Vestia’s Royal Castle
Guendalfa led us out of the Adventurers’ Guild and onto the street after boasting that he would introduce us to Kiara. His massive frame parted the bustling crowd like water, making it really easy for us to follow behind him. We could see the Royal Castle from the Adventurers’ Guild but that didn’t mean it was close by. That was just how big it was; it’s sheer size messed with my sense of distance. It took us twenty minutes to walk from the Adventurers’ Guild to the gate of the Royal Castle. As we approached, we saw that the walls around the castle were just as tall and wide as the walls surrounding Vestia. There was even a moat carved around the castle like a muddy serpent gouged into the earth, complete with a wooden drawbridge featuring a stone gatehouse on top.
“This castle was designed as the capital city’s final bastion,” explained Guendalfa. He seemed to have decided to play the role of tour guide for us. “If need be, the castle can be turned into a fully armed and fortified stronghold. Any enemies that manage to breach the city’s walls will have to deal with a second set.”
As we approached, a guard appeared out of a house next to the drawbridge on the town side.
“Halt,” he said. “You are now entering upon the royal castle. All who wish to pass must first validate their identities.”
Guendalfa approached the guard.
“I am Guendalfa, son of the Patriarch of the Rhinokin. With me is the Black Lightning Princess herself! I vouch for her identity on my honour. I also carry a letter of recommendation from the guildmaster in Vestia.”
He handed over a black card and a sealed letter to the guard. After opening up the letter and reading the contents carefully, the guard looked at us in disbelief.
“You could get an audience with the king with this letter,” he muttered.
An audience with the king? What the hell kind of recommendation did that guildmaster write us? He puts way too much faith into us for just completing one delivery quest.
It would make sense if the guildmaster had planned to give Fran such a recommendation all along with the quest as a pretext to give it to her. The guild probably wanted to build ties with the first black catkin to evolve since the tribe’s downfall. Fran may as well have been a living legend, and because of that, the guild wanted to gain her favor early into her career. Likewise, the Beast Lord had given her a crest with his personal ensignia engraved into it back in Ulmutt right after the tournament. He was probably thinking the same thing.
Actually given his musclehead personality, probably not. But Royce, his aide, had definitely thought that quickly establishing a working relationship with Fran was prudent given her circumstances.
I urged Fran to give the guard the crest. It was most likely a more trustworthy form of ID, and I figured there was no harm in showing it.
“This is…!” The guard’s eyes bulged from their sockets. Guendalfa also stared daggers into the crest.
“P-P-Please wait one moment, ma’am!” stuttered the guard and he dashed back into the guardhouse. We saw him hold the crest up to a crystal shard, which flashed briefly upon activation. Afterwards, the guard ran back to us and gingerly handed the crest back to Fran.
“H-here’s your ID back, ma’am,” he said. “Everything is in order. Please enter!”
He signaled behind him and the gates of the portcullis across the drawbridge slowly began to open.
“Amazing! You even had the Beast Lord’s crest with you,” said Guendalfa. “You didn’t need me at all. You should have left someone like me behind.”
Fran was right. Even if we wouldn’t have needed Guendalfa to pass through the gates, he really helped smoothen the process out by escorting us and interacting with the guard on our behalf. More importantly, his company had made us seem like the real deal. I was sure the guards would have doubted us more and spent more time investigating our motives had he not been present. I had to say, his change in attitude had really benefited us. Guendalfa’s behaviour had come as a bit of a surprise, but it was by no means unprecedented. Goldalfa had also become more deferential to Fran after losing to her in single combat.
After passing through the gates on the castle side, Fran and I noticed another set of walls set up down the road.
“Yes,” said Guendalfa. “The castle is right past it.”
“Why two walls?”
“The wall ahead of us separates the nobles and the common folk. The outskirts are designated as the living quarters for the guards and servants. It also works as a place for merchants to do business. Behind the wall is where you’ll find all the nobles.”
“How to enter?”
“Allow me to show you. Please follow me.”
We walked alongside the wall and found a massive gate as big as the entrance to the city. There was what appeared to be a large mansion built next to the gate. Guendalfa led us inside. The building’s lobby was enormous. It contained enough space to comfortably house several dozen people on top of the numerous guards and other staff members already stationed throughout. The rhinokin led us up to the counter and spoke to a receptionist.
“I am Guendalfa, and with me is the Black Lightning Princess. We are here to request an audience with my master, Kiara.”
“Very well, we will process your request,” said the receptionist. “Please allow us to guide you to a private waiting room in the meantime.”
Fran’s gaze curiously flickered back and forth as a guard guided us through the mansion. We went up stairways and down hallways, passing by many decorated waiting rooms before finally arriving at our destination.
“You see,” said Guendalfa, resuming his role as tour guide, “the royal family had this mansion built as an extravagant waiting room next to the gate. They wanted as many lounges and private rooms as possible. With security being as high as it is, it takes time to process even just one person’s entry request. And really, you can’t have nobles lining up outside like at some festival stall, can you?”
The guard stopped in front of an intricately patterned door and opened it. Inside was the most lavishly decorated room we’ve seen yet, complete with a sofa and two armchairs around a coffee table. It also contained a fireplace, an ornate desk with a matching chair, a bookshelf, and a window that let the gentle sunlight seep through. Fran and Guendalfa sat down on the sofa, with Guendalfa sinking a little deeper into the cushions than Fran. After a couple minutes, there was a knock on the door. A maid entered with a cart featuring some freshly brewed tea and a variety of pastries. The moment the maid set the food onto the coffee table, Fran lunged at it. Guendalfa did the same after waiting for her to grab the first bite. Together, the two hungry companions devoured the snacks they were presented in less than a minute.
After letting out a contented sigh, Guendalfa once again began to speak.
“You really are something, Black Lightning Princess.”
“Nn?” said Fran, sipping on a cup of tea.
“You see, this room was made to entertain people of noble birth. Normally, common folk wouldn’t feel right being in such a fancy place, but you look right at home,” he said. “The food too. What they just brought us was some high class stuff but you scarfed it right down like it was ‘nuthin.”
“Well of course. I am a noble, so this much is normal for me.”
Fran and I stared.
What the hell! He was a blue blood?! How the hell does he still have peerage given the attitude he was going around with?
“What? Why are you so surprised?” laughed Guendalfa. “I know I don’t seem like a noble, but my father is technically the patriarch of an entire tribe of beastkin, so I’m used to all the bells and frills that comes with having status.”
After that surprising revelation, a knock came from the door.
“Excuse me. Madam Fran, Mr. Guendalfa, Lady Kiara will see you now.”
The door opened and two maids were waiting for us. We followed them deep into the castle, passing by large banquet halls and wide ballrooms along the way.
“You used to be able to find her on the practice grounds in the outskirts of the castle,” said Guendalfa. “But lately her health has been getting worse, so she’s been confined to her room.”
“Bad health? Will be okay?” asked Fran.
“I’m worried too,” he replied. “She is getting pretty old. But the fact that they let us see her means she’s alright.”
It can’t be helped. She’s already like 70 years old.
“It’s finally time to meet Kiara,” I said to Fran.