Chapter 33: Life in the Village (3)
Two weeks have passed since Rio arrived in the village. Although he had yet to converse with all the villagers, his presence was widely known to everybody.
Yuba, the village chief, acted as his guardian and Ruri, her granddaughter, shared a cordial relationship with him.
Rio was assigned to the vital position of supplying meat to the village.
Ever since his arrival, the village’s supply of meat had increased substantially, even earning the praise of Dora.
Furthermore, his popularity among the young women soared1.
As a result, even the more conservative villagers accepted Rio as a temporary resident.
Despite being assigned to help with hunting, it was not a daily activity.
The ecosystem would collapse if hunting was carried out on a daily basis so they had to be cautious.
As such, Rio regularly took days off.
It was currently autumn, meaning the village was preparing for harvest season.
The village’s total population exceeded 300.
However, the men in the village who were not the eldest sons of the families pursued work away from home, such as becoming soldiers.
Therefore, not many young men remained in the village, since many of them sought work elsewhere.
It became common for those who finished their work early and had a bit of time remaining to be roped into helping others.
As a result, during the days when Rio took a break from hunting, he would help out with farming work.
However, when he came to help and saw how their agriculture was managed, he recognized various areas that could be improved on.
Afterwards, Rio decided to discuss his ideas with Yuba.
「You know a way to increase the crop yield?」
Upon hearing Rio’s proposal, Yuba gave a dubious response.
If there was a better method, somebody would have already tried it before and if successful, the idea would have spread.
As Rio’s grandmother, she wanted to believe his words but as the village elder, she could not accept his words so easily.
It was understandable for Yuba to be skeptical.
「Indeed. Still, it’s impossible to alter the method now when the crops are ready to be harvested. However, it will be possible to increase the crop yield starting with the next crop cycle.」
Yuba groaned while in deep thought.
Since Rio could easily understand her worries—
「Well, for now, how about I give you a brief rundown of the method?」
Rio spoke to Yuba in a carefree manner.
「Right, you could… Then, can you please explain to me what you would do to increase our yield?」
It seemed like she finally allowed herself to listen to his explanation.
「First is the soil. We can enhance the soil to allow better crop growth by adding a solution called fertilizer.」
Rio suggested improvements to the soil first.
「Fertilizer? Is that medicine for the soil? Fumu, well, it’s like a good luck charm for a good harvest, right?」
That’s right, every year in the village, a harvest festival was held to give thanks to the land and a blessing is performed.
Despite only scattering meaningless things over the land, at least they understood the act of vitalizing the soil.
Since that was the case, it would become easier to promote the use of fertilizer.
「And, is there a specific soil needed?」
Maybe it was because of her background as a doctor, Yuba displayed an interest in the subject.
「That’s right, a special soil is required.」
Rio floated a thin smile at Yuba’s attentive response.
「A special soil? What? What is it?」
「It’s made by breaking down the leaves of deciduous and broadleaf trees into black coloured soil. The soil occurs naturally in the forest but can easily be created given enough leaves.」
That was the so-called fertilizer.
Fertilizer was widely used in modern agriculture.
Naturally occurring fertilizer usually had an unbalanced composition of nutrients. However, when compounded, one had control over the nutrient balance.
「Does something like that even exist? I’ve never seen something like that before.」
It seemed that even Yuba was not aware of its existence.
「Indeed, it does. Mixing it in with the soil will considerably improve the land’s quality.」
「Is that so? Going by what you said, can we try it out right away?」
「Certainly. If you’re still anxious, might I suggest we test it in the vegetable garden first?」
To ease her worries, Rio suggested to test it on the familiar vegetable garden.
「No, if we’re to do it, I want to use a plot of the village’s farmland next spring. We can easily gauge its effectiveness by comparing it to the other plots.」
An unexpectedly positive answer was given.
Rio floated a slight smile.
「Then, I’ll prepare for the selection and transportation of the soil. 」
「Do you need help?」
「No, it’s fine, since I’m the one who proposed the idea anyway. I can strengthen my body with Spirit Arts anyway so I’ll have no problem moving large amounts of soil.」
「Come to think of it, you did say that. All right then, I’ll leave it to you.」
Yuba spoke with full confidence in Rio.
「Understood. With that out of the way, we can move onto the next topic. Like the soil, water is also an important factor.」
「Indeed, water is essential.」
Yuba answered in agreement.
Even without an explanation, the importance of water was naturally understood.
「Currently, there is a reservoir on the outskirts of the village, but with only this, depending on the weather conditions, won’t the water in the reservoir be lost during a drought?」
Rio commented on the reservoir built on the outskirts of the village.
「Yes, but don’t you know there’s a river nearby? Ever since the establishment of the village, we would draw water from there whenever the water in the reservoir ran dry.」
Yuba gave an explanation to Rio’s enquiry.
However, even if it solved the water shortage problem, it was a very inefficient use of labour.
「While you’re not wrong to rely on the river for water, the problem lies in how you draw the water. Facilities for irrigation, called water wheels, are used in Strahl to draw water—」
Rio decided to give a brief explanation to Yuba about water wheels and how it was used to efficiently draw water.
Drawing water using a water wheel was a common technique used in the Strahl region.
If legends were to be believed, it was said that the knowledge was passed down from the Six Wise Gods to the human race.
If the water wheel performed as Rio explained, it could be used as an alternative or back-up to the reservoir.
「It seems quite convenient if possible, but even if you say you can draw water from the river and drain it into the irrigation canal, how do you plan on drawing the water? And how much water can be distributed?」
Yuba was easily able to discern the advantage of the water wheel from Rio’s simple explanation.
However, the problem lay in whether such a contraption could actually be realised.
「You see, to draw water using a water wheel—」
To address Yuba’s concerns, Rio described the construction and mechanism of the water wheel.
「Amazing, can you really make something like that?」
Aside from the construction, if the water wheel performed as well as Rio had described it, it would greatly decrease the worry over water shortages for farming.
Yuba gazed at Rio in great admiration.
「Yes, using Spirit Arts, I can construct the irrigation canal and connect it to the reservoir within a month.」
The village was short on manpower to build an irrigation canal but that problem was solved with Rio’s help.
There was no demerit in having him attempt it either.
「It’s a very attractive proposal, provided that I’ve only heard the contents. But, is it fine to leave everything to you?」
Yuba spoke in an apologetic manner.
「It’s alright, I aim to build the water wheel in the coming spring. With this much time on my hands, I won’t have any problems with producing the fertilizer either. I’ve had a lot of free time lately anyway.」
Engineering was a field yet to be explored in Yagumo.
If such a piece of technology, so ahead of its time, was introduced, there was a risk of attracting unnecessary attention from the surroundings.
Still, eventually, somebody was bound to come up with the same idea.
As a matter of fact, this idea was already implemented in Strahl and the Seirei no Tami used both water wheels and windmills.
During years of poor harvest, many of the villagers were weakened from hunger. In addition to the frigid weather conditions, many became ill which in turn sometimes led to death.
In fact, Ruri’s brother, who was two years younger than her, passed away at the age of four due to hunger and cold weather.
If a water wheel could help improve the situation, even by just a small margin, then Rio would not mind having the village attracting unwanted attention.
Those were his thoughts.
Despite having never met until now, Yuba and Ruri were his only relatives left in this world.
Rio could not just turn a blind eye to the obviously inefficient farming methods.
Furthermore, if the designs were stolen by an external party, it would be incredibly difficult for them to operate it without the Rio’s guidance.
Even if the village attracted attention, it would not cause a serious problem if he allowed his knowledge to be distributed among the village’s neighbours.
「Besides that, I can also improve the design of the farming tools, alter the sowing method, and cultivate the land more effectively.」
That was what Rio planned on doing for the village.
There were still many things that could be improved in regards to the village’s agricultural practices.
Rio walked Yuba through each one of them one by one.
「Fumu, testing both the improved sowing method and soil at the same time seems like a good idea. Improving the farming tools at the same time shouldn’t be too much work either since there aren’t that many.」
After carefully deliberating over Rio’s suggestions for a minute, Yuba muttered an affirmative response to his proposals.
However, slight resistance against the farming reform could be felt from her since the harvest would decrease in the short term.
Well, it was only natural to meet some resistance to a sudden proposal for an agricultural reform.
It is the result of suddenly changing one’s lifestyle.
「Understood. I’ll consult the village blacksmith about the farming tools then.」
「Mhm. I think I’ll have you oversee the agricultural reform next spring.」
「Is that really all right?」
Rio was about to add ”—for an outsider like myself?” but ended up shutting his mouth.
Despite only temporarily, Yuba had accepted him as a member of the village.
It would be disrespectful to say something insensitive like that.
「Don’t worry about that. Instead, try to achieve some results by all means, okay?」
Yuba showed him a gentle smile as she spoke.
Rio straightened up and gave a strong bow.
Having received permission, Rio quickly put his plan into action.
He headed into the forest, which served as the village’s hunting grounds, and dug up some suitable soil containing compost. Gathering the collected compost, he returned to the plot of land entrusted to him.
Since the soil’s acidity levels in the area were similar to those back in Japan, Rio decided to sprinkle some ashes of burnt plants into the soil mix.
Even though mixing in human and animal excretion would greatly improve the soil’s quality, the psychological resistance would likely be too great.
While rice plants could be grown in the region, it was difficult to cultivate. Fortunately, rice bran could be used as a substitute.
By planting the rice-bran just before the winter, fermentation should be completed by the time spring arrived resulting in fertile soil.
Although it would take time for results to become evident, such was agriculture.
Rio did not know how long he would stay in the village, but at least, he would stay until his agricultural improvements yielded visible results.
If that was the case, it would probably be until around next autumn.
Furthermore, Yuba’s words in regards to his parents also weighed on Rio’s mind.
He was finally able to visit his parents’ graves but his worries only grew.
It was the main reason why he chose to stay in the village for a while.
As a result, Rio prioritized familiarizing himself with the village.
Despite obtaining Yuba’s permission to stay, he might be driven out by the other villagers if he could not clear his suspicion with the rest of the village.
In order to not face harsh resistance in such an isolated community, he had to make compromises.
Rio had lived in rural areas in his previous life and understood as much.
Fortunately, he felt that the majority of the village treated him amiably during the last two weeks.
On one such day, Rio strolled around the village in search for those needing help with repairing their tools or houses.
Even though there were a handful of craftsmen in the village, they were lacking in manpower and could not afford to help with everyone’s problems.
As such, many were deeply thankful for Rio’s assistance on what would usually have taken much longer.
「Thank you very much! You saved us. When my husband said to leave it to him, I became terribly worried.」
A woman with well-rounded proportions spoke to Rio with a cheerful laugh.
Her name was Ume.
She was referred to as the village’s hero and held a highly regarded position in the village.
「It’s nothing, I’m just glad to be of use. Don’t be afraid of calling me if you need help again.」
Just a few minutes before, Rio had repaired the walls of her house and made sure no cracks were left for drafts to enter.
「You really saved us, you know. When I heard an outsider had arrived at Yuba-sama’s house, I was worried what kind of man he was. However, a handsome gentleman like you is always welcome.」
Ume thanked Rio while floating a refreshing smile on her face.
Afterwards, he passed by several houses, greeting their residents and offering to repair any damages.
At first, many sent him dubious looks.
However, when Ruri came along testifying his repair skills, many allowed him to repair minor tools as a test.
Upon seeing his remarkable handiwork, they were full of admiration and continued asking for repairs for various other things.
It could be said that the results were extremely agreeable.
「Geez, Rio is really versatile. You can cook, hunt, you’re knowledgeable about agriculture, and you have dexterous fingers. You can compound medicine too, right? Aren’t you the single most sought person in the village?」
On their way back from work, Ruri said such a thing with a bright smile as the two of them made their way back to the village chief’s house.
「I’m just a jack-of-all-trades. I’m no match for a master of a single art.」
Rio answered her with a wry smile.
「Nnh, I don’t think that’s true at all. For somebody who can do everything, the village is extremely grateful.」
Turning her face slightly, Ruri stole a glance at Rio’s face.
「Even if it’s just a bit, I’m glad I’m of use.」
He could tell from her words that those were her true feelings.
It was similar to placing absolute trust in an obedient younger brother.
With a tinge of embarrassment, Rio thanked her.
Suddenly, a voice that could hardly be called favourable was heard from behind.
The two of them turned around.
There, stood a boy slightly older than Rio.
He was around 16 or 17 years old.
「Ruri and the elder might have accepted you, but I will never recognize you!」
As soon as they faced him, the boy spat out those words with open hostility.
Rio was at a loss for words as he gazed at the young man who was not even trying to hide his antagonism.
「Shin, what are you spouting all of a sudden? You’re being rude towards Rio.」
When Rio was at a loss over how to respond, Ruri took a step forward and said those words in Rio’s defence.
Rio already had some guesses as to why the boy was so hostile towards him.
Perhaps he thought that an outsider like Rio would disturb the peaceful life the village had led up until now.
He wanted to protect that peace.
Perhaps he took action with these thoughts in mind.
Such people commonly appeared in isolated communities.
In a sense, his worries were justified.
Despite only being a small village, it was an important home for them.
For that reason, Rio was troubled over how to respond to him.
「Tch, Ruri has nothing to do with this! That person is an outsider!」
The youth by the name of Shin became enraged and brushed off Ruri’s reprimand.
「So what if he’s an outsider? Obaa-chan already gave him a permission to stay in the village. Besides, he’s also helping out around the village, you know?」
With a look of disgust, Ruri glared at Shin.
「Heh— Hah! All the girls in the village are falling head over heels for such a frail weakling.」
However, Shin spoke without even hiding his disgust towards Rio.
A scornful scowl was directed at Rio.
「Ara, Rio isn’t weak, you know. I’ve seen how muscular he is.」
「Wha— you, and that bastard…」
Hearing Ruri’s easily misinterpretable words, Shin’s face became beet red as he fumbled over his words.
（I guess in a sense, I’m disturbing his peace…）
Judging from his reaction, Rio could see why Shin was so hostile towards him.
「Also, since you were chosen as Dora’s apprentice, why don’t you ask Rio for some advice? You should know that he’s quite skilled at hunting.」
Even though Ruri was trying to defend Rio, her words were fanning the flames instead.
「Ha— Hah! Wh— Who the hell’s gonna ask that bastard for advice!? Just watch, I’ll become a far better hunter than him in no time!」
As expected, Shin seemed to hold a strong sense of rivalry against Rio.
Receiving such blatant hostility, Rio let out a dry laugh.
Disproving of Rio’s reaction, Shin clicked his tongue and quickly left.
「Geez, he’s such a child despite being older than me. Sorry about that, Rio.」
「Ah, don’t worry about it. When an outsider like myself intrudes on your territory, it’s only natural for you to desperately want to defend it.」
Gazing at Shin’s retreating figure, Rio let those words flow from his mouth.
It was the gaze of a troubled parent watching their child throwing a selfish tantrum.
「Yeah. …Thanks, you know?」
Glad that Rio did not become offended, Ruri thanked him with a thin smile.
After all, Shin was still a member of the village.
Afterwards, they made haste home and ate dinner.
In the dead of night, lit solely by the moonlight, Rio vigorously trained with the sword he received from Dominique.
The effects of being tardy for only a single day would still be evident three days later.
That was why ever since he came to this world — during his travels and even after settling in this village — he would do his best to not miss a single day of training.
One could say it had already become a habit for him.
Continuing to repeatedly swing his sword, he made sure to ingrain the movements into his body in order to never become dull.
Whenever Rio swung his sword, the sharp and distinct whirring sound of a blade sailing through the cool air resounded, like a chorus of crickets crying in the night.
The cool breeze carrying the night fog brought a pleasant sensation to his skin.
The trees lightly shook from the slight breath of cold air.
After finishing his sword practice, Rio moved on to polishing his martial arts skills.
He focused on his training for several dozen minutes without even taking a break before noticing that Ruri had been silently watching him.
「It’s not really interesting to watch you know?」
He called out to Ruri with a wry smile.
「Ahaha, you noticed?」
Ruri reacted to his words with a hint of embarrassment.
「Thank you for your hard work. I was fascinated by your movements, so I unintentionally ended up watching. It kind of resembles a dance of sorts.」
「It’s nothing like that, you know. It is an art for murder after all.」
Rio smiled wryly at Ruri’s words of admiration.
「Uhm, that, could it be that Rio has killed someone before?」
Ruri timidly asked him such a thing in a strained voice.
「…No, not yet, at least.」
Rio answered her in a firm voice.
Ruri spoke in a relieved tone upon hearing Rio’s answer.
A person’s life was cheap in this world.
Many died from illness.
Many were killed in wartime.
And much more were murdered by bandits.
As a result, for someone bearing arms such as Rio, it would not be surprising if he was attacked and killed his assailant in self-defence.
However, Ruri was relieved to know that his beautiful, dance-like movements were not developed for murder.
「Why did Rio learn martial arts?」
Out of the blue, such a question leaked out of Ruri’s mouth.
Rio’s martial arts carried an awe-inspiring magnificence.
Even from the eyes of an amateur, she was able to tell that he could not have arrived at that point solely through talent and superficial effort; his motives weighed on her mind.
「Haha, back when I was small, it was for a very simple reason.」
Rio answered her enquiry with a wry smile.
「When you were small?」
Ruri questioned him further with evident curiosity.
「There is this girl I love, I wanted the power to protect her.」
He awkwardly told Ruri his original motivation.
「Hee~ so Rio has a person he loves?」
Ruri asked in a tone full of interest.
「Yes, there is.」
From those words alone, she could understand his sentiment.
Ruri looked at Rio, admiring how he could openly declare his feelings without hesitation.
「I think that is a wonderful reason. Does she still reside in Rio’s hometown?」
「Yeah, probably. We were separated when we were young and are probably strangers by now. I don’t even know if we can meet again, even if I returned…」
Ruri thought Rio looked somewhat lonely when he spoke those words.
However, she was hesitant to pursue the subject any further.
「You may not be able to meet her, yet you continue to train?」
「…I’m just afraid of losing something I dedicated so many years into.」
Rio spoke with a distant look on his face.
It was the connection to his childhood sweetheart that he was really afraid of losing.
It was for her that Rio started martial arts.
Although he was the one who arbitrarily started it in high spirits, he was afraid that his only remaining connection with her might really be broken if he stopped.
「Then, surely the two of you can meet again one day! As long as Rio continues to believe, nothing is impossible.」
Feeling his uneasiness, Ruri spoke a few words of encouragement.
Rio lightly laughed at Ruri’s sincerity.
「You’ll get cold just standing there. You should come back quickly.」
The late night breeze was already cold despite fall having not arrived yet.
It would not be smart to stay outside without exercising.
「Okay. I’ll go sleep soon since I have to get up early tomorrow anyway.」
Rio nodded at Ruri’s words.
Feeling the autumn chill, Rio wrapped his arms around his body.
「Okay, good night.」
「Good night. Rio shouldn’t stay up late since it’s bad for you, you know.」
As he saw off Ruri, Rio unconsciously looked up at the night sky.
At that very moment, by a stroke of pure luck, he saw a shooting star.
Mesmerized by its beauty, Rio stood there watching the night sky for a while longer.