The next morning, a messenger pigeon arrived from the royal capital.
The message it brought was an order to dispatch troops, from the Upper House of Lords. The Upper House of Lords is also commonly referred to as the ‘Imperial Court’, and it is where the representatives of the king and the House of Lords make various decisions. It’s similar to the Grand Council of State in my previous life, and it consists of the king, prime minister, commander-in-chief, priests, high priest, the three judicial families, and five representatives from the House of Lords.
“Viscountess Kaldia shall command her fief army and join the defence of Jugfena Fortress… Even the Imperial Court went through the trouble of drafting this order.”
This must have something to do with Earl Thelesia’s actions and our acceptance of the refugees. Receiving a direct order three times in a lifetime from the Upper House of Lords is considered to be very rare. Furthermore, it was in the form of a royal decree from the King. A simple order from the regular House of Lords would have been good enough, but I somewhat understand how the upper stratum thought of and treated Kaldia fief. I sat down reflexively as I stared at the document that I had picked up.
“You don’t have time to take it easy and stare at that document, Ada-dono!”
“It’s Eliza, Claudia-dono.”
“Hmm, my apologies. Well, since you have to mobilise your army, you should hurry up and get ready! Come on, hurry up.”
As I looked at the person in front of me, Claudia seemed overly excited and didn’t even try to hide it. This girl…
“There’s something I would like to talk to you about before that.”
I sighed and turned to Claudia. She tilted her head and looked tense and serious. I already knew that only her expression is serious after associating with her for the past several months. Still, this was a serious conversation, so I also changed my expression.
“I believe Earl Thelesia has asked you to be my bodyguard in place of Kamil.”
“Umm! ……. Hmm?”
… Am I an idiot for trying to have a serious discussion with her? Am I in the wrong? I felt that it was a wasted effort when I heard her confused response. Maybe I made a mistake the moment I decided to have her as my bodyguard.
“……… Oh, ooh! Come to think of it, he might have told me something like that, or maybe he didn’t…?”
Claudia clapped her hands together, and I swallowed down my imminent sigh. She has completely forgotten about this. She just read the room and went along with what I said.
“Unfortunately, Kamil can’t return from the settlement right now. Since there’s nobody else who can speak the language of the new settlers, or take charge of the construction project.”
“It’s definitely like that.”
Claudia kept nodding while humming, but I wonder just how much she understands…
“What I’m trying to say is, Kamil can’t come back to be my bodyguard, so I would like you to act as my bodyguard until we get to Jugfena Fortress. Is that alright?”
“Of course, no problem.”
She answered immediately, and her complacent smile changed into a joyous one. I see, so it’s no problem. That’s good.
“Then, you’ll return to the Golden Hill Mansion immediately after sending me to Jugfena Fortress. Gunter will guard me during my stay at the fortress.”
I’m glad she didn’t say, “I noticed your intention and want to be your bodyguard during the defence mission!” Claudia had been entrusted to Kaldia fief. It would be a major incident if she were to die or get injured in a defensive battle.
“… What?! Then, I’ll only be able to guard you half-way!!”
“It’s less dangerous here in Kaldia. I can’t have you accompany me to the frontlines.”
“No~! I want to protect you~!”
“Waah,” Claudia quickly tried to get me to retract my previous statement. I slipped past her and ran to the Earl’s office. I win as long as I make the report. I pledged… Or, so I thought. Claudia was surprisingly fast, and she chased after me with all her might. I survived since she had no sense of directions in buildings.
Since Earl Thelesia’s private army was assigned to protect the mansion, I summoned back 20 of the 30 soldiers I had sent to the settlement. With this, I now have the 80 soldiers I had promised to that knight. The soldiers marched in union with Gunter’s orders, and I looked down at them from my horse. A squire was leading the reins for me, so it was a lot easier compared to my birthday celebration.
“I thought you weren’t able to ride a horse…”
Claudia whispered as she rode next to me. She thought that I didn’t know how to ride a horse because we rode together on our way back from the royal capital.
“I can ride them, but I don’t have the strength to ride them for a whole day.”
“You’re really weak. Let’s devote ourselves to intense physical training when we get back.”
My head hurt from Claudia’s grandiose exaggeration, so I held my temple. I’m not weak. I should have more physical strength than the average six-year-old after completing my squire training. I looked forward without bothering to reply to her, and Gunter came up to me on my other side. Claudia called out his name in a bright voice.
“Yo, Ojou-chan, and ‘My Lord’. The march is going well.”
Asyl was in charge of the overall march command while Gunter commanded from the front. I saw that the longest-serving soldiers were hyped up and nodded at him slightly. Then, I tilted my head a little.
“… Erm, why are you calling me My Lord?”
“Oh? You don’t like it?”
Of course, I wouldn’t like it if you suddenly change the way you address me. Of course, it would be strange for someone who has always been calling me ‘brat’ to suddenly address me as ‘my lord’.
When I first started living in the barracks, the other soldiers also called me brat just like Gunter did, but they started calling me Tsar after they got used to me, just like Kamil does. I’m suspicious because Gunter stubbornly never changes the way he calls me.
“It’s your first campaign. I can’t treat you like a fucking brat forever. I’m going to drop honorifics too.”
Gunter laughed at his own sarcastic remark, and instead of being pleased, I frowned. Those words felt as if they completely overturned the nature of our relationship up until now. Up until now, Gunter and I have been interacting with each other as a mere adult and child, or a teacher and his pupil, without any words that indicated that I am a noble or feudal lord. It was so sudden, then I wondered if something inside of him had changed.
“You’re really not honest.”
“That’s so true.”
“You used to talk horribly and arrogantly. I thought you were crazy when you were overly polite to me. But, it didn’t feel bad.”
I felt like something insulting had come out from Gunter’s mouth, and my frown deepened.
“… Well, if that’s what you say, then so be it. Hurry up and state your business. You left the command to Asyl and came here to tell me something, right?”
Claudia chiming into Gunter’s sarcasm gives me a bad feeling. I thought about Claudia, who went relatively quiet when I started a serious conversation and ended the chatter. Gunter must have read my mind because he shrugged and muttered, “Are you a fucking brat?” Huh? Do you usually cuss by saying fucking brat?
“I came here to talk to you about the path we’re taking. Are we really not passing through the settlement?”
“We won’t. If we head directly east to the new village, then the Monster Forest will be in our path, as well as many ponds. We’ll resupply in Loucks Village.”
“Alright, I got it, okay. Anyway, My Lord probably just got into a fight with Kamil and doesn’t want to see his face.”
Gunter said over his shoulders as if he was aloof, then went back to the front of the line. As expected, he’s good at reading me because we’ve known each other for so long. We didn’t have a fight. I was the one who chased him away.
I lifted my left arm and rolled up my sleeve a little. I looked at the thin chains, embedded with yellow gems, that shone with the sunlight, and had complicated thoughts.
We rested at night and headed for Jugfena Fortress again the next morning. The residents of Loucks Village saw us off with vigilance and complicated expressions. The aura here was the same as Cyril Village, since they were close to each other. I thought about Radka and my chest became heavier.
Unfortunately, the weather was terrible on that day, and we entered Jugfena fief while it was drizzling. We couldn’t tell the time because we couldn’t see the sun, and we had to proceed carefully so that we wouldn’t go in the wrong direction with this low visibility.
While everything was hazy and we had many routes to choose from, we kept following the path to the right and arrived in front of a dense forest that didn’t exist in Kaldia. Alfena Forest was a primaeval forest which was said to have once covered this entire area, and what was left of it had now become known as ‘Monster Forest’. Sometimes, I heard the sounds of beasts roaring and insects buzzing from the depths of the forest along with the sound of the falling raindrops.
A voice muttered from among the soldiers. Maybe because of the rain, there was a chill in the air even though it was summer. The soldiers seemed tired, they seemed sullen and marched on in silence, and it was awfully gloomy.
“Gunter, raise our speed to the extent that we don’t get lost.”
“Understood. I also want to get out of here as quickly as possible. Even being outside the Monster Forest makes me nervous.”
That was how eerie this road was since even the fearless Gunter thought so. I looked at the forest to my right while pulling the reins of my horse. The dark outline of the forest was hazy because of the rain. Although we were quite a distance away from the forest, it felt like the Monster Forest was looming in on us; maybe it’s because it took up so much of my vision.
I felt something unpleasant from the forest and proceeded while trying not to look at it too much. Before long, a soldier cheered in the front.
“I can see it! We’ve reached Jugfena Fortress!!”
All the soldiers cheered when they heard this. On the other side of the drizzle, the shadow of a giant man-made structure vaguely asserted its presence.
“Wow. It’s such a big building…”