Algernon, the Speaking Mouse
Fateful meetings are not always wonderful things.
“As for a name for you all to call me, anything is fine. Refer to me as you wish.”
Although it did have a few oddly placed intonations in its speech, the white mouse spoke in fluent Japanese.
“Then for the sake of convenience, we’ll call you… I’ve got it—Algernon. Al for short.”
“It’s like you don’t have any naming sense at all.
I just smiled wryly back to Nina’s jeer.
Al, sitting on demurely on the desk, was even smaller than I’d imagined. He was just about as big as you’d expect a house mouse a be. That said, I’d only ever seen a wild mouse once in my previous life, and I was but a youth back then.
It was much larger, grotesque, and seemed furious. In comparison to that, Al was either an albino or perhaps simply white-colored and rather cute.
“Al, are you the only one able to, well, speak?”
Al answered with a stiff tone, unsuited to his appearance.
“There are other individuals able to unravel and understand language as well. However, I am the only one capable of speaking it.”
All considered, Al’s tone was strictly confined to a formal one. He seemed to be talking even more firmly than Rin, somehow.
“Would it be alright for me to consider you as the leader of the mice… a great mouse, so to speak?”
“Negative. I am merely able to speak, leading to me conducting the negotiation.”
“Then doesn’t that mean there’s no meaning for us to negotiate with you!?”
Al responded calmly to Shig’s temper.
“My negotiation will be the consensus of us all.”
“In other words, we can assume any demands we give to you will be transmitted to all of the mice?”
“Affirmative, more or less.”
Hmm… so then does that mean there’s some form of chain of command among the mice?
“In that case, could you please stop ruining our crops? There should be more than enough food for you all in the forest, right?”
Al responded in indifference.
“It is much more efficient for us to collect our food from your fields.”
“But our crops are only grown after putting a lot of effort into them ourselves, having all that taken away is troubling. Particularly when you eat our crops whole, taking away even the seeds we need to plant for the following year.”
As I was responding to him, I got the feeling that something was off. Rather than coming to negotiate, it felt more like he didn’t come with the intention to concede anything at all.
“For example, if you could help or cooperate with us somehow, we could offer food back as compensation. But just taking it one-sidedly is troubling.”
Al twitched his whiskers as though in silent thought to my statement.
“What could mice as tiny as this guy do for us anyway?”
Looking down at Al, Shig muttered in dissatisfaction.
“You are correct, we are diminutive.”
Al admitted, rather upfront about it.
“Consequently, it is a simple matter for you all to provide us with food.”
“And we’re saying that there’s no reason for us to do that.”
Al merely tilted his head at Nina.
“Why? Is having your crops taken away not troubling?”
He asked in what appeared to be genuine confusion.
“If you do not provide us with food, we will simply take it.”
“Oh come on!”
Shig shouted, bringing his face threateningly close to Al’s.
“We’re asking for a trade. If you continue taking away our food, we will burn out all of your nests.”
“That would be troubling.”
Al uttered the exact words he did earlier.
“Right? So stop it.”
Seeing Al tilt his head cutely, Shig frowned.
“You just don’t get it, do you? You don’t want your friends dead right? So I’m telling you to stop.”
The mouse simply repeated himself, but for me, they had taken on a whole new meaning. I don’t have any grounds for my hunch here, but…
“The group losing numbers would be troubling. However, that is no reason to not take your food.”
He was using the same language as us, but did he truly understand the language?
That’s all I could think.
“Why…? Your friends would die, but you still…!”
Shig stopped himself midway. He opened his eyes wide, like something shocked him.
“No… it’s nothing.”
When I called out to him, his shook his head weakly, like his energy had been taken.
“… Alright. However, providing an endless supply of food would be impossible, so decide on an amount. Moreover, as I said earlier, we would like help around the village.”
Setting aside ordinary pests, I don’t want to end up having to kill a group capable of sharing their opinions. For now, I decided to recognize them as an intellectual race and set up an agreement with them.
“You know what will happen if you don’t stick to your side of the agreement, right?”
Nina called out to Al sharply as he left.
“… Of course.”
Answering with that, Al left.
“I guess… that’s settled? For now, at least.”
As I said that, everyone showed a slightly complicated expression.
“… I don’t want to give them our food.”
“I doubt they’ll stick to the agreement. We should have just killed them.”
They were words filled with confidence. The sentiment wasn’t just his, either. Everyone there appeared to agree.
I don’t think they’ll stick to the agreement, either.
“If that happens, we’ll just do it then.”
“… Professor Nina really is strong.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Nina cocked an eye back at what Shig implied.
“Shig, you’ve been acting weird for a little while now. What’s irritated you so much?”
“Your, well, naivety.”
Saying it as though having to spit it out, he looked me in the eye.
Unable to understand what his intentions were, I could only stare back into his eyes.
“I won’t stay here anymore.”
Shig left the room a few moments later, giving his parting remark over his shoulder in a disgusted tone.
“Let him go.”
Nina spoke up to stop me from calling out to him, lowering my outstretched hand.
—Later that night, Shig left the village.
＊ ＊ ＊
“I see, so he didn’t listen to you either, Rin…?”
Lacking her usual energy, the merfolk girl nodded. If forced to rank everyone, she would probably have been the person closest to Shig. Even so, Rin couldn’t understand why Shig left, either.
His tracks stopped after they reached the edge of the forest. Unlike inside the forest, it was very difficult to follow people in the grasslands. At the very least, he definitely wasn’t hiding in the forest like he did before. Nina couldn’t find Shig, so that much was certain.
Which meant that we had no clue where he went at all. It would take ten days for Shig to get back to his hometown on foot. Without supplies, that wasn’t a distance someone would take by themselves. Besides, he was looked down on in his hometown and neglected. It wasn’t the sort of place he’d want to return to.
That said, I had no idea where he’d go instead.
“Well, he’ll probably come back when he gets hungry.”
The one to say that so matter-of-factly was Nina. She seemed to be very angry—in her own way, at least.
“It’d be great if so…”
It felt different from the last time he rushed out of the academy. Thinking about what he said before he left, he left because he was disgusted by me… However, those eyes. What was with his expression as he looked at me?
Although lizardmen expressions were harder for me to read, was it dissatisfaction, disappointment, or disgust…? It felt like it was something else entirely.
“So what happened with the mice?”
“Oh, we came to an agreement on how much to give them for now.”
I set up a lookout to keep watch just in case, but there haven’t been any raids since last night.
It looks like Al was able to mediate.
We’d agreed to hand them around a tenth of our current overall produce. It wasn’t exactly a small amount, but it wasn’t so much that we couldn’t go on.
“I guess we’ll need to expand the field a bit more?”
And since it wasn’t a tax, it wasn’t as though we had to give them a percentage.
The more we expand our fields, the less the overall percentage of our produce goes to them.
Yuuki nodded. She’d stopped avoiding me after our meeting with the mouse.
That said, she hadn’t gone back to clinging to me like before. She kept a moderate distance between us.
It felt a bit lonely, but that’s just my own selfishness.
Jobs that feel worthwhile, comrades you can rely on, and children depending on you. Being dissatisfied with such a happy life sounds like it would be a curse. Although there were some minor problems, we just had to solve them one by one.
“… Let’s give it our all.”
I muttered, almost as though to persuade myself.