Episode 193. Gardeners of the Forest (3)

“What should I do? Would you like to check the messages?”

It was obvious the messages would be from Adenburg. Seon-Hyeok immediately nodded when the mage in charge of communications asked what to do.

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Please provide an accurate report on the situation. Adenburg.’

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Please contact us immediately if you require assistance. Adenburg.’

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Goldrake, Julian Vanquish, and many others are headed west. Adenburg.’

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Please send word when you join up with Julian Vanquish. Adenburg.’

As expected, all of these magical messages were from Adenburg.

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Additional reinforcements currently standing by. Decision to deploy pending your response. Adenburg.’

Most of the messages were in the form of official letters on Adenburg’s political position and inquiring about the situation in the west, but others were not.

‘It’s taking too long.’

Unlike the others, this message did not even identify the sender. However, just reading it was enough for Seon-Hyeok to imagine a longing voice.

As soon as he saw the full text, he realized who the sender was - it was undeniably Ophelia.

After all, who else would express such a desperate longing for him?

“I’m sure she’s upset…”

He had no excuse even if Ophelia was angry. After saying he would return as soon as possible, he had remained out west for months.

“An additional message has arrived from Granado.”

Seon-Hyeok was jerked out of his thoughts of longing as he heard the mage’s voice.

“We have an urgent message from Adenburg. If you like, Granado has voiced their willingness to relay two-way communications.”

“Is that possible?”

“The mages of Granado are the best on the continent when it comes to communications.”

The mage once again asked for his opinion, saying that though the drain on communication stones and energy would be significant, such a course of action was possible.

“Then let’s do that.”

There was no reason to refuse, as Granado was willing to shoulder the burden on both mages and communication stones.

“Please.”

As soon as Seon-Hyeok answered, the mage immediately handed over control over the magic to Granado’s mage.

“There may be some noise and delays in communication. There is a chance others can listen in on this conversation, so please keep this in mind…”

Seon-Hyeok nodded and waited for the connection to be relayed. After a moment, he heard a buzzing noise and a distant voice.

[... hear?]

It was frustrating, like listening to an old radio unable to find the proper frequency for signaling, but it was more than enough to tell the owner of the voice.

“Queen Regent!”

When Seon-Hyeok responded excitedly, he heard a somewhat cold answer.

[Listening to your voice, it doesn’t seem like you’re seriously hurt.]

It was as though she was blaming him for contacting her so late even though he was physically fine. Seon-Hyeok immediately tried to offer an excuse.

“T, there were some unexpected circumstances.”

[Yes. I heard you were rescuing the survivors in the west. How noble.]

Am I being too timid, or did that sound sarcastic?

“About that…”

He tried to calmly explain what had happened, going in more detail than he could in short magical messages.

Even this attempt had to be condensed given the restrictions of these communications, but Seon-Hyeok judged it would be enough for the intelligent Ophelia to grasp the situation.

[If it is as you say, then the current situation seems too dire for the Central Alliance to handle on its own. It is clear we must raise our voices in the east so that the kingdoms here offer more assistance.]

“If the fight cannot be won here in the center, we cannot be sure when the east will fall in that same dire predicament.”

When he emphasized the current difficulties faced by the west, Ophelia answered that she would quickly notify him of the expedition force’s next orders.

[More importantly, did you mention a warrior?]

Ophelia brought up the topic of the foreigner warrior, Park Joon-Min.

[Perhaps he has been swept up in a sensitive matter that the Holy Kingdom is trying to hide.]

She immediately expressed her concern about the ugly tenacity and desire for power shown by the Holy Kingdom’s leading figures in dealing with the warrior. Seon-Hyeok likewise sympathized with her concerns.

However, he did not regret his decision to support the foreigner. He was simply uneasy that his personal decision could be interpreted as Adenburg’s official position.

[If you reached that decision, I believe it would certainly be worth the burden.]

Ophelia assuaged his concerns.

She expected Joon-Min, a foreigner with the power to restore the corrupted lands, to play an important role in the Holy War, and she supported Seon-Hyeok’s decision.

[Your decision will become Adenburg’s official position, and you may do what you intend. House Adenstein will support you.]

Rather, she even encouraged him by saying she would spare no support if necessary.

Many words were omitted, but it was clear she was even mindful of the potential worsening of the relationship between the Holy Kingdom and the warrior.

The Adenstein royal family was almost obsessive in its valuation of talented individuals, and from Seon-Hyeok’s perspective, Joon-Min possessed more than enough potential to be recognized as a valuable asset. It was not strange for Ophelia to covet him.

[I will send you guidelines through the Iberian Alliance soon. Until then, do not do anything dangerous and ensure you get sufficient rest. You are not the only one in the central kingdoms.]

“I will keep that in mind.”

The conversation was far too businesslike to be one between spouses, but it was built on a foundation of affection. Seon-Hyeok could feel her feelings through and through.

He could sense Ophelia’s sincerity in hoping that her husband would not be caught up in additional danger.

[And more importantly…]

Seon-Hyeok thought the conversation would end there, but Ophelia added yet another comment.

[Did you mention Qeishas?]

“Ah…”

He had briefly mentioned his encounter with the Qeisha tribe, and naturally, he had no choice but to explain his meetings with Najima in that process.

Seon-Hyeok broke out in a cold sweat.

[I understand it was unavoidable, but I do not feel comfortable with the situation. In the future, you will have to explain the entire situation without omission.]

Ophelia was selective with her words, possibly given the unsecure nature of their relayed communication. This, in turn, made Seon-Hyeok even more uneasy.

[Also, I am warning you in advance, but you may never…]

The communication was suddenly cut off before Ophelia could finish.

“Huh?”

When Seon-Hyeok turned his head in bewilderment, he saw a pale-faced mage offering an excuse, his face showing clear signs of exhaustion.

“The communication stone you provided has been expended. Even if Granado is shouldering the burden of this communication, we here have to maintain our lines of communication with that kingdom at the very least…”

The mage groaned, saying that even beyond the communication stones, he was also at his limit.

It was the worst timing. 

How could it get cut off now of all times?

“Shit. I’m screwed.”

Seon-Hyeok tightly shut his eyes.

***

“Your Majesty. The communications have been cut off.”

The royal mage hesitated after seeing the Queen Regent’s icy gaze before working up the courage to speak.

“It seems the mage in charge of communications on that end is not particularly skilled.”

He hurriedly offered an excuse, hoping to avoid getting caught up in the crossfire.

“Understood. You’re dismissed.”

Fortunately, the Queen Regent was an expert in self-control, and was not one to vent her anger on this bystander mage.

“T, then I’ll…”

The mage almost ran away from the scene.

Left alone, Ophelia gazed at the paper she clutched in her hand.

She had always expressed her admiration upon seeing the high-quality paper produced using the technology provided by the foreigners in the royal capital. However, her gaze at the moment was anything but admiring.

Qeishas are good and gentle, but they possess a stubborn streak in never relenting after making up their minds. According to records, these tendencies are particularly noticeable when they concern their Mother Tree or eternal partners. In these instances, Qeishas even treat their own lives as fleeting candles, and all stories suggest avoiding what may be taboo.’

Qeishas are talented archers capable of hitting fist-sized targets from hundreds of meters away. Particularly experienced Qeisha archers are said to have the ability to imbue their attacks with special energies. Their marksmanship is said to be no less than the greatest of knights.’

It was information hurriedly prepared by the mages after checking the magical messages coming from Granado. Ophelia continued to read the report with a dissatisfied expression.

‘Regardless of gender, Qeishas are beautiful and handsome. They fall under the lineage of spirits, and as such, claims that they are elves are not necessarily incorrect. Many people have wandered the forests in the past, hoping to see the beautiful faces of these fairies…’

After reading the report several times, Ophelia crumpled the paper.

“Fairies…”

Her voice was beyond cold and almost icy as she muttered to herself.

“Fairy or not, presumptuous greed will be met with an early death.”

***

When the sole mage in the area adept in long-distance communication collapsed, there was no other way of contacting Adenburg.

In the end, Seon-Hyeok was forced to wait for the mage to recover.

“I wonder what she was going to say.”

He wondered about Ophelia’s warning, which had been cut off before she could finish.

He could not guess what she was about to say.

“Perhaps this was for the best?”

He could not hear her words to the very end, but Ophelia had expressed discomfort towards the end of their conversation. Perhaps it was better that he did not hear.

However, there was a saying that it is better to get certain things over with. He could not help but obsess over his wife’s unheard final words.

“Ugh.”

Even if he groaned and suffered, the situation did not change.

The night soon came, and with that, the instigator of the situation, Najima the Qeisha, visited him once again.

The female fairy opened his window and entered as though it was natural before settling in across from him. With a flowing gesture, she removed her stuffy mask and revealed her bare face.

Swish.

It was his second time seeing Najima’s face, but she was still just as shockingly beautiful.

Her face was defenseless and naive, almost as if she was unaware of this. As such, Seon-Hyeok could not bring himself to vent his frustration at her.

“I understand that you’re not welcoming of me. And so, I thought about it and discussed the matter with my tribe.”

She calmly spoke about this uncomfortable matter.

“Does discussing the issue with your kind allow you to proceed as if nothing happened?”

Najima shook her head as she responded.

“No, but I thought of a different way to satisfy you.”

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