Episode 173. The Flames of War

Now officially Princess Ophelia’s spouse, Seon-Hyeok lost his position as cavalry regiment commander of the Western Army and was freed from all responsibilities to defend the frontier.

All he had left were his rights and duties to his territory of Rheinperle.

“I, Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein, grant the title of Indomitable Duke to Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen, the Earl of Rheinperle, with my authority as rightful regent to Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein.”

The rank of duke was perhaps too much for a regent yet to assume the throne to grant. However, none of the nobles at the capital could voice their objections, as they did not want to draw the next queen’s ire by opposing her spouse.

Thanks to this, Seon-Hyeok was able to rise to his new status of duke without much issue.

Of course, the fact that his noble title had risen did not immediately denote a sudden increase in his authority.

The grand title of ‘Indomitable Duke’ was merely provided as a courtesy to the spouse of the next queen. In reality, his territory, a more truthful measure and foundation of one’s power, was smaller than that of an earl, let alone a duke.

In terms of his fundamental authority, it was ridiculous for Seon-Hyeok to be a duke. But who could possibly look down on the spouse of the next queen, the hero of the kingdom with countless wartime accomplishments, for his lacking power base?

As such, the nobles treated him as no less than a real duke whenever they encountered him.

Nonetheless, Seon-Hyeok himself did not feel much of a change in his position following his overnight rise to power.

Not only was he naturally too timid to recklessly wield and relish his authority, but he was also asked by the princess to refrain from interacting with the nobles if possible and to only attend required official events.

Well, that’s exactly what I wanted.

He was rather pleased with Ophelia’s request.

The political arena of the royal capital was far too chaotic for him to jump into, using only the bare minimum of political insight forced onto him by King Theodore. If he clumsily tried to inject himself into these matters, there was a good chance he would be used as a pawn in others’ schemes.

“You’re like that every time I see you. It makes me restless.”

Hearing this innocent complaint, Seon-Hyeok turned to see Marquis Reinhardt and gave a welcoming look.

“You’re here.”

He had few acquaintances in the capital, and it was difficult to even see Princess Ophelia given her many responsibilities as the Queen Regent to the kingdom. Seon-Hyeok found it fortunate that he could at least meet Marquis Reinhardt, the man responsible for the palace’s security.

“Do you know what the capital’s nobles call you?”

It was clear the marquis picked up some gossip about the foreigner today.

Idle Duke. They’re calling you the Idle Duke.”

“Oh! That’s nice. To think that I’m the Idle Duke.”

Seon-Hyeok grinned as he watched the marquis preparing to reprimand him.

“Please consider the dignity of the royal family.”

The marquis fumed at the potential damage to the royal prestige, but Seon-Hyeok did not even pretend to listen.

“It is also at the regent’s request that I refrain from external activities.”

He disingenuously used the princess’ instructions as an excuse for his inactivity.

However, despite trying to remain serious, there was no way his reasoning would be persuasive. Given Seon-Hyeok’s constant yawning and drooping shoulders, it was clear he was simply unmotivated.

“Even she would not have expected you to go this far.”

“I am doing my best to follow through on her instructions.”

Since his words proved ineffective, the marquis sighed. He could not even bring himself to be angrier as he watched the foreigner who only seemed to grow wilier as the days passed.

“It feels like you are becoming more useless as the days go by. When we first met, you were a knight with incredible promise.”

“That’s because there isn’t anything I can do in the capital.”

He was not wrong. Drachen, the Tempest Knight capable of rampaging on the battlefield, was not a necessary figure in the capital of Adenstein. The royal capital needed talented statesmen, not valiant knights.

“Well, do you think I’m like this because I want to be?”

If he had the option, Seon-Hyeok would have left the royal capital long ago. After all, all he wanted right now was to leave and search for the next dragon subspecies.

It was at the request of King Theodore that he did not leave the royal palace.

‘The princess needs time to get used to her current situation.’

King Theodore had grown much more frail in recent days, and he repeatedly clung onto Seon-Hyeok when he tried to leave the palace.

‘A little longer. Will you stay with the princess a little longer?’

Seon-Hyeok could not refuse this request.

However, the person actually involved was too busy dealing with the kingdom’s affairs, and thus, it was difficult to even see her face despite the king’s wishes.

If the princess did not visit their bedroom late in the evening, he would not have even realized that he was married.

“Hm…”

Ophelia laid down next to him, dressed in a silk nightgown.

Gulp.

Seon-Hyeok unknowingly gulped at the sound of her clothes.

For him, Ophelia was no longer the young girl he once knew.

Of course, the awakening characteristic of the royal family did not solve everything. Ophelia was now an impeccable beauty, but certain aspects of her were still immature.

She still had some girlish features to her, but despite this, she no longer felt young to him.

After all, it was not just her appearance that had changed.

‘Think of it as people destined to live shortened lives borrowing time.’

King Theodore repeatedly emphasized that time for those with the blood of House Adenstein passed much differently than it did for an average person.

Others perceived the royals’ awakening as a fleeting moment in time, but for these members of House Adenstein, this experience felt like years, if not decades.

Of course, Seon-Hyeok did not fully understand King Theodore’s explanation.

After all, that’s not something a common person like me could ever understand.

He simply accepted the answer.

Ophelia was no longer the child he once knew.

However, treating her as his wife was something else entirely.

“Are you asleep?”

Following her awakening, Ophelia had the presence of a royal monarch, just as her father did. Her dignity even persisted in the bedroom.

“No, I’m not.”

“That’s a relief.”

Seon-Hyeok balked at Ophelia’s bold words, wondering what could possibly be a relief. She continued by giving a rambling story.

“The royal monarch must take care of the lives of the common people and lead the nobles. But there is one duty even more important than this – it is ensuring that the kingdom is never shaken because of questions of lineage.”

What spouses would ever share such a conversation in the bedroom?

Seon-Hyeok was even more taken aback as he listened.

“And so, you must be faithful to your duty as a husband.”

Ophelia looked solemn, talking about the duties of the royal family and her partner as though she was discussing matters of the kingdom with her subordinates.

“And so. I’m prepared.”

What the hell are you prepared for?

“The acts of couples are not embarrassing, but rather sacred and holy…”

Seon-Hyeok calmly spoke, worried Ophelia would bring up something inappropriate if left alone.

“Ophelia.”

She suddenly stopped speaking.

“What did you say?”

“Ophelia.”

The princess repeatedly asked him the same question, and each time, he called on her by name.

“O, okay…”

Clearly, the awakening had been almost too effective. Seon-Hyeok let out a sigh as he heard her mature tone of voice.

“Not when it’s just the two of us.”

“Do I sound that strange?”

You do. You sound really, really strange.

“I’ll try.”

Ophelia gave a serious look as she vowed to try. Even that seemed bizarre, but Seon-Hyeok did not bother to point this out.

“Actually, don’t say anything.”

Having her speak more naturally could come later.

Seon-Hyeok just embraced her gently for now.

Royal duty, a partner’s responsibility, whatever.

This would do for now.

“It’s okay if you leave the capital.”

The princess spoke while her head was buried in his arms.

“I promised you before that your freedom would remain unchanged with our relationship, and I have no intention of going back on that promise.”

It was clear Marquis Reinhardt had said something to her.

“A promise…”

Seon-Hyeok pondered Ophelia’s words before asking.

“Do you want me to leave?”

After a while, she shyly responded.

“How could that be?”

“Then I’ll stay for a little longer.”

The story Ophelia told him the previous night lingered on his mind, and he could not bring himself to leave right away.

‘Among the powers handed down from generation to generation within the Adenstein royal family, there is one that I cannot currently manage. It is clearly a useful power for a ruler, but it can be a terrible force for those involved. You are the only person unaffected by this ability, and thus, you are my only source of solace.’

Seon-Hyeok could not begin to guess what kind of ability this was that even someone willing to live a shortened life could not handle it. However, it was clear that he was a helpful, stabilizing force.

If this were not the case, King Theodore would not have repeatedly asked him to remain at the capital, and the princess would not have called him a source of solace.

Perhaps surprised by his response, Ophelia was stunned into silence for a while before finally replying.

“Thank you.”

***

The flames of rebellion raging in the northwestern part of the continent showed little signs of abating. No, rather, they continued to spread.

The foreigner forces, trapped in a stalemate near the Nordic border with the neighboring kingdoms’ elites, suddenly began to advance in all directions.

The number of foreigners joining these foreigners had steadily increased, and this force now totaled near 1,000. In addition, there was the army of the dead raised by the Dark Lord, and collectively, this amount of manpower was difficult for any average kingdom to handle.

Considering that such a powerful army suddenly advanced in all directions, it was natural that the neighboring kingdoms were unable to respond properly. The borders they desperately guarded were quickly breached, and the front promptly grew.

There was an even more worrying development.

The kingdoms in the east had previously been able to casually watch the war raging to the northwest mainly because the front lines were so far away.

This was no longer the case.

The central kingdoms, and some to the east, were attacked by the Dark Lord despite being considered to be safe.

This first began with the sacred kingdom of Astoria in the center of the continent.

Melchiade II, the Pope of Astoria and king of the common people, was murdered by an assassin sent by the Nordic lord. This holy kingdom subsequently fell into complete chaos, and the neighboring kingdoms likewise became unstable.

Then, a number of kingdoms were attacked by demonic creatures.

Once upon a time, the turmoil caused by the inability of the illusion beast tamer, Choi Min-Young, to control the illusory beast was blamed on the evil lord’s demons. This had become a reality in these faraway kingdoms.

Several more kingdoms were attacked. These kingdoms were spared from the fate of having their rulers killed, unlike the Astoria Kingdom, but could not avoid all casualties to their key nobles.

Once they appeared, the demonic creatures were difficult to quickly eradicate. They continued to cause turmoil, and even the kingdoms previously considered to be relatively safe were swept away in the flames of war.

“Even the Griffindor Kingdom has been attacked! The Knights of the Azure Sky and the Griffindor mages have been dispatched and quickly suppressed the invasion, but the demonic creatures continue to grow in strength!”

The news reached all the way to the Adenburg Kingdom through magical communications.

“I can’t understand it. Until now, the Dark Lord of the Nordic Kingdom acted to strengthen his position as a leader of something called a ‘republic’. But now, those objectives are nowhere in sight.”

For the Nordic foreigners, there was nothing to be gained from aggravating the kingdoms taking a wait-and-see approach. After all, no matter how strong this army of the dead may be, it was madness to wage war against dozens of kingdoms at once.

As expected, initial signs of a new coalition based in the Holy Kingdom began to form. The call to arms spread across the continent, and it even reached the eastern kingdom of Adenburg.

“The new pope of the Holy Kingdom has sent magical communications requesting our participation in this war!”

Daily meetings were held in the capital amid a flurry of bad news and information about the ongoing war.

Seon-Hyeok was required to attend these meetings, where he saw the nobles at each other’s necks. Some argued for immediate participation, while others were leery of war and wanted to observe the situation further.

“Even the Griffindors were attacked. Do you think we’ll be safe here? We should take this opportunity to cut them down before they grow even stronger!”

“Do you even know how far the Nordic Kingdom is from here? Did you forget how many times His Majesty told us about the potential strains of such an expedition?”

Ophelia was watching the nobles’ arguments with an inscrutable expression. Seon-Hyeok, in turn, watched the princess anxiously before he suddenly froze upon hearing a voice penetrating his head.

[Companion!]

The dragon’s voice, which had always been relaxed, sounded agitated today.

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