6 Chapter 5: Princess Ekaterina“s Journey Part I
It was already the first day of the month of Nivôse of the year 1026 in the Hexian Calendar, the general calendar agreed upon by the great powers and the religious authorities of the Hexian spirituality eons ago.
The royal capital of Grandall was covered in a thin layer of frost, an indicator of the early winter season. In every corner of the city, people carried thick pieces of lumber or coal to warm up their houses. Merchants flooded the central market, the Konigmarkt, selling winter necessities such as warm coats, boots, flints, and lumber at highly profitable prices. The citizens paid with painful expressions as their wallets lightened significantly after each purchase, some grumbling about the damned weather, others complaining loudly about the merchants' hypocrisy. All knew, however, that the merchants' presence is crucial to their wellbeing during the colder times of the year.
The merchants were not the only ones who filled the public plazas of Grandall. In fact, performers of all sorts rented entire inns and performed in the Lebensfreud Plaza, the Konigmarkt or the high-class Lorelei Opera Hall throughout the season. This very phenomenon of the mass arrival of artists became part of Gandall's cultural heritage. This, combined with the strong presence of merchants from everywhere in the continent, only strengthened Grandall's status as the Eastern Region's economic powerhouse during the season where agriculture was impossible.
In the residential districts, children were running around in their brand new winter clothes. A few steps from them, the parents pictured the sorry state the coats will be at the end of winter. Meanwhile, cat families desperately searched for warm places to spend the next few months.
Gloria Strasse, the street leading directly from the city walls to the Castle district, was filled with stagecoaches of all shapes and colors. They were owned or rented by regional feudal lords to escape the cold and loneliness of winter in their mansions in the capital. At times, curious little eyes would peek out of the coach to have a look at the capital's splendor. At the same time, coachmen chatted among each other, catching up about the events of the past year. Due to the greater than usual presence of horses in the city and especially on Gloria Strasse, the odor was enough to make a man faint. Despite that, business carried on as usual. Everyone was too busy to care about the smell. That is, except a few young ladies who sat in one of the many coaches.
"Bonny, can you please light my incense for me?" A young noble girl said while covering her nose with her handkerchief. "I am afraid my poor nose cannot stand this foul smell a second more!"
As if on cue, Bonny the maid quickly took out a match and lit up a handful of incense sticks held vertical by an elegant ceramic flower with holes. Instantly, the bad smell of the road disappeared and a sweet fragrance of roses filled the inside of the coach. The coachman leading the horses suddenly wanted to throw up, since he was smelling both the pleasant odor from the inside and the smell of horse dung from the outside. Only his strong sense of duty for his mistress kept him from embarrassing himself.
The young lady was Ekaterina, Princess Edelweiss of the Kingdom of Lacrimosa. Accompanying her on her coach were 3 young, but outstanding, officer candidates fresh from the Elite classes of the Königliche Kriegsschule. According to tradition, cadets from the Elite classes were tested with in-the-field missions throughout the Eastern and Central regions of the continent. As escorting the 7 years old princess safely to her winter residence was a matter of national importance, the 3 cadets were unusually tense. They were graduating next summer during the month of Messidor and this mission was of utmost importance and will be a conclusive factor to their unit assignment. They were the most promising students of the Class of 1026, the graduating cohort of the Kriegsschule. Furthermore, they were also the 3 top cadets of the Elite Cavalry Program, so both the reputation of the school, the cavalry and their families were influenced by their performance during this task. As they were only still cadets, all of them suspected that the Lacrimosian Life Guard Cavalry regiment has sent people to supervise, grade and protect them in case of necessity, but since they were not 100% sure, it was safest to assume the worst possible circumstances.
Not much fanfare marked the princess' departure, as the roads were extremely busy and the Kingdom's Administration Department was already overwhelmed this time of the year. Of course, the King could have used his rights to organize a grand departure ceremony for Ekaterina, but then again, that was a waste of time and resources for both the royal family and the Grandall Government. The princess' travel was thus known only to the army and the high Elegantsiya community.
Ekaterina's destination was four days' travel from the capital city by coach. It was the City of Neuchâtel, a wealthy city at the foot of the Schranke Mountain range. It was famous for its red wine and hot springs, but that is not the reason why Ekaterina was going there.
A few years ago, she passed by this city during a family vacation to Pallonia, one of the most beautiful city-states in the Cadornian Confederation. They have stayed two days at a family friend's mansion in Neuchâtel. These short days have been the most enlightening days in Ekaterina's life until now and they were always at the back of her mind. The reason for this is simple, yet at the same time, complex beyond her comprehension. She has always been a highly aware person since she was too young to even speak clearly, a very precocious child. Therefore, she was also aware that how her twin brother and she were differently treated by the people around them. They would always try to win their favor by yielding to whatever they wanted. They would see her and her brother only for their status and that unsettled her greatly. On the other hand, her brother would always tell her to profit as much as possible because they were lucky to be born in a royal family and the people's good actions towards them were of their own free will.
In Neuchâtel, however, her family was treated like anyone else of the Elegantsiya. Her parents and their friends would call each other by their pet names and she was also no exception. There, everyone called her "Erika" and not "Your Highness" or "Princess". People would not go out of their ways for her just because she was a princess and there was this one boy who's a year younger than her who treated her as his true friend.
Most of her memories in this area of Lacrimosa revolved around this boy. He was called Frederick, son of her mother's good friend Laura. Much has happened during the short days she spent in Neuchâtel. In the beginning, Frederick and she got lost in the massive manor hallways when he brought her to steal macarons in the kitchens. Granted, they managed to find the kitchens and have eaten plenty of tasty pastries, but they could not have gone back to the tea room on their own. Usually, Erika was able to find her way in the Royal Palace, which was many times bigger than the Eastphalia family's manor, and even the entire Castle district was no problem for her. The punch, though, is that her personal maid Bonny was always there to show her the way. Seeing no other options, little Frederick started crying out loud. So loud that everyone in the house heard him and ran to their rescue. This episode was engraved in Erika's mind as the funniest thing she has ever seen. His face while crying was priceless! Erika was also emotionally moved, though, since Frederick never let go of her hands when they ran through hallways in search for an exit. That made her feel safe and warm. During the following day, they have gone in the hot springs in their hosts' secret underground spa facility and enjoyed the heavenly treatment befitting of the imperial families of yore. Remembering her good times there only heightened her anticipation for her arrival.