Duke Pendragon - Chapter 312

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Fwoosh! Thud!

“Keugh!”

A man knelt helplessly after being hit in the stomach and sides in quick succession. He was dressed in thin, coarse leather armor.

“Keugh! Keu…”

The man coughed repeatedly before eventually raising his head, drool dripping down his mouth. A young man bowed politely towards the coughing man before turning around. He was dressed in a blue uniform embroidered with the symbol of a dragon.

“Mercenary of Shylon, Otto, out in eight!”

A red flag was raised along with a solemn voice. The beaten man slowly raised himself up and limped away helplessly. Hundreds of eyes gazed at his back with ridicule and sympathy.

“What on earth did he expect with such meager skills…”

“I think eight exchanges is pretty good… I wonder if I can hold on longer.”

“Even so, it’s only the first round, right?”

The men muttered in low voices. They were here to take the test to become guards for the new transportation company which was jointly created by Karl Mandy and Dos Giovanni.

Thud! Tatata!

Meanwhile, similar scenes were playing out everywhere as test takers faced off against the swordsmen in uniform. The participants were holding wooden weapons weighed down with several black iron rings. The combination of the hot, midday sun and the heat radiated by the participants formed an intense, hot atmosphere in the test site.

Most of the participants fell to the ground after exchanging only a few blows with the blue-robed men, but some managed to exchange more than ten blows. Very few men managed to push back the blue-robed warriors, which was enough to attract the curiosity of a small number of people looking down at the test site from very high up.

“Hooh? He’s pretty good.”

“I agree.”

Vincent nodded at Killian’s words.

“The skills of our squires have definitely improved a lot.”

“Huh? I was talking about those fellas who are up against our men…”

Killian blinked with a dumb expression, and Vincent responded with a gentle smile.

“We have over 400 applicants. There are bound to be talented individuals in the mix as well, so don’t worry too much about the applicants and keep a closer eye on our squires. They are desperate to be knighted.”

“Hmm…”

Killian renewed his gaze as he carefully observed the squires of the Pendragon Duchy, all of whom were fighting hard under the scorching sun. All of them were faithfully carrying out their duty as if they were on a real battlefield, even though this was only the first test to pick guards for the newly established transportation company. They clenched their teeth and wielded their weapons with all their strength even as they became soaked with sweat.

“Ah, I see…”

Killian came to a realization while watching the squires fight. Then he turned back towards Vincent with recognition in his eyes.

“Perhaps… Were you examining the skill of our men today as well?”

“How could I miss this great opportunity? It doesn’t cost us a single penny. On the contrary, we are receiving compensation while testing their skills. How nice is it?”

Vincent’s face resembled a raccoon as he gave a sly smile.

“Huh…!”

Killan burst into a peal of vain laughter, then suddenly turned his head.

“Did you all know about this as well?”

“What’s good is good, is it not? Haha!”

Karl Mandy burst into laughter while fanning himself after he caught Killian’s eye. Dos Giovanni nodded with a bitter smile as well.

“I had a rough idea. Of course, there was no reason for us to refuse when the Pendragon Duchy offered its prestigious members to help us choose the guards.”

“Naturally. Besides, there is no better guarantee than being screened by the warriors of the Pendragon Duchy. Everyone knows that the Pendragon warriors are experienced and skilled. Not in just small-scale battles either, but large wars.”

Karl Mandy spoke with a grin.

Mainland mercenaries obviously experienced real battles as well. But they usually participated in small-scale territorial disputes, which were nothing in comparison to the war fought in the South against the traitors and the Troll King. In addition, the main job of the mainland mercenaries was to escort, guard and participate in proxy duels.

They could not be compared to the troops of the Pendragon Duchy, who had been in the field fighting nonstop for almost a year.

The surviving squires of such intense battles and wars were personally selecting the personnel who would be guarding the wagons and carriages? It would be considered the best guarantee, especially with the recent instability.

‘Wow! What else did I expect from merchants…’

Killian inwardly shook his head at the sight of two merchants smiling at each other. He thought this was a simple test to hire guards, but everyone else had been thinking much further. Well, the three of them were no ordinary people after all. One was the advisor to the Pendragon Duchy, and the other two were hegemons in the empire’s commerce.

“Anyways, I will leave the complicated matters to you. I’ll take a look at our men then.”

“Sure. Most of them were appointed as squires not too long ago, but all of them strive to become knights of Pendragon one day.”

Killian shrugged at Vincent’s words. But he knew very well why the squires were working so hard when they could have found the task annoying. He also knew that they weren’t working so hard just to become knights of the duchy one day.

The squires would have come to an understanding in the expedition.

The weak would die first.

Obviously, being strong did not mean they could avoid death. No matter how strong a person was, they could easily die in a battlefield where everyone teetered on the border between life and death. However, if they worked hard to improve their skills and to become stronger, they would have a higher chance of surviving and protecting their colleagues. Eventually, they could win the battle along with their lord.

Killian was sure that all of the squires in the test site were well aware of this fact.

“Well, you bastards…”

Mark Killian, the head knight of the Pendragon Duchy, had a satisfied smile as he observed the battles.

***

“End!”

The first test ended after lasting a couple of hours. The squires of the duchy had to face at least five or six people per person. They sank to the ground in exhaustion.

“Heuk! Huah!”

Although all of them had experienced hell training with Killian and fought in life-risking battles, it was a test of endurance for them to fight under the scorching sun of early summer for several hours.

“The wounded can head over that way. The food is ready, so the rest of the people can head to the tents.”

At the test supervisor’s words, the squires trudged forward with difficulty and relief.

“What about us?”

Around 100 men had passed the first round of the tests. One of them stepped up and asked.

“All of you will proceed to the second round after eating and taking a short break.”

The supervisor spoke before turning his head. Dozens of men and women came forward with baskets and distributed sandwiches with sliced meat and vegetables, cool water, wine, and beer to the successful candidates.

“Oh…!”

The eyes of the successful applicants grew wide with surprise. They thought they would have to take care of their own meals, but a generous meal had already been prepared for them.

“I prepared something simple because I thought you would not be able to perform properly if you were too full, so don’t be disappointed. There is enough beer and wine for everyone to have a glass each. But plenty of food has been prepared, so everyone can eat however much they want.”

The men shook their heads in unison and replied to the supervisor’s words.

“This is plenty!”

“Hmm! I thought this was a party!”

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“Hahaha!”

Perhaps due to the joy of passing the first round, the successful candidates burst into laughter as they ate.

“By the way, I heard we will have to face the knights of the Pendragon Duchy for the second test.”

“I heard they were incredible in the South… Apparently, their skills earned them the nickname of ghostly swordsmen.”

The applicants talked about the upcoming afternoon test as they ate and drank.

“Pff, even so, I heard all of them were knighted just recently. It was their reward for winning the war. It’s obvious that most of them will be brats who can’t even handle spirit.”

“Is that so?”

“Come to think of it…”

A man spoke while stuffing himself with a sandwich, and those around him nodded in agreement. But not everyone shared the same thoughts.

“Hmm! What are you talking about? The veteran knights are incredibly strong. Especially the knight named Killian. Apparently, he cut down dozens of monsters by himself.”

“Oh, my friend, you don’t know what you are talking about. If you want to talk about the knights of Pendragon, Lord Isla is the strongest of them all.”

“That’s right! The Knight King of Valvas!”

Everyone’s eyes began to sparkle at the mention of Isla. As successful candidates who dreamt of becoming a knight, the story of Isla was no different from a myth. He went from a wandering free knight to a knight of Pendragon, then eventually became a king. It was something the candidates could only imagine in their wildest dreams.

“I heard his spearmanship is on the level of gods. Apparently, they call him the Spear King in the South!”

“That’s right. I heard every swing of his spear is accompanied by thunder and lightning.”

All of the applicants had lived their lives thus far by relying on their swords. As the stories of Isla continued, the applicants became more excited and chattered away even as little chunks of food spewed out of their mouths.

“Ehem! Of course, Sir Isla is strong. But Lord Killian, who was the head knight of the Pendragon Duchy from the beginning, is more…”

The man who had brought up the topic interjected.

“I’m telling you, that’s not true. Besides the duke, Lord Isla is the strongest knight in the Pendragon Duchy.”

“That’s right. Sir Vincent, the one who is overseeing the test, is rumored to be quite competent with the blade as well.”

“Is that all? Sir Jade and Sir Campbell, who served as fortress commanders until a while ago, are also said to be masters of imperial swordsmanship.”

“Technically, they aren’t sirs any longer since they became barons, right?”

“Ah, you are right. By the way, are they not here? If not anyone else, I would like to meet Lord Jade at least once.”

“I think I saw some knights in the dignitary seats.”

The eyes of the applicants turned toward the dignitary seats at the same time.

“Ah! There’s Sir Vincent!”

Someone shouted after spotting Vincent. All of their gazes turned towards him, and they saw him seated with a relaxed expression.

“The large man behind him must be Karl Mandy, and the one next to him must be Dos Giovanni.”

“Is Lord Vincent the only Pendragon knight here?”

“I don’t think so. I heard Lord Killian was here too…”

“Really?”

The applicants buzzed while looking around with puzzled expressions. Even in the tents where the squires were eating, they could not spot anyone who could be Killian.

“All the knights for the second test should be indoors… Perhaps he’s inside somewhere?”

“Ehem!”

Someone coughed and started speaking once more.

“I don’t think anyone here knows, but Sir Isla is not the second strongest knight in the Pendragon Duchy. The head knight, Sir Mark Killian…”

“Oh, by the gods!”

“Will you stop? You’ve been speaking nonsense for a while…”

The men turned their heads while shouting with annoyed expressions. However, their voices trailed off as they saw the person behind them.

“I guess you don’t believe it, huh? Well, I guess you will find out in a little while, so enjoy your meal.”

Killian stood up while scratching a scar he got during the southern expedition. After patting the shoulders of the applicants, he waddled away into the distance.

Whooosh!

“We…”

“Are dead…”

A cool breeze cooled down the cold sweats of the applicants as they quivered with their mouths agape.

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