Book One, Chapter 1: The Death of Staboros

1

 After saying farewell to the Earl of Lints, Baldo headed north.
 The earl had told him,

 “If you go north, then you may find yourself passing through the Meyzia domain.
 The lord is a man named Godin Zarcos, my nephew.
 He is a good fellow, that man.
 He always told me how much he wanted to meet the Galdegarsh Gwera1.
 Please give him a visit if you have the opportunity,”

 and handed him a letter of introduction.
 He walked north along the Orva for some time and then entered a mountain path.
 Old Staboros followed behind like always, belongings on its back.
 Ever since departing from Lints had the horse seemed to be in poor health.
 Staboros never fell behind, however.
 One day in the mountains, Baldo had set up camp early, yet the horse did not graze on any grass, simply choosing to curl up on the ground.
 And then that night, Staboros passed quietly in its sleep.

 A single barban2 appeared, salivating for the corpse.
 Baldo wrapped his cloak around his left hand to serve as a shield and struck at the beast with the sword in his right.
 Although he suffered several wounds from its fangs and claws, he managed to pierce the beast in its heart.

 However, the ambush did not end there.
 Three more barban slunk out from the shadows.
 Baldo never once considered retreat.

 Were he to use Staboros’ body as a distraction, he could buy time to escape.
 He had in fact done similar things in battles of the past, with the horses that he rode atop for many years.
 While the beasts and kaejel fed on the dead horse would he use the opportunity to compose himself once more.
 So too would he occasionally treat the corpse as bait, allowing himself to set up an ambush.

 Baldo never wished to resort to such means, however.
 Those who have never stood on the battlefield could scarcely imagine the love a knight felt for his loyal steed.
 To a knight, a horse was a friend and family.
 It was their other half.
 When Baldo gave such orders with an almost detached expression, he would earn the ire of his subordinates.

 Yet it was through such orders Baldo was able to protect these subordinates and the commonfolk.
 At least now, at the very end of his life, he wished to be allowed the chance for this last foolish action, to protect the body of his dear companion with the last of his life.
 Truly was it a foolish thing to do.
 For in the end, the horse’s corpse would never be able to escape the designs of the natural world.
 If only for this moment, however, mere hours after the soul left its body, Baldo wished to grant his companion a peaceful slumber.

 Over the course of the battle did the campfire grow ever weaker, and soon Baldo was no longer able to keep the barban at bay.
 His leather armor was being torn apart, and his left hand, wrapped in his cloak, was drenched in blood.
 Yet he still felled one of the beasts and inflicted grave wounds upon another.
 The latter pounced at Baldo despite its injuries.
 He quickly thrust his blade.
 And the blade went into the barban’s open mouth.

 Oh no!

 thought Baldo, but it was too late for him to adjust the course.
 With great force did the beast bite down onto the sword.
 He knew the blade would break if he did not let go, but that was not an option.

Krit!

 came a sound as the blade snapped in two.
 The barban that swallowed the sword died on the spot.
 Baldo could not fight the final beast, however.
 He prepared himself to meet death.

 It was then a glint flew from behind Baldo.
 —a hatchet.
 It was a weapon of considerable size and weight, yet it spun through the air all the same and embedded itself into the head of the beast.
 The barban died.
 Baldo turned around to see the face of his savior.

 It was not a human.

 It possessed a towering figure.
 Fangs protruded from its powerful jaw.
 Its green skin looked terribly hard.

 It was a ghelkast.
 They were occasionally called rheeye-torli3 as well, in reference to their green skin.
 They were demihumans covered in a leathery hide as tough as armor, with fangs as sharp as blades.

 Among the many demihumans were the ghelkast particularly fond of combat.
 They would usually not attack humans without good reason, however.
 Among their race, in fact, was a particular legend passed down, in which there was a great human king in the days of antiquity who presided over all beings, humans and demihumans alike.
 Even to this day did they uphold his decree, that they must avoid conflict with humans if at all possible.
 To respect such a law, they lived in settlements far away from humans.
 This was Baldo’s first time meeting one as well.

 Baldo stood upright, placed his right hand over his heart, and bowed slightly from the waist, displaying his gratitude toward the ghelkast warrior.
 The ghelkast said nothing, but accepted the gesture.
 Members of such a race were normally taller than the average man, but this one was even larger than that.
 This ghelkast even towered over Baldo, a man larger than most.
 His massive arms almost seemed to stretch to the ground.
 The power contained within could easily crush a human skull.
 The ghelkast stared fixedly at the horse’s body and said,

 “That’s an old animal.”

 As far as Baldo knew, it was quite rare for a ghelkast to understand and speak human languages.
 It was thirty-one, replied Baldo.

 “Quite the long life then.
 Must’ve given you everything it had.”

 Baldo nodded.
 What are your plans for this horse, the ghelkast asked, to which Baldo replied that he wished to eat some of its meat as well as take a portion of its hide.
 The ghelkast retrieved a long bush knife from its belongings and handed it to Baldo.
 He then started to skin the barban.
 Baldo did the same to Staboros.
 The horse was covered in scars, however, so not much of the hide was salvageable.

 Horse hide was very beautiful and taut, so it was prone to damage.
 If used for a drum did it produce a fantastic, clear reverberation, yet if even the smallest scratch appeared on it, it would quickly widen through the entire piece.
 The skin around their hind was especially popular, however, for it was the toughest and easiest to use.

 The two continued to work late into the night, constantly adding fresh firewood to preserve the light.
 With its crude hatchet did the ghelkast finish skinning the barban with bewildering speed.
 The meat from the beasts lay in piles surrounding the camp.
 The stench of blood was almost nauseating, but as it smelled of barban, it would keep the weaker predators at bay.

 The meat of an elderly warhorse was fairly tough and not something that was generally eaten, but he still took a portion of Staboros’ rump meat and grilled it over the fire.
 He invited the ghelkast to partake in the food as well.
 When he took the first bite, Baldo was taken aback at how exquisitely the meat tasted.
 There were thin layers of marbling in the meat running alongside the fibers, making for a peculiar consistency.
 When Baldo took a bite did the fibers provide a bit of resistance, which then gave way to an oily savoriness.
 The tender fat melted in his mouth, leaving a unique sweetness on the tongue.
 It it was not only a treat for the tongue.
 It was a taste that also nourished the body.
 Baldo thoroughly chewed on Staboros’ meat.
 With every bite, it was as if the meat became one with him.

 The ghelkast did not give any opinions while eating, but he seemed to enjoy the meal.
 His eyes sparkled upon seeing Baldo reveal a jar of spirit, and he happily accepted a cup.
 When the day dawned, the ghelkast invited Baldo to its small hut.

 Before leaving, Baldo poured alcohol over Staboros and performed funeral rites.
 He wished to dig a hole and bury the body, but the ghelkast’s goodwill did not extend that far.
 Furthermore was it the way of the frontier, that horses who perished on their journeys be offered up to the fields and forests.
 It was the fate of those who were nourished by the bounties of nature to be the nourishment of others after their passing.
 The ghelkast paid careful attention to Baldo as he did so.

 The hut was built on a ledge next to a waterfall basin, and it was evidently made with defensibility over comfort in mind.
 He washed and tanned the horse hide.

 Because Staboros had died, Baldo had no way to carry around his belongings.
 He chose which of the items he would carry with him and gave the rest to the ghelkast, asking him to take them.
 He left behind the broken sword and the horse-riding equipment.
 The blade was made with a valuable kind of steel after all.
 It would fetch a good sum.

 With Staboros’ hide, the ghelkast created a scabbard.
 Of course, he had not a sword to stow within it.
 The ghelkast warrior showed surprising dexterity as he created the item.
 The result was exquisite, and the stitches created a unique pattern in the leather.

 The ghelkast warrior was named Soged Zoy-Engdar.
 The word “soged” meant warrior in their language, though all male ghelkast were considered  warriors upon coming of age.
 His middle name denoted his clan, thus making him Engdar of Clan Zoy.

 There was one more thing Baldo knew of the ghelkast people.
 It was of the sheer importance they placed on their clan bonds.
 Unless they were performing a duty of some sort, they would never consider living apart from their clansmen.
 When they migrated, they did so as a group.
 Furthermore would they perform all duties with at least two members of their clan.
 For in the ghelkast faith, all feats of battle were rendered meaningless if their clansmen weren’t present to witness them.
 When they died, the souls of the ghelkast would retell the stories of their brethren’s valor to their ancestors.
 They could not speak of their own exploits.
 The first time such feats of battle were recorded by the souls of their ancestors did it raise their clan to the heights of glory.
 For a ghelkast to live alone, it meant they had committed a grave sin and were being subjected to the most grievous of punishments.

 Ghelkast naturally lived for much longer than humans, but this one was evidently old even among them.
 Yet he was a warrior with monstrous strength, his body exhibiting no signs of deteriorating with age.
 Scars covered every inch of his body, and of note was a huge gash that stretched from his left shoulder to his chest.
 So too was the top half his left ear missing.
 In his gruff exterior was there the occasional glimpse of an indomitable warrior soul.
 Of course, Engdar felt a similar sensation from Baldo.

 “You are a knight, aren’t you,”

 he said.

2

 Why do I still live, thought Baldo.
 When Staboros died, I knew for sure my time had come, he thought.

 Baldo had never known the meaning of the name Staboros.
 When he parted with Father Bali Tode, however, on the shores of the lake the man said,

 “How is that horse of yours doing, the one with such a romantic name?”

 and Baldo asked in return if he knew what the name meant.
 The cleric explained with a bright smile.

 There was a certain fairy tale, called The Knight and the Princess of the Forest Kingdom.
 The titular knight and princess grew close after the two experienced much hardship.
 The knight wished to remain by the princess’ side for the rest of his life.
 So too did the princess wish to have the knight by her side as well.
 Yet there were many in the kingdom who needed the knight.
 Every day was he made to run this way and that, saving the people of the kingdom.
 Yet it precisely because the knight was such a hero that the princess loved him.
 What would happen however, if the princess met with danger while the knight was away?
 Thus the princess gave a horse to the knight.
 Once she cast a certain spell, the horse would immediately bring the knight to her side.
 The secret chant to summon the horse was “staboros.”

 Baldo knew of this famous folktale as well.
 Yet he had only heard of the part in which the knight was made to fell countless monsters and defeat innumerable opponents without rest.
 He had never heard of the horse-summoning spell.
 According to the cleric, this part of the story only appeared in ancient manuscripts that recorded the folktale, thus the average person would not have heard of it either.
 With that knowledge, however, Baldo was happy that he chose to bring the steed with him on his journey.

 When Princess Eidra beckons will Staboros pass away.
 Perhaps I will be summoned to her side as well,

 he thought.
 However, Staboros was dead, and Baldo yet lived.
 He did not know what to do.

 There was no sense to be made of it.
 All he could do was live to his fullest until the day of his death arrived.

3

 Several days later, when Baldo was about to depart did the ghelkast suddenly say,

 “Hold on.”

 A merchant was acquainted with him was supposedly going to arrive soon.
 Baldo wondered what business a merchant had in a remote place like this, one so deep in the mountains, but he did not say these thoughts out loud.
 If Engdar said he would come, Baldo would trust him.
 Truth be told, for Baldo to traverse these mountains without a weapon was equivalent to suicide.

 He spent seven days at Engdar’s hut.
 His host had grown terribly fond of the rock salt in his possession.
 Neither Baldo nor Engdar were the talkative type, but slowly over time the two talked of their ways and customs.

 On the seventh day, there was a white column of smoke beyond the woods in the distance.
 Engdar burned some grass he had at the ready and then extinguished the flame, producing a similar white smoke.
 After a moment, the smoke took on a yellowish hue.
 Once he had completely killed the flame, Engdar said,

 “Let’s go.”

 He carried a massive pile of goods.
 There was a road that went deep into the forest, and on it was stopped a horse-drawn carriage.
 There was a merchant there, along with another man who appeared to be his guard.
 Engdar exchanged greetings with the man and then said,

 “Torli Baldo Rhowen will go to the human settlements.”

 Baldo thought it was a rather odd way to phrase it, but ghelkast warriors were a prideful bunch, and they would never deign to ask a human for favors or advice.
 The merchant seemed to understand as well and silently nodded.
 Engdar then displayed his goods on the ground.

 There were what had to have been nearly forty animal pelts.
 Around thirty beast fangs and horns.
 Several unpolished gems.
 Ten or so rare medicinal roots.
 And of course the broken sword that once belonged to Baldo.

 Engdar stood with his arms crossed as the merchant assessed the wares, gazing wordlessly deep into the mountains.
 Finally the merchant lined up his own goods that he intended to trade.
 Five jars of a distilled spirit.
 Two large jars of salt.
 One sewing needle.
 Three fishing hooks.

 That was all.
 Baldo furrowed his brow upon seeing the clear inequality of the trade.
 Without saying a word, Engdar gathered these items he received and said to Baldo,

 “Soged Baldo Rhowen.
 You will have your god’s blessing on the roads your traverse.”

 before leaving for his small corner of the mountains with swift steps.
 Baldo watched Engdar leave and then asked the merchant from where and to where he was headed.
 Judging by the man’s answer, it appeared they had taken quite the detour to arrive here.
 He asked how much it would cost for the man to take him to the village they were going to as well.

 “There’s no need for that.
 Engdar has already paid you to join us,”

 the merchant answered.
 He then invited Baldo to ride in the carriage, so Baldo took him up on that offer.
 The guard walked.

 That night, they set up camp next to a small stream.
 The merchant’s name was Coynsil.
 The guard’s name was Moritus.
 When Baldo introduced himself, Moritus studied his face with a long gaze and looked as if deep in thought, but in the end he said nothing.

 “You must think me a swindler, sir.”

 Baldo shook his head.

 “You don’t?
 At first, I always made sure to trade him things of perfectly equivalent value.
 Yet whenever I did, that green fellow would just walk away without taking a thing.
 I figure he must’ve not liked the items—if only he would tell me.
 Well, I’ve heard that among those green fellows, the men would never stoop to concerning themselves with an activity as uncouth as trade.
 There is never a word of haggling or negotiation among them.
 At least, this was what I learned after quite a bit of study.”

 Baldo could understand what the merchant was saying.
 It’s possible that there were qualities that tended to be the case for most members of their race, but Baldo thought that the characteristics of the individual played a role as well.
 That Engdar was a truly obstinate old codger.
 If only he could learn to be a little less stubborn, sighed Baldo to himself.
 He then asked the merchant what brought him to a place so remote.

 “I’ve been coming here ever since I was young.
 I was lost on the roads and attacked by beasts when he came to my rescue.
 He is frightfully strong, that fellow is.
 It would only take thirty of those rheeye-torli to bring a castle to ruin, I’m sure of it.
 Well, anyway, we’ve been in touch ever since then.”

 Over the course of their conversation could Baldo feel the merchant’s fondness for the stubborn old ghelkast, and it made him reassess his initial impression of him.

 “Not only that, sir.
 I assume you must helped out that green fellow.”

 The opposite in fact; just like you, I was saved from a perilous situation, replied Baldo.

 “Really?
 I have to say, I was shocked.
 That unfriendly green fellow gave you a farewell blessing before he left.
 Nearly gave me a start.
 It was unbelievable, to be honest with you.
 I’ve known him for over twenty years, you know.
 Never heard him say anything like it.”

 As the two talked, the merchant told Baldo that he ran a shop in town.
 If his account was to be trusted, he employed five people in that shop, and they operated on quite a large scale.
 If he could even hire a guard to escort him, then at least it wasn’t all lies.
 For him to come this far away for such a meager transaction, perhaps he was a man with a strong sense of duty.

 On the third day, the carriage arrived at the village, and it was there Baldo parted with the merchant.

“Soged Zoy-Engdar” by Matajirou

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