“If ya’ll are havin’ the yweitan,1 then you must pair it with this drink right here.
This here is refined plun wine.
See how beautiful and clear it is?
Drink something stronger or less pure, and, why, you’d just be destroying the flavor of the fish.”
“You don’t say.
Then I’ll take some of that plun wine.
How exactly does one eat yweitan, by the way?
Is it stewed?
Is it grilled?
What manner of flavor is it?”
You mean to tell me ya’ll have never tried it?
Well if ya’ll don’t know, I’m ‘fraid I can’t help.”
It’s a peculiar taste, that it is.
It’s like—well—how can I put it?
Can’t quite put it into words.
Some fellers even say they downright can’t stand it.
Well, one bite and you’ll be hooked, I can promise you that much.
In fact, I’ll be going round that part tomorrow to have some myself.”
It had been two months since Godon joined Baldo on his journey.
The two arrived in a small village in the southern outskirts of the Excela domain.
It would have been a mere sixty mile journey had they come in a straight line from Meyzia.
That distance would have taken a healthy man a single day to walk, such was the relaxed pace of their horseback journey.
Such a thing was only natural, for they took great care to enjoy the wondrous sights and sample the various tastes of the local cuisines.
Not to mention, Godon was apparently quite taken with the idea of delivering the commonfolk from harm, thus was it often he spent time slaying wild beasts for villages in distress.
The two had even spent eight days trekking through the mountains at one point, searching for a group of five bandits.
Though they did not find them in the end were the villagers still thankful, for the bandits had seemingly run off.
All was well and good to Baldo, but he insisted that Godon stop announcing in each and every place that Baldo Rhowen, Galdegarsh Gwera, had arrived.
Upon arriving in this village and inquiring as to the local specialty did they hear about a peculiar fish called yweitan.
Further up the mountain was a pond and next to that pond was a shop.
That was the only place one could eat this yweitan, was the advice.
All of the villagers would go to that particular place when they got the craving.
Though one could eat there for lunch, doing so at night was a far better proposition, not to mention the shop was open until sunrise.
The taste of the alcohol while dining on the yweitan, basking under the light of the moons, was said to be a sensation like no other.
It was said to be a fish born from moonlight.
Just what did it have in store for him?
Baldo dared not pass the opportunity up.
The two rode their horses up the mountains in high spirits.
It did not take long before they found the shop in question.
The proprietress of the shop, plump and with boundless energy, came out to greet the two.
She explained she was worried something had happened at first, seeing such large, burly warriors visit her establishment.
They responded that they wished to eat yweitan, to which the woman asked that they wait until night, at which time she could catch more.
As they drank tea, they listened to the woman talk about her life.
It had been eleven years since she and her husband had first come to this particular mountain.
Her husband was awfully taken with this pond.
The local fish and wild vegetables were delicious and the scenery gorgeous.
So too was there torga growing in abundance.
Torga was a hot, invigorating spice.
It required a cool place rich with water to thrive.
The husband and wife thought to settle down in this place.
The village mayor was thrilled to hear of their discovery of the torga, thus he negotiated with the lord of the domain.
In turn for lowering the tax obligations of this married couple to the smallest possible amount, they were to only sell this torga to the village at the foot of the mountain.
Before long did four other families make their way to this pond.
Her husband allowed these four families to harvest the torga as well.
Three years ago, her husband passed away, having said he lived a good and fulfilling life.
Though the couple learned about the yweitan shortly after starting to live in this area, it was not until two years later that they started to recognize its true worth.
Upon catching the fish and preparing it in a very particular fashion would it transform into a culinary experience unlike anything anyone could imagine.
If even the slightest amount of time passed, however, it would lose this miraculous flavor.
Thus was consumption of this fish confined to this mountain.
After Baldo finished the tea, the proprietress brought out some alcohol.
Upon drinking this alcohol and snacking on lightly-seasoned wild vegetables all the while did they encounter a certain problem.
They soon realized there was not enough alcohol to go around.
The proprietress asked around the four houses, but none had any fit to serve these two nobles.
It would not take long on horseback for them to arrive at the town at the foot of the mountain.
Thus the two did exactly that in order to secure spirit for the yweitan.
Just as the two managed to buy some wine and were about to return to the shop by the pond did they notice a group of armed men heading up the same road.
At the front of the forces were two men carrying large shields.
Behind them were ten or so bowmen.
Behind them were five luggage-bearers.
Baldo could see many flammable arrows in their quivers.
At the very end of the procession was a knight and what looked to be two of the townsfolk.
From the atmosphere they exuded was it clear these men were on no routine mission.
Once this group was no longer in sight, Baldo and Godon learned of their purpose from various rumors circulating the town.
They said there was an outbreak of the black ash.
An herbalist from the village had identified the proprietress of pondside shop as having that condition.
These were the words of an herbalist, one who had saved a great deal of lives over the years.
The regional lord immediately deployed a knight to take care of the issue.
This knight explained the situation to the village mayor and rebuked the man for allowing this situation to come to pass.
And now was he ascending the mountain with his subordinates in tow.
The black ash.
As far as Baldo knew, there had never been a case of the disease in House Telsia’s lands or the surrounding regions.
Yet, if there had been…
Baldo would have been forced to raze the villages, towns, and anything the disease came into contact with.
Baldo would have been forced to slaughter all of its inhabitants.
The black ash was a disease of such horrifying properties.
The afflicted would find dark blotches appeared over the entirety of their bodies, as if smeared with ash.
The spots would grow larger and larger yet, eventually stretching over every bit.
At this point would the body excrete every last drop of the moisture within, giving the afflicted a long, excruciating death.
Those who made even the slightest bit of contact with the afflicted would catch the sickness as well.
A single afflicted villager would bring a village to ruin; a single afflicted townsperson would bring a town to ruin.
If a single person with the black ash ran away to a neighboring town, so too would that town fall.
Such a disease was this.
Baldo could hardly fault the soldiers for their grim expressions.
The horrors of the sickness did not end there.
It forced warriors to kill the very people they swore to protect.
Those soldiers would likely never know another peaceful night of sleep for the rest of their lives.
In the midst of all their patrols would they surely see the families, friends, wives and husbands of those they slaughtered.
Yet they must do what what be done.
What an unenviable thing that knight must do, leading such frightened soldiers on such a terrible mission.
Wait just one moment.
The mountain pond settlement?
The proprietress contracted the black ash?
Why, she was talking to us, full of life, only earlier this morning.
This must be a terrible misunderstanding!
With this thought in mind, Baldo had his horse quickly chase after the band of soldiers and attempted to talk to the knight once he caught up.
The knight glanced at him out of the corner of his eye yet made no attempt to either stop or respond.
He must’ve been under strict orders to ignore to all pleas.
So too did the soldiers pay him no heed.
Without hardening their hearts would they not be able to carry out such a task.
They did all they could to cover their ears.
Realizing his attempts would bear no fruit, Baldo instead took Godon and they passed the group.
As only the knight was on horseback, the group as a whole moved slowly.
Just before the pond was a small area that served perfectly as a choke point to prevent the group from passing.
There the two lied in wait.
Finally the procession arrived.
What to do?
Shall we hold them off at this pass and allow the proprietress and the others in this settlement to escape? wondered Baldo.
Yet this was a matter involving the black ash.
Even if they escaped now, they would surely be hunted down with the full extent of the lord’s resources and slayed.
Not to mention, the proprietress would not so easily abandon the house that contained so many dear memories of her life with her husband.
Shall we fight back the band of soldiers? wondered Baldo.
Such a thing very well may have been possible with Godon and Baldo.
That said, their opponents had shieldmen, bowmen, and a fully-clad knight in their ranks.
Baldo and Godon were merely equipped with just enough to be appropriate for a long journey.
They would have to exert every bit of their strength to have any chance.
Not to mention, even by fighting off this group were they in no way granting peace to this settlement.
What to do?
Baldo tried imagining what he would do personally had he been tasked with leading this force.
Upon arriving at the settlement, he would certainly not enter any of the houses.
He would position his troops around the area and have them burn the place to the ground from a distance.
If anyone tried to escape, they would be shot down.
He would never consider getting close enough to see their faces or have a conversation.
That meant only one thing.
Bring the proprietress here this instant!
Godon shouted in affirmation and made his way quickly up the path.
Baldo simply needed to buy enough time for them to return.
He must not allow them to pass.
They finally arrived.
The sound of the soldiers’ footsteps was unnaturally heavy.
It was as if they were trying to rouse themselves up.
To do what must be done.
Once they were in earshot did Baldo yell with great vigor,
I am Baldo Rhowen, knight of Pakra!
I stand here before you concerning the matter of the pondside settlement!
I humbly request the audience of your commanding officer.
To this did the commanding officer but reply,
“I am Margagheli Ecola, knight of Dranoh.
I ask you leave these matters alone, journeying knight.
Please stand aside.”
It was a deep, powerful voice.
The voice of a knight who had been in service for many years.
The group of soldiers didn’t slow down in the slightest.
They formed a single line, shieldmen at the front.
Though Baldo wanted to shout to the men that he had seen the proprietress enjoying her good health mere hours ago, such a thought gave him pause.
Doing so would be admitting he came into contact with the presumed afflicted.
The moment he said those words would the group do everything they could to kill him, sparing him not a moment for explanation.
The shieldmen were at this point only ten paces away.
Baldo drew his sword.
Not with the intent to cut them down.
But simply in order to hold them at bay.
came the piercing shout from their commander.
The two shieldmen readied their shields and started to rush toward Baldo.
A normal leader might have unleashed a volley of fatal arrows in such a situation, against a man who drew his sword at a group of soldiers tasked with a great matter that concerned the life of their lord.
Yet this man employed neither arrow nor sword—a clearly levelheaded disposition.
To a seasoned knight like Baldo, it would be a trifling matter to slip past the shieldmen and charge into the group of archers, throwing the entire group into chaos.
Do that, however, and Baldo would have a vicious fight on his hands.
What should I do, dear Staboros?
Give me a sign.
He stroked his scabbard with his left hand, the only reminder of his faithful horse that stayed with him yet.
The shields barreled into Baldo, leaving him not a moment of respite.
Without thinking, Baldo thrust the ancient sword into the shield.
Now I’ve done it!
Baldo was aghast at his own action.
The ancient sword did not possess a pointed tip.
It looked as if the top of the blade was sliced clean off.
Thrusting the sword would do naught to the shield.
Naught but ruin his very own shoulder.
The shieldman he stood before was a very large man.
His entire body was bent over in the charge.
At this rate, the brunt of the entire impact would travel to his shoulder.
Then the two weapons collided.
Baldo witnessed a pale, turquoise glow.
His shoulder did not feel a thing.
The sword met the most delicate of resistance, as if into a gossamer web.
The strike was by no stretch of imagination a light one.
The shieldman at the front of the charge was blown back.
The other shieldman behind him was unable to help, for he was thrown back as well.
The two men fell into the rank of archers eight paces behind them, knocking over the men.
Every falling man took another with him, and in the end, all but the commanding knight were splayed out on the ground.
The knight halted his horse and stared at the scene with a dumbfounded expression.
“W-What monstrous power.
The Baldo Rhowen?”
It was at that very moment came the sound of approaching hooves from further up the path.
It was Godon.
The proprietress was behind him.
Stop, stop, stop!
I am Godon Zarcos, knight of Meyzia, accompanying Sir Baldo Rhowen, Galdegarsh Gwera, on his journey!
I have with me the proprietress of the shop at the pond!
Does she look ill to you!”
he bellowed, riding up next to Baldo and helping the woman down from the horse.
How could the knight not see her now that she was so close?
When he did, the truth made itself clear.
“How could this be?
The commanding knight’s voice was stern and demanded answers.
The herbalist fell to his knees at the very spot.
The man next to him immediately started to run.
Two of the soldiers caught up to the man and pinned him to the ground.
Upon seeing the man’s face did the proprietress remark,
“Why isn’t he that feller that keeps comin’ round the shop these days, beggin’ fer me to sell it to him?”
With the commanding knight’s sword against his throat, the man finally confessed the truth.
This man was a member of a gang of thieves who wreaked havoc in the northern parts of the greater region.
The gang’s infamy grew day by day until a band of knights was dispatched to deal with them, wiping out the entire organization.
Only he managed to shake of the pursuers, making his way to this very mountain.
Here he buried the vast riches plundered by his gang underneath a certain tree, lightening his load, and immediately after he escaped to distant lands.
These were the events of fifteen years prior.
After seeing that the dust had finally settled, the man recently decided to return.
When finding the spot with the buried riches was he met with a great surprise.
That tree had been chopped down and in its place stood a shop.
Although he did everything he could to pressure the proprietress into handing the shop to him, she would always refuse.
While wracking his mind for a solution to his problem, he incidently met the herbalist.
So too did this herbalist belong to a gang of bandits in the past.
His head would roll should anyone learn the truth.
Using this to blackmail the herbalist, he had the man go to the lord of the lands and report that the proprietress of the pond had contracted the black ash.
“What will become of the herbalist, I wonder.”
This herbalist had served the village for many years.
He would happily see patients even in the middle of the night, never demanding money from those who could not afford his treatment.
The villagers all knew him to be a terribly kind man.
The crimes he committed in the past might have been enough to spell his execution.
For herbalists, however, to falsely report a case of the black ash was the gravest of sins.
In normal cases would they be burned at the stake.
The proprietress was astonished to hear that beneath her house was buried a great sum of gold.
The knight had two solders stay at her house for her protection as the day had already dawned and would perform an investigation the next day.
It so happened this knight was in fact a regular patron of this establishment.
It is thanks to you that the proprietress did not have to perish, he said to Baldo and Godon, his head bowed.
He invited the two to visit the lord’s manor, but they strictly declined the offer.
Godon Zarcos, the lord of Meyzia, was a well known figure in these parts.
It would be a disaster for all parties involved if it came to light that the lord of a neighboring land interfered in military matters.
It would be for the best if all was swept under the rug.
Godon Zarcos was never here, thus would he never go to the lord’s manor.
This was Baldo’s explanation to the commanding knight.
In all reality, his body was again terribly tired and in poor condition, thus he simply wanted to save himself the hassle.
“I can scarcely imagine it—a cruel thief turned benevolent herbalist, loved by the people.
Man is ever incomprehensible.”
Man is ever incomprehensible.
So too does this ancient sword defy logic.
Against Godon, it never revealed its strength.
Baldo had fought against many a beast since then, yet the sword never changed.
Baldo had considered the possibility that the weapon would only show its true strength when in combat against the kaejel.
Yet there were clearly no such kaejel present in this last fight.
Just what was going on?
“What a shame, too, that we missed the chance to dine on that yweitan.”
Without thinking, Baldo pulled the reins of his horse, stopping it dead in its tracks.
We missed the chance, you say?
Baldo turned his horse completely around and started to ride whence they came.
We are returning?
I thought we were setting up camp, as you wished not to be bothered with this whole matter?
We will not have the time to make it into the mountains should we return to the village.
They took such care to wish us farewell, too!
Come tomorrow, the shop would surely be in a miserable state as they searched for the buried fortune.
There was still barely enough time.
Yweitan tasted the best on the night of a full moon, said the proprietress.
And would one believe it—this was a night on which both moons would be perfectly round in their splendor.
Sulla was already high in the sky, and Sarlier was just beginning to show her face from behind the mountains.
Not to mention the stock of plun wine they helped refill.
Why… are you… in such… a hurry!”
Godon simply doesn’t understand, thought Baldo.
Matters of the world were divided into those of import and those of triviality, divided into those that were urgent and those that were not.
One must learn to prioritize matters of great import and not dwell on trifles.
One must learn to prioritize matters of urgency and show no hesitation in one’s actions.
There is a legend concerning the two moons that goes thus:
Xyen, god of the stars, told the two sister princesses that he wished to take a wife.
The elder sister forsook all of her belongings and quickly made her way to his side, joining him in marriage.
The younger sister took time adorning herself with her most beautiful clothes and accessories, failing to arrive in time.
Thus was the elder sister known as Sulla2 and the younger known as Sarlier.3
As Sarlier was not made a wife, she inherited all of the riches of her predecessors, however, leading some to refer to her as “She Who Has All.”
Though Sarlier was far smaller than her sister, she was exceptionally brighter and quick through the sky.
Even on this very night was she chasing Sulla through the sky in her polished silver carriage.
There Sulla was with a kind, gentle smile, waiting for her little sister to catch up.
If Baldo hurried and hurried, he would be able to gaze upon these two sisters with a cup of spirit in hand.
In fact, perhaps this would be their Night of Meeting.
Once the two full moons overlapped, Sarlier would be illuminated by her sister, given a shining crown.
Under the meeting of moons would alcohol surely have an exceptional taste.
And that yweitan along with it would elevate it to an experience like no other.
Baldo had to do whatever it took to make it to the pond before the two sisters met.
The gorgeous Sarlier climbed higher and higher into the black of the night, breathing life and light onto the land below.
Following her were two figures on horseback, tearing through the fields like a pair of knives.
Surrounded by the smells of fresh summer grass, Baldo rode his chestnut-colored steed.