“Devil’s Fruit, huh?”
I plucked the fruit that dangled from the plant and examined it. The round, dark purplish bulb that weighted down from the low-growing plants along the ground looked hardly menacing to me.
I was currently at the outer edge of the kingdom, close to the southern border of Purnesia. Saki had joined me as my ‘bodyguard’ for this trip. It didn’t hurt to have an extra pair of eyes, especially since we had to be wary of our neighbor to the north.
A local merchant that was working with the Faulkner Trading Company greeted us when we arrived in the area. The village of Minsk was the only sign of civilization in this remote location, which served as a supply town for the army that guarded the northern border.
“Name’s Favian. In charge of the back and forth trading between the towns up here.” The man, a weaselly-looking guy with buck-toothed pursed lips, introduced himself to us. He was dressed in the manner of a commoner who kept what decent clothing he had neat and tidy to leave a decent impression. I had heard from Dengel that he was looking for an opportunity to make it big and work in the bigger cities.
“Hey Saki, this is what I think it is, isn’t it?” I held the purple bulb out in one hand, and with the other, I grabbed my knife and sliced it down the middle. Easily cutting through the rubbery skin, the inside was a fleshy white. With my thumb, I made an indent in the soft pulp, which sprung back as soon as pressure was lifted from the area.
“That is… ‘nan da ke’?… ‘Nasu’? I forget what it’s called in English since I don’t eat it much,” she replied blankly.
“Well, I know it as an ‘eggplant’, but that’s just what we call it back home. From what I remember from anime, it’s lucky to dream about it during the new year.”
“Ah, yes. That’s true. This is a lucky vegetable in our culture, since ‘nasu’ sounds like the word ‘to accomplish’. It brings hope that we will fulfill our goals for the new year.”
Favian looked between us back and forth, wondering why we were acting so fond of it. In his mind, the object in my hands was the Devil’s Fruit, a plant alluringly disguised as food but seemingly holding a poison that made it unsuitable for consumption.
“Y-You’ve had it before, the Devil’s Fruit?” he hesitantly asked.
“Of course. Is there something wrong with that?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Why is it called that anyway? What’s wrong with it?”
Favian proceeded to tell us the significance of this area. Many years ago, there were heavy skirmishes along the border between Sistina and Purnesia. As a result, the corpses of the combatants were buried all across the fields. In its place, plants seemingly sprouted from them, yielding these purple fruits.
The locals were superstitious of these plants that apparently grew from the blood of the fallen. In their minds, demon-like beings were responsible for this flora, signified by the purplish hue that the fruit gave off.
The aura of demons gave off a similar color, so they subconsciously avoided having anything to do with things of that appearance. As such, the locals burned them away, but every year, they always came back. Since the lands couldn’t be cleansed of them, all they could do was to tell their children to stay away.
“If you eat them, you’ll grow sick and turn into a demon yourself!” Favian finished his tale dramatically with a warning.
Having been close to demonizing ourselves, Saki and I eyed each other, skeptical that a simple plant could do such a thing. After all, we had learned recently that the trigger for demonization was intense negative emotions.
“So, why is it a problem now?” I turned to Favian, wondering what the actual issue was.
“This year has been rather hectic for the kingdom as you have experienced. A new king, demon attacks killing many lords, and a new Queen right after – there has been a lot of changes to the management of territories…”
“Oh right… the lord that used to head this domain perished in battle….” Actually, he was one of the demonized lords that we fought in Engelburg, but public knowledge had been adjusted to say that they ‘participated in driving off the demon and died during the process.’ Katalina thought that it was best not to reveal that they had, in fact, become demons themselves.
“Correct… our lord had already been neglecting the outskirts here, leaving our people with little funds to purchase goods from the surrounding towns. But when he died, all support for managing the food supplies were left up to the merchants, who found it hardly profitable to remain here.”
I recalled seeing how sickly the people seemed in the village, like malnourishment had swept across them. Favian himself looked okay, but he was one of the few that had outside connections. Furthermore, he could eat his fill in the other towns along his trade route.
“Let me guess. People have gotten desperate. And seeing these growing, they couldn’t help themselves.”
Favian nodded at my inference. “Yes, and when people started consuming them, a number of symptoms developed afterward. Simply, it appears that the myths hold some merit. The Devil’s Fruit causes sickness for those who try to eat it.”
I sighed as the pieces started clicking together.
“Did the locals by chance eat it raw?”
Favian gave me a look like that had been the obvious answer. “Why would they have needed to cook it? The flesh is soft enough to bite into. Though I don’t believe that they felt positively about the flavor, it seemed unnecessary to cook such a thing…”
“Then, of course they became sick. Raw eggplant contains solanine, which is toxic when consumed.”
Favian looked at me strangely as he tried to mouth the syllables of the substance unknown to people in this world. Quickly, I moved to fill in the gaps.
“Though I can’t say how much the ones growing here have, the mana in the area is pretty healthy. It’s possible that its richness is enhancing the effects of this toxin. You can tell that is the case if there’s a heavy bitterness in the flavor.”
I recalled a few chats I had with my dad about certain veggies that naturally contain solanine. However, it was usually safe to eat a little bit of it. That was in regard to my home world. People didn’t turn into zombies from nutmeg or become battle-crazed berserkers due to consuming a spicy dish there. But anything seemed possible in this world.
“The toxin breaks down from heat, so it becomes safe to eat after cooking.” I reassured Favian that they had simply eaten eggplant in the wrong manner. After all, people in medieval times thought the same of green tomatoes, avoiding them because they were toxic.
“Oh, that’s good to hear. It was getting mighty expensive to get a priest to make the rounds curing people of paralysis. Not to mention the families having to hear the delusional screams of pain as they stammered about in their own vomit.”
A chill ran down the spines of Saki and me. Certainly, we didn’t recall eggplant doing such a thing in our worlds. The effects of mana really seemed to cause strange events to happen to an exaggerated degree.
With that misconception taken care of, I shoved several armfuls of freshly-picked eggplant into my Item Box before we headed back to town.
Since the village was starving, the best course of action was to cook them a meal. Being a chef that carried a complete travel set for cooking, it was up to the Chancellor to save the day.
Quickly, I cut the eggplant into slices before roasting them in a pan over a fire. Since Saki was here, I pulled out a jar of miso from Sanshiro and mixed it with some mirin from Macali. Adding a little bit of sugar for it to caramelize in the heat, I brushed the mixture onto the slices of eggplant.
What resulted was an appetizing dish of glazed eggplant that had a distinctly Japanese flavor to it. From the smell alone, it seemed like Saki was already drooling. And she was not alone.
The scent of roasted eggplant drifted to the surrounding buildings, causing the villagers to poke their heads out with interest. Hunger had made them crave food, so there was no doubt that a chef cooking would attract their attention.
Upon seeing the emblem on my chest, they quickly held themselves back.
“Most esteemed Chancellor, why do you tempt us when we are hungry?” one person asked, already under the perception that someone of my title would not do this for their benefit.
“What are you talking about? I came here to feed you guys. Favian here tells me that you are in need of a good meal,” I replied ignoring their skepticism.
“If that is true, then we are most grateful. But surely, you have better tasks than to offer us commoners at the edge of the domain sustenance.”
“Oh, but I am doing something worthwhile. I’ll be capitalizing on this new product here. This dish called egg-“ Favian tugged at my arm, interrupting me.
“Should we not tell them that this is, in fact, the Devil’s Fruit?” he whispered to me.
“Why? It would only scare them off. Look how happy they are eating it.” Since Saki started digging in with gusto, the villagers followed suit. Her face brightened up whenever the flavors of home danced on her tongue.
“Well, maybe not now, but when we bring it to market. Would it not be good advertisement to claim that our wonderful Chancellor had even ‘slayed the evils of the Devil’s Fruit and made it fit for royalty’? The masses are a sucker for a good punchline like that.”
I immediately saw the cogs in Favian’s mind cranking. He was looking at this as a chance to hit it big with the profits and advance his career. Certainly, the minds of many a merchant were crafty like that.
Just like the case with Pizarka, a plentiful ingredient to produce popular dishes would be the way to create a stable income for the people here. And all they needed to do was to harvest the plants growing nearby.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to erase the bad image it has currently. Creating a tasty dish for the Queen to give her approval of would be just the thing to do.” I sighed as that seemed to be the path of least resistance.
If it was Katalina, she would be most delighted with something crunchy but fluffy on the inside. Crispy eggplant cutlets seemed to be the way to go. On the other hand, Eryn didn’t like vegetables very much. The best way to get her to eat it was to hide it in a casserole-like entree similar to Moussaka, a Mediterranean dish. Shredded meat and eggplant as a pie filing of sorts seemed to be the way to go. And of course, spicy garlic eggplant stir-fry would be a staple of anyone that had a craving for some heat.
Simply, there were many more dishes to work on with the addition of this ingredient. However, when would I have the time to play around with it?
“I want to go back to being a simple chef…”
That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Not when there were so many issues popping up every day. The kingdom was still on the path to rebuilding and adjusting to the Queen’s new rule. When things became a bit calmer, then I would ask Katalina if she could let me off the hook and pass the mantle to someone else.
Until then, all I could do was sneak in these moments of cooking and incorporate them into my job of improving the livelihood of Sistina.
“Hey, save some for us!” I called out to the crowd that hungrily devoured the batch of eggplant that was already made.
Of course, if they finished it all, that would give me an excuse to cook some more. And what chef wouldn’t be happy to make seconds?
Side Story – A Moment with Dengel Berle
“These greenhorns… so sloppy in execution, so brash in judgment.” Dengel muttered as he brought up one finger to push back his glasses.
In his notebook, several scribbles of tasks that required a nice coat of paint to make them presentable loomed in front of him. Dressed in a sharp uniform, Dengel Berle was the epitome of a studious person, and he was in charge of the fastest growing trading company in the kingdom.
Of course, that position had been dumped upon him by the young lord of this region, Marchioness Faulkner, who was too busy managing the region to bother with a ‘simple’ trading company.
“Excuses, I say. If you’re going to be that careless, then just hand me the stamp, for Goddess’s sake.”
Dengel looked upon the stacks of paper, official trading company requests with the Lord’s approval, in slight disgust. He had slipped in a few ludicrous offers to see if she was paying attention to her duties; she had approved almost half of them. Quickly, he pulled them out and crumpled the papers before tossing them into the waste.
Furthermore, a few strange sheets penned by a hasty hand were glaring at him, obvious as to who was responsible. While they were true requests for trading partnerships and business opportunities, he couldn’t help but shiver at the terrible handwriting. It looked like someone had tried to scribble while wrestling chickens to the ground.
“How can one be so proficient and accurate with a knife, but be physically unable to curl their letters properly?!”
Dengel shook his head as his younger sister could do a much finer job in his stead. But the man was currently the Chancellor. Even if his writing set off the cringe of every nobleman this side of the kingdom, he was still the man that Queen Katalina chose. Claude Evers – an otherworld servant who crawled his way into the right-hand position of the Kingdom. How fate truly was a funny thing.
Dengel had shot for a comfortable position as a Duke’s secretary, thinking that he would be set for life. Even after he had given that all away for a more humble but honest practice, it didn’t take long for him to be right back in the middle of craziness.
Fortunately, it was a good kind of craziness. One caused by breakneck progress and demand, rather than moral and social ambiguities. Frankly, he couldn’t be happier where he stood, especially when taking into account Alice and his family. They lived a lavish lifestyle no different than that of true nobility, one that held power and wealth. And with such good connections, he found nearly everything within his grasp. There were even talks of daughters of nobility vying for his hand.
‘Good associates are hard to come by.’ He lightly smirked before a frown replaced it once again.
“But seriously, that doesn’t mean that I can forgive such travesties in etiquette and style!”
It seemed like Dengel’s annoyances would only continue to linger. A price he could stomach as he had finally found his place in the world.