The Adenburg Kingdom was fundamentally a centralized government, but it also incorporated feudalistic elements. There was a royal family wielding tremendous power at the top, below which were powerful lords who swore allegiance to them. Thanks to this foundation, the royal family was able to exert their influence directly or indirectly over various areas.
The nobles were willing to make most concessions to the powerful monarchy, and in turn, the royal family recognized the authority of the nobility and refrained from making excessive demands.
Even among the nobility, Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk was particularly powerful. He remained relatively inconspicuous because of his loyalty to the royal family and his refusal to move out of self-interest, but none dared doubt his dignity as the commander-in-chief of the Western Army and guardian of the frontier.
However, despite being a powerful noble, it was not as though he had complete control over the lesser lords in his territory. Despite being unified under the Mangsk banner, these minor nobles had nonetheless long ruled over their respective lands and were competent military men capable of holding their territory despite frequent Noctein invasions.
One of these lords was now provoking Seon-Hyeok over the Rheinperle territory. The ruler of the Laylark territory, situated adjacent to Rheinperle, was disputing the ownership of the mine.
“The recently discovered iron mine belongs to the Laylark territory.”
The problem was that the location of the iron mine was somewhat ambiguous. With the exception of where there were natural boundaries like rivers or mountain ranges, borders between territories were not clearly defined. It was thus easy to dispute ownership over certain areas, and Laylark’s ruler was taking advantage of this reality.
“Unfortunately, Lord Mangsk says it would be difficult for him to actively mediate this situation. It might’ve been different had the royal family already given you authority over the mine, but under the current circumstances, they won’t make a move until this dispute is settled.”
Hearing the messenger’s explanation, Seon-Hyeok responded with a hardened expression.
“So you’re saying they planned for this.”
The messenger neither confirmed nor denied his words.
“I’m sure they’re after the iron ore, but I wonder how they intend to lay claim to it. How do these disputes usually get resolved?”
“You can either find documentation confirming your legitimate ownership over the territory, or you can try to reach a reasonable compromise with them.”
He shook his head at Julian’s response.
“I don’t like those options. There must be another way?”
“Well, the two options I mentioned so far are the more formal pathways at a resolution, but there’s a different method the nobles actually prefer.”
Seon-Hyeok clenched his fist and jumped up.
“So, a battle between territories?”
Julian gave him a bewildered look.
“You’re thinking of putting the entire territory at risk over a single iron mine? It’s not even as though we have our own military. How can you say that while we’re completely reliant on the Drake Cavalry?”
“isn’t that how these matters normally get resolved?”
“No, not usually. Even if it was possible, the royal family would not permit it. They wouldn’t want the frontier lords to weaken each other and expose themselves to a Noctein invasion. If we insisted on going to war, I’m certain we’d face the Western Army before the Lord Laylark’s personal troops.”
Seon-Hyeok assumed that internal conflicts would be common in this world with frequent wars, but he seemed to have been off the mark. He avoided Julian’s disapproving gaze.
“There’s a way to resolve this without depleting our strength.”
“So what is it?”
When he anxiously questioned her, Julian looked at the messenger. As if he had been waiting, the messenger delivered Earl Mangsk’s message.
“Lord Mangsk has given his permission for a trial by combat. If this appeals to you, he has said he would send someone trustworthy to testify on the legitimacy of the duel and deliberate on the results.”
“A trial by combat?”
Julian explained the situation to Seon-Hyeok, as he still lacked the knowledge of a lord and noble.
“It’s a duel between representatives. The loser must back down and accept the victor’s demands upon conclusion of the duel.”
“What the hell? So in the end, it’s the strong who have an advantage?”
Seon-Hyeok gave a bewildered look after hearing this absurd way of enacting justice.
“God helps the righteous, as he does not want injustice to emerge victorious.”
“That’s the same thing. You’re saying that the winner is right.”
“No. I’m saying that the righteous win.”
Seon-Hyeok couldn’t understand what the difference was, but he nonetheless stopped complaining. What mattered now was not the equitability of the process, but the result of the duel.
“If a trial by combat were to take place, have you heard who would be their representative?”
Despite only being a squire, Julian was of noble birth and was talented in her own right. The messenger straightened up to answer her question.
“I heard Baron Laylark is planning to call for his second son, who is currently serving as one of the capital’s knights.”
“When you say House Laylark’s second son, you mean…”
“He’s a senior knight with 8 years of service as one of the capital’s knights. He was talented even as a child, and motivated by the understanding that he would not succeed his father, he devoted his life to swordsmanship. His swordsmanship has been recognized as a result of his efforts, and he was given the title, 'The Sword of Lightning', from the royal family.”
Seon-Hyeok immediately knew who had bestowed that childish-sounding title. It was obviously Ophelia, the little child of the royal family, the one responsible for giving his fierce drake the name “Goldie”.
“That’s a tough opponent. I can understand why Baron Laylark escalated this issue.”
Julian’s expression darkened while Seon-Hyeok was deep in thought.
“If possible, I think it would be better to surrender some of the profits and reach an agreement than to take part in the trial by combat. 'The Sword of Lightning' has a reputation of being as skilled as more senior knights despite only being in his 30s.”
Julian’s attitude had quickly changed, but he didn’t reprimand her. Seon-Hyeok knew full well how superhuman knights could be. He recalled how terrifying Frederick’s swordsmanship had been in the battle against the Sasteins. That image was still vivid in his mind. The knowledge that the opponent would not be any average knight, but rather a high-level one, weighed down on him.
“So what will you do?”
Seon-Hyeok answered Julian’s question with one of his own.
“That Sword of Shouting or Sword of Lightning or whoever. How does he compare against Marquis Reinhardt?” 
“Marquis Reinhardt would have been offended if he heard you ask that. He would’ve punished you for your insolence.”
Marquis Reinhardt was already raring to get him back for their earlier encounter, but he refrained from telling Julian that.
“So you’re saying he’s much weaker than Marquis Reinhardt?”
“It would be a miracle if he lasted ten seconds against him.”
There was hope. It seemed there were clear stratifications even among the senior knights, and fortunately, Laylark’s second son was not a monster like Marquis Reinhardt.
“Really? Then I have one more question.”
“It can’t be that you’re looking to duel him yourself?”
“Well, let me get an answer to this first.”
Julian expressed a rare feeling of respect when her lord expressed his willingness to face off against a high-level knight.
“I will answer any question I can.”
Seon-Hyeok gave her a puzzled look as she bowed her head and showed an extreme degree of courtesy. When he looked to her side, he saw that the messenger from Mangsk had a similar expression. He cocked his head in surprise, but continued to ask his question.
“Can someone give up midway through the duel?”
Julian responded to the unexpected question with a blank look.
“I asked if it’s possible to surrender during the duel if there’s no hope of success.”
Belatedly understanding the question, she replied with a subdued expression.
“It would be dishonorable, but it’s possible.”
“In that case, I’ll take part in the duel.”
Even though he spoke solemnly, his plan to surrender midway through the duel if his opponent was too much to handle was already revealed to the world.
“There’s nobody else who can.”
In the end, it was decided that the territorial dispute with Laylark would be resolved through a trial by combat. The messenger delivered Seon-Hyeok’s decision to Earl Mangsk, who subsequently forwarded the news to Baron Laylark.
“I will oversee the duel in a manner befitting my status as a royal examiner.”
The role of observer was given to Einst Jeneger rather than someone sent by House Mangsk. As a royal examiner, the old mage had sufficient authority to serve as a witness. In addition, the dispute in question was related to the investigator’s duties, and thus, nobody complained about this development.
Communications quickly came and went, and the date of the trial was agreed upon.
“Hm. In 3 weeks…”
3 weeks wasn’t particularly short or long, but it was not nearly enough time for someone to improve his swordsmanship to the level of a powerful opponent. However, such generalizations only applied to average people, and not a person like Seon-Hyeok.
“If I try my hardest, I’m sure I can gain a level at the very least.”
He was a foreigner capable of growth in a short period of time.
“House Laylark’s second son arrived at the territory yesterday.”
“Really? Hup! He’s early? Hup!”
With just 2 weeks left until the duel, Seon-Hyeok was busy training. He listened to Julian’s words with one ear while repeatedly stabbing forward with his spear.
The constantly moving spear stopped for a moment as Seon-Hyeok wiped off the sweat rolling down his forehead. As if she had been waiting for this moment, Julian stepped forward with a dry towel.
“Ah. Thank you.”
He looked at her as he wiped his sweat off with the towel. His gaze seemed to ask if she had anything else to say, and she spoke with a heavy heart.
“I investigated after the trial by combat was agreed upon, and I don’t think the rumors about House Laylark’s second son are exaggerations. He has already participated in a number of duels as the chosen champion for powerful nobles, and he only ever lost once. Recently, he gained the nickname of 'Judge of House Laylark' as a result of his countless victories.”
“That naming sense…”
“It’s not something you should dismiss so easily. Even senior knights have lost to him. It might be a good idea to reconsider…”
“I can back out now, after we’ve notified all parties of our decision?”
“You might lose face, but it’s better than losing the duel. If you lose, you’ll lose everything, not just your honor.”
Julian’s words were full of concern. Seon-Hyeok asked.
“Are you worried about me?”
“Is it strange for a squire to worry about her master?”
“Is that all?”
Seon-Hyeok asked again as he grabbed his spear. A moment later, Julian responded.
“I know you’re already aware of who I am.”
Her always professional voice betrayed her complicated feelings. He stuck his spear into the ground and looked at her.
“I am always deeply grateful to you. You avenged my father’s death, and you even took me in. It was thanks to you that I was able to escape from my grandfather’s shadow. I’d be no better than an animal if I wasn’t grateful, and I have no desire to be an animal.”
Seon-Hyeok’s eyes grew wide as he saw her spill her inner feelings.
“And so, I hope you don’t get hurt. So please reconsid…”
“That’s very kind of you.”
Seon-Hyeok cut Julian off as she tried to get him to reconsider.
“I told you. I’ll surrender if I think I can’t win.”
“The Sword of Lightning won’t give you the opportunity to.”
“Well, then I’ll have to cry out for dear life. ‘Stop, stop! I yield!’ Don’t you think it’ll be hard pretending not to hear that?”
Julian seemed disappointed as he responded to her serious concerns in a joking manner.
“Don’t give me that look. I’ve thought things through. But by the way…”
Seon-Hyeok took a moment to catch his breath and straightened his posture. And then, he lunged forward.
There was a tremendous noise, as if the spear had pierced something.
“No matter how much I think about it, I don’t think I can lose…”
The power of the attribute, which had just gathered and begun to disperse, caught his eye.
There was something he gained from his commander training. He had wondered whether there was a way for a man ignorant of swordsmanship, like him, to add energy to a blade like the knights did. After having neglected his training for a while, he was able to commit himself fully leading up to the trial, and he finally succeeded in achieving what he sought.
A mysterious energy reminiscent of the blade of light used by the knights followed the trajectory of his spear. It lingered, and then slowly scattered with the sound of the wind.
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