As we got closer, I was gradually able to make out the contours and features of the enormous fortress.
Jugfena Fortress is the only place where people live in the Jugfena royal fief. Rain drizzle down the fortress that was made of polished black stone and metal. It had towers spaced uniformly apart with Arxian flags on top of them and walls that were taller than the ones at Golden Hill Mansion. Unlike the castles in the royal capital there were no decorations, but its systematic structure seemed supremely magnificent.
The Kaldia army soldiers, who have never left Kaldia before, and even Claudia, who grew up in the royal capital and was used to seeing castles, stared at the iron fortress with their mouths wide agape. I was no exception either. In front of this overwhelmingly beautiful fortress, the Kaldia army proceeded while being fascinated like fools.
“Mm, Elena-dono, over there.”
Claudia, who seemed to have the eyesight of a wild beast, pointed at the bottom of the fortress. Her vision was so good that she could even find a speck of grain in a large kitchen.
“It’s not Elena, it’s Eliza.”
“Did I get it wrong again…? My bad. I’m sorry.”
We finished our usual conversation of me correcting her, and I squinted my eyes at the place Claudia was pointing at. The horses proceeded to move forward in the meantime, and when we got a bit closer, I was finally able to see what Claudia was pointing at.
“That’s… the refugee tents?”
Surrounding the fortress, and utterly different from the tent I used to sleep in, were rows of simple tents meant for the soldiers. The low tents were spread out around the side of the fortress as far as I could see. It seemed like they were moved inside the fortress when it was decided that my fief would take them in. I could see people crawling out from their tents without caring about getting wet from the rain. They stood up and I noticed their clingy glances. Our two-day march had come to an end.
They must have known that Claudia and I had higher positions than the soldiers since we were riding on horses, so they focused their attention on us. Their faces drooped down, and only their eyes were staring at us. Some kept staring at us in silence as well as those who quickly returned to their tents. They all seem unhealthily skinny, and I could tell that they all appeared to be exhausted and wounded. I’m sorry, but we’re not picking you up this time. I put what I had seen into the corner of my mind.
We stopped in front of the castle gate, and Gunter informed someone inside that we had arrived. The large door in front of me was made out of wood, but it was held up with an iron lattice frame, and I could tell that this castle was indeed constructed to be a stronghold. When the huge door opened, Gunter gave everyone the order to advance, and we slowly entered the castle in columns. The two columns of soldiers slowly spread out, so that Claudia and I could pass through them. We entered the castle first. The inside of the fortress was brightly lit with torches. The first floor seemed to be the stable, and many horses were relaxing in this large space.
“Thank you for coming over, Viscountess Kaldia.”
“Thank you for welcoming me. As promised, I’ve brought along 80 soldiers from the Kaldia army.”
We were guided by some soldiers from the fort, and the knight, who had come to Kaldia the other day to act as a messenger, greeted me. He might be the one in charge of our liaison. He wasn’t wearing any chainmail today, so his hair was loose, and he looked a lot younger than the other day. If anything, I’d say his current appearance matches his real age more. Even though I don’t know how old he is.
“On behalf of our lord, Earl Einsbark, thank you very much for your nobility and chivalry of spirit.”
The man thanked me and kneeled down in a special knightley pose. His right palm touched his left shoulder. As expected of a real knight, his movements were graceful. I saw Claudia’s eyes sparkle in excitement from the corner of my eyes, and a bad feeling ran down my spine. The feeling was also similar to wanting to push Claudia into a suitable room as quickly as possible.
“I’m sorry about this sudden request, but can I let my soldiers rest now? They’re a bit tired since they’re not used to travelling long distances.”
“Of course. You can rest over there.”
The knight issued instructions to the soldier behind him, and he took my soldiers up to the second floor. Only Claudia and I were left.
“Then, I’ll repeat it. Welcome to Jugfena Fortress, Viscountess Kaldia. My name is Ergnard Einsbark. I’m the commanding officer of the 1st Knight Order platoon. I will be your liaison, so I think we’ll get to know each other very well. I look forward to working with you.”
… Einsbark? I doubted my ears when I heard his unusual surname. I thought that he would be a low-ranking knight, since he had acted as a messenger, so I can’t believe that he’s a commanding officer.
What’s more, since his surname is Einsbark… this means that he’s related to Earl Einsbark, the governor of this area. He’s acting as our liaison with his social position? What is the Earl up to, selecting such a person to be our liaison? I was puzzled, not knowing what the cunning veteran knight, Earl Einsbark, could be up to.
Claudia and I entered the room that Ergnard had guided as to, and as soon as he carefully closed the door behind him to leave, Claudia couldn’t contain her excitement anymore and jumped on top of my bed.
My shoulders jumped at Claudia’s sudden, eccentric behaviour. What’s wrong all of a sudden? Claudia buried her face into the sheets, rolled around, and wrinkled the sheets. Stop, you’re making a mess of my bed.
“Ahhh… Being a knight is so dignifying and lovely…!”
Claudia mumbled with her face, still buried in the bed. I was stunned and became speechless and just stared at Claudia with a complicated feeling. She probably likes knights way too much.
“… Claudia-dono, your spear will fall.”
Claudia seemed to have returned to her senses and raised her face. At the same time, she saw that her precious spear had been placed on the floor and looked at me in amazement. She stared at the wrinkled sheets and got off the bed.
“I, I’m sorry…”
“Please fix the sheets properly.”
I sat down on the chair that was in front of the desk by the window, sighed while thinking about how tired I was, and stretched. As expected, riding on a horse for two days straight is harsh on a six-year-old.
I glanced at Claudia as she fixed the sheets in an unfamiliar manner and looked outside the window. For defensive purposes, the inside of the window had iron bars. On the other side, I could see rampants, which were considered as the border, through the glass. It was basically built in the same way as this fortress, and there was a closed gate on the rampart walls. Beyond the rampart is the Densel Dukedom. I felt tension since this was the forefront of the national defence. I braced myself since something could happen at any time ―――.
“Nooo, why can’t I make this nice and straight like the maids do?!”
Suddenly, Claudia’s idiotic scream interrupted my thoughts, and my spirit dispersed. My elbows, which were on the desk, felt weak. Claudia was struggling with the sheets as she cursed it for some reason, and her actions were getting rougher since she was getting frustrated that it wasn’t going well. I hurriedly stopped her and told her that was enough before she could rip the sheets. Claudia was still worked up because she was angry and dissatisfied. She slowly turned to face me and muttered seriously.
“Erin-dono, please let me remain here and guard you.”
“It’s Eliza. And, no.”
“Sorry, I got it wrong again… But, who will protect you while you’re here?”
She was usually persistent, probably because she saw a real knight up close. But you can’t stay even if you stare at me with those puppy eyes. Claudia’s stare was full of feelings, and her blue eyes resembled a cat.
“Of course, I will leave things up to the soldiers, and I can take care of myself. Claudia-dono, you’re a guest who has been entrusted to me by the Lorenzorell House. You really shouldn’t be in such a dangerous place.”
“… I see. Fine. I’m sorry. I was too selfish.”
Claudia shook her head sadly and laid down on the bed. It was rare to see her so quiet, and even though it was great that she was quiet, I couldn’t help but ask her a question.
“Claudia-dono, do you like knights?”
I remembered how she looked at Ergnard with sparkling eyes and asked her lightly.
She suddenly bounced back up like a spring. She smiled like a blossoming flower and looked at me with glistening eyes. Seeing her significant change, I asked myself if I had spoken prematurely.
“Thank you for asking!”
… And my answer was, I had indeed been too hasty.