༺ Problem Child Counseling (2) ༻
EP.60: Problem Child Counseling #2
I took Saladin down the back mountain and left through the academy’s main gate.
There was no problem leaving the academy since Saladin’s student ID had already been prepared in his room.
At first, Saladin tried to escape from my shoulder with all his might. However, he soon realized that he couldn’t run away, or perhaps he felt ashamed of being carried like luggage, so he agreed to behave and walk on his own feet, and I let him down.
“Where on earth are we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
Saladin seemed a bit scared and tensed up as he walked, perhaps because I didn’t ask any questions and didn’t have any conversation, and we were just going somewhere.
“If I die, the Al-Kamil royal family will surely protest to the empire-“
“…It’s not like that, so don’t worry.”
Did he imagine that I would take him somewhere and silence him? How many assassination threats did he suffer in his homeland that he even thinks an academy instructor might kill him?
Saladin might have thought that some unidentified men were waiting for him in a dark alley, but the place I took him to was a tram station.
We took the tram and arrived at District 8 of the city, the Free Market Street.
The market street, which had been caught up in a protest a few days ago and had caused a disturbance, was bustling with people again as if nothing had happened just two days later.
The noise of merchants calling customers, haggling over prices, and various languages other than the empire’s official language could be heard throughout the Free Market, as busy as ever.
I had visited this place once before at Marian’s request, but Saladin seemed a bit overwhelmed by the crowds on Market Street.
“Wow… what a crowd of people…”
He seemed to think that nothing would happen to him in such a crowded place, and he looked much more relaxed than before.
“That, that’s Galia Mountain wine, isn’t it? In the kingdom, you have to pay at least five gold pieces for it, but here it’s only one gold piece…! Gasp, they’re openly selling magic scrolls in the market? Those precious things? Even though the empire’s magic technology is the best, it’s something that couldn’t even be imagined in the kingdom…”
No, was he just in a tourist mood?
Anyway, it’s a relief that he’s relaxed.
I walked through the market street with Saladin, whose eyes were darting all over the place. Soon, we arrived in front of a merchant’s shop selling spices.
“Welcome! Pepper, cumin, saffron! If it’s a spice from the desert, we handle it all!”
He had the same dark complexion as Saladin and wore clothes in the Al-Kamil style.
I had no personal connection with this merchant, but I remembered that on the day the future of the empire was protesting, this merchant’s shop was being attacked by the demonstrators.
I thought he might have given up his business and left, but it seemed he hadn’t, which was a relief.
Saladin looked surprised to see someone from his homeland selling goods here.
“Huh? A fellow countryman…?”
“Hmm? Haha, it’s interesting to meet someone from my hometown here. You look quite young; what brings you to this distant empire, kid?”
“What? I’m not a kid- Ack!”
Saladin was about to raise his voice in anger at being called a kid, but I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, asking the merchant a question.
“Is there a restaurant nearby where Al-Kamil people often go?”
The merchant looked at Saladin and me alternately upon hearing my question, then nodded as if he understood something.
“Aha, that’s what it was. Just go one more block behind me and look for a building with a yellow roof. You’ll find a store selling our kind of food right away.”
“I see. Thank you.”
I handed the merchant a silver coin as a courtesy and found the store he had mentioned. It was not difficult to find it, as it had a very unique sign, even in the bustling market street with all kinds of races.
As soon as we entered the store, the exotic smell of spices tickled our noses.
It was an unfamiliar scent to me, but Saladin seemed to be lost in the nostalgic fragrance as he blankly looked around the store.
Inside the store, not only were there kingdom citizens with the same complexion as Saladin, but also empire citizens like me were often seen.
I sat Saladin down at a table and called a waiter, ordering one of everything on the menu.
Then, Saladin erased his blank expression and spoke in a flustered voice.
“Did we really come all this way just to eat?”
“Well, if that’s the case, we could have just eaten at the dormitory. Why did we come all the way here…?”
I shook my head.
After finishing my training with Gwyn yesterday, I asked her if she knew what kind of food Saladin liked.
I thought they wouldn’t be too close, but they might have had meals together at the restaurant, so I asked in case she knew something.
But Gwyn gave an unexpected answer.
“Saladin? Hmm, I’m not sure. I only noticed he always got up first while eating… Oh! Now that I think about it, he barely ate. I initially thought he didn’t like eating with us, but now I think the food didn’t suit his taste.”
Upon hearing that, I understood.
Having been forced to leave his homeland and come to the empire, would the food really suit his taste?
When I first joined the army, I had to force myself to eat tasteless, low-quality food just for the calories, and I often missed the stew that Ella had made.
It’s natural for people to miss familiar food when they’re struggling in a distant land.
As if proving my assumption correct, when the table was filled with meat and fish dishes full of spice scents and various stews, Saladin’s eyes started to spin.
Saladin opened his mouth with difficulty, as if suppressing his desire to eat immediately.
“It doesn’t make sense… This shouldn’t be allowed…”
“The empire is our enemy… It’s a country of heretics… Selling food to heretics? The doctrine clearly states that we shouldn’t treat those who don’t believe in our father… “
It wasn’t me who responded to that, but a man with a mixed complexion who was eating at the next table.
He was wearing light leather armor and carrying a sword, probably a mercenary. He put down the utensils he was holding, held his stomach, and laughed for a while.
“What, what? Why are you laughing… huh?”
“Hehehe… We have a very devout follower of our father here. Can’t you understand that Al-Kamil people cook and sell food here? Is it against the doctrine?”
Saladin slowly nodded his head.
“Really? Then, according to the doctrine, we shouldn’t even touch what unbelievers have made, but the kingdom still buys ingredients from the empire and uses them well, right?”
“Well, that’s… because the person who makes the food at the end is a fellow believer… it’s okay… right?”
“What about alcohol? According to the doctrine, we shouldn’t drink alcohol either. But everyone makes excuses and secretly drinks it, and those who know, know, right?”
Saladin closed his mouth, unable to respond to that.
Then the mercenary snickered and said.
“The empire does treat us like crap. I don’t like the empire either. But has the kingdom treated people like us well? That’s another story.”
“What, what did you say?”
“Why do you think people like me and the others here have come all the way to this distant empire land?”
The customers in the shop were now listening to the conversation between Saladin and the mercenary with great interest. Even the owner of the shop had come out of the kitchen to watch.
“Life is tough for bottom-feeders like us, no matter where we go. The empire is actually a bit better. There are more jobs and opportunities because it’s a rich country.”
“But, the relationship between the empire and the kingdom isn’t good, right? People don’t like each other… right?”
“So what? The church people do give me dirty looks when I pass by. But just as I’m not a devout follower of our father, not all imperial citizens are devout followers of the goddess faith. Like this guy here.”
The mercenary pointed with his chin to a companion sitting opposite him. That person was an imperial mercenary, who casually ate the spiced meat and grinned at Saladin.
Having finished their meal, the two mercenaries left some coins on the table with their greasy fingers and slapped Saladin’s shoulder as they left, saying,
“You’ll find that people are the same everywhere you go, kid.”
Saladin looked at the entrance where the men had left, his eyes full of confusion.
I had been listening to the conversation with my arms folded and suddenly blurted out,
“The food is getting cold.”
“Stop spacing out and eat.”
At that, Saladin slowly picked up his utensils. Then, he slowly scooped a spoonful of soup and put it in his mouth.
From that moment on, Saladin began to eat the food hurriedly, as if a dam had burst. It was as if he had been starving for days and finally had some proper food.
Watching him, I picked up my utensils too.
Saladin rubbed his overly full belly, trying to soothe his groaning stomach. Even though it was his first taste of home-cooked food in a long time, he had eaten without restraint.
However, there was someone who was even more unrestrained.
Saladin looked at Instructor Eon, who was walking silently beside him.
Saladin had eaten quite a bit, but halfway through, he couldn’t eat any more and had to leave some food behind. In contrast, Eon had ordered every menu item from the shop and devoured the vast amount of food without leaving a single morsel.
Eating more than ten servings by himself at the table was so astonishing that not only Saladin but also the shop owner couldn’t help but stick out their tongues.
As if Instructor Eon had really come just to eat, he didn’t ask Saladin anything from the end of their meal to their return to the academy.
Saladin began to think of the mysterious instructor as an ever more alien creature. He felt this way not only because of Eon’s strength but also because he couldn’t understand his intentions at all.
Somehow, looking at that blunt face, he had another thought.
That man wouldn’t pity me after hearing my story.
He wouldn’t ignore or ridicule me, he would just calmly listen.
Until now, Saladin had thought that all the imperial citizens hated kingdom people unconditionally. He believed that even though they pretended not to, they would still avoid him, and in the end, he would be treated uncomfortably.
That’s why he chose to distance himself first, knowing that he would be hated anyway.
But looking back on it now, people might have avoided him not only because of his skin color and background but also due to his attitude.
Before they knew it, the tram had arrived at the academy. Instructor Eon didn’t say a word all the way to the moment they boarded the school tram.
He only opened his mouth lightly when the lecture hall station was approaching.
“I submitted your absence form for the morning, but don’t be late for the afternoon classes.”
With his head bowed low in response to the words that he would not ask anything to the end, Saladin nervously scratched the back of his head and finally opened his mouth after much thought.
Just before getting off at the station, Instructor Eon stopped and turned around to look at Saladin.
Saladin, unable to look directly at Eon, spoke in a small voice, like ants crawling.
“Please… counsel me.”
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