Red Turnip Lanterns and the Winter Man – Part 01


Translator: Kell


—Monologue 3—

In the middle of the night, I awoke to a presence.

The manor was quiet; the only sound was the faint breeze coming from outside the window.

Quietly, I approached the door and strained my ears.

“…while the festival is going on…”

I could hear men’s whispers coming from the end of the hallway.

“No one will notice. Not even the villagers.”

“Yeah, no doubt.”

They were having a secret discussion.

“We can transport them by car once we get down the mountain.”

I could feel anger rising within me.

I suspected this to be the case, and I was right. Unaware of an eavesdropper, the men continued discussing their plans for tomorrow.

“If we do it during the festival, the villagers won’t notice. The cathedral will be unoccupied for a certain time tomorrow.”

“We head back down the mountain, and then…”

And then what?


Chapter 4: Red Turnip Lanterns and the Winter Man

Dawn was slowly breaking over the nameless village. Kazuya was slumped in a rocking chair in the corner, awakening from his shallow sleep and falling asleep again. This went on repeatedly.

Every time he woke up, he saw Victorique sleeping in a different area of the large canopied bed, in a different position. Blearily he wondered when she moved.

The banging of drums announced the breaking of dawn.

Boom!

Boom! Boom! Boom!

It was followed by the sound of a flute. High and thin, it seemed to slice through the darkness of dawn.

Kazuya bolted upright. When he got up, Victorique, dressed in her nightgown, was just getting off the bed. She rushed to the window and glanced at Kazuya behind her.

Kazuya looked drowsy, while Victorique was already fully awake; she had the same quiet but sharp eyes when they met at the conservatory. Most of her long, golden hair cascaded down from the white satin cap, billowing like a golden stream.

“Good morning, Kujou,” she said.

“Good morning, Victorique. What was that just now?”

“No idea. If I had to guess…” Victorique pulled on a string hanging from the ceiling.

The heavy velvet curtains drew open.

Outside the window was a completely different scenery.

Unlike yesterday, when a milky mist obscured most of the area save for the stone balcony and a large oak tree, this morning, despite still being dawn, the air was clear, with great visibility. The weather was fine, and the wind was dry. The sound of drums shook the air, followed by the whistling of flutes.

Several colored banners, all bearing the wolf emblem painted in black, fluttered in the breeze.

Someone was spraying water—holy water, most likely—into the morning sky. Droplets fell onto the stones of the balcony.

Whips cracked and blanks were fired.

“I would guess…” Victorique said.

“The Midsummer Festival has begun,” Kazuya added.

“Indeed.”

They exchanged glances, and ran out onto the balcony. Leaning over the mossy stone railing, they watched the scene outside.

A shaking, bright-red mass was entering the square. No matter how much they strained their eyes, they could not make out what it was. It was a large float, but it was burning bright-orange like flames.

Villagers were parading around the square, shouting. It was hard to believe that they were extremely quiet just yesterday.

As they goggled at the square, a small knock sounded on the door. Kazuya answered and returned to the room.

He opened the door to find a young man with long golden hair standing there. He was taller than most of the villagers, with strikingly handsome features and clear eyes. Ambrose, the village chief’s assistant.

“I heard you guys talking when I passed by,” he said. “I thought you were awake.”

Ambrose was carrying curious items in his hands. A human-sized paper-mâché wrapped in ochre-colored cloth, and a wooden mask with a horrifying black face carved into it. Kazuya studied the objects.

Ambrose laughed. “These are paper-mâché and mask for the festival. Never seen much of these?”

“Nope.”

“To me, your belongings are much more uncommon.”

Ambrose peeked into the room a little and glanced at their belongings. He then stared at Kazuya’s face and reached out to it. Kazuya backed away quickly. He didn’t like having his cheeks pinched or his hair pulled.

Woken by the sound of conversation, the doors to the other rooms opened one after another. Alan stepped out drowsily, stroking his beard. Derek was wearing a silk nightwear; one look revealed it as luxurious, but it was wrinkled, as though he’d been tossing and turning in his sleep. Raoul’s large body also came out sluggishly.

The door to Mildred’s room opened last. With footsteps so loud that it was hard to believe they belonged to a woman, she stepped out into the hallway. Her red, curly hair swayed.

Victorique left the balcony and trotted toward them.


Ambrose led Kazuya and the others to the square. “As Elder Sergius said yesterday,” he began, “the Midsummer Festival is a celebration of summer’s bountiful harvest and a ritual of defeating and burning winter. We then call the spirits of our ancestors to witness our abundance.”

The manor was practically empty at this point. Almost all the villagers had gathered in the square.

“We don’t want to leave the cathedral unattended, so a few people are over there. The rest are all in the square.”

“It’s way different from yesterday,” Kazuya remarked.

Ambrose laughed. “We were busy with preparations. It looked like the red turnips weren’t going to be ready in time.”

“Red turnips?”

“The lights on the float. Look.”

When the group arrived at the square, their eyes widened in surprise as they stared at the huge, round, flaming floats.

Countless round and small orange-glowing objects were attached all over the floats. A closer inspection revealed them to be hollowed-out red turnips with various patterns carved on the outside. There were tiny candles inside, their flames dancing as the floats moved. The floats themselves crawled all over the place like flickering flames.

“So pretty,” Victorique breathed.

Ambrose nodded happily. “The villagers were busy carving these. And I was making this paper-mâché. Had a hard time since I’m all thumbs.” He gently placed the ochre-colored mummy on the float.

“What’s the papier-mache for?” Kazuya asked.

“It’s called the Winter Man. At noon, the villagers dress up in costumes and stage a dramatic battle between the Winter Army and the Summer Army. The Winter Amy wears brown clothes, while the Summer Army wears blue. When the Summer Army eventually wins the battle and defeats the Winter Army, it sets fire to the Winter Man’s float. We then eat, drink, and dance to celebrate Summer’s victory.”

“I see…”

“After that, the cathedral will be cleared of people. The cathedral is the gateway to the afterlife and serves as the pathway for our ancestors who return to witness our bountiful harvest. At the end of the festival, our ancestors wear this mask…” Ambrose lifted a macabre mask, a product of his painstaking labor. “…and dance in joy for the harvest. They then speak in an incomprehensible language. We believe it to be the language of the afterlife.”

Harminia was coming from behind them, her eyes bulging. She stared at the mask Ambrose was holding and suddenly grinned from ear to ear. She seemed satisfied with the mask.

“Looks great,” she said in a barely audible whisper.

Ambrose seemed happy for the praise. “I’ll be wearing the mask this year.”

“You’re a candidate for the next village chief, after all,” Harminia said.

The group looked puzzled.

“The village chief has a younger assistant,” she added in an even lower voice. “When the village chief dies, his assistant becomes the next chief. Elder Sergius was also Elder Theodore’s assistant. In other words, Elder Sergius has a very high opinion of Ambrose.”

“Oh…”

The group studied Ambrose. The young man’s elegant face reddened.

He shook his head in embarrassment. “It’s partly because there’s fewer youth among the villagers. Not a lot of children in the village, in fact.”

The floats slowly started spinning around. They watched several red turnips spin, tracing red lines in the air.

“This is stupid,” Alan spat.

Ambrose gasped, and Harminia’s eyes bulged.

It just so happened that the sound of drums and flutes stopped then and a momentary silence fell on the square. All the villagers turned around, their dark eyes sweeping over the outsiders, searching for the owner of the voice.

Alan had been grumbling nonstop since entering the village, but never before had he attracted so much attention. The man himself was surprised, but his pride prevented himself from backing down.

“I can’t believe people still believe in these ancient superstitions. Secluded place, my ass. Definitely the village of the Gray Wolves. This place is a joke!”

Derek, who usually backed him up, stood silent next to him.

“Am I right, Raoul?” Alan said.

The big man shrank back, scratching his chin. “U-Um… yeah.”

“Spirits of your ancestors? Good one. They ain’t coming back. All this ridiculous nonsense so early in the morning.”

Derek stopped him before he could say any more. “Yeah, I get it. It’s quite loud out here. Let’s head back to our rooms and play some poker, yeah?”

Alan nodded. The three men plodded back to their rooms.

“Please wait,” Harminia said in a low but carrying voice, stopping them.

Villagers were gathered behind the maid, glowering at the three men. It seemed as if they had fused with Harminia. Their faces were devoid of expression, and they were motionless, eyes bulging open. Their outdated attire made them look like ghosts.

Alan turned around and gave a start. His confidence faded. “Wh-What?!”

“If you’re going to mock our village, then you may leave.”

“A mere maid talking back to a guest?”

“The spirits of the dead…”

“The spirits of the dead, what? Say it.”

“They do return.”

“Bullshit!”

“They come from the night sky, pass through the cathedral and onto the square, and speak in the language of the afterlife. Their words are incomprehensible to us. But nothing can be hidden from the spirits of the dead. There’s meaning to the Midsummer Festival.”

The look on Harminia’s face said she believed in the festival from the bottom of her heart. She turned to Ambrose and shot him a glare, urging him to say something as well. Ambrose did not have the same unwavering look as Harminia, but she didn’t seem to notice.

Ambrose stopped Alan before he could continue. “Dear guests. You are entitled to your opinion, but if you’re going to interrupt the Midsummer Festival, I will have to ask you to leave.”

“I-I don’t want to leave,” Alan murmured.

For some reason, he was getting flustered. It was apparent that they didn’t want to leave the village. The three men shared looks and discussed things over.

“You always pick a fight wherever you go,” Derek rebuked. Raoul said nothing.

After a while, Alan raised his hands. “Fine. I get it. We won’t interrupt the festival. We’ll just stay put in our rooms, okay?”

Ambrose smiled and bowed. Harminia kept glaring at them as they left. The young assistant seemed to have lost some of his energy.

“We actually have a slightly similar tradition in my country,” Kazuya said in an attempt to cheer him up.

“Your country?”

“Yes. It’s an island nation located all the way across the sea. We have this old tradition of welcoming back our ancestors in the summer. I don’t really believe in it, but I do visit their graves with my family and make offerings.”

“Oh… tell me more.”

Ambrose hounded Kazuya with questions, so he spent the next several minutes explaining about his country, world geography, and the state of the world. To his surprise, the young man didn’t even know about the Great War, which ended only a few years ago. He knew about airplanes and remembered how they flew so high back then.

He was living the life of a recluse.

But while he lived a medieval lifestyle, Ambrose was surprisingly quick on the uptake; he understood many things in just a few minutes of conversation. And like a young man with a thirst for knowledge, he asked the right questions one after another and absorbed Kazuya’s answers. His clear green eyes sparkled with curiosity.

What a smart guy! Kazuya was genuinely impressed. I can see where the legend of the Gray Wolf comes from. This feels like the traveler’s account that Victorique showed me, where he met a young male wolf in the mountains. Intelligent and silent Gray Wolves…

Ambrose’s questions went on forever, but his thirst for knowledge was never quenched.

After taking a breather, he said, somewhat embarrassed, “When I was a child, a descendant came to the village. A man named Brian Roscoe. I asked him a lot of questions too, and got an earful from Elder Sergius afterwards.”

“Oh… The guy who installed electricity in the village, right?”

“Yes. But he left as soon as he finished making arrangements for the construction,” he said sadly.



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