Arc 1, New Moon
The march through the forest grew more difficult with each step. The closer they went to Meissen, the deeper the snow became. At the moment, the snow nearly reached the knees of the horse – yet they hadn’t even finished half of the journey.
Every now and then, a belly grumble-like cry of an animal issued from the forest. That was a wolf. This time, it was an actual, genuine wolf.
With the long winter approaching, the wolf’s stomach was most likely empty. In order to keep it from sensing them, Ernst’s escort proceeded downwind of the wolf.
The people traveling with Ernst were hunters who lived in this forest. Large and heavy-looking hatchets were balanced on their hips, and they carried pointed, sharp knives. Carrying bows on their backs, they marched through the forest with grim faces. All three of Ernst’s escort were Kleber.
Though they hadn’t yet encountered a wolf, Ernst was slightly worried over whether just these men would be enough against a wolf.
Certainly, all of them had burly and strong physiques compared to Ernst, who suffered from Kleber’s disease. But in his mind, Ernst was comparing them to a Dunbertian’s body.
If that man were here, he would be able to walk leisurely without worrying about the snow catching his feet.
The snow continued to fall constantly.
The snow flew between the branches of the trees, which stood still as if they were dead. Sometimes, a snowstorm blew.
This was the first time Ernst had ever felt so cold in his life. He buried himself in the winter clothing that the villa’s servants had prepared for him to avoid the freezing cold.
Unconsciously, he hunched over. Because of how cold it was, he couldn’t even look in front of him; he couldn’t raise his face to see.
He listened to the sound of the horses and hunters stepping through the snow. This quiet marching was all that he could hear. Ernst started nodding off until one of the escorts woke him. Whether he was asleep or awake, time passed without much difference between them.
Even when he was awake, he dreamed.
In his dreams, there was a warm bath. That giant man of a servant was there. He gently washed Ernst’s body. His fingertips slipped into the hole in Ernst’s backside and scrubbed it. With his large hands, he washed every inch of Ernst’s body, and he touched Ernst’s small manhood. Warm happiness flowed through Ernst.
Only Ernst had a horse prepared for him. With his boy-like slender body, it would take all of his might just to stand in the snow.
They advanced through the woods. They kept on advancing. The snow continued to pile up heavily, but the men marched forward without paying it any mind.
Ernst heard the howls of the wolf coming from far away, and closeby.
At night, they dug holes in the snow and and rested inside. This was the first time Ernst learned that snow could be something warm.
His escorts took turns resting, and they continuously stoked the fire to make sure it wouldn’t go out.
Ernst offered, “Shall I take over?” After all, during the daytime he was the only one on a horse, and he thought that he shouldn’t be as tired as these men who had to walk through the snow.
The men’s faces showed that they had been caught off guard, and they laughed awkwardly as they rejected Ernst’s offer. Their stern faces had made them seem scary, but their expressions when they laughed were nice and honest.
Ernst chatted with them little by little. They walked in silence during the day, but at night, they gathered around the fire and spoke. Bit by bit, the men told him in quiet voices about what it was like to live in the forest, and how they had lived in the Linz region ever since they were young.
Gazing at the fire, Ernst fell into a strange and quiet mood.
The howls of the wolf echoed throughout the night. Though Ernst still felt scared, it wasn’t as much as he had been when he’d first entered the forest. This was because he’d come to understand the people escorting him. He didn’t need to worry uselessly; instead, he just needed to get to know them.
They ate the food they’d brought with them little by little. Though the luggage they carried gradually grew lighter, the expressions on the men’s faces grew more severe. When Ernst asked why, they told him that from here on out, if a wolf attacked them, they wouldn’t have any food to spare for luring it away.
So that was why. Their food wasn’t just for eating; in an emergency, it was also used to divert a wolf’s attention.
That said, walking through the snow while carrying extra food wasn’t all that easy.
As their load lightened, their walking speed increased. They had to leave the forest before they encountered any wolves.
The next obstacle to face on their path would be the valley. Supposedly, in front of the valley was a hunter’s hut. They would travel up until there, and then they would leave the horse and continue on foot. Once they left the forest, there wouldn’t be any wolves. The men’s feet moved faster.
The night, too, quickly approached. Though the fire would repel a stray wolf, they would be helpless if a group came after them. The wolves were intelligent enough to know to wait until there wasn’t enough wood for the fire to keep burning.
The horse exhaled, its white breath rising like a cloud. In the night sky, the whirling snow glittered like stars. The fallen snow looked like crystals, and it was beautiful, cold, and cruel. To keep himself from falling asleep, Ernst tightened his grip on the horse’s reins.
Suddenly, he felt something gazing at him. The men’s feet came to a still. Sending a signal with his eyes, the youngest hunter touched Ernst’s arm.
He was asked to quietly get off the horse and follow him. They hadn’t left the forest yet. This wasn’t a resting place, either. Ernst heard the urgency in their voices, but he neither questioned nor resisted them. There was nothing in this forest that Ernst would know better of than they did.
The eldest hunter tied the horse’s rope to a tree. He touched the nape of the horse’s neck as if comforting, apologizing, pitying it. The horse stomped its feet restlessly.
Surrounded by his escort, Ernst quietly but quickly proceeded down the snowy road. He followed after one of the escorts, who had gone ahead to break up the snow, making it easier for Ernst to walk. Though his feet still got caught in the snow, Ernst fervently followed him as if trying to chase away the frightening thoughts in his head.
As Ernst continued to walk, clenching both of his hands, the sounds of the horse’s neighs reached his ears. He heard the wolves’ enjoyment. Ernst tightly closed his eyes and shook his head.
He roughly exhaled. Kept traveling through the forest. The escorts strode forward quickly. Ernst clumsily moved forward like he could fall at any moment. His body looked like it was about to collapse, so one of the escorts grabbed his delicate arm and pulled him along. No one said anything. No one could say anything.
Ernst felt like he wanted to cry. But he couldn’t afford to do so.
We made it 4 chapters without Ernst thinking about his parts, let’s celebrate.
I’m really enjoying Tsukiya’s writing. I hope you guys are too!