Episode 192. Gardeners of the Forest (2)

It was as Geheimnis expected.

Najima was a Qeisha serving the Mother Tree on the westernmost part of the continent. She, the Mother Tree, and their forest were now isolated in the middle of the Dark Lord’s domain.

Naturally, she came to Seon-Hyeok to ask for help.

“Right now, the Mother’s spiritual energy is holding off the invading demonic energy, but this cannot last forever.”

[How strange. I have never met this Qeisha’s Mother Tree in person, but from what I remember, even the smallest and weakest of Mother Trees should be able to repel demonic energy.]

When Seon-Hyeok relayed Geheimnis’ question, Najima’s expression grew dark as she sighed.

“Shortly before the demonic energy ran rampant, our Mother Tree entered the sowing phase.”

[Ah, that makes sense. If the Mother Tree is exhausted after sowing seeds for the next generation, it is understandable that it would be difficult to hold back the demonic energy. Mother Trees are surprisingly vulnerable at this stage.]

Seon-Hyeok could not begin to understand what this Mother Tree was. All he knew was that it was no ordinary tree.

“So are you asking me to protect the Mother Tree?”

It was obvious how difficult the Qeishas’ journey here from the western end of the continent had been. However, he did not want to go back into the Dark Lord’s land to protect a tree he did not even know.

Najima saw his hesitant expression and shook his head.

“Then…?”

If it was not to protect the Mother Tree, Seon-Hyeok did not know what kind of help the Qeisha sought.

“Please help transport the Mother Tree’s seedlings to safety.”

“Ah…”

It was certainly a more reasonable request than protecting the Mother Tree. Moving seedlings was a task he could complete simply by riding Redvern.

Of course, he had no intention of readily accepting her request just because it was relatively easy to fulfill.

After all, he was only in the west in order to find and tame the dragon subspecies here, and he could not remain here indefinitely.

“Hm…”

After some thought, he tilted his head in confusion as a sudden thought crossed his mind.

“I understand your situation. But…”

He looked directly at the beautiful fairy’s face as he asked.

“Why the hell did you reveal your face?”

If she needed help, all she needed to do was ask. Seon-Hyeok could not figure out why she would show her face, something reserved only for Qeishas’ eternal partners.

“I’ve never met a human being before, but I heard about your kind from our elders.”

What could she have possibly heard to show her face like this?

“I heard that when you ask a human for something, you must pay them the appropriate price.”

It was bewildering.

Where did everything go wrong?

Should I curse this nameless Qeisha for telling Najima flawed information? Or should I curse Najima’s excessive sense of sacrifice, being willing to even devote her own life for this mission?

His head was pounding.

[Well, she’s not wrong, is she? The humans I know aren’t any different from what she claims.]

He decided to ignore the fairy dragon’s laughing words. He pressed down on his temples as he asked.

“Did that Qeisha not teach you to never offer compensation without ensuring that the request would be fulfilled?”

Seon-Hyeok signed at Najima’s folly in showing her face without even knowing how he would react.

“No, before that. Are you saying you would put your life on the line to simply move the Mother Tree’s seedlings?”

“They aren’t simple saplings. Our mission is to protect the Mother Tree, and protecting her saplings is part of our duty. I felt it would be reasonable to offer my life as an appropriate price for asking for assistance on a mission I have to devote my entire life to.”

Seon-Hyeok was left dumbfounded by the surprisingly logical response.

Najima was neither naive nor foolish. She recognized the weight of her request, and she simply put strict standards on herself for finding equal compensation.

“I see. I need some time to think.”

He did not want to lecture her any further. After all, he knew nothing about the weight and value of the Qeishas’ mission to argue about her actions now.

However, he had to address one point of concern first.

“I will pretend I never saw your face, so please cover it up again.”

Whether or not he would accept her request was an issue he could debate later. Even if he accepted, however, he had no intention of accepting the price she offered.

Seon-Hyeok respected Najima’s values, but he did not have to play along.

People aren’t goods to be bartered.

In addition, Seon-Hyeok had someone waiting longingly for him back in Adenstein. He trembled as he recalled Ophelia’s face when she firmly insisted that extramarital affairs were forbidden.

He had not done anything wrong, and yet he felt guilty.

However, he was mistaken in thinking that he could resolve the issue now.

[These elves devote their entire lives to their mission. They’re not weak enough to overlook the weight of their actions because of something you say.]

“What?”

[Whether or not you accept her, since that Qeisha has revealed her face to you, she will never meet another for the rest of her life.]

“What the hell?”

Seon-Hyeok blurted out as he saw Najima and froze. Just as Geheimnis suggested, the Qeisha showed no intention of covering her face.

“Since you said you needed time to think, I will come see you again tomorrow.”

When he saw that Najima only covered her face when she was about to leave, Seon-Hyeok understood that Geheimnis’ words were not empty.

[Also, partners carry a different meaning for Qeishas. They only find one eternal partner, but it does not necessarily mean a relationship between sexes. There are many Qeishas with same-sex compansions.]

Geheimnis was not wrong. Proof of this was closer than he thought.

“Isn’t this insane?”

It was Joon-Min.

“Some dark-skinned guy suddenly showed his face and swore to devote his entire life to me - it gave me goosebumps!”

The blabbering warrior really was covered in goosebumps. It was clear he was freaked out by the situation.

The two of them both received visits from Qeishas in the middle of the night, but their situations were drastically different. Seon-Hyeok was asked to help transport the Mother Tree’s seedlings, while Joon-Min found a companion to fight the Dark Lord with.

Up to this point, it would be normal for Joon-Min to welcome the Qeisha’s assistance in volunteering for such a difficult task. However, the warrior was almost hysterical in his disapproval.

“To think that this male elf would propose to me before a woman… ugh.”

It was clear Joon-Min was struggling with the idea of eternal partners.

“It seems like the definition of partners is different for Qeishas than it is for us. Often times, there are same sex…”

“A, a partner relationship?”

Explaining the Qeishas’ relationships as he heard from the fairy dragon only proved to be a source of misunderstanding.

The warrior’s face turned deathly pale.

“Hm…”

Sensing the awkward atmosphere, Seon-Hyeok quickly changed the subject.

He explained the predicament of the Qeisha tribe and the Mother Tree’s seedlings. Of course, in the process, he was forced to reveal that he had been visited by a Qeisha and had seen her bare face.

“Female? A female elf?”

“Qeisha, not a female elf.”

“Yeah, so a female Qeisha.”

Joon-Min only showed interest in the Qeisha’s gender, and paid little attention to anything else.

“Ugh, why!”

The warrior shouted angrily.

“Why! Why! Damn it, why! Why does a married man like you, hyung, get a female Qeisha, while a bachelor like me is stuck with a male Qeisha?”

Joon-Min seemed to harbor some expectations ever since he first heard about the Qeishas the previous day, and his disappointment now mirrored his high expectations.

“Pretty? Was she pretty? No, there’s no point in asking. I’m sure she was. The male Qeisha was handsome too, so I’m sure the female Qeisha would’ve been equally beautiful.”

Seon-Hyeok could not even respond to these rapid-fire questions. He also got the feeling that he should not offer a response.

“Sigh…”

It was a while later that Joon-Min finally calmed down.

“So you just have to move the Mother Tree’s seedlings and you’re done?”

Seon-Hyeok nodded.

“Ah, even that’s so unfair. You just have to make one delivery, whereas I have to fight to the death against the Dark Lord. And you get a female elf, not a male elf like me…”

He quickly interrupted the warrior, knowing that he would once again say something inappropriate if left to his own devices.

“I haven’t said I’d fulfill her request yet. As you know, my business in the west is over, and I’m simply a part of the Adenburg expeditionary party for the Holy War.”

“So you won’t accept the request? I thought you saw her face?”

“It’s not like I chose to.”

From Seon-Hyeok’s point of view, the entire situation felt unfair. It was incredibly burdensome to see a face he did not ask to, and now have someone offering to devote her entire life to him.

No matter how different a Qeisha’s perspective on partners was from humans, it was obvious that he would not emerge from this arrangement unscathed.

As the queen’s husband, Seon-Hyeok wanted to avoid any such potential scandals.

Of course, there would be blindly envious individuals among them, like the hopeless warrior, but he did not want the next queen’s authority to be undermined because of his actions.

“Well, that’s enough for now.”

Though Joon-Min complained about his own predicament, he did not argue with Seon-Hyeok’s situation.

“What will you do now?”

Seon-Hyeok asked Joon-Min about his future plans.

“I’m planning to grow my strength by hunting demonic beasts on the frontier.”

The warrior insisted he realized his shortcomings in his fight against the manticore. His initial recklessness in wanting to immediately fight the demon king to the west was nowhere to be found.

“Right now, I have a hard time dealing with even a single demonic creature, but one day, I’ll be strong enough to fight the Dark Lord himself. That’s what Balmung promised, and I have faith in myself.”

Having expressed his goals, the warrior asked Seon-Hyeok the same question.

“Hyung, what will you do now?”

The expedition force was formed in a hurry to justify their presence here at the center of the continent, but it just so happened that Seon-Hyeok was now its leader. He could not mindlessly leave the west just because he had taken care of his personal matters.

“Well, I should contact Adenburg first.”

Given that the political situation had developed to this extent, Seon-Hyeok intended to hear directly from the Adenstein royal family about their planned involvement in the Holy War before planning his own next steps.

He left Joon-Min behind and went to find Julian’s party.

“These were emergency communication stones prepared by the border patrols in the event of a potential war. I was able to bring a few thanks to Her Majesty’s consideration.”

As expected, Julian was prepared with a high-quality communication stone capable of long-distance contact.

“It is impossible to directly contact the Adenburg Kingdom.”

The problem was that as a result of the church’s general opposition to mages, there were none capable of reaching the distant Adenburg Kingdom at once.

“In that case, could you relay my message through Granado of the Iberian Alliance?”

“Certainly. Our mages are more than capable enough to reach Granado. I will get you connected right away.”

In the end, Seon-Hyeok decided to send his magical message to Adenburg through the Iberian Alliance.

Attended to personal matters. Joined the expedition force. Now awaiting orders.’

When he sent a simple explanation of the current situation and news of his safety, Granado immediately had a response.

‘Multiple magical messages for the Indomitable Duke.’

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