Jerome Taker was born as the son of a Marquis. Only, he was born not as the eldest but the third son, and the son of a concubine at that.  Still, since he was born the son of a Marquis, he received a complete noble’s education growing up.
In his schoolings, Jerome showed substantial talent in swordsmanship.
The Taker household was a military family by nature, and produced superb knights from generation to generation. However, the first and second sons born from the first wife were not talented enough to satisfy the standards of their father, Marquis Taker. Yet Jerome — although born from a concubine — showed his genius.
Consequently, Jerome received Marquis Taker’s wholehearted adoration.
The favor he curried was special enough that the first son felt insecure about his place as successor, despite his spot being guaranteed.
And so the eldest son sent Jerome to the most famous Knight Academy in all of the Strabus Kingdom. The outward reason was to give his younger brother an excellent education that would bring out the best of his talents; but in reality, his intention was to send his brother far away so as to solidify his own position.
In truth, Jerome was fine with this anyhow. Although they may have been born from different wombs, he did not want to engage in a power struggle with his own kin. However, there was one thing left lingering on his conscience before he departed home. It was the existence of his one and only younger sister, Illiana.
Unlike his brothers, Illiana was born from the same mother as him. And unlike Jerome, who displayed great aptitude for swordsmanship and thus came under the wing of his father despite being a concubine’s son, she was greatly mistreated within the household.
Although there wasn’t any one particular point to raise about her demeanor, she was blatantly discriminated against by the Marquis household.
Ironically, the reason for this discrimination was Jerome.
As Jerome’s latent talents became more and more prominent, the first and second sons had become envious of him — the concubine’s son. Yet they could not play any foul tricks on Jerome who was receiving the affection of Marquis Taker; and thus, the comparatively vulnerable Illiana became a target.
As Marquis Taker himself did not really concern himself with Illiana, she became the subject of bullying from the first and second sons. Jerome always sympathized with his sister’s situation and had tried to protect her to the best of his ability.
In other words, if he were to leave the household, it meant that there was no-one remaining who could protect his younger sister.
This was what worried Jerome. But his sister, thoughtful of her brother’s concerns, commendably said to him directly, “I’ll be okay…”
That was to say, go on to the Knight Academy without any worries.
Illiana did not want to obstruct her older brother’s future by the mere fact of her existence, and so pushed Jerome off in that direction.
Ultimately, Jerome resolved to enter the Knight Academy.
If he were to graduate with outstanding results and join the Knight’s Order as an official knight, he would be able to stand for himself. When that time comes, he thought he will be able to take care of his younger sibling with his own might.
The day Jerome was to make his way up to the Knight Academy, Illiana saw her brother off with a bright smile.
She would likely have been sad as she watched Jerome, her one and only protector in the world, leave her side. Yet she saw her brother off with a bright smile that did not reveal a smudge of those emotions. This was possible because she was a woman of strong will and refined character.
However, the world is not a place where good results follow just because one is a good person.
Her smile that day was the last memory that Jerome would come to have of her.
Jerome devoted himself wholly to training once he entered the capital’s Academy.
He consciously rationed his sleeping hours in order to become a superb knight that could protect his sister. The Academy professors acknowledged Jerome’s effort, and instructed him diligently so he may learn that much more.
It was a perfect storm of talent in addition to effort and even an excellent learning environment.
It would be stranger if one did not develop under these circumstances.
After not even a year of entering the Academy, Jerome reached the state of an Expert. Furthermore, upon entering the internal sparring competition at the Academy, Jerome was able to come first place after defeating all the seniors despite being a first-year.
He revealed what had transpired to his sister through mail, and she replied with great joy. Those were the happiest of times to Jerome.
Be that as it may…
After a little more than four years passed since Jerome entered the Academy, he received some bad news.
“There’s been a rebellion at my House?”
“Yeah. It looks like the Republicans incited the peasants into an uprising.”
The news, communicated to Jerome by his classmate, hit him like a bolt straight out of the blue.
“What happened to my family? What about my father? And my brothers?”
“We don’t know about them yet. There’ll be more news if we wait just a bit more.”
Jerome knew he would need to wait for ages for the next piece of news to arrive. He could not possibly stay still until that moment.
That night, Jerome made a breakaway from the Academy without proper notice.
He rode on horseback in the direction of his hometown without a moment’s rest. As he made his way there, news of what was occurring back home reached his ears little by little — but none of it was good.
It was rare for peasants that were discontent with their lords to raise their pitchforks and rise up, but it wasn’t unheard of. Truth be told, the Taker household wasn’t a very lenient House to the common people, and so there was certainly room for a rebellion to happen.
But the reason why this particular revolt was so dangerous was that the Republicans had stepped in.
In order to destroy the caste system of kingdoms, the Republicans time and again planted infiltrators that would spread their ideals to the kingdom’s lower classes. The spies would then rouse their dissatisfaction as to make them take up arms and cause a rebellion.
At that point, the Republicans would also provide some level of support to the rebel forces. By doing so, they could cause more severe internal damage to the kingdom.
The rebellion that occurred at House Taker was one such case.
Having maintained their eminence through the generations as a military family, the Taker House had many knights and enlisted soldiers. The fact that the rebel forces were gaining an upper hand despite this meant that the Republicans had dispatched support forces to back them.
‘Please… please be safe…’
As Jerome sped his horse as much as he could, he simply hoped that his family was safe.
In this state, Jerome galloped back to his hometown in ten straight days without rest.
Albeit when Jerome arrived was after everything had already ended.
The rebel troops had completely razed the Taker House to the ground, although they could not resist the combined ally forces of the counties around them and were annihilated.
Consequently, the hometown that Jerome had returned to was one that was reduced to ashes as far as the eye could see.
Innumerable corpses of both soldiers and commoners alike were scattered everywhere, and the fief’s castle had collapsed and left neglected in that state.
The surrounding territories had just about punished the rebel forces — but not much else. They hadn’t concerned themselves for even a moment with what state the Taker territory will be in afterwards, which was why it was in such a sorry state.
“Father, brother, Illiana!”
Jerome frantically ran around trying to find his family. Hanging on to hope by a thread, he prayed to the gods again and again that they be alive.
But when Jerome found his family, his state could only be described as utter, brutal despair.
Jerome’s legs gave out and he sank to the ground.
In front of him was the corpse of his sister, skewered onto a pole. Having destroyed the lordship’s castle at the end of a fierce battle, the pent-up rage of the rebel forces had exploded forth through cruelty. The lord and his family were captured and stoned; then their corpses had been hung in the air to parade the rebels’ victory.
The resultant products of these actions were before Jerome’s eyes.
Slumped on the ground, Jerome dug his head into his arms and let out a grief-stricken outcry.
“As I was handling my younger sister’s body that day, I swore an oath — that I will never forgive the Republican bastards that made her this way.”
“So is that why you became a mercenary?”
“Yes. And I was employed by you the moment I was trying to land my first gig, Viscount.”
Milton was now able to come to a better understanding after hearing Jerome’s long explanation of his past.
‘Although I knew he was a noble, I was curious why he hated the Republicans so much; now I see what circumstances there were.’
But there was one thing left which Milton failed to understand.
“After the rebellion ended, your territory was not forfeited nor your peerage confiscated, correct?”
“No, they were not.”
“Then rather than being a mercenary, would it not be of greater aid to your revenge if you reigned as the successor of a Marquis household?”
A run of the mill mercenary, or a Marquis of the Strabus Kingdom. There wasn’t much discussion to be had on which side would possess more power.
But if that were the case, why did Jerome become a mercenary despite wanting revenge? That was what Milton did not understand.
Jerome replied to Milton with a wistful look.
“I threw away my title of a knight to avenge my family. Despite the fact that the real subjects of my revenge are already gone, I can’t stop my hatred for the Republics in their entirety.”
“How could I succeed a House that has been a military family through the generations if I cannot abide by the knight’s code anymore? I no longer have the right.”
Milton furrowed his eyes at Jerome’s words.
‘Past the point of blind faith, it seems he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the knight’s code.’
Generally, Milton’s way was to keep to himself and let others live their lives the way they wanted. In fact, he thought that one of his qualities was that he didn’t normally nose into others’ lives.
However, he was so irked this time around that he could not possibly stay silent.
“Your thinking is incorrect, Jerome.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“By the way you explained it, it is impossible to reconcile your path of vengeance with the knight’s code, and so you chose revenge and threw away your House.”
“Yes, that’s correct. That is the only way.”
Milton sternly denied Jerome’s conclusion. He said it with great firmness, as if there was not even room for a different opinion.
“Why would you surrender your title as a knight for revenge? These two things are steadily co-existing in your heart — so for what reason must you only take one extreme?”
“That’s… because a true knight hates the sin but not the sinner, draws his sword for justice, protects the weak — and must never vest his personal emotions in his sword.”
Jerome was uttering one of the passages in the knight’s code textbook. Of course, Milton too knew that passage, having also received a knight’s education.
Yet Milton’s sentiment towards this was…
“That’s a load of horse shit.”
“V-…Viscount. Your words are too much.”
In his life, Jerome had never seen a noble that called the knight’s code a crock of shit — and in such a frontal, full-on way at that. But Milton was relentless.
“Do you think I would have been any different in your shoes? If my family died and I were to have seen their last moments with my own two eyes, would you think I would have stayed faithful to the lofty knight’s code and not harness any feelings of revenge?”
“I assure you — that would most certainly not be the case. I am also, indeed, nothing more than an ordinary human — the same human as you.”
Reacting with mercy and tolerance after losing your loved ones was ultimately not an easy feat. It was an outstanding choice to make, and one that was much more difficult and painful than the path of revenge.
One who could do that much would already be deserving of being labelled a saint. But the brilliance of a saint was not something that should be imposed universally on ordinary individuals.
“Your notion of the knight’s code is much too idealistic. You’re upholding your own utopian vision of the code that does not allow room for a single stain — but is that really in line with reality?”
“What is it that you wish to say?”
Milton looked Jerome straight in the eye and spoke from the heart.
“Even a knight is just a person in the end. They are ordinary people who rage, cry, laugh, and shed tears. Do they have to suppress their emotions because of this one thing we call the knight’s code, and are they disallowed from acting outside the range it purports? Does there even exist a knight in the world who’s able to do that?”
“When you force lofty ideals onto reality, it is normal for them to break or bounce out. I suppose we could take the Republican blokes as the closest example, right?”
Upon Milton’s words, Jerome made the most shocked expression he had until now. It was not easy to acknowledge it, but Jerome already knew in mind that Milton’s words were right.
As Republicanism spread in this world, the people of existing systems also studied it. They had to know their enemy if they were to adapt and respond appropriately. Eventually, several scholars explored and discovered the weaknesses of Republicanism and preached them to the world.
And that weakness was…
“Trying to shoehorn unactionable ideals into the real world. That is the greatest downside of Republicanism, is it not?”
“I am aware.”
“Right — then you would also be aware of the meaning of my words. The kind of knight’s code that you are insisting on is also no more than an ideal which does not fit into the real world. Is that not so?”
“That’s not quite…”
“As you have lived — and even a single person is alright — have you seen anyone that actually practiced the impeccable knight’s code that you have in mind?”
“There are none as of yet.”
It would be difficult for any person to apply the knight’s code perfectly as it is. Some would not be able to adhere to the high ethical standards, while others would simply make human mistakes.
“If that is so, does that mean out of all the other knights in the world, none of them have the right to be one?”
“That’s not true. Even if they were to deviate a little from the code, if they uphold justice… oh!”
Jerome realized the answer himself while speaking.
That was it. There was no need to be bound by rules like a hypochondriac avoids germs, or talk about what gave one the right to be a knight in such rigid terms.
‘If I have justice in my heart… and if I were to not lose that focal point, even if I were to become mangled or fall over…’
“Then I am a knight.”
The moment Jerome uttered those words, a gentle aura began flowing outwards from his body.
1. the literal Korean term used is 첩, literally meaning concubine. After discussing the Western medieval context and the storyline among the translators, we cautiously decided that taking this transliteration, instead of an interpretation of Jerome’s mother as a mistress would be more appropriate.