Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
Settlements, whether entire countries or small towns, generally had a common feature: a core around which the establishment grew. To present an example, the vassals to the king resided in homes neighboring the imperial capital, and the servants of these vassals lived in residences neighboring their masters’. Likewise, stores lined the streets of dense, residential areas, and near these stores were situated merchants’ homes and workshops.
Along similar lines, one could always find numerous smaller towns dotted around the outskirts of larger towns. Major cities were garrisoned with cavalry brigades for the purpose of maintaining law and order, namely by protecting their inhabitants from dangers, the first and foremost of which were bandits. Towns fortified by city walls, like Foamicaum, had little reason to fear attack. Villages and other meager settlements, however, had no such defenses. That’s why they sought the peace of mind found in having a neighboring power who would protect them.
Our destination, too, belonged in the “defenseless village” category. According to Albus, the schoolhouse was in its vicinity.
“It’s a little village called ‘La Tête’.”
The sandstone-paved path continued straight on toward the capital, Prasta. On the way were many branching pathways which, as I learned after checking my map, led to tiny villages and towns. Just as Albus had affirmed, this one stretched all the way to La Tête.
“It’s a bit small, but the place sure feels alive! There’s a bakery in La Tête that makes the best walnut bread around! The walnut’s crunchy, the bread’s real sweet, and when it’s fresh out of the oven, it’s fluffy and warm like you wouldn’t believe!”
“I see…that is very intriguing,” Zero muttered keenly. If half her brain was occupied by matters of sorcery and magic, then the other half had to be filled with thoughts of food. Actually, now that I thought about it, the fraction of her mind reserved for food was probably higher than that.
“Foamicaum was fun ‘cause of how busy it was, but personally, I like La Tête better. Even if witch hunts were outlawed, I think that I’d still want to stay here. Maybe start a fortune teller’s or something.”
“Listen ‘ere, boy. Seems ta me like you’ve forgotten, so I’ll say it again. We’re tryin’ ta get to the academy. I get that ya like this town, but we ain’t gonna stay ‘ere for fun.”
Albus angrily whirled on me after hearing my reminder.
“You think I would forget that?! I know we’re going to the academy, and the academy’s in La Tête!”
“Ain’t the academy a hideout fer witches? ’S that mean La Tête’s a witches’ village?”
“No, it isn’t,” Albus sighed, exasperated. “The school’s entrance is hidden in La Tête. It’s behind a pillar in the church, where nobody but witches can see, and protected by an impenetrable barrier.”
“So you’re sayin’ that in the town…that in the church, there’s an entrance to a witches’ lair?”
“Yep. Putting entryways in towns was always a pretty common practice. I’ve heard about ones at the ends of alleyways, behind statues, even under beds in inns.”
I shouldn’t overthink it. Getting scared out of my wits by alleys, statues, and the area beneath beds would be too inconvenient.
“We’ll draw attention during the day, so we’ll have to kill some time once we get to La Tête, at least until it’s night. There’s an inn in town, so it’d probably be a good idea to grab a room. They do keep a dog, but he likes me. He jumps on me whenever I come over to play with him, and the missus of the place gives me candy sometimes.”
“She gives candy to a sorcerer…?”
“It’s ‘cause no one knows I’m a sorcerer,” Albus said nonchalantly, shrugging.
Aren’t ya scammin’ ‘em? I thought but didn’t say out loud.
“Everyone treats me normally ‘cause they don’t know I’m a sorcerer. My mother used to be a witch too, but she gave up sorcery to marry a normal human. We were living in a humans’ town, after all.
A witch that gave up sorcery to live as a normal human. I was, frankly, surprised that such a thing could even happen. What with that and Soulena’s kindness, I guess I had been overly prejudiced against witches.
“…So, how’re your parents doin’ now? With yer mother bein’ a former witch, life’s probably tough.”
“My parents, both of them, have been dead and buried for a long time… All because of a witch hunt.”
Albus’ voice became subdued. Just like that, shivers ran down my spine.
“It happened when I was just a kid. The townspeople discovered that my mother was a witch, and started a witch hunt in response. We’d been a happy family until then. —Ever since ancient times, the people of Vanias have relied on witches for help in their times of need. But despite that, the humans wouldn’t allow witches to even get close to their towns, much less to let the witches depend on them for aid in return. My father tried to buy my mother and I time to get away, and died fighting the townspeople. My mother brought me to my grandmother’s hideaway and escaped, but ultimately, she died too. That’s how I ended up being raised by my grandmother. I remember almost nothing about my parents. And just to clarify, this all took place before the witches’ rebellion. That was the reality of that era’s so-called coexistence.”
“…That’s…humans sure are disgustin’…”
How are they not? I thought. But Albus’s expression was complicated. He shook his head.
“That’s not it. Look, my father really loved my mother. He wasn’t even bothered by her being a witch. If I were to see all humans as disgusting, I’d be wronging my father. It’s not humans who are bad, but the fact that witches are branded as evil. We’re living in a world that blames witches for every misfortunate thing that happens. I might be fighting against humanity, but it’s not like I feel so disgusted that I’d want to kill each and every one of them.”
—It was as if Albus had become a full-fledged adult. My eyes sparkled as Zero laughed softly.
“If one cannot reason, one cannot perform sorcery. Although you seek what is beyond you, youngster, you are a fine sorcerer.”
And for a while afterward we made small talk, walking along the twisting and turning lane.