Episode 242. Gradus Number One (4)

The parade taking place on the central road did not end until late afternoon. When the Indomitable Duke and the expedition team disappeared through the castle gates, the people who had remained behind to watch them scattered one by one.

And so, the ceremony of triumphant return ended, but the excitement in the royal capital did not decrease. 

The House of Adenstein declared a seven-day festival to commemorate the safe return of the Indomitable Duke.

Servants and attendants poured out of the gate the Indomitable Duke had disappeared through. They had been preparing food and drinks for the citizens and now, they were quickly preparing for the festival. 

Soon, the mouth-watering scent and lovely smell of wine quickly spread throughout the road. 

The citizens of the royal capital made a ruckus as they thought about how much they would enjoy the festival that would start that evening.

However, while the citizens were making a fuss, the center of the capital, the royal castle, was quiet. 

It was Ophelia’s way of being considerate for the Indomitable Duke and the expedition team who must be exhausted from their journey from the far central region to the royal capital. 

The foreigners, including Lee Soo-Hyuk and Choi Min-Young, and the Qeishas were guided to accommodations provided for them in the royal castle. They most likely wouldn’t leave their accommodations until it was time for the welcoming party hosted by the royal family began.

Separated from his group, Kim Seon-Hyeok immediately immersed himself in a warm bath that the servants had prepared in advance.

“Ah, this is nice.”

It finally felt like the fatigue that had been accumulating from going through all kinds of suffering and battles for more than a year was being relieved.

“Your Highness, may we lay our hands on your noble self to help relax your muscles?” 

Just as he laid back in the tub and started to enjoy the warmth, servants approached him.

Even in the royal family, they were famous for their great massages. When he nodded and allowed them, they quickly grabbed his shoulders and arms and began massaging them.

“Ahh…”

It hurt, but it also felt good. He gave an ambiguous moan.

The massage’s effect was unbelievable. Kim Seon-Hyeok felt his muscles loosening up and began to feel very relaxed. Even his originally tense mood felt like it was being soothed.  

Ah, this is heaven. 

He smiled at the luxury he hadn’t been able to enjoy even in the other world where civilization had been developed to its fullest. 

But, his time in ‘heaven’ wasn’t long. After his bath water cooled, he left the bathroom and immediately, his body stiffened.

It was Ophelia.

“Three on your chest, and two on your stomach.”

What on earth was she talking about? For a second, Kim Seon-Hyeok couldn’t understand what she meant and looked down at his body as well.

Then, he rushed to cover his naked body.

Three scars on his chest and two on his stomach. He belatedly realized what she was talking about.

But by then, it was useless.

“Eleven on your back, and countless scars on your arms and legs.”

Ophelia spoke as if she had observed his body in detail.

Kim Seon-Hyeok finally realized how she knew exactly how many scars he had on his body.

One of the servants jolted as they met his gaze and quickly bowed their head. It was a servant who had, until just a moment ago, vigorously massaged his body. 

It was clear that from the start, the massage was just an excuse. The servant had been a spy sent in by Ophelia to check his body.

He finally realized it, it was too late to do something about it.

“There were four scars that seemed to have happened relatively recently.”

The servant had already reported everything to Ophelia and seeing her stern expression, it didn’t seem likely she would be calming down quickly. 

“I knew the battlefields would be rough, but this is too much. Hasn’t your body become like…”

Perhaps she was beyond furious with her husband disregarding her request to be careful? For once, she was speechless. 

Just as he began opening his mouth to make an excuse, Ophelia finished the sentence she couldn’t before.

“....like a rag?”

“Ah…”

It wasn’t anger. 

A deep sigh and trembling voice, her eyes full of pity, every single one of her gestures was expressing desperate concern for him. 

“How… Just how often were you on the verge of dying that you’ve become that wounded?”

Ophelia seemed to have figured out how often her husband had been in fatal situations before reaching her simply by counting the number of scars on his body. 

It was only then that Kim Seon-Hyeok was able to understand her desperate emotions. 

There were so many sins he committed that he could only be wary. He had only been thinking how she must resent him for returning so late that he never thought about what she might be feeling. 

While he had been thinking about how to escape from this situation, Ophelia had been constantly worrying about her husband. 

But as monarch ruling a kingdom, she couldn’t show her feelings in front of others.

“But I’ve come back safely, haven’t I?”

Ophelia frowned. She didn’t seem to like his answer. But he talked before she could open her mouth.

“I missed you, Ophelia.”

Her name was a noble name that could not be said thoughtlessly, but it was still a name he could say as her spouse. Ophelia’s expression became strange when he gently spoke her name.

She couldn’t get mad at him, but she couldn’t like it either; it was an ambiguous expression. He slowly approached her and embraced her.

“A lot.”

She weakly resisted him, but soon, she was hugging him as well.

“Aren’t you ashamed to be doing this in broad daylight?”

It was a feeble complaint.

“I have something I was doing, so I have to return soon.”

But unlike her words, she continued to push her slender body deeper into his arms and he hugged her even tighter.

Considering how loveable she was, it was easy for him to ignore her cheeky behavior of gesturing at the servants to leave.


Ophelia and the newly returned Kim Seon-Hyeok were able to tear down the small wall that had been between them. 

Thanks to that, the atmosphere between the two became noticeably softer and many things changed.

He no longer tried to escape from the situation, but focused solely on her. And Ophelia also honestly spoke about her longing and concerns that had been accumulating.

“You must have forgotten my request. Otherwise, how could you have gotten hurt again?”

Perhaps that was why, but her words weren’t reprimanding him any longer.

“Ah, this scar? I got this one from the duel with Marquis Reinhardt.”

“Do you mean to tell me that Marquis Reinhardt did that?”

Her voice turned cold. She seemed to have forgotten that she had ordered the marquis to teach Seon-Hyeok a lesson. 

“Yes. His sword was so sharp I almost lost my arm.”

Almost as if he was tattling to her, Kim Seon-Hyeok informed Ophelia of the duel in detail. It was as if he was secretly hoping she would give the vexing marquis some trouble.

Of course, she was more reasonable than anyone else and, as if she had sliced through it with a knife, had a very clear division between public and private affairs that there was no way she would rebuke the marquis. 

He knew that fact very well. He was just having fun talking to her honestly and about anything that they wanted. 

“But aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know who won?”

“What is so important about winning or losing a duel? What’s important right now is the fact that you’ve returned safely.”

Ophelia’s voice was soft. It was her way of being considerate in case her husband’s feeling hurt over losing the duel.

“Really? But I wanted to tell you.”

However, contrary to her fears, he hadn’t lost.  

“I won.”

His proud attitude was like that of a child’s.

But, the meaning of his words was by no means light or trivial.

While the Sword Star was being called the Reclusive Duke and keeping himself behind closed doors, the title of strongest in the kingdom was held by Marquis Reinhardt.

Kim Seon-Hyeok had beaten that marquis. Now, he was the one recognized as the strongest knight in the kingdom.

If there was someone who wanted to object to that title, then it could only be the Sword Star himself, the person who originally held the title of the strongest. 

And at that moment, the Sword Star entered the royal castle.

***

There was no one in the kingdom who didn’t know that the Royal House of Adenstein was in charge of all the affairs of the kingdom. The same held true with the current regent, everyone knew that it was Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein.

“Her Highness the Regent is currently resting in her bedchambers, sir.”

But that regent was taking a nap when she should be busy with work. And right after her husband had returned. 

“Hm. I seemed to have come at the wrong time.”

Although the Reclusive Duke was known to be clueless to anything that wasn’t related to the sword, he was least sensitive enough to know what was happening.

“Guess it can’t be helped.”

He wanted to immediately find the man called the Indomitable Duke and cross swords with him, but seeing how that was impossible right now, the Reclusive Duke decided to do it next time.

However, he was grumpy that he had misstepped when he hated to leave his estate.

That’s why the Sword Star played a very small trick.

He secretly let out a trickly of energy so thin that even the servant in front of him couldn’t notice it.

“Since I said hello, I’ll come back next time.”

“I don’t understand, sir?”

The servant’s eyes widened at the duke’s puzzling words, but the Sword Star had no intention of explaining himself.

“I’ll be returning.”

With that short sentence, the Sword Star disappeared.

***

“Hm?”

Kim Seon-Hyeok’s muscles tensed at the strange feeling. He didn’t know why.

At that moment, a sword appeared in front of his eyes.

Assassin?

When he felt a cold energy engulfing him as if he had been tossed into a frozen lake in the middle of winter, he reflexively pulled Ophelia towards him to protect her. 

But it was an illusion.

The blade that had clearly been visible until a moment ago was gone. By the time he came to his senses, only Ophelia was staring at him worriedly.

What was that?

The presence of the sword was too clear for him to pass it off as an illusion and move on. He could still feel the iciness of his cold sweat rolling down his back. 

But, no matter how much he looked around, he couldn’t see anything.

“It seems your spirit has been damaged by the long fight.”

Ophelia, who didn’t know the situation, stroked his sweaty cheek and forehead as she believed he hadn’t relieved his fatigue from the battlefield.

***

After Ophelia left the bedroom to deal with her backlog, Marquis Reinhardt came looking for him.

“It’s the Sword Star.”

When Kim Seon-Hyeok frowned at the random remark, Marquis Reinhardt explained further.

“A sword that does not exist. I’m saying that it was the Sword Star.”

Seon-Hyeok’s expression hardened when he finally understood what the marquis was saying.

“You’re saying that the illusion of a sword I just saw wasn’t a hallucination?”

“No, no. It’s not an illusion.”

Come to think of it, the marquis’ complexion was just as terrible as Kim Seon-Hyeok’s. The marquis looked completely different from his energetic old self.

“I’ve also seen that sword before. A sword that disappeared after staying in the air for a moment.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok groaned.

“The Sword Star visited.”

With a deep frown, the marquis continued to talk.

“That was the Sword Star’s greeting to you. I also saw the sword that I once saw before today. No, it might not only be me. There may also be a few other knights in the royal castle who saw the same thing.”

The marquis’ pride seemed to have been hurt as he gritted his teeth.

“That haughty attitude of his that seems to look down on all the knights in the palace; that condescending attitude of his that doesn’t care a whit about anyone else is nothing new.”

The marquis seemed angry, but at the same time, he seemed dejected.

“But, he has that right.”

The marquis would have immediately annihilated whoever had played such a trick in the royal castle, but he couldn’t do anything to the Sword Star. 

That’s how strong the Sword Star was. 

The marquis referred to the Sword Star as a natural disaster. The marquis couldn’t resent or envy the Sword Star; he could only feel awe.

“The sword I saw today was much clearer and sharper than the one I saw before. If my guess is right, then he must be stronger than before. 

The marquis warned Kim Seon-Hyeok. 

“Be careful. It seems like he is quite determined.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok faced another challenge less than a day after arriving at the royal castle.

The greeting the Sword Star sent was a challenge to a duel.

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