Episode 93. Counterattack (4)

The war was over, but the postwar negotiations were not. The two infantry regiments led by Commander Mangsk continued to occupy Fort Kalstein, and massive numbers of prisoners remained at the fortress.

It was unclear whether Adenburg would return the fort to the Nocteins or absorb it into their territory, but one thing was for certain. The Nocteins would have to pay a considerable price to recover their border fort and prisoners.

However, this entire process was up for the leaders of both kingdoms to decide. These issues mattered little to Kim Seon-Hyeok, as he had only participated in the war as a commander.

“Sigh.”

Nonetheless, he could not completely relax. It was possible that there could be another battle around Kalstein depending on the results of the settlement.

Seon-Hyeok and his cavalry finally passed through Fort Kalstein and returned to Mangsk. The invasion into Noctein territory had taken almost four months.

“Congratulations on your accomplishments and safe return.”

Waiting for them was the interim commander of the Western Army, filling in for Commander Mangsk as he was still at Fort Kalstein. The possibility of the border becoming a conflict area remained depending on the negotiations, so Wittenfeld Royen Mangsk was unable to leave his post empty.

The interim commander was mostly a leader in name only, as the majority of Commander Mangsk’s staff remained to handle daily responsibilities, but his authority was real.

The nobles of the west rushed to greet Seon-Hyeok and show their goodwill in an attempt to strengthen their relationships with the Drake Knight. Among them was Baron Laylark, despite previously requesting a trial by combat over the rights to a mine.

“Let’s shake off the past and get along. After all, we’re comrades who fought together for the western territories.”

Baron Laylark stood to the side, unable to boldly approach the foreigner, and Seon-Hyeok reached out to him first.

After all, Seon-Hyeok had despised the man for his schemes and selfishness, but the baron was the one who ultimately paid the price. The only cost to Seon-Hyeok was that he defeated the Sword of Lightning and received Gradus, attracting opportunists to his land in the process.

Even this was now a matter of the past, considering Seon-Hyeok was now an honorary earl. There was not a knight in the kingdom crazy enough to rudely challenge an earl to a duel.

“Thank you. As expected of Adenburg’s Spear. I will continue to stand by your side as the lord of a neighboring territory.”

Baron Laylark knew how to conduct himself, and he more desperately pledged his friendship than any other noble. Seon-Hyeok graciously accepted it all.

To be honest, it was natural for past events to feel insignificant after a bloody war. The confrontation with Baron Laylark had occurred less than two years ago, but in his mind, it seemed like it had been a decade. As a result, the injustice and anger he felt at the time were long gone. There was no reason for him to be hostile with the lord now.

Kim Woo-Young was another who felt the same way. Until the start of the war, the foreigner’s eyes had been full of resentment and fear. At some point, however, his resentment had disappeared, and his arrogant and vain attitude changed.

He spoke much less than before, and his eyes became much sharper, as though reflecting upon his past actions and frivolous lifestyle. Unlike what Seon-Hyeok first thought, Woo-Young was not an irredeemable piece of trash. It was a relief.

“But why are you following me.”

The only problem was that Woo-Young continued to follow him even after the war.

“I have no intention of exacting more punishment on you, nor do I plan to minimize the contributions you made in my reports. You’ve suffered enough. So stop worrying about your accomplishments, and go back to where you came from.”

Seon-Hyeok wondered if Woo-Young’s actions were a result of his fear that his crimes would offset his battlefield achievements, but it was not the case.

Woo-Young resolutely refused to leave the fortress under the pretext that he had not been ordered to return to the capital.

“You’re driving me crazy. Stop following me.”

Seon-Hyeok showed his displeasure, feeling as though he had gained a stalker. Clark, standing beside him, smirked as he spoke.

“Looks like you gained a third follower, after Jackson and squire Julian.”

“Stop laughing. At least Julian’s cute. I don’t want to have these guys chasing me around.”

Having fought in several wars, Seon-Hyeok was now aware of his reputation. He looked back at those who followed him.

Fortunately, all ten of the original Drake Cavalry members participating in this war survived. They were covered with battle scars, but it was a relief that those were the extent of their injuries after countless battles.

Moreover, they had always followed their commander into the most dangerous parts of the battlefield. Naturally, they could not charge recklessly into the battlefield alongside the drake, but they had always remained with their commander until the end.

“This isn’t even a battlefield. Why are you all following me around?”

“Even if it’s temporary, you’re still a commander of the Western Army. You have to act the part and have an escort.”

Seon-Hyeok expressed his displeasure, but the ten riders behind him just snickered. After sighing, he noticed Woo-Young as the foreigner looked at the men with envy. Seon-Hyeok frowned.

“And what are you so jealous of?”

Barely able to separate himself from his followers, Seon-Hyeok went to the commander’s office and looked back at the war.

This wintertime expedition had been terribly harsh. In fact, in any other situation, there could have been more casualties from the bitter cold than from actual battles. Atiya played a major role in preventing this tragedy.

She hovered around the cavalry and blocked the biting winds. Thanks to her, not a single man was lost to the cold.

This wasn’t Atiya’s only contribution during the war.

She was a spirit that adeptly handled the wind as if it was her own body, and as such, the knife-like winds were all hers to control. In the face of this spirit wielding the harsh winter winds, the Nocteins found their hands and feet frozen, and they were unable to even hold their weapons properly.

As a result, despite participating in so many battles, the heavy cavalry led by Seon-Hyeok was able to deal with the Noctein soldiers without suffering many casualties.

“Then give me a prize.”

Atiya drifted in the air before landing on the floor, suddenly fully materializing.

“Prize? What prize?”

Seon-Hyeok was at a loss. He did not know what he could award the spirit. When he gave an agonized look, Atiya approached and spoke.

“Grant me a wish.”

“What wish?”

He hesitated, unable to comprehend her attitude, but Atiya just gave a strange smile.

“That’s for later.”

Seon-Hyeok had the feeling that the wish would be difficult to fulfill, but he acquiesced.

After all, a spirit can’t possibly put her master in a difficult position, can she?

In addition, he was more than willing to grant her wish. Atiya’s contributions in the twenty or so battles they fought in were significant, and thanks to her, he was able to further grow as an individual.

His level increased by two to 15, and his various skills were approaching their highest levels.

Now, he was confident he would not even lose to Asha Trail, even though she had shown him such an overwhelming chasm in power before.

“Hm. If I go back to the capital, should I try and raise my Gradus?”

Having gained strength, it was natural for Seon-Hyeok to want to check how he now fared against the best.

***

While Seon-Hyeok recovered from the winter cold at Fort Mangsk, he received news that Noctein officials had arrived at Fort Kalstein to reach a settlement.

They were clearly desperate to regain control over the fortress, even if it meant negotiations.

“It’s difficult to carry out negotiations in such harsh weather. All post-war settlements will be put off until conditions improve.”

However, the Adenburg Kingdom was the clear victor of this war, and as such, they had full say over the negotiation process. They delayed in sending their own officials under the pretext of cold weather, and the Noctein negotiators suffered the dishonor of remaining in Kalstein, once their stronghold and now the outpost of their arch-enemy, throughout the winter.

Finally, spring arrived. Even then, the Adenburg officials showed no signs of departing their capital.

Eventually, the Noctein officials, after wanting to approach the negotiating table as equals at the halfway point between their two kingdoms, suffered the additional humiliation of heading to the Adenburg capital. It was the splitting image of the defeated shamelessly begging for leniency from the victors.

“It would be a great shame to our kingdom if something happened to the Noctein officials within our borders. Earl Drachen and a cavalry company will escort the negotiators.”

It was a sudden and unexpected order for the homesick Seon-Hyeok.

“This kind of great victory is rare even in our kingdom’s long history. We need to completely break the Nocteins’ spirit when we have the opportunity. The mere fact that the negotiations are held at Adenstein will be a huge defeat for them. It’s symbolic.”

When Seon-Hyeok complained, Clark tried to soothe him.

“And anyways, weren’t you planning to visit the capital to receive your reward? Look on the bright side.”

Come to think of it, he had not been properly compensated for his contributions due to the back-to-back wars. If nothing else, he needed to receive his knight and mage.

“Well, I guess it would be faster to go directly to the capital for my reward.”

There would be another conferment of honors following the negotiations, and Seon-Hyeok would have to travel to the capital even if he was not providing protection to the Noctein officials. When he showed signs of changing his mind, Clark smiled and continued.

“And who do you think is the Nocteins’ greatest enemy at this moment? It’s you, the Drake Knight. Having their officials be escorted by such an enemy is just another way for the royal family to bring shame on the Nocteins.”

From that perspective, Seon-Hyeok felt his new responsibilities were not so bad. After all, he hated the Nocteins as much as anyone else in the Adenburg Kingdom.

“I’ll have to ask the royal princess to fulfill her promise as well.”

He belatedly laughed as he recalled the royal princess’ promise to grant him a wish after conclusion of the war.

***

Seon-Hyeok, sitting atop of Goldrake, and a hundred heavy cavalry riders lined up in front of the fortress to wait for the Noctein officials.

“They’re coming.”

At the promised time, the Noctein negotiators appeared, flanked by the Mangsk cavalry. There did not seem to be too many Noctein prisoners among them.

“Forward! Company Commander Joseph Ahalson, of the Mangsk 4th Light Cavalry! It’s an honor to meet the famous Earl Drachen once again!”

Seon-Hyeok smiled, hearing the greetings of the company commander he once fought alongside with against the Sasteins.

“I’m glad to see you alive and well.”

“Thank you for your consideration.”

Company Commander Ahalson looked at him in admiration before handing off his duties as escort.

“Here are the 17 Noctein negotiators. I leave them in your care.”

“Good work in coming all the way here. Your accommodations have been prepared, so take your time and rest.”

“Thank you again for your consideration.”

Company Commander Ahalson saluted before disappearing into the fortress.

“I am Earl Drachen, and I will be responsible for escorting you to the capital.”

Hearing the Drake Knight’s introduction, an old man, appearing to be the negotiation team’s representative, reluctantly responded.

“It’s nice to meet you. I am Marquis Gernian Roheim Ashtein.”

The Noctein lord looked displeased, seeing the enemy look down on him while offering his greetings despite his high rank as a noble. Moreover, he was further dissatisfied because this enemy was none other than the Drake Knight himself.

“Please follow my directions during our journey to the capital.”

However, from Seon-Hyeok’s perspective, he had no reason to be considerate of the deeply detested Noctein Kingdom and its nobles. In fact, he openly showed that while he was assuming responsibility for escorting the Nocteins to the capital, he did not do so because he wanted to.

“As you wish.”

Marquis Ashtein tightly closed his eyes, sensing Seon-Hyeok’s open hostility.

There was no room for sympathy. This humiliation was the price the Noctein Kingdom had to pay for terrorizing its neighboring kingdoms.

“Then let’s get going. It’s a long way to the capital, so it may get a little rough.”

Seon-Hyeok’s words were not just for show. As soon as he finished speaking, he picked up the pace, almost reaching full speed. The Noctein officials panicked as they tried to keep up with a pace that even ordinary cavalry would have trouble with.

“Don’t fall behind, at least here in the west. There’s at least a regiment’s worth of people who would jump at the chance to attack you if they discover your identity.”

Hearing the Drake Knight’s warning, the negotiators desperately tried to keep up.

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