＊＊＊ This is one of two versions of the same chapter. The plot and outcome are roughly the same. Only the guest character is different. Ch 11 has a tsundere dwarven blacksmith (♂). Ch 11.5 has a tsundere blacksmith girl (♀). The author says it’s his plan to make the dwarf version canon. And that he imagines the girl looking like ‘Haruhi with a ponytail’. ＊＊＊
The Inimitable Empty Can — Beautiful Tsundere Blacksmith Girl Version
“Whew. I’m so full.”
“Thanks for the meal.”
The idiot elf and I were facing each other on the wooden floor of the shop, having just eaten lunch.
Before and after eating, the idiot elf always put her hands together in thanksgiving.
I didn’t follow the custom, so for that 0.5 seconds, I felt a bit awkward. Maybe I should pray too?
But something about that felt wrong, so I never would. I would be disappointed in myself for following the idiot elf’s example.
Though, sometimes—very occasionally—vanishingly rarely—I thought to myself it might be a wee bit excessive to call her ‘the idiot elf’.
But she also called me ‘Idiot Master’. So we were even. And anyway, she was always doing idiotic things, so ‘idiot elf’ fit.
“Stop licking that.”
I thwacked the idiot elf on the head.
She was licking the leftover juices out of a can of food.
See there? An idiot elf.
“Aww. But it’ll be wasted?”
“A bit might get wasted, but the thing is, it’s bad manners. And why are your manners so horrible for someone who prays before and after eating?”
“What are manners?”
See there!? An idiot elf.
“If you don’t want to waste the juices, soak them up with some bread or whatever and eat the bread. Use a trick like that. Either way, don’t lick the juices up directly. I won’t allow it.”
“Then please bring some of this ‘bread’ stuff with you next time, OK? It has a pretty delicious ring to it. I’ll look forward to it.”
“You really don’t do anything besides eat, do you?”
“What is there to life for a living creature besides eating and sleeping? Elves are living creatures.”
“Are you trying to sound sophisticated? It’s not working. Not at all. Not one bit.”
The idiot elf and I turned smiles on the customer who had come in.
Even when we sneered at one another, we could instantly switch to smiles.
Oh, my, I thought as I got a look at the customer.
There hadn’t been a single customer all morning, so this one coming in after lunch was the first of the day.
She was a petite and beautiful young girl.
For all that she was incredibly adorable, she had on some of the plainest, most unflattering coveralls.
She looked to be in her late teens. Her ears weren’t pointed so she was probably human, meaning she should be as old as she appeared.
The girl looked over the merchandise in the shop with the sullen expression of an artisan.
My goal these days as C-Mart’s owner was to put a smile on the face of every customer.
But this beautiful girl… There wasn’t a crack in her sullenness.
What could I do to get her to smile? I didn’t really have a clue.
((She’s the blacksmith girl,)) the idiot elf said in a low voice.
((Blacksmith?)) I asked in reply.
I had thought she looked like an artisan, and so she was.
((She inherited a workshop, and despite her age, she’s already the boss.))
Not a mere artisan. A boss.
“What is it, shopkeeper? Are you interested in me?”
“Ah. Not really,” I replied vaguely.
It seemed she had overheard our whispering.
“Well, nor am I in you. But your merchandise is another matter. Could you keep it down? I can’t concentrate.”
“A—all right. Of course.”
I affected a passable smile.
For some reason, I was standing at attention.
“You’ve so many odd items. I’m seeing with my own eyes if there’s anything useful to a smith. I only trust my own eyes, you see.”
“Oh, OK. I see. Then please feel free to look around.”
“I don’t need your permission for that. Are you an idiot?”
“Yes! The Master here is an Idiot Master!” the idiot elf asserted with conviction, and I jabbed an elbow at her.
The smith girl was just as prickly in manner as one would expect from her sullen expression.
Almost like she would murder me with words.
And the scary thing was how she didn’t feel particularly angry and how immediately obvious that was from the habitual manner of her delivery.
For your average, modern Japanese male, that was…really scary. Prickly girls were scary.
The idiot elf could stay an idiot.
The smith girl was checking out the scissors. She snapped them open and closed.
But this world had scissors too.
Extremely high quality hand-made scissors sold at such an extremely low price that modern Japanese scissors, even ones from a hundred yen shop, couldn’t compete quality- or price-wise.
So mine weren’t popular. They didn’t sell. I wasn’t bringing more over.
“What is this? A…’stay-puh-ler’?”
Now a stapler had caught her eye.
“Do I press here?”
She didn’t seem to know how to use— She was opening it and holding it to the palm of her—
Aaah! She pressed it!!
A stapled pierced her finger.
She flapped her hand as if to say “Ow! Ow! Ow!” then cleared her throat with a loud “Ahem!” while…
…the idiot elf and I, both frozen at attention, winced together. My own hand hurt!
Licking the tip of her pierced finger, the prickly girl replaced the stapler on the shelf as if it was nothing.
And then she went on to look at other goods.
And easily two or three minutes later—
“Yes, what is it?” I replied instantly. It felt unwise to delay even one second.
“It took a fairly skilled smith to make that, didn’t it? To work iron into needles so thin and all.”
“Uh. That must be so. You’re far too kind.”
By ‘that’ she meant the reason why she had been holding out her hand like “Ow! Ow! Ow!” three minutes ago, right? The staple?
But a smith hadn’t made that; it was probably mass-produced by a machine in a factory.
Well, I didn’t know all that much about it, not really, so I would leave it at that.
I left the her to look at the merchandise and started to clean up from lunch.
The idiot elf also began to stir, so I waved her off to go be with the customer.
This smith girl. Her sort just unnerved me a bit. Not that she wasn’t lovely in her own way, I’m sure.
But something about her unnerved me.
I began to tidy up the two people’s worth of cans that had been left lying around.
I gathered the empty cans into a convenience store bag. Along with the discarded food cans, a miscellaneous array of garbage had begun to pile up since my arrival here. Three of the largest size convenience store bags full of it already sat in the corner of the shop.
That wasn’t good at all.
But what to do with it?
Garbage pick up day was— Not a thing here, huh? Well, it was a fantasy world.
I supposed all I could do was take them back to the other world.
It depressed me to imagine myself heading back to the other side with bags of garbage in either hand—like a husband tasked with taking the trash out on his way to work in the morning.
That would be the worst thing ever.
“Say, shopkeeper,” came a low voice.
I paused in cleaning up and stood at attention.
If only she would quit calling out with that low voice which seemed to promise murder.
“Wh—what is it?”
“What are those?”
“Uh…what are whats?”
I raised my head.
I looked all about. Where was…whatever could pique the interest of a beautiful but prickly blacksmith girl?
“Oh, for— Those! In your hand! What’s so hard to understand!? I’ve been talking about them from the start! Are you an idiot? Are you?”
The only thing I had in my had was the convenience store bag. And…the empty cans inside?
“You’re about to throw those away? I mean, that’s what it looks like to me.”
“That’s right, but, uh…? Oh! I won’t toss them just anywhere,” I rushed to say. I could dispose of garbage properly, at least.
“They aren’t for sale?”
“Right. If it’s canned food you want, we have plenty there.”
I pointed to the canned food corner.
There were large piles of cans.
Besides what we used for our meals, I had a large assortment set out to sell. Fruit ones were sweet, so they were treated like candy. For some reason the cans of fish were treated like rare, gourmet meat.
And the particularly salty ones like anchovies were bought as ‘seasoning’.
Of those, ‘Spam’ was the most popular. Spam was a brand name for a very salty kind of canned meat resembling pork sausage. Rather than the reduced-salt type made for distribution in Japan, I went out of my way to bring over the imported version.
“I don’t want what’s in them. It’s too salty anyhow.”
“We have sweet ones, too. Canned oranges. Canned peaches. Plenty of oth—”
“Aaah! Come on! I’m asking if you’re selling those ’em-tee can’ things or not! Just tell me! I’ve had my eye on them since I came in here!”
Huh? Hadn’t she been looking at the scissors and stapler?
I snapped out of my bewilderment.
Catching on at last, I turned a smile on the girl.
“Uh, so I should assume you’re interested in buying these empty cans?
“Of course. Isn’t that’s what I’ve been saying this whole time?”
No, it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.
This prickly girl had not been saying anything of the sort.
I thought it over.
“You won’t sell them?”
“So you won’t sell them to me?”
I vacillated, arms stiffly crossed. Then, “Well, uh, in this case, I guess there’s…no other option.”
Obviously upset, the beauty’s shoulders drooped, and she started trudging toward the door.
“Master, is the blacksmith girl leaving?”
So quick! She had thrown in the towel so quickly! Thrown it at mach speed!?
“Eh? Aaah, wait! Hold on, hold on! You’ve got it all— I’m not saying I won’t sell them!”
I moved to head the girl off.
Wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, she looked up at me.
I nodded and nodded and nodded my head.
And, after a bit, a faint smile appeared on her face.
Being a young beauty, of course her smile was truly amazing.
Momentarily entranced by her smile, I—
Um-hum. Er, well then…
I had…achieved my goal?
Hadn’t that been a smile on the sullen, prickly beauty’s face?
“There’s just the matter of price. These are garba— That is, these are a byproduct of the proper use of canned food. L—Look, blacksmiths get ash from heating their forges, right? Would you know what to do if someone said she wanted that ash?”
“Farmers come to get my ash. I give them all of it.”
“Of course? Why would I charge them? Are you an idiot?”
“All right. Then I’ll give you these for free, too.”
The smith girl shook her head.
There was her stubborn tsundere side again.
Aren’t you the one who just said you give all your ashes away for free?
And called me an idiot for questioning it?
“I’m not sure what you’d use these empty cans for. However, I have no use for them. In fact, I’m so desperate for a way to dispose of them that if you took them off my hands, I’d pay you.”
This was true.
In modern Japan, it was gradually becoming the norm to pay to have your garbage taken away.1
“No. Then I’d be in your debt, right? I never do debts. Ever.”
The smith girl crossed her arms and puffed out her chest.
“I don’t believe this! You think just because I’m adorable, I’d obligate myself to you? Ridiculous!”
Well, she wasn’t coy about her looks.
Please don’t go any further in making up that story. Though, you are adorable.
“Just name your price already. If I think they’re worth it, I’ll buy them. If not, I’ll forgo them.”
“If you want me to name my price, that price is ‘free’. I couldn’t take a copper more. That’s right. I’m not about to offer more than that.”
I, too, crossed my arms and puffed out my chest in defiance.
I’d had enough of this premature towel throwing and tearfully trudging off home business.
And anyway, these were worthless to me.
My pride as a shop owner held me back from putting a price on something worthless.
“Master? Mistress Blacksmith? What is all this? Do either of you see what you’re saying? Are you OK?
“Shut up, Idiot Elf. This is between men.”
“That’s right. It’s beyond a female’s ken.”
“OK, but you’re a girl yourself? Getting a little worked up, huh?”
The elf girl clapped her hands together.
We somehow regained our sanity the instant we heard that sound, as if a spell had been cast on us.
“Let’s try a little something else,” the elf girl began. “How about this? We start by gathering all of our own empty cans and the cans of other customers together at the shop.”
“Huh? Oh, I see. We could be the ones to collect the customers’ garb—er, empty cans?”
Come to think of it, garbage collection was one responsibility of a shop.
“As for you, Mistress Blacksmith, what if you took—not bought, just took—the empty cans for the time being?”
“And then sold this shop some of the wares you crafted from that iron at wholesale prices?”
“Hm. I wouldn’t mind that.”
“Eh? What? You’d use the empty cans to…make things with?” I asked. This was news to me.
“That’s right.” Arms still crossed, the smith girl nodded imperiously.
“There, see? I knew you hadn’t figured it out,” the idiot elf chimed in as well.
“These are iron. And fairly high quality, too.”
The girl thrust her hand into the convenience store bag and took one empty can.
The sweet and salty sauce from the mackerel pike can slimed her fingers.
But the girl, without seeming to mind—or even to notice—stared at the can with the intense focus of an artisan who has come across a quality material.
“This iron’s purity is extremely high. In my estimation, well…the percent is so high you could probably put a bunch of nines after the ninety-nine. What is this iron? When I do steelwork, it’s always a pain to refine the carbon out of my iron, but I could just add some carbon to make the finest steel from this.2 Yes! That’s right! I’m sure of it! I could do that!”
The smith girl crushed the can in her fist.
And then flapped her hand several times like “Ow-ow-ow-ow!” Just watching that hurt.
“I—I see. S—So the empty cans will be…a smithing resource? Hm. Um-hmm. Hmmm. Hm-hmm.”
“Master, were you being stubborn for no reason?”
“Uh, well, you know. There was… It’s just that…”
“You’re an idiot? A complete idiot, right?”
“Master is an idiot.”
“Enough!” I roared at the two beautiful girls.
“Master, you should accept however many pieces of ironware you would consider the equivalent of the cans we gave and put them up for sale. Mistress Blacksmith’s blades and tools are popular in town, so—”
The girl flipped the tip of her ponytail and squared her shoulders with pride.
“—so I’m sure they’ll be very popular here as well.”
I had seen the blacksmith’s scissors. Could I sell those here? Not a bad idea. I even wanted a pair for myself.
“So it’s a deal?”
I clasped the extended hand of the smith girl.
Her hand was unexpectedly rugged. Well, I told myself, despite her adorableness, she is a professional artisan. A boss.
◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇
“Thank you very much!”
“Please come again!”
We were in front of the store seeing off the ponytail girl.
She headed home with all of our empty cans and a smile splendid enough to steal the heart of any other guy.
I elbowed the elf girl who was standing next to me.
She was the one to get the deal in the bag.
Without her, my battle of wills with that stubborn tsundere might have ended acrimoniously, with me remaining unaware of why she needed the cans.
“Well, they do say there’s a great woman behind every successful man.”
“Fool. A great woman doesn’t say things like that.”
I smiled. The elf girl smiled too. The tsundere artisan had also gone home smiling.
C-Mart had been filled with smiles for yet another day.