The Song of Sword and Magic - Chapter 5
Chapter 5: A Pale Woman
[Translator — Asuka]
[Proofreader — Karane]
Niss woke up to the noises outside the window. Although it was the afternoon, the view outside still looked like it was morning. It was because the village was built inside a forest, so the tall trees had blocked most of the sunlight.
After going downstairs, Niss realized that the tavern inside the inn was filled with people, but they were all silent. On the stage, a singer was humming a song called ‘Alice by the River’, and the musician behind him was playing a flute, which sounded melodious. Meanwhile, another musician was playing a mandolin beside him. Already seated by a table, Fern beckoned to Niss.
After pouring a cup of hot Jasmine tea for her, Fern said, “You won’t find a better singer than him in Wallis. He’s right here in Paradies.”
Niss tied up her hair, which was cleaned last night, and listened to the singer attentively.
“Alice, my love. I will leave you, and I will miss you. We will part ways by the river, and by the coming spring, we will meet again at the same place.”
After the song ended, the audience broke into thunderous applause. Fern and Niss also clapped their hands in praise of the singer. Then, the singer bowed to the audience and went to the kitchen for a rest. After that, the customers started chatting and laughing among themselves again.
Just then, the doorbell rang, and another traveler stepped into the tavern. Fern shifted his attention to the new customer and sized her up. The bottom of her black cloak reached her calves. She didn’t put on her hood, and her long black hair hung loose on her shoulders. However, her pale face was in stark contrast with the color of her clothes. Judging from her height and figure, she seemed to be older than Niss by a few years. At the moment, she was gazing at Fern and Niss with her black eyes.
Some of the men started whistling at her, but she ignored them and walked up to Fern. “Do you mind if I take a seat here?” she asked coldly.
“Not at all. Have a seat.” Fern shrugged and motioned for her to take a seat opposite him.
The lady ordered a cup of water before examining Fern and Niss. “A magician and a swordsman. What a perfect combination.”
Fern ignored her, but Niss asked curiously, “What about you? Are you on your own? Aren’t you afraid that you’ll fall into danger?”
The lady arched her brow at Niss. “I’m a magician too.” Then, she placed a magic cane on the table. “Danger has always been around us, but I don’t trust any mercenary. So, I’d rather be alone.” Upon finishing her words, she shot a look at Fern.
Fern was unfazed. Upon learning that she was a magician as well, Niss was elated and went on to say, “I didn’t expect that I’d come across another magician here. In fact, I haven’t gotten my magician’s ring yet, so—” Just then, Fern hinted at her not to reveal too much information.
“You have to pass the trial first, right? It so happens that I’m trying to get some training by traveling around. Why don’t I join you on your journey?” The lady guffawed.
“No, thanks. We don’t even know if we can trust you.” Fern rejected her before Niss could speak.
Although Niss was displeased, she didn’t say anything to refute him. She knew that Fern was more experienced than she was, so he must have his reason for saying so.
“That’s great, Sir. A mercenary should always be alert, but it isn’t a wise choice to reject a powerful helper so quickly,” the lady wasn’t angry and said in her impassive voice.
The battle in Sheepfold Village proved to be a challenge for Fern as this quest was more dangerous than he thought. Indeed, they needed a new companion. “I need a reason to be convinced.”
With a smile, the lady leaned closer to Fern and stared fixedly at his eyes. Instantly, Fern caught a whiff of her bodily fragrance. “I know what happened to Canreto.” She straightened up, but her eyes were still fixed on him. “Is this reason good enough to convince you?”
Both of them were shocked, but Fern didn’t let it show on his face. Staring back at this pale but alluring lady, he asked, “How did you know we’re interested in finding more about Canreto?”
The lady grinned again as though everything was well under her control. “Weren’t you supposed to return to Canreto after leaving Sheepfold Village? But you came to Paradies instead because you came across some refugees and learned from them that Canreto had been cordoned off. Am I right, Mr. Swordsman?”
Fern narrowed his eyes and questioned, “You’ve been following us?”
“Are you surprised at all? In fact, I had started following you when you left for Sheepfold Village from Canreto,” the lady said with a smug smile.
“What the heck?! I didn’t even notice that there was one more person who was following us,” Fern muttered in exasperation.
The lady seemed to be proud of her abilities. “So, this fact alone should make me qualified to be your companion. Are you convinced now?”
Fern looked helplessly at his employer, who nodded in agreement. In fact, Niss had secretly agreed to it already. “Alright… I hope this is the right decision. She’s Niss, and I’m Fern.” Both Fern and Niss nodded at the lady.
“You can call me Rae. As you can see, I’m a magician.” The lady nodded in response and gulped down her cup of water.
Suddenly, Niss thought of something. “Fern, just now you said that you didn’t notice there was one more person who was following us. Do you mean there is another person other than Rae?”
“Yes, you’re right.” Fern discreetly took a look at the corner. “Maybe he’s right in this tavern.”
Rae was shocked upon hearing that as she didn’t know that as well. Just when Niss wanted to look around, Fern stopped her from doing that. “Don’t look. You might alert him. We don’t know who he is, and he probably isn’t aware that I’ve noticed him. We’d better wait for him to make a move first.”
“Why is he following us?” Niss asked anxiously.
“It’s still too early to make any conclusion. He’s been following us since we left Deville. Apparently, he’s well prepared.” Fern tried to console her. “But don’t worry. I don’t think he’s a threat to us at all. He thinks that he’s been watching us in the dark, but it’s the opposite of that in reality.”
Rae shrugged. “Don’t be overly confident, Mr. Mercenary. Have you forgotten about your experience in Sheepfold Village? You almost lost your life there.”
Fern’s expression darkened when he heard that. Right then, the singer was done resting and was about to perform again, which immediately attracted everyone’s attention. This time, they were performing ‘The Joyful Tramp’. As the musician started playing the mandolin, the audience became excited. The singer walked into the crowd and invited everyone to dance with him. Fern and his companions happily agreed to it. Just then, Fern noticed that the man in the corner rose from the chair and was about to leave, so Fern immediately said something to Niss and followed the man.
Although it was still afternoon, being in Paradies, it was as dark as the evening. Fern kept an appropriate distance as he followed the man. After making a few turns, the man arrived at an alley and stopped in his tracks at the end of it. It seemed that he was waiting for someone. In order not to be noticed, Fern hid behind a fence and watched him.
The man kept pacing and looking around anxiously, but the person he was waiting for never showed up. Some time later, the sky had turned dark, and Fern heard the footsteps of another person. With the help of the dim light, he saw that the man was talking to another person clad in a cloak. The man didn’t even dare to look at that person as he was speaking in a small voice. Eventually, he took something from that person and ran away into the sideroad.
Fern gazed at the person through the gaps of the fence. Just then, the person turned around and stared in Fern’s direction. A short moment later, Fern’s forehead and back were drenched in cold sweat, and he started shuddering in fright. He knew this wasn’t how he was supposed to react, and time seemed to have stopped at the moment.
He took a deep breath to stabilize his emotions, but his hands just wouldn’t stop trembling, and his heart was pounding against his chest. At that instant, he was engulfed in fear, and he was starting to feel suffocated. His mind had become a mess, so he couldn’t even think clearly. “Am I about to die?” His heart was filled with despair.
Just then, a few people could be heard approaching the alley as they chatted among themselves. The person in the distance paused for a bit before disappearing into the end of the alley. The tradespeople, who were heading for the market, happened to pass by the alley. Fern came to his senses and brushed away his sweat, feeling relieved that he was still alive. Afraid to stay here any longer, he sprinted back to the inn.
Inside the inn, Niss and Rae were enjoying their dinner. Seeing how flustered Fern was, they realized that something must have happened. “What’s wrong, Fern? What did you discover?” Niss hurriedly asked.
Fern looked around and made sure that the man from just now wasn’t there before he leaned close to them. “We have to leave this place as soon as possible. In fact, we should leave tonight.”
Niss was shocked to hear that. “Did that person notice you?”
“It’s worse than that. I’d rather he noticed me so that I could kill him.” Fern chugged down a cup of water. “We’ll meet up at the stable behind the kitchen in fifteen minutes. I’ll just leave if you’re late.” Upon finishing his words, he went to look for the inn owner.
Niss and Rae traded glances before they hurriedly finished their dinner and went upstairs to pack up their stuff.
Standing in front of the stable, Fern was ready to go. At the moment, he was eating bread and cheese to fill his stomach as he chatted with the inn owner. Rae reached the stable first and found her horse, which was a maroon Northern horse with long legs.
“Good horse. Are you a Northerner?” Fern finished his cheese and helped her fix her luggage on the horseback.
Standing on the side, Rae didn’t answer his question directly. “Mr. Mercenary, why are you still chatting casually here? Did you just pretend to be flustered?”
Fern had wanted to learn more about her as he knew too little, but he didn’t expect that he would be retorted. Therefore, he went away to check on his horse. Just then, Niss came to the stable, but she wrinkled her nose due to the smell of horse poo and fodder. Fern took her luggage and fixed it on the mare’s back. “The smell is pungent, isn’t it? Anyway, you’ll get used to it.”
Rae was being relentless. “Yeah, you’ll get used to it. But not everyone can eat food while smelling horse poo.”
Fern ignored her and held the lead rope of his horse. After talking to the inn owner for a while more, he passed him a gold coin. “If anyone asks, just say that we left the inn at night and say no further.” Then, he turned around and said, “Let’s go. Don’t step on the horse poo.”
“Where are we going?” Niss held her lead rope and asked in puzzlement.
“You’ll know when we reach there.” Upon finishing his words, Fern was swallowed by the darkness as he outside the stable.
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