“Oh? This is…”
Milton was greatly surprised. It was his first time seeing it in person, but he knew what this was.
Jerome had just reached a new revelation as a warrior.
Not everyone underwent this process in order to progress, but once in a while, someone would reach a higher level of combat power through a mental awakening.
Likewise, Milton had only heard about this and this was the first time he was seeing it with his own eyes. It was that much of a rare occurrence.
As the aura flowing from Jerome’s body slowly dissipated, he opened his eyes. Then he faced Milton and kneeled before the latter with utmost respect.
“I have become greatly indebted by your grace, Viscount.”
“Oh, it’s nothing…”
Milton was a little shaken. It was not a result he had intended, but Milton had bestowed his ‘grace’ on Jerome anyhow.
“So how much has your level risen by this awakening? Are you perhaps a Master now?”
Jerome was originally an upper-level Expert. If his level had risen even further through this epiphany, it was possible that he had reached the stage of a Master.
But Jerome replied with a bitter smile.
“I’ve yet to break through the wall of Master, but I believe I’ve reached the brink of it.”
“So you’re at the highest level an Expert could be?”
“Yes, that is the case.”
Jerome stretched out his hand and concentrated his aura into it.
Milton was in awe at how naturally Jerome was handling his aura without a weapon. This was a stage that Milton could not even dream of in his present state.
‘So how strong did this man here become?’
Milton abruptly opened Jerome’s stats window and had another look.
Strength – 89 Command – 77
Intellect – 40 Politics – 25
Loyalty – 80
Special Traits – Valiant, Breakthrough, Rational
Valiant LV.5: Increases combat power in battle and increases the morale of subordinates.
Breakthrough LV.7: Lead a troop of horsemen to penetrate straight through the enemy’s formation. The force of the breakthrough goes up as the level rises.
Cool-Headed LV.5: Allows one to see the entirety of the battlefield in combat. Able to put allied troops in favorable situations while working as a flexible field commander.
Generally, the numerical values were not majorly different from before - but the job window had changed from mercenary to knight.
With the Strength stats being 89, one could infer from the conversation with Jerome that a value of 90 was most likely the boundary distinguishing Experts and Masters.
More than anything, the stat that had changed the most was Loyalty.
Jerome’s Loyalty prior had been at 69. This was around the limit of affinity that a mercenary who trusted their employer would have for them in fidelity.
But Jerome’s Loyalty now reached a new high of 80. This much was sufficient for one to say that the relationship of a mercenary and employer had already been surpassed.
This stat made Milton think...
‘Should I just go all-in?’
Resolving to do so, Milton readied himself. He said to Jerome, “Jerome Taker. I would like to formally make an offer to you, not as a mercenary but as a knight.”
“Please go ahead.”
“Jerome Taker, I ask of you to become my knight. I am in need of your abilities,” said Milton.
Jerome remained silent for a moment before kneeling and drawing his sword. Then he carried the sword horizontally with two hands and presented it to Milton humbly.
“From this moment forth until the day my heart shall stop, I, Jerome Taker, swear my loyalty in its fullness to my Lord, Milton Forrest.”
At this moment, Milton noticed Jerome’s Loyalty make a big leap once more.
[Loyalty – 92]
Milton clenched his fist and shouted for absolute joy in his head. He had wanted to make Jerome his knight from way before, and had succeeded in that at last. He was struck with an electrifying sense of accomplishment and his spirits were sky-high.
When one read the biographies of heroes and the like, a ruler’s desire for capable vassals was frequently compared to a process of courtship as they try to win their love. Now Milton felt he knew why such an expression was used.
His heart was filled with great delight and joy, and he was also filled with gratefulness to Jerome for becoming his knight.
“I must thank you. Jerome, I shall become a Lord that a knight such as yourself is not ashamed of.”
“I am already undeserving of my Lord.”
As Milton received Jerome’s fealty, a message popped up in Milton’s mind.
[Your Monarch level has increased.]
‘Is that perhaps…’
Milton hurriedly checked his own status window.
[Viscount Milton Forrest]
Strength – 70 Command – 79
Intellect – 74 Politics – 50
Loyalty – 100
Special Traits – Charisma, Awaken
Charisma LV.2: Able to use the carrot and stick appropriately to raise the loyalty of servants.
Awaken LV.1: Awaken servants, increasing their abilities through psychological means and raising their loyalty.
‘Oh wow… a new special trait appeared.’
The stats were the same as before, but a special trait called Awaken had appeared. Furthermore, Jerome had been added to the knight count to make it four men from three.
Milton unwittingly shouted as he pumped his fist. He had acquired a new special trait as his Monarch level increased, and had also attained a superb knight.
Milton particularly liked this new ‘Awaken’ skill that he had come by. It seemed that this special trait formed as he gave Jerome his epiphany. The reason why he liked this skill was that if he were to utilize it well, young knights such as Rick and Tommy could also be helped to reach enlightenment.
‘Huehuehue… if all goes well, who knows – our territory can be made of knights that have all reached the Expert level.’
Just the thought of it made Milton giddy.
The next day, Milton made it formally known that Jerome had become a knight under him.
At any rate, Rick and Tommy – who respected Jerome and were already halfway there to bringing him in as their teacher – were exceedingly happy and welcomed him. The common soldiers also liked the fact that the humble and benevolent Jerome had joined their side.
But there was one thing these men were not aware of. They did not predict what sort of impact Jerome would have on them, now that he was full of drive.
“My Lord, now that I serve you as a knight, I would like to use my capabilities to properly drill the knights and soldiers.”
As soon as they arrived back at the fortress, Jerome said to Milton with an earnest expression.
“Have you not been training them until now?”
“Now that we have become one family, I am aiming to assign them training that’s a bit more proper.”
“Hmmm, that would be nice. The knights and soldiers would also quite like it if a top-class Expert were to oversee their training.”
Jerome bowed respectfully as Milton readily gave him approval.
In future days, Milton would come to reflect: he should have thought a bit more deeply about what Jerome meant by the word ‘proper’.
The next day.
As the morning sun rose, hell began for the troops under Milton’s command.
“Get up! With that kind of grit, you’re getting off-ed right away in a war!”
“Don’t go off deciding your limits on your own! Humans have no such thing as a limit!”
“You’ll die the moment you give up!”
Jerome transformed into a demon as the training started. Watching from the sidelines, Milton thought he could make out a drill sergeant hat on Jerome’s head if he squinted. 
‘Ah! At least the last line sounded kinda like a famous film quote…’
It reminded Milton a tad of a masterpiece anime he had gushed over in his time as Park Moonsoo.
Jerome had overseen the training of the knights and soldiers until now under the identity of a mercenary. But to Jerome, training his subordinates from the shoes of an outsider and training them as an official knight were two completely different things as far as he was concerned.
There was nothing to be said about Rick and Tommy who were knights, but Jerome also exhaustively trained the orthodox soldiers. He dragged them all the way to the very last edge of a human’s physical and mental limits as if he knew exactly where that was, before letting them go and dragging them back again all over.
Seeing this process, Milton thought...
‘It’s a real relief that I’m above Jerome.’
When one goes to the army, there are juniors who stir those sorts of feelings from time to time. It means there are those juniors whom you look at and make you feel, ‘It’s a real relief that I entered the army earlier than that dude’.
That was exactly the sort of impression that Jerome was leaving on Milton.
But the universe never allows one to lower their guard down.
After the training system for the knights and soldiers had somewhat gone into orbit, Jerome set his eyes on Milton.
“My Lord, it seems that the training system for our unit has been somewhat fleshed out.”
“Ah… right. Good job. It looks like you can now focus on your own training. Got to hurry and reach Master, you know. Ha ha ha ha…”
Becoming awfully uneasy for some reason, Milton desperately tried to change the subject. But Jerome kept talking with sparkling eyes.
“No, my Lord. I’ve unwittingly failed to pay attention to your training all this time, but…”
‘How about we just keep it that way?’
The source of Milton’s nervousness was becoming clearer.
Jerome spoke to Milton with a face brimming with confidence.
“I now have the liberty to begin My Lord’s training starting today. I will make you stronger without fail, My Lord.”
“Do we really have to do this?”
“Of course. You just need to trust in me.”
Milton’s anxieties had ultimately become reality.
Behind Jerome, the subordinates being drilled like crazy formed a grin as they panted like dogs. The meaning of this grin was for Milton to join them in hell.
Seeing Milton cringe, Jerome formed an expression of conviction and spoke confidently.
“Just leave it to me, My Lord. I’ll make sure you reach the Expert level within a year — I’ll make sure of it whatever it takes!”
Milton could not form the words that they just shouldn’t do this.
“There’s still a-ways left, My Lord! You’ve got more left in the tank!”
“How could you be tired after barely this much? Please show some intensity!”
“Please get up. It’s too early for you to be dying!”
As expected, Milton entered training hell with his subordinates – no, it was even worse than theirs.
As time passed, the Grey Mountains saw the first snow of the coming winter. Although it was a place where big and small battles of attrition occurred all the time, even these mountains saw no blood spilled during winter at the least.
Every winter, the Grey Mountains were a place where massive amounts of snow fell. Snow coming up to one’s knees was on the lesser end, and on many occasions, the snow would pile up to a person’s hips. Therefore, winter was a time when nature simply did not permit humans to go to war, even if they wanted to.
If, like a certain famous Frenchman on Earth, one claimed that the word impossible wasn’t in their dictionary and tried to pass the mountains with pure bravado, they were bound to die. There had indeed been such occasions in the past.
Instead, winter was a time of preparation. Supplies were stockpiled and soldiers drilled to prepare for spring’s arrival. The war would recommence with the melting of the snow.
This winter, much attention was directed especially to the stocking up on supplies.
“It appears the Command Center is aiming to see an end to this in spring next year.”
These words were directed to Milton discreetly by Nelson in a private spot.
Milton also thought it was a no-brainer that the Command Center had resolved to do so. He had heard that the Hildess Republic’s food provision circumstances were a lot worse than initially thought.
Even with the world’s most intelligent policymaker as an adviser, and the world’s most valiant knight at the forefront, an army whose supplies had deteriorated was no better organized than a confused flock of crows. 
This winter was looking to be an exceptionally harsh one for the enemy.
And when this winter passed and spring arrived next year, the intention was to end this tedious war of attrition at the Western Front and order a full-fledged advance of the troops. The tense equilibrium sustained until now would be broken in order to place the entire Grey Mountains in their hands.
The reason why the Western Front could not advance in the least until now was that the Hildess Republic aggressively utilized the rugged terrain of the Grey Mountains to form their defense. If they only went beyond the Grey Mountains, the entire Hildess Republic became possible targets of attack.
Milton’s contributions on the field had played a major part in things working out so well. This was with the caveat that the Command Center had scaled down his battlefield merits to the bare minimum, so there was no gaining of renown.
In truth, Milton was not all that obsessed with gaining fame and honor in the field of battle.
This was a war taking place in someone else’s country, and as far as he could see, gaining honor here would not be of much help anyway.
Instead, Milton was reaping a slightly more practical benefit for himself. And that was money.
1. The original translation says Milton thought he could make out a red hat. This is because in the modern ROK army, drill sergeants wear (rather iconic) red baseball-style caps, unlike in the West where drill sergeants wear wide-brimmed campaign hats.