Eight days after their departure from Clarsk found the duo in the domain of Majouests.
Located in a stretch of plains surrounded by mountains, there was a larger town that housed the lord’s manor and six villages around it.
It was very similar in layout to Meyzia, the lands Godon Zarcos governed.
Or rather, used to govern before wandering the lands on a carefree journey alongside Baldo.
According to the hearsay in Clarsk, the lord of Majouests, Alagwed Enziah, ruled over the land with a capable hand, and his subjects enjoyed peace.
Upon stepping foot into this domain for himself, however, Baldo felt as if there was a certain sense of freshness missing from the air.
Regardless, he had no choice but to visit the main town of Majouests.
For he had promised Julchaga to wait for him there at an inn.
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.
As they entered the first village, the two came across the sight of a tax official collecting fees from a citizen of the domain.
This citizen, likely a woodcutter by the look of things, held a metal axe in his hands.
This axe was currently being seized by the official, however, as he could apparently not afford his taxes.
For a woodcutter to possess a metal axe was a testament to the prosperity of these lands.
At the same time, seeing the oppressive way in which a man was being stripped of the tools of his trade gave a sense of the decay of governance.
It was a rather paradoxical thing to witness.
After having his subordinate beat up the pleading woodcutter, the official looked toward Baldo and Godon and said,
“Travelers, I take it.
All those who pass through Majouests are responsible for a hundred geil toll, per person.
A fat lie, thought Baldo.
Ordinary folk would never be able to afford such a sum.
This man was surely asking an exorbitant price of his own accord, seeing the two of them ride horses and wear good sets of armor.
Baldo was skeptical such a toll even existed in the first place.
If there was, it surely wouldn’t be the role of a tax official making the rounds to enforce it.
Yet Baldo paid this “toll” for the two of them regardless.
He then asked the official for proof of payment.
“We don’t have that.”
That’s preposterous; I’ve never heard of a toll system that didn’t offer proof of payment, said Baldo to which the man shouted,
You mean to disobey the laws our lord put in place?”
placing his hand on his sword hilt in menacing fashion.
Incredulous at seeing such a childish attempt at intimidation, Baldo narrowed his eyes and said, What a courageous man you are, to draw a sword against two knights.
Experiencing such murderous intent from Baldo was apparently enough for the man to reevaluate his actions from a more levelheaded perspective.
For although this tax official was atop a horse and with weapon at his side, there wasn’t an ounce of martial bearing in his countenance.
His subordinates too were all without horses and equipped only with wooden poles.
With two indomitable knights like Godon and Baldo their foes, they stood not the faintest chance.
There were no other officials in this town to come to his aid either.
I’ll make an exception just this once and write up a receipt for you two,”
he stammered, putting up a front, and wrote on a scrap of wood shavings words to the effect of the payment, handing it to them.
Baldo glanced at the receipt and forced the tax official to write the amount of money and his name as well.
The official asked Baldo for his name, and Baldo answered him.
It was then Baldo and Godon parted with the official and headed toward the town.
“I’d say it was about two years ago, when his lordship stopped leaving his manor much.”
“All the officials started throwing their weight around and terrorizing the people at about the same time.”
“His lordship’s younger brother is infirm as well, and his loyal retainers passed away one after the other.”
“There’s a rumor you see, that it’s the curse of the Whiteshroud King.”
As there was a gants in town, the two decided to take up lodging there and asked about the state of things while taking their meals.
I swear I’ve heard talk of a “white shroud” before, but where? thought Baldo for a moment before the answer suddenly came to him.
It referred to gyelganos.1
Which meant the name Whiteshroud King would imply this was the “king of the gyelganos.”
Do gyelganos appear in this area? he asked, to which the response came,
No, you’ve got it all wrong.
The Whiteshroud King is a horse.
A wild one at that.
It’s the ruler of the horses, leading a huge herd of ‘em.
It’s an incredible beast I’ll have you know—fast, huge, white, and terribly clever.
It must be possessed by a gyelganos, is what all the folks ‘round here say.”
A little more than a year ago, Lord Enziah caught a beautiful mare from the wild, wishing to give his wife a steed.
That mare turned out to be the mate of the Whiteshroud King.
The legions of the Whiteshroud King would come to haunt the lands surrounding Lord Enziah’s castle ever since, causing no shortage of harm.
In addition, Majouests imported their salt and metal goods from the domains to the north, however all caravans sent there by Lord Enziah would be immediately attacked by the Whiteshroud King.
To make matters worse, ever since then, those who most closely served the lord at his side all passed away one after the other from mysterious afflictions and accidents.
Even the accidental deaths were said to be caused by hallucinations, leading all to believe it was the work of a curse.
Lord Enziah’s younger brother too was ill, never stepping foot outside since then.
Thus did the domain officials start doing as they wished, rejoicing in the lack of supervision.
In other words, the domain of Majouests was currently decaying under the resent of the Whiteshroud King.
It would not be long, however, before the lord of these lands finally reversed this decay and righted all wrongs.
This was what the commonfolk believed.
“Please, please, have another cup,”
said the noblewoman, and the female attendant filled Baldo’s cup to the brim with alcohol accordingly.
Things have certainly taken a strange turn, mused Baldo.
The day after staying at the gants, a messenger from Lord Enziah visited the duo and passed them an invitation to the lord’s castle.
This castle was situated in the mountains north of the town—an ancient, resplendent building.
Baldo and Godon were at this moment being treated to a feast by Lord Enziah and his wife.
The lady was a trim, beautiful woman.
However, as she poured the two their first cup of alcohol did Baldo inadvertently catch a whiff of her breath and think,
What a lascivious, sickly-sweet scent.
Perhaps she was not the virtuous gentlewoman she appeared to be.
Her husband, Lord Enziah, seemed bizzare as well.
Both Baldo and Godon were knights, not to mention Godon was the current head of an illustrious family.
It was not at all out of character for these two figures to be invited to a castle like this.
Yet, peculiarly, Lord Enziah knew nothing of Baldo or House Zarcos.
Why would one invite every self-proclaimed knight to their castle, not to mention those with no attendants in tow?
Another point Baldo considered strange was how the lord asked nothing of the state of other lands, even though they were travelers.
All he inquired about was the place of their origin as well as their destination, with a somewhat frigid demeanor.
The food and drink provided were all well-made and good, but Baldo could not relax and enjoy it from the bottom of his heart.
The strangeness of the atmosphere affected him too greatly, and after some time did Lord Enziah finally entreat the two to stay at the castle.
The first thing Baldo learned while staying at the castle was of the existence of separate factions among the retainers.
There were likely two of them.
All of the retainers were split into these two factions, bitterly despising the other.
The first was the domain lord’s faction.
The other was not clear to Baldo.
The next thing he learned was that both Godon and he were the subjects of Lord Enziah’s ire.
The gaze he gave the two was not one of cordiality.
Rather, it was one of animosity.
During supper on the second night of their stay did the lord suddenly say,
“Have you perhaps found my weakness, Lord Rhowen?”
giving Baldo quite the shock.
Without angering, however, Baldo replied,
This castle is of marvelous construction.
It is built on ideal terrain, and has ready access to water.
With enough food reserves, I imagine it will not fall easily to enemy attack.
The lord, hearing this, inexplicably broke out into a bout of hysterical laughter.
As if possessed by a fit of madness.
A caravan was sent out on the third day of Baldo’s stay, but it was ambushed by the Whiteshroud King in the northern mountains.
Leading dozens of horses, the Whiteshroud King routed the procession, causing all of the wares to be lost to the valley below and leading a great deal of soldiers and workers to their deaths.
Having seen the caravan at their departure, he knew the group was being protected by two knights and twenty soldiers.
According to the news, both of the knights had perished.
It was said one of them was kicked to death by the very Whiteshroud King itself.
The creature had apparently struck when the caravan was treading along a treacherous mountain path, ambushing them by rushing down an incredibly steep cliff.
Judging from these exploits, this was a horse of truly devilish intellect.
As Lord Enziah was in poor spirits, Baldo ate supper with Godon alone.
On the fourth day, Baldo took Godon with him to see the northern mountains.
He had heard these parts were claimed by the Whiteshroud King as its territory, thus he came to see the creature with his own eyes.
He was told that the king would not appear before a large military, but only when there were one or two present.
Thus came the Whiteshroud King.
Away from his herd he galloped through the fields.
Baldo and Godon stood atop a high point to stare down at the horse.
It was a stallion with a size the likes of which Baldo had never before seen.
The horn that protruded from its head was also thick and long.
Baldo had thought it might’ve been a kaejel, but that was seemingly not the case.
He had heard the horse was pure white, yet there was a bit of gray mixed in.
It was astonishingly fast, with a running gait both limber and free.
Such a magnificent horse was not common in this world.
It tore through the overgrown field beneath the overcast sky, looking almost as if a ghostly specter.
Like a fish swimming through the grass.
What a majestic creature.
Like the moonfish yweitan,
the thought occurred to Baldo.
It was a beautiful creature.
And at the same time, in it was a beautiful sorrow, a beautiful rage, he thought.
En route back to the castle, a frightful phenomenon occurred.
While riding over a path along the cliff edge, a chill ran through Baldo’s spine, and the path before him seemed to wriggle and writhe about.
Baldo stopped his horse, yet seeing how the strange sensation had immediately subsided, he once more had it continue.
The chestnut horse refused to heed the reigns, however.
As he was about to command the horse more sternly this time did the words suddenly come back to him,
“If you find you must contend against nohgelga,2 and noh’el3, then it’s quite simple.
You must see through the truth and strengthen your will.
If you can do that, you will find there is nothing to it.”
The words of that mysterious old herbalist.
Baldo had an inexplicable feeling that those words had been given to him for this very moment.
Atop the horse yet, Baldo closed his eyes and took a deep, deep breath.
Godon said something from behind, but Baldo paid him no heed.
After a moment, his heart was calm.
The wind that blew up from the left was refreshing.
To the left was the edge of the cliff.
The wind was coming from the valley below.
Then this wind that brushed against his face—just where did it come from?
There was supposed to be a path that stretched forward in front of them.
Yet there was a wind that blew against him from ahead, coming from below.
He opened his eyes.
There certainly was a path before him.
A narrow one.
Baldo drew his sword.
The ancient sword radiated a pale turquoise glow.
He took a great inhale and brandished the blade ahead of him.
Down diagonally from the right.
Then down diagonally from the left.
As he did, the path before him disappeared as if an illusion, revealing a new path to the right instead.
Had Baldo forced the horse to fun any further would both he and the steed have fallen to the treacherous depths below.
He would have certainly perished.
What on earth!
S-Senior, what just happened?
I could have sworn the path continued straight.”
Baldo did not answer his question.
He glared into the void before him.
There’s something here.
This was the premonition born from Baldo’s intuition.
Tightly gripping the ancient sword in his right hand, he shouted in his soul,
Lend me your power!
As he did, he suddenly began to see the hazy visage of something floating in the air.
White, faint, and swaying in place, it looked from its shape as if it was human, yet as if it wasn’t.
A phantom! he spat, slicing through its misty form with the ancient sword.
Though met with a strange, indescribable sensation, it was a sensation that assured he had cut through the thing nonetheless.
This mysterious thing seemed to shiver in the air, and then disappeared into the far reaches of the horizon.
Toward the castle of Lord Enziah.
That was a gyelganos.
There was no mistaking it, thought Baldo.
Though Baldo was a man dedicated to facts and reason, he believed in the existence of these fantastical, mysterious beings called gyelganos.
Why, Elzerra Telsia himself talked of meeting such a creature before.
Elzerra was the lord of Pacra three generations prior as well as Baldo’s second mentor and the man who gave him everything he had today.
He was not a man to tell fanciful stories.
This was what he said:
“Gyelganos cannot see humans.
Most of their bodies reside in a different, otherworldly place.
If one of these gyelganos possess feelings of great resentment toward someone—or conversely feelings of great amicability—then they will drag their existences to this world, turning their forms visible.”
Then what about the gyelganos they just met?
Borrowing the power of the ancient sword allowed Baldo to glimpse a faint outline of the creature’s form, yet without the sword would he have likely gone unaware.
It appeared Godon never saw the thing from start to finish.
That supposedly meant this gyelganos held no feelings of immense animosity.
Why did it attempt to kill him then?
That illusion was without question the work of this gyelganos.
Yet the idea of coercing them to fall from the cliff by twisting their path reeked terribly of the machinations of man.
Perhaps it was the through the doings of this gyelganos that so many of the retainers in the service of House Enziah met an untimely end over the past year.
Yet retainer or commonfolk, this was a distinction created purely by men and for men—how could gyelganos understand such a thing?
None of it made any sense.
Everything that happened in this place seemed to defy reason.
Baldo reflected more on this matter even after returning to his room, when he then received a notice that a companion of his had come to meet him.
It appeared Julchaga had finally arrived.
And not a second too soon, thought Baldo as he invited the lad in, explaining to him everything that had taken place.”
I think I got the gist.
My gut’s telling me it mainly has something to do with this castle.
I get the feeling a little digging around will yield some surprising results.”
Baldo and Godon were forbidden from exploring any off-limits areas in the castle, and the security around such areas was strangely tight.
I imagine Julchaga will have no problems with that, however, thought Baldo.
“I’m terribly sorry to hear the news about Sir Godon Zarcos,”
said Lord Enziah to Baldo as the two trotted atop their horses side-by-side.
Baldo responded that Lord Zarcos was a truly robust fellow, and that such problems were certainly rare.
On the day that Julchaga arrived—in other words, the day that Baldo and Godon were attacked by the gyelganos—the two received a notice from Lord Enziah.
In it, he explained that they were going to set out the next day to eliminate the Whiteshroud King, and that the two were invited to watch the spectacle.
Baldo had Godon feign sickness and stay behind at the castle while he went alone.
Julchaga stayed at the castle as well in order to “tend to the illness.”
Many of the knights and soldiers would go on this expedition to hunt the Whiteshroud King, thus would the castle be free for Julchaga to search at his leisure.
“This will be the grave of that pestiferous demon-spawn.”
Lord Enziah looked down off the edge of the cliff next to him, and Baldo started to understand his intentions.
Sheer cliffs lined both sides of the valley below, and it led to a dead-end.
He meant to lure the horse into this location and seal off the entrance, giving it no room for escape.
“Lord Rhowen, after having suffered the loss of yet another shipment not too long ago, I have finally exhausted the limits of my patience.
That animal has surely cursed me as well, the reason why my retainers meet mysterious deaths one after the other.
I will put an end to all of this today.”
It was evident from the situation that he was utterly serious.
There were many boulders stacked atop the cliffs, and there were a great deal of men there awaiting orders.
In the valley below were there a huge amount of bushes.
There were twenty or so barrels of oil as well.
Oil was an incredibly precious commodity in the frontier.
All of the archers were equipped with plentiful normal and fire-tipped arrows.
This was certainly quite the show of determination.
Yet this area was too close to the castle.
Baldo was also sure this kind of place was too obvious a trap.
He was doubtful a creature as intelligent and discerning as the Whiteshroud King would be so easily led to such a location.
When Baldo commented as such, Lord Enziah’s expression contorted into a smile.
“That monster will certainly come.
Have a look.”
A single young horse was pulled into the ravine below and tied to stakes.
The bindings that kept it in place were terribly cruel.
Its front legs were both thoroughly tied to one stake, and its hind legs were both thoroughly tied to another.
After finishing this work, all of the soldiers save for one started to climb up a rope ladder to scale the cliffside.
That single solider who stayed behind pulled out a whip.
A whip designed for executions.
They can’t mean to—!
thought Baldo, but his fears came true.
“Do it, Jagos!”
commanded Lord Enziah in a powerful voice.
This lone soldier named Jagos struck the horse fiercely with the weapon.
The young animal let out an anguished cry.
Its hair was gray with a hint of white, somehow reminiscent to the colors of the Whiteshroud King.
“That is the Whiteshroud King’s child.
We originally captured it first, using it as bait to draw out and capture the Whiteshroud King’s mate after.
My wife needed a steed, you see.
That mare was a horribly unruly wretch, however, throwing my wife off its back and injuring her.
Naturally we put it down immediately.
It was after that the Whiteshroud King began to terrorize us.
That thing has the ears of a monster.
I do not doubt for a second that it will hear the screams of its little girl.
Keep at it, Jagos!
Again, again, again!”
he continued to yell, his face becoming evil incarnate.
To knights were wild horses a thing to treasure.
Should a good horse appear, they would tame it and make it their steed.
Horses raised in captivity would become weaker and less vigorous, thus was there a need to introduce blood from wild horses on occasion.
A land teeming with healthy, frolicking horses was a land of paradise for the knight.
A man capable of such atrocity was no longer a knight.
Soon, Baldo could no longer bear to listen to the ceaseless, pitiful cries of the filly and was about to remonstrate with the lord when there suddenly came a sound.
The sound of powerful, heavy hooves.
The Whiteshroud King had arrived.
He carried with him an indomitable force and speed.
None of his herd were with him.
He came alone.
None of his herd were likely able to keep up.
“Drop the boulders!”
screeched the lord.
The soldiers pushed the rocks over the edge, piling up and blocking off the entrance.
The Whiteshroud King did not spare the boulders so much as a glance as he rushed to the side of his bound daughter.
“Strike now, Jagos!”
Hearing Lord Enziah’s command, the single soldier in the valley raised his large curved blade.
The blade fell without mercy, cutting off the filly’s head.
The Whiteshroud King roared into the sky.
A wailing roar, of endless grief and fury.
Horses were smart creatures.
The Whiteshroud King understood just as well as any human would what was happening before its eyes, as well as who was to blame.
The horse’s lamenting wail shook Baldo to the core.
He found himself shouting with grief in unison with the creature’s agony before he realized it.
Thus did he react slowly to what came next.
Two of Lord Enziah’s soldiers came from behind and thrust their spears with all of their power into Baldo’s steed.
The chestnut horse squealed in pain and jumped forward, falling from the edge of the precipice.
Baldo looked back the moment he fell, and it was then he understood exactly what happened.
Strangely enough, he had managed to catch a clear glimpse of Lord Enziah’s expression at that moment, at that briefest of moments.
The man watched Baldo plummet to his death, his face dripping with ecstasy.
With Baldo still perched atop, the chestnut horse twisted as it fell.
It scratched at the side of the cliff with its hooves.
Scraping, scraping, countless times.
Baldo clung desperately to its back.
Then came the impact.
He was ripped apart from the horse as if blown away as he struck the ground, back-first.
This was normally enough to kill a man.
Baldo, however, not only had on a durable set of armor woven from turned dwarva leather, but inside the back portion was padding made from dwarva hair and stomach hide.
Baldo stood up and quickly ran to his horse.
It had died.
Its neck had broken on impact.
Both hooves on its front legs were torn to shreds, mangled and bloody.
It had used these hooves against the cliff side, desperately trying to slow its descent.
Its hind legs too were both twisted in impossible angles.
This horse had probably extended its hind legs as far down as possible on impact.
So that Baldo would be spared if only slightly from the impact.
After it landed, its neck collided with a boulder, snapping the bone and killing it instantly.
Baldo threw his arms around the tragic corpse and sobbed.
Ahh, ahh, he wailed without end.
How long had it been since he last shed such violent tears?
He could not stop the hot liquid from streaming down his cheeks.
It was Lord Enziah’s voice.
Baldo stood up and looked to the top of the cliff.
“You meddling spy!
Who sent you!
Was it House Randelbor?
Did you figure out who I am?
Well you’ll never get the chance to tell a soul!
You will die here!
Godon Zarcos should be dead as well by now.
Light the fires!”
Following his order came a volley of flaming arrows.
Their aim was the dense pile of dried brush, placed some distance away from the oil barrels.
At this rate, Baldo would only be burned alive under a volley of arrows.
Looking around, he saw the soldier named Jagos, poised ready to climb the rope ladder yet with his head smashed in.
The Whiteshroud King stood next to him, malice burning in its eyes as it glared up at Lord Enziah atop the cliff.
The Whiteshroud King looked at Baldo.
Baldo looked at the Whiteshroud King.
Mysteriously, Baldo in that moment felt as if he could somehow tell just what the creature was thinking.
The horse galloped toward him.
Straight toward Baldo.
It crouched low to the ground.
Baldo placed an arm around its neck and using the force from the horse as it changed direction, Baldo mounted its back.
The Whiteshroud King charged ahead at dizzying speeds.
It galloped through the sea of descending arrows.
In front of the two was the wall of fallen boulders, blocking the path.
The Whiteshroud King turned around just as they reached it.
You mustn’t go that way.
Though seemingly possible, it is actually perilous.
If you try to climb up the side, the boulders will collapse and crush us.
Not to mention, we would be in perfect view of the archers,
There was only one way to escape from this predicament with their lives intact.
As if coming to the same conclusion, the Whiteshroud King rushed toward the other end of the valley.
Swifter, even swifter!
Even as the flames raged from the left and right.
The horse ran faster and faster toward the obstacle.
The oil barrels caught fire and burst one by one into columns of billowing flame and black smoke.
The Whiteshroud King finally arrived at the spot just before the edge.
And it was then.
It started to climb.
Climb up the horribly steep cliff side.
The rock face was ever so precipitous, the top of which was nearly vertical, and yet like magic the Whiteshroud King ascended.
The soldiers were in a state of shock, and they madly fired arrow after arrow.
The wind that swelled up from the depths of the valley enveloped the projectiles, however, killing their momentum and scattering them about.
Even the occasional arrow that landed could not daunt Baldo and the Whiteshroud King, refusing to slow their advance.
Finally the horse scaled very top of the cliff and leapt high, high above the edge.
Flying through the air, the place it finally landed was directly before Lord Enziah.
The man drew his sword and tried to strike at the Whiteshroud King.
Baldo mercilessly struck Lord Enziah’s right wrist with the ancient sword, causing the man to drop his weapon.
The Whiteshroud King opened its jaw wide and closed its mouth around Lord Enziah’s head, lashing its neck around and launching the man in the direction of the valley.
Baldo heard the sound of the man’s neck snapping in two.
He watched Lord Enziah’s body fly through the air in front of him, still clad in heavy armor.
It was as if he smelled an almost sweet foulness in the air at that moment.
Lord Enziah’s body soared into the valley, landing in its blazing depths.
Sparks flew up around him on impact, and there he lay motionless.
Several more oil barrels exploded shortly after, engulfing his body in waves of fire and smoke.
Baldo turned around to fend against the next wave of attacks from the soldiers.
Yet they stood there frozen, unmoving.
Half of the soldiers gazed down at the ravine below, where their lord had fallen.
The other half was watching a group of men arrive from the direction of the castle.
His lordship! Our real lord has come! clamored the soldiers amongst themselves.
The knight who stood at the head of the group, with long billowing hair and beard, was a man who looked uncannily similar to the deceased lord.
It appeared this was actually the real lord of these lands.
All of the soldiers around them immediately lost the will to do battle.
Baldo and the Whiteshroud King lived on.
Baldo was rocked from side to side atop the Whiteshroud King.
Nay, perhaps that name was no longer appropriate.
For whatever reason, the horse did not maintain its distance from Baldo, prompting him to fix a saddle to its back and sit astride.
It did not seem to reject the saddle, and followed the handling of the reins.
It seemed this king too wished to roam the lands a traveler.
If so, the name Whiteshroud King was far too cruel.
Baldo thought long and hard to come up with a fitting name, and he recalled watching this majestic stallion gallop through the plains like a fish through water.
Thus did he call this white horse Yweitan.
Back at the castle, Julchaga had immediately worked his magic and discovered the existence of a hidden underground dungeon.
There were two people locked up inside.
One of those was the true Lord Enziah.
The impostor turned out to be his very own brother.
After imprisoning his own kin, he assumed the role as lord, impersonating his older brother.
Though there were those who supported this insurrection, there were many more who opposed the man.
Some of those opposed were killed, and others were forced to follow his will as the true lord was taken hostage.
The underground dungeon was incredibly difficult to break into, and the key to the door was in a location only known to the fake Lord Enziah.
The most sensible retainers could but bury their indignation for the time being, awaiting the chance to act.
Julchaga was originally a master thief by trade, thus if asked about the key to the dungeon would he likely respond with a simple laugh.
After paralyzing the guards with some poison, he had managed to grant Lord Enziah freedom in a mere matter of moments.
The castle once more returned under the control of the true Lord Enziah in no time at all.
Though the impersonator had sent assassins to take care of the guests, Godon Zarcos made quick work of them.
Lord Enziah told the trio that he wished to throw a banquet in their honor to express his gratitude, but Baldo replied,
Lord Enziah, you must focus now on recuperating your health after having been confined for so long.
I imagine there are many loose ends to tie up as well in the castle and domain.
Allow us to depart on our journey,
before hastily leaving the castle behind.
The true reason the trio left so quickly, however, was because of the second person who was held in captivity.
This very figure was currently sitting demurely before Baldo.
He had long ears.
Green, compound eyes.
A short stature.
Arms and fingers like tree branches.
This was a lujra teant child.
The lujra teants were among the most mysterious of demihuman races.
They were few in number and avoided human contact, making encounters with members of such a race exceedingly rare.
It was said the lujra teants used nohgelga to lead humans astray, sending them to their doom.
They were a feared, loathed race.
Julchaga, upon spotting the lujra teant held captive in the dungeon, quickly took the child away from the castle and hid him in the surrounding forests.
After learning about this, Baldo did his best to leave the castle as soon as he could and had Julchaga lead him to the hiding place.
Julchaga, why did you bring him all the way out here? asked Baldo.
Why he would’ve been killed had I left him there!”
was the answer he gave.
This young man truly has a compassionate heart for the weak, he thought.
After traveling quite a distance from the castle, Baldo started to converse with the lujra teant child.
First he asked him for his name.
The child responded,
Baldo was happy to see the child understood human language.
Moula continued to say, and a white shadow suddenly floated up from thin air next to him.
I-Is that a gyelganos!”
shouted Godon with shock, but neither Baldo nor Julchaga were affected.
Baldo wasn’t surprised, as he had seen this creature from the start, and he imagined Julchaga was the same.
“Ci, not gyelganos!
It appeared gyelganos and spirits were not the same.
According to Moula, spirits that were nibbled on by humans became gyelganos.
Baldo did not quite understand, however, how one would go about nibbling a spirit.
There was apparently a settlement of lujra teant to the northeast.
Just as this little one had crossed the southern limits of the forest, driven by his curiosity, was he captured by Lord Enziah’s brother.
The impostor locked Moula up and intimidated the child into doing his bidding, leading his older brother into a trap and having him eliminate all those who got in the way on his behalf.
At the same time, it appeared the false Lord Enziah believed that Moula himself possessed the power to great illusions.
In reality, he would ask his spirit friend, Ci, to do it instead.
Moula told the trio that he wanted to go back to his friends, so they decided to escort him there.
It would not be a short journey.
Baldo had Moula ride atop Yweitan, wrapping his arms around the child as he gripped the reins, having conversation on all manner of topic.
As they talked, Baldo could scarcely believe his own feelings.
Although this child was coerced into doing so, he and his spirit friend were responsible for the deaths of dozens of people nevertheless.
Godon and he had nearly perished as well.
Yet Baldo felt not a wisp of hate or resentment.
The Baldo of before might have detested the crimes committed by Moula and Ci, being of the belief that they must atone for their sins.
Since departing on this journey, however, it was as if he was being cleansed of all these fixations.
Though he was riding with a lujra teant, the so-called incarnation of evil magics, with a spirit or gyelganos in tow, a creature as near to this supposed evil as can be, Baldo was not at all repulsed.
In fact, it was a rather refreshing time for him.
That looming, incomprehensible sense of dread that Baldo felt back in Lord Enziah’s castle did not come from these two.
“Lady Enziah has a child.
A boy five years of age.
She originally hailed from House Preseyal, to the west.
The child is currently there, apparently.”
“Hoh, you don’t say.
His wife’s family must surely have worried about the lord as well.
Considering all the strange rumors traveling about and the constant deaths of his closest retainers.”
As Julchaga and Godon were talking, Baldo suddenly chimed in, That may not necessarily be the case.
What transpired in the castle of Lord Enziah was a matter far too disjointed and complicated.
Things were certainly not as they appeared.
Was the mastermind behind this coup truly Lord Enziah’s younger brother?
Were that the case, his approach was far too haphazard, and he was merely weakening the power of his own territory, leading Majouests down a road of destruction.
The fact that the heir to the lord’s seat had been entrusted with the wife’s family for so many years as well was a peculiar thing.
It would seem unlikely that House Preseyal knew nothing of what was happening in the castle, yet why did they leave the child there?
Not to mention, it appeared to Baldo that his wife was wielding her authority as lady of the castle in a simply unbridled manner.
That was not the behavior of a woman forced to act against her will with her husband taken hostage.
I would not be surprised if House Preseyal was deploying a military expedition to Majouests as we speak, forcefully taking over the castle under the pretense of quelling unrest, and placing the five year old boy atop the lord’s seat, claiming the lands as their own,
commented Baldo, to which Godon could only stammer uncontrollably and Julchaga sighed with a shrug,
“Nobles are a scary bunch.”
He then started mumbling to himself, None of that, none of that, trying to cleanse himself of the topic while retrieving a bottle from his bag.
He drank the contents of this bottle and exclaimed,
This is some amazing stuff!”
“What is that?”
asked Godon, to which Julchaga replied,
“This is some burnt wine.
That mister Lord Enziah gave me some before we left.
Want a sip?”
“You don’t say!
It truly is a treat.
This must be among the finest of burnt wines.”
Baldo sighed inwardly seeing Godon trust Julchaga so readily, for he was certain the young man had nicked the wine from the lord’s cellars, but he didn’t voice these thoughts aloud.
Instead, he brought his horse closer to Godon’s and took the bottle.
It had a crest branded into the side.
This meant it was quite the exquisite little thing, originating from the countries of the midlands.
He took a great swig.
The sharp sensation characteristic of distilled alcohols burned his throat.
Both his tongue and the walls of his mouth tingled as if on fire.
And yet, at the same time, there was an incredible mellowness and depth to the flavor that stayed on the tongue.
He exhaled and a unique, smokey aroma passed out through his nostrils.
In the end, Baldo never knew the name of that chestnut-colored horse.
Although it was raised by House Zarcos, Godon did not know it either.
I am always blessed with wonderful steeds.
He prayed at least for the safe deliverance of its soul and took another sip.
This time, he did not swallow, continuing to enjoy the liquid in his mouth.
It was a complex flavor.
The years come and go, the bitterness, tartness, harshness all build up, and a once-transparent alcohol turns an amber hue.
Alcohol does not resist those impure elements that dye and define it.
It quietly embraces every last thing, and in the end, it all gently, tenderly melts into one.
From this comes the wine’s exquisite flavor.
For a good while, Baldo thoroughly savored the taste.