Chapter 149

The capital was humongous. As such, the population was also incredibly large. 

As the heart of the Aragon Empire, the number of soldiers in the capital was numerous, and they were very diverse as well.

Firstly, the number of Royal Knights and Royal Guards guarding the Wall of the Lion and the imperial castle was over 1,000. In addition, there were 2,000 soldiers, archers and spearmen, in charge of defending the two outer walls and maintaining order in the capital. Around half a day’s distance from the capital, there were two army units consisting of 2,000 heavy cavalries, and 6 units of 100 rangers, making a total of 600 rangers who monitored all the roads and the mountains near the capital.

In other words, a total of 8,000 soldiers were always maintaining the security of the capital. All of them were trained meticulously and experienced in real battles. 

The capital defense forces did not refer to a particular unit.

Rather, it was a name that was given to the troops who first served in actual combat for a year on the borders of the empire, then called back to defend the capital for a year. It was a rotational system that always kept the soldiers on the edge. Hence, the capital defense forces were always the crème de la crème. As they guarded the heart of the empire and the emperor himself, they were always prideful and had a fierce spirit.

However, even the capital defense forces, and even the Royal Knights, had to give way in front of a certain unit. 

The strongest unit composed of a small number of elites – they were the Order of the Golden Griffons. Their morale and pride pierced the skies, and not just anyone could become a griffon knight. 

Each and every one of the griffon knights had been personally bestowed an insignia from the emperor when they were commissioned. 

Count Valcas Dante was the captain of the griffon order, a proud leader of the guardians of the sky. Today, however, he was faced with an unexpected situation that he couldn’t wrap his head around.

“Hmm, so you mean, all of them belong to the Pendragon Duchy, and they can be controlled without a rider?”

“That is correct.”

The young knight who replied had dark skin, and he did not seem daunted at all even though he was standing face-to-face with the captain of the famous griffon knights. In addition, it was clear that the griffon the young man had flown on was a wild griffon, which were different from the Golden Griffon Knights’ creatures that were bred and trained for years and generations. 

The wild griffon was on the bigger side, and its wingspan seemed to reach about 10 feet long. Anyone deserved to be proud if they managed to tame such a wild, majestic beast, and they were sure to be an excellent griffon rider.

“Hmm…”

Count Dante observed the young man’s dark blue eyes which emanated tranquility. It was clear that the young man was a southern man, considering his unique appearance and accent. 

Moreover, considering the attitude that he showed from the very beginning…

“Are you a Cavalier of Valvas?”

A brief glint appeared in the eyes of the young man at Count Dante’s words, then he replied bluntly.

“I, Elkin Isla, was born in Valvas, but I will die beside my lord Duke Pendragon.”

“How befitting of a Valvas Cavalier.”

A slight smile appeared on Count Dante’s face. He was somewhat familiar with the Cavaliers of Valvas, as one of his subordinates happened to be one as well.

However, his expression soon turned back solemn. 

“I have confirmed your identity, and it’s quite clear that you are a knight of His Excellency Duke Pendragon. But even so, it will not be possible to take those griffons to the imperial castle. The capital’s skies are only allowed to the Order of the Golden Griffons.”

“……”

Isla stood silently and mulled over Count Dante’s words. 

There was nothing wrong with Count Dante’s words. Isla would have spoken the same words if he were in Count Dante’s position. Moreover, from Count Dante’s brutish appearance that was reminiscent of Kratul, the druid of the Ancona Orcs, it seemed like he was not a man who cared much for status or formalities. 

‘Even if the duchess comes personally, I don’t think there’s much to be done.’

Isla was never good at dealing with people, so he silently contemplated how to proceed with the situation. 

One of the griffon knights came towards the two men with a rather perplexed expression.

“Excuse me, Captain. There seems to be a… strange group of griffons coming from Roland Canyon. They appear to be griffons of the Pendragon Duchy, so some of the 3rd battalion’s troops are escorting them here. Only…”

“What does that mean? A strange group of griffons? Sir Iero, you need to speak properly.”

Count Dante reproached the knight in a stern voice, but the knight’s expression turned even more perplexed.

“I really want to sir, but it’s… Anyways, they do not seem to be hostile. They appear to be on an escorting flight, so I was thinking of inducing their landing in the fortress.”

Count Dante was a bit confused at the attitude of his subordinate. Usually, the knight would be calm and cool-headed, but he seemed quite flustered right now.

It seemed fine to allow the griffons to land if they belonged to the Pendragon Duchy. Duke Pendragon had already performed a great service to the empire by revealing the truth behind Crown Prince Shio’s assassination attempt. 

“Hmm, then let them land for now, tsk.”

After his subordinate knight returned, Count Dante lightly clicked his tongue and turned to Isla before speaking in a rather stern voice.

“I will allow the Pendragon family’s griffons to land in my fortress for now. They must have flown a long way, so they probably need some rest. I’ll give them some water and food, but you will need to return after a short while.”

“……”

Isla remained silent.

He had to head to the imperial castle today. It was the order of his lord, and carrying it out was more important than even his own life. 

‘What should I do…’

Isla quietly agonized in his mind even though his face was expressionless. 

Dozens of small lights could be seen on the opposite side of the full moon, over the towering mountains.

“They seem to be here.”

As the lights grew closer, one could tell that dozens of griffons with lights hanging around their necks were drawing closer.

“Huh?”

Count Dante was rather proud of his subordinates for flying in perfect formation even in the darkness. However, his eyes started to widen in shock as the griffons drew closer.

When they became visible under the light of the full moon, he became immensely shocked.

“W, what in the…”

There was a group of around 10 griffons that were flying towards them under the escort of around 30 imperial griffons. In the middle of the herd was an object that was flying through the sky, defying all common sense.

“A, a flying carriage?”

Five griffons were drawing a huge carriage with thick, iron rods. As the griffons slowly descended, the large carriage slowly came down to the ground as well.

“Huh…!”

Count Dante and the Gold Griffon Knights displayed disbelief. 

The griffons pulling the carriage moved as if they were one body under the direction of a rider on the back of the griffon in the center. 

The flapping of the wings, as well as the speed of descent, were all consistent.

Thud.

Eventually, the carriage landed on the ground without much shock. At the orders of the rider, the other griffons spread out and gently landed on the ground with their wings folded.

“Oh my god… To think this could be possible…”

Count Dante could not hide his astonishment even though he had spent most of his life as a griffon rider. Of course, he had brainstormed the idea of griffon-pulled carriages in the past as well.

But it was simply impossible. 

Firstly, it was impossible for four or five griffons to fly perfectly in sync for a long flight. Even forming a flying formation was a high-level task that required a long time of training and dedication.

After all, if even one griffon went slightly off sync, the people inside the carriage would receive massive shock. As it was a carriage that wasn’t rooted in the ground, the vertical oscillations that could be delivered transcended common sense. 

But the Pendragon family had defied the very common sense and succeeded in producing and operating a griffon-drawn flying carriage. Moreover, with wild griffons as well.

“Huh! Wow! How…”

Count Dante couldn’t stop shaking his head in astonishment.

The griffon rider dismounted and opened the doors to the carriage.   

Count Dante and the griffon knights looked towards the carriage door with curiosity, wondering who the passengers were.

“Heup!”

Count Dante became stupefied, and the other knights began to murmur. The figure that exited from the carriage was a woman, a noble lady in her thirties who radiated beauty and grace.

“Who is it?”

“I’m not sure.”

The griffon knights were unsure as to the identity of the noble woman who maintained a bright, gentle smile. 

But Count Dante displayed an entirely different reaction at seeing the lady. He trembled quietly then suddenly ran towards her.

“D, duchess Elena Pendragonnn!”

“Ah, Lord Dante.”

 Elena greeted Count Dante with an even brighter smile as he approached her with a joyous cry.

“It has been a long time, Lord Dante. Have you been well?”

“Oh my! Just call me Valcas the way you used to! I cannot believe that I am seeing the duchess again! Haha!”

Count Dante rejoiced like a child, even though he was already well over forty.

“…..!”

The other knights were flabbergasted at the unbelievable sight. Their captain had always been strict. He was a role model to all of the griffon knights. However, they were ignorant of Count Dante and Duchess Elena’s past intertwinement. 

“I had already heard the news that you became the captain of the Gold Griffon Knights. I was very happy to hear that you finally achieved your dreams.”

“It is all thanks to you, Duchess. If it weren’t for your encouragement and consideration, I, Valcas Dante, would not….”

Count Dante failed to continue his words, and his eyes became flushed. Duchess Elena smiled warmly and held Count Dante’s hands tightly.

“Not at all, I did nothing. It’s all because of Lord Valcas’ hard work and diligence.” 

“M, my lady…”

Count Dante was thrilled. 

It was all thanks to Elena Pendragon that he, the second son of an ordinary noble family, was able to become a griffon knight from a royal guard, and eventually the captain of the Gold Griffon Knights, even receiving the title of a count.

“Mia, say hello. This is the captain of the Order of the Golden Griffons.”

“Hmm?”

Count Dante showed confusion at Elena’s words. He wasn’t sure who she was talking to.

Then a small face peeked from behind the carriage’s door, and Count Dante’s mouth opened wide.

“Oh! Ohhhhh….!”

It was a little girl with large eyes full of curiosity. She was hugging a rather strange-looking rabbit doll in her arms. The girl looked exactly like Elena Pendragon from Count Dante’s memories.

“She’s my second daughter.”

Mia jumped down from the carriage and toddled to Elena’s side before hugging tightly on to the hem of Elena’s dress. Elena answered while stroking Mia Pendragon’s head.

“Oh, ohhh! It’s the little lady of Pendragon!”

Count Dante knelt down on one knee while fluttering about. He repeatedly stretched out his hand before reclining them as if he feared scaring the little girl with his rough appearance. 

Fortunately, Mia Pendragon had a slightly different taste from other girls of her age. Mia came out from behind Elena’s skirt and bowed down after placing her doll and two hands near her belly.

Then she smiled at Count Dante, who resembled her favourite creature, Kratul.

Her cute, innocent smile was enough to deliver a shock equivalent to dozens of crossbow quivers to his chest, and Elena’s next words delivered the decisive blow.

“Anyways, Lord Valcas, we have to get to the imperial castle with the flying carriage because of an important matter, could you possibly allow it? If the captain of the order did not give permission then…”

“Uuahahahahaha! On what basis could I possibly say no!? Guys! It’s an escort! We will be escorting Duchess Elena Pendragon and the flying carriage all the way to the imperial castle! Please leave it to me, Duchesse Elena Pendragon! Hahahaha!”

The roaring laughter of the Gold Griffon Knights’ captain echoed in the knight sky of the fortress. 

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