The story starts to get more dramatic as we continue our look at Hinata Mori’s Rhetorical Chronicle: A Lying Negotiator and His Fox Mistress (森日向の《レトリカクロニクル：嘘っき話術士と狐の師匠》). Rea explains to Shin what is really going on with the wolf clan as they travel through the grassland region to the northeast along the trade routes where the wolf clan’s village is deep in the forest. For two months, the wolf clan has been fighting with the bear clan over their village boundary, which they both claimed ownership over. It seems that this area is rich with the resources the wolf clan uses for their medicines and the bear clan uses for their ceramics. A number of people were wounded in the clashes. Kazura is listening from Shin’s bag and pops her head out to comment when they ask for her take on the situation. She says she doesn’t understand the actions of the bear clan. So far in the book, Kazura is a periphery character who is consulted for advice rather than a main actor in the drama.
One of the sights Shin sees when they cross the grasslands on the way to Turku is a group of slaves with a wagon holding baggage. All of them are human, and they are all in chains, including women and children. Rea explains that they are savages, and Shin wonders about the slave trade since Rea hadn’t mentioned it. A slave comes up to them, looking at Rea with fear and hatred. Shin talks to the driver of the cart to get more information, and one of the men is somehow affiliated with the merchant Hannes. Rea tells Shin the beast clans captured the human savages and suggests that the beast men are nobler. She gives one of the little slave girls candy that she brought from the merchants. He asks her if it isn’t a little hypocritical. She says she doesn’t think it’s so bad. They have to do what they must to survive.
They finally reach the wolf clan village in the forest where they live in simple houses made of logs. The wolf men wear simple hemp clothes. When Rea is sure they won’t be overheard, she explains that there is a conflict within the wolf clan, which has split into two factions. She heads one faction, and the assistant clan head Yaruno is in charge of the other. Suddenly, a golden ear pops out of Shin’s bag, and Kazura asks if this factional dispute is related to the fact that Rea is young and a woman in the position of clan head. Rea explains she only became clan head recently, that her father was clan head and died six months earlier, leaving her to fill the role.
A contingent of wolf men suddenly appears in Shin’s field of vision. It is Yaruno arriving with his brawny supporters, and all of them have more hair and bigger fangs than Rea. They come straight for Rea and her friends, wanting to know about buying weapons. Shin thinks Yaruno looks sly. Yaruno seems to think Shin is a slave, but Rea explains that Shin worked with the merchant Hannes. Yaruno looks skeptical and asks if she will turn the authority of the clan over to him. Rea answers that she will remain clan head. He scoffs, saying she is too young and doesn’t have enough experience. Listening to the exchange, Shin wonders how his negotiating skill can help her. The conversation is interrupted as an enemy raid starts.
Rea briefly explains that when the war between the wolf and bear clans began, the wolf clan had very few weapons and were forced to use their teeth to fight. The bear men have tough hides, however, so they needed weapons to fight more effectively. She pulls her sword from its scabbard and goes out to the battlefield while Shin and Kazura hide in the forest where they can watch the fight. In the confusion, Rea sees one of the bear men and calls out to him by his name, Gustav. He is one of the bear clan’s leaders. Rea tells him to retreat, and Gustav claims they won and clears the woods. Kazura and Shin are puzzled as to what this exchange means.
Three days after the bear attack, the wolf clan is having a meeting to discuss the war and resolve their factional dispute over the issue of their clan head. Yaruno’s faction wants to contest Rea’s position, but Shin tries to buy them time with his negotiating skills. Rea is apprehensive about the proceedings, which are held at night on a stage by a fire. Shin, Rea, Yaruno and his underling are all sitting on the stage. The two contenders for clan head step forward, and Yaruno immediately argues that he is the more appropriate person to be named clan head. Rea is silent, and he laughs at her.
Yaruno explains that he is better suited to be clan head because he was assistant clan head for 20 years and has experience leading. The crowd does agree that Yaruno is superior on this point, but they settle down, and Rea is asked her age. She says she is 16. The crowd’s response is mixed on whether this is old enough to have experience to lead the clan. Kazura, who must be still in Shin’s bag, pops out and asks Shin if she should intervene since it is clear that Yaruno is using this particular point to get Rea out of power. But they have no real objection on Rea’s behalf if this is the basis for the clan’s selection.
They then raise the issue of bloodline. In the wolf clan, the head of the clan comes from a certain family and should pass on to the clan head’s descendants. Kazura confers more with Shin as Rea takes this tack in the discussion. Shin tries to bolster Rea’s argument by talking more about different aspects of blood heritage, not just lineage but also blood purity. Yaruno dismisses that as important, too. They argue more about whether a child and a girl to boot can be the clan head. The audience is still listening to this exchange as Shin grandstands before the crowd, talking about Rea’s battle against the bear clan among other things. Yaruno is so angry, his body is quaking.
As chapter 2 begins, Shin and Rea are sitting around drinking tea, unhappy that Yaruno won the argument and is now clan head and the wolf clan is now unified. Rea is angry, feeling Yaruno won by deception. They analyze the argument and what went wrong. There’s a knock on the door, and Ralph arrives with more weapons, and Hannes follows shortly behind him. They discuss the wolf clan leadership, the war with the bear clan and the need for a negotiator at this location. Shin just listens, wondering if they have enough military might to go against the bear clan. Isn’t destroying the bear clan the actual aim of the war? Hannes asks. Shin thinks he’s too harsh. When they ask to see the location of the clash, Shin offers to take them. About 100 armed wolf men are milling about in the forest when Shin shows Ralph and Hannes the boundary line. It turns out that Rea is planning a surprise attack. There’s a low whistle, and the lower ranking men start to move stealthily forward across the moonlit grassland.
Then we are in the enemy camp where Gustav, leader of the bear clan warriors analyzes the situation with the wolf clan. He has black fur and glowing silver eyes. He notices Rea and heard of her rival Yaruno’s craftiness. The wolf clan’s surprise attack is quick, and Gustav orders his men to disperse. Rea taunts Gustav, but as he looks around the dark forest behind the wolf men, he sees the golden fox and human man and wonders why they are roaming around during the raid. They hear him and melt back into the shadows. I like this part in the original:
そのとき、狼の獣人たちの背後 – 森の闇の中に輝く金色の点にグスタフは気づいた。
金色の狐と、人間の男 – 狼の部族を襲撃したとき、木の陰に隠れていたのと同じ二人組だ。
The wolf clan is celebrating their victory with a bonfire, music, dancing and drinking. Rea leaves the feast with Kazura and Shin to talk privately not far from the battleground. They eat and drink, sitting on a fallen tree. The battle has ended, and they talk about going to Rea’s birthplace, which is to the east in the area of desert where the lizard clan resides. It is rather far, and Kazura hasn’t been there in years. They discuss Shin’s hometown, and he reveals it was destroyed by beast men, his mother was killed, though his father is still alive. Rea remarks that it is a bitter thing. The war increased hatred between humans and beast men. She asks for his opinion on their war with the bear clan, and he says she didn’t exaggerate the problem.
Shin washes his face in the river near the border the next morning, thinking about their conversation the night before. Kazura is now in the form of a little girl again, looking peaked. She has a hangover and puts her head in the water for a second. They banter about whether she was in adult or child form when she got drunk.
A cry pierces the stillness, and Kazura gets back into her fox form and jumps on to Shin’s shoulders so he can carry her back to the campsite. Armed warriors from both clans are not far away, including bear men on horses. Shin sees Gustav fighting Rea, but Gustav attacks Shin, realizing he is human. He says Shin should be killed. Shin lies and says he’s from Turku and that Gustav would make an enemy of all of Turku if he died. They spend some time discussing the war, losses on both sides, and the boundary. Rea encourages Shin to continue his negotiations, and they call a truce. Gustav decides to spare Shin’s life.
Then Gustav is in the midst of a gathering of the clan elders discussing the border war and the wolf clan’s military capabilities. The head clan elder criticizes his handling of the war and gives the order to completely exterminate the wolf clan. Gustav is upset by these instructions and accuses the old man of breaking a promise, the truce. The old man also wants Gustav to kill Shin, who is their hostage. Meanwhile, Shin is waiting in prison talking with Kazura, who seems to be still free to roam. Shin knows his situation is dire and that he’ll probably be executed. Kazura encourages him to negotiate more when the time comes.
Gustav arrives, mentioning the broken treaty. He says they will attack the wolf clan again and kill Shin in two days. Shin desperately begins arguing with Gustav. After Gustav leaves, Shin consults with Kazura some more since he can’t figure out which clan is lying to him. He closes his eyes and contemplates his death. Kazura doesn’t return at breakfast the next day by the time Shin is summoned to the execution spot where he’ll be beheaded. He is led out to a stone house in the woods near a kiln.
People are gathering around, even children, eager to see him die. Gustav is there with the elders and rejects the order to kill Shin and annihilate the wolf clan. He glares at the head elder. Shin launches into more bsing, pretending he will be hard to kill and getting Gustav wrapped up in a discussion about upholding clan law. Finally it comes out that Gustav and Rea met 10 years earlier when they were children at a time when the clans were on good terms. Childhood playmates, they fell in love and still love one another, though by the time Gustav became clan henchman, interactions between their clans ceased as their mistrust grew.
When Rea arrives, the bear clan elder orders the warriors to kill her, but Gustav stops them. Dropping his sword, facing the clan elder’s anger, he asks Rea to kill him. The clan elder warns the bear clan risks extermination if she kills Gustav. Shin intervenes with comments that make the clan elder quake, but both clans do agree to stop the fighting. The crowd is disappointed there won’t be an execution, but after they calm down, Gustav decides to accompany Rea’s delegation to Turku.
Part two of a three part series.