Titan Beneath the Heavens
Chapter 101: Twelfth Episode: Chapter 1
Chapter 101: Twelfth Episode: Chapter 1
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
People were used to describing the North of the Empire with adjectives like natural, magical, beautiful, and fertile, a place that rejuvenated the spirit. In spring, brilliant mountain flowers were in full bloom, and a bright green view filled one’s gaze as far as the eyes could see. The whole scene was a picture of flourishing prosperity. In summer, there was the romantic Botan River, the Digerens Lake that was so vast it resembled a dead sea, as well as the Zaire Wetland that seemed to stretch out into infinity. In autumn, bright mountain flowers littered the rolling hills for more than dozens of kilometers. It was a magnificent spectacle. In winter, the vast northern land turned into a white world made of ice and snow, and nature itself hung some glacial decorations on the frozen trees, and at the same time inspired the northerners to become legendary craftsmen who create immaculate ice sculptures.
Although winter in the north could cause people who are unfamiliar with its extreme coldness lose their sanity, it was the same season most celebrated by the people of the north. The real northerners loved winter not because they could enjoy a small break from manual labor for their noble masters, but because when heavy snow closed the mountain pass, bandits and army ruffians will not disturb them.
Bandits and army ruffians were considered two major local specialties of the North closely after lumber and iron ore. After thorough investigations to discover the cause for the emergence of these two specialties, the majority agreed that it was due to the chaotic local administrative system and increased decadence of the Big Three. Some also suggested that army ruffians were nothing different from bandits, both never have enough food to fill their stomach or enough clothes to keep themselves warm.
To put it simply, the Big Three were given ruling power in the North because the only thing worthier than human life was grain. In the North where the harvest season of grains was only once a year, farmers who couldn’t save enough wheat flour from autumn to last for the coming winter could only go to hell when the time came for heavy snow to clog their door.
To probe the roots of the Big Three, one would naturally be reminded of Andrew House from the East Border. There was one period in history when Deiss was exceptionally hostile to the Titans. During that time, Titan Emperor had no choice but to nurture the armed forces of noble houses located along Northwest Border and North Border in order to defend themselves against Deiss Kingdom. The emperor was afraid of the emergence of a second Andrew in the empire, hence at least one House was given assistance in every province. As a result, four army forces arose in the northwest and northern areas of the empire. Up to this day, only Steinberger House from Haussen Province in the northwest was still passionate to fight for the empire. On the other hand, the northern Big Three didn’t prove themselves to be provide much contribution to the empire, they were constantly involved in internal disputes between the three families in their fight for power and resources. No matter what, since these three big families were crowned as the Big Three, it was assumed that they were at least worthy of being mentioned.
Sukhoi House was widely known to be the empire’s biggest warfare weaponry producer. His involvement in the military helped build the family’s wealth. Therefore, Sukhoi House didn’t bother much about the disputes that happen occasionally between the other two houses. As a matter of fact, they enjoyed the show as a form of entertainment in their mundane daily lives.
Karl Arnold House is the family of the current Empress of Titan Empire. Perhaps because of the strong support from Her Majesty, or maybe because of the secret assistance they receive from archbishop of Titan’s parish - Buffon Karl Arnold, in recent years the family gradually became the one with most power among the Big Three. However, among the family members, only Her Majesty the Empress and her elder brother were smart, and it was not at all mean to say the rest of them were no different from idiots. Particularly the head of the family, Duke Murby Karl Arnold. There were only two things that concerned him; lust for women and wealth.
Sukhoi family possessed countless fortunes and their position in the Imperial Army was affirmed, while Karl Arnold family obtained strong external assistance from both the capital and church. Therefore, what was left of Jebron House of the Big Three? This particular House was not supported by wealth from industry, no woman of their last name took the helm at Westberg Fort, nor any man from the family was willing to get mixed up with the priests! So, what exactly was the worth of the Jebron family?
The vigilance towards danger prompted Jebron family to embark on another path, a path that was extremely militaristic and aggressive. In order to ensure the survival of the family, Bron Fortress, which was the largest and most well-protected fortress in the entire Westland, has been continuously expanded and constantly renovated. Moreover, in order to make its competitors feel threatened, for generations Jebron family exhausted their effort and innumerable amount of money on building the world’s most destructive heavy infantry army group. In fact, the other two Houses were somewhat intimidated by Jebron House due to its military power.
In a nutshell, the triangular balance of power by the Big Three has always been the main force that dominated the north. All three families were well aware that their power and influence inevitably depended on one another. Deiss Kingdom would definitely seize the opportunity to attack as soon as one of them was not in the picture. These bellicose and inexperienced serfs would definitely destroy the entire North by killing men and abducting women and property. When winter fell, these vicious invaders would chase the innocent kids into the deep mountainous area. The Big Three once swore in front of the divine image of God of Light that protecting and defending their country would be their top priority. Later when Deiss Kingdom withdrew from offence all of a sudden, the empire managed to take over two provinces in the northwest from the enemy’s territory. Since the threat from the enemy disappeared, then it became the time for the people to solve their internal conflicts! Thus, over the years, the Big Three took joy in annihilating each other.
If northern affairs were concerns of the Big Three, why did the empire form the Northern Army Headquarters? In fact, a military cabinet minister long ago envisioned a situation: when Deiss Kingdom invaded the empire, Karl Arnold House would probably be the one to bear the brunt. However, this family did not have a well-constructed fortress, and their field forces could not beat Deiss’, so Karl Arnold was predicted to order their withdrawal in the early stages of the war. As for Jebron House, their heavy infantry army group could probably apply some psychological pressure on the enemy, but in order to save their own strength, Jebron certainly would not invest all their forces into the war as well. In other words, Jebron House would probably retreat themselves halfway along the fight like the former.
Hence that would leave the north with only Sukhoi House! According to the assumption of the military minister, Sukhoi would exhaust the minefields and underground sources, bring with them all the research materials, various blueprint drawings, countless bank vouchers, and return Grizzly Castle as well as the family armed forces back to Imperial Army, before eventually relocating their entire House to capital Dulin.
In other words, at least back in two or three hundred years ago, the Big Three could contribute some aid to the Empire during the North Border war, but at this time they obviously could not be of any help at all! Therefore, Northern Army Headquarters was established to guard the strategically inaccessible places along the Big Three’s territory.
Although these guards were made up of their own people from the north, they were not any more welcomed. In order to cut back on budget and expenses, the Imperial Army usually ordered the three families to contribute parts of the military expenditures. However, the three major families power naturally turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the order, and this became the main cause for the proliferation of bandits and army ruffians in the northern part of the country. Young soldiers went foraging around like beasts when they have not enough to fill their stomachs, while retired old veterans accustomed to free living gathered at the mountain and called themselves the king of the mountains.
To sum up, the natural, magical, beautiful, and fertile North, was simultaneously also the depressed, deserted, impoverished and hungry North.
"No matter what… this is the heaviest snowfall I’ve ever seen in my entire life." Oscar zoned out to the magnificent view outside the window.
"Your Imperial Highness Prince, when February comes, you’ll be able to witness more majestic snowfall than this."
The voice belonged to an enthusiastic and talkative baron named Koudel, which was also the mayor of the beautiful small town.
"Oh yeah! Your Excellency Baron, sorry to have troubled you with my knights. You must have been extremely occupied for the whole day in your preparation to accommodate them." Oscar said and bowed to the mayor.
"Your Imperial Highness Prince, you’re too polite, I could never let Narcissus Knights the guardians of God of Light, to spend the night in brazen cold plain. Although there aren’t many huge houses in this little town to ensure your knights’ comfort but at least I found some places to put a roof over their heads. I hope you don’t mind my lack of hospitality, this is the least I could do…"
Oscar waved his hand in the air, "Not at all! Anyhow I’m immensely grateful for your effort! Honestly, I was worried that my knights would not find a safe place to put up the night. As you know, the tent provides only little protection against the cold, and we are definitely not equipped for the heavy snowfall that seems to be getting heavier tonight. You’ve been a great help!"
"Haha!" Baron laughed shyly. He has not even seen a Duke before this, not to mention receive praise from His Imperial Highness Prince of the Empire. "Your Highness, serving You and your knights are what I ought to do. It’s a great honor, and definitely the honor of the town."
Oscar thought for a moment, and suddenly he put on his leather cape made of thick bear fur. Paul, Murat and the rest of regimental commanders of Red Tiger also stood up.
"Are you heading out?" Murat looked at the young prince, confused.
"Yes, I’m planning to visit my knights and see how they’re doing in the cold. Hopefully they know to warm themselves up."
Murat turned to look at the snow fall outside of the window, "You should rest, Your Highness. I understand how you feel, just leave this to us."
Oscar pondered at the suggestion, and finally nodded. He remembered something more important he had to do. "Ola… remember to bring the supplies and gear carriage loaded with woollen blanket. I’m sure they would be of good use."
"Yes, Your Highness, I’ll do everything as you said." Murat saluted to the prince, and left with the other regimental commanders.
The whole town was immensely silent that not a squeak could be heard. Only occasionally guard dogs would bark. Heavy snow fell from the sky and landed themselves quietly on the streets, on the roof, on high trees. There seemed to be no one else in this tiny snowy town. Temporary stables were built in the courtyards of each house, and those warhorses that have not experienced this kind of extreme cold cowered together in corners to warm themselves up from each other’s warmth. At the sight of this, the knights gave in and laid their own blankets over the horses to keep their loyal partners warm.
"His Highness was right," Murat frowned at the sight.
The division commander of Red Tiger knocked on a random door. He was received by an old woman, who placed her finger on her lips to signal the men to keep their voices low.
"My lord, your knights are fast asleep. You all must have been exhausted for the past few days, they are sleeping soundly like children."
Murat smiled, "Thank you so much for your care. I’m just here to check on them."
"Come on in! It’s much warmer inside!"
The rest of the men entered the house, and saw their knights spread on the floor in all directions. Just as the old woman said earlier, they were all deep asleep. Some were sleep- talking, some snored, others sucked on their fingers. They cowered together like the fellas in the stables. Their back pressed against their comrades’ back, their legs piled above each other’s. In Murat eyes it was such a heart-rending sight.
"Get them some blankets."
A couple of regimental commanders turned and returned quickly with blankets piled up in their arms. Murat took them over and began covering up the sleeping knights with care.
"Let’s move on to the next house."
When the supplies and gear carriage was almost empty, Murat and his regimental commanders also reached the end of the small town.
Half-consciously, a sleeping knight opened his eyes and trembled as cold air blew. He saw his division commander and also his regimental commander. Like a frightened small animal, the knight promptly sprung to his feet.
"Attention! Salute to the commanders!"
Almost immediately, the messy noises of knights getting to their feet filled the room. Many of them were still rubbing their eyes, but they were aware of the commanders who came to visit.
Murat stepped forward to the front of that knight who first stood up, and knocked hardly on his head.
"Why gave you the order to shout?"
The young knight scratched his head, embarrassed.
"How old are you?"
The young knight stood to attention promptly, "Report to Division Commander, I’m turning nineteen in two and a half months! I’ve joined Neruda Front in 4th month of year 796, later assigned into Red Tiger Battle Group in 9th month of the same year."
Murat nodded, "Are you an army of Neruda Region?"
"Report to commander, yes! Mingelas is my hometown."
The commanders looked at each other in surprise.
"Alright, you can all return now." Murat took the last woollen blanket.
"Are you… staying here for the night?" Regimental commander of the rangers, Shaw Shorenstein, stared at his own commander in disbelieve.
"Why not?" Murat returned the glare.
Shaw Shorenstein was taken aback, "Of course! Please! You’re the commander, of course you can do what you want."
After the regimental commanders left, Murat looked at the house full of completely confused knights and laughed.
"Alright! Dismiss! You can all lie down now, all of you! Except those who have not gotten a blanket, come and get one from me. Sleeping on cold floor for the whole night could freeze your little thing!"
Laughter filled the entire room, and soon they gathered around their division commander. "Division commander, please give me one, I gave mine to the horse!""Division commander, can I have one too? I gave mine to my brother!""Division commander, I also want one, mine dropped to the snowy ground, putting it on feels like entering the ice cellar."
Shaw Shorenstein and the other two regimental commanders stood in the cold outside of the house. They all seemed concerned.
Regimental Commander of rangers looked at his colleagues, "Hey, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m going to my soldiers."
Théleau Kleiner shrugged nonchalantly, "I’m also not leaving my knights behind to sleep in a warm and comfortable bed."
"And you? Kamille?" Colonel Shorenstein turned to the paladin who kept quiet all along.
"Someone has to return and report to His Imperial Highness Prince." Kamille said quietly.
"And then? You’re staying in mayor’s house?" Kleiner asked, surprised.
"Of course not, after that I will part with His Imperial Highness Prince, and if I remembered correctly… my group is mostly in just a few streets down the road."
Colonel Shaw Shorenstein stepped forward and draped his arms around his two old colleagues, "That’s right, that’s the way! Anyway… to be honest, I really missed the leisure days back in Swan Hill Castle and University Town!"
Murat bundled himself with the blanket and laid on the ground. The floor was freezing cold. He had not expected the North to be such a terrible place! Although the Red Tiger fought in ice and snow before, but winter in Narcissus County was completely different from the north! Winter in Narcissus County would not freeze the skin, nor would its wind tear at faces so hard bloodstain could be seen, there was also no such... forget it! What use would it bring to think about these now? Murat thought to himself and rolled over to one side.
"Hey, young fella! What’s your name?" Division commander leaned in to the young knight beside him.
"Report to division commander, my name is Kirk Dexton, but you can call me Kirk."
"Oh?" Murat looked carefully at the young soldier, "Is Douglas Dexton your brother or…"
"He’s my brother! Haha, division commander, you remember my brother?"
"Of course!" Murat reminisced, "Your brother was exceptional with his sword. I still remember sometime around six years ago; your brother’s arm was chopped by the enemy when Red Tiger pursued and attacked the Persians in General Figg’s garrison area. How’s he doing now?"
"Don’t mention it, after his discharge he trained me as if I’m the enemy Persian! Shortly after he got married, and is now the father to a son and daughter. However, division commander, I’m sure he would be extremely delighted to know people in the army still remember him. His biggest fear is that his former comrades-in-arms would forget about the Douglas with exceptional sword skills." Kirk flashed his eyes at Murat.
Murat avoided the young man’s stare. "There’s no need for him to worry, tell your brother that his captain, regimental commander, and division commander have not forgotten about him. We still vividly remembered the time when he fought with the cook in camp because the dried vegetables broth was apparently too salty for his liking!"
"Hahahahaha! He hasn’t mentioned this to me before!"
"Of course he hasn’t! I wouldn’t tell others too if I were locked in the confinement room for half a month." It was rare for Murat to smile in front of his soldiers.
"Is everything good… back in hometown?"
Kirk was at first astounded, but he was bright to realise. "You… you’re also from Mingelas?"
"That’s right, your brother hasn’t told you that?"
"Ah! I remember now! Bedoya is your family name! Both my brother and his wife are working in your father’s local military department."
Murat shook his head, "No that’s not what I’m asking, I wish to know how are things going back in hometown. It has been about… eight years since I left."
"I’m sorry about that! Though there’s nothing too much to concern about. A huge flood spread unchecked once in year 794, your brother and father organised fellow villagers to handle the mess, hmm… oh there’s a new church built in the city, even the regional archbishop was there for the inauguration! Also… there was some appearance of Persians…!"
"What are you saying?" Suddenly Murat grabbed the young knight by his collar.
"It’s not what you imagined, they are just refugees relocated by the border military regions. As the number of refugees increase, the military regions encountered trouble to accommodate them all so the Imperial Army sent these Persian refugees to affluent cities and towns. However, the people from the hometown are not very friendly to these refugees, especially the children who can’t stop throwing rocks into the refugee camp. There was once a refugee who died from the stone attack. Your fatherspent so much effort to quell the anger of the people."
Murat finally let go of the young soldier’s collar. He adjusted his body, and sighed toward the sky. "Hopefully father can deal with all these conflicts, those Persians better not create any trouble."
Young Kirk shook his head, "They are mostly just women and children, also some wounded and the old."
After a long silence, young Kirk moved closer to his division commander.
"Division commander, do you remember the Grano family who lives in the end of Linston street?"
"Of course! Grano senior is my uncle, my mother’s brother. I can’t see where is this conversation going?"
"Hehe! Hehehe!" Young Kirk scratched at his head and began to laugh, "I know Miss Grano… very well, she always come to the back of my house… to watch me practice sword, and then… I will walk her home after my practice, and…"
"What are you trying to say?" Murat sensed something fishy about that.
"I’m trying to tell you that… before I’m enlisted I’m engaged to Miss Grano!"
Once again Murat’s hands flew to the young soldier’s collar, however this time harder than the last. He almost lifted the young man entirely off the ground, but glanced over at the rest of the sleeping knights.
"Little bastard, you mean you’re marrying my niece? My young Lena? She’s… she’s only ten!" Murat lowered his voice in order not to awaken the sleeping men, but one could still hear his anger from the words spitted through his gritted teeth.
"Division commander, that’s… that’s not true! That would be eight years ago, Lena is already eighteen years old!"
Murat was stunned for a second. The young soldier was right, the last time he saw his adorable niece was eight years ago. Lena at that time often used his sword to fight with the boys!
Young Kirk was frightened by his commander’s ferocious features that he couldn’t speak coherently, "I… Miss Grano and I… pronounced our love for each other in a church in front of the God, we were blessed… blessed by the parents of both parties, even your father and brother were there! You… if you could calm down!"
Murat bent his head to one side and thought about that for a second, "Exactly! It’s only right that my niece is married to a Narcissus Knight! Why am I so tensed?" Murat looked at the young soldier who looked like a terrified little quail, "Moreover… this one here look like a good guy, at least… he doesn’t look the kind who would make my niece cry!"
Murat let loosed of Kirk’s collar, and laid back to the ground again. "Young man, you should’ve told me about this on the first day you enlisted to Red Tiger!"
"No!" Young Kirk shook his head in disapproval, "My brother said that it’s not something to boast about. A qualified Narcissus Knight should not gallop into the battlefield only through nepotism."
As his commander continued looking at him with hints of suspicion, Kirk started to explain himself again, "What I’ve just told you… actually… actually I have been so excited from the moment you entered the house, I never imagined you to sleep beside me, I… my words are not making sense anymore. I become even more thrilled especially when you asked about hometown! I… please don’t ridicule, since the day I was enlisted… I began to think of my family, my home, and the feeling only got stronger as I moved further and further away from home, I… I only wanted to share with you stories from hometown…"
"Alright, that’s enough!" Murat tugged the corner of the young soldier’s blanket underneath his neck. "Go to sleep now! Don’t trouble yourself with all these thinking, there’s still a long way to go before we can go home! But I promise you, that I will host the wedding of you and Lena. Therefore, listen to my order now, and go to sleep immediately! We have to hurry on our way tomorrow!"
Touched, tears filled the young soldier’s eyes. He quickly shut them tight to prevent the tears from flowing out, but almost immediately he opened them again.
"Division commander, let’s change our sleeping position. Cold wind enters from the slid underneath the door! It’s not good for you to sleep there…"
"Don’t be so long-winded! Go to sleep now!" Murat impatiently rolled over to one side, and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. Anyway, he was glad to discover his own niece has chosen a good husband for herself.
Young soldier blinked his eyes, and was lost for words as he stared into his division commander’s cold back.
The snow hasn’t stopped falling outside of the window, and glass windows were covered with beautifully designed frost. During that time, glass was hard to come by, and was often utilised by the rich as a symbol to show off their wealth and status. Most often than not one could predict the host’s financial situation by simply judging the windows of their residences. Practical rich people normally made use of glass to build their windows instead of those shabby blinds.
Oscar sat in front of his desk in the room. He adjusted the kindling rope of the oil lamp, and then checked again at the concentration of the writing ink. His Highness spread out a piece of clean white paper, tried out the tip of the writing brush, before he finally began on his mandatory weekly task.
"Have you accustomed yourself with the life in Swan Hill Castle? How’s everyone else doing? I hope Alanis and her ridiculous friends will not come to harass you. Also, can you please stop strolling by the frozen lake again? How many times should I remind you of that? It’s too dangerous. What if there’s a massive ice hole on the lake, and you missed it… oh my God of Light! I don’t even dare to imagine that! You naughty little girl, I’m going to note down every one of your misbehaviors, and each of them is going to be returned with a spanking on the butt."
"North is still the same as I’ve mentioned in my previous letter. However, it has started to snow again. The knights are not too optimistic as we might be stuck in the valley, but don’t you worry, I will not be so unfortunate to encounter with snowstorm."
"I realised my knights are rather despondent these days. The sudden drop in temperature a few nights earlier has frozen more than twenty of our warhorses to death, and I’ve no idea how to comfort the knights when they cry at night. Perhaps… perhaps my decision was wrong from the start, to visit the North during winter is definitely not the best idea."
"Come in!" Oscar shouted as he heard the faint knocking on the door.
"Your Highness, you’re still awake?" Kamille Rayen entered the room, on his hair and clothes were dusted with tiny snowflakes.
"I’m writing a letter. How are my knights doing?"
"They’re all asleep. It must be hard for them, having travelled more than hundreds kilometers in the past few days."
"Are they all equipped with woollen blankets?"
"Yes, you can be rest assured. Division commander Murat and the rest of us distributed blankets to every group."
"Alright then! You should also go to rest soon. The baron has prepared rooms for each of you." Oscar returned his attention back at the letter.
"Um… Your Highness!"
"Is there anything else?" Oscar turned around, astounded.
"Division commander Murat is spending the night together with the soldiers, so us regimental commanders should not be under the comfort of our quilts too…"
"Okay, you can do as you wish!"
"Please rest earlier, Your Highness."
Oscar waved his hands to dismiss the paladin. As soon as the door was closed, young prince rubbed at his hands and took another sip of the cold tea, before returning to his writing.
"My beloved Sasha, please don’t worry about your brother, as I’m doing just fine over here. The only thing that devastates me is how much I miss you. It’s still tough for me to accept the fact that we’re so far apart from each other. Four hundred kilometers! Anyway, it was a journey that I’ve chosen for myself, and I’m grateful that my decision was supported by blessings from father, the family, and most importantly you. No matter how much danger and perils I might encounter I will continue this journey without complaint or regret."
"Sasha, you know what? Recently. my knight caught a small animal called a snow badger that has incredibly soft white fur. Shamelessly I took the animal from the knight using my power, but although I felt embarrassed fortunately the knight wasn’t too bothered. I would like to send this fur to you along with this letter, so you can wear it as a muffler in order to keep your respiratory tract warm when you go out."
"Sasha, I miss you all the time. When I march, when I chew on the cold bread as hard as ice, when I repair the carriages with the knights, when I get up in the morning, when I watch the sun sets, when I sleep, when I dream, and also when I wake up from my dreams with a start. In short, I miss you all the time."
"Oh yes! Suddenly I was reminded of Annie. She has had a history of lung infection, so she definitely can’t stand winter in Dulin. Make sure you watch after our Lady Countess, please put on this snow badger muffler around her neck if she intends to go out. I would let my scouts be more alert in catching a glimpse of this small animal. If we’re fortunate enough, it shouldn’t be hard to capture another one. However, perhaps Annie has to wait a while, as according to the locals, snow badger is scarce and quite hard to come by, but I’m convinced that a silly badger with shiny fur would soon run itself into my arms. By then... you and Annie will both become a pair of cute baby badgers. I’m looking forward to seeing you wear the muffler."
"Sasha, my dear, is it okay if I stop now? To be honest, I’m now battling with my eyelids as they stubbornly want to force themselves close. I need to rest now. According to the schedule planned, we were to travel a journey of sixty kilometers tomorrow in order to arrive at Grizzly Castle by this weekend. Send Alanis my regards if you bump into her, but don’t mention anything about the muffler, as I’m not planning to prepare one for her. Besides, extend my regards to Annie, tell her that I still worry about her. Also talk to my secret agent, hopefully he can withstand the loneliness. Not to forget small Godot, I’ve heard the news about his wife’s pregnancy, is that true? Sasha, you should invite the family over to Swan Hill Castle and let the servants serve them. As for the rest, you can pass along my regards to them."
"And so… goodnight, my darling. Love and kisses."
"Your dear brother, O’Neil Andrew Morisette, night of year 797, 17th day of 1st month, signed off in Kudra Town of Zolas Province."
Oscar moved the letter closer to the oil lamp to fasten the drying process of the wet ink. Then, he carefully folded the letter and put them away in the envelope. He meticulously licked on the side of the enveloped before pressing on them hardly. Lastly, he removed a small sachet from his arms and revealed his personal official seal from within.
His Highness searched through every nook and cranny of the mayor’s residence to finally locate a red sealing wax. As the fire burned slowly, the melted red wax dropped on the opening of the envelope. Before the it cooled down to hardened again, Oscar hurriedly pressed on it his official seal. Without any hesitation, he then kept the red wax into the tiny sachet, as he was certain he would need it again in the future.
"Ola! I’m finally done!" Oscar shouted while stretching his arms in the air. He plopped himself down in the bed. Within seconds, his loud snores were heard by everyone in the residence.
The heavy snowfall finally stopped when the night was still dark. As the knight on duty sounded the bugle to signal the arrival of the sun, the whole town shook to rise as if an earthquake passed.
Well-dressed knights flocked out from each house like swarm of bees. In a fast but orderly pace, they gathered in front of their respective houses on a squad-unit basis. Each platoon captain shouted the familiar words of command, and began announcing the morning task when their members were in line.
Followed by the bugle call and the noise of brisk activities of the knights, residents of the town also arose from their dreams. Normally they wouldn’t wake up so early during winter, however it wasn’t often that the town was visited by an Imperial Highness Prince and Narcissus Knights. Early in the morning the residents lighted fire for cooking, they didn’t mind entertaining these heroes with their own winter supplies.
The most excited group of people were definitely the children of the town. They gathered silently to watch the knights arrange and sharpen those frightening long swords. When they got bored, they would suddenly disperse to find another group of more mighty soldiers equipped with more enormous weapons.
Murat thought of a thorny problem as he looked at the smoke rising from the chimneys of every household. The residents’ winter supplies would not be enough to last themselves for the winter if they were to share it with a troop of 3,000 soldiers. He promptly asked for his own messenger and ordered him to bring a platoon of knights to go from house to house, in order to remind the residents to only prepare breakfast for their respective households. The Narcissus Knights have their own cooking camp. They used only the water from their wells, and would not even receive a gram of flour from the town residents.
The chefs of Red Tiger were as occupied as usual. The head chef was a captain named Arden, who was brought in by Battle Commander Colonel Kamille Rayen from the original unit. Every Red Tiger knight adored the head chef who was excellent in both fighting and cooking. They addressed the man affectionately by the names "Head" or "Big Brother Arden."
"Big Brother Arden, the sausages from today’s breakfast were magnificent!""Big Brother Arden, what’s wrong with this fried egg? It tastes exactly the same as the way my mother cooks it!""Big Brother Arden, are you married yet? I have two elder sisters and three younger ones."
Arden moved his pans around the kitchen impatiently. "Chatter heads, stop nagging please! If sausages and fried eggs are not enough to keep you all shut, then starting from today your meals would just be tomato soup and white bread!"
"NO..." The knights protested in the streets. However, judging from their silly faces it was clear that they didn’t take Arden’s threat seriously at all.
In the more secluded areas of the small town, groups of soldiers were being kept in the people’s courtyard. The knights struggled hard to remove the potatoes and toasted bread that the enthusiastic northerners kept cramming into their backpacks. Finally, the highly disciplined Red Tiger prevailed. The mayor had to come forward and persuade for the whole morning before the residents finally stopped doing these futile actions. However, that left the people with regrets. Narcissus Knights were not like those Imperial Army ruffians, who rushed forward at the sight of a potato, or the bandits who kill men and set people’s house on fires. Narcissus Knights were the guardians of Holy Land of the West assigned by the God of Light, they deserved only the most beautiful things in life.
Eventually, the people returned to their house. Looking at the barley soup left untouched on the tables, countless hosts appeared disappointed like children who didn’t receive gifts on the Holy Day of God.
"Excuse me! Excuse me please!" A platoon of knights rushed their way forward to the main street of the small town.
All the knights out in the street gathered around, "Hey! Everyone! The scouts are back!""Brothers, how are the paths in front?""Yes, tell us more!""Isn’t it mountainous in front? Can we pass through them?"
The crowd became bigger and the scouting knights had no choice but to jump off the horses.
The young captain walked slowly while simultaneously explaining his discoveries to his comrades, "I’m not optimistic about it! The sky is still cloudy, and the mountainous area is definitely still snowing! The path in front is not an easy one, we can hardly identify the roadbed. I’ve also encountered a couple of experienced hunters, and they advised me to be careful of the bandits in the mountains!"
"Division commander!" The young captain was startled when he saw the officer who came his way.
"Alright, I’ve heard it all! Seemed like you did a great job!" Murat passed over a pot of hot tea toward his knights who were covered with snowflakes. "This is for you and your soldiers. Warm your stomach, so you wouldn’t get uncomfortable later at breakfast."
The young captain remained silent. He only performed the most immaculate and precise salute to the commander.
"So, do you have any suggestion on how we should start our journey?"
The young captain who only just took one sip of the hot tea immediately stood to attention.
"Report to division commander, I think we should start our journey as soon as possible. If so, we should have sufficient time to search for an appropriate place to stay in the mountains. Otherwise, if we can’t find a place that can shelter us from the strong wind, I’m afraid some of us would freeze to death tonight! The mountains are not the same as flat plains. As for the bandits mentioned by the hunters, I don’t think they are bold enough to pick trouble with us."
Murat nodded slightly and turned his head around, "Hurry up and settle your breakfast! We might as well depart now!"
The knights dispersed like the crowd of small children. Most of them haven’t even had breakfast. There were still so much equipment to be put in order!
Oscar exited the mayor’s house, and jumped on his Raytheon. His Imperial Highness Prince declined politely the mayor’s invitation to breakfast. Although it was such a pity to have missed the sumptuous breakfast, but Murat already ordered such a command! Oscar was part of the troop, he must also comply with the discipline and regard Murat’s order with seriousness, even though he himself was the highest commander of the entire troop.
"Set out!" Under the command of the young man, the bugler sounded the hurried call of departure. A reorganized cavalry consisting of 3,000 soldiers began to move. First was the platoon, then the company, followed by the group, and lastly the whole troop. The red cape of the soldiers fluttered as the northern wind blew. Watching from afar, the troop of cavalry moving forward resembled a flowing blood vein, which beat rhythmically under the violent calls of the northwest wind.
Standing behind the mayor was all of the residents of Kudra Town, included men and women, old and young. If it wasn’t for Murat’s order for a platoon to stand guard at the entrance of the town, these enthusiastic northerners would definitely send the Red Tigers off as far until a few kilometers away from the town.
As expected, snow began to fall once Red Tigers entered the mountains. However, Oscar and his knights were already accustomed to the cold.
"Your Highness!" Murat dashed forward to the prince who was at the front of the line.
"What’s the matter?" With much difficulty, Oscar turned his head back in the falling snow.
"There’s a sword fighter in Battle Group names Kirk Dexton, and I wish to arrange him… transferred him to your… to your…"
Oscar raised his brows in confusion, "Murat! Speak your mind clearly and properly!"
"No! I’ve said nothing at all!" Murat who rode on the horse shook his head firmly.
He thought about it for a second, and smiled to himself. "Kirk is a good fella, he might despise me as his Division Commander if I really transferred him to somewhere relatively safer."
The path vanished without trace, and Red Tiger began to search their way in the snowy white landscape.