21st Century Archmage - Chapter 35
Chapter 35: Becoming a Noble
“I-is it true?”
“That, that you won in a duel with a Knight of the Imperial Guard and became a Skyknight!” screamed Russell loud enough to shake the room.
“Oh, that? It turned out like that, yeah.” I rubbed my ear, acting like it wasn’t a big deal.
Russell grabbed me in an embrace.
‘Oi oi, why are there so many people wanting to hug me today?’
After the stormy duel ended, I was brought into the warm embrace of the Imperial Princess. Without realizing what kind of impact her actions had, Igis hugged me and everyone shot startled gazes at me, forcing me to quickly escape her hug. As the male knights glared fiercely at me, I was truly able to experience how adored Igis was by the knights of the empire.
‘Huhu, now Bebeto belongs to me! Uhuhuhu!’
The Crown Prince had turned and left, but Marquis Mermos stayed to give me formal ownership of Bebeto.
“You’re amazing! Really amazing!”
Even though Russell would have to give up on his dream of becoming a Skyknight if he failed the upcoming third and last flight test, he was sincerely happy for me, as if it was his own matter.
‘But seriously, why do I feel so happy to get hugged by this guy?’
I had shed my armor and changed into the regular cadet outfit. As Russell hugged me, coming up only to my chin, I felt my breath becoming ragged. My body began to heat up with an itchy sensation.
‘No! I don’t like men!’
In these last few months with Russell, he had really challenged my sexuality. His freshly bathed skin was plump and the red lips I felt at my chest when he spoke gave off a faint fragrance. If he was next to me, I felt the impulse to fool around and hug him or at least grab his hand, but I firmly resisted the temptation. I was already 18, an age where I knew everything I should and then some. I didn’t want to betray the pure heart of a man with someone of the same sex.
“R-Russell, what’s with you today…”
Feeling strange, I tried to break away from Russell. In that moment, I saw clear droplets falling from his eyes.
‘What the, he’s crying?’
These days, Russell spent a lot of time crying like a girl. Clearly distraught, he buried his face into my chest and cried.
‘Alright, there are times when a guy wants to cry, too,’ I thought with sympathy. Russell had an indispensable reason why he needed to become a Skyknight. He was surely disappointed in himself for becoming so fearful every time he tried to ride a wyvern.
“Thank you… you at least will become a Skyknight.”
For the first time, I heard Russell’s innermost feelings. His words made my chest sting. There was almost a woman’s ardency as she worried about someone she loved in his voice.
‘Alright, friend. I’ll guide you!’
Even if I couldn’t guide my people to a place running with milk and honey like Moses, I wanted to help my friend find hope again. That would be my first gift as a Skyknight.
I gently embraced the crying Russell. This was the only thing I could do for him right now.
‘This is nice.’
As I did so, I once again felt that Russell’s small hug was really very comfortable.
* * *
‘So what should I do now?’
Bebeto became my wyvern, but I was clueless on wyvern feeding and care. I didn’t have a ground crew like the other Skyknights, and because I hadn’t formally received a peerage yet, my social status was unclear.
‘Why is everyone giving me so much side-eye?’
That was another problem— all the males were glowering at me with provocative glances. It wasn’t just Skyknights, but crewmates and soldiers as well. As soon as they saw me, they would whisper amongst themselves and shoot daggers at me with their eyes.
‘I’m targeted by the Crown Prince, and because of Igis, even the Skyknights are excluding me. What a great start.’
I had no desire to live my life comfortably anyway. A hero of the ages had to overcome diversity and hardship. That was the future in store for me.
‘Bebeto, you brat, shall we give you a bath?’
Even if I didn’t have a crewmate, there were many things I had to do for Bebeto. I wanted to clean up his dirty hangar and scrub away the years of neglect on his body.
‘The weather sure is great!’
It was a typical spring day. The hillside around the covert was lush with green leaves and flowers whose names I didn’t know. It was perfect weather to pack lunch and go on a picnic. I appreciated the marvels of spring as I walked towards Bebeto’s secluded hangar.
Bebeto belonged to me now. Last night, I had definitely closed the hangar door before returning to the dorms, but the door was currently wide open.
And it wasn’t just that. A huge cloud of dust was getting swept out of the hangar. Someone was definitely sweeping.
‘Who is it? Without my permission—!’
Part of me was thankful, but I felt a surge of anger knowing someone had touched the hangar without my permission.
“Who is it! Who dares—”
I quickly ran inside and just as quickly shut my mouth, my anger dissipating.
Igis, who was supposed to return to the palace today, was sweating as she swept the ground, and the helpless Derval was staring at the princess with a nervous expression.
“Hoho, Kyre-nim, it’s a beautiful morning.”
Igis had surely never held a broomstick or rag in her life. But now, she was rather skillfully gathering up the dust and sweeping the ground. Her refined face was sooty with sweat and dust as she threw a happy smile my way.
“I, I tried to stop her, but…”
When I turned to Derval, he stammered out an excuse. It seemed even he did not believe that an imperial princess who could even become an empress was personally pulling up her sleeves to sweep and scrub.
“Please hand those over. If others were to find out about this…”
‘I will die!’
I was already the enemy of all men after the princess’ sneak attack last night. If the fact that the princess had personally cleaned a dirty hangar got out, I might become the victim of terrorism.
“It’s alright. I wanted to do at least this much for Bebeto.”
Having escaped his steel shackles, Bebeto was blinking his golden eyes as he watched the princess cleaning his hangar with satisfaction.
‘Igis isn’t your servant! Oi!’ I retorted inwardly, flailing an imaginary fist at this cheeky brat.
He was now my wyvern, but he clearly needed some education. I decided to give him some special education in the near future.
“Please give those to me. Even so, for the Princess to do such a thing is….”
In my hurry to grab the wooden broomstick, I accidentally ended up grabbing Igis’ hand as she tried to dodge.
Igis’ face instantly reddened. I couldn’t understand how a princess, of all people, could be like this. A swarm of attendants would run over at her beck and call, but Igis was doing manual labor with a kind heart. Her warm consideration traveled up my hand right into my heart. “Ahem…” Derval coughed, having long become a bronze statue. “I have a major in sweeping and a minor in mopping,” I said smoothly in order to prevent Igis from feeling humiliated. I took the broom from her hands and began to energetically sweep the dusty floor.
At my servant-y actions, Igis covered her mouth and laughed. The stuffy, dusty hangar was lit up by her radiance.
With clattering footsteps, the Imperial Knights ran towards the hangar with blanched faces. They probably got scolded until their ears fell off yesterday.
‘Your poor sops, you’ve got your hands full with a single princess.’
From the looks of it, Igis had probably snuck away this morning as well without any word.
“I apologize,” she said with her head bowed towards the Imperial Guard Knights who were running over with pale faces. Her graceful courtesy was truly beautiful to witness.
“His Highness the Crown Prince is waiting.” Dipping his head immediately in response to Igis’ apology, the Imperial Knight respectfully asked Igis to depart.
“Kyre-nim, you’ll come if I invite you to the palace, right?”
Most people lived their whole lives without being able to see the inner palace where the Imperial Family lived. My ears perked right up.
“Of course. If you invite me, Your Highness, I will happily come running post-haste.”
How could I possibly refuse? ‘I hear the palace cooking is killer. Huhu.’
There were wide-spread rumors among the cadet knights who had visited the palace about the incredible cooking there. I also wanted to try it once.
Princess Igis gracefully lowered her head. I hurried to bow lower than her.
“Bebeto, be well. I’ll miss you…” murmured Igis, her voice wet with tears.
Guooo. Bebeto gave her a careful farewell as well.
Then, Igis left, surrounded by Imperial Guard Knights.
‘What a shame… damn.’
Only once I was watching her retreating back did my heart start to ache. Seeing the darling Princess Igis after this would be hard for the time being. The short but sweet memories I had shared with her lately passed through my mind like a film loop.
‘But wait, why is Derval here?’
Derval had suffered harsh advice from me. In just a few days, the rough and depressed demeanour I was familiar with flew off to who knows where, transforming into a bright smile.
“Please take me on. I will entrust my dreams and hopes on you, Sir Kyre.”
After turning away from Igis, Derval fell to his knees. The immature pride he had flared at me before was nowhere to be seen.
“Why?” I couldn’t just accept him like this.
“Didn’t you tell me that when you live, there will be a day when the sun rises! Sir Kyre, please be that sun for me!” Derval cried passionately, his voice thick with sincerity.
“I get it, I get it!’
Catching on quickly, Bebeto voiced his opinion.
“Can you do well? Even though Bebeto and I are in a tough position?”
“If it’s you, Sir Kyre, you will overcome everything. That confidence and skill to restore your honor even in front of the Crown Prince himself! I, Derval, am merely showing my respect towards that courage.”
It seemed Derval had also heard what happened last night.
“Alright. If that’s how you truly feel, I will take you on. However…” I trailed off and stared deeply into Derval’s passionate eyes. “Don’t stab me in the back. I hate people who betray my trust the most.”
With a painful sounding thump, Derval kowtowed into the ground.
“I will serve you, Sir Kyre, with my very life!”
‘Just give me about half of your life. If you do that, I’ll take care of your marriage, house, and honor!’
I first learned that it wasn’t easy to take responsibility for someone in my kindergarten first love. A little girl named Lee Suli had always followed me around. When it came time to part ways on graduation day, I cried and threw a fit, refusing to say goodbye.
In the end, I was given a scolding by my mother. “The moment you take responsibility for Lee Suli, you won’t be able to buy a single one of those Yu-Gi-Oh cards you like so much, you’ll have to share the one package of snacks you get every day, and you won’t be able to sleep the way you want to at night,” she warned sternly.
That’s when I realized. Taking responsibility for another life was only possible for a pure saint who could share what was his.
That being said, Derval was a man, not a woman. And now I was already old enough to buy as many Yu-Gi-Oh cards as I wanted. I decided to take in Derval with an open mind.
‘This guy poops a lot too, so this is good.’
Of course, I wasn’t just taking him in because I didn’t want to take care of Bebeto’s king-sized poops or huge appetite, ok?!
“That’s that, but what do we have to do now?”
“I was entrusted with Bebeto on the fly, but I’m not formally a Skyknight yet… it’s an awkward position.”
I was also worried about becoming the Crown Prince’s target. The moment his pride fell apart, he had pierced me with bloodthirsty eyes. I was sure that all hell would break loose as soon as he found fault with me.
“I heard that you have been recognized by His Highness the Crown Prince and His Excellency, Covert Commander Mermos. Is that true?” Derval’s eyes gleamed.
“If so, please go to His Excellency the Marquis and receive the Skyknight formal letter of appointment. You don’t need to receive the peerage now, but you can only be formally distributed goods in the covert if you have a formal letter of appointment.”
“Is that so?”
‘Huhu, it’s good I have him.’
I was confident I wouldn’t lose in a head-on fight, but all the little odds and ends made my head hurt.
“It’s especially important for Bebeto, because as a hybrid wyvern, the other Skyknights and wyverns will be on guard against him.”
“But can you tell me why a hybrid wyvern is treated like that? If it were me, I would put more value on such an outstanding hybrid wyvern.”
“Of course, it isn’t as if empires and kingdoms haven’t thought that. But wyverns simply do not interbreed. That is why only one in a thousand or ten-thousand wyverns are hybrids. Because the chance is so low and because humans cannot curtail the uncertainty and rage wyverns have towards hybrids, everyone gave up on producing them. Once a hybrid wyvern appears on the battlefield, other wyverns see red and the number 1 target is the hybrid wyvern. You probably know this already, but that is why hybrid wyverns have been historically called cursed wyverns.”
Derval laid out the most important points in more detail than Igis.
I nodded. ‘In conclusion, there’s no problem as long as you’re strong enough to repel all the wyverns charging in.’ The solution was simple, but the problem was whether you had the skills to survive under concentrated fire.
“If I get the formal letter of appointment, can Bebeto and I get armor?”
“About that… I’m not sure. There hasn’t been such an extraordinary appointment until now,” said Derval with a severe expression.
“Okay! Let’s end things here then. I should go get the formal letter of appointment for now and register you as my exclusive crewmate, Derval.”
“That’s correct. That should be the only thing you need to do today, sir. As for the rest, an order should be issued from the superiors.”
“If I’m correct… I believe we won’t be able to stay here for much longer.”
Derval’s speculation made me hum in thought. Actually, the same thought had occurred to me. No one would want to work or fly with a cursed wyvern that could bring misfortune on you with a single glance, and after becoming the Crown Prince’s target, no Skyknight would want to be in the same team as us. It might be possible if it was Countess Irene, though.
“But when do I get the peerage and territory?”
“Pardon? Territory?” Derval repeated dumbly.
“Aren’t Skyknights supposed to get a peerage and territory?”
“Sigh….” Derval made a pitying expression along with a deep sigh.
‘What, is that wrong?’ I thought, puzzled by his reaction.
“Sir Kyre, are you really a Skyknight cadet?” asked Derval.
“Yeah, I am…”
“Then why do you ask about a territory… How could there be any more land in the empire to distribute among the nobility?”
“Wait, then are all the Skyknights here nobles without any territory?”
“Of course they have a peerage and territory. The problem is…” Derval stopped and stared at me as if asking ‘do you really not know?’ After seeing my blank look and confirming that I really had no clue, he continued. “They have appointed peerages and designated grants from Imperial territory.”
‘I understand appointed peerages, but what’s the designated grant thing?’
“What does ‘designated grant’ mean, exactly?”
“As you may know, territories owned by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor’s family are larger and more extensive than any other territory in the empire. About ⅕ of the empire’s land is under the possession of His Imperial Majesty. A set amount is taken from the taxes collected from the Emperor’s territories and granted to soldiers serving the Emperor or Skyknights affiliated with the Imperial Family according to their titles. Typically, a baron will receive around 20,000 Gold per year.”
‘What, really? 20,000 Gold?’
Just catching tuna or demon beasts would net you more than that. Skyknights were treated more stingily than I expected.
“However, that is not a small sum if you consider the price of the defensive arms and daily goods that wyverns consume, as well as the price of items distributed to Skyknights.”
I understood that 20,000 Gold was no small sum, but the problem was, I didn’t like the sound of it at all.
“Is there no way to receive a peerage and territory at the same time?”
“Of course, there is.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“One must become a war hero. If an enemy empire or kingdom’s territory is seized, then you can receive a territory like that. Another way is if you achieve a truly amazing feat and receive the favor of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor. You may be granted a part of his territory and become an independent noble.”
‘Hm… so you have to receive the Emperor’s favor.’
I fell into deep thought. From what I heard, the atmosphere on the continent wasn’t good, but there was probably no one stupid enough to pick a one-on-one fight with the Bajran Empire.
‘I do need a territory, and a big one at that,’ I mused, my thoughts becoming muddy with complicated matters. ‘Whatever, let’s just get the formal letter of appointment for now. Tomorrow’s problems can wait for tomorrow.’
A child who could barely count wouldn’t be able to do differentials or calculus in a single day. I decided to walk forward steadily step by step, or rather, two steps at a time. Digesting the huge boon I had just swallowed came first and foremost.
I left the hangar with brisk steps. Marquis Mermos definitely had a favorable impression of me. The issue was, how could I strip the most benefits possible from him?
* * *
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* * *
‘Right, a marquis should enjoy this much luxury at least.’
I had gone sightseeing all over the covert, but I hadn’t yet gone inside the 4-story stone building where the Marquis was staying. It wasn’t because the knights on guard at the front gates were wearing severe expressions, but because there was a lot to see elsewhere. So this was my first time seeing the covert headquarters up close and personal. Sculptures and works of art that didn’t lose to the ones in the inner palace were adorning the walls.
“Your Excellency, the cadet Kyre has requested to see you.” The knight who escorted me knocked on the door and informed the Marquis of my arrival.
“Come in,” said the Marquis with a dignified voice.
With a click, the knight opened up the door.
“I greet the Commander.”
In front of me sat Marquis Mermos, the Vice-Captain of the Imperial Guard Skyknights and the Commander of Kirphone Covert. He was an eldery man with a head of neat white hair. On his face was the same kindly smile that I had seen at the entrance exam.
Unlike the decorations outside, the Marquis’ office was austerely decorated. There was a large painting of a Black Wyvern flying in the sky, as well as a luxurious-looking airplate. Formal merits hung on the wall. There was also an antique desk and a well-used leather chair. The atmosphere suited the gentlemanly marquis very well.
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
‘Tea to start?’
The Marquis himself was pouring tea from a flowery teapot atop a magic stove on one side of the office. As expected of a high-ranking noble, it seemed that magic items were used for convenience.
“I will gladly have a drink.”
“This is Siphore tea from the Litore Mountains. I often drink it before a flight for its light and clean taste.”
Marquis Mermos explained the tea to me like a friendly neighborhood grandpa and not like a noble.
As he poured the tea, I was able to pinpoint the identity of the faint fragrance I had detected when I came inside. The Siphore tea, which looked like black tea, flowed into a white teacup with a gilded edge.
“Have you come because of the letter of appointment?”
“Pardon? Yes, that’s right.”
The next moment, Marquis guessed my reason for coming.
“A letter of appointment is within my ability to grant. However, you will not be able to receive a formal peerage,” he said frankly while quietly drinking tea. “A formal peerage can only be granted by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor.”
I knew that too. But the problem was that there were no Skyknights on the continent who didn’t have a peerage. There might be some unaffiliated pirates, but it was definitely an unusual case.
“Life looks very simple, but it’s actually quite hard. In particular, once you become a noble, you cannot escape from your political obligations.”
As my senior in life, Marquis Mermos advised me as he laid down his political viewpoint. I could only accept his words. He may be a high-ranking marquis of the empire, but even he wouldn’t want to step too far out of line with the next emperor, the Crown Prince.
“However… For a Skyknight to possess a normal knight identity is also laughable. Because of you, I was forced to think of complicated matters and couldn’t sleep well last night.”
A high noble was someone who could kill a commoner for simply looking at them wrong if they were in a bad mood. I felt a little bad knowing the Marquis had slept poorly last night because of me.
“What kinds of thoughts drove you to become a Skyknight? With skills like yours, you could most certainly live without problems as a regular knight.”
“Because it’s cool.”
“Cool? Is that… really the only reason?”
“To be honest with you, sir, you can earn money and honor with it as well, so shouldn’t any man challenge it once in their lifetime?”
“Money, honor? Hahaha. You’re a funny fellow.”
It must be surprising that someone could reveal their honest thoughts to a marquis who was called ‘Your Excellency’ by everyone. As I offered my innermost thoughts without hesitation, the Marquis let out a good-natured laugh.
“But it’s a real shame. You have angered the one person you shouldn’t have.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t? Why not?” the Marquis asked, once again at a loss for words.
“The world is bigger than one might think, isn’t that true?”
“Those words… Do you mean to say it doesn’t have to be this empire?”
“I wonder…” I vacillated with a smile.
“I have been closely following you, the person who confidently talked back to Marquis Kermon when we first met,” said the Marquis. “It seems your relationship with noble heirs at the Academy is very poor.”
‘He’s done his research.’
“You’re a dangerous fellow. Despite being a commoner, you have absolutely no fear towards nobles, and you also have no sense of loyalty towards the empire or the Imperial Family.” The Marquis was a good judge of character. “For such a person to become a Skyknight… What choice would you make if you were me or a noble of the empire?”
‘What use is it to ask a question like that. Jeez.’
“I would educate him well and turn him into a righteous and heroic Skyknight loyal to the Imperial Family,” I said smoothly, hiding my true thoughts.
“Heh… A heroic Skyknight with deep loyalty…” Marquis Mermos let out a small laugh. “I will grant you a peerage as well as a title, ‘Adalon,’ which carries a meaning of blessing.”
‘Huh? A peerage and title?’
Something very unexpected came out of the Marquis’ mouth. I would have no words of opposition even if he were to chase Bebeto and me out, but now he was even granting me a peerage.
“Only, it is not a formal peerage with a designated grant that only the Emperor can give, but a baronet peerage of appointment that I, a marquis, can give.”
‘Baronet? Jeez, a viscount is already low enough, so what’s this about a baronet!’
“If you become a Skyknight with a cadet knight status, it could confuse the existing order of rank, but it would be excessive to grant a formal peerage to a person whose skills and loyalty have not yet been confirmed. With that in mind, know that this is the best I can offer within my ability.”
The brevity had completely disappeared from the Marquis’ face, replaced by utter seriousness.
‘He really loves the empire.’ The Marquis was emanating a spirit of integrity that could only come from a loyal citizen.
“Thank you for your consideration.”
There was no reason to refuse. A baronet title was still much better than a cadet knight. I should just be satisfied that it was a step above a knight.
‘Phew, it’s really hard to level up.’
Becoming a noble was harder than leveling up in a game. I had a wyvern and a peerage, but I still had a long road ahead of me.
“Because you lack a formal peerage granted by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, you cannot be distributed magic armor for your wyvern or an airplate. If you have the skills, take care of those on your own.”
‘They cost more than a few cents though…’
Despite my grumbling, I fully understood the Marquis. This was the utmost he could do for me considering my relationship with the Crown Prince.
“I understand. I will settle that on my own. However, please allow me to take on a crewmate for Bebeto’s maintenance.”
“A crewmate, you say… I would like to, but as you may know, crewmates are also paid by a portion of the designated grant.”
‘Wow, this is so stingy,’ I muttered to myself.
“Please let me have the crewmate named Derval.”
“Derval? Hooh, you have more ability than your outward appearance suggests. He may be missing an arm, but I am surprised you know about Derval, who graduated top of his class in the Empire Administration Academy.”
‘Top of his class? He’s that smart?’
Unlike nobles born with silver spoons, a commoner could only win with their smarts and skills. If he graduated from the top of his class at a place like that, he was undoubtedly a genius.
“Alright. He was about to be discharged anyway, so I will give him to you.’
‘Why do I feel so crappy even though I’m getting what I want?’
At the Marquis’ ungrudging(?) goodwill, I lowered my head. “Thank you very much.”
“This is a noble letter of appointment signifying the baronet status. It is merely an appointed peerage, but nobles from baronets upwards receive noble respect in accordance with common law. Become a model noble devoting loyalty to your empire.”
‘Ahh! I’m finally a noble! Uhahaha!’
Finally, I had joined the much-dreamed-of ranks of nobility! It was the lowest rank of noble which left much to be desired, but it was still a step above knights.
From today onwards, I would be living as a noble. Even if it was just a baronet title.
“I will do my best to fulfill obligations as a noble.”
‘Depending on how it goes. Huhuhu.’ I would only treat them well if they treated me with respect.
“Ah! Before I forget, you can fly at will. Just avoid the areas marked as no-fly zones.”
‘It can’t be preferential treatment just for me, so why…?’
“Why only me…”
“It is my final act of consideration. Learn the art of flying as fast as you can. I will assign a flight instructor to you.”
‘Final consideration? What’s with the look in his eyes?’
Marquis Mermos’ eyes were filled with regret and bitterness. At that moment, I knew that the Marquis knew something he could not disclose.