May 16, 2022

I was born early morning on Varsday, the 34th day of Lapis, in a small village called Allunis, about 3 days ride from Darn.

At the time of my birth, my father had been out with a small group of the villagers hunting a herd of Horned Pigs that had been getting into the crops for the last few months. This wasn’t a particularly rare occurrence, but in the last few months the attacks had become more frequent, and more fierce, until the decision was made we were due for a culling.

Our village, you see, was pushed up against a large and particularly dense forest. And in that forest there was what once, long ago, had been the entrance to a Labyrinth. The entrance itself had collapsed well before the village had been established, but there was still enough residual magical energy that emanated from what lay beneath to occasionally attract monsters like the Horned Pigs. They would start poking around with the intention of making the forest their home. Sooner or later they would get confident enough to start encroaching on the farms. Whenever this started getting out of hand, the villagers would round up a group of the burliest farm workers, and march into the forest.

The hunters had been out for a few days already at this point, and not having had much luck were itching to return home to rest, when by sheer blind luck they’d finally come across the Horned Pig den. Even though they were exhausted and well beyond their limits, they were in luck: the pigs were all asleep inside. They snuck into the den and killed a dozen of the monsters while they were sleeping.

By the time the men came back to the village, lugging the carcasses back on improvised sleds cut from tree branches, I had already been born for a few days. Since my arrival coincided more or less with the discovery of the den of monsters that had been plaguing the village, it was decided I should be named after that episode somehow.

My father’s first suggestion had naturally been to name me Horned Pig. This apparently sparked an instant barrage against him from my mother and sisters. Unfortunately, my father had always been obstinate, so the complaints only made him dig his heels in.

“The boy will be called Horned Pig!” He stamped his foot and crossed his arms.

To which my mother replied, “do you honestly want to wander out into the village yelling out Horned Pig! Horned Pig! Every time your son wanders off? People are going to think you’re looking for a lost pet! We’ll be a laughingstock!”

“If I say the boy will be Horned Pig, then the boy will be Horned Pig! And not another word!”

Fortunately, once cooler heads prevailed, there were more words, and this is how I came to be called Etwin.

For most of my youth, I thought I’d dodged a nest of hornets on that one. As it happened, that name would come back to haunt me. In the old language, the one my parents were familiar with, my name translates out to something like ‘bountiful victory’. I would not discover until much later that there was an even older meaning from an even older tongue meaning ‘victory achieved through great sacrifice’.

This wasn’t common knowledge where I came from, and so nobody was able to point out the irony when, a few weeks later, the Horned Pigs raided our village again, seeking revenge for their destroyed den.

This time they weren’t messing around, either. They didn’t just come in small waves, but called in their big brother, a particularly angry and dangerous Horned Boar. I suppose that no matter the species, all kids think alike: if you get beaten down, come back with some tougher, older kids to take care of your mess. I can almost imagine them standing behind that giant boar, sneering at our village.

Anyway, the pigs raided again and again, and even caused a few injuries as some younger, more stupid men tried to take on the boar.

The problem was that on the surface, a Horned Boar doesn’t look like much more than a bigger version of a Horned Pig. If you’d never really dealt with one before you might assume it was little more than a slightly hardier version of the smaller one. But as those young men discovered soon enough, this kind of thinking is entirely off track.

Horned Boars aren’t just Horned Pigs that have been around long enough to get bigger. They’re the evolved form of the weaker species. They’re not just physically larger, they’re also much smarter. And they’re not just a little tougher, either. A Horned Boar’s hide is so thick that it pushes away blades like a steel armor, and its tusks are powerful enough to launch a fully loaded wagon straight into the air. And finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but these things are big. A regular Horned Pig is already large, but no larger than a large dog at best. A Horned Boar could easily carry a few people on its back and have room to spare for cargo. They’d make great pack animals if they weren’t also incredibly aggressive and territorial.

For a whole month the village was plagued on and off by this giant monster and its underlings. They would peer at us from the edges of the forest, then bound out and destroy our property and crops the moment our backs were turned.

After the boar fatally mauled one of the farmworkers keeping watch at night, the village finally decided to call for help. See? Pigs aren’t the only ones who can call on their older brothers. We sent a messenger to Darn.

Allunis was a small village, and there were only a dozen or so families living there, maybe a hundred people all told when you factored in the workers. But there was a lot of farmland, and we generated a lot of food. Seven in ten grains worth of everything we produced or gathered went straight to Darn, both as tax and as payment for the lease of the land.

It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t like we needed a lot to actually eat ourselves, and in return for all that food we were entitled to protection by the small army stationed there. Darn wasn’t about to let the pigs destroy everything or they’d potentially face shortages over winter. We might not be a huge center of trade, but we did account for a noticeable percentage of their overall food stores.

So, a few nervous weeks later, there was a buzz of excitement as the lookout caught sight of a city standard flapping in the wind on the outskirts of the village. The excitement soon fizzled out as the villagers saw what Darn had actually sent.

Instead of a regiment of spear wielding soldiers, only five people rode back into town, including the messenger we’d sent in the first place. One older gentleman in well-worn leather armor, and three recruits trailing behind in an otherwise empty wagon.

My father, who had for some reason unbeknownst to anybody else taken it upon himself to be the town’s representative in this matter, stormed up to them almost before they were even properly inside the village.

“What’s the meaning of this? Where are the rest of you?” Or something like that.

The older gentleman had looked at him with what I can only imagine was an overwhelmingly tired expression, and replied, “what? Who are you?” Or something like that.

“Are you all that Darn sent to deal with the problem?” My father demanded a second time.

The other soldiers were starting to buzz at this point and one of them stepped forward.

“Hey, watch your mouth, bumpkin! Do you know who you’re tal—“

But the older gentleman had held up one hand and cut the recruit off.

“He probably doesn’t know who I am.” Then to my father he bowed low and said, “my name is Bertrand Nightowl. I am in the employ of Darn just now, and when they heard of your troubles, my liege dispatched me right away.”

“Just you? What can one man do against that Devil?”

“There’s a Devil here?” Bertrand looked genuinely confused.

“The pig! The Horned Boar!”

“Oh,” Bertrand nodded his head. “That’s a relief. If it was an actual Devil I might have had to go back and get some help.”

Through this exchange, my father’s face had been growing increasingly redder.

“How dare you take this situation so lightly! People have died here trying to take down that… monster! What is that old fool thinking sending an old man to deal with this!”

Bertrand had frowned at that and said levelly, “it’s precisely because people are dying that my liege sent me. There will be no more deaths in this village from the Horned Boar, or it’s brood. You have my word on that. And I’d ask you to be a little more pleasant in your choice of words. Do not take the Count of Darn for a fool.”

My father threw his hands in the air and stormed off. From where he was standing he was the one being taken for a fool.

The soldiers who had come with Bertrand looked furious at the exchange, but the older man calmed them down with a smile and a wave of his hand. “Now now, not much we can do about that. You didn’t sign up as soldiers to have everybody love you, and neither did I.” He looked around expectantly at the villagers still standing there gawking. “That said, we would appreciate it if somebody could tell us a little more about the situation.”

The soldiers set up a little camp right there in the middle of the village, and my father started fuming about how they were going to have to take care of the Horned Boar themselves. Just as soon as it showed up again. Which as it happens was that very night.

Being that my father had made such a big deal about the Bertrand, he started patrolling the outskirts of the village as soon as it got dark. He strapped his sword to his belt, found himself the longest pitchfork he could find, and started marching from one corner of the town square to the other, much to the increasing annoyance of the soldiers.

After a long night of uneventful marching, as my father was about ready to sneak off back to bed, it finally happened. The giant Horned Boar made an appearance.

Like a dark black bolt from the forest, it hurdled into the village, bearing its tusks, and that single gnarled horn atop its head, aimed straight at my father. Maybe because he was already tired from marching around with a pitchfork, but more probably because he was an idiot, my father froze and stared as the Horned Boar raced towards him.

But just before those tusks ripped into him, there was a sound like a thunderclap, and then a tremendous rush of wind. Bertrand, who had been sitting patiently at the fire drinking herbal tea, flew past my father like an arrow. There was a ringing chime, and then before my idiot father could fully process what had happened, the old man was standing where the body of the Horned Boar had become separate from its head, which rolled along the ground until it stared up at my father with lifeless eyes.

I think at this point in the story, my father could have done an number of things that would have cemented him in the permanent role of bumbling villain. But to his credit, he immediately tossed his pitchfork aside and dropped onto his knees in front of Bertrand, prostrating himself in front of the older man.

“I’m sorry! I was wrong! You’ve saved me! You’ve saved the village!”

My father was immensely proud, and often stupendously stubborn. But he was also grown up enough to know when he’d been entirely wrong, and he wasn’t going to let his pride get in the way of settings things straight.

And to Bertrand’s credit, while he might have chosen that moment to lay into my father, he didn’t. Instead he calmly put his sword away, then knelt down and dropped one hand on his shoulder.

“It’s alright. It’s not a bad thing to be passionate about the place you live. Come on, get back to your feet. With the Boar gone I don’t think the Pigs will be back any time soon.”

And so, the Horned Boar that had been terrorizing our village was dispatched. By Bertrand Nightowl, in less than a second. The soldiers who had come with him, as it happened, mostly earned their pay by loading the boar onto the wagon they’d come on.

The next day, my father rallied the village into a celebration. In a complete reversal of what had happened when the soldiers had arrived, the villagers were now tripping over themselves to shake hands or offer up their children. Bertrand, though obviously pleased with the outcome, was not entirely at ease.

“Why would something like a Horned Boar even be around here?”

“That’s the fault of the old Labyrinth entrance, isn’t it? It’s been sealed over since forever, but we’ve always had monsters come through now and then,” my father explained.

“But as large as that boar?” Bertrand insisted. “Has there ever been anything like that?”

“Not that I can remember,” my father shrugged, and the consensus about the villagers gathered around was that they couldn’t remember either.

Bertrand looked up at the sun, which was only starting to crawl to the middle of the sky, then called over one of the soldiers, who was at that moment politely trying to talk her way out of an offer of marriage to one of the town’s many sons, and was no doubt glad for the excuse to leave the family and rush to her commander’s side. To my father, Bertrand said, “this is Fynnis. Get somebody to take her to this entrance. If anything happens, let her take care of it.”

My father had looked at Fynnis, who back then barely looked like she was in double digits, but apparently he had learned not to judge packages by their outside appearances. Rather than lump the work on anybody else, he volunteered to do it himself. The two of them had packed a few provisions, and left on foot before the hour was out.

The entrance to the Labyrinth was not too far off, just half a day’s hike, but far out enough they had planned to make their way out, camp, then return in the morning.

And yet, they returned that very night, Fynnis looking like she’d seen a ghost, and my father obviously disturbed whatever she’d explained to him on the way back.

“What is it? What did you find?” Bertrand demanded.

Fynnis had looked him in the eye and said in a trembling voice, “I understand why there are more powerful monsters about now. It’s the entrance to the labyrinth. It’s not sealed at all. It’s opened.”

And so went the first three months of my life.