「Okay, first of all eat this soup.」
I said and handed Kuu the big bowl of soup I had ladled out before making my announcement to the rest.
「Eh? Why are you doing this Cryil-sama?」
「I won’t bring up the next topic until you finish eating.」
「But, I have my own portion already…」
「Yeah, I certainly did give you your portion…but after I made a delicious hot soup someone ignored it and let it go cold. I can’t let my pride as a cook get wounded by someone eating my soup all cold. So I’m going to have you eat this hot portion. This is what I want you to do. Do you not want to?」
I asked and Kuu shook her head and grabbed the spoon with a smile that looked as if she was crying. She slowly raised the spoon to her mouth.
After the first spoonful she her eyes changed as she suddenly started eating the soup with incredible speed.
Unlike the cups this bowl had more room. Kuu instantly consumed two full cups of soup.
「Fuu, it was delicious. This is the most delicious soup I’ve ever eaten. The meat was especially soft and the taste feels kind of nostalgic.」
「Hearing your words makes the effort worth it. Also Kuu…before we speak as our respective representatives…I want to speak to you as friends first.」
I suddenly stopped talking…I was at a loss for words because I felt a bit embarrassed.
「I’m glad you’re alive Kuu.」
I might have been embarrassed but I needed to convey it.
After emptying my heartfelt feelings I couldn’t help but smile.
It wasn’t like the smile I put on while giving out the soup. It was a smile celebrating the safety of my friend from the bottom of my heart.
「It must have been really hard for you Kuu. You must be truly sad about your father and the other Fire Foxes. But I have to say…I’m really happy that I could see you again Kuu.」
「Kuu, right now we’re talking as friends. Plus it’s only us around here. I don’t want to hear you call me that.」
「But…I as the Chief, and Cryil-sama as the Elf, the Leader of Erucy…」
Kuu’s voice was trembling.
I was sure that she was the same as the rest of the Fire Foxes…she didn’t have the opportunity to mourn.
Because the pressure weighing down on her was so great it would take much more time for her to open up. I wanted to help this process along.
「Even so we are friends. It hurts to watch you pushing yourself like this Kuu. The Kuu I knew was a much more honest and lovely girl.」
「Cyril…sama…no Cyril-kun…if you tell me stuff like that…I won’t be able to hold back my tears.」
「It’s fine. I already knew you were a crybaby Kuu. You don’t have to forcefully keep up appearances. If you insist, I might have to put another frog down the back of your clothes…maybe then your silly stubbornness will disappear.」
「Even if you say that…I know the mischievous and cheeky Cryil-kun…too」
「Even now I’m still mischievous and cheeky.」
After hearing my words Kuu’s face crumpled into tears yet there was a nostalgic smile on her face.
「Really, that part of you never changes…but I feel like you’re more kind and grown-up than the Cryil-kun I knew.」
「After five years it’s given I’d grow up. Kuu also grew up splendidly. If it was the past crybaby Kuu then you might have already ran away. But you’ve been properly enduring all the way up til now right? Just like I said, there are no Fire Foxes around here. Just us friends. So you can rest for a bit.」
Kuu was still only fourteen. Even so she was forced to become the Chief and led everyone here.
All the way here she couldn’t show her sadness or pain. She was still at the age she wanted to depend on someone…but she took on the other Fire Foxes’ sadness and suffering and fulfilled her responsibilities.
She had encouraged and guided everyone until they reached Erucy…it must have been torturous. She must have felt such fear when Roleau started yelling at her and arguing. Even when negotiating with me the sense of responsibility must have been crushing.
But even so Kuu fought through it all without escaping.
I respected her as a friend for all she did.
「Un…I tried really hard.」
Kuu said and shoved her face into my chest.
「I’m the Chief so I couldn’t complain to anyone. I was scared and uneasy but I had to tell everyone everything was alright…tell them it would be fine once we reached the forest and the Elves even though I was unsure myself…but I kept encouraging them…once we got here Roleau and the rest tried to drive us away…I wasn’t afraid of Roleau…I was afraid of the Fire Foxes behind me.
Thinking that they’d scream that I was a liar since I was the one who said we’d be safe once we reached this village. Not knowing where we’d go next…my mind was a sloppy mess…I couldn’t say anything because everyone’s hopes were resting on me…」
I’m sure that many times during the journey here the Fire Foxes’ hearts were on the verge of breaking. But even so they withstood it and journeyed to reach Erucy where hope lay……it was because they believed in Kuu who led them here.
「When I thought everything was ending Cyril-kun arrived and covered for us…I felt like crying. At that moment, I felt for a second that I could run away and leave it all to you Cyril-kun. Without negotiating…just cling onto you and cry for help.」
「But you didn’t do that Kuu. If you had done that then I really don’t think I could have accepted all of you into the village. Since you demonstrated the value of the Fire Foxes I could incorporate you into the village. At that moment only you could have done that Kuu. You should be proud.」
That wasn’t a lie.
I thought of Kuu as a friend. I also knew that the Fire Foxes were a helpful existence.
Even so if they had one-sidedly asked for protection and shelter, Erucy didn’t have the capacity to accept them. It was because they showed they could provide valuable service to Erucy that they were accepted.
「This is weird…I’m being comforted by the person I’m supposed to negotiate with…」
「This is friend time. Once it’s negotiation time I’ll be strict.」
「I can’t switch roles that easily.」
「If it’s Kuu…I believe you can do it. That’s why I can treat you so kindly like this.」
「You’re even strict with kindness…」
Kuu said and wiped her eyes.
「Thank you very much. I’m alright now. Let’s end our talks as friends for now. From now on we will speak as representatives. Cryil-sama.」
Kuu emphasized the -sama when she referred to me.
This must be how she distinguished between treating me as a friend and treating me as the Leader of Erucy.
「Alright. I have some things I want to ask. Why did you Fire Foxes come to Erucy? Did you find out that we escaped from the Empire’s control? Also…looking at how there isn’t a single male guard with you…it feels like your group is insurance or a sacrificial pawn. Why would you be in this group as the Chief’s daughter Kuu?」
I didn’t sugar coat my words.
I had to know.
What the Fire Fox Village had done was unnatural.
Us Elves had only very recently escaped from the iron grip of the Empire….why would the Fire Foxes send their people here if they thought we were still under Imperial control?
I can understand them wanting the women to escape…but why wouldn’t they provide even a bare minimum of a few men as guards?
Furthermore this group was too small. The Fire Fox Village was wealthy from the salt trade. They had a population of at least 400 people. Even if it was only women who escaped, 50 was far too few.
If you derived from there…they probably split them into groups to diffuse the risk.
By sending them to Erucy they could preserve their bloodline even if the main group failed.
That was the only reason I could think that they had no guards and only a small group.
「Insurance or a sacrificial pawn huh……how unpleasant. But I can’t say you’re wrong. Alright then I should start from the beginning.」
Kuu said without denying my conjecture and took a deep breath.
She then slowly began to tell their story.