Episode 43. Sponsor War (1)

The fact that the Adenburg and Noctein Kingdoms were hostile to each other was common knowledge in this world. The two kingdoms invaded the other’s territory every year, and war was nothing new.

The same held true for the preceding war. Two to four regiments had been mobilized on each side, leading to fears of an all-out war, but the real battles were between smaller units.

The Adenburg Kingdom experienced many victories and losses throughout these sporadic battles. The war, which lasted almost two months, resulted in a similar number of casualties on both sides, and it was impossible to determine which side won purely based on the number of dead.

‘The 627th Adenburg-Noctein War.’

War between the kingdoms was nothing special, and each new war was nothing more than a footnote in their respective histories.

However, this last war was a hot topic in Adenstein, the capital of Adenburg.

“Those Noctein bastards tried to fight us and had to run away with their tails between their legs!”

“Ha, how perfect. They probably won’t bother us for the time being.”

After each war, it was normal for both sides to claim victory. However, this time, the victor was indisputable.

‘The Sastein cavalry – the bane of all cavalry units – has been exterminated.’

Those demons that had long terrorized the Adenburg cavalry had been defeated.

It was a rare major achievement, and an overwhelming victory.

Ordinary citizens who cared little about the war simply believed that their kingdom had repelled the invaders once again, but the nobles, who were more aware of the happenings at the border, were out of control with excitement.

“It’s a huge blessing for our kingdom that those terrible demons have been defeated.”

“I know. I couldn’t even tell you how many riders we lost to them… it’s been a long time coming, but it’s good that we got our revenge.”

The nobles knew better than anyone how much the Sastein cavalry had plagued the Adenburg troops and how much they had suffered at the enemies’ hands. This was because the nobles were responsible for supplying horses and trained riders following defeats on the front lines.

They genuinely celebrated this meaningful victory.

“To think that we don’t have to hear that cursed name anymore. It’s like pulling out a rotten tooth.”

There was a deep smile etched on the nodding man’s face, and everyone agreed. The nobles had always cursed the hellish Sastein cavalry and the Noctein Kingdom they fought for.

“I heard it was a foreigner who made the greatest contribution in this war?”

“I heard that as well. I’ve been told he was at the vanguard when fighting those demons.”

“The royal family has always been so fond of these foreigners, and it looks like they’re finally pulling their weight. I worried that their generosity would go unpaid.”

The most common topic of conversation was the foreigner who led the Adenburg cavalry to victory.

“By the way.”

A nobleman got the attention of the others.

“I heard something interesting.”

He took a dramatic pause before skillfully continuing his story.

“There’s a rumor that the foreigner was assessed as low-tier.”

“You must have heard wrong. I’ve been told that the summoner and knights sent by the royal family played a major role in the battle. They’re all mid-tier at the very least.”

A low-tier foreigner wasn’t any better than the most novice of knights. There was no way such an insignificant being could have made a great contribution in fighting the terrible Sasteins.

The nobles sneered at the man who brought up the rumors.

“It’s natural for you to not believe me. It’s shocking that a low-rank foreigner could be the shining star on that horrible battlefield. But wait.”

The noble remained calm and collected despite being ridiculed. Rather, he seemed to be mocking the others back for their lack of inside knowledge.

“What if the royal family had incorrectly judged the foreigner? We know that the royal family is wise, but even so, it doesn’t mean they’re infallible.”

“Stop beating around the bush, and get to the point.”

The others sensed that there was something more. The noble dragged the story on with a pleased expression before getting to the point.

“There was someone unusual among the foreigners. Apparently he was assigned the unusual class of ‘dragon rider’ and treated as low-tier. It seems like the royal family did so because his class was ambiguous and not something well known, like knights or riders.”

“So what was their mistake?”

“That foreigner was the one who made the biggest contribution in the recent battle.”

The old nobles, having spent their entire lives mired in politics within the capital, immediately grasped the situation and found the answer.

“The royal family made a mistake.”

“That’s correct. They should have assigned him the highest tier and treated him well, but instead, they sent him to the dangerous border territories.”

The looks in their eyes changed, and the first noble continued on excitedly.

“My loyalty to the royal family would not have changed if I were in that situation, but as you know, these foreigners know nothing about dedication and service. They can’t be expected to be as loyal as we are.”

“At the very least, they’d be disappointed.”

“They might harbor negative feelings toward the royal family.”

He could practically hear the gears turning in the nobles’ heads.

“So what’s that foreigner’s name?”

The nobleman who brought up the story answered with a pleased expression.

“Kim Seon-Hyeok. That’s his name.”

He smiled cunningly as he answered.

“The royal family’s mistake is also the fault of the nobles. Isn’t it our duty as their loyal servants to come forward and fix the situation before he gets any negative ideas?”

“You’re right. We should intervene. Even if we suffer losses in the process, it’s our duty.”

The faces of the nobles had the same cunning expression as the first nobleman as they smiled and looked at one another.

***

“Wow! Look at that horse!”

“They look so strong! As expected of soldiers on the front lines!”

“They make the royal cavalry look like little girls!”

The citizens of Adenstein were completely bewildered by the imposing appearance of the cavalry coming into the capital. It was uncharacteristic of them, as they had often witnessed similar events, but they had never seen the cavalry that manned the borders up close.

These riders had always been disregarded and relegated to lower ranks, but thanks to their defeat of the infamous Sastein cavalry, they were able to visit the capital for the first time in a long while.

These riders were completely different from the royal cavalry that occasionally came and went.

They lacked the extravagant armor or neat appearance of the royal cavalry. Instead, their armor was caked in dust and showed significant signs of wear, while the men themselves each had at least one scar.

Their appearance was truly that of real warriors, and the citizens of the capital were genuinely thrilled. They cheered and shouted endlessly as they looked at the battle-scarred cavalry.

“Ack!”

A scream cut through the cheers and shouts.

“W, what’s that!”

“G, guards!”

The disturbance began far behind the marching troops. The citizens, busy watching the cavalry passing by, grew disappointed when they had all passed, and they tried to either follow the cavalry or leave.

Grr.

However, they could not do so. They froze as they heard the low growl. The citizens turned their heads to the source of the noise.

“Ah…”

They collapsed onto the ground. There was a monster there, growling through his terrifying maw as he blinked at them.

The monster resembled both a lizard walking on its hind legs and the legendary beasts found in murals and sculptures, albeit with his wings cut off. Regardless of what they thought the drake looked like, the citizens all went into a panic at the terrifying sight.

“M, mommy!”

“Ack!”

“M, monster! G, guards!”

The people screamed, and they called for both family and the city guards. Some even tried to catch up to the riders to notify them of the monster’s existence.

“Everyone calm down! That’s not a monster!”

With impeccable timing, the royal guards emerged to calm down the citizens.

“Look at the beast. There’s a human riding it! While terrifying, that’s not a simple monster. You have nothing to fear from Kim Seon-Hyeok, the Drake Knight, or his mount!”

The commotion didn’t subside quickly, but it was not because the guards were ineffective in delivering their message. Rather, people were shocked to learn that a human was riding that terrifying monster.

“Welcome the hero who annihilated the Sastein – the scourge of the Noctein!”

“He’s the Drake Knight, the new Shining Star of our Kingdom!”

The fear was once again replaced by deafening cheers.

“Wow! It’s the Drake Knight!”

“The Shining Star of our Kingdom!”

They were surprised to learn that someone had tamed the terrifying monster and elated to hear that the beast was on their side. Their new cheers were incomparably louder than when they welcomed the riders into the capital.

“Th, th, that…”

The nobles, watching the procession from the terrace of a building, were just as surprised. They already knew of the Drake Knight’s existence, but they couldn’t help but be astonished.

The Drake Knight’s presence was simply that overwhelming. They looked at the drake’s ferocious eyes and couldn’t believe that someone had tamed that monster.

“This is more than I imagined.”

One of the nobles spoke in shock, and the others quickly agreed.

“To think that he tamed that wild monster.”

“It’s clear that any enemy would lose their fighting spirit if they saw that on the battlefield.”

The noble’s eyes were full of greed.

***

“Welcome the hero who annihilated the Sastein – the scourge of the Noctein!”

“He’s the Drake Knight, the new Shining Star of our Kingdom!”

“Wow! It’s the Drake Knight!”

“The Shining Star of our Kingdom!”

Seon-Hyeok lowered his visor nervously, embarrassed by the unexpected attention. He had been told not to lower the visor during the procession, but he couldn’t endure it any longer.

“Ugh. This is driving me crazy.”

He felt more and more pressure and shame as the citizens’ cheers grew louder. It was embarrassing being referred to as the Drake Knight or as the Star of the Kingdom.

“Settle down.”

Seon-Hyeok smacked the drake’s head to vent, and the drake, which had been riled up after seeing the people, bowed his head obediently. Those watching grew even more enthusiastic in their cheers as they saw him easily handle the terrifying monster.

“Ugh.”

He wanted to never hear the words ‘Drake Knight’ or ‘Star of the Kingdom’ ever again. However, they were nicknames and titles specifically granted by the royal family, so they could not be changed so freely.

Seon-Hyeok couldn’t do anything, so he hoped the procession would end soon. However, the capital road was simply too long.

“Welcome, Drake Knight.”

Thankfully, there was no such thing as an endless road, and the hellish march finally came to an end. With that, he came face to face with the Adenburg royal family for the first time.

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