Guts is training Isidoro while Serpico is making dinner with Puck, and Farnese is watching Casca while gathering firewood. Farnese is wallowing in her own self-pity and reflecting on how useless she feels. While attempting to grab a wild rabbit for their dinner, Casca wanders off and Farnese loses track of her. Unable to find Casca before it gets dark, Farnese hides in the hollow base of a tree.

The next morning the others find her, and gently berate her for getting lost while she was supposed to be watching Casca. Apparently Casca had made her own way back to camp because she was hungry, but at least she was safe. Later that day when alone with Serpico, Farnese apologizes to him for causing him trouble.

Later that day while traveling, the group meets an old shepherd who informs them that the port has become full of allied forces who might be preparing to go up against the Kushans. As Guts and the others turn to leave  the shepherd warns them that trolls have been encountered further on the road the path they’re traveling.

As the group prepares to set up camp again for the evening, Guts trains Isidoro some more while the others set up the campfire. Serpico asks Guts to help him gather firewood, but as Guts anticipates, this is merely a front. Serpico coldly admits that he wants Guts to die, but Farnese wants to travel with Guts so as long as that situation doesn’t change then Serpico will have to pretend to like Guts.

However with Isidoro, Guts and Serpico being away from the camp, everyone else is vulnerable to attackers. So sure enough a troll appears and captures Casca and Farnese. Isidoro shows up but is unable to repel the troll. It is only when our mysterious witch appears and casts a strong spell that the trolls leave. Guts and Serpico catch up with the others and they move on, with the witch watching from the shadows.

Elsewhere in the forest Guts’ group comes across an old man lying across the patch. After he’s lightly healed and his wounds bandaged, he explains who he is and what he’s looking for. Serpico lifts Morgan onto his back and they (unintentionally) find the witch’s house that Morgan had been trying to find. As they approach however they trip some invisible alarms, and the teal-haired witch casts a spell which brings the house’s stone guardians to life.

Guts and the others try to break the rock defenders, but they regenerate any destroyed appendages. Ironically it’s Casca who discovers that each stone creature has a living doll embedded in its chest and if the small doll is destroyed, so will the creature itself.

Suddenly a mysterious voice fills everyone’s ears, and the stone defenders stop moving. The young witch emerges from the house and invites everyone inside. She introduces herself as Schierke, an apprentice, and her fairy guardian’s name is Ivalera. Schierke takes everyone into a flower-filled room full of sunlight. In front of the floor to ceiling window is an old woman sitting in a chair. She is Schierke’s mistress.

Morgan introduces himself as the son of a woman the old witch had saved several decades earlier, and she says that she remembers him. She also knows about Farnese’s past as a Holy See knight.  Lastly the old witch is also able to identify Guts and Casca as having their brands, which of course she couldn’t have known about. She says that she has been waiting for Guts to arrive.

My thoughts: This episode and the next couple will be my favourite this season, I suspect. The addition of Schierke and Ivalera to Guts’ traveling companions changes the group’s dynamics (as it did when Isidoro, Farnese and Serpico joined Guts), and they also encourage development in some of the other characters. This is one of the few series I’ve covered where I’ve actually read all of the manga beforehand, so I don’t want to say too much in case I accidently spoil something for others. I will just say that Schierke is probably my favourite character next to Guts and will leave it at that.

Guts and the others meeting Schierke and her elderly mistress is also something of a game-changer. We’ll see why in the next episode or two, and I promise I’ll have more to say then. Can’t wait!

Author’s note: I will be out of town next week with no internet access, so the next review will be in two week’s time and will be a double-post.