7 The Steel Valkyries
After breakfast, Elise took Ashley towards the stables where she had left the carriage and horses. The nobleman she had travelled with was nowhere to been seen but given that she had offended the royal family, she did not blame him. The horses neighed cheerfully when they saw their mistress and Ashley excitedly used her chance to pet the horses quite a few times.
They settled into the carriage with Elise holding Ashley on her lap and left the gates of the capitol at a fast pace. Elise had ordered her knights to stay in the area of Harris Village in case of emergencies.
As the carriage rode along to the village, Elise chatted absentmindedly with Ashley as she was distracted by the thoughts running through her mind. The number one priority was to figure out the meaning of her dreams and what did the voice mean when it called her daughter a 'villainess'.
In addition, there was a likely chance that the royal family would seek compensation for her actions in the assembly, so she needed to guard against attacks in the dark. "Perhaps I should transfer one of my personal guards to Ashley." She muttered to herself. As the beautiful scenery of the countryside flashed by, she allowed herself to relax slightly.
I spent the carriage ride with mommy on her lap, it was super comfortable! I saw the trees fly by and asked her a ton of questions. Apparently, we are going to travel to her home in the far north, before we get there. She told me the stories of her homeland and every spring there is this big scary thing called a monster wave. Mommy said hundreds of monsters and magic beasts try to invade the castle. It sounds so scary! But mom said that she is strong enough to wipe out all of them, then she had a prideful look on her face. I told her how impressed I was, and she couldn't stop smiling.
In the outskirts of the village was a small man- made camp, there was a small fire burning in the middle with tents forming a semi circle around it. The sound of steel rang heavily in the afternoon and figures could be seen sparring with one another. The horses were tied up to a nearby tree and were simply grazing peacefully. A small flag bearing the crest of house Blackwolf was planted at the entrance to the camp.
House Blackwolf were known for a particularly powerful military but the personal guards for the duchess were leagues above the rest. Rigorous testing and training were required before candidates were even allowed to take the test to qualify.
Elise's personal guards were all female with slender bodies almost like dancers that hid the surging magical powers or inhuman strength that flowed through them like an endless tide. There were six guards in total with four of them wearing hoods concealing their facial features. One of the hooded guards was Floira, she was Elise's right hand man and loyal assistant. When the personal guards fought on the battlefield together, their deadly strength made them a perfect team of slaughter.
They were known as the 'steel Valkyries' and when they entered the battlefield the war was already won. In an era of magic power and mana which could enhance the body, gender was not as important as mana utilisation so males and females were equally as effective in war. A lookout alerted the camp of intruders approaching and the guards glanced in the distance and saw the approaching Elise coming from the distance in her carriage.
The guards knelt immediately upon seeing their lady arrive. Elise picked Ashley up in her arms and walked out of the carriage door. Her poise and calm held a noble air of grace that caused the watching guards to look at her with reverence.
Floira spoke respectfully, "Welcome back my lady".
She looked up and realised something seemed to be wrong, why was their lady holding a little child in her arms? The child was wearing expensive noble clothes but why was she with their lady? Their lady had shown no interest in children prior and it was even a cause of concern among the citizens as she was the remaining member of house Blackwolf which currently had no other heirs left.
"My loyal knights, this girl is Ashley my daughter and from now on your priority is to protect her with your life!" Elise forcefully told her guards.
Murmurs began to spread, and the curious guards were quite confused about the situation but dared not speak up. Floira slowly removed the hood from her head and Ashley could see small red horns jutting from the side of her temples. She peered down to the little girl and the spectating guards also edged in closer to take a look. Ashley gasped in surprise; this scary lady was a demon! The demon frowned slightly, and Ashley shrank into her mother's arms. "So adorable" Floira whispered softly.
She broke out in a wide grin and finally let loose a barrage of questions for Elise."My lady where did you pick up this little angel!", she asked.This opened up the floodgates as all the remaining knights began to swam Ashley showering her with compliments. They were all enchanted by the beauty of their new little lady. All of her knights were quite hot blooded and soon the compliments immediately turned from sweet to competitive.
"Hello little lady, my name is Elena if you ever need to beat up bad guys just call me"
"You? If it weren't for me, you would be dead from that dire wolf. The lady deserves a real warrior to protect her"
"What! Which coward said that? I'll duel you on the spot!"
A strong atmosphere of gunfire filled the air as the knights were glaring at one another. Elise didn't know whether to laugh or cry. These were clearly her personal knights and yet they were fighting for a chance to be transfer.
"I am amazed that my loyal knights would be so eager to leave my side. Today has truly been an eye opener" Elise spoke teasingly with her violet eyes glowing slightly.
The remarks took a swift turn as the knights fought to re-establish loyalty.
"My duchess, you would have to kill me before I leave your side!"
"To serve you my lady is the greatest fortune I will receive in my lifetime!"
A particularly lazy knight simply added, "+1"
Ashley was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention but could tell that these ladies did not mean her any harm, so she smiled politely at them. Elise looked over each knight contemplating which would be the most suitable as a personal guard or attendant.
The first guard she considered would be Floira, in terms of raw combat strength she was second only to Elise herself. The only problem was her half demon heritage that had to be hidden whenever they travelled out of the dukedom. The twins Servia and Luxia were both dark elves that played the role of assassins, often able to kill a commander in a sea of enemies and emerge without even a scratch.
The last dark race guard was Elena who was a mermaid and was useful for her siren like voice that could distract and enchant all who could hear it. Unlike the others, there was no noticeable differences between her land- form and that of a normal human except for her unworldly beauty that could attract both men and women. Even Elise's heart had skipped a beat when she saw her for the first time so many years ago.
The two remaining guards were regular humans who had strong mana powers and played the role of mages who specialised in long range attacks and devasting firepower. Their names were Mary and Sophie and they were both former nobles whose houses had fallen into ruin.
"Well I can always make the decision when we reach back home" Elise thought to herself. She did not know who the right choice was as neither she nor her knights had interacted with young children before.
Elise gave the orders and the campsite was swiftly dismantled and packed up as it was a three-week journey back to the city of Arcadia in the heart of her dukedom, so they needed to hurry. Elise helped feed the horses while the packing was going on and out of the corner of her eye saw Ashley sitting down while the twins who were impressing her with illusions and party tricks. After her initial shock of seeing dark races, Ashley began to cautious interact with the knights who adored her like a little princess.
Being locked up at home meant she did not come into contact with the teachings of the Church of Light and her nervousness was more due to them being strangers rather than a place of prejudice.
Elise watched as the twins laughed and cheered alongside Ashley who looked up and met her eyes. She gave her a small wave and Ashley waved back quickly.
Floira gasped in shock as her formerly ice-cold lady had an expression of happiness on her face that she had no seen since the death of the former master and mistress of house Blackwolf.