Episode 34. Vacation (2)

“Village! It’s a village!”

Seon-Hyeok cheered, seeing the smoke from rice cooking rising from far away. He was genuinely delighted, giving a bright smile that didn’t match his dust-covered face.

It had been a week since they left the fortress, and the ideal trip he had expected was nothing more than a fantasy. The trip was horribly uncomfortable, tedious, and repetitive.

All he had seen up to this point were barren plains and unidentifiable wild grass. The villages they had occasionally passed by were so desolate it was hard to find a place to rest. When they did manage to spend a night under a roof, they ended up leaving before dawn because of ravenous fleas and lice.

After that experience, Seon-Hyeok had opted to bypass subsequent villages. However, the one in front of them now was different. There seemed to be far more houses, and they seemed spacious enough to spend the night in.

“Let’s hurry! What are you waiting for?”

Seon-Hyeok urged Hansen on, as he had been lagging behind. Hansen grinned, showing his missing front teeth, and replied.

“Don’t make such a fuss. The people will get scared.”

Hearing Hansen’s words, Seon-Hyeok grabbed Stella’s reins and slowed down.

“Unlike in the border villages, where there’s at least one soldier from every household, the people here only see military personnel when they come to take away their hard-earned money. If you’re dressed like that and charge into the village, don’t you think you’ll scare everyone?”

His words made sense. Beyond that, Hansen’s words were uncharacteristically considerate.

“What, you jerk.”

“Never mind. You just seem different.”

Hansen frowned as Seon-Hyeok answered with a smirk.

“Let’s dismount before we go in. There’s no need to scare them.”

Seon-Hyeok knew better than anyone how intimidating it was to look up at a rider on a horse. At his suggestion, Hansen also got off without complaint.

“Welcome, knights. What brings you here to our poor village…”

The village elder and other villagers ran out to the entrance to bow towards them. It seemed as though their plan to avoid intimidating the locals was in vain.

“If, by any chance, you’re here about the matter from last time, we’re not ready yet. We’re all working hard, so please give us another month…”

“Oh. We haven’t been sent here by the lord of this area…”

Hansen stepped up to introduce himself as a traveler, worried what the villagers would say if he let them continue. Upon realizing that they weren’t the lord’s knights, the villagers collectively let out a sigh of relief. Even so, fear and vigilance lingered on their faces.

Seon-Hyeok and Hansen couldn’t do anything about that, so they gave up and allowed themselves to be guided into the village.

“Hm.”

The village, despite seeming fairly nice from afar, looked quite different once they actually entered. The houses were worn down, and the villagers’ clothes were in tatters, with holes that hadn’t been patched.

Seon-Hyeok couldn’t get a proper look, since the villagers immediately averted their gaze when their eyes met, but their faces likewise seemed lifeless.

‘I want you to see for yourself. The world outside the camp is worse than you think. If you insist on being discharged, there’s a good chance you’ll soon be in a similar situation as them. You should make your decision after you get back.’

Seon-Hyeok recalled what the commander had said before he left on his vacation and was convinced. The commoners’ lives were so pitiful, and their environment so poor. The thought of living in such an environment was suffocating.

“Is there something you don’t like…”

The village elder rubbed his hands together in fright as he saw Seon-Hyeok’s expression harden. Seon-Hyeok hurriedly shook his hands, saying it wasn’t the case, but it was too late. The terrified elder, whose movements were already slow and feeble, tripped over his own feet.

Thinking he had done something wrong, Seon-Hyeok tried to help, but the elder jumped up to his feet and limped on, continuing to act as their guide.

“Ugh.”

The elder did not want to inconvenience the valued guest. Seon-Hyeok misunderstood, thinking the elder was trying to avoid getting dirtied.

Such was life in this world.

Once he left the confines of the military, where ability and rank were valued more highly than status at birth, he was able to see what this world was truly like. Seon-Hyeok could feel the gap between classes more than ever before.

He unknowingly sighed, realizing that the clear contrast between his vibrant blue uniform and the villagers’ worn, faded clothes was telling him he needed to remain in the military.

A well-cooked whole chicken and some bread were placed on the table. The food didn’t match the village’s poor appearance, and Seon-Hyeok couldn’t taste anything once he realized the villagers had gone beyond their means in preparing this meal.

“Isn’t it terrible? This is why soldiers never think about leaving, no matter how awful and dangerous military conditions can be. In trying to save themselves, the soldiers would be putting this fate on their families.”

Hansen commented as they finished their meal. The relative affluence of the border areas was compensation for soldiers offering their lives to the kingdom. For anyone who wasn’t born an aristocrat, such a fate - a life of poverty or of constant danger - was inevitable.

Seon-Hyeok further lost his appetite as he listened to Hansen’s dark words, and he stopped eating.

“I’m done.”

“Okay. Go and rest. We’ll be leaving before dawn.”

Hansen grabbed him as he was about to head to his room.

“Seon-Hyeok.”

“Huh?”

“I hope you don’t insist on getting discharged.”

Seon-Hyeok felt Hansen kept emphasizing the poor conditions the commoners lived in, and it seemed Hansen had done so with the hopes that he would stay in the military. It was a clever plan Seon-Hyeok hadn’t been expecting from the rider, but he wasn’t upset.

Seon-Hyeok might have felt differently if Hansen had done so under the commander or the royal family’s orders, but his trickery was out of an honest desire to remain with his comrade for a little longer. He had no reason to get upset.

“But if I don’t, you’ll be a lower rank than me. I’ve even been offered a title.”

When Seon-Hyeok responded with a heavy heart, Hansen’s eyes grew wide.

“Is that how it is? You’ll be the captain then? No, if you have a title, you’ll be company commander at the very least.”

Hansen tried to piece together the situation, then gave up and continued on.

“You can be the commander, for all I care. What’s important is that we can ride together on the battlefield.”

Hansen said that he had never experienced as thrilling of a charge as he did when Seon-Hyeok was at the vanguard. He simply wanted to relive that experience.

“I’ll be going then.”

“Oh. Right.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed as he turned around. His decision seemed to be made.

It looked like he was stuck.

He grumbled inwardly, but at the same time, he felt at ease. It was the first time in a while that he slept soundly. The following day, he jumped on his horse with a face absent of the fatigue from the previous day.

“Let’s just stay on the roads and avoid any villages. Let’s get there as fast as possible.”

Hansen smiled and nodded. He could sense the change in Seon-Hyeok from his tone and attitude.

Seon-Hyeok had reached level 6 after the previous two battles, and he had far surpassed the strength of low-tier classes.

Perhaps because his attribute control had reached 90, he no longer suffered from any lapses in concentration. As a result, he was able to maintain the Wind Body and Wind Spirit abilities to avoid any troubles on the road.

The two did not encounter a single bandit or monster that Hansen had previously warned about.

In fact, Seon-Hyeok even grew bored of the uneventful journey and called on Atiya.

‘Thank you for summoning me, master.’

Atiya was lively as always, and Seon-Hyeok nervously glanced towards Hansen. However, Hansen couldn’t see her, given that he had no affinity for spirits.

Realizing that Hansen was completely oblivious, Seon-Hyeok was able to relax.

‘Hehe.’

Atiya took the lead with a clear laugh. The wind blowing from the front died down, and it became easier for him to keep his eyes open. The only problem now was that Atiya was constantly moving around in front of him, making him dizzy.

-          Attribute control has increased by 1.

His attribute control, which had stagnated after reaching 90, began to rapidly increase after summoning Atiya and continuing on their journey.

As his control improved, Atiya’s figure became clearer. Her ghost-like figure became livelier.

-          Attribute control reached the maximum value of 99.

-          Special conditions must be fulfilled in order to exceed current limits.

Atiya, who became even clearer when the message appeared, cheered.

‘Master, something’s strange. Something’s happening to me!’

Atiya generally didn’t speak unless necessary, but now, she exclaimed in an urgent voice.

‘Something’s changing inside of me!’

Seon-Hyeok stared at Atiya for a while, wondering if the spirit advancement Ahn Yoo-Jung had previously mentioned was happening, but no such change occurred.

It seemed as though his attribute control needed to increase a bit more for it to happen.

“Hm.”

Nonetheless, he wasn’t disappointed. He now realized that Atiya could grow as his attribute control improved, and he knew that she would advance eventually.

And anyways, it’s not bad as is.

Seon-Hyeok smiled in satisfaction as he looked at Atiya’s unusually clear appearance.

They eventually reached Hansen’s hometown.

“What do you think? Isn’t it completely different from the villages we passed along the way?”

For the first time, Seon-Hyeok saw well-maintained roads, tidy houses, and, off in the distance, a large residence for the lord. Hansen’s hometown was the only respectable village he had seen on their journey.

“Wow, Hansen. You really were a rich kid.”

“My family’s pretty well off.”

Hansen seemed flattered by the words of admiration. For Seon-Hyeok, it was endearing that the child of an affluent nobleman ended up a crude rider like Hansen.

“Y, young master?”

A man, bent over the well-kept field and rice paddies, poked his head out. His eyes grew wide when he saw Hansen.

“Zalman. Have you been well?”

“Young master!”

“Huh? Where? Where?”

The faces of the villagers were full of surprise, as it had been a while since they had seen Hansen. Given that they were welcoming and not on-edge, it was evident Hansen’s family acted as kind lords to these people.

“Young master, why has it been so long? We’ve all been worried after hearing about the war…”

Seon-Hyeok got goosebumps as he heard the ugly and rough-looking Hansen be referred to as ‘young master’.

“Ah, wait. What about the lord?”

“Zalman ran off to find him, so he should be out soon.”

Just then, they noticed a group of people quickly approaching them from afar. There was an older man, a woman about the same age, and a woman and men who were much younger. Seon-Hyeok could immediately tell who they were.

“Hansen!”

“Father!”

Hansen, the lord, and the others, who fiercely hugged one another, looked so alike.

“I heard the news. They said a foreigner made great contributions in the war. I’m guessing that was you.”

Following their brief reunion, Hansen introduced Seon-Hyeok to his family.

“Welcome to Frostbegmund.”

Frostbegmund.

Seon-Hyeok had finally reached the base of the Frost Peak where the drake resided.

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