On the banks of the great, rushing Orva did Baldo sit and take in the scenery without a word.
It was the third day of Baldo’s stay in the Earl of Lints’ manor.
The pain in his hip had slowly started to subside, allowing him to finally get out of bed, and so he decided to take Staboros for a quick ride.
The horse seemed happy to have its master atop its back.
Baldo was sympathetic, for during the entire length of the journey so far had it been relegated to a pack mule.
Just how old are you now, I wonder,
asked Baldo out loud, but of course there was no answer.
He looked back through his memories.
It was the same year Eidra was wed into House Coendela that she had given Staboros to him.
That meant it had been in the year 4,241.
Staboros was but two years old at the time.
The year was now 4,270, thus more than twenty-nine years had passed since then.
You’re thirty-one years now.
What a long life you’ve led.
Horses that were raised by humans generally lived until they were around twenty, and horses in the wild only half that.
Baldo had on occasion seen horses that lived even until forty, but considering all the horses younger than Staboros who had already died before, he could say with certainty that Staboros’ life was a long one.
I suppose I will never know the meaning of your name, now.
When Eidra had given him the horse, she had specifically told Baldo at the time, “The name’s meaning is a secret.”
Thus did Baldo never inquire about the name from then on.
Even though the two had been by each other’s side for so long.
Eidra was born in the year 4,226.
Baldo was fourteen at the time, and it was his fourth year as an orderly in the service of her grandfather, Elzera Telsia.
Even more than her father, more than her mother, more than her brother and her personal maid did Eidra hold affection for Baldo.
So too did Baldo dote on this rapidly-growing girl in his own way.
—by taking her around the mountains and plains.
The wilderness of the frontier was a treacherous place.
The Pacra domain ruled by House Telsia were beset by an even more exceptional danger than the neighboring regions, for they were located at the opening in Jhan Dessa Roh, and often were there kaejel and beasts affected by them wandering about.
Baldo was of course able to tell which areas posed a meaningful danger to the girl, and by the time he was twenty was he a proper knight and one already recognized to be among the best in the service of House Telsia, a lordship teeming with men of incredible martial talent.
Even then did the voices of concern persist, but Eidra would always reply with a smile,
“Baldo will protect me.”
Aside from its danger, so too was the wilderness a great teacher, bounding with endless fun.
Eidra grew taller by the day, and Baldo tempered his body and soul to unimaginable heights.
Eidra was eight years old when the head of the house at the time, Elzera, passed away.
It was into Baldo’s chest that the distraught girl had shed her tears.
It was the same when her mother died as well.
Eidra grew to be a beautiful woman, but there was a dauntless nature about her; she preferred armor to dresses, a shortsword to the sewing needle.
It only made sense, for her name also belonged to one of the three goddesses of battle, who were tasked with selecting the heroic souls that would ascend to Galdegatt Lyen1.
“Perhaps I should have given her a different name,”
muttered her father Heidra, and Baldo could only think to himself it was a bit late for those sentiments.
A certain incident took place when Eidra was twenty years old.
Baldo had just returned to the castle upon defeating a gang of mountain bandits when he saw many people scrambling about.
There was a large signal fire set up in the central courtyard.
The head of House Telsia at the time, Heidra, quickly made his way to the castle gates and asked Baldo,
“Have you seen Eidra?”
Baldo replied that he had not, and the man’s expression turned ashen as he said,
Apparently she had taken two soldiers with her and left the castle to greet Baldo on his return.
Heidra had allowed her to go on a whim after calling for two soldiers to escort her, as she was familiar with the path.
It was apparently still bright out when she did so.
Her older brother Vorra was currently stationed at the stronghold guarding the gap in Jhan Dessa Roh.
Now it was already night.
The color drained from Baldo’s face as well.
From a bird’s eye view did the mountain path seem as if it would be simple to traverse, but it was often that people traveling through the trees would suddenly find themselves disoriented, losing all sense of direction, location, and distance.
That she wasn’t back by this time was a sign to Baldo that she could no longer return on her own.
It was nigh impossible, however, to conduct a search in the forests at this time.
For under the veil of night did all paths, tracks, trees and rocks seem to be one in the same.
Yet Baldo mounted his horse once more in an instant and to the men accompanying him he commanded,
Light the largest torches we have atop the highest points of the keep!
You must not let their flames dwindle until dawn arrives!
and he pulled the reigns of his steed.
Just as he was about to depart, Heidra said to him,
and handed Baldo a single sword.
It was the cursed sword, Morra Gravielo2.
Baldo removed his sword from his waist and attached the cursed sword in its place before making haste.
Thankfully were there two moons in the sky.
With naught but the faint moonlight weaving through the dense trees to guide him did Baldo ride.
If she left the castle to meet me, then I must find where she took the first turn to the right.
She often rode with me on my horse, so perhaps she thought the distance to be shorter than it actually was.
She must have turned right too soon,
With those thoughts in mind, Baldo remembered a similar looking road that branched right.
He arrived at that path and turned right in an instant.
The path then went on, winding to the right and left.
The path was truly similar, so Baldo could understand mistaking it for the correct one.
Then he arrived at a fork.
Which did the princess choose?
Both options were feasible.
It all depended on how she mistook the path.
Were he to make the wrong judgment now would he likely seal the girl’s fate.
My patron goddess, Patarapoza!
Be my guide in the night!
Lead me through this forest clad in darkness!
It was the first time since his knighting ceremony that he called the name of the goddess to which he pledged his worship.
The reason he chose this goddess of darkness was because there were none who proselytized in her name.
He simply wanted to avoid the possibility that one from the church of his god would preach holy matters to him—there was nary a shred of devotion in his heart.
Then from the darkness of the night did something start to delicately float upward, perhaps an answer from the goddess of darkness to the cries of one of her few adherents.
It was a massive face, glowing faintly in the dark of the night.
It looked almost like a human’s, almost like a monkey’s.
The base of its neck seemed to melt and disappear into the darkness, but Baldo could tell its body was far smaller than what its head would lead you to believe.
Its great eyes were half-closed as if with drowsiness, and it slowly blinked as if one with its breaths.
It was a spirit that often appeared in folktales of the land, and occasionally were there those who swore they witnessed one in the deep recesses of the frontier’s forests.
Baldo had never seen one before, but he knew there was nothing else it could be.
There were many strange and curious creatures beyond Jhan Dessa Roh.
Surely this was but one of them.
The paduli orra opened its tired eyes a fraction and looked to the right.
I am in your debt!
To a goddess were his words far too crude and to a beast were his words far too polite, yet he left them all the same as he rode off on the right path without a moment of hesitation.
And just as his heart started to fill with worry that he had chosen the wrong path did it happen.
I hear a sound!
There were traces of a struggle about.
Baldo rode more swiftly than wind through the trees.
There they are!
In an open clearing Baldo spotted a the corpses of a dozen or so beasts and a motionless soldier on the ground.
There was another soldier there, protecting Princess Eidra behind his back, and covered in blood was he, plunging the sword in his hand into an enemy directly before him.
It was a zeyu-ceeba4 that had turned into a kaejel.
It was often said that beasts would turn into kaejel upon basking in the ghastly aura of gyelganos, but Baldo knew not of the legitimacy of those claims.
There were many knights who had witnessed such gyelganos, but Baldo was not among them.
It was without doubt, however, that kaejel originated from common beasts.
Upon transforming would their body grow a size larger, and their temperament would turn crazed and fierce.
Their strength would become immense, and their flesh would inexplicably harden.
Even a creature so weak as a rabbit would upon becoming a kaejel turn into a force to be reckoned with.
The eyes of kaejel glowed red.
When one appeared would be the beasts around them be struck with a fit of madness as well.
They would often appear from Jhan Dessa Roh with a group of beasts in tow.
It was the sworn duty of House Telsia to keep their advances at bay.
Baldo was thankful to Heidra for the blade he was given.
A zeyu-ceeba was a formidable foe, even had it not turned into a kaejel.
It was about as tall as a fully-grown man.
Its long arms, however, possessed far greater strength.
Its claws were long and hardened.
It was uncannily nimble, and its hide was inconceivably tough.
It would be a great feat for a common weapon to injure a monster like that.
Elgwordra5 were blades forged for the sole purpose of felling these creatures.
There was a special material mixed into the metal, it was said.
Only the blade of an elgwordra was able to tear through the skin, flesh, and bones of kaejel.
So expensive were they that one could buy a castle with their worth, so House Telsia had but one in their possession.
The zeyu-ceeba was likely drawn by the smell of blood and arrived only moments ago.
Were this not the case, the soldier would have long since perished.
Knowing that an ally was near, a faint smile formed on the soldier’s lips as he cast a glance at Baldo.
It was then that the kaejel pounced toward the two, possibly noticing the small opening.
Baldo drew his sword without stopping his horse and barreled into the kaejel with full momentum.
Right before the soldier and Eidra was the kaejel blown away to the side.
So too was Baldo launched from the horse, and together with the kaejel did they fly into the thicket.
The elgwordra was pierced into the kaejel’s heart.
However, the kaejel’s claws also stabbed into Baldo’s back.
It was at a place unprotected by armor, thus did the claws dig deeply into his body.
As he glared into the eyes of the monster before him, Baldo continued to press the blade ever more.
Blood sprayed from the kaejel’s body, dying his armor a deep red.
It opened its maw and tried to rip apart Baldo’s face with its sharps fangs.
Baldo moved his head to the right at that very moment, and instead did the kaejel’s jaw sink into Baldo’s left shoulder.
It easily tore through the hardened leather of his shoulder guard, and its fangs tried to tear his shoulder from his body.
Yet Baldo merely continued to drive the blade deeper.
Suddenly, the strength drained from the kaejel’s body.
The red in its eyes did fade.
The monster finally died and fell to the ground.
When he turned around, Eidra flew into his chest, sobbing tears that she no longer held back.
Baldo brought his arms around her without a word.
Ignoring the blood staining her clothes, Eidra continued to hold him tight, her tears never ceasing.
It was fortunate the two solders had been brought back from the brink of death.
Lest Eidra suffer irreparable damage to her heart.
The events of that day forever changed Eidra.
It was as if she had become more feminine.
She started to conceal that boyish sense of adventure she once had and instead showed a kind, thoughtful facade.
No longer did she show a desire to always take the reigns, but instead took a step back, simply supporting the actions of others.
She started to hone her skills in cooking and needlework.
Three years passed after that day.
Baldo left for the stronghold located at the gap in Jhan Dessa Roh for a three month assignment.
When Baldo returned three months later, he first heard news of the betrothal between Eidra and Cardos Coendela.
Eidra gave Staboros to Baldo as a gift, and she left for the domain of Dorba.
Cardos was twenty-six years old at the time.
Though a bastard child of the previous lord, he had inherited the title three years earlier following the sudden, inexplicable deaths of his father and brothers.
Under Cardos’ reign did House Coendela rapidly expand their influence through aggressive means.
Over and over, they engaged in armed skirmishes with their age-old nemesis, House Norra.
Over and over, they raided and plundered villages and towns under House Norra’s protection, with tenuous excuses.
So too did they plot against House Telsia, located between the two domains.
A year prior, in the midst of an unprecedented emergency, during which seventeen kaejel had simultaneously appeared, did House Coendela in their despicable cowardliness launch an offensive on House Telsia’s main keep.
It was only due to the gallantry of Baldo, returning by chance because of the injuries he sustained from the kaejel, that they were able to kill two of House Coendela’s generals and force their retreat.
Then came the sudden proposal from Cardos, that he wished to make Eidra—know across the land for her beauty—his queen, and she resolved herself to agree, so that House Telsia and its lands could know peace once more.
Yet in the end, the marriage did not bring the houses together.
Cardos sent Eidra not to their main castle, but to a small, faraway manor instead.
It was located beside a beautiful lake and was certainly an appropriate place for her to await the arrangements of their marriage.
The year passed, however, and Eidra continued to wait in that manor, the day of the ceremony remaining in endless uncertainty.
To declare he wished to make Eidra his queen was to state he intended to take her as his main wife.
Yet to be a main wife was to take care of domestic matters in the main castle, not to be left to rot in a manor far away.
Such was the treatment of a concubine.
House Coendela’s incredible display of disrespect did not end there.
With unimaginable audacity did they, but a mere year and a half later, send Eidra back to House Telsia.
—a baby in her arms.
Escorting her back to her home were but a single personal maid and four servants of low birth.
House Telsia sent a messenger to demand an explanation, but a corpse was all that returned.
As if that alone did not satisfy them, House Coendela launched an assault on a territory under Telsia’s control, claiming they were investigating the source of their insolence.
Heidra and Vorra were driven mad with indignant fury, and they mobilized all of the knights stationed at the stronghold in their counterattack.
Though the lands controlled by Telsia were not large, their knights were all among the elite, tempered beyond reason through their fights with the kaejel.
They made quick work of the invading army and sent them running.
House Coendela never learned.
Over the next twenty years did he launch five separate attacks on their borders.
To the east of Pacra—in which House Telsia’s main keep was located—was the gap in Jhan Dessa Roh, the ideal spot to defend against those from beyond it.
Yet to the west, if one looked, was a spot that could also be considered of vital military importance in the region.
If they managed to wrest control of that location from House Telsia could they then set their sights upon the entirety of the eastern frontier.
It was with such wanton ambition that Coendela did desire Pacra.
So too did they vastly underestimate the terror of the kaejel.
Eidra and her son Jourlan were warmly received back in House Telsia.
Eidra deeply loved her son.
So too did Baldo dote on the boy.
Eidra was given a place to live within the castle grounds and there she spent the days with her son.
The house where she lived, built somewhat high up in the castle’s annex, was a quiet, peaceful place, as if existing in another world.
The cozy little courtyard at the center of the estate was always bathed in sunlight, with flowers blooming at all times of the year.
When Baldo returned from service did he always visit this annex.
Eidra would set up a table in the courtyard and pour some tea.
There sat Baldo, Eidra, and Jourlan.
Around the table the three laughed merrily at conversations meandering and absurd.
It was a strange, tender little world.
Baldo was not talkative, nor was he skilled at doing so, and all he could discuss besides weapons, horses, and combat was the topic of food.
Eidra would always listen to his tales with glee.
So too was she a glutton, and her eyes would sparkle upon hearing of his experiences eating some tasty food from some place.
“How grand would it be, to travel the world and taste all of its food!”
were the words she always loved to say.
After some time, she took to gazing at the Great Orva in the distance, from the castle’s tallest tower.
“I would love to go to the banks of the Orva one day.”
These too were words that came often from her lips.
Around the time that Jourlan was knighted did her condition start to fail.
After her older brother Vorra passed, she would often be confined to her bed.
Eidra was delighted to see the wonderful growth of her son.
He was exceptional in both academic and military studies, and he learned much from both books and the world.
He had a perfect, healthy body, a handsome, symmetrical face, and rolling golden locks that seemed as if taken from a painting.
It was almost uncanny how dignified the boy was.
Though members of the Telsia family all possessed a refined disposition to some extent, Jourlan was even then exceptional, and even in moments of violence did he have a sense of grace about him.
He was both serene and cheerful, magnanimous and with panache, yet when he made up his mind was there a resolve hidden within that could will the mountains to move.
He was truly heroic, in every sense of the word.
There was not a trace of Cardos in him.
Baldo could only thank the blood of his ancestors.
Jourlan became the pride and hope not only of Eidra and Baldo, but of all the men and women of Telsia.
The current lord Galiera relied on this cousin of his, ten years his junior, like he did no one else.
So too was he an excellent example for Galiera’s children.
Baldo’s other beloved pupil, Cedelmont Expenglar, also became a splendid knight.
It was because Jourlan and Cedelmont were there in House Telsia that he could leave on this journey with such peace of mind.
As Baldo was lost in his thoughts, Staboros suddenly nudged him with its muzzle.
Darkness had fallen over the Orva at some point.
The wind was cold.
Baldo stroked Staboros’ head and said,
Shall we return to the roost?
At that moment, he looked to the skies in the west and saw something flying through the air.
It was a yent-nahda.6
High up in the sky, from the distant horizon it flew.
As Baldo watched, it crossed the Orva, flew far above his head, and then disappeared into the distance, beyond Jhan Dessa Roh.
Yent-nahda never landed in places populated by humans, never made contact with them either.
I wonder if they too fight amongst themselves?
he suddenly, inexplicably mused.