Book One, Chapter 3: The Boy Who Dreamed of Knighthood

1

 Although an ancient sword had fallen into Baldo’s hands in an unthinkable twist of fate, the excitement he initially felt had all but disappeared by the time he finished breakfast.
 Under the light of day, the ancient sword appeared all the more crude and cheap, its colors faded and with welt-like patterns all along the sides.
 It was quite the shame, but Baldo could scarcely imagine it was the same elgwordra that released a mysterious glow and laid a mighty kaejel to rest only the night before.

 It was surely but a dream, rationalized Baldo in the end.
 This weapon very well may be an elgwordra from the ancient past, or perhaps something similar.
 However, its mysterious powers have certainly disappeared by now.
 How else could it have found its way to the wall of a small shop deep in the frontier, never to attract the eyes of any customers before.

 Then perhaps the previous night was the blade exerting the last of its remnant power for Baldo.
 Were that the case, Baldo could hardly ask for a better gift than the nigh effortless dispatch of a kaejel and three wild beasts.
 At this point in time, it once more seemed a simple would-be sword without a shred of extraordinary might contained therein.

 Still, Baldo found the metal to be sufficiently tough, so it would be far more suitable for self-preservation at this time than a club.
 He had also grown quite fond of how it felt in his hand.
 And as it hung at his waist was there a reassuring heft.
 He would at any rate hold on to this weapon for now until he managed to acquire a sword at a larger town in the future.

 Nay.
 Perhaps I can make used of this would-be sword.
 Buying myself a proper sword at this point would be casting pearls before swine.
 For the time being, this ugly, uncouth thing will be a most fitting travel companion for me.

 The villagers were getting together this night to put on a great show, so they implored Baldo to stay one more day.
 The mayor’s wife was in particularly high spirits, likely due in part to Baldo’s generous gifting of the three dwarva pelts and meat to the village.
 He could not afford to bring such large amounts of luggage on his journey, though he insisted on taking the kaejel pelt alone with him.
 There would be nothing better than a kaejel pelt to reinforce leather armor after all.
 Not to mention it was that of a turned dwarva.
 Baldo did not expect it would make a particularly beautiful set of armor, for the material was extremely hard to tan and refine, but simply cutting the hide and layering it atop an existing set of leather would already result in a remarkable level of defensive improvement.
 Baldo planned to find someone with the ability to do it once he came across a larger town in the future.

2

 I really should have taken them up on their offer,

 sighed Baldo with regret.
 Upon parting with the village did many of the people there offer to take Baldo to the next village by carriage, but he declined.
 They needed all the hands they could get to assist in repairing the broken houses and fences.
 Many of the men in the village were wounded, however, so Baldo did not wish to rob them of even more manpower by agreeing to be taken in a carriage.
 He had already asked quite a bit of them by getting the people in the village to help him skin and clean the kaejel pelt.

 Yet scaling mountains on foot with such heavy belongings was truly an arduous feat.
 Two days of rest was not enough to deal with the exhaustion of that battle against a kaejel and three dwarva.
 The pain in his right shoulder and hip was particularly harrowing.
 This journey would have surely been easier had he gone north directly alongside the Orva River instead.
 He could have even gone by boat.
 Why, he had the coin after all.

 Yet, as majestic as the Orva was, after an entire month of traveling along its shores would Baldo surely grow tired of the scene.
 Yes, if one desired rich, ever-changing scenery, the mountains would never disappoint.
 Even the same sight would look entirely different when climbing from different directions.
 Even the leaves from the very same tree on the very same mountain would have trace and subtle differences on the north and south sides.
 Each mountain had their own characteristics, and walking along the paths between them would yield bountiful visual experiences.
 Of course, after three days of suffering under the weight of his cargo, Baldo was understandably in no mood to enjoy the rich scenery.

 When Baldo put down his belongings and exhaled with a huff did he hear sounds from further up the path.
 The sounds of combat.
 Leaving the items on the ground, he started to run.

 There!
 A man who looked to be a farmer of some sort was locked in a fight with a beast, armed with a wooden spear.
 Next to him was a horse-drawn cart and a boy sitting atop.
 The beast was a jelvry.1
 It was extremely agitated and seemed poised to leap at the man.
 Though a small creature, its claws and fangs were sharp.
 Fail to properly restrain it and one would be attacked with far greater force than one would expect.
 The man had his son sit atop the cart to protect him and was doing everything he could to drive the beast away.

 The man noticed Baldo approach and quickly shouted,

 “Hey, you!
 You have a weapon right?
 Please help us!”

 Baldo answered with action.
 He pulled his would-be sword from its scabbard.
 Then from behind the small beast, who was preoccupied with attacking the man’s spear in a delirious frenzy, Baldo struck down at its exposed neck.
 At that moment, Baldo thought,

 I very much doubt this weapon will display the same strength as it did four days ago.

 And he was correct.
 Not only did he fail to decapitate the beast, aside from a shrill yelp was Baldo unable to achieve even a significant wound.
 It was simply as if he had slammed a blunt scrap of metal onto the creature.

 Fortunately that was enough.
 After receiving such an unexpected strike from behind, the jelvry scurried off into the thicket and, by the sounds it made, disappeared into the distance.
 Humans were simply too large to be taken by jelvry as prey in most cases.
 They would make off in retreat as soon as their attempts bore no fruit.
 Wild beasts excelled at survival, after all.

 “I have to thank you.
 Really saved my hide there.
 What a tenacious little thing that monster was.
 You rarely see any beasts on this path too.”

 The man was apparently on his way back home with his son in tow from selling vegetables in the village to the east.
 During the ride, his son had thrown some leftovers from his lunch to a jelvry on the side of the road.
 The jelvry then attacked the cart in an attempt to obtain more of the food.

 The man offered to let Baldo stay the night at his home, and Baldo took him up on that.

3

 The man had built a house on the side of the mountain and lived there with his wife and son, making a living through agriculture.
 He apparently grew many crops for their own consumption, but his primary source of income was a vegetable called greenwrap.
 Although it had exquisite flavor and was full of nutrition, it required a very certain kind of soil and quickly withered if not satisfied.
 As such, although the area was unfortunately far from civilization, he made it his business to grow the crop here and sell it to the villages to the east and west.
 He showed Baldo the vegetable he called greenwrap, and following a brief moment of thought, Baldo asked,

 Is this not egalsocia, that medicinal herb?

 “That’s exactly right.
 I forget when, but we had an herbalist once visit the town who said the same thing.
 You know a whole bunch, don’t you,”

 exclaimed the man with surprise.
 Egalsocia was an herb that helped to improve organ activity in the body.
 It was remarkably useful for those feeling lethargic and overworked.
 Consuming egalsocia allowed the body to better absorb the nutrients from food, leading many to call it a health-improvement miracle medicine.

 This was why many considered egalsocia to be an effective treatment for any ailment.
 In practice, the fact that the herb itself was nutritious coupled alongside the lack of side-effects truly made it an ideal remedy.
 Baldo had even heard there was a certain school of herbalism that devised entire systems of treatment around the use of egalsocia.

 Not to mention the wonderful taste.
 Grilled, stewed, or even uncooked, it was delicious, and the herb lost none of its medicinal effects when heated.
 It one were to dry the herb out and steep it in water, it would display even more powerful benefits than if eaten raw.
 Baldo related all of this knowledge he had heard from the old herbalist to the man and his wife, earning their astonishment.

 The benefits of egalsocia did not stop there.
 Its aroma even worked to ward off wild animals.
 Baldo did not know why.
 There were apparently some scholars who attributed the reason to legends, claiming the smell resembled that of the now-extinct mythical beasts of antiquity.

 At any rate, Baldo told the two that if they removed and diced the egalsocia stems shortly after harvesting, wild beasts would keep their distance.
 If they boiled those stems in water and applied the liquid to their cloaks and horse equipment, they would need not fear the attack of wild beasts on their journey as much.

 “I never would have imagined that.
 Our house has never once been attacked by wild beasts, despite living so deep in the mountains.
 Now we know why,”

 replied the man with a big, easygoing smile.

4

 Baldo stayed at this house for two nights.
 The family seemed grateful for this as well, for there were many tasks to be done which benefited from an extra hand.
 Additionally, under Baldo’s guidance, they boiled the egalsocia stalks and applied the resulting liquid to many of the items around the house.
 So too did Baldo thoroughly rub it onto his cloak, shirt, and other articles of clothing.

 When night fell was he endlessly hounded for stories.
 He was more than happy to entertain them while he ate egalsocia dishes and drank their home-brewed wine.
 The man wished to hear stories of trade.
 His wife wished to hear stories of history and legends.
 Their son wished to hear stories of knighthood.

 It appeared the son wanted to become a knight.
 His father and mother seemed as if they did not want to destroy this dream of his, but attempted to have him realize the danger and folly of such an ambition.
 It was decided that the son would travel alone to the village to the west to sell the plants on the third day.

 “You’re already ten now.
 This is the least you must be able to do.
 There is nothing to fear.
 Simply leave everything to the horse.
 You need not do anything else.”

 Baldo was asked to watch over the boy only on the way there.
 This village to the west was as such to become Baldo’s next destination.

 “Well, I suppose you can tell him this and that of what it means to be a wandering knight,”

 the man said.
 In other words, he wanted Baldo to impress upon the boy how tough and cruel a matter it truly was.

 The man considered Baldo a knight.
 What a generous appraisal it was.
 After all, Baldo was without horse and looked nothing like a true knight.
 Neither was there an attendant at his side, nor were his clothes in any presentable state.
 He had not even a proper sword at his waist, instead something that looked to be a failed attempt at a billhook.
 No one would have considered him a knight; no one would have considered him a noble.

 There were of course a great deal of so-called wandering knights who roamed the frontier, those who had no formal appointment or title.
 A wandering knight was not always one of upstanding character or repute.
 And for this boy to dream of becoming a knight, becoming one of these self-proclaimed knights was likely the most he could expect.

 On the night of the second day, Baldo made dinner for the family.
 He did so after being asked by the man whether or not he knew any special methods for cooking the greenwrap.
 His wife was immensely curious about this, thus she volunteered to help him in the kitchen.

 Baldo generously filled a pot with water.
 He then generously added dried freshwater fish to the water as well and brought it to a boil.
 Once the fish had softened enough, he removed the pot from the heat.
 He retrieved the fish from the liquid, so that with a little salt and grilled over a flame, it would make a great snack.

 The water in the pot had now transformed into a succulent broth with the fish’s oil and essence, and into that broth Baldo added diced greenwrap which he simmered over a low flame.
 He allowed the dish to cook until it transformed into a slimy concoction.
 He finished it off with a dash of fresh-squeezed sappo juice.

 Although sappo trees grew around the house, the family had no idea its fruit could be used for a culinary purpose as well.
 Fully ripe sappo fruit was the size of a baby’s fist.
 By peeling the fruit and squeezing its white flesh could one extract its milky white juice.
 By itself, it did not possess any particular taste.
 Adding that juice to hot water, however, it transformed the liquid into a rich, delectable soup.

 Once Baldo extracted the sappo juice and poured it into the mixture of fish broth and disintegrated greenwrap, the entire soup turned a cloudy white and developed a foamy surface, released a fragrant smell.
 The wife standing next to Baldo, as well as her husband and son who had also started to watch with interest, all gasped with oohs and ahs, eyes sparkling.

 For the time being, Baldo served them only this soup.
 The three of them partook with wondrous joy.

 “This really is something else.
 Who knew greenwrap could have such a taste!”
 Just wait ‘till I tell all those guys in the villages about this!”

 the man exclaimed, to which Baldo then said,

 The real joy starts here,

 before adding large amounts of wild vegetables and fowl meat to the soup.
 After letting the ingredients cook into the pot for a bit, Baldo then continued,

 Now, feel free to take and eat whatever you want.

 Everyone at the table took turns taking the meat and vegetables and started to eat.
 This type of cuisine seemed to be an entirely new experience for the family, and their faces glowed with happiness.

 “You could make this kind of meal with many different combinations, I bet.
 I have to say, you’ve really opened my eyes.”

 Again and again did they fill Baldo’s cup with their alcohol, and the night went on, bounding with laughter and merriment.

5

Rumble, rumble, went the cart.
 The horse trotted along, pulling the wares behind it at a leisurely pace.
 The one holding its reins was a boy ten years of age.

 The road was winding and full of bumps and holes.
 If ever the cart’s wheels got caught on debris kicked up on the journey, the horse would cleverly shake its body, moving occasionally to the left and right, occasionally back and forth over and over until it rolled smoothly once again.
 The boy simply held the reins and walked alongside the animal, trying not to disturb its work.

 It was a particularly fine day.
 Rays of glistening sunlight trickled down through the leaves and illuminated Baldo, the boy, the horse, and its cart with a glittering shine.
 In the gentle wind’s caress was it a truly idyllic day on the road.
 Having entrusted his own belongings to the horse-drawn cart aside from the sword at his side, Baldo strolled next to the horse as well, free of any lingering hip pain.

 The boy kept up a steady barrage of questions.
 He wished to hear stories of a knight’s training.
 Those questions eventually started to inquire more and more into how exactly one became a knight.

 “I wonder if it’s impossible for a farmer’s son like to me become a knight.”

 It is terribly hard.

 “Were you born to a house of knights, sir?”

 Not a house of knights, nay, but my father was a knight in his own right.
 He had his own sword, in fact.

 This response held only a shred of truth.
 Though upon hearing this claim one might imagine his father to be a man brought up in combat, he was in fact essentially a farmer in his daily life.
 Though it was true he had a sword, Baldo had never seen him so much as wield it.

 “But I’ve heard stories where farmers become knights.”

 That is correct.
 There are occasionally cases where a military house will train up an able-bodied youth born into the farm caste for lack of a proper heir.
 Yet this is rarely the case.

 “If I went to a noble’s castle, I wonder if they would train me in the sword.”

 If a farmer’s boy ventured to a castle, they would at most take him as a servant.
 It takes years upon years to train a knight.
 It also costs a great sum to prepare their equipment.
 While they are engaged in training, they cannot contribute any work to the house.
 One would be hard-pressed to find a noble family willing to provide food, equipment, and training to a boy who is not able to provide any labor in return.

 “How long does the training last?”

 Hm.
 A proper education would take around seven to ten years, I presume.

 “That much!”

 That’s right.
 And that entire time, the noble house would have to support this person without any labor as payment.

 “If I was trained I would work extra hard, so I could do jobs for them at the same time.”

 Everyone thinks the same.
 A knight-in-training could do what a normal servant does in a day in but half a day, and spend the rest of their time training.
 Yet once they finish their training and become a fully fledged knight, they must purchase a horse, a sword, and armor.

 “Are swords expensive?”

 Dreadfully so.

 “Like ten thousand pologeil?”

 Hah-hah-hah!
 You have ten thousand pologeil?
 It’s a hundred pologeil to one geil, so that means a hundred geil, yes?
 Not enough, I’m afraid.
 Even a bronze sword would cost you around five thousand geil.
 For a proper steel blade, a weapon fit for a knight, that would be twenty thousand geil at the cheapest.

 “Twenty thousand geil!
 How could we have such a fantastical amount at home!”

 Yes, that’s the cheapest you’ll find them for.
 The sword alone costs a small fortune.
 Not to mention, you also need the other equipment as well.

 “I wonder if I can borrow that money from a nobleman.
 I’ll work hard and pay it all back.”

 And how exactly will you make that money back?

 “Huh?
 I’ll do work at the castle and capture all the bad guys, right?
 That’s a knight’s job.”

 There certainly are knights who are tasked with work around the castles.
 However, don’t you think they already have people who can do that now?

 “But if I become a strong knight, they’ll definitely hire me, right?”

 That’s right.
 But only in times of war.

 “Only war?”

 Indeed.
 When the nobles are fighting amongst themselves, trying to eliminate large groups of criminals, or during dangerous  outbreaks of wild beasts, they will hire capable fighters.
 Common soldiers and knights who cannot seek employment at a castle will find work in such battlefields.
 To work for them is to slay men and beasts.

 “To slay… men?”

 Only when the nobles wish to kill people will they hire wandering knights.
 Once the bloodshed is finally over will those knights have no choice but to find their next place of employment.
 That is how the wandering knight lives, by traveling from place to place to end the lives of their fellow men.

 The boy grew silent.
 His head hung down as he walked, seemingly deep in thought.

 The day was fine, truly perfect conditions for a journey.
 Neither Baldo’s hips nor his shoulder hurt any longer.
 Yet, there was an inexplicable ache in his chest.

6

Rumble, rumble, went the cart.

 The boy was quiet for some time.
 Baldo imagined learning the challenges of becoming a knight and the pain of what came after was a shock to the child.

 For the son of a farmer to aspire to be a knight was a fanciful dream.
 Yet, how was that so different from Baldo’s own journey to knighthood?

 This boy was ten years old.
 So too was Baldo ten when a wandering knight imparted onto him the path of the sword.

7

 Baldo’s father was a yeoman.
 There was a trace of noble blood in him, and he had once served as a castle guard.
 Such were the stories Baldo heard from his mother.
 His father never once referred to himself as a knight.
 He did in fact possess a steel sword, however.
 Never once had Baldo seen him swing this blade, though it was nigh unheard of for a true commoner to have such a weapon in their possession.
 Similarly was his father well-learned, and he taught Baldo how to read, write, and perform calculations, as well as imparted upon him a great deal of historical knowledge.
 The other villagers too placed great importance on his father’s wisdom and judgment, and it was often they came to seek his counsel.
 They lived as a family in a small house in the mountains on the outskirts of the village, living on a meager sum of money obtained through agriculture and hunting.
 Though he lived just as an ordinary villager might, those around him considered Baldo’s family a warrior house.

 There was a time it so happened a wandering knight passed through town and took up temporary residence in Baldo’s house.
 Though young Baldo dreamed of becoming a knight, he never once told this to his father.
 And then one day did Baldo ask this wandering knight to teach him the sword.

 “I will if your father agrees,”

 the wandering knight responded.
 After a week of trying to gain said approval, his father finally relented and thus did Baldo’s instruction begin.
 The training was entirely different than anything Baldo expected.
 His mornings consisted of wood-chopping, well-water retrieval, and other house chores to be quickly completed.
 Then he would be made to run in the fields and mountains.
 Once he returned in a ragged, exhausted state did the sword training commence.
 Yet Baldo was not allowed to even hold a sword at that point.
 He was to merely watch the wandering knight swing his weapon.
 This wandering knight removed all of his clothing aside from his loin cloth and in such a state struck the air with the blade.

 He had a steel sword and wielded it furiously with both hands.

 “Knights must bear a shield or hold the reins of their steed, thus they generally wield their sword in a single hand.
 Dual-wielding is among the techniques that all knights must learn, but that technique applies to greatswords, the kind which will strike your opponent’s armor directly and still rip the soul from their body.
 What I am about to teach you is not a technique found in a knight’s curriculum.
 Yet it is a technique among the highest level of perfection of all the sword arts, and among the most effective as well,”

 the wandering knight said as he continued to strike forward.
 First, he simply swung his sword straight down in a clean line.
 Witness this single strike from many different angles, from behind and in front, to the left and the right, said the wandering knight.
 Watch not only the movement of the blade, but that of my feet and hands, that of my muscles and tendons, said the wandering knight.
 Burn this image into your mind, that you might never forget these movements, said the wandering knight.
 He swung his sword straight down in a clean line over and over, and this continued for an entire week.
 The next week he repeated the same process, except this time swinging down from the upper-right.
 This simple method of training continued.

 Down from the upper-left.
 From side to side.
 Upward from below.
 Forward thrust.

 Baldo simply watched.
 Yet, never once did he tire of it.
 He grew more fascinated with every single swing, in fact.
 As his eyes were glued to the man, he became acutely aware of every moment at which he breathed and every movement of the muscles on his body.
 If one applied their strength in different ways, then the technique would yield entirely different results even if using the same movement.
 So too would everything change simply based on the speed and intensity of one’s breathing and the strength of their steps.
 If one allowed themselves to be distracted by the moving sword, they would miss all of this.
 For technique is not in the sword, but in the one swinging it and in their will.
 When applying one’s will to technique, this was what gave birth to nearly imperceptible changes in weight transfer, breathing, and muscle contractions, and that was what gave birth to the secrecy of one’s techniques.

 The wandering knight additionally taught the bow to Baldo.
 For the young boy he created a special bow for children that could be drawn with less strength.
 The training was relentless.
 Baldo was made to shoot the fish swimming in the river.
 It was an impossible endeavor to be sure.

 “When aiming to strike a quick, nimble opponent, you will have two options available to you.
 The first is you can attempt to predict their actions and aim for where you believe they will be.
 The second is to simply strike more quickly than even they can react to,”

 was the advice the wandering knight gave, yet fish in their natural environment were truly a different story.
 It was simply not possible for Baldo to overwhelm them in a contest of speed.
 Yet neither could he hit then by trying to predict their movements.
 For once the arrow hit the surface of the water would the fish change its direction, managing to avoid it.

 The wandering knight was able to strike the fish, however.
 He had managed to do so with the children’s bow as well, allowing Baldo no excuses.
 Although he used the same bow, the wandering knight’s arrow flew incredibly fast.
 Try as he might to mimic his actions by pulling the drawstring to its limits, Baldo only succeeded in breaking the bow or string completely.

 The wandering knight was willing to show Baldo as many times as he needed, yet that was the extent of his tutelage.
 All Baldo could do was think for himself to figure out how the man was able to draw such power from such a weak, little bow.
 After much trial and error did Baldo come to the conclusion that strength was not all that mattered when it came to pulling the string.
 Rather, it was essential to draw the bow in a way that fully flexed the wood.

 Then Baldo managed to strike a fish in a stroke of wondrous luck.
 Although Baldo hadn’t correctly released an arrow along the trajectory he was initially aiming for, the fish moved in an incomprehensible fashion as well, allowing itself to be hit.

 “You are trying to hit the fish.
 The fish is trying not to be hit.
 Naturally you will find no progress in such a situation,”

 said the wandering knight.
 How could the fish ever want to be hit, Baldo thought.
 Unless…
 Just what was the aim of the fish?
 He had been so desperate to land a shot that he had never once considered what they themselves were thinking.

 Baldo decided to watch the fish some more.
 He had not been the least bit interested in them before, save for their size and swiftness, yet now he realized just how many kinds there were.
 Those that loved to swim against the current.
 Those that loved to go with the current.
 Those that rarely moved and those that traveled far.
 Those that loved clear waters and those that moved murky waters.

 Baldo had assumed that fish moved freely underwater, but such was not the case.
 When in sudden danger in particular, the fish in fact often acted in similar ways depending on their type.
 In rivers with a fast current, the options available to them were even more limited.
 If forced to react in places at which the speed of the current was in constant flux, like near rocks and debris, their movements were occasionally even in the realm of Baldo’s prediction.

 With that in mind, Baldo thought back to how the wandering knight would occasionally not even prepare himself with the bow in hand.
 Occasionally when he did, he wouldn’t even aim.
 Occasionally when he would aim, he would wait ages before firing.
 Just what was he waiting for?

 In the end, he was able to successfully guide the arrow to his target.
 He would prompt the fish to react just how he wanted it, as if urging it into the trajectory of his arrow.
 Baldo searched for the best places and timing to accomplish this.
 In a curious twist of events, once Baldo started to land his shots, he was increasingly able to do so without the slightest bit of effort then on.

 Baldo’s sword training also progressed smoothly, and the wandering knight began displaying multiple swings linked together.
 From a downward strike to an upward strike.
 From a slash to a thrust.
 By combining such elementary actions, there was a frightful amount of variation.

 “Swinging a blade once will consume both energy and time.
 Thus you mustn’t waste a single action.
 Once you conclude a strike, utilize your posture and the position of your blade in that very moment to compliment the next strike.
 Even if that strike hits nothing but air, if that attack has limited your opponent’s actions or has put you in an advantageous position, then it will have not been wasted.”

 The wandering knight’s movements grew ever quick and intense.
 He generally only displayed these strikes in an isolated setting, but on five distinct occasions did he show what it was like to strike an object.
 First, a tree branch.
 Then, a rather large tree trunk.
 Then, a bird flying above the river.
 Then, a feather floating atop the water.
 The last instance still gave Baldo pause to this day, unsure what it was exactly that he had seen, but the wandering knight at that moment said, “Now I will cut the air,” and he swung his blade through the empty void before him.

 Baldo turned ten years old, and a full year had passed since he had begun his sword training.
 Then came the day the knight handed Baldo his sword.

 The young boy was over the moon.
 The wandering knight would normally never allow anyone else to touch this weapon.
 The fact the wandering knight not only allowed Baldo to hold it, but additionally allowed him to swing it as well, spoke volumes about his impression of the boy.

 And so he swung the blade.
 First Baldo attempted the ultimate basic, a straight, downward strike.
 He attempted to recreate the scene he had burned into his mind, yet the sword was too heavy.
 Although the strike was unsteady and off-balance, the wandering knight commented,

 “Your lower body is impressively stable.
 So too are the movements in your body and muscles acceptable.
 I imagine you’ll be able to properly swing a sword in no time at this rate.”

 A rare compliment.
 The next day, the wandering knight was nowhere to be found.
 He had once more set off on a journey.

8

 Baldo continued training by himself.
 He could no longer watch the wandering knight’s movements, however.
 Swinging a piece of wooden debris in place of a sword, he did his best to faithfully follow the actions of his mentor that has been branded into his mind.
 He continued to run as well.

 Then came the day that would forever shape the rest of Baldo’s life.

 Just as he was about to retrieve a fish that he had shot with an arrow before heading home, he suddenly heard a scream.
 There was a man there who was being chased by a dwarva next to the river.
 Dwarva weren’t generally as fast as adult humans.
 Not to mention, this man had managed to create some distance between him at the beast, and he may have be able to shake it off completely before long.
 Yet perhaps he was tired or in a panic, for the man suddenly decided to climb a tree.

 Dwarva were very adept at tree-climbing.
 Baldo was on a mountain path and could see the scene unfold from a higher vantage point.
 It would take him far too long to arrive at the tree, and even if he did, what could a ten year old boy do to a dwarva?
 He had a bow in hand.
 Yet this bow was small, and the arrows he used were simply fashioned from illasei stalks with a sharpened points and bird feathers fitted on to the ends.
 Not only would it be nigh impossible for Baldo to land the shot from so far away, even if he did would the impact feel like that of a fly to the dwarva.

 Baldo instead picked up a stone and using the sash around his waist as a makeshift sling, he hurled it at the beast.
 His first and second shots missed.
 Just as the dwarva arrived at the foot of the tree and was unmoving as a result, however, Baldo’s third shot landed true.
 The beast turned around and saw the boy.
 Ignoring the man entirely now, it broke out in a mad dash toward him.

 Baldo gestured for the man in the tree to start running.
 At this point was the dwarva at the bottom of the hill.
 Baldo took the several dozen fish he had caught, all wrapped in a large soi leaf, and tossed it at the animal.
 It naturally started to feast on the food that suddenly appeared before it.

 Baldo hurriedly tied the sash back around his waist and ran away.
 Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the man he saved was escaping in the opposite direction.
 Finally he made it all the way back to his house.

 The next day, a man who referred to himself as a knight in service of House Telsia, lord of Pacra domain, arrived at the front step of Baldo’s home.
 It appeared the man Baldo saved the previous day was a messenger who worked under the lord of Pacra.
 After a brief conversation with his father, the knight spoke to Baldo to convey his gratitude as well as confer upon him a monetary reward, then added,

 “Are you perhaps interested in employment at the castle of Lord Elzerra Telsia, I wonder?”

 To work at the castle of House Telsia was a dream of many, a position with excellent pay and ample food.
 Baldo responded that he was.

 Thus the knight immediately took him away.
 The castle would provide room and board, and he would be allowed one day of rest a month.

 There was only so much a ten year old child could do around the castle.
 In the end, fate would have him serve as a page.
 The sons of farmers would rarely ever be given such a position.
 On the third day, the then-lord Elzerra suddenly asked Baldo,

 “Do you wished to be trained in the military arts?”

 Baldo responded that he did.

 “Then tomorrow, you are to train with the squires,”

 said Elzerra.
 Squires were tasked with assisting knights by performing duties such as cleaning and maintenance, thus there was quite a bit of overlap with the page’s own job.
 The two were entirely different, however.
 Pages did not and were not allowed to touch any weapons, whereas squires were required to maintain them.
 Pages studied under attendants, and squires studied under knights.

 In House Telsia, even those without any prospects of becoming knights were allowed to train as squires, depending on personal desire and aptitude.
 They would learn how to wield weapons and fight, so that they would be able to serve as soldiers in times of war.
 Thus did House Telsia possess troops of exceedingly high caliber.

 The next morning, Baldo woke up early, mixed amongst the ranks of those older than him, drew water from the well and cleaned the castle, and then set off running with the rest.
 The squires were to run circles through the mountains near the castle.
 There were a great many people present, all of whom were older than Baldo.
 The oldest squires were eighteen years old.
 Yet even these young men posed no challenge to Baldo, who easily overtook them.

 After that, Baldo took part in sword practice, using a training sword and wooden shield.
 As it was Baldo’s first time using a shield, so too was it his first time wielding a sword in one hand.
 Not to mention he had only done so with a piece of wood before.

 Seeing the legions of boys swinging their practice swords and creating a cacophony of sounds, Baldo was shaking with excitement.
 An older squire first showed him an example to follow.
 It occurred to Baldo that while they were swinging the blade, they were not doing so to slice through flesh.
 Though the wandering knight had told him “knights were trained not to slice, but to clobber,” he could not quite understand why they would do so with a bladed weapon.
 When Baldo held the practice sword, curiously enough, he was somehow able to visualize the best way for him to wield it.
 When he tried to recreate that image in his head, however, it would never go quite as he imagined it.
 On the seventh day was when Baldo finally felt as if he had a handle on the method.
 On the night of that very day, Baldo was told,

 “You will be a squire directly under his lordship starting tomorrow.”

 In the Telsia’s castle, squires served the various knights in rotation.
 So for Baldo to solely serve a particular knight was an exceptional thing, indeed.
 And to serve under the very Lord Elzerra at that!
 Baldo suffered a fair margin under the envy of his peers in the days that followed.

 This envy did not last for long, however.
 For upon witnessing Elzerra’s devilish instruction, few started to even pity the boy.
 Yet this was precisely what Baldo desired.

 When Baldo first gave Elzerra his greetings, he was asked if he had ever received instruction in the sword before.
 Baldo responded that he had learned under a knight, a friend of his father’s.

 “You had a good mentor.”

 Baldo was immeasurably happy upon hearing such a thing.

 The youth in House Telsia’s castle were given plenty of nutritious food so that they might grow big and strong.
 Baldo’s own household had in all of its deficiencies never wanted for food, thus he had grown up into a healthy, robust lad, to the extent that none would ever consider him one of the commonfolk.
 With every day of his training, Baldo grew larger and more powerful.

9

 Baldo became a senior squire four years later, and a further three years after that was he made into a knight apprentice.
 House Telsia treated this system of advancement with the utmost importance.
 It was not uncommon in the midlands for squires to directly become apprentice knights, and often only after taking their Knight’s Vows did they then accompany seasoned knights and learn the ways of the world as if they were squires once.
 Thus was their training naturally shortened.

 Of course, so too did the frontier have its own fair share of nonsensical customs.
 There were no shortage of individuals who, without a modicum of effort to their name, entered the tutelage of an influential knight from another family, and after a mere two or three years of training only in name would they undergo their vows.

 House Telsia similarly wished to take in knight apprentices on occasion.
 Many young men with no hope of succeeding their own house would flock from all over.
 For if it was known they underwent House Telsia’s knight training would many more avenues open up to them.
 Yet there would few among them who could last beyond two months.

 When Baldo was twenty years old—ten years after he entered the care of the Telsia’s castle—he took his Knight’s Vows.
 It was a surprising occasion, for the one who trained him, who in essence became his mentor knight, was the head of House Telsia himself, Elzerra.
 There was a certain tradition in the Ceremony of Vows that one must not swear fealty to their mentor.
 Thus would the heads of any house avoid doing such a thing themselves.
 They would have an intermediary serve as a mentor to the knight on their behalf.
 The knight would then swear fealty to the lord of the house.
 Yet Lord Elzerra had guided Baldo himself, so who exactly should he dedicate his loyalty to?

 Under Elzerra’s instruction, they began the Ceremony of Vows.
 And before long came the moment of truth.

 “Thou who will becomest a knight,
 State thee the lord of thine fealty.”

 To such a question did Baldo respond, I pledge my loyalty to the commonfolk.
 The years came and went, and now Baldo was on a journey to find his mortal end.
 Yet that vow was never broken.
 Even as the shield and sword he used to uphold that vow was no longer in his hands.

 Nay, I suppose that’s not quite right.
 I still have you after all.

 Baldo stroked the scabbard hanging at his side with his left hand.
 It was a crudely-made little thing, made from the leather of old Staboros.
 Yet to the touch, there was no stronger feeling.
 There was a beautiful pattern on its side, sewn into it by the ghelkast warrior Engdal.
 Inside was the would-be sword, his stalwart companion.

 Dear Staboros.
 Let us fight together, like we always have.
 Watch over me until the day I die.

 Baldo whispered these words and patted the scabbard.
 It was as if a strange warmth came from the leather at his touch.

10

 They were not far from the village to the west when a carriage came from behind.
 Aboard the carriage was the mayor of that village and his daughter, and following along were two young, burly men.
 It seemed they were on their way home after visiting the village to the east.
 Baldo and the boy wanted to let the carriage pass by, for their cart was moving along far too slowly, yet there was no space for that to happen.

 “We’ll arrive at the village any second now, so pay us no heed.
 Continue as you are, at your own pace.
 Everyone at the village is excited for more of that vegetable,”

 said the mayor, so Baldo and the boy did as he said.
 The boy glanced out of the corner of his eye at the girl every now and then, and his cheeks were hot with flush.
 The girl talked to the boy as well—perhaps the two knew each other.
 It was at the moment the village finally came into view when from behind the mayor’s carriage pounced a vicious beast.

 “Aaah!
 I-It cannot be!
 A k-kaejel!”

 screamed one of the young men.
 By the time Baldo had rushed to the other side of the carriage, he found the two young men collapsed on the ground and a turned col’aje2 about to pounce on the horse.

 It seems we must act once more, Staboros.
 Let us go!

 With this thought in his heart, Baldo held the scabbard with his left hand and drew the would-be sword with his right.
 From the metal of the blade came a familiar strange glow.

 Hah-hah!
 You have my thanks!

 Baldo gave his appreciation to the ancient sword for drawing from the last of its vestige spiritual power and swung at the neck of the kaejel.
 It was a thick, study neck, one that would have shrugged off the blows of many a weapon, and yet with a single strike was it now in two, sending the head flying into the air.
 Baldo kept cautious watch at the beast’s spasming legs as he went over to the two fallen men.
 Fortunately were their conditions stable and their injuries light.
 Baldo turned around with a relieved sigh and there saw the two sparkling eyes of the boy behind him.

 “I knew it!
 Knights are just amazing, I knew it!
 I will definitely become a knight!
 Not one that slays people, but one that only slays wild beasts.
 I’ll become a knight that protects everyone!”

 Now I’ve gone and done it.
 Forget discouraging the lad, I’ve gone and given him a taste for the profession.
 Forgive me, good man.
 It appears I’ve failed to carry our your request.
 I never really was suited to this manner of work.

 The day was fine as it ever was.
 Baldo had been pushed to his limits today, so he suspected another miserable night in store for his hips.
 His body felt terribly sluggish, a result of his constant mental caution, perhaps.
 This never happened when he was younger—such is what it means to be old.
 Yet, he was in a fine mood.

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