Episode 156

Crossroads (2)
6 days ago
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A month had passed since we returned to Villa Hora Castle, and the war was completely over.

By the time we returned, our side’s victory was already a foregone conclusion, so hearing the war had ended didn’t particularly move me…

But there was still one event we were eagerly awaiting.

‘Distribution of the mercenaries’ reward money.’

Karin approached me, poking my cheek and laughing.

“Our penniless Captain Martin of the White Unit, finally shedding your impoverished status, huh?”

“Stop teasing, senior.”

“Why should I? It’s Martin’s money after all, so Martin can spend it however he likes, but to think you’d gamble it all away on women and other vices…”

Karin teased me while Lucia always tried to mediate, but today was a bit different.

She puffed up her cheeks, her voice haughty and sharp as she replied.

“…I knew you were confessing your love to me despite Karin unnie being there, but I never thought you’d bring another woman with all your fortune.”

At that, I scratched my head awkwardly.

It would only be inviting trouble to say something like, “I’ll love you the same whether it’s just us two or three.”

“Instead, when I receive the reward, I’ll buy you, senior Karin, a new bow and a fancy staff for Lucia.”

“Captain, I’m fine with what I have right now…”

“You’ve become an intermediate mage, so it’s time for a staff fit for a higher rank.”

While it’s common for stores specializing in staves to have one or two for intermediate mages…

A staff for a high-ranking mage or a bow for an experienced archer like Senior Karin requires visiting a master craftsman for a custom order.

The average manufacturing time is over three months, so I’d better find a reputable person to commission and relax until it’s ready.

Meanwhile, Hilde, having overheard the conversation, apologized profusely to Karin.

“It’s my fault…”

“No, Martin is the one at fault, not you, Hilde.”

With that, Hilde’s expression lightened a bit, and Lucia added,

“Karin unnie and I are ranged fighters and can’t really protect the Captain on the front lines. But you, Hilde, can.”

“Miss Lucia.”

Since Hilde declared her allegiance to me, she’s been using honorifics for Lucia and Karin, treating them almost like my wives.

I appreciate the respect, but it could become awkward if it continues…

‘But what can I do about it?’

Personally, I hope Hilde, Lucia, and Karin will become close like sisters, but they’ve only known each other for a month.

‘To be precise, they’ve lived together since the fall of Villa Hora, but both kept their distance from Hilde at first.’

Forcing them to get along would only make an already awkward relationship more strained.

Hilde is trying her best, and it seems Lucia and Karin are too, so things will probably sort themselves out soon.

“So please, take good care of the Captain. As someone who has fought by his side, you know he fights too recklessly and could seriously hurt himself at any time.”

“I’ve sworn to protect my lord. Even if it costs me my life, I will keep him safe. Don’t worry.”

“And call me just Lucia from now on. We’re going to be together from now on, right?”

Hearing that they’d continue to be together, Hilde’s face turned red.

“Yes, I have already devoted my body and soul to my lord, so whenever… I ask for your favor, Lucia. And Karin unnie…?”

Karin slightly lifted the corners of her mouth and smiled.

“If we’re to become closer, we should start by dropping the formal titles, just call me Karin senior. After all, I’m the senior here in the mercenary group.”

Just as the three seemed to have settled their relationships without my interference, Dalton burst into our barracks, laughing madly.

“Shit, today’s the best day since we founded our mercenary group. Isn’t it?”

Following Dalton, Vice-Captain Heintz shrugged his shoulders and added,

“Well, today is finally the day we announce that thing to the kids… It’s inevitable, but please, restrain yourself a bit. If the captain behaves like this, they won’t know what to think.”

Captain Schnitzel sighed as if he couldn’t believe it.

“Not giving any context and just telling them to dance along?”

“What do you mean? They’ll just dance on their own, won’t they?”

I scoffed at that remark.

“Don’t you know that even jesters in front of nobles start playing only after the music begins? And what exactly is ‘that thing’? Surely it’s not about bringing in another pretty maid?”

“Am I you? Captain Martin Meyer of the White Unit, aren’t you the one who pawned your entire fortune to prepay the wages of a new knight?”

“……”

I was truly infuriated when I heard that.

But I couldn’t refute it, as it was calling out my embarrassing past.

That’s probably why I felt a tightening around my neck, actually tightening.

Dalton looked at me and chuckled, then suddenly spoke in a solemn voice.

“For now, today’s reward announcement is postponed. There’s something more important at hand.”

At this, our mercenaries protested.

“What the hell is so important that the reward announcement is postponed?”

One guy even put his hand on the hilt of his sword as if to threaten.

“We risked our lives following Captain Martin’s insane strategies just to earn money, what the hell are you talking about? Depending on what you say next, you might get stabbed!”

Amidst the seriously angry mood, Dalton handed a letter he had received to another squad leader nearby.

“This is a letter containing insane details that will drastically change the fate of you mercenaries. Squad Leader Salz, take a read.”

Salz almost tore the letter in his rage to read it…

Suddenly, he started laughing like a madman.

“What? Captain Dalton, this isn’t a fake or forged letter, right? If it’s not, it’s unbelievable!”

“I do play pranks, but I’ve never joked about issues involving your wages and lives. Plus, the letter was delivered by a senior knight of the Rheinfalz Empire’s ‘Count’.”

A senior knight of a count bringing a letter was a matter of such importance, and now with the ‘war’ officially ended, there was no chance of it being a strategy or nonsense.

Salz was trembling as he handed back the letter to Dalton, laughing insanely.

“Captain Dalton has been made a baron! Count Kraut of Rheinfalz has offered Dalton a barony, you bastards! And he said there are no knights or lords in his barony, so he’s offering each of you a position!”

Those who were just about to attack Dalton now erupted in cheers.

“Is that true? Deus be praised!”

One guy even pinched his own cheek.

“… This isn’t a dream, is it?”

Some guys, overwhelmed by the news, hugged their comrades they usually hung out with.

“We’ve made it, now we’ve truly made it!”

“We’ve done it, truly.”

Although the common goal of all mercenaries varies by ability and rank, the direction is similar.

To amass a fortune and retire comfortably.

But if asked about a higher aim, it would be to ascend to a socially respected position and live comfortably while indulging in luxuries.

However, for a mercenary to rise to a ‘high position’ is very difficult, so realistically most aim for retirement.

But now that Dalton was made a baron and was taking the entire Whitebeard Mercenary Group with him…

Dalton looked at the excited men and smirked.

“You guys happy about that?”

At that, most of the mercenaries, myself included, started tearing up.

Dalton said that and looked at me with a smile.

“Of course, there might be some who would refuse even a senior knight title and half a fief. But whether you follow me or not is entirely up to you guys.”

The one likely to refuse would definitely be me.

And me, who even refused Count Estel’s offer to make me a baron, serving under Dalton as a senior knight?

No way, never.

Then, Dalton put away the paper detailing the reward money and promotions and began reading another document.

“Those who follow will have titles and lands divided according to these standards by me, Dalton von Prime, the Baron. Captains and above will be senior knights, squad leaders will be ranked as intermediate to senior knights based on their past contributions, and the rest will receive farmland according to their ranks. I’ll distribute it generously, and those who accept this won’t receive the usual battle rewards.”

Distributing farmland might not seem significant, but even the lowest soldier accepting this offer could live off the tenancy in Dalton’s barony, akin to owning a small building in Korea.

“Of course, with Dalton becoming a baron and taking over the city and its surrounding areas, it’s likely he’d be generous.”

“And Vice-Captain Heintz and the other captains have accepted my offer and will be senior knights. So, if Martin here doesn’t accept my offer, he will become the captain of this mercenary group, that’s all.”

Then Dalton cheered and left the crying, emotional men to come over to me.

“Martin, let’s have a drink. There’s a lot I want to talk about.”

At that moment, I responded seriously, without a hint of jest.

“Yes.”

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