Episode 96. Royal Promise (3)

Seon-Hyeok stayed in his accommodations all day long, looking at the list of Gradus and selecting from these talented individuals.

“If they’re ranked too high, it’d be a burden for me to take them – and for me to order them around.”

He immediately excluded those he deemed too strong. Even if the royal princess offered her support, Seon-Hyeok believed such individuals would not follow him unconditionally. After bringing them back to Rheinperle, there was no guarantee that they would obey his commands.

What he needed were competent individuals he could comfortably order around, not superiors to house in his territory.

“I’ll exclude the foreigners as well.”

And then, he removed all of the foreigners with Gradus.

“So this is what’s left…”

After repeatedly cutting down his list, Seon-Hyeok was left with just three.

‘Royal Mage, Senior Mage, Jake Proudmoore, Gradus 73.’

‘Royal Mage, Senior Mage, Aria Eisen, Gradus 98.’

‘Royal Mage, Senior Mage, Kesil Arcane, Gradus 100.’

All three were promising talents recognized for their abilities, despite only being in their 20s. Likewise, they were all mages and not knights. Julian spoke up from his side, asking whether he would be making a list of knight candidates as well, but Seon-Hyeok responded in a tone that said he had nothing to think about.

“I’ve already chosen the knight.”

“Already?”

It was true Seon-Hyeok had been looking at the list of Gradus all day, but it was surprising that he had so quickly decided on a person that he may have to spend a long time with in the future.

However, for him, it had not been a hasty decision. On the contrary, he had planned this even when he told the royal princess his wish. In essence, his choice for the knight had already been decided before he arrived at the capital.

“And who might that be?”

As expected of a squire aspiring to become a knight, Julian showed great interest in the individual who would become Rheinperle’s first knight. Seon-Hyeok looked at Julian with an inscrutable expression before pointing towards the middle of the Gradus rankings.

“Talented and proven. Isn’t this perfect?”

Julian looked at her lord blankly as he waited, expecting her to compliment his choice. After a moment, she sighed and responded.

“The knight’s skilled and of good character, of course. But how do you expect to steal away one of the Royal Knights?”

The name Seon-Hyeok pointed to was that of a female knight Julian knew well.

‘Royal Knight, Royal Guard, Senior Knight, Asha Trail, Gradus 46.’

“What do you mean, how?”

Seon-Hyeok looked at his squire shaking her head before boldly explaining.

“I’ll have to tell the princess that I want Sir Trail.”                                                                                           

***

Whereas knights determined their Gradus through relatively simple and clear duels, mages were ranked according to more complicated criteria.

As they spent most of their time studying and experimenting with magic in laboratories, there was no way they would suddenly challenge each other to a duel. As such, their ranks were determined by identifying the types and levels of magic each mage had learned, then by projecting how much effect they would have on enemies if thrown into battle.

In essence, knights were used to charge in and crush enemy forces in battle, while mages remained stationary to cast magic that would either restrict or annihilate their enemies.

“I’ve heard that the lowest ranked knights and mages can handle at least one infantry company by themselves.”

This was truly a strange world with magic, spirits, and all sorts of unnatural abilities, where an individual’s strength could overwhelm that of a hundred well-trained soldiers.

“But they won’t be able to go to war anyways.”

“That’s why they’re even more reliant on Gradus. Without the existence of such a system, there would be no way for them to prove themselves unless there was an all-out war.”

Julian had a point. These individuals had struggled throughout their lives to gain this superhuman strength, but they were now held back from using their abilities. Seon-Hyeok imagined it must feel incredibly frustrating and unfair.

From that perspective, he somewhat understood the mindset of the ordinary knights who had been humiliated after recklessly challenging him to a duel in the past.

“Since we can’t bring them into battle anyways, let’s pick a versatile mage. It’d be a problem if all our mage could do is create fireballs and fire off some lightning.”

Seon-Hyeok handed Julian his pre-prepared list of candidates for the Rheinperle mage.

“Please find out if any of these three have outstanding talent in non-offensive spells, or if they are experimenting in other fields of magic.”

“Unlike the knights, the royal mages rarely move about. It’ll take some time to gather information on them.”

“That’s not a problem. After all, I’ll only receive my rewards after negotiations are finished, and we’ll depart after that. It’s fine as long as you can gather the necessary information before then.”

At his words, Julian bowed and exited the room, acting diligent as always.

“Phew. Then should I stop by the inner castle?”

It just so happened to be the time when the princess would be enjoying her tea. Seon-Hyeok called on a maid to lead the way and slowly made his way to the inner palace.

“You really treat the castle like it’s your own home.”

However, Seon-Hyeok came across someone he was not particularly excited to meet. After beating the foreigners of the Central Army half to death, he felt uncomfortable being around Marquis Reinhardt.

“The princess has given me permission.”

“I’m aware. I’m the one responsible for keeping track of who enters the inner castle, so there’s no way I wouldn’t know that.”

After his curt comment, the marquis gave the servant a look.

“I have something to discuss with the earl. Please leave us.”

The girl looked at Seon-Hyeok’s face for a moment, then disappeared when he nodded.

“What do you have to tell me?”

“How do you like the capital? Doesn’t the world look different now that you’re in a higher position?”

It was an irrefutable fact. He was enjoying a luxurious lifestyle incomparable to when he was a mere cavalry rider.

“That’s just how the capital is. It’s a comfortable and pleasant place for those with power, but those without are torn apart by all sorts of external forces.”

“I think so too.”

Seon-Hyeok was not sure what the marquis was trying to get at, so he just continued to listen.

“However, you now have the requisite power and reputation to remain unbothered by most, and you even have the trust of the royal family. You might not be aware of this, but there are none in the capital who can treat you carelessly.”

Seon-Hyeok straightened up as Marquis Reinhardt looked at him and got to the point.

“So. Do you have any thoughts about remaining in the capital?”

“What are you…”

What’s he saying now?

When Seon-Hyeok gave a confused look, the marquis continued with a gentle expression.

“I’m asking you if you would like to join the Royal Knights.”

Seon-Hyeok was left speechless at the sudden offer.

“Your duties would be to protect the Adenstein royal family, the most important figures within this kingdom. The glory and honor you would receive is beyond description, and none, save for members of the royal family, will be able to give you commands. Isn’t that tempting?”

The marquis did not push him for an immediate response.

“There’s no need for you to answer right now. If I did, the old man from Mangsk would come here himself to make my life hell. I just want you to keep this option in mind and to take your time in considering it.”

The marquis’ attitude was unusually gentle, as though he noticed that Seon-Hyeok did not seem too keen on the suggestion.

“I’ll consider it.”

The marquis laughed, considering it a relief that he was not rejected to his face, then remembered something as he spoke.

“Oh, don’t think about suggesting that you’re meant for the battlefield as your excuse. You’ll find out soon enough, but you won’t have many opportunities to fight in such battles going forward.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a point of contention in the current negotiations with the Nocteins.”

Why would an individual be a huge point of concern in a settlement between two kingdoms?

When Seon-Hyeok frowned and demanded an explanation, the marquis slowly replied.

“I’m sure you’re aware that neither we nor the Noctein Kingdom deploy mages or knights to the front lines in an effort to avoid unnecessary escalation.”

Seon-Hyeok was well aware of this.

“This time, the Noctein Kingdom has requested that the Drake Knight be classified alongside senior knights and excluded from future disputes. That’s the one concession they insisted on in return for accepting most of our demands.”

“Ah…”

Seon-Hyeok gave a bewildered look once he belatedly grasped the situation. The Noctein Kingdom’s demand felt like children setting rules before a fistfight.

“And the Adenburg Kingdom will accept that?”

“It hasn’t been decided yet, but most likely. There shouldn’t be any instances of Noctein forces crossing into our territory for the time being, and anyways, their request isn’t too difficult to accept.”

From what the marquis said, it seemed as though the Adenburg officials were viewing the Nocteins’ proposal in a positive light.

“Since you’re a high-ranking noble now, you’ll soon come to understand why knights have their hands tied and mages are kept restrained. And by the time you do, you’ll be in a similar position as those other knights.”

A shadow fell on the marquis’ face. On the other hand, however, Seon-Hyeok’s expression remained unchanged. He had simply been confused about the situation, but he did not feel anxious about the prospect of no longer being able to fight in battle.

Belatedly realizing this, the marquis asked with a sour expression.

“Aren’t you upset? You’ll become a caged bird or a leopard that’s unable to run.”

Seon-Hyeok casually responded to Marquis Reinhardt’s question.

“What the big deal if I can’t fly or run? I can always live like a chicken or a house cat.”

After all, he had no burning desire to fight in wars in the first place. He had happened to fight under orders, and in this process, he had made significant contributions in the Adenburg-Noctein wars. He had no reason to be disappointed over being excluded from the battlefield now.

No, if anything, he felt it was fortunate that he would no longer be ordered onto the terrible battlefields and exposed to such horrible sights.

Seon-Hyeok’s expression betrayed his inner thoughts, and seeing this, the marquis sighed before continuing.

“Anyways, that’s the way things are now. If you ever become bored of the borderlands, feel free to come to the capital. The Royal Knights will welcome you with open arms anytime.”

Feeling as though he lost control of the conversation, the marquis hurriedly left after his final comment. When he disappeared, the maid returned to once again lead the way.

“What a coincidence. I was just about to have my last cup of tea, and to think Earl Drachen would come to find me here.”

Previously, the royal princess had almost begged him to come to visit, but she now acted like she had no memories of doing so. By now, Seon-Hyeok was fully accustomed to these slight inconsistencies in the princess’ behavior, and he simply greeted her with a smile.

“I was in a tough position after my previous lance broke in battle, but thanks to your consideration, I was able to get new arms and armor. Thank you very much.”

“The kingdom’s finest craftsmen worked hard for months to create those. The enthusiasm and sincerity with which they refined and forged the iron felt like they would be creating a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, so it’s natural that you’re satisfied with the result.”

The princess spoke grandly, but in the end, she was simply boasting about how she had given him such a great gift. Seon-Hyeok did as she hoped, thanking her and showing that he was moved by her thoughtfulness.

He felt as though he was the uncle of a young niece. Of course, he had to be careful around her because her father was the king of Adenburg, but even so, he enjoyed being around the simultaneously elegant and innocent princess.

“Ah, and about the mage and knight who will come with me to Rheinperle.”

“Oh, have you decided already?”

“I’ll have to think about the mage a bit more, but I’ve decided on the knight.”

The princess’ eyes sparkled and grew wide in anticipation.

“Good. I’m truly curious which knight caught the attention of the renowned Drake Knight.”

He had already made up his mind before coming to see the princess, but he could not help but hesitate, knowing that he would be taking away one of the princess’ personal escorts.

Even so, he set aside his reservations and shared his decision.

“Please give me Sir Asha Trail.”

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