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Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10
By Isuna Hasekura
OrbitCopyright © 2013 Isuna Hasekura
All rights reserved.
The moment it left port, a ship became a very unreliable mode of transportation.
While sailors considered a certain amount of pitching and rolling to be hardly worthy of mention, those unused to sea travel evidently felt such motions as though the earth itself were giving way.
"Evidently"—as Lawrence himself was not the one who felt this way.
He had two traveling companions, who played happily about on the ship's deck while it remained at the port. Once it launched, though, and they had gone belowdecks with the rest of the cargo and passengers, Col clung to Lawrence and refused to let go.
Slight of build and delicate, his trembling, curled-up form gave him the look of a kitten. Lawrence, naturally, did not laugh, instead letting the boy sit, trembling, upon his lap.
In the seven years since he had turned eighteen and ventured out on his own as a traveling merchant, Lawrence had traveled far and wide and sampled all manner of experiences. He remembered well his first sea voyage and how every movement of the ship had made him want to cry out, so he could hardly laugh at the boy.
Such thoughts occupied his mind as he gently patted the boy's trembling back.
Yet he couldn't help but smile wryly, looking over the dim, musty interior of the ship's hold.
Though it was a bit unfair to the trembling boy, Lawrence rather wished it were his other companion who was in such a state.
If only Col had been the energetic one—the wandering student was often mistaken for a girl and was normally both perceptive and well behaved.
Lawrence sighed as he caught sight of a form descending into the hold from the ship's deck.
" 'Tis the sea! The sea!" His other companion, Holo, plopped herself down, eyes aglitter.
She was hooded and wore a robe that reached all the way down to her ankles, dressed every inch a nun. But with her frolicking atop the deck and her casual cross-legged posture, it was plainly obvious to anyone that she was no nun.
Her appearance was only for convenience's sake; it was easier for all if she appeared as a nun.
So Lawrence had no particular desire to furrow his brow at her coarse manner, but he did pull down the edge of her robe with the hand that wasn't busy patting Col.
"Hmm?" Holo looked over her shoulder at him with a quizzical expression.
"The tail you're so very proud of."
Holo grinned at Lawrence's words, hiding her tail under her robe.
In addition to identifying Holo as a nun, the long, hooded robe she wore served another important purpose. It hid the wolf tail that sprouted from the rump of what appeared to be a young girl, as well as concealing the wolf ears atop her head.
The mouth with which she grinned had very sharp teeth.
Holo was not the young girl she appeared to be.
She was a centuries-old wolf god transformed into human form.
"Still, though—the sea!"
"I know, I know. Could you not calm yourself a bit? You're like a dog seeing snow for the first time."
"Urgh ... how can one remain calm? 'Tis so vast! Vaster than the vastest plain I've ever seen! 'Tis well they call it 'the deep'!"
"You've seen the sea before, haven't you?"
"Aye. I've run my heart out along the beach, jumping into the waves out of a longing to cross the ocean. How grand it would be if I could race over its boundless surface—when humans see birds, do they not long to fly? How can you not long to run, seeing the sea?"
Though she had many a time proclaimed herself to be the Wisewolf of Yoitsu and demonstrated her cleverness to Lawrence time and again, in that moment Holo seemed every bit a puppy to him.
Feeling a bit irritable, he answered her. "I might well wonder what lands lay far across the ocean, but even then, I hardly feel like running over it."
"You're a useless male."
Despite being cut off so curtly, Lawrence didn't so much as wince. He certainly understood what it was to be excited at the sight of the ocean.
While he did occasionally catch a glimpse of Holo's more beast-like tendencies, seeing her act so thoroughly puppyish made him anxious about what could happen in the future.
After all, their ship was bound for the snowy kingdom of Winfiel. A cat would want to curl up in front of the fireplace, but a dog would go dashing through the snow. He wondered seriously if a collar and leash would be appropriate.
As Lawrence mused over such things, Holo sneezed grandly.
"Here, get under this blanket. If you keep running around in the cold and wet, you'll catch cold."
"Mmph ...'Tis a shame the sea wind is so wet. The salt smell confuses my nose, it does." Beneath the blanket that she wrapped around over her robe, Holo sniffed, as though the scent of the familiar fabric would clear her nose. "Oh, by the way—"
"I faintly saw a bit of land ahead. Is that our destination?"
"No, that's just another island. We'll head north from here and probably arrive in the evening."
The kingdom of Winfiel was a large island surrounded by a scattering of smaller ones, separated from the mainland by a strait, across which one could just barely make out the opposite shore.
There was a legend that long ago, a war had raged across the strait, and a warrior who was the incarnation of a war god had thrown a spear all the way across it.
That was, of course, nonsense, but it did illustrate the narrow width of the strait.
"Hmm. Well, I surely hope the wind blows steady."
"We'll make no progress with a headwind, will we? 'Tis well now, though, with our sails full of a tailwind."
For a moment, Lawrence was not sure of what expression he should make. If he flaunted his better knowledge too obviously, there was no telling what hell he might catch for it later.
He smiled, though not so smugly as to invite irritation. "True," he said. "But a ship can make progress even with a headwind. It's a bit slower, of course."
"..." Partially concealed beneath her robe and blanket, Holo looked up at him suspiciously, like a fox peering out of its burrow. Her flicking ears made it clear she doubted the truth of his statement.
"I can understand why you might not believe it without seeing it. But even with a headwind, a boat heads diagonally into the wind, tacking left, then right. Evidently the first sailors to discover this technique were accused of witchcraft by the Church."
"..." Holo glared at Lawrence dubiously for a moment, but eventually seemed to believe him.
"Still, to think we'd end up crossing the sea," he murmured with a slight smile, then looked up at the ceiling of the hold.
With each undulation of the ship, the decks would creak worryingly, but it was a lullaby one had only to become used to. The first time he had been on a ship, Lawrence was terribly afraid it would simply fall to pieces.
"I suppose your beloved horse is resting easy, munching on hay at this very moment."
"It's not as though I wanted to give him a break—there's just little for him to do right now. I envy him."
"Oh ho, whence this bitterness?"
Broadly speaking, the stated reason for Lawrence and his companions' current journey was to fulfill Holo's wish. Of course, both Lawrence and Holo were well aware that was a mere pretense, so Holo was clearly just teasing him a bit.
"I suppose it's true that both of us are on a hiatus from our work ... but it would be nice to just relax, that's all I meant."
Up until a few days previous, Lawrence had been caught up in a disturbance that threatened to rip the town of Kerube—from which they'd departed—in half.
A legendary animal, a narwhal, had been caught in some fisherman's net, and some very clever merchants had fought over the tremendously valuable creature.
Lawrence's original goal had been information regarding the foreleg bones of a wolf-god like Holo, but after a series of twists and turns, he had wound up in the very heart of the tumult.
Many times he had thought of himself as a dirty, money-hungry merchant, but the incident had taught him the truth of the saying that there's always a bigger fish. In Kerube, he had met Kieman, the young manager of a trade guild's branch office, and Eve, who had planned to betray the entire town and keep all the profit for herself.
But in the end, Lawrence had been the key to settling everything to the satisfaction of all and had managed to get the information he sought on the wolf bones, though not necessarily in return for his services. Thus had he found himself aboard this ship.
In his breast pocket were letters of introduction from Kieman and Eve that would give him at least some moderate advantage. On this, his first trip to the kingdom of Winfiel, those letters were weapons whose presence reassured him greatly.
Of course, just as beasts hated the smell of iron, Holo hated the smell of those letters.
"Still, you did receive a reward for all that trouble, did you not? Surely 'twill count as a bit of savings, anyway."
"... Ah, so you're the reason those silver coins went missing from my coin purse, eh?"
"Without my help, you'd hardly have managed such a crisis. Given that, my price is a cheap one," said Holo easily, pulling the blanket more snugly about herself.
The wolf knew exactly how far she could push someone before they lost their temper. Though the contents of a merchant's purse were his lifeblood, Lawrence could not rouse himself to anger and simply gave a helpless sigh.
"Surely you gave the boy his share, too, yes?" Lawrence said, pointing to Col, which Holo sniffed at and closed her eyes.
Col's wits had proven the key to solving their problems in Kerube. But given his personality, he could not possibly have asked for any reward, and even if offered one, he would not have accepted it.
By stealing money from Lawrence's coin purse, Holo had forced him to take it. No doubt she had made sure to do her thieving while Lawrence was out and Col was watching, thus making him an accomplice.
Lawrence patted the boy's curled-up form. Holo's tail swished audibly.
"Still, the Great Abbey of Brondel will be a troublesome place."
"Is it filled with bigoted old men?" Holo's face popped out of the blanket.
Lawrence coughed and patted his chest, then answered. " 'The great abbey of Brondel's reputation precedes it far and wide. Its august grandeur makes pagan gods tremble, and its magnificence supports countless men. Ah, mighty abbey of Brondel, dwelling place of the most high God.' "
Holo wrinkled her nose at Lawrence's grandiose recitation of the famous lines of poetry. As she was one of those same pagan gods, it did not sound like a particularly pleasant place for her.
"Of course, regardless of how many saints it may have produced long ago, these days people like us should feel right at home there."
"Its holy reputation means it receives huge donations of land and truly outlandish tithes—and given that, they have to manage those assets, whether they want to or not. And being the dwelling place of God, they have keep those assets sparkling. These days it's practically a trading company itself. And as it's run by an arrogant monk, it's got all the ingredients to be a nasty place indeed."
Once, when the papacy of the main Church sect had clashed with a secular monarch, it was said that the pope had banished the king to the snowy plains for a full three days. A merchant would hardly have gotten off so easily. Anecdotes of the unreasonable obstacles the Church foisted on merchants were a popular topic of small talk among them when trying to close a deal.
Nevertheless, recent rumors were that the great Abbey of Brondel's business had receded, though the only ones to suffer during such recessions were the commoners—the nobility only grew more confident.
"And the bones we seek are in this nasty place?" Holo lowered her voice, given the topic.
Lawrence nodded vaguely—though he had received the information from Eve, he was none too confident in it.
"There's a good chance of that, but in any case they'll be hidden away behind the great walls of the abbey. They say God himself doesn't know what happens within them."
"I once heard a sermon that said nothing can be truly hidden."
"Your feelings show up well enough in your ears and tail, it's true."
"Aye, and yours are all over your face," said Holo, yawning lazily, which Lawrence could not help but yawn at himself. Regardless of how they'd been when they first met, conversations like this were mere greetings between them now. At the moment, he was more worried about his exchanges with Col than with Holo.
Lawrence gently pulled back the blanket Col was wrapped in and saw that the boy had fallen asleep. If he stayed asleep, he would not have to fear the rocking of the boat, nor worry about getting seasick.
He replaced the blanket carefully and saw Holo retreating back within her own blanket, having leaned out of it to peer at Col—evidently she was concerned about him, too.
"Wake me once we've arrived."
In response to her muffled words, Lawrence patted her hunched-over back lightly, which made the blanket rise, then fall. Taking this as a satisfied sigh, Lawrence smiled, leaving his hand on her back.
The ship's progress continued uneventfully, and it arrived as planned in the Winfiel kingdom's port town of Jiik.
When they had launched, they sky had been a leaden gray, but as they descended from the ship's deck to the docks, it was dyed a deep red, and Col—who had ended up sleeping the rest of the journey—squinted his eyes at the brightness of it.
A port in winter could often make one think of a summer sunset. Perhaps this was thanks to it being a place where the activity level rose with the temperature, a place that had now grown quiet. It felt languid, suffused with melancholy. And yet it felt too quiet, perhaps because of the cold.
The kingdom of Winfiel was the very image of a northern country, as the winter snows closed much of the land off.
As the sun set, the port air grew shockingly cold, and looking around, Lawrence could see piles of snow at the corners of buildings and the edges of the streets.
Col had only a tattered pair of straw sandals, and he shuffled his feet rapidly, as though unable to keep them still for even a moment.
"Come, you, if we don't find an inn soon, we'll all freeze on the spot," said Holo. She, too, had slept most of the journey away, curled up in a blanket, and having just awoken evidently found the chill intolerable.
"Didn't it snow often in your homelands? Have a little endurance."
"You fool—should I cover myself in fur right here, then?" said Holo, wrapping her arms around Col from behind.
Lawrence only cocked his head by way of response and then produced the letter of introduction he had gotten from Kieman and looked it over.
" 'See Mr. Deutchmann of the Tyler Company,' eh?"
On the letter was a careful drawing of the Tyler Company's seal, and Lawrence began walking, letter in hand. The docks were full of well-known companies, some of them with names that nearly anyone would have known.
Despite the Winfiel winters being very snowy, the other seasons were quite mild with plenty of rain, and the fertile, grassy plains stretched on and on. Any livestock raised there, be they horses or cattle, grew healthy and strong in such conditions—but the sheep were particularly famous.
It was often said of the kingdom that it grew more wool than grass, and it exported more wool than anywhere else in the world.
The loading docks of the trading companies along the port were piled high with bundles of wool bags, and dangling from each company's eaves was a sign sporting the ram's horn mark that was proof the merchant had the monarchy's permission to deal in wool.
The Tyler Company was at the end of a row of shops, and its facade was of the highest quality. The sun had set, and candlelight from within the building seeped out, which was the best sign of a successful business.
Lawrence knocked on the wooden door, which soon opened.
No matter the town or port, merchants and craftsmen were always very particular about their hours of business.
"And who are you?"
"My deepest apologies for the late hour. I'm hoping to see Mr. Deutchmann of the Tyler Company."
"Deutchmann? And you are—?"
Excerpted from Spice and Wolf, Vol. 10 by Isuna Hasekura. Copyright © 2013 Isuna Hasekura. Excerpted by permission of Orbit.
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