At the end of the tense fight, the man in front of Claude, the King of Macali, fell limp in front of him. A collective cry from the girls sounded behind Katalina, causing her to turn around. The king’s harem had raised their weapons, prepared to fight back.
“Calm down. I only knocked him out. I don’t plan to do him any harm. He’ll just be sleeping for the next hour or two,” Claude said, quickly trying to diffuse things before they jumped to any conclusions.
“Then, what do you plan to do next? Having tricked us into underestimating you and defeating our champion, did you really have intentions to invade?” Liruru pointed her spear, aiming it right for his throat.
“Look, we just came here to fulfill an agreement. It wasn’t our fault that this idiot here jumped to conclusions and started to demand things. That aside, isn’t it better to strike a deal with the real leaders of this country?”
Liruru lowered her spear. “You could tell?”
He nodded back to her. Given how Koujiro behaved and his tantrum just now, it didn’t seem likely that he was responsible for how well this country was run. For a man that seemingly acted with his heart on his sleeve, there was likely someone keeping him in check. Who would be a better fit than the girls given to him as representatives of each island? They clearly had a much more mature air than the man who was now unconscious. Somehow, Claude had picked up on that too.
Katalina stepped up to join the conversation.
“I was asked to be collateral to promote a relationship with this country. Due to the unknown state of your country, there was very little that we could promise before understanding the situation here. Now that I’ve seen how advanced this country is, I believe even more that we should promote friendly relations between us.”
“Hmm… but as our king said, what could you possibly offer us? We are completely self-sufficient, and I doubt there’s any country that could overpower us. Don’t think that you have the upper hand just because of your Electi there,” Lyucel said with a look of caution.
“That’s true… what could we possibly offer in return? With magical device technology this advanced, the only things to match it would be land or manpower…,” Katalina mumbled as she tried to think of a solution.
“We would also have to control the influx of this technology into the marketplace so that it doesn’t disrupt the economy,” Eryn added.
“Umm…do we have to decide that here?” Claude raised his hand to break the stalemate that we were heading towards. “I thought the intention of our visit was to extend a friendly hand of outreach, not to decide how to handle the details of governing. Isn’t that best left to other parties, once we understand more about each other’s countries?”
An imaginary light bulb seemed to pop up over everyone’s head. It appeared that nearly everyone had jumped the gun. It would be hasty to make any agreements at the current state, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t convey their intentions. Personally, she didn’t think they would reach any satisfactory agreement without someone more important on their side present, like the other nobility that had taken up the previous Duke’s roles.
Koujiro’s girls, who had all relaxed their guards, nodded in agreement.
“We will no longer bar you from returning, now that we have heard your intentions,” Liruru exclaimed.
“Then, I guess that is settled…For now, I will offer myself to the King of Macali, while my companions arrange for talks at a later point in time.” Katalina resigned herself to her fate.
The job would be done as soon as the king woke up and accepted her. Though the exchange had started off in an unpredictable manner, at least no one was harmed in the process.
Still, Katalina couldn’t help but be amazed by how Claude had handled the situation. It was the first time that she had seen him in action, but it was no surprise how he had been able to achieve so much. The abilities that he had far surpassed those of any typical fighter. Yet, he showed very little indication of how special his existence truly was. She would miss him dearly.
“Wait. Is that really the best thing we can offer?” Claude’s voice cut her off.
“What do you mean?” Katalina turned around in surprise.
“I mean…King Reginald only offered you because we didn’t really know much about this place, right? Now that we’ve been here, isn’t there a better peace offering that the King of Macali would appreciate more? It’s not like he’s short on wives.”
Koujiro’s harem nodded in unison. Though it seemed like they were placed in that situation without any choice, they had strangely grown fond of him. Their faces seemed to naturally reject the notion of sharing him with yet another woman.
“What do you have in mind then?” Katalina wondered what the chef had in store.
“Leave it to me! I’m going to do what I do best!” Claude walked up to Liruru. “Say, can you show me where the kitchen is?”
“Wait, what?! You’re going to cook him food?!” Katalina’s jaw dropped at his simple answer. She looked over at Eryn, who just shrugged.
Was that really going to please a king?
Before she could ask that, Claude had already trotted away dragging Liruru along with him.
Minutes later, I was in the presence of the king’s personal chefs.
“Can one of you provide me with the recipes for ramen and oyakodon?”
They quickly brought out a cube that projected a black screen with writing. Cycling through the pages, the chefs pulled out the sections for the food I asked about.
Though I stared in wonder as they fiddled with the incredible object that stored and displayed data, I quickly shook my head and started parsing through the recipes. I could be impressed by their nifty contraptions later. During our trip to the capital, we had stopped for lunch to eat Koujiro’s favorite dishes. However, the ramen and oyakodon were missing something, which didn’t quite fit the image Koujiro had hoped for. As the only other otherworlder here, I was wondering if it just needed a chef’s touch from the same world.
Scanning through the ingredients, I saw the standard ingredients that made up the dishes.
“For ramen – noodles, greens, soup stock, salt, toppings…looks like a Shio Ramen. And then for oyakodon – rice, chicken, egg, soup stock, onion, mirin, soy sauce- wait, there’s soy sauce here? I need to get my hands on that!”
I became excited for a moment, but that would have to wait for later. I was trying to figure out what was missing. The recipe had all of the normal ingredients, so I was searching my memories for any answers as to why the food tasted so flat.
An image of the old Japanese owner of the restaurant I frequented during my college days popped up.
“Hey Mr. Yamamura, why is it that your food seems to stand out compared to the other places here?” one of my friends asked at the time.
Yamamura gave us a cheeky smile. “I doubt any of them have put as much effort in their dashi as I have.”
“Dashi? What the heck is that?”
“Can’t give out too many of my secrets. Let’s leave it at that.” The old man turned away and continued working.
Dashi, huh? That was likely the key ingredient here. Given that it was just a soup stock, it was easily an ingredient that was underestimated, especially by someone that had never cooked the dishes before. However, a good dashi was the core ingredient for many Japanese dishes.
“Hey chefs, do you have some dried fish lying around?”
“Yes, it’s over here.” One of them pointed over at the boxes on the shelf.
I searched through the boxes and found some small dried fish. Taking the fish in hand, I found a shaving block and ground some of its dried flesh into flakes. Popping one into my mouth, it gave off the exact taste I needed.
“Then, what about kombu?”
The chefs looked at me strangely this time.
The chefs smacked their fists in understanding. “I’m sure there are plenty in the waters, but that’s not something we eat. We feed our animals that.”
Not bothering to listen to the latter half of their statement, I raced out the door and towards the water’s edge. Certainly, there was quite a bit of kelp floating around the area. I scooped some up, recalling what it looked like in my old world.
After I returned, I dumped the kelp into a pot of water and set it to boil, which evoked some strange looks in my direction.
“What are you waiting for? Start prepping the other ingredients! I have to take care of the soup stock.” Hearing a commanding tone from me, they went off to prepare the rest of the recipe as normal.
Adding a copious amount of dried fish flakes to the brew, I watched it start to bubble. Though it would have been best to let it simmer for hours, I didn’t have time for that. I’d have to make do with reducing the broth to concentrate the flavor.
When it was time to add the stock in, I separated the solid parts out, which left a clear, light broth. The other chefs continued with the rest of the preparation. Pretty soon, we had completed the two dishes.
I grabbed a spoon and dug into the food. As soon as it hit my tongue, I could tell that it was a remarkable difference between what I had before. It was ready. Now, I just had to wake up the sleeping king.
“Lightning Koujiro, King of Macali, your meal is waiting for you.” I beckoned the groggy man to the table, where the others had been waiting also.
It wouldn’t be proper for everyone to sit before the guest of honor, so I led him to the table and sat him down. He looked highly confused at the current situation.
Staring down at the bowls of ramen and oyakodon that I had helped prepare, he couldn’t help but ask, “What the hell happened while I was knocked out? Is it dinner time already?”
“No, but I thought that this would be a better offering to extend a display of friendship between our countries,” I told him.
“And you all are fine… with this?” Koujiro looked around to see collective nods. “Alright. I don’t know what’s going on, but I just have to eat it, right?”
Koujiro took a spoonful of the oyakodon and blew on it, before slipping it into his mouth. A familiar taste wrapped around his tongue and tickled his senses. Suddenly, tears started to leak from his eyes, rolling down the side of his cheek.
“King! What is the matter?!” The girls looked at him in shock.
“It… it tastes like… home. How can this be?” Koujiro shoved another spoonful into his mouth. Next, he tried a bit of ramen. “How I’ve missed this… what magic is this?”
“I simply figured out what you were missing when you had people imitate these dishes. Seeing as I’m a chef and I’m familiar with Japanese cooking, that was likely the best thing our country could offer you, was I mistaken?”
The dishes that Koujiro had others copy lacked umami, which was a sense of richness in food that was difficult to describe within the normal spectrum of taste. Dashi usually contained a lot of glutamate and inosinate which invoked the nostalgic flavor of Japanese cuisine. Since he had told his chefs to just make an ordinary stock, it had resulted in a dish that appeared bland to Koujiro. For the people here, who had no understanding of the original dish, it was difficult for them to adjust it to the proper balance.
However, this had been a half-baked attempt. With proper instruction, the dishes could be even tastier in the future.
Koujiro didn’t care for all of these details. He was busy devouring the dishes with tears continuing to flow down his face. Even though we had eaten not long ago, he heartily accepted seconds on both, unable to stop himself until he couldn’t stuff anymore into his belly.
As Koujiro ate, the image of his family popped up in his mind. How long had it been since he had last thought about them? Until now, he had been so busy with this world that he couldn’t spare much thought about the past. Long had he ignored the ever-growing feeling of homesickness, which he drove away with simple amusements. However, there had always been lingering doubts in his heart.
He wondered if he had failed his parents. Having accomplished nothing in his old life, he had slowly kept himself at a distance, fearing that they would eventually reject him.
“We’ll be right here for you. We know that whatever you choose to do, you’ll be great at it.”
The taste of the oyakodon seemed to draw out those words from long ago. That’s right. They would never be disappointed. If they could see him now, he was sure that they would be proud. He could trust in the life that he made for himself as ‘Lightning Koujiro.’
With a satisfied burp, he slunk back in his seat with a blissful smile on his face.
The rest of us enjoyed our meal, albeit at a slower pace.