The first time I cooked over here was when we were, quite inevitably, forced to camp out on our way back to the capital.
They told me it took them ten days’ travel, coming from the capital to the Elsvelt territory.
Since this was a trip that included women and children — me, mainly me, let’s be real here — the schedule had tons of wiggle room, and purposefully aimed for large towns to lodge in, but if one disregarded all of that, usually five days’ journey would suffice. On a fast horse, about three days.
Since we were also carrying Ellelucia’s body with us, we were in a hurry. According to our estimates, even if five days was impossible, we thought it would be possible to arrive in around six or seven.
Still, about the third day. As we smoothly reached the halfway point, a wheel came off my carriage. Once it was checked closely we realized the axle had worn down, and there was no choice but to replace it. Changing that axle would take some time.
“… I’d wager that, time-wise, we won’t be able to reach the next town. There aren’t any smaller villages or hamlets in this area, either…”
The larger towns closed their gates at night. Once the gates were closed, there was no getting inside without special permission.
“It should be possible to open any gate with Her Highness’ name alone.”
Lilia reassured me with this.
I shook my head. I’d rather push things like those as little as possible. This wasn’t the sort of thing that I needed to be persistent over.
“It will mean making camp for the night. Will that be alright?”
We’d prepared tents and such for camping out to begin with.
In this world, unless you’ve got an excess of money, camping out on a journey is a matter of course. For someone like me who lived in modern society, staying at a hotel or a traditional inn would be the first thing to come to mind; but here, only those with significant monetary resources can afford to avail themselves of lodging establishments.
There aren’t that many properly lodging establishments, either, and if the town isn’t of considerable size there won’t be any at all.
When there aren’t any lodging establishments, most folks just head for the churches. You can ask to stay in the practitioners’ lodgings if you give alms at the church.
Our troupe was a large one, numbering about 80 people. Large townships aside, in the small towns, even if we split up there wouldn’t be enough lodgings for all of us.
The town where we lodged the previous day was also small, and while we rested at the church, the knights pitched their tents in the area surrounding the church house. For them camping out was recognized as the obvious choice, and if we could bear with it there was no problem whatsoever.
Though it was the gold season and an icy half-month, the snow wasn’t nearly as deep in this area. I figured it would be perfectly fine for one night, so long as the fires weren’t neglected.
Moreover, they had dressed me in knitted wool tights, a cloak and hood made of pelts inside and out, and even boots lined with fur. My cold-defense stats were off the charts.
It was decided that a waterfront a little off the main road would serve as our campsite. There was a stand of trees to serve as a windbreak, and it was a place where visibility wouldn’t be compromised.
The knights busied themselves with pitching the tents and taking care of the horses, and my maids were assigned meal prep as their work.
Their inability to help with the heavy lifting was part of it, but I bet they just wanted to be able to eat as soon as possible.
“Please rest over here, Your Highness.”
The knights stacked stones together to prepare a simple hearth, and placed a chair next to it.
I would be sleeping in the carriage after the horses were relieved of their gear. One could make a cot by pushing down the seatbacks in the carriage and rearranging the cushions. Beside it, a small, dual-layered tend had also been prepared.
From the back of the wagon they unloaded stacks of boxes filled with vegetables and a large cauldron.
When travelling like this, most cooked for themselves. Inns aside, when lodging at a church or at a noble’s mansion, borrowing a place and preparing meals — primarily of vegetables — was apparently quite normal.
“What are you making?”
“The main staple of the army are their biscuit rations, so I thought to make a soup to go with them. … And one who was skilled at hunting was able to get a pheasant, after all.”
Hunting while on the move was also common sense. If they didn’t, they would almost never be able to get their hands on fresh meat of any kind.
“I see. I’m looking forward to it.”
I smiled a little. Lilia and the other maids smiled as if delighted.
One smile led to another. My depression lightened.
(At any rate, their way of doing things is so terrible.)
In Dardinia, the wives and daughters of nobles almost never cooked for themselves.
They might discuss with the cooks to decide on a menu, but though they had complete command over what was had at a dinner, they almost never cooked with their own hands. It was a trend that escalated in equal proportion to one’s rank.
Julia dropped the potato she was peeling, and Alice cut her thumb.
“What on earth are you doing.”
Lilia looked at them, dumbfounded.
As expected of Lilia, she was quite handy. Miladie, the daughter of manager for the royal pasturelands and an experienced cook, and two who were struggling so strenuously.
It’s not like cooking is taken lightly.
Just the opposite, on this side, chefs are recognized as a technically-specialized profession capable of securing an impressive salary. Though the butler is the highest-earning position among servants , they say a skilled chef can earn pay to rival that of the butler.
If one can become the Head Chef in a noble’s mansion, they’ll be treated like a celebrity in their hometown; and when a pauper from an agricultural community decides to aim for a better career, it’s said their first choice is often to become a chef.
But it’s not as if their cooking facilities are all that advanced, and accidents are plentiful. Because the kitchen fires are always in use, kitchens are considered dangerous; keeping women and children out of the kitchen was an idea born out of the knights’ chivalric spirit, and apparently this is why even now noble women and their daughters don’t often enter the kitchen.
As for the people in the urban and rural areas, it’s the complete opposite; cooking is a housewife’s most important job, and the men keept well away from the kitchen so they aren’t under foot.
(Today, if they take too much time it seems like there’ll be a lot of complaints…)
We weren’t able to take a proper break at midday. The sun was starting to set already, and no doubt everyone was hungry.
The knights were more than used to camping out, and skilled as they were their preparations were already nearing completion.
Leaving us aside, it wasn’t like all the men would be able to get in the tents. More than half would remain by the fire, huddled together. At the very least, I wanted to hurry up and have them eat something that would be able to warm them to the core.
“… I shall do it, too.”
“There’s a dish I’ve read about. A dish to warm the body. I shall make it.”
Sorry, that part about reading it in a book was a lie. Though it was my first time cooking for so many out in the open like this, but it would be better than leaving it to my wholly unreliable maids.
Before Lilia could say anything, I appropriated the knife Alice had been using.
I was planning to just watch from the sidelines, I swear. But it was absolute agony just sitting there doing nothing, and I wanted to cook for the first time in a while.
“Alice, after your injury has been seen too, have the knights draw water in the pot.”
“After, please line the spices up on that board over there.”
My hands moved. Though they’d become so much smaller, I could still make use of the knife. I was so glad. The senses in my fingertips hadn’t dulled.
“Over there, if anyone’s hands are free, come peel the potatoes. No need to peel the carrots and dahae, just wash them well… and mince them like so to about this size.”
I showed a sample to the knights, as it seemed like it might have been a while since they last did this. Dahae is a green-colored radish. The flavor is refreshing with no peculiarities, and it looks just exactly like a radish, it’s just a strange yellow-green all the way through. If there was time, I really wanted to boil it and have some with miso.
“Rinse the mushrooms lightly. Has the meat been dressed? Good. Now, cut it down to bite-size.”
In cases like this, what you need most is speed.
Looking at the spices they lined up, I found the miso. It was flavored like barley miso from Kyuushuu. When you gave it a taste they’re just alike, yaaas! I thought. I love barley miso.
(Let’s go with a miso-flavored pheasant soup. With plenty of ginger and onions.)
I shredded a ton of ginger, and mixed half of it with the miso. Then I washed it with wine, and tucked the salted pheasant meat into it. I wish I could let it marinade for at least an hour, but this was no time for such luxuries.
Our total operation head count was in excess of 80 people. Cooking for that many people took a lot of work.
“I wonder if there will be enough soup bowls for everyone?”
Nearby, a person with pale blonde hair answered my question.
“As every soldier carries at least three meals’ worth of provisions with them at all times, the lid on the tin they are kept in is used in place of a plate, and the container itself serves in place of a soup bowl.”
“Is that so? Isn’t the tin hot?”
“It is quite hot. But we’re used to it, after all.”
First I’d heard of it.
Apparently you can even use that tin to cook. It might be something along the lines of standard camping cookware. … Don’t tell anyone, but I kind of wanted one, myself. No, well, not that it seemed I’d ever really have a chance to use it.
“Ah, wash this. Wash those mushrooms, too. Add plenty of oil to the pot… Just like that.”
Among the troupe, there were squires who were cooks. These two, named Greg and Olle, took charge of the actual cooking process for me, since I didn’t have the strength.
“To start, saute the ginger.”
I sliced red peppers and mixed them in to the half of the shredded ginger I’d set aside.
The sizzling sounds and the fragrance wafting out into the evening winter air soon drew everyone’s attention our way.
“Take out the meat… and add all the miso to the saute.”
The fire became steadily more intense. The fragrant smell of cooking ginger was amazing.
Next was to fry the pheasant meat. The key is to cook the ginger first for a bit, you see.
I realized the stick they were using to stir the pot was the axle we’d changed out.
“Aah, that was the axle. It’s perfectly fine. We’ve shaved off the outer layer.”
(No, that’s really not the problem here… forget it. We’re going to pretend this doesn’t bother me…)
Next was to take the vigorously boiling hot water in the cauldron and port it in. It gave off a loud, bubbly popping noise, and emitted an intense wave of steam.
A few drops hit my hand and surprised me. Even though it just surprised me, Greg and Olle’s faces went obviously pale. I stopped them before they could take to their knees and apologize, and continued instructing them in their procedures. Something like that was just hardly worth mentioning.
“I’m fine. It just splashed a bit. … Ah, toss those vegetables in.”
Once the vegetables were cooked, I finished it off while taste-testing. The ladle was of a normal size. It’d be good and lost if I dropped it in the pot, I guess… that’s just how big the cauldron was.
I dunked the ladle in the bucket of salt and tossed it in the soup. It might have been overly generous for the dish, but there wasn’t any helping it at these proportions.
As a final touch I poured in copious amounts of white wine, and Count Schtazen made a face that said he thought it a waste. Apparently he was quite fond of his wine. But that alcohol was going to give it a whole new depth of flavor.
“… Is it finished already?”
It was the young man who had been waiting nearby since earlier. He was the epitome of a well-bred, well-raised young master. As an aside, he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen.
I could totally understand why Alice and Julia had been so self-conscious for a while now.
“Yes. Ah, before you eat it, feel free to add in as many onions as you like.”
… O- oh? Is it possible that this person is that… Umm, that third elder brother attached to my guard?
“Your Highness, this is quite delicious. Where is this dish from?”
“Aah… I read about it in a book. It said that using a healthy amount of ginger would warm the body, so I thought it would be perfect…”
Just as I was about to try and confirm it, someone I didn’t know called out to me. Since his name didn’t come to mind, I assumed it was one of the Elsvelt knights. While I was speaking with him, the person who could have possibly been my older brother disappeared out of sight. I resolved to remember and thank him the next time I saw him.
At the warm smell and spread through the night, the normally well-mannered knights sent up a cheer and swarmed the pot.
“… Your Highness, this is absolutely delicious!”
Lilia, who had tasted the dish so timidly, looked at me with rounded eyes. Somehow, before I realized it, Lilia had stopped calling me Princess.
I tried to recall when, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
But even though she was calling me more formally as Your Highness, it still seemed as though our feelings had grown closer to some extent.
“I didn’t realize Her Highness was so knowledgeable about cooking.”
“It’s nothing so impressive as to be called knowledgeable.”
I smiled back at Count Schtazen’s words.
I don’t think the way the Count’s face reddened was due to the reflective light of the fire, either.
(The smile of a genuinely beautiful girl is powerful indeed.)
Thanks to that, he didn’t pursue his line of thought.
… Because as far as I know, Alterie really didn’t have any knowledge about cooking.
I was able to cover it up by insisting I gained the knowledge from a book. Thankfully, it appeared to be common knowledge that Alterie was a girl who read often.
Here and there, shouts of “Delicious!” and indecipherable cries made themselves apparent.
It seemed my miso-based pheasant soup was a big hit. I’m not exactly skilled in this outdoor feats-of-strength type cooking, but I was glad it went off well.
“Please have some as well, Highness.”
My portion was dipped into a wooden soup bowl and brought over. Together with a spoon. They were well-crafted pieces, easy to use, and fit well in my hands.
Honestly I much preferred eating with these to using silver cutlery, but considering the need to ward against poison since things are the way they are, well, that couldn’t be helped either.
I blew on the piping hot soup as I ate it, and it was seriously delicious. Even more so, as everyone everyone gathered near the fire and ate together.
Come to think, this was the first time since coming here that I was able to eat with someone else.
I was the only one seated in a chair; everyone else pulled up a stump, or sat on sizable stones, or spread branches across the ground to sit on.
It kind of hit me in the face with the difference in our statuses.
I needed to accept this as an obvious fact.
Still, even so, I felt so much closer with everyone, much more so than I had at the Elsvelt castle.
“It’s more delicious when I eat with everyone else.”
Though the words weren’t meant for anyone when I whispered them, Count Schtazen who was sitting next to me narrowed his eyes
(Let’s be sure and not forget this.)
The brilliantly blazing fire, the fragrant, rising steam, the merry din raised by the soldiers.
I was sure there wouldn’t be many opportunities like this.
Once we returned, this troupe of knights gathered for the sake of discretion would disperse.
Lilia’s face as it colored from the alcohol, Julia’s smile as she called for seconds, Alice and Miladie’s faces as they traded secrets. Ellelucia’s absence left my chest aching.
But it was very warm, and even just watching was enjoyable.
That’s why I thought I should never forget this… because surely, it would become a memory to warm my heart in the future when I recalled it.
Immediately upon return to the castle, Count Schtazen and 30 others of the knight guards, with His Majesty the King’s permission, swore their loyalty directly to me.