Arriving at Baron Pappenheim’s office, I knocked on the door three times.
It was just a knock, but I felt my chest tighten, a sense of tension building.
‘I’ve never felt this even in the face of death during war.’
Clearly, my instincts recognized this incompetent baron as a threat to my life.
“I’ve come at your summons, Baron. Martin Meyer from the Whitebeard Mercenary Group.”
Shortly after, the baron’s pleasant voice invited me in.
“Martin, come in. I’ve been waiting for you.”
As I opened the door and entered, Baron Pappenheim was smiling benevolently, almost reminiscent of a Buddha.
A chill ran down my spine.
‘Why is this guy smiling at me so creepily?’
“Steward, bring a chair for Platoon Leader Martin. He’s an esteemed guest, isn’t he?”
“Yes, right away.”
As I took my seat, Pappenheim regarded me with a dazzling smile.
“I’ve been so busy that I could barely catch my breath. I regret not having the chance to commend you personally earlier.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“No, no matter how busy I was with the mayor, guild masters, or councilors of Marseill, I should have met with you sooner to appreciate your efforts in the Battle of Pastek Hill. Without you, I would still be stuck in Seik Fortress, struggling without any recognition, wouldn’t I?”
Judging from this scene alone, it was hard to determine whether he was a helpless fool or a capable commander who strictly distinguished between reward and punishment.
“There will be a formal merit award ceremony later where you’ll receive a greater reward. But this is a personal token from me.”
The baron placed a small box and a key on his desk.
“I’ve put my gratitude inside, open it.”
When I opened the box, it was filled with gleaming platinum and gold coins, asserting their value.
‘This guy is more generous than I expected?’
Seeing this, my prejudice against Baron Pappenheim melted away slightly.
“That’s about 170 gold coins if you exchange them. Considering the great victory you’ve brought us, this is the least I could do.”
170 gold coins, enough for 34 families of four-person serf households to buy food for a year, roughly equivalent to 34 million Korean won.
Despite my distaste for the baron, given such a reward, I immediately bowed deeply in gratitude.
Pappenheim, upon hearing my words, waved his hand with an embarrassed smile.
“Compared to your achievements, this isn’t much. Besides, this money is partly from ‘legally collected protection fees’ from the influential people and nobles of Marseill. Feel free to accept it without any burden.”
“Thank you, Baron. I’ll continue to do my utmost to not disappoint you.”
As long as he continues to pay me and refrains from pulling any dark, freedom fighter-like stunts, pleasing him is my duty.
I don’t need anything else; I just ask that he avoids causing trouble while I’m here, and I’ll eat well what’s provided.
Then, I’ll employ whatever means necessary to ensure victory in this war, for my advancement and for my beloved Lucia and Karin…
‘God, Buddha, Allah, please…’
The baron patted my shoulder and sighed.
“Hmm, seeing you reminds me of something.”
“It’s not much, but I greatly value your skills, intellect, and bravery. Therefore, I want to offer you the opportunity to be commissioned as a mid-level knight. What do you think?”
An Aura Expert level mercenary swordsman can be knighted in any house just by applying.
In fact, if one truly desired, they could join any knightly order except the Emperor’s personal guard.
Because reaching the Expert level is rare and powerful among knights, with only about 4-5% achieving it.
Moreover, with my duels against Schwapfen and my recent achievements in the surprise attack at Pastek Hill, my value has skyrocketed to the point where I could receive ‘a few villages’ as a domain for an upper-level knightly title.
And this baron is offering me a ‘special’ chance to be commissioned as a mid-level knight?
‘Has this guy really lost his mind, not knowing his place?’
Stunned, I stood there with my mouth agape as Baron Pappenheim patted my shoulder.
“Ha-ha, it seems my proposal was too shocking for you.”
Shocked? More like floored by his audacity.
“Honestly speaking, among my knights, there’s no one as smart and brave as you. In fact, compared to you, the rest are just insignificant and incompetent.”
This madman was now disparaging his own knights right in front of me.
Did he not realize the implications if word got out that a noble of his rank had insulted his vassals in front of someone like me? Or was he simply thoughtless?
‘Is his head filled with extra-large servings of noodles?’
I could find no other explanation for such insane statements and actions.
I had faced death in this other world before, but I had never felt ‘fear’ like this.
Could this be what Admiral Yi Sun-sin felt when dealing with a character like Won Gyun?
“I greatly appreciate your offer, Baron. However, I owe my life to Dalton von Praym, the leader of the Whitebeard Mercenary Group. Therefore, I must respectfully decline your commission.”
Appealing to the nobility’s high regard for gratitude and loyalty seemed to make the baron accept my refusal, as he sighed.
“I thought having you would be more helpful than my ten knights… But if that’s your situation, I can’t force you.”
“Thank you for understanding, Baron.”
“Instead, I have some questions about future operations.”
“Please, go ahead.”
The baron spread a map in front of me and began,
“According to my regular soldiers, about a day and a half’s march from here, they’ve confirmed the presence of two small units, each about 1,000 men. According to a captured Montmart soldier, they’ve come to support Count Rezume.”
My experience from playing the game based on this other world and my real-life mercenary experiences set off alarm bells.
‘Ah, this must be a baiting operation.’
Indeed, if they had come to support Count Rezume, those 1,000 soldiers would not have been foolish enough to forgo sending scouts around.
One scout would have checked whether the flag flying over this castle belonged to the Montmart Kingdom or the Rheinfalz Empire.
And if they saw the flag had changed, they would have realized that continuing on this path would lead to being divided and conquered, and would have quickly retreated to where the main force was.
But standing still like this, to any observer, wouldn’t it seem like bait?
Nevertheless, the baron began to laugh heartily, even snorting in amusement.
“The distance between the two forces is considerable. In my opinion, we can defeat the 2,000-strong Montmart army if we attack them over time. What do you think?”
I really wanted to shout at him.
‘That’s a damn bait, you fool!’
But, just as in companies or the military, where one must flatter a boss who looks worse than a pumpkin trampled by a cow, I had to smile nicely and say they looked handsome.
Currently, the baron, who held the lifeline of our mercenary group and ranted about his own vassals in front of me, was a madman.
Pointing out his flaws would be like openly asking to be killed…
‘Let’s entangle him with talks of ambition and political strife he loves so much.’
“Baron, it is indeed a golden opportunity, but you must not act rashly now. If you move without caution, you might be criticized by other nobles of the empire.”
The baron, grinding his teeth, showed interest with his eyebrows twitching.
“…… Let’s hear what you have to say.”
I started acting as if I were a loyal servant.
“Frankly speaking, Baron, although all the nobles of the empire are noble, political fights occur depending on interests, don’t they? For territory, for power.”
The baron nodded in agreement to my words.
“However, achieving ‘military exploits’ is a more definite way to elevate one’s worth than engaging in political fights. In that sense, Baron, you have successfully captured 5,000 enemy troops and a count with just 2,000 men. Therefore, with your current achievements, you can expect a significant rise in status and power, not to mention considerable rewards.”
Baron Pappenheim couldn’t conceal his smile at my words.
“But what about the other nobles? Will they view your achievements favorably, or will someone nitpick at your significant accomplishments, which could even raise your title?”
At that, the baron clenched his teeth and slammed his fist onto the desk.
“That’s preposterous! How can anyone dare to find fault with the achievements I’ve established?”
The simpler and dumber they are, the less they can see beyond the immediate reward.
“From what I understand, Baron, your current orders are to remain at Marseill Castle and await further instructions before moving to the next destination. I recommend sending a messenger to the Count to inform him of the situation and to wait for his directions. This way, there won’t be any chance for your achievements to be undermined by an unwarranted accusation of ‘disobedience.’”
Upon hearing my words, Pappenheim closed his eyes to ponder.
Then, a few minutes later, he sighed and spoke to me.
“Yes, you’re right. All of this is the result of my achievements; why should I give those other nobles a chance to find fault? It’s regrettable that we can’t execute those 2,000 soldiers, but… I’ll heed your advice.”
“It’s an honor, Baron.”
“No, if it weren’t for you, I could have suffered a great loss due to envy-blinded nobles. It’s getting late; you may retire for the night.”
With that, the baron gestured for me to leave, effectively dismissing me.
And as I returned to my tent, a sense of unease accompanied me.
Surely, that bastard wouldn’t take my ritualistic acknowledgment of all achievements to the Baron’s heart, thinking everything was thanks to him?
… Yeah, damn it. Even Mr. Mudaguchi, deserving of the title ‘Shadow Independence Army,’ wouldn’t go that far.
Thus, we stayed in Marseill Castle for about three weeks, as I had suggested, until the Count, the Baron’s superior, arrived.
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