Every person has their own past. Those were the words that came to my mind.
I always thought that Old Moran was a great person, but I had no idea that he was someone that had been so close to the seat of prime minister. There was no way to know that.
The story was full of important details. Who knew that there were so many people who thought about the Helan territories. However, there was something that I wanted to ask first.
“Old Moran, do you still care deeply for Harp?”
“…Yes, of course, I do.”
That was good.
There were many things inside of me that I was able to put into order after hearing his story. What Old Moran had meant when he said that we might be able to save this land.
“So, Old Moran. In other words, you think that I can take on the job that was entrusted to the descendant from the legend. The one that was supposed to arrive three hundred years later?”
“That’s very perceptive of you. The child from the prophecy that my old friends, Petel and Harp had talked about, is none other than you. Really, I can’t believe it took this situation, and after I’ve grown so old, to finally realize that. Sometimes, being so close to something can blind you, contrary to expectation.”
“So, it wasn’t too late then… I learned a lot from listening to your story. I have something that I want you to see. Wait here a moment.”
Somehow, I felt reinvigorated. My spirits rose like an overflowing spring. I looked for the thing that I needed to show Old Moran.
The letter that arrived the other day, and the thing that would become the key.
“Look at this.”
I returned to the library and handed Old Moran the letter.
What was written within was something that I had discarded the other day as some kind of joke.
“The Helan territories are in a pinch nari. We must act at once. A terrible drought will come in one month’s time nari! I’ve thought of solutions myself, but I have yet to make a breakthrough nari. My Lord, you must prepare to have your people flee nari! Make haste nari! The Helan territories are about to lose to the curse nari!”
“This, I think that it’s a letter from the man named Petel that you talked about. This person must have remained somewhere in Helan, and continued the fight.”
Old Moran accepted the letter and read through the contents several times.
It wasn’t particularly long, but he read through it carefully as if it were something precious.
Before I knew it, Old Moran’s eyes which had looked dried up were suddenly full of tears.
“Once again, very perceptive of you. Aye, there is no mistaking it, these are the words of Petel, who was once my friend. Ahh, hmm, so he stayed and fought on…”
The tears he had been fighting began to flow from his eyes. Somehow I knew that they were tears of nostalgia, joy and other mixed emotions.
For a while, he basked in that wistfulness, before once again turning to me.
“You have something else do you not? I sensed a br.i.m.m.i.n.g energy from you as you left a moment ago.”
“I do have something! Here.”
After the letter, I handed over a single book to Old Moran.
‘Magical Tome Vol. 5.’
“I see. It was already in your hands then. I had searched for this book for many long years, but it turned out to have been in its rightful place.”
The book was something that I had just happened to find several years ago, when bandits had invaded the mansion. I had no idea that it would become such an important book for me in the future.
“Thanks to you, I have the contents of the first four volumes memorized. If I’m able to master the fifth one now, we will be able to beat the curse, right?”
“According to the legend… No, according to Harp’s story, you will. I don’t think that she was wrong.”
“So, so that means! We can still save the lands of Helan!”
“However, there is a price. Your own life. Just like it was three hundred years ago when Helan offered his life.”
“If that is my role, I will accept it with resignation.”
I looked at Old Moran with determination. There was no longer any room for debate. And he was able to see what my will was. Now, the only thing left was to act.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about the people. The great matches that you made should protect the men and women. From now on, you should focus everything on acquiring this final ultimate magic.”
“That being said…”
I looked outside the mansion. There was nothing but the color of sand, the dry air was spreading everywhere. Just standing out there would rob you of moisture. There was no food. There was a possibility that they would not survive for even a week.
“Perhaps we should seek the help of my old friend, Petel.”
I was surprised by Old Moran’s suggestion. For some reason, he had said it out of the blue as if just coming to a realization.
The way he said it made it seem like he knew what Petel was doing now, knew everything.
“Petel is still fighting the curse within these lands. Well then, that must mean that he has made various preparations, he must be at that place.”
“That place? …You don’t mean…”
“Aye, the place where it all started, and where it will all end. ‘The Cursed Swamp.’ That is where he must be.”
He had the eyes of someone who trusted his friend. Old Moran looked young again.
It was true, what he said made sense. Also, according to the legend, that place was where the curse was the weakest. In that case, it would surely be the best place for him to be while he learned the contents of the fifth volume.
“Do you know where it is?”
“You have no idea how many years I’ve been thinking about this. I could find that place even if my eyes were closed.”
Our destination was decided.
I and Old Moran packed the minimum amount of things that we needed and set off on our journey.
The dried lands were punishing. But I thought about the hardships that the first Helan had faced, and I started to feel that what we endured was not all that bad.
‘The Cursed Swamp.’
It was located in the farthest regions towards the south of the Helan territories.
Compared to the beautiful northern parts of the Helan territories, the lands here had not been cultivated. It was far from any trading route, and as we got closer, we saw fewer and fewer houses.
“It is over there.”
Our destination came into view. Just as the legend said, there was still green plants growing here. It looked like an oasis in the middle of the desert. There was likely to be water as well. I wanted to have something in my mouth as soon as possible.
Ultimately, it did not seem like a place deserving of such a frightening name as the ‘Cursed Swamp.’ As we got closer, we could tell that this place alone was protected from the strong, dry winds.
It was clearly not a natural phenomenon. It was unmistakably some sort of manipulation. The curse, the magic that continued on from its powerful and ancient beginning was still present here.
“Old Moran, I’m going to go get some water. You should rest under a tree somewhere.”
“I’m sorry. This journey was quite a lot for these old bones of mine. I think I’ll quietly rest here for a while.”
I left our belongings with Old Moran and collected our water bottles and went off to search for some water.
This cursed land seemed a little like a forest.
It was covered with trees, almost like it was isolating itself from the outside world. The temperature and humidity were different from the drylands outside. When the differences were so noticeable, you would almost start to suspect that you’ve entered another world.
I didn’t need to wander for very long. My instincts kicked in, and I quickly discovered some water. There was a large spring. The water was clear and beautiful.
I scooped some up in my hands and drank it.
Mmm, it was good. Drinkable water. After that, I dunked my whole dirty face inside of the water and drank to my heart’s content. My stomach was full.
I opened the water bottles and filled both to the brim. I wanted to take them back to Old Moran as soon as possible. He must be eagerly waiting for me.
As I carried the water bottles and started to run back, I felt like I heard a voice nearby. Maybe it was just a sound. But, something was echoing. I heard the strange echoing and turned to look behind me.
The source of the ringing echo… A lone woman was standing there. Furthermore, the woman was someone that I had long, long been worried about. Someone I had searched and searched for. Why was she here? Why was Eliza in a place like this…
“Eliza…Eliza, is that really you?”
“I could say the same to you, are you really Kururi?”
Before we knew it, both of us had walked towards each other. In front of the stream where we could unmistakably see the other’s face. I needed to be sure.
Yes, it was without a doubt, Eliza.
She wasn’t wearing one of her usual pretty dresses. She was dressed a little like Iris now, yet her splendor had not been blemished at all. Even standing in a place like this, she still had a sense of dignity.
Eliza’s hand stretched out and touched my cheek.
And with her thumb and index finger, she pinched me.
“So this isn’t a dream then. ”
Huh!? Aren’t you supposed to pinch your own cheek for that kind of thing? Why would you pinch someone else’s cheek?
“The fact that you are here now, it must mean that the descendant from the prophecy is you.”
“How did you hear about that?”
“I heard it from Petel. I’ve been indebted to him for a while now. Besides, I too have a strong connection to these lands. And so I have been helping him.”
“So, does that mean the mysterious couple I’ve been hearing about was you and Petel!?”
“Yes, it is quite embarra.s.sing…”
So that’s what had happened. But even so, why had Eliza stayed here, even becoming an a.s.sistant for Petel… I had no idea she felt so strongly about this place.
On top of it all, she disappeared from the royal capital and came all the way here alone. I’ve said it before, but she was one tough girl. Perhaps she could become a farmers daughter.
“Eliza. There I things I want to tell you, things I need to tell you. There is so much. But, let me go and deliver this water to Old Moran first. He might wither away if I don’t.”
“Of course. I too, have much to tell you. We should go meet Petel when you are finished. Our purposes are the same, right?”
I delivered the water to Old Moran, and then with Eliza as a guide, we paid a visit to Petel’s abode. There was a wooden house that had been constructed very close by inside of the swamp. According to the legend three hundred years ago, Helan and his company had also built a house here and conducted their research.
Eliza called out, and then Petel’s distinctive way of ending his sentences: Nari! Nari! were heard as he opened the door to the house.
“Lady Eliza, you’ve returned nari?”
He had opened the door in consideration of Eliza who gone to get water. But what he was now greeted by was not just Eliza, but I and Old Moran as well.
He looked at Eliza, then me, and then he looked at Old Moran. Petel took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
“The best rising dragon in all of Kudan. How many years have pa.s.sed since you left the royal capital, eh? I had heard long ago that a certain outstanding librarian had entered the services of the Helan mansion nari. Harp’s death was even longer ago nari. I’ve waited alone for so long nari. You’re a little late, Moran.”
Petel’s voice quivered but he managed to complete the last words.
“Forgive me. I kept you waiting so long that we’re now old men.”
Old Moran’s voice was also shaking.
“It is bad manners to keep your friends waiting nari… Harp’s grave is close by nari. Will you come with me nari?”
“Aye, will you show me? Petel.”
“Follow me nari.”
The two left the house together. They were going to pay Harp’s grave a visit. How many decades had pa.s.sed? But the two had flown across that decades-long gulf, and been reunited here once again.
I and Eliza were left behind.
We should have been able to enter the house and talk about whatever we wanted. But somehow, we would always find it difficult to say something in these situations. And I had so much that I wanted to say.
“I’m glad that I ran away from home. That I arrived here, that I was able to meet you again.”
“You had us very worried.”
“I’m sorry. But, it was such an exciting and thrilling journey.”
She had such a cheerful expression as she said this, that I could not help but laugh. As the first journey of such a sheltered girl, she must have experienced a lot.
“Will you tell me about it? About this exciting and thrilling, grand adventure of yours.”
“Well, I suppose I may deign to do so.”
In the quiet room, I perked up my ears to listen to Eliza’s beautiful voice. There I was, listening to another story. The story of her grand adventure.