At The Northern Fort / At the Northern Fort Chapter 7
The group in charge of the Northern Fort was the Ninth Branch of the Kingdom’s Knightly Order.
The Branch Vice-Captain — the second-in-command Grail recently found something joyful.
Though he was someone who was both respected and feared by his subordinates, at the moment his sharp gaze was dulled as he stared at a certain creature.
It was a white fox that had settled in the shed next to the quarters four days ago.
Though he was not certain since he did not investigate, Grail believed that it was a she. Lovely and timid, it felt like a ‘girl’.
Though she was always up earlier than Grail, today she was sleeping in. She was wrapped up in blankets in the old shed, sleeping peacefully.
Though she seemed too small to be on her own, the mother fox was nowhere to be seen. Grail thought that she wandered over here after the mother abandoned the youngling. Perhaps she couldn’t even get food on her own, since he had never seen her hunt.
After glancing at the sleeping fox cub for a while, he left the window.
Having finished changing his clothes, he headed to the dining hall in the base. It was reserved for the knights working in the fort.
Because it was still early, there weren’t many people here. Still, it quickly became crowded over the next thirty minutes.
“Good morning, Vice-Captain.”
After exchanging greetings with his subordinates, who also woke up early, he got his breakfast on a tray.
He sat down alone and ate silently. As he returned the tray, he spoke out to the Chef, a man who had nice physique and had worked here for a long time now.
“Can I get the morning portion?”
“Oh, Mr Vice-Captain. I made sure to set some aside.”
He knew of the existence of the fox cub from Grail’s stories. And he was the one preparing food.
Since it was just making the knight’s food less salty, it wasn’t a hard task. Today’s breakfast for the fox was a soup of turnips, cabbage and bacon with bread. Soup was common for breakfast meals.
They thought that foxes enjoyed meat, but this fox cub didn’t really seem to. Vegetables, bread, fruit, she ate them all happily.
In contrast, she seemed to be bad with raw meat. While she gladly ate meatballs and roasted meat, when she was given fresh, blood-dripping deer meat she looked disgusted and took a few steps away.
Perhaps she thought that raw meat was not food because she only had her mother’s milk so far?
“It’s the first time giving her turnips. I hope she likes them.”
The Chef said as he held out a dish with food in it. He didn’t care too much for the knights since they ate whatever was given, but he took more care for the fox cub. She didn’t seem to like green peas, since she left them yesterday.
“It doesn’t have a strong flavour, so it should be alright. Thank you as always.”
When Grail said that,
“You’re welcome. I’m also happy when she eats it all up,”
laughed the Chef. Though he hadn’t gotten to meet her yet, he was excited like a grandfather who just got a grandchild. It seemed that he was going to make jerky for the fox cub again today.
While smiling at the energetic Chef, Grail took breakfast for the baby fox and headed back to his room.
When he opened his room’s door, the baby fox was by the window.
She woke up while Grail was at the dining hall.
She was stretching out her neck on the wooden box, but from where Grail was he could only see her front paws, her large ears and the top bit of her head.
Maybe she was hungry. Seeing her sniff about and trying to peek into the room was lovely, and was rather destructive towards his stern demeanour.
Though Grail was usually expressionless, even he ended up smiling at the sight.
When Grail approached and opened the window, the fox cub quickly darted off the box and distanced herself. Grail thought that she might have gotten used to it by now, but she still looked afraid of coming near. Even when he placed the dish on the second step, she just hung about and avoided coming closer.
However, when Grail closed the window, she nimbly climbed up the box and started eating.
At first, she became tense just from Grail watching, but now as long as there was the window in between she seemed to be fine.
While lifting up her head sometimes to see Grail, she gobbled with a haguhagu.
“See you in the evening.”
Grail said to the cub while tapping the closed window with his fingers. Everything she did was interesting, and never ceased to amuse, but unfortunately it was time for training. He left the room and headed to the training grounds.
Being the vice-captain, Grail had to work with documents a lot. He also supervised his subordinates, so no longer did he train until he couldn’t move.
Thus, before work began, he would always train alone in the morning. He did the basic routines, like muscle training, running, and swordsmanship training (basic things, but enough for a normal knight to keel over in exhaustion) before going off to work.
Grail did not know that his subordinates called him ‘iron man’ behind his back with fear.
After Grail finished his morning training, he would hole up in his room and focus on paperwork.
Then when it was time for the noon break, he put the pen and paper down and left the room.
In this country, people ate large meals, but only twice a day: breakfast and dinner. If there was something around noon, it was a snack.
Grail, too, was not going to eat even though he left his seat at noon. He went in the other direction from the dining hall in the third floor corridor.
Looking outside the window at the end of the corridor, he saw the training ground. It seems that the 6th brigade was using the ground this morning, but now they were moving inside.
The ‘division’ at this fort, the 9th Division, was divided into ‘brigades’ that acted on different schedules. The 1st Brigade to the 4th Brigade were guarding the borders, while the 5th Brigade patrolled the city and the 6th Brigade trained.
After people left the training ground, the white fox approached.
It came as expected. Grail smiled. The fox cub looked about to see if there were any people around and crept to the centre.
Because it snowed again yesterday, there were no footprints. The only footprints that were there were those of the 6th brigade.
The cub scanned her surroundings once more, then started running on the snow. At first she was just walking all over the place, but then she started diving into the snow with a glint in her eyes.
Burying herself into the snow with only her ears and tails out, or rolling and jumping into the snow again.
He saw her play along like this before at the training ground so he thought that she might come again, and he was right.
‘It never gets tiring to look at,’ thought Grail.
“Ah! If it isn’t the Vice-Captain.”
At the quiet corridor, a bright voice rung out.
When Grail turned around, his subordinate, who had flamboyant blond hair, was approaching. It was Kix, a promising young soldier, though he had the fault of behaving flippantly.
“Whatcha doing here, sir?”
Kix was one of the few subordinates who spoke to Grail without restraint.
Grail silently pointed to the window with his chin.
“Nn? …Oh, it’s a fox!”
Kicks said after he saw the baby fox playing around on the training ground.
“Huh, I guess that’s the rumoured white fox.”
Truth be told, it was not only Grail that knew of the fox cub.
Many other knights saw the baby fox running about the training ground.
And that rumour spread among all the knights in just four days.
Because of all the snow, in winter the Northern Fort had this depressing feeling, but this lovely baby fox healed the hearts of the knights.
These rough men were happy to find tiny paw prints on the snow.
However, other knights did not know that Grail was taming her. Only the chef knew.
Grail was not hiding it on purpose and would have gladly answered any questions, but no one asked.
“So you like animals, Vice-Captain?”
Kix said as he stared at the baby fox.
He continued talking as his lips were distorted as if to suppress laughter.
“So, like the Branch Captain, you unexpectedly like cute animals? …Pfft, that feels so off.”
To his rude subordinate who finally burst into laughter, Grail flashed a cold smile. He put a hand on Kix’s shoulder.
“Kix, if you have free time, please be my opponent for sparring. I’m not sure if I can go easy though……”
After his work was over in the evening, Grail headed to the dining hall. After having his portion, he went to the chef and got the portion for the baby fox as always.
When he went into his room and lit the lights, the baby fox noticed and let out a small bark. She couldn’t wait for the food.
He opened the windows, left the food and went away. Because the fox cub seemed to get nervous when Grail approached.
While she was eating, Grail took his coats off, unlaced his shoes and prepared to take a bath.
A while later, a cry, “Kyan!” could be heard. It was a signal that she finished eating. When Grail approached the window, there was an empty dish on the wooden box and the baby fox was staring over at Grail a little ways off at the shed.
The food seemed to be good, since she was licking her lips many times.
The baby fox looked to have opened up to Grail, but she didn’t seem to trust him fully yet. The subtle distance between the two is the proof of that.
From the moment they met, that distance did not close that much.
Grail wanted to touch the fluffy looking fur of the baby fox, but she became alarmed when he approached.
However, today, he thought that he just might be able to.
Grail had a secret weapon to close that distance in his hand — a piece of jerky that he got from the Chef.
It was made from chicken breast meat, battered into thin strips and baked in an oven. It didn’t have any seasoning, but the flavour of the meat was condensed, that it probably was good enough for human tongues as well.
Grail held up the jerky and shook it at the baby fox.
The baby fox tilted her head, as if to say “Hm?” and approached Grail to check what it was.
When she arrived at the wooden box, she caught the aromatic whiff of the jerky, which made her tail stand straight.
She was still hesitant to approach Grail, but she was bothered by the jerky. She nervously moved about the window, while having her eyes locked on the jerky.
“Here. It’s good.”
Grail tore off a small piece from the jerky, placed it into his hand and stretched his arm out. Up until now, the baby fox never ate directly from his hand. This was a big challenge for Grail too.
He wanted to tell her that there was nothing to fear about human hands.
Lured by the smell, the baby fox placed one paw on the first step off the wooden box. It was the closest she ever got to Grail.
She desperately stretched her neck out, but it seems that she then realised that she had to move in closer to get the jerky. Trembling, she placed one paw on the second step and got on.
She smelled Grail’s hands and then smelled the jerky. Meanwhile, Grail was trying his best to not move so that the baby fox won’t be surprised.
“She didn’t need to sniff that carefully,” one might have said from seeing her sniff about cautiously. Then, the baby fox took one piece and swiftly got off the wooden box.
After she got an adequate distance away from Grail, she chewed on her prize.
The wet nose of the baby fox touched his hands, just momentarily. Grail was moved by that feeling. It wasn’t as though he had a fetish for noses. He was just happy that she took some food from his hand.
Though it was from food, the distance between the two got closer.