I brought my axe up, then down. Up, then down.
I did it again and again, ending the life of a charging beast with each swing.
My fighting style was simple — all I did was swing my battleaxe around with as much force as I could physically muster. Shortly after joining the army, one of the important people had organised basic training for us. I was taught how to use many different weapons, including the sword, the spear and the bow, but none of them had felt right. In the end, I had chosen to go with the battleaxe.
Fighting with any other weapon required techniques such as knowing how to strike a weak point or finding a chink in the enemy’s armor, which was honestly too complicated for me. Having to read the enemy’s movements while swinging a weapon around… though I knew such coordination was impossible, I didn’t want others looking down on me just because of my dull brain either.
That was why I loved using the battleaxe. All I had to do was run at the enemy and swing at them. If they had a shield up, then I cleft the shield along with them. If they were wearing armor? Ditto. The simplicity of wielding the battleaxe was truly second to none.
The drill sergeants had initially maintained that the way I fought would only lead me to an early grave. But with each time I left with only my battleaxe and returned the same way, racking up achievement after achievement, their comments had steadily grown quieter. Had my achievements spoken for themselves, or had they grown tired of scolding me?
Now that I think of it, it was most likely the latter.
My fighting style had a fatal flaw, though — the careless manner in which I handled my weapon often resulted in its breakage halfway through a fight. Even I was unable to deal a solid blow to a completely armored soldier with my battleaxe alone… and I had brushed shoulders with death a few times as a result. I could not remember how many battleaxes I had broken during the war.
That flaw, however, was fixed when I obtained the battleaxe that I still use to this day.
It had been held by Shogun, an enemy that I had slain. When I tried using it, I had found it unusually sturdy — it never broke or even bent no matter how many enemies I cut down. On top of that, it had the ability to heal minor damage (a chipped blade, for example) on its own.
I had only picked it up because I was curious about the design. But it had turned out to be an absolutely wonderful weapon — so powerful, that I had once struck myself to see if I was dreaming. The fact that it was unbreakable and I could swing it without a care in the world had led me to overcome even that fatal weakness and achieve what I had achieved.
Those were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I swung at the wild beasts.
I scanned the surroundings and estimated that I had culled half of the herd by now. Unlike with humans, I had the mental capacity to think about other things while dealing with beasts.
The remaining animals seemed to have noticed the carnage around them, for they began to retreat. Finding it too troublesome to chase them one by one, I dropped my battle stance and watched them run for it.
A realisation then hit me.
Yes, I had killed lots of beasts — but now what? I could receive a lot of yurts and food in exchange for their hides… only if I got them back to the village. There were simply too many carcasses for me to count.
I walked among them, wondering what to do. It was impossible to bring them all back even if I made multiple trips. Knowing that racking my brain for ideas would prove futile, I decided that there was no choice other than talking it through with Aruna.
I slung a single carcass over my shoulder and made my way back to her.
There I go again, I thought, slaughtering those creatures without thinking of a way to lug them back home… Aruna was surely going to call me an idiot lord again. She might even yell at me for my lack of due consideration…
Aruna’s gaze and voice were icy cold whenever she scolded me — she was probably trying her best to tolerate my actions already. Negative thoughts like that accompanied me on my journey back.
The first thing I noticed was that my yurt was complete. They were putting the final touches on the stable too, and Aruna, who was standing there, noticed my return. She ran in my direction, looking almost happy to see me.
I was taken aback by her positive reaction, so she spoke first.
「See? You had it in the bag! A Black Ghee for your first time, too — now that’s some masculinity right there.」
「Eh?」, I stuttered. 「Ah… so you call this a Black Ghee. Well, I got more than this one, actually… I got half of the herd that showed up after I sprinkled the matabi powder around. I just had no way to carry them all… do you?」
「Half? How many do you mean by that?」
「Ah… I couldn’t count them all. Thirty, forty, maybe? I doubt it was a hundred…」.
「That many? Thirty is a great number, you know? That’s truly masculine behaviour, and it really makes me look at you in a different light!」
Huh? Masculine… behaviour? Why was Aruna being so nice to me? She felt like a completely different person!
With a smile, the girl examined the carcass of the animal she had referred to as a Black Ghee. As I stood there wondering why her attitude had changed so drastically, I saw Mohr in the distance accompanied by the two Meias she had promised me.
Glancing at the Black Ghee (which was still on my shoulder), Mohr’s wrinkles shifted as she opened her mouth and cackled.
「Oh, you felled a Black Ghee? Look at you go, acting like a man already!」
「Chief!」, I said. 「I killed more than one of these — about thirty or forty in total, I think!」
「Really? That’s how a man should behave! I can see why Aruna’s spirits have lifted too.」
「Right?」, agreed Aruna. 「I’ve never seen masculinity like that before! I’m gonna get some men from the village to join us and gather all the Black Ghees that this fella… I mean, Dias killed before it gets dark!」
She sprinted in the direction of the village. Mohr, who was guiding the Meias into the stable, called for me to join her. But I simply stood where I was, lost in my thoughts.
What on earth just happened? Why had Aruna become so friendly all of a sudden? She had even referred to me by my name! I couldn’t help but wonder whether my definition of masculinity differed from that of Mohr’s and hers. At any rate, those two were acting so strangely…
What could ‘masculinity’ entail for the monsterfolk?
Now that the Meias were in the stable, Mohr called out to me again. She tapped my Black Ghee blood-stained armor with her staff.
「Isn’t it great? I remember hearing about your service during the war — and I can see that you weren’t lying! Thirty Black Ghees on a single hunt! A tale of masculinity for the ages!」
「Ah…」, I ventured. 「Mohr… what is this ‘masculinity’ you speak of? The way you and Aruna talk about it makes me feel as if my definition of ‘masculinity’ is somewhat different…」
「…Masculinity is masculinity, by all definitions. It is how a man demonstrates his value — by showing that he is capable and dependable, among other things. All that together encapsulates the idea of masculinity!」
「Capable… and dependable? Why did showing that I’m dependable lift Aruna’s spirits?」
「My child… Aruna is a splendid young lady, you know? Isn’t it natural for her to welcome a fine display of masculinity? The same goes for the other ladies in the village. You would not have been able to shut me up had I been their age!」
「Then… masculinity makes one popular among the ladies?」
「Is masculinity in a man not everything to a woman?」
「Well」, I said. 「Aside from being dependable… one might need a pretty face, right? The conversation must also be able to flow between both parties…」
「Huh? That is ridiculous! What good is a pretty face? Does that bless a woman’s womb? Does the flow of conversation produce more Meias? If one marries a man without masculinity, then their children, too, will be weak! Masculinity is everything — nothing else is of value in a man! Only women benefit from having a pretty face.」
I see… these people were of a different species and belonged to a different environment, and their values thus differed from mine. Still, for the trait of being dependable to be everything in a man…
Given that I would be working together with the monsterfolk for a long time to come, I realised that I had to rethink my worldview in order not to cause unnecessary trouble. It would be good to learn more from Mohr.
I muttered to myself as these thoughts ran through my head. Mohr, who seemed to have detected something, smiled as she spoke again.
「You want to marry Aruna, eh? She’s hardworking and a great beauty to boot, so the price will be quite steep! Thirty Black Ghee carcasses, or twenty living Meias will suffice. You seem to be able to handle the former effortlessly, so it’s all just due procedure from now on!」
「Huh…? Wait! Thirty of those things… for Aruna’s hand in marriage?! Isn’t that, like, buying her?」
「What are you on about now? It’s dowry! Do they not do this in the Kingdom? The masculinity you’ve already shown is enough to settle any woman, even Aruna! No woman from the village would object to such a marriage. By the way, as I was deemed not only highly capable, but also the prettiest in the village, my husband brought me forty Meias back in the day. His masculinity was so touching that I cried on the spot!」
The attitude of the monsterfolk when it came to marriage was jarringly different from ours. Well, I mean, finding people to live in my fiefdom was still top priority — thoughts of marriage could come later.
If I did end up marrying Aruna, though… I couldn’t even begin to imagine what life would be like.
「You look worried」, observed Mohr. 「Heheh, are you worried about the children? Fret not! The horned and the hornless together can reproduce just fine!」
「No, not at all…」
Pretending not to hear, Mohr began rambling about past marriages between female monsterfolk and hornless men like me, then went on to talk about the intricacies of raising a child. Thoughts about how different monsterfolk values were and how Aruna’s attitude had done a 180 crept into my mind as I tried to process Mohr’s tales.
I started getting a headache.
Ho ho! Marriage it is then!