Chapter 17:

The Grand Bazaar

The Songstress of Avalon

Orion had given us the use of two rooms – naturally, the girls shared the bigger room while I got the smaller one to myself. After leaving our things at the inn, we headed out to the bazaar to see if we could find any trace of Ignacio or, better yet, a Jewel of Lazarus being sold out of auction.

“That guy is one of those fanatics,” Misane murmured, remembering the fiasco that had occurred earlier. “I don’t think he’d sell to you even if you offered him 100,000 gold coins.”

“Then offer 200,000. Or 2,000,000, for all I care,” I darted my eyes here and there to see if I could spot the man. Money, quite frankly, did not matter at this juncture. My employers, who had access to an entire kingdom’s treasury, could just pick up the slack after I was back in Wakaba.

“You know, Arturo would've gotten angry if he heard him talking like that,” she began irrelevantly. “He didn’t like the term ‘contingency hero’. No more than you did.”

“Another conversation where I’m out of the loop…” Arisa drifted away with a sigh.

“He and I had a talk about that,” I told her. “He was a good man, even if his half-witted fans are out of control.”

It was a good talk too. Happened right before King Balaam stabbed him through the heart.

“Half-witted is right…” Misane looked thoughtful. “You guys keep looking. I’m going to go back to the inn!” she looked as though she were ready to sprint away, but I clasped her by the arm before she could take off.

“Where are you going?”

“To set up a contingency,” she smiled.

As Marisa scurried away, I continued my search for Ignacio. Instead, I caught sight of Arisa munching on a peach bigger than her fist. Clearly, she was enjoying all the offerings of the Grand Bazaar. Avoiding a man holding meat skewered on a stick, I made my way towards her.

"You're supposed to be looking for the jewel," I told her.

"Couldn't -," she took a big bite, and then spoke while chewing, "find him."

"You haven't even tried!" I snatched the peach from her hand and inspected it. "How did you buy this anyway? I didn't know you had money."

"I took a couple of coins from your bag when you weren't looking," she admittedly readily, with a sly grin.

“What, you mean I paid for this?” I took a bite and frowned. “Too sweet.”

“It’s a peach, so what did you expect?” she grabbed it back from me, staring disconsolately on what remained of her first purchase in this world. It seemed like I had taken too big of a bite for Arisa’s liking.

“Don’t give me that look,” I chuckled lightly. “I’ll buy you a sweet potato, a Pericles’ apple, and every other delicacy this bazaar is selling. But only after we get our hands on that jewel.”

“Fat chance he’ll even sell it to you,” she murmured dubiously; but after a moment’s reflection, the sly smile appeared on her face again. “Unless you’re planning on stealing from him …. Hero-san?”

“As if!” I waved away the idea.

“Then you might be out of luck because it seems like that guy really hates you. If you told me about it, then maybe I could help?”

I couldn’t see how knowing the story behind Ignacio's ire would enable Arisa to help, but at the same time I couldn’t come up with a reason why she shouldn’t know either. I decided to tell her.

“You already know all about the demon lord, don’t you? And our party’s adventures?” I asked, needing to know exactly where I should begin.

“I’ve heard bits and pieces from Marissa and Misa,” she replied.

“When the demon army began attacking the border villages, a two-hundred-year-old seeress divined a prophecy. She said that the person who could pull out the legendary Sword of Promised Victory from the Rock of Eternity would be the one destined to defeat the demon lord. A bit like King Arthur, you know?” I explained.

“The Knights of the Round Table, right? I’ve heard of that story. So, you were the one to pull the sword out from the Rock of … Eternity, was it?”

I shook my head.

“The one who pulled out the sword was a man called Arturo Artois. King Arthur himself, really. He was a knight who excelled in everything, and because everyone thought he was the one mentioned in the prophecy, people began to call him a hero.”

“Another hero? They never mentioned anything about that…”

“Of course they didn’t,” I laughed lightly. “It’s a sensitive topic, you see. Arturo was Misane’s older brother.”

“Older brother!” Arisa gasped. “I see. Ignacio did say that, didn’t he…?”

If he could see you right now…

Those words probably affected Misane more than I knew. Her decision to become an adventurer made headlines, but it was also just assumed that she would tag along with her brother’s band of holy knights. The fallout when people realised she was joining my party, the contingency party, was massive.

But according to those who knew him, Arturo, in all his glory and wisdom, had merely look contemplative for a moment before saying, “I see”.

Misane told me that was her brother’s way of giving his blessing, so I never bothered to ask him. Nor did he ever say anything to me that might have suggested he was unhappy with his sister’s decision. Regardless, it was too late to ask him now.

“Naturally, some people didn’t put much stock into some old crone’s prophecy,” I continued. “Some magi in Fulworth found out about the Hero Ritual and used it to summon their own hero. That was me. I couldn’t fight the way Arturo could, but all sorts of things happened, and eventually people began to accept me.”

“If they accepted you as a second hero, why did you have to form your own party? Why didn’t you just join Arturo’s group?” she inquired.

“They accepted me as a backup hero. You heard Ignacio earlier, right? He called me a contingency plan. ‘The Hero of Contingency’, as I was better known. They don’t call me that anymore though, because…” my voice trailed off.

“You mean Arturo was…?”

“That’s right.”

If the leading man, for whatever reason, can’t take the stage then the understudy has to perform the main role. In this instance, the curtain had fallen on Arturo’s stint as the hero, and it would never be raised again. So, the understudy was thrust into the leading man’s position – the Hero of Contingency had no choice but to become the Hero.

“I get it now,” Arisa sighed reflectively. “But to people like Ignacio, the real hero must still be Misa’s brother...”

“When Yamanaka went to America to play in the Major Leagues and Matsukawa became the Tigers’ new ace, a lot of people were unhappy. It’s like that, no?”

Arisa glowered. “Not everything can be tied back to baseball, you know,” she said.

“On the contrary, I think… Hold up!”

Whatever I had been about to say about my beloved Tigers drifted into the ether, as I caught a glimmer of something from the corner of my eye. The booming voice, which rivalled even Orion’s, and the glint emanating from a head completely devoid of hair could only belong to… well it could have been anyone, really.

What really captured my attention was the thing in his hand, which he was showing off to a group of amazed spectators. Although I had never seen one before, it did look like the Jewel of Lazarus that Misane had described. And besides, other than a jewel dating from antiquity, what was going to attract a crowd like that?

The show, or conversation, or whatever it was had ended; Ignacio placed the jewel back in a wooden box and strolled off.

I grabbed Arisa's hand and ran. We weren’t going to let him get away.

Steward McOy