Episode 71. Gradus (2)

Seon-Hyeok felt alive looking out into the plains, where nothing obstructed his view. He couldn’t help but occasionally express his admiration when he saw the sun setting beyond the open plains or the stars shining brightly.

“Ugh. I’m sick and tired of it.”

However, his admiration didn’t last more than a couple of days. The plains he saw today were no different from what he saw yesterday, and he already knew that he’d be greeted with the same exact scenery the following day.

“I’m sick of it. I’m really sick of it.”

Traveling in this world was boring, unenjoyable, and repetitive.

It wasn’t just boring. It was uncomfortable camping out on the plains, where the mornings were cold. It took a lot of work, and there was nothing about it that he liked.

“Ugh. I’m going to get sick at this rate.”

Hansen and Jonasson seemed to agree, as they constantly complained. Only Jackson and Julian remained enthusiastic.

“Look at the sky. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Stop talking nonsense, and go grab some firewood.”

Jackson admired the sunset every evening as the party set up camp. It seemed that he, at least, didn’t get sick and tired of the sight. And every time, Hansen and Jonasson would angrily grumble at him, telling him to hurry up and help set up camp.

Crackle. Crackle.

Hansen began preparing dinner once they had gathered firewood and started a bonfire. “Cooking” entailed putting powdered grains into a boiling pot along with a fistful of dried meat specifically intended for travel purposes.

“Bleh.”

The food was nothing more than sustenance. For Seon-Hyeok, a noble recently able to enjoy fairly fine dining, the meals were terribly unappetizing.

Hansen reached out when he saw the foreigner pick at his wooden bowl.

“My lord, if you’re not going to have it, please give it to me.”

“Uh. I think I’ve seen this scene somewhere…”

Seon-Hyeok blurted out, feeling déjà vu.

“Hansen ate your leftovers yesterday. And the day before. And you responded the exact same way yesterday.”

Seon-Hyeok’s expression darkened at Julian’s sullen words, but Hansen and Jonasson laughed. However, the laughter soon died down, and all that remained in the campground were the sounds of burning firewood and Hansen wolfing down the leftover stew.

The distinction between days blurred during the repetitive journey. Just as Julian said, the scene at the campsite was exactly the same as it was the previous day. Everything repeated itself during the tedious journey, and so Seon-Hyeok anticipated what Julian would say next.

“My lord…”

“Get ready.”

Seon-Hyeok had already gotten up in advance. Julian put down her bowl and picked up two sticks as she stood up.

“Thank you in advance.”

Seon-Hyeok accepted one of the sticks and assumed his stance. It was the basic starting position for Standard Kingdom Swordsmanship.

“Land a hit today, Julian!”

“Kick his ass!”

After removing their military uniforms and entering a contract as Rheinperle soldiers, Hansen and Jonasson started calling Seon-Hyeok “lord” even in private settings. However, their crude manner of speaking didn’t change, and this especially came out during the evening’s entertainment.

“Such foul language in front of a child.”

Seon-Hyeok clicked his tongue and shook his head before turning his gaze to Julian. Holding the stick with both hands like a sword, Julian waited for him to announce the start of their duel.

“Come.”

As soon as he spoke, Julian approached and forcefully slashed down with her stick. It was an impeccable strike towards the head, and Seon-Hyeok lifted his stick horizontally to defend.

Thwack.

At the moment of impact, he used his wrist to try a horizontal cut. The young squire swiftly pulled back like a squirrel before rushing in again with a stab.

“Keok.”

However, Julian’s attack was nullified before she could even try to hit him. Seon-Hyeok had kicked her in the stomach.

“Boo. Kicking is unfair.”

“Is there anything you won’t do against a child?”

The men booed, but Seon-Hyeok and Julian didn’t pay attention.

“You know that there are no rules in battle, right?”

“Yes, I understand.”

After rubbing her stomach with a grimace, Julian rushed towards him. She was kicked, hit, and repeatedly ended up rolling on the ground, but each time, she jumped back up and attacked once more.

“Wow. Our lord can be really cruel. Isn’t he being too harsh to a kid?”

Seon-Hyeok smiled bitterly at Jonasson’s comment. This was how he himself had learned, so he had no choice but to use this ignorant method to train his squire. He felt sorry for Julian, as she had become a squire to someone who wasn’t even practiced with the sword.

“This training is more than enough. Thank you very much.”

However, Julian looked livelier than ever. Since her goal was to become a knight, she was thrilled to gain experience by any means necessary.

“Then I’d like to ask you for a fight as well.”

Once his training battle with Julian had concluded, Jackson took her place.

“Jackson Hamilton. He may be a bastard, but he was raised like a noble because his family didn’t have a proper heir. If anyone in your territory is to become a knight, it’s most likely going to be Jackson. You might face problems down the line if he decides to claim that right of succession, but you should use him well until then.”

Clark had told him about Jackson’s background and how Jackson was talented enough to become a knight. He had advised him to guide the young rider well. In fact, Jackson’s abilities exceeded his expectations. His talent had gone unnoticed until now because he was more skilled with a sword than a spear, and on foot than on horseback. In other words, his talents were unrelated to those of a rider.

“Then I’ll attack.”

Julian and Jackson both used the same textbook swordsmanship. The only difference was that Jackson was more physically mature, and thus, his attacks were sharper and more threatening.

“Keok!”

Even so, he was nothing compared to Seon-Hyeok. The teacher hit Jackson in the side with his unarmed fist, and the student rolled on the ground, screaming in agony. The young man, lacking the swordsmanship of even an apprentice knight, was no match for the man who had defeated the Judge of House Laylark.

-          Your leadership has increased by 1.

As a side benefit, training battles also seemed to improve his leadership, and his stat occasionally increased.

“Good. Good.”

Seon-Hyeok smiled in satisfaction as he concluded the night’s training. With that, another day passed on their journey to Rugenburg.

***

An unexpected event occurred during their tedious travels.

“Drop your bags and horses and leave.”

“We’ll spare your lives if you do as you’re told.”

Seon-Hyeok celebrated as he heard the stereotypical phrases used by bandits.

“Thank you! If it weren’t for you, I might’ve gone crazy with boredom!”

He was thrilled that something happened during the boring journey. However, this little incident was resolved far too quickly.

“W, we’re sorry. Please spare our lives.”

The bandits were overpowered by Hansen and Jonasson before Seon-Hyeok could even fight them himself.

“Why! Come on! Why can’t you fight more?”

Seon-Hyeok was hoping for a tense situation and grew angry with disappointment.

“What should we do? They must be complete idiots to jump at armed riders with those numbers. The village we’re planning to spend the night in is pretty large, so perhaps we can turn them in there. If we’re lucky, we might even get a reward.”

The band of bandits begged for mercy at Jonasson’s words, but nobody showed them any sympathy. They all believed that bandits were stuck in their ways.

“The security here in the south isn’t particularly good.”

Even after their encounter with the twenty or so bandits, the party intermittently found themselves face to face with other groups of thugs.

“It’s strange. I heard that the southern territories are affluent as a result of the maritime trade.”

It looked as though the poor had become bandits in order to make ends meet.

“From what I’ve heard, the merchants contributing to the wealth of these territories are quite harsh towards the common people. It’s said that half of the wealthy port cities are slums, so we should be careful from here on.”

Julian’s words proved to be true. They reached Rugenburg after nearly two weeks on the road, only to find a city where light and darkness coexisted.

People dressed in fancy clothes were followed by those wearing rags. There were no signs of life in the eyes of the peasants.

“You bastard! You dare stand in my way?”

“Ack! Sir! Please show mercy! I am a worthless human with poor eyesight and couldn’t see my way!”

“Oh? What useless eyes. Since they’re so useless, I don’t think you need them.”

Before Seon-Hyeok could realize what was going on, the poor old man’s eyes were gouged out in the middle of the road. Surprisingly, none of the people walking around paid attention to the commotion. In fact, even the soldiers leaning against the walls turned their heads and pretended not to notice.

“What the hell…”

He stood there gaping at the scene. He felt nauseous at the sight of a noble incapacitating a man for no good reason.

“Those aren’t nobles. No matter how crude the southern nobles may be, they aren’t that violent. He’s most likely one of those merchants I mentioned before.”

The territory’s soldiers stood and watched as a common man, not even a lord, harmed another. Seon-Hyeok’s first impression of Rugenburg was that it was a violent city lacking law and order.

“I think we should inform the lord here of your visit and ask for assistance.”

Seon-Hyeok nodded at Julian’s words. He already noticed people staring maliciously towards their party.

“Let’s wash up and change first before we get unwanted attention.”

Their clothes were dirty after having traveled for two weeks, and it was likely that misunderstandings would occur. Though people were generally unaware that he was a noble, and, in fact, though he never flaunted his position, Seon-Hyeok felt it was necessary to demonstrate his authority here.

“I’ll go straight to the sailor’s guild and find out about the sea serpent.”

As Jonasson left and the number of people in his party decreased, people stared at them even more.

“My lord. I’m afraid we’ll have to deal with some nuisances.”

“I know.”

They had asked a passerby for directions to accommodations, but it turned out that he had bad intentions. While they pondered what to do after reaching a dead end, dozens of people appeared to block the only path.

“What a mess.”

“This is why I was against you traveling alone.”

Julian reprimanded him as he sighed, wondering how it was possible for people to openly aim bows at others within city limits.

“You bastards! Do you even know who he is?”

“Who cares? You’re all going to die anyway.”

An arrow flew towards them before they could say another word.

“Atiya.”

‘Yap!’

With a shout, Atiya appeared and altered the trajectory of the arrow flying towards Stella. At the same time, more than a dozen men carrying scimitars rushed towards them.

“Ugh. I really just wanted to rest today.”

Seon-Hyeok stopped Hansen and the others from stepping forward.

“Well, guess I have to do what I have to do.”

The displeasure he felt after his arrival in this lawless city was expressed in his fury.

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