The next day, unfortunately the weather worsened, and we continued towards the Jugfena royal domain while it was drizzling. We couldn’t tell the time because we couldn’t see the sun, and we had to proceed carefully so as to not go in the wrong direction with this low visibility.
While everything was misty, we just kept following the path to the right, and we arrived in front of a forest that was much denser than the other ones in Kaldia. It was said that a primeval forest once covered this entire area, and what’s left of it now has become known as the “Monster Forest.” I could hear what sounded like the sounds of beasts and insects coming from the forest along with the sound of falling raindrops.
“This place gives off a bad feeling……”
That voice came from one of the soldiers. Maybe it’s because of the rain, even though it was summer there was a chill in the air. The soldiers might all be tired as well, everyone kept marching on in complete silence.
“Gunther, raise our speed to an extent that we won’t get lost again.”
“Understood. I want to get out of here as quickly as possible too. Even being outside the Monster Forest, makes my heart nervous.”
Even Gunther who was such a fearless person thought so, and this road had an eerie atmosphere to it. While holding on the the reins of my horse, I looked at the forest to my right. Due to the rain, its outline was dark and I couldn’t see it clearly. Although there’s still quite a distance to the forest, it felt like the Monster Forest was a looming presence, maybe it’s because the forest takes up such a large portion of my field of vision.
Suddenly, I felt like within its grey shadows, a bloodstained red was spreading. When I blinked, it was gone already, I wonder if it was an optical illusion, since I couldn’t see it anymore.
But while I was busy focusing on the forest, I heard a cheer from the soldiers in the front.
“I can see it! We’ve reached Fort Jugfena!”
At hearing that, all the soldiers cheered. On the other side of the drizzle, the shadow of the giant man made structure was vaguely asserting its presence.
As we got closer to it, I was gradually able to make out the contours and features of the gigantic fortress. Fort Jugfena, is the only place where people live in the Jugfena royal domain. Rain was drizzling down on the fort made of polished black stone and metal, and it had towers spaced uniformly apart with the Arxian flag on top of them, with walls taller than the Mansion of Golden Hills I live in. Unlike the castles in the royal capital, there was absolutely zero decorative elements, but I felt that its systematic nature seemed supremely magnificent.
The Kaldia army’s soldiers had never left Kaldia before, and even Claudia as well though she should be used to the castles in the royal capital, they were all staring at the black iron fort with mouths wide agape. I was no exception. In front of this overwhelmingly beautiful fort, the Kaldia army proceeded while being fascinated by it like fools.
“Mm, Elena-dono, over there.”
Claudia who seemed to have the vision of a wild beast was pointing to the bottom of the fort. Her eyesight was even good enough to find one speck of grain in the large kitchen.
“It’s not Elena, it’s Eliza.”
“Did I get it wrong again…… I’m sorry. Please excuse me.”
I shortened my usual correction of her as I had mostly given up already, and squinted at the place Claudia was pointing at. Since my horse was still proceeding along in the meantime, when we got a bit closer I was finally able to see what Claudia was pointing at.
“Are those…… the refugees’ tents?”
Surrounding the fort, completely different from the tent I used, were rows of simple tents meant for use by soldiers. They were spread out around the side of the fort as far as I could see.
Even though it was raining, I could see people coming and going from the tents, not minding the rain. Then I changed my line of sight to our objective, the fort that took us three days of marching to get here. We stopped in front of the fort’s doors, and as my leading military commander, Gunther reported my arrival to the fort’s gatekeeper. In front of me were gigantic wooden doors kept behind iron chain mesh, I could truly tell that this castle was intended to be a fortress.
Maybe the refugees can tell that Claudia and I are of higher status since we’re on horses, their lines of sight were all on us. All they were doing was gawking at us, there wasn’t much expression on their faces. There were those that kept staring at us silently, as well as those that lost interest and returned to their tents. They all seemed unhealthily skinny, I could tell that they all appeared to be exhausted and emaciated.
I’m sorry, but right now I’m not here to welcome you. I put what I had just seen away in a corner of my mind.
In the meantime, the gigantic door in front of me opened. Gunther gave the order for everyone to advance, and we slowly entered the castle in columns of marching soldiers. There was a row of soldiers on either side of us, leaving enough space for us to pass by between them. We passed them by as we entered the fort. The fort was brightly lit inside by torches, and we passed by some stables on the first floor where there was a wide space that many horses were resting at.
“Thank you very much for coming over, Viscountess Kaldia.”
“I’m much obliged for your welcome. As promised, I’ve brought along fifty soldiers from the Kaldia army.”
We were being guided by soldiers from the fort, and the knight that had been the messenger to the Kaldia domain the other day arrived to greet me. I suppose he might be the one in charge of being our liaison. Today, since he wasn’t wearing a helmet and his hair was down, he seemed younger than before. If anything, I’d say that his current appearance matches his true age more. But, I don’t have any idea what his age is.
“On behalf of my lord Earl Einsbark, thank you very much for your pure and noble knightly spirit.”
The man knelt and greeted me in a special knightly pose and ceremonial manner. He basically had his right hand touching his left shoulder. As expected of an actual knight, his movements were elegant and graceful.
As for Claudia whose dream was to become a knight, her eyes were sparkling with excitement as she watched the knight carrying out his formal greeting. This is bad, this is her expression right before she loses control of herself.
“I’m sorry about the inconvenience even though we’ve just arrived, but I wonder if my soldiers can get some rest now. Since we unexpectedly had to deal with exterminating a magical beast on our way here, they’re a bit tired.”
The knight issued instructions to the soldiers that had been guiding us, and my soldiers went up to the second floor with them.
Meanwhile, I ordered Claudia to bring those two women over here. Those two women that I brought along with me from Cyril village, when they first entered this stone and metal fortress, they were too frightened to even look at the refugees, and seemed to be at a loss for what to do. For now, I’m just going to say that they’re my and Claudia’s maids, and that tomorrow I’m going to have Claudia accompany them back to Cyril village.
“So, just for tonight, would it be alright to loan a room to these maids as well?”
“Ahh, there’s plenty of extra rooms. It’s no problem.”
The knight nodded at my second request, and then I continued speaking.
“I still haven’t heard your name yet. I apologize for not asking up until now.”
“I don’t mind. I thank you for the respect you’ve shown me. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Ergnade Einsbark. I’m the leader of the 1st Cavalry Platoon at Fort Jugfena. Since I’m in charge of being the liaison with you guys, I think we’ll be getting to know each other very well. I’ll be in your care.”
……Einsbark? This is an unexpected name that I’m hearing.
Since he had been a messenger knight, I thought that he would be just a low-ranking knight, but to think he was a military commander. What’s more, since his last name is Einsbark, that means he’s related to the earl that’s the leader here. With such a high rank, he’s to be our liaison?
I wonder what Earl Einsbark is up to, selecting such a person to be our liaison. Not knowing what that sly old fox, the cunning veteran knight Earl Einsbark could be planning or thinking, my habit of being on guard reared its ugly neck.