I placed the broom down. I looked to Ying and smiled: “It’s all right. I woke you up last night, causing you to wake up relatively late, didn’t I? That’s why I swept the courtyard in your place.”
Ying walked up to me and shook her head: “It wasn’t because of you. I also had a nightmare last night. It appears that the wyrm has become more active. That means there’s somebody approaching this region of the ocean. I think they’re here to rescue you, so I must go out to protect them.”
Tone serious, I said: “I’ll go with you.”
Ying shook her head in response: “No. You haven’t recuperated; you want be able to handle the sea and fight. Moreover, you can’t fight, can you? You’re just an ordinary man. Don’t put yourself in danger. If I need to protect you on top of performing my duty, how am I going to fight with the wyrm?”
Ying’s comment hurt. She completely neglected my feelings. Most upsetting was that she was right. I would just be dead weight to her if I went with her. I couldn’t fight or use magic. I could only provide her with a useless buff.
I hopelessly turned around with the intention of continuing to sweeping the courtyard. However, she extended her hand forth to stop me: “Go and have breakfast, and then head into the village to buy some food. Also, inform the harbour I will be heading out, so have them prepare a boat.”
“Didn’t you say you couldn’t leave the shrine?”
“Am I going to fight the wyrm from within the shrine?”
Ying took the broom from me. It didn’t look as though she would accept a rebuff. She wouldn’t change her mind once she settled on something. I had nothing else I could say. She was the professional at combatting the wyrm. I, consequently, didn’t need to worry about her. If my conjecture was correct, neither she nor the wyrm could kill each other.
I went into the building and slowly sat down. Breakfast was porridge and a small dried fish. The shrine certainly needed replenish its food supplies. I slowly ate breakfast while watching Ying slowly sweep the ground. Her long hair swayed with the branches. The gentle morning breeze brought with it some of the warmth of the morning sun. It was a particularly warm scene. It was as warm and harmonious as a husband and wife.
“Wait, wait. What sort of weird feeling is this…?” I asked myself.
After finishing breakfast, I stood up and stretched my neck. I felt much better. My chest wasn’t in pain anymore. It just felt a little heavy. As for my back, it was fine, other than the cracking sounds it made when I moved. Ying placed the basket for shopping next to the tray already. I placed my plate onto the tray; then, picked up the small basket.
I bid Ying goodbye, and then left the courtyard for the first time. I learnt the shrine was actually built on a small hill. It wasn’t a tall hill. I, in fact, wouldn’t even consider it a hill. I’d just consider it a tall slope. At the door were small stone steps. Underneath the small hill were fires. A small village beyond the small trees and shrubs was visible below. There weren’t many buildings. The village probably number around just over a dozen people. I went down the steps and headed to the village.
I saw a fair few farmers dressed in short clothing, carrying farming equipment. There were lush fields on the side of the road. Green seedlings grew inside them. The people I passed by were startled to see me. I could understand how they felt, since I was the only one dressed drastically differently to them, and they were sensitive about foreigners. I didn’t intend to say anything. I just headed into the village.
There were a few tables by the entrance. Children and adults crowded around the tables to eat breakfast. I never saw such a scene before. They all froze when they sluggishly watched me enter the village. The kids stopped laughing and running around. They were afraid I’d draw a weapon to attack them, inducing an awkward feeling.
I revealed a friendly smile. The adults dawdled before responding with their own awkward smiles. Then, they turned back to continue eating their food. The kids seemed to want to approach me, but a few women ran over and carried them off, vigilantly watching me. It was sort of upsetting, but there was nothing I could do; I was a stranger to them.
I had a question I wanted to ask: “You saved me; aren’t you going to ask me anything or even ask about how I’m feeling?”
I shook my head and entered the village. I looked up at the simply constructed buildings made with hay and wood. I finally saw the store with the lantern with the word “rice” on it. I knocked on the tattered door then entered.
The interior wasn’t large by any means. A few cloth bags with their mouths open were placed inside. Inside of the bags was a bowl. The owner was lying down on the counter to the side. He had yet to completely wake up. He completely froze when he saw me enter. He slowly moved his lips the same way a student, who was sleeping, would look at his teacher when they woke him up.
I said, “Ah, hello. I was sent by Ying from the shrine. I came to pick up rice for the shrine.”
“Ah.” He finally got a grasp of the situation. He stood up and picked up a bowl by the side, “So you’re from the shrine. Our village enjoys peace thanks to Ying’s protection. Here. Here is her rice. Send her my thank you when you return. I was planning to send rice to her today, but you happened to come.”
The bag contained only two bowls of rice. I hesitated for a moment before asking, “How long is this to last?”
The boss seemed to be very confused. In truth, I was even more confused. Two bowls. Three meals a day. That wasn’t even enough for one person, let alone a month.
“How could this possibly be enough?! You people want her to protect you, so the least you could do is let her eat enough,” I thought. I thundered, “Is this enough?!”
The owner spaced out. He then sighed: “That’s the same amount as always. We don’t have spare food for her. We wouldn’t be sending food to the shrine if she wasn’t protecting us. That’s enough. This is food we’re setting aside. It’s a blessing we can provide her with food. It’s not as if she can leave… She can only stay here… We don’t have enough food to feed you, too…”
I slammed the table: “You sell food, correct? All right, then. I have gold coins on me. It’s not the currency you use here, but this is authentic gold. I’ll exchange my gold for your food! You don’t need to deliver it. You just sell food to me!”
I tossed down three gold coins. He looked at the rolling gold coins with a dumbstruck look. He fearfully looked up at me. I leaned onto the counter and placed the basket on top: “Please give me three gold coins worth of rice. Ying isn’t protecting you because she can’t leave. She can leave whenever she pleases! The reason she hasn’t left is because she just happens to worry for your safety. Do you people not understand that?!”
“She can’t leave… We aren’t feeding her, alone…”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing… Here. Here is your rice. You can go now, right? You can go now, right…?”He pushed the basket to me. Although he was slightly afraid of me, he quickly swept the three gold coins into this drawer.
I coldly snorted, and then turned to leave. I suddenly realised, “What sort of life did Ying lead, before I came? Wait… If there’s only this much food, she definitely would’ve calculated her daily consumption… I’ve been here for the last few days. If she had to split the food between two people every day, the food wouldn’t last for a month. We ran out of food two days ago. I couldn’t move at the time; meanwhile, she couldn’t leave, since she had to wait for food to be delivered… That means… She gave me all of her food for the last few days…