The moment Brendel set foot on the land of Grey Mountain, he felt the word "rvaslit" thoroughly. It described how the mountains looked like fangs piercing the sky, as used by the Highlanders. Undeniably, it was a perfect adjective to those steep peaks with grey limestone cliffs. The curving ridges of the mountains make the distant skyline equally twisted. Overhead was the pale grey sky, and beneath was a deep, endless valley.
Sunlight poured down on the other side of the valley's cliffs, carving the shadows of the peak where they stood. Unknown birds circled on the streams afar, its occasional shrill growl echoing far and wide between the mountains.
Only when the young prince whispered to them that it was a gyrfalcon—a raptor that only inhabited the Grey Mountain—did it occur to Brendel that they were close enough to Haruz's homeland.
If one could look beyond the mountains, one could see the lowlands where the Beales had lived for generations. One could also see the great plain to the north, with its scattered hills and black pine woodlands, and the great royal capital.
Brendel then asked Haruz if this was the same route he had taken when he fled, and the latter said yes. However, they had left by a carriage at night, entering the Grey Mountain in the darkness. In a state of trepidation, the mountains that looked like sleeping beasts left a deep impression on him. Now that he was with his teacher, there was no need to fear.
Haruz's words made everyone laugh. It was a harmonious and warm atmosphere in the carriage. Other than Brendel and Romaine, Magadal, Dilferi, Maynild were on it. Supposedly, this carriage belonged to Magadal and Dilferi, and Romaine and Haruz came on afterwards.
Romaine did have a carriage of her own, but Dilferi's carriage had a special charcoal brazier, so the sneaky lady had that in mind from the start and managed to coax the soft-hearted countess into inviting them on board.
Fortunately, Dilferi did not mind at all. She was more than happy to have a few more people to talk to, and Romaine's chattering and endless stories, albeit mostly made up, were right up Dilferi's alley. Hence, it was not long before the two became good friends who could talk about anything.
Magadal listened with a soft smile on her face the whole time, as if she had no intention of intervening in the conversation, only occasionally speaking up when asked. Nonetheless, every utterance she made carried meaning, displaying her bearing as The Nun Princess of the Holy Cathedral of Fire.
The carriage went along for a while more, then a knock sounded, and Brendel opened the door. As soon as he did, a cold breeze poured in from outside, causing the temperature in the carriage to drop several degrees. The ladies paled a little, with the exception of Maynild, the lady knight sitting beside Haruz while holding her sword hilt. Her eyes were downcast as she counted the tassels on the curtains.
Outside the carriage was the former commander of a mercenary and the current leader of the White Lion Battalion, Jana, who travelled alongside the carriage on her horse. When she saw Brendel open the door, she leaned down and said to him, "My Lord, Fortress Tiscow is right ahead."
So we've arrived.
Brendel told the coachmen to slow down before jumping out of the carriage and closing the door. Right after he set his feet on the ground of the Grey Mountain, he finally had a grip on reality.
It was the first time he had crossed Ampere Seale to this northern land since arriving in this world. He could not help but glance back at the carriage, but through the foggy window, he could not see the expression on the face behind it clearly.
By then, Jana had brought him a horse from behind, and he silently took the reins from her. He climbed onto his horse and then asked in passing, "How is it? Are you getting used to the northern land?"
Jane was a little surprised at how he sounded like a master as she wiped the frosty snow from her brow. Shaking her head, she said in a somewhat amused tone, "My lord, I know this land better than you do."
Brendel froze slightly. Turning to look back at his subordinate, he recalled he had never asked about their origins.
"You're from Grey Mountain?"
"Sort of… We lived in Covardo for a while before my sister's accident. Well, frankly, that experience made me hate the nobility, and sometimes I wonder if I had come to my senses earlier… Never mind. I don't even want to talk about it anymore…" Jana replied softly with a sudden sigh, looking at the hills, somewhat fascinated by them.
Brendel nodded as well and did not ask further questions.
Jana was the captain of the guards for the trip, but she was not the best man for the job. The best man for the job would, in fact, have been Kodan, but the old man was now adamant about staying out of Trentheim's affairs, whether big or small. After Count Radner was imprisoned, he bought a plot of land in the area of Mirtai, as if he was determined to be a carefree estate owner or a farmer. Nonetheless, he still recommended Jana to him.
Out of the five mercenary commanders working under him, Leto intended to stay out of the battle for power within Coldwood, only interested in making things better for the refugees he had brought out of Riedon. Carglise and others had privately referred to him as the head of the refugees and to which the Red Bronze Dragon dared not refute them.
As for Batum, he was immersed in maintaining the order in the place as if satisfied with being a magistrate. He had confessed before that he had no ambition and that his life now was his dream.
Brendel had no intention of forcing his two earliest followers, not to mention that he knew Batum was indeed limited in his abilities and that being a magistrate was all he could do. In spite of that, Amadina constantly complained about him.
The three mercenary commanders who joined later were more ambitious. Cornelius, who was under Amadina's command and in charge of the logistics of the local army, could now almost handle things on his own.
Forn, on the other hand, had long made his mark in the White Lion Battalion, and his military experience in the Karsuk had aided him a lot in Brendel's army. After the battle in the Month of Autumn, he had become another important deputy to Carglise, who intended to put him in command of the cavalry. However, this army had yet to be formed.
However, Jana's performance in the White Lion Battalion was mediocre, although she had done well as a mercenary commander. It seemed that her experience as a mercenary commander limited her vision. Keeping their experience and loyalty in mind, Amandina had been meaning to give them a better position.
Forn and Clenchia were both capable of accepting the position, but Jana was in an awkward position. Moreover, she refused to climb up the rung by making use of her relationship with Brendel, so she remained a minor infantry captain in the White Lion Battalion.
When Brendel was given the task of going on the diplomatic mission, he intended to find a commander capable of commanding a small team, and Jana was the first to come to his attention. Kodan, too, suggested to him that Jana's experience could make her extremely useful when commanding the guards, made up of multiple professions and types of soldiers, similar to a mercenary regiment.
Of course, Brendel actually had a better option, and it was Freya. However, it would be a waste of her talents. Besides, she had only just gained a little prestige and needed to stay behind to strengthen her position in the Southern Legion, not to mention he and Maynild had to head to Kirrlutz.
Gryphine needed someone loyal to aid her, so having Freya, Amadina, Carglise, and Cowan, who was far away in Cielmann, with her, he was much more comfortable with leaving. Even if the old nobles wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to cause trouble, Gryphine and Trentheim would not be in immediate crisis, not to mention that he had left behind the Tree Elves and the White Lion Battalion, leaving Freya with enough military power at hand to use.
For this reason, he chose Jana in the end. Her performance was satisfactory too. In this diplomatic mission, he brought along Medissa, Ciel, Hipamila, Raban's mercenary group, Mars' troop in White Lion Battalion, hundreds of iron golems, gargoyles, several witches, four War Goddesses, and a certain lady who could not be seen under broad daylight. With her experience, Jana made proper arrangements for the different people, soldiers, and war machines.
Apart from the overt White Lion Battalion and Raban's mercenary group, Brendel wanted the golems and gargoyles provided by the Bugas to be hidden, not to mention the witches and War Goddesses, of course. More than anything else, it was best to stay out of sight if they could. Thus, Jana divided these troops into two squads overnight, devising a marching route specifically for them. She was very experienced in travelling through the mountains and keeping them from getting lost, and some of the routes she created were routes that Brendel had used in his previous life in the game, which impressed him greatly.
After more than a week of travel, Brendel could fully confirm that making her an infantry captain was a waste of her talents. Some people were born to be mercenary leaders and a commander of an elite squad, and Jana was certainly such a talent.
Only then did Brendel look up at the carriages moving in procession along the narrow mountain road. There were mainly five carriages, the first with the representatives the counts Eikkel and Janilasu, the second with the son of Count Karsuk, the third with the daughter of Count Viero and the young girl of House Grinoires, the fourth with Romaine. All the carriages were accompanied by a number of attendants plus the guards, making the already not very spacious path congested.
Brendel was wise enough to put the hundreds of men of the guards behind the caravan, leaving only a small group in front of them to clear the way. Otherwise, they would have been stuck on the trail.
A wall had appeared ahead of this group, casting a tall shadow over the procession. The fortress stretched across the mountain pass. One side of the tower clung to the steep mountain walls, and the other side seemed to hover over a cliff. From afar, it looked imposing.
Fortress Tiscow was the most important pass when traveling from Seifer to Covardo. In his previous life, Brendel had been here several times in the game, but because of the presence of players, the fortress was not so solemn and much more lively in the game. He also remembered that there was supposed to be a marketplace built by the players on this mountain road.
Leading Jana forward through the crowd, they arrived under the wall, where Medissa and Ciel were waiting, along with the second son of Count Karsuk. After all these days, Brendel had figured out how to pronounce the guy's awkward name—Eltham or Augustus. When Eltham saw Brendel, he complained loudly to him about the fact that the place was full of uneducated hicks who had to see Brendel himself before they would open the gate and that they were being rude.
Brendel was immune to this level of complaint, but he was a little confused. Normally, soldiers would not dare to offend the nobility since, in this era, no one would dare to impersonate one as he did before. If Eltham's words were true, someone must be deliberately making things difficult for them, or something must have happened in the fortress.
At that thought, he cast a questioning gaze at Medissa and Ciel. The little elf princess replied softly with a frown on her face, "By the sound of their tone, it sounds like there's been a burglary in the fortress."
Upon hearing this answer, Brendel almost thought the viscount in Fortress Tiscow was making things hard for them on purpose. It was a poor excuse since it was not as if the fortress was inhabited only by soldiers and officers but also by their families and the nearby Highlanders. All in all, it was not a small town. If the appearance of a burglar required them to be on guard at such a scale, then they would have to maintain such practice 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.
Ciel, who obviously knew better, hastened to explain with a smile, "My lord, I have asked around. I'm afraid that Mr. Eltham has misunderstood. I heard it was because the burglar stole something from the owner of this place, which is why we are in the present situation."
It was then that it dawned on Brendel. For a burglar to steal something from a nobleman, especially a military nobleman, on his own turf, it would make sense for the viscount to be furious. Although many of Aouine's tales praised thieves and Night Swallows, shaping them as righteous figures who specialised in robbing the rich to help the poor, in reality, those who really knew the trade would understand that there were grey areas of existence for those who make a living out of it.
Most of them are inextricably linked to the nobility, not to say that the nobility secretly supported them in their work, rather for their own benefits to remain unaffected. Thus, the nobility would know the number and the identity of the thieves in the area. They would occasionally buy dirty goods from them, but otherwise, the two sides do not cross paths.
Brendel concluded that the perpetrator must therefore be a foreigner, but he wondered who had the audacity to do so.
The guards soon identified them. With a creak, the drawbridge was lowered, and the gate was opened to let them into the fortress. Brendel stared at the slowly rising gates, knowing full well that the so-called identification was just a pretext and that the delay was probably due to the fact that they had reported to the viscount. The guards were unwilling to take responsibility, so the viscount himself had to give permission to let them in.
What Brendel did not know was that the bold burglar he muttered about was really a local and not some foreigner.
Inside Fortress Tiscow, two carriages were parked in the shade of a tree—although the so-called tree barely had any leaves left. A number of servants crowded outside the carriages. At first glance, they did not look like attendants of upstarts in the countryside who wore extravagant outfits and were indolent. On the contrary, they were well-trained. As their masters remained in the carriage, they stood silently like puppets in two rows by the side.
As for the two carriages, the emblem on one had been removed, while the other was one of a black wolf. In fact, one look of that emblem alone was enough to stop anyone in Fortress Tiscow from approaching, for it was the family emblem of the Grey Mountain Family.
Inside the carriage sat two young ladies–one in her late teens, the other with her curly hair tucked away under a mortarboard and thick glasses. She looked like an old scholar, but she was short like a dwarf. Judging from her flat chest, she obviously had yet to undergo puberty and was about eleven or twelve years old.
Both of them were talking, but surprisingly, the young girl was leading the conversation.
Brendel heard the younger girl say, "So slow, so slow. I hate people who are tardy."
The noblewoman sounded a little worried as she asked carefully, "Chiara, they seem to have found out they have lost something."
"Of course they'll find out," Chiara replied matter-of-factly, "that viscount isn't an idiot."
"But will we get into trouble?"
"Of course not," Chiara twirled a card-like object in her hand and surveyed the trinket with considerable interest. "I'm just a little interested in this thing. Would he dare disobey me if I told him to give it to me? I just didn't want to owe him a favour, so I had to do it myself. Besides, I've never failed."