The exhausted Shiru tribe were about 100 in number, and every one of them was trying their hardest to go as fast as they could despite their condition. Those that couldn’t run anymore would change places with those on horses, everyone was lending each other hands and shoulders for support, and with the 3rd Cavalry Platoon leading the way, we hurried back towards Fort Jugfena.
Since we were mostly going uphill, people were reaching their limits. But even so, we couldn’t afford to slow down, because we could hear the sounds of battle from right behind us, scaring people onwards.
Turning around to look, I could see the forces from Fort Jugfena fighting with the Densel army. Since they were battling at a lower elevation from us, I could see the whole situation quite clearly. The Densel army had indeed attacked from an unexpected direction, so the two armies’ positions were reversed. The Densel army was in between Fort Jugfena and our forces, coming under attack from archer fire, while our forces were between the Densel army and their camp where the tents had been set on fire. With both armies trapped between a rock and a hard place, having nowhere to run, it seems that it’s quite likely that it’ll develop into a scene of brutal carnage.
I couldn’t help but squint to get a closer look at the battlefield. Even though it was still fairly far away and it would be almost impossible to find someone specific, I couldn’t help but look among the chaos for a speck of black.
“We’re almost there, everyone please keep doing your best.”
Suddenly, one of the knights who had remained silent up until now suddenly gave some encouragement to the Shiru tribe. Although he was speaking the Arxian language instead of Artolan language, somehow his meaning seems to have been transmitted to them, and the Shiru tribe appeared to be relieved. It’s probably because the enemies haven’t been able to chase us up to here, and nobody has been saying anything until now, which gave them the sense of relief.
“It’s just a little more until we reach the fort. Let’s get there, then everyone can rest.”
I called out as well to a child who was shakily just holding on, and patted him on the shoulder to give him encouragement. He was riding on one of the Shiru tribe’s horses and appeared even younger than me. Although I was born as a noble, I’m unfortunately already used to the pace of a marching army.
Because we kept heading northeast, it was getting colder and colder. It’s because we’re getting closer to the Amon Nor Mountains. It’s a bit dark around here because the mountains are covered year round in snow clouds, giving it an eerie atmosphere. Even so, somehow the Shiru tribe quickened their pace.
We finally reached a cave on the mountainside. Without any hesitation, the knights headed straight inside. The Shiru tribe, and the Kaldia army as well, followed them.
It was dark inside the cave, and the air was stifling due to it being summer. It was still rather chilly though, and completely silent inside. Since several knights were vaguely lighting the way, we were able to at least see the direction to travel in. The lights the knights were using were probably light emitting stones created from the scales of the fire moths. They’re actually quite few and rare in number, and their effectiveness is about the same as the fire moths themselves. After traveling through the cave for a while, the knights paused in front of a stone door.
“Viscountess Kaldia, we’ve arrived at Fort Jugfena.”
A happy expression appeared on the knight that was walking in front of me. His relief was obvious to see.
“Wait a second, there’s no guards on the other side?”
The knight’s relieved expression disappeared instantly when another knight raised his voice.
“That’s probably because we’re currently in a wartime situation. Everyone is on lookout instead, also to prevent deserters as well. After all, it’s pretty easy to slip right across the border.”
“I see, so there was that as well?”
I was listening closely to the knights’ conversation, but I wasn’t quite convinced how that would be a good reason to leave this door unguarded. Since this hidden passage leads directly inside the fort, it seems too important to not leave a single guard here at all.
With an ominous feeling hanging over me, I spoke to the two knights that were having their conversation.
“An incident may have occurred here as well. I think it’ll be good if we wait to ascertain the situation before having the Shiru tribe enter the fort.”
The knights looked at each other, then they nodded at me.
“Alright, let’s have the Shiru tribe rest for a little while here. Half of the 3rd Cavalry Platoon and half of the Kaldia army shall remain here to guard them, just in case. The rest shall check out the situation inside the fort.”
I nodded in agreement with their plan, and one of the two knights came up close to me. He began speaking to me in a really hushed tone of voice.
“……Viscountess Kaldia, if it’s alright with you, would you join us for going inside the fort? There’s no guarantee that Densel soldiers won’t discover this cave and chase us down. If that happens, with the Shiru tribe here, things may get quite chaotic. We have the responsibility of defending you from enemy soldiers, but that may be quite difficult if there’s a chaotic situation.”
The knight had a serious expression on his face, and I looked up at him straight in the face in return. He looked so strict, that I couldn’t help but take a step back.
I nodded in agreement, and without changing his strict expression, the knight began the task of dividing people into who would go and who would remain here.
I let go of my breath, and loosened my stiff body. I had Gunther divide our army into two, and told him that we would be heading into the fort first to check the situation out, while the Shiru tribe got some rest.
“Alright, everything is ready, so let’s go.”
One of the knights raised his voice, and everyone who was selected to enter the fort lined up in front of the door. It took several people to open the heavy stone door, and it budged with creaking sounds, along with causing a warm wind to blow this way.
It was already dark before, and even after the stone door was opened it remained dark. While being surrounded by Gunther who was in charge of my personal protection and three other knights, I entered the fort, and we arrived at a large hall in the northernmost section of the fort. We came out of what had been disguised as an altar, covered with a gigantic tapestry embroidered with the Arxian national emblem.
“……It’s too quiet.”
Other than the sounds of our breathing, there was no other sound at all. I could clearly hear someone in my party gulping and swallowing their saliva, then it became completely silent again.
“Let’s…… let’s go upstairs. The archer squad should be there.”
The knight leading us said so, and we began heading upstairs towards the nobles’ building from the northern hall.