That day, Noel had been playing together with Yanny, who was of the same age, and Yeul who had just turned three.
It was as his grandmother had said, even when Yeul had learned to speak and began to see visions, she had remained in the village. Even though she was a seeress, she was raised as the other children of the village had been and received no special treatment.
Well, everyone in the village loved the bright and friendly Yeul. Perhaps, Yeul had been special in that sense. The children vied with each other to invite Yeul to play.
Although, at the village, even children had jobs and roles to fulfill. The older children were all busy to some extent. Aside from when the weather remained unfavorable and they couldn’t go hunting, Yeul’s usual playmates had been the similarly aged Noel and Yanny.
On that day, the weather had been pleasant and optimal for hunting since morning. The adults and many of the older children had been out since early morning, and the village had been quiet. In the midst of that tranquility, Noel and the others had been playing by stepping on each other’s shadows.
Shadow-stepping could only be done on days when the weather was fine. The weather would be bad or cloudy for the majority of the year so the days where shadows could be made on the ground were precious. Noel and Yanny had played by stepping on each other’s shadows numerous times already, but this was Yeul’s first time. The last time the weather had been pleasant, a monster den was discovered near the village so they were forbidden from going outside. The time before that, she had not been old enough to be running around.
Perhaps she had been intrigued by the shadow that would follow her feet wherever she went. Yeul had run happily around the village. When the shadow was projected into the walls of houses, she would try lifting up her arms and legs and jumping up and down.
How far had they run while stepping on each other’s shadows? Suddenly, Noel and the others found themselves outside the village. Before their eyes was a bridge that was placed over a dried up stream. They had been warned by the adults to “never go near there.” It was said that dangerous monsters were lurking around on the other side.
When he incidentally looked at Yanny’s face, Yanny too looked back at Noel. They quite clearly knew what the other was thinking. “Oh man, we’d better head back,” that is.
It had been Yanny who put a good face on so as not to scare Yeul and said, “Let’s go back.” Noel too hid his real intentions and took Yeul’s hand saying, “Because granny said not to go near the bridge.” Yeul nodded obediently and began to walk.
However, their decision had come too late. Unexpectedly, a shadow appeared over the ground. A shadow so large that it completely covered the three of them.
Had it been Noel or Yanny who yelled, “run”?
Even if a shadow passed over the ground or they heard the sound of wings flapping, they simply couldn’t look back. Run before turning back. Just keep running. That was what they were taught by the adults.
Noel ran while grasping Yeul’s hand. Although, Yeul wasn’t yet able to run that fast. Yanny was getting further away. It had been Noel’s job to hold Yeul’s hand that day. It was a decision between two people who wanted Yeul to themselves. That the one with the role of holding Yeul’s hand would change each day.
He didn’t think that he would be a hinderance. He just thought it would be okay that he was the one running with her. But the problem was whether or not they could get away. Noel didn’t yet have the option of just letting Yeul escape. It was because he had no means to fight against a monster.
He wasn’t yet of the age where he could help with hunting, so he had held neither sword nor spear. He was allowed to carry a knife and had been accustomed to using it, but it wasn’t a weapon. Although it was a blade, it was just a tool. You couldn’t defeat a monster with a knife...
Just as he thought that far, his left arm was jerked back. Yeul had taken a tumble. The hand that he should have been gripping tightly unraveled from his. He had planned on running at the same pace as Yeul, but alas it seemed there was too great a difference between the running speeds of a three year old and a six year old.
Yeul suddenly started crying. His brain thought to quickly have her stand up and start running again, but his body wouldn’t listen.
Then, Noel realized he himself had been trembling severely. The monster drew near. It was a Strigoi.
His legs wouldn’t move. He had to run. Strigoi moved slowly. He could escape if they ran. Yet, he couldn’t run.
The Strigoi closed in. He at least wanted to shield Yeul, but his legs simply continued to shake. It was as if his legs would snap if he even took one step.
It was then. A wicked wind blew in. He thought something had torn through before his eyes. He heard a raspy scream. The reverberation from the falling of its giant body, as well. Someone had defeated the Strigoi. Strength left from his entire body.
The man wielding a greatsword turned around. It was that man. He remembered his grandmother’s words: A Guardian fights to protect the seeress all by himself, so he is very strong. There was nothing false about those words. There was no one in the village who could defeat anything like a Strigoi by themselves. Yet, he sent that monster to its grave with just one strike. There was no doubt about it; this man was strong.
The man slowly approached. That’s right, he had exposed the seeress to danger. Surely, he would be reprimanded severely. The man was expressionless, but that had rather made him appear frightening.
However, without the slightest regard for Noel, the man kneeled before Yeul, grasped her small hands and helped her up.
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
As Yeul shook her head, the man stood up and turned his back, appearing as if he would leave just like that. Noel let out a sigh of relief.
What was he planning to do with Yeul? Regardless of how bold a disposition he held, that man was not someone of the village. Noel thought irritatingly that he should have let him go, earlier.
The man nodded in silence, turned his back again and this time, left.
“Yeul, do you know him?”
Said Yanny, who he had returned before anyone could notice, in a mystified tone. Noel was unamused by the fact the question he himself had wanted to pose had just been asked.
“No. He’s a stranger.”
“A stranger? You weren’t scared?”
“The monster was scary. But, that man was not. Because he’s a nice person.”
“How would you know if you don’t know him?”
Yanny made an unamused face. Noel’s face was the same as well. It was even less amusing than when he had been trumped by Yanny.
“We got totally chewed out after that”
As Noel laughed saying the three of them were lined up and berated, Serah tilted her head in surprise.
“Yeul too? Even though she was a seeress?”
“So what if she was a seeress, she was a child of the village, after all. If you went against what the adults said you would be scolded.”
“I see. The people of the village really cherished Yeul, didn’t they. It seems easy to give a proper scolding but it’s something difficult.”
They wanted to let her live like a perfectly normal child. To make up for all of the other Yeuls up until then. She now knew what the village’s adults wished for all too well.
“But, me and Yanny got the worst of it.”
“Because you guys took Yeul to a dangerous place?”
“No, it was because we were older. Yeul had also gone somewhere dangerous. So we were equally scolded for that, but we were older so we had greater responsibility. Incidentally, Rigo, who was three years older than us, was also reprimanded for his failure to supervise us.”
Rigo was Yanny’s cousin. Rigo who had lost his parents early, was taken into Yanny’s home and the two of them were raised like brothers. If Rigo hadn’t been old enough to be taken hunting yet, then he would have been helping out at home that day.
“He was yelled at even though he had been doing chores?”
“It’s a fact that he took his eyes off Yanny, right?”
“That sure is harsh. I mean, all of the children from your time were pretty mature for their age. Even you tried to stand up to a stranger at just the age of three, right? You understood some pretty complicated things too.”
“Because it was an age when you would otherwise get left behind.”
When he saw the children playing by the seaside at New Bodhum, he felt they were younger than they looked. He worried if it was alright that they were so helpless. It was because he had never even imagined an era so peaceful that such things could be allowed.
Children had to acquire wisdom for surviving in their own regard. They had neither strength or magical power, so it was all the more important. Young children were brought up being taught to become smart before becoming strong.
“But, I wanted to become strong. Even a day earlier. If I had been able to fight monsters back then, I could have let Yeul get away.”
“Perish the thought. No matter what, a child the age of six wouldn’t have been able to defeat monsters.”
“Even so, I wanted to protect Yeul.”
That’s why he secretly began practicing swordplay. Only, it was what a six year old child was doing after all, so it couldn’t even count as self-study. Even if he wanted to learn from someone, the adults of the village were all busy. And above all, there wasn’t a single person in the village who could defeat a Strigoi in one blow.
“It was when I became discouraged thinking it was impossible after all. When I found my teacher for the art of the sword, that is.”