LTBE - Chapter 438.2: Should I Take It Off Or Not? (2)
The heretics and inquisitors who had accompanied Roel to Tark Stronghold were able to get a rare day of rest. It was an awfully short break considering what they went through, but there weren’t any complaints since most of them were eager to leave Tark Prairie.
There was one thing that shocked most of them—Her Highness Nora Xeclyde had taken on the full responsibility for taking care of Roel Ascart. Such an honor was unprecedented in the history of the Theocracy.
Concerns would usually arise when a man and a woman were left alone in a single room, but no one thought that way about Roel and Nora. After all, Roel was severely ill and Nora had always postured herself as a dignified royal before others.
They would have been astounded to know of the things that had been happening inside the little wooden hut.
While there wasn’t any fever medicine in their supplies, Count Hank had brought a doctor together with him. It was only normal to do so for such long expeditions. The doctor had taken a look at Roel’s condition, and the results were baffling.
“What’s the diagnosis made by the doctor?” asked Roel.
“Your body was in a severely weakened state and that made you more vulnerable to the side effects of your abilities. You were getting the chills last night, right?”
Roel sighed softly, not expecting himself to catch a cold from the effects of Glacier Touch.
On the other hand, Nora lowered her head in self-reproach. She knew that the cause of Roel’s weakened state was the massive injury in his chest.
He hadn’t activated his undead reanimation state in order to appear unguarded to the Angel King, and as a result, he ended up taking the full brunt of the blow when the latter plunged her hand into his chest. This led to a series of complications, such as the golden aura seeping into his body and the worsening of his injuries in the subsequent battle…
Nora released a deep sigh.
She looked at Roel tenderly while changing the wet towel that was placed on Roel’s forehead to help lower his temperature. Thanks to her meticulous caretaking, Roel was able to recover swiftly. His powerful constitution as a high transcendent revealed itself as his fever subsided the following morning.
After some discussion, they decided to set off.
It was already midway through winter by then. The temperature in Tark Prairie plummeted, and even the breeze felt freezing to the touch. Due to the fairly large size of their group, the pacing of their march had to slow down considerably.
It took them a day and a half before they finally arrived at the mountain valley where Tark Stronghold used to stand.
Unlike before, the entrance of the valley was no longer empty. After nearly a week of emergency repairs, a structure made out of wood and stones was starting to take shape. It was nothing in comparison to the imposing Tark Stronghold, but it plugged the gap for the time being.
Roel, Count Hanks, and the others were impressed by the progress of the construction, but Nora fell into a solemn mood. She hadn’t spoken a single word ever since the mountain valley came into sight, though she was grabbing Roel’s hand tighter than ever.
Sorrow, fear, and all kinds of negative emotions were surfacing in her heart, but she gritted her teeth and forced herself to stand strong. She wasn’t just her father’s daughter but also the princess of the Theocracy.
Roel noticed her condition, but he didn’t offer any words of consolation. The grief from losing a loved one wasn’t so shallow as to be dispelled with just a few words. All he could do right now was stay by her side and help her pull through.
In the days they had spent together, Nora hadn’t mentioned the disappearance of the Tark Stronghold even once, almost as if she was trying to forget it. Roel wasn’t so tactless as to remind her of the painful incident either.
However, when faced with the scars of the past, she couldn’t help but turn to Roel to verify it once more.
“You told me that there is hope. Is it true? Or was it just an excuse to stabilize my emotions?”
She looked at Roel with deep emotions rippling in her eyes as she posed this question.
“There is hope, but it’s slim,” replied Roel honestly.
Nora felt a lurching feeling in her heart, followed by a flood of emotions. However, she kept a firm lid on it all and quietly forced herself to accept reality.
As their group approached the makeshift fortress, excited exclamations could be vaguely heard from within. It eventually crescendoed with a roaring cheer when Nora’s figure appeared fully in sight.
The return of the Theocracy’s successor was such good news that it roused all of the soldiers’ morale.
The soldiers had been trying their best to keep their spirits up all this while, but the truth was that the abrupt disappearance of the Tark Stronghold had shaken their resolve.
Nora’s safe return reinvigorated them in this time of despair, providing them with a pillar of support that they urgently needed. Many devout believers of the Genesis Goddess Church saw this as a symbol of Sia’s blessing.
The agitated crowd was finally able to release their pent-up emotions. The knights on the fortress walls began tearing up whereas the construction workers danced joyfully with their equipment. Some of the soldiers even started hugging each other tightly, shouting out of sheer relief that Sia hadn’t abandoned them.
Such a sight stirred Nora’s emotions. She grabbed Roel’s hand tightly with tears in her eyes, and Roel quietly squeezed her hand back.
Soon, Carmen and the other commanders, who served as the leaders of this makeshift fortress, rushed out to welcome Roel and Nora. Looks of joy and relief could be seen on them as if they were glad to be finally freed from the heavy burden they had been put under.
Beneath the setting sun, the two groups quickly made their way to the temporary command center to hold an emergency meeting.
The chain of command in the eastern border had fallen into a mess after the disappearance of Tark Stronghold. Even though most units were trying their best to work together to overcome this crisis, the lack of a centralized decision-making unit could easily undermine their recovery effort, especially when there were conflicts of opinion.
Fortunately, Nora’s return perfectly resolved this problem.
Roel also had his own problems to attend to, namely dealing with the reinforcements he had requested from other powers to bolster their defenses.
The Rosaian troops stationed on the eastern border had sent reinforcements over as soon as they received Roel’s letter. It was a well-known fact that the Ascart Fiefdom was a long-time ally of Rosa and that Roel and Charlotte were on veryclose terms. Thanks to that, the Rosaian general was able to mobilize his troops without any hesitation, knowing that the Sorofyas would support it.
Similarly, the reinforcements from Knight Kingdom Pendor had also arrived quickly. That came as a surprise to Roel. While he was on good terms with Wilhelmina and the others, it would usually take more than a letter to get a country to mobilize its military force.
So, Roel met up with the commanders of the two reinforcement armies to express his utmost gratitude to them for responding to his call for help. At the same time, he personally wrote a letter to the upper echelons of both countries to thank them as well.
Meanwhile, Nora assumed the role of the highest commander and began making high-level decisions that the other military commanders hadn’t been able to come to a consensus on.
The abrupt disappearance of Tark Stronghold was despair-inducing, but there was a bit of good news here and there. For one, there would be a personnel rotation in Tark Stronghold once every five years, and the most recent one had been held several days ago. In other words, there was a significant number of veteran soldiers who managed to escape the calamity.
That was a huge relief, as Tark Stronghold was in dire need of reinforcement. Those veteran soldiers could be deployed back in the fortress to bolster its defenses.
Under Nora’s command, the Theocracy was able to put together a sizable force to guard the Tark Stronghold, thus stabilizing the situation for the time being. At the very least, the current defense line should be enough to buy sufficient time for further reinforcements.
It was also around then that a piece of news arrived from the Holy Capital.
The Xeclyde Royal Family and the Ascart House had declared war on the Elric House.