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Chapter 5 - Reel Trust

'Hey, those jerks don't have another training facility around here, do they?' Henry asked.

'If you keep talking like that, they won't help you next time you're in trouble,' I responded, keeping my eyes on the water.

'Man, who cares?' Henry huffed. 'They're just a bunch of stubborn hardasses who stomp all over people's hard work.'

He began fidgeting as he riled himself up thinking about the other day.

'Doesn't it tick you off, too?' He turned to me.

'You picked all those mushrooms, and they just took them away.'

'Well, we broke the rules.' I shrugged.

'Man, how can you be so nonchalant about it?' he sighed. He didn't even have the energy to be annoyed at me today.

'Ugh. I'm getting nothing here.' He gave his line a sad tug. 'I can't focus anymore.'

'Don't they ever get hungry?' I asked, looking out at my own line. It hadn't moved the whole time we'd been out here.

'Are we even doing this right?' Henry asked. It was a good question; one I didn't have the answer to.

A small breeze gently nudged our otherwise-immobile fishing lines.

'Okay,' Henry said, getting up, 'I'm gonna go find someone who can help us.'

He left his fishing pole and started walking farther up the river bank.

We were back in the Le Locle Canyon. After our disastrous mushroom-hunting mission, we had pulled ourselves together and decided to go fishing in an attempt to catch something good for Clementine.

After a while, Henry returned with company.

'For things like this, it's best to get help from a pro,' he explained, 'so I found us one.'

From his hat and jacket, to his rod and the tackle box slung over his shoulder, the man Henry brought back with him was the very picture of an expert angler.

'I found him fishing just a bit upstream,' Henry told me. 'He said he's from the Fisherman's Guild. Can't get much more of an expert opinion than that!'

The fisherman smiled. 'I'm always happy to help out young anglers like yourselves,' he said.

We exchanged greetings, then it was time to get down to business.

'So, what exactly are you two after today?' the fisherman asked.

'A rare fish,' I told him, 'I want to give it to someone.'

'That's a little vague.' He scratched his chin. 'But I'm definitely on board with giving a fish as a gift. If you're after something rare, though, you'll need the right bait.'

The fisherman picked up our fishing poles and examined them.

'Progressive rods, hm?' He furrowed his brow a little.

'That's all we were able to rent in town, sir,' I told him.

'Are we really gonna call him 'sir'?' Henry whispered to me.

'What bait are you using?' the fisherman asked.

'Worms,' I replied.

The fisherman raised an eyebrow, then shook his head at us.

'Are you sure you're trying to catch a big one?' he asked.

'We thought we'd get some bites if we came around lunch time,' I told him, matter-of-factly.

When the fisherman heard this, his other eyebrow quickly shot up to join the first one. He then gave an incredulous sigh and pulled a spare rod out of his pack.

'Here, use this. It's a Metal Trident Rod. It's specifically made for catching big fish,' he said, handing me the fishing rod. 'Use live, medium-sized fish as bait.'

'What about me?' asked Henry. 'What do I do?'

'You'll be catching the bait fish,' the fisherman told him, 'You can use worms for that one, but you'll need to go to another spot to catch it.'

Henry seemed to be a bit disappointed he got the less important job, but he did as he was told and moved a bit downstream.

'You should get a bite from the little ones over there in no time,' the fisherman called out.

Sure enough, after a minute or two, I heard Henry struggling. He'd gotten something. The fisherman and I walked over to watch. Henry put everything he had into pulling his catch up until finally, with a mighty pull, he yanked it straight out of the river. Droplets of water flew into the air, sparkling in the sun like diamonds. His battle won, he hoisted his prize up to get a better look at it.

'A boot?!' Henry's face puffed up with indignation.

He angrily tossed the boot to the ground and sulked for a few minutes before he cast another line.

Eventually, he caught some smaller fish, and I prepared them as bait for the Metal Trident Rod.

I cast my new line and waited. Ten minutes later, I felt a sharp tug on the line. My rod started to bend.

A shadow appeared in the water and the surface of the river began to thrash. I waited until the line stopped moving, then tugged with all my strength. A huge fish flew up from the river. I dragged it to the shore and held it up for everyone to see. The fisherman, impressed by its size, let out a whistle.

'Those long whiskers and pointed teeth...' he mumbled to himself as he took a good look at the fish, 'That's definitely a garvelze.'

'Is it rare?' I asked.

'It's rare to catch one here,' he said, still examining the fish. 'They're known as 'Lakebottom Brawlers' and true to the name, are usually found in muddy areas at the bottom of lakes.'

I was elated to have caught such a rare fish, but the fisherman's expression was more serious.

'Is something wrong?' I asked.

'I'd...like to make a request.' The fisherman straightened his posture. 'Would you let me have this garvelze?'

Henry and I looked at each other in shock.

'Hey! You never said anything about charging us!' Henry glared at the fisherman.

'Don't misunderstand, please,' the fisherman said, 'I'm not trying to scam you or anything of the sort. I want to bring this fish back with me to the Fisherman's Guild.'

'Trying to add someone else's catch to your collection?' Henry's brow was still furrowed. 'That's pretty lame, wouldn't you say?'

'Oh, I agree. That's not the reason I want it, though,' said the fisherman, still bearing the same serious expression on his face. 'I'm interested in the ecosystem here. I'd like to find out why a lake-dwelling fish is all the way out here.'

'Also,' he continued, 'this fish has a bit of a reputation as a man-eater.'

'A wh-what?!' Henry jumped a good arge away from the fish as it flopped on the end of my line.

'It's only an urban legend,' said the fisherman. 'They'll cough up trinkets from time to time. If it happens to have eaten anything valuable, I'll let you have it. How does that sound for payment?'

'Are you seriously trying to bribe us with some dead person's jewelry' Henry exclaimed from behind a nearby tree.

'No, no. Please listen.' The fisherman remained calm.

'The man-eating part isn't true. The fish will just swallow shiny objects that fall to the bottom of the lake.'

'Yeah, a likely story.' Henry still regarded the fisherman will a suspicious glance. He then turned to me. 'What should we do?'

I had no reason to trust this random fisherman, but he didn't seem like the kind of person who would lie to us.

'All right,' I said, 'you can have it.'

'Thank you. I'm in your debt.' He took off his hat and gave me a short bow. 'Where will I be able to find you to deliver your payment?'

'We're usually in the restaurant in town,' I told him.

'Understood. I'll be back in a few days,' the fisherman said as he began to pack up his supplies. 'I need to transport this fish quickly, so I'll be headed out now.'

I took another look at the fish.

'Will this fish...die from the research you're going to do?' I asked.

The fisherman simply laughed at my worried expression.

'Oh, no,' he said, 'I'll see to it he's well taken care of.'

He waved to us one last time before heading off, the fish in tow.

'You really think it's a good idea to trust that guy?' Henry asked as we watched the fisherman leave. 'You know there's a chance we'll never see the guy again, right?'

'I bet that fish is happy it went to someone like him,' I said, mostly to myself.

'What are you talking about, man?' said Henry, raising an eyebrow at me.

'If you're right and he never comes back,' I shrugged, 'then that's just how it is. We'll just have to go fishing again.'

'Just like that?' Henry sighed. 'I'm a little jealous how nonchalant about it you are.'

'Do you know why I like Clementine so much, Henry?' I asked.

'Huh?' Henry seemed taken aback by the question.

'I have no idea why, myself,' I admitted. 'That's just how it is.'

With that, we started packing up and heading home.

Henry was silent for the entire trip back.

第5巻  「引き寄せられた出会い」 「なぁ、この場所はヤツらの縄張りじゃないよな?」    
 少し離れたところから、ヘンリーが声をかけてきた。   
「そんな言い方すると、今度から助けてもらえないよ」   
「けッ、構わないね。人の努力を踏みにじる上に、     
 融通も利かない連中だ。許すまじ」           
 もはやホタル茸探しに行っていた事実を隠すことなく、  
恨みの愚痴をこぼしては、白髪のカツラを弄んでいる。   
「おまえは腹が立たないのか?」             
「ぼくらがルール違反をしたんだから、仕方ないよ」    
「そのお人好し神経はどこで作られてるのやら」      
 声色からして、げんなりしているのが伝わってくる。   
「さっきからピクリとも反応がないし。集中力が切れそうだ」
#-656y「みんなお腹空いていないのかな」            
「あーあ。嫌な予感がする」               
 2つの釣り糸は、時折、風に揺らめくだけ。       
「こうなったら、助っ人がいないか探してくるわ」     
 すると釣り竿はそのままに、ヘンリーは川沿いを下って行っ
てしまった。                      
                            
 ここは再びのル=ロックル渓谷。            
 失態を演じたキノコ狩りから気を取り直し、クレムを喜ばせ
る大物を手に入れようと、ぼくらは魚釣りに来たのだった。 
                            
 しばらくして、ヘンリーは見知らぬ男性を伴い戻ってきた。
「“餅は餅屋”ってな。専門家を連れてきたぞ」      
 帽子を被ってジャケットを羽織り、紐付きの箱を肩に下げ、
竿を持った中年の男性は紛う方なき釣り人だった。     
「別のポイントで釣ってるところを声かけたんだ。     
 釣公師団の団員だってさ。プロ中のプロってことだぜ」  
「若き釣り人たちの力になれるなら、お安い御用だよ」   
 ぼくらは簡単に自己紹介を済ませた。          
「それで、今日は何を狙っているんだい?」        
「珍しい魚です。ある人への贈り物にしたくて」      
「とても漠然としているが、プレゼントに魚とは気に入った。
 珍しい種類となると相応の道具が必要になるが……」   
 師匠はぼくらが使っている釣り竿を手に取った。     
「プログレロッドか」                  
「町で借りられたのがこれだけでした。師匠」       
「師匠呼びは原則なのか?」と、ヘンリー。        
「エサは何を?」                    
「ミミズです」                     
 師匠の顔から笑みが消える。              
「君たち、大物を釣り上げる気はあるのかね?」      
「昼時に垂らせば、みんな食いつくと思っていました」   
 その回答に、ひどく残念そうなため息を吐かれる。    
「はい、これ持って。剛竿トライデント。         
 大物攻略向けの竿だ。生きたままの中型魚をエサに使う」 
 師匠の愛用竿を渡され、ぼくは準備に取りかかった。   
「俺はどんな竿を貸してもらえるんですか! 師匠!」   
「君はエサになる中型魚を釣っていくんだ。        
 使うのはミミズでいい。ただポイントを変えよう」    
 代わり映えしない自分に落胆するヘンリーだったが、指示さ
れるまま、さらに距離をおいたところへ移動する。     
「小物なら、そう時間はかからずにヒットするはずだ」   
 師匠の言葉通り、数分もしないうちに「んんッ」とヘンリー
が唸り声を上げた。ぼくも傍に近寄り、3人でじっと見つめる。
「どりゃ――!」                    
 勢い良く引き揚げられる釣り糸。その先に引っかかる物体。
                            
「長靴かよッ」                     
 穴あき長靴は無慈悲な青年によって地面に叩きつけられた。
ところがその後は順調に中型魚を釣り上げ、それをエサにぼく
が剛竿トライデントを構える。              
「来たぞ」                       
 待つこと10分。竿が引っ張られた。魚影が濃くなり、激し
い水しぶきが上がる。                  
 相手の引きが弱くなる頃を見計らい、一気に引き抜いた。 
「くッ……!」                     
 水中から大型魚が姿を現す。打ち揚げられた魚を見た師匠が
「おおッ」と声を漏らした。               
「長い髭に鋭く尖った歯……間違いない、ガーウェルズだよ」
「珍しい魚ですか?」                  
「この場所で釣れるのは珍しいな。            
 “湖底の暴れん坊”という異名の通り、湖で釣れる魚だ」 
 喜びに浸るぼくと裏腹に、師匠の表情は険しい。     
「どうしました?」                   
「……1つ、相談なんだが」               
 師匠は改まったように姿勢を正した。          
「このガーウェルズ、わたしに譲ってはくれないか」    
 思わずぼくらは顔を見合わせた。            
「おいおい、手解き料を請求するとは聞いてないぞ」    
「まさか。君たちを欺こうとしているんじゃないよ。    
 こいつを、ぜひ釣公師団に持ち帰りたい」        
「他人の手柄をコレクションにするのか?」        
「そうじゃない。わたしは生態系にも興味があってね。   
 湖で暮らすこの魚がなぜここにいるのかを研究したいんだ」
 師匠の真剣な表情は変わらない。            
「それに、この魚は“人食い魚”――」          
「ひ、人食い!?」と、ヘンリーが飛び退く。       
「って、噂されている。装飾品を吐き出すことがあるようで。
 それを君が受け取るという条件でどうかな」       
「だ、誰かの遺品を俺たちに掴ませるってのか?」     
「人食いは噂だ。大方、底に沈んだ物を飲みこんだのだろう」
「……随分、都合の良い話に聞こえるが。どうする?」   
 ヘンリーは窺うようにぼくを見た。           
 根拠は無い。でも、師匠は嘘を言っていないように思えた。
「分かりました。そうしましょう」            
「ありがとう。恩に着る。君とはどこに行けば会えるかね?」
「普段は町の食堂にいることが多いです」         
「承知した。数日のうちに、品物を必ず持ってこよう。   
 それでは早く魚を運んでしまいたいので、先に失礼するね」
 師匠は手際よく道具類を片付けてしまう。        
「……その子は、研究に使われたら死んでしまうんですか?」
 心配するぼくをよそに、師匠は朗らかに笑った。     
「いいや。わたしが責任を持って、面倒を見させてもらうよ」
 そう言って手を振り、師匠は去って行った。       
                            
「今日会ったばかりの人間をよく信用したな。       
 そのまま戻ってこない可能性だってあるんだぞ」     
「欲しがる人に貰われた方が、あの魚も嬉しいかもしれない」
「なんだよ、それ」                   
「でももし君の言う通りになったら、その時は仕方ないかな。
 また釣りに来ればいいよ」               
「仕方ない、か。それで気が済む性格が羨ましいよ」    
「ヘンリーは、どうしてぼくがクレムを好きなのか分かる?」
「え?」                        
「自分でも分からない。だから、仕方ないんだ」      
 それからすぐに、ぼくらも帰り支度を始めた。      
 ヘンリーは、ただ黙っていた。             
 

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