I couldn’t look away as I watched the black smoke rise from the straws around the wooden stakes that had people tied to it.
On a hot summer day when the intense sunlight blazed down, screams and shouts gushed out from the powerless, half-dead people. Those who had kicked and tied them up to the pillar were surrounding them and watching them with joy. They were absorbed in playing with the suffering victims as they splashed water and oil into the flames.
The screams of the blackening people gradually changed into wheezing. An awfully unpleasant smell filled the air. The heat and stench made me vomit, and loud laughter sounded from next to me. As if enticed by that laughter, I heard out of place laughter. My ears hurt, and my brain felt as if it was being stirred.
I wanted to shut my ears and eyes and crouch down because I couldn’t stand it anymore, but the arms that were holding me wouldn’t let me do so. I couldn’t tell them to let me go, and the adult’s arm easily held my small body in place even if I desperately tried to twist my body.
I was terribly dizzy. My head hurt so much it felt like it would break. The heat, the hot air, and the stench; all of which smothered me.
I couldn’t endure the nausea anymore. My throat twitched, and my stomach felt as if it was turning. The vomit that had reached my throat came out. The smell of people burning was mixed with a pungent odour that stuck to the nose.
I slowly lifted my half, half-stunned by my vomit.
I think I was trying to look at the person who was holding me. This was done reflexively, so I wasn’t sure why I did it. However, I deeply regretted doing this when I saw who was holding me.
The man with alluring long black hair that was blowing in the wind and blood-red eyes looked at me and his rapt smile made me shiver.
When I realised that it was my father, I woke up in bed.
I violently wiped the sweat that was falling down my cheeks in the hot and sultry bed. Perhaps because I had a nightmare, my fingertips were freezing, and I was shivering.
I crawled out of bed without opening the curtains that hung from the canopy. I was looking for cold air, but it was hot out of bed as well. It was so humid that it made me choke. I finally breathed in the fresh air when I opened the window.
Kaldia was facing intense heat for the first time in five years.
More people started collapsing from heatstroke in the fief, and the vigilante corps that had been launched in every village a while ago were working hard without rest to prevent and deal with it. Earl Thelesia and I, who often stayed inside, were also placed under the control of the people in the mansion and had to spend time hydrating and resting.
Soldiers were gradually returning from the settlements in the east because a few days ago, refugees started moving to our fief in groups of 50. There was a lot of water in the east and it was easier to live there, so some of the returning soldiers wanted to go back.
Two months have already passed since Kamil left the Golden Hill Mansion.
I flung my pyjamas that had gotten soaked with sweat to the side and wore a thin tunic and dalmatic. Mrs Hortensio was helping with my breakfast, so she won’t come and help me prepare in the mornings. She also won’t come to wake me up unless I oversleep since I am already over five-years-old. The sweat made my body sticky and it felt gross, so I left my room and headed to the dining room while looking for a maid.
There are only two maids at the Golden Hill Mansion, so it was hard to find them during the busy morning hours. I was probably lucky today since I met Phoebe, who was walking around collecting laundry in the mansion.
“Good morning, Ojou-sama.”
“Good morning, Phoebe. I’m sorry, but can you get my sheets as well.”
Both my bed and pyjamas were soaked with sweat, and I didn’t want to sleep in them since I would probably get a nightmare again. It was no surprise that I wanted to make myself comfortable since this heat made me have nightmares and made it hard for me to sleep. The other residents in this building must have thought the same because Phoebe muttered, “Well, it is sweltering,” before nodding firmly.
“I understand. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“I want to wipe my body after breakfast. Get the things ready in my room.”
Phoebe nodded again, bowed, and quickly walked down the corridor since she was busy. It was the maids’ job to pick up laundry, but it was the washing lady’s job to do the laundry. Even if I don’t take my time to eat breakfast, she’ll probably have the tub and cloth ready for me in my room.
Surprisingly, Earl Thelesia, Mrs Mareshan, Mrs Hortensio, and Claudia were sitting at the dining table. Earl Thelesia usually ate breakfast a little earlier, and Mrs Mareshan and Mrs Hortensio ate a little later. Elise and Maya have breakfast in their room, but it was surprising to see the others at the dining table.
… Which reminds me, I haven’t been to Elise’s room for a while. Elise has gotten better lately, so she often goes to the courtyard during the day, so I didn’t need to visit her room. Shall I visit her room today?
I squeezed the cloth that Phoebe had prepared for me and wiped my body. Then, Rashiok followed me as I headed to Elise’s room. When I knocked on Elise’s door, Rashiok made a sound, and Elise replied, “Come in.” I wonder if she’s a lot healthier than when she first came here.
“Elise-dono, sorry to disturb you.”
“Eliza-sama! Hello. I thought it was only Rashiok.”
… Rashiok, have you visited Elise before? This is the first I’ve ever heard of this. Rashiok must have been aware that he’s a draconis, since he didn’t enter the room and sat down neatly at the door.
Elise was sitting on a chair by the window instead of on the bed like she usually does. Her face suddenly lit up, and she was about to get off the chair, but I stopped her with my hand.
“You look well today.”
“… Yes, I’m feeling well, thanks to you.”
I nodded at her as she smiled happily and approached her as if I was going to do something. When I stood next to her, she became bashful. “I was looking outside,” she said in a small voice.
“Yes. You can see the courtyard and pond from here.
“I like looking at the view from here. I’ll go down there when I get better,” she laughed.
“I see,” I replied as I looked out the window, and saw the courtyard and pond that Elise was talking about. That was where I collected the poisonous leaves. The gardener doesn’t take care of the pond, so it might still be growing there. It’s a reservoir, so I think it is being taken care of, but they didn’t get rid of the plants because the toxins don’t dissolve in water.
Various types of colourful vegetation surrounded the water, and it looked quite pretty from afar. I squinted my eyes when I found a small rock nestled in the grass. So, you can see that ‘grave’ from here?
“Oh yes, you can ride Rashiok at that time. He’ll take you to the pond really quickly.”
“Oh my, on Rashiok’s back? Is that alright?”
Elise laughed happily. I thought her smile looked like the sunshine, and she seemed relieved. A sickly girl who can’t even go down to the courtyard alone. I felt miserable because I could only relax around someone like her.
Under the guidance of Earl Thelesia, I spent my days handling supply requests and talking about how the construction was doing in the settlement. The other day, 30 warhorses from Luctfeld fief were delivered to us, so Earl Thelesia’s establishment of a cavalry troop was one step closer to realisation, but other than that, not much happened.
Then, a messenger from Jugfena royal fief’s army arrived at the Golden Hill Mansion.
Earl Thelesia and I welcomed him in the parlour. The soldier was covered from head to toe in chain mail, and he wore a black tunic embroidered with the Arxian crest, a crown and the Sacred Code, with a mantle on top. I pulled on the Earl’s sleeve since I was curious about the clean fabric, and he replied, “He’s a knight.” I see; a knight? Is it alright to use a knight as a messenger?
Younger nobles who have become military officers are called knights. To be precise, those who officially enter a knight order are called knights, and commoners who enter a knight order become titled knights. Nobles without titles can become titled knights, so everyone in the knight order has peerage.
“Welcome to Kaldia.”
“Thank you for the warm welcome. I bring you a message from the commander of the Jugfena Fortress Knights, Earl Einsbark.”
The knight entered without even sitting down and remained standing between the chair and the desk. This meant it was urgent business. The Earl and I remained standing as well since the knight was still standing. The knight looked at the Earl and solemnly began to speak.
“A woman claiming to be from the Sill tribe arrived at Jugfena Fortress with 10 children, and are currently under our protection.”
… I gently closed my eyes when I heard the knight’s words. The time has finally come? It has been two months since we decided to accept the refugees, and the Sill tribe has done an excellent job fleeing from the Densel army.
“According to her, 60 more people will arrive from the Sill tribe. They’re being pursued by an army of 300 Densel soldiers. Kaldia has agreed to take in the refugees, but will there be any problems with accepting this many?”
When I answered, the knight looked at me in surprise. Hmm, he glanced at the nodding Earl, then turned to face me after the Earl nodded a few times. He’s a commendable knight. Even if others know that I’m Viscountess Kaldia, they always talk to Earl Thelesia since they think of him as the feudal lord.
“Very well, then. So, you will take them in together with the 1000 refugees currently under the protection of the fortress?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
The knight and I nodded at each other, then he hesitated a little.
“… Viscountess Kaldia, Earl Einsbark would like to request for your aid in defending Jugfena Fortress.”
It felt somewhat refreshing to see anguish and confusion in his eyes. His eyes were also mixed with guilt, and it was easy to see that he didn’t want children involved in a war. He’s an honest man and very ethical. I remembered that Earl Thelesia avoided my eyes when he first told me about the neighbouring kingdom, and I thought nothing of it. He probably thought it was too early to send me into war, or he might not have hesitated to send me there if it was necessary.
“I accept this request. I will take 80 soldiers from the Kaldia army with me to Jugfena Fortress.”
It sounded as if he couldn’t help but ask that question. Oops, his expression seemed to say, and I stared at him in wonder and goodwill. His values seemed similar to what I remember from my previous life. It was normal for children under ten to be soldiers in this world, and feudal lords just over five-years-old have been to the battlefield. I felt strangely warm as I nodded firmly.
“… I understand. I will inform Earl Einsbark. I will excuse myself now.”