Chapter 2 - Forest

I happened to hear the story that Tino told me from the conversation of traveling merchants at the royal castle in the capital.

The Lentol River, which flows through the northwestern part of the city, at that cliff, where the battle ended.

The swordsman, who was fighting the demon, fell in the river with his horse just like the lyrics in the ballad.

After that, obviously, a search was conducted, but neither the swordsman nor his beloved horse was ever found.

In addition to falling with his injuries, the late winter water current was cold. Even if he was unharmed, he was unlikely to survive.

Disappointment quickly turned to despair among the people living in the city. The defeat became a heroic story and eventually, a song was created, inspired by the event, which spread to become a legend.

However, the story that the traveling merchants learned from the villagers as the Lentol River flowed down was a little different.

The day after the battle, a brown-haired young man washed up on the shore of a branch of the river, in tatters.

The river that originated from a very distant mountain range continued to flow through Lentoria, merging and branching, forming the borders of the city and creating new streams as it went.

It was not unusual to hear young people drowning in the river and needed to be rescued but because of the season, the villagers were heavy-footed on their way to the rescue.
However, to their surprise, the collapsed young man was still breathing. Furthermore, when they tried to help him up, he refused their help and even had the strength to move on his own.

The next thing that happened shocked the villagers.
A celestial horse swooped down from nowhere, grabbed the young man by the arm, and pulled him up.

The wings of the celestial horse were as tattered as the young man’s and the pure white fur was dull and soaked.

In front of the gaping villagers, the horse stretched its wings downwards and the young man climbed up on its back as if he were clambering up its wings, and the man and horse flew up into the sky again.

As they were about to cross the forest at the foot of the hill, they suddenly slowed down.

As if trying to take a rest, the man and horse slowly descended the hillside.

An emergency meeting was held in the village because of this incident.
The conclusion was that the young man must be the hero who had been making a fuss in the capital a while ago, which was an honor for the village.

It was very rare for the sacred beast to go to a human village and there was no way that a normal person could save them from it.

That alone was proof enough that the young man was the great hero.

The fact that his heart did not stop beating as he was swept away by the freezing river was probably due to the protection of the celestial horse.

“Then, we must hurry up to help them.” is the natural opinion of the villagers, but another opinion was appealing to them.

That was because the slope they had just descended was a place rumored to be home to a herd of demons.

The demons that roared out night after night in the forest suddenly began to increase in great amounts and continue to inflict damage on the village in the foothills throughout the winter.

Unable to get any help from their lord, the village scraped together what little gold they had and searched for swordsmen to kill the demons – preferably rogues looking for a reward – and sent them into the forest.

Perhaps because they were poorly chosen, none of them came back home.

But this time, there was no way they chose the wrong person.

After all, he was a brave man who defeated the incubus with his magic sword. He should be able to wipe out a pack of nameless demons in no time at all.

Despite the villagers’ expectations, the demons that came out of the forest soon disappeared.

The villagers were now puzzling over whether they should wait for the hero and his horse to appear on their own, or whether they should go and get him.

The amount of gold that would be appropriate for the hero was also a source of concern….

The merchant who told the story didn’t seem to care much whether the story was true or not.

“What the lower class villagers say might dirty the ears of the princess but.. ” said the merchant while laughing bitterly.

But, I didn’t laugh. I was so happy that I tried my best not to scream.

He’s alive. Lakis and Lid were alive.

I didn’t even think that I could meet them again. No, it passed through my mind but I just couldn’t accept it and made me cry every day.

I clung to a ray of hope, and that hope brought a new light that drowned out the tears that kept flowing.

 Maybe we could meet again. I’m sure we would meet again. I wanted to see you, I really wanted to see you.

At last, I overcame the time of unfamiliar journey when I left the castle and finally arrived. He must be alive, in this forest.

“What they said was true. That’s why Tino was also here”

The boy who had been listening to my story raised his eyebrows and muttered doubtfully.

“But, even if I was told you escaped from the castle…. Sister, who exactly are you? Lakis is the swordsman’s name, right? Perhaps, are you his friend that you can address him impolitely?”

“My name is Ethel”

“What?”

The boy sighed and shook his head disappointedly.

“That’s the name of the princess in the ballad, right? What Tino is asking is sister’s name. Are you a handmaid in the castle?”

“That’s why I said I am Ethel. Ethel Theta.”

“Even though Tino is bumpkin, do not make fun of me.”

The boy seemed disappointed and then pouted.

“Isn’t it rude to Princess Ethel Theta? The princess is the most beautiful woman in this world.”

“With all due your respect, a great beauty is someone like my sister. Calling someone like me beautiful makes it unfair to my sister. I know that’s how it’s sung in the ballads, but I wonder why would they leave such lyrics out in the capital? The people in the city know my face, so they should know that they are overpraising me. ”

“…..”

“Wha~t?”

“….. Why are you dressed so dirty?”

“I came secretly and I’ll be troubled if I get caught. Besides, I wanted to wear something that would allow me to hike in the mountains.” I said this while I looking down at my clothes again.
On my feet were sturdy farm boots. Tucked into the boots were coarse woolen pants.

To keep up with the chill in the air, I wore a fur-lined tunic over a cotton tunic.
In short, I am dressed almost exactly like the boy in front of me. And with all the mud, I looked even worse than the boy
In addition…. I stared at both of my palms.

When I fell, my hands were on the ground and my hands were still in that condition.

That means-
 
“…. My face is beautiful, right?”

I asked Tino with a serious look on my face.

Tino looked back seriously but soon his shoulders began to shake, he’s laughing.

Without thinking, I also began to laugh.

I had believed that I would never be able to laugh again, but this was unexpected.

“Tino, I have a request” I said while laughing and looking at the boy’s face who made me smile for the first time in a long time.

“The song a while ago, I want to hear it again. I want to hear it. Of course, it’s fine if you sing in a small voice.”

Tino seemed unsure of how to respond, but after a moment, he nodded his head. Then he lowered his eyes, breathed in, and began to whisper in that clear voice.

As I thought, the air of innocence that surrounded the boy softly changed the color of the song.

The person singing next to me was a small but rising bard for sure.

The kid who was lisping and innocent is gone.

He was a true singer who looked down on things from a great height, scooped them up, and weaved them into the form of a song.

He was probably a child who had thought and struggled a lot more than he looked.

That’s why his voice was so quiet yet it reached through the softest part of your heart. 

As I listened to the song, I felt as if the memories that I had sealed away because I had a hard time remembering them were spontaneously overflowing. And I felt that it was alright to remember now.

I could see Lakis soon, I’m sure of it.  

That day when I first met him.

Notes

N/A

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