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The Witch and the Archbishop (Part 2) It had been raining intermittently for the whole morning.
Sleet fell from the low hanging clouds, which made Inns & Stables Street muddy, even though it was afternoon. There were only a few people walking down the road, all at a quick pace.
Even on a day like this, Izakaya n.o.bu was busy preparing to open the store. s.h.i.+n.o.bu and n.o.buyuki were the only ones working in the shop, as they had made Eva and Helmina take the day off.
With just the two of them, it seemed like they had returned to when they started a year ago, when they had just opened, but Ingrid was there too.
She seemed to have been drinking last night, and was now taking a break by pa.s.sing out here. Ingrid was suffering from a terrible hangover and was laying down on a table in the back. When they tried taking away her small plate of pudding to see if she was alive or not, only her mouth moved. It seemed that she was not dead after all. When Camilla came to check up on her, she said it was because Ingrid had been considerably affected by the witch uproar.
Even though Ingrid probably wasn’t the cause of this incident, she had even considered moving away temporarily. While s.h.i.+n.o.bu peeled the boiled daikon, which was going to be served by n.o.buyuki tomorrow, they heard a commotion outside of the shop. They could hear the sound of a horse carriage and a horse’s neighs.
They heard the carriage slowly approach, then come to a stop right in front of the shop.
A cold sweat ran down s.h.i.+n.o.bu’s back.
None of the regulars came to the shop by carriage. She had a bad feeling about this.
Ingrid, who noticed the sounds of the carriage, began to stretch. She was wearing a black robe again today.
The witch who existed in the legends of Aitheria was said to wear black clothes as well. If this carriage belonged to the witch hunt, this could end badly.
As s.h.i.+n.o.bu thought, ‘She won’t be able to escape through the back door either’, somebody roughly rapped on the gla.s.s door. 「We-welcome!」 「…’elcome.」 Unlike s.h.i.+n.o.bu, whose voice was higher than usual, n.o.buyuki remained calm.
However, she was thankful that he was prepared to move from the counter immediately if something happened.
When the door was pulled open a little, a customer forced his way in.
No, it wasn’t exactly a customer. It was a face that s.h.i.+n.o.bu did not want to see. 「Hey, the dignitaries of Izakaya n.o.bu. Thanks for that time.」 It was Damien. It was the little scoundrel who had been sneaking around with Bachschouf when the beer at Izakaya n.o.bu was suspected of being lager, a prohibited good.
She didn’t think that she would meet him again, especially so soon, as he was supposedly a wanted person. 「How may I help you?」 「I’d like to say that I came to a pub to drink alcohol and eat delicious food, but I can’t say that. I am not alone today. His Holiness the Archbishop is also here.」 He theatrically opened the door further.
A giant wrapped in priest garb entered, ducking through the doorway.
Although he was probably past his fifties, his plump skin still had some turgor to it, so he looked younger than he actually was.
Although called a priest’s garb, the man’s clothes were made of pure white silk and embroidered with silver thread. It looked to be of higher quality than the ones Edwin wore. It was an outfit worthy of a high-ranking priest. 「I see. This shop is overflowing with exoticness.」 The Archbishop took a seat at the front table with a peculiar composure, as if he was an acquaintance who had been invited to eat together. He rubbed his palms together, which were chubby, like a baby’s. When he saw Ingrid at the back, he smiled and bowed slightly. It was like he was just a civil customer.
However, this could also be an act. s.h.i.+n.o.bu gently placed a hot towel at the table, a movement honed by years of practice.
The Archbishop, who received it, seemed momentarily surprised by its warmth, but he smiled happily and juggled it between his hands to wipe away the slight chill.
Damien, who was looking at the situation bitterly, cleared his throat loudly. 「What I want to say is, I have brought His Holiness the Archbishop over as company today. There are suspicions that Izakaya n.o.bu is a witch’s lair. He is here to preside over the trial.」 It was about the witch hunt after all.
Initially, it was a bit surprising that Damien was behind this incident, but it was not quite as surprising upon second thought.
He probably wanted revenge against Izakaya n.o.bu. He was the type of man who would do such things without batting an eyelid. s.h.i.+n.o.bu’s face turned grim without her realizing it.
In such cases, it was better for s.h.i.+n.o.bu to face them before n.o.buyuki did. This was because n.o.buyuki, who was not good at talking, might fall for a trap. 「This is just a pub. Nothing more, nothing less.」 「Of course, I would like to think so too, for the sake of Aitheria.」 Damien continued, with a sarcastic smile plastered on his face. 「However, I’m not convinced. I wonder if this shop has another side to it?」 「There’s none. We are just a pub conducting honest business.」 「Oh, honest, huh. I see.」 The Archbishop had nothing to say. He was just watching how things were turning out with great interest.
It was probably Damien who had actively pushed for the witch hunt. 「It is said that witches are familiar with the ancient spirit elves (alf) and that they are friends with the white snow fox. There was a witness saying that they saw a fox entering and leaving the shop. Do you know anything about it?」 「A fox…you say?」 She glanced at the household s.h.i.+nto altar. The G.o.d of Harvest, Inari, was enshrined here, but they did not really own a fox. One couldn’t possibly have slipped out to cause mischief, right?
Sometimes, things like fried tofu and inari sus.h.i.+ went missing, but s.h.i.+n.o.bu had a.s.sumed that n.o.buyuki had cleaned them up.
(TL note: Inari is the G.o.d of foxes, fertility and harvest) 「It’s no use playing dumb, you know? You better speak honestly.」 「No, I really don’t know… anything.」 Damien lowered his small head. He thought, ‘This stubborn fellow really looks clueless.’
It seemed the interrogation would continue. Damien took out a piece of folded parchment and licked his fingers before opening it.
An oppressive questioning was not a pleasant thing to go through. Moreover, the interrogator was Damien.
She wanted it to end early, but the other party was having none of it. She could not lose focus. 「Then, how about the mushrooms? Mushrooms are a symbol of witches. Because of the memories of the previous witch hunt, it’s also a food that wasn’t eaten much in Aitheria. I heard that Izakaya n.o.bu is using plenty of it.」 「I’ve heard the younger generations are not too bothered by it.」 「There is a big difference from being not bothered and having no manners. There are some older people who are still living without eating mushrooms, even now.」 「That’s because…we moved here from somewhere else.」 Damien’s eyes flashed suspiciously. It made s.h.i.+n.o.bu feel sticky and disgusted when she saw him smirk. 「Somewhere else, huh. Right, Izakaya n.o.bu came from somewhere else, with unfamiliar dishes and unheard of store decorations. It’s cool during summer, and for some reason, warm during winter. It’s truly wonderful. Of course everyone will like this place.」 He looked like a clown, or something like that with all of the gestures he was making as he spoke. 「So, from where?」 s.h.i.+n.o.bu was at a loss at that piercing question.
She could not answer. It was impossible to answer. There was no way he would believe it if she said that they came from a different world.
If she couldn’t explain where they came from, would she be treated as a witch?
She didn’t know for sure, but the opponent was Damien. Her hesitation presented him with an opening. 「No answer? You don’t need to answer that. The very existence of this shop is a witch’s work, isn’t it?」 A laugh from the table in the back of the room interrupted Damien.
It was Ingrid.
The laughter gradually grew louder, overpowering even Damien. 「There was a rather interesting story, but it’s very absurd, don’t you think so?」 「Who…are you?」 「I’m Ingrid, a regular of this shop.」 As she stepped forward before the puzzled Damien, Ingrid wore her usual, easygoing smile.
However, the somewhat lonely look in her eyes revealed her resignation.
The amulet that hung on her neck still shone with a clear blue sparkle. 「When you say you don’t know where they came from, aren’t most people like that?」 「I did not come here to have a philosophical or theological debate!」 「Oh, my. Theology is the only thing to debate during a witch’s trial..」 Ingrid chuckled and continued. 「For example, Marquis Sachnussenburg is of a very old House, but they still obey the Emperor, even though his roots are unknown. There are even stories that he was an adventurer, a wanderer, a bandit, or a pirate. All we know is that he is from the North. Everyone’s a stranger at first.」 「So, what about it?」 「In Aitheria, there are a lot of people with unknown origins. Even if you don’t know where they came from, they have been here in Aitheria for one year now. If Izakaya n.o.bu is a witch’s lair, then half of the population in Aitheria must be witches too.」 「I shall not listen to this kind of ridiculous story!」 「No, it’s not a ridiculous story.」 Damien’s nose flared up when Ingrid dodged the question.
The flow of the talk began to move away from n.o.bu and towards an unrelated topic before anyone realized. 「No, we are talking about witches. Izakaya n.o.bu is the witch’s lair.」 「Do you have enough evidence for you to argue so vehemently?」 「Who do you think you are! If you’re going to defend Izakaya n.o.bu this much, depending on the outcome, you will…」 Ingrid smiled sweetly at Damien who was rattling and spraying spit everywhere. 「Me? I’m a witch, you know. A genuine one.」 「A genuine…witch?」 The dumbfounded Damien’s face changed from an angry red to fearful white.
He had not expected a witch to really come out. If you poked the bushes, a snake could appear. Although Damien turned around to ask for help, the Archbishop remained silent. 「Yes, I’m a witch. I’m the witch who lives deep in the forest, just as you said, where I make medicines and protective charms to cure illnesses and treat injuries. I’ve yet to meet with the elves (alf), though.」 「Y-yo-you, do you understand what you’re saying?」 「I know. However, I’m still a devout believer of the Holy Order. I have not missed a single wors.h.i.+p, and have memorised the holy scriptures. Being a witch is just my way of life.」 Ingrid’s clear statement resounded like she was a member of the clergy, rather than a witch.
However, her words that were filled with conviction seemed to further encourage Damien’s efforts to put her down. 「What a ridiculous story! I have never heard of a witch who isn’t an enemy of the faith.」 「Only a person ignorant of the world, who ignores his own lack of study, can say such things. There is no reason why witches can’t have faith in G.o.ds and G.o.ddesses. On the other hand, there is no reason that priests can’t be witches.」 「But you’re a witch!」 Damien roared. He probably couldn’t stand being called a person that was ignorant of the world. His pale face was already red again. 「I’m a witch, and also a former clergy member. So how will you judge me? Tell me your reasons.」 「I will judge by the power of the Archbishop-sama. You cannot escape when you have declared yourself a witch. I’ll walk you off to the residence in the outskirts immediately, and burn you to death…」 「That’s enough.」 The Archbishop, who was watching the development of events quietly until now, interrupted. 「That’s enough, Damien. Your witch hunt ends with this.」 「Your Holiness, you say this is enough?」 「I mean what I said. I have found the witch I was looking for.」 After sparing only a backward glance at the stunned Damien, the Archbishop walked towards Ingrid.
His expression was not one of a clergyman who was hunting down a witch. Rather, it was one full of joy. 「It has been a long time, Ingrid-senpai. I’m glad that you are doing well.」 「I do not know an Archbishop who would greet me with ‘it’s been a long time’ though.」said Ingrid puzzledly. 「Have you forgotten? It’s Rodrigo. We were together at the Magisterium, the “Shorty” Rodrigo.」 The wrinkles on Ingrid’s forehead immediately disappeared and her eyes opened wide in surprise when the name “Shorty Rodrigo” rolled off the tip of his tongue. 「Eh…that Rodrigo? But…you’re so tall.」 The Archbishop smiled as he stretched his back. At first, he hadn’t been entirely sure if she was really his senior, Ingrid.
He only nodded with a grunt at Ingrid’s words. The colour of surprise and joy filled her eyes.
A light cracking sound could be heard, and the amulet broke.
The blue gem fitted into the wood split into two, as if it had finished its duties, and fell down to the floor effortlessly. 「I was looking for you the whole time, ever since you left the Magisterium and became a witch.」 Ingrid looked embarra.s.sed. She looked like she had been found after playfully hiding. 「I did not leave behind any clues…」 「I have been sending people to places famous for its alcohol and sweets. Of course, even to places with rumours of witches.」 Rodrigo’s witch search seemed like a funny story, but it had been a series of unbelievable hards.h.i.+ps. 「When I heard that there was a witch who loves pumpkin pie in the Brochelian forest, I dispatched someone there, and when I heard that there was a witch who loves to drink and had came to bathe in the hot spring districts of Argonia, someone headed to the north…」 Since it was not considered official work, he could not use his regular subordinates. He remembered that he could use money to hire some dubious people, and it had coincidentally been Damien this time. 「Even in the past, when you set your sights on something, you wouldn’t look at anything else, but that’s bad behaviour, you know.」 「I had high expectations this time. I heard that the former Emperor, His Majesty, also had a favourite pub in the city, you see.」 「I didn’t think I would be found in this way…how many years did you take, I wonder.」 「Yeah, it did take quite a while.」 The pa.s.sage of time flowed differently for those two. s.h.i.+n.o.bu and n.o.buyuki couldn’t follow the turn of events.
The Archbishop’s purpose was not a witch hunt, but a witch search instead? In addition, the one person he had been looking for was Ingrid.
It was Damien who broke the peaceful atmosphere. 「So what! That person called herself a witch! She even said it in front of His Holiness the Archbishop. The shop where the witch comes and goes is also equally guilty!」 Damien kicked a chair as he caused a commotion.
Rather, he ended up striking it with his s.h.i.+n instead and had to hold his foot in pain. The Archbishop’s eyes were filled with pity as he looked at Damien. 「It’s a witch. You, and you, and everyone else are witches! Izakaya n.o.bu is a witch’s shop! You can’t stay in Aitheria anymore. Even if you aren’t judged, you will shoulder the brand of a witch for the rest of your life!」 「You should stop now, Damien.」 「Your Holiness, please do not stop me. These guys will be branded as witches…」 「I can’t do that, and I won’t do it. The times are different from a hundred years ago.」 「But then, why did you agree to the witch hunt?!」 The Archbishop shook his head while making a complicated expression. 「I was just searching for a witch. It was you who mistook it for a witch hunt, Damien.」 Damien, who was trembling and s.h.i.+vering with fear, immediately scampered off like a rabbit.
n.o.buyuki tried to stop him when he tried to escape through the entrance. After seeing that he couldn’t escape through n.o.buyuki, who was holding a rolling pin, he gave up and instantly switched directions, running towards the back door. 「That side is…!」 s.h.i.+n.o.bu cried out and unsuccessfully tried to catch Damien’s hand. When Damien ran out the back door, she saw an unfamiliar mountain path instead of the familiar back streets of the shopping street in j.a.pan, before the door creaked to a close. ♦♦♦♦♦ This wasn’t the back alleys of Aitheria that he knew.
Damien was walking on a stone pathway in the middle of a thick and dense forest.
If it was just a mountain path, it wouldn’t have been too scary. At best, bandits and highwaymen would appear, but he was used to dealing with those sort of people. The problem was, this mountain didn’t seem to be an ordinary mountain.
Damien gently stroked some tree bark, which was painted vermillion. It was called a torii, but he didn’t know that.
This vermillion structure, which dominated this mountain path, appeared to be a gate protecting a pagan shrine. The place is most probably Fus.h.i.+mi Inari temple, as you would’ve guessed, a temple that wors.h.i.+ps the G.o.d of Harvest (Inari) There were one or two thousand of them extending to the front and the back. Damien couldn’t possibly get lost.
After walking for a long time, he finally reached a fork, both of which weren’t covered by the torii. 「Where…exactly am I?」 Damien had just mustered his voice to mutter when he heard a fox’s howl.
‘Was I put under the witch’s spell?’ While wiping off the sweat on his forehead, he glared at the direction of the voice. However, there was n.o.body in sight.
He didn’t have the energy to move his legs and was stuck in place.
The fox howled again. ♦♦♦♦♦ A few days later, Damien was found completely exhausted and unable to move in the back alleys of Aitheria.