Book One, Chapter 8: Polpo, the Leather Armorer

1

 It appeared Baldo had accidentally bestowed the name Staboros on the ancient sword.
 Upon calling it by this name would the sword respond, releasing a turquoise light and gaining an incredible degree of sharpness.
 There was a possibility that came to mind.
 He had picked up a certain habit as of late, when in times of peril or uncertainty would he stroke the scabbard at his side with his left hand.
 The scabbard made from the leather of his dear steed Staboros.
 Doing so felt as if he was touching his companion once again, and it brought peace to his heart.
 When doing battle with the kaejel, it was possible he stroked the scabbard and uttered the name Staboros.
 Naturally in those moments was the ancient sword in his right hand as well.
 The sword had mistakenly believed that name to the one it was given.

 In other words, the word Staboros was now the chant that served to draw out the power of the ancient sword.
 It was additionally only able to do so in Baldo’s own hands.
 He had Godon Zarcos take the sword and tried all manner of things to have the sword activate in his hands, but it remained little more than an inert lump of iron.
 Naturally, simply watching Godon fail did not necessarily mean only Baldo was capable of using the weapon.
 He had an inkling, however, that as long as he lived, no one else would be able to use it to its true extent.
 There was no such evidence, but merely a feeling in his gut.

 When fighting kaejel, the sword would display a frightening destructive force.
 However, when there were none nearby, both this destructive force and the glow it emitted would shrink by a fair margin.
 It appeared this was a sword specifically created to take the life of the kaejel after all.

 While this was all well and good, there was one thing that nagged at the corner of Baldo’s mind.
 After releasing the power of the sword would he feel a wave of great fatigue suddenly wash over him.
 The first time he did it, he could hardly continue to stand.
 The second time was much the same.
 The third time however found him beset by a terrible headache.

 Could it be that this sword consumes the life of the wielder to release such potential?
 That would mean this is not a power one should use with reckless abandon.

 Though shaped curiously like a billhook, this sword possessed the perfect length and heft for Baldo as he was now.
 So too was it unquestionably sturdy.
 Even when colliding at full force directly into Godon’s bulwark sword, there didn’t appear to be any noticeable cracks.
 It was truly an ideal tool for him to protect himself on this long journey.

 At the same time, Baldo decided to abandon his earlier hope of sending this weapon to House Telsia.
 Neither was he scrambling to inform them about the existence of the kaejel-controlling bluerocks, of which he had learned about from the jamiin hero Iyemeté.
 As he had no way of currently acquiring them, there would be no point in telling the family about such a thing until he learned more.
 Not to mention, there was no way of informing them in the first place without going there himself.

 Baldo would not have been capable of this perspective a year ago.
 It appeared his outlook and mentality had been relaxing quite a bit.
 This is how it should be, thought Baldo.
 For he was too old to fret, and this was not a journey for fretting.

2

 The two arrived in the town of Clarsk.
 It was located near the northern border of the greater Excela region.
 It was a large town.
 In the end, they hadn’t cut through the center of Excela, instead traveling around its eastern outskirts.

 There was a checkpoint station at the entrance of the town, and surprisingly they charged a fare to pass.
 It costed twenty geil.
 In return, they received an entry permit attached to a string.
 Without this permit, they would be unable to purchase and sell items in the town and would not even be able to rent a room at any inns.
 Upon leaving the town would they return the permit, receiving ten of the twenty geil back.
 Residents had a free permit, and those who often traveled to and from the city had a special permit for long-term visitors.
 Baldo had heard that in the towns of the midland kingdoms it was common for all visitors to be inspected, but he never would have imagined the same system would be in place for a town like this in the frontier—not to mention a town that wasn’t even under the direct control of lord of the region.

 Upon setting foot in the town were they met with an even greater shock.
 The streets were as busy and lively as the ones in Lints.
 A large boulevard ran through the center of the town, myriad shops lining both sides of the street.
 Though they had an inkling as to the scale of the place by the number of people in the checkpoint station, nothing could have prepared the two for the sheer vigor of the crowds.
 Baldo could not help but agree with the law forbidding travelers from riding horses within the city limits.

 They first found a place to stay the night.
 The inn had a large bath, fortunately, so Baldo and Godon took turns keeping an eye on their luggage.
 Supper was brought to their room.
 The meal consisted of a meat and vegetable soup, grilled t’zarlga, and boiled plun.1
 Bread was relatively uncommon in the greater Excela region.
 Baldo attributed this custom to the fact that their lands were not suitable for wheat production.
 Instead, plun made up a good deal of their diet.
 They would boil the whole grain, electing not to grind it into a fine powder.
 Baldo and Godon had already tried this boiled plun for themselves on their journey leading up to Clarsk.

 Baldo himself was not terribly fond of the grain.
 It was bland, mushy, and would harden before long, tiring out his jaw when he tried to eat it.
 Plun wine, however, was an entirely different story.

 T’zarlga was a long, narrow fish, noted for the blue on its back.
 Baldo had never seen such a creature in Pacra.
 Although he had tried it once in Lints, he was told the fish could only be found in rivers of considerable size.
 This place was quite a distance away from the Orva, so he assumed there must be another large river somewhere nearby.

 The t’zarlga was brought to him freshly grilled and still crackling with heat.
 It had grill marks all over the surface.
 The t’zarlga are very fatty this time of year, said the inn worker, and Baldo could not help but agree.
 The fish was seasoned with salt and a sweet and spicy sauce apparently made from a kind of fermented grain—the flavors all worked masterfully together.

 That was not all.
 Baldo made a discovery on this day.
 Grilled t’zarlga with salt and freshly boiled plun made for a heavenly combination.
 Both of the foods were delicious on their own, but when mixed with the oily juices from the fish and the sauce, the plun became especially delectable.
 The plun wine went exceedingly well with the meal too.

 It could be said there was magic in this pairing.
 Though he wanted to carefully savor each bite, he found he could not prevent himself from eating more and more.
 By the time he came to his senses had he already consumed three bowls of the boiled plum he supposedly disliked.

 The plun they had here in Clarsk was fluffy, glistening, and deliciously sweet.
 Unlike the brown kind he tried before, it was almost blindingly white.
 He told this to the worker and she responded,

 “Well course it is.
 The lord made plun our local specialty, and he had all the villages round these parts produce it.
 I heard he gave them special instructions too, that he did.”

 After further inquiry did Baldo learn the lord of Clarsk was once an earl in the country of Zalban.
 Twenty years ago, when Zalban fell to the Palzamic Kingdom, he chose to flee instead of submitting to the king of Palzam, ending up in an area east of the Orva.
 Many of the frontier lords admired the earl and assisted in his escape.
 The lord of the greater Excela region happily welcomed the man, providing him with assistance and allowing him to take up residence in the northern part of the domain.
 The town of Clarsk grew steadily ever since that day, eventually becoming a thriving hub for people from all over Excela.
 Though the current lord of this town was the earl’s grandson, the earl himself apparently still enjoyed his fine health.

3

 Baldo learned the location of a shop that dealt in leather armors.
 It was a shockingly large establishment, walls lined with armor and other leather goods.
 Baldo stopped one of the shop workers and showed the kaejel pelt in his possession, telling the staff he wished to have it fashioned into a set of armor.
 The shop assistant looked at the pelt for some time and eventually called for one of the more experienced members of the shop to come take a look.
 This experienced man stared at the furs with a conflicted expression, asked to borrow the pelt for a moment, and took it further into the shop.
 Baldo and Godon were brought into this area in the back of the establishment as well after some time, and a man who looked to be the owner stepped forward to introduce himself.

 “My name is Marganen, head of this house and establishment.
 It appears you have brought us the pelt of a turned dwarva,”

 he said, and Baldo confirmed his suspicions.

 “This is a superb article.
 As you are aware, this type of material is exceedingly hard to work with.
 I am afraid that we do not have any craftsmen capable of handing such a pelt in our family.
 We are, however, acquainted with a certain leather worker with exceptional skills who may be of use to you.
 We will forward your request to him, though we do charge a small handling fee.
 If we could be so presumptuous as to trouble you to bring the pelt to his shop yourself.”

 As Baldo had no issue with the explanation the merchant gave, he responded that he would leave the matter to him.
 The shop took the liberty of assigning them a guide and showed Baldo and Godon to the house of the craftsman in question.
 Though Baldo appreciated the gesture, he could not help but notice the guide had a terribly unscrupulous look about him, leading him to almost doubt the man’s respectability.
 There was an aura of violence on his person.
 Perhaps he was employed by the shop to handle their less gentlemanly problems.

 This craftsman’s house was located a fair distance from the central boulevard, in a place that would be easy to miss without the assistance of a guide.
 Their guide returned to the shop once they arrived at the front step.
 Upon knocking on the door were they met by a young woman.
 She seemed somewhere around twenty years of age.
 Baldo stated his business for visiting.

 “Oh my, a request for leather armor crafting?
 Thank you for your business!
 Get over here Polpo!
 It’s a customer!”

 The woman shouted for some time, but there was no response.
 Confused, they entered the house only to find the man engrossed in his work.
 So this was Polpo, the leather armorer.
 Atop his workbench was spread a massive pelt.
 It appears to be cowhide, appraised Baldo.
 There were nearly no blemishes, and the entire thing was expertly taut—a beautiful work of leather.
 Several nails held the piece of leather in place at all the necessary spots.
 Holding down the pelt with his left hand, he ran a knife like flowing water along it, cutting a curve into the material.

 Just as the woman was about to say something to Polpo, Baldo stopped her.
 Now was not the time to interrupt.
 Baldo and Godon watched Polpa’s handling of the knife with fascination.
 More and more cuts were being made into the pelt until as if with magic did a pattern the shape of boots take sudden form.
 As the intensity of the work dropped a grade, Polpo sat up straight, wiped his sweat, and heaved a great sigh.
 Baldo and Godon too released the breath they had been holding, feeling the tension escape their bodies.
 Which caused Polpo to swing around and shout in a booming voice,

 “The hell are you doing here!
 Who the fuck gave you permission to just wander in here!
 Watching me like some kind of animal.
 I’m not putting on a show here!”

 “They’re customers, Polpo.
 They brought a pelt and are ordering a full set of armor,”

 the woman, his sister, said with glee, but he continued to be in a terrible mood.

 “Brought a pelt?
 I bet it’s just another lousy—”

 Polpo began to say, suddenly swallowing his words upon seeing the material that Baldo carried with him.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 The man bolted up from his chair and grabbed the pelt from Baldo, examining its every aspect.
 He spread it out over his workbench, constantly turning it over and stretching it out.

 “Incredible…
 This is from a turned dwarva.
 The only damage is a straight, vertical cut on the stomach.
 It’s in such pristine condition.
 There’s hardly a scratch on it.
 Just incredible.”

 In the end, this was a pelt that would defy all attempts to remove the fur and tan it.
 Though the blood had been washed off, the fur was still stiff and bristly.
 The moment Baldo apologized for the state of the fur—

 “You damn fool!
 The day I let some pissant amateur touch this precious gem is the day I die!
 How could I let someone destroy this beauty with some piss-poor de-hairing job?
 This is perfect just as it is, that’s right.”

 Polpo spent a fair amount of time afterward examining every inch of the pelt’s underside.
 Every now and then would he stroke and whisper to the furs, There there, that’s a good girl.
 He then asked Baldo many questions.
 About the weapon he used.
 About whether or not he carried a shield.
 About the manner of enemy he faced.
 He even had Baldo swing a sword in front of him.

 “Alright.
 Give me one month.
 After one month, you come right back here gramps.
 I’ll be able to de-hair, treat, and tan it, but it’ll take me a month.
 I don’t know how much it’ll shrink beforehand.
 After a month, we’ll take fresh measurements and decide how to use the material from there.”

4

 Baldo and Godon handed Polpo’s sister the advance payment and then went back to their inn.
 Though they would have to wait in this place for a full month—in other words, forty-two days—neither of them minded.
 That would only give them the opportunity to taste all of the delicious foods that Clarsk could offer.
 Thus did Baldo find himself in need of some funds.
 The leather armor had costed him a pretty sum, and he had also parted with quite a number of coins to thank House Zarcos for providing him with the horse.
 Thinking about the days to come, Baldo felt his coin pouch was a little light for comfort.

 Just as Baldo had these thoughts did Julchaga suddenly appear.
 It seemed he had somehow managed to track Baldo down.
 He had been entrusted with a missive from the Earl of Lints.
 The first item of the letter was that Jourlan had apparently traveled to the Palzamic Kingdom.
 Both the earl and the margrave were there to welcome him.
 The second item was that Cardos Coendela had been summoned to appear before the King of Palzam.
 The official purpose of the summoning was to congratulate Cardos on his inauguration as great lord, to receive his vow of vassalage, and to confer a reward upon him for his meritorious service.
 He would naturally be questioned about his role in the plot to falsify the crown prince.
 The third item was that Jogg Woad had seemingly disappeared.
 The earl had no idea where he might have gone.
 The fourth item was that, should Baldo find himself in need of coin, he should simply ask Julchaga.

 None of this information was delivered by letter, but rather directly conveyed by Julchaga himself.
 The earl seemed to place an awful deal of trust in this lad, considering the infamy of his thieving exploits.

 His adopted son betrayed him and died a miserable death only recently.
 This man truly never learns,

 sighed Baldo inwardly.
 As he had this thought, however, he soon corrected himself.
 There is not a single man who completely trusts another.
 That Oswald boy surely had his his own gifts.
 Perhaps it was because of that lad’s unfortunate birth that his heart grew so twisted.
 Though he knew of this darkness did the Earl of Lints still try placing his trust in the boy.
 For without trust, one cannot grow.

 This Julchaga…
 Perhaps he truly will abandon his thieving ways.

 Baldo wrote a letter asking the earl to withdraw a certain amount of money and handed it to Julchaga, stamping it with his fingerseal and entrusting it to the young man before him.

“Julchaga” by Matajirou

5

 “You’re a big guy.
 Did you know that, gramps?”

 remarked Polpo as he took Baldo’s measurements.
 It appeared he was not taken aback by his height, but rather by the sheer mass of his bones and muscle.
 He would occasionally place a hand on his chin, appearing deep in thought.
 He would then look as if having a moment of inspiration, moving his hand all over Baldo’s body, getting a feel for something.

 Atop the workbench was the turned dwarva hide, beautifully tanned.
 So exquisite was the leather that Baldo could scarcely believe it once belonged to a kaejel.
 There was a tinge of blue in it.
 Baldo assumed it was dyed, but he could hardly imagine how one would manage to successfully dye such a thing.
 Yet before long, Baldo found himself witness to an unthinkable scene.

 After marking the measurements on the tanned leather with charcoal, Polpo took a leather knife and stabbed it into the material.
 Baldo was incredulous.
 He was aware how resistant kaejel pelts were to blades.
 He was painfully aware how difficult it was to cut through them.
 And yet the man was slicing out a pattern from the material as if working with mere horse or cowhide.
 Slowly, steadily, unwavering.
 He drew a curve with the knife and separated the leather into several parts.
 Finally did the armor start to take shape.

 It was at this moment Polpo let his nerves relax with a phew.
 Baldo too unwittingly let out a phew.
 Godon and Julchaga both let out a phew.
 All of them were utterly engrossed in the craft, forgetting to even breathe.

 After a short breather, Polpo resumed his work.
 He cut out a hole from the center of the piece.

 Upon arriving at this point, he placed the leather cutout over Baldo.
 Baldo’s head went through the hole in the center.
 Polpo molded the leather to fit all the way from Baldo’s back to his stomach.
 So that it would be a perfect fit.

 “Normal armor is split up into several different parts.
 Doing it that way gives you a more resistant product.
 It makes it hard to destroy the entire thing, makes it easy to move, and if there’s any damage, you can just replace the individual section.
 If we’re talking kaejel leather, though, then it makes no sense for you to cut it up into little pieces.
 I mean it’s stronger than metal armors after all, and it gets rid of all the unprotected spots in the cracks between the separate pieces.
 And if it does get damaged, I doubt you’ll be able to find any suitable materials to repair it anyway.
 Doing it this way will make it a smidge harder to move around, but I doubt that’ll affect you much with your way of fighting.
 It’s much more flexible than metal armor anyway, and the more you use it, the more flexible it should get.
 Normal swords won’t be able to leave a scratch on this thing.
 Which brings me to the chest region,”

 explained Polpo, drawing circles with his finger at that spot.

 “I’ve layered three sheets of leather at the chest to further improve the sturdiness.
 Those three sheets are all slightly different sizes, taken from different parts of the pelt.
 At the very middle is where I hid the stomach leather too.
 This way, you can be assured nothing is going to get past that.
 Well, I can say for sure that stitching this together is going to be a pain in the bum.”

 You are capable of stitching it!

 shouted Baldo with shock before he realized it.
 Simply cutting a shape out of a kaejel pelt was already a gargantuan undertaking.
 He simply could not fathom the idea of threading a sewing needle through one.
 However, Polpo misunderstood the reason for Baldo’s outburst.

 “Damn right.
 A half-assed stitching job would just ruin a beauty like this, though.
 That’s why I’m planning on using this.”

 Polpo brought over a jar resting in the corner of the room and removed the lid.
 Inside was a black, tar-like liquid.
 It smelled faintly of wild animal.

 “This here is chatra spider silk.
 I have forty-eight bundles in here.
 This is real strong stuff.
 This alone will be enough to hold the kaejel leather together.
 I reduced the extract I collected from the kaejel fur and let the silk marinate in it.
 That way the silk would adjust to the properties of the specific pelt.
 Using it wont harm the leather, and it won’t be weakened by the leather as well.
 After letting it sit for one more night, I’ll dry it off and coat the strands in wax.
 That’s so it’ll be more slippery and less prone to wear.”

 The silk produced by chatra spiders was exceptionally beautiful and tough.
 It was often used as a material in extremely high-class clothing.
 According to Polpa, chatra silk in a bunch was very resistant, even to iron, and nothing else could compare to its tensile strength.
 After being immersed in the kaejel pelt extract would it surely just as strong as the very kaejel leather itself.

 After spending a great deal of time fitting the leather around the contours of Baldo’s body, he told the three onlookers that it would be ready in three days, before promptly kicking them out of his workshop.

6

“That was manadite,2 wasn’t it,”

 remarked Julchaga on their way back from Polpo’s workshop.
 Baldo stopped in his tracks and stared at Julchara with a dumbfounded look.
 Manadite was the very metal used as a core material in the production of elgwordra.
 It was the hardest thing known to man.
 It would not be an understatement to call it the fruit of all of man’s wisdom.

 What was made of manadite?

 Baldo asked.

 “Gosh, what are you saying, boss?
 All of it was.
 The shears, the precision knife, the nails.
 I’m willing to bet even his sewing needle is at this point.
 Hard to believe, isn’t it.
 What a fortune this guy has.
 Oh, except for the tanning knife.
 That one was just made from normal steel.
 I heard his dad was a famous leather armorer back in the principality of Zalban, and it really shows.”

 Manadite was not a material that could simply be purchased.
 Not only was it exceedingly rare—naturally fetching an astronomical price upon discovery—the only metallurgists who even knew the process of refining such a material were all in the employ of various royalty in the midlands.
 When the principality of Zalban fell and the earl escaped to these lands, founding the new town of Clarsk, Polpo’s father likely followed along.
 It would make complete and utter sense for manadite tools to cut through kaejel leather.
 That said, for him to cut through the material with such speed and ease was a testament to his frightening degree of skill.
 Not to mention, a simple mark was all he needed to devise the shape in his head, cutting apart the leather accordingly.
 What superb craftsmanship.
 Baldo was captivated by the display.
 Simply cutting a piece of leather was enough to pull him into a state of dizzying euphoria, as if getting drunk on the finest of wines.

 “Oh, here it is, here it is!
 I introduce you two to tonight’s dinner,”

 announced Julchaga.
 He had arrived back in Clarsk a mere thirty days after leaving with Baldo’s letter.
 This meant he made the trip to Lints in fifteen short days.
 The lad’s ability to run long distances filled Baldo with incredulity every time.
 He delivered the money Baldo requested from the Earl of Lints and quickly led Baldo and Godon to a row of cheap inns located in a back alley.
 Through some manner of negotiation, he had managed to entrust their horses to a stable meant only for officials.
 He always led them to a different shop for each and every meal—who knows where he got this information.
 All of the places were cheap, and all of the food was beyond superb.
 Baldo was duly impressed by Julchaga’s thriftiness and resourcefulness, thus he entrusted the boy with a substantial amount of coin and put in him charge of their finances.
 For when they let Julchaga take the reins were their expenses somehow lower, yet their food somehow better.
 To make matters even more surprising, this was Julchaga’s first time to Clarsk, yet he was able to guide Baldo and Godon around the city as if he knew it like the back of his hand.
 Never once did he get lost.
 Julchaga was a man of frightening talent.

 As they approached the shop, they smelled the wonderful smell of grilled meat.
 It appeared they were grilling fowl.

 “You see this place?
 This is where we are going to get our hands on some corcordul.
 Hey chief, the three of us are new here!
 Meat, skin, giblets—we’ll take everything on the menu.
 Just keep ‘em coming!
 And a barrel of white plun wine!”

 The owner of the shop threw a number of ingredients on the grill, standing admist the rising smoke.
 All of the customers were outside under the open sky, sitting on chairs and with wooden boxes as makeshift tables, drinking alcohol and laughing amongst themselves.
 Julchaga impressively managed to secure chairs for them as well, arranging them in a calm, relaxing place.
 The owner came quickly after, placing a large plate on the box between them as well as a cask of wine with three small cups.
 Julchaga poured the wine into the cups with the movements of a seasoned regular and handed them to each person.

 “Cheers, boss.”

 Cheers, Baldo replied as he raised his cup, and the other two joined in unison.
 He took a great swig of the cloudy white wine.
 Incredible.
 Just how was this first drink already so good?
 Plun wine was generally a beautiful, clear drink, made by straining the transparent alcohol from the sludge-like portion that still contained white pieces of plun.
 Though this white wine likely hadn’t gone through that straining process, the pieces of plun were all incredibly fine.
 It was like drinking milk.
 It went down like silk.
 The owner came by again with meat this time and put it on the plate.

 “Wow!
 This sure looks good,”

 exclaimed Julchaga.
 It truly did.
 Baldo brought a piece to his mouth.
 The soot from the grill mixed with the fat of the fowl meat to release an utterly delectable aroma.
 It was delicious.
 The meat was tender and juicy, and it was the perfect size.
 It was the first time Baldo ever tried this particular fowl, yet why did the taste make him so nostalgic?

 “In the countries beyond the Orva, you see, apparently all of them eat this corcordul.
 I wonder if we’ll be seeing more of it in the frontier too,”

 said Julchaga, showing off his information-gathering prowess.
 Next to come out were the giblets.

 “Why, they are almost crunchy.
 What on earth is this?”

 “Taken a fancy to them, big guy?
 That would be the stomach lining.”

 “My!
 This one too has such richness.”

 “That one’s the heart.”

 Next came the tempting smell of burnt fat—the grilled skin.

 “Take this, you two.
 Squeeze on as much as you’d like,”

 said Julchaga, and he took out the eibo fruit he bought from a produce merchant only earlier, cutting it into halves and handing it to the two men.
 It was a type of citrus, possessing a sweet fragrant smell that delighted the senses.
 With the eibo juice, it was somehow even more delicious.
 Nearly unbelievably so.
 After that came grilled fowl legs, liver, spleen, and intestines, and with salt and eibo added to all of the above did they become nearly unrivaled delicacies.
 Baldo never tired of it.
 The three of them ate an incredible amount of meat in the end.
 Finally came the owner one last time, bringing them bowls of corcordul soup, boiled plun, and an egg, all on the house as thanks for their generous patronage.
 The white soup was sweet and had subtle notes of the giblets.
 Godon went to crack the egg into the soup, but Julchaga immediately reprimanded him.

 “What do you think you’re doing, big guy!
 That’s not what you’re supposed to do.
 The egg is for the plun.
 First you vigorously beat the egg.”

 Julchaga went first, and Baldo and Godon followed his example.
 Then he poured the egg mixture into the piping hot plun, mixing it once more.

 “Listen carefully now.
 Don’t go thinking this plun and egg is something to eat.
 It’s something you should drink,”

 he continued, proceeding to gulp down the plun-egg mixture.
 Baldo and Godon tried to mimic his actions.
 Godon in particular seemed to be especially curious about the corcordul egg itself.

 “These eggs seem so large and tasty.”

 “Not seems, big guy.
 They are tasty.
 The taste changes depending on what the corcordul was fed.
 Corcordul hens tend to lay six of these eggs every ten days.”

 “What majesty!
 How can an egg be so smooth and silky!
 This is amazing.
 Truly wondrous!”

 shouted Godon with emotion.
 Baldo was of the same opinion.
 Some distance away, the owner of the shop was busily grilling the meat, humming proudly to himself.

 It was at that moment a certain conversation between the customers at a nearby table entered the ears of the trio.
 It was of a certain piece of news—Polpo, the leather armorer, had been arrested for murder.

7

 All access to Polpo’s house had been restricted, and in front of it was his sister, fallen to the ground in a fit of tears.
 Though there were no officials present, there were a great deal of onlookers surrounding the scene.
 Julchaga stared at Polpo’s lamenting sister with a stern look and whispered into Godon’s ear,

 “There’s something I want to check.
 Sorry, big guy, but would you mind distracting everyone here for a sec.”

 Sure thing, Godon said without entirely knowing what to do.
 That was when he noticed a passerby yelling at a small child nearby, having apparently been bumped into by the lad.
 Finding his chance, Godon approached the man and shouted,

 “What is this!
 How dare you bully such a small child at your age!”

 Though his voice had always been loud, when he angrily shouted with his stomach was he even more thunderous and bellowing.
 All eyes looked toward Godon, and in this moment did Julchaga sneak craftily onto the roof, removing a panel before dropping inside.
 Godon lectured the man for a good deal about what it meant to be a proper human.
 During all of this, Julchaga exited the building, thus did Godon finally conclude,

 “I’m warning you now!
 Be on your best behavior!”

 before letting the man go.
 The trio then spoke to Polpo’s sister, learning the details of what happened, and told her to not lose hope before being on their way.

8

 The details of the incident were apparently as follows:
 The sister, who worked and took up residence at a produce shop some distance away, had visited the house to deliver Polpo his breakfast.
 When she unlocked the door and stepped inside, however, was she greeted by the grisly sight of a corpse.
 Polpo was asleep next to his workbench, something not at all uncommon for the man.
 His sister shrieked with terror, waking up her brother and causing the neighbors to rush over.
 So too did a city official arrive.
 The corpse turned out to belong to a man by the name of Tomas, a local horse goods maker, and he was known to drink often with Polpo, getting into many a fight.
 From the dead Tomas’ chest protruded a tanning knife, the one that Polpo always used.
 Blood dyed the workbench a vivid red.

 The official insisted that the two men must have gotten into a quarrel after drinking, resulting in Polpo stabbing Tomas in a fit of fury.
 Polpo’s sister insisted this could not be the case, for her brother would never allow for his workbench and tools to be dirtied with blood, yet her pleas fell on deaf ears.
 Julchaga told the two that there was something he needed to check, and he disappeared for a brief period before returning.

 “The key to this incident was that the door was locked.
 The workshop Polpo works in is owned by Marganen.
 He was the one who introduced Polpo to this shop in the first place as well.
 No doubt he has a matching key.
 I found out the bar where Tomas was drinking last night.
 The person he was drinking with was an assistant of Marganen’s, that criminal looking fellow.”

 “Why did you need to infiltrate Polpo’s house, Julchaga?”

 “Oh, right.
 Thanks for the help earlier, big guy.
 It worked like a charm.
 The manadite tools were still there.
 The kaejel leather was nowhere to be seen.
 That should clear up everything for you, I imagine.”

 “Wait, wait.
 I can’t say it does, lad.
 What do you mean?”

 “My bad.
 I accidentally left out a couple things.
 Marganen has two sons.
 His eldest is set to inherit the shop, yet the second son is a leather armorer.
 Not only that.
 According to the laws of this land, murderers are branded as daelon.3
 Daelon are not allowed to possess land or assets.
 As such, when one becomes a daelon, all of their possessions are sold.
 And well, the proceeds of this sale go to the lord of the land.
 The length of their sentence is shortened depending on the amount.
 I’d bet a good sum that Marganen’s looking to acquire Polpo and his estate.
 That way, he’ll not only get his hands on the equipment, but all of that knowledge and experience will be his for the taking.”

 Having listened to the explanation thus far, Baldo was able to see what Julchaga was insinuating as well.
 Marganen likely desired the manadite tools for his son.
 Polpo’s skills and knowledge were surely enticing as well.
 There was one thing that didn’t quite add up, however.
 It was the kaejel leather.
 Just where did it disappear to?

 “Huh?
 Don’t be silly, boss.
 Think about it.
 It’s kaejel leather.
 Not only that—it’s the pristine pelt of a turned dwarva turned into leather by a master craftsman.
 That wily old Marganen made off with it no doubt in the middle of the deed.
 In fact, that’s probably what drove him to commit murder in the first place.”

 A kaejel pelt truly was a treasure among treasures.
 Not only that, the process of refining such a pelt was by no stretch of the imagination an easy one.
 Baldo hadn’t thought the pelt would be that particularly valuable.
 Having heard this confession, Julchaga simply stared at Baldo with pure disbelief, mouth agape.

 “H-H-H-How clueless can you be!
 Talk some sense into him for me, big guy.”

 “Well, surely it isn’t valuable enough to commit murder over, right?”

 “Gods above!
 You too?
 These two are a piece of work!
 I never dared believe there could be such ignorance in the world!
 Listen here.
 For something like that, even five-hundred thousand geil would be a steal.
 In fact, money isn’t even the issue here.
 There is not a single member of the royalty who would not want to get their hands on it, and simply by having such a commodity pass through a shop would it drive up that shop’s prestige.
 Well, this time it didn’t make any outward ripples, but you can see how many people have been secretly trying to get their hands on it from the shadows.
 It would be perfect as a bribe too.
 You can imagine how big it would be.
 We’re talking top officials here.
 Over there in Pacra, you guys get a bunch of kaejel pelts, right?
 What do you do with them?”

 House Telsia killed anywhere from ten to even over twenty kaejel a year.
 The fights against these kaejel were cruel and bitter, thus were the pelts often riddled with scars and damage, but they still raked in a fairly large number of them regardless.
 These spoils of battle were thrown in a warehouse and any of the knights were allowed to do with them what they wished.
 As the furs were terribly hard to process, they were often layered over normal armor or attached beneath it.
 Although kaejel hides were undoubtedly sturdy, as they could not be effectively turned into full-body armor, metal armor was still more prized.

 “I feel like… I feel like there has been a terrible misunderstanding.
 I just want to be clear, boss.
 You do realize that it would take just two or three of those leather scraps to finance an entire set of metal armor, right?
 And I’m talking the good, expensive kind.
 My goodness.
 Jhan Dessa Roh!4
 This level of ignorance must surely constitute a crime, no?
 Right, that settles it.
 I won’t be able to sleep at night if I don’t come along with you on your journey, boss,”

 announced Julchaga in grandiose fashion after mumbling to himself.

 “It seems they are going to stop taking witness testimonies tomorrow afternoon.
 So what’s the plan, boss?”

 Baldo closed his eyes, deep in thought.
 It was then something came to mind.
 Though there were surely wrongdoers in this town, the vast majority should be capable of understanding reason and enacting justice.
 Such was proof of the lord’s virtuous character.
 Thus he arrived at a conclusion—he would trust the city officials to behave virtuously.

 We shall resolve this in accordance with the law.
 Let us head over to the city office now.

 To this, Godon and Julchaga both nodded.

9

 “I see.
 So you’re saying that three of your shop’s assistants as well as the victim went to Polpo’s house to drink, and the three assistants left first?”

 “T-That’s right.
 Though a skilled craftsman he may be, Polpo has a famously short temper.
 I never would have thought he was capable of this.
 It seems he finally gave in to sin.
 Please be magnanimous in your judgment.”

 The one giving his testimony to the official was the owner of the armor and tools shop, Marganen.
 Though appearing to speak in Polpo’s defense, he continued to pull the man further into a damning situation.
 He had even prepared a false witness to verify his claims—this man truly was the embodiment of wretchedness.
 Having heard this testimony from the next room over, Baldo sighed endlessly in exasperation.

 “All of his stuff is going to go up for sale if he’s convicted, but I doubt a craftsman like him has much to his name.”

 “There’s nothing that can be done about that.
 His old second-hand tools are sure to go for a pittance, but I’ve decided to make up for this matter by purchasing all of his belongings myself, several times whatever the price ends up being.”

 “How commendable.”

 The official who was conducting the interrogation was doing his best to drag it out, according to their prior arrangements.
 Julchaga would be arriving at any moment now.
 The door then swung open.
 The official came to give the lead investigator the relevant information.

 “Is that right?
 Got it.
 Marganen, there’s someone here to meet you.
 Lord Baldo Rhowen, please come in.”

 Baldo did as he was told and went into the room.
 Although the gazes of the two men met, the owner didn’t flinch in the slightest.
 Certainly, a wily fox was he.

 “Lord Baldo Rhowen here is on record saying he entrusted a kaejel pelt to Polpo.
 He notified me of this, thus I searched Polpo’s shop for the item in question, however it was nowhere to be found.
 Does this ring a bell?”

 “I can attest to the fact that this man had with him a kaejel pelt.
 I was the one who introduced him to Polpo initially, believing Polpo would be capable of refining it.
 How peculiar that it is nowhere to be found.”

 “That is to say you have no idea where it might be?”

 “That is correct.
 I do not.”

 “I recall your shop has no shortage of leather that is currently being made into armor.
 Do you have anything similar to the item in question, perhaps?”

 “Y-You jest.
 This is kaejel leather, not to mention the pristine pelt of a turned dwarva.
 I have never before seen such a thing or anything even remotely like it in my many years of business.”

 “I see.
 That makes sense.
 What do you make of this then?”

 At that moment, the door swung open and Julchaga walked in alongside a city official.
 In his hands, he held the kaejel leather, not yet sewn together.
 The official that came in with him said,

 “After searching the shop, we came across this kaejel leather.
 It was located in a hidden storage found in a remote location on Marganen’s property.
 We also found there a key to Polpo’s house.
 This Julchaga that Lord Rhowen introduced us to has an exceptionally keen nose.”

 The owner of the shop was at this point white as a sheet.
 It was then another official came in as well.

 “Per your instructions, we have interrogated the assistant in Marganen’s employ, and he confessed to the murder.
 He insisted the murder was an accident, however, and he took the body to Polpo’s workshop and stuck a knife into the corpse following their employer’s instruction.
 A fight broke out, and were it not for Lord Zarcos’ assistance, I fear we would not have been able to apprehend him.”

 “Marganen, allow me to ask you one more time.
 Any further lies will do you no good.”

 Marganen sat there in silence, his head drooped over in resignation.

10

 The shop assistant who killed Tomas was sentenced to receive twenty lashes and would do hard labor, serving as a daelon for ten years.
 It was a terrible punishment.
 If not careful, twenty lashes was enough to kill a man.
 The pain would surely stay with him for many a year.
 Marganen himself was fined a huge sum.
 In the process, it came to light that he had been underpaying Polpo since the very start, thus was he forced to compensate him for the remainder immediately.

 The incident did not end there.
 Marganen’s eldest son attacked Baldo and his companions with a large number of his underlings.
 There were fifteen attackers, yet Godon was able to make short work of them.
 As this action was seen to be holding the decision of the city government in contempt, it was ruled to be a grave crime, and Marganen was yet again fined a massive amount of money.
 In the end, the man was unable to shoulder the two fines, thus all of his assets were seized, and his family was driven from the city.

 Polpo and his sister learned from the officials of the trio’s involvement in the resolution of the incident, and they showered the three with endless gratitude.
 Polpo worked his magic, and it was on that day a miraculous set of armor was born.
 Though originally it was only supposed to take three days, the massive undertaking required seven in the end.
 Polpo insisted that he didn’t need any payment, so Baldo instead handed his sister an adequate amount of compensation.

 Baldo and his two companions initially planned to set off once more on their journey the day after receiving the armor, however they were suddenly visited by an unexpected figure.
 It was Earl Hadol Zolarce, the lord of Clarsk two generations prior.
 This was a legendary figure, the one who built up such a town from nothing in a single lifetime, yet he was a shockingly humble man.
 Julchaga would tell the two later that he was currently eighty-four or eighty-five years old.
 He was short and thin.
 Though covered in wrinkles, he still had a rosy complexion, and his skin had a certain vigor to it.
 He did not have much in the way of hair on the top of his head, but growing below his temples was a luxurious white mane.
 The area around his mouth and his chin were covered in white hair as well.
 It was as if the man was covered in snow.

 “To think the very Bulwark Knight and Galdegarsh Gwera are both residing in my humble town.
 It came to my attention that you will be setting off come morrow.
 Thus I took it upon myself to visit, for I knew I just had to meet you both.
 I hope you do not mind,”

 said the man, his genial voice emitting a friendly warmth.
 This is the first time I have felt such raw sincerity from a person, thought Baldo with wonder.
 It was as if being caressed by a gentle passing breeze.
 A breeze formed from one’s upright character.
 This was the aura of a man who stripped from himself all of the arrogance and self-righteousness that oft accompanied man in his old age.
 Baldo guessed the two knights at his side were also tremendously skilled, yet they merely stood behind the old man without a word, displaying not an ounce of pressure or intimidation.
 Following a few pleasantries said the former lord,

 “Then allow me to give you a small parting gift.
 May your travels be smooth,”

 handing the trio a cloak each.
 Julchaga was naturally not here at the moment, thus Baldo accepted the cloak on his behalf.
 Having said it was possible for him to report back to the Earl of Lints, Julchaga left Clarsk for Lints on the very same day as Polpo’s acquittal.
 Though the cloaks were not particularly garish, it was a good, durable item
 Baldo had a strange feeling.

 Well then.
 This hospitality is truly more than one would expect.
 Not to mention, Godon is himself a lord, I am but a wandering knight with no fief, and Julchaga is of low birth.
 And yet all of us were given cloaks of the same quality.

 On top of this question came yet another source of confusion, leading Baldo to form a theory.
 His second confusion was as follows:
 Why had Marganen’s misdeeds and the actions of his thuggish assistant not come under any scrutiny, and why had Polpo been so readily captured and accused of committing a crime?
 It was Baldo’s guess that this former lord had similarly felt the incident was suspicious upon hearing of the events that had transpired and looked further into it.
 It turned out there was a minor official who had received bribes from Marganen.
 It took some time to look into and resolve the problem.
 The former lord likely wished to meet Baldo and Godon, of course, but he additionally wanted to express his gratitude.
 For Earl Zolarce himself to appear was an already ample display of sincerely, yet the fact that he brought equal gifts for the three of them showed the depth of his character.

 I see.
 Now this is a man among men,

 thought Baldo.
 In other words, the former lord wished to convey this:

It was because of you three that an innocent craftsman was spared.
We were able to punish a wicked merchant and bring a corrupt official to justice.
I thank you.
Though you have witnessed the results of our carelessness, please do not let it shape your judgment of this town.

 Naturally, however, this man could not phrase it in such a way that would imply the current lord of this town was to blame.
 Thus did he gift the trio cloaks.
 Though Baldo understood all of this, he did not know how best to respond.
 As he frowned, thinking of a reply, Godon instead said with a brilliant smile,

 “To tell you the truth, I’ve never been terribly fond of the boiled plun that people in this area often eat.
 Yet the plun I tried in this town was wonderful.
 When eaten alongside the oily t’zarlga in particular, it was a taste that defied description.”

 Upon hearing such a frank response, Earl Zolarce too relaxed his expression and replied,

 “Is that so!
 So you’ve developed a taste for it?”

 “That goes without saying.
 And after eating a great amount of grilled corcordul, what an experience it was to try eggs mixed in boiled plun!”

 “Is that so!”

 “Were you aware?
 One is not supposed to eat plun and eggs, but rather meant to drink it!”

 “Heavens!
 I never knew such a thing.
 What a marvelous way to do it, however.
 Hah-hah-hah!
 Plun and corcordul are two of this town’s most prized staples.
 I am ever so happy to hear you were able to enjoy everything we have to offer.
 Delightful, delightful!”

 The three men all laughed heartily.
 The nearby knights joined in as well.

 In the distant past, among the First Ones, it was House Mit and House Iyecota who settled these lands after searching for a suitable place to grow plun.
 Though neither of those families still remained now, their legacy of plun production became deeply rooted in the traditions of this place, and eventually the greater region of Excela came into being.
 Though the methods of producing high-quality plun were still passed down by the lord of Excela, it was said there were none that actually put such methods into practice, for it was a complicated and lengthy process.
 Earl Zolarce heard of this tradition from the lord as well and spent many years providing instruction and guidance to the villages around his territory, finally yielding a superbly delicious plun only in recent days.

 Before coming to Excela, Baldo had never heard of this peculiar grain called plun.
 Naturally, he had never tried it either.
 In Excela, boiled plun was more commonplace than wheat bread, thus had Baldo eaten it on many occasions once he arrived, yet the color was brown and the taste difficult for Baldo to get used to.
 He was simply not fond of the food.
 Yet the plun he tried in Clarsk was magnificent.
 It went incredibly well with both fish and meat.
 Eating such foods alongside plun introduced Baldo to an entirely new world of experiences.
 He was glad to have stopped here.
 Surely were there more incredible delicacies that awaited him.
 To live, one must eat.
 Thus to eat is to live.
 Even on this journey to die an animal’s death was he unable to stop eating.
 If I’m going to die eventually, I might as well continue journeying forward, looking for delicious food until the end, thought Baldo.

“Baldo Rhowen” by Matajirou

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is fiction. Rice mixed with raw egg is not a drink. Again, I would like to reiterate. Rice mixed with raw egg is not a drink.

  1. rice
  2. holy hard-silver
  3. criminal
  4. How could it be?
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