Volume 2 — Chapter 2: The Saint and the Father
“People’d be bitter toward me if I killed someone. Every time I kill someone, my enemies’ numbers only grow, and in the end the world’ll be full of my enemies. At that point, it doesn’t matter how strong y’are, you’re gonna get killed. Even if you’re strong, it doesn’t mean you’re invincible. The side with more people’ll win.”
“That…I guess so…”
“Which is why I only kill people when I got to. On the battlefield, my opponents come knowing they might die, so they come with intent to kill. That’s why I kill as well. Even then, ya get a lot of resentment. And more so for each person ya kill ‘cause ya don’t like ‘em, your own life gets shortened.”
“And one more thing. In my mind, someone who’s strong is someone who can take hits without dealin’ ‘em back. Someone who keeps their composure no matter what happens to ‘em, someone who never gets angry no matter what. That’s real strength.”
“Hmm,” Theo pondered.
“But…but look. Isn’t there a big difference between not doing it even if you can, ’n just not being able to?”
“It looks like ya still don’t get it, Theo. You can kill people too, y’know? You’re just a kid, but if ya felt like it, you could kill anybody. It takes one stab with a knife ta kill somebody. And ‘cause you’re a kid, it’s easy ta not expect it. So it’s not that ya can’t, but that ya don’t.”
Theo looked down at the knife in his hands, and went silent.
After contemplating it for a moment, I mustered what felt like considerable bravery to me and placed a hand on Theo’s head.
If he had been frightened, I definitely would have felt hurt, but Theo obediently let me stroke his hair.
“That’s why I think you’re strong, Theo. You get looked down on all the time, and you’ve got a lot more things to put up with than anybody else. But you hold yourself back, by your own choice, from killing the people ya hate.
Theo smoothed his ruffled hair, a doubtful expression on his face, glanced at me, and turned his gaze toward his knife once again.
“That stuff’s…a bit hard for me to get…”
His face fell as if dispirited, and put the knife back into its leather scabbard.
“But, it does make me a bit happy to hear Pops call me strong.”
Giving an embarrassed smile, Theo scratched at a freckled cheek.
“Gotcha!” Zero suddenly exclaimed.
“I’ve caught one as well, Mercenary! How about it?! I have triumphed over nature’s law of the survival of the fittest!”
It looked like she had used her overcoat to corner a fish. Zero proudly held the wildly flopping fish for us to see. However, a slip in focus meant she was out of luck. The fish slipped from Zero’s arms, and returned again to the stream.
Zero gave a despairing cry.
Theo and I looked at each other, and we burst into laughter.
I ended up making lunch out of Theo’s five freshwater fish and some wild plants.
It was my job to cook. I scaled each fish carefully, removed their innards, sprinkled some salt over them, and cooked them on sticks. Perhaps it didn’t deserve to be called cooking, but as there were people who cooked fish without removing their scales first, it was nothing to scoff at.
I cut one of the fish into large pieces and stewed it with the wild plants. We didn’t have any bowls besides Zero’s and mine, but I suppose that I could give mine to Theo, and eat straight from the pot.
“Nature is harsh, is it not? It is the survival of the fittest, but if even fish without fangs or venom can continuously escape becoming food, then predators would starve. In other words, I lost to a fish.”
Stuffing her cheeks with cooked fish, Zero chewed as she looked up at the sky, troubled.
Theo paused as he blew on the scalding fish to cool it down, and smiled encouragingly.
“You’ll be able to catch some in no time if you practice, I know it. I can teach you, if you want.”
“Don’t. Even if ya managed ta teach her, she’d be able to catch fish, but at the same time she’d lose all her interest in it.”
“Of course not,” Zero scowled at me for my interruption.
She then looked back at Theo, and sighed deeply.
“Theo, you’re a good child. You’re good at catching fish, and know the wild plants well. It’s thanks to you that I may eat this cooked fish, and drink this soup of wild plants. With you here, I basically need Mercenary no longer.”
“Hmmm? Is that how it is. Well, you won’t be needin’ this soup I made then, huh?”
I filled a bowl with the contents of the pot, and began to drink it without letting Zero.
“Aaah!” Zero cried in a wretched voice, holding her cooked fish in one hand while holding out the other toward me, panicked.
“H-how cruel, Mercenary! That is my bowl! You know how much I have waited for that!”
“Ya don’t need me ’s long as Theo’s here though, right?”
“I-It was only a joke!”
“Yeah, Pops. It can’t be good to make her that upset, y’know? I feel bad for her.”
I just got scolded by a child.
With Theo and Zero both gazing at me reproachfully, I felt like I had become the bad guy.
“…It was only a joke, wasn’t it?”
I handed Zero’s bowl and her words back to her as an excuse.
Afterward, as I was serving Theo some soup, Zero drank dry the soup in her bowl in a matter of seconds, and held out the empty bowl. A fast eater, as usual.
“Hey Theo, don’t hold back, or it’ll all get eaten by this gluttonous woman.”
Theo carefully tried the steaming soup, then looked at me in surprise.
“Woah, it’s good! You’re real good at cooking, Pops!”
Zero nodded deeply in agreement.
“Yep, Mercenary is a skilled cook. I’ve no doubt that he’ll make a good bride.”
I won’t. No, I can’t.
“What’re you talkin’ about, Zero? A man can’t be a bride.”
That’s right, Theo. You tell her. You tell her good.