As Baldo rocked back and forth atop the white stallion Yweitan, he thought of Staboros.
Of how devastated he was when the loyal horse died.
He felt lonely to have been left by himself; he felt abandoned after even Staboros was finally taken from him.
Yet this wound slowly healed with time, and he started to see things from a new perspective.
What a steed he was.
A horse that in his younger days could somehow carry my massive body and yet still gallop like the wind.
And what a clever one too.
Those cheeky subordinates of mine always made fun of me, saying my battle plans must’ve all come from Staboros.
Though a brash, daring stallion in his youth, after retiring from the battlefield did he grow unexacting and calm.
And then he achieved true greatness in the end.
He accompanied me on my death-seeking journey, carrying all my belongings without a moment of weakness.
He helped me against Yotish Peyn and Venn Ulir by kicking those stones.
He dragged me from the river after I’d passed out from inhaling the dust of those devilish fruits.
And when House Coendela’s plot was thwarted, he saw me off on the rest of my journey without any hesitation.
That very morning he trotted along ever so full of life, in the evening he started to slow down, and in the night did he quietly pass away.
Not having suffered for long.
What a marvelous death.
What a marvelous life.
I daresay there is not an ending to life finer than this.
Prithee, let me die a death like Staboros’, wished Baldo in his heart.
The demihuman Moula occasionally looked back at Baldo atop the horse, at the man absorbed in his thoughts.
The spirit Ci floated and fluttered in the air around the two.
the boy chirped.
Was he enjoying the horseback ride?
Or had he seen the thoughts that lay in Baldo’s soul?
As the group decided to stop at an area beside a mountain stream to set up camp for the night, they found a boy already there, fishing in its waters.
He seemed to be fourteen or fifteen years of age.
Astonishingly, the boy looked next to Moula as if he could see Ci floating there and asked,
“Is that a spirit?”
Baldo was impressed to see how calm the lad was.
So too was he struck by his use of the word “spirit” rather than “gyelganos.”
Baldo glanced at Moula and said that he was a young lujra teant and that the spirit named Ci was his friend.
“I’ve never seen a spirit before.
I didn’t think they were actually real.
Ci, you said?
Nice to meet you.
This is my first time meeting a lujra teant too.
I’m Ortha Condolua,”
said the boy.
Baldo was shocked at the boy’s attitude considering this was his first time seeing a spirit.
Even moreso that he could see the spirit in the first place.
Moula had told them that by becoming friends with Ci could they see it, and after becoming even closer friends would they hear its voice as well.
Yet although Baldo and Julchaga were both able to make out a hazy outline of Ci, Godon was still unable to see a thing.
And somehow this body was able to see Ci on their first meeting?
This young Ortha Condolua was apparently the eldest son of the lord of the domain of Chesa.
After hearing his age was the group shocked.
He was merely twelve years old.
And yet his build was already so large.
So too did he possess striking intelligence and poise.
Above all was Baldo fond of the boy’s straightforward manner of speaking.
Thus when the boy asked Baldo and the others to stay at his father’s castle and regale him with the stories of their travels, Baldo was more than happy to oblige.
There certainly was a domain in these parts.
Though more a village than a town, and with a place more a manor than a castle, it was still a finely-built settlement for one so far out in the middle of nowhere.
It appeared the soldiers in these parts also served as laborers, and the farmers that came out to offer their greetings to the group were all trained in combat as well.
Upon entering the lord’s manor, the boy introduced Baldo and the rest to his mother.
As the lord himself was confined to his bed with illness, his wife took it upon herself to manage the lands, she said.
His mother was taken aback by the visitors at first, yet group was invited to the manor by the successor to the house, thus she treated them with hospitality and provided the group with meals and lodging.
Ci never once showed itself, heeding the boy’s advice.
His mother was shocked to see Moula as well, truly a typical reaction.
Had Ci been spotted as well would there have been an even greater uproar.
As the group was talking merrily with the young Ortha in the parlor, his younger brother came by as well.
This boy was ten years old and named Philica.
He was a sweet, courteous child, very unlike his rambunctious older brother.
The next morning, the young Ortha came to Baldo and the rest with a rather peculiar request.
Would you please ask Sir Ci to create a single illusion?
An illusion in which I’ve died?”
There was a stunned silence, and the boy continued.
Ortha and Philica were siblings by blood, and to their mother, both were her true sons.
Yet Philica was a truly lovable child, heavily doted upon by their mother, and in the depths of her heart did she wish for this second son to inherit the lordship.
Philica was in reality a very bright child with a captivating charm—he truly was suited to rule the domain.
Yet their infirm father deeply believed that only the eldest son should be allowed to carry on the family tradition.
Their mother agreed with such customs, thus did she never voice her desires to have Philica succeed the family.
Though she never voiced these desires, they manifested themselves more and more each and every day.
The family’s retainers too were split on this matter, and at this rate, even if Ortha eventually inherited the lordship would there be a stain of dissatisfaction in the land.
Every day, this boy came to fish at that mountain stream, worrying endlessly about what to do, when he happened to meet Baldo and his companions.
I knew it was the heavens showing me a way forward, said the boy.
Moula turned to Baldo and told him to make the decision.
Baldo asked the young Ortha what he was planning to do, where he was planning to go once he faked his own death.
“I will travel alone.
I do not know where.
On my journey, I will create a new life for myself,”
was his reply.
Baldo would normally never agree to such a request.
Deceiving your family and loved ones was in itself a hardly commendable thing.
Not only that, pretending to die was even crueler.
His father, his mother, his brother, the retainers, and all of the people of the land would be overwhelmed by grief.
One option was to succeed the family and govern the lands alongside his younger brother—Baldo could have said.
He could simply relinquish the lord’s seat to his brother later down the line, supporting his rule—was possible advice as well.
Yet, for whatever reason, Baldo decided to grant the boy’s request.
Even he himself did not quite understand why, but he felt it was the right thing to do.
Even had the boy not told them the details, Baldo could sense there was a matter driving a wedge between the retainers; he could tell there was a murkiness in the air throughout the manor.
Were this atmosphere to deteriorate even further, the future would surely have only misery in store.
The two siblings loved one another, yet the division that arose between them would not be so easily eliminated.
These tranquil lands must not be allowed to follow in Lord Enziah’s footsteps.
Man cannot see a decade into the future, however there are occasionally those with exceptional foresight, those who can see such a future.
Elzerra Telsia was one such man.
This young boy may very well have been the same.
Then let us grant your request.
Such was Baldo’s decision, and the rest of the group agreed.
The next morning, Baldo and his companions left the Chesa domain and headed north along the mountain pass.
According to their plans, the young Ortha would have left on a fruit-picking excursion with the house’s retainers by now, only to lose his footing and plummet to his death in the valleys to the west.
Around this time were they surely searching the area, desperately trying to at least locate his body.
That was an illusion.
The true Ortha was with Baldo and the rest.
There’s a horse coming this way.
Right toward us, it looks like.
And boy is it coming fast,”
Baldo himself started to hear the sound of hooves before long, and through the trees was he able to occasionally spot it in the distance.
“It’s Galkus Lagolus,”
the young Ortha remarked.
It was not long before the young knight Galkus had caught up to the group and dismounted his steed.
“So you were here, like I thought.
I’m glad you haven’t covered much distance yet.”
“Didn’t you see me die?”
“I did, young master.
But I didn’t dare believe it, not for a second.
You are more agile than a monkey.
How could someone like you lose your footing?”
“So that’s what it was.
What’s with all the bags?”
“I’m going with you.”
“I cannot provide for you.”
“I never once expected you to.
I will be the one to provide for you instead.”
Am I to become the retainer and you the liege?”
It is not the responsibility of a liege to merely care for his vassals.”
“Then what must I do?”
“Undergo a knight’s training.
Become a knight, and protect the people of your domain.”
“And where are these people you speak of?
I’ve already cast aside these lands.”
“You will gather more to your side from here on.
In order to prevent conflict between the retainers over succession and to spare the commonfolk from suffering, you have yielded the lordship to your brother.
That is akin to offering up your lands to the god of peace, Yahor.
Those who make great offerings receive great rewards.”
“No, I do not intend to hold land.”
“Even if this is not your intent, those with the mark of a knight are fated to save the people and be loved by the people.
If not, then it will have meant my judgment was wrong.”
“The mark of a knight?
I have no such thing.”
“You yourself cannot see it.
The mark I speak of is undeniably right here.”
Galkus Lagolus pointed to the young Ortha’s head.
He then removed his sword still sheathed in its scabbard and knelt on the ground, offering up the weapon.
“Forgive the promptness, but I would like you receive my Vow of the Sword.”
Hearing this, both Baldo and Godon dismounted their horses.
It was not proper to look down upon such a thing from atop their steeds.
“And why must I do this all of a sudden?”
“I refuse to believe that you will abandon me after having received my vow, as I know you are wont to do.”
“What a shabby old sword.”
“Give me a break, young master.
This is not from the domain, but my own personal sword—a gift from my father,”
the knight mumbled in complaint, yet the young Ortha carried out the Vow of the Sword according to tradition, bestowing the sword to Galkus.
The ceremony ended, and the man had Ortha ride atop his horse.
It was for the best that the two be on their way as quickly as possible, to a far away place where not a soul would be able to recognize the young Ortha’s face.
Until we meet again!”
With these final words, the young lord and his lone vassal rode off into the distance.
Baldo waved his hand and shouted, Until we meet again!
This was likely the last time they would ever see one another, but farewells should be full of hope.
Those two made a wonderful pair.
That young master will grow older and one day present this knight under him with the finest of swords.
This was surely the vow that the young Ortha made to his patron god.
As he thought about this young lad, clad in regal presence, Baldo was taken back in time to a certain memory.
“When are you going to perform the Vow of the Sword for me, Baldo?”
Baldo had offered his sword a long time ago, but it occurred to him that he had never gone through the official ceremony.
He removed his sword still sheathed in its scabbard and knelt before Eidra, offering up his sword and lowering his head.
And then to his surprise, Eidra took it.
Though the same vow, the process and significance were different when performed before their lord and when performed before a lady.
When a lady was offered a knight’s sword, they would take an item from their body such as a scarf, kiss it, and then tie it around the weapon.
To tie the item around the hilt was to accept the vow and to tie the item around the blade was to reject it, yet it was commonplace for ladies to choose a rather vague section of the sword, indicating acceptance in a roundabout manner.
Whatever the choice, they certainly did not take the sword themselves.
Yet that was precisely what Eidra did, and then she unsheathed it.
She tapped the flat of the blade three times atop Baldo’s right shoulder, five times atop his left shoulder, and then said this:
“Lord Baldo Rhowen.
I will always watch over you, so the mark of the knight that shines ever bright on your forehead will never dim.
Protect the people; cherish the people.
One day, I vow I will bestow upon you a truly marvelous sword, one that will allow you to carry out this task.”
Now that I think about it, she did say such a thing.
That she would bestow upon me a truly marvelous sword.
Baldo drew the ancient sword.
Though he hadn’t yet chanted its name, the sword emitted a soft turquoise glow.
An overflowing warmth came from the weapon, gently enveloping Baldo’s entire body.
So this was it.
The promised sword she spoke of.
Her gift finally made its way to my side.
In his right hand, Baldo held the ancient sword up high.
With a powerful thud did he stomp the ground, brandishing the blade in a great downward strike.
Even as he put all of this strength into a single blow, extending his arm and elbow to their fullest extent, he did not feel the slightest bit of pain.
His old body was naturally not youthful again, nor were his decrepit hips study once more, but in this one moment, without any pain to inhibit his movements, he felt as if he’d sprouted wings, free to roam the skies.
Staboros is in my body, tending to my wounds.
For whatever reason, he knew this to be true.
It was not that Staboros had left him behind.
He was with Baldo even now.
The party all watched Baldo swing his weapon with great force.
There was a certain tradition in using the sword to dispel evil.
For all people and all things, when one continues to stay in the same place will filth and stagnation start to accrue.
Thus when starting a journey or beginning anew will a warrior swing their sword, cutting down and dispelling this foulness.
For this reason, all of those present thought Baldo did this to wish the young master and his retainer a safe journey, dispelling all evils.
Not everyone did.
Having heard something from the whispers of the spirit Ci, Moula’s compound eyes grew wide as he stared at Baldo, and then he muttered,
It would be a very long time in the future when Baldo would realize that Moula’s words had meant “The Sword that Houses the Sacred Dragon.”
At this moment in time, however, Baldo simply believed the boy mentioned something like “shant”1 and “elyon”2 in his broken speech.
Baldo swung the blade up again.
With a single arm, higher and higher.
I’d always thought of this scabbard made from Staboros’s hide as merely a memento.
Yet now I finally understand.
Staboros resides in this blade.
In this, the blade my lady gave me.
No wonder this sword accepted me.
I’d always thought the princess and Staboros were awaiting me in the gardens of the gods.
But that was not the case.
They have always been by my side, delivering me from harm.
This is no longer a journey to meet my death.
Even if I do perish tomorrow, do I not still live today?
From now on, I will instead depart on a journey to live the rest of my life.
Taking in a great, deep breath, Baldo’s eyes shot open, and with force that could shake the earth did he step onto the ground.
Join me on this journey, Staboros!
These unspoken words reverberated through his heart, and he swung the sword down.
The ancient elgwordra gave forth a light that no one else could see, tearing all the forests, mountains, and faraway skies asunder.
Both heaven and earth were cleaved in two, and in the distance, the old knight saw the path that awaited him.
End of Book One