Episode 167. Ugly Duckling (2)

The ceremonies at the capital proceeded quickly.

“Foreigner from a faraway world you cannot return to, state your name and what values you will keep for the rest of your life.”

“Lee Soo-Hyuk. I will answer kindness with trust, and ill-will with justice.”

King Theodore gave a faint smile when Soo-Hyuk repeated the answer Seon-Hyeok gave the day he was knighted.

“Do you swear to keep that honest value until the day you close your eyes for the last time?”

“I swear it.”

The king tapped Soo-Hyuk’s shoulders and the back of his neck before declaring,

“I, Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein, the First Knight of Adensteindeclare you a knight in the name of Adenstein. May you be brave, courteous, and loyal.”

Having long dreamed about this moment, Soo-Hyuk was overcome with emotion and could not rise for a while. The king graciously helped the newly knighted man up to his feet.

“Foreigner. What value will you keep for the rest of your life?”

“I will answer kindness with trust, and ill-will with justice.”

Next up was a two-handed swordsman. When asked by the king, he, like Soo-Hyuk, gave the same pledge as Seon-Hyeok.

The nobles gathered at the ceremony began to talk among themselves. Though the situation was unprecedented, the king nonchalantly continued with the ceremony.

“I will answer kindness with trust, and ill-will with justice...”

When yet another foreigner repeated the same oath, the clever nobles realized who these foreigners were mimicking.

This was just the beginning. To a man, the vows of the 50-plus foreigners were all identical.

“Oh? To think that such a thing would happen…”

It was customary for none to intervene in a knight’s oath so long as it abided by the norms and justice expected in society. From that lens, the responses provided by the foreigners were fairly exemplary. There was no justification for the nobles to complain.

In the end, these nobles were forced to watch the conferment of honors with expressions full of discomfort.

“These damned guys…”

Seon-Hyeok found himself sighing as he watched the scene unfold. Just yesterday, the others asked him in detail about his own knighting, but he had not imagined that they had something like this in mind.

“You’ve really done it this time.”

Expression of excessive respect for a singular individual could potentially suggest an attempt to privatize this entire group of superhuman beings. In that sense, the current situation was not at all favorable to him.

But despite this, Seon-Hyeok laughed.

After all, when did I ever walk on eggshells around the nobles…

Now engaged to the royal princess, he was destined to be at odds with the pro-nobility faction here anyways. Nothing would change just because these nobles wanted to keep his power in check a bit more.

Right now, Seon-Hyeok just watched the foreigners participating in the ceremony with the pride of a parent watching his children succeed.

“Foreigner Choi Min-Young.”

All of the now-middle-tier class foreigners were knighted and received their merits. It was finally Min-Young’s turn to stand in front of King Theodore.

“Using my authority as the sole and rightful ruler of the Adenburg Kingdom, I grant you the title of viscount and the name Torhüter. As a noblewoman of the kingdom, do you pledge allegiance to the royal family and promise to set an example for the people?”

Her face contorted as she tried to suppress her rising emotions during the king’s words. She remained silent and impertinent.

“Do you swear not to forget the righteousness and dignity befitting the nobility?”

The king patiently waited for her answer, and when she finally overcame her emotions, Min-Young tearfully responded.

“I swear.”

“You will be careful, considerate, and fair so that you do not disgrace the Torhüter name.”

With the king’s declaration, Min-Young became a viscount. The good-for-nothing nuisance assigned to the kingdom’s periphery had become a dignified noble.

“We have made arrangements to celebrate this meaningful day, so all should attend and enjoy.”

As the king left his seat, the nobles began to gather among themselves and chatter.

“Hm. I fear their respect for Drachen may exceed their loyalty to the royal family.”

“Well, they came from the same place, so what could we know about their relationship?”

They spoke with hushed voices, but for the keen-eared Seon-Hyeok, the conversation was as clear as if they were speaking directly to him.

“They’re worried. Worried.”

He brazenly returned the uncomfortable gazes the nobles sent towards him. He did not avoid eye contact, but rather glared at each and every one of the nobles one after another, and the surprised nobles quickly moved to empty their seats.

“Tsk.”

Seon-Hyeok clicked his tongue at the sight.

It was always the same – the nobles gossiped behind his back, but they dared not say anything to his face. They might consider it a sophisticated approach to avoid unnecessary conflict, but for Seon-Hyeok, these were clear acts of cowardice.

However, it was not as though he could not understand their timid attitudes.

He was already too major an individual for the nobles to openly confront. Even if they ignored his reputation and background, the nobles could not easily criticize him for the events today.

After all, over 50 individuals with powers exceeding an average knight had all just emphasized their special relationships with him.

Perhaps the situation might have been different if there were only one or two of these foreigners. With these numbers, the nobles had to be afraid of opposing him recklessly.

Knights were traditionally organized in groups of 100. Within these groups, only 25 to 30 were knighted as superhuman beings. Simple calculations were enough to show that a group of people with collective strength over a unit of knights had come out in support of him.

Unless these nobles were truly brazen, it was natural that they held their tongues.

“No way they’ll say anything about it now, right?”

Seon-Hyeok’s problem was not the nobles’ opposition. It was whether and how the Adenstein royal family would accept the incident.

However, he was not too worried. If the royal family intended to keep him in check, they would not have entrusted these foreigners to him in the first place.

“We should hurry up with the wedding.”

It was as Seon-Hyeok anticipated. The bold ruler of the Adenburg Kingdom did not blame him for what happened during the conferment of honors. He only suggested that they proceed with his wedding with the royal princess as soon as possible.

“The royal family’s trust in you remains unchanged, but given the way that events have progressed, there is a need to officially strengthen our relationship.”

Soo-Hyuk and the others had essentially given an excuse for the king to rush the royal marriage. Seon-Hyeok likewise had no justification for delaying it any further.

“We will hold the ceremony as soon as Ophelia comes of age. I will not listen to any arguments.”

Having found his excuse, King Theodore did not give him any room for recourse. Of course, however, he simultaneously showed the graciousness to offer irresistible compensation for his demands.

“I intend to gather all of the newly knighted foreigners and form a knight division.”

Seon-Hyeok was not sure why the king was revisiting this issue, but given his inner turmoil, he listened in silence.

“And you will lead them.”

“What?”

Seon-Hyeok blurted out when he heard these unexpected words. King Theodore smirked as he threw the bait.

“Of course, all of this will only happen after the wedding ceremony.”

***

The events at the capital soon came to an end. Soo-Hyuk and the other foreigners were all left at the capital, with the purpose of serving in the Central Knights for the time being in order to improve their discipline and receive basic training as knights.

“We will see you soon.”

They lamented this separation, but as though they had been given insider information on the situation, the foreigners seemed confident that they would soon meet again.

“Yes. I will hope that day comes soon.”

With that farewell, Seon-Hyeok next looked for Min-Young.

She would be heading north instead of remaining in the capital. It was in order to refine her lacking ability to control the illusory beasts.

“I’m not confident. Pan said so as well – it’s too dangerous to open the gate to the illusion world without your presence.”

King Theodore knew that Min-Young was overly reliant on Seon-Hyeok. Thus, the king suggested he encourage her separately.

As expected, she looked even more nervous than necessary, and Seon-Hyeok took the time to reassure her.

“Don’t worry. The royal family isn’t so flippant as to mindlessly cause issues within their kingdom.”

“Even so…”

Min-Young still looked unwilling, but she did not remain stubborn. She was well aware of the disaster that could have resulted from her own lack of control.

You’re going, Marquis Reinhardt?”

Seon-Hyeok had reassured Min-Young, but he was unaware of the arrangements made to help her. For him, Marquis Reinhardt’s presence was a complete surprise.

“With the princess confined to the royal palace, there is not much to be done, and there are no other individuals suitable for this role.”

Seon-Hyeok could not guarantee victory over Marquis Reinhardt even after reaching his 3rd awakening. It was clear the royal family prepared nothing but the best.

“If there is something I cannot handle myself, the mages will do so. Apparently, those uninterested and aloof mages all jumped at the opportunity when they heard of the illusory beast.”

The royal family’s support did not end there. They had assigned high-ranking mages in case of other beasts with high physical resistance.

“Among them is Koenig, the self-proclaimed grand mage. He’s exceptionally arrogant, but given that he’s the owner of Gradus 5, his skills are proven.”

“A mage with Gradus 5? I can’t imagine what kind of monster he is.”

“It sounds like you’re suggesting I’m also a monster.”

Seon-Hyeok remained serious despite the marquis’ joking reply.

He knew that King Theodore highly valued the illusion beast tamer, but he did not anticipate the king assigning two of the most powerful individuals in the capital as mere escorts.

He had no idea what the king had in store for her.

“And so, you can focus on your own duties.”

“Ugh. That’s true, but…”

Seon-Hyeok sighed before bowing to the marquis.

“In any case, please take care of her. She’s still unstable in many ways, so I trust that you will guide her well.”

“You don’t need to worry.”

With that, Marquis Reinhardt, along with the other superhuman beings and Min-Young, set out for an unknown destination to the north.

Before he could leave the capital, Seon-Hyeok was required to attend a council reserved for the highest of nobility.

“We need to ensure the rebellious seeds growing in the Nordic Kingdom pay dearly for this!”

“How dare they take the pillars of the kingdom, then double down by setting loose a demonic creature! We have to punish those unpardonable beings responsible for this.”

As King Theodore had explained the torgos’ rampage as a Nordic scheme, they needed to at least pretend to devise a response.

“You nobles are absolutely correct. The Nordic lord deserves punishment for trying to undermine the well-being of our kingdom. And so, I ask, do you have any suitable response in mind?”

The nobles grew silent at the king’s question.

“We would have to cross through over 9 different kingdoms to reach the Nordic Kingdom on a military expedition. We cannot be certain whether these kingdoms would cooperate with us, and even if they did open their borders, how would we supply the troops? Would they even be able to demonstrate their true strength?”

“If we ally with the neighboring kingdoms and fight…”

“We would be fortunate if our forces were treated as any more than sword bearers. Are you suggesting that our kingdom’s precious knights and mages be used in such useless ways?”

Distance was the greatest problem. The distance between the Nordic and Adenburg Kingdoms was far too large for an immediate military response.

This was all part of King Theodore’s calculations. The king assigned blame for the torgos incident on a foreign kingdom despite knowing that the militant nobles would rise up in opposition because he had foreseen the ultimate end to these discussions.

“I, too, cannot contain my anger at the insidiousness of this evil lord, but in light of the turbulent political situation across the continent, I do not view this as a time for hasty responses. I suggest you contain your indignation as well – there will come a time to make them pay for their actions.”

In the end, the meeting ended without any concrete plans for retaliation. It was because no matter how much they pondered the situation, they could not find a way to exert their influence on a kingdom on the opposite end of the continent.

“Will you be leaving now?”

“Yes. I will return the day the princess comes of age.”

It would not be long until the princess reached adulthood anyways. King Theodore freely sent him away, and Seon-Hyeok headed back towards Rheinperle with Asha Trail, Clark, and his other companions.

As he arrived at Rheinperle, Seon-Hyeok received much-awaited news.

-          The fairy dragon is finally waking up from its long slumber.

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