Episode 141. From a Child to a Girl (2)

Because of the separation between the inner and outer palace, Seon-Hyeok had been unable to meet with the female knight since arriving at the capital, but Asha Trail was now in front of the princess.

“Sir Trail?”

When he acknowledged the knight, she nodded in return.

“Sir Trail, you are excused.”

But something was strange. The princess had always cherished Asha Trail, but her attitude towards the knight at the moment felt somewhat cold.

“I will be leaving now.”

As Seon-Hyeok stared blankly at the knight, already disappearing into the distance, the princess spoke up.

“You’re earlier than expected today.”

Her tone was as warm as always.

“I’m happy to meet you regardless of the time of day, but I am not feeling well today. I’d like to postpone our meeting until tomorrow – would that be acceptable?”

Was I mistaken?

No, that was not possible. It was clear that the princess had not just excused the knight, but rather had dismissed her. He was able to tell that much.

“Then I’ll return at this time tomorrow.”

Seon-Hyeok asked Ophelia to take care of herself before turning to leave.

“Earl Drachen.”

When he returned to his accommodations, Asha Trail was there waiting for him.

“First, I would like to congratulate you on your engagement.”

The knight congratulated Seon-Hyeok as though the scene he had just witnessed was a lie.

“Things just happened to go that way.”

It was definitely a huge stroke of luck, but he was not so brazen as to take pride in his engagement with a young girl. Rather, the congratulations felt awkward.

“How are matters outside?”

Seon-Hyeok quickly changed the subject.

“Squire Julian is having a rough time dealing with all the nobles seeking an audience with you.”

Because he was stuck inside the palace, it seemed Julian was suffering on his behalf. When he expressed his worries that the nobles would take drastic actions against the young squire, Asha Trail gave a faint smile.

“You often forget who Squire Julian’s grandfather is.”

“Ah…”

Seon-Hyeok belatedly recalled that Julian’s grandfather was none other than Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk, one of the most renowned men in the kingdom.

“That girl’s even more skilled in that regard than as a swordsman. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”

Then again, Julian had been in charge of dealing with the nobles all this time. There was nothing exceptional about the current situation.

“More importantly, what are you doing in the inner palace?”

“The royal princess had a separate request for me.”

Perhaps Asha hadn’t been able to meet her demands?

Aside from that, he could not think of an explanation for the chilly atmosphere he had just witnessed. He wanted to ask what exactly had conspired, but Asha Trail did not show an inclination to explain.

“Hm…”

However, in contrast to the worrying Seon-Hyeok, Asha Trail’s expression seemed tranquil. If anything, she looked carefree. It was as though she had let go of her burdens.

“Then I’ll be on my way. If you send word before you leave the palace, I’ll be there waiting.”

The knight soon said goodbye and disappeared.

***

“Sir Trail really is straightforward.”

Princess Ophelia let out a sigh after sending Seon-Hyeok away.

She had summoned the knight in order to retract the previous orders she had given her. Surprisingly, however, the inflexible knight had preemptively notified her that she could not follow those original instructions.

“When I asked her to keep an eye on Earl Drachen’s movements, it was a long time before our engagement had been decided. It was clear that the request would become meaningless in the near future – and not at all wise to share her reservations at this time.”

“It was probably so she could be honest with herself.”

King Theodore answered the princess as she mumbled to herself.

“Your Majesty.”

“Ophelia, my beloved daughter. You still have a long way to go.”

It did not sound like a rebuke. The head of House Adenstein, the man nobles were more hesitant to deal with than anyone else, spoke to his daughter in a warm voice as though he was telling her a fairy tale.

“Each person has his own perspectives and his own purpose. It seems you do not yet understand.”

King Theodore asked his daughter if Asha Trail seemed like the right person to covertly spy on someone, and after a moment of thought, the princess shook her head.

“And does that indicate anything about her loyalty?”

The princess once again shook her head.

“Do you remember what I told you about making use of people?”

The princess unhesitatingly responded to King Theodore’s question.

“If I can earn their loyalty with sincerity, that is optimal. If that’s not possible, then it’s best to hold onto what they need and get their cooperation. And if even that is impossible, then the third option is to have what they fear and ensure that they cannot act rashly towards me.”

The king, satisfied with her response, continued.

“And which of the three categories does Sir Trail belong to?”

The princess immediately responded.

“The first. She is a loyal and trustworthy supporter.”

“Then considering your expression remains sour despite being aware of that, it seems you’re simply upset that you lost a close companion.”

Ophelia could not deny her father’s words. Even when she thought about it, she wondered whether she had become emotional at the unexpected attitude of her loyal knight, as she had always put the princess as her top priority.

“People like Sir Trail are rare. Do not test her allegiances again.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

Both King Theodore, the one asking the questions, and Princess Ophelia, the responder, felt natural in this interaction, as though such conversations between the two were commonplace.

“I am curious whether your relationship with Earl Drachen has progressed.”

The princess hesitated for the first time, and she remained quiet.

“Oh?”

Despite her silence, the princess’ face was full of emotion.

“It seems like you’re interested in Earl Drachen.”

King Theodore let out a sigh as he watched his daughter.

“Well, that’s for the best. If there are no qualms on your mind, then ensure that you make his heart yours.”

Although he had told her something similar not long ago, his tone this time was much more forceful.

“Have you ‘observed’ him?”

The princess’ eyes were wide as she noticed her father’s unusual tone.

“I did, but I could not observe anything.”

This time, even the astute princess was unable to understand what the king was saying.

“I certainly observed him, but I couldn’t see anything.”

“Ah…”

Having never seen her father look flustered before, the princess seemed genuinely surprised.

“It can only be one of two cases.”

King Theodore smiled as he looked at his daughter’s shocked expression.

“He is either a man of such high rank that even the Eye of Adenstein is unable to observe him, or he’s a man with no ability at all.”

He suggested two possible options, but in reality, the answer was clear.

“But Your Majesty, you’ve observed his potential in the past.”

King Theodore nodded.

“I was able to before, but I cannot now. The answer is obvious.”

The king’s clear eyes looked towards the direction of Seon-Hyeok’s accommodations.

“Earl Drachen’s value has increased during the most recent war – more so than anyone in the capital.”

***

The capital, Adenstein, was in a frenzy. Word that Earl Drachen, the hero with unmatched fame in recent years, was engaged to Princess Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein had spread.

‘Engagement of the Most Stunning Treasure of Adenstein to Earl Drachen!’

‘The Biography of Earl Drachen: From Foreigner to Member of the Royal Family.’

The engagement of the kingdom’s hero to the beautiful princess made headlines in all of the capital’s newspapers, and the people likewise spoke about the auspicious event whenever they gathered.

Only the nobles acting out of self-interest expressed concern about this union of the century. However, they were well aware that they lacked the justification to reverse the royal decree, and instead belatedly tried to rub shoulders with the fast-ascending foreigner.

Unfortunately, Earl Drachen remained confined to the royal palace and was not seen since that fateful meeting, and the nobles had no choice but to ask for favors from his young squire.

“My master is Earl Leihelm, who has deep roots in the east…”

“I came from the Rosendaro earldom from the north. Please send Earl Drachen our regards…”

At this point, it did not matter whether the nobles were on the side of the royalty or nobility. Regardless of their allegiance, they all wanted to establish as close a relationship with the new locus of power in the Adenstein court.

“This is exclusively produced within our territory…”

“Good weapons and armor are best reserved for a knight…”

The nobles did not stop at letters, and instead opted to send lavish gifts. They were desperate to have Seon-Hyeok remember their houses in any way possible.

“I will be sure to deliver the letter when the earl returns.”

“I am certain Earl Drachen will love this great and generous gift.”

Julian would have sent the messengers on their way if they were from lesser families, but each and every one of them represented a prominent house in the kingdom.

Unexpectedly, it was Princess Ophelia who managed to help Julian as she, befitting her conscientious nature, wordlessly suffered from dealing with the visitors without complaint.

“I’ve seen you a few times, but I believe it is my first time speaking with you like this, Lady of Mangsk.”

“Right now, I am not here as a representative of House Mangsk, but merely as Earl Drachen’s squire.”

The princess smiled as she saw Julian’s inflexible attitude. She felt it was fitting of a daughter of the Mangsk household, as they had been invariably loyal to the royal family for generations.

“From today on, stay in the inner palace and assist the earl in his matters.”

She took care of Julian warmly, as if taking care of her own family, and Julian soon told Seon-Hyeok about the princess’ kindness.

“Ah, it’s burdensome, really.”

Despite knowing how shrewd the princess was, Seon-Hyeok had no choice but to accept this favor. Unable to take care of his squire outside of his own territory, Seon-Hyeok found himself even more indebted to Ophelia.

“So how did this happen?”

“Events just turned out that way.”

“How can an engagement with the royal family ‘just turn out that way’?”

When Julian pressed on with a puzzled expression, Seon-Hyeok gave a general overview of the preceding events.

“It seems His Majesty thinks very highly of you.”

“It seems so. It feels burdensome.”

But contrary to his words, Seon-Hyeok’s expression was bright. He had become quite accustomed to life in the royal palace.

Perhaps Julian felt wronged by her master’s expression? She pouted, seeing Seon-Hyeok at peace while she agonizingly dealt with the nobles outside.

“But it really is reassuring that you’re around me like this.”

“You seem to be doing perfectly well without me.”

But despite what she said, Julian quickly loosened up and clung to his side.

However, she could not follow her lord into his confidential meetings with King Theodore, and as such, Seon-Hyeok was soon left alone in a conference room deep within the castle.

“Sir Lafayette. Sir Roland.”

When he acknowledged the two familiar faces in the room, the Knights of the Azure Sky bowed deeply and greeted him.

“Now. I understand you are all very busy, but I gathered you here today to discuss the secret agreements between the Griffindor and Noctein Kingdoms.”

Before Seon-Hyeok and the two knights could exchange more than a few words, King Theodore appeared and immediately got to the point.

“Sir Lafayette.”

When he was called on, Lafayette of the Burning Flame immediately introduced himself and began to explain the situation.

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