In the last days of the Month of Frost, the weather outside was cold enough to make one's teeth chatter. The deciduous trees around Mirtai and Schafflund could not escape the fate of a drab landscape. A thick layer of dead leaves had been falling on the ground since the end of autumn. In regions more to the north, there were even a few snowfalls. Though the places were not snowed under, at least it signified the coming winter of Year of the Sword.
It was the worst month of the year to start a war, yet it was the beginning of the Holy War. That was how unreasonable history was, sometimes more whimsical than the stories.
In the midst of the warlike atmosphere in Coldwood, only the black pine forest outside the count's castle remained green, except for the inky hue that seeped through the canopy. It looked as if the whole shaded parts were monsters hovering overhead from afar. The cold wind that whistled through the pines' tips would make a blood-chilling sound. Trentheim's guests were stamping their feet and rubbing their hands under the trees in the courtyard, filled with grumbles about the weather. Most of them were well-dressed with an air of people from bigger cities, hence evidently not locals. A dozen carriages were parked side by side outside the courtyard, their dark bodies painted with various emblems, each one representing the glorious history of a family. Most of these nobles from all over Aouine were new to the less developed Trentheim.
They were here for one purpose only–to travel to Kirrlutz as envoys.
It was also a rare time of year when Coldwell Castle became lovely, whether or not the owner wanted to receive these guests.
Although Brendel was nominally the head of the diplomatic mission and could choose the accompanying members as he wished, an old tradition made it necessary to have a number of fixed members, people he could not designate.
One of these was the royal family's representative, and Haruz was to represent the House Covardo as such. He could also choose two ladies, an attendant, and a knight, to accompany him. On the original list were Madam Windsor and Madam Signy—the two nannies of his in Winterclaw Castle. However, Haruz asked Brendel to replace Madam Windsor with Medusa, making the latter wonder if the prince was reaching puberty.
Brendel's attendant was a young man from House Covardo–someone he had not heard of before. Thus, he reckoned the man must be a royal family member. The knight accompanying him was naturally Maynild, Gryphine's most trusted person.
In addition to House Covardo, the former royal house of Aouine, House Seifer, should also send a representative, according to the agreement made with the Holy Cathedral. However, unsurprisingly, this representative would not travel through Ampere Seale for two weeks to meet them at Coldwood. Gryphine's brother had written them a letter of reassurance in advance, saying that he had already chosen a candidate and that the latter and their entourage would meet them at Grey Mountain.
The other envoys were representatives of the counts of Viero, Grinoires, Lantonilan and Karsuk, Janilasu, Yanbao, Grey Mountain, and the marquis from Balta. There should also have been representatives from Arreck and Radner, but the two territories had joined the royal domain. Since the battle in Ampere Seale, the Arreck Family had gone practically extinct. On the other hand, Count Radner's family was still imprisoned in the dungeons of Magitan, so naturally, they could not send any representatives.
Of the counts, Count Viero sent his youngest daughter, Count Lantonilan sent Eikkel, and Count Karsuk sent a stout man, said to be his second son. As for Count Grinoires, he sent his seven-year-old daughter. Count Janilasu was a follower of the Silver Lions and had no children, so he sent an energetic young male official. The envoy sent by Count Grey Mountain, too, like House Seifer was waiting to join them at Grey Mountain.
Lastly, there was a slight twist in the choice of Count Yanbao's envoy, as he had long been out of contact. In the middle of Month of Frost, Dahl sent an envoy over, who Gryphine chased out in a fit of rage. Hence, Dilferi decided to be the representative of Yanbao, so that the Holy Cathedral of Fire would have an impression of the future heir of Yanbao and so that she could foil Dahl's plot. Considering her health, Brendel purposely arranged a larger horse carriage for her.
Most of these noblemen had their own retinue, as few as one or as many as three, so together, they added up to a huge group of twenty-odd men and six carriages. However, if one were to think that the group was large enough, they would be mistaken.
Brendel soon discovered some unexpected guests in the party, one of whom was Magdal, who, as Princess of Antoburo, naturally had to represent her duchy on the mission to Kirrlutz. The empire had thought she had perished in the war in Ampere Seale, so the decree was sent to the duchy, hoping they would dispatch another envoy. However, the news somehow reached The Nun Princess's ears. When she learned of it, she insisted on going to Kirrlutz as the envoy of Antoburo and wrote to the royal family of Antoburo in private, so Brendel could not stop her.
After all, the princess was recuperating in Trentheim, not under house arrest. Therefore, he had no reason to restrict her freedom to contact the outside world.
The other uninvited guest was now in front of Brendel.
At that moment, he was staring at the merchant girl's eyes. With the thick fur coat, boots, gloves, a scarf, and a bearskin hat covering most of her, he could only see her eyes. After glancing at the large suitcase she was tugging with her small hands, he finally could not resist the urge to ask, "Well, can you tell me now what you are intending to do?"
"To Kirrlutz with you; I've never been there," Romaine replied matter-of-factly as she lifted her chin and peeked her mouth out from under the scarf.
Brendel rolled his eyes. "Of course I understand that, but I have already said that there are no more places available. Besides, you seem to have forgotten that I told you to stay in Trentheim and stay in a safe place. Don't make me worry about you, got it?" He could not help but hold his forehead.
Yesterday, when I told her there's no more space in the group, she promised to behave and stay here to assist Amadina and would never take up a quota in their diplomatic mission… Wait!
Brendel suddenly froze in place when it dawned on him. Then, he glared at her and said, "Oh, damn it, you're playing word games with me again!"
"No," replied Romain, smiling as she puffed white air into her hand. "I'm here as of right!"
"Of right, my ass," he said as he pinched her cheeks. "Stay in Trentheim, and don't go anywhere."
It had been a long while since he did this to her. Blinking from the pain, she stuttered, "I-I-I am telling the truth… Brendel, l-let me go!"
Brendel squeezed the merchant girl's face for a few moments, but when she kept waving her hand to free herself from his grasp and never changed her tune, he became a little suspicious. This was not in keeping with her temperament. At that thought, he let go of his hand and asked dubiously, "All right. Tell me, what exactly do you want to do in Kirrlutz?"
Romaine rubbed his reddened cheeks and put on a fierce expression. "I'm invited by the Holy Cathedral of Fire, as the president of the Seven Seas Merchant's Guild, to attend the Holy War ceremony in Kirrlutz as the honoured guest of the cathedral."
She deliberately emphasised the word "honored guest" heavily and then handed the invitation to Brendel. He opened the parchment and almost fell headlong to the ground. It was true that the Holy Cathedral of Fire invited some famous merchants, poets, and even artists and scholars from various fields who worked closely with them to attend the annual celebration or the opening rally of the Holy War. Still, he had never dreamed that this list would include Romaine—his seemingly unreliable fiancée.
Unable to fathom it, he read the letter over and over again. Only after finally confirming that the magic wax seal on that letter was a genuine emblem of the Holy Cathedral of Fire was he forced to admit that it was not a forgery.
He looked up at Romaine as if he were looking at an alien. "When did your business expand so much?"
"I was invited by the Holy Cathedral of Fire to the Harvest Festival this year, but I have been there, so I didn't want to go," Romaine replied lightly as if the invitation from the Holy Cathedral of Fire seemed to be an invitation to go on a trip, and it was her liberty to decide whether to go or not. Brendel was impressed that he almost praised her.
This tradition of inviting famous people to the Holy Cathedral of Fire had existed in the game. At that time, there were some famous merchant guilds among the players in Aouine. Until the Second Era, those player merchant's guilds, which often had major sponsors behind them, would fight over such an invitation letter. They even came close to starting a war between the guilds on a few occasions. At least, he had seen them happen a few times.
Brendel looked carefully at his invincible fiancée. No matter how he thought about it, he felt that there must be some cheat code, like Marsha's daughter.
Afterwards, Amadina, who stood aside, voiced up to clear up his confusion. It turned out that many of the materials produced in the Black Forest, including some precious magical materials and Magic Crystals, were materials that the Holy Cathedral of Fire desperately needed, especially in the period leading up to the Holy War.
Trentheim bulk exports over the past year had long made it an important partner in the eyes of the Holy Cathedral of Fire, so it was no surprise that Romaine, the nominal president of the Seven Seas Merchant's Guild, was highly valued.
However, Brendel shook his head, still thinking that the merchant girl had a secret cheat code. After all, to become a trader who could trade with the Holy Cathedral of Fire on a reciprocal basis was not just a matter of having a source of goods but also required a rather extensive network of connections. It was easy to guess that Romaine had gone through the network of the merchant's guilds in Ampere Seale, but it was impossible to figure out how she did it.
Amadina, too, explained it as a miracle.
"Can I go now, Brendel?" Romaine asked pitifully while covering her face, but there was a clear hint of triumph in his voice.
"Whatever," Brendel replied uncharitably, feeling that his intelligence and presence as a count had been severely degraded in front of his fiancée, and it hurt him greatly.
"Then, Brendel, prepare a carriage for me. I want the one which I usually use, with a brazier in it that holds charcoal."
"No, be a good girl and go to my carriage!"
After dismissing Romaine and the second son of Count Karsuk, who had been trying to get close to him, Brendel managed to get out of the circle of nobles. Then, he made his way to the side of the caravan just in time to see Ferlarn coming out of the castle with a notepad. As soon as he saw the Wild Elf, he knew that the preparations were completed, so he hastened to greet her, "Ferlarn!"
"Are the Brunhildes ready?"
The Wild Elf nodded.
"Very well," Brendel said, finally relieved.
He wasn't really taking this group of young nobles on a trip; it was just for show. Gryphine had appointed him as head of the diplomatic mission and the commander of Southern Legion—an appointment that had arrived a little earlier—apparently so that he could choose the elites in Trentheim to form the mission's accompanying guards.
It was a default tradition, customary since the first Holy War in which Kirrlutz summoned ambassadors from all its kingdoms and duchies before the start of the Holy War. Until then, it had become a means for the Holy Cathedral of Fire to confirm the confidence of the participating members and mobilise them for war and a way for the vassals to compare themselves with each other and also seek higher status in the cathedral.
The diplomatic mission would begin with the noble families meeting with the representatives of the sovereign, which in itself represented a form of subservience and a way of pledging allegiance to the Holy Cathedral of Fire. Well, of course, it was more of a subtle form of meeting.
The Holy War was, after all, a war, and each kingdom needed to show its power to the Holy Cathedral of Fire in order to gain a position in the war and beyond. The guards were used as a means to display power and usually consisted of the most elite forces of each kingdom, representing the pride of the nobility and the royal family.
In order to maintain their dignity, the guards of these envoys would even compete with each other and clash with each other in Kirrlutz, but, of course, such clashes rarely resulted in bloodshed. However, the one who lost would most likely not have a good time after returning to their kingdoms.
The strongest envoy guards of the Holy War was the one from Black Crows in the west of Kirrlutz, which bordered both the Haizaiers and the Holy Cathedral of Earth. Although they were loyal followers of the Holy Cathedral of Fire, their residents were half-beasts or werebeasts, hence possessing immense strength. At that time, their envoy guards were made up of bear warriors, which outcompeted the other guards by number or strength, unfortunately, lost to Aouine of that era.
Aouine's group of envoys at that time was the shabbiest, consisting of representatives of nobles and less than twenty officers from White Lion. However, it was led by Earth Sword Saint Darius, and the deputy leader was Tulman, a scholar of the Silver Fortress. These two men alone took down everyone, including the Kirrlutzian.
As to how later Brendel's grandfather became the marshall of the United Army, that would be another story.
The envoy guards were the face of Aouine, and Trentheim was now the most powerful force in the whole of Aouine, so the Royal Faction dared not oppose Gryphine's choice of appointing Brendel as the leader of the envoys.
As for Brendel and Gryphine, the two scheming partners had reached an understanding, using this as a pretext to insert men into the so-called guards blatantly, but it would be hard to say what they would do in Kirrlutz.
Brendel took the notepad from Ferlarn and flipped through it casually. Then, looking up at the whole caravan, he said softly, "Let's get going then. I'll see you in Kirrlutz."
In the end, he added in a low voice, "Holy War, here I come."