Chapter 3 ~ The Witch of Butterflies
The rider atop a brown horse lacked the strength to remain straight, her body aching furiously, and her head spinning from exhaustion; her forehead was dripping red, as likely were other of her pained limbs. Her once pristine shiny armour was now stained by dirt and blood.
She knew not where she was heading to, only that she had to keep going. The horse she rode on adventured throughout a dense forest, clearly off-trail, beholden by the sight of countless butterflies. Gwendolyn could hardly do anything to keep a proper course, feeling dizzier and dizzier. She knew she was about to collapse, yet her thoughts were too erratic to focus properly.
Failure…failure…failure…can’t see straight…it hurts…
After one deep breath, the rider lost control and collapsed off the horse. The forms of the many butterflies seemed to slowly fade away as they got closer and closer to her fallen body. Everything became dark and silent, until she finally regained her vision. She could see it again – the massacre. The countless innocents slain, the same people she wished she had the power to protect. She had failed every last one of them.
Traitor! Wench! Monster! Devil! Accursed failure of a knight! Bloodthirsty crazed mutt!
The voices wouldn’t stop. Some belonging to warriors she had shared the battlefield with in defence of Syleria, others from the very same people she had slain with her own blade.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
Once looked up as a protector of the weak, Gwendolyn was now seen as nothing more than a reaper. She was a subjugator harbouring the scorn of hundreds of starving innocent peasants, each one of them symbolizing a family she had destroyed. Their scornful judging faces all looking down on her as she laid in the middle of them in torment. …They all vanished, and taking their place was the knights who had once fought at her side. They watched her while, one by one, they turned their backs at her, whispering curses. She had failed them too.
She wept. Gwendolyn had neither honour nor loyalty left. She truly was a failure of a knight, fallen from the glorious heights she had once enjoyed – nothing but a killer of her own people. Now, she was to become one more corpse, lost in whatever corner of the world she had put herself in. The passionate fire inside her, capable of warming up even the frigid winter winds of her homeland, was slowly being put out.
Gwendolyn opened her eyes. “I’m alive?” She looked around and found herself on a comfortable bed in a small cosy bedroom; a ray of sunshine peered through the window and its greenish-transparent curtains. Her armour was neatly placed on the ground next to a wall, and her wounds were all properly bandaged.
Gwendolyn tried getting out of bed, but her body still ached when attempting so. In spite of the pain, she stubbornly forced herself to stand up, barely maintaining her balance. Her body was shaking, and crashed onto the ground shortly after, lacking the strength to support her own weight.
“Come on, me. You have to at least be able to stand up.”
As she struggled to arise once more, the door opened.
Friendly Girl’s Voice: “Oh, you’ve finally awaken!”
The young woman bore a welcoming smiling face. She had light skin, honey-blonde hair and green eyes. Her entire attire looked different in style from anything Gwendolyn had ever seen, likely to be from a far-away land. She wore an elegant yet practical green dress in a shape similar to a bellflower together with thigh-high boots.
The girl immediately helped Gwendolyn stand up and sat her at the bed.
Girl: “You really shouldn’t push yourself like that, y’know? You were in critical condition when I found you collapsed in the middle of the forest! I gotta say you lucked out.”
Gwendolyn: “…Thank you for the help.”
Girl: “Ehehe! No need to mention. …My name’s Nephlynn. What’s yours?”
Nephlynn: “Well, Gwendolyn, you’re going to have to tell me how you got into that situation, though I suppose you would like to rest a bit more.”
Gwendolyn: “I’m fine, really.”
Nephlynn: “Nope! No, you’re not. You’re staying in that bed until those legs of yours stop slacking on the job, alright?”
Gwendolyn: “*sigh* I suppose I’m in no position to object.”
Nephlynn: “You just leave it to <big sis> to take care of you! *wink*”
“What’s up with her?”
Nephlynn: “Oh, uh…I hope you don’t mind the fact that I decided to wash you up while you were unconscious. …You weren’t really the pristine example of cleanliness when I found you, and that’s just not acceptable! I also took the liberty to clean your armour as well. Oh, and your horse is also fine!”
Gwendolyn: “…You did all that for me? …I’m speechless. I know not how to compensate you for your kind service.”
Nephlynn: “Don’t worry about it. Though I guess you could feed my curiosity to make up for it. What do you say?”
The girl smiled tenderly, looking at Gwendolyn with wide open eyes. Though initially taken aback by this, Gwendolyn collected her thoughts and proceeded to explain how she had gotten there, from her glory days of knighthood, to the events leading up to her collapsing on the forest. Throughout all this, Nephlynn listened attentively, like a child being told a bedtime story.
Nephlynn: “Lucky you that your horse headed the right direction! He should be given a thousand treats for being such a good boy!”
Gwendolyn: “My belongings have been lost back at the encampment; not that I had anything of much value. As long as I have my sword and my armour, I’ll be fine, though losing the little amount of gold and silver I had will complicate matters.”
Nephlynn: “If it makes you feel better, you may always find shelter at my home.”
Gwendolyn: “I couldn’t possibly be such a burden.”
Nephlynn: “Don’t think about it, you’re no burden of mine. Of course, if you really wish to leave, then I won’t stop you.”
Gwendolyn: “…It’s…it’s not that I wish to leave. I just cannot understand how someone can afford to offer so much to a stranger they just met. Keeping me here is likely to cost you. And I don’t think I’m in physical condition to be of help in anything. My body aches, scarred with burns, cuts and bruises.”
Nephlynn: “It certainly didn’t look pretty when I was treating you, but now it’s only a matter of time until you’re completely healed. It shouldn’t take long. Even now, my magic is accelerating your healing!”
Gwendolyn: “Your magic? But…healing magic like that is beyond anything us humans are able achieve!”
Nephlynn: “Ah! I’ve gone and said too much, huh? *sigh* Silly me, I should have been more careful with how things work around here. Well, it’s not like it matters anyway. I don’t even know why I bother to hide it!”
Gwendolyn: “Just…what are you exactly? And what do you want from me?”
Nephlynn: “Relax, Gwendolyn. I have no ulterior motive. It’s simply in my nature to assist people in need. As for what I am…well, let’s just say I’m not like you mortals. And before you ask – no, I am not a goddess.”
Gwendolyn: “…So you’re not a mortal, but neither a goddess. You have me at a loss. Do you live here by yourself?”
Nephlynn: “Yup! Well, not exactly by myself. I have all of the butterflies to keep me company.”
Gwendolyn: “I don’t think I would consider mere butterflies as valid company.”
Nephlynn: “*pouts* Uh, rude! They’re lovely, you know?! Every single one of them! In fact, were not for the butterflies, I would never have known you were collapsed in the middle of the forest. Were not for them, you would still be dirty and stinky amongst the mud and maggots! You should be grateful to them that you’re still breathing and not smelly!”
Gwendolyn: “…Is…is that so? Then I suppose that was indeed inappropriate of me. Forgive my rude remark.”
Nephlynn: “I’m glad you understand. *smiles*”
Nephlynn looked satisfied, proudly raising her chin. Gwendolyn was still a bit confused, yet she saw no harm in going with the flow.
Nephlynn: “You should rest a bit more and let your wounds heal completely. It won’t take much longer, I promise. Soon you’ll be back up as if you had never gone to the battlefield!”
Gwendolyn: “Please, allow me to express my gratitude, sincerely. I admit I’ve been feeling a bit too overwhelmed to say it properly as of yet. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for saving my life.”
Nephlynn blushed, words escaping her voice.
Nephlynn: “W-Well…um…you’re w-welcome! Gosh, I can’t handle such a serious and sincere look like that. It really warms my heart. Ehehe! …I’ll leave you to your privacy. If you need something, do not hesitate to call me. I can assure to answer it forthwith, no matter where I may be!”
Nephlynn helped Gwendolyn lay on the bed and exited the room.
“Nephlynn, huh? She’s an odd one, but kind. A much needed brightness.”
It didn’t take long for Gwendolyn to fall asleep.
A vast field of flowers extended towards every horizon. There was no sun, yet the atmosphere was bright and warm. A feeling of safety took over Gwendolyn’s senses, and she laid herself down to relax. Seconds turned into minutes, and soon, all perception of time was lost. From a distance, Gwendolyn could hear a voice singing a sweet melody. She slowly stood up, curious to know as to whom it belonged the soft aria.
Nephlynn: “To whom may this fate belong to? Hmm… Perhaps this dream is yet inconclusive. In that case, the future may yet be changed.”
Gwendolyn suddenly lost the ability to speak, and Nephlynn faced her with a soft tender smile.
Nephlynn: “Yours is a bloody path. Perhaps you have not yet realized that your suffering grows with each and every corpse you add to your pile. Yours has been an unfortunate turn of events. But how will you shape the events to come? The path you follow as of now is one which you might come to regret one day. Gwendolyn von Edelweiss, please realize that with each flower that blooms from the blood you spill, so too does the darkness in your heart. It may not consume you, but it will certainly break you. With each life claimed, your garden grows. As your garden grows, so too does that inner darkness.”
“What is she talking about? …My garden? Do you mean…”
Nephlynn: “Do you understand now? This is your garden, cultivated with the lives you have harvested. Each flower connects to a single individual. Beneath its beauty lies a sea of blood.”
“That’s ridiculous! Surely this must be a jest! …Is it?”
Nephlynn: “I must ask…what will you do now?”
“…I…I must free Syleria from the oppression of its King, even if it comes at the cost of my life.”
Gwendolyn opened her eyes. It was dark; a silvery ray of moonlight gently peered through the curtains. Gwendolyn stood, this time with more ease. Her body did not ache as much anymore. Nephlynn’s magic was truly effective.
She slowly walked towards the window, now feeling more refreshed. She gazed outside, to the full moon bathing the forest with its immaculate glow, its reflection firmly fixed on the surface of the big lake in front of the house. However, something else immediately caught her attention – a gathering of what seemed like hundreds of butterflies of many colours glowing in the night, fluttering all over the glade. Next to the lake, Nephlynn could be seen, as could a beautiful pair of butterfly wings on her back.
Nephlynn held something on her hands; it dazzled delicately, and it seemed like it had no form. Bearing a happy expression, Nephlynn blew it softly; like dandelion seeds flying on the wind, countless lights were blown away gently. They too fluttered above the lake, dancing under the moonlight and slowly taking the form of butterflies, ready to join the others.
Astonished by the beautiful sight, Gwendolyn retreated from the window and went back straight to bed. It was an overwhelming sight, so gorgeous in fact Gwendolyn found herself in tears; she could not understand why she felt that way, however, one thing she knew – it had been a blessed moment she would certainly never forget.
It had been a well rested night; Gwendolyn’s awakening was heralded by the happy chirping of birds. She tried to move around for a bit, and truly, she felt as good as new. In spite of everything, she was still surprised at the effectiveness of Nephlynn’s healing. Now, she could tackle her task once again.
Nephlynn had already been awake for a while, but waited for Gwendolyn and invited her for breakfast. They chatted about very mundane things; Gwendolyn didn’t really know how to address what she had seen last night, so she decided to pretend as if nothing had happened.
Once they were both done eating, Gwendolyn requested Nephlynn to lead her to her horse. At first, the request was perceived as an attempt to leave, to which Nephlynn advised against.
Nephlynn: “You should stay one more day at least; just to be sure the wounds are completely healed. It wouldn’t be good if they were to reopen, now would it?”
Gwendolyn: “That would be bothersome. …I have yet to decide on a destination as well.”
Nephlynn: “I’ll say it once again, you’re free to stay for as long as you need. I appreciate the company.”
Gwendolyn: “In that case, I suppose I’ll stay until I decide on the next course of action.”
Nephlynn seemed satisfied with the answer, and proceeded to lead Gwendolyn to see the horse.
Outside, the horse had its reins attached to a long rope on a tree, allowing it to move around freely without escaping. Now that she had a clear head, Gwendolyn properly assessed it. It was a quite healthy-looking brown horse with a quite imposing crest of muscle and a long wavy mane, though it also had an old-looking vertical scar on its face.
Gwendolyn: “Seems like I’ve struck gold with this one. I pity the rider who got separated from this horse.”
Nephlynn: “Oh, I know quite as much about horses as I know about herrings - absolutely nothing! …So, is it a good one?”
Gwendolyn: “Seems like it. This one would be quite valuable - must have belonged to some wealthy noble knight. This will serve me quite well. I must handle it with care, however. …It looks a bit aged, and it must have battlefield experience, which spares me from having to train it much.”
Nephlynn: “Is it that important? Don’t horses just have to carry the rider around and that’s it?”
Gwendolyn: “It’s one of the first things you learn when becoming a squire. A skilled rider must also be able to understand and train its horse. Otherwise, you’ll lose control of it as soon as it sees all the angry-looking shouting troops on the battlefield.”
Nephlynn: “…Oh, so you train them to make them more courageous!”
Gwendolyn: “In a sense, yes. Horses are prey. Their instincts tell them to run away from threats. They need to be trained in order for those natural instincts to be suppressed. It takes time and dedication to properly train a horse, more so if you want to fight alongside it. You need to make them used to the noise, the chaos of the battlefield, the dead bodies, the scent of blood, ignore light touches and much more. It’s the reason why warhorses are so valuable, especially one such as this good boy over here.”
Gwendolyn gently caressed the horse’s neck; it didn’t pay much mind to her and continued eating grass. Nephlynn observed, listening enthusiastically to the explanation.
Gwendolyn: “I must acquaintance myself with it, so we get used to each other. We’re going to be a team from now onwards, so I must make sure we can communicate properly. It’s quite reassuring, since the previous horse I had was simply for transportation. I could not ride into battle with it.”
Nephlynn: “Couldn’t you have trained it?”
Gwendolyn: “It wasn’t possible.”
Nephlynn: “Why? Was it stubborn?”
Gwendolyn: “No, I was the stubborn one, forcing it into situations that it wasn’t capable for. …See, just like people, horses can become mentally scarred. I tried to train it for combat, but as soon as it fought its first battle, it refused to do so anymore.”
Nephlynn: “Oooh, I see.”
Gwendolyn: “I’ve owned several horses in the past, but it was the first time it happened to me. Sometimes, these types of things happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a reality when working with horses. Sometimes, you have to accept that even the most precious breeds of horses will never realize their true potential due to fear. I’ve known knights who paid really good money for a high quality horse, only for the horse to succumb to fear. We call it equine trauma. It applies to both horses and humans.”
Nephlynn: “Ah, it must be the name you people have for post traumatic stress disorder. That’s fascinating! I never knew any of this. Then again, I never owned a horse.”
Gwendolyn: “In war, it’s common for people to kill only the enemy riders in order to keep the horses for themselves. Killing the horse is such a waste. Of course, on the battlefield, death is unavoidable, and killing the horse is the best way to deal with a mounted knight. I had to do so when I fought my comrades in the last battle. They must have been really mad since their warhorses were all well trained and of really high quality breeds. I can feel their grief for the loss.”
Nephlynn: “So, have you thought of a name to give this one?”
Gwendolyn: “…Hmm… I haven’t thought of it yet, but a name is indeed in order.”
Gwendolyn stared at the horse silently for a while.
Gwendolyn: “How about…Sirius?”
Nephlynn: “I like it! A serious name for a serious looking horse. Pleased to meet you, Sirius!”
Nephlynn waves at Sirius right in front of its face; once more, he ignores them and keeps eating.
Nephlynn: “…Not much for conversation, eh?”
Gwendolyn: “Shouldn’t you be used to it? If I recall, you’re friends with butterflies.”
Nephlynn: “Hey! That’s just mean!”
Gwendolyn: “*chuckles* I merely jest.”
Peaceful days followed, with Gwendolyn becoming more comfortable around Nephlynn. Every day, she spent time with Sirius, gaining his trust. She rode around the house with him frequently, and sometimes Nephlynn too joined in on the fun, there, always watched by the butterflies.
These days were simple; not much would come to mind. Gwendolyn felt happy and even smiled quite often. At times, it felt like all her worries were nothing but a faraway memory. Yet she knew it wouldn’t last. She had to set out and fight for her beliefs – she had promised so to herself.
Though her destination wasn’t quite clear, something had been on her mind as of late. She would space out, lost in thought, something which did not go unnoticed by Nephlynn.
At last, the day of parting had arrived. Gwendolyn would once more tread upon the road of hardships. Once again dressed in her suit of armour, armed with Lifthrasir and riding her new trusty steed, she was ready to face whatever challenges came her way.
Gwendolyn: “I will never forget your hospitality, Nephlynn. Yours will be a memory I will always treasure.”
Nephlynn: “Good. I shall do the same. And please, take good care of Sir Sirius, the Serious. Heh, I dare you to say that ten times fast!”
Gwendolyn: “*laugh* …Time to hit the road, Sirius.”
Nephlynn: “Remember, if you ever need shelter, return to this forest and follow the butterflies. I shall welcome you with open arms.”
Gwendolyn: “I’ll be sure to not forget. …Farewell, and thank you for everything.”
And so, Gwendolyn commanded Sirius to depart. Nephlynn waved goodbye and watched her leave until she was no more in sight.
Nephlynn: “Farewell, Gwendolyn von Edelweiss. May your path follow the best course towards what you seek.”
The fallen knight had left, chasing her ideal knowing fully she may never live to see it through to the end.
“I cannot falter. I shall face whatever comes my way head on! Watch me, Captain Alfrid. I hope one day you may see my ideal of a knight as I do.”
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