Episode 223. A Splendid Return (4)

Some time after he raced past the southern command of the Rosehog Kingdom, Seon-Hyeok felt an unknown chill. It felt as though he had forgotten something important, and he grew frustrated as he could not identify what exactly that was.

“Is something bothering you?”

It seemed as though he decelerated without realizing it while lost in thought. Someone spoke out from right beside him.

“Ah, Darun.”

The temperamental northern nomads never allowed those beneath them to ride in front of them, and Darun was at the riders’ vanguard.

“Your expression’s dark.”

Seeing the signs of concern on the fierce, single-lidded eyes, Seon-Hyeok smirked as he responded.

“Something’s bothering me, but I don’t know what it is. It feels like I forgot something important.”

“Well, you haven’t had the chance to look back. It wouldn’t be strange even if you forgot something truly important.”

The rider offered words seemingly intended to comfort him through his thick lips.

“Ugh, thanks. It’s terribly comforting.”

When Seon-Hyeok pouted and retorted, Darun smirked and added.

“And anyways, what does it matter if you missed something? A man should never look back once he starts running. He should only work to achieve something greater than what he missed. That’s the way a man should live.”

It was a masculine remark fitting for a northerner that valued it as their greatest virtue.

“When I look at you, I feel ashamed, feeling as though all my troubles aren’t worth worrying about.”

Like the vast, open lands of the steppes, Darun never seemed to carry his worries with him. Seon-Hyeok occasionally felt envious of his personality.

“The best solution to a problem is always the first decision to make. Anything that comes to mind after that is not your own answer.”

“Well, that’s not wrong, but you try to view things too simply.”

“There’s a saying on the plains. Anything that is complex can’t be the answer. There has not been a single time when I felt that was untrue.”

Darun’s determined, convinced attitude almost seemed wise rather than arrogant.

And in reality, Darun was the man responsible for growing the Miruhachi tribe from a minor faction into one of the two largest tribes of the north, and he was a greatly respected leader for his protection and wisdom.

As he had repeatedly demonstrated the validity of his own beliefs and values, Darun was quite persuasive.

When the conversation trailed off, Darun looked back for a moment. Seon-Hyeok followed his gaze and saw the tens of thousands of riders following them.

Their numbers, at 40,000 when they first began their journey, were now much lower than they once were. Nearly 5,000 lives were lost or left behind following injuries as they traversed halfway through the continent.

“And I’m certain I’m not wrong this time either.”

However, there were no signs of wavering in Darun’s eyes as he gazed at the empty spots where his brethren once rode.

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong this time. I’m telling you once again that I’m not the envoy of the God of Heaven that you’ve been referring to.”

Shortly after recovering from his wounds, Seon-Hyeok had traveled to the nearest village to hear about the situation on the front lines. It just so happened that it was one of the villages Darun ruled over.

“A person has descended from heaven!”

“He is certainly a man sent from the God of the Heavens!”

The nomads of the north were in an uproar after discovering Seon-Hyeok appearing on Redvern, calling him the envoy of the God of Heaven, and that rumor had ultimately reached Darun himself.

Redvern suddenly disappeared during that time, but his title as the Envoy of God continued to follow him.

In the meantime, he was tested by the northern nomads whether he really was who they believed him to be, whether he wanted it or not.

In the end, Seon-Hyeok passed all of his trials and was recognized by these aloof people.

“Leaving our father’s land to follow you is likewise the will of God.”

Darun followed him with 40,000 of his riders in the name of helping the Envoy of the God of the Heavens. From Seon-Hyeok’s perspective, he had assumed a title he did not even know the meaning of.

“Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you are the envoy of the God of the Heavens.” 

Darun’s voice was difficult to hear over the sound of horses’ hooves, but for Seon-Hyeok, with his particularly sensitive hearing, the voice was as clear as a direct whisper.

“What’s important is that you prevented the tragedy of a civil war.”

Numerous tribes were absorbed in the process of growing Darun’s minor Miruhachi tribe. This brought about the winds of change.

Threatened by the sudden growth of the Miruhachi tribe, the major tribes had begun to recklessly take over lesser ones, and when the changes finished, the north was ruled by two great chiefs each controlling hundreds of thousands of tribesmen.

Darun’s Miruhachi tribe, and the newly formed opposition of the Asihachi tribe each ruled half of the northern steppes.

A problem then arose. The ambition of the nomads, normally unnoticeable when divided into small tribes, suddenly became conspicuous.

The winds of change died down, but they left behind the seeds of an impending storm.

And it was Seon-Hyeok that appeared in such a perilous situation. Darun decided to redirect the winds of war in the north to the outsiders.

The Miruhachi and Asihachi tribes each offered 20,000 of their most agile warriors and departed the northern territories, resulting in the current situation.

“I regard you as a brother, but I cannot simply be a good person, as I am responsible for hundreds of thousands of tribesmen. I intend to make full use of you.”

Seon-Hyeok clicked his tongue and responded as Darun spoke apologetically.

“Taking advantage of someone only works when the other party’s unaware of it - this is simply mutual assistance.”

Regardless of the circumstances in the north, Seon-Hyeok was able to recruit 40,000 riders from their tribes. If anything, he and the central kingdoms were the beneficiaries of this arrangement.

“Mutual benefit. That’s a good way of putting it. Given that events have become like this, we’ll have to reap as many benefits as possible.”

Instead of responding, Seon-Hyeok smiled brightly with his teeth showing.

“Take whatever you can. I’ll be by your side to help.”

Darun looked back at him and smiled.

*** 

When Seon-Hyeok and the northern riders finally crossed the Rosehog Kingdom’s borders and reached the northernmost point of Astoria, the Holy Kingdom’s figures were there waiting for them.

“I welcome your safe return, Indomitable Duke.”

Compared to the other kingdoms struggling in the Holy War, the Astoria Kingdom’s front was relatively stable. As a result, instead of continuing to ride forth as quickly as possible to the scene of his next battle, Seon-Hyeok decided to step for a while and take a much-needed rest.

No matter how much they were buoyed by the power of the wind attribute, the fatigue of the northern riders had reached a peak after their series of battles without reprieve.

“Magical communications have arrived from Adenburg for the Indomitable Duke.”

And it was then that Seon-Hyeok received the message from Adenburg.

‘You have done more than enough, so return. I will not accept your refusal.’

Seon-Hyeok broke into a cold sweat the moment he confirmed the short message. It was then that he finally realized the source of discomfort he felt while riding southward.

“Who is it? Who the hell could address a great warrior like you so forcefully?”

When he conveyed the message to the curious Darun, the rider tilted his head in confusion as he responded.

“She is the Queen Regent of my kingdom and the one and only heir to the throne.”

“Even so, isn’t she interfering too much? To speak so forcefully to a warrior on the battlefield…”

“She’s also my wife.”

After speaking as though he could not understand, Darun quickly shut his mouth.

“Hm.”

He had never seemed worried while facing any problems, but he now averted his eyes and feigned ignorance.

“Well, it’s not a man’s place to speak of another’s family matters.”

In fact, he even backed down, offering ridiculous excuses.

“I thought you said a man should never look back once he starts running.”

“It's a different story when spouses are involved. Those failing to keep the peace in their own households are miserable, no matter what greatness they achieve elsewhere.”

Seon-Hyeok was bewildered to see Darun completely change his attitude.

“For your information, these magical messages have arrived across the northern cities of the Astoria Kingdom and all major hubs here.”

Seon-Hyeok shut his eyes tightly at the priest’s comment.

If Ophelia went this far after remaining uninvolved in matters on the front lines, it was clear she was quite furious.

“In addition, this message arrived separately from the one you were just given. It stated you’re recommended to initiate communication with the royal family as soon as possible.”

If he had instead headed directly for the front lines, he would have remained blissfully ignorant of these issues. But now that he stopped by the city and received the messages, he could not ignore them.

“That’s a problem. I haven’t even found the expedition force yet.”

Seon-Hyeok was now aware that the refugees and Qeishas he worried about had safely reached the base at Panthea, but the Adenburg expedition force and the reinforcements from Astoria had disappeared after heading west in search of him.

Even if he was to return to Adenburg, the top priority was to find the missing forces. However, Ophelia’s message was too direct for him to remain stubborn.

“What will you do? If you wish, I can have a mage specializing in communications magic brought here.”

“Will that be possible?”

“Although it’s through an informal line, as Adenburg separately requested this, our kingdom has dispatched a mage capable of such arts to every northern base in preparation for your arrival.”

Normally, he would have been appreciative of such a gesture, but he could not feel that way this time. He never before felt so uncomfortable by the favor shown him by the priest and the Holy Kingdom he called home.

“Then please.”

Nonetheless, he had no choice. Sooner or later, Ophelia would certainly be notified that he received her message. If he wanted to avoid further fury then, it was best for him to contact her first, even if it was already too late.

“In that case, I’ll call for the mage as soon as possible.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed when the priest’s special consideration(?) for him.

[...]

They were definitely connected, but there were no words coming through for some reason. Seon-Hyeok glanced at the mage, wondering if there was an issue with the communication magic.

“We’re far away, but the connection is relatively good. The intermediary in the Iberian Alliance is likewise doing fine.”

The mage shook his head and let him down.

“Queen Regent.”

After taking a deep breath, he cleared his throat and addressed Ophelia.

[I’m listening.]

Ophelia’s tone, which he was hearing for the first time in a while, was incredibly emotionless.

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