Prologue, Chapter 9: Lies and Truth

1

 What pompous architecture, indeed.

 thought Baldo.
 This was the main castle of House Coendela, located in the heart of the Dorba domain.
 He strongly desired to have an audience with Cardos Coendela, thus for the first time in his life did he step onto these grounds.

 Baldo was alone.
 Julchaga, the Gorra Cheyzara, seemingly vanished into thin air some time before they arrived.
 Baldo thought the young thief ought to at least say hello, but alas, it was just like him to stay out of sight.

 Baldo was allowed through the gates without any resistance, much to his surprise.
 Which could only mean Cardos had predicted his arrival.

 “Hello, Lord Rhowen.
 It has always been a dream of mine to have you visit my castle.
 It appears today was the day it came true.
 Care to join me for a drink?”

 Cardos welcomed Baldo with outstretched arms.
 There was no one else in the room.
 Baldo assumed there were knights hidden behind the tapestries on both sides of the room, but at this distance, they wouldn’t be able to reach him in time.
 This place was in a far corner of the castle, and he did not see anyone else on the way here.

 Perhaps he was confident Baldo would not hurt him, or rather could not hurt him.
 Perhaps he was complacent, for Baldo’s weapon had been taken from him upon entering the castle.

 No, I doubt any of those possibilities are the case, thought Baldo.
 Cardos was not a man who trusted in others.

 The more powerful his retainers, the less he trusted them.
 The more gifted the individual, the less he trusted them.

 If he showed them any weakness—
 If he revealed to them any secrets—

 He would be usurped.
 He would be left in the dirt.

 It was because the man was possessed by such thoughts that he would not even have his closest vassals beside him in this moment.
 His worries were entirely founded, for he was such a man who schemed, backstabbed, and usurped a throne to sit in the position he had today.

 “It appears you have been sniffing around an awful lot these days,”

 said Cardos as he poured a distilled alcohol into two cups.
 I know everything, it was as if he wanted to say.
 He handed a cup to Baldo.
 Both of the men raised the cups to eye-level, and Cardos said,

 “Ywe la shante1,”

 to which Baldo responded in kind.
 Yes, ywe la shante.
 In other words, the following matters were to remain under an oath of secrecy, and if either of them broke this oath would they by the blade atone.
 As he watched Baldo chant the words, his eyes were curled in glee.

 “Oh, and praise the new year,”

 he added.
 Around three cycles ago did the new year dawn.
 Thus, Baldo was now fifty-nine.

 “Anyways, have a seat.”

 Baldo sat down, and Cardos did the same.

 “You came here at the perfect time.
 I was hoping I could explain what happened exactly.
 Have you perhaps heard that a Meeting of Lords will convene five days from now?”

 I have not, replied Baldo.

 “I was going to tell them this at the meeting, but I see no reason why I cannot tell you in advance.
 I will be announcing that the greater region of Giguenza under my rule, as well as the surrounding regions will soon be officially incorporated into the Palzamic Kingdom.
 I imagine I will be given a title appropriate for one able to unify the entire region.
 I’ll become a margrave, I presume.”

 Baldo’s expression did not change.

 “I heard Jogg was quite rude to you the other day.
 He has a terrible habit of being impatient.
 It seems he was a tad rash this time.
 My House Coendela would never dream of wresting a territory from House Telsia’s control.
 Rather, all of the domains in these lands will soon belong to Palzam.
 House Coendela will naturally be responsible for all trade and tax collection in the region then, as its sole unifier.
 I promise to treat every lord in the region with the appropriate courtesy.”

 After drinking all of the spirit, Cardos filled his cup back up to the brim.
 He swirled the liquid beneath his nose, inhaling the fragrance with apparent pleasure.

 “Aren’t you curious as to how this is all possible?
 It is because I have the support of the Palzamic Kingdom.
 As for why I have that support, I wonder if you can figure it out.
 The reason is, you see—
 The King of Palzam is in my debt, as I was responsible for bringing up his son!”

 There was a pause.

 “You are a boring man, did you know that?
 Most would be rendered thunderstruck at such a reveal.”

 Baldo remained silent yet, staring directly into Cardos’ eyes.
 Cardos took another sip and continued his story.

2

 “It all happened thirty years ago.
 That’s right.
 Exactly thirty years ago, in the summer it started.
 I desired to make Princess Eidra mine.
 At that very moment, however, did something occur that prevented me from welcoming her to this castle.
 There was a relative of mine who wished to have his daughter become my main wife.
 The individual in question was the very same person who helped me claim the title of lord, thus I could not so easily reject their request.
 As I was busy taking care of these matters, I had Princess Eidra stay in a manor somewhat removed from this place.
 At the same time did the previous lord of Gadeucia, Margrave Deusan Archeos, suddenly entrust me with a young boy, asking me to take care of him.”

 Baldo narrowed his eyes a fraction and paid close attention.

 “I wonder if you were aware that my mother hailed from House Archeos.
 That young boy was Prince Wendellant.
 He was nineteen at the time.
 His mother was of low birth, but she was a woman of divine beauty and sagacity, earning her the favor of the king.
 Thus was she killed.
 Prince Wendellant would’ve shared the same fate had he stayed in the royal capital any longer.
 No, I suppose he wouldn’t have been safe anywhere in the Palzamic Kingdom.
 That was why he was sent to a place like this, one in the middle of nowhere.
 There was no way the young man could live here in the castle, however.
 I needed a safe, inconspicuous location.
 And that lakeside manor was the perfect fit.
 Yet that was where Princess Eidra resided.
 I moved her to an annex across the lake.
 It would only be but a little while longer before I could bring her to the castle.
 I urged Prince Wendellant to stay away from the annex.”

 Cardos closed his eyes as if lost in his memories.

 “That was a mistake.
 Although the prince appeared to be a fragile, academically-minded young man, he was in fact brimming with a curious, adventurous spirit.
 Thus did he sneak into the very place he was told to avoid.
 It was then the two met.”

 He rubbed his temples with his right hand.

 “The prince fell hopelessly in love at first sight.
 I do not know how Princess Eidra felt, but I imagine she was fond of the young man as well.
 The prince came before me with his head touching the ground.
 Please give Eidra to me, he said.
 I had never in my life been so tormented by a decision.
 Not even when I worked up the resolve to slay my own flesh and blood.
 But alas, I gave my assent in the end.
 I held no consideration for his status as a prince.
 Often do those in such a position find themselves purged or disappearing without a trace, after all.
 There are no shortage of princes and noble children in the many countries.
 However, this was a golden opportunity for me to have the margrave in my debt.
 The prince in fact told the margrave that he had snatched my wife-to-be from under my nose.
 As such did the margrave pull some strings and provide my house with countless benefits through various dealings.”

 Baldo looked at the ceiling.
 The room was rather dark, located in the recesses of the castle, but there was a window open as to let in some light.
 From that window came a sunbeam.

 “Their honeymoon lasted for over a year.
 Princess Eidra gave birth to a boy, and the prince named him Jourlan.
 Around that time, the Palzamic Kingdom started to find itself embroiled in political turmoil.
 To the prince, it was the chance of a lifetime for him to return.
 He thus left Princess Eidra and the newborn in my care before departing for the land of his birth, a place teeming with conspiracies.”

 There were specks of dust dancing admist the beam of sunlight.
 Without the light, Baldo wouldn’t have been able to see a thing.

 “I sent Princess Eidra back to her home.
 I couldn’t bear to have her near me any longer, seeing that she now belonged to someone else.
 The prince seemed to have forgotten about her entirely as well.
 In the twenty-eight years since he left, not once had he even sent a letter, after all.
 Surely anyone else in my shoes would have come to the same conclusion.
 But this was not the case.
 Two years ago, the Palzamic Kingdom finally triumphed over their nemesis.
 Prince Wendellant returned a hero, and his greatest rival for the throne, the crown prince, perished.
The prince sent me a letter.
 In it, he conveyed to me that he wished to have Princess Eidra and their son at his side at last.”

3

 “He gave me a letter meant for Princess Eidra as well.
 In it, he wrote of his undying love for her:

Twas for you that I tempered my mind, my blade, and my soul, and became a man of virtue.
That I might be worthy of your companionship.
Twas for you that I gathered many allies to my side.
That I might create a safe home for you.
Twas for you that I accomplished many feats and rose to great heights.
That you might be proud of your husband.
Twas for you that I treated my subjects with benevolence and empathy.
For I knew that was what you would want.

 Why does a bastard like you know what was written in that letter,

 were the words that threatened to escape from Baldo’s mouth, but he held his tongue.

 “He did not send Princess Eidra any letters over the years out of concern for her safety.
 There were many unsavory gazes trained on Prince Wendellant.
 Gazes from individuals who wished to attack the prince where it hurt the most.
 By writing a letter to Princess Eidra would he only be informing these men of her existence.
 And of the existence of his son, with royal blood flowing through his veins.
 Had they found out, I suspect the princess would have been kidnapped and his son slain.
 That was why he desperately suppressed his desire to do so and instead chose not to write any letters.
 He must have written the letter then immediately upon securing a place for himself in the kingdom, upon having real power, and thus believing he was able to protect these two people he loved the most.
 That letter made it clear as well that he was in fact a prince of Palzam.
 Did you imagine I was caught off guard by this development?
 Of course not.
 I wasn’t worried in the slightest.
 After all, I had the prince’s son in my protection.
 A young man named Zeyon.
 After relinquishing the princess to the prince, I took several more wives shortly after, and one of them gave birth to a boy at around the same time Eidra did.
 When I sent the princess home, I switched Zeyon with Jourlan.
 To prepare for the small chance that the prince would ask for him.”

 Zeyon was the eldest son of Cardos and his main wife.
 His hair was the same blond as his father.
 Jourlan’s hair was almost a platinum gold.
 King Wendellant’s was surely a similar color.

 “I wonder if Princess Eidra told you about the switch?
 I doubt it.
 She promised ywe la shante, after all.
 No matter how dear you were to her, she would never break that kind of promise.”

 She certainly did not say anything.
 Of course, she said nothing because all of that was probably a lie in the first place.
 The problem however, was what evidence Cardos was planning on using to turn that fiction into reality.

 “Of course, when the first letter came, Prince Wendellant was only a hero of war and a great general, nothing more than that.
 Though the crown prince and several of his brothers perished in the conflict, the matter of royal succession would not be a simple one.
 There are seven ducal houses in the kingdom that possess the royal lineage of the founding king.
 In many cases would fierce negotiation among those houses occur, and in the end, a crown prince would be chosen by their ability to placate all of the parties involved.
 The king died, however.
 With him dead, there was no longer anyone who could designate a new crown prince and bestow them with that right.
 No one else, aside from those who already possessed the right to succeed the throne, could join the race.
 It was at this point Prince Wendellant, thought to be in low contention for the crown, moved with lightning speed.
 The entire royal capital, nay, the entire kingdom was possessed by fanaticism at his triumphant return from war.
 In spectacular fashion did he manage to claim the throne.
 That was when his letter for the princess came.

Twas for you that I took the royal crown for my head.

 “This must be a joke, I thought.
 That final line shocked me to my core.
 Not only had that prince survived, but I never thought he would have managed to raise himself to such an exceptional position.
 Let alone become the next king.
 I was raising the king’s son as if he were my own, but I had already sent his beloved queen back to her home.
 I asked House Telsia countless times to send them back, but they refused.”

 Baldo nodded, as he had recently heard this as well.

 “A messenger came from the margrave.
 And with him a messenger from the kingdom itself.
 I told them the truth.
 Of how dearly princess Eidra loved her home and how she returned, leaving her beloved son in my caring hands.”

 It was a well-known story in the frontier, of how Eidra was wed into House Coendela, yet made to return to her home without any ceremonies or having ever step foot inside their main castle.
 There was no way he could try to hide it now.

 “I then told the messenger the secret.
 The secret that I had in fact switched the two sons at their birth.
 As Princess Eidra was feeling unwell, it was impossible for her to travel.
 I suppose it is impossible for us to verify that the child I raised was in fact the son of his majesty, King Wendellant, I told him.
 I imagined even a member of House Telsia would find it a considerable challenge to tell fake from real, let alone a simple messenger.
 He may not even be able to tell if Princess Eidra herself was genuine if he saw her, I said.
 This messenger was actually related by blood to my mother, you see.
 As such, he told me a little secret.
 ‘Oh no, there’s no need to worry about that!
 His majesty has never one forgotten your kindness, Lord Coendela.
 He would never doubt your words.
 Not to mention, we can verify their identities with the seal and double spirals.’ ”

 That explains it, thought Baldo.
 He now clearly understood Cardos’ motives in sending a personal maid to Eidra’s side.
 It was just as he expected.

 “Spirals, he said.
 I hadn’t the faintest of ideas what it might be.
 The messenger refused to disclose anything more.
 He did, however, tell me a bit about the seal.
 It was something the king had entrusted to the princess.
 Only the royal family are permitted to possess and use this particular item.
 It’s made with a special kind of metal, using a special kind of process, and supposedly it cannot be forged.
 There is a certain mark on it, each seal bearing it in a different spot, and the details of these positions are recorded in a royal ledger.
 I searched far and wide for this seal.
 It was when I learned that Princess Eidra did not have it, however that I then realized something.
 Perhaps she had given it to someone?
 Lord Baldo Rhowen.
 It was you.
 You were the one she relied on the most—there was no possibility it could be anyone but you.
 Yes, you, the man who time and time again proved a persistent thorn in our sides and who even now is bringing disaster to this house!”

 The thought suddenly occurred to Baldo—though no direct connection there may have been—what if Cardos simply wished to take Eidra as his wife to spite him?
 Perhaps he only saw Eidra as a means to an end, a way to rob Baldo of that which was precious to him.

 “No sooner than he was coronated did the new king send an envoy to each region to convey his majesty.
 Only the envoy to the frontier, however, was tasked with a special assignment.
 Princess Eidra had only days before.
 —in the care of the maid that I had sent to accompany her.
 I of course took great care to mention this to the royal envoy.
 The king tasked the envoy with bringing his son to his side.
 As Princess Eidra was no longer in this world, the seal remained the only way for the envoy to verify the son’s identity.
 Oh, I suppose you still don’t know what the messenger meant by the spiral, do you?
 Apparently it’s a poem, you see.
 It was a love poem Prince Wendellant had given to the princess next to the lake.
Just like two spirals melting into one did we meet on the shore of this lake, or words to that effect.
 The prince and the princess were the only two who knew of this poem.
 Were she truly in love with him, she would surely never forget it.
 By remembering this poem could she prove she was the true wife of the king.
 Were you aware there was such a poem, I wonder.”

 Baldo shook his head.
 He did not know.

 “Alas, she died.
 There would be no way he could ask her of the poem now.
 Only the seal remained.
 Nothing else could verify their identity.
 Then a peculiar thing happened.
 With that one strike from Jogg to your chest did the whereabouts of the seal suddenly become clear.
 Then through the schemes of a man in my employ was that seal retrieved from your person.
 I must say, I really struck it rich with that one.
 That little whelp, the Gorra Cheyzara, took me for all I was worth.
 But that’s just how important the seal was.
 The esteemed envoy paid a visit to this castle five cycles ago.
 Upon hearing my story and with the seal as proof did they confirm the identity of Zeyon Coendela to be the true Jourlan Ceigarth, possessor of royal blood, and take him back to the capital.
 Well, though he is the king’s eldest son, his mother came from an insignificant, no-name house in the frontier, so I doubt he will ever earn the right of royal succession, and in fact, he may never amount to much in the first place.
 If fact, I predict they may simply expel him from the capital altogether and kick him back into the wilderness.
 He is the son of the king’s beloved, however.
 Once the two meet face-to-fact and can realize their familial bonds, then I’m sure before long, Zeyon, or rather Jourlan will receive a tremendous amount of support.
 He is the true son of the King of Palzam, after all.”

 Cardos now stripped away his cordial facade and glared at Baldo with ferocious, savage eyes.

 “Baldo Rhowen.
 The second you left House Telsia on your journey, I thought for sure you had me.
 You’ve been getting in my way no matter where I went, and I had finally thought I could force you to do my bidding, but that was all for naught.
 Then I heard the matter of the spirals and the seal, and when I learned you were headed to Lints I panicked.
 I thought you must have been headed toward the kingdom, with both the seal and the secret behind the spiral.
 But that was not the case.
 You knew nothing, and you did nothing.
 I knew everything, and I obtained all that I needed.
 Lord Rhowen, serve me.
 If you do not, I will make sure House Telsia loses everything.
 And I will not stop at their land.
 I will hold them accountable for driving Princess Eidra to misery and to her death, and I will slaughter every last one of them.
 Serve me, Baldo Rhowen!
 Give me your answer!”

4

 Baldo didn’t spare the man a single glance as he howled his threats and instead continued to watch the specks of dust floating in that sunbeam.
 They were even livelier now, after Cardos had given such an animated speech.

 The dust must be thinking it’s making quite the commotion now.
 Yet it doesn’t realize just how small it is.

 were the thoughts that came to Baldo’s mind.
 Cardos was surely interpreting the silence that descended upon the room to be a sign of Baldo’s  uncertainty and anguish.
 In his aggressive tone was an unmaskable trace of delight.

 I wonder where the envoy is now.

 muttered Baldo.

 “The envoy departed ten days ago.
 I’m sure he has already crossed the Orva and is on his way to the royal capital by carriage as we speak.
 There is no longer anything you can do.”

 I’m glad to hear it, Baldo whispered as he pulled out a single-page document from his coat and placed it on the table before him.
 Cardos picked up the parchment with a distrustful glare and read its contents.
 After a moment did the color drain from his face.

 “Y-You churl!
 H-H-How did—“

 On this page were listed numbers and dates.
 Those numbers were that of money.

 The Margrave of Gadeucia sent Cardos a large sum of money every year.
 The money was to be Eidra’s living costs and her son’s education expenses.
 Never once had this amount ever made its way to Eidra.
 It had been used in its entirety to maintain Cardos’ position in the family as well as spread his influence across the land.
 As he himself had confessed, Cardos assumed that the prince had forgotten about Eidra entirely.
 Despite the fact that the lord of the margravate had changed over the years, they followed the prince’s orders to send money without fail, and so Cardos thought there would be no issues with misappropriating said funds.
 The margrave owed him, thought Cardos.
 Perhaps he thought it was only natural that he received such a reward.

 Perhaps the family saw this money to be a sign of the margrave’s implicit support of Cardos.
 Only a few knew the truth, that the prince had once lived here in secret.

 Eidra had no chance to learn of this financial support.
 Cardos was certainly aghast that Baldo had managed to find out.
 The amounts were all written clearly on the page.
 Were one to conduct an investigation of his subjects and using the records in the castle, they would find that of the money the margrave sent to Cardos, none of it was used on Eidra herself—there was no way him to cover anything up.
 Baldo still looked at that sunbeam, paying no heed to Cardos who had fallen into a panic, and as he watched the dust play about, he started talking as if to himself.

 In the countries at the center of the continent, they refer to those many wrinkles you can find on the tip of your fingers as fingerseals.
 No two patterns are the same, and so they serve as a means of identifying an individual.
 By dipping their finger in ink and pressing on a page can it also be used in lieu of a traditional seal.
 Apparently, they refer to the print left behind by such an action as a fingerseal as well.
 Not to mention, one’s fingerseal remains the same throughout their entire life, it is said.
 If you take the fingerseal of a newly-born infant, you would be able to ascertain the identity of that infant even decades later.
 In the royal family, it is tradition to take the seals of all of an infant’s fingers fifty days after their birth.
 Supposedly, the fingerseals of those connected by blood share a bit of resemblance.
 The first king of Palzam was said to have a fingerseal like a double spiral.
 They were recorded in a very detailed painting, and that recording has been passed down ever since.
 They believe that the closer one’s fingerseals are to the first king’s, the stronger the royal blood is in their veins.
 That is also what serves as proof of one’s eligibility to enter the order of royal succession.
That was why Prince Wendellant was in contention for the crown as well, despite his mother being of low birth.
 Thus, twenty-nine years ago, when the child was born in that lakeside manor, did the prince carry out the traditions of his family and take the fingerseals of that child, fifty days following his birth.
 They were just like his father’s.
 Thus were they just like the first king’s.
 I imagine the prince was brimming with joy.
 Perhaps he felt it was akin to fate.

 After finishing his story, he finally looked at Cardos.
 The man was frozen in his seat, as if a stone statue.
 His spirit was nowhere to be found, and it looked as if the man had aged twenty years.
 Baldo then delivered the final nail in the coffin.

 Prince Wendellant had the fingerseals from the very start.
 I imagine he is holding onto them dearly even now.

 Baldo said no more.
 There was no question as to what fate would likely befall Zeyon now.
 Upon arriving in the capital, he would instantly have his fingerseals taken.
 It would then come to light that he had in fact been impersonating the prince.
 So too would Cardos’ own lies and crimes be revealed, despite his considerate, accommodating treatment of the envoy.
 King Wendellant would surely be possessed with a fury like none other.

 Cardos was now drowning in confusion and despair, but there was still one thing that left his rational mind perplexed.
 Why had the envoy lied to him about the double spiral?
 Why did Baldo know so much of King Wendellant?
 The answer was obvious.
 The envoy knew that had he told him the truth behind the fingerseal, Cardos would have feared his own destruction and committed a heinous deed against the man and his group.
 That meant they took Zeyon along with them with the full knowledge that he was an impostor.
 And that they also knew the location of the true prince.
 They would not dare return to the king otherwise.
 The one who gave Baldo these numbers was the envoy, then.
 Baldo and the envoy had come into contact with one another.

 While the envoy had been residing in the Coendela’s annex, Baldo met with him in secret and told him everything he knew of the situation, as well as showing him the knife and seal.
 The envoy pressed the seal to leave him proof and then temporarily returned it to Baldo.
 Baldo then gave it to Julchaga, asking the young thief if he fancied a quick profit.
 The lad agreed to take part in the plans immediately, for he was quite the trickster at heart.
 He left the matter of the double seal to the envoy.
 With a small chuckle, the envoy, Father Bali Tode replied,

 “I’ll think of something to tell him.
 I’ll make the story as engrossing as I can.”

 Thus when Baldo heard the account of the poem from Cardos, he was taken aback by how much of a romantic the cleric appeared to be.

5

 “D-Do you… intent to kill me, then?”

 came a weak raspy voice.
 Baldo looked, and there was a old man sitting before him.
 There was none of the visage he once had, brimming with a fierce, malevolent spirit.
 In the seat opposite Baldo was now a withered, decrepit figure.
 His eyes were sunken and watery.
 He seemed as if he would snap in two upon being picked up.
 As if there was nary a hint of strength in his body save for the amount necessary to move his mind.
 He was a powerless, trembling man.

 What a terrible way to age, thought Baldo.

 This was supposed to be a clever man.
 Though he had a penchant for force and violence, he ruled his lands well and effectively wielded authority.
 But everything changed when Prince Wendellant returned a hero of the battlefield and wrote that he wished to be with his wife and son once more.
 For it was clear in his letters the sheer depth of the love he held for them.

 What this man did at the time was from a strategic perspective the correct thing to do.
 Sparing no expense, he exhausted all of his resources in order to force House Norra to submit and claim the Great Lord’s seat.
 And he succeeded.
 Once he became the Great Lord, even a prince would find it no small feat to take revenge on him for personal reasons.
 After all, the fact of the matter was that he merely sent his wife and son back to their original home.
 There was still the crime of embezzlement, but the severity of that would pale in comparison to the favor he owed Cardos for sheltering him and even surrendering his to-be wife.

 It was decided that the prince would inherit the throne, however, and thus was everything turned on its head.
 Were he to be caught embezzling funds meant for the growth of the king’s eldest son, it would turn into a crime of grave magnitude.
 Not to mention, what would the king think of the stories of Cardos’ treatment once Eidra went to the capital?
 Were Jourlan to obtain power and authority in the kingdom one day, he could provide powerful protection to House Telsia as well.
 All that awaited the Coendelas were decline and ruin.

 He desperately racked his brain for a solution.
 For a path of survival.
 That was when he considered sending an impostor instead.

 Yes, it must have been then.
 The reason he called a Meeting of Lords and declared that he was going to take the profits of the Zaliza silver mines from House Telsia was for information.
 He wanted to see if Princess Eidra knew the true identity of the man who gave her a son.
 If House Telsia themselves knew.
 As he watched them reluctantly hand over these resources, Cardos had his answer.
 House Telsia was not aware of this potential backing they possessed.

 Baldo did not know whether the messenger sent by the margrave came before or after the meeting was called.
 It was at that moment, however, Cardos learned that a seal and double spiral were required to prove the identities of the king’s wife and son.

 This man then impudently requested for Princess Eidra and Jourlan to come to his castle.
 Chills crawled down Baldo’s back at the thought of what would have happened had they done so.
 As they refused, he insisted that he at least send a maid to her side.
 As much as she looked, however, she was unable to find the seal or anything that resembled a spiral.

 At the same time, he heard that Baldo, dearest confidant of the princess, had left the Pacra domain immediately following the Meeting of Lords.
 The house’s stalwart guardian, who never once left their lands, disappeared from Pacra.
 To do such it at such a time, in such a manner unlike him.
 Cardos was struck with disbelief.
 Yet, he then learned Baldo was heading toward Lints.

 He started to harbor the belief that Eidra had entrusted something to Baldo that could serve as proof or was perhaps in the midst of trying.
 With that perspective, it was no wonder Yotish held such suspicion toward the bag of gold given to him by Cedelmont.
 So too did he understand the purpose behind Gyenzala’s attack.
 Yet both ended in failure.
 Not only did they fail to effectively use the Rolo Spia, their greatest tool, they even dismissed him from their employ.
 To think had you only given Venn Ulir one more chance, I would surely be dead by now, said Baldo.

 “I-I never dismissed him.
 In fact I even told the man I would add to his reward if he killed you.
 It was that halfwit Gyenzala who chased away the Rolo Spia, even sending men to kill him.
 Lost us two perfectly good knights.”

 This man was truly driven into a corner.
 And driven there by his own hand.

 It was a reality that King Wendellant owed a great debt to Cardos, and had he not attempted to pass off his own son as the prince and instead confessed the truth to the envoy, he would have certainly come out unscathed.
 Yet he did not send the letter to Eidra, instead opening it himself, and that would render it impossible for him to confess.
 So too did his years of taking funds from the margrave for his own personal use, without telling Eidra a thing, come back to bite him now.
 In the end, all that he had on his foundation of lies and untruths was but an unsteady castle, held together by schemes and deceit.

 Just how happy must he have been to hear the news of Eidra’s passing?
 If only she was dead could I cover everything up, he surely thought.
 Of course I must find a way to kill Jourlan, but first comes the matter of deceiving the envoy.
 Lies too require proof.
 As the envoy and his party were resting at the lakeside manor and Cardos was racked with worry did Julchaga then appear to him with the seal in hand.
 He immediately jumped at the offer.
 With this seal was he now able to perfectly trick the envoy.
 With this seal was he now able to have his very own son as Palzam’s eldest prince.
 It was as if the heavens themselves sprouted up from the depths of the underworld.
 Now did it all come crumbling down.
 This mountain of lies and betrayal would have never been revealed if not for the illuminating light that was King Wendellant’s coronation.
 As Baldo was the one who had Julchaga go Cardos with the seal, it could be said that he had been the final nail in the coffin.

 What a pitiful thing you’ve become.
 Is this really the man who so toyed with all of our lives?

 thought Baldo.

 A bubbling sensation started to appear in his chest.
 A sizzling sensation started to burn in his head.
 Deep, deep down had this feeling been repressed for so many years, and now was the seal on this fury starting to come apart, boiling up his throat.

 While they risked everything they had to keep the kaejel at bay did Coendela’s forces continue to persistently weaken their strength, resulting in the senseless loss of beloved friends and subordinates.
 They were dragged without reason into the conflict between Coendela and Norra, wasting the lives of so many knights and soldiers.
 Through taxes he robbed the commonfolk for all they were worth, forcing daughters into prostitution.
 He destroyed roads and ruined the businesses of simple men who had devoted their entire lives to their trade.

 And not only that.
 And not only that!

 There was Lady Eidra!
 That woman whose spirit was pure, radiant light.
 That dignified, exemplary, kindhearted soul!
 The world was made to think she had given birth out of wedlock, forcing her to live in the shadows.
 How bountiful her life could have been!
 How many of this world’s wonders she could have seen!

 Baldo forbade himself from having these thoughts.
 Princess Eidra was not so weak as to have her life ruined by such a man as Cardos.
 Her soul burned with a flame both great and bright, and it was not something a scum-dwelling wretch like him could ever hope to tarnish.
 That was what he continued to tell himself.

 And yet.
 And yet!

 That very man was sitting before Baldo now.
 That very man whose greed and lack of concern for anyone else led him to perpetuate such cruelty.
 It made him remember all of the lives he trampled upon.
 It made him remember all of the happiness he robbed.

 His stomach started to boil.
 A whirlwind tore through his head and his vision was dyed crimson.
 No longer could he suppress the fires of rage that burned throughout every corner of his body.

 Cardos stared at Baldo, his eyes wide open in terror.
 The man before him was more terrifying than any savage, monstrous kaejel he could imagine.
 It was as if the flames of hatred in his body were boiling the very air that enveloped the two of them.

 And then it happened.

 Baldo stood up, kicking the table aside, and lunged at Cardos, holding the scruff of his neck in his left hand’s iron grip.
 He forced the man back.
 In an instant was Cardos pinned up against the wall behind him.
 There was an set of armor there for decoration, old but exquisite.
 Baldo held the man up in the air with his left hand and grabbed the sword from the armor with his right.

 When the cups of liquor fell to the floor and created a ruckus, the tapestries on both sides of the room were flung back and from behind them flew two knights into the room.
 They were both fully clad in armor and wielded spears.
 The two men aimed to piece Baldo on both sides, but as they came forward were they assaulted by a wave of palpable fury, unrelenting like a flood.
 The knights stopped in their tracks as if struck by lightning.
 As if their bodies were bound to the spot.

 Continuing to dangle Cardos before him in the air, Baldo brought his head nearer, and looking down at the man did he ask,

 You said the Meeting of Lords was five days from now, correct?

 Cardos nodded as if in a daze.

 You are to return all of the resources you stole from the Zaliza silver mines to Telsia, as well as all of their taxation rights at the meeting,

 he commanded, and then added,

 And you are to rescind all the unfavorable requests you have made of the other lords as well.

 Again, he could only nod.
 It was at this moment that several retainers of House Coendela filed into the room.
 Perhaps they had heard the sounds as well and came to save their lord.
 The room was small, however, and the first couple of people who entered froze on the spot under the strange, oppressive atmosphere.
 A sword was pressed against their lord, thus they could not easily take action.
 Even those that attempted to move and approached the wave of Baldo’s fury—a force that seemed to manifest and warp the very air around him—would find themselves inexplicably paralyzed.

 Baldo released Cardos, took a step back, and held out his left hand.
 To the man’s dumbfounded expression did he say, Give me the letter.
 Sweat poured from his brow, but he reached his hand into his breast pocket and retrieved the letter, handing it to Baldo.
 Once he made sure the letter was in fact from Eidra, he stowed it away in his own coat.
 He then took two more steps back and said in a calm, restrained tone,

 Let me tell you something.
 Despite all of your attempts, Lady Eidra led a tranquil, blissful life.
 There was nothing a vile cur such as yourself could do to someone like her.
 Thus there is nothing for me to avenge.
 However…
 If and ever…
 If and ever you again dare to lay your dirty, wicked hands on Telsia, and make even the slightest attempt to hamper our sacred duty…

 Baldo brandished the blade in his right had as if it were a strike of lightning from the heavens.
 Before such speed, such power, such ferocity, no one would dare breathe.
 The sword in his hand sank into the helmet of the armor next to Cardos, traveling halfway through and into the wall behind it.
 Such a piece of armor should have easily stood up to even the sturdiest of blades, and yet with a single strike was it ripped apart.
 Cardos fell to the floor, his legs trembling beneath him.

 Baldo turned around.
 His eyes were red with blood.
 The fires of rage burned from his entire being.
 The men in his path could almost feel their skin melting from the heat of his gaze.

 He walked forward.
 The vassals of House Coendela moved to the left and to the right to clear the way.
 Even though he was unarmed, not a single soul tried to attack him, not a single soul tried to restrain him.
 The soldiers who filled the narrow hallways backed up as well, falling over one another to make room for this man.
 It was as if with every step did the fury surrounding him bulge and swell.
 It was as if with every breath did the flames in his heart grow more ferocious.
 All those who witnessed his face knew.

 —knew that they had seen a demon incarnate.

 After passing through the two areas, Baldo retrieved his sword from the anteroom, went directly into the grand hall, and then made his way to the corridor that led outside.
 Admist all of these men, scrambling with terror upon seeing Baldo approach, there was one man who held his ground.

 It was Jogg Woad.

 He held an unsheathed greatsword in his hands.
 Baldo paid him no heed, and continued to step forward undaunted.
 Jogg raised his blade directly above.
 Baldo suddenly pulled his sword from its scabbard and rushed toward him.

 Before Jogg’s sword could fully descend did Baldo meet it squarely with his own.

 His old relic of a weapon could of course not hope to contend against a sword so large.
 Yet he could not be bothered with such details as he was now.
 He struck the sword with his own, clad in a furious frenzy.
 There came the sound of clashing metal.

 Yet his sword did not break.
 Was it an incredible coincidence?
 Was it held together through the sheer force of Baldo’s will?
 How could it not shatter?
 Baldo continued to push Jogg backwards.
 Neither his elderly body, the pain in his shoulder and hips, nor the gradual decaying of his strength mattered the least bit.
 He was, at this moment, an unparalleled force, one that could even rival the power he possessed in his heyday.

 Though both were the same height, Jogg had a slimmer frame.
 Overall was Baldo a size larger than his opponent.
 One cannot fight kaejel though technique alone.
 Without weight behind your blade, your strikes will not contain any power.
 Without muscle, you will lose in contests of strength.
 Baldo had tempered his body into a weapon that could crush even kaejel, thus in matters of muscle did Jogg stand no chance.

Clank!
Clank!
Clank!

 came the sound of Jogg’s boots, pushed back ever so slowly, his body creaking under the pressure.
 Baldo’s superiority was evident in the eyes of all who watched.
 The retainers of House Coendela, who were all familiar with Jogg’s monstrous power, could not find the strength to utter a word.
 Although he was forced back, however, he refused to submit to Baldo’s spirit and glared into Baldo’s eyes, close enough to feel his breath on his skin.
 Those very eyes were brimming with the joy of life-threatening battle.

 “Stand down, Jogg!
 Stop it!
 Move aside!”

 Cardos had finally come to his senses and rushed toward the two, stopping the fight.
 It was evident beyond a doubt that Baldo was in collusion with the royal envoy.
 So too was he Jourlan’s mentor and the man he considered to be his own father.
 If Baldo was hurt here, the situation would get even worse.

 Additionally, although Baldo had demanded the letter, he did not question Cardos’ status as the Great Lord.
 If they killed Baldo, his dreams and ambitions would be all for naught.

 “Baldo Rhowen!
 I vow that I will someday kill you!”

 Hearing these words from Jogg Woad at his back, Baldo left Coendela Castle behind.

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  1. Beneath the sword
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