21st Century Archmage - Chapter 55
Chapter 55: That Man’s Knights
“Raise the sign a bit more!”
“We have to finish all the repairs by today. Everyone, hurry!”
After checking out the plains bordering Havis Kingdom, I returned to Weyn Covert. The next day, the temporary workers started a ruckus from early in the morning with extensive repairs.
“Thank you for the meal today as well.”
“Hoho, it brings me incomparable joy to see you eat so happily, my lord.”
After I polished off a plate of smoked duck slathered in sauce and various baked breads with honey as well as a fish stew cooked with potatoes and other veggies, Lucia’s mother made a satisfied expression.
[TN: Author. Please. Give Lucia’s mother a name. Like wtf, she appears in almost every chapter.]
‘Won’t I become obese at this rate?’
The western-style dishes I ate every day were high in calories. It was tasty, but I had a Korean palate, so I longed for kimchi and fermented soybean paste soup.
‘When I have the time, I should at least make some kimchi.’
With ‘self-reliance’ as an excuse, my mother used me from an early age as cheap labor for things like housework. Thanks to her, I learned how to make kimchi on my own as long as I had the ingredients.
‘I wonder what kind of events await me today.’
I was sure that as soon as I went outside, Derval would run over, the same Derval who had probably spent his forced break thinking about countless things. He would surely pester and nag me for the sake of Nerman’s development.
“I will take the tea to your office, my lord.”
After eating an oily meal came a cup of tea. The people here always drank a cup of tea called alvrai after their meals, which was similar to black tea, and I was slowly getting addicted to it too.
‘I should construct a big fort in the area bordering the Havis Kingdom. If I block off the entrance to Nerman, I can perfectly control who comes in and out as well as prepare for danger I wouldn’t know about otherwise.’
During my flight yesterday, I had discovered the perfect spot for a fort near the Havis Kingdom’s borders. As long as no threat arrives from the sea, the only things that could endanger Nerman were the coalition of Temir tribes as well as the route coming from the Havis Kingdom. Because of the Rual Mountains and the Kovilan Mountains, soldiers besides light infantry could not invade Nerman.
‘He was already waiting.’
I could hear the faint sound of breathing from the office. It was Derval, no doubt.
“Did you sleep well, Derval?”
“My liege, you have come!”
Derval gave me an energetic response to my greeting. I couldn’t be sure if it was because of the forced break, but the color had returned to his face.
“There’s a saying like this from the place I come from. No matter how long the path is, one achieves the journey one step at a time.”
“My liege, you no longer need to worry. I will repay your love by taking care of both my work and health now.”
‘Kya, he’s always so trustworthy, seriously.’
This person, who gave me his absolute faith like this and followed me, was a precious talent who, if I were without, would make managing this large territory impossible.
“Alright then, what do we have to do today?”
“First of all, the covert has gone into large-scale repairs today. You must now act with dignity befitting the master of great Nerman.”
‘The master of great Nerman? Sounds good. Huhu.’
“Got it, Sir Derval, you take care of the small matters with your own discretion.”
“Thank you, my liege. There is something we must take care of as soon as possible.”
“As soon as possible?”
“Yes. If you have already eaten breakfast, please go to Count Yaix immediately.” Derval told me out of the blue to go looking for Count Yaix. “The Commander, Count Yaix, has most likely already heard the news about Viscount Lukence.”
“Most likely, yes.”
“If that is the case, then there is no need for hesitation—you should receive the transfer of native Nerman soldiers as promised. We can only attempt to secure the safety of the territory if those men are transferred as soon as possible.”
He was right. The empire’s troops were leaving anyway, so the native Nerman soldiers’ hearts would be wavering; it was a matter of course that I should secure them and use them to fill up the gap in our military power.
“And please receive all the military-related items you can get without reserve. Right now, there are not many blacksmiths in Nerman. If we were to make them mass produce military items as well, the other essentials will not be able to progress at all.”
That was something I had been thinking of as well. In Nerman, military power was more important than anything else. I was already lacking Skyknights, so if I didn’t have soldiers either, then I’d be all icing and no cake.
“Got it. I’ll depart at once. That aside, where are the armors and airplates we got from Viscount Lukence’s Skyknights?”
“They are all in the hangar we are using as a storehouse. Just thinking about them makes me feel regret. We are unable to repair them unless we receive help from a magic tower… If we were to sell them in their current condition, we wouldn’t be able to receive even half of the full price,” said Derval regretfully.
‘Don’t worry too much, Derval. Because we don’t need the help of a magic tower for that sort of thing.’
Derval didn’t exactly know my skills yet. When he inevitably later finds out, he would probably be disappointed that I had hidden it from him, but I didn’t want to show all my cards yet.
“Sir Derval, do you have a lot of friends?”
“Pardon? By friends, you mean…”
“I mean people who will come running over at full speed if you ask them to.”
“Of course, I have some!”
“Then call them, as long as they are loyal, call them all. Tell them I will give them a beautiful dream.”
Yesterday and today as well, Derval was completely taken by emotion.
‘As the old saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. If they’re friends with the smart Derval, they must all be worth putting to use, right?’
Unaware of my true inner thoughts, Derval was clenching his fists while trying to hold back his emotions.
“I will conduct a meeting with everyone tonight, so call everyone over.”
“As you command!” Derval shouted.
His response sounded like a promise from someone who would take responsibility for Nerman’s upcoming lively future.
* * *
‘Orakk Castle. This castle is the base for managing the safety of the northern region, huh.’
After a two-hour-flight on Bebeto from Denfors, I arrived at the defensive Orakk Castle standing on the northern front. The weathered castle walls marked the years of battle, and there were even a few places that looked like they were on their last legs. However, it boasted a size not at all inferior to Denfors. It was so big that it could house several tens of thousands of soldiers.
‘I need to use the magic communication line that imperial troops use, so that everything can be connected in one go.’
The current military communication devices used by imperial troops had a maximum dispatch length of around 50 km. And that was only possible if you used a magic crystal of at least Grade 3.
‘If everything in Nerman can be connected with something like a phone line, we can overcome most dangers.’
As Bebeto circled in the skies above Orakk Castle, which we had arrived at in no time, I organized my thoughts.
I could see the gargantuan Rual Mountains over there, far in the distance. Beyond the mountains was the coalition of Temir tribes, an element of danger that absolutely needed to be subdued in order to restore peace to Nerman.
‘Count Yaix, you’ve worked hard all these years.’
My thoughts drifted to Commander Yaix, who had protected the northern region of Nerman without any decent wyverns and barely any reinforcements from the empire. I truly respected his achievement of defending Nerman for all these years with the meager military power he had. I was sure that Count Yaix had invested all of his personal fortune. The Bajran Empire would one day surely regret that they had treated such an upright and outstanding general so coldly.
‘It’s the Count’s wyvern.’
I saw Count Yaix’s grey wyvern, which I heard had been injured recently. It was flapping its wings and stretching in front of a hangar in Orakk Castle. And just like where most Skyknights were, Count Yaix was in front of his wyvern, playing with it.
When I turned the reins to the earth, Bebeto landed without further direction next to Count Yaix. His intelligence was better than any AI combined.
“Welcome, Sir Kyre.”
Even though Bebeto’s landing must have kicked up a lot of dust, the Count smiled brightly as he welcomed me. It seemed there hadn’t been much happening in the last few days, because much of his fatigue had disappeared.
“Have you been well?” I asked.
He was not formally my commander, so instead of using a salute, I asked about his well being with a light nod.
“Of course; thanks to you, we haven’t even seen head or tail of the Temir these days. Haha. It has been a time of peace that we have truly not tasted in a long while.”
Count Yaix looked really happy. It seemed he had been extremely overworked these last years in Nerman.
“It looks very agile,” I said, gesturing to Count Yaix’s grey wyvern.
“He’s a slightly faster fellow than most.”
The wyvern had deep scars in the area around the belly and wing joint, but it’s slender physique was pleasing to the eye.
Only, the two wyverns didn’t seem to welcome each other at all.
‘Sigh, it’s a male.’
The grey wyvern took up a provocative posture towards Bebeto, even though it was at least 2 meters smaller than Bebeto in stature.
“Alphonse! How can you be so disrespectful to our guest!”
Yaix soundly scolded his wyvern as if rebuking a person.
After getting scolded by his master, the wyvern dejectedly lowered its head to the ground.
“Bebeto! Is that the kind of behavior you should be showing as a guest? If you growl one more time, I’ll ground you from flying!”
At my threat, Bebeto feigned indifference as he grumbled. He was seriously a fellow with a prickly temperament.
“I heard the news. You took down Lukence?”
“Well, it turned out like that.”
“Impressive. To have such incredible skills at your age… I said this before, but for the empire to cast a talent like you away to a place like this, they will one day deeply regret it!”
Count Yaix and I shared the same sentiment.
“As if that could happen, the Bajran Empire will roll along just fine even without me.”
“That’s true… If the current peaceful times continue.”
Not entirely convinced by my humility, the Count made a bitter expression.
“Let us go inside. I have something important to tell you.”
‘Something important to tell me?’
As if he had been waiting for my visit, Count Yaix took the lead and went inside.
The veteran’s shoulders seemed particularly hunched over today.
* * *
“If you desire it, I can formally transfer the soldiers tomorrow at the earliest.”
After we entered his office, Count Yaix calmly brought up the transfer of troops. He was showing with his actions that his age wasn’t just for show.
“I am the one who is more thankful. My heart is soaring at the thought of leaving this dreadful place and returning to my territory.”
This gentleman was really bad at lying. Unlike his words, his face was cast with sadness.
“I will turn Nerman into a place worth living in.”
“As you should. The residents here are also people born by the grace of the Great God Adeine. Of course you should let them taste the happiness they should enjoy as humans. That is the duty that a noble is obligated to fulfill in exchange for his privileges.”
The Count was referring to noblesse oblige.
Of course I would do my best for the people here. In order for me to be happy, the people around me had to be happy; that was the fabric of human society.
“How many native knights are there here?”
“Knights, you say… among the Nerman natives, there are just under 100 knights who can use Aura Blade.”
That was more than I thought. However, the issue wasn’t their numbers, but their loyalty.
“They are all outstanding knights. There are knights I personally appointed, but around half of them are people who were knighted in the empire or foreign countries, however, they can be trusted.”
As if reading my inner thoughts, Count Yaix allayed my worries with a few words.
“What about the composition of troops?”
“The bulk of the forces is made up of infantry. Excluding around 3,000 archers, everyone else is a spearman.”
A spearman, the cheapest but most practical soldier. It was natural that the natives would be more poorly armed than the elite soldiers from the empire.
“Could you possibly give me your war horses?”
Horses were the next most important thing next to knights. I hadn’t yet acquired any from merchant groups, so I absolutely needed war horses.
“I will aid you the most I can. In any case, the horses do not number more than 300, and war horses will be troublesome to cross the Rual Mountains with.”
Crossing the rugged mountains on foot would take at least a fortnight. Dragging horses along would be a backbreaking toil.
“Now is the perfect time to cross the Rual Mountains. It is difficult in the winter because of the snow, and the rain comes down too hard in summer, making the mountains impassable. Thanks to you, I was able to seize the best time to leave.”
Yaix went on uninvited to talk about various things. It seemed his heart was feeling empty because it was time to go.
“Thank you for your thoughtfulness.”
“Haha, what thanks. How could someone who cannot offer this much goodwill for the person who saved their life call themselves a knight?”
Talking to him face to face, he was really someone who felt good to talk to. His hearty laughter held no pretenses, and his broad-open shoulders showed the demeanor of a reliable man. He was truly someone who deserved his title as a knight.
“I have a difficult request for you.”
Within the enjoyable atmosphere, the Count suddenly mentioned a request with a careful voice.
“What kind of request is it…?”
I could sense that it was no easy request.
“Please accept a few people as your knights.”
Rather than a request, that was something I would ask for. I was someone in dire need of loyal and brave knights more than regular soldiers, after all.
“Sigh… Even though I say I’m returning to the empire, there is really nothing I can do there. It is withdrawal in name, but is also a dishonorable matter. The idle nobles won’t stay still.”
That was something I could fully imagine. To the nobles that just stuffed their bellies and had nothing to do, Count Yaix’s withdrawal would be a good target.
“My territory is poor. I take 40 percent in taxes, but our yearly gross revenue only comes to about 1 million Gold.”
‘Why territory revenue now?’
One of the things nobles wanted to keep secret was their territory revenue. However, the Count was revealing his weakness without reserve.
“After giving my knights and soldiers their wages and paying various fees for territory management, it is hard to hold onto my very dignity.”
‘Is this about money?’
As soon as money was mentioned, I got a foreboding feeling.
“I request that you take my Skyknights…”
I was so surprised that I straightened in my seat. Unlike regular knights, Skyknights received special training and even possessed noble titles. Even for Skyknights retained by a count territory, a Skyknight was a knight among knights.
“It shouldn’t be so surprising… How unfortunate is it if they met a master without ability and could never own a wyvern again? I do not wish for them to carry dishonor to their graves when they were Skyknights who lost their wyverns while fighting enemies that went beyond their limits.”
For a Skyknight, losing their wyvern was no different than death. Up until now, it was an unwritten law that a Skyknight who lost their wyvern once was to never be given a wyvern again.
“Also, I will give you wyvern enspelled armor and airplates that are broken but can be used again with a little repair.”
This was an incredible offer that I didn’t even imagine. I wanted to bend over and bow in thanks.
“I do not know how I can repay such a huge favor.”
I didn’t even think about refusing. Bowing my head, I sincerely relayed my thanks. The Count Yaix in front of me right now was shining radiantly like God.
“Now I can be relieved. This feeling of returning home after a long, long war… Haha. I wonder if my wife at home has forgotten how I look.”
Sadness and relief mixed in his face as Count Yaix laughed.
He looked older now. Just like the saying that a person would get white hairs after making a big decision, the Count looked a few years older in the space of a mere moment. I prayed with all my heart that he would be able to fully rest once he returned to the empire.
“Let us go outside then. You should meet the important knights, including the Skyknights. They are under your care from now on, after all.”
The passionate and awesome Count stood up and opened the door.
‘For him to be this calm when it must feel like marrying off your daughter…’
In order to nurture a person into a knight, money was one thing, but they also required a great amount of care and time. Moreover, a Skyknight was an irreplaceable existence who could be even closer than family.
Even though he was passing those kinds of people to me, Count Yaix looked utterly composed. He might be crying blood in his heart, but on the outside, he looked like a sturdy boulder.
He was seriously a cool man.
* * *
I didn’t know when they received the order, but there were 40 fully-armed knights gathered in the small drill hall next to the wyvern hangars.
‘They look extremely hardened.’
A person’s first impression was really important. I had met countless knights in the capital of the Bajran Empire, including Knights of the Royal Guard, but it was my first time getting this kind of feeling from knights.
Their worn and faded armor and cloaks. Their expressions and energy were clearly different from knights that wandered banquet halls with deceptive faces. A blade-like energy flowed quietly from their bodies, as if they had just returned from battle. Most onlookers would choke at the sight of them.
Once I appeared next to Count Yaix, the gazes of such knights converged on me. Their faces were slightly stiff. It seemed they had caught onto the gist of the situation.
When the Count appeared, the knights saluted in tandem with well-practiced movements. The resounding voices of the knights rang out in the castle.
“The weather is truly fine today.”
The Count smiled warmly as he gazed upon the knights like a father looking at his children all grown up. Towards him, the knights sent gazes of warmth and respect. I watched the silent conversation ensuing between them.
“Sir Shailt, is your injured right arm all healed?”
“I apologize for giving you an occasion to worry, my liege.”
A heavily built, middle-aged knight named Shailt showed a knight’s mannerisms as he made an apologetic expression.
“Why do you apologize, when it’s all because you met a poor liege…”
Count Yaix showed unlimited affection towards his knights. He smiled as he looked at each knight one by one.
‘I wonder if I can be like that one day too.’
The Count and his knights were conversing like true men with their hearts rather than words. An electrifying sensation surged inside my heart.
“As I said a few days ago, I shall be passing over the right to command the native Nerman soldiers to this man here, Baronet Kyre.”
At the Count’s calm words, the knights simply listened in silence.
“As well as the native Nerman knights… and the Skyknights.”
“That cannot be! How can you make a knight accept two lieges!”
Crying out ‘my liege,’ all the knights fell to one knee with metallic thuds.
‘Damn, one might think they’re being asked to surrender or something.’
I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I felt like a wicked merchant who was crushing the service and allegiance seeded in their hearts.
“… I understand your feelings well, my knights. But I am now without dreams… Like my sword, which has lost its will to serve the empire, I say this from the bottom of my heart, I wish to rest. Taking responsibility for your futures has become more and more difficult for me, as a knight… Thank you. However, I wish to rest now…”
Everyone could see that Count Yaix’s monologue was a lie. The knights swallowed the pent-up rage in their hearts as they let out pained cries.
“All Skyknights and native Nerman knights, pay your respects to your new liege, Baronet Kyre! This is my last order as your liege!”
The Count bellowed out his final order with mana like a lion’s roar. But not a single one of the knights moved to obey.
How could the knights not be aware? Of what kind of political hardship awaited the Count and his knights the moment they withdrew from Nerman? If things went wrong, they might take the blame and be demoted into regular soldiers, or they could even become slaves after their mana cores were destroyed.
However, if the loyalty of a man were to bend at that level of frustration and hardship, it would be no different from a mutt selling its owner for a single bone.
The sight of the knights made me satisfied. Even if they didn’t become mine, the world would only be better with more people like this around.
“I have already given my order. As you all know, an already given order cannot be taken back. I am already… no longer your liege.”
Count Yaix looked truly level-headed and cold.
However, I knew… that he must be crying tears of blood right now within his heart.
“I apologize for showing you a sorry sight,” said the Count, turning to me. “Tomorrow… Tomorrow, come to me formally. I will pass over all the documents and equipment then.”
As if he could no longer stand there, the Count told me he was sorry and went into the inner castle. No matter how level-headed he might be, how could he keep up a strong front right now? I could imagine how painful it must be to cut away your very flesh and bones because your ability was lacking. Any human with something called emotion would feel heartrending pain.
Once the Count disappeared, the knights began to cry tears the size of rabbit pellets. How could they not understand the heart of their liege, who let them go for the sake of their futures? The knights could not follow or reject the final order of their liege.
I silently watched them. I wanted to give them the most time possible to organize their feelings.
“We cannot follow you! Even if we do not know how you swayed our liege’s heart, our feelings will not change.”
The Skyknight at the very front declared that he would not follow the Count’s command with a sorrowful voice.
“That’s right! Our lives already belong to our liege! We can never accept a second liege in this life!”
“Please, go away! I can no longer bear to look at a person who dirties the honor of a knight!”
Unable to find a target, their arrows of their rage turned in tandem to me. I became the enemy scapegoat that forced them to part from their liege, and they even drew mana to threaten me, if it could be called that.
“Huhu…” I pursed my lips and let out a cold, dry laugh. I could understand the knights’ feelings well enough, but they were taking it too far right now. “Laughable bastards.”
“W-What did you say!”
“How dare a mere baronet—!”
“Are you insulting us!”
The word ‘bastard’ came flying at the knights, who had been straining to hear my words. Their faces flushed red.
“The Count was also excessive in trying to entrust such childish knights to me. How am I supposed to recognize stupid people as knights when it’s impossible to tell whether they are rocks or gold just by looking?”
“A-are you finished yet?! How dare you insult knights!”
“Truly unforgivable! Draw your sword!”
At my provocation, the group of knights asked for a duel.
“You’ll regret it, though? You guys who could not even properly assist your liege and forced him to return to the empire, do you think that you have the right to hold your swords? Don’t you think you should turn that brave rage you’re directing to me towards monsters or the true enemies? If you had done so beforehand, your liege would not have been reduced to this today… Huhu.”
I scoffed as I unreservedly stabbed the hearts of the knights with a figurative dagger.
“Skyknight Shailt de Herzian. I wish to formally request a duel.”
The knight named Shailt who had spoken with the Count pointed the tip of his sword at me as he requested a duel. His teeth were clenched and his eyes were reddened. It seemed he was really mad.
“Alright. I accept the duel. But isn’t it funny? For someone without a wyvern to call himself a Skyknight… tsk tsk, how is that any different from someone without any citizens calling himself a king?”
“SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!!!!!!”
The knight’s sword came flying in a straight line for my heart. Skyknights were more outstanding than regular knights. His clean and quick sword was quite something.
‘You’re making me laugh.’
However, that was how other people saw it.
My sword, which was drawn in the blink of an eye, lightly parried the side of the knight’s blade. Shailt spat out a cry as he was pushed back with his sword at the powerful impact.
It must be a well-made sword, because it didn’t break and vibrated as the impact traveled down the length of the sword.
“How about it? I will accept everyone’s duel, so how about you all just come at me? From the looks of it, you all seem to be cowards whose only lively body part seems to be the mouth…”
A parade of sharp swords sparkled in the sun. And each blade was covered with a blue Aura.
‘Jerks, just know you’re all dead today! You’ve all met your maker!’
I also didn’t want people who didn’t want to serve me. But I didn’t want to see the childish whining of people who didn’t seem to fully understand Count Yaix’s anguish as he permitted their futures while bearing his current pain. Frankly speaking, if these guys had been stronger, would there have been any need for them to be reduced to this today?
The loser had nothing to say. The world was always a place reigned by the victors. There weren’t many places in the world that would protect the weak.
And this continent was even more so.
I resolved to beat some sense into these knights with my hot and heavy fist.
For the sake of their pathetic souls, which dared to raise swords against me without any fear.
* * *
They weren’t even in a state of war, but the sound of swords clashing and screams rang out in Orakk Castle. The soldiers on duty stealing glances from above the castle walls felt a twinge of horror.
A one-sided duel.
When Aura emerged from the knights’ blades, the soldiers all thought their opponent would be finished. The soldiers were well aware that the knights would not carelessly draw their swords if it wasn’t a duel with their lives on the line.
But the result was completely different from their expectations.
The man was flinging 40 or so knights around like hacky sacks. The man named Kyre, who had recently saved the lives of the Count and the soldiers by blocking the surprise attack of the Temir, was mercilessly swinging his sword and feet and sending the knights flying. The moment they were hit, the knights would fly several meters before crashing down. The strength of the blows was evident by the way the mana-wielding knights were unable to rise afterwards.
Even in the warm wind blowing along the castle walls, the soldiers shivered.
Right now, there was only one thing in their minds right now.
That if you ever looked at that black-haired knight the wrong way, you would become toast.
* * *
Large tears dripped from his eyes.
He was watching the knights he had raised with his blood, sweat, and love get utterly destroyed. Hiding behind a curtain at the window, Yaix watched while weeping tears.
However, he could never, ever come out and interfere. Right now, the moment he appeared in front of the knights, Yaix’s bleak future would spread to the knights as well.
‘Overcome it, my knights… That is my only wish.’
The knights were all collapsed on the ground like trees felled by a massive storm.
Only one person was calmly standing with his shining Aura Blade.
‘Kyre… I leave them to you. Show them the dream that I could not achieve…’
He lived with all his might, but because his ability could not keep up, Yaix was forced to go back in defeat.
He entrusted his hopes to Kyre, who was standing proud and tall like a thousand-year-old tree. His hope that Kyre would become a great wall that all of those collapsed knights could hang their expectations on….