Kingdom's Bloodline Chapter 236
Chapter 236: The Inextinguishable Starlight
Chapter 236: The Inextinguishable Starlight
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Each with a different expression, the other archdukes stared at the Archduke of Black Sand Region. They listened to Lecco's rejection and did not show any intention of refuting it.
Lampard gawked at the four men.
'No.' His fists tightened slowly.
"Why?" Lampard asked with difficulty.
Archduke Roknee gave a cold laugh and slowly stepped forward.
"What do you think?
"We will not tolerate someone who betrayed his ruler let alone collaborate with him in the name of 'benefits'." The eyes of the Archduke of the City of Faraway Prayers shone with a brilliant light.
Lampard did not say a word, but his gaze was terrifying.
Archduke Roknee spoke with a determined look on his face, "Even with swords and blades on us; even if we were to be beheaded King Slayer."
Beside him, Trentida rolled his eyes. Olsius snorted coldly.
Archduke Lampard gritted his teeth. An unnamed emotion which he had harbored for years was boiling in his chest.
"My actions may be unfathomable to you." He suppressed his emotions, clenched his teeth, and said, "But my hand was forced." Lampard's gaze turned cold. "Sooner or later, someone has to do it."
"Forced?" Archduke Olsius shook his head slowly. "A person who has his hand forced would not have so many follow-up plans."
Lampard flipped his cape aside and raised his voice. "Can't you see? Yes, Nuven's death worsens the situation throughout Eckstedt, throwing it off balance..."
Every word the Archduke of Black Sand Region spoke seemed to be filled with years of anger.
"...But what I'm trying to do is take matters into our own handsto make sure balance is re-established in this horrible situation. I could have done it for Eckstedt. Why can't you understand?!"
It was the sound of a palm slamming against the surface of the rectangular table. All the archdukes moved their gazes to Archduke Lecco, who stood up solemnly.
The old, bald archduke who seldom participated in any discussion, stood from his seat, trembling with fury.
The old archduke's voice was deep, he seemed upset. "It is you who does not understand, Archduke Chapman Lampard!"
Lampard gaped at him.
"We are not worrying about our interests or the territories..." Archduke Lecco huffed. His gaze was no longer lackluster and vacant, but instead emitted a sharp glow. "...Or our reputations, or even the creed of the Northland, or our loyalty to the supreme ruler..."
Archduke Roknee gave a disgruntled snort. Lampard was quaking as he glared at Lecco.
"...It is you." Archduke Lecco's face contorted. His utterance echoed in the hall, every word was ironclad, and every line was like steel. "Chapman Lampard: the rule-breaker, the one who broke the statue... You are the one existence causing us the greatest worry in this farce."
Lampard was slightly taken aback for a second, but in the next instant, his eyes widened with rage.
Archduke Lecco left his seat, and supporting himself by holding on to the backrest of the chair, he walked towards Lampard one step at a time while staring at the latter's ever-changing facial expression.
"The Joint Ruling Pledge determines the relation between us and the king. It is a sacred oath between the ten supreme powers on this land." The old archduke's voice was slow, as though he was reading from a dust-covered, forgotten history book. "The rules that followed has maintained our stability and unity for the past six hundred years."
Lampard turned his head and looked at the other three archdukes. They stared at him with silent, chilly expressions; none of them intended to speak.
The old archduke's speech continued. "It bestows supreme prestige and leadership upon the common-elected king, but also draws the boundary between ruler and archduke: 'I obey the order of the king. My land shall obey my will.'"
Archduke Lecco said painfully, "To Northlanders and Eckstedt, it means more than the Great Dragon on the flag, the esteem of Raikaru, and even the Queen of the Sky herselfit is the foundation of the unbreakable, united lands of Eckstedt.
"When a vassal is trampled on by the royal power, his right of self-governance is violated, so the Joint Ruling Pledge will be his last resort.
"When a courtier disrespects the ruler and harbors wild ambitions, the Joint Ruling Pledge, too, will be his greatest constraint. It is the real flag of Eckstedt!"
The Archduke of Black Sand Region stared at Lecco, startled. In that very second, Lampard felt as though he was not facing an old archduke, but instead the unshakable six-hundred-year-old traditionpower with a robust foundation.
"No matter how oppressive King Nuven was, he had to restrain his power under the Joint Ruling Pledge." Archduke Lecco's voice became harsher and sterner. "He did not use violence and bloodshedas well as other methods that throw all inhibitions out of the windowto wipe out the suzerains and vassals he did not like, along with their territories and fiefdoms, off the history books and maps with brute force!"
Archduke Lecco observed Lampard's facial expression, then heaved a long sigh. He placed his hands behind his back, lowered his head, turned away from Lampard, and began to pace around.
"Yes, our Eckstedt has also faced the threat of downfall and destruction multiple times in the past.
"Nevertheless, due to the archdukes' willingness to obey the pledge and maintain the wills of the laws; with their pride in the Northland traditions, the wisdom and talent of many people who loved this land dearly; the fairness of the Joint Ruling Pledge towards the ten archdukes; the trust and respect for Queen Clorysis as a witness of the pledge" The old archduke raised his head slowly, gazing at the stone carving of the Cloud Dragon Spear.
"The powerful and prideful Kingdom of Eckstedt managed to withstand hardship every single time."
Archduke Lecco turned around sharply. His bald head reflected the flickering firelight. The temperature in the hall seemed to rise a little.
"Compared to the bloody internal conflicts in the history of Constellation, the weak countries in the Dragon-Kissed Land built upon compromises, the pathetic and inefficient constitutional monarchy of the Alumbia Kingdom; compared to the conflicts between the cities in Camus Union, the scandals of the Sunrise Temple-governed Habol Dynasty that could not be erased; compared to the many powerful but short-lived great tribes on the Sele Prairies, or the unique regime of Mane et Nox Dynasty built upon traditions and etiquettes"
The old Archduke of Defense City took in a deep breath and, in his sternest, most solemn tone which he had not used in a long while, said,
"The Kingdom of Eckstedt after Raikaru had, to this day, united ten archdukes' territories, each the size of a smaller nation, ten prestigious ancient families, nearly ten million untamable and dauntless Northlanders, and the forces on this land that had successfully defended the nation against the Empireall under the Black-based Red Dragon Flag.
"And when the Final Empire was destroyed and the Battle of Eradication ended, Eckstedt stood as the strongest in the Western Peninsula, holding herself pridefully in Northland, making her neighbors bow to her might, and it intimidated the world."
"Even in the face of Empress Hellen's forcible order, we managed to stand our ground in the Peninsular War without compromising our pride."
The fire in the hall's brazier flared. The shadows of the archdukes were cast fluttering on the stone walls.
Like the other archdukes, Lampard listened quietly to Lecco's words. Archduke Lecco gazed at him, narrowed his eyes, and let out a deep sigh.
"But you, Chapman Lampard," the old archduke said, soft but clear, "You terrify us."
Lampard's face began to contort. His fists tightened gradually.
Archduke Lecco spoke flatly. "You laid a finger on the man who sat on the common-elected throne, you broke these rules, shattered this foundation, and destroyed the faith to the pledge in your heart." Archduke Lecco's face was pale and his voice was grim. His grip on his robe tightened. "And the price we have to pay to fix it is imaginable.
"That is the reality after Nuven's death. That is your alleged 'future of Eckstedt'."
The old archduke's voice waned. Trentida, who stood beside him, applauded.
"I am not as articulate as the old man." The Archduke of Reformation Tower chuckled. "But I feel pretty much the sameof course I would like to divide and possess some of Dragon Clouds City's new territories, but for that, I might have to pay the price. To become neighbors with a fellow who could go mad at any second, and getting my family and descendants into the danger caused by the political turmoil"
Trentida spread his hands, implying that he was done talking.
Archduke Roknee gazed at Lampard with a frosty expression. "There is a reason why we obey the ostensible creeds and honor of Northland. But you... Do you see it as merely a joke, or meaningless pedantry and hypocrisy?"
Olsius crossed his arms and slowly looked up at the Archduke of Black Sand Region. "Do you understand now?"
Lampard stared at Archduke Lecco in disbelief, then at the other three archdukes.
"Right, blaming Constellation for the crimes, feeding riotous folks like us with profit, maintaining the falsest and most surficial sense of peace and balance; you may deceive the people of this country..." Lecco nodded slowly an anguished look.
"...but you cannot fool yourself. You are no longer one of usa member of the Joint Ruling Pledge," the bald archduke said indifferently. "Your existence and your actions are the biggest threats to the stability of Eckstedt King Slayer, Chapman Lampard."
Lampard lowered his head. His right hand could not stop trembling.
There was dead silence. The five archdukes stood facing each other in the hall. Their silhouettes were blurred against the brazier's fire, but one silhouette seemed particularly lonely.
He stood alone before the flames, meeting the death glares of the other four men. His right hand pressed lightly against the old sword at his waist...
It was as if a century had passed...
At last, Lampard's voice echoed faintly. At this moment, his voice sounded awfully weary. "That is what you fear? Me?"
The four archdukes gazed at him coldly, as though they were looking at a fatally injured person in the battleground who had no hope for survival.
"Hmph." Lampard gently snorted in a cold manner. He strode forward and came to the side of the long table. He scanned the eleven seats around it.
With a complex expression, Lampard glanced at the seat of the host on one end of the table. A second later, he laughed coldly and reached to randomly pull out a chair.
Archduke Roknee folded his arms and called Lampard out brusquely, "Watch yourself!"
His eyes narrowed slightly and he warned coldly, "The fourth seat from the right, that is the Cameron Family's seat."
Lampard's hand stopped in mid-air.
"Ten archdukes. Each of us have a seat that has been fixed since six hundred years ago." Archduke Trentida turned his head away meaningfully. "Do not take the wrong seat."
Lampard did not move, but in the next second, his hand was on the chair, firmly, allowing no room for disagreement.
Amid the echoes that filled the hall, Lampard lifted the chair belonging to the Cameron Family without hesitation and pulled it to him. Archduke Roknee's expression turned grim.
However, that was not the end of it.
Lampard reached out a hand and pulled out another chair beside him. As he met the hostile gazes of the four archdukes, the Archduke of Black Sand Region slumped into the Cameron seat. Then, Lampard leaned back, lifted his legs in a preposterous manner, and put them on another chair.
He rudely faced the four standing archdukes in that position. The archdukes stared at him in disbelief.
"I've always wanted to do this for a long time now." Lampard leaned back in his chair with his leg on top of the other. He looked up at the four archdukes and laughed coldly. "It feels quite good."
Roknee clenched his fists and his eyes burned with anger. As he was about to lunge at Lampard, his shoulder was held by Olsius.
"Calm down, his soldiers are right outside," the Archduke of Prestige Orchid reminded his peer. "Besides, Prime Minister Lisban will arrive soon."
Lampard brusquely slammed his saber on the table. He leaned back in his chair and let out a laugh.
"So, this is what you are proud of? The Joint Ruling Pledge that protects and maintains the great Eckstedt, is it?"
The four archdukes just stared at him coldly. They seemed to not even want to speak anymore. Lampard gazed at them in silence.
Two seconds passed...
Lampard snickered and took his leg off the chair. He placed his elbows on the table, his palms met, and fingers interlaced. Nevertheless, the archdukes still stared at him with unfriendly looks.
Lampard's gaze focused on his saber and lingered there. His eyes gradually turned vacant, as though he was gazing into the distance.
"You still do not know." Lampard's voice came again, but this time, his tone was laced with sympathy abd the tone of someone free of burdens. "You do not know what our real threat is."
"In your eyes, there is no difficulty or obstacle the powerful, prideful Eckstedt that ruled the Western Peninsula cannot overcome. From your perspective, our grand expedition south that shocked the Western Peninsula twelve years ago is exemplary, correct?"
Archduke Lecco frowned.
"But your visions are smaller than sand particles," Lampard said flatly. "You see only the short distances between Dragon Clouds City and each of your own territories.
"Your ears, perhaps, hear only the shouts and whispers in your provincial meetings and the King-Selection Congress. Oh, and perhaps the jingle of coins in the money pouch where you put all the yearly tax collections in.
"And in your minds? Become a noble and obtain a dukedom? Become an heir for the rights to heirship? Become an archduke and obtain power? Become the king..."
Lampard shook his head in disdain. He smirked and said, "And hold Eckstedt in the palm of your hand."
It sounded just like what happened for the past six hundred years. Lampard's expression darkenedeven the largest ocean wave would have been drowned by the suffocating past.
He gave a chilly laugh and said, "But do you really believe that things will always develop the same way, and history will always repeat itself in the exact same manner?"
Roknee interrupted him coldly, "What are you trying to say?"
But Lampard ignored him.
"Our last actual war that involved the entire country mobilizing its forces was twelve years ago, wasn't it? The Constellatiates called it 'The Bloody Year'. Ha! To them, we were one of the people who caused the catastrophe," Chapman Lampard said impassively, as though he was talking to himself.
Archduke Trentida and Archduke Lecco exchanged glances and saw the hints of doubt in each other's gazes.
"How about the war before that?" Lampard was still talking to himself. A strange light glimmered in his eyes. No one answered him. Lampard continued to shake his head and mumbled to himself,
"Right. A hundred years agothe Fourth Peninsular War. It's so old that I could only read about it in history books."
Lampard closed his eyes and heaved a long sigh. The Archduke of Black Sand Region looked at Olsius. This time, he no longer spoke to himself.
"Reybien Olsius." Lampard raised an eyebrow, lifted his right hand and gestured at the man, who remained unmoving. "Do you still remember that captive?"
Archduke Olsius frowned. "Captive?"
"Uh-huh." Lampard lifted an index finger and made a light tap in the air, as though he was reminiscing.
"Twelve years ago, I had just become an archduke. We took Broken Dragon Fortress..." His eyebrows furrowed slightly. "About more than a month after the first day of spring, ten thousand Eckstedtian soldiers ventured south to Constellation, singing battle songs."
As Archduke Lampard reminisced about the past, the other archdukes, too, lowered their heads and recalled those days of war.
"When we seized Cold Castle," Lampard said plainly, "Due to the overly chaotic situationtens of thousands of people pillaged the placewe had to stay behind to count the loot and manage logistics. I found every literate clerk and official who knew mathematics in Black Sand Region." The Archduke of Black Sand Region snorted in disdain. "You did pretty much the same."
"They spent a day and a night rounding up and counting the number of captives, the amount of rations, and the loot. Then... those morons" Lampard said with emotion.
Archduke Olsius frowned as he continued Lampard's words. "They gave us the wrong number and planned the ration deliveries based on it."
Lampard snorted, he felt plenty of emotions in him at that moment, but most of it was mockery.
"On the day itself, things went wrong with the rations that were supposed to be delivered to Dragon Clouds City. During the siege of Ice River City, thousands of combatants did not have their lunch. The attack on the city was delayed because they had to collect rations from the city perimeter." Lampard shook his head. His eyes were filled with nostalgia. "Nuven's statement of condemnation was delivered on the next day, chastising us as usual: 'Never mind the war. Can't you even count?' His exact words."
Archduke Olsius sighed. "He kept thinking that we were holding the soldiers back."
"That was normal. After all, it was an unprecedented expeditionthe basic necessities of ten thousand men..." Olsius shrugged. "Half of the recruited soldiers had to carry the supplies. Considering that we were on foreign land, it was hard to not make any mistakes."
"Indeed." Lampard's gaze turned grim. "We punished many men and killed a number of them. But the logistics was still a mess.
"Do you remember? There was a captive named Vlad, a Northland commoner living in the Northern Territory. He claimed to have learned mathematics and literature in some god-knows-what accountancy school, so he volunteered to help us."
Olsius did not speak; he remembered.
Lampard snickered. "I remember you were furious, attempting to behead this arrogant captive who claimed he could settle the ration supplies for our army that consisted of ten-thousand men."
Olsius narrowed his eyes. "But you stopped me."
Lampard sighed, the emotion in his gaze was complicated.
"Yes," Lampard said faintly, "That captive asked for assistance from his peers: Constellatiates who had learned mathematics, were literate, and had relevant expertise. With pen and paper, they settled the matter within half a day. The numbers were on the dot, everything was neatly done. King Nuven's condemnations stopped coming in."
Archduke Roknee frowned impatiently. "Why are you talking about these things?"
Lampard looked up with a sharp, piercing gaze. "It's because this is not a coincidencethe war twelve years ago. Did you not sense anything?"
The archdukes' expressions changed somewhat.
"Remember? All of you-Roknee did not make it to the war, the City of Faraway Prayers did not participate in that expedition. But Lecco and Trentida were on the frontlines, by Nuven's side." Lampard shook his head.
Archduke Roknee narrowed his eyes. Archduke Lecco did not speak, but simply stared blankly at Lampard.
Archduke Lampard breathed out a long sigh with a hint of hesitance in his eyes. "Afterwards, despite the time spent and the large number of casualties, our invincible army managed to advance smoothly into the Northern Territory. The campaign was a success..."
Lampard narrowed his eyes and changed the focus abruptly. "...Until we encountered those teenaged soldiers from the south."
"Hm." Archduke Trentida nodded with a sobering look and picked up where he left off, "The Duke of Star Lake, John Jadestar's Starlight Brigade."
Archduke Lecco and Archduke Olsius flinched a little simultaneously.
"No." Archduke Lampard shook his head in disagreement. "The Starlight God of War was already dead at the time."
A spark of wariness flashed in his eyes. "In fact, what we were up against was the head of his personal guards
"...Sonia Sasere's Starlight Brigade."
No one spoke, until Archduke Lecco sighed and, still shaken, uttered a name,
"The Inextinguishable Starlight."