Those accompanying the royal princess on her visit stepped forward to distribute the alcohol and meat. Everyone gathered at the garrison praised the grace of the royal family as they ate and drank to their hearts’ content. Even if it was just for the moment, the grief over the deceased and the hopelessness to carry on seemed to be forgotten.
Indeed, it was fitting of the resilient citizens who refused to leave their homes in the western territories despite frequent Noctein invasions.
“It’s been a while, kid.”
Seon-Hyeok was reserved a seat with the commanders of the Central Army accompanying the royal princess. There, he ran into Marquis Reinhardt, someone he hoped he would not encounter again. But then again, there was no way this knight would not be escorting the princess along with the other royal guards.
“H, have you been well, marquis?”
When Seon-Hyeok offered his greetings with an awkward expression, Marquis Reinhardt laughed and handed him a drink.
“Even back then, you were just a kid who hadn’t yet lost his peach fuzz, but now you’ve managed to accomplish something noteworthy.”
However, contrary to Seon-Hyeok’s fears, Marquis Reinhardt was quite cordial towards him. It was clear he did not hold grudges, and it fit his outwardly cheerful demeanor.
“I have some bad drinking habits, so any more is…”
“Bad drinking habits are easily solved if you get beaten up while wasted. So drink up. Let’s take this opportunity to take care of that.”
His positive impression of Marquis Reinhardt did not last. As though the knight had planned this from the start, he continued to offer Seon-Hyeok more and more drinks. At first, Seon-Hyeok accepted them without complaint, but he slowly began to wonder if the marquis might be trying to get his revenge in a different manner than he expected.
“Ugh. No more.”
“Finish the drink, and then I’ll be able to give you some more. Be a real man.”
Seon-Hyeok realized something as the marquis incessantly offered him drinks. His impression that the royal knight did not hold grudges was completely wrong, and Marquis Reinhardt was joyfully laughing at him. At this time, Seon-Hyeok also came to realize that his bad drinking habits only emerged depending on who he was around.
He was so drunk that he should have blacked out and caused a disturbance by now, but his mind remained crystal clear.
“Well, that’s enough playing around.”
“That was playing around?”
“Kid, consider yourself lucky that this is as far as I’m taking my revenge after what you did.”
Seon-Hyeok answered sulkily, but was forced to keep his mouth shut at the marquis’ words. After all, he had committed a punishable offense.
“So the royal princess should be the one saying this, but as she doesn’t like these kinds of settings, I’m here to speak on her behalf.”
It was Seon-Hyeok’s first time seeing the princess in almost a year, but she was nonetheless still young and avoided drinking environments. She had attended the celebration briefly because of her position as part of the royal family, but she soon departed for her accommodations. Marquis Reinhardt had the most authority among the remaining individuals.
“His Majesty has made a big decision.”
“A big decision? What do you mean?”
“It seems as though he feels responsible for how the Nocteins have so indiscriminately invaded the kingdom during his reign. He believes it’s because he only cared about the kingdom’s internal affairs.”
The marquis’ tone sounded almost disloyal, but the words he conveyed hit hard at Seon-Hyeok.
“It can’t be?”
“What do you mean, ‘it can’t be’? If someone’s been one-sidedly beaten up like that, they should think about getting payback.”
The marquis downed the drink in front of him, and unsatisfied, he proceeded to drink straight from the bottle.
“Then is it war?”
“Yes, it’s war. Much of the Central Army here escorting the princess will remain in the western territories. They, along with part of the Western Army, will be crossing the border.”
Suddenly feeling sober, Seon-Hyeok found himself straightening up and looking around. Now that he thought about it, the number of soldiers that accompanied the princess was too excessive to be considered a mere escort.
Likewise, the marquis seemed completely fine, suggesting his words just now was not an absurd remark made under the influence of alcohol. Seon-Hyeok could not believe it, but it looked like there really would be a war.
“It’s really war.”
“Yes, it is. And this time, we’ll be the ones attacking.”
Seon-Hyeok was no longer able to suppress his groan. He had experienced two Noctein invasions during his time in this world. It was not that strange that Adenburg would be on the offensive this time.
“His Majesty cares nothing for the Nocteins’ desolate lands. This war will be all about inflicting as much damage to them as possible.”
“Just like the Nocteins did…”
“Exactly. The difference is that, unlike the Nocteins, we’re not after civilians, but rather the kingdom’s main forces.”
In essence, it would be an eye for an eye.
“It’s about time we caused some chaos in their kingdom. Only then will they sit back quietly for a while.”
This war would also be a warning to the Nocteins after they had invaded the border territories like one would visit a neighbor.
“Ah. Then when Commander Mangsk said he’d retire after taking care of some final responsibilities…”
Marquis Reinhardt did not deny it, and Seon-Hyeok realized that the Kingdom’s Shield would become its sword one last time. It was a decision befitting of the commander, a man who devoted his life in service to the kingdom.
“As you’re aware by now, the knights and mages will be held out of this war. Battles will be fought only with ordinary soldiers. That said, however, we will be using as much manpower as possible.”
The first thing that came to his mind was about how many more soldiers would have to die. However, the decision to go to war had already been made, and Seon-Hyeok had no way of stopping it.
“It’s getting colder, so it’ll be a harsh war for ordinary soldiers. It might even end in failure. However, His Majesty is resolute in his decision.”
Seon-Hyeok sighed. As expected, there was no way this upcoming war would be overturned.
His thoughts were complicated. On one hand, he was disgusted at the prospect of war. At the same time, however, he welcomed the opportunity to unleash his hatred for the Nocteins, as they had claimed the lives of countless comrades.
“And so, he wants to give you a choice.”
Marquis Reinhardt looked at Seon-Hyeok as he calmly spoke.
“If you want to get revenge for your lost comrades, come to Fort Mangsk.”
The marquis emptied one final bottle of alcohol and rose to leave.
“The war will begin at Mangsk.”
The celebration soon came to an end. The commanders of the Central Army, all subtly keeping the foreigner at an arm’s distance, rose to follow the marquis.
“We will be heading to Mangsk tomorrow, so please excuse me.”
“I heard you just recovered, so please take care of your body.”
With a few courteous remarks, the commanders left, leaving Seon-Hyeok alone as he quietly drank.
He first recalled the faces of countless comrades who had sacrificed their lives, and then the corpses of all the civilians he had to gather himself. The mere thought made his blood boil in fury, but nonetheless, he was unable to readily accept Marquis Reinhardt’s offer.
Even after much thought, he was unable to make up his mind, and the number of empty bottles at his side grew. A white hand grabbed his as he tried to reach for another.
Despite his blurred vision, he could see a familiar face staring at him silently.
“Ah. Atiya. I need to drink to sleep.”
Seon-Hyeok complained with an expression somewhere between laughter and sorrow.
“You can’t sleep?”
Hearing her calm voice, Seon-Hyeok suddenly shouted.
“You’re asking me if I can’t sleep? Wouldn’t it be weird if I could? Hundreds died by my hand! And hundreds more died because I couldn’t protect them! How could I possibly sleep!”
After venting, he continued to speak in a broken voice.
“I knew. I knew from the start that I couldn’t protect them all. So don’t look at me like that. Let me deal with it how I will.”
It was said that a real man did not send off his comrades with tears, and did not allow himself to be shackled by the past. Clearly, he wasn’t one yet.
“The Kingdom’s Spear? The hero who risked his life to save the garrison? Don’t be ridiculous. All that talk is suffocating. It’s eating me alive.”
Having lived a normal life until arriving in this world, Seon-Hyeok felt it burdensome to be labeled a hero. The expectations and trust contained in the word ‘hero’ felt like restraints, and he felt the increasing weight of his obligations.
“I just did what I could. There’s even more that I can’t do. But why does everyone expect so much from me?”
Marquis Reinhardt had simply told him to come to Mangsk if he wanted to exact revenge. However, the mere suggestion wreaked havoc in his mind. For the first time, it was his decision whether or not to participate in the upcoming war. The fact that he was not being bound by royal commands meant his attempts to absolve himself of any guilt would no longer be applicable.
“I hate war. I’m scared of dying, and even more terrified that those around me will die. I don’t want to kill anymore. And that marquis told me to rationalize the war in the name of revenge?”
Completely drunk, Seon-Hyeok was unable to overcome his rising emotions as he laughed, cried, and laughed once again. Despite his terrible appearance, Atiya wordlessly listened to his story.
“Am I broken? Have I changed?”
After speaking for a while, he slowly succumbed to his drunkenness and faded away. His speech and enunciation both broke down.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I really don’t know. Tell me, Atiya. Do you? Do you know what I should do? What’s right for me to do?”
His dimming eyes slowly closed. By the time he finished his final sentence, he was already asleep with his head on the table.
“I’m not a hero…”
He mumbled in his sleep.
“I couldn’t fall asleep, so I thought I’d come to find someone to talk to, but all I ended up seeing was this. You really do have a nasty drinking habit.”
The royal princess spoke as she looked at the snoring Seon-Hyeok.
“On top of that, he thinks so little of the title I so carefully gave him. How ungrateful.”
“Clearly, he’s suffering from the pressures of war. He said that under the influence of alcohol, so I’m sure he didn’t mean it. Please forgive him.”
Surprisingly, the woman Seon-Hyeok thought to be Atiya was Asha Trail. In his drunken stupor, he had mistaken her for the similarly-looking spirit.
Hearing Asha’s words, the princess’ eyes grew even wider.
“It’s not like you, Sir Trail. How can you stand by him so much?”
Upon being asked by the princess, Asha Trail belatedly realized her mistake and straightened her posture.
“I was his instructor for a while, so I spoke out of turn and disrespected you. Please discipline me if I crossed a line.”
The princess clicked her tongue at the knight’s irreproachable attitude. In any case, it seemed she had no intention of reprimanding the Royal Guard. She waved her hand, simply telling Asha that her greeting was uninteresting.
“I’ve never seen a knight cry before. Even the men I thought had hearts of stone were simply hiding their weakness from me. It’s the first time my thoughts are so complicated and confusing.”
Come to think of it, the look in the royal princess’ eyes was somewhat strange as she looked at Seon-Hyeok. However, this passed quickly, and she quickly shook her head as though she had come to realize something new.
“Only now do I realize why His Majesty always emphasized the horrors of war and tried to avoid it. Seeing how even that mighty knight is suffering, I can tell that war is a truly terrible construct.”
The princess’ attitude was strange as she spoke, but Asha Trail did not question her. As always, she simply listened with a calm expression.
“But since when were you on a first-name basis with Earl Drachen?”
“You must have heard wrong.”
“I did not. He clearly called you Asha.”
In fact, Seon-Hyeok had said ‘Atiya’, not ‘Asha’. The misunderstanding was a result of his slurred and unintelligible pronunciation.
“If you’re sure you heard correctly, the earl must have made a mistake in his drunkenness. He and I have never been close enough to call each other by name.”
Asha answered firmly. The princess would normally have accepted the response and moved on, but for some reason, she was persistent in asking about their relationship.
“I should head back. I came to hear stories of the earl and Goldie’s performance, but I ended up overhearing his inner thoughts instead. That said, I suppose this visit wasn’t in vain, as I don’t have to make him relive his troubles anymore.”
The princess turned away. Her appearance was the same as always as she spoke about her realization like a child and showed a resolute, stubborn attitude. Thanks to this, Asha Trail was able to shake off her concerns and move on.
“We’ll escort you back to your accommodations.”
When she left the barracks, the knights standing guard outside surrounded the princess. Looking at the airtight retinue of guards, Asha briefly stepped aside to speak to a soldier on guard duty.
“Earl Drachen is drunk and asleep. Bring him back to his quarters so that he can recover.”
Having been given a command by someone as high up as the Royal Guard, the soldier rushed into the barracks. Asha Trail watched the soldier carry Seon-Hyeok on his back before stepping back to escort the princess like nothing had happened.
The following day, Seon-Hyeok woke up with a splitting headache and sighed as he saw the familiar sight of the barracks’ ceiling. He had tried to refrain from drinking, but it seemed as though he had failed. He thought he spoke a lot about things he should not have in his emotional state, but he was relieved that he had only been talking to Atiya.
“As soon as I return to the capital, I plan to commission a new lance and armor. I hope you and your drake will never suffer at the swords of your enemies ever again.”
“I’m thankful for your continued consideration.”
“Then please take care of yourself.”
Seon-Hyeok expected the princess to ask about Goldie and his condition, but surprisingly, she left the garrison with a few final words.
He was only able to catch his breath after she left. He sought the help of the priests in curing his hangover, and he summoned the remaining Drake Cavalry.
“This time, it’s us who will cross into the Noctein Kingdom.”
When Seon-Hyeok delivered the marquis’ words, the riders’ expressions grew complicated. Some were disgusted at the prospect of another war, while others had a fierce look in their eyes, raring at the chance to avenge their fallen comrades.
“I also plan to give you all a choice. Anyone wishing to participate in this war should tell me separately. Those who do not may remain here.”
“What do you plan to do, company commander?” Clark asked.
Seon-Hyeok answered Clark with a stiff expression.Previous Chapter Next Chapter