＊＊＊ 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
“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.
Customer number one for the day was a dwarven man.
There hadn’t been a single customer all morning, so this one coming in after lunch was the first of the day.
Besides the humans, there were also several kinds of ‘demi-humans’ living in this town.
Given the elves, I wasn’t at all surprised there were also dwarves.
The dwarf looked exactly as one might expect:
Short. Stout. Stumpy arms and legs. But brawny. And bearded.
In personality, stubborn and straightforward. Always sullen-looking and taciturn.
You were never sure what they were thinking.
My goal these days as C-Mart’s owner was to put a smile on the face of every customer.
But what could get a dwarf like this old fellow to smile? I had no clue.
Er…? Was he an ‘old fellow’ to begin with?
Could I assume he was as old or male as he looked?
What if, despite looking like an old fellow, he was actually a kid? Or, despite the beard, he was a woman?
“The blacksmith is a man. He’s eighty-four. Dwarves live about twice as long as humans, so that’s like forty-two for a human. He’s in the prime of his life.”
I started to nod. Then, realizing something, I asked the idiot elf, “Wait. How’d you know what I was thinking?”
“It’s easy to guess what you’re thinking, Idiot Master.”
I had no comeback for that since she had read me so easily.
“What, shopkeeper? Do I interest you?”
“Ah. Not really.”
“Nor do you interest me. But your merchandise does.”
“R—right. OK then.”
“Many an odd item here. Seeing with my own eyes if you’ve anything useful to a smith. Only trust my own eyes, y’see.”
“Er, all right, please help yourself.”
The dwarven blacksmith came off like a dwarf all right. Not so much as a milliliter of lube to ease the friction of his words.
Though…maybe he wasn’t angry, merely speaking the truth.
That brusqueness was a bit terrifying to a modern Japanese person.
He sounded just like your typical stubborn old bastard. If he was forty-two in human years, that put him smack in the center of ‘stubborn old bastard’ territory.
The dwarf was checking out the scissors. He 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’s this? A…’stay-puh-ler’?”
The dwarf was checking out a stapler.
“You press here?”
He didn’t seem to know how to use— He was opening it and holding it to the palm of his—
Aaah! He pressed it!!
A staple pierced his finger.
He flapped his hand as if to say “Ow! Ow! Ow!” then cleared his throat with a loud “Ahem!” and…
…replaced the stapler on the shelf as if it was nothing.
And then went on to look at other goods for easily two or three more minutes before—
“Yes, what is it?”
“Took a fairly skilled smith to make that, eh? Working iron into needles so thin and all.”
“You’re far too kind.”
By ‘that’ he meant the reason why he had been holding out his 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 dwarf to look at the merchandise and started to clean up from lunch.
The elf girl also began to stir, so I waved her off to go be with the customer.
This dwarven blacksmith. His sort just unnerved me a bit. Not that he wasn’t lovely in his own way, I’m sure.
But something about him 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.
“Oy, shopkeeper,” came the dwarf’s ominous voice.
I startled and paused in cleaning up.
If only he would quit it with the deep voice that seemed to promise murder from anywhere at any moment for any reason.
“Wh—what is it?”
“Uh…what are whats?”
I raised my head.
I looked all about. Where was…whatever could pique the interest of a stubborn old dwarf bastard?
“For the love of— Those, in your hand.”
The only thing I had in my had was the convenience store bag. And…the empty cans inside?
“Looks to me as if you’re about to throw those away.”
“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’re not 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.
“Don’t want what’s in ’em. Too salty anyhow.”
“We have sweet ones, too. Canned oranges. Canned peaches. Plenty of oth—”
“Augh! I’m asking whether you’re selling those ’em-tee cans’ or whatever! Spit it out! Had my eye on those since I came in.”
Huh? Hadn’t he been looking at the scissors and stapler?
I snapped out of my bewilderment.
Catching on at last, I turned a smile on the dwarf.
“Uh, so I should assume you’re interested in buying these empty cans?
“That’s right. Been saying since the start.”
No, he hadn’t. He really hadn’t.
This stubborn old tsundere bastard had only ever ‘said’ that through his tsundere-ish body language.
I thought it over.
“You won’t sell ’em?”
“Hmmm,” I vacillated, arms stiffly crossed. Then, “Well, uh, in this case, I guess there’s…no other option.”
The dwarf’s shoulders drooped, and he started trudging toward the door.
“Master, is the blacksmith leaving?”
So quick! He 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 dwarf off.
The corners of the dwarf’s mouth contorted into a smile. It was more of a ‘smirk’ than a ‘smile,’ though.
Wasn’t my goal achieved?
Hadn’t that been a smile on the old dwarf’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 he wanted that ash?”
“Farmers come for my ash. I give ’em all of it.”
“All right. Then I’ll give you these for free, too.”
“Can’t have that.”
The dwarf shook his head.
There was his stubborn old bastard side again.
Aren’t you the one who just said you give all your ashes away for free?
“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.”
That was true.
In modern Japan, it was gradually becoming the norm to pay to have your garbage taken away.1
“Nope. That’d put me in your debt. I don’t do debts.”
The dwarf crossed his arms and puffed out his chest.
There was his stubborn old bastard logic.
“Just name your price. If I think they’re worth it, I’ll buy ’em. If not, I’ll forgo ’em.”
“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.
“Master? Master 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, I’m female so I don’t get it, I guess? But I do know there’s another thing you can try. Being female and all,” the elf girl began. “Let’s see, how’s 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, Master 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?”
“Harumph. Wouldn’t mind that at all.”
“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 dwarf nodded imperiously.
“There, see? I knew you hadn’t figured it out,” the idiot elf chimed in as well.
“These are iron. Fairly high quality, even.”
The dwarf thrust his hand into the convenience store bag and took one empty can.
The sweet and salty sauce from the mackerel pike can slimed his fingers.
But the dwarf, 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, so high a percent as you could likely put no few nines after the ninety-nine. It’s always an effort to refine the carbon out of my iron, but I need only add carbon to make the finest steel of this!2 Surely that’s so! Surely…!”
The dwarf crushed the can in his fist. “It shall be so!!”
“Eep! What in the…!?”
As the dwarf crushed the can, his eyes flew wide open, and he let out a huge bellow…
…and I leaped to dodge a shower of his spit.
“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 should accept however many pieces of ironware you would consider the equivalent of the cans we gave, Master, and put them up for sale. The blacksmith’s blades and tools are popular in town, 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.
“All right. Then it’s a deal.”
I clasped the extended hand of the dwarven blacksmith.
His hand was about as rugged as a leather glove.
And he was so strong, it felt like his grip was practically one ton.
◇ ◇ ◇ ◇ ◇
“Thank you very much!”
“Please come again!”
We were in front of the store seeing off the dwarven blacksmith.
As I watched him head home with all of our empty cans and his teeth bared in a ‘smile,’…
…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 old bastard might have ended acrimoniously, with me remaining unaware of why he needed the cans.
“A good woman must be able to skillfully bend men to her will.”
“Fool. A good woman doesn’t say things like that.”
I smiled. The elf girl smiled too. The dwarf had also gone home smiling.
C-Mart had been filled with smiles for yet another day.