Coco thought she had to stop being a whining little brat. The journey to the Fortress City wasn’t as bad as she had imagined before. Even, she quite enjoyed the trip although now she couldn’t just admit it to the princess how wrong she was. The road wasn’t as smooth as one in the city, but it was quite big and not at all bumpy like what those nosey merchants in the market said to her. Coco couldn’t take her eyes off the window of the carriage which took them to the Fortress City.
Just when they passed the city wall, they would see the houses became less and less, until one point they can only see the huge land. The farmland. The cows looked a little bit bigger than those in their own kingdom, so did the sheeps and horses. Behind them, a grey sky and a silhouette of the mountain. The Queen’s Mountain.
And instead of robbers stopping them on their way, they had a very nice company for their small adventure. Even when they started to enter the little forrest, which marked the border between the farms and the compound of huge buildings where they took all the products from the farms and distribute it all over the four kingdoms. Or at least that was what their nice new friend told them.
It’s an old lady and her grand daughter who shared the rent of the carriage with Coco and the princess. Her hair is almost all white, and it scared Coco a little. Old person always reminded her of her dead great grand parents who lost in the sea – her parents said their ghost were protecting their house. She couldn’t believe she remembered that, it must have been more than fifteen years since she saw her parents. When she thought this, she regretted a little for not seeing them before she left because she might never came back.
Coco glad she did not understand what the old lady told them, because apparently she talked a lot. Princess Cinnamon looked so enthusiastic listening and replying, and sometimes translating to Coco some interesting new fact she just found out from her new buddy. And that was quite distracting for Coco who would rather enjoying the mystifying little woodland outside the carriage than drowning in the information overload their carriage-mate presented to them cheerily.
Her name was Symphony, and her little granddaughter who has been sleeping since they entered the forrest was Melody. Symphony had been a governess in a very rich family in the Harbour City for decades and just this year she decided to dedicate herself for her own family. She reminded Princess Cinnamon to the teachers the Queen hired to educate her- who always impressed her with new things. But in her kingdom, teachers are jobs for males, she was so astonished that in this land, women could teach too.
Symphony told her about the history about the cities in the kingdoms. She told them about how the Fortress City had changed over the centuries, and what had happened before the forts had been built. She said it used to be a busy city where the merchants from all over the world came and trade. They had a big port and a lot of alehouse where the sailors young and old would gather and found ladies to have fun with.
“Unfortunately,” Symphony frowned when she said this, as if she had to break a bad news. “The Red Beards – the most ruthless land and sea conqueror, the big vicious pirates who killed men and rape women in the cities of course after they burnt down all the emptied warehouses – came with a hundred warships and threatened the sailors and the merchants. They stopped trading in the Fortress City, and went to the Harbour City instead.”
“The ruling king at that time built fortresses at the cliff and the shoreline, and sunk the Red Beard’s ships. Some survived but they flee and landed in the northern islands. It is said they created a new civilisation there,” Symphony shrugged. Princess Cinnamon translated this to Coco who was then quite impressed by how the princess could make herself useful at something. Coco shivered a little every time she recalled the days when she had to train her cooking and bed-making skills.
“The city was never returned to its glory though. The war took too long so that when it’s over the merchants had decided to move completely to the Harbour City. Of course there are local market there, but Fortress City was never as big as it used to be. But, this unfortunate event had resulted to the city’s hidden treasures,” said Symphony. The princess eyes widened when she heard that.
“Every year the city would have a one month festival to celebrate their victory upon the Red Beards. Their best musicians would perform every night and day near the city castle, which was actually a very big fortress where all the townsfolk hid every time the Red Beards attacked the city. This city spawned with musicians. And poets too, but most of them are musicians. Their musicians would go all over the land to perform, and go back to their hometown to perform in the Victory Month Festival,” the little Melody woke up just when her grandmother mentioned festival. Princess Cinnamon wondered if she was ever asleep to begin with.
But unlike Melody, Coco couldn’t care less about the music festival. She just realised how odd the forrest was when the wind blew one falling leaf through the window. The leaf was red. The whole forrest was red. And for the first time since she sat inside the carriage, she asked the princess a question.
“Why is the forrest red? What kind of tree is that?”