Episode 233. Being One in Body and Spirit (4)

If you considered the fact that Kim Seon-Hyeok had wandered around the battlefields like a madman, then it wasn’t unusual for him to have risen in the Gradus rankings. But even if he did go up, this was too much. 

Kim Seon-Hyeok himself couldn’t believe that he was No. 1 in the Gradus rankings.

“Indomitable Duke, you are above all the knights and mages in Adenburg. You are truly the most powerful knight in the country.”

Vucocque straightened his posture as he looked admiringly, yet enviously, at Kim Seon-Hyeok, but the latter looked rather unhappy. 

“I, as someone who has taken on the path of the sword, may still be lacking, but I sincerely respect you… but, you don’t look happy?”

Vucocque had been chattering away for a while when he saw Kim Seon-Hyeok’s expression. He tilted his head. He had finally noticed that there wasn’t a single hint of delight on Kim Seon-Hyeok’s face.  

Actually, Kim Seon-Hyeok really wasn’t happy. 

Rather than being intoxicated by the honor of being No. 1 on the Gradus list, he was more worried about what would happen later on. 

“What did the other people say?”

“Rumor has it that the regent passed it off as if you being No. 1 was a matter of fact, but she was rather pleased by it. And the nobles and the knights supported the shuffling of the rankings based on the numerous victories that you, the Indomitable Duke, achieved.”

“No, I don’t care about the regent or any other nobles. I want to know how the knights and mages on the Gradus list feel about it. For example, Marquis Reinhardt.”

Vucocque’s expression turned strange as he finally understood what Kim Seon-Hyeok was asking.

“Since the mages didn’t think much about the Gradus list in the first place, they don’t really have any comments.”

“And what about the knights?”

“Hm.”

Vucocque, a smooth and eloquent talker, didn’t say anything as he looked troubled for the first time.

“I see, there’s no need to hear it. You’ll probably tell me that they’re sharpening their swords and waiting for me to come back.”

The mages, who had extremely individualistic tendencies, never cared a whit about the public’s evaluation and only focused on their supreme task — the search for the truth through research and experiments.

But the knights were different. 

At their core, knights were combative beings, and if necessary, they would not hesitate to fight with another to prove that their level and enlightenment were higher.

It didn’t matter whether the knight was strong or not, this was the common tendency of all knights. No. Rather, the stronger the knight was, the more they were sensitive to having someone be above them.

And under such circumstances, people had given a random man the title of ‘the strongest’ and placed him above themselves without giving them a chance to cross swords and determine the hierarchy.

There was no way such prideful knights would easily allow this.

“Truthfully, there are many people who are waiting for you to return to the kingdom, sir.”

As I expected. 

“Amongst them is the Sword Star, the Duke Marek Schnail Roachim who was pushed to second place by you, and sixth on the list, Marquis Heinrich Paulgram Reinhardt who have publicly expressed these feelings.”

The higher one went up the ranks, the more monstrously strong the competitive people became. 

“I’m gonna go crazy.”

It was no wonder Kim Seon-Hyeok’s head was aching. The moment he returned to the kingdom, he was going to be challenged.

“Hm?”

As he was holding his aching head, he suddenly realized something was strange.

“But why is Marquis Reinhardt sixth instead of fifth?”

Before he left the kingdom, Reinhardt had been fourth on the Gardus list. Even if there was a change in the rankings above him, he should have been fifth. 

“It can’t be that while I was gone, the Marquis lost…”

It was hard to imagine a monster like Marquis Reinhardt losing to someone. But other than that, there was no other explanation for him to drop in the rankings.

“Truthfully, sir, I don’t think anyone has actually seen the duel in person. However, when the new Gradus rankings were announced, one of the knights who had admired Marquis Reinhardt had an issue with his ranking and questioned the marquis about the result. This is how the marquis replied.”

Vucocque paused. Then, as if he was mimicking the marquis, he spoke in a solemn voice.

“‘It isn’t about winning or losing the duel. I never want to fight her again.’ is what he said.”

“Her?”

Kim Seon-Hyeok became even more curious about the knight’s identity when he heard that the knight Marquis Reinhardt wanted to avoid fighting was a woman. 

“Just who on earth is she?”

When Kim Seon-Hyeok showed interest, Vucocque became excited as he informed him of the newly emerging powerful person.

Torhüter. She’s the one who took Marquis Reinhardt’s Gradus rank.”

I feel like I’ve heard that name before. 

But Kim Seon-Hyeok couldn’t remember where. While he was thinking about it, Vucocque added.

“She’s also a foreigner like you, Indomitable Duke.”

The moment he heard that, Kim Seon-Hyeok remembered who Torhüter was. 

“Choi Min-Young!”

Torhüter was the name that the royal family had given to the Summoner Choi Min-Young. 

When the expedition had gone missing in the west while trying to find him, Kim Seon-Hyeok had immediately tried to enter the Demon King’s lands and find them.

However, at that time, Ophelia had stopped him.

“The expedition’s Summoner, Choi Min-Young, is definitely not weak. If there is nothing that needs to be protected, then she is stronger than you.”

Ophelia had told him that unlike what he thought, Choi Min-Young wasn’t weak, and that she would be able to come back alive from the west on her own.

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her.

It just never occurred to him that she had become a powerhouse with a higher Gradus ranking than Marquis Reinhardt.

The marquis Kim Seon-Hyeok knew was not an easy-going person who would accept a weakling to be above him and allow people to talk about it. 

Although Marquis Reinhardt did acknowledge the results, there were some competitive people who couldn’t accept it and challenged her. Amongst the challengers was the Black Knight, Count Larkhard von Shooterheim who is 13 on the Gradus List. The challenges were accepted but for some reason, the duel didn’t take place in Adenburg, but in the barren lands of the east, far away from the royal capital.”

Kim Seok-Hyeok asked for the result with twinkling eyes.

“When the challengers returned, none of them complained about Viscountess Torhüter’s Gradus ranking. And all of them said the same thing as the marquis.”

They never wanted to fight with Viscountess Torhüter ever again. 

As if they had been washed away, all of Kim Seon-Hyeok’s remaining worries disappeared with Vucocque’s words. It was pointless to continue to worry about her and the expedition’s safety if Marquis Reinhardt, the knight ranked 13 on the Gradus List, and other knights acknowledged her strength.

When Kim Seon-Hyeok had to wait at the base, he had unknowingly been heavily burdened by his feelings of responsibility and guilt about the expedition in the west. 

But now, he was able to shake off that heavy pressure considerably.

As Ophelia had said, Choi Min-Young was definitely not weak. It was at this moment that he finally believed that she would come back alive with the rest of the expedition.

“It’s all thanks to you that a load has come off my shoulders. Thank you very much for that.”

Vucocque gave a faint smile at his thanks. Judging from Kim Seon-Hyeok’s expression, it seemed like it hadn’t been a bad idea to tell him about the Gradus ranking.

“Hm…”

Kim Seon-Hyeok was able to hear about the situation in his country in relative detail through Vucocque. Due to the weak security in communicating through magic, there were many stories he hadn’t been able to hear, but thanks to Vucocque, Kim Seon-Hyeok was able to hear all of them, including Ophelia’s coronation.

“Because it has been a while since Her Highness had been appointed as the regent, and has taken charge of both big and small state affairs on behalf of the king, there was no one amongst the nobles who questioned her wisdom and capabilities. Nevertheless, the actual ceremony for the coronation hasn’t taken place yet because the regent had declared that everything would take place after the duke has returned.”

Seeing how she hadn’t relented even when her vassals had brought up her coronation several times, it seemed like Ophelia was waiting for her husband to return. 

“I’ll have to return quickly.”

Knowing that an important event like succeeding the throne to a country was being indefinitely postponed because of himself, he couldn’t make any more excuses.

He had no other choice but to return to his home country the moment the expedition returned.

“Huu, I understand. You must be tired. I’ve been holding you out of my curiosity of what was happening back home. You can go back and rest now.”

“It was nothing, sir. It meant a lot for me to have been able to see the Indomitable Duke and be able to tell you our kingdom’s news first.”

The day ended with Vucocque leaving the barracks after saying goodbye. 

The next day, Kim Seon-Hyeok went straight to Stella.

“Stella?”

But she was strange. Stella would normally run and pretend to be friendly, but today, she stayed on the floor and couldn’t get up.

Neigh.

Stella roughly panted and struggled to get up, but soon, lost strength in her legs and collapsed. Kim Seon-Hyeok turned pale. 

“Stella!”

She tried to get up again at her owner’s sad voice. But she collapsed back onto the floor.

“Ohh…”

Seeing this, Kim Seon-Hyeok ran forward and hugged her with his eyes closed tightly.

Six years had passed since he was first assigned to the cavalry and obtained Stella through a deal with the company commander Frederick. While he had been on the battlefields, Stella had turned eleven years old. 

The lifespan of a typical horse was usually about 20 years. 

But for warhorses who carried fully armored owners onto the battlefield, their lifespans were cut in half. Their lifespans were inevitably shortened due to the stress, frequent injuries, and fierce fighting that happened on the battlefields full of all kinds of noise and danger. 

On top of that, Stella had been in numerous battles with Kim Seon-Hyeok. Because of her owner who was willing to take risks, she always had big and small injuries and always had to run through the most violent battlefields for her owner.

It wasn’t strange that her lifespan was shorter than the other warhorses.

Nevertheless, Kim Seon-Hyeok believed that Stella could run more. No, he wanted to believe that. 

This was especially because her age didn’t show on her naturally white coat. 

But that was an illusion.

Ophelia had said that Stella didn’t have much time to run as a warhorse, but the reality was, Stella had already reached the end of her life. 

Perhaps Stella had been standing even more upright to hide her weakened legs. Her desire as a loyal beast to run through the plains with her owner on her back once more must have given her body the last bit of strength.

“Stella. Stella.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok held back his tears as he stroked his favorite horse.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

This innocent beast didn’t resent her owner who had locked her in a small pen and forgotten about her. Instead, she continued to struggle to somehow get up.

However, Stella was exhausted from the previous day’s run and couldn’t get up again.

“Seon-Hyeok! We’re going out with you today! I’ve gathered the fastest ones from my tribe…”

Darun had heard from someone that Kim Seon-Hyeok had headed towards the stable. He excitedly went to look for Kim Seon-Hyeok when he finally saw the state Kim Seon-Hyeok and Stella were in and shut up. 

“Close the door. Stella’s cold.”

Darun quickly closed the stable door at his low voice.

“I think Stella caught a cold. She can’t get up all of a sudden. And unlike the world I lived in, there’s no medicine for her.”

“Seon-Hyeok.”

“Of all things, why.”

Darun’s expression turned solemn at his calm voice. 

“Why did you meet a master like me?”

Kim Seon-Hyeok hugged Stella’s weakly stretched neck as he stroked her mane several times.

“You idiot. You're a bastard who only thinks of yourself. What’s the point of regretting it later?”

At his dry voice, Darun approached him and him by the shoulder.

“Seon-Hyeok.”

“Hyung-niiiim. Let’s fight today since we couldn’t yester… huh? Hyung-nim?”

At that moment, the stable door suddenly opened and Park Joon-Min bounced inside.

Shh.

Darun stood still and placed a finger to his lips, hinting to the Warrior.

“Ah…”

Having belatedly figured out the situation, the Warrior closed his mouth and looked at Kim Seon-Hyeok and Stella alternately.

After looking at the white horse, who was roughly breathing and was out of strength, and then at her owner, who was still clutching his beloved horse, Park Joon-Min ran out of the stable. He returned holding onto the Holy Sword tightly. 

“I prostrated myself before the Holy Light, and the Holy voice said, ‘There is still more work to be done, so go back and finish your duties. Then, you will enter paradise.’”

As Park Joon-Min reverently recited the verse, the Holy Sword began to emit a white light. That light spread and enveloped Stella.

Neigh.

Stella roughly blew out air and jumped to her feet after being touched by the brilliant light.

“Oh…”

“It won’t last long, but it should be enough for one last run.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok thanked him solemnly at Park Joon-Min’s words. Then after a moment’s hesitation, he saddled and mounted Stella.

“Let’s go.”

Just as he was about to leave the stable for one last run with his beloved horse, the base’s bell suddenly began to ring. 

“30 kilometers to the west, a large herd of demons has been found. It’s said that they’re approaching the base! All knights and commanders on the base are requested at the command post!”

One of the soldiers hastily informed him of the war before disappearing elsewhere.

Kim Seon-Hyeok stood watching the soldiers preparing for the battle before he stopped a low-level officer who was passing by.

“Inform the commander.”

He continued as the officer blinked in confusion.

“I’ll be leading this fight.”

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