Gong… sounded a loud echo that shook my entire body. The bell in the central tower of this fortress was being struck. The sound woke me up as if someone was shaking me, and I sluggishly got out of bed while stifling a yawn.
There are no water clocks here at Jugfena Fortress, and the ringing of the bell signalled the time. It took manpower to maintain a water clock. It probably would cost too much to keep a water clock operational since they had no servants in this fortress. Similarly, villages in Kaldia mainly use sundials since they don’t have water clocks, but it is assumed that auditory information is more convenient for knights and soldiers than visual information. The first time I heard the bell ring, it felt so loud and discomforting that I had to block my ears, but I got used to it quickly. Now, I think of it as a useful bell.
Seven days have passed since I’ve arrived at Jugfena Fortress.
I squinted my eyes to look at the dim morning light that shone in through the rugged iron bars. Today’s dawn sky seemed strangely red.
“Morning, Viscountess Kaldia. Today, Earl Einsbark has granted you permission to observe our training grounds.”
When I changed and left my room, a man dressed in a black knight uniform was already waiting outside for me. In addition to being my liaison, Ergnard has been accompanying me every day and seems to be acting as my bodyguard in place of Claudia, who has returned to my fief. I’m getting excellent treatment since the son of the Earl is acting as my direct bodyguard.
“Good morning, Ergnard-sama. Permission to observe, is it?”
“Yes. The Earl probably thought that you would like to see how we train our soldiers here.”
“I see. That’s very thoughtful of him, thank you.”
After seven days, Ergnard’s way of speaking to me became friendlier. On the first day I arrived, he had addressed me with the overly formal version of ‘you’, but he stopped doing that and was addressing me in the casual version of ‘you’, just like he had when he first visited Kaldia as a messenger.
I silently looked up at him as his sharp eyes softened at the corners and crinkled up. In Ergnard’s grey eyes I saw pure affection, as if he was looking at his own child. I awkwardly smiled back at him, he smiled widely in happiness. An itchy feeling prickled at the back of my heart.
We went out of the tower, to head to the dining hall, where Gunter was waiting for me. The tower opposite to this was called the ‘barracks’ and my soldiers were borrowing rooms there, but I was the only one who had borrowed a room in the tower known as the ‘knight building’. The knight building was a living space for nobles, so the commoner soldiers basically don’t enter the tower. Gunter, a soldier in my fief, also followed this custom, and waited for me in front of the door which led to the knight building’s fourth floor where my room is.
“Good morning, Gunter. Thank you for waiting for me today as well.”
“Good morning, My Lord and Ergnard-sama.”
Gunter replied to my greeting while glancing behind him, and also greeted Ergnard as well. Ergnard followed behind me looking as if it was natural for him to do so. I usually eat in the dining hall for the Royal Army’s soldiers, and it wasn’t a place he would eat at, since he is a senior knight and the Earl’s son. I can’t determine his motive since he wasn’t ordered to be my ‘bodyguard’, but I have concluded that he is accompanying me as a bodyguard.
Ergnard briefly replied to Gunter’s greeting. This simple exchange of greetings has been happening every day since the morning after I arrived.
After breakfast, Ergnard would help train me in using the spear. Since I only have Gunter to train me here, Ergnard offered to instruct me since he had free time while acting as my bodyguard. I didn’t want a senior knight who was currently on active duty as a commander to be my instructor, but he immediately bowed my head, so here we are now. Gunter was in charge of my physical fitness and basic training.
Compared to the spear skills that Ergnard was teaching me, Claudia’s spear skills were highly technical and was unfit for me, since I am still a child who lacks physical strength. For better or for worse, Claudia’s spear skills were for nobles, and they were too formal to use in an actual battle. Ergnard noticed that I was using those skills, and taught me a more suitable way to handle the spear while maintaining the basic movements that Claudia had taught me. He focused on attacks that caused lethal damage using the spear tip. Ergnard mentioned that Claudia’s spear skills incorporated many elements from staff skills, and mainly coached me on techniques that could kill my opponent by taking advantage of those movements.
Today, Ergnard brought out two wooden spears that are normally used for practice from the armoury, and two other spears which had an unfamiliar tip.
“Viscountess Kaldia, I’m going to teach you some new moves today.”
“Yes, I’m going to teach you how to wield a halberd.”
Ergnard placed all the weapons on the ground and told me to look at the tips.
Regular spears were made from wooden shafts with sharpened cone-shaped metal heads attached, and was designed to pierce armour. People basically take advantage of the length to stab enemies and was designed so that even people who have no knowledge of martial arts can kill enemy soldiers. It’s commonly used by infantry soldiers.
In comparison, the spear that Ergnard had brought out today was a bit shorter in length. The halberd was a spear with an axe blade attached to the spear tip, and a sharp triangular shape blade on the other side just like a double-edged blade. The other halberd was made out of wood, so it was probably for practice purposes.
“It’s a bit difficult to use, but it’s a strong weapon once mastered. I’ve heard that the Kaldia army is mostly made up of cavalry troops. This weapon works well both on horseback and on the ground, so I think I’ll be good for you to learn it.”
I nodded in understanding, and he passed me the wooden halberd. It was heavy with the blade. What’s more, it shook in my hands as gravity tugged down its weight. I can’t wield it like I want to.
He started off with basic handling techniques, and when we started sparring with each other, the lunch bell rang.
“… It’s lunchtime, so let’s end here today.”
Ergnard said coolly, and he had barely sweated in this hot summer heat, I, on the other hand, was so exhausted that I couldn’t even speak. My whole body was weary since I had to use muscles that I don’t normally use in order to control this new weapon, and just thrusting it made my body shake and decreased the strength of my attacks. As I tried to catch my breath somehow, Ergnard said, “It’ll be dark by the time you reach the dining hall,” and picked me up under his armpit.
After getting some rest and having lunch, Ergnard asked me if I wanted to go see the training grounds. Then, I recalled what he had said earlier this morning. Come to think of it, Earl Einsbark gave me permission to observe their training.
Currently, the Kaldia fief soldiers were training under Jugfena Fortress soldiers. Gunter, Earl Einsbark and I think that it is pointless for the fiefs’ armies to just move around, so we are working together and getting as much training as possible before the Densel soldiers draw closer. The soldiers and knights train in the southernmost part of Jugfena Fortress in a giant box-like building near the castle walls. I have never been there since I received my training; between a fortress and castle walls.
“… Does Earl Einsbark want me to see how my soldiers are doing, since he gave me permission to the training grounds, even though I didn’t request for it?”
I asked Ergnard for confirmation, and he nodded without any hesitation. Gunter had a complicated expression on his face as he looked at us since he didn’t understand the roundabout way of conversations between nobles.
“Then, I suppose I have to go and take a look.”
I felt like it would only be disadvantageous if I said I wouldn’t go, so I said that, and Ergnard smiled ambiguously. It was as if he was smiling at a child making progress, or maybe it was a smile he directed at mature children.
The black iron fortress’s training ground was much more rugged and overwhelming that I expected. I wonder if Ergnard went out of the castle to show me this. This is the first time that I’m seeing the imposing profoundness of this box-like structure up close, since I have never gotten close to it before. It had four tall towers in each of its corners, which were higher than the castle tower, and I looked up reflexively to see the top and nearly fell down.
“Uh-oh. Be careful.”
Ergnard put his hands around my back, so my head didn’t hit the hard stone pavement.
“… I’ve shown you something unsightly.”
I made a fool of myself just now because I had forgotten that my body was still that of a child’s. I desperately tried not to look embarrassed as I squeezed those words out and Ergnard laughed as if he had seen through me. It might seem like I was having too much fun… I felt ashamed when I thought of this. Even Gunter was half-laughing at me while looking at me even though he wasn’t saying anything.
The training ground was lit up by lights even though it was still daytime, but it was still dimmer than outside. It was built similar to an area, and the soldiers were repeatedly practising crowd formation and dispersion in the centre. My soldiers were wearing metal items on their hands, shins, and heads. These equipment were used 20 years ago and were passed down as gifts since no one used them now.
Metal equipment will be essential if I want to improve the quality of my army in the future. It might be fine for my army to use the donated old equipment for now, but Kaldia will need to learn how to process metal if we want to make a cavalry squad, or else the maintenance costs will increase by many folds. I need to attract a skilled blacksmith to my fief as soon as possible. However, I have concerns about public order right now since we’re accepting so many refugees.
“Viscountess Kaldia, what difficult things are you thinking about?”
When I suddenly noticed Ergnard’s voice, he was already going down the stairs to the centre. Gunter was looking at me in amazement next to him.
“You seem to be glaring at the soldiers with stern eyes… Do you think the training is insufficient?”
“N-no. That wasn’t it.”
Does it seem that way when I look at the equipment and think about the fief? I quickly shook my head and denied what he had said, and Ergnard silently tilted his head.
“It… It’s because their movements have gotten so much better. I was wondering what type of training they went through to improve so much in a short amount of time.”
“Didn’t you come here to learn that? Come on.”
Ergnard beckoned at me while smiling wryly. His appearance triggered a vague memory in my brain. I wondered what that memory was for a short while, but nothing came to mind no matter how many times I tried to remember it. I climbed down the stairs as Ergnard held my hand, then I realised, aah, it was similar to something I had seen in my previous life. I felt a fleeting sense of loneliness even though I thought that my previous life memories had mostly faded.
Before I realised it, my observation turned into training me on how to command which continued until dinner time. I had to move in the afternoon even though I was tired from learning new things in the morning, and by the time dinner arrived, I was so tired that I barely managed to stay awake.
“Hey, are you alright, My Lord?”
Gunter, who was sitting next to me, frowned and shook me while looking worried. I listened to his voice in a daze for a while, then finally noticed that he was talking to me. “I’m alright,” I replied and slowly nodded. It felt tiring to talk too.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re alright.”
He seemed relieved that I had finally responded to him, but he still didn’t seem to believe me. He looked at me in amazement and pinched my cheeks. Stop it. I slapped his hand, and he finally took his hand back.
“I’m tired… can’t you leave me alone…”
“Well, that’s obvious to see. Can you walk to your bed? You look like you’re going to fall asleep right now.”
“If she can’t, then I’ll carry her there. No need to worry, Gunter-dono.”
Ergnard was having his dinner by my side. He elegantly wiped his mouth with a napkin before interjecting himself into our conversation. My brain already stopped working at this point and stared hazily at Gunter and Ergnard when they started talking about something. I looked up at the two who were talking while looking at me in surprise and worry while recalling the memory that Ergnard had triggered back at the training ground.
“… Ah, mum and dad?”
This time, I speedily recalled my parents from my previous life and muttered.
Gunter and Ergnard’s startled faces were the last thing I saw before I lost consciousness and fell between the plates. I’m at my limit. This was the first time I had dozed off in this world. I could hear people panicking around me, and I listened in both wonder and satisfaction.
Behind my closed eyelids, Ergnard and Gunter’s images overlapped with my parents from my previous life, and for some reason, Kamil’s image overlapped them all. The first person to treat me with kindness in this world. The person who gave me a sense of security like my parents in my previous life did. Now that all the unnecessary thoughts were blown from my mind from drowsiness, I could admit this without any hesitation.
I want to see Kamil. I haven’t cleared my doubts yet, but I still want to see him. Strangely, that emotion filled my mind.