Sleeping Beauty, A Princess of Thorns (Part 4/7)
「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 (3)
After leaving their luggage with Talia, Dalian and Huey took a walk around the village.
The evening sun had already sunk along the western ridgelines and filled the sky with a reddish glow. A peasant who had finished his work in the fields was walking along one of the paths in semidarkness. He was very tan, and had a fearless look about him.
“Good evening,” Huey said to the young workman carrying a hoe on his shoulders.
Even though Huey and Dalian must have been a strange sight, the man didn’t show any sign of suspicion and laughed in reply.
“Hey. Haven’t seen you folks around here before. Must be the scholars Talia brought in to town eh?”
“Scholars?” Huey replied, caught off guard.
On the way to Talia’s house, Huey had seen Talia talking with some of the villagers, but he had no idea that this sort of rumor had spread already.
“No? Aren’t you two looking for a book?” said the man, a little surprised.
“Ah, yes we are… Do you know anything about it?”
“Nope. The only ones around here that can read books are the people in the master’s mansion, and then Talia. I’ve got the feeling I learned a bit when I was a kid, but I’ve forgotten my letters long ago. After all, no one comes this far to sell the newspapers eh?”
Then the man laughed, “But you two really do have too much time on your hands. It’s not like a book’ll fill your stomach, no matter how rare it is!”
“Well, that’s true… They don’t taste very good do they, at least if you’re not a goat.”
The man burst out laughing at Huey’s less than clever joke before continuing.
“Haha, you really are something, you two. I like ya – Oh, by the way, where are you going this late in the day?”
“Well we were thinking of going to the northern forest…”
Huey didn’t have any reason to lie, so he told the truth. After all, in such a small village, outsiders stick out like a sore thumb. He didn’t think he could hide where he was going even if he wanted to.
“The master’s mansion huh… Well that makes sense. You’re looking for a book after all.”
The man nodded, and it didn’t seem like he had a problem with them going, but he continued.
“Still, if I were you I’d wait until tomorrow.”
“There are rarely any lights on in the mansion, and well, night out here in the country is dark. I hear the young lady sleeps early as well. They say the reason she’s way out here is for her health after all.”
“Another thing. If you’re not careful on the way over there, don’t blame me if you never make it back. That place’s a castle of thorns.”
“Talia said the same thing.” Huey smiled a faintly bitter smile.
The man looked like he understood how Huey felt.
“Probably so. Are you spending the night at Talia’s? If not, would you like to stay with me? I don’t have any books, but I do have spirits!”
“Spirits? Do you make it yourself?” asked Huey, a little surprised. There wasn’t any store in the village that looked like it would sell liquor.
The man folded his arms as if he were tracing back through his memories.
“No, someone gave it to me… Hmm… who was it again? Well I guess it doesn’t matter. My house is on the top of that hill over there. If you feel like it, come over whenever you’d like.”
Huey gave his thanks to the workman and they parted ways, Dalian and Huey continuing just as they were along the darkening path by the fields.
“But… this really is a strange village.” Huey muttered after making sure the workman was gone.
“There’s hardly enough of a population here to support itself, and yet I don’t see any signs of interation with the outside. It doesn’t even look like they’ve noticed that that village at the foot of the mountain is empty… But it doesn’t feel like this place is desolate or anything… I wouldn’t go as far to call it ‘abnormal’, but… I’m not really sure.”
“That’s not the only thing,” said Dalian in a harsh tone.
“Haven’t you noticed? In this village there isn’t a single child, or anyone you could call old.”
Startled, Huey turned around in the direction the workman had left. As far as he could tell from the state of the buildings this village wasn’t a new settlement. It was an old village, with a history. If that were the case, then it was strange that there were no elderly. All of the peasants, Talia included were young and in their prime.
“So that was what felt so out of place in this village…”
“According to the policeman we met in the first town, the village at the foot of the mountain was full of old people with weak bodies, so then why is it that only the people of this village, further up in the mountains, are all so young?” Dalian asked, as if talking to herself.
“However, it didn’t seem like any of the villagers were hiding anything… though I suppose that outsiders are rare here,” said Huey, unable to come up with an answer.
Dalian looked emotionlessly at the top of the hill. “They probably don’t know anything. If anyone knows anything…”
“I’m guessing it would be the princess of that castle of thorns.” said Huey quietly, looking up at the clock tower raised against the dusk sky.
The mansion covered in rosevines seemed to be part of the forest behind it, and in the silence it felt even more unsettling.