Translator: Silver Editor: Namorax
The sky had gradually been dyed crimson as the sun set.
The hilly countryside started to mirror the sky, changing the appearance of the scenery. A group of elongated shadows could be seen heading south.
We accidentally encountered Princess Lille of the Nozan Kingdom.
Though she was eleven years old, she acted in a manner one would expect of a royal family's member.
We were currently in the middle of escorting her to the Dimo Earldom, the princess riding on her guard Zahar’s horse.
Occasionally the childish princess would peak out her head from in-between Zahar’s arms and look behind her.
Even from here I could the understandable worry in her expression.
It wasn’t me the princess had been staring at.
The unconscious Nina, one of the imperial guards apart of the group we were now working with, was also riding Shiden’s massive dragon-like body.
Princess Lille’s gaze was focused on her.
The Knight’s leader, Zahar, initially planned to strap her to his horse, but even a sturdy war horse like his had its limits.
We learned that princess Lille’s carriage had been destroyed, so she unabashedly looked at Shiden and asked to ride together with us.
However, Zahar put an end to that idea by explaining the ramifications of a princess being placed in the hands of a foreign power, let alone another race.
Right now, Nina was strapped to my back with some simple bands we’d managed to put together.
Ariane sat behind me to support her figure from behind.
Despite the sheer size of a dragon mount, four people riding on it would have been a bit much, so Chiome borrowed a horse from one of the dead guards.
Chiome had never ridden a horse until now, but her motor nerves were rather impressive…… She almost immediately understood how to ride after grabbing the reins.
Her race’s superior physical abilities allowed them to run from forest to forest without any difficulty. Horses could only increase their speed in the flatlands, so they’d been deemed unnecessary.
Had it not been for the persecution, her people wouldn’t have been forced to live in the forest and mountains, but I suppose they were expanding into the plains beyond the Wind Dragon Mountain Range now.
After developing the land and cutting down the forest, the plains might grow even larger.
If that happened there wouldn’t be anything lost in introducing horseback riding for long distance transportation. It might be better to implant a few horses in the area.
After getting the horse under control, Chiome would occasionally stroke the horse’s neck and took the effort to keep track of its condition.
From the side, it was like watching an expert horseman.
Did the beastmen also have a racial trait of understanding the heart of animals?
With that thought in mind, I looked down at a yawning Ponta as she nestled within Shiden’s mane.
Spirit beast were animals that humans could rarely tame…… yet the supposedly timid fluffy fox became chummy with Chiome almost immediately.
She’d been cautious of me at first, but she became friendly after I baited her with food, so that wasn’t a good comparison.
Or did Ponta realize since the beginning that I hadn’t been a human, but some sort of elven subspecies.
Ponta looked back at me and tilted her head when she noticed my stare.
I shook my head at Ponta and then looked ahead again.
When we joined the princess’ party, I noticed that Ponta didn’t seem all that interested in princess Lille and didn't even try to approach Zahar or the other guards.
As for the unconscious knight N
ina, every once in awhile she would tickle the tip of the knight’s nose with her fluffy tail, but that was more of a mischievous prank than anything.
While it was rather cute, she was only able to act this boldly because the other person was unconscious.
As I thought about such things, an unexpected movement behind me heralded that someone had regained consciousness.
“H……uh……! Wh-What is this……”
Nina uttered a confused cry as she started twisting her body about.
Gradually, she began to recognize her surroundings, including the fact that she was tied to someone wearing full-body armor…… as the meaning of the situation set in she began to violently struggle.
“Where are we!? Who in the world are you!?”
We were at the tail end of the group and the only thing reflected in her eyes was my armor, on top of that her memory must have been vague due to what happened to her.
“Don’t struggle, Nina-dono.”
After speaking to her, I urged us towards Zahar and Lille’s horse and called out to them.
"Zahar-dono, Lille-dono, please stop for a moment. Nina-dono is awake.”
Lille leaned out of Zahar’s arm cradle to take a look when I said that.
“Nina!? Nina’s awake!? What a relief……”
“……Princess! This is……”
Princess Lille was ecstatic when she caught sight of Nina, while Nina herself immediately stopped struggling when she heard the princess’s voice.
“Do you feel okay Nina? Is there any discomfort in your arms or body?”
Zahar and I simultaneously brought our mounts to a stop before I began to undo the restraints that tied Nina to me.
By that point, the memory of what had happened to her must have returned as Nina looked down at her arm.
“Was certain…… my arm was cut off…… I should have died.”
She moved her formerly severed arm a few times as she muttered to herself.
“Arc-dono, the one wearing the armor, reattached your arm with healing magic!”
When she saw Nina’s bewildered expression, Lille made a giant smile as she leaped from between Zahar’s arms onto the ground.
After sliding down from Shiden, Nina went down on her knee in front of her master, who came to greet her.
“That’s wonderful! I was so worried about you, Nina!”
“Princess, I am sorry to have troubled you……”
Nina hung her head as she tried to apologize, but the little princess embraced her instead.
It was obvious that Lille didn’t need or want those words as she buried her face in Nina’s chest with tears in her eyes.
They stayed like that for a while before Zahar got down for his horse and spoke up.
“Princess we still need to leave this territory immediately. Since Nina’s wellbeing has been confirmed, we can quicken our pace.”
Zahar scanned the area as he said that, and while Lille seemed dissatisfied with that she understood his argument and separated from Nina’s chest.
“It shouldn’t be that long until we reach Fort Hill?”
Zahar nodded at Lille’s question before his gaze returned to Nina.
“That’s good then, we will be able to properly reward Arc-dono then!”
After saying that she and Zahar’s returned to their horse.
Nina watched her back as she walked away before turning around, where her eyes bulged when she caught sight of Ariane’s face.
Her shock only intensified as Chiome brought her horse alongside shiden.
Her shouts caught Lille's attention when Zahar was in the middle of lifting her up.
“Nina! Those people are our benefactors and have agreed to protect us as we travel! Please refrain from such rude behavior!!”
“Forgive me, princess!”
Nina almost reflexively bowed in our direction upon being scolded by Lille.
“Arc-dono, I am indebted to you. Not only did you subjugate those terrifying monsters, you even saved my life.”
Although Nina appeared to be much younger than Zahar, her acts of gratitude beat the male knight’s hands down.
Though she was a woman, her skin was slightly tanned and there was a fearless gleam in her eyes. However, there was also a bit of hostility reflected in those same eyes when she looked at Chiome and Ariane.
The two of them probably noticed this as well.
The teachings of the Hiruku religion were ingrained in her home, while there wasn’t outright disdain or contempt, she was probably an accurate representation of how humans would react.
Still that may be unavoidable.
The sense of values that have been cultivated by years of religious indoctrination couldn’t simply be swept away.
Princess Lille’s disregard of such values was the exception rather than the rule.
“There’s no need to thank me. I simply did not want to watch a young girl weep over a lost loved one.”
Nina lowered her head once more before turning around.
“Where is my horse?”
“It’s right here!”
One of the guards stepped forward along with Nina’s horse.
The guards managed to capture the unruly horse after Nina lost consciousness.
After she received the reins, Nina mounted the horse in a manner you wouldn’t expect from a recently injured person.
Once she received her sword from another guard she brought her horse next to Zahar’s.
“I apologise for making you worry.”
“The trip may be harsh on your body, but I’m counting on you.”
Zahar instructed the others with a hand gesture after replying to Nina’s statement.
At that signal, our party resumed our trek towards the Dimo Earldom.
The scenery finally began to change just as the deep crimson sky transitioned to a dark indigo shade.
As the daylight vanished, the possibility of getting lost increased, but a large wall soon appeared in front of us.
The wall was about ten meters tall. It was hard to make out anything due to the shadows, but the wall seemed to be made from stone and it stretched endlessly to our left and right.
I was reminded of the wall built around the human settlement of Tajiento back on the southern continent.
“What is this wall?”
While slowing Shinden with a pull of the reins, I asked a nearby guard about it, he seemed a bit relieved as he answered.
“This is the defensive wall of Dimo Earldom’s Fort Hill. We’ll be in the Earldom once we cross it.”
As he spoke the tension that the party carried seemed to ease as they looked upon the wall.
“We finally made it.”
“Princess, the gate is just east of here.”
Lille was also relieved by those words, behind her Zahar nodded his head before reaching into a bag tied to his horse and pulling out a folded cloth.
Lille seemed puzzled by this and looked up to ask him about it.
“What is that?”
Zahar’s eyes bulged at her question. The cloth looked to be made of high-quality fabric and there was a complex chest embroidered in its center.
That was probably the crest of Nozan Kingdom.
Zahar carefully opened the kingdom’s flag and tied it his own sword sheath.
He then handed it to one of his subordinates, who immediately set off with the flag raised above his head.
They probably hadn’t displayed any article indicating their affiliation until now because we’d been crossing a hostile country.
They were entering friendly territory so they decided to show their allegiance.
Now that the sun had set, I didn’t know if they would be able to identify the crest on the flag, but a group of people suddenly approaching the wall was bound to have someone sent out to investigate.
The chances that the other side would attack before they verified the crest was at least lessened.
When Ariane looked over my shoulder to see what was happening she seemed to understand and directed her golden eyes towards the shadows above the wall.
Trying to gauge her response, I asked her a question.
“Ariane-dono, do the different elven villages also have something to display their affiliation?”
“There is, but they’re only used by warriors operating outside their home village.”
Ariane nodded before answering my question.
Apparently, only elven warriors carried items like that.
“I see a moving silhouette.”
Before I could inquire what those would be, Ariane pointed out something she’d caught sight of.
Above us, touches spread out in equal intervals ignited one after another, revealing a small fort behind the wall that had been hidden in the darkness.
There were in fact guards stationed on the wall, the sound of the hoof beats along the wall and our chatting must have caught their attention and they came to check things out.
Eventually, we reached a section of the wall that was illuminated by several large bonfires, and were greeted by a line of soldiers along the wall.
Below the guards’ feet was an impressively large gate.
I guess we reached the main entrance.
“Who are you!? Are you aware that this is the Dimo Earldom of Nozan Kingdom!?”
An aged gentleman stepped forward on the wall and challenged us.
Zahar pulled his horse up to the gate before leaving Lille on his horse and dismounting.
“My name is Zahar Bahárov! I’m the personal bodyguard of Nozan's Princess, Princess Lille Nozan Soulia. You are standing in front of Princess Lille.”
Zohar’s voice was loud and clear as he introduced himself to the commander and brought his horse closer to a bonfire.
The subordinate that raised the flag also followed behind them.
“I am Lille Nozan Soulia! Messenger of King Asparuf Nozan Soulia to Earl Dimo! I request that you open this gate!”
When he saw Lille majestic appearance sitting on Zahar’s horse, he panicked and started shouting orders to the soldiers behind him.
“Open the gate! Open the gate immediately! We are receiving Princess Lille! Open the gate!!”
They were staring across the wall at the territory of Salma Kingdom, which was an enemy territory.
For them, the idea that their own country's princess was travelling across hostile territory lead by only a small handful of guards must've been utterly unexpected.
With a creaking sound, the massive gate opened up in time for the out of breath commander from to run out and kneel before Lille as Zahar lead the horse through the gate
“Please excuse my rudeness, Princess Lille. In all due respect, I never imagined that you would be able to cross Salma Kingdom……!”
Princess Lille immediately replied to the prostrating commander.
“It is alright, it’s your duty to protect these lands from Salma Kingdom. Despite the hardships we faced in the Buranie territory, the lord needs to be informed of the situation in the capital.”
The commander was utterly dumbfounded by Lille’s statement but he lowered his head once more when the gate fully opened.
“You and your party are welcome to stay the night. I request your leniency, since there are a few unrefined people that have gathered in this place.”
Zahar nodded at the commander’s words before giving the signal to follow him.
The guards followed Lille’s lead and I began to direct Shiden beyond the gate.
However, the moment Shiden’s massive figure entered the bonfires' light an uproar was created.
The old commander’s eyes bulged before turning to Zahar for guidance. Zahar didn’t say anything though, only nodding his head and heading towards the fort, so the commander would occasionally look back at us as he followed behind him.
We then entered the fort. Everyone’s eyes were focused on the suspicious knight riding Shiden, and it would have been really inconvenient if this helmet came off right now.
I grabbed my canteen from my waist and started sipping the hot spring water through a straw.
Now in a situation where my helmet was removed, it would be easier to suppress the ruckus around the sudden appearance of an elf.
Ponta let out large yawn on top of Shinden head and shut her eyes.
Night had completely overtaken the area now, and the only sources of light were the pale moonbeams that broke through the clouds above and the bonfires around the fort.
Ariane and Chiome avoided the staring of the soldiers because they hid their racial traits with their cloak and hat respectively, so they were looking over the fort.
In a nutshell, the interior of the fort was rather bare and the Earl Dimo didn’t seem to be here.
However, the day has already passed and the lack of streetlights made the prospect of traveling on an undesirable one.
Since it seemed that we would be staying the night, I cast a sideways glance towards Ariane. Quite a bit of fatigue must have accumulated over the extensive riding trip and I was worried about the condition of her butt.
While I was considering such things I overheard an argument between Lille and Zahar.
“But why Zahar!? From Fort Hill, the capital of the Earldom shouldn’t be more than half a day away!!”
Zahar simply shook his head and the distraught Lille grievances.
“That’s exactly why Princess. It’s been two days since we left the capital, we need to rest now that we’ve passed enemy territory.”
“But, while we do that the capital might……!”
Her other guard, Nina, stepped forward and made her appeal to Lille.
The princess was obviously frantic over the matter, so she slowly explained thing to her while maintaining eye contact.
“You mustn’t overexert yourself, Princess…… If you were to collapse, who could petition for aid in this crisis? Even if we left right now, time would be needed to gather the necessary forces.”
Lille’s small shoulders trembled and she looked down after she heard that.
The old commander, who had been silent till now, began to speak in a respectful manner.
“I suppose that there has been an unprecedented crisis in the capital. If you are intending to seek an audience with the Earl, you can write him a letter explaining the circumstances and I can dispatch a messenger to him. Princess, you are welcome to replenish your energy here until then.”
After saying his piece the man lowered his head to Lille once more.
Lille looked down upon him from her horse, then looked between her two escorts before lowering her head and giving a brief reply.
“I understand…… I ask that you contact the earl in Keen”
The three of them let out a simultaneous sigh of relief.
After that exchange, the commander was informed of the capital’s current state, and a messenger was dispatched to Keen on their fastest horse to inform the Earl of Lille's arrival and the reason behind her visit.