“Look here; personal history won’t do nothin’ for you on the battlefield. It’s all about whether you live or die.”
“Another thing, Lad: it’s forbidden to whisper during battle. Never, ever make light of ‘em. A sliver of negligence is all ya need to lose your life, keep that in mind.”
Who’s ‘them’ even supposed to be? And I get that whispering on the job would be taboo, but I just can’t help but feel that you’re the one who’s making it a problem with your own whispers. There’s so much stuff here I could play the straight man too, just way too much.
All that aside, I’d never have thought I’d just have to take care of the finances on my first day on the job. The part-time job I’d taken back when I’d still been human – the one at the convenience store – had most of its accounts managed by the convenience of technology, but this world doesn’t have the luxury of those inventions just yet. Here, any and all calculations were to be done mentally.
That being said, most of the wares here could be sold off for a few copper or silver coins. I doubt that mental mathematics are going to be especially challenging. And if there’s something I don’t know, I can just ask Khiel.
“Welcome to the store, valued customer. We’ll leave you to our wares.”
A young, male customer places a single plate and a lone cup in front of Khiel. The price tag makes it clear that the plate costs twelve pieces of copper, while the cup costs six.
“Two goods and your purchase comes out to eighteen coppers. These particular items are fragile, so please allow me to wrap them up before you leave.”
He attends to the customer with the utmost reason, just as one might expect from such a big veteran in the field. Although I do have to admit, there’s something about a muscular older man in a pink apron being so polite that just makes me want to burst out laughing.
The customer places a silver coin on the counter. Seeing this, Khiel-san’s eyes blink owlishly.
“Pardon me, Sir, but… Your purchase comes out to a total of eighteen copper coins.”
“Yeah, I know. So, like, I’m paying with that.”
Khiel grows stiff as a board where he stands. Something akin to smoke begins leaking from his skull. This can’t be good. He looks completely confused!
So this is where I have to pitch in somehow. If memory serves, one piece of silver is supposed to be worth around a hundred copper…
“Khiel-san, would you mind giving him his change? A total of eighty-two copper coins?”
I make sure to whisper. Khiel’s face changes, now looking as if he’d come back to his senses.
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“I-I’m awfully sorry, dear customer!”
Now panicking, Khiel opens the drawer to the counter.
“Let’s see here… One copper, two coppers, three coppers, four coppers…”
“Khiel-san. It looks to me that there are a few sacks on the side with ten coppers inside each, so why not just use eight of those and add two coins?”
“…! O-Of course! I knew I could do that!”
Khiel takes eight of the bags containing ten copper coins, adds two more coppers, then hands the lot over to the young man.
“Awfully sorry to keep you waiting, here’s your change! Thank you, and please come again!”
The young man gives a sort of forced smile and leaves the store. Khiel lets out a long, relieved sigh.
“Phew, you ain’t half-bad, Hamou. I don’t think I need to tell you this, but I was just pretendin’ to be confused so I could test ya. Rest assured, I can deal with that sorta stuff in no time.”
Yeah, no, that was just all you.
“If you wanna live through the rigors of this harsh battlefield, ya gotta react properly to any unforeseen circumstances. Take that as advice from an experienced colleague.”
I don’t think there was anything unforeseen or accidental going on here. What kind of fifteen-year veteran has to get the new help to clean up after him? I’m actually embarrassed I praised him for his competence not that long ago.
And so, two hours go by, and Khiel makes one mistake after the other while I keep getting into the awkward situation of picking up after him. As I wallow in my doubts, having great difficulty to believe that he’s actually a hardened veteran, the shopkeeper walks up to the counter.
“Good work, Hamou-kun. It’s been two hours; you can take a ten-minute break now.”
“Oh, sure thing.”
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I peek in Khiel’s direction.
“Are you sure it’s okay to not make Khiel-san take a break too? I feel like he’s just been standing behind the counter ever since I got here.”
“A warrior has no need for rest. I told you, didn’t I? You let your guard down for just a second, and you’re done for.”
“… Well, he’s always been pretty obstinate about not taking breaks. It’s fine; you can just leave him like that. Just rest on your own, Hamou-kun.”
The shopkeeper shows me the way to the break room. The room is small, and only able to fit about three tatami mats, but it was just big enough for me to relax.
“Well then, Hamou-kun? What was it like? Working with Khiel-san, I mean.”
“Well… It’s clear that he’s not a bad guy, but… How do I put it…”
“Thing is, he definitely has the passion. He still makes a lot of mistakes though. It’s kind of awkward, especially since he’s older than I am, but honestly… I’ve been thinking of letting him go…”
That’s way too honest!
“Haha, that’s just a little joke. There’s something out the way he pushes himself to the limit that just brings life to the place. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this store’s gone on for as long as it has thanks to him.”
“You don’t say…”
Oddly enough, the shopkeeper doesn’t seem like too bad of a person. That just makes me wonder why he’d settle on these savage working conditions where his employees were only paid five coppers an hour. I suppose I should ask.
“The wage here is supposed to be five coppers per hour, right? Why’s it so low?”
I ask the shopkeeper just as he’s about to leave the break room.
“… To tell you the truth, we had a regular wage not too long ago. We also had tons of workers, way more than just Khiel-san…”
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“Is there a reason for that?”
A gloom settles over his features.
“Sorry to do this while you’re on your break, but… do you mind following me for a bit?”
The shopkeeper and I go up the stairs, then stop in front of a room located on the second floor. It looks like the second floor is basically the shopkeeper’s living space. The shopkeeper opens the sliding door by a few scant centimeters.
“Let’s not wake her up now. Careful, careful.”
Wondering whom he might be talking about, I peek through the crack. There, I see a young girl, about ten years of age, sleeping in her futon. The arm peeking through the covers is exceptionally thin, and the hue of her face can’t be called healthy. The young girl looks like she has a weak constitution.
Come to think of it; he’d said something about sparing his daughter when I came here and found him groveling on the floor. So this is who he’d been talking about…
“This is my daughter. Even now, she’s suffering from a severe illness. Her body’s in a state where she can’t survive if she drinks expensive medicine each and every day.”
The shopkeeper slides the door shut.
“It takes lots of money to buy that medicine. Still, this was never a profitable business. The money I can pay my employees is going to run out soon enough, just like the money for her treatment…”
“So you had no choice but to lower their pay?”
“It was a hard decision, to say the least. After all, it was the same thing as stabbing all those hard workers in the back. Sure enough, people started quitting one after the other. Khiel-san’s the only one who stayed behind.”
The shopkeeper narrows his eyes as he says this.
“Khiel-san’s been working himself to the bone under the useless shopkeeper that I am, and I have nothing but gratitude for him. Oh, and you too, of course. For coming to this store.”
“And… there’s no sign of your daughter getting better?”
The shopkeeper shakes his head in silence.
“I can’t say for sure. But my wife passed away from disease only a few years ago. My daughter’s the only thing I have left. That’s why I have to protect her, no matter what it takes.”
There’s a stalwart, unmoving will in his tone.
Well, as it turns out, there actually is a reason for the low five-copper pay.