Once the war was on the agenda, the preparations raced forward like a wild horse free from its reins. Trentheim had long begun preparations for battle, the White Lion Infantry began to fill out its ranks, and since Medissa's return to the territory, the training of the Wind Archers also made it onto the schedule.
At the princess’s behest, the various lords adjoining Trentheim had also begun to expand their noble private armies, most of whom were originally hostile to the Firburs. However, ever since Count Radner suddenly stood as the opposing side to the kingdom, the amount of people kissing up to them increased.
Although Brendel did not think highly of these people, he was not going to turn them away.
As soon as the hazy moon of summer passed by, before the Moon of the Scrolls came, there was the smell of flowing fire on the land. The rising temperatures burned the leaves and the blazing sun licked the ground of the South day after day.
Vlada and the armies of the Southern Legion had finally arrived on schedule, although before the last festival of summer, Brendel had allowed his people to calm down from all the nervous and restless energy. Before the last few weeks came upon them, he had the Firbur hold its Championships Contest for the Festival of Fire as scheduled.
This tournament was slightly less formal than the winter hunting rituals, but it attracted lords and knights of all levels from the nearby area due to the open serving of alcohol.
The tournament was set up just outside of Coldwood Castle, and for a couple of days, the din of the tournament had set the entire territory ablaze.
But certain quiet locations remained relatively independent.
A thin wooden wall separated the noisy sea from the quietness of the bar, except for the occasional mercenary whistling loudly and impeding upon this relatively private space. A distinctive smell of boiled meat and spices permeated the hall.
There were several wooden tables with unique names written on maple cards: Brendel,
Romaine, Amandina, etc. These seats belonged exclusively to the owner or a close friend.
The sign outside the hotel seemed to be brand new. It had a three-masted sailing ship on it that read 'Lord Romaine's Smuggling Anchorage', such a vulgar name clearly indicated who it belonged to.
However, the interior of the bar was relatively cozy. Scarlet sat at a wooden table against the southwest corner and saw more and more people gather outside - mostly young men from the White Lion Legion, or local lords, farmers - ever since the refugees started pouring into Trentheim. The re-expanded White Lion Legion was far more than the thirty or forty people that had been in the area when Carglise first joined. On top of that, as more and more settlers came into the territory, tenant farmers, merchants, and craftsmen had also begun to populate the countryside of the Firbur territory.
The open field outside the bar had become the place of the Championships Contest of the Summer Festival. Right now it was archery, and with many beautiful Tree Elves maidens on the field, the crowd of onlookers was unprecedented in size.
She looked back, seeing a girl in silver armor placing a bunch of daisies next to a wooden tray and then clasping her hands together and closing her eyes in silent prayer. Scarlet's eyes reflected this image. She watched quietly, then asked, "Is her name Bessie?"
Freya opened her eyes, sadness clouding her brown eyes. Nodding silently, "Bessie loved a good time. An archery tournament like this would’ve been her favorite, and to compete against the legendary Tree Elves..."
"Please don't be sad. Miss Freya, the living always have to move on. In the past... veterans have often warned us that death is just a monolith without a name, but the living has to cross over it and bear even more as they continue their journey, which is why we have to be strong." Scarlet consoled.
"I'm sorry, and I understand, but I can't stop thinking about the past, especially at times like this." The young girl from the countryside of Bucce blinked softly as she sighed, "Sometimes I wish I could go back to that time and have start over, without the war..."
"I, understand..." replied, Scarlet cautiously.
Scarlet looked at Freya’s face, thought for a moment, and said, “Because I’ve been in many battles since I was a kid. In every battle, almost all of my companions died, some of them were new people who I’ve only known for a short time, while some of them were close friends who I’ve been with for a long time. When I was a child, I would bawl my eyes out every time, embarrassing myself. But little by little, I became familiar with life and death."
"How did...?" Freya was slightly startled and looked back at the girl next to her with some incredulity - Scarlet looked even younger than herself, but she was much more mature in her experience.
"I'm a mercenary, working tirelessly for money and survival; people like us will all die in a battle sooner or later. To us, this is just common sense, and I didn’t have any complaints originally." Recalling her past, she held the wooden cup and shook the golden liquid inside, and said quietly, "But because of an accident, the Lord took me from this life and showed me that there was another way."
"I... don't know if I should thank the Lord. I can more or less understand the Lord's mind, what he wants me to pursue. ...But what else can I do but fight?"
"So then I'd rather be the one to die than someone else."
"I'm sorry." Freya said abruptly.
"Huh?" Scarlet stopped.
“I’m sorry, Scarlet, I never knew your life previously. I think my desire to go back in time was perhaps a little too selfish. Brendel was right, no one can give us the peace and tranquility we want unless we earn it ourselves." Freya replied quietly, "The people of Aouine are far from being able to enjoy peace and quiet."
The mercenary girl looked at her dumbly.
Freya had gradually begun to understand some things that were still confusing for her.
That was when cheering sounds burst out from outside the house again, and the door to the bar slammed open. Romaine flew in with a large tub in her arms, yelling, "Medissa's got first place again! The malt liquor is sold out, so you guys need to help!"
"You be careful!" Freya hastened to remind her.
"I know I know," and then there was a scream from the kitchen, "Ah, my roast meat!"
Brendel came in from outside with an exasperated shake of his head, although he seemed to be in a good mood. He looked over at Freya and Scarlet and smiled, "These two beautiful ladies, won't you go out and celebrate with us? Our little princess has won first place in archery, after all."
The future Valkyrie glared at him with wide eyes. "Brendel, what are you wearing!"
“A uniform, Aouine’s cavalry uniform. How is it, looks legit, huh?” Brendel raised the kebab in his hand, revealing several obvious grease marks on the dark blue uniform - it looked like someone had wiped their hands on it.
"You...how can you wipe your hands on a uniform! The uniform represents the dignity of the kingdom and it is the greatest honor a soldier can have. Brendel you...you've gone too far!" Freya was seething with anger and even forgot her sadness for a moment.
“Oh, that…it was so convenient I didn’t even notice.” Brendel replied somewhat innocently.
"Ha, Freya, you get busy, I'll go out again." Brendel saw the future Valkyrie about to have a seizure and hastily retreated. Apparently, what the lady had learned at the Royal Cavalry Academy had left her with a bit too much honor.
"You stop right there, Brendel!"
Only idiots would stand still in that situation. Brendel had come to show off this cavalry uniform to Freya and Scarlet, and although he achieved his purpose, the end result was a bit unexpected.
Fortunately, this little interlude did not ruin his good mood.
The cavalry uniforms he was wearing came from Firbur's own cotton and dye workshops. Aside from the cotton, which was shipped by sea through Ampere Seale, the uniform came almost entirely from Trentheim.
A territory that had once been barren, empty, and had produced almost nothing but silver.
The roots of the change came from an increase in population. Because they were well-prepared before the war, refugees poured into or were shipped to Trentheim, and the food reserves from Ampere Seale quickly converted the increased population into a usable workforce.
Two months earlier, under the auspices of Bosley, cotton workshops, dyeing workshops, blacksmithing workshops, copper shops, clay and pottery, and even a weapons and armor bureau had been established. After nearly half a year of careful tending, Trentheim was no longer its former barrenness, instead, it had gradually begun to produce some necessary products on its own.
Firstly, food and weapons, as well as a small amount of luxury goods.
After the season of storms, commerce with the north gradually became more frequent. Sailboats with snow-white sails from Grey Harbor and Ampere Seale Port moored in the newly constructed deep-water docks of Port Gris, and keen merchants began to discover the potential of this place, and more and more merchants stayed in the harbor on a monthly basis since the beginning of the New Moon.
Along with the merchants, there were also a large number of craftsmen. Just a few days ago, Brendel had met with a group of Dwarf Apparatchiks from the Black Mountain region, most of whom were also refugees from the war, apparently the war in the north with the Lion Beastmen had begun to affect normal commerce, and it seemed that the king's eldest son had been forced by the temple to go to war with the Lions head-on.
Yet, this was the perfect opportunity for the south to grow and expand.
As Brendel looked out, wagons carrying goods traversed the avenues near Coldwood Castle. The fields on the border of the forest were no longer barren, and were instead populated with working farmers. A year, or even half a year earlier, none of this would have been a possible sight to see in Trentheim.
And this all had been brought about by his, and everyone's, combined efforts.
He looked up, looking into the distance as a tall knight holding the victor's triangular flag ran around the crowd. The silver, lily-embroidered flag fluttered high in the wind, as it had a thousand years ago, and a thousand years later, it flew once more over this land.
The people gave a deafening cheer.
Brendel saw the Silver Elf Princess being held up by the Tree Elf maidens, and she too watched the flag from afar, something shining in her eyes.
The leaders of the people shouted and raised their glasses of wine high. The streets were no longer lined with the straw huts of Graudin's time; with the assistance of the Red Bronze Dragon mercenaries and the workers under Odum, paved streets had been built along Coldwood Castle, flanked by neatly built huts, and right now, standing by them were adults and children, all sporting satisfied smiles on their faces.
As he passed through the streets, many people recognized him and bowed to him with genuine respect. Brendel returned the salute casually as well. Honestly, he had grown accustomed to this life and no longer felt uncomfortable about being saluted.
Those perceptions from modern times seemed to be fading away. Although in the depths of his soul, the pride of being from an advanced civilization still supported his every word and action, at least he would never think that this respect and pride was innate.
He placed a copper coin in the hand of a little girl beside him, which meant a blessing from the Lord before the summer. The little girl, flushed with excitement, ran to a woman, perhaps her mother, with the coin in both hands. The woman took the money in the little girl's hands and saluted him.
The shouts were quickly overtaken by another voice, and the inhabitants of Firbur paid heartfelt tribute to the new Lord who had brought them all of this prosperity.
Brendel narrowed his eyes, understanding that such contentment was illusory and temporary for all, just a little earlier the people were on edge, inquiring about the upcoming war.
Everyone during these troubled times were trying to treasure the temporary peace around them.
There was nothing wrong with that, it was just that Aouine was far from being safe yet. Some were bound to bleed and even give their lives to defend others. But at least, this was the Aouine that he wished to guard.
He walked through the crowd to the princess’ side. Gryphine was watching all of it. Her knightess was right beside her, one hand on her sword. But Brendel felt that she was watching him, although the feeling Maynild gave him was far less tense than what he had felt in Ampere Seale, which had made him tense every nerve in his body.
How could one be nervous in such an atmosphere?
"They like you very much, Mr. Brendel. If there is anyone else in Aouine who can claim to be an example of the ancient nobles, it would be you." With sparkling eyes, Princess Gryphine's said, slightly emotional.
"This is your highness’ dream. None of Aouine shall be trapped by poverty, war, and disaster any longer, and the tragedy of Buche will not be repeated." Brendel replied.
Princess Gryphine blinked, “ Mr. Brendel, I understand that this is a bit too idealistic, but I at least wish to change this kingdom from its current situation . ...In the north, such as in Radner, Viero, and many other places, the wars and calamities caused by the nobles themselves continue, while the sons and grandsons of the late king, Erik, do nothing."
"Yes, so Trentheim will not be stable for long. Every man, for the sake of his own future, must fight and make sacrifices."
"Is Mr. Brendel ready for this?"
"All we need to do now is to wait to convince Duke Viero."