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Authors: Hasekura Isuna

Spice & Wolf IV (9 page)

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
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The only decoration in the inn was the embroidered cloth crest, which hung in the hall, left behind by a knight that had evidently passed through long ago.

If Lawrence remembered correctly, the crest—now illuminated by a shaft of moonlight that streamed in through the open window—was the symbol of a mercenary group famous in the northlands of Ploania for killing saints of the Church.

Lawrence didn’t know if the innkeeper was ignorant of this or if he displayed the crest
because
of its connotations.

Looking at the crest made it clear to Lawrence just what the relationship between the Church and the village of Tereo was like.

“Hey, we’re nearly there. Don’t fall asleep yet!” As they climbed The stairs, Holo’s footing became less and less sure, and by the time they came to the door of their room, she seemed to be at her limit.

They entered, Lawrence guessing that she would be hungover again tomorrow, and he felt more sympathy than annoyance toward his companion as he managed to lay her down on the bed.

The room’s window was closed, but a few slivers of moonlight found their way through the cracks. Lawrence opened the battered window and breathed out the hustle and bustle of the day, exchanging it for the solemnly cold winter air.

Shortly after, there was a knock at the door. He turned to see the innkeeper’s wife enter, bringing water and some fruit he couldn’t immediately identify.

He asked and she explained that it was good for hangovers—though unfortunately the one most in need of the cure had already fallen fast asleep. It wouldn’t do to refuse her kindness, so he accepted the fruit gratefully.

The fruits were hard and round. Two fit in the palm of his hand. W hen Lawrence bit into one, the sourness was so intense it made his temples ache.

The fruits certainly seemed effective. There might even be business to be had with them. He made a mental note to look into such the next day, if there was time.

Lawrence thought back on the noisy evening at the tavern.

Holo’s speed at blending into the tavern’s mood was genuinely impressive.

Of course, he’d explained the goal to her ahead of time, as well as the part he wanted her to play.

When a pair of travelers stopped in a tavern, generally they had to either endure endless questions from the patrons or be left out of conversation entirely.

Avoiding these fates took money.

There was no easy way to obtain coin in a village like this with little in the way of commerce—but unless it was completely isolated, Tereo wouldn’t be able to survive without at least
some
money.

This was the main reason travelers were so welcome. Without money, they would have no reason to entertain people whose backgrounds were completely unknown.

Next, the travelers had to eat and drink heartily.

They had no way of knowing the quality of food and drink the village tavern had to offer. In the worst case, a traveler could be poisoned, and even if he didn’t die outright, he could be stripped bare and left in the mountains.

Which meant that eating and drinking indicated trust in the village.

It was important to be careful, but an interesting thing about the world is this: People tend not to be heartless if they feel they are trusted.

Lawrence had learned these things as he had opened new trade routes, but Holo’s skill at fitting into the tavern’s atmosphere was even better than his—and it was thanks to her that he was able to get answers to difficult questions much more easily than he’d anticipated.

Though Iima interrupted his last question, the visit had still gone
well. If it had been a business visit, Lawrence would’ve been willing to give Holo some coin by way of thanks.

That said, it wasn’t much fun to see her accomplish the task so effortlessly when he’d gotten along perfectly well on his own up until this point.

With age came experience, he supposed.

And yet.

Lawrence closed the window and sank into contemplation as he lay himself down on the bed.

Should Holo grasp the ways of business, it would clearly be the birth of a merchant with incredible prowess. With someone who could so adroitly penetrate social circles, Lawrence couldn’t help but dream of the new trade routes he might open. Holo could certainly become such a trader.

Lawrence’s dream was to have a shop of his own in a town somewhere. For the shop to prosper, it was clear to him that two people working would be better than one, and three was still better than two. It was only natural for him to think about how reassuring Holo’s presence would be.

Holo’s home of Yoitsu was not far, and its location wasn’t entirely a mystery anymore.

Even if they were unable to discover the location of the abbey and even if they found no further clues, they would still probably find Yoitsu by the time summer came.

W hat did Holo plan to do after that?

Though it was only a verbal contract, he had promised to accompany her home.

Lawrence looked up at the ceiling and sighed.

He knew full well that parting was part and parcel of travel.

But it was not just Holo’s talent that he would miss. When he thought of their constant verbal sparring, the notion that it would end with their travels together caused his chest to ache.

Having thought it through this far, Lawrence closed his eyes and smiled to himself there in the darkness.

No good would come of a merchant thinking of matters outside business.

That was another lesson he had learned in his seven years of experience on the road.

What he needed to worry about was the content of his coin purse.

What he should be thinking about was how to rein in Holo’s constant gluttony.

The thoughts chased each other through Lawrence’s mind until he finally began to feel sleepy.

No good would come of it.

No good at all.

 

The room’s ragged blankets felt like they had been boiled in a pot, then dried in the sun. They were completely useless against the morning chill.

Lawrence was awakened by his own sneeze. A new day had begun.

At this hour, what little warmth could be found in the blanket was truly worth ten thousand gold pieces—not that he would be compensated for it.

Far from it—the warmth was like a devil child sent to devour his time. Lawrence rose and looked over at the bed next to him. Holo was already awake.

Her back was turned to him, and she looked down, as though busy with some task.

“Ho—”

He stopped in the middle of her name—her tail had suddenly fluffed out in a way he’d never seen before.

" Wh-what’s wrong?” he managed.

Holo’s ears pricked up, and at length she slowly turned around.

The sun had not yet fully risen, and the air was bluish. White puffs of her breath were visible as she looked over her shoulder.

Tears welled up in her eyes, and in her hand was a small round fruit out of which a bite had just been taken.

"...Ah, you ate it?” Lawrence asked, half-smiling.

Holo licked her lips and nodded. “Wh...what
is
this...?”

"The innkeeper’s wife brought it after we came back to the inn last
night. Apparently it’s good for hangovers.”

Evidently some of the fruit lingered in her mouth. Holo squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to swallow, then sniffed and wiped the corners of her eyes. “Eating this would drag me back to sobriety after a hundred years’ drinking!”

"It certainly looks like you could use its help.”

Holo frowned and threw what was left of the fruit at Lawrence, then tended to her still-fluffed tail. “ ’Tis not as though I am hungover
every
morning.”

And thank goodness for that. It’s cold again today, I should say.”

Lawrence looked at the fruit Holo had thrown at him. It was half gone. To have eaten half of the sour fruit’s flesh in a single bite without knowing what to expect—there was no wonder she’d found the taste a shock. While it was impressive she hadn’t cried out, that might have been because she was simply unable to.

"I don’t mind a bit of cold, but no one in the village is yet awake.”

"Surely
someone
is up...but I daresay shops will not be open until late.”

Lawrence stood up from the bed and opened the rickety window, which seemed like it would be little use against even a weak breeze. He looked out; there was nothing but wisps of morning mist in the village square.

Lawrence was used to seeing merchants jostle for space in town square markets. The contrast made this one seem quite lonely.

“I surely prefer a livelier place,” said Holo.

“You’ll find no argument from me there.” Lawrence closed the window and looked over his shoulder to see Holo burrowing underneath the blankets to go back to sleep.

“You know, they say the gods made us to sleep just once a day.”

“Oh? Well, I’m a wolf,” Holo said with a yawn. “There’s nothing for it if no one has yet risen. If I must be cold and hungry, I’d rather be asleep.”

“Well, we
are
here in the wrong season. Still, it’s odd.”

“Oh?”

“Ah, it’s nothing you’d care about. I just can’t quite figure the sources of income for the people here.”

Holo had initially popped her head out of the covers with interest, but at these words, she immediately retreated back within them.

Lawrence chuckled slightly at her actions, and having nothing better to do, he thought the problem over.

Though it was true that this was a slow season for farmers, villages prosperous enough to cease work entirely during the winter were few and far between.

And based on what Lawrence heard in the tavern, they had to pay taxes to the town of Enberch.

Yet the villagers did not seem to be engaging in any jobs on the side.

The village was still very quiet just as Holo had said.

Side jobs for farming villages like this were things like spinning and weaving wool or making baskets and bags out of straw. Such work wasn’t profitable unless the volume was high, so people were generally busy at work as soon as the sun was up. If taxes had to be paid, they would have to work that much harder.

What was even stranger was the excellent ale and food at the tavern the night before.

In truth, the village of Tereo seemed, somehow, to have money. While Holo’s nose for the quality of food was unmatched, Lawrence’s sense of smell was attuned to money.

If he could learn something about the flow of coin in this village, he might be able to do some business here, he thought to himself.

In any case, there weren’t any other merchants here, which by itself was a state Lawrence liked.

He couldn’t help but grin at himself. Here he was on a journey that had nothing to do with business, yet his mind drifted there all the same.

Just then, from outside the window, came the sound of a door creaking open.

BOOK: Spice & Wolf IV
10.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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