The Indomitable Grand Duke, who had now become a member of the Imperial family, was someone the Imperial guards had to protect most stringently after the empress. Even if he was powerful and the strongest knight who was called the Storm Knight, they couldn’t be negligent while escorting him.
But now, an uninvited guest had suddenly appeared in front of the Grand Duke’s procession.
Of course, there was no way the Imperial Guards would be gentle with their response.
“How dare you block the procession of His Grace the Grand Duke! Kneel and pay your respect immediately! Only then will your identity be heard.”
While the most senior of the knights stepped forward to shout at the interloper, the remaining knights narrowed their formation as they erected their shields and pressured the uninvited guest.
The Royal Knights and the Central Knights were made up of talented people, but the Imperial Guards were made up of the most talented and upright people from those two groups. There was no way that the fighting spirit exuded by these people would be weak.
Their fighting spirit was pointed at the uninvited guest as if it was a sword that would cut him down.
But surprisingly, the uninvited guest resisted their pressure. No, he didn’t just resist it, he calmly overcame and overpowered all the knights’ fighting spirits.
The loyal knights’ faces hardened.
Just as the atmosphere became so tense that it wouldn’t be strange if swords started swinging, Kim Seon-Hyeok stepped forward.
“Put down your swords. He’s not an enemy.”
Only after he had spoken did the Imperial Guards withdraw their swords and lessen their fighting spirit. But, they still continued to be wary of the opponent with tense faces.
Kim Seon-Hyeok sighed. Since the coronation, his guards had been escorting him more often and he was already feeling stifled. He could almost understand how stifled Ophelia must’ve felt having lived her entire life overprotected(?) like this.
However, he couldn’t just keep lamenting for the rest of his life. He looked at the man wrapped up in a cape that was blocking his procession and asked:
“So, what brings you here?”
Seon-Hyeok’s words caused his opponent to hesitate. It seemed like he was deciding what to say.
Kim Seon-Hyeok could understand his opponent’s reaction. His opponent must be at a loss for words. After all, until recently, they were on par with each other, but Seon-Hyeok had suddenly become a Grand Duke and was equal to a monarch.
“Duke Roachim, I’m afraid I don’t have time for this as my schedule is rather tight.”
The unidentified man was the Reclusive Duke Marek Schnail Roachim.
The knights of the Imperial Guards muttered amongst themselves at the unexpected identity of the mysterious man but soon, closed their mouths again. Considering how many knights of the Empire wanted to meet this hermit, a task just as impossible as plucking a star from the heavens, their reaction was rather bland.
However, nothing was more important to the Imperial Guards than the protection of the royal family, so in a way, their reaction was natural.
The knights of the Imperial Guard didn’t let down their guard even after learning their opponent was the Sword Star. No, instead, they tightened their formation even more than before and prepared for what might happen.
The Imperial Guard’s image truly was that of a group that wouldn’t let down their guard under any circumstances.
The Sword Star took down his hood and frowned briefly at the knights’ fighting spirit. He seemed annoyed by the knights who were like fools rushing in where angels feared to tread as they continued to exude fighting spirit as they looked at him.
“The empress has ordered me to hasten, so I’m not pleased to be wasting time like this. If there’s nothing else, then I’ll be going.”
Only after Kim Seon-Hyeok talked did the Sword Star open his mouth.
“I promised to wait, but it seemed like things were taking too long so I decided to come in person…”
After struggling for a while, he finally managed to talk, but his words trailed off. Perhaps Kim Seon-Hyeok’s position as the empress’ spouse and as the Grand Duke was a bit too much for the Sword Star to dismiss him, but at the same time, his pride hurt too much for him to speak politely to Seon-Hyeok.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait a little longer.”
Instead of giving him a direct answer, Kim Seon-Hyeok told the Sword Star that this was an Imperial procession to mourn the death of Count Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk.
However, the Sword Star did not back down at his answer.
“Then what do you want me to do?”
Kim Seon-Hyeok became annoyed with the Sword Star’s attitude of not considering other people’s circumstances at all.
“I will follow behind you.”
It is undeniably true that the side that has more to lose always gives in first. Instead of waiting without an end and suffering, the Sword Star decided to directly follow him and look for a chance to duel.
“Do as you wish.”
Kim Seon-Hyeok clicked his tongue as he looked at the swordsman.
The peak he had reached with his swords was completely out of touch with his words and actions.
Shaking his head, Seon-Hyeok had the procession move out.
Kim Seon-Hyeok and his party rapidly headed west with minimal supplies, but even so, there were quite a few supplies they had to take with them.
Not to mention, since they were leaving in the middle of winter when it was the coldest, they had to prepare for the cold. On top of that, now that he was a member of the Imperial family, as well as a Grand Duke with territories encompassing the western part of the Empire, he had to refrain from rolling around in the common barracks as he did when he was just a field commander.
Of course, he himself wasn’t concerned with his dignity, but he couldn’t do whatever he wanted because the dignity of the Imperial family was at stake.
As a result, the procession wasn’t as fast as he had hoped.
Of course, it was frustrating for him when his body was already racing towards the west but his body was only passing through the middle region.
Somehow, the higher his status became, the more restrained he felt, not more comfortable and free.
Kim Seon-Hyeok sighed as he watched the knights of the Imperial Guard preparing a splendid barrack meant exclusively for the Imperial family.
He was becoming jealous of the free-spirited appearance of the Sword Star who was quickly setting up camp and settling in for the night.
“Please, this way, sir.”
Soon, a knight who had been setting up the barrack brought him out of his thoughts and guided him into the barrack.
The barrack, specially designed for the Imperial family, was toasty warm inside, unlike the fierce windy outside world.
Humans are fickle beings because his irritation quickly disappeared and he could only smile in satisfaction.
“I wonder if it’s really okay to leave him like that.”
He glanced around his barrack, then, he grabbed a knight who was just about to leave and asked about the neglected Sword Star.
“While it is well known that Duke Roachim is a renowned knight and of noble status, he is not well known compared to his reputation. As we do not know what he is thinking, all we can do is keep him in mind, sir.”
Surprisingly, the knights of the Imperial Guard completely excluded the Sword Star. The entire time they were moving, the highest-ranking knights stayed in the middle of Kim Seon-Hyeok and the Sword Star, constantly ready for any potential situations. And now that it was night, they set up a separate barrack for him outside the campsite and warned the Sword Star of approaching their campsite.
“But with the weather this cold, I’m worried that the old man will become sick.”
Although Kim Seon-Hyeok still wasn’t pleased with the Sword Star’s arbitrary behavior, he was a bit uncomfortable watching the white-haired old man camping alone in the windy field in the middle of winter.
Recently, Theodore and Count Mangsk had left the world one after another, so it seemed that Seon-Hyeok had become a little careful about things like this.
No matter how accomplished he had become, it didn’t mean the Sword Star wouldn’t get sick. Not to mention, he was now too old to endure this cold weather.
Of course, those were all unfounded worries.
Although he looked more like a scholar with his weak appearance rather than a high leveled swordsman, the Sword Star was the Sword Star. Even on the day when the party was stranded due to the heavy snow, the Sword Star stayed up all night without a fire and was perfectly fine the next day.
What a healthy old man.
The only thing blocking the cold for him was a thin cape draped over a simple outfit. But nevertheless, the Sword Star didn’t seem affected at all by the bitter cold in the middle of winter.
But there was something else that was even more surprising.
Seeing how Kim Seon-Hyeok was a former cavalryman, the procession was moving only on horseback without a carriage. The warhorses they were riding came from the greatest pedigree even amongst those in the Empire. They were capable of pounding across tens of kilometers, through rain or snow, and across muddy or frozen land.
However, the Sword Star didn’t have a horse and followed on foot. Seeing how he was able to catch up to galloping horses, he was truly a hale and strong old man.
Perhaps it was because Kim Seon-Hyeok kept seeing such a sight, but he began to become curious about the Sword Star.
“Why are you doing all this?”
And so, he created a separate space and attempted to talk with the Sword Star.
“You can speak comfortably, so please, open your mouth and talk.”
Only after Kim Seon-Hyeok said that after getting frustrated with the Sword Star stubbornly keeping his mouth closed did the Sword Star begin talking.
“Do I need a reason to cross swords with you?”
“I’m saying that you could have waited in the capital. You don’t need to suffer this cold winter and follow me around.”
Just because he was following behind them didn’t mean there was an opportunity to duel immediately. Kim Seon-Hyeok just couldn’t understand why the swordsman was being so impatient.
“It seemed like the Grand Duke had too many things going on.”
“Even if that’s the case, I wouldn’t have forgotten about the promise.”
It wasn’t just the Sword Star who wanted the duel. He was also curious as to how far he could fight against this old knight who was given the title of strongest knight in the empire.
“If it’s just light sparring, then it’s possible now.”
“Swords have no eyes, and do not know what it means to be moderate.”
The reason they couldn’t have the duel immediately was that the Sword Star was stubborn and was determined to see it to the end once it started.
“You’re so obstinate.”
“If I hadn’t lived like this, then I wouldn’t have come this far.”
Seon-Hyeok had thought he would be mad, but the Sword Star merely agreed with his words.
“You are strong enough of an opponent that it will be hard to find someone like you again. If I seem impatient, that is the reason.”
No matter how much he only cared about the path of the sword, it seemed like he knew how much the deceased Theodore and Count Mangsk meant to Kim Seon-Hyeok.
Kim Seon-Hyeok grinned at the somewhat awkwardly sounding words.
“Are you trying to apologize?”
The Sword Star didn’t respond, but he also didn’t deny it.
The Sword Star wasn’t a good conversation partner, but from the start, there wasn’t much of a common topic between the two men.
But the winter night was too long for them to stay up all night looking at the burning fire.
So, when Seon-Hyeok was taking a break, he sometimes invited the Sword Star to join him and had a small conversation with him.
Surprisingly, the swordsman never rejected his invitation. The Reclusive Duke, who didn’t like any other conversation besides the one spoken with swords, was an obedient person who came when called for and left when told to leave.
Perhaps he had forgotten how to deal with people and become cranky after only handling swords.
As the Sword Star calmly watched the fire burning, Kim Seon-Hyeok abruptly asked him something.
“Aren’t there many other strong people besides me?”
“I’ve fought against all the ones who’ve made a name for themselves, but they were all unsatisfactory.”
It sounded insane, but because it was the Sword Star saying it, it sounded natural.
“But if you looked at other countries, I’m sure there would be some.”
“I’m sure there are. But the one in front of me right now isn’t them, it’s you, Grand Duke.”
Kim Seon-Hyeok shook his head at the swordsman's consistent attitude. He spoke again.
“So even after our duel, Duke Roachim will continue to duel the strong.”
“As long as my sword doesn’t break.”
Kim Seon-Hyeok suddenly recalled something when he heard the Sword Star’s words that contained his lifelong beliefs.
“Then may I recommend someone?”
Instead of responding, the swordsman looked at him with excitement.
Kim Seon-Hyeok smiled at the old knight.
“In the west.”