"You can predict when the gra... I mean the 'Rising' will happen?" Nangong Sanba asked.
"The scholars know how to predict them." Willy was animated as he tried to explain. "They will monitor the light inside the deep chasms, and listen to the sounds that comes from that, so that they could issue a warning before the 'Rising' happens. But it is not perfect, and the Earth Mother will suddenly lose her powers. So those who had failed to predict will suffer a lashing for their error."
They had spend a goodwhile on the Royal Highway, and Hao Ren suddenly noticed the road ahead was blocked by a 'wall' that was made out of metal plates, plastics, tyres and other junk. The wall itself was a couple of meters high, and was held together by wire and nail. A row of lights hung upon the walls, while the gate was a metal fence with rows and rows of sharp nails tied to it. Willy pointed happily to the place. "That's Hearthfire!"
Hao Ren looked at the junk wall and took a while before he could verbalise something. "Very... unique."
A few sentries stood on the wooden tower on the top of the wall. They noticed the approaching strangers and immediately drew their javelins and bows seeking the identity of the strangers. Willy went forward, and raised his hand to show his armor. "I'm Willy of House Mormont. Let us in."
"Willy?" A soldier recognised the boy before laughing. "Hahahaha, hey look, our 'warrior' had came back from the battlefield. With his limbs intact no less!"
Another soldier noticed the group behind Willy. "Who are they?"
"They are my friends." Willy tried his best to sound dignified. Puffing his chest, he yelled back. "I have vouched for them, to allow them to seek protection in Hearthfire. Open the gates!"
The sentries semeed like wanted to continue making fun of Willy, but they understood that the latter was still a blueblood, and opened the 'gate' for him. Hao Ren and the rest followed Willy into the city, and he realised that the 'city' itself was a broken shell of a factory. The outer walls of the place had already completely collapsed and the locals had used various metal and junk fill in the gaps of the old wallm, and build a new one in its place. There was a huge empty space in the city, these were probably the open-air stockyard, and now it was littered with many ramshackle houses made of metal sheet, serving as both military camps and civilian houses. The factory proper at the centre of Hearthfire. It was a three story tall metal and concrete building. Its conditions was still in tact, and there were even a few unbroken windows. The bi-colour cloth flew from the roof of the factory. Without question, this was the castle of the local lord, and the nobles' keep.
As they went through the civilian zone many soldiers greeted Willy after seeing him, most of the greetings have a sense of ridicule to it, while not entirely hostile, it was not particularly pleasant either. The ones that dares to spite him in the face had another emblem hanging beside their military emblem, and the ones with only the military emblem dared not overstep their boundries upon seeing Willy. If Hao Ren had to guess, the second emblem means someone is a noble."
Willy was of course a noble, although he was just about to lose any shred of nobility on him.
Before the keep, or the old factory's gate if you may, Willy took a deep breath before stepping forward. "I'll bring you to see father. He's the viceroy here."
Hao Ren followed behind the young man, and walked into the factory that looked like it was abandoned a few hundred yeasr prior. The interior of the factory had been turned inside out. As the massive machines were no longer in use, they were now covered with sheet metal or wooden plans and served as the staircase or partition walls. The whole factory was a weird place that was tightly stacked with crates. Willy led the rest the top floor of the factory, and things only started to look better. This place was originally an office and had tidy offices and rest areas.
Willy stopped before a red door. He carefully adjusted his armor before knocking on the door.
After receiving ascent from the ones inside the room, he pushed open the door and motioned for Hao Ren and the rest to follow.
A middle aged-man with scant few hairs sat in the middle of the office flipping through documents. He seemed to already knew who was coming in and did not even bother lifting his head up. "I never thought you'd come back alive. I've expected that you'd perish at Brokenmetal Lane. At least with that, your blood would serve to maintain our family's honour."
"Father," Willy lowered his head. He was used too being lashed at like this. "I'm home."
The middle-aged man closed the document file in his hand as he grumbled. "I've said this before. You are not a Mormont. You are a grunt living in Ironhide Camp, so what I want to know is why you did not report to the camp, and came straight to me."
The man then looked up at Hao Ren and his crew, and frowned at the oddly dressed strangers. "I've heard that my son had brought back a group of vagrants with no identity. I assumed you and him were alike.... where are you from?"
"We are travellers from the outside. Just passing by." Hao Ren said calmly. "We fought with your son, and in exchange for a guarantee of a resting place in your city."
"Fought together?" The viceroy repeated the words, his face incredulous. "You've saved that good for nothing coward from the battlefield, haven't you?"
Willy bit his lips before pulling out the coloured cloth pieces out from his armor. "Father, I've really fought! These are the trophies I brought back!"
The cloth pieces were the ones he ripped off the Eisenstadt soldiers. The viceroy's did not smile even when he saw the emblems. His face stiffened as he grabbed the emblems off Willy's hand and threw them onto the ground."
"Only beggers will pick up something that was left behind!" The viceroy roared. "You don't even have single drop of blood on your blade. So, what? The Eisenstadtians gave you theirs automatically?"
The poor lad was stiff silent. His shamefully picked up the cloth pieces and not a word came out from his mouth."
"Worthless cretin, only believing in those nonsense the sorcerers are spouting. You're not even on par with your two sisters. Thank the gods that you are only a bastard, or I'll really die from shame." The viceroy spouted venom towards Willy, but as he turn towards Hao Ren, he put on a more composed look. "As for you lot... You've undoubtedly helped the Kingdom of Highspire in battle. Hearthfire welcomes such brave warriors as you. You can find a place to rest in the Ironhide zone. You're free to come and go, but don't loiter in the city."
Hao Ren had a lot to ask the man before him, but he realised that the latter was probably not the best conversationalist, so he left it at that and decided to see if he is able to gain more information from other parts of Hearthfire. He bid farewell to the viceroy before leaving with Willy.
The young son of the viceroy did not gained any comfort or relief from this meeting. In fact he was sweating all over when he left. Lily asked out of curiosity. "Seems like your dad doesn't like you all that much?"
"I'm a bastard, and in the Kingdom of Highspire, bastads are not seen as family members. Our laws dictates that our position should be the lowest of our parent's lineage. The same applies for royal bastards as well, so people like me are even worse off." Willy smiled bitterly. "My father wants me to be a soldier, but I'm not cut out for that. I prefer to be with the scholars, and they will often tell me about the stories of this world from before. I feel that that is more interesting than fighting."
Something sparked in Hao Ren's mind. "The story of this world from before? Can you bring me to meet the scholars?"
Willy nodded happily. "Of course. I'll arrange for you to meet Master Orrow. He's the most learned person on this matter. While my father may not like him, Master is still well respected in Hearthfire."