Sleeping Beauty, A Princess of Thorns (Part 3/7)
I will be continuing these installments, but not on a daily basis like I originally planned ^^;
「茨姫」”Episode 04: La Belle au bois dormant” from Volume 2 of ダンタリアンの書架/Dantalian no Shoka/Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian/The Mystical Archives of Dantalian.
Sleeping Beauty, A Princess of Thorns (2)
Walking further up the mountain path, without warning, the forest opened into a much broader landscape. There was nothing separating the village from the rest of the mountain, so immediately after leaving the forest you could see rows of houses. It was a small village, and it merged easily into its surroundings. The land itself was more than what normally would be expected, but there were only fifteen houses at most in the entire village.
Houses were here and there surrounded by crop fields, and there were grazing fields on the slope of the mountain dotted with livestock. There was very little level land within the village, with most of the land at a gentle slope, with a few sharp drop offs here and there. It might not have been the easiest place to live in, but it was beautiful. The evening sun was shining brilliantly on the thick green slopes, and countless wildflowers were blossoming from either side of the road.
“What a beautiful village,” said Huey, honestly reflecting.
“Still, there really isn’t anything here…” said the young woman in the cape, smiling shyly.
Seeing how tired Dalian was unused to walking on mountain roads, the woman had invited Huey and Dalian to rest at her house. She said her name was “Talia” and that she lived by herself in the village.
Talia led Huey and Dalian to a stone-built house in the village center which was where she lived. It wasn’t a very large building but it was clearly older than any of the other houses in the village, and there were strange symbols on the gate and its pillars – the same symbols on her her cape.
“Talia, you aren’t by chance the leader of the village are you?” Huey asked with a slightly suspicious expression.
Talia smiled and shook her head.
“No, I’m just a shaman.”
“Yes – Well, I also have priest-like duties… After all in a village like this, there are few that can read the holy scriptures.”
“Ah, I see.” Huey nodded.
A shaman was someone that gathered the roots, leaves, and bark of various plants to make medicines that they would then sell or prescribe to sick people. In a small mountain village such as this, the shamans, who have passed their medicinal knowledge and healing methods down from generation to generation, still serve a valuable role to the people in place of doctors. Along with their medicinal knowledge, it was common for shamans to pass down the people’s faith and folklore as well. The stange symbols on Talia’s clothing were probably remnants of ancient spells and charms.
In fact, the inside of Talia’s home looked just as one would expect from a shaman. Countless jars of medicines lined the shelves, dried herbs and tree roots were hanging from the walls, and several books of medicine were scattered here and there, covered in dust.
Dalian looked around the room, filled with curiosity, and was just about to reach for one of the books when she suddenly stopped. She had fixated on the contents of a clay bowl – Talia’s leftovers, in other words, fried bread sprinkled with sugar.
Dalian froze, glaring at the bread. Her mouth opened halfway, her shameless expression like a dog told that it “couldn’t have any”.
“Um… if you’d like… you can have some…” said Talia, noticing Dalian’s expression.
Dalian’s eyes suddenly lit up, but then she acted as if it didn’t mean much to her, correcting herself with a small cough, before slowly reaching out to the bread. She nodded a short bow to Talia and then ferociously bit into it.
Talia smiled as she looked on from behind at Dalian who was clearly overjoyed.
Huey, meanwhile, looked out the window, pretending not to notice anything.
“Are you looking for the village leader’s house?” asked Talia anxiously, mistaking Huey’s actions.
“No, it’s nothing like that.” Huey shook his head, a little flustered.
“It’s just… I’d like to make sure. The one who rules over this village is Mister John Carabosse, right? I heard that he owns the entire mountain.”
Talia nodded in response to Huey’s question. “Yes, that is certain. Even in this village the master has a summer house.”
“Then, this village must know about the incident that happened at the Carabosse mansion, right?”
“Something happened at the master’s mansion…?”
“Mister Carabosse died about half a year ago, in a fire at his mansion.”
“The master died…!? My god…”
Talia, who had started to boil water for tea for Dalian almost dropped the kettle.
“It was a large fire, the entire mansion went up in flames. His family and servants included, close to twenty lost their lives. The cause of the fire is not known, but some think it may have been arson.”
“Arson?” Talia gasped.
Huey raised his eyebrows. “You really didn’t know? No one sent any word?”
“I haven’t heard anything… I was beginning to think that I hadn’t seen the master in some time, but our young lady hasn’t said anything either…”
“Young lady?” Huey replied in suspicion, caught on Talia’s words.
“Miss Florence is the master’s daughter. She has always stayed in the summer house here.”
“Mister Carabosse’s daughter? Is she in the village now?”
“Yes. We don’t often have the chance to talk to her, but we sometimes see her from the windows. She is very beautiful.”
Huey paused for a moment and thought, then he let out a long sigh.
“So the rumors are true….”
“An acquaintence of an acquaintance of mine is a merchant that often traveled to the Carabosse mansion. He says that he saw Mister Carabosse’s daughter at the foot of this mountain. That was a month ago however…”
Talia’s expression was blank in response to Huey’s explanation.
From this village to the one at the foot of the mountain, the road is fairly harsh, but it’s a distance to where on horseback one could come and go in a matter of hours. It wouldn’t be unusual for Carabosse’s daughter to go that far just to stave off boredom. That must have been what Talia was thinking.
Huey lowered his voice, serious. “Some people suspect that she may have been the one to set fire to the mansion and kill Mister Carabosse.”
“Our lady…?” Talia looked shocked, but after a moment laughed and shook her head.
“That’s impossible. After all our lady hasn’t left this village for many years. Her body is weak and she has never been in much health, that’s why she is here, to recuperate.”
“But it’s not like she couldn’t have gone back to her family mansion, right?” Huey replied with little tone to his voice.
Talia glared back at Huey suspiciously. “Are you with the police? Have you come to take her away?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
Huey smiled bitterly and shrugged his shoulders.
“I said so in the beginning, we’re looking for a book.”
“A book?” Talia replied, looking as if she thought Huey was dodging the question.
Huey slowly nodded. “Its common name is “The Book of Deep Green”. It is a precious book Mister Carabosse is said to have brought back from the East. It is thought that it burned in the fire of his mansion, but the merchent I mentioned before claimed he saw it. He said that when he saw Mister Carabosse’s daughter, she was carrying a book that fit its description.”
“And to investigate that book, you came this far into the mountains?” Talia looked even more suspicious.
“Well, there were various circumstances…” Huey said, with a little self spite.
“…So where is this summer house you were talking about?” Dalian, who had been silently eating up until now, suddenly spoke.
“That’s… in the northern forest…” replied Talia, caught off guard.
The young shaman glanced toward a window that faced the slope leading up to the north. Just as she said, a single building stood on a hill before an expanse of dense forest. It was a tall mansion, complete with a clock tower.
The reason Huey and Dalian hadn’t noticed it before was because the mansion was covered in the same green as the forest around it. The brick walls of the building itself, and even the tall fence that surrounded it were thick with vines. Everything blended in so much that it was hard to make out where the forest ended and the mansion began.
It seemed that the vines were thorned rose vines. It wasn’t uncommon for nobles to plant roses in their summer houses, but the amount in this case was abnormal.
“That is the summer house?” Huey asked as he stared at the strange mansion in the distance.
“Yes… but it would be better if you didn’t go that way.” Talia warned, looking troubled.
“Why? Is the lady difficult to deal with?”
“No, that’s not why, it’s just that the terrain is very difficult to deal with and easy to get lost in, even for us that live here. There are very many people who have gone that way and never come back.”
Huey was shocked, and shook his head. “Why would Mister Carabosse put his summer house in such a place…?”
“I don’t know… It’s not like it’s impossible to come and go, but our lady rarely leaves… Perhaps it was set there to keep out intruders?
As he listened to Talia’s explanation, Huey approached the window and looked at the mansion. The grey bricks had caught the light of the setting sun and glowed a brilliant red. The rose vines had wrapped even around the top of the clocktower and it was certainly altogether beautiful.
A window in the clocktower was open. It was dark within the clocktower and hard to see, but in the reflecting sunlight he could see the faint shape of a woman, a young woman in an elegant velvet dress.
“Unfortuntely, not quite the sleeping beauty… Dalian, do you think she has the phantom book?” Huey asked Dalian in a bit of a joking tone, but she did not answer.
Talia looked curiously at Huey and Dalian and whispered, “Phantom book…?”