༺ Unexpected Encounter (1) ༻
As we got closer to the capital, the speed of our carriage gradually slowed down. The reason was that the procession heading towards the capital was getting longer, filling up the entire road. There were people like me who rode in carriages, and even extravagant carriages that appeared to carry nobles passed by.
“Make way, make way! Out of the way!”
A carriage sped through the middle of the wide road. Unlike the one I was riding in, it had a proper roof and was drawn by two horses, a double-horse carriage. The carriage didn’t slow down at all, seemingly expecting people to clear the way for it.
“Whoa, damn i-! Ahem.”
A pedestrian who nearly got hit by the carriage was about to curse, but upon seeing the large noble crest on the carriage, bowed his head and hurried on as if nothing happened. He knew there was nothing to gain from picking a fight with a noble.
It was a wise decision. Judging by the double-horse carriage, the noble might not be very influential, but a noble is still a noble. During the war, what annoyed me the most was not the demon army but the officers who called themselves nobles and acted arrogantly.
It was no wonder that the saying “our real enemies are the officers” spread widely among the soldiers.
Of course, the demon army offered an equal death to both commoners and nobles, so those of that ilk didn’t usually live long. The problem was that incompetent officers didn’t die alone but dragged perfectly healthy soldiers down with them.
Anyway, because of such experiences, I felt uncomfortable around nobles. The only exception was the approachable and friendly general who didn’t flaunt his authority even to an ordinary soldier.
The once chaotic road became quiet again as if nothing had happened. The eyes of the people walking towards the capital were too tired to be angry at every little natural disaster. People like me who rode carriages were just a small part of the procession to the capital, while most were unable to ride carriages and struggled on foot.
I glanced at the profile of a passerby. He had a mixed complexion, which was hard to find in the Empire. But that wasn’t all. There were people of the plains tribe with their upper bodies exposed, dog beastmen with animal ears protruding, and even the rare sight of people from the far eastern lands.
“There are a lot of immigrants.”
The coachman picked up on my comment.
“That’s right. The capital is now bustling with immigrants and different races from all over the continent. It’s like a melting pot of races, you could say.”
“It sounds like it would cause many problems.”
“Of course. Those without money threaten the Empire’s security from the bottom, while the wealthy steal jobs from good citizens. Parasites who aren’t even Imperialists suck the Empire’s resources. If a different race had tried to get on my carriage, I would have given them a good beating.”
That wasn’t the problem I was referring to. As the conversation became uncomfortable, I just crossed my arms and nodded noncommittally.
With that simple gesture, the coachman got excited and went on about how much harm immigrants caused to the empire, how it made life difficult for good citizens, and even went so far as to argue that all immigrants and different races should be expelled from the Empire.
I half-listened to the coachman’s conversation while admiring the scenery outside the carriage.
Soon, the carriage arrived at the gates of the capital. Although it was just one of the many gates, there were so many people gathered that it was hard to count with the naked eye. I was skeptical if I could enter even if I waited in line all day.
Since I had already paid the fare, I jumped out of the carriage without delay. Then, the coachman who was unloading my luggage caught my attention with a loud voice.
“Sir, wait a moment!”
“Are you not looking for an inn to stay in? As you can see, the capital is swarming with outsiders, so it won’t be easy to find a room. If you’re having trouble finding a place to stay, try going here.”
The coachman handed me a small piece of paper with a smile. When I unfolded it, it read ’21st District, Red Bear Inn’.
“A hidden gem of the capital, perhaps? The rooms are clean, but the liquor is especially good. I feel like we have a connection, so I’m giving you this special recommendation. Farewell.”
I watched the coachman’s departing figure for a moment.
I wasn’t particularly keen on visiting an inn recommended by a racist. With a hesitant expression, I pocketed the paper the coachman had handed me. However, it couldn’t hurt to know about it.
I had no intention of waiting in that long line. But I also couldn’t enter through the special gate reserved for nobles.
I headed for a small entrance in the corner of the gate, barely noticeable unless you looked closely. This was the so-called staff entrance used by the soldiers guarding the gate when they came and went.
Of course, the small side entrance, which was only big enough for one or two people to pass through, was guarded by two armed soldiers.
As I approached the entrance, one soldier spoke in a threatening tone.
“Stop! This place is for authorized personnel only. You seem to be a soldier since you’re wearing a uniform, but if you have no business here, use the main gate.”
Then, the other soldier standing beside him slapped the back of the first soldier’s head.
With a smack, the helmet almost slipped off from the forceful blow. The struck soldier looked at his partner with a bewildered expression, but the other soldier didn’t care and approached me, saluting in the perfect imperial style.
“Glory to the Empire! Welcome, Captain. I am Corporal Gillem Rockson of the Capital Military Police.”
“Is he a new recruit?”
“I apologize. He has only been on duty for three days, so it must be his first time encountering such a situation. I will make sure to educate him properly later.”
“Well, he can’t be expected to know everything at first. It’s good to see him working diligently.”
“Thank you. Hey! You should salute quickly as well.”
“Th-thank you, Captain.”
Finally realizing the situation, the new recruit adjusted his helmet and bowed deeply. I nodded my head in acknowledgment and took out my transfer order from my pocket, handing it to Corporal Gillem. He respectfully accepted the document with both hands.
“Transfer to Philion Academy… Target: Captain Eon Graham. Confirmed. Welcome to the capital, Captain Graham.”
“Ah, thank you.”
Indeed, having a good rank had its advantages. If I had been discharged as planned or if Marquis Kalshtein hadn’t preserved my rank, I would have had no choice but to wait in that long line.
In fact, just showing my rank insignia would have been enough to pass through, but presenting the transfer order was a cleaner way to avoid any awkwardness.
After passing through the entrance and entering the capital, an overwhelming sight unfolded before me. On the streets carved from white marble, shops, and merchants selling all kinds of goods, from fragrances and textiles to weapons and armor, were lined up.
The faces of merchants calling out to customers with full voices were filled with energy, and the bustling yet dazzling scenery of the capital where all races and backgrounds blended together could be found here.
They say that the first sight of a city leaves a lasting impression, and my first impression of the capital was “splendor.” The streets, dyed with the orange hue of the sunset reflected by the marble, were enough to create a small ripple in my emotions, which had been parched by war.
Indeed, it was a sight one would miss if they left such a place to live in the countryside.
Appreciating the scenery is one thing, but I had to take care of my business. As I raised my head, I saw the blue darkness of the sky gradually approaching, tinged by the colors of the setting sun. The sun would set soon. At this time, going to the academy would be inconvenient for both parties, so I had to find a place to stay for the night.
I had received an address from Marquis Kalshtein to visit when I arrived in the capital, but I had no intention of going there. It was undoubtedly a noble’s mansion befitting the Marquis’s name, but that was too extravagant and burdensome. Having slept on the bare ground with pebbles rolling around during the war, a shabby inn would be more than enough for a night’s stay.
But had I underestimated the capital?
“A room, you say? None, none! Look elsewhere.”
“Do you think there would be rooms left with so many people coming in? I can serve you food, but there are no beds.”
“Looking for a room at this time? That might be difficult… Try going to the 4th district instead. It’s a place used by nobles, so there might be some rooms available. Of course, it will be very expensive.”
No matter how hard I looked, there was no inn with a room available. The capital was vast, and if I searched thoroughly, I might find one, but the sun had already set, and magic lanterns were being lit one by one on the streets. If I didn’t find a room before it got too late, I would have no choice but to sleep on the streets.
In this case, maybe the military police quarters… No, no. If a captain goes to ask for a place to stay for just one night because he couldn’t find a room, what would the military police think? Even so, I shouldn’t do that because it would be too embarrassing.
“…I guess I have no choice.”
I checked the piece of paper given to me by the gatekeeper. ’21st district, Red Bear Inn.’ The 21st district was on the outskirts of the capital, so it wasn’t too far from here. I would only be staying for one night, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
The 21st district could not be described as clean even in the best terms. Due to the capital’s characteristics, where public safety deteriorated as one moved away from the gates and the central road, the 21st district was somewhere between a commercial district and a slum.
This was a district where the struggling lower-class citizens and day laborers gathered to live their lives. You could feel a sense of life here, but there was a feeling that you shouldn’t walk the streets late at night.
The Red Bear Inn was located right in the middle of the 21st district. It was a place where workers who earned their living day by day gathered to have a glass of beer to finish off their day. The Red Bear Inn was an inn that had an atmosphere that perfectly matched its name and appearance.
That’s why I never imagined it. The moment I opened the door and entered.
“Welcome! Is it your first time here?”
I forgot what I was going to say as I turned to look at the golden-haired person behind me.
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