That can’t be regarded as anything but an abandoned fortress at first sight, Lauri began a serious survey of the surroundings. The summer grass is densely growing all over. The boundary between the crumbled rampart and the dried soil is exceedingly vague. That fortress which likely stood firmly within nature before, was now in a state similar to an empty shell which has been worn down by wind and snow.
(Did I make a mistake in the path and arrived at a stronghold of bandits… that can’t be, right?) (Lauri)
Lauri’s face has a cramp as he isn’t able to deny that unpleasant possibility. Without carrying anything but the least amount of luggage, he doesn’t even wear a small weapon. Considering that as his own negligence, as he got used to the public order of the Helrevi Earldom, Lauri couldn’t avoid being made strongly aware of that at his current location.
It’s the region located in the north of Marquis Maruyalanta’s territory which is on the northern side of Asuria Kingdom’s centre. It is in this region that the largest city, called Chitoga City, can be found. It is thriving based on its distribution of goods with its important position in the water transportation connected to the Eastern Dragon River and its branches. The large river for transporting to south and north, the branches for transporting to west and east… That sight brimming with liveliness was also something familiar to Lauri.
If you advance south from that big city, one will gradually enter rugged terrain. From the fact that it can also be seen as winding waves of hills and forests through the eyes of the men who traveled on water, that area has been given the common name “Land’s Water Surface.” It’s an area which travelers don’t approach at all. Everyone chooses to be shaken in a boat by paying small change.
The reason for it being avoided is obvious. Because it has been neglected in a state of having the main road destroyed, the paths are extremely bad. The road towards the capital becomes level once one leaves south from this place… The Land’s Water Surface is an ancient battlefield where a fierce battle between the armies of the Asuria Kingdom and the Eberia Empire unfolded. The Plain of Wandering Calamity which became the front line at this point in time is convenient for water transportation and accordingly, this region was left behind without even a single glance back.
However, Lauri made a journey to that Land’s Water Surface. It can’t be helped since his destination is located there. Among the large and small military bases which were built in a great number during the war, it is a fortress that housed the king himself, alongside his chivalric order, for a time. After it was taken by the Empire’s army, it became something that has only its name noted down on maps.
(As expected, it’s impossible, right? … Yeah, impossible.) (Lauri)
Lauri is pondering already about his way back since there isn’t a single flag fluttering. Now is still fine as it’s early in the day, but it seems unexpected danger will approach me once it becomes night. Lauri imagined ghosts, witches and ruffians as they appear in illustrated stories. It’s really not unlikely for such beings to infest the nights in this fortress.
Let’s at least check just the main gate of the fortress… Lauri advances while being troubled with the bad footing. At a spot that appeared to have traces of the crumbled main gate he discovered a giant who is napping while holding onto his sword.
“Mmh? Ooh, Lauri, you came?” (Oiva)
He released a big yawn towards the blue sky. He is a mighty warrior one can only look up to once he stood up. Lauri, who has no fighting ability, can do nothing but admire his appearance, which is revealing his strength by him just naturally standing there like this.
“Huh? You came alone? Though it’s fine to at least take some guards along.” (Oiva)
“It’s a habit from my days as peddler. I like to travel quickly by myself. However, there are some points I regretted a bit, too. It’s a region that has gone beyond my expectations. This Land’s Water Surface is…” (Lauri)
“Yes, it is indeed. It must have been a fairly troublesome place even as a battlefield. It looks like quite a number of mercenaries gained fame in this area.” (Oiva)
While following Oiva who is leading him as if it’s natural, Lauri looked around his surroundings restlessly. I see, it will inevitably turn into a melee fight if one fights on this stage here, he agrees. He had a feeling that even at this moment someone dangerous might leap out from the shadows of the bushes.
“Did Bertrand fight here as well?” (Lauri)
“I wonder about that… The folks who rose as nobles have all died in this place. Those wanting to become famous were killed and at times captured. That guy had a kind of a slave status, thus he might have not been active in this area.” (Oiva)
Oiva speaks without hesitation of life and death on the battlefield. Supposing that it was a reality for those who hold spears and swords to wish for great achievements, for Lauri it was terrifying and also somewhat pointless. Those are the lingering effects of a merchant’s way of life which is a bit more unyielding. For example, even though the possessor of Chitoga City might be different before and after a war, that didn’t mean that the city itself would be discarded. A fortress on the other hand will be covered in a sea of plants.
(The brave has died, Salomon is dead as well. Only the kingdom is left now. Since that’s the case, the dragon who tries to flap its wings from now on… Marko’s fate is… ?) (Lauri)
Even though Lauri felt a strange chill, he shook it off by tightening his mouth. While it may be true that he was betrayed by the scenery he anticipated, he considered it as cowardice to think badly about anything and everything.
“… However, it’s just a remark, but it seems to be the nesting place of bandits, doesn’t it?” (Lauri)
“Ain’t that right. I think so as well. That’s why I haven’t used it.” (Oiva)
The view suddenly opened up in a break in the woods.
Hundreds of tents have been systematically lined up and soldiers briskly moved in-between those. Having leveled the ground, many brand new facilities, made out of wood, have been erected. It seems like there are several water wells, too. The radiation of the heat of life towards the clear blue sky serves as testimony of the liveliness. Everywhere long, white flags are energetically fluttering in the wind.
It’s the garrison of the Third Princess Paulina’s royal guard unit.
The place Lauri aimed to arrive at in high spirits was designated to be in a location slightly away from the fortress, which was supposed to be in that region. 1500 soldiers gathered underneath the banner of the princess… as a matter of fact those are Marko’s troops, but only Lauri, Daniel and the leaders of the royal guard unit are aware of that.
“Wow, it’s amazing. Won’t it be a village, if there are fields as well?” (Lauri)
“There are fields. In a place a walk away we have created cultivated land and pasture. I believed I would come here as combat commander, but I have been working as a valuable smithing specialist in this place everyday. Why do I have to take care of swords and the same number of farming tools?” (Oiva)
“Hahaha, technology doesn’t betray one. That’s also true for dojos, right?” (Lauri)
“Of course. That’s because bamboo-bundled swords are fun. Once I also tried to produce spears, those were kind of interesting as well.” (Oiva)
The place the two headed towards while having a friendly chat is a building standing in the vicinity of the garrison’s centre. It’s the headquarters of the royal guard unit.
“Good work finishing the long journey. It’s great that you came.” (Marko)
The one who opened the door and ushered them in is the blue-eyed, black-haired beautiful boy. He has the role of being the attendant of the leader in the royal guard unit, however whether one believes it just like that can be used as a kind of screening, Lauri believes.
It’s Marko. Having turned 13 years old, his limbs have extended, but as of yet they are still not finished growing. I don’t know whether it’s an eggshell or the wings of an angel, however his body hasn’t stopped peeling off the fragments of his childishness. It’s likely the same with his long hair or it’s because he hasn’t the time to cut it, Lauri continues to comment in his mind. He can pass as lovely girl with those after all.
“Mu… for some reason I feel a tinge of discomfort.” (Marko)
“Oh! Having arrived on a trackless path, that’s not me, Marko.” (Lauri)
“That is… yes, that’s true. Thank you very much. But then again we are pioneering a garrison in a place that didn’t even have an office.” (Marko)
“It looks like it has become something amazing. It would have been great if I had arrived slightly earlier as well though.” (Lauri)
“No, I’m thankful towards you who was able to handle it reliably over there. It’s not over yet either.” (Marko)
Due to Marko grinning while offering a chair, Lauri savored the slight feeling of bashfulness.
Among the comrades who made a vow, 3 of them are permanently stationed in this place. It’s Akseli, Oiva and Jarkko. Lauri has heard that Daniel lives his daily life by being exposed to the public attention in the capital as usual. However, as it seems that letters are being frequently exchanged, they can guess just how cornered he is. The offensive of marriage proposals seems to be terrific.
Besides, Bertrand has visited several times already as well, he heard. The criminal syndicate he is commanding possesses influence in all the territories in the vicinity without limiting itself to only the Helrevi Earldom. There’s also a boathouse run by their underlings in Chitoga City. I have no doubt that members of their organization are mixed in between the odd job labourers in this garrison as well.
And, the one who arrived one season later is Lauri. He was extremely busy with the management of the Hakkinen guard corps. It was difficult because the main military forces were transferred to the royal guard unit, including the commanders. The guard corps had an inclination to get reduced to begin with, but the structure of the organization was drastically altered as well. Only having the minimum required military forces, the current guard corps had lost the strength to carry out group battles in units of 100 soldiers. It mostly changed into a business-like organization.
Nevertheless, the one nominally in charge is Daniel and the one responsible for the practical application is Lauri, that hasn’t changed. Thus, even now as he came to the garrison, the influence of the guard corps regarding the distribution of goods within Helrevi Earldom has become big. And that is a Lauri’s role which Marko can certainly put to good use.
“At last we were able to obtain the permission from Marquis Maruyalanta. I will leave the decision about the improvement of the road from Chitoga City to this stronghold to you, Lauri. Once you finished that, I want you also to secure personnel for the sake of repairing the fortress.” (Marko)
“Okay, I will have to make various preliminary preparations and negotiations. I think I will be able to move right away in the future once I have the permit.” (Lauri)
“As expected. This is the permit.” (Marko)
What Marko presented on the desk is a scroll cylinder which had luxurious ornaments. The Maruyalanta territory which is located between the capital and the front is said to be the most prospering among all the territories due to its growth in commerce related matters. Its assets are reinforced by its expansion in the field of fine arts. Marquis Maruyalanta was known as zealous supporter of theater plays.
“I think we will reach the point of being able to easily move goods and soldiers as long as we can fix the road, but what will you do about the ships?” (Lauri)
“Ah, I requested a survey of a tributary fleet from Bertrand. I plan to leave depending on the results of that. Well, given that there’s still the difficulty of it being only me… it has to be decided with whom I go, I guess, though.” (Marko)
Marko who says that and leaks a small sigh doesn’t even direct those words at Lauri. I recall the remark I heard in Kikomaru. He was always in conflict with the view he can see and the limbs he can move. That can’t be changed by polishing a plan either. Even if he wants to fight, his body won’t follow up on that. Marko is patiently enduring it while being frustrated, Lauri thinks. And, like that he has been raised as 「Child that doesn’t enjoy being a child」.
“At any rate… we were supplied with a truly amazing stronghold in a great place, weren’t we?” (Lauri)
Hearing about it and seeing it also changes the nature of the sighs. Those of Lauri might still be better as they are just fresh sighs out of interest. I wonder how many times the people of this garrison leaked a sigh.
The royal guard unit was established in this Asuria Kingdom in spring, but its administrative history was stacking up exception after exception since its beginning. Because its origin was the attempted assassination on the Third Princess, it might be unrelated to a normal administration from the onset… Lauri also thinks like that though.
First the acknowledgement ceremony was something crude as if being an informality amongst informalities. Summoning only the leader, Akseli, to the royal palace, it finished as soon as he was told the words of the king. The guard members didn’t receive the honour of a parade, There were no divine words from the princess and they didn’t even receive any kind of blessing from the church. They were only given permission.
Next is the position in the military ranking at the moment when the princesses return to the capital. Now that the royal guard unit had been officially recognized, it’s a custom to for it to be placed in a higher ranking order than the royal army, not to mention the various feudal armies, but because of the vague and unreasonable reason of matters concerning defense, they would march at the end of the line. Although, putting aside the leaders, the guard members felt shaken, Marko gave a single order in accordance to that.
“It has been assumed that the Imperial army will come from the north and that they will further proceed south towards the capital, however we are the ones who protect the end of the line. This is a seriously important role. We will strengthen the lookout of the vicinity by forming small cavalry units. We will display our abilities by not missing a single enemy scout. Our first mission is something magnificent. Besides Her Highness, Princess Paulina, we will protect all of Her Highnesses.” (Marko)
All of the guard members who heard those details from Akseli who is the leader cheered up. It would be a quick military exercise and it would be an event that would solidify the awareness of the unit… it might also have been an act to demonstrate force towards someone.
Given the opportunity, all of the royal guard unit which arrived at the royal palace received the divine words from Paulina there. They were also promised booze and an inn close to the castle. And they received a single royal decree before 3 days passed.
“We must capitalize on our courage under the situation of the tension with Eberia Empire rising. We have been granted a fortress related to the king. Show your best performance underneath the name of Princess Paulina.”
It was something said in a quite exaggerated way, but in short, the royal guard unit was stuffed into a fortress in a deserted remote area. Hearing that, Lauri grieved, however he corrected that thought once he has observed the actual site.
“Well, you can feel the entire might of 1500 people here, right?” (Oiva)
“Yes. That’s not something I had anticipated, but it’s a suitable number as far as taking the shape of a stronghold.” (Lauri)
“We have to hurry with the repairs of the fortress, but… the increase in the number of personnel is…” (Oiva)
There were many other exceptions towards the royal guard unit, however the only dangerous one amongst them was the limitation in the number of people. Usually royal guard units and chivalric orders are organized as one military unit holding 3000 people. Even if the Third Princess’ royal guard unit started with 1500 soldiers, an increase in the number of personnel was scheduled, but they were limited to handle it with half a military unit of 1500 soldiers used during peace time. Problems with the burden on the national treasury were provided as reason. The maintenance costs of a royal guard unit are expenses of the national treasury.
It’s obviously done as harassment, Lauri judges. And it’s also a kind of harassment we cannot help but encounter. Though there are always ways to get things done no matter what is done by others, it will increase the danger on the battlefield if we are hindered to expand our war potential. If the danger increases, unexpected victims will appear. Lauri is afraid of that. The blade of the public isn’t a common way to lose someone important.
“It’s alright. There’s absolutely no problem.” (Marko)
It was Marko. His blue eyes are filled with a vibrant brightness even within the shaded room.
“Something like the restriction of peace times has no meaning on the battlefield. The present condition is that the front is located at the Plain of Wandering Calamity. The royal guard unit will be able to properly fight with 3000 men.” (Marko)
“Yea, well, it’s not like we will get attacked here… But, is it that simple to gather mercenaries?” (Lauri)
It’s probably because we met after a long time or because I saw the state of the fortress. Lauri wasn’t able to stop expressing his own anxiety to Marko. He also became well-acquainted with mercenaries because of his organizational management of the guard corps. It will be considerably difficult to prepare 1500 mercenaries we can rely on. All the more if it’s an urgent recruitment.
However, Lauri hears Marko laughing.
What Lauri hears is a happy, delightful timbre which is pleasant to the ears. And he felt a presence. He felt the breathing of a dragon as a person who is shown a view he won’t be able to see with his own mediocre eyes.
“What are you saying? They have already been assembled. An exceptional 1500.” (Marko)
“Eh…? A-Ah, I see… e-eeh!? You can even dispatch 1500!?” (Lauri)
“Yes. If I force it, I can send out a bit more, I guess?” (Marko)
I can see a flame leaking out from his graceful mouth… That’s what Lauri feels. He listens.
“I can call at any time upon the best 1500 riders from the mounted bandits village.” (Marko)
Lauri trembled with a sudden shaking.
The majesty of a dragon was released.