Spice & Wolf, Vol. 4 | Chapter 22 of 39

Author: Isuna Hasekura | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1623 Views | Add a Review

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Lawrence was telling of a time he had transported cargo by ship. Evan knew little of the ocean and was keenly interested.

“Once we learned we had safely passed the cape, we all came abovedeck to discover there were ships all around us.”

“Even though it was the sea?”

“Well, it’s only natural for there to be ships in the sea,” said Lawrence, chuckling in spite of himself.

Elsa sighed a long-suffering sigh.

Evan was the only one among them never to have seen the ocean, so his position was a bit unsteady.

But Lawrence understood what Evan had meant to say, and so he continued. “It was an amazing sight. The sea was dense with vessels, all hauling in great mountains of fish.”

“Wouldn’t…wouldn’t they run out of fish to catch?”

Holo shot Lawrence a glance of extreme skepticism, as though to say, “Even if he’s lying, nobody could be that ignorant.”

“Anyone who’s seen the sea there during that season will tell you about the black rivers of fish that run through the water.”

The herring schools were a magnificent sight. It was said that a sharpened stick thrust at random into the water would come back with three fish upon it.

It was unfortunate that short of having Evan see the sight with his own eyes, there was no way Lawrence could convey to him the truth or scale of the sea.

“Wow…I can’t really imagine it, but I guess the outside world is a big place.”

“But the most surprising thing on the ship was the food,” continued Lawrence.

“Oh?” Holo was now the most interested party.

“Yes, since there were merchants from so many different regions. There was a man from a place called Ebgod, which is near a salt lake. His bread was incredibly salty.”

Everyone looked at the bread in the middle of the table.

“I can understand making bread sweet, but his bread tasted as though it had salt sprinkled over it. It did not quite agree with my palate.”

“Salt, eh? He must have been a rich man to put salt upon bread!” said Evan, impressed.

Tereo was landlocked, and if there was no nearby source of rock salt, then it would have been a luxury item.

“Yes, but Ebgod has a salt lake. Imagine a salt river running through town and every field as far as the eye can see turned to salt. There’s so much salt everywhere that the people there enjoy salty bread.”

“Still, salty bread!” said Evan, disgust on his face.

“There were other strange things on the ship, too—like flat bread baked in the bottom of a bowl.”

A loaf’s value was in its rise—or at least, anyone used to baking bread in an oven would think so.

“Ha, surely not.”

Lawrence was pleased to hear the answer he had expected. “Ah, but if you make bread from oats, then it will turn out flat and even, will it not?”

“Well, I suppose…,” said Evan.

“Would you not eat unleavened bread, then?”

Lawrence was referring to bread that had not been blessed by the bread spirits but had rather been baked immediately after kneading.

It was unlikely that Evan had never eaten it—but he probably hadn’t enjoyed it much.

“While one could hardly call oat bread delicious even as flattery, the bowl bread was quite tasty, particularly topped with beans or the like.”

“Amazing,” said Evan, impressed, his eyes staring distantly at some far-off imagined place.

By contrast, Elsa had torn off a piece of rye bread and seemed to be comparing it to the flat bread in her imagination.

The two were highly amusing.

“Anyway, the world is a vast place with much to see,” said Lawrence, wrapping things up. Next to him, Holo had finished eating and seemed to be getting restless. “My deepest thanks to you for preparing such a feast for us,” he added.

“Not at all. It is thanks to your generous donation. This is the least I could do,” said Elsa.

If only she would spare us the slightest smile when she said so, Lawrence thought ruefully.

Nonetheless, it did seem she hadn’t felt forced to make the dinner, which gave him some measure of relief.

“So, about later…”

“If you wish to read the books at night as well, I do not mind. I know your aim is the northlands, and if it starts to snow, it will make your situation difficult.”

Conversation moved quickly with Elsa. Lawrence was grateful.

“Well, then, Mr. Lawrence—you’ll have to tell me more stories later!” said Evan.

“He already said he was in a hurry. And today you have to practice writing,” said Elsa.

Evan ducked his head, looking to Lawrence with a pained expression that begged for help.

That brief instant made Elsa and Evan’s relationship crystal clear.

“When the opportunity arises, I shall. And we’ll impose upon your church’s hospitality a bit longer then, thank you.”

“Yes, feel free.”

Lawrence and Holo stood, giving their thanks for dinner one last time before leaving the living room.

He noticed Elsa giving Holo a casual glance as they went, but Holo pretended not to see it.

“Oh, that’s right.” Lawrence turned just as they were walking out the door and looked to Elsa. “About the question you asked me earlier.”

“I will consider it on my own,” she said. “‘Think before asking,’ Father Franz used to say.”

Elsa was not the timid, scared girl she had been earlier in the day, but instead showed the stoutness of heart she would need to support the church on her own.

“I understand. If you want to hear the thoughts of another, please do come and ask.”

“I shall, thank you.”

Evan, unable to follow the conversation, looked back and forth between Lawrence and Elsa until a call from the latter put his attention to other matters.

Despite his complaints, Evan seemed to be enjoying his exchange with Elsa as they started clearing the dining table.

Though Evan seemed by turns put-upon or annoyed by Elsa’s constant corrections, he would sometimes take her hand or say her name, and the two would share a quiet smile.

It was the sort of interaction Lawrence had deliberately avoided paying attention to as a merchant.

No, he had even mocked them.

He held the sconce with its lit candle and gazed at Holo’s form in front of him there in the hallway, illuminated by the candle’s flickering light.

Eventually Holo turned the corner, and she was out of his sight.

Lawrence thought back.

He had plied the dark roads, stingy even with his candles, picking up gold coins as he traveled.

Even though he’d become desperate enough for company to begin to wish he could talk to his horse, he still had never taken his eyes from the path of those gold coins. This behavior seemed truly strange in retrospect.

He continued his slow walk down the hallway, relying on the small candle to light his way.

As he turned the corner, he saw Holo there, already reading a book.

Suddenly she spoke. “And what happened to you?”

“Hm?”

“That expression of yours—did a hole suddenly open in your coin purse?” she asked with a laugh.

Lawrence put his hand to his cheek in spite of himself. Outside of business negotiations, he was quite oblivious to the expressions his face made.

“Was I making a face?”

“Mm.”

“Oh. Wait…oh.”

Holo’s shoulders shook with mirth. “Perhaps the wine has gotten to you?”

Lawrence reflected on this; his head did feel a bit muzzy, come to think of it.

No—he knew exactly what it was that had made him fall into such a strange mood.

He was simply unsure where that left him.

“Those two certainly get along well,” he said, meaning nothing in particular by this.

He had truly not put any thought into the muttered statement.

But the moment he said it, Holo made an expression that he would long remember.

Her eyes were wide and round.

“Wh-what’s wrong?” asked Lawrence—now he was the surprised one.

But Holo merely stared, evidently too stunned to voice anything more than an inarticulate groan. Eventually she returned to herself, but merely stared off into space, an expression of deep distress on her face.

“…Did I really say something that strange?” Lawrence asked.

Holo did not reply, her fingers restlessly flipping corners of the book’s pages.

Her expression was troubled, but whether she was stunned or angry or at a loss, it was hard to tell. Just looking at her, Lawrence himself was becoming upset.

“Er—well, now—look, you—,” she started.

At length, she glanced over at him. Something in her eyes looked as though she had given up on something.

She seemed so deeply distressed that Lawrence dared not ask what was wrong again. If he did, she might be likely to collapse on the spot.

What was worse, when she continued to speak, he didn’t understand what she was saying.

“I, er…for the most part, I…I know well my own good points and the bad as well.”

“Ah, oh.”

“But…er…perhaps it is strange to say so myself, but…having lived so many years, I can laugh off most things. Of course, sometimes I cannot. You should know this quite well yourself…yes?”

Somehow, Holo seemed to have been forced to make a difficult decision. Lawrence drew back a bit and nodded.

Holo put down the book she held, sitting cross-legged and grasping her ankles, her head low. She seemed in truly dire straits, avoiding looking at Lawrence as though it would blind her to do so.

Seeing her on the verge of tears, Lawrence could not help but feel deep concern. Then she spoke.

“Come now, you—”

Lawrence nodded.

“I…I wish that you would not sound so envious when you speak of them,” she said.

Lawrence stood there, stunned, as if he’d been walking a crowded street only to sneeze and find everyone around him suddenly vanished.

“I, too…no, I understand. I understand, but I did not want to say it…that seen from the outside, we, too, must look quite the fools.”

Quite the fools—the implications of the term sunk heavily into Lawrence’s ears.

It was a terrifying sensation, not unlike having completed a large business deal only to discover the calculations had been performed in the wrong currency.

Their relationship was something that had to be considered, yet considering it was terrifying.

Holo forcedly cleared her throat, scratching on the floor loudly with her fingernails. “I myself do not…I do not know why it is so embarrassing. No, I should even be angry—‘those two certainly get along well,’ you said so enviously, so what am I—”

“No,” said Lawrence, cutting her off.

Holo glared at him like an angry child looking at an adult.

“No, I understand,” he continued. “I think.”

Holo’s face became visibly darker at the way his voice grew hoarse at the end of his statement.

“No—I do understand. I do. I always have. I just didn’t want to put it into words.”

Holo began to rise, now on one knee rather than cross-legged. Her gaze was less doubtful and more of a warning—she seemed to be saying that she would not take betrayal lightly.

She might well fly at Lawrence, should he speak clumsily.

Her state seemed to be pushing him into saying something he normally would not have wanted to say.

“I was envious, but not of their relationship itself.”

Holo hugged her knee.

Lawrence continued. “I should have made you give up searching this place.”

She looked at him, stunned.

“Those two are probably going to live together in the church. Elsa’s strength and cleverness will get her through the danger, and though I feel bad saying this, Evan will never be a merchant. But…what of us?”

Lawrence thought he heard a small voice, perhaps the sound of Holo inhaling sharply.

“I turned a profit in Kumersun. You learned more of your home. And you will probably learn still more here, and I am helping you. Of course”—here he spoke a bit louder, perceiving that Holo wanted to interrupt—“of course, I’m helping you because I want to. However…”

That which he had been able to avoid thinking about now confronted him.

Having gotten to this point, it would be a lie to say that the situation was impossible to explain.

But doing so would put more distance between them than slapping Holo’s hand aside or not trusting her could.

No matter how skillfully one evaded, all debts eventually came due.

“However…what will you do after we reach your home?”

Holo’s shadow on the wall became larger, perhaps because of the tail beneath her robe suddenly fluffing up.

But Holo herself seemed to shrink.

“I know not,” came her voice, also small.

Lawrence had asked the question he did not want to ask.

He did not want to ask it because he dreaded the answer.

“I’m sure you will not be satisfied with a mere glance at your home.”

Returning home after so many centuries gone—the words it’s been a long time hardly sufficed.

Lawrence didn’t have to ask what would happen once they arrived there.

He was filled with regret.

If he hadn’t asked the question, the distance between them might well have grown.

And yet—he wished he hadn’t asked.

If only Holo would look at him plainly and say, “There we shall say our farewells.”

Seeing her so troubled made him feel helpless.

“No, forget it. I am sorry. There is no point in speculation,” he said.

This was all pure speculation.

Lawrence’s own feelings were conflicted.

Although parting with Holo would bring with it the pain of loss, he felt he would be able to give her up.

When he took a loss in business, he would spend a few days feeling as though it was the end of the world, only to return to working at making money again as though nothing had happened.

But when the act of thinking rationally about the possibility itself filled him with sadness, what then?

He did not know.

“I am Holo the Wisewolf,” she murmured, staring at the flickering candle. “I am the Wisewolf of Yoitsu.”

Holo rested her chin on her knee, then slowly stood.

Her tail hung limp, as though it was mere decoration.

She looked first at the candle placed on the floor, then at Lawrence.

“I am Holo, the Wisewolf of Yoitsu,” she said, as though the sentence was an incantation. With a quick stride she came to stand directly beside him, then immediately sat down.

Before Lawrence had a chance to say anything, she was lying down on his lap.

“Have you any complaints?” Holo’s normal impudence was undeniably godlike.

But this impudence was entirely different.

“None whatsoever,” said Lawrence.

Neither tears nor anger nor laughter seemed to quite suit this delicate situation, which brimmed with tension.

The candle burned soundlessly.

Lawrence casually rested his hand on Holo’s shoulder as she lay in his lap.

“I’m going to sleep for a bit. Will you read in my place?”

Her face was hidden by her hair, and Lawrence could not see it.

But he knew full well when her teeth came down on his index finger.

“I shall,” he said.

It was like a test of courage—not unlike seeing how close one can bring the point of a knife to a kitten’s eye.

A bit of blood welled up from where his finger had been bitten.

He expected Holo would become truly angry unless he actually did some reading.

The only sound was the turning of pages.

Her evasion of the problem had been very forceful, but she had saved herself and Lawrence both.

She truly was a wisewolf.

On this count, Lawrence had no doubts.

Had the church been a monastery, it would have been time for the morning prayers thanking God for creating the new day.

Of course, it was far too early for the morning worship service.

The only sounds were of the turning pages and Holo’s soft breathing.

Lawrence couldn’t help but feel impressed at the fact that she’d fallen asleep. At the same time, he was a bit relieved that she had.

She had forcibly—so forcibly!—ended the conversation, demanding Lawrence neither say nor ask another thing.

Though she had not answered Lawrence’s question, her actions alone were enough.

After all, they made one thing abundantly clear: Holo did not wish to confront the problem any more than Lawrence did.

If she had changed the subject while the true answer to his question lay within her, Lawrence probably would have been angry. But as neither of them had that answer, he was grateful she had ended the conversation by force.

At the very least, this meant she did not have to come up with an answer right then and there.

Their travels were not over, and they had not arrived in Yoitsu yet.

It was the rare debt that was repaid in full before it came due, after all.

As he thought these things over, Lawrence put down the book he was reading and picked up another volume.

Father Franz had evidently been an intelligent fellow. Within the books, even the lineage of the various gods had been carefully organized, and a glance at the title of each chapter gave one a reasonable idea of its contents. This made the books easy to skim. Lawrence shuddered to think of how difficult this task would have been if Father Franz had simply collected tales at random as he heard them.

However, while flipping through the pages of book after book, Lawrence realized something.

In addition to the normal, common tales of snakes, frogs, and fish, there were many stories of mountain, lake, and tree gods. Likewise, there were tales of gods of thunder and rain, sun and moon and stars.

But stories of bird spirits and beast spirits—there were few of those.

In the pagan town of Kumersun, Diana had told many tales that concerned the bear spirit who destroyed Yoitsu. And near the Church city of Ruvinheigen, Lawrence himself had felt the unmistakable presence of a wolf-god not unlike Holo.

And Diana herself was a bird spirit larger than any human.

Given all this, the books should have been filled with beast legends. Yet Lawrence had found not one.

Did the books that they had brought up from the basement simply not happen to contain any such tales?

At that moment, Lawrence’s eye fell on a sentence written on a piece of parchment that was tucked into the book he had just opened.

“It is not my wish to regard the tale of the bear spirit in this book with any kind of special treatment.”

So far, every book Lawrence had looked through had simply been accounts of the tales Father Franz had heard, written in language as dry as any business contract. Having suddenly come upon this sentence in which he felt he could hear Father Franz’s own voice, he was momentarily stunned.

“Regarding the stories in the other books—there are many which differ in time and place, but which I believe nonetheless refer to the same spirit. However, this particular spirit is the only one whose stories I have organized so thoroughly.”

Lawrence wavered, trying to decide whether to wake Holo.

He was unable to turn his gaze away from the yellowed page. Father Franz’s handwriting was neat, but at the same time, it seemed somehow excited.

“Is the Pope aware of this? If I am correct, then the God we worship triumphed without a fight. If that is proof of His omnipotence, how could I possibly remain calm?”

It seemed as though he could hear Father Franz’s decisive pen strokes.

The passage concluded: “I do not wish to let bias cloud my view of all the tales. Yet I cannot help but wonder if the pagans of the northlands themselves did not realize the importance of the Moon-Hunting Bear. No, perhaps the very fact that I am writing this means that I am already biased. As I assembled these books, I felt strongly the existence of these spirits. If possible, I hope that one would judge not with the narrow mind of a worshipper of our God, but rather with the open heart of those whose love of God is like a zephyr in an open field. That is why I have ventured to leave this book in among all the others.”

As soon as Lawrence flipped the piece of parchment over, the book’s story began, much like any of the other books he had read.

Should he let Holo read it first? Or should he pretend not to have seen it?

The thought flitted through his mind for a moment, but it was too late for that now—and in any case, it would be a kind of betrayal.

He decided to wake Holo.

He closed the book, whereupon he could hear a strange sound.

Plip, plip, plip-plip came the small, dry sound.

“…Rain, eh?”

But as soon as he said it, he realized the raindrops were awfully large. Eventually he realized that the sound was of galloping hooves.

It was said that the sound of a galloping horse at night would draw a throng of demons.

When traveling by horse at night, one could never let it run.

Church follower and pagan alike believed this.

But its true meaning was common sense—a galloping horse at night never brought good tidings.

“Hey, wake up.” Lawrence closed the book and tapped Holo’s shoulder, listening carefully.

Judging by the sound of the hooves, there was a single horse, which entered the village square and came to an abrupt stop.

“Mmph…what is it?”

“I have two things to tell you.”

“Neither good, no doubt.”

“First, I found the book with stories of the Moon-Hunting Bear.”

Holo’s eyes widened in an instant, and she looked at the book near Lawrence’s side.

But she was not the type to have her whole attention stolen by a single thing.

Her wolf ears flicked smartly, and she looked back at the wall behind them. “Did something happen?”

“That seems very likely. There is nothing less welcome than the sound of a horse’s gallop at night.”

Lawrence took the book and handed it to Holo.

She took it, but he did not let go.

“I don’t know what you plan to do upon reading this, but whatever thoughts you have, I’d like you to tell me about them.”

Holo did not look up, but gazed evenly at the book. “Hmph,” she replied. “I suppose you could’ve easily hidden this book. Very well. I promise.”

Lawrence nodded as he stood. “I’ll go look outside,” he said, walking away.

Naturally, the church was dark and quiet, though not so dark that Lawrence’s eyes were useless.

Once he arrived in the living room, there was a bit of moonlight filtering in through the cracks of the window, which improved visibility.

He could see well enough to be able to instantly identify the figure that was creaking its way down the stairs as Elsa.

“I heard the sound of a galloping horse,” she said.

“Any notion of what is afoot?”

He expected she did, otherwise she would not have come immediately downstairs.

“More than I’d like.”

A village like Tereo was too small for the hooves to be from a town lookout coming to warn of a mercenary attack.

It probably had something to do with Enberch.

But had the crisis not already passed?

Elsa trotted over to the window and peeked out through the crack as she had no doubt done many times in the past.

Unsurprisingly, the horse seemed to have stopped in front of the village elder’s house.

“I only know what I have been able to piece together, but judging from the papers on your desk, Enberch should not be able to strike, should they?” said Lawrence.

“A merchant’s eyes are keen indeed. But yes. I believe so myself. However—”

“If you are going to tell me that the situation would be different if I’d betrayed you, I should tie you up immediately.”

Unintimidated, Elsa looked sharply at Lawrence.

She soon looked away.

“In any case, I am a traveler. If things go badly, my position becomes very dangerous. There are scores of tales of merchants who became wrapped up in local problems and lost everything.”

“So long as I am here, I will not allow anything like that to happen. But please, go and close up the cellar. If there is trouble with Enberch, the village elder will certainly come here.”

“And what of the reason we are here so late at night?”

Elsa’s cleverness was different than Holo’s. Somehow Lawrence felt an affinity with the girl. “…Bring a blanket to the sanctuary.”

“Agreed. My companion is a nun, after all. No argument, then?”

Though Lawrence had only wanted to confirm their cover story, Elsa did not reply.

For if she had, she would have been telling a lie.

She was a clergywoman through and through.

“Elder Sem has come out,” said Elsa.

“Understood.” Lawrence turned and went to Holo.

In times like these, Holo’s keen ears were quite useful.

She had already returned most of the books to the cellar and put her robes back on.

“Take that one book with you. We’ll hide it behind the altar,” said Lawrence.

Holo nodded, handing the remaining books one by one to Lawrence, who had descended halfway down the stairs to the cellar.

“This should be all of them,” she said.

“Then take the hallway opposite the living room. If you continue around the corner, it should take you to the entrance behind the altar. Head in there, and take the book—”

Holo ran off without waiting to hear the end of the sentence.

Lawrence climbed out of the cellar, replacing the pedestal and putting the statue of the Holy Mother back on top of it.

He was nervous for a moment, unable to find the keyhole in the floor, but he managed to locate it, and after locking up with the brass key Elsa had given him, he gathered up the blanket and went after Holo.

Church construction was very similar the world over.

Just as he had expected, the entrance was there, its doors open.

He trotted down the narrow path that he knew should lead to the altar, protecting the candle flame with his hand. Soon his view expanded.

A few slivers of moonlight slipped past a window on the second floor, enough that Lawrence felt he did not need the candle.

On the other side of the doors that faced the altar he could hear quiet voices.

He motioned with his eyes to Holo—hurry!

It could be problematic to explain the key if it was found on them, so he hid it behind the altar as well.

They sat on the floor’s only indentation, the place where Father Franz had probably said his prayers for so many years.

Lawrence extinguished the candle and wrapped himself and Holo up in the blanket.

It had been some time since he’d acted so very like a thief outside the door.

Once long ago in a harbor town, he had snuck into a trading company’s building with a friend to peek at the company’s order ledger.

At the time, he had not yet learned how to judge which goods were in demand. Thinking on the situation now, Lawrence realized it was a terrifying risk to take, although still much less so than what he was doing at this very moment.

After all, nothing he was doing in Tereo would make his coin purse any heavier.

The door opened, and Sem’s voice filled the room. “Still, as the village elder, I—”

Lawrence took a deep breath and looked up, dazed as though he had just woken from sleep.

“My apologies for disturbing your holy time in the church,” said Sem.

Behind him were Elsa and another villager wielding a wooden stave.

“Did something…happen?” Lawrence asked.

“I hope that as someone who has traveled much, you will understand. We may cause you some inconvenience for a time. Please bear with us.”

The villager wielding the staff took a step forward. Lawrence noted this and stood.

“I am a merchant who belongs to the Rowen Trade Guild. Many people in the guild’s house in Kumersun are aware that I have come to this village.”

The villager looked back at Sem, surprised.

If trouble was to arise with a trade guild, a village the size of Tereo could not hope to escape unscathed.

In terms of financial strength, a merchant guild was like a nation.

“Of course, Elder Sem, so long as you are taking appropriate actions as the representative of the village, then as a traveler I will certainly abide by them.”

“…I understand. But the reason I appear before you and your companion is not out of any malice, I assure you.”

“What has happened?”

The patter of more footsteps was heard; Evan had probably awoken.

Sem glanced in the direction of the footfalls, then looked back. He spoke slowly.

“Someone in Enberch has eaten the wheat of this village and died.”

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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