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Authors: Hasekura Isuna

Spice & Wolf IV (6 page)

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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A hall led straight in from the entrance. Lawrence could hear laughter issuing from a large room farther inside the house.

As he walked, flour dust tickled at his nose. No doubt the women were chatting and laughing as they kneaded the newly ground wheat flour into bread dough.

It was a common sight in the countryside.

“If you head into the inner room, you’ll end up white with flour! Come, follow me,” said Sem, opening the door to a large room. He gestured for Lawrence to enter first, then followed.

Lawrence was immediately stunned.

A giant snake was coiled up atop the shelf against one wall of the room.

“Ha-ha-ha, be at ease. It is not alive.”

Lawrence looked again, and true enough, the black gleaming scales were dry, and the body was wrinkled. The skin had been dried, stuffed, and sewn back together.

He remembered the snake-shaped knocker on the door. Perhaps the village truly did worship a snake deity.

At Sem’s suggestion, Lawrence took a seat, thinking he would have to ask Holo about this later.

“So, then, what business is it that brings you to our humble village?”

“Ah, yes. First, as we’re staying in your village, I should offer my regards. Here is some of the wheat I have stocked,” offered Lawrence, producing the sack of wheat he had filled for the occasion. Sem blinked rapidly.

“Goodness gracious! Most traveling merchants these days start talking business from the first word out of their mouths.”

This was a bit unpleasant for Lawrence to hear, given that it described him perfectly—up until recently.

“And what would your other goal be?” asked Sem.

“Ah, well. We are looking for an abbey and were hoping you would know its location.”

“An abbey?”

“Yes. We inquired at the church earlier, but unfortunately they did not know it.” Lawrence’s expression was troubled, though his keen merchant eyes continued to watch Sem carefully for any reaction.

He saw Sem’s gaze drift for just a moment.

“I see...Unfortunately I, too, have heard of no abbey in this region. Where did you come by this information?”

Lawrence’s gut told him that Sem knew.

Hut if he were to lie about his source of information, it could become troublesome later. He decided to be honest.

“In Kumerson. A chronicler there told me.”

Sem’s mustache twitched.

Lawrence was sure he was hiding something.

No—not just that, Lawrence realized.

Sem and Elsa did not just know where the abbey was, they knew what could be found there.

Diana had told him about a monk there—a monk who specialized in collecting tales of pagan gods.

If Sem and Elsa knew about this, too, they might have been pretending ignorance to keep from getting involved.

In any case, Father Franz—the man Diana told Lawrence to ask about this abbey—had already been called to heaven.

It was hardly surprising that those he left behind wanted to close the door on the matter.

“The chronicler in Kumersun told me that if I spoke with Father Franz, he would be able to tell me where the abbey is.”

“Ah, I see...Unfortunately, this summer, Father Franz...”

“Yes, I heard.”

“His loss was hard. He devoted many years to his labor for the village.” Sem’s sorrowful expression did not seem to be an act, but neither was it borne of respect for the Church.

Something seemed awry.

“And now Miss Elsa has taken his place?”

“Even so. She’s quite young—no doubt you were surprised.”

“Surprised indeed. So then—”

Lawrence was about to continue when there was a pounding at the door, and a voice cried out, “Elder!”

The questions Lawrence wanted to ask welled up in his throat, but there would be no gain in haste, he decided.

“You seem to have another visitor. I had best take my leave. I am worried about my companion.”

“Oh, goodness. I am most sorry I was unable to be of any service.”

The knocking continued for a while until Mrs. Kemp went to answer the door.

“I hope the tidings are good ones,” Lawrence heard Sem murmur when a man wearing traveling clothes, his face red and sweaty despite the cold, entered the room briskly, brushing past Lawrence on his way to Sem.

“Elder, I’ve brought this!”

Sem gave Lawrence an apologetic look, and with a smile, Lawrence left the elder’s home.

He felt he had given a good representation of himself as a traveling merchant.

It should be a bit easier to stay in the village now,
Lawrence thought.

But what was it that the man had brought to Sem?

Upon leaving the elder’s home, he immediately saw a horse whose body fairly radiated heat. It had not been tied at a post, but simply left there. A group of children gazed at the animal from a distance.

Based on the horse’s tack, Lawrence could tell that it had been ridden some distance; the man, too, had been dressed for travel.

For a moment, he wondered what would cause a villager to go on such a journey, but then he remembered he had not come here to do business.

His first priority had to be getting Elsa or Sem to tell him the location of the abbey.

So how to do it?

Lawrence remained deep in thought as he returned to the inn.

 

Holo was sprawled out so comfortably on the bed that Lawrence couldn’t help but lay himself down beside her for a nap, only to fall fast asleep.

When he awoke, the room was dim.

“There’d be a poor dinner unless the clothes were folded, nay?”

He opened his eyes and sat up, realizing he was now covered in a blanket he had no memory of using.

“You’re too nice to really do that,” he said, repeating Holo’s earlier line back to her through a yawn.

Holo giggled as she groomed her tail.

“Seems I slept for some time. Aren’t you hungry?” asked Lawrence.

“Even if I was, surely you know I am far too kind to wake you from slumber.”

“And you didn’t take the opportunity to slip some coin from my coin purse?”

Holo merely grinned in her peculiar way, baring her sharp fangs.

Lawrence rose and opened the wooden window, gazing outside as he worked the kinks out of his neck.

“Night falls early here. It’s not so late, but the square is deserted.”

“And nary a stall to be found. Will we be all right for dinner?” said Holo, worried, suddenly concerned as she looked at Lawrence, who sat on the window frame.

“We’ll be fine if we go to the tavern. It’s not as though this town sees no travelers at all.”

“Hm. Let us hurry, then.”

“I’ve only just woken—oh, fine. Fine!” Lawrence shrugged at the glare he caught from Holo, then noticed something as he got to his feet. “What’s that?”

A single, shadowy figure moved across the dim, deserted town square.

As he narrowed his eyes, Lawrence realized it was Evan the miller.

“Oh?”

“—!” Lawrence very nearly cried out in surprise as Holo appeared at his feet. “Don’t just appear like that!”

“My, but you are a skittish one. Never mind that—what did you see?”

Anyone would be frightened if someone appeared before them without so much as the slightest hint of rustling clothing, but Lawrence was not up to quarreling over every one of Holo’s japes. “Nothing important,” he said. “I just wondered where he was heading.”

“Seems he’s bound for the church.”

Millers had to be more honest than any other profession.

Back in Ruvinheigen, Norah the shepherdess was probably attending Church services just as assiduously as ever, even though that same Church imposed difficult constraints upon her work.

Evan might go to services just as often.

“Quite suspicious,” said Holo.

“We’re the suspicious ones.”

As Lawrence and Holo bantered, Evan knocked lightly on the church’s door. His knocking had a strange rhythm to it, as though it were a secret sign to communicate his identity.

There was a furtive quality to his movements, which only seemed strange until Lawrence recalled Evan’s vocation.

And it did not seem that the Church was well regarded in this village, either.

Lawrence turned away from the window with a sigh of faint disappointment when Holo tugged at his sleeve.

“What?”

In response to his question, Holo merely pointed her finger out the window.

Assuming she was pointing at the church, Lawrence looked back out the window at the building.

He was surprised by what he saw there.

“Oh ho, so that’s how it is,” murmured an amused Holo as her tail swished as though sweeping the floor.

Lawrence was mesmerized for a moment by what he saw, but he soon returned to himself and closed the window.

Holo immediately looked up at him, annoyed.

“Only the gods may spy on others’ lives,” he said.

“...Hmph.” Holo said nothing further, only glancing in displeasure at the now-closed window.

When Evan had knocked at the church door, it had of course been Elsa who answered.

As soon as she emerged, Evan had gathered her up in a tight embrace, as though she was something very precious.

Given Elsa’s manner as she leaned in to Evan, it was hard to dismiss the embrace as a mere greeting between friends.

“Are you not interested, then?” Holo asked.

“Perhaps if they were secretly talking of business, I would be.”

“They may well be. My keen wolf ears could listen in—what say you?”

Holo narrowed her eyes and grinned a lopsided grin that showed a single fang.

“To think you’d be interested in such nonsense,” said Lawrence with a long-suffering sigh.

Holo narrowed her eyes even further. “What’s wrong with being interested?” she growled.

“Well, it’s certainly nothing to be complimented on.”

Pressing one’s ears against the wall for hours at a time to overhear someone’s business secrets was no vice—indeed, it was the paragon of mercantile cunning. But eavesdropping on lovers—it was the height of boorishness.

“Hmph. ’Tis not as though I am motivated by vulgar curiosity,” asserted Holo, folding her arms. She cocked her head and closed her eyes, as though trying to remember something.

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
7.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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