DARK MODE 

Thursday, December 8, 2022 @

Chapter 27, Part 1

 Housework in the middle to early modern period was, at least physically, incomparably hard work compared to modern times, in which there is an overabundance of convenient household appliances.
 
 Fire making, cooking, and laundry could not all be done by machines, not to mention that these tasks were not the only ones to be done. After all, women were also sent to work in the fields as a matter of course, and they had to work at home and raise their children. So, it is not difficult to imagine that the lives of poor farm women, especially those in the lower social classes, are much more difficult than those in reality, even if it is a slight exaggeration to say that a farm woman becomes an old woman at the age of 30.
 
 In this sense, the boy's mother was very strong and diligent.
 
 "Oh, welcome home."
 "...yes, I'm home."
 
 His mother, who was knitting sandals by the light of a single candle in the dark hut, cheerfully greeted the boy after he had finished his work at midnight. At the same time, she started to light a fire on the hearth.
 
 "Forget it, I don't need it. It's a waste of firewood, isn't it? I'll get under the covers and go to bed soon."
 "Don't worry about that, child. We were also just cold. Come on, get on with the fire. You're already getting cold..."
 
 The mother snatches the snow-covered straw jacket from the boy and hangs it on the wall, brushing the snow off.
 
 No wonder he protests against her. Still, he reluctantly obeys his mother's words and sits down by the small hearth where the ashes have not accumulated so much and point his hand at the hearth. The warm heat gently warms his chilled body.
 
 "The leftover porridge, I'll reheat it right away."
 "I'll do it myself. Why doesn't mom go to bed, too? You've been working all morning anyway. Your body won't be able to handle it."
 "That's exactly what I don't want to hear from you. Isn't that better than a child of ten or so who works from morning till midnight?"
 
 At the boy's concerned words, his mother, a white-skinned, thin-skinned peasant typical of the northern regions, sharply scolds him, as if she is offended. A small pot hangs over the hearth, and the leftover porridge from dinner is simmered with water and salt.
 
 "Everyone was sulking, you know? You didn't come home for hours."
 
 The mother takes one look at the next room, which is separated by a sliding door. From the look on her face, the boy's younger siblings must have been very restless.
 
 "It's cold when there are so few of us. It's especially cold today..."
 
 It was impossible for a poor farmer's house to have enough futons and mattresses for everyone, and it was also impossible to heat the room by a hearth while sleeping, and there was no such thing as a bathhouse.
 
 In other words, the least expensive way to survive the harsh northern region winters was to huddle together as a family under a shabby futon to keep warm. And the boy was used as a human body warmer by his younger siblings many times.
 
 "Don't be so quick to say that. Stop being so cynical. You should be a little more open-minded and accepting of others' good intentions. You've been coming home late lately."
 
 The mother offers him a scoop of porridge simmering in a carved wooden bowl. The boy takes it with an indescribable expression on his face, murmurs "Itadakimasu" and sips it slowly.
 
 "...I'll help you knit sandals when I'm done eating."
 "Go to sleep, you must be exhausted. The material's almost gone. Besides, the work is almost done. When you got home, I was knitting the last of it."
 
 The boy's mother smiles cheerfully. Her lively laugh reminds those who see her of an adult who has a strong spirit even though she seems to be thin.
 
 The father of the boy, who was already asleep in the next room, and the husband of the woman, had been weaving dried straw silently from morning till midnight and had already finished several dozen pairs of sandals.
 
 "...don't make your father do too much work. He's not even healed yet. What if the wound gets worse?"
 
 The boy's mouth twitches accusingly. His father's right leg which had been cut off by youkai fortunately did not become infected, but it was not yet clear whether the wound would heal or not. He had lost a lot of blood, his physical strength had been drained considerably, and the severe winter cold was gradually draining his remaining strength. Such circumstances are not something that such a man could work...
 
 "Well, it's not like I'm kicking his butt and making him work. He does it by himself because he is the biggest eater and he can't just eat for free."
 
 The boy's mouth relaxes slightly at his mother's joking comment. But... what passes in his mind is his mother's expression as she stares at the rest of the meal left in the rice bin in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep, with an agitated and grim expression on her face.
 
 The boy had noticed that his mother and father were eating even less than before. The boy knew from peeking in on his parents that they had been worrying about whether they could survive the winter on the food they had stockpiled as if they were walking a tightrope every day, and then the misfortune that had befallen his father a month ago... Since then, his parents had been thinking about the little they had on hand, night after night.
 
 "......"
 
 When his mother resumes her work at the corner of the room to finish the sandals she was in the middle of making, the boy confirms that she is not staring at him, and he stares at the porridge and thinks vaguely about the future, about this winter.
 
 The boy realizes that it is infinitely difficult for him and his family to survive the cold season, which has come earlier and stronger than usual. And his parents must instinctively know this too. The family will die of hunger and cold.
 
 (Yes, if things continue as they are...)
 
 And he had already thought of several ways to avoid such a situation. But all of them were not good enough. Nevertheless, their lives would be annihilated if things were left as they were. Therefore, a decision had to be made. A decision to survive.
 
 (To survive, huh...?)
 
 The boy could feel his consciousness being guided by his dull thoughts. However, the hard work from morning till midnight, the painful reality that would never change no matter how long he endured, the anger and desire for the unreasonableness of this world that he knew because he knew his previous life, all of these factors were leading him to make an outrageous choice.
 
 (That's right. If it's just one person... if it's just one person...)
 
 Because it was his second life anyway, his second family after all, and because there were so many similar tragedies to be found in this world, the boy was gradually drawn to the choice. And as the boy tries to make that decision, defeated by the weakness of his heart...
 
 "Brother?"
 
 The words were spun in a very poor, childish, familiar tone.
 
 Suddenly, the boy came to himself and turned around to see a sliding door open and a girl standing there with a sleepy look on her face. A typical young girl from a poor farmer's family, probably not even ten years old, was staring at the boy, dressed in a second-hand cotton kimono.
 
 "Yuki...ne?"
 "Brother!"
 
 A young girl giggles when she makes eye contact with the boy. Her name is Yukine. She was born on a day when the snow piled up as deep as today, hence the name Yukine, from the sound of snow piling up.
 
 "...sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. Did I wake you up?"
 
 The boy apologizes in a small, half-disguised way, and the little girl comes running up to him, opening the sliding door. Then she sits down on the floor in front of the hearth like a throne on top of the boy's legs.
 
 "It's cwold!"
 
 She sits on the boy's thighs and complains in a child's language. The gesture reminded of a whimsical cat. Then, she sits on the boy's feet and points her hand at the hearth in front of her to feel its warmth.
 
 "Nihihi, it's wamm!"
 
 She exclaims with a cheerful expression and then reaches for the bowl of porridge in the boy's hand.
 
 "Hmm? Hey! Yukine, what are you doing! You're making your brother cold! And don't take his food!!"
 "Ehh~!? N-no!!"
 
 The boy's mother notices the presence of her youngest daughter after she has finished making sandals. She runs up to her youngest daughter and claps her hand on the bowl, pulling it away from the boy. The little girl yells in response, grabbing the boy's cold clothes and holding on.
 
 "Seriously! What are you doing!? Ahh, you're stretching ■■'s clothes!?"
 "No! No~!!"
 
 A mother scolds her daughter's resistance, and the daughter resists. The little girl grabs the boy's kimono tightly and doesn't let go.
 
 "Ow!? It hurts, it hurts...!? M-mom, it's okay. She won't let go even if you do that... and my kimono's going to get torn to shreds first."
 "Seriously, this daughter of mine! You're always playing around... but you're so perceptive! Just when your brother came home from work and was warming up, you interrupt him and even try to steal food from him!"
 "No, I was just trying to keep brother warm."
 "Stop making excuses!"
 
 The little girl was half crying as she hugged the boy, and her mother spat sharp words of rebuke at her. Then the little girl became even more unhappy and wiped her tears with the boy's clothes. The boy pats her head with a troubled smile and helplessly offers his help.
 
 "Ah, it's okay... Mom, I'm okay. Right, Yukine? You were just trying to keep me warm, weren't you?"
 "Ummm......"
 
 The little girl finally nods her head in agreement, even though she is still crying. And then, she looks at her mother with a stern gaze while shielding her brother, the boy, from her.
 
 "You've always been so sweet to your younger siblings."
 "It can't be helped, they're still little. They want to play."
 
 Smiling at his mother's exasperation, the boy takes a scoop of porridge from the bowl in his hand and offers it to his little sister.
 
 "Here, just a little bit, okay? You're growing up, I'm gonna share some of mine with you. Don't tell your other siblings, okay?"
 
 With this warning, the boy shares some of his dinners with his sister. The boy understood that even though his parents were holding out as much as possible for their own food, it was still not enough to fill the growing stomachs of his younger siblings and that they were not mentally mature enough to endure it. Therefore, he felt that it was inevitable for him as the eldest brother to give a little of his own food to his younger siblings.
 
 The little girl smiles at the boy's comment as if she were a flower blooming. She takes a bite or two of the porridge with the spoon offered to her and looks truly happy. Yes, she takes a mouthful or two of the porridge, which is too thin and poor. For a boy who knows the world of satiated food, it seems too pathetic a sight.
 
 "Ihihihi, brother! Thanks!!"
 
 The little girl smiled at her brother after taking the third bite, with the remnants of her meal stuck to her mouth. Her smile was pure, carefree, and full of genuine affection and friendliness.
 
 "......Ah. You're welcome."
 
 The boy was ashamed of himself during the moment of silence before he responded. He realized how mean and vile his thoughts had been just a few moments before. Yes, abandoning his sister, his family, to save himself...
 
 "Huh...?"
 
 As he was thinking about this, he suddenly felt a warmth in front of him. It was his sister hugging him tightly. She tilted her head upward and asked the boy who had been working outside in the cold until a little while ago.
 
 "Am I warm? Have you warmed up?"
 "...yes. It's very warm."
 
 When the boy replies gently, his sister giggles again, this time with a mischievous giggle. The sight of the child in front of him, who probably loves him without a trace of doubt, makes the boy grit his teeth, wondering what her fate will be if he does not do something. And he makes a choice. He chooses that path.
 
 "...brother?"
 
 the little girl calls out, slightly uneasy at the disturbing presence of her brother. The boy shows his sister a smile of endless tender affection and hugs her. Kyaa! the younger sister gives a small but joyful scream.
 
 "That's right. If things continue as they are, we'll all be in trouble, right?"
 
 So, he has to do something to protect her younger siblings as the eldest brother. That's why... that's why...
 
 And at that moment, Yukine did not notice that her brother's hands were shaking as he embraced her...

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