“Looks like the gates are closed.”
Viviane nodded, channeling ki through her eyes and sharpening her vision as she watched a flock of ravens lift off from a nearby tree. Thanks to the carriage slowing down, she now had the luxury of keeping the door slightly open to communicate with her knight. “Looks like there are guards this time though. They seem quite on edge for some reason.”
Medrauta frowned. “Do you think they’ve caught wind of what happened in Helfried already?”
It was a far-flung suggestion, but it wasn’t entirely impossible. After all, it had taken them quite a bit of time to reach Dietrich thanks to the weight of the carriage slowing down the horses. A single messenger from Helfried riding an appropriately trained horse could’ve easily outpaced them.
“Probably not,” Viviane replied. “Maybe they’re expecting something to happen? It sure looks like they are.”
“Yeah. I don’t know about the empire, but it sure wasn’t normal to keep ballistae loaded when you weren’t expecting an attack.” Riku put in. “Medrauta, you told us that the commander of that cavalry unit saw the witch, right? Do you think she attacked any of the duchy’s territories?”
Medrauta shook her head. “Nah. Amelia probably just dropped by to help Bastiche put on a show so he could earn the people’s trust.”
“I see...” Riku nodded, a frown creasing his brow. “In that case, there can only be one conclusion seeing as this duchy does not border Kaslavna.”
“They’re expecting an attack from inside.” Viviane said, voicing the thought in everyone’s heads. “...But from who?”
“I guess we’re about to find out.” Medrauta remarked as the carriage began drawing closer to the gate. The ballistae mounted atop the ramparts swiveled, following the vehicle’s advance and causing the coachman to feel more than a bit nervous despite being sandwiched between two knights. In response to their approach, Riku wrapped a piece of cloth around the lower portion of his face, obscuring it from view and serving as a makeshift disguise.
Luckily for him, the ballistae showed no signs of shooting even as the carriage stopped in front of the large metal gates. A slight clamor of conversation and activity was heard from the guards on the battlements, the sound disturbed only by the cawing of nearby ravens. Despite the distance and distractions, Medrauta’s finely tuned senses overheard their discussions easily.
From what she could tell, the guards hadn’t refrained from shooting out of mercy or curiosity. In fact, the only thing that saved their lives was the imperial crest carved on top of the carriage’s roof. Seeing that the soldiers had been thrown into a state of confusion by the unexpected visit, Medrauta decided to make their jobs a bit easier.
She extended a hand toward Viviane with her palm facing upward. “Mind passing me the medallion real quick?”
Understanding her knight’s intentions, Viviane nodded and fished through her bag for a few seconds before managing to find the item. “Don’t drop it,” she grinned.
“As if I would,” Medrauta laughed. She presented the medallion to the guards who peered down at the carriage, her clarion voice carrying easily to the top of the battlements and beyond. “My name is Medrauta, a knight of the empire! We’re here on an imperially sanctioned mission to confirm the acting duke’s statement!”
The soldiers exchanged a quick glance amongst each other before turning their attention back to Medrauta. One of them squinted, peering at the silver-haired knight closely before dashing away and disappearing behind the walls. Meanwhile, the remaining guards simply milled about on the ramparts as if the carriage was no longer their business to handle.
“...Now what?” Riku asked, the worry in his voice evident as he saw the guards dismiss them so easily despite Medrauta’s words. It was clear he wanted to acquire the necessary tools to brew Sakura’s antidote as soon as possible, and he certainly wasn’t enthused about the prospect of having to journey to yet another city.
“Now we wait. I’m fairly certain that the soldier who left was a messenger. They probably need permission from their garrison commander to open up or something.” Medrauta shrugged. “It’s just standard protocol when you’re expecting an attack.”
Sure enough, the sound of steel against stone thundered from above mere moments later. The heavy footsteps told Medrauta that the approaching person was probably a knight. After all, even the strongest soldier wouldn’t burden themselves with overly hefty armor.
“Medrauta! Lady Viviane!” A familiar voice called out from atop the walls. “I was beginning to think you might not come!”
“Krista!” Medrauta grinned. “It looks like you did end up getting here before us! Where’s Trianna and that other knight? Don’t tell me—”
“No. The prayer of atonement worked. I’m having them drill the soldiers right now.” Krista clicked her tongue in annoyance. It was clear that she hadn’t actually expected the ritual to work at all, and by the looks of it, Medrauta could tell that Krista had essentially been forced to babysit the two knights over the past couple days.
“Sounds like fun. Now then, you mind letting us in? I’ve got a few questions I wanna ask you, and I doubt you’d want to give me the answers so loudly.”
Krista nodded, turning to the soldiers on the walls. “Let them through!”
The large metal gates opened with a groan as the complex gears and machinery driving its hinges creaked in protest. Riku sighed in relief as the coachman urged the horses forward and into the safety of Dietrich.
“Lady Sakura and I will immediately depart to the marketplace.” Riku said as the gates closed behind them. “Do not worry, Medrauta, I am familiar with the brewing equipment used in the empire.”
Medrauta nodded, closing her mouth as Riku addressed the stillborn concern on her tongue. Instead, she turned her attention to the figure falling from the walls behind them, watching with a raised eyebrow as Krista leapt from the battlements.
Krista’s azure armor caught the light of the noonday sun easily as she plummeted toward the ground, the sound of her landing echoing through the street. With several quick strides, she caught up with the carriage, returning the greetings of the soldiers that she passed by.
“There’s something I need to talk about with you and Lady Viviane as well, Medrauta.” Krista said. “But that can wait until later. Lady Sakura’s poisoned, isn’t she?”
Medrauta’s eyes widened in surprise. “Huh!? How’d you know?”
“You’ll see,” Krista replied with a cryptic smile. “In any case, do you mind if you head to the castle before me? Just tell the maids that you’re there to meet Lord Dietrich. He wants to meet the two of you, after all.”
“Uh... Yeah, sure, but why aren’t you coming with us?”
“I was hoping to guide Sir Riku and Lady Sakura to the marketplace.”
Medrauta nodded in understanding. “Well then, don’t let me hold you back.”
A quick word with the coachman caused the carriage to stop, allowing Riku and Sakura to disembark shortly after. Though Sakura’s condition had appeared to stabilize after she was given time to recuperate her ki reserves, it was clear that the stress of the chase had exacerbated her ailment yet again.
Leaning on her knight’s shoulder, Sakura bid farewell to Viviane and Medrauta as elegantly as she could before Riku quickly shepherded his lady toward the marketplace under Krista’s guidance.
“...I hope she recovers soon.” Viviane said, her voice laced with worry. “With the poison having been in her system for so long, I think it might take multiple doses of the antidote to fully cure her.”
Medrauta nodded in agreement. “Yeah... But Lady Sakura is strong. I never even thought it’d be possible to survive jensam poison for over five days, yet she’s been doing it for much longer. It’s incredible, really.”
“Incredible is probably the right word to describe Lady Sakura,” Viviane grinned as she stepped out of the carriage and joined Medrauta on the box seat, forcing the coachman to scooch over to the side.
“As much as I respect her fortitude, I’d much rather you gush about me than her.” Medrauta pretended to pout, eliciting a bright giggle from her lady.
“Alright, alright. Shall we head to the castle then, my dashing and beautiful knight~?”
Medrauta blushed, leaning close to Viviane and giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “Y-Yeah. Let’s go.”
For Aluvsha’s sake, get me out of here. The coachman thought as he flicked the reins and urged the horses forward at a light canter. Though he wanted to go faster, he could see that there were a few civilians mingling with some of the guardsmen who were patrolling the area.
Those who wandered the streets this close to the gate were mostly soldiers and were more familiar with horses and carriages, but it was obvious that the common citizen would be a lot less accustomed to making way for a speeding carriage. The coachman stifled a sigh as Medrauta and Viviane exchanged sweet nothings, suppressing the desire to go back home and see his wife.
Eventually, the carriage stopped at the gates barring the way to the castle. Two soldiers crossed their halberds, indicating for Medrauta to produce some form of identification. In response, the knight flashed the imperial medallion, eliciting a murmur of surprise from the guards.
“You must be the knight that Dame Krista mentioned. My apologies for stopping you so brusquely.”
Medrauta shook her head. “Just doing your job.”
The guard nodded, thanking Medrauta for her understanding before signaling the soldiers behind the wall to open the gate. “You will have to disembark from the carriage, Dame Medrauta. Lady Viviane. The vehicle is too large to fit through these humble gates.”
“Not a problem,” Medrauta replied, hopping off her seat and offering her hand to Viviane. The noblewoman smiled and took it, allowing Medrauta to help her off the carriage. After confirming a meeting place with the coachman, Medrauta and Viviane headed through the gates and toward the castle proper.
“Y’know... Why does the lord want to see us? The way Krista was talking, it sounded like he was already expecting us.”
Viviane shrugged. “I suppose we’ll just have to find out.”