Chapter 43: Duke Palan (2)

“Huh? What’s this demonstration…?”

Startled, Milton’s mouth couldn’t speak the words he had planned. 

He had been pressured by the tremendous sense of coercion emanating from Duke Palan’s body. 

‘What the…’

This wasn’t just pressure, it was a show of power. What was this street gangster vibe coming from the Duke? However, even if it’s a power demonstration, some people just had an authority that made it difficult to refuse them. And Duke Palan was a man capable enough to impose and follow through with such a demonstration. 

Breaking out in a cold sweat, Milton gritted his teeth against the strong pressure and responded, “I’m sorry but… even though you are Duke Palan… I can’t just agree and follow… when I don’t know either the intention or the reason…”

Hearing Milton’s stuttering response, Duke Palan sighed and reigned in his forceful presence. 

“How decisive and resolute for a youngster. Even the Royal Knights in the palace yield when I come at them like this.”

 Milton took a deep breath as the heavy pressure disappeared. 

“Woooo....”

Duke Palan scratched the back of his head as he looked at Milton. 

“What I can tell is that there is someone who highly values you. And on his orders, I came to help you. This is all I can tell you.” 

“Someone who highly values me?”

“That’s right. I can’t tell you anything more than that.”

Duke Palan expressed that this was all the information that he could tell Milton. 

With that limited information, Milton quickly began to think of different possibilities. 

“Duke Palon is part of a neutral group. He's coveted by both the First Prince and the Second Princes’ factions, but he's the only one to remain neutral.’

It’s right to assume that most of the nobles in the Capital are divided between the First and the Second Princes. The two princes’ factions were desperate to have even the slightest advantage over the other. Perhaps, that’s why neither acknowledge neutrality. If you weren’t a part of their faction, then you were an enemy. So, if you were determined to be neutral, then it was likely both factions would attack you and you’d eventually disappear. But there were a few nobles that were able to declare their neutrality without repercussions, and one of them was Duke Palan. 

Duke Palan was the one person in the entire kingdom that they couldn’t attack because he wasn’t a part of their faction. Not only was he a valuable commodity of the kingdom due to his Master status, but all the knights in the kingdom viewed and supported him as their idol. His influence was considerable. Because of this, Duke Palan was able to defend his neutrality in the midst of the fight for power.  Yet, he came to Milton on someone’s command. 

‘If he’s commanded by someone, then that means Duke Palan belongs to a group. Who? The First Prince? The Second Prince? …No. If he belonged to either faction, then there would have been rumors. In that case…’

If, after disregarding all impossibilities, there remains a possibility, then that possibility can only be the truth. Milton came to one conclusion. 

'There is a third faction.'

This was shocking news. All the nobles in the Capital believed the next one in line to be king was either the First Prince or the Second Prince. However, there was a third faction now. And that third faction had a powerful wild card — Duke Sean Palan. 

‘He probably wouldn’t tell me if I asked who it was. But really… who could it be?’

Milton was frustrated. Whoever was leading the third faction, that person seemed to be paying attention to Milton. Although Milton continued to move up the ranks by successively winning against the other territories, he was still only a plain countryside nobleman. He wasn’t someone who could influence the Capital’s political scene. And yet, there was someone paying attention to him…

For Milton, who hadn’t been willing to join in their fight for power, this was something unappealing. 

‘What should I do? Seeing the situation right now, it doesn’t seem like something I can refuse…’

Truthfully, the trouble with Count Librador was something Milton could solve by himself. He would have taken a bit of a loss and bruised his pride a bit, but it was still something he could have handled on his own. Instead, the person lending him a hand was more troublesome. 

First of all, he didn’t even know who that other person was. That other person knew who he was, but Milton didn’t know him. In a situation like this, it was possible that Milton might be unfairly taken advantage of if he went along with it. So what if he pretended to accept and just halfheartedly went along with it? No, that’s also impossible. Even if Milton didn’t know who it was, for that person to be able to order a powerful man like Duke Palan, it meant he had considerable authority and sincerity. But for now, if Milton didn’t at least pretend to get on the same boat as them, then there’s no way he would understand the situation.

‘In that case, I would rather…’

Milton came up with the best thing he could do in this complex situation.

“My young friend, you’re thinking too hard. Isn’t it time to make a decision now?”

As though he had come to a decision, Milton answered Duke Palan.

“Your Grace, Duke Palan, you said he would be willing to help me, but what is it that he would like in return?”

“First of all, there’s one thing you need to take note and remember, that there is someone who greatly values you.”

‘Of course….'

He talked in a roundabout way, but simply put, his words meant ‘you’re on our side now, so keep that in mind.’

“I understand. I’m a bit reluctant to serve someone I don’t know, but if it’s someone that Your Grace acknowledges, then he must be a remarkable person.”

“Yes, I’m convinced that he is meant to be the rightful sovereign of this country.”

As he responded, Duke Palan’s face was filled with pride. Seeing Duke Palan’s face, Milton gave a small smile. 

‘It’s easier that I expected. It’s definitely possible.’

Just now, Duke Palan had said “sovereign of this country.” In other words, he had unwittingly revealed that behind him was a member of the royal family. While Duke Palan’s Strength trait might be at 95, his Political trait was a lowly 15 and because of this, made a mistake only a Knight would make. But Milton pretended not to have noticed. 

“Then I also accept. If it’s someone Your Grace believes and follows, then I will also believe in him.”

“Hmm…”

Duke Palan was pleased at Milton’s response. Seeing how Duke Palan seemed to trust him, Milton took this opportunity to achieve his own purpose. 

“So, please accept me as your disciple, Your Grace.”

“Huh? …How did the topic change to this?”

Duke Palan responded as though he didn’t know how or why it turned to this. Milton licked his lips and began to talk smoothly. 

“Your Grace, I may not know who you serve, but I’ve decided to also follow him because I believe in you. In that case, shouldn’t you also believe in me and have an appropriate relationship between the two of us?”

Duke Palan cocked his head. Something didn’t seem right, but at the same time, it also made sense. Milton thought to himself as he saw the conflicted Duke Palan.

‘He’s like Rick, except with better swordsmanship skills.’

Although he was the renowned Duke Palan, Milton was convinced that the Duke was basically in the “same family” as Rick and continued his sophistry without hesitation. 

“I believe it would be best if I became your disciple in order to help keep the man you serve a secret, Your Grace.”

“And the reason for that is?”

As though he had been waiting to be asked, Milton instantly answered. 

“We hadn’t even met face to face before, so if I were to suddenly receive your help, people would think you were gathering people, Your Grace. They would question your purpose. They would question whether you were ordered by someone. They will begin to doubt you.”

His reasoning was a bit of a stretch, but at the same time, it also wasn’t impossible.

“Hmm… that's so.”

Milton’s convincing words seemed to have shaken Duke Palan’s heart. 

“But that all changes if I’m your disciple, Your Grace. With the justification that you once taught me in the past, and because of that relation, you decided to help me, then the doubts of the people will disappear.”

“Yes, that does sound reasonable.”

Duke Palan nodded his head at everything Milton said. 

“And there’s another advantage if I become your disciple, Your Grace.”

“And what is that?”

“I join the First Prince’s faction as your disciple.”

Duke Palan frowned at this.

“How is that an advantage? What do you mean by joining the First Prince’s faction?”

“To be more precise, I pretend to join his faction. If I joined as your disciple, they won’t be able to neglect me. Instead, they’ll most likely try to use me to bring in my Master, you, Your Grace, to their side.”

Duke Palan tilted his head at Milton’s confident explanation. 

“What do you mean by that?”

‘He didn’t understand it.’

Although Milton despaired at the limitation of political understanding of 15, he continued with the explanation. 

“If I joined the First Prince’s faction, I can disrupt plans from the inside while simultaneously uncovering information.”

“Ah… I see. But.”

‘But what?’

Duke Palan spoke after thinking awhile. 

“Isn’t that a bit cowardly? Isn’t that the same as planting a spy in the other faction?”

“……”

Milton was dumbfounded. 

‘Does a Political trait of 15 turn the brain into mush?’

If you think about it, Nelson, who had a Political trait of 25, hadn’t been able to advance in his career on the Western Front. At 15, Duke Palan was even lower than Nelson. How could he be so naive at that age? Although Milton was dumbfounded, he kept a pleasant expression on his face and continued to talk. 

“Your Grace, the political sphere is no different to a battlefield. This is natural if you want to win the battle.”

“Hm…”

“If the person you serve criticizes this, then you can say it was all my doing, Your Grace.”

“Then it can’t be helped. Let’s do this according to your plan.”

Milton mentally gave himself a satisfied smile at Duke Palan’s permission. 

‘Great. With this, I have an “out” either way.’

From the beginning, what Milton was aiming to become was a double spy. Even though he didn’t know who, if they had the capability to send Duke Palan, then they were powerful. So, while accepting the proposal from one side, Milton had a contingency in case things went wrong — he would join the First Prince’s faction. Milton was making survival his top priority by keeping both options open. 

“Then, Your Grace, I tell people that I was once taught by you while I was in the Academy.”

“Do whatever seems most natural. I’ll leave the details to you.”

“Yes, Your Grace. It would also be nice if you could write me a letter for the First Prince introducing me as your disciple.”

“So you’re planning to take it to enter the First Prince’s faction. Good, I’ll write it.”

Duke Palan proceeded boldly once the decision was made. He wrote the letter as Milton directed. With this, Milton gained written evidence that he was a disciple of Duke Palan.

'Good.'

“Then, I will treat you as my Master in the future and do my best.”

“Mm. Few people have reached the level of Expert at your age. If you sincerely practice, you’ll be able to reach Master level someday.”

“Thank you. I’ll try my best, Master.”

“It’s difficult to teach you swordsmanship right now, but if there’s time, I’ll give you proper training next time.”

“I’ll do my best to improve until then, Your Grace.”

Duke Palan looked happy after accepting Milton as his disciple. 

‘Not bad.’

From his perspective, it wasn’t so bad to have a disciple like Milton. Although he was also a knight of Lester Kingdom, Duke Palan couldn’t deny the fact that the level of the knights in this country was low. Particularly, the level of the young knights who had grown up in peace was so low that it was embarrassing to even say they were knights. 

However, Milton, who became an Expert by himself at such a young age impressed Duke Palan. From their first meeting, Duke Palan thought Milton was impressive and much better than the other youngsters of the same age. In fact, the reason Milton’s sophistry was so acceptable wasn’t only because of Duke Palan’s low Political trait, but also because Duke Palan’s first impression of Milton was great. Duke Palan didn’t realize that the same youngster treated him as a political pushover and played him into the palm of Milton’s hands. 

“It’s been a lucky day.”

Duke Palan was happy that he had successfully carried out the orders of his lord and even accepted a great disciple. 

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