I tapped the shoulders of a boy, who appeared to be the same age as me and was stagger and dragging his legs, and also spoke to him. I had already given the horse I was riding on to a younger child from the Sill tribe. As a noble, it was unfortunate to give my horse away, but I have already gotten used to walking endlessly from marching practices.
The temperature gradually dropped, probably because we were heading northeast; since we are getting closer to Amon Nohl. It slowly got darker since the mountains are covered year round in snow clouds, casting an eerie shadow. Even so, the Sill tribe somehow quickened their pace.
We finally reached a cave on the mountainside. The knights headed straight into the cave without hesitation. The Sill tribe, and the Kaldia army, followed after them.
It was dark inside the cave, and it wasn’t stuffy even though it was summer. It was a little chilly, and completely silent inside. Some knights held dim lights in their hands, so at least, we could tell what direction we were travelling in. The lights that the knights were using were probably light emitting stones created from the scales of fire moths. They were rare stones that are hardly found, and their effectiveness was about the same as the fire moths themselves. After a while, the light in the knights’ hands illuminated the stone door in front of us.
“Viscountess Kaldia, we have arrived at Jugfena Fortress.”
A happy expression appeared on the knight who was walking in front of me. His relief was obvious to see.
“Wait a minute, there’s no guards on the other side?”
However, his relieved expression disappeared the instant another knight raised his voice.
“That’s probably because we’re currently on wartime alert. There’s usually a guard at the door to prevent people from escaping. It won’t be good if people easily slip right across the border, after all.”
“I see, so that happens?”
I listened closely to the knights’ conversation, but I wasn’t convinced that that was a good reason to leave the door unguarded. Their security was too loose since they had left this hidden passage which led directly inside the fortress without a guard. I couldn’t get rid of the slightly ominous feeling that was hanging over me, and spoke to the two who were talking.
“Something could have happened as well. Isn’t it better if we ascertain the situation inside before letting the Sill tribe enter?”
The knights looked at each other then faced me and nodded.
“Let’s have the Sill tribe rest here for a little while. Half of the 3rd Knight Order will guard them, and the other half will check the situation inside the fortress.”
I had no objections with that and nodded, then a knight came forward. He spoke to me in a hushed tone.
“… Viscountess Kaldia, is it alright if you join us in the fortress? There’s no guarantee that the Densel soldiers won’t discover this cave, and chase us down. If that happens, then the Sill tribe can become chaotic. We can protect you from the enemy soldiers, but that would be quite challenging in a chaotic situation.”
The knight spoke with a serious expression on his face, and I looked up to stare at him. He looked quite stern, and I couldn’t help but take a step back. I nodded in agreement, but the knight didn’t change his stern expression as he began dividing people into groups. I relaxed and loosened my stiff body. I ordered Gunter to tell our army about the situation, and that we would be heading into the fortress first to check out the situation while the Sill tribe took a break here.
“Now then, everything’s ready, so let’s go.”
One of the knights said, and everyone, who was selected to enter the fortress, lined up in front of the door. It took several people to open the heavy stone door, and it budged with creaking sounds, causing warm wind to blow this way.
They must have drawn the blackout curtains, since it remained dark even though the stone door had opened. When I left the cave and entered the fortress, surrounded by Gunter, my bodyguard, and the 3rd Knight Order, I entered a large hall in the northernmost section of the fortress. We crawled out from behind a large tapestry with the Arxian crest on top of an altar where the master sat down at night.
“… It’s really quiet.”
There were no sounds in the large hall except for our breathing. It was so quiet, that I could even hear the sound of someone gulping.
“Let’s… let’s go to the roof. The archer squad should be there.”
The knight said, then he led us, and we began heading towards the nobles’ building from the northern hall.
The nobles’ building in Jugfena Fortress is further north than the knight building where I am currently staying. It is where Earl Einsbark and his family usually live, and there are extra rooms for the occasional visiting noble as well. When the Earl and his sons had treated me to a feast to welcome me here, the dining room had been in that building as well.
The nobles’ building has a first floor and a basement level, and there are residences and workplaces for the servants who work only in the nobles’ building. I had a room prepared for me in the knights’ building instead, because my current bodyguard is Gunter, a commoner, but servants from the nobles’ building clean my room and wash my clothes. Everyone in the nobles’ building should be in the basement right now, since it was a shelter in times of war.
We walked through the empty nobles’ building and came out at the tower that connected it to the knights’ building. The tower had a spiral staircase where no more than two people can squeeze through at a time. We couldn’t stop at the small landing, so we climbed the stairs. Maybe because everyone was in a hurry, everyone was jogging up the stairs, which meant that I was close to sprinting.
The knight in front didn’t even seem to consider that this place could possibly be under attack, and knocked on a door at the top of the tower. Beyond the door should be Earl Einsbark, the general, his son the chief of staff, Wiegraf, and the bow troops equipped with great bows.
“… Hey, why’s there no response?!”
The knight shouted in worry as he knocked on the door.
The door opened as if it was tumbling, and the person, who came out, shouted in despair, “Einsbark-sama!!”
The other knights also rushed out. I was forced to go along with them since I was caught in the flow.
Sunlight reflected down on the red liquid that was spreading out from the bodies of men clad in metal armor, who were all slumped on the ground. The rooftop, which was drenched in red blood and the fallen people, didn’t have the nauseating scent of blood. Thus, the scene didn’t seem realistic.
I could hear faint sounds of groaning coming from here and there. There must be a few people who were barely clinging onto life. I saw my army soldiers following from behind, but there didn’t seem to be anyone who came back to life. Everyone looked tense, and they burnt this tragic scene into their mind.
There were about 40 archers who had fallen down in their pools of blood, and the knights in charge of Earl Einsbark’s personal protection were also here. There were also another 30 dead people or so that appeared to be enemy soldiers; a trivial amount compared to their overall numbers. My judgement was hindered since they weren’t wearing tunics that indicated that they were Densel soldiers. However, I couldn’t find Earl Einsbark, who should be dressed in his black knightly attire, nor his son Wiegraf anywhere.
“Einsbark-sama, are you here?! Einsbark-sama, Wiegraf-sama!!”
The knights began desperately searching the area. Earl Einsbark also served as the leader of the knights, so they probably respected him a lot. Wiegraf is the chief of staff. His role is to come up with battle strategies for the knights to execute, so their lives depended on him; they must have a strong sense of mutual trust between them.
While looking at this situation, I questioned whether or not my own army would also desperately search for me like this. I don’t think I’ve done anything deserving of respect, nor have I established a foundation of trust with them. I am the daughter of someone they all hate, and I have to be wary of them rebelling or killing me. Thinking about it now, my relationship with them is extremely dry and sad. But ――― it was still better than dying from betrayal. Even if I’m gone, nobody would get worked up about me.
When I slowly blinked and looked back up at my surroundings, I saw an old archer leaning against the wall. The man lying on top of him had black hair with streaks of blue spilling out from his helmet. Many soldiers lost their lives while lying on top of each other just like these two. But somehow, I realised that they seemed to be positioned as if they were protecting those two.
Maybe, I approached with that thought in mind, and they turned out to be Earl Einsbark and his son, Wiegraf. They were both unconscious, but still breathing. I told the knight who was watching me, and he gulped as he went to confirm this for himself.
“It’s, it’s Earl Einsbark and his son, Wiegraf-sama! They’re still alive!”
“What, really?! Where?!?!”
“Right here! He’s disguised as an archer!!”
The knights gathered noisily and surrounded the two. My army and I handed this place to them, and took a step back.
I turned to look at the wide Great Plains that could be seen from the fortress. Just yesterday, it had still been a lush green land filled with flowers, but they had turned into miserable plants after being trampled by people and horses today. Beyond that, I could see clouds of dust raising up in the distance. I wonder if it was because of the east wind that I could faintly hear the sounds of battle. Or, was it because Jugfena Fortress was engulfed in silence?
The archers should have been packed on top of the tower’s roof as well, but I couldn’t see a single one of them. They had probably all been defeated.