Episode 25. The Women of War (2)

Though embarrassed by the unexpected attention, Seon-Hyeok nodded in response to Emma’s question. He thought she would say a few more words, but she just stared at him with her clear eyes.

And that was all. She didn’t say anything else, and she looked away.

She wasn’t being indifferent – rather, she was outright disregarding him. Seon-Hyeok had no way of knowing why.

“It’s wartime so alcohol is probably off limits. So what would you like?”

“If you’re willing to overlook it, a drink would be nice… ah, it was a joke. A joke!”

Emma motioned like she would slam the door right away, and startled, Jonasson quickly ordered. Seon-Hyeok watched their interaction in fascination, and when she left with their order, he asked.

“But this looks like a normal bar?”

“It’s not normal. A pretty girl like Emma is taking orders, so isn’t that really special? Were you hoping for something else? If that’s the case, I can take you somewhere else tonight.”

After being passed out in the hall, Hansen jumped up to speak.

“No, that’s not it. I was just surprised…”

It was strange seeing the usually hot-tempered riders be oddly compliant. When asked why, Hansen responded with an unusually serious expression.

“It’s not just this bar. Most of the restaurants, bars, and facilities in this fortress are run by the families of deceased soldiers. In other words, they’re not strangers to us.”

“Ah…”

It seemed as though survivors from the border wars continued their lives in the fortress.

“Even among them, this store is special. We brought Emma here. Let’s say she’s like a younger sister to the 3rd platoon?”

“This table here, those plates over there. They’re all things we found in the ruins.”

There was no way he could dislike these kindhearted men. Seon-Hyeok smiled, as he could sense the compassion the riders felt despite their rough exterior appearance. The riders, seeing his face, coughed awkwardly, and Emma reappeared in the hall.

“Yeah, so you make jokes like that to your little sister?”

The remark seemed to be aimed at Hansen, who had said nonsense like asking for an embrace.

“That asshole says the same thing to his actual sister, so don’t mind him.”

“Hansen has an older sister?”

“Yes. They look identical.”

“Oh no…”

Seon-Hyeok saw Hansen smile with his front teeth missing, had a terrible image pop up in his head, and paled. Hansen protested angrily at this subconscious remark, and Emma, who was watching the situation unfold, commented.

“You’re a little different.”

Seon-Hyeok rolled his eyes, wondering what she meant. The other riders answered back.

“Don’t treat him like the others. He might look weak, but he’s a real man. None of us can run as fast as him.”

“Hmph. It’s all because of those skills or whatever…”

“No, he doesn’t know anything about that. He started from the basics, falling from his horse hundreds of times to improve. I know you don’t like the foreigners, but I hope you don’t treat him like the rest of them.”

Emma gave a sullen response to Jonasson’s serious tone and disappeared. In the meantime, the riders, having devoured the food she served in an instant, stood up. Each of them took out a bag of money and prepared to pay the bill.

“Huh?”

Seon-Hyeok thought they were about to pay for the food, but they placed the entire bags on the table. He was about to ask what they were doing when Emma appeared at the far end of the hall with a shout.

“Again! Again! I knew this would happen!”

“Ugh. Let’s run!”

The riders giggled and pretended to run away, leaving the shouting Emma to stand there all alone.

“I said to take it!”

“We don’t have any need for money! Just take care of everyone with it! Don’t let the kids suffer!”

“Hey, you wasteful bastards! Do you really think you’re in a position to worry about others? You could die any day!”

“Exactly! It’s not like I can take this money when I go, so we just want to help you with your financial situation!”

The words exchanged were harsh and rough, but the underlying concern and sincerity could clearly be felt. Seon-Hyeok found himself smiling as he ran after the cavalry.

What to do. I’m liking these guys more and more.

His colleagues running away excitedly resembled kids playing ding-dong ditch, and he laughed once again.

Seon-Hyeok soon found out the reason behind Emma’s subtly hostile attitude.

“We suffered huge losses on the front lines recently because the new foreigners haven’t been able to do their part properly. In contrast to their physical abilities, foreigners are mentally weak.”

It looked as though there had been quite a few foreigners who had been deployed before him. However, these foreigners had held their comrades back, resulting in significant damages. Of course, the commanders wanted to limit the participation of such deadweights, but they could not because of the stubbornness of the royal family.

The royal family was unwilling to stop supporting the foreigners, claiming it was an investment for their future. The only people who suffered from this decision were the soldiers on the front lines, and by this point, they gritted their teeth any time they saw people with black hair.

“You probably wouldn’t have been welcomed like that if you weren’t wearing your helmet.”

“Ugh. It’s not that I don’t understand, but…”

Then again, the capable foreigners were called to the capital, where they would begin their path to success. It was just the incompetent ones who were sent to the border. Thus, it was inevitable that they would cause an inconvenience while trying to gain battle experience and ultimately leave a bad impression.

“So what happened to those foreigners?”

“A third are dead. Another third are disabled. Only the remaining third are in any reasonable condition.”

Seon-Hyeok’s heart felt heavy upon hearing that so many had been killed or wounded. He felt some connection to those who had been dragged to this world with him, so he could not be happy.

Tap.

Kim Seon-Hyeok, who had been lost in thought with a stiff expression, turned when he was tapped on the shoulder. Clark and the riders were looking at him with eyes full of trust.

Right, I can’t take responsibility for everyone.

It was difficult enough looking over his own well-being, and he did not have the ability to be nosy and concern himself with everyone else. Remembering this, Seon-Hyeok tried hard to smile.

***

The fortress was peaceful, but the world beyond the walls was not. Localized fighting took place here and there, and the Noctein and Adenburg kingdoms continued their war of attrition without ever seeing gains. From Seon-Hyeok’s standpoint, it felt like the two sides would soon be fighting with all their strength, but surprisingly, the other riders reached a different conclusion.

“Seems like things will end soon at this rate?”

“A frontal assault is a loss for both sides. No matter how war-crazy those Noctein bastards are, they won’t go that far.”

The riders said that these localized battles happened every year and added that they were only sent in because a sizable force approximating three regiments in size had gathered on the enemy’s side. Seon-Hyeok found the situation difficult to understand, but there was no way he could refute what the civilians here claimed.

Clark delivered the company commander’s message, saying that they would observe the situation here for a while and then return to their garrison. Now, Seon-Hyeok’s worries changed from surviving to making sure he wouldn’t become known to the royal family prematurely, and he agonized internally.

However, his problem was resolved in an unexpected manner.

“According to the border patrol, there are signs of two companies’ worth of cavalry crossing over into our lands. It’s probably the Sasteins, considering that they’re the only ones crazy enough to come and go along the border like it’s their own homes.”

The company commander said that the current whereabouts of the Sastein cavalry were unknown and that there had been no raids on nearby villages.

“They must be looking for revenge.”

“Which means?”

“They’re targeting us.”

“Even so, will they take that kind of risk just to get revenge on us?”

Company Commander Frederick shook his head at Clark’s disbelieving reaction.

“Those bastards have never experienced defeat in small-scale battles until now, and they just lost an entire company in a decisive battle. They’re probably so furious they can’t even sleep.”

“But those bastards have defeated so many of our units…”

“Which is why they’re probably even angrier. Their pride’s been shaken.”

The company commander’s intuition turned out to be true. Information soon surfaced that the Sastein cavalry vowed to annihilate the 24th Regiment heavy cavalry.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay in the fortress like this. Not even those Sastein bastards could stay behind enemy lines indefinitely.”

“But then the border villages…”

“We’ll have to accept some losses. The morale on the front lines is high because our cavalry defeated the Sasteins. There’s no need to take additional risks in this situation. We just need to take care of ourselves.”

The commander’s attitude was completely different from the previous day, when he asked for the extermination of the Sastein remnants. The entire cavalry protested in anger.

“Are you telling us to hide in fear of those Sastein bastards? Not only that, but even at the expense of civilian lives?”

Clark stepped up in place of the company commander and voiced his opinion, and the commander responded.

“I’m just saying it’s an option we can take. But it seems like none of you have any intention of doing so. Am I correct?”

The cavalry wordlessly responded with determined looks.

“Good. I understand how you feel. However, let’s make something clear first. Are you confident you can win again? Those devils have already defeated a number of our cavalry units, and they’ve crossed the border for the sole purpose of defeating you. Are you confident of winning against such a determined foe?”

At the commander’s question, the cavalry turned their heads in unison. They all turned somewhere unexpected.

They did not look to the company commander, who was the senior officer among them. They did not turn to Clark, who was the de facto commander of the cavalry. They all naturally turned their gazes on Kim Seon-Hyeok.

The commander looked on at the unfolding scene. The foreigner who had gained the respect of these rough men in such a short period of time left a big impression.

“We’ve gained a lot over these past few days.”

“So you’re saying you’re confident?”

As the youngest among them, was he allowed to speak up?

Seon-Hyeok, after a bit of hesitation, finally opened his mouth.

“If we have equal numbers, we won’t lose against them at the very least.”

“What? You won’t lose?”

The commander burst into laughter at Seon-Hyeok’s response.

“That confidence in the face of the enraged Sastein bastards! Then again, with your track record, I can’t doubt what you’re saying.”

The commander laughed for a while with a joyous expression. Then, with a smile still on his face, he called for the leaders of the fortress to devise a battle strategy.

“Ah, you stay here. I think you’ll be the key to our victory.”

Seon-Hyeok was about to leave with the other riders, but he remained with the other leaders at the commander’s request.

It was an unusual sight for a regular rider to attend a meeting of the commanders, and even the company commander seemed surprised by the development.

“I reported on your class, and the people above went crazy. I think you’ll get rewarded more than you think. Who knows, there might even be an open spot as an officer. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to experience a situation like this now.”

The commander’s words weren’t expectant, but rather filled with conviction that he would make his claims a reality. Seon-Hyeok frowned at the commander’s satisfied expression.

That troublesome commander seems happy.

However, the meeting began without consideration for what the foreigner was thinking, and the fortress’ leaders began to share their thoughts.

“If our force is too large, there’s a chance the enemies simply retreat altogether. We don’t know when there will be another opportunity like this, so we need to avoid…”

“But if we’re too conservative, we might take on more losses than necessary. Our opponent is the Sastein cavalry, who have defeated dozens of our cavalry units.”

“So. You’re willing to miss this opportunity? We need to defeat them here, no matter what the cost!”

The most pressing issue was the size of the support force. They were worried that the Sasteins would retreat if their force became too large, but they weren’t confident with a smaller army.

The commander suggested a solution.

“I understand your positions. I’ve also considered the matter, and I found a solution.”

As soon as he finished, the door to the conference room entered, and a stranger entered.

“If we can’t increase or decrease the size of our army, then we’ll just have to improve the quality.”

The person who entered the room had black hair.

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