Episode 70. Gradus (1)

Young lords are slow to act. 

This saying did not apply to Kim Seon-Hyeok. The moment he confirmed the existence of the sea serpent, he prepared to leave his territory.

“You can’t.”

However, he was faced with an unexpected obstacle. Julian fiercely opposed her lord leaving without attendants. She forcibly dissuaded him, saying it was absurd for a viscount to travel alone, but the problem was that there was nobody around to accompany him.

Despite coming into form, his newly trained soldiers were not trained in horseback riding and could not accompany him. Meanwhile, the riders of the Drake Cavalry were a part of the kingdom’s Western Army and did not specifically fall under his jurisdiction. As such, he could not order them to follow him on matters of personal business.

In the end, the territory’s soldiers were the only possible option, but taking them meant limiting his mobility and prolonging the already lengthy travel time.

“How could you travel that far by yourself? If anything happens to you…”

“I know I was lucky, but I still beat the Judge of House Laylark. Do you really think something will happen to me? I’m the Drake Knight. Come on.”

Frustrated, Seon-Hyeok tried to bluff his way out of the argument, but it proved useless against Julian.

“You don’t even know the way.”

It was a dilemma. He couldn’t travel alone because he didn’t know how to get to Rugenburg, and there was nobody suitable to take with him.

“I can accompany you.”

Julian had the makings of a skilled rider and was multitalented. She was clearly qualified to accompany him.

“No. Then there will be nobody left here.”

This time, it was Seon-Hyeok who voiced his opposition. Julian was the de facto administrator of the territory, and he couldn’t allow her to leave just before the harvest season. Of course, him leaving the land at this busy time was an issue as well, but that was a symbolic problem, not a real one.

“It’s better to have the region temporarily grind to a halt than to let you go alone.”

But this time, Julian refused to back down.

“This is driving me crazy.”

Ideally, he wanted to bring his tireless drake and complete the journey as quickly as possible, but the giant, golden beast was too conspicuous to take. Unless he wanted to announce his travels to the world, he could not take Goldrake.

On the third day of these back-and-forth debates without reaching a solution, Jackson came to see him.

“I heard that you need to travel far away but don’t have anyone to accompany you.”

Seon-Hyeok didn’t know how Jackson had heard, but he was correct.

“I will go with you.”

“I appreciate the thought, but you can’t. The Drake Cavalry belongs to the kingdom’s Western Army. I can’t allow you to leave your post for my personal business.”

Hearing his words, Jackson hesitated for a moment. He replied with a solemn expression.

“In that case, I’ll leave the Drake Cavalry.”

“What?”

Seon-Hyeok looked at Jackson in shock. He wasn’t sure what Jackson was trying to get at.

“I’m saying I’ll request to be discharged.”

“Jackson.”

“It’s not an impulsive decision. I’ve been considering this for a long time. I wondered whether I wanted to remain under the shadow of the Drake Cavalry, or somewhere else entirely.”

Jackson seemed determined as he spoke. His usual docile attitude was nowhere to be seen in his current resoluteness.

“I decided after your trial by combat. I would like to be at your side, my lord.”

Seon-Hyeok felt both grateful and burdened by Jackson’s blind faith and respect for him. He sighed as he saw Jackson throw away his place as a member of the Drake Cavalry, one of the best positions to be in as a rider.

“Thank you for the thought. I’d like you to think about it a bit more. It’s not a decision to make lightly.”

“I already…”

“Even so, consider it a bit more.”

Seon-Hyeok barely managed to send Jackson back, as the young rider held out until the end. However, Jackson returned within half a day. This time, he wasn’t alone. Clark and the original riders accompanied Jackson, and he seemed orders of magnitude more confident.

“Take us as well.”

Hansen spoke up. Hansen had spoken politely to him ever since his ascension to the nobility, but right now, he spoke casually just like when they had first met.

“Wait. You should be stopping Jackson, not joining him. How’s a senior rider being so easily swayed by his junior?”

Seon-Hyeok felt himself getting a headache at the sudden rush of riders.

“Even if it wasn’t for this, I was thinking about being discharged.”

“You expect me to believe that? That’s bullshit.”

He thought Hansen was giving an absurd excuse, but Hansen shook his head and explained his thoughts.

“It’s Emma. She’s still young, but she has to take care of those kids and can’t even get married. I can’t just stand by and watch.”

“Ah…”

One of the reasons Hansen and the riders wanted to be discharged was a sense of responsibility for taking care of the kids.

“Ugh. This is driving me crazy.”

If it was for Emma and the kids, he couldn’t just ignore their desire to be discharged. Dumbstruck, he stared at Hansen and the others for a moment before asking Clark.

“You too, Clark?”

“No. I can’t leave. What would our company commander do if I left too? I need to keep this place secure.”

Of course. 

Seon-Hyeok was the company commander, but it was Clark who actually led the cavalry.

“I didn’t come to be discharged. I’m here to tell you that you should grant their wishes. The Drake Cavalry will be fine even if some of the riders leave.”

It was a relief that Clark didn’t insist on being discharged as well, but it was nonetheless a difficult situation for Seon-Hyeok.

“Just so you know, there are many besides the three here wishing to be discharged from military service. I barely managed to stop these little bastards from all coming to you at once. The riders here are the ones I couldn’t convince until the very end.”

It sounded like a threat – a threat that they’d bring the entire company if he didn’t oblige now. It was terrifying.

“Ugh. Do you have plans after you’re discharged?”

“What plans?”

“Plans to make ends meet.”

This time, it was Jonasson who retorted, saying the question was ridiculous.

“You’ll be hiring us, of course.”

The bold answer made Seon-Hyeok dumbfounded.

“What are you…”

Given that Emma was the reason, he assumed they wanted to completely cut ties with the military. However, they really just meant that they would be leaving the Western Army. He wondered what the difference even was, and the answer he got was astounding.

“If I remain in the Western Army, I’ll get called in for every war the kingdom fights. But if I’m a part of the Rheinperle military? I can just enjoy my paychecks. Let’s be honest – what could ever happen in this uninteresting territory?”

“And that sucker on the hook for the salaries is right in front of us.”

“And if you think that’s unfair, get over it.”

Seon-Hyeok watched the men snickering as they replied, then glared at Jackson. Jackson avoided his gaze, knowing he had instigated the entire situation.

“I can’t pay much.”

“You can make up for it when the mine’s fully operational.”

“I can’t give you much vacation time because we don’t have enough people.”

“Well, you can give us nights out.”

“I’ll be in and out of the territory doing business.”

“Then we can travel too.”

Every excuse he offered was refuted, but Seon-Hyeok found himself smiling.

“Okay. Then do as you please.”

Seon-Hyeok raised his hands in resignation.

“I’ll be coming too.”

“Why, Julian?”

“As a squire, I can’t bear being left behind every time. I insist on coming along.”

This time, even Julian was acting stubborn. Seon-Hyeok tried to leave her behind using the excuse that she needed to keep the territory operational, but Julian had an answer prepared.

“It’s not like I ever learned how to run a territory, and it’s about time we brought in an actual administrator. There wasn’t much going on before, so I was able to take care of the new things that needed my attention, but we’ll need an expert now that the mines are becoming operational.”

“But why now?”

“There’s not a big difference between doing it now versus a little later.”

Julian said she already sent a letter in search of suitable talent.

“I can’t trust anyone but you, Julian.”

No matter how run down his territory may be, a significant amount of money was coming in now that the mines were becoming operational. Naturally, it was difficult to entrust the management of his land to someone he didn’t know and trust.

“If you believe in me, then you must also believe in the expert I invited.”

Seon-Hyeok wondered who Julian could be wholeheartedly recommending. She replied that she had barely managed to bring in an old scholar serving as a bureaucrat in Mangsk territory using her past connections.

“He served at Mangsk since before I was born, and he has never caused an issue stemming from self-interest. He wanted to retire and spend the rest of his life in a quiet place, so I invited him to Rheinperle.”

He was forced to back down at Julian’s assurance. But just as she said, a capable administrator was needed during a time of rapid growth, and Julian was not suitable for that role.

“Ugh. Fine. I’ll meet him first and then decide.”

Within a few days of receiving permission, he was able to meet the scholar Julian recommended.

“It’s an honor to meet the famed Drake Knight. My name is Antoine Montaigne.”

Antoine Montaigne was an old man with a wrinkled face and surprisingly clear eyes. His pursed lips hinted at an underlying stubbornness, but his white beard and hair gave him a friendly look.

“I came because Lady Julie said she needed me, but I don’t know what help a decrepit old man like me could possibly provide…”

Seon-Hyeok’s eyes grew wide at the word ‘lady’, while Julian sulked.

From what he saw over the following few days, Antoine Montaigne’s abilities were outstanding. The old scholar grasped the situation at Rheinperle within just two days, and he immediately got to work. In contrast to his relaxed and leisurely manner of speaking, he quickly completed any outstanding responsibilities. It was completely different from Julian, who often resorted to foregoing sleep to complete her work.

“Wow. That’s incredible, especially for an old man.”

Even to Seon-Hyeok, someone unknowledgeable about administrative work, Antoine Montaigne’s working ability was incredible. It was such that rumors about his skills spread among the servants and soldiers in his mansion within days. And thus, he could no longer deny Julian.

“Huhu. Is the test finally over?”

Antoine Montaigne laughed as he met Seon-Hyeok after completing all of the day’s work before noon.

“I apologize if I offended you. It’s just that there’s nobody I can trust besides Julian…”

At this point, Seon-Hyeok put aside his authority as a lord and showed respect for the elder. It had only been a few days, but Antoine Montaigne had clearly demonstrated his worth.

“So how about it? Do you think I’m worthy of your trust?”

“Yes. I learned that Julian’s compliments weren’t exaggerations.”

Hearing his response, Antoine Montaigne gave a satisfied smile. He seemed happier to learn that the lord trusted the girl he served than he was at the praise he received.

“My intention was to spend the rest of my days somewhere quiet, but the lady threw a tantrum. I served her throughout her childhood, but it was my first time seeing her like that. Before I knew it, I had accepted her invitation.”

Antoine Montaigne chuckled when Seon-Hyeok blinked, unable to believe that Julian could throw a tantrum.

“If I’m lucky, I might be able to see that side of her a few more times. That is, of course, if you’re willing to hire me.”

“There’s no reason not to. I look forward to your service, Sir Montaigne.”

Seeing the lord bowing to him, Antoine Montaigne bowed deeply in return and replied.

“I look forward to your kind cooperation, my lord.”

***

A few days later, Hansen, Jonasson, and Jackson removed the uniform of the Drake Cavalry for the last time. Even though the discarded blue coats of the Drake Cavalry were admired by all cavalry, there was not a single sign of regret on their faces.

“I will serve you loyally in the future, my lord.”

They entered a new contract, and on that day, they became soldiers of Rheinperle.

“I can finally leave in peace.”

Including Julian, there were four skilled cavalry riders with him. He wasn’t escorted by knights like the powerful nobles of the capital, but it was an impressive retinue for a country lord.

“Let’s go.”

Flanked by the four riders, Seon-Hyeok headed straight for Rugenburg.

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