Seon-Hyeok rushed back upon hearing that Goldrake’s new armor and his dragon rider lance, specially commissioned and sent by the royal princess, had arrived. He froze when he saw the woman standing tall next to a large cart.
Her expressionless face showed proper courtesy while remaining firm. He immediately recalled who she was.
“Asha Trail. It’s an honor to see you again, Viscount Drachen.”
She was dressed in the light garb of a traveler instead of her usual golden armor, but her spirit and eyes, as always, were as sharp as a blade. To his surprise, it was Asha Trail, the knight in charge of escorting the royal princess.
“What brings you to the frontier, Sir Trail?”
“The royal princess sent me.”
“For what business?”
Seon-Hyeok had a troubled expression. He didn’t understand why Julian and all the female knights of this world were so blunt and harder to deal with than their male counterparts.
“Trial by combat.”
It was a curt response, and one that did not answer his question.
“The royal princess values her dear Goldrake’s rider and hopes he isn’t defeated.”
“I will help you hone your swordsmanship over the remaining 10 days.”
It was an unexpected visit and for an unimaginable reason. When he stared at her in bewilderment, Asha Trail glared back, thinking his expression was because he lacked faith in her abilities. Julian saw this and tactfully whispered to him.
“That lone defeat I mentioned was against Sir Asha Trail.”
Though he was surprised to hear that this woman, who looked to be in her mid-20s, had defeated the Sword of Lightning responsible for the defeats of senior knights, he was even more curious why they had battled in the first place.
“Wait. Why in the world did they fight?”
Seon-Hyeok blurted out, wondering why anyone would feel the need to challenge a member of the Royal Guard.
“They only fought to see whose swordsmanship was stronger. There doesn’t need to be any other reason to have a duel.”
Fortunately, Asha Trail explained the situation instead of getting angry. Even so, his curiosity still lingered.
“For such an insignificant…”
“It’s not an insignificant reason. Knights break past their limits by constantly honing their swordsmanship, but they don’t have many opportunities to fight in battle. It’s because even small-scale battles quickly turn to all-out wars once the knights are sent in.”
“But during that last battle against the Sasteins…”
“Sir Johnstein Pilgram and the other knights participating in that battle were all foreigners. Their victory or defeat wouldn’t have any impact on the pride of the two kingdoms. Since they’re not real knights…”
Julian eagerly explained in an attempt to answer her ignorant lord’s question, but she quickly shut her mouth. She belatedly realized her slip of the tongue when she noticed Asha Trail giving her a fierce look.
“Arrogant. To think that a squire who hasn’t even been knighted yet would dare to speak like one.”
“I misspoke. I apologize.”
“I will overlook it just this once, out of consideration for Viscount Drachen.”
After giving a stern warning, Asha Trail closed her mouth. She concluded matters there, since the atmosphere had quickly cooled. Julian stared at the ground as Marie was summoned and disappeared with Sir Trail.
“I’m sorry. My insolence put you in a negative light. I will take full responsibility for this situation if my mistake becomes a problem in the future.”
Julian prided herself on her near-perfect handling of all matters, and accordingly, she was strict with her own shortcomings. Seeing her look like she would surrender her life if anything happened, Seon-Hyeok flicked her head in annoyance.
“Stop being stupid.”
Aside from times like these, he had no chances to poke fun at Julian. After all, despite being a child, she never acted like one. She rubbed her head and responded with teary eyes.
“My squire’s mistake is my own, and so I’ll take responsibility.”
He thought to himself as he overlooked her mistake.
Those knights at the capital really don’t have anything better to do?
Knights trained constantly to gain accomplishments and become renowned, but in the end, it was their own power that shackled them and deprived them of opportunities to do so. They were like hawks with broken wings, and Seon-Hyeok could sympathize with their situation. At the same time, he wasn’t happy that these knights lazed about while others fought and died along the border.
Regardless of what he thought, he held his tongue. Julian wasn’t nearly as talkative when they had first met, and he recognized that her changes were likely a result of his actions and words.
Asha Trail was a genius with the sword and someone skilled enough to be promoted to senior knight despite only being in her 20s. As she achieved so much at such a young age, Asha was strict with herself and demanded that others give their utmost effort as well.
Thanks to this, Seon-Hyeok suffered. This was the first time since Marquis Reinhardt that he felt an insurmountable wall. When he faced her flamboyant swordsmanship, he would inevitably end up on his back without knowing how he was beaten.
The training sword was dulled and incapable of causing serious harm, but as a result, the blows were heavier and more impactful. Seon-Hyeok was clubbed by the blade tens, no, hundreds of times and grew increasingly defiant.
He tenaciously endured the arduous training.
For the first time since receiving focused training, Seon-Hyeok managed to stab at Asha Trail’s shoulder with his spear.
His eyes grew wide at this amazing, unexpected achievement, but then a terrible shock was sent through his abdomen.
“The Judge of House Laylark isn’t so weak that he’d drop his sword just because he lost an arm.”
Her voice sounded angry, but her words weren’t incorrect. Seon-Hyeok stood up once again despite the resentment he felt.
“Are you angry? It feels like you’re taking out your anger on me.”
Face contorted, Seon-Hyeok rubbed his stomach to try and manage the lingering shock, but he kept talking.
“I’m not angry.”
“I think you’re upset I managed to hit you.”
“That’s not true.”
Asha coldly replied and put down her sword.
“Let’s take a short break. You’ll hurt yourself if you train too hard.”
He had already trained too hard. It felt brazen for her to say that now. However, the female knight remained expressionless and left, as though she had heard him.
“Ugh. My whole body hurts. What if my bones break from this?”
Seon-Hyeok stared at his body full of bruises and complained. To an outsider, it was evident he had suppressed his pain in front of Asha.
From a distance, Asha Trail looked at the man doubled over and clutching at his stomach the moment she left. She turned, stared expressionlessly at her shoulder, and then removed her pauldrons.
For having been stabbed with a lance with its tip covered in cotton for training purposes, the pain was unimaginable. Besides that, the red marks left on her skin showed traces of a spiral, as if she had been stabbed by a spinning object.
What would have happened if the spear wasn’t covered in layers of cotton?
She wasn’t sure, but she imagined her shoulder would have been torn apart. Viscount Drachen’s attack was truly unique.
“If I used my full strength…”
She bit her lip and mumbled to herself. However, she soon shook her head.
No. I haven’t been the only one holding back.
Just as she refrained from using her sword energy, Viscount Drachen was also fighting from a disadvantage. He was a renowned cavalry rider, and as such, his abilities while on foot were not representative of his true strength. Therefore, her inability to use her full swordsmanship could not be an excuse.
‘Based on his abilities, I’d say he’s just barely on the level of a senior knight. However, his future is bright.’
Those were the words Marquis Reinhardt used to describe the foreigner just half a year ago. In only six months, the man barely at the level of a senior knight had grown so much that he could successfully land an attack on her, considered among the best of the knights. Even within this training environment where their abilities were restricted, it was evident that his growth was astounding.
And that weapon’s annoying to deal with.
Her gaze turned to the long lance lying in a corner of the training ground. The gift given by the royal princess was discarded on the ground and covered in dirt thanks to its impudent owner.
It was a massive lance around 5.5 meters in length and weighing 8 kilograms.  It looked like it would be difficult to use even on horseback, but Viscount Drachen wielded it well.
At first, Asha repeatedly criticized his decision to use the lance because it defied common sense. Viscount Drachen had ignored her, using his bizarre logic that a dragon rider couldn’t abandon a dragon rider’s weapon. She had raged at the foreigner because he seemed to take the duel lightly, and she went at him even harder.
Once she closed the gap with the foreigner, Viscount Drachen was unable to deal with her attacks. As a result, he was beaten all day under the guise of training.
But after a few days, changes began to take place. It became increasingly difficult for her to close the gap with her opponent. It was a truly jaw-dropping rate of growth, but even then, she had been able to control the flow of their sparring.
It was only yesterday that her near-complete domination of their fights began to weaken. His attacks, which had been straightforward and honest, had started to become irregular. It became difficult for her to read where the whip-like lance would lash out from next.
Even when Asha used her innate senses and experience to barely shake off the weapon and penetrate into the gap, her opponent would press on with incredible strength. She had been forced to back off several times, concerned that her bones would break if she was ever hit.
But somehow, she was able to save face by defeating her sparring partner.
Today was different. She completely missed Viscount Drachen’s attack. The lance that flew towards her initially seemed to be aimed at her waist, but it turned like a snake and stabbed her in the shoulder.
If it had been a real battle, she would have lost her arm and over half her combat power from the deadly attack. Now, she was forced to recognize it.
She needed to fight him properly. This was the courtesy owed to the strong, and it was the only way she could prevent her pride from being tarnished.
Asha moved her arm for a moment and relieved the pain in her shoulder enough to be able to move her arm properly. She approached Viscount Drachen.
“Let’s start again. Be careful. I won’t hold back anymore.”
“You’ve been beating me mercilessly until now and you’re saying that… Wait. Are you using your sword energy now?!”
“The Judge of House Laylark also uses this.”
Feeling uplifted, she smiled faintly as an energy evenly spread across her blade. Viscount Drachen shouted at her.
“See! You’re angry with me!”
“I’m not angry!”
Asha Trail brightly responded and swung her sword with all her might.
On the day of the duel, Seon-Hyeok woke up, had breakfast, and lightly exercised with his lance to relax his muscles that had tensed over the night. He finished his training after breaking a sweat and washed himself as usual.
After washing himself, however, he put on an arming doublet instead of his usual casual attire.
Julian approached and secured the straps of his doublet, then helped him with his sabatons and greaves. Cuisses and polelyns followed, and a chainmail was thrown on to protect his bare skin.
“I think it needs to be tightened a bit more.”
“Is this enough?”
The conversation was casual, but Julian was solemn as she helped her lord prepare for battle. She knew that the armor being secured was the only thing defending her master from his opponent’s attacks.
A breastplate and back armor were tightly fastened to his doublet, and colorful pauldrons made with several layers of iron were placed over it. Julian clenched her teeth as she fastened the straps, struggling desperately to maintain the weight she was lifting.
He put on vambraces, and Julian went behind him to secure his neck guard. And finally, she handed him a well-polished helmet.
Instead of putting on his helmet, Seon-Hyeok tucked it under his arm and patted Julian on her head. She was covered in sweat from helping him put on his armor.
“Is anything uncomfortable?”
“No, it’s perfect.”
Seon-Hyeok moved around, and satisfied, he once again praised his squire. Julian blushed at his praise.
“I’m sorry. Please reprimand me for being unable to carry out all my duties.”
Julian was unable to follow him to his trial by combat. Even though she had cut ties with House Mangsk, she was still Earl Mangsk’s granddaughter. As such, it would have been inappropriate for her to appear as Seon-Hyeok’s squire for a duel that was supposed to be impartial. In addition, she wasn’t strong enough to carry her master’s weapon. This was most likely the biggest source of her frustration.
“That’s nonsense. If you’re so upset about it, eat well and grow up fast so that you can support me until the end next time.”
Seon-Hyeok lightly flicked Julian’s forehead and smiled.
“I’ll make sure to do so.”
Julian seemed to have no idea that her forehead was red as she vowed to do so over and over again. Seon-Hyeok looked at her for a moment and left his residence.
The members of the Drake Cavalry had been waiting for him outside his mansion and stood at attention. At this moment, they were there to support him as their lord, not as their company commander.
The men in blue coats struck their chests and bowed in unison. Seon-Hyeok did the same and showed them his respect.
Having greeted his comrades, he nodded at the female knight who was looking at him.
Her brief greeting was so like her that it made him laugh. She watched him for a moment and approached quickly.
“Your movements will be restricted if you don’t secure your pauldrons properly.”
Julian had used all her strength to fasten his armor, and there was no way it could have been loose. This was probably her way of showing her concern.
By the time he heard her quiet voice, she had already stepped away.
“Then I’ll be back.”
Looking back at everyone, he got on Goldrake’s back and said his goodbyes before turning around. Jackson was his acting squire for the day and turned his horse to follow him.
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