Once they started moving with the Forces, Kusla noticed a few things. Even amongst the Forces, the vanguard really was placed at the front, entering the cities right behind the scouts and the Heralding Officer. They were a group of people who could be inserted into a real battle at any given moment.
Thus, it was expected that most of the people in the Vanguard forces were combatants, but it seemed not all of them were of the Knights. These people were extremely rowdy when they partied hard in Gulbetty, but they seemed to have mellowed out soon after leaving the town, and several of them talked to Kusla and the others.
These people appeared to be mercenaries, and not formal members of the Knights. However, they came along to the battlefields with the archduke, so everyone knew each other. If something was to happen though, one had to wonder if they would turn on each other. The few that spoke to Kusla said that they intended to fight for the positions of the town soldiers once they got to Kazan, and bid farewell to the outside world, but these were still uncertain at this point.
They were rather bold to be actually chatting with an alchemist so heartily. However, a deeper reasoning behind that would be that, having witnessed that performance by Kusla in Gulbetty, they wanted to be on good terms with Kusla and the rest so that they could possibly have some recognition in the future.
They said this war was coming to an end, and wanted to find a place to settle down. Some of them even recommended themselves, hoping to be bodyguards to the alchemists.
Sophites once said that the migrants were basically bandits seeking treasure.
Mercenaries especially were such a bunch. The leader of the mercenaries would obtain an according amount of reward from the Archduke based on the number of subordinates and the accomplishments made. Also, while on a journey, each carriage was specifically allocated a particular group of people.
While eating, again, the mercenaries too would too gather together in their own cliques, eating the same foods. Thus, it would be obvious as to which ones had plain foods, and which ones had the luxury food.
That was already the case for mercenaries, who had no interests other than swinging their broadswords, so Kusla could at least predict that those merchants and blacksmiths of different backgrounds would surely be ready to fight to the last breath.
This was a skirmish for the new haven named Kazan.
Kusla ate the warm malt porridge, pondering about these.
The forces moved on smoothly over the first two days, but the chilly weather obviously got harsher. By the 3rd day, it was already snowing in the day, and frigid winds were howling. It was probably too cold that even the chatty mercenaries had masks over their faces, not talking much.
All he could hear the the neighing of the horses, the noises of the wheels, and the little mutters that came from time to time.
But Kusla did heed the advice from Fenesis, and bought a heap of blankets, so he did not feel cold while his body was wrapped under the blankets as he laid on the loading place. This tranquil environment was also suitable for him to start reading.
Also, whether he was in the town or the workshop, he never actually looked up at the sky.
Even though the sky was the color of lead, looking up at it gave him a sense of liberty.
This journey would take about 2 to 3 weeks. Fenesis had deduced that this journey would be delayed till a month or a month and half due to some mishaps.
But this was not a bad thing.
So Kusla thought.
In the day, Weyland would enthusiastically inspect the equipment of the mercenaries from all over the world, and check on their luggages along with Irine. Fenesis would always cling to her all day, and naturally, she joined in. As a result, Kusla was left alone, reading the book on the loading place, or asking the mercenaries if they heard of legends about strange metals like Orichalcum.
On the way there, the Forces went through a few villages, but as Fenesis said, they were abandoned, and there was no one there. Most likely, they were gone for a long whiile, and the villages gave a vibe of an empty winter scenery. The buildings were not burned down, so it was unlikely that they were abandoned due to a raid, but that the land was not fertile enough to provide crops, or other reasons that caused the entire to migrate to a city en masse.
And on the 5th day, after dinner, a mercenary said to Kusla,
“Young Lord, the Herald calls for you.”
It was inconvenient to read once the sky got dark, so Kusla drank his wine and chatted about various anecdotes from various lands with the mercenaries he got acquainted with. Once he heard the summon, he stood up, and went to the center of the camp.
The Heralding Officer, Alzen, was in the simple living quarters that consisted of merely a tent.
Once the soldiers guarding the tent spotted Kusla, they lifted the curtains to the side.
“You summoned me, sir?’
“So you arrived?”
Alzen said, and looked at Kusla. The tent was unexpectedly warm inside.
There was some wine and dishes laid out on the tape, with a map that was laid down.
Beside him were two thing looking men and a young lieutenant.
“How’s the journey so far?”
“Thanks to your care, nothing too inconvenient.”
Alzen nodded, and reached his hand out, gesturing for Kusla to sit.
“It may be a little late for me to say this, but that performance of yours in Gulbetty was really an eye opener.”
“I aim to please.”
Kusla said pretentiously, and Alzen chuckled, leaning his back on the chair.
“I have personally witnessed that your skills are to be trusted, but you do remember the one task I have asked of you, don’t you?”
Kusla’s tone implied that he had just thought of it, but on the way here, the books he had been reading were all about extracting gold. If the wanderers were really prospectors looking for gold. he never intended to let off any crook and nanny.
“Right, tomorrow, our forces will be arriving at a slightly larger town. The Pagans have scattered, and have no intention of resisting, so it’s a safe town. We’ll rest for a while there before heading to Kazan. We need to get across mountains on the way there, so we’ll have to move some of the luggage onto the ships, and deliver them through ship route.”
“…Is there anything I can assist with?’
“Yes. Tomorrow, you will be taking another route.”
Kusla could not help but ask, and Alzen pointed a finger at the map on the table, flicking it at Kusla. The latter picked up the map, and scanned it.
“We’ll be headed to the sea to the West, and come out from the East side. We’ll go by sea, and you’ll go by inland.”
“To the wanderers?”
“Right. Once you are done with your investigations, you will meet up in the next town on our path.”
So that was the case. Kusla understood.
“I understand. However, I am not too used to travelling long distances.”
“Of course, they will be coming along with you.”
The two lightly armed men standing beside Alzen silently bowed at Kusla.
“They’re our scouts. According to their reports, the wanderers have shown no strange activity thus far.”
That’s right, isn’t it?He glanced at the men.
And so, they answered,
“They have the authority to hunt in the area by Earl Krasse, and mostly spend their time hunting deer and rabbits. They can move around in the area freely during winter, and will rotate around the various charcoal huts everywhere, once every week.”
“It does feel strange, and yet it doesn’t.”
“This work has a lot of suspicious aspects to it. We won’t be able to detect them if we don’t go down to have a look.”
“So you wish for me to be your eyes?”
“Right. With a capable pair of eyes, my hands will be free.”
This meant that if there was any decent result, he would pay accordingly.
“The Archduke is rather fond of you people.”
Kusla responded, and then noticed something,
“I have a question.”
“Am I the only one going to Earl Krasse’s land?”
“Of course. We can’t have two ‘amazing’ alchemists head to the mountains alone. Who knows what’ll happen there?”
Even if one got lost and died in the wilderness, there would be another left. Am I being belittled here? Kusla wondered, but he immediately changed his mindset, thinking Got to enter the Tiger’s den to catch the cubs.
“But, to capitalize on every possibility available, I’ll let you bring that thing along.”
Once he said that, Kusla knew what he was getting at.
“Her ears are good, but I don’t know if her nose is the same.”
“I’m not asking her to be a swine searching for mushrooms. There should be some strange little similarities between wanderers, but in any case, I’m looking forever to good news from you.
Kusla left Alzen’s tent, and once he got outside, a cold breeze met him, causing him to shiver. It seemed even that simple tent was able to shelter from the cold effectively.
He shrugged, and went back to his quarters. On the way back, he found Weyland and Irine checking the armor of a husband and wife pair of blacksmiths, and approached them.
“Found anything interesting?”
“Learned quite a lot.”
“I really want to dig up this furnace right now and do all kinds of experiments~”
The surrounding mercenaries could only shrug reluctantly when faced with these two eccentrics, and Fenesis, following by the side, looked reluctant. At first, she was enthusiastically asking questions, but she no longer interrupted their conversation, and could only use the campfire to read a book.
When Kusla approached, she immediately glanced at him, before looking away again.
“What now~ I heard you got summoned by the Herald~”
Your eyes are really sharp, Kusla muttered quietly in his heart.
“I’ll be taking a different route tomorrow.”
“Probably a shortcut to Magdala.”
Kusla deliberately noted, and Weyland chuckled.
“Watch your step~”
“Really convincing from the fellow who got tripped up in Gulbetty.”
Weyland chuckled, and cautiously put the helmet in his hands into a box.”
“Well, since you’re the only one summoned, are you going alone, Kusla?”
“No. Hey, you’re coming along too.”Kusla shouted at Fenesis.
She was slightly taken aback as she glanced at Kusla, before turning back to reading the book again.
“Is it fine when she’s like this~”
“I’m not going to hold her by the hand.”
Weyland shrugged, “That’s how it is.” and Kusla added on. He was about to leave the carriage, only to suddenly say to Fenesis.
“Pack up whatever you want to bring along.”
Kusla actually wanted to tease her by mentioning raisins, but on second thoughts, it was pointless to agitated her. Also, it would be embarrassing if his teasing got ignored.
At this point, Fenesis never looked at Kusla.
Such a stubborn fellowKusla noted with some surprise as he walked back to his bed.
The next day, Kusla and Fenesis sat on the carriage the two scouts prepared for them, and went for another route. There would be thick snow as they entered the mountains, so Kusla did his best to prepare some equipment to counter the cold.
His forecast was correct. The uphill road continued on, and the temperature gradually decreased. Everything else other than the wine easily froze up.
The scouts said that Kusla and Fenesis did not have to walk, so they stayed in the carriage obediently and read the books. However, Fenesis chose to sit on the far end from Kusla, the furthest distance away from him even when reading.
Kusla really wanted to ask when did she learn such things, but it would make him look like a child. He could not help but wonder how long this would continue, despite it being interesting.
“Speaking of wanderers, how are they like?”
Kusla asked the scouts on the first night they broke away from the Vanguard.
Kusla’s trip was dependent on the two scouts. If he did not talk with them and build up a relationship beforehand, it would be inconvenient if anything was to happen. This was Kusla’s concern as he asked.
Though they were different from Fenesis, by chatting and eating together, he would be able to establish an identity of an ally with them. Kusla himself would not be bothered by such things, but he typically had no reservations about manipulating others.
“Just that typical type, no fixed place to stay, survive on hunting or collecting various things to live. Sometimes they’ll head to the town to exchange for some coins. It’s said that during the cold periods, the females will stay somewhere South, and only the men will wander around in the mountains.”
Only men, upon hearing this, Fenesis, who had her head lowered as she nibbled at the gruel, looked a little nervous. However, her expression was unclear, but they were all a little distant from the fire, and she had her hood lowered. Perhaps it was an illusion caused by the flickering fire.
“So those guys are disguised as mercenaries?”
“Can’t deny that…but that can be called a destiny of those on the path of wanderers. As long as their superiors request, they will hunt people too.”
But despite this, it appeared they had been doing this work for a long time. On one look, they would understand if the wanderers lived on battling for a certain organization.
“If there’s anything strange about them, it’s their clothing.”
“They’re wearing sheepskin.”
“Heh? That’s quite the heretical one.”
“…I heard you guys performanced something of that level in the town?”
One of them asked with a chuckle. Kusla shrugged, and said,
“It is troubling how Alchemists are being so misunderstood.”
“Haha. Let’s hope that improves.”
It appeared these were not bad people.
“But those clothing might be a village culture from somewhere. The sheepskin looks like it can keep them warm, and when hunting, they can hide from the eyes of the beasts. What we’re eating now are actually what they gave to us.”
One of the scouts scooped out the deer meet in the pot, saying this. Fenesis refused to eat them, and the scouts understood, not forcing the issue.
“We have been watching their actions, and found that the arrows they shoot aren’t too accurate. Wearing sheep skin is probably some bait plan to approach their hunt.”
That was possible too.
Wanderers moving about on the snowy mountains in sheepskin, verifying the rumors of the fabled golden sheep.
Listening to the circumstances, it might appear that they attracted strange hypothesis due to their somewhat unique fashion.
“You have been reading books on gold, haven’t you? Any clues?”
“Not for the time being. But if I got something, the reward will be really worth it, thus I’m trying my best.”
“We look forward to getting some glory too.”
The scouts said, and gently raised their cups to toast.
Kusla drank the astringent wine, and stared at Fenesis.
He did not find any clues, but what about her?
During that incident involving Weyland, she found an illustration depicting an ancient fable, and thought of a ludicrous strategy. Thus, she probably did some intensive research with regards to the fable.
Given her personality, if she knew something, she probably would show it somehow in her attitude.
But though he had such a thought, Kusla could not observe her, probably because of the flickering fire, or because her body was hidden in the hood of her coat.
“Looks like it’ll be snowing tonight too.”
The scout muttered, and Kusla could not help but shiver.
By the time they were done with dinner, the sun had set completely, and Kusla hurriedly buried his body under the blanket. This could barely keep himself protected from the cold, but he was still used to the comfortable lifestyle of the workshop. While he was wondering what he should get to keep himself warmer, he thought of Fenesis in his subconsciousness. He remembered that when he moved her away when she was asleep, her body was really warm. With that soft body of hers, he inadvertently thought of a warming tool made by pouring hot water into a gourd.
He remembered that when she first came to the workshop, he told her to sleep on the bed, but she chose to sleep on the floor instead, and snuggled inside the blanket to warm her trembling body. At this point, Kusla had his head buried inside the cheap blanket, the animal and moldy stenches stinging at his nostrils little by little. On the other hand, Fenesis typically had a sweet fragrance oozing off her. Kusla wondered if they were mammary scents, but there was none in the workshop, and she always had this scent on her.
If he cuddled Fenesis to sleep, perhaps he would be having a nice sleep. He would take the opportunity to answer a few questions, and tease her from time to time. For Weyland, he would be happy seeing a girl smile at him; for Kusla himself, he would be happy upon seeing a girl pout.
However, till this point, Fenesis still refused to look at him, let alone say anything to him; if there was something she did not understand, she would not ask him, and instead check on other books quietly. She would not raise any questions to Kusla, and while the latter was astonished at her stubbornness, he started to get anxious. If you ask, I would have taught you, Kusla himself started to have such anxious thoughts. Surely she was rubbing it in his face by reading books with Irine and Weyland. Kusla too knew that he should have just ignored such immature antics, but this anxiety was harassing him like a mosquito, and he could not shake it off.
Perhaps he should simply tell her that it was he who saved Weyland…
What foolish things am I thinking? By the time he noticed, it was already dawn.
He laid under the clear winter sky, and sneezed, as though reproaching his ludicrous thoughts.
There was an important mountain range between the Pagan lands including Kazan, and the land of Orthodoxy including Gulbetty, and the area was owned by the Earl Krasse. On the afternoon two days later, Kusla and company arrived at the mountain fort.
The snow was too thick, and even Kusla had to get off the carriage to push it down the road.
It was said the snow was heavier than prior years, and typically, the snow would not be this thick.
Stepping through the snow, they entered this Earl’s fort, and welcoming them were the wanderers they were to invigilate.
It seemed this job was not to be done stealthily, but brazenly.
It was said that the Earl himself stayed at a fortress somewhere downhill that was more suitable for living, and that in fact, the wanderers were the ones watching the place. The wanderers ancestors probably had some dealings with the Earl, and the latter probably had them manage and repair the fort in the snowy winter, the compensation in turn was that they could hunt freely in the area.
However, it would be a striking difference from the assumption that they were prospectors hired by the Earl to look for gold. If they had been dealing with the Earl for a very long time, they would have began searching for gold a long time back.
There was a likelihood that the Earl deliberately gave them a privilege, giving a false assumption that they had a give-and-take relationship.
Kusla quietly muttered himself that he should never let any clue slip through.
“Oh, some strange guests this time.”
The wanderers certainly looked peculiar. There were 6 of them, their faces and bodies squarish in shape. Perhaps they were tribe members, blood related.
At this point, the wanderers were not wearing the sheepskins the scouts reported.
They were wearing extremely ordinary clothing for a mountainous tribe.
“Building a furnace in the mountains?”
The reason why their faces looked so similar was probably because they all had similarly shaped beards. They had thick black beards from the noses to below the chins.
“This pretty one here is here to grace us with God’s teachings.”
The wanderers never felt intimidated when they saw Kusla and the others, and in fact, were jovial in their tones as they approached.
They were akin to goats, shamelessly begging for food.
“We’re bothered by this too, but this is an order from the Knights. Our apologies from causing you trouble for this period.”
“Hahaha. Our way of life is a little unique. We understand.”
One of them, the leader of the wanderers said, “I’m Caldoz.”, and reached his hand out to shake with Kusla. The latter grabbed it, and felt that hand was really firm, the hand of someone who toiled hard at labor.
“In any case, it is better to have more people up in the mountains. The fortress has been kept tidy to welcome the Earl back. Please, come in.”
Saying that, Caldoz brought Kusla and the others around in this fortress opened in the mountains. The rest mentioned that they had repair works to do, and went on their ways.
Besides the two scouts who reported to the Herald, there were another two scouts continuing their surveillance in the fort. Kusla however sensed that they were not as light on armor as the two he went with. They had burly physiques, and certainly could be useful for battle in case it did happen. Alzen probably thought of eliminating all witnesses if the plan regarding the wanderers got revealed.
But even so, Kusla thought.
Despite this invigilation being up close instead of being discreet, and skeptical eyes cast on them, the wanderers did not seem to mind. They probably were bold in nature, or as Caldoz mentioned, that they lived such a lifestyle, and it was common for the Knights or those in authority to give them skeptical looks.
Those people might be similar to us in that sense, Kusla thought.
“Typically, all of us squeeze together in a room to sleep. Shall I prepare the Earl’s wife bedroom for you? There is a little furnace there for warming.
That question was directed at Fenesis.
And the latter stammered, either because she was hesitant, or because the cold numbed her tongue. Thus, Kusla answered instead.
“No need for that.”
Fenesis, hidden under that hood, was probably displeased about Kusla speaking up before she could, rather than desiring a room to herself.
“I don’t know whether I can trust those people from the Knights either, so don’t leave me.”
Kusla stated calmly; he did not tease her, and had no intention of doing so. Fenesis did not react.
Despite this, given that she had experience living as a wanderer, she probably would not try anything funny.
“I heard you normally go out hunting. Did you stay in the fort just to welcome us?”
Caldoz led Kusla and the others to the hall where everyone slept at, and Kusla asked,
“No, as you can see, we’re drying sheep hide today.”
The wood was burning wildly in the furnace of the hall, and there was a row of sheep hide laid out in front of it.
It was assumed that the hides would be like an ordinary coat, but unexpectedly there were heads on them.
Kusla seemed to understand why the wanderers attracted such skepticism from the Knights. It would be expected for others to assume something was strange if someone was to wander around in the mountains, wearing such things.
“We have to wash these sheepskin once or twice or week and dry them. If they get human smell on them, it’ll scare those beasts.”
“I see. So you’re resting.”
“You can say so. However, when we aren’t hunting, we’re repairing the fort.”
Caldoz shrugged his wide shoulders, his head ostensibly buried between them. He appeared to be a very honest wanderer.
Kusla had such a preemptive thought, and shook his head.
“I shall be continuing with the repairs. About the situation with the fort…”
“My comrades will explain the details later.”
Caldoz nodded with a grin, and walked away.
Kusla scanned the luggage and sheepskins in the room.
“It’s like an inn.”
“You can hear the fleas jumping when you sleep.”
A scout joked.
And Kusla sensed that Fenesis, who had cat-like ears, froze up immediately.
One of the scouts brought Kusla and Fenesis to a parked carriage outside.
Unlike the carriage Kusla and the others rode on, this belonged to the wanderers, and they wanted to investigate.
“There’s a whole lot more nails than usual. I guess that’s to be expected though; they live a wandering lifestyle, so a sturdier carriage can save them a lot of trouble.”
The wanderers’ carriage were reinforced with iron, s it would not look out of place in a battlefield. There were two horses standing in front of it, probably because it was too heavy.
“Lots of goods too.”
“Doesn’t look like anything a prospector would have. Just food and clothes, and the tools and materials used to repair a carriage.”
Kusla took off the cloth covering it, and found oil, salt, meat jerky, fruits, onions, food well suited for preserving over long periods, and a lot of fur goods. These were the things Fenesis mentioned in the market.
If one were to compare the difference between these things and the ones Kusla bought, it would be obvious that these things were actually used over long periods of time, during actual travel.
Kusla was increasingly impressed, feeling as though he had witnessed the tools a blacksmith favored.
“Where are the tools?”
“Placed somewhere else.”
Kusla wondered for a while, as to be expected of them.
He was about to break away from the scouts who led him, and glanced aside at Fenesis, finding that she was staring intently at the purple-eyed horses. Such horses might be really rare.
“You’ll get nibbled at.”
Fenesis was taken aback, and inadvertently retreated.
The horse neighed gently, No I won’t. as though saying this.
“We aren’t experts, but we did meet some prospectors in the mountains a few times, so we do think that we understand them a little.”
“To be honest, prospecting is similar to our work.”
They entered a storeroom, and found bows, arrows, swords and a full set of weapons. Those probably belonged to Earl Krasse.
There was also a straw mat on the floor, with a bunch of tools laid out.
“But these tools don’t appear to be used for mining gold or silver…”
“Even with our invigilation, we got nothing. They basically hunt, or repair the fort and the furnace, or as you can see, wash the sheepskin. We wanted to spy on them stealthily, actually. Then it’ll be easier for them to slip up.”
“I thought you would be spying on them in the dark.”
“If we did so, we might be misunderstood for being hostile to the landowner. Most importantly, the snow is too thick, and our bodies can’t last.”
Kusla nodded, and turned back to look behind. Fenesis looked nonchalant as she squat down, touching those tools.
“Did they use a board when washing the sheepskin?”
“Right. You showed me a map when we came here. There are a lot of rivers nearby, so maybe they are pretending to wash the sheepskin, but in fact, they are checking if they can harvest gold sand. Wooden boards with grooves are used for harvesting gold dust. Gold is denser than other rocks, and they sink into the grooves easily.
“No…they never used such a thing.”
The scout said despondently.
“Well, that’s one possibility.”
Kusla noted nonchalantly. He noticed the picture on one of the cloth wrapped on a tool. Though the picture was vague as the dyed fibers had faded in color, but it was obvious that there was a sheep there.
At the very least, the rumors relating to a golden sheep was not a lie.
“But in that case, I might be worrying too much.”
“They probably hid the tools.”
“Or maybe, they determined based on the color of the earth and plants.”
Is that possible too? The scouts were shocked. However, Kusla merely raised his hands to his shoulders, surrendering, and said,
“Of course, if they did that, we got nothing. It’ll be a different case though if there are other evidences. Even if we do pry their heads open, we won’t be able to see their thoughts.”
“It’s true…that we can’t tie them up and interrogate them. They have a permit, and we can’t be violent towards them.”
Earl Krasse and the wanderers were the manager and caretakers of this defensive stronghold of a fort.
If the wanderers were innocent, arbitrarily enacting violence on them would bring about unnecessary enemies for the Knights in this land filled with Pagans.
“Well, there’s still enough time to investigate. We got other things to do here.”
Kusla said, and the scouts could only return with wry smiles.
“But I never expected that an alchemist and a nun would come here.”
One of the wanderers raised a mug of wine, saying this,
The sunset arrived early in the winter mountains.
There were benefits to treating the inn-like hall as living quarters, as everyone was using the furnace\\ to cook the food they brought, drinking wine together, and if they wanted to sleep, they could simply shrivel on the spot.
If Weyland were around, he would certainly be overjoyed.
“We live together in the same workshop.”
Kusla answered without hesitation, only to have pricked their interests as their eyes widened.
“Hey. You people are from the town, right?”
“Are you moving around everywhere in this world? You’ve probably seen all kinds of intriguing things in the towns.”
“Hahaha. It’s true that when I was younger, I thought of venturing all over the world.”
“That’s probably the time when you married your wife.”
“Soon after, I bitterly experienced how vast this world is, and regretted it.”
The wanderers guffawed upon saying that.
They probably started wandering ever since they were born. One person spoke, and followed by another, and it repeated over and over again as the conversation continued on,
After finishing the deer and mushroom stew, everyone else held mugs of distilled wine and light wine. Fenesis was terrified of strangers, and was in the midst of met, but she seemed to be enjoying herself.
“In life, we often encounter some very rare, strange things. It’s because of this that we feel that one day, we’ll find the golden sheep.”
Caldoz, the eldest of the wanderers, said as he drank his wine.
It appeared the fable of the golden sheep was not just a rumor, but from them.
“Sorry to dampen your enthusiasm though.”
“Anyway, the fable of the golden sheep is basically the nostalgia the ancients assumed plants to be gold and silver, right?”
Hearing this, the wanderers gave each other gleeful looks, and Caldoz continued, “We’ll like to hear more.”
“Typically, gold is extracted from gold ores or lead ores. However, there are some cases of gold, silver and bronze found in pure forms. Leaving aside the possibilities of beautiful crystals, sometimes, they are buried in the ground at the roots of the trees or some strange mushrooms. Thus, the alchemists of the past thought that gold and silver were plants.”
“But after 30 years of observation, we got reports that the amounts of gold and silver never increased. Of course, they never grew, and at the same time, never wilted.
“In other words, the wool of the golden sheep would probably be something similar.”
“As a pragmatic person, this is my view too.”
One of the wanderers widened his eyes, and stroked his beard.
“We have little money ourselves, and have a different explanation to this.”
“Our ancestors were originally shepherds. One day, they spotted some sheeps with fur they never saw before, and successfully raised them. They then brought the sheeps to the king, who then let them multiply, and created a wealthy country built on selling sheepskin
, and wanted to reward our ancestors. Our ancestors then acquired enough money for their grandchildren to spend for a lifetime.”
“Some fools then wanted to try their luck, and went out searching for the golden sheeps. Those fools he mentioned probably refers to us.”
The tone was candid, probably due to the wine.
Upon hearing the end, Fenesis coughed a little.
“But us having dreams isn’t a bad thing, I suppose.”
“I guess we’re able to endure the harsh winter because there might be a herd of golden sheep on the other side of the mountains.”
The wanderers said this with a smile, but there was a forlorn feeling of those without a permanent dwelling place.
Thus, Kusla could not bring himself to simply laugh it off.
For what they said was the ideal for Magdala.
Those without a hometown needed not comfort, nor condolences.
But a dazzling goal that deterred them from turning back.
“I think I said too much.”
Upon hearing Kusla’s apology, Caldoz started to indulge in wine.
“Why, my wife was harsher with that, saying that it’s about time I should be throwing out this done and dusted fable. A better saying would have been that I’m really fond of this gold and silver growing story.”
And Caldoz’s words caused the wanderers to laugh cheerfully.
They continued drinking and chatting until late at night.
Fenesis was probably worn out by the long journey, or her interest was piqued by the cheerful conversation as she drank too much, and she soon leaned on Kusla and fell asleep. It appeared that, between leaving from Kusla while being in the midst of men, and her disgust at Kusla, she felt more repulsed by the notion of being alone.
And right when Kusla wanted to stand up, she woke up.
“Go to sleep. Need me to hug you?”
A sleepy Fenesis was about to continue sleeping as Kusla told her to, but she got sober.
It was a mystery as to whether she wanted to give a look of disgust, or that she wanted to rein in her sleepiness, but in any case, she sat upright with a grouchy face, rubbed her eyes, and stumbled as she stood up.
“Where are you going?”
Kusla could not help but ask as she teetered towards the door, but she merely gave him a displeased look.
Given her reaction however, he understood that she had something she needed to do.
“She’s at that difficult age, huh?”
One of the wanderers said.
Surely he too had a daughter of a similar age.
“I had a quarrel with her before I came here, but she still can’t differentiate between which things will get serious, and which things she should be seriously thinking about. That’s the source of my troubles.”
“Hahaha. I see.”
Kusla shrugged, and said,
“I’ll be bothered if she’s to drop off a cliff. I’ll check on her.”
Once Kusla exited the hall, he found a cold that was about to rip his body apart. The moon outside was pretty, and the bluish-white light shining through the gap in the wooden window shone in. It appeared as though one could grab it just by reaching out.
Kusla once actually thought that the place where beams of moonlight shone upon a spot was the sword of Orichalcum, and that romantic notion would probably fluster even a poet.
Even I had a past when I dreamt often, huh.
He did not know where Fenesis went, but soon after, he found her at the well in the atrium, wondering how to scoop out the water.
Kusla called out, and Fenesis jolted in shock, dropping the bucket. The rope tied to the bucket fel into the well, but there was no sound of water, and instead, a hard thud of solid objects clashing could be heard.
“In such cold weather, the well water’s frozen, right?”
“If you want water, there’s another place. Come.”
Kusla walked off, and Fenesis hesitated a little, but was unable to overcome her thirst as she followed Kusla unwillingly.
They were in a stone fortress, which might be colder than the outside. Kusla pried open the lid of a wooden tub in the kitchen, hammered the ice on the surface with a ladle, and used it to scoop water for her.
Fenesis received the ladle, initially worried that it was poisoned, took a sip, and then kept gulping it down, even choking on it. She then wanted another scoop from Kusla.
“Are you awake now?”
Kusla asked, and Fenesis was caught off guard, choking on the water.
Even with the bluish-white moonlight shining on her face, it was obvious that she was blushing.
After a while, she looked at Kusla.
“Even if you’re angry, it won’t change anything.”
Kusla said as he took a chip of ice, and put it into his mouth.”
“Now then, don’t you feel that it isn’t worth it?”
Fenesis swallowed back what she was about to say, and again, she slowly spoke,
“I do not think doing things like you breaking the ice like that.”
“Are you saying that all the irrational aspects of this world is like this ice?”
In response to Kusla’s words, Fenesis lowered her head.
It was not that she did not understand, that she did not comprehend, or that she never learned from her experiences.
But despite this, she still yearned for good people on this world.
“Only by acting like ‘Interest’ am I able to weave my way through this world. I have my destination, no room for failure.”
“But…you ruined what I wanted to break.”
Fenssis tried to argue back.
She really was like a child being impudent, but she could actually break the irrational aspects of this world without care for her own safety.
“You know that there are alchemists like that too. They’re different from Weyland and me, they think they can turn lead into gold by using burnt black newts or frog eyes. What you’re doing now is very similar to them.”
Despite having a goal, it was impossible not to have mistakes in the rationale of working towards a goal. However, acts of despair were certainly a no-go.
“I thought you should be smarter.”
Hearing Kusla’s words, Fenesis, with her head lowered, spoke up,
“I thought you would be someone kinder.”
White mist came out from her mouth, probably due to the heat as she muttered, and it vanished under the moonlight.
Fenesis wanted a beautified impression of Kusla.
How exactly did Irine describe this about her?
Well, it doesn’t matter, Kusla thought.
“Sorry, but if kindness is what I need to head to Magdala, I would have showed it without hesitation. If I need to abandon it, I’ll do it too.”
Fenesis lifted her head, and stared at Kusla sadly.
She then averted her eyes weakly.
It was meaningless, so she might have thought.
“But my actual intent wasn’t to be hated by you.”
Kusla said that with a straight face, and Fenesis kept coughing incessantly.
Her expression was akin to someone who witnessed a mischievous child, and was left completely speechless.
“You are a strange one.”
“I’m ‘Kusla’. Looks like I won’t be able to integrate well with people on this world.”
Fenesis averted her eyes, and slowly let out a breath.
It seemed she wanted to say something next, but in the end, she kept quietly.
“Hm? Well, in any case, you’re willing to talk to me now. I might as well say something to you first.”
Fenesis took a deep breath, and asked,
“What is it?”
“You know the reason why we’re sent here, don’t you?”
“Then, once you return to the hall, don’t sleep for the time being.”
“Keep your ears pricked. You tried eavesdropping on my conversations with Weyland, didn’t you? Your hearing abilities are rather astounding. If those guys are trying to hide something, they might communicate amongst their buddies. You were brought along to counter this.”
While Fenesis remained dull in her response, Kusla asked,
“Do you understand?”
Fenesis suddenly gave a smile that was really uneasy, and it looked as though she was about to burst into tears at any given moment.
Kusla was shocked. Fenesis took a deep breath, and let out a white sigh,
“You always are ‘Interest’ no matter what.”
This time, Kusla finally understood what Fenesis was trying to say.
“You want me to apologize to you and beg for forgiveness?”
“More importantly, what I want to say that you might feel enraged and force me to.”
“I am different from that level of inhumanity. At the very least, I still have such understanding.”
In fact, the reason why Kusla went off to save Weyland was because he did not want to be forced into shackling Fenesis by the neck and drag her along.”
“I see…in fact, you are ‘Kusla’. An Alchemist obsessed with Magdala at any given moment.”
Kusla watched Fenesis, who was staring back at him.
“That is the case.”
“…Understood. Anything else I need to do?”
Kusla stared at Fenesis with some surprise, given her sudden improvement in comprehensive ability.
But since she asked, he could only answer.
He had a lot to say, but in the end, all he could only say was this,
“Anything you don’t know about your investigations, ask me.”
Even in his dreams, those were the words he wanted to say.
It appeared he really wanted to teach her.
Fenesis stared at Kusla calmly.
And then, she suddenly let out a sigh, giving an awkward smile.
The next day, the wanderers went into the mountains with sheepskin draped on.
And the two scouts naturally followed suit.
Of course, the wanderers knew very well that they were observers, but the Knights had their own objectives. Even if the wanderers were innocents, this action would give an impression of ‘we’re watching’.
The Knights, hailed as unprecedented in the vastness of their rule, solidified their existence through the accumulation of such forceful methods.
And for alchemists like Kusla, the Knights were an organization they could not offend.
“But this is really peculiar.”
Kusla muttered to himself, and the breath he let out became white mist that blocked his vision, vanishing in the snowy mountains.
His eyes gathered gathered at the prostrated men in sheepskin. They were staring at two deer in front of him, the two animals not noticing them as they chewed on the ark.
One of the prostrated wanderers readied his bow.
From Kusla’s position, it was impossible to tell if the two deer were on their guard.
The two skinny scouts who brought Kusla along were standing not too far away from him, playing with their bows and arrows.
Unfolding in front of him was a scene of the wanderers’ hunt.
There were not 6, but 7 sheepskin prostrated on the snowy ground, and this was the reason why Kusla was here. Fenesis, who would have likely said, “I don’t want to see something as cruel as hunting’, indicated that she wanted to go hunting with the wanderers. The latter group, led by Caldoz, said it was fine with grins on their faces, but Kusla was skeptical, not knowing her real intents.
And while Kusla did not really know much about hunting, he was worried that Fenesis might slip on the mountains, or accidentally expose her ears when chasing after prey. However, KFenesis whispered something to Kusla.
If I’m close to them, I think I’ll be able to hear their words.
That was what Kusla was referring to when he said it was peculiar.
Regarding the ears, Fenesis probably had two handkerchiefs wrapped under her two ; of course, this also had the purpose of shielding from the cold.
And about hunting, the two scouts did say that the hunting was not that intense, so there was no need to worry.
But despite this, Kusla was a little worried, and followed suit.
At this moment, a sharp sound rang.
It was the first time he had ever heard of such a sound, and he hurriedly looked over at the source, only to see the two deer running out.
The prostrated men stood up in unison, and at the same time, raised 6 bows, pulled themm, and fired at the deer running downhill. However, the two deer went sprinting, and the arrows missed the one after another, landing behind them. During this time, the deer continued sprinting, and darted down the other end of the snowy mountain, where the trees were sparse in numbers, towards a thick forest.
Kusla had assumed that the hunt had failed, but one arrow flew by the head of the wanderers, hitting a deer right in the eye as though it was sucked in. The arrow stabbed into the side of the deer’s head was like a bent horn, and it slowed down, tumbled another 2, 3 steps, its head swayed as it fell immediately.
The remaining deer wandered around the edge of the forest, looking back at its friend, and then, after dithering for a while, it ran deep into the forest.
“Oh, I got it.”
The scout maintained the posture of an archer as he noted nonchalantly.
And the men in sheepskin turned around, flailing their bows anr arrows jokingly in protest of the scout stealing their kill.
The wanderers drained the blood off the deer, took out the organs, buried it, and left only the liver.
They wrapped the meat in leaves, and held down the hide with stones. The horns, and even the bones and meat were carefully sliced up and washed with snow. Kusla had assumed Fenesis would have been terrified seeing such work, but she was actually happily helping Caldoz.
When it was lunch, the wanderers brought the deer meat and liver they hunted into a boiling cauldron of salt water, and served yoghurt, bread and some malt wine, forming a little feast.
“Goodness gracious, you were able to hit from that far? How are we supposed to compare?’
One of the wanderers had some banter with the scout who shot the deer, and the scout humbly replied that he was able to get that perfect position because everyone was shooting at the deer.
To a certain extent, that might be true, but given that he was someone hired by the Knights, he might be a famous hunter from somewhere in the land.
Kusla did not do anything in this hunt, but he naturally helped himself to the rare deer meat and liver. It was a rare opportunity to have deer meat in the town, let alone deer liver. He once heard that the taste of the deer liver would be enough to get people addicted. Fenesis refused to eat meat, and only drank some soup with deer liver taste, but this was already delicious.
Kusla felt that perhaps Fenesis knews that it was a rare lunch to get from a hunt. Also, he had an impression that it was not the first time he witnessed a deer being slaughtered, that she knew the process, understood what she should do, and what she could.
Again, he firmly emphathized that she was once someone who lived outside the towns.
A deer was massive enough, and so the wanderers never tried killing a second one. Once they were done eating, they returned to the fort. Kusla too helped bring the meat back, for at the very leasts, he wanted to contribute somewhat.
Once they returned, the wanderers laid out a mat in the atrium, spread the meat on it, and sliced it into finer pieces. The remaining people brought the meat to a sunny place, or stuffed it into a vat, to be preserved in salt.
Fenesis too went to help with the work, and she went about doing it with her sleeves rolled up, the usually white skin on her arms completely red.
Her strange enthusiasm left Kusla shrugging reluctantly, but he had no intention of helping, nor did he have any intention of watching on.
He went back to his own work, to check on the belongings of the wanderers.
“No vinegar or touchstone to be seen…”
Kusla could not find any distilled vinegar that would be used to analyze certain minerals, or a touchstone that could test the purity of a gold ore by rubbing on it. He even went to the kitchen to rummage through the utensils and food, but found nothing of note.
Perhaps the myth about the Golden Sheep was as they said, just a mere moment of solace for them in this plain, boring world. Kusla scanned the kitchen silently, and could vaguely hear the people processing the deer meat from afar.
At this moment, he sensed someone approaching, and turned around to look, finding at it was Caldoz. The latter’s hands were reddened from the cold and the meat.
“Wew, it’s really cold out there.”
Saying that, Caldoz took up a wine bottle in the cabinet.
“Found what you wanted to look for?”
It was unknown if such joking words were probing at something.
“Will save me a lot of effort if you can hand it over.”
“Hahaha. I’ll just let you investigate everything thoroughly since you’re sent to such a distant area.”
Caldoz probably wanted to get a few more mugs, as he proceeded to collect 6 of them, wondering whether he should take a 7th, before he suddenly turned around to look Kusla.
“Speaking of which, that young lady is a strange one.”
Kusla merely shrugged at those words.
“I never met a nun who would help carve up deer meat. However, I heard she was once a wanderer.”
Once those words were said, Caldoz proceeded to reach for a 7th mug.
Fenesis is one of us. Such an intent was implied in his action.
“I don’t know the details, but it’s said that she’s born near the promised land.”
“Hoh, Culdaros? That’s quite a distant place. Even we never seen that land before.”
Caldoz happily continued on,
“But though that are good things about wandering everywhere, there are bad things too. It’s pain.”
His smiling face seemed to be reminiscing something.
What his eyes gazed upon were probably the hardships only a wanderer would know of. Kusla, who lived in the towns, sheltered by the Knights, would never know.
It was uninteresting to Kusla.
“You don’t want to continue living such a harsh life?”
When Kusla said this, he noticed that his words included the meaning of ‘Fenesis is of Caldoz”s ilk’.
“It’ll take courage to change something that has been done over a long time. However, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing to wait again.”
“Because, before we change, the world shall change.”
Kusla stared at Caldoz with a skeptical look, and the latter continued chuckling as he continued,
“Do you not know? No, this can be considered a rumor. I heard that soon after, the long war will end soon after.”
Kusla in turn asked, What folly is this? he wondered.
This war was originally started because the Pope, at the apex of the religion, declared that he wanted to retake the promised land from the Pagans.
However, it had been 20 years of back and forth in this war. During this time, the flames continued to spread. The call for a crusade to retake the Holy Lands from the pagans started amongst the people, and it was to be expected that the warring spread everywhere.
In this turbulent world, strange organizations like the Knights, unable to be deemed countries, continued to expand its influence, and engulf the world by capitalizing on the war. Like the Church, they existed in every town, ruling the world with things easier to understand than the God the Church preached, swords and gold.
No matter how he thought about this, Kusla never could imagine the warring factions, led by the Knights, would stop when they relied on the war against the pagans to accumulate their power.
However, Caldoz probably got increasingly enthusiastic about this, as he continued with something more preposterous.
“The Queen of Latria shall convert to Orthodoxy soon.”
Kusla decided not to latch on to this strange topic.
He stared at Caldoz intently, and the latter seemed embarrassed.
“Ah, pardon me. Having wandered around for my entire life, I started to like rumors.”
“…How far has this rumor spread?”
Kusla asked, neither agreeing nor denying this rumor, merely expressing his concern.
It would be impossible to spread such volatile rumors in the towns discreetly, with eyes everywhere and many watchmen.
An Alchemist is a bird in a cage, and thus, unfamiliar with the rumors outside the town.
“Only heard of it recently.”
The wanderer’s words were just a random topic, but Kusla recalled the conversation with the vanguard mercenaries when he went with them. He recalled them saying the war was about to come to an end.
But if that was the case, the fall of Kazan and this migration would be Kusla’s last chance for the New World, and thus, he had to work hard.
But in the end, the rumor basically implied that the Orthodox lost the chance to invade the Pagans.
Thus, Kusla assumed the war would continue on.
But if the war that encompassed the world was a crusade against the Pagans, naturally, it would not continue on forever.
No matter the farmland, once the produces were harvested, everything would end. Thus, the war that lasted for years might meet its end if the Queen of Latria converted.
“In that case, the Knights will be through tough times now, right?”
Caldoz probably sensed that he spoke for a long time once he was done, put down a mug in his hands, and poured out one for Kusla.
“Tough? It does seem surreal to think that the war will be over..but if the war ends, the Knights can focus on the path of money making they wanted, right?”
Filled in the mug was cheap wine that was a stark contrast to the clear wine. There was some ginger, lime, alum, honey and anything to mask the flavor. This wine was probably was squeezed out from grape, and the remaining residue was again squeezed out weakly. It was obvious that there was a lot of residue inside.
“You need to drink this wine through your teeth. Not suited for town folk.”
Caldoz said, and took a gulp, turning to the kitchen window, and spat the residue out.
Kusla had a little sip; it was sour, with some overwhelming sweetness, and completely covered with a layer of bitterness, acrid. Like Caldoz, he learned to spit the residue out.
“Where were we again?”
“About the Knights having a tough time once the war ends.”
“Oh, right. You should know well, don’t you? Once the war ends, a lot of things will be unnecessary.”
Kusla looked over at Caldoz, and the latter did not seem to have any malicious intent.
“It does make sense.”
“Without any war, there isn’t a need for so much iron. Many metalworkers and miners will lose their jobs. Of course, there won’t be any need for wars to seek mines, and nobody to observe strange folks like us.”
It appeared Caldoz had accurately comprehended the sort of skepticism he was under.
But despite this, he continued to drink nonchalantly, filtering the remains through his teeth, and spat them out.
“Without the purpose of a crusade ‘to fight against the Pagans’, there will be a drastic change in the world. We often ventured outside the towns, so we’re able to easily grasp the movements of such changes. However, if we let them slip, we’ll be toppled like a lone boat drifting in the currents, and that’s why we have to do our best.”
It was the case.
Kusla drank the inferior wine, and thought,
What is the purpose of this man saying such a thing? Just out of boredom, or?
“But without the war, we might not be able to continue repairing the fort for the Earl like this and get our hunting ground. We might have to find a new residence.”
It appeared he just wanted to vent his anxieties for the uncertain future to anyone.
Though Kusla had such a notion, it did not seem to be the case.
Perhaps Kusla’s heart did falter a little.
Once the war ended, a lot of jobs would be unnecessary?
However, Kusla merely chuckled, and said as though he was trying to say this to himself,
“But even as the world changes, our way of life won’t.”
“Haha. That is how it is. Especially us, being toyed by the cruelty of the world, continue to trudge on without relenting, and that’s why we’re able to reach our destination.”
“All we can only do is to pray, at the very least…at least, we know our destination exists.”
Kusla said with some lingering emotions.
Caldoz bared his teeth that were stained with traces of grapeskin, and laughed without sounding out.
“Of course. And that is why there is the allure of some detour road that makes us think ‘maybe that road is the right one’. Maybe it is this kind of allure that creates the rumor that ‘maybe the world is changing’…”
Caldoz rattled off, and continued happily.
“Whenever we feel lost and stray off course, we’ll be stranded in danger, huh.”
In other words, like Fenesis?
“Of course, that is how it is.”
The world itself was uncertain. In such a world, they would have to move forward towards a destination that might not exist, and could only identify this road and head forth.
For no matter the friction or conflict that might come to happen by this action, it was the only compass they could believe in.
If only Fenesis could understand this in the future.
“But anyway, this wine really is terrible.”
“…Is it possible to improve this with alchemy?”
Kusla shrugged, and Caldoz guffawed, spitting out the grape remains.
The next day, Caldoz and the others went out hunting. Fenesis naturally followed suit, and as it appeared the hunting was not that dangerous, Kusla did not follow them out.
Furthermore, he was curious about what Caldoz said, and wanted to ponder over it.
If the war ended, the world would change drastically.
At that moment, how would he continue on?
However, what Caldoz said about Latria’s Queen converting soon was just baseless rumors, and that he was worrying too much.
If he were to consider that this might actually happen, would it really be useful?
And even if the war ended, human desires would not vanish, No matter the times, wealth was associated closely with metals and gemstones, while the ones who specialized in dealing with such things were the Alchemists. Perhaps the job scope might change at that moment, but the lives of Kusla and the others probably would not change drastically.
While Kusla weighed in on this matter, the sun was about to set. The hunters had returned.
After leaving Gulbetty, Kusla’s group had been travelling around on carriages, through mountains and ridges to this fort, and Fenesis went hunting for 2 days strange. She, who hardly had much physical energy, was looking exceptionally weary.
However, the two times she went hunting allowed her to be familiar with Caldoz and the others. With their encouragement, she managed to make it back to the hall, and once she got back in, she collapsed to the ground, which left the group guffawing. It she was amused by them, and started laughing too.
After a little rest, Fenesis took off her snow covered clothes and shoes, brought them to dry in front of the furnace, and went to assist in making dinner. At this point, she was more hardworking than she was in the workshop at Gulbetty.
Just the night two days ago, Kusla told her to stay by the wanderers, to collect information about them, and to reveal their secret. This display of enthusiasm from her was probably an extension from that job.
That should typically be the case, but Kusla felt that it was different.
The next day, again, Fenesis went hunting with them happily, and came back before sunset. Once he saw this, Kusla finally realized the source of that discomfort.
When Fenesis was amongst the wanderers, she appeared to be really delighted. During the incident in Gulbetty, Fenesis simply would not give up on Weyland, and Kusla did not feel that such a person would not be so happy when spying.
Kusla did suspect that it was an act, but he did not think she was that capable. She was the type of person to put up a posture whenever she could not beat Kusla in an argument. Either that, or she would put up a front and say some preposterous things. Even if she was a little capable, it was certainly insufficient for her to be able to act.
Kusla wondered, and soon, found himself lost in his thoughts.
Fenesis probably recalled about the past.
During the times when she was wandering in the southeastern lands, living the life of a wanderer along with her tribe.
And so, on the 5th evening at the fort.
Like usual, the wanderers came back from their hunt, and went off separately to prepare dinner. Out of curiosity, Fenesis gave a grim look, and called Kusla out. The latter had a faint idea of what Fenesis wanted to say.
“You want to ask what will happen to those people, right?”
The sunset over the horizon of a flatland was a bright crimson, but in the mountains, the sunset sky looked blue probably because it was closer.
Kusla felt the wine was horrible, but this taste was something he was addicted to. He continued drinking, and asked Fenesis.
“If they did not have any issues, it’ll be fine. The higher-ups will probably just leave them be.”
It was obvious what she was worried about.
“They’ll either be imprisoned, splintered, or become watchdogs for the Knights.”
Fenesis opened the wooden window of the fort’s corridor, bit her lips, and looked out at the mountains that were gradually dyed with the hue of night.
“You found something?”
Fenesis slowly shook her head.
However, her movements were a little stiff, probably for some reason.
“You might think of me as a fool again.”
“Worried about their futures, huh?”
Having worked together with the wanderers, and recalling her prior life of escapes, Fenesis was hoping that the wanderers could continue living the life she could not continue living, and live a peaceful life. It was also probably she was once dragged into this unreasonable fate, and about to drag others into this unreasonable fate herself.
“I do think you are foolish.”
Kusla calmly stated. Fenesis sighed, and said,
“…Just as lead becomes gold, by looking from different perspectives, the world is completely different.”
“You understand that well.”
Kusla calmly stated. With a long sigh, Fenesis continued,
“Those people know about me.”
Hearing that, Kusla inadvertently jolted from the wall he was leaning on.
“I told him about the bloodline, and how our tribe went around escaping.”
The immaturity vanished from Fenesis’ sidelong face as she narrated her past, and she looked really mature.
Surely it was because the will sharpened by the need of survival showed up on the face, exactly the same emotion she showed when she prepared for the trip in Gulbetty.
“They said that if I managed to finish this long trip safely, I should help them when they’re in trouble?”
Kusla stared intently at the sidelong face of Fenesis, and said,
“And what else?”
It seemed the ears under Fenesis’ head twitched.
It was probably an illusion, as she lowered her head while grimacing.
“You really can see through everything.”
“You’re bad at hiding stuff.”
Fenesis looked afar at the mountains dyed in the blue sky, saying,
“I said I will do my best.”
It would probably be difficult for one to empathize unless both parties had the same predicament.
As expected, Fenesis did not tag along with them just to obtain news.
The sturdy bodies of the wanderers, their jovial manner of speech.
How much hardship did they suffer through to reach this stage? As someone of a different background, Kusla could not imagine.
However, it appeared their words touched Fenesis’ heart.
For the latter looked so far away from him.
Kusla recovered, and called out,
In the frosty mountains, the cold winds blew, and the Fenesis’ bangs fluttered along with it.
Her eyes were as pretty as emeralds.
In the end, Kusla never said anything.
It feels like you will head off with them, he could not bring himself to say this.
“Don’t drink too much when fooling around with them.”
Kusla teased her deliberately.
“You will get drunk.”
Fenesis stared back at Kusla, and finally, after a long while, gave a smile, as though she was tickled into it.
“So, the best course of action now is to retreat two days later?”
On the afternoon once the wanderers went out hunting, one of the scouts remaining at the fort said this.
“We don’t have any clues. If we continue to suspect these innocent people, it”ll tarnish’s the Earl’s reputation.”
“And if we drag on too long, it’ll be troublesome if we can’t regroup with the main forces.”
Hearing Kusla’s words, the scout chuckled,
“We’re always fighting against the uneasiness of being unable to regroup with them. It’ll be bad if we aren’t thorough with the investigations and return, but the consequences will be dire if we investigate too much and get abandoned.”
“If only the Goddess of luck is willing to stay with us for a longer time.”
“Goodness, if the world is just filled with salvagable matters, living will be a happy thing.”
The duo joked, and the scout chuckled with some resignation,
“Looks like a miss.”
However, he in turn showed a look of relief.
He had a feeling that if they continued remaining there, Fenesis would get closer with the wanderers, and she might actually move away with them.
He knew that because of the incident involving Weyland, Fenesis was a little distant from him. This was one of the reasons why he sensed that she would stay away from him. If he simply told her the truth, given her personality, she probably would follow him easily.
However, the matter was not that simple.
In any case, Kusla’s own thoughts would never be compatible, and he had no intention of compromising.
It was already sunset after Kusla finished discussing the matter with the scout and decided to take action. Once he saw the wanderers return, he inadvertently widened his eyes.
Fenesis was worn out, carried on someone else’s back.
“She couldn’t move at all, probably because she was so active over the past few days.”
Caldoz carried Fenesis while the latter was draped on the sheepskin, saying this,
Such a fool,Kusla was a little taken aback, and yet relieved that she was neither hurt nor caught in an accident.
He received Fenesis from Caldoz, carried her into the hall, and had her sleep in the corner.
“It was our fault this unpleasant matter happened.”
Caldoz stared at Fenesis’s sleeping face worriedly, and Kusla could only grimace, answering,
“I was the one who sent her to probe on you.”
“…Haha. I can tell whether she was being earnest here.”
With a smile, Caldoz left the hall.
Kusla sighed, and at the same time, he looked down at Fenesis.
There was some sand on her face, probably from when she was carried back.
Kusla wiped the sand from her face with his fingers, and wondered, though he was trying to protect her, what he was basically doing was no different from the Choir.
Looking at his aim for Magdala, his actions were truly no different from the Choir In the end, he was using Fenesis for his own purpose, and not hers.
It was also the case when Fenesis asked him about the wanderers. It was because Caldoz’s group did not seem suspicious that the conversation went by successfully.
But if Kusla did identify something suspicious about Caldoz’s group, what would happen next?
It would be likely that Fenesis would voice more opposition than she did with Weyland’s.
And this time, she certainly would have given up on him.
Kusla too had no intention of compromising. He had no reason to.
However, Kusla did not end up doing what the Choir would do. Because of this, he wanted the matter of him saving Weyland remain a secret, even having Irine lie in his stead.
The problem that remained was that, if he wanted to follow his own rationale, he would only obtain the results Fenesis did not hope for.
Kusla groaned, and pondered a while. As he had assumed, it should be Fenesis who should change.
In any case, if she wanted to continue surviving with this way of life, her thought process was way too naive.
It was the case too when she was carried back. When they were working at the workshop, he reminded her time and time again to be mindful of her own body, yet she could not do so.
Once he thought to this point, Kusla concluded that he was actually frustrated about Fenesis’ conflicted feelings, and that it was stupid.
What should have changed was Fenesis’ thought process.
If she did not, Kusla would have to change the most important thing in his life.
It would be akin to the Queen of Latria giving up on Pagan beliefs and converting to Orthodoxy.
But that should not be possible.
Not at all.
We have no more suspicions of you. Kusla told the wanderers the next day, during dinner.
After a moment of surprise, the men laughed heartily.
It was as though they were saying that though they were happy, they were more delighted than usual.
And they were about to leave the fort, and head towards a different hunting ground.
People had their own paths to take, and such paths might intertwine from time to time.
So, sometimes, when people were about to leave for journeys, a Father would say some blessings, that it is wonderful for another encounter.
That night, the festivities were loud enough for all the wine in the fort to be finished. Fenesis had already collapsed drunk, and midway through his drinks, Kusla got up to leave.
He sat by the side of Fenesis, who had collapsed by the wall, and stared at her in front of the furnace. He then noticed a few things. The scouts knew very well that they would be exposed once they got drunk, and it concerned their lives, so they skilfully evaded the wanderers’ coercion to get them to drink. The wanderers pretentiously brought the wine to their lips, but they drank little of it, and half the time, they were likely pretending to drink.
Despite this, Kusla had a feeling that their joy was not an act. It was definitely a state of sheep and wolves being unable to be together.
Once he noticed this, Kusla could not help but give a forlorn smile.
They were still merrymaking, and it appeared that if he slept at this point, he would probably be awakened by their rowdiness.
It had been a while since he experienced such a lively scene, and thus, he was touched, and wanted to remain in this rowdy atmosphere.
But he could not continue drinking, and thus, got bored.
He scanned his surroundings, and spotted a book revealed from Fenesis’ belongings.
She had been enthusiastically reading the book about the Golden Sheep, as though telling Kusla that she could be of help. This book seemed to concern all kinds of fables, and the book she had during that incident in Gulbetty was probably similar.
Kusla opened the book he typically would not read.
During his days as an apprentice, Kusla would enthusiastically read such books, but once he learned that there was a difference between alchemists and the so-called magic, he lost interest for such books that had no realism to them. At this point, he only had nostalgia for the contents of the book. Also, he had the notion that Fenesis was naive for thinking that she could be of help by reading such a book.
With a wry smile, Kusla flipped through the pages, and suddenly noticed a strap of cloth tucked in the book.
It appeared this cloth was placed right in the middle of the book.
Where the fable of the Golden Sheep was at.
However, there was a line of words there. Once he saw those words recorded on the strap of cloth, Kusla gasped, and looked towards his side.
Fenesis was lying by the side, her waist arched as she slept. Some slight snoring could be heard, and her slender body heaved and shrank in a rhythmic manner. Kusla did his best to close the book as quietly as possible, and slipped it back to the original position Fenesis left it at.
Then, he lowered his head, looking at her petite sleeping body.
Stunned, he watched her sleep, and the thoughts racing in his mind moved him.
Fenesis knew the secret of the wanderers, and probably for a long while. Probably when they were in Gulbetty.
However, despite knowing this in Gulbetty, she never notified Kusla, and that was still forgivable. She had thoroughly thought through the matter, that if she were to say something baseless, she would merely be teased by Kusla for being a fool, and thus, she did not.
But if Fenesis had known about the secret of the wanderers, the significance of her being carried back by the wanderers would have been different, and that was what Kusla was shocked about. On that day, Fenesis probably did it on purpose.
Then, her not revealing this secret till this point clearly indicated another undeniable fact.
Kusla stared at Fenesis’ sleeping face.
The worry in Kusla’s heart was reignited again.
Was Fenesis going to go off with the wanderers just like this.
How stupid He thought. If they were to be pursued, they would be found immediately. However, Fenesis’s foolishness was already evident in Gulbetty. She had no form of wisdom that put her over anyone else.
And even if she did not do such a foolish thing, one easily figure out something elementary.
And that was, that she did not hope for the wanderers’ secret to be revealed.
Fenesis definitely asked Kusla that question on that evening, having known what happened. If she were to reveal the secret of the wanderers, what would happen to them, and how they would be treated because of her spilling the beans. Her tribe was once splintered to nothing, and this time, she might end up ruining the wanderers.
It was impossible for Fenesis to not ask.
And so, if Kusla were to head back with the scouts to the forces, and report the secret of the wanderers to the superiors, what would happen next?
Kusla had to admit this.
Fenesis would surely never forgive him.
This was no longer a prank on her. If he actually revealed the secret, it would be barging into the place Fenesis treasured most, and wrecking everything within.
Kusla heard the laughter that gradually got calmer from the wine festival before the furnace, and looked over at Fenesis, who was gently rolled up beside him. He felt that he was at a crossroad.
With this step, he might be able to turn lead into gold, or gold into lead.
If he reported the wanderers’ secrets to the Knights, his position in Kazan would be solidified. There probably would never be a second chance. He personally did not feel that a new haven like Kazan would happen again. Even if it were to occur again, the chances of Kusla being able to participate again would be almost 0.
But if he was to choose profit, he would surely lose Fenesis.
At the same time, he wondered, establishing an unshakable position in Kazan would be something irreplaceable. But what about Fenesis?
Such merciless weighing of gains and losses arose in Kusla’s mind, and as it did, a gust blew up, ruffling his heart. He was an Alchemist; named ‘Interest’, or ‘Kusla’.
What would be the correct choice? Which path would lead him to Magdala?
The scene of pouring the mercury into the chicken’s stomach and reanimating the corpse reappeared in Kusla’s mind.
Was he not someone inhuman who would toy with lives?
Even after seeing his lover being dissected before him, he was able to drink wine leisurely. What was he thinking back then? On smelting.
However, what caused him to realize that was not the case, was none other than Fenesis.
Right, thinking back about it, Fenesis never changed at all.
She was commanded by the Choir to enter the workshop Kusla and Weyland were at, with the risk that she might be killed, but felt pity for Kusla, who was supposed to be framed.
However, her words saved Kusla from his grey memories. It was thanks to her foolishness that he realized he was able to love someone properly.
In spite of this, two kings could not occupy the same throne.
Fenesis was sleeping before Kusla in a defenceless manner.
I’m supposed to be ‘Interest’. Choose the right course of action/ Kusla told himself.
The thick darkness of the winter night engulfed the fort in the mountains. Perhaps that was a certain thing in Kusla’s heart.
At this moment, Fenesis rolled around, and Kusla’s belongings toppled over.
It seemed the drunk Fenesis had no intention of waking up, and Kusla looked over at the belongings that fell out.
It was the emerald he had the jewel craftsman refine.
When Fenesis first saw this, she was shocked, thinking Kusla intended to have this as a gift for a woman in town like what Weyland would do. However, back then, Kusla did not express his own intentions.
Once he heard of the harshness of the journey from Fenesis, he deliberately made such preparations just in case, that if they were to split up, Fenesis would not be in trouble.
But due to the incident involving Weyland, he lost the opportunity to give this to her.
The silver pendant, the thin chain, undoubtedly, this was an ornament for a woman. When splitting from the main forces, Kusla was worried that this pricey item would be stolen, and as it was so small, he brought it along with him.
If Fenesis was a complete fool, it was likely that if he gave this emerald that could fetch money to build a house to her, he would be forgiven.
However, Fenesis was not that kind of person. Kusla was so shocked that he was so clear on this.
If he did something unforgivable, even if he swapped out a room’s worth of gold, she would never forgive him. If he could be forgiven, he would be forgiven if he made a little apology.
She was not a bad lady, definitely not a bad lady.
At this point, Kusla was at the stage where he had a sampling of research materials, and had to do a smelting he could not fail. The differing methods would result in different items obtained.
It felt as though that thing was lead that looked like gold, and yet looked like gold that looked like lead.
What exactly was his aim?
He held onto the emerald firmly, asking himself in this darkness.
After putting some labels onto the belongings, they were done preparing to leave. After that, they simply needed to spend several days before meeting up with the Vanguard.
“Sir, we’re done with the preparations.”
Caldoz said as he came over to look at the carriage.
He was holding some little gourds in hand.
“I suppose your carriage still has some space, so I brought this along.”
It appeared to be a parting gift.
“That terrible wine?”
Kusla asked. Caldoz gave a vague looking smile.
“It appears that you unexpectedly got addicted to it.”
That taste was truly intriguing, one that Kusla could not recreate again.
Once Kusla and the scouts comparted the luggages, they wrapped the gourds in towels to avoid them from breaking, and put them into the carriage.
“But is it fine to not have an additional day of rest?”
Kusla did not respond.
Last night, they did not sleep much, and were still a little dazed from the wine.
Fenesis too was not fully awake from the wine. At this point, she remained sleeping in the room.
“Wake up, and drink this gift again?”
Kusla laughed in a self-deprecating manner, and Caldoz too guffawed.
“Hahaha. That isn’t a bade idea.”
“But we certainly don’t get along with each other. Even if we do get closer, this is the furthest we go.”
Hearing this, Caldoz showed a sarcastic smile.
“Now then, since we’re done with the preparations, time to bring her along.”
Kusla said, and looked over at the atrium.
He walked down the corridor, and had already made up his mind. He could not contort his beliefs. That was all; other than that, he thought anything else was fine.
The hall felt strangely empty without the belongings. Kusla woke up Fenesis, who was sleeping there, and gently slipped the emerald ornament into the hands of her sleepy self.
While she looked skeptical, Kusla said,
“Back at the market, I learned how harsh a journey can be from you. Use this as protection, just in case.”
Fenesis stared at Kusla in surprise, and looked at the emerald in her hands.
“You aren’t suited to dress up as a town girl, but things like gemstones should suit you fine.”
Kusla patted her slender shoulders without waiting for her response, and said, “Get ready.”
Fenesis called out, and Kusla, having stood up, turned his head back.
“What is it?”
She lowered her head, seemingly furious, and after some hesitation, she said,
“…Why give this to me now?”
I still cannot agree to what you did in Gulbetty, and I do not want this now.
To summarize, this was probably what she meant.
After some pondering, Kusla said,
“I will only abide by my way of life. This is something prepared for you, and nothing else. I feel this can be handed over to you at such a time.”
Fenesis lifted her head, seemingly realizing something.
“If you don’t like it, don’t throw it away. If you don’t like it.”
“Sell it, and use it as fuel for your survival.”
Fenesis widened her eyes, but Kusla did not remain there.
He walked out of the hall, and down the corridor.
He felt some uproad within, fury boiling over.
He cursed out, and returned to the carriage.
He could only do this.
If he changed his way of life, the direction he would take would change.
Those that thought smooth-sailing events were a good thing were lucky ones who never thought of falling into Hell when they failed.
Craftsmen would put the items that concerned their livelihoods near them, for they knew it would be the rope of life that they could entrust their lives to. For Alchemists, the only rope of life they could rely on was their way of life.
In that sense, the wanderers were the same. They lived on the fable of the Golden Sheep, and because of this, they were able to advance; because of this, they were able to thoroughly hide their true identities.
The final conclusion was that they were prospectors seeking gold ores.
The method was to disguise them using sheepskin.
There were many ways to extract gold, especially gold sand. Simple they might be strange tools would be required. One could easily filter gold dust from the other minerals through different densities, so special boards or plates would be needed.
They used an extremely inefficient tool that was used in ancient times, a tool long forgotten.
They did not dry sheepskin just to wash them. By sinking the sheepskin into the river, they let the grains enter the wool, and sought for any golddust that sank deep into the wool. For this purpose, they had to wander around various houses with furnaces.
That was why their archery skills were atrocious. In the end, hunting was simply about giving them an excuse to put on sheepskin.
The fable of the Golden Sheep was thoroughly linked to this matter of the ancients scooping golddust using sheepskin. Fenesis found this message through the book containing those fables.
Fenesis probably let Caldoz carry her back to affirm that they were gold prospectors. It would be obviously strange if she were to bring her face to the sheepskin and check the grains stuck to the wool. However, she could do it when she was carried back. Thus, she thought hard, and came to this method.
She kept this matter hidden from Kusla.
As for the reason, it was not because they were innocent.
But that as they were prospectors, Fenesis kept it from him.
They were hired to seek out gold. For the Knights, they were trouble that could start a new war.
In that case, Kusla was left with little choice. It was not something he could be happy about, but by abiding by his beliefs, he could rationalize everything. Just as craftsmen would put the tools they lived by beside them, Kusla could only confide in his way of life.
Like how the wanderers put on the sheepskin to go out hunting.
“Let’s go then.”
The scout holding the reins saw Fenesis walk over, slowly got back to a corner of the carriage, and said this.
Fenesis did not look at Kusla.
But at the emerald she received from him.
Kusla merely sat on the moving carriage, staring at the crude carriage the wanderers used with the excessive amount of nails hammered into it.