Arc 3, Waxing Moon
As early summer approached, only a shadow of snow remained in the forest.
The grass swayed from the breeze of Ernst’s footsteps, and the warm scent of life abounded in the forest.
In the past, Ernst had passed through this forest at the beginning of winter.
The Ernst of that time had known nothing; he had believed the teachings of the Royal Palace were everything in the world, and he himself had not experienced a thing.
But now, after having spent almost a year here in Meissen, he looked at this forest by Arruca Village with fresh eyes. Now, it looked to him as a rich and abundant forest. If nothing else, it seemed much easier to manage in comparison to the Weiss Forest by Eitt Village, which was strongly influenced by the neighboring Grude Continent. Although the trees here had seemed enormous to him in the past, they looked small now that he had experienced the Weiss Forest’s gigantic trees.
“For trees like these, perhaps they can be felled so long as adequate tools are available,” Ernst murmured, lost in thought. Ahead, Mage, the leader of the 1st company, turned back toward him.
Mage was currently seventy years old, and he had his position of company commander thanks to Targes selecting him for the post. Apparently, other than him, there was no one else who was young enough who could handle spears on horseback.
“Yes, that is so, sir. The trees in the Lord’s forest are just as large as these, but we are able to chop them down as well.”
Ernst himself had never stepped foot in the so-called Lord’s forest, which was the forest personally owned by the Lord of Meissen. Although Ganche had carried him around the entrance before, they had never gone deep into the forest.
“Humm… What can you tell me about the kinds of tools used by the militia?”
“We use axes, but… all of them are worn out. Although we have looked into trying to temper them somehow, we aren’t able to find any ways to heat the iron enough to let us temper the metal,” said Minaha. Minaha walked alongside Mage, and he was the commander of the 2nd company. He had turned fifty-two at the turn of the year. At times of battle, the seven platoons would organize into three companies, and the three company commanders would lead each of the groups.
Half a year after Targes had become the militia’s captain, he had appointed these two as company commanders. Although both of them were younger than the seven platoon leaders, they both had better weapon proficiency and leadership skills than each of the others. As well, Minaha carried a large longbow on his back. He was said to be a master of the bow.
Ernst pondered, and he thought: I want to procure our tools from Sistica Continent.
Iron, as an underground resource, was mined by Helesians. Helesians, whose heights did not exceed 1 meter, originally lived in a place known as Hel Continent. At present, however, Hel Continent had been swallowed up by the neighboring territories of Sistica, Schell, and Grude Continents, and its presence above ground had nearly disappeared. Currently, each of those continents contained a few known Helesian cities, totaling 3 above ground and 4 underground. Those underground were known as Hel Continent.
While every continent had resources hidden underground, only the Helesians were able to mine them. Those resources were located beneath a bedrock so hard that even the Grude races were probably unable to break it.
It was said that this was ‘probably’ the case, however, because no one other than the Helesians knew of either the location of the ores or the method to mine them. Somehow, the Helesians located the ores, mined them out, and sold them to make profits.
Whether making weapons or creating farming tools and the like, all of them required iron.
However, only in the countries of Sistica Continent could that iron be forged to become even stronger. The environment of Sistica Continent provided natural sources of powerful, blazing fire, which the continent’s people had learned to operate for their own use.
Hunting tools, weapons, and swords were made in Rintz Kingdom as well, of course. But when Ernst considered the strength of the tools, he felt that it truly would be better to procure them from Sistica Continent. Ernst was only willing to buy expensive goods if they were high-quality, and he could not afford to cut costs for things like farming tools, which would be used just about until they broke.
Ernst’s gaze fell upon the weapons carried by the troops around him.
Ganche’s weapons – his greatsword, spear, and everything else – were all made in Sistica; and moreover, they were made in Leucurias Country, which was said to forge the finest-quality work.
Targes’ sword, like Ganche’s, was also made in Leucurias.
Mage and Minaha’s spear and bow were supposedly given to them by Targes and Vice-Captain Aldo; as Ernst had suspected, they were Sistica-made weapons.
Aldo wielded a sword that had been forged in Mutea Country of Sistica Continent. For this occasion, Brez borrowed Aldo’s sword and carried it with him. However, when it came to armor, there was nothing that they could do; other than Targes and Ganche, the militia troops could only make do with the poor and shabby armor assigned to them.
Ganche had vaguely recalled how much it cost to commission weapons and armor, and he had calculated how much money was necessary to outfit all of Meissen’s troops. Even if they sold all of the goods bequeathed to them by the former lords, it was still impossibly far from what they would need.
They waited for night to pass in front of the valley, and come the next morning, they began crossing through. It seemed safer to cross now compared to how dangerous it was during the early winter; but as always, the bottom of the valley was a long fall down, and the wind’s pull was strong.
“I will take the lead in crossing over first, pardon me,” Brez said, tying a rope around his waist. He safely crossed over the valley, even as tiny rocks dislodged and fell from around his feet.
Unlike during winter, the rocks were not frozen and would not cause your feet to slide off of them – but on the other hand, bits and pieces of rock fell from each of your steps. If you put your foot on the wrong place, the rock would tremble and shake beneath you.
Even Brez, who had formerly worked as a migrant mercenary and had crossed this valley innumerable times, could not avoid this.
Perhaps the reason for this was because he was burdened by both his armor and the wicker basket carried on his back. Yet Minaha, Mage, and Targes would each have to cross while carrying the same burdens. And when it came to Ganche, he not only had his armor and basket, but he also had to carry the wooden box filled with money.
“The route Brez used to cross is safe, so Lord Ernst, could you see if you can cross over the same way?” Targes asked him. Despite the nervousness stiffening his neck, Ernst managed to nod.
Yet, when Targes made to tie the rope around Ernst’s waist, Ganche stopped him and lifted Ernst in his arms.
“There is no need. I shall transport Lord Ernst over.”
“Wait, Ganche. …How in the world are you going to get across that narrow cliff face? My plan was for you to go last, you know. You’re already carrying more than the rest of us as it is. With all that weight on you, I’m worried that the valley’s not going to be able to hold up if you step on it!”
Targes hurriedly tried to stop him. Ganche, without paying him any heed, just stood at the valley while carrying Ernst in his arms.
When Ernst peered into the valley from his position in Ganche’s arms, he felt how long of a fall it would be even more deeply.
Yet strangely, Ernst didn’t feel afraid at all. If Ganche said that there was nothing to fear, then there was nothing for him to fear.
“Very well. Ganche, I am counting on you.” As Ernst spoke, he clung tightly to Ganche.
Ganche carried Ernst in the same way he always did, with Ernst sitting on and held in one of his arms. Ganche lifted the wrist of the arm Ernst perched on, and he firmly held Ernst with his large hand.
A happy smile on his face, Ganche said, “Then, let us go.” He quickly crouched, and exploded into a leap.
Ernst watched Targes, Minaha, and Mage’s shocked faces recede into the distance. Ernst’s golden hair rippled in the wind, and a cold breeze rushed over his cheeks.
Am I flying in the sky? Ernst wondered. The logic in his brain said to him that he was not flying in the sky, but rather, flying over the valley. The long fall of the valley’s abyss now gaped beneath him.
Yet even so, Ernst did not feel afraid in the slightest.
From the corner of his eye, Ernst saw that Ganche was laughing. He was making a face like a child happily jumping over a puddle.
Ernst somehow felt the thrill and fun of the situation and laughed together with him.
“… I thought, that my heart was going to stop…”
Later, when Targes came over, this was the first thing he muttered to them as he laughed.
It took a Kleber thirty steps to cross this valley, which Ganche had leaped over with a single push from the rock face.
“Dunbertians are also called as the wolves of the moon, after all. The name comes from the fact that our eyes see well at night, and that we have excellent leaping strength. While the Dayers are better at jumping vertically, us Dunbertians have an edge in leaping forward to advance, as I just did. We are also able to run up rock faces, as well.”
“It was an incredible leap. It made me feel as if I had become the wind.” Since Ganche looked so proud of it, Ernst earnestly shared some words of praise for him.
Ganche stooped his body as if to say that he wanted Ernst to praise him more, so Ernst reached up and stood on his tiptoes to pet Ganche’s brown-haired head.
Once Mage and Minaha crossed over, they watched as Ernst pet Ganche’s head while Targes looked at them, exasperated.
When Ernst had crossed this rocky plain in the past, the gusts were so strong that he thought his body would be blown away by the wind. Yet now, surprisingly, the area became a flower garden. Small flowers of many colors swayed in the breeze as if they were all enjoying a short spring together.
He paid a visit with great gratitude to the hunters’ cottage. It seemed, however, that from spring to autumn the mountaineer hunters were especially busy. The cottage was empty, so Ernst decided to wait. During the time he spent inside the cottage, the sunlight waned and dimmed tremendously.
Although they would still have to spend a few days within the forest regardless, if Ernst kept waiting like this, they wouldn’t be able to proceed at all.
By the time the sun set in the reddened sky over the distant mountains, the four hunters had returned.
They looked over in Ernst’s direction with vigilance, their footsteps pausing, but when Ernst called out to them, the hunters came over with quick steps.
It’s been a while! Are you well? They exchanged such idle pleasantries as they shook hands. Their hands were the same as before, dry hands with rough skin that were full of strength.
The hunters welcomed them with a feast.
If we’d known you’d coming before, we would have gotten better things to bring out, they said, but the food they provided was already a luxurious banquet by Meissen’s standards.
There was meat such as bird, deer, boar, and rabbit, as well as plentiful roast and boiled vegetables, all of which were seasoned with spices. Although he would have considered this a simple meal in the past, after having spent over half a year in Meissen, Ernst could only think of it as magnificent cuisine.
The five soldiers, Ernst, and the four hunters wouldn’t be able to fit inside the hut. They shared this lively meal outside beneath the starry sky, sitting together around a large fire.
The mountain air was perfectly clear, and the stars, big and small, were brilliantly sparkling. Although early summer approached, the night air was still cold; yet because everyone sat around the fire, they were warm.
Ernst spoke about his life in Meissen, and listened to the hunters speak about how they passed the winter in the mountains. He listened to them speak about their life in Linz fief, and spoke in turn about his plans to develop the Linz Valley.
Once the valley was developed, the number of people coming and going would increase. Ernst worried that this would disturb the hunters’ lifestyle, but surprisingly, the hunters welcomed this prospect.
A life with four men stuck in each others’ faces on the mountain is stifling. It would be great if more people came and went, the four of them laughed.
And besides, the eldest hunter continued.
I don’t want to see anyone die in that valley anymore.
At those words, the other hunters, as well as the Meissen-born troops such as Brez, nodded solemnly.
They fell silent, and to honor their acquaintances who had fallen in the valley, downed a drink of alcohol.
The hunters sent them off halfway through the mountain, where they continued their journey.
Back in Meissen, the surroundings of the estate were still buried under snow. Here, however, the snow had completely disappeared. Where before, Ernst had been unable to proceed through this mountain without being carried on horseback, he now walked on his own two feet.
The plentiful trees in Linz fief’s mountain were of ordinary height and width. Since summer was soon to arrive, wherever Ernst looked, he saw dense signs of animal life.
The forest looked completely different from the last time he had passed through it. Ernst wanted to walk through the forest on his own so as to prove to himself that he could do it, yet in just a short amount of time, his breathing grew so ragged that he could barely walk.
Walking uphill is much more strenuous than walking downhill, sir, Brez said, trying to comfort him, but Ernst could only feel how miserable and pathetic his lack of physical power was.
With a wry smile, Ganche lifted up the now-depressed Ernst.
They spent two nights in the mountain. Ganche carried Ernst during the day as they advanced, and on the third night, they reached a town of Linz fief.