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Authors: Hasekura Isuna

Spice & Wolf IV (23 page)

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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“Might I have a word with you?” he asked.

It did not seem likely that he had heard Lawrence’s hushed exchange with Holo.

After all, Holo would not have let her guard down and spoken if that was a possibility.

“Yes, we were just hoping to speak to you,” said Lawrence.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” said Sem, holding himself up on his staff and entering the room. A villager stood behind him, guard ing the door.

Perhaps unused to the prospect of violence, the villager was obviously nervous.

“Please close the door,” said Sem. The villager’s eyes widened in surprise, but he grudgingly did as he was told and closed the door.

It was obvious that he believed Lawrence and Holo were guilty.

“Well, then,” said Sem, placing the candle he held on the table. “Who exactly are you two, then?”

He certainly got right to the point.

Lawrence flashed his merchant’s smile. “We are nobody of note, I should say. I have already told you who I am.”

“Yes, you have indeed told me who you are. Though I have not yet confirmed it, I do believe you.”

Sem’s gaze moved from Lawrence to Holo.

Holo looked down silently, her head covered by her hood.

It almost appeared as though she were sleeping.

“You were asking after Diendran Abbey. What business do you have there?”

Sem had conceded that the abbey existed. This was progress.

When Lawrence had originally inquired about the abbey’s whereabouts, Sem had pretended not to know anything about it.

What he wanted now was to ascertain whether Lawrence and Holo were from Enberch.

But what would he do after gaining that knowledge?

“A person I met in Kumersun told me of the abbot of Diendran Abbey. To be precise, she did not tell me but rather my companion.”

It was Sem’s greatest fear that Lawrence and Holo had been sent from Enberch.

But it seemed that he did not have the patience for subtle questions that would draw out the truth.

He took a deep, wheezy breath, his eyes imploring. “Did you not come here on the orders of Enberch? If you did, how much—how much did they pay you?”

“We did come through Enberch, but it was only one stop on our travels. It is for our own goals that we sought out Diendran Abbey.”

“Enough lies!” shouted Sem hoarsely, leaning forward, his expression almost monstrous in the candlelight.

“We have nothing to do with the dispute between Enberch and Tereo. I only understood the problem by putting together things I heard at your tavern, things I learned by talking to Evan and Miss Elsa, and my own experience,” said Lawrence.

Sem feared the possibility that Lawrence and Holo were spies from Enberch.

The poison wheat problem did not center around heresy and the Church—it was about money.

Depending on the negotiations, the village was not necessarily doomed.

But if the Church got involved, it would not be so simple.

“A-are...are you truly not from Enberch?” Sem himself was probably aware that no answer they gave would fully convince him.

But he had to ask, and Lawrence could only answer one way.

“We are truly not.”

Sem looked down, his face a mask of suffering, as though he had swallowed a red-hot ingot of iron. Even sitting, he had
to
support his body with his staff.

He raised his head slowly. “If that is true..."

No doubt by now Sem knew the villagers’ financial situation.

Lawrence thought this over, and this was immediately clear that if all the wheat was returned, the village would fall into ruin.

This meant the profit that came once every half a year—perhaps only once a year—would vanish in an instant.

“If that is true...might you lend us your wisdom...and your money?”

Holo moved slightly.

She might have remembered Lawrence having to beg for loans in Ruvinheigen.

He’d been caught in a trap and had to frantically run around borrowing money.

At the time, he had felt like a drowning man, trying to breathe even if it meant inhaling water.

But Lawrence was a merchant.

“I can lend you my wisdom. However—”

“I would not ask you to provide it free of charge,” said Sem.

Lawrence met Sem’s keen eyes.

He did not imagine that Tereo had much to offer him by way of compensation.

There were only a few possibilities.

“In exchange, I will guarantee your safety,” said Sem.

Tereo might have been a small village, but it was a community and Sem was its leader.

In a poor village, a merchant’s coin was powerful.

But against the scythes and hoes of angry villagers, a merchant was helpless.

“Is that a threat?”

“The reason I did not simply have you bound on the spot was because you first came to greet me with wheat,” said Sem.

He was quite adroit.

Lawrence did not feel that arguing would improve his situation.

Besides, he had already conferred with Holo; he knew his course of action. Cooperating with Sem would make everything easier.

“I suppose I have no choice but to agree.”

"..."

“However”—Lawrence straightened up and looked Sem in the eye—“should I succeed in turning the situation around, I will ask for appropriate compensation.”

Lawrence was neither begging for his life nor asking to be left some small portion of his own money, but rather making demands of remuneration. Sem seemed momentarily stunned but soon came to himself.

Perhaps he thought Lawrence’s self-confidence was warranted.

Or perhaps he simply wanted to believe as much.

But the truth was that Lawrence lied in order to win Sem’s trust.

He wanted to get away from this village as peaceably as possible. Thus the best course of action was to wait for the messenger from Enberch to arrive, and then Lawrence would see for himself what Tereo’s fate would be.

Assuming that Enberch wished to take control of Tereo as eas ily as possible, it was unlikely that the townspeople would have investigated whether the poisoned wheat had occurred naturally or was the result of foul play.

They would probably leave the mystery unsolved.

“Very well. Tell me all the details,” said Lawrence to Sem. Maybe by some miracle they could turn the situation around.

 

The more of the story Lawrence heard from Sem, the worse it got.

The contract Father Franz had negotiated with Enberch was unlike anything Lawrence had ever heard of, beginning with the stipulation that Tereo could simply name its selling price and amount when selling wheat to Enberch.

But looking at the books that Father Franz had assembled in the church’s cellar, it was easy to imagine that he had powerful supporters somewhere.

Bound in leather and reinforced at all four corners with iron, each volume would have cost a fortune.

Based on the letters that Lawrence had spied on Elsa’s desk. Father Franz had been personally acquainted with the duke of
a
nearby border region, as well as the bishop of a very large bishopric.

Though he was suspected of heresy time and time again, Father Franz had been able to live out his days peacefully, no doubt because of his powerful connections. Like the ropes that are woven together to create a net, the bonds between people could be a source of great strength.

Sem claimed not to know how Father Franz had imposed the contract on Enberch, which was probably true.

He speculated that Father Franz had learned something damaging about Duke Badon, the ruler of Enberch, which seemed likely.

Father Franz had certainly been a remarkable man.

However, this was no time to waste breath singing the praises of the deceased.

If Lawrence could find a way to solve the village’s problem, it would be good business for him, so he wanted to give the matter serious thought.

The extravagance with which the villagers squandered Father Franz’s legacy was nothing short of tragic.

Even if Lawrence were to hand over all his gold and silver in the village’s name, the money would make little difference.

It was clear that if all the wheat was returned, the village would be ruined.

But nothing would come from such thoughts. Lawrence offered t he only possibility he could think of.

“Properly speaking, Enberch will want to purchase wheat from next year’s harvest to make up for whatever they’re left owing now.”

“...Which means?”

“It means that they’ll set a price now for the purchase of all the wheat from your fields next year.”

Sem did not even understand the idea of green harvesting—it was obvious how long the village had been free of worry.

“I-if that is possible, then we would have a reprieve, for the nonce—”

“But the buying party has the advantage. As they are paying for something that does not yet exist, it is only favorable to them if they’re given a significant discount. And once the price is agreed upon, no matter how large the harvest, you must still sell it all at that price.”

“B-but that’s absurd.”

“So even if next year’s harvest is as abundant as this year’s, your income will drop so you will have to speculatively sell wheat from the following year to make up the difference, which means your third year’s income will be even lower. They may even take advantage of your weakness to cancel the deal in case of a poor harvest. I’m sure you understand what would happen after that.”

It was for this reason that villagers normally spent so much time on side jobs during the winter.

They had to save money to prevent others from stealing their land.

“I always thought that all would be well so long as we avoided taxation...That is why I tried so hard to guard what Father Franz left us.”

“You were not mistaken. However, the villagers did not understand how great the gift of Father Franz’s legacy was.”

“I see...I know it is too late for such talk, but when Father Franz first arrived, he asked to stay at the church in exchange
for
his improving relations with Enberch. Though we had a church in our village, we could not abandon our faith in the ancient guardian of the land, Lord Truyeo. Father Franz claimed not to care about that, and he was never involved in any proselytizing. He simply lived in the church.”

The villagers had probably thought of Father Franz as a blessing sent to them by Lord Truyeo.

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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