As such, Larwin had a few talks with Arikos in the end and finally settled on leaving the relatively desolate lands of the north to the barbarians. Though, that land was already far more fertile than what the barbarians had. That way, they could win their loyalty and solve the barbarian plight. However, the biggest threat faced by the empire, Stok, was still a huge problem.
"Then why didn't you notify me about it first? Why hide it from me?" Leguna pressed.
"Hey! How could I know what kind of stance Legg had?" Arikos argued, "He's full of muscle and is almost unpredictable. If he falls in love with you and promised to not send his troops south, then we wouldn't even need to give that land away! Though solving this through negotiation didn't seem highly probable initially, we still had to try."
"What does that have to do with hiding this from me?"
"It all comes down to what I know about you. You always go for the easiest route! If I told you we were prepared to give away land, how hard would you try to negotiate to prevent that from happening?"
Leguna was speechless.
"I know even if you don't tell me," Arikos said with a teasing smile, "You would definitely make the offer right away."
"You were the one who ended up making the offer thought," Leguna countered.
"Yeah, but that's because Legg was completely unyielding." Arikos shrugged.
"Fine. Even if that's the reason, why did you have me duel Legg? Since an agreement can be reached, why go through the trouble?"
"Are you daft?" Arikos glared at him disdainfully. "Let me ask you this: if we don't hold a duel and institute the agreement as is, how much do you think this will cost each side?"
"Umm… Our side will be giving a province away. As for the barbarians, they would have to move their whole tribe south and send a part of it to help us fight the war in the south."
"That's the thing. See, Whether you win or lose, we'll be paying our price in land. But if you win, the barbarians will have to pay far more. Why not make this bet to get a better deal for ourselves?"
"I see…" Arikos was trying to obtain more benefits for Hocke through the duel. While the empire would have to give out the land either way, they could get the whole barbarian tribe if Leguna won. It was indeed a profitable exchange.
"Well, even though I don't have high hopes for you, you're still our representative. You must do something to contribute, after all." Arikos teased while leaning into his chair.
"Hey! Who said I can't defeat him?"
A look of contempt flashed across Arikos's eyes. "Tch. Stop messing around. He's an 18th-stratum berserker. How can a puny 15th-stratum assassin like you defeat him? If you do win, I won't take a shit for one whole month!"
"I will make sure to find a nice cork to stuff your bottom!" Leguna spat before he left.
Seeing Leguna leave, a complicated smile surfaced on his face.
The duel was scheduled to the evening three days later. During that time, Leguna went into a frenzy of research in hopes of finding Legg's weaknesses.
While it wasn't a duel to the death, it would still set the course of relations between the empire and barbarians in the future. As Arikos pointed out, he hadn't done much ever since coming to the highlands and didn't contribute much to the negotiations either. Only now did he get a chance to chip in.
Perhaps out of worry that Frenda and the child would disturb him, he had them sent to Hocke by two decently strong bureau agents.
"Send them back and find a peaceful northern village for them to settle down in. I want them to be able to live normal lives. Make sure to handle this well. I'll definitely check up on this and I'll hold you two responsible if anything goes wrong with this!" Leguna ordered. Though he felt that he lost some face from Legg's mocking, he still followed through with his promise to help them.
"Yes, Sir!" the agents replied. They were above the 10th stratum and could protect the two barbarians from any dangers throughout the journey.
"Good. Now go!" Leguna nodded.
"Sir Leguna…" Frenda was looking at him, her eyes full of gratitude. She didn't think Leguna would actually do so much for them. They didn't know each other that well in the first place.
"There's no need to say anything. While my help seems superficial, it's what I want to do. It doesn't take me much to help you out either.
"Thank you. I will definitely remember your kindness," Frenda respectfully said with a bow.
"Good! I wish you a smooth journey!" Leguna waved them away.
RIght at that moment, the barbarian child hiding behind her the whole time stepped forward. He looked at Leguna a little fearfully, but didn't run.
"Come to think of it, you look too different from your father!" Leguna stroked the kid's head with a smile.
"[email protected]#$" the kid said with a stutter.
"What did he say?" Leguna turned to Frenda and saw that she was merely smiling at the child without replying.
"[email protected]#$" the child repeated.
"Fank yuu.. Shanks…yoo…… Thank you." The kid finally remembered the correct pronunciation.
Leguna couldn't help but smile at the clumsy word of thanks.
"Sir, you're a good person. This child and I are both thankful for what you've done," Frenda said.
"Alright. It's time to go!" Leguna waved them away and turned to leave.
A good person, huh… he thought a little pensively. It was the first time he was praised that way. When he was an orphan, people hated him, when he was a mercenary, people misunderstood him, and now that he was the bureau head, people feared him. He had never thought he would be called a good person in the desolate lands of a foreign territory. Most people in the human realm saw him as some terrifying demon.
After seeing those two off, Leguna focused the rest of his attention on studying Legg. While his last minute behavior was mocked by Arikos, he didn't really care. Instead of wasting his time away, Leguna found it best to occupy himself with busy work. He didn't think it was pointless as he believed he stood a decent chance against Legg if he gave it his all.
Three days passed in a flash. The duel between the two was right about to begin.
A battle between two high-order fighters wouldn't shake the whole world, but it might destroy a few buildings. So, Legg and Leguna chose to fight outside the settlement beneath a cliff.
The cliff was 20 meters in height and the bottom part of it formed a semicircular platform about 200 meters in radius. It was quite suitable to be an arena.
Quite a number of barbarians went there upon hearing about the duel. Crowds of them surrounded the arena and it seemed like the tournament in Hocke all over again.
"Your weapon is maintained. None of the enchantments have any problems." Arikos stopped the teasing and served Leguna proper.
When Leguna was studying up, Arikos took his gear away and made sure they were in good condition for the important duel.
Leguna's weapons were handed to the enchanters in his band for maintenance and other adjustments. The reason they had an alchemist with them was to make sure Leguna's gear wouldn't fail him during his assassination of Legg, but who knew they could be employed here too.
"Thanks." Leguna received Ebony and Lighteater.
There were no problems. The weapons were fine. Leguna slashed Ebony about before calling out to Gahrona. [Teacher.]
[How annoying! I always have to hide from the enchanter during maintenance…] she complained.
[I'm sorry you had to go through that,] he hurriedly said.
[Whatever. I'll leave the complaints for later! You better settle this duel first,' she said with a sigh, [Remember, fight with the intent to kill him! You won't stand any chance of victory otherwise.]
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