Spice and Wolf Vol. 2, p.1Isuna Hasekura
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The rolling hills continued endlessly.
Boulders were prominent; grass and trees were few.
Thee road wound thinly between the hills, frequently becoming so narrow that even the single cart was enough to block it entirely.
Just when it seemed the climbing would continue forever, the road turned down, and the seemingly endless naked rocks and dried shrubs suddenly changed to a wide awaiting vista.
While the journey had been more interesting than endless grass plains, most anyone would find the travel tiresome by the
From the road, tinged with a loneliness that suggested the coming winter, the voice that once sounded its delight at the undula-I ions of the stony, ocher path was now gone. Its owner was now apparently too bored to even sit on the bench of the cart; she lay instead in the bed, grooming the fur of her tail.
A young man drove the cart, apparently used to such selfish behavior on the part of his companion. The man, Kraft Lawrence, was instantly recognizable as a traveling merchant. This year made the seventh since he’d struck out on his own, and he
appeared to be around twenty-five. As if in acknowledgment of the chill that came with the deepening autumn, he tightened the fur coat that was wrapped around his body.
Occasionally, the chill also caused him to stroke his chin, covered in the sort of beard one often saw on traveling merchants, since when he sat still, he became slightly cooler. Letting a breath escape that would have turned foggy once the sun set, Lawrence glanced over his shoulder at the bed of the cart.
Normally filled to the brim with various goods, the bed was enjoying a brief respite. All that stood out was the firewood and straw that provided warmth at night, along with a single bag, small enough for a child to carry.
However, the contents of the bag were more valuable than an entire cart full of wheat would have been. The bag was full of high-grade pepper worth roughly one thousand silver trenni. If it could be sold in a mountain town, it might fetch as much as seventeen hundred pieces, but the bag was currently being used as a pillow by Lawrence’s companion, who continued lazily grooming her tail.
She was small with a face that was somehow imperious despite its apparent youth, reminiscent of a queen relaxing in her palace. The hood of her robe was thrown back, exposing her pointed ears as she attended to her tail, her expression listless.
Given the tail, the pointed ears, and the fact of her status as a merchant’s traveling companion, one might reasonably think of a dog, but unfortunately she was no dog.
She was apparently a “wisewolf,” a wolf-god from the taiga in the distant north — but Lawrence felt there was some question as to whether she could be properly called a wolf.
After all, this “wolf” appeared to be a young girl. Calling her a wolf seemed slightly inaccurate.
“We’ll be reaching the town soon. Be careful,” he said.
It would be disastrous for the girl’s ears and tail to be seen by others. The truth was, her canniness would put the instincts of even the sharpest merchant to shame, thus Lawrence didn’t need to warn her of the danger. However, she was so thoroughly relaxed that he simply had to speak up.
Not so much as glancing at him, she only yawned hugely.
Her yawn concluding with a vacant exhalation, she now nibbled puppylike on the snow white tip of her dark brown tail, as though it itched. She did not appear to have the slightest inclination to “be careful.”
Having introduced herself as a wolf and possessing these ears and this tail, Holo certainly relaxed with the carelessness of an animal, if nothing else.
A slight vocalization that could have been a reply (or it could simply have been a small utterance of satisfaction at having conquered the itch) reached Lawrence’s ears. Tired of waiting for her reply, he looked forward again.
Holo and Lawrence had met two weeks earlier. Owing to a si range event in one of the villages Lawrence stopped at, Holo had joined him, and the two had been traveling together since. With her ears and tail, she was currently regarded as an evil spirit, and the Church sought to end her life to preserve order.
Lawrence had not a shred of doubt that she was in fact a wolf rather than a simple girl, who happened to have a wolf’s ears and a tail.
Just nine days earlier, in the river town of Pazzio, as a riot of silver chasing had come to a close, he had seen her true form.
The huge brown wolf named Holo had understood human speech and possessed an overwhelming presence that was undeniably that of a god.
Yet Lawrence believed his relationship with Holo the Wisewolf to be one of money, of partners in lending and borrowing, of companions in travel, and of friends.
He looked behind him again, and Holo appeared to be curled up in sleep. Although her legs were covered by the pants she wore under her robe, the robe was still hitched up around her waist from her earlier tail grooming, and there was no denying the fact that the sight was slightly lascivious.
Her sleeping expression was the very picture of defenselessness, and coupled with her slight form, Holo looked less like a wolf and more like the sort of girl a wolf was likely to eat.
Nevertheless, Lawrence did not take her lightly.
Her wolf ears pricked suddenly, and she stirred, pulling her hood over her head and drawing the edge of her robe down to cover her tail.
Lawrence looked ahead just as the road drew near the face of a hill and curved. Before them, the figure of a single merchant on foot could be seen.
Cautioning Holo had indeed been unnecessary.
Holo the Wisewolf was hundreds of years old, and the young man’s twenty-five years of experience were far from sufficient to make him her equal.
However, Holo looked to be the younger of the two, with her true age being many times greater than what she appeared to be, a fact that occasionally irritated Lawrence.
It was Lawrence’s hope that Holo would act more in keeping with the apparent difference between their ages, obediently minding him when she was told. A variety of problems could have been avoided this way, and the wolf would have him to thank for this — but unfortunately, the opposite was much more common.
Lawrence glanced back at the cart bed once more.
Despite the surreptitious nature of Lawrence’s backward peek,
Holo returned his look from where she lay, curled up around the bag of pepper.
She threw him a mean-spirited grin as if to say that yes, she could see everything ahead just fine, before closing her eyes once more.
Lawrence looked back to the road.
Perhaps enjoying the cart ride, Holo’s tail flicked back and forth.
The town ahead bore the strange name of Poroson.
Beyond the town to the north and east (they would travel toward towns and villages that lay many days beyond the highlands in the foreground), the dress and food of the people would change — even the gods worshipped would be different. The pair would find themselves in a truly foreign land.
Lawrence had heard that Poroson was until recently known as a gateway to another world.
Descending to the west of these rock-strewn highlands, one would find abundantly fertile, forested land in all directions. Yet I he land, hemmed in as it was by the surrounding rocks, which yielded little springwater, was difficult to farm. The only reason to take the trouble of founding a town here was its position as this gateway to another world.
They continued through the fields. Lawrence could hear the faint cries of goats through the morning haze as he counted the many gravestone-like posts he saw. The posts were carved with the names of many generations of sages in
Long before it was known as a gateway to another world, Poroson was a holy land to a certain pagan faith.
Many years had passed since the Church, following the will of its god, sent missionaries to convert the heathens, starting a war to purify this land tainted by impure beliefs. Poroson was a psychological turning point in the process of the destruction of the old faith. Once the Church was on the verge of wiping out the pagan faith in the area, the priests commanded that a town be founded there.
Poroson soon became the staging area for the missionaries and knights heading north and east after the remaining pagans, and it came to have a reputation as a crossroads for both goods and people.
The missionaries with their tattered, hermit-like robes and the knights with righteous swords in hand, ready to reclaim land in the name of their god, were now gone.
All that passed through the town these days were woven goods, salt, and iron from the north and east and grain and leather from the south and west. The holy wars of the past were long gone, replaced by the continuous comings and goings of shrewd merchants.
Holo’s presence made it necessary for Lawrence to take roads with little traffic, but along certain ancient trade routes, they continually passed carts laden with rare goods. Many of the textiles they saw were of particularly fine quality.
Despite the brisk trade, Poroson was rather modest, thanks to the habits of its residents. The wealth of commerce provided for a magnificent wall around the town, but the buildings within it were of humble stone construction, their roofs thatched with straw. It’s true that wherever goods and people intersect, money will be left behind and the area will prosper, but Poroson’s circumstances were slightly different.
The residents were all highly devout and gave most of their money to the Church. Furthermore, Poroson was not the holding of a particular nation, but rather of the religious capital of Ruvin-heigen to the northwest, so tithes did not stay in the town’s own church, but instead flowed to the larger city. In fact, the Church offices managed land taxes as well, so Poroson did not even control its own tax revenue.
The residents of the town had no interest in anything beyond their own humble lives.
When a bell sounded through the morning haze, the workers in the fields paused in their labors and turned to face the sound, putting their hands together and closing their eyes.
In a typical town at this hour, red-faced merchants would be busy jockeying for position in the town square, but here there was no such rude commotion.
Not wanting to intrude upon the residents’ prayers, Lawrence stopped his cart horse. Then, putting his hands together, he offered a prayer to his own god.
The bell rang a second time, and when the people returned to I heir work, Lawrence made his cart horse walk again. Suddenly, Holo spoke.
“Oh, so you are a religious man now, are you?”
“I’ll pray to anyone who can promise me safe travels and tidy profits.”
“I can promise you a fine harvest.”
Holo faced Lawrence as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.
“You want me to pray to you, then?”
Holo knew and hated the loneliness felt by gods. Lawrence believed she couldn’t possibly be serious, but he ventured to ask.
He suspected she was joking with him out of boredom.
As expected, her reply came in a purposefully sweet voice.
“Yes, I certainly do.”
“What shall I pray for, then?” asked Lawrence, by now used to this sort of treatment from Holo.
“Whatever you like. I can provide a bountiful harvest, naturally, but safe travels are also no problem for me. I can predict the winds and rain and tell whether springwater is good or bad. And I’m just the thing for getting rid of wolves and wild dogs.”
She sounded just like a village youth extolling his virtues to a merchant guild, but Lawrence thought for a moment before answering.
“I suppose safe travels would be worth praying for.”
“They would, would they not?” answered Holo with a self-satisfied smile, inclining her head slightly.
Seeing her carefree, innocent smile, Lawrence wondered whether she wasn’t simply trying to praise her own abilities over the god of the Church. Every once in a while, Holo exhibited a certain childishness.
“Well, I suppose I’ll ask for safe travels, then. It would be heartening to be able to avoid wolves.”
“Mm. Safe travels, is it?”
Lawrence tugged on the reins to avoid a donkey grazing on the grass.
The gateway to the town walls would be upon them soon. The end of a line of people waiting for inspection was visible even in the morning mist.
Though the entire town was part of the Church, many merchants came to it from pagan lands, so Poroson was remarkably accommodating — its inspection of goods was much stricter than its inspection of people. Lawrence was considering the tax likely to be levied on the pepper he carried when he became aware of someone looking at him from the side. There was only Holo.
“What, is that all?” Her voice sounded slightly irritated.
“I am asking you if all you require is safe travel.”
Staring blankly at Holo for a few moments, Lawrence realized what she was talking about.
“What? You wanted me to put my hands together and pray?” “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said with a vexed glare. “I’m guaranteeing you safe travel — surely you don’t think that a single, useless prayer is compensation enough.”
Lawrence’s mind turned like a waterwheel as he arrived at the obvious conclusion.
“Ah, you want an offering.”
“Hee-hee-hee.” Holo gave a self-satisfied chuckle.
“What do you want?”
“You gorged yourself on the stuff yesterday! It must’ve been a week’s worth that you ate.”
“I’ve always room for mutton.”
Never shy, Holo licked her chops at the memory of the meat. It seemed even the noble wolf was a mere dog when presented with dried victuals.
“Cooked meat is good, too, but I simply cannot resist the texture of dried meat. If you would pray for safe travels, dried mutton is the price.”
Holo’s eyes blazed, and her tail switched restlessly underneath her robe.
Lawrence ignored this completely, instead looking at the goods loaded on the horse that was being led by the merchant in front of them. The horse’s back was piled high with a mountain of wool. “What about that wool — is it good or bad?”
Wool evidently suggested sheep. Holo looked at the mountain of wool, her eyes brimming with anticipation, before answering quickly.
“It is quite good — so good I can almost smell the grass they ate.”
“I thought as much. My pepper should fetch a good price here.” If the wool was of high quality, the meat would be excellent, too. And as the quality of meat rose, so did its price. Expensive meat made his pepper, which could be used to flavor and preserve it, all the more valuable, and Lawrence began to look forward to selling his wares.
“Also, dried meat with lots of salt is good. Just a little bit of salt will not do. Also, meat from the flanks is the best, better than meat from the legs. Here now, are you listening?”
“Salted meat! From the flanks!”
“You have excellent taste. That’ll cost us.”
“Hah, ’tis a bargain at twice the price.”
It was true that some good mutton was a bargain if it meant Holo would guarantee safe travels. After all, her true form was a giant talking wolf. She could probably even protect him from the kind of ill-mannered soldiers that were hard to distinguish from out-and-out thieves.
Nonetheless, Lawrence assumed a purposefully blank expression as he regarded Holo.
Her eyes were fixed greedily upon the imagine
“Well, now, you must have quite a bit of money indeed. If you’ve got so much, perhaps you should repay me.”
Yet his opponent was a canny wisewolf. She soon discerned his motive.
Her demeanor tightened suddenly as she glared at him.
“That approach will no longer work.”
Apparently she had learned from the apple incident. Lawrence clicked his tongue in irritation, his face grim.
“You should’ve just asked nicely in the first place, then. It would’ve been so much more charming.”
“So if I ask charmingly enough, you will buy some for me, then?” asked Holo without a trace of charm.
Lawrence eased the horse forward as the line moved, answering flatly, “Of course not. You could stand to learn something from those cows and sheep — try chewing your cud, hm?”
He grinned to himself, proud of his wit — but Holo’s face went blank with anger, and without a word, there on the driver’s seat of the wagon, she stomped on his foot.
The road was nothing more than hard-packed dirt, the simple houses made of rough-hewn stone and thatched with grass.
The people of Poroson bought nothing but the barest necessities from the merchant stalls, so there were surprisingly few such stalls.
A goodly number of people moved about the town, among them merchants with carts or backs fully loaded, but the atmosphere seemed to suck up the normal town chatter like cotton, so it was oddly quiet.
It was hard to believe this quiet, simple, proud town was a nexus of foreign trade that earned dizzying amounts of money every day.
After all, missionaries whose street-corner sermons went largely ignored in other cities could count on gratefully attentive crowds here — so how was profit so effectively made?
To Lawrence, the town was nothing less than a mystery.
“’Tis a tedious place,” came Holo’s assessment of the uniquely religious town.
“You’re only saying that because there’s nothing to eat.”
“You speak as though I think of nothing else.”
“Shall we take in a sermon, then?”
Just ahead of them, a missionary preached to a crowd, one hand on a book of scripture.
Spice and Wolf Vol. 2 by Isuna Hasekura / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes