Chapter 12:

And so begins a new start from an end (Part B)

Toaru Ramen no Hanashi


(PART B)Bookmark here

After a few more days, the viscountess disappearance still remains unsolved. The growing anxieties of the baron household children is growing by the day. The baron, attending matters left and right, looked a bit pale that particular day as he continued to do his routine work as the lord of their territory. Helen wanted to contribute, but she hesitated given her lack experience on the political matters. All she can do was attend the menial task of governing the plantation that has been mired with its own set of problems as well.Bookmark here

The workers are getting weary with their production stalled at the moment. Helen knew that something must be done, but the problems to confront is something she can't deal on her own. She expected that sooner or later, the people working in their plantation will direct a blunt dialogue regarding the state of the business and if they can expect something from the employers in these trying times. That particular thought happens to be true that day as the leader of the group of workers directly inquired Helen.Bookmark here

Helen was left no choice but to be truthful. She did not minced or played her words as she straight away gave the answer to respect the workers' diligence. The representative, as if he knew the answer beforehand, calmly nodded and made a decision.Bookmark here

"Thank you for being truthful, my lady. We are really grateful for the fair treatment and the various improvements your family made since the first quarter of the year, but we regret to say that we would like to leave our positions to seek other means of employment."Bookmark here

Helen understood the statement. The tired frowns on the workers faces alone tells her the whole story. With their livelihood unable to give them their everyday needs, they have to look for a solution to provide for their families. But being able to understand it and at the same time accept it is another thing.Bookmark here

"But is it necessary for everyone of you to leave? Some of you have worked here for a long time, surely we can still work out a deal. I can talk to my brother and see if he can..." Helen nervously interjected. After seeing the shaking head of the representative, Helen stopped talking.Bookmark here

"All we want is a simple meal on our table, three times a day shared within our family. Other than that, we are content and happy with the way we live. Like I said before, we are grateful for your kind treatment when you started supervising us, but we can't fill our stomachs with intangible things like kindness and idealism. We ought to work so that we could live another day." the old representative said while looking apologetic.Bookmark here

Helen watched the workers leave one by one. After a short while, the plantation was barren with just her and the maid. She sat on a wooden bench below a proud tree and sighed heavily.Bookmark here

"Oh... what a day..." she said while stretching her body. She also yawned afterwards.Bookmark here

The maid stood up beside her. "Are you okay, milady?"Bookmark here

Helen uttered a muffled "Mhmm" before dropping down her shoulders and posture on the bench in an unladylike fashion. "I have to tell my brother that we're going to close this plantation for the time being."Bookmark here

"Most definitely, the baron already foresaw this happening." the maid responded as she fixed up the wide-opened legs of her lady by clamping them together. "And please, sit properly. You're acting like a middle-aged slob, for crying out loud."Bookmark here

Helen chuckled amidst the new circumstance that her family has to deal with. It was already approaching the third quarter of the year so the timing for closing the plantation kind of coincided against the worst weather, the winter. As the two of them breathed heavily, some white fumes came out of their mouth depicting the start of the colder climate. They decided to return to the manor shortly after giving one last examination to the surroundings of the wide property dedicated to sugar crops. With most of the sugarcane harvested and was distributed evenly among the workers to compensate them for their hard work, the spacious land in the outskirts of the town looked especially lonely that Helen can't help but frown as they approached the gate where their wagon awaits.Bookmark here

"Content and happy... just three meals a day..." Helen mumbled to herself.Bookmark here

The maid smiled gently as she patted Helen's head. "To common people, such happiness and contentment are enough."Bookmark here

Helen frowned. "To be honest, I'm unable to comprehend it. I've lived a life of extravagance and comfort. Had everything I wanted by simply asking my parents and never known hunger and inconvenience which begs the question, why do I feel like I'm envious to their meager satisfaction? Like I've been missing the true essence of how to become truly happy."Bookmark here

The maid's smile turned flat. She gazed at the bland-colored sky soon to turn into dusk. "As obvious as it is, one happiness differs to another. Some are happy with riches, some are happy with less. It's not something you should compare to others to understand what true happiness is."Bookmark here

Sooner as they arrived at the entrance, they were met with a number of carriages that was somewhat familiar to their eyes. Upon another check to the insignia clipped on one side of the wagon, there is no doubting that it is the symbol of a count household from the capital who were once tied with the baron household as in-laws. Helen's blood slowly rose up to her head as she stood up to the very entrance preventing the wagon to enter their property.Bookmark here

After the brave yet rash stunt, the countess graced her presence with flair. As usual, her wardrobe was flamboyant, her face whitened by cosmetics, her lips redder than a ripe apple and she reeks of strong flowery fragrance that opted Helen to fiddle with her irritated nose.Bookmark here

"Oh my. Such a brash antic, my dear. What if the horse decided to run over you? Do you have a death wish?" asked the countess, her tone easily irked Helen.Bookmark here

Helen took a deep breath to control her emotions. Once she felt her head was clear, she responded. "To what do I owe the pleasure of Your Grace visiting our sugar farm?"Bookmark here

The countess was pleased with Helen's facade despite knowing that the girl in front of her is raging inside. She opened her trademark handheld fan and chuckled weakly. "At ease, young lady. I was actually in the vicinity and I thought it's just proper to visit the lord of the land. Just proper noble conduct, am I right?"Bookmark here

"We appreciate your kind gesture, Your Grace. But unfortunately, I am informing you of news that the viscountess and the baron are away at the moment for some private business, therefore, it is only I that can welcome your visit." Helen calmly said, her tone very serene yet insincere.Bookmark here

The countess shifted her gaze to the surroundings. The outskirts contains a lot of rough roads, large trees and a bunch of small old bridges to tread upon. It is something far from the developed venues she likes to frequent. A conflicted sigh was soon released from her half-opened lips. Helen did not like the mien printed on the countess face. It is as if she had read the thoughts circulating inside the noblewoman's mind.Bookmark here

"Your Grace, if you would permit me to be blunt, may I ask your purpose to your sudden visit?" inquired Helen, still trying her best to be respectful.Bookmark here

The countess flapped her fan amidst the cold air enveloping the vicinity. "I guess it's better to just directly say it, huh..." she murmured to herself. "Actually, I would like a dialogue to the baron and the viscountess, but after learning that they're away to attend some circumstance, I suppose you'll do."Bookmark here

The air in the surrounding suddenly became tense. Helen felt the next moments as if she was pricked by a thousand needles. After the countess disclosed her intent to Helen, she immediately left leaving Helen and the maid staggered in the plantation entrance.Bookmark here

That evening, the baron did not return to the manor. Helen, as the only noble adult in the house was force to contemplate the prior events and realized the inkling fastening the consequences together. The rumors, the tax bill, the riot and now, the countess words. Thoughts of her late father also mixed in the theory inside her mind. Ultimately, the impetus of the chaos lurking in their family was manually caused, it's not just a set of grim coincidences hounding them from nowhere.Bookmark here

The maid entered the parlour with refreshments. "Would you like to take a break, milady? I've brewed your favorite."Bookmark here

A sighing Helen, dropped her shoulders in her couch and sloppily answered a "Yes, please" in a shaking voice. The night was especially tranquil with a light drizzle that has continued to persist since dusk. The cold air has been enhanced with the light rain resulting a fairly chilly temperature, opting Helen to request her maid friend to ignite an ember in the fireplace. Helen squatted near the heated section of the parlour and slowly enjoyed her favorite drink.Bookmark here

"So it is her, huh?" blurted Helen that surprised the maid who stands behind her. "To be frank, there's always a thought in my mind thus I wasn't really that surprised."Bookmark here

"....." the maid wanted to respond, but she decided not to. She also hid the fact that she was also acquainted with the countess in the past as to not add to the growing suspicions inside her friend.Bookmark here

"She's acting like we did something terrible to her, as if we slap her with a ridicule to last a lifetime. If anything, it should be us that should've acted that way, not her." continued Helen, perplexed to say the least.Bookmark here

"There is no merit to try to understand how a miscreant thinks. They behave like that because they think they're the reason the world exists." replied the maid, her back straight with her beautiful gait.Bookmark here

"I can't help but pity them. Such warped thoughts could only lead them to unhappiness."Bookmark here

The maid sighed heavily before answering back. "Milady... please don't waste your time sympathizing with them. It is what they chose to do in their life."Bookmark here

Helen noticed the wrinkled glabella of her friend. "Uh, sorry... but what now? Brother is not in here and mother's whereabouts remains unknown. It's not like I can decide for the whole family's consensus."Bookmark here

"Your Ladyship will be fine. She has always been very prudent and wise. As her daughter, you must know of it, right?" said the maid with a kind beam.Bookmark here

Helen was convinced by that simple statement. She dropped a clenched fist to her other palm with a lightened expression. "Haha... I suppose you're right about that. This is mother we're talking about. She must've been working on a plan of her own. Mhmm, that would explain everything."Bookmark here

It was indeed a cold night, resulting a fairly chilly but nevertheless comfortable sleep. Helen the following day, albeit a bit worried, spent the day at home reading the pile of papers in his brother's desk. From plans of improving the territory, to the commoners requests, she examined a great deal of it and devised her own set of solutions afterwards.Bookmark here

It was noon when the carriage of the baron can be heard in their doorstep, but the person in question cannot be found even when Helen awaited his exit from the wagon. The carriage driver quickly trodden off his seat and asked Helen for permission to enter the baron office. Under the order of the baron, the carriage driver was to get a bunch of documents in the inner compartment of the table and was also instructed to return as soon as he had done the task he was asked for. Helen was a bit confused, but still inquired the whereabouts of the baron to which the carriage driver handed a piece of folded paper. Helen read the baron's message but all it entails was a brief sentence.Bookmark here

"I have urgent matters to attend to. Stay safe."Bookmark here

After a quarter, Helen found herself again in the baron's office, though this time, she was feeling a tad impatient. She soon called for her maid friend who was at the moment was doing her duties, cleaning the private chamber of the late baron. Bookmark here

"Hey, I want to go out and look for something. Can you come with me?"Bookmark here

Helen and the maid readied themselves and as they approached the carriage, a noticeable sight entered their vision. The overcast aside, there's some low smog-like cloud hovering from the direction of the outskirts. Helen and the maid's eyes enlarged as they simultaneously realized the common possibility. Without any time to waste, they set out towards the plantation.Bookmark here

After around ten minutes of fast travel, the vague fears residing in Helen's heart were confirmed. As they approach the vicinity of the plantation their family owned for generations, Helen couldn't help but gasp at the huge scorcher ravaging the fields she once played hide and seek with his older siblings.Bookmark here

The maid carefully supported Helen on to her feet as they watched from a distance. The fire had already swallowed almost the entirety of the property, but on a reckless charge, Helen remembered the old horse her sister adored that was stored in the small stable inside the plantation. The maid was too slow to react as Helen dashed forward ignoring the flames that could result fatal burns.Bookmark here

Blessed with a chunk of luck from her birth, Helen was able to enter the flaming surroundings with only minor burns on her blouse and skirt. Her hair, albeit with burnt strands, still remains tightly bundled in a ponytail. As her mind was filled with only one purpose, she treaded her way to the stable and luckily found the aging horse still alive and well, obviously rampaging in panic. Helen, known for being an experienced horse rider, splendidly did a great job calming the terrified horse. After that feat, she guided the horse and herself towards the exit, the same way she used to glide her way towards the stable.Bookmark here

Step-by-step, they progressed avoiding the flamesparks done by the burning wood. But out of nowhere, the smoke suddenly enveloped the vicinity making Helen reluctant to take a step as she caught a glimpse of the route she had taken earlier, now covered in flames and was basically unfit to stride on. The horse is also starting another fit, pushing Helen into desperation.Bookmark here

Suffocated at the spot, Helen is slowly losing the grip to the horse's reins. Her legs also buckled a bit, forcing her to kneel on one foot on the ground. The smoke naturally irritated both Helen's sight and smell, she also started to cough wildly and have thoughts of death. Tears in her eyes began to fall profusely, whether because of her irritated eyeglands or she's just plainly scared, no one surely knows the answer, even herself. Perhaps even the horse realized the inevitability of their demise, the old animal gently nudge her huge head against Helen's and appears to rub it affectionately. In the midst of the scorcher, the two living creatures shared a comforting moment as if to console them from their imminent demise.Bookmark here

But before Helen could succumb to the dragging solace, a hand appeared out of nowhere.Bookmark here

"What the hell are you thinking, you dumb Helen?!" said the angry maid, her face covered with soot and her body drenched wet.Bookmark here

"Eh?" responded Helen in a daze.Bookmark here

The maid angrily smacked Helen's head. "Argh, just move your ass! Follow me!" she added, her livid shout reignited Helen's desire to live.Bookmark here

The two friends along with the old horse recklessly dashed towards a route, still in flames, but with lessened effect. Shortly after their charge, they finally saw an opening on the burnt fence, enough for them to jump off and escape the inferno that was continuously eating everything in its path. After a bit of a struggle, they finally reached the spot where it has mitigated embers but still hazardous if tackled incorrectly. The maid insisted Helen to go first, but for some reason, Helen stubbornly refuted and demanded that the old horse be the first to go to safety. The maid uncharacteristically scratched her hair in annoyance but complied right away. She guided the horse carefully to the hole enough for it to tread upon and after a jolting slap on the huge back of the horse, the animal was able to go out and ran wildly towards the safe grounds.Bookmark here

Helen released a breath of relief as she saw the horse slowly disappearing from her sight. The maid then wasted no time and helped Helen get back on her feet.Bookmark here

"Come on, Helen. Let's get out of here." smiled the maid which gave Helen a firm reassurance that they were going to live.Bookmark here

"Yeah. Let's get ou..."Bookmark here

In a split second, Helen and the maid saw the foundation of the burning building behind them crumbling towards them. As a last effort, the maid kicked Helen without reservation onto the hole in which the latter perfectly slotted in. Realizing the scope of the abrupt events, Helen instantly stood up from the ground with intent of re-entering the burning plantation, but as soon as she set sight on the exit they took, the grim image of her friend stopped her in her track.Bookmark here

"No... no... Noriko!!!!!" screamed Helen with a loud outburst.Bookmark here

It appears that the carriage driver along with a number of people who saw the fire from afar had made efforts to extinguish the fire with pales of water in their hands since earlier. Luckily, a nearby river can be found just meters away making it a good spot to refill their buckets. They are gaining good momentum and as if the heavens are commending their valiant effort, the rain suddenly leaked from the overcast.Bookmark here

Helen who was screaming at the top of her lungs was soon stopped by a broken and almost inaudible voice of her friend.Bookmark here

"Mi... la... dy... I'm gl... ad..." said the barely alive maid, her half-body visibly pinched by the debris. Although severely hurting, she exclaimed her joy in realizing her friend's safety.Bookmark here

"I-I'm getting you out of there. Just wait."Bookmark here

The weak maid shook her head slowly. "Do...n't bo...ther... Ju...st... stay... aw...ay... fr...om.... he...re" she added, gasping heavily for breaths.Bookmark here

"I-I don't want to... I can't leave you in there, Noriko!"Bookmark here

A visible smile in the bloodied face of the dying maid appeared. "He... len... Th...an...ks... fo...r be...ing... a...gr...eat....fr...ie...nd...to...me..."Bookmark here

"Noriko... don't say goodbye, please..." cried Helen, as if she can feel her heart bleeding in profound pain.Bookmark here

Noriko the maid, coughed heavily. "He..len... st...ay... we...ll... and... pl...ea...se...see...the... wo...rld...in... my...stead..."Bookmark here

Despite the weak and broken phrasing, Helen understood her friend's intent. She also came to realize that there is no saving her friend from the doors of death. The fire was soon weakened to the point Helen could reach the hand of her friend, Noriko. She tightly gripped it and spoke her farewell to her friend.Bookmark here

"I will, my friend... One way or another, I'll see to it that your dreams are realized... Rest well, Noriko... I love you..."Bookmark here

Noriko spent her last strength to gaze at Helen's face despite not seeing anything anymore. "I...fe...el...th...e...sa..."Bookmark here

Helen dropped her head to the ground, she gripped the mud beneath her and yelled until her voice disappeared. The fire was soon put to rest entirely, but the rain continued to fall regardless. Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

"And so marks the closure of Helen's story..." Gourmet stated with a gesture as if he's closing a book. "Phew, if I may say so, it's a decent ending."Bookmark here

After saying those words, Gourmet suddenly felt shivers on his spine. He slowly redirected his vision to the shining eyes of his enraged listeners.Bookmark here

"WHY DID YOU KILL NORIKO, YOU BASTARD?!"Bookmark here

Various complaints had rained Gourmet's head but most of them are pertaining towards Noriko the maid who was killed off the last story. The boy, Eroi, Bocchan, his bodyguards along with the rest of the regulars glared angrily at Gourmet for his story direction.Bookmark here

"What's with you all? Why are you vehemently pissed off with Noriko dying?" the old man with a cowboy hat inquired.Bookmark here

"Ahem." coughed Bocchan. "To be frank, even I cannot believe that I am this triggered. I just don't like how you easily killed Helen's friend like that."Bookmark here

Eroi interjected her complaints too. "How could you be so cruel to Helen?! The maid's her soulmate but you just sacrificed her for plot armour! Ugh, I'm so pissed!"Bookmark here

Gourmet dejectedly plopped his head. "But it's a needed factor to enable Helen to pursue the merchant life. Remember one of Noriko's dream is to be a merchant like her adoptive mother."Bookmark here

"But still..! Besides, what became of that countess?! Oh, I want to strangle her myself!" said Eroi, her eyes and gesture reeking of bloodlust.Bookmark here

Gourmet contemplated a bit before answering. "Well, as for the countess, she would be found guilty of various misdeeds. The baron and the viscountess were actually away to gather evidences against her leading to a point where she was pinned with irrefutable proofs. By the way, it was Noriko who urged them to take the necessary steps."Bookmark here

"Damn you, old man! You should've just kept the story longer and depict that old wrinkled hag's death in a gruesome fashion." said Eroi, the girl is writhing in anger.Bookmark here

Bocchan nodded in his seat while sighing. "But I'm surprised at how good Helen's backstory is. We already knew of the happenings after Alliona and the party reached Manzhouli, but this is the first time Gourmet-sama expanded Helen's character. Noriko is also a memorable character. I'm gonna miss her."Bookmark here

The boy abruptly joined the conversation. "Huh? So that's also your first time hearing that storyline?"Bookmark here

The regulars nodded to show their answer to the boy. Even the ramen shop lady joined the unison head movement.Bookmark here

"Uh, whatever. I thought you lots were eager to go back to Alliona's story, that's why I rushed Helen's even though I still have tons to do with her character. Like for example, the problem with her youngest sister's pending wedding, the aforementioned pinning of evidences against the countess, the start of her journey as a merchant and there's also some small parts about the horse she and Noriko saved from the fire."Bookmark here

Gourmet scratched his head as if he was ruing his decision to rush his story. The editor beside him, could only smile secretly.Bookmark here

"As expected of Sensei, that was some fluid delivery." she said, giving a weak elbow to the old man's ribs.Bookmark here

"Mom, what's Gourmet's current publication all about?" inquired the boy from the other side of the counter.Bookmark here

Gourmet and the editor looked at each other.Bookmark here

"Well, it's a mix of fiction and comedy. This old geezer really likes his gags, you know."Bookmark here

"Sorry about that! I can't help it! You know the saying right? Laughter is the best medicine!"Bookmark here

"Sorry to rain on your parade but you're not really great at this gag titles. You only have your dad jokes in you. Your wife would even complain to me that she was being forced to play your practice partner in a manzai-like fashion."Bookmark here

The regulars fell into a deep silence. The banter between the editor-author continued though.Bookmark here

"Huh? Stop saying things that is not true. My wife fully supports my work, she doesn't hate playing the role of the straight man."Bookmark here

The editor sighed heavily. "Oh dear, oh dear. Whatever, just suit yourself. As long as you turn in your manuscript, I don't give a crap about how you inspire yourself."Bookmark here

Gourmet noticed the silence creeping the entire establishment. The editor also found the sudden lull unnerving prompting her to shush as well.Bookmark here

"Hey, what happened? What now?" Gourmet inquired, looking from one regular to another who is staring at his face as if there's some dirt on it.Bookmark here

"YOU ARE MARRIED?!"Bookmark here

Another unison inquiry erupted in the establishment. Bocchan perhaps was the most shocked among the regulars as he gripped his twintails in a trembling manner. "Gourmet-sama... is it true? You are a husband to a woman?"Bookmark here

Gourmet felt a little peeved from the reaction of his fellow regulars. "Huh? What's with you all? Of course I'm married. Look, I haven't taken my ring off for years."Bookmark here

"To be honest, I thought it was just your fashion statement. You know, wearing a ring to make yourself feel better ." Eroi said in her chair, her hands calming Bocchan who's having a bit of a seizure.Bookmark here

"Hey, you gal. I even have a daughter almost the same age as you. That's why I can play the old man role fluently."Bookmark here

"Oh, that explains it. But wait, you also have a daughter? Are you sure you're not just on some kind of strong substance?"Bookmark here

"You little... why are you all looking at me as if I'm making up details about a make-believe family. Ane-san, Boss, back me up here, will you? Tell them I'm happily married for 25 years and have a 20 year old daughter."Bookmark here

The ramen shop lady complied to the request of her old friend. She clapped her hands to rally everyone's attention. "Now, now. Don't touch such personal subject, you're gonna make Gourmet reliant with his weeds."Bookmark here

"Stop, Ane-san! You're really gonna make me cry at this rate." Gourmet retorted with all his might.Bookmark here

The editor chuckled at the sight of Gourmet being played inside the ramen shop. "This is really an interesting place."Bookmark here

The boy responded with a smile. "It certainly is."Bookmark here

Gourmet sighed in his seat and forced a change of momentum. He looked at the clock in his phone and fixed his cowboy hat. "Guess it's time to wrap things up. I still have to write after I get back home."Bookmark here

The editor was pleased to hear the statement. She sorted her bowl and handed it to her son in the counter. "I have to go back to the work now. Still have to do some overtime thanks to a certain geezer."Bookmark here

"I already apologized, right?" Gourmet countered while fixing his coat. "Should I fax the manuscript or you're gonna collect it yourself?"Bookmark here

The editor also fixed her getup and carefully reapplied lipstick. "Whatever suits you better, Sensei. And remember, your deadline is next week. No more, no less."Bookmark here

"Stop reminding it like a broken record. I get it the first time." grimaced Gourmet as he walked forward the exit.Bookmark here

The editor looked at her son in the counter and blew flying kisses. "Take care on your way back home, son. I'll be staying in the HQ so locked up the doors and don't wait for me." she said while adjusting the fitting of her heels. She also gave Eroi a cheerful smile before opening the sliding entrance. "I'll see you soon, my future daughter-in-law."Bookmark here

The boy and Eroi gazed at each other with faint redness in their faces. Bocchan noticed it, but didn't make a scene. Before Gourmet could bid his exit, the boy called on him.Bookmark here

"Umm, when can I hear the rest of Alliona's story?" he inquired seriously.Bookmark here

Gourmet turned his back on the boy, opened the sliding entrance and said. "Who knows? Maybe the next time we meet if we coincide our visit."Bookmark here

Gourmet casually took a step outside and closed the door. The boy in the counter bowed as if he was working on the store for a long time. "Come again. We look forward to your next visit."Bookmark here

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