Tara goes to confront Jason, while Kyle tracks down a man tied to his past.
This chapter is dedicated to Jalsy, thank you so much for your support!
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Episode 50. 80 kg (15)
As I reached out to grab the doorknob of the office door, Bernard tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned back to face him.
"You can still avoid the Count's scrutiny. You should take a moment to consider it some more."
That was so sweet of him. Was Bernard... a tsundere?
My response was brisk, "It's up to you, Bernard. I'm a third-ranked administrator now, so I want you to think long and hard about whether or not you want to be loyal to me after this. Now, shall we go in? At this rate the conversation might already be over!"
Then I quietly opened the doors of truth–or, rather, the door of my father’s office.
Gallon d'Or grasslands, the Northern region of the Empire.
The purpose of this visit was to check on the status of the newly inducted knights.
It was normal for Kyle to make unannounced inspections of Military installations throughout the Empire because of his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Ocerian Military.
Supposedly, this was one such visit. At least, that's how it appeared from the outside. But, in reality, Kyle had cancelled all his plans and set off on this trip the previous night in order to arrive at Gallon d’Or by dawn.
If an outside observer paid enough attention, they would realize this nominal inspection had been performed with an ulterior motive. However, since Kyle was the Second Prince, who was known to travel often and freely adjust his schedule, many people assumed he had decided to make this visit on a simple whim.
Despite this, having so many other eyes on the Second Prince made Walter anxious.
"The Palace has sent the official documents. There was no problem coordinating the schedule since rumours of a war have begun circulating."
His Master was silent. From the moment he had received the news from the messenger and set out, until now, his back had been tense and his eyes were unusually grave.
It felt as if the Prince himself was on the brink of war.
Walter glanced at the fifteen elite troopers following behind them. They each wore the insignia of the Order of the Phoenix, their gray cloaks hiding their armour and weapons.
Their gazes were no different than his Master's.
"What shall we do about the Black Society?"
"... Leave them alone, they'll have found it out anyway."
"Yes, Your Highness."
The march continued through the night and into the first light of dawn. The men were hardened to this kind of travel, and their postures on horseback were unwavering.
[... A single scar under his eye. Primary weapon, sword. Mid-50s. Located in the grasslands of Gallon d'Or. Known to have worked as a mercenary in the area 12 years ago.
The message had been sent by a member of the Phoenix Knights' scouting party. It was the 27th time in 5 years Kyle had received a report with this name on it. He didn't have high expectations for this encounter either.
But Kyle’s resolve was just as unyielding as when he’d issued the investigation order 5 years ago and received the first message. He couldn’t help but be that way.
He had to find 'them' before he died.
At the edge of the meadow they rode through, a light shone through the thick darkness. The edge of the Gallon d'Or grasslands, which he had travelled 12 hours to reach.
As the stone monuments marking the boundaries of the region came into view, Kyle pulled on his reins, and the troops came to a halt.
All was quiet, except for the harsh breathing of the horses. Turning towards the silent monument, Kyle spoke.
"... Where is he?"
A shadowy figure moved nimbly from behind the stone marker and came to stand in front of Kyle, kneeling on one leg and bowing respectfully.
"I am your humble servant, Mark Edmon of the Provincial Scouts. Greetings to the Prince. He's in a tavern in the town, under scout surveillance."
Dawn. In front of the tavern [The Traveler's Rest]. Gallon d'Or.
It was a fairly large establishment for a provincial town, with the second and third floors serving as an inn and the first floor as a tavern. Thanks to the Imperial Prohibition order, every establishment in the Empire only sold beer.
When Kyle entered [The Traveler's Rest], he was confronted with bustling commotion.
Kyle's entrance drew the attention of everyone sitting at the bar. The Prince nodded slightly, and everyone turned away again, pretending not to notice him.
A quarter of the scouts assigned to the Northern region were here.
They all looked like they'd been drinking through the night until morning, but in reality their eyes remained sharp.
There were 17 men in Kyle's party and 12 plain-clothes scouts.
The owner, who seemed to think this was some kind of unexpected windfall, had welcomed them all with a smile on his face.
Last night's customers had held the place until dawn, and now, in the early hours of a weekday, more customers were coming in. This was the first time such a thing had happened since the bar's establishment.
"Would you like to sit here?"
"No, over there."
Kyle walked over to the largest table and sat down.
The owner and staff seemed preoccupied with orders coming in from all over the place, and at the largest table in the middle of the room, a drunk man was rambling incoherently.
Except for the man, there were four other people at the same table. They were also members of Kyle's elite unit.
They chimed in with a series of incoherent remarks that only served to amuse the man further.
"Kekekeke. So I'm looking at that asshole, and as soon as he sees me, keke. He's pissing himself! Bahahaha. And he's begging for his life, but I'm not the kind of guy who just kills any old fool, even if they ask! Kekeke."
The man's voice was slurred with intoxication, but not to the point that his words were unintelligible.
By the time Kyle and the rest of his crew were seated at the remaining tables, the tavern was full.
"Hahaha, so you're a merciful man after all. By the way, how much did you get for that raid on that coastal town you mentioned earlier?"
"Hmm. You keep bringing that up. Ugh. Why'd you wanna know?"
"Oh, Sir. Like I said, I'm new to mercenary work and don't know what the going rate is, so I wanted to get your opinion. I've heard that some people like to skimp on the pay," Richard Clarke, one of his third-year scouts said.*
"Yeah, they do. Haha. It was a bit of a sketchy gig, but they also had a lot of money. I think the guy that ran it was a knight, not a Sword Master, but I think he was a Sword Runner? But I've never met a crueler knight. I've been to hell and back since I was a young'un, but even I had nightmares after the stuff they asked me to do for that job. But, it's all in the past now, so I can laugh about it. I thought about giving up mercenary work back then, but the pay was sweet. We scored 45 gold apiece, I can tell you that much."**
Richard pushed another beer towards the man, then glanced at Kyle. Kyle gave him a subtle nod.
"No way. 45 gold? That's triple the mercenary wage you get now, isn't it? What in the world were they paying you that much for?"
The man stopped dead in his tracks and glared at Richard Clarke.
"Why...Why do you wanna know?"
Richard swallowed hard, suddenly nervous.
"Nah... It's just that you've been asking me so much about myself yesterday and today... I was wondering... What're you...!" The ex-mercenary started.
"C'mon, buddy! We've spent the whole night together, and you still don't trust me? I told you I'm just a rookie mercenary... Tsk. I'm disappointed! But if you don't wanna do it! Party’s over, whatever!" Richard said loudly.
After narrowing his eyes and speaking at the top of his lungs. Richard gathered up his cloak as if he was planning on giving up, until the man, who had been eyeing him with suspicion, waved him back over hurriedly. Who else in their right mind would buy a retired mercenary a drink these days, after all?
"No. It's just that the mission was so classified and.... Ah. Well, it's been twelve years, so what's the harm, right? Now. Alcohol. Pour me a drink. I'll quench my thirst and tell you my life story."
And then man recounted the events of twelve years ago, with the air of a storyteller.
"It was the end of summer, just before the beginning of autumn..."
The tavern was busy, but the man's voice carried easily. He spoke with heavy emphasis, and Kyle remained focused on his words, unmoving.
"I didn't understand at first, I mean, I thought we were going to hunt down some barbarians because we kept hearing about them going down the coast thieving and raiding. That's what things were like back then. They kept showing up and trying to steal the Empire's land. Anyway, after travelling for a few days we found our prey, and they weren't barbarians, they were a family. We were told they were traitors and there was a bounty on their heads. I took their word for it. What was the point in questioning it? Not like I could go back, anyway. It was worth the 45 gold. Wouldn't you do the same?"
The man gulped down his beer and wiped the foam from his mouth with his forearm, then shrugged, sensing that people were paying attention to his story. Then, he continued with a gleam in his eye.
'Huh. Perhaps I have some storyteller blood in me, after all?' He thought to himself.
Morning, Lloyd Elias' office.
Now, which side would he take...
I stood at the entrance, dumbfounded by the sight in front of me. The first thought that came to mind was...
'The soundproofing in this office is amazing.'
Inside, it was chaos.
Ink bottles and nibs that had probably been on the desk only a few minutes earlier were scattered under the furniture. The ink from the broken bottles had stained the marble floor, and papers were scattered everywhere.
The room was eerily silent, out of keeping with the chaos inside.
My father was facing the window, running a rough hand through his hair, while Jason stood politely by Father's side, one cheek swollen red, biting the corner of his mouth tightly. His eyes were downcast.
His posture was deferential, but his harsh breathing and the look on his face told me he was boiling with internal rage.
Jason's eyes narrowed when he saw Bernard and I enter.
"I told you to come after dinner. What are you doing here with that knight?"
"I have something to tell you. I know it was rude to enter like this, but I've come anyway."
"You came in even though you knew it was rude? Ha! You did this on purpose! You're going to try and sabotage me, aren't you! You think you're so clever! Are you going to demand a Taltine Apology from me as well now?"
Jason was right, even though his face was still tingling and red from Father's slap.
No matter how wrong he had been, Lloyd had never been one to physically discipline his children. It was shocking. Jason was the eldest son, after all.
"Father, look! She's so rude! I was only giving her a slap on the wrist so she'd behave."
Ha... A reprimand? He was trying to humiliate me then, and now he was giving me a lecture.
I was appalled, but I held it in.
Yes... Let him rant, do it.
He was so anxious to blame everything on me that he had no idea he was falling for my trick and getting himself into even more trouble.
Right in front of our father.
"The Military, Father! It's an insult to House Elias. How could a noblewoman of our house join the army when it's led by that bastard prince? To make matters worse, she did so without telling you. This clever wench volunteered to serve under that bastard, and I'm sure she's been planning all along to bring disrepute to the Elias family name."
"Now the Elias family will be the laughingstock of aristocratic society. The rumour mill will eat us alive and then come back for seconds! I was trying to prevent this, Father. In our line of work..."
"How many times must I tell you to stop, Jason!"
Lloyd shouted. He stood by the window, unmoving for a moment. His expression reflected confusion.
Editor’s Notes -
* An interesting detail here is that Richard is calling the mercenary, Hyung-nim (형님도) a respectful honorific used to address other men, probably as an attempt to flatter him. I love catching these little things that don’t translate directly to English.
** Both ‘Sword Master’ and ‘Sword Runner’ are genre-specific terms that are used commonly in Korean fantasy novels to rank warriors by their level of mastery over swords and sword energy called Aura (can also be translated as Auror or Aurore as we've done here).
One wiki defines the ranks as:
소드 유저 - Sword Runner (trainee/beginner who is starting to learn to use aura/or a sword)
소드 엑스퍼트 - Sword Expert (just starting to master aura/the sword but needs to refine technique) - Bernard is currently in this category (I originally mislabelled him as being a Sword Master)
소드마스터 - Sword Master (have mastered aura techniques) - Kyle is in this category
그랜드 소드마스터 - Grand Sword Master (the greatest master that ever mastered)
However, this is not at all consistent across series, some series go super deep with this lore and include other ranks or completely mix things up. As far as I can tell ISTDF has only referenced 2 ranks up until this point: Sword Runner and Sword Master, but it was useful for me to learn more about it.
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