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Authors: Hasekura Isuna

Spice & Wolf IV (7 page)

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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Lawrence was genuinely interested to hear what besides curiosity could possibly be her motivation.

She stood that way for a while, and then she finally spoke. “If I absolutely must give a reason, I suppose it would be to study.”

“Study?” It was such an ordinary response that Lawrence couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

What would Holo possibly need to study?

Did she have designs to swindle the monarch of some kingdom?

He briefly considered demanding tax exceptions from this hypothetical king should her plan succeed before shaking his head to clear it of the ridiculous notion. He reached for the water jug to have a drink, and Holo continued.

“Indeed, study. To see how you and I must look to other people.”

Lawrence’s fingers bumped clumsily into the jug, tipping it over. He tried to recover it and failed.

“Listen, you. Would you not agree that one needs an outside perspective in order to truly understand a situation? Are you listening to me?”

Lawrence knew Holo was chuckling under her breath, and even without turning around, he could guess the expression that she wore.

Fortunately, there had not been much water in the jug, so it was hardly a disaster—though the teasing he now endured was disaster enough.

“So that is how I look to others when I’m with you...,” said Holo, mulling it over, her voice serious.

Lawrence shut his ears in an effort to stop himself from reacting further and began to wipe up the water he had spilled.

He didn’t know what he should be angry about.

He didn’t even know why he was so irritated.

Perhaps it was the fact that he had been so obviously flustered.

Holo giggled. “Well, at least I know we’re certainly a match for them.”

Lawrence couldn’t guess what sort of trap he might fall into if he was to respond to this.

He put the jug in its place after finishing what little was left with a gulp.

He wished the water had been strong wine.

“Now then,” Holo said shortly.

Lawrence knew that if he ignored her, it would only bring down her ire.

If it came to a fight, he would certainly lose.

He sighed and turned to Holo, defeated.

“I’m hungry,” she said with a smile.

She was always a step—or two—ahead of him.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“Hah,
that’s
the way to drink!”

Surrounded by a happy tumult in the tavern, Holo—dressed now in her town-girl clothing—set her large rustic mug down on the table.

A saintly beard of white foam rimmed her lips, and she kept her hand on the mug’s handle as if to say, “Another round!”

One after another, the amused patrons of the bar added to Holo’s mug from the contents of their own, and soon hers was fil led again.

Though no one knew who the two mysterious travelers arriving in their town so suddenly were, the pair were generous in treating the tavern’s patrons to liquor and drank full well themselves—their conduct would be well received in any village.

One of the pair was a beautiful lass to boot. They could hardly fail to impress.

“Come now! You can’t call yourself a man if you’d lose to your pretty companion!”

Holo’s hearty drinking ensured that Lawrence would be urged to drink as well, but unlike Holo, he had come for information.

He could not afford to let himself be jollied into drinking himself into a stupor.

He drank just enough not to spoil the festive mood, eating the food that was brought out and gradually making small talk with the villagers.

“Ah, this is fine ale indeed. Is there some secret to its brewing?”

“Ha-ha-ha, right there is! It’s Iima Ranel, the mistress of this tavern. She’s famous around here—her arms are as strong as three men, and she has the appetite of five!”

“Don’t tell the travelers such lies! Aye, here you are, fried garlic mutton.”

The woman in question, Iima, lightly knocked the edge of a wooden plate against the man’s head, then efficiently laid the food out on the table.

With her curly red hair tied back and her sleeves rolled up to expose her powerful-looking arms, a glance at Iima’s robust build made it easy to understand why some said she had the strength of three men.

The man’s reply, though, did nothing to answer Lawrence’s question. “Ouch, damn you! And here I was about to sing your praises!”

“So what you said just now wasn’t praise? You got what you deserved, then!”

Everyone at the table laughed. A different man continued the topic at hand. “The mistress here used to travel with a brewing jug over her shoulder!”

“Ha-ha, surely not,” said Lawrence.

“Ha! No one believes the tale when they first hear it. But it’s true, isn’t it?”

Iima, who was by now serving the drunken patrons of another table, turned around at the question. “It surely is,” she answered. Once she finished serving the other table, she returned to the one at which Lawrence sat. “I was younger and prettier then. I was born west of here in a town along the coast. But it’s the fate of such towns to be swept away by the sea, and one day a huge ship pulled into port, and soon the town was swallowed into the waves.” Lawrence soon realized that she was talking about pirates. “Then I got mixed up with the crowd as it rushed away, and at some point, I noticed I was carrying a brewing jug and a sack of barley,” recalled Iima, her face wistful as she looked off into the distance. She wore a little smile, but it must have been hard at the time.

 

A man at Lawrence’s table thrust out a mug. “Here, one for you, too, Iima.”

“Ah, my thanks. Anyway, a girl on her own wouldn’t have a prayer of finding work in some strange town, and there’d been rumors of pirates striking towns three mountains away. So I just used the river water there along with my brewing jug and barley, and I started brewing ale. And who would be the ones to drink that brew but a passing duke and his men come from afar to check on the resistance against the pirates.” Iima was interrupted by applause. She took the opportunity to finish her ale in a single, great gulp.

“Ah, in truth, I’ve never been so embarrassed as I was that day! And to have the duke discover that this young girl with the tangled hair and dirty face had been brewing ale in the forest—why, when I asked him about it later, he told me he’d thought I was a dryad! I suppose he had an eye for such things.”

Again applause rose, this time from elsewhere. Lawrence looked and it appeared that Holo had won another drinking contest.

“But then, wouldn’t you know it—the duke said my ale was delicious! He said that as the town they were heading to had been sacked by pirates, he and his men would be unable to get decent drink there, so he asked me to travel with his company and brew for them!

“Indeed, the ambitious young maiden, Iima Ranel, thought things were finally going her way.

“But alas! The duke already had a beautiful consort!

“Ah, ’tis well, I thought—my beauty would be wasted on such a
homely nobleman, anyway. Though I had hoped for a black marten fur coat.”

“So you became his personal brewer, then?” asked Lawrence—but no sooner had he asked the question than he realized that couldn’t possibly have been the case.

If she’d been the personal brewer to a nobleman, she would hardly deign to run a tavern in the village of Tereo.

“Ha-ha, no, that would be impossible. At the time, I did not know the ways of the world, so it was surely my dream—but no. But as thanks for traveling with the duke and his men, I was able to dine in his absurdly large mansion, and I was given special permission to sell ale under the duke’s name, and that was boon enough.

“So that’s where the story of the rare ale-selling maiden begins—call it ‘The Brewer Maid’s Tale.’” Iima pounded the table once with her fist, giving everyone sitting around it a start.

“So that is how I came to wander the land, brewing and selling, selling and brewing—many things happened, but for the most part, the road was easy. But then I made a single mistake—”

“Aye, Iima visited Tereo, and tragedy followed!” someone called out with perfect dramatic timing.

It seemed to Lawrence that Iima’s tale was probably told to every traveler that passed through the village.

“I never drank the ale I brewed, you see,” continued Iima, “for I wanted to sell every drop. I’d never had a proper taste myself, but when I came to this village, I tried it for the first time, fell in love with it, and in my drunken state, stumbled right into the arms of my honorable husband!”

Lawrence laughed as he imagined the rueful grin that had to be on said husband’s face at this moment as he toiled in the tavern’s kitchen. As for the rest of the audience, they feigned tears.

“And so I became the tavern keeper’s wife. But this village is a good one—do take your time and enjoy yourselves,” finished Iima with a pleasant grin, then left the table.

Lawrence watched her go, a guileless smile on his face.

“Ah, but this is a fine tavern. I doubt you’ll find its equal even in Endima,” he said.

Endima, capital of the kingdom of Ploania, was the largest city in the northern region of the kingdom—larger even than the Church city of Ruvinheigen.

Saying something couldn’t be found even in Endima was a common way to extol the virtues of the smaller towns and villages of Ploania.

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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