Episode 89. The Difference Between Hero and Villain (3)

“… you mean all the foreigners?”

“That’s right. There’s one high-tier class and fourteen mid-tiers – that’s a lot of firepower. If they’re supported by the cavalry, they’ll be able to show more strength than the average knight division. I’ll leave them to you.”

The marquis spoke like he was doing him a favor, but Seon-Hyeok felt as though he was being given an additional burden.

It was true that foreigners were the most powerful entities on the battlefield so long as the knights and mages were held back. However, the problem was that these foreigners belonged to the Central Army, and not the Western Army.

“Are you telling me to be their babysitter?”

Despite having low-tier classes, the foreigners in the Western Army were battle-tested as a result of repeated Noctein invasions. Even if they did not individually make significant contributions in the wars, they had fought, and they had survived. The foreigners in the Central Army were different. They were like flowers grown in the safety of greenhouses, and they had never been exposed to war.

“I don’t want to.”

When Seon-Hyeok frowned and expressed his displeasure with the prospect of commanding these foreigners, the marquis explained why it was necessary.

“If we carelessly send them into this war, they’ll probably all die in their first battle. All the effort the royal family put into their development will have amounted to nothing. Wouldn’t it be better for them to be led by a commander who knows them well and has experience winning in wars?”

“I don’t want to. I’m here to fight the Nocteins, not to babysit some foreigners.”

Seon-Hyeok had struggled to come to the decision of participating in this war. He had done his best to suppress his disgust and fear. However, there was no way he would now want to watch over some neophytes.

“I would rather fight with ordinary infantry over the Central Army’s foreigners.”

His new title was honorary and lacked the accompanying territorial rewards, but he was still an earl. In addition, he had a great reputation in the area for his significant contributions, and even Marquis Reinhardt could not deal with him recklessly in the western territories.

He was now in a position where he could propose his own wartime operations and have a significant influence on strategy. It reflected his rise in status.

Marquis Reinhardt knew this well, and instead of showing displeasure, he tried to cajole the foreigner.

“But still, you come from the same background. Wouldn’t it be best for a foreigner to lead other foreigners? Who could possibly appreciate them more? You’re the only one qualified for this role.”

Seon-Hyeok answered coldly.

“So. Am I still ‘just a foreigner’ in the eyes of the royal family?”

It sounded like a simple question, but there was a lot of meaning behind his words. Depending on the marquis’ answer, it could mean that all the rewards and titles Seon-Hyeok had been granted so far were nothing more than the royal family’s attempt to placate him, and that no matter how hard he struggled, he would never be treated like those around him.

“I was assigned to the Western Army immediately following my class change, and I have spent the past couple years here. During that time, I fought in two wars and over 10 battles. I’ve been awarded medals and titles. I never asked for it, but I even got the title of Adenburg’s Spear. I ask again, am I still ‘just a foreigner’ to the royal family?”

The marquis seemed to be caught off-guard, not expecting the foreigner to ask this so directly. Seon-Hyeok straightened up as he watched the dumbfounded knight.

“If the royal family mandates it, I will follow.”

“Ugh. Let’s talk about this more later.”

The marquis blanched and stepped back. After all, he had no other options considering a more forceful approach would do little but alienate the foreigner. Having been told that Seon-Hyeok would only accept if given an irrefutable command, the marquis left the scene.

“Will it be okay? He’s a marquis, after all.”

“Considering what I know of him, it shouldn’t be a problem. He’s not one to take offense to this level of defiance. The only problem…”

As he responded to Clark’s question, Seon-Hyeok suddenly looked in the direction the royal princess had disappeared.

“The only problem is what the royal family’s intentions are.”

If the royal family planned on keeping him at an arm’s length and perpetually treating him as just another foreigner, he would have no choice but to lead the others as ordered. In the end, their intentions would determine whether or not he would have an additional burden on his shoulders as he headed into the battlefield.

“I came to see you myself, concerned you might misinterpret the marquis’ words and our intentions.”

Seon-Hyeok did not think the princess would come in person. He quickly extended a greeting at her sudden visit.

“We have already given you the nickname of Adenburg’s Spear and have guaranteed your noble titles. It’s no different from announcing that you are a valued person to the royal family, so please don’t get us wrong and think that you’ll be treated as an outsider.”

The royal princess’ expression looked almost disappointed as she explained her position. Her attitude and speech were resolute and dignified as always, but she was puffing out her cheeks like a sulky child. It was endearing, but Seon-Hyeok could not smile.

“It’s true that I spent time with the other foreigners during the initial training, but my comrades are not them, but rather the riders of the Drake Cavalry and the soldiers of the Western Army. Please allow me to fight alongside them.”

It was a terrifying experience for him to ask for something directly from the royal family. No matter how young she might be, she was still the princess.

“Sir Trail told me something.”

Thankfully, the princess was not angry.

“People going to war must be steadfast and resolute. Others who take their resolutions lightly are insulting their honor and will.”

Hearing the princess’ words, Seon-Hyeok found himself looking behind her. The female knight had been staring at him emotionlessly, but she gave him a slight nod.

“I agree with that assessment. I will respect your resolve and withdraw my orders to the marquis.”

It was a sensible decision befitting of a member of the Adenstein royal family. Seon-Hyeok unknowingly breathed a sigh of relief as he thanked her, but his gratitude was premature.

“And in place of the withdrawn command, I’ll ask you something else instead. His Majesty has entrusted me with everything, but I am incompetent and unable to find someone more capable than you.”

She asked the same thing as the marquis – but in the form of a favor and not a command.

“I hope you can guide them so that they can develop into those worthy of being your peers.”

The attitude and words were different, but in the end, it was the exact same situation. The royal princess was earnestly asking him to take charge of the foreigners. However, despite feeling déjà vu, Seon-Hyeok was not able to coldly reject the request as he had done with the marquis.

Considering that the princess of a nation was lowering herself to make this request, there was no way Seon-Hyeok could refuse.

“If you grant me this favor, I will likewise fulfill one of your wishes. I promise you I will do my best, knowing that I am the one responsible for putting this heavier burden on you.”

“I will obey the royal princess.”

In the end, he had no choice but to accept.

“I will make you one more promise. So long as the foreigners are under your command, I will give you full authority over their life and death. You may feel free to discipline them as necessary.”

Fortunately, he was given the authority to manage the foreigners as he wished. In addition, the princess had also promised to grant him a wish in the future, so Seon-Hyeok decided to make the most of this situation and figure out the best way to properly use the foreigners he was now in charge of.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

The princess gave a satisfied expression upon hearing his response.

***

The princess looked extremely happy, having given Seon-Hyeok the role of commander of the foreigner division and spent time with Goldrake. Perhaps because of this, she was casually able to ask Asha Trail if she had anything to say.

“Do you have something you’d like to say?”

Asha Trail hesitated for a moment before opening her mouth.

“You, the royal princess, asked the foreigner for a favor. I think that’s showing enough consideration without also having to promise him something in the future.”

Perhaps she was concerned about the excessive favor the princess was showing to Seon-Hyeok. However, the princess did not show any regret.

“His Majesty has always taught me to pay a reasonable price when enlisting the help of others. All I did was faithfully follow that advice. And also, don’t you think he was being commendable? The earl was willing to accept a responsibility he didn’t want for my sake, and he deserves to be rewarded.”

To be honest, it would not have seemed unusual for Seon-Hyeok, an earl and knight of the kingdom, to follow the will of the royal princess. However, the princess seemed pleased as she spoke, and Asha shut her mouth after apologizing for her presumptuousness.

“In the past, when His Majesty offered to grant him a wish, he asked for something completely unexpected and made a fool of Marquis Reinhardt. I’m already looking forward to hearing what he will ask of me.”

The princess grinned in excitement. However, after a while, her expression grew heavy.

“But all that joy will come only once this war is over, so I will have to hope that he returns safely.”

The princess’ words seemed strange, and Asha Trail’s expression hardened. The female knight was worried that the royal princess was showing excessive attention to the Drake Knight.

However, she was a knight of few words, and she wordlessly followed her liege.

***

The forces set to participate in the upcoming war were determined before Seon-Hyeok arrived at Fort Mangsk. They would consist of two infantry regiments and three cavalry companies from the Western Army, as well as three additional cavalry companies from the Central Army that had accompanied the princess to the border.

Among them, it was mostly the cavalry that would be crossing into Noctein territory. The infantry regiments would be responsible for causing chaos at the border, keeping the Noctein forces in check so that they could not be deployed at will. In essence, the strategy was not much different from the one used by the Nocteins in their invasions of the Adenburg Kingdom.

“Earl Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen will be commanding the heavy cavalry companies of the Central Army.”

As a brilliant contributor in the preceding wars, Seon-Hyeok was given command over the Central Army’s cavalry. However, the cavalry unit did not consist of a single company, but all of the riders within the Central Army. Thus, it was as though the company commander was being elevated to regimental commander for the duration of the war.

It was not particularly strange. Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk, the commander-in-chief of the upcoming operation, held the title of earl. Since Seon-Hyeok now had the same noble rank, it was not equitable for him to lead a single company.

“I will do my best.”

Seon-Hyeok belatedly realized that his status now was too great to be a simple company commander. He looked a bit worried as he assumed this additional responsibility.

“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. All that’s changed is that there are a few more riders under your command. I’m confident you will be able to lead them well.”

Having given Seon-Hyeok half of the cavalry forces, Commander Mangsk said he would do his best to cause a disturbance along the border using the infantry regiments. In a way, it could have been interpreted as the commander trying to stay safe in the rear while sending his subordinates into danger, but none of the leaders here seemed to think so.

Unlike the cavalry, capable of freely roaming about in enemy territory, infantry regiments, by nature, had to remain in one place and would become the constant target for enemy attacks. In addition, they could be called on at any moment to support the invading cavalry, and thus, their role in this war was of paramount importance.

“When we begin, I plan on hitting here first.”

“It’s a suitable area for both invading and retreating. If we can get a foothold there, even in the worst case scenario, we’ll be able to get the support of the troops stationed at Mangsk.”

A map of the entire western territories was sprawled out in front of them, and the strategic meeting began. The participating commanders racked their brains to devise a plan and find any potential weaknesses.

Naturally, Seon-Hyeok was required to attend. It was true that others would be coordinating the operations, but in case of emergency, he would be responsible for the life and death of half the cavalry crossing into Noctein territory.

“Well done. We’ll be able to come up with a better picture if we work at this a bit more. It seems like we’ve become too accustomed to defensive wars – it’s difficult figuring out a plan of attack.”

The Mangsk commander let out a groan as the meeting ended. However, the remark sounded like an exaggeration to Seon-Hyeok. He knew full well how meticulously they were planning this upcoming invasion.

Contrary to what Commander Mangsk said, the geographic and troop-layout information that Fort Mangsk’s intelligence units had provided was thoroughly prepared and mindful of any potential counterattack into Noctein territory. It was clear that the Nocteins would be caught off-guard by the sudden invasion into their lands.

“More importantly, how are you doing? I heard you’ve been facing some difficulties lately. How are your responsibilities coming along?”

“I didn’t know that the Central Army would be so proud and combative. It’s like dealing with someone who’s completely stuck in his ways.”

“It’d be nice if the marquis said a word, but then again, he’s not one to do that.”

Seon-Hyeok was not sure whether it was because of their pride as the last bastion of defense for the kingdom or because of the elitist attitude of heavy cavalry riders in general, but the soldiers recently placed under his command were uncooperative.

“There isn’t much time until the operation begins, so shouldn’t you do something about it?”

The ordinary riders, at the very least, pretended to accept and follow his commands. The actual problem was with the company commanders and foreigners of each cavalry company. They blatantly tried to keep his authority in check and antagonize him, and it was giving Seon-Hyeok headaches.

“I was actually planning to do so starting today.”

However, Seon-Hyeok was not soft enough to sit back and watch such behavior ahead of the upcoming war. He had been readying himself for a confrontation.

“Have you thought of a way?”

When Commander Mangsk expressed his curiosity, Seon-Hyeok replied, saying there was nothing to think about.

“I’ll have to get rid of the head first.”

“By head, you mean the foreigners. It won’t be easy.”

Seon-Hyeok laughed when he heard the commander’s concerns.

“The royal princess gave me full authority over their lives and deaths. If not now, when will I ever be able to exercise that power?”

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