Kizuki's things her and to be his wife in the future.
She had long ago mastered all the manners and etiquette of all occasions, ancient and modern, so as not to embarrass him in public.
After all, she had no intention to embarrass him for such a single garden party, and she had no intention to cause trouble for him in the future.
That was the only reason why Aoi had attended this party.


 Well, it is complete modesty to say that she is a country girl, but it is not likely that many of the influential people who attend this garden party would talk to her.


 (Rather, they would prefer to talk to him than to me, anyway.)


 She glances over at her uncle Uemon Kizuki and some of the heads of noble and exorcist families are chatting and laughing with cups of sake in their hands.
No, “laughing” is not quite the right word.
Aoi could guess most of the contents of their conversation without listening to them or reading their mouth movements.


 Although Uemon is not weak nor a very skillful man considering that he is a direct descendant of Kizuki, he is probably one or two of the best in his family in terms of his mouth and the way he thinks of profit and loss.
The pig, whose favorite food is sugar water and kakuni (braised pork), is also a skilled money-maker and money-grower for the Kizuki.
And the people around him are similar, so one can guess what they are talking about.


 ”It was a total failure.
There are many untouched mountains in the itadon (land that is owned by the government), and I thought that if I could do it right, I might be able to get some lumber…”

 ”I heard that.
Some unidentified wild outlander attacked the lumber quarry.”

 ”Didn't you hire guards?”

 ”Yes, I hired one.
Originally it was to protect against youkai.
But these people got us all.
Good heavens, the word spreads fast.
I've sent out a call for additional help to the commoners here and there, but it seems the response has been slow.”

 ”Indeed! Those wild outlanders! They refused to join the Emperor's (Shogun) call in ancient times but they still refuse to bow down to us and rob us of our goods.”

 ”It is a shameful thing.
We must conquer them sooner or later.
We should appeal to the Emperor to issue an imperial order to conquer that savage.”


 Hearing this, Aoi turned her attention away from the conversation among the pigs.
Partly because it was of no importance to her at all, and partly because there was another unimportant guest in front of her.


 ”Well, well, if it isn't the second princess of Kizuki, is it? It's a pleasure to meet you.
I am…”


 The nobleman of some exorcist family appeared in front of her, and for the first time today, he introduced himself and said beautiful words that did not change and did not move her heart.
Aoi covers her mouth with the sleeve of her kimono and returns to the young man with a greeting and a bow that does not step out of the formal frame of mind.


 (Ah, it's true.
I'm getting more tired of it than annoyed.)


 Aoi smiles affectionately with her mouth hidden by the sleeve of her kimono, and Aoi shows a cold expression on her face.
She understood very well why the heirs of the noble families of exorcists and the legitimate sons of the noble families and the feudal lords are coming to her face one after another like this.


 Certainly, she had a good family background, wealth, talent, good looks that far exceeded the standard, and a voluptuous body that could be seen even from the top of her kimono.
If she plays the role of a simple girl who just came from the countryside, it is only natural that men would come to her.
In Aoi's mind, she had reached a certain level of mastery that such a thing is just like that.


 (It's so boring and uninteresting.
Moreover, it's really funny that even the main actor seems to be bored too)


 Aoi looks at the nobleman in front of her while responding to the person in front of her in a proper way.


 A small figure was seen through the curtain of the high throne in the main hall at Burakuin, which was about a hundred steps away from the seat where Aoi was sitting.
Probably, it was a child of about ten or so, judging from its size.
Even through the back of the blind curtain, she could see that the person sitting there was looking bored.


 Standing by his side is the deeply wrinkled, elderly man who is the Grand Minister of State, who effectively rules this country on behalf of the young emperor, who is also his grandson.
Judging from his appearance, it was easy to predict that he was not a simple man to deal with.
Even Uemon would not carelessly approach him.


 There were two men on either side of the high throne.
The graceful old man with a white, well-groomed mustache is the Minister of the Left, who is responsible for organizing public affairs, and the young, fair-skinned man in his thirties holding a fan decorated with a peacock feather is the Minister of the Right, a member of a distinguished family that has jurisdiction over the eight ministries and other government offices.


 A short distance away from them, a tall man with a robust physique, which could be seen through his kimono, was waiting with a taciturn look on his face.
He was the commander-in-chief of the army that protected the central land, commanding the four great generals who united the warriors from each of the four directions, Touyo (Eastern barbarians)・Seijou (Western barbarians)・Nanban (Southern barbarians)・and Hokuti (Northern barbarians), to conquer the rebels youkai and the non-humans, and was in effect the commander-in-chief of the national army.


 Together, they are known as the three regents and one general, the highest authorities of Fusō-kuni.
They have looked after the emperor since he was a little more than half a year old, and for ten years since then, the emperor has been stamping seals and issuing imperial decrees as he is commanded, making it seem almost impossible for him to disobey them.
Perhaps the only thing on the young boy's mind is that the banquet, which is full of grownups and small talk, will soon be over.
Aoi may agree with this point, though she is not a very kingly person.


 (Well, that's that.
Are there still two more minutes? It's a long way to go…)


 Aoi is talking lively, but her eyes are not smiling at all, and she lets out a small sigh under her sleeves.
Then, to comfort her during this painful and futile time, Aoi again resumes her only entertainment through the shikigami.
Concentrating her attention on one eye, she shares her vision with the hidden shikigami…




 Kizuki's second princess let out a dumb, even more dazed voice as her retinas projected the scene of the encounter between her beloved and her stupid, foolish cousin dressed in a winter cloak inside a bookstore in the corner of the Capital.

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