Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
There were a few seconds of silence in the Hall of Heroes. Everyone was thinking about the meaning behind those words.
Lampard said nothing, only staring at Thales. It was hard for him to conceal the shock on his face.
‘A price to pay.
‘It can’t be that this boy
‘No, how would he know, how would he understand
‘Something that even these archdukes, who have been steeped in power all their lives can’t see’
The Archduke of Black Sand Region subconsciously clenched his fists again.
“What in the world are the both of you talking about?” Trentida clenched his teeth as he alternated his gaze between Lampard and Lecco. “Transformation? A price to pay?”
Thales lowered his head and stared at the JC dagger, which was on the ground after he flung it there earlier.
His gaze landed on a spot faraway.
His teacher, Gilbert Caso’s handwritten letter suddenly appeared in his mind.
[Our political system and Eckstedt’s are very different Apart from King Nuven’s identity as king he also holds the identity of Archduke of Dragon Clouds City… The interests of Eckstedt and Walton are very different to him]
‘You weren’t just talking about King Nuven, but also other archduke families.
‘Eckstedt’s interest is completely different from the archdukes’ personal interests.
‘Thank you, Gilbert.
‘I understand now.’
Thales’ gaze burned like a torch. He swept his gaze past each of the family emblems donned by the archdukes and spoke flatly.
“Lecco’s silver chain
“Roknee’s knight’s canon
“Olsius’ ancient chauvinistic emblem
“Trentida’s shining sword blade”
As he named them one by one, the archdukes turned and stared solemnly at the foreign prince.
At some point, their inclination to look down on the boy had completely disappeared.
“All of you were willing to work with Lampard, and were even willing to cover up his crime regardless of the cost,” Thales said softly. “Just so that you can resolutely get rid of a threat that hasn’t fully formed yet and protect your future before Constellation becomes powerful.”
The prince sighed and immediately turned solemn. “But please trust me, that between the equally powerful Eckstedt and Constellation, before one totally gains the upper hand and ends the longstanding grudge between the two kingdoms”
The archdukes stared at Thales without averting their gazes, except for Lampard, whose gaze was fixed on the sword in his hand.
It was as though all his attention had been captured by the sword.
“The family you value, the bloodline you are proud of, your lofty and respectable status, the territory you have painstakingly protected, your stable and established rule” There was a ripple in Thales’ eyes, which immediately became a firm gaze.
“Everything all of you possess right now, and are used to having in your lives will be totally annihilated. It will cease to exist,” he said in a tone that left no room for doubt.
At that moment, the archdukes all held their breaths at the same time and widened their eyes.
It looked like they had just heard the most ridiculous news.
Thales continued to say, “The moment all of you accept Lampard, there’s no so-called future for your families anymore.”
With a soft pop, another brazier in the hall became extinguished.
A surge of coldness rushed at their faces.
It was so cold that behind Thales, Saroma hugged herself tightly.
Olsius widened his mouth in surprise and exchanged a look with Trentida. Lecco exhaled slowly, as though he understood something.
Meanwhile, Lampard shut his eyes.
A surge of indescribable emotions rose in his chest.
“Make yourself clearer, lad.” Archduke Roknee extended his hand and ran it over the wound on his neck, which was inflicted by Kroesch. Even though it had been treated with alcohol, it was still a little painful. He sternly said, “Cease to exist: what do you mean by this?”
‘Vast territories that have hundreds of years of legacy, with some ruled by family bloodlines that have been around for almost a thousand years, and are equal to divisions of a kingdom.
‘How can they’
Thales exhaled and watched as his breath turned white.
“Once all of you follow Lampard in advancing south, the Joint Ruling Pledge will cease to exist except in name. In the face of war and interests, there will definitely be a power imbalance between all of you. It will be way too easy to cause a rift between any of you.” Thales gritted his teeth and said, “Once all of you think that you have successfully suppressed Constellation, and start competing against each other, it would be an opportune moment for him to silently start his reformation It will not be as simple as building Eckstedt’s own Starlight Brigade.”
He suddenly felt a little dizzy.
It was that familiar feeling.
“I don’t know how much Lampard told all of you about the Virtuous King.” The prince rubbed his hands together. Placing them in front of his chin, he breathed warm air onto them. “But…
“…highly effective management, intricate power, increased taxation and normative systems; there’s a price to pay for all of this.” Thales felt increasingly dizzy. He had no choice but to extend his right hand and press it on his forehead. He shut his eyes at the same time.
The moment he shut his eyes, it was as though he had left the Hall of Heroes.
There was a row of familiar, white tables and chairs before him. There were seven or eight laptops on the tables, and their respective owners sat in front of them quietly.
He cleared his throat and lowered his head. There was a neatly printed draft report in his hand.
“‘So, in his opinion, hierarchical kingdoms were formed at that time as a result of the transition period between feudalism and absolutism”‘
Wu Qiren’s voice rang slowly. It was gentle and flat.
“‘Cities are autonomous political entities and they are aggregations formed due to the wishes of those who are powerless. They entered the lord-vassal model as a new political force, resulting in typical feudal relationships no longer being in a pure dual-power framework In other words, the rise of cities supported the rulers’ fight against feudal dukes'”
The next moment, Thales opened his eyes. He was back in Errol’s Dragon Clouds City, in the dim hall illuminated by braziers.
“Professional officers, qualification assessments and the National Conference mean that the best of the low-level nobles and common people in the cities as well as suburbs will be compelled by wealth, craft, knowledge, and their yearning to become new nobles in the future” Pressing his hand on his forehead and trembling, Thales said, “The king will be overjoyed at their arrival, and will be able to command their power as he wishes without trouble. He’ll then turn to attack his domineering vassals.”
Seemingly deep in thought, Trentida lowered his head.
The light in the hall flickered again and Thales was back in the brightly-lit classroom. Moving the mouse, he continued to speak.
“‘City groups would form new political organizations such as ranking meetings. The king’s intention would be to collect taxes, while these new political organizations would supervise the usage of the tax money. Hence, the power that feudal nobles had when it came to finances was hampered'”
Suppressing the dizziness, which was a result of virtually alternating between two locations, Thales continued to speak in pain.
“With Constellation’s National Conference as an example, these common people will take part in politics through organizations covering craftsmanship, trading, the army and the new nobles. These areas would be dominated by the king, greatly weakening the power as well as prestige of the archdukes and counts. The king will have the greatest convenience whether it’s in terms of imposing tax laws or declaring war.”
Having heard this, Archduke Olsius could not help but shoot a glance at Lampard.
“‘The universities in Europe were the earliest source of talent. With the aim of moulding bureaucracies, the Germanic kings hired these university graduates to become officials. Among them, Prussia’s military bureaucracy and civil bureaucracy were the most efficient. However, these bureaucracies were not created to serve the people. They were only there to serve the kingdom. In other words, they were used to serve those who were powerful'”
“More and more new officials will enter the king’s field of vision. Their qualifications will replace the bloodline of nobles, they will fight against ambiguity with prudence and overshadow origins with specializations. Gradually, they’ll take over the power in the kingdom.” Panting, Thales felt a peculiar sensation as fragments of memory entered his mind. He thought of Vlad, the former tax collector of Constellation. “The old nobles including all of your relatives will not be in an important position anymore. Their special privilege when it comes to tax collection and law enforcement will gradually be stripped. Even all of you will have no choice but to admit that they’re not eligible anymore.”
Archduke Lecco sat in his place without moving and listened quietly.
“‘What the citizens of the city wanted was to create a ruling condition and legal environment that ensured the peaceful development of industry, trade as well as economy in the city. Feudalism, which based itself off manorial economy and small markets could not satisfy that. Hence, the kings would be required to expand and centralize their power to protect the interests of the so-called ‘bourgeois’…'”
“Similarly, the king will allocate funds from the increasingly plentiful treasury to support and expand the regular troops, maintaining the order of the kingdom and the borders’ safety by himself.” Thales swayed a little and Saroma immediately supported his body. “He won’t need to rely on your territories’ conscription armies or your manors and fields’ self-sustaining supplies anymore. He won’t need to consider all the archdukes’ thoughts and feelings anymore.”
Roknee suddenly thought of Broken Dragon Fortress. He furrowed his eyebrows tightly. Staring at Thales, his gaze became strange.
“‘As time went by, it became difficult for the hierarchical kingdoms’ feudal nobles to maintain a livelihood. They had also lost all significance to the army. They couldn’t to maintain a political influence, and also lost their ruling power. In such a situation, they must draw close to the kings and carry out their duties according to the latter’s conditions In other words, the rise of cities brings about a destructive blow on the feudal system'”
Finally, those odd fragments in Thales’ mind subsided and stopped raging in his mind.
Thales panted slightly and patted Saroma on the hand.
At that moment, he suddenly realized that Lampard was staring at him with a mixture of strange emotions. There was astonishment, doubt, pain, hatred and relief in his eyes.
Staring back at his opponent, the prince sighed internally.
‘Rather than the baffling mystic energy, the unreliable Sin of Hell’s River, this weird body, and my unstable identity as a prince
‘When playing this game of chess, this is my greatest trump card.
‘Chapman Lampard, compared to unmatched military power, unrivalled skills and superb methods, this is my strongest chess piece!’
“What do all of you think?” Thales continued saying.
“As this reformation progresses with time, for archdukes like you with independent regimes, and the established counts of various citieseverything from tax collection to the army, law enforcement to talent, privilege to statusall the things you rely on for survival will slowly become invalid, and your advantages will start to disappear.
As the archdukes’ faces became increasingly pale, he turned with great effort and looked at them.
“All the tactics and reformation Lampard envisioned, no matter what his original intention is, will lead to only one thing.”
Thales inhaled deeply and said with a stern countenance, “That one thing will be that all of the other nine prestigious and eminent archdukes who jointly ruled Northland will begin to lose theirpower, and their families will fall into decline.”
Archduke Lampard’s expression was as calm as a still lake, and his gaze as he stared at Thales became increasingly complicated.
Like stone statues, the archdukes did not move at all. Thales did not even know how much they managed to take in.
“From powerful vassals who ruled over your own region, one of these days, all of you will become grand nobles who possess nothing but honor. All of you will then become rich men who only have wealth, or even become commoners who have nothing. In the end, it’ll come to a point that your descendants can only read about your family history in dust-covered records
“And Raikaru’s pledge, which has protected Eckstedt from splitting up for six hundred years and stipulates that the ten archdukes jointly rule Eckstedt, will become the oldest historical document in the museum.” Thales sighed loudly and shook his head.
“Like all of your families, it will become yellow with time and be gone, never to return.
“This is the price to pay for what Lampard has said about supposingly ‘saving Eckstedt’.”
Having said that, Thales slowly raised his head.
At that moment, the archdukes finally stopped looking like stone statues and snapped out of their dazes. However, their expressions were extremely strange.
Lampard lowered his head and fixed his eyes on his old sword.
In his disbelief, Trentida cast a questioning gaze at Olsius and Roknee. However, Prestige Orchid Regions’ master only shook his head without saying a thing. The face of the Archduke of the City of Faraway Prayers darkened. He neither cared to inquire, nor listen.
“Chapman.” Archduke Lecco’s gaze seemed to turn murky once again. The old man used his deepest and raspiest voice that day to ask his question, “Tell me, the only thing you want is an army that can defeat Constellation, isn’t it?
“You never thought about other things?
“Such as the Joint Ruling Pledge?”
The archdukes stared at Lampard in unison.
One second passed.
The Archduke of Black Sand Region finally averted his gaze from his sword.
He forced a smile before he revealed a cold expression.
“Everything this lad has said is built on extremely selfish lies,” With a complicated expression, Lampard spoke in an unpleasant tone, “If there’s the slightest bit of doubt in all of your hearts, he will win By instigating enmity between us and crumbling our efforts to join forces to fight against Constellation, he’ll obtain breathing space for the increasingly powerful Constellation!”
Thales sighed internally.
“Forget about his beguiling speeches and those baffling suppositions of his that have not even happened Don’t all of you find it ridiculous?” Gritting his teeth, Lampard appeared to be insulted. “Why would the act of us uniting to travel down south and invade Constellation for Eckstedt’s sake lead to our own destruction?”
Hearing Lampard’s words, the archdukes’ expressions became skeptical. They started to weigh and consider his words.
Saroma stared at the archdukes’ reactions and felt fear in her heart.
At this moment…
“That is not accurate,” the prince’s voice rang steadily.
Lampard furrowed his brows. “What?”
“Lead to ‘our’ own destruction?” Thales exhaled and said with a severe countenance. “It’ll only lead to the nine other archdukes’ destruction.
“In this game of reformation that Lampard has initiated, Eckstedt is like a giant dragon with ten heads, swallowing each other up amid the fierce waves.” Thales sighed. “If it goes well, only one of the heads, which is the most powerful can survive until the end. It will be the well-prepared archduke who is the most accustomed to the game and reacts the quickest.”
Archduke Lecco raised his head abruptly and fixed his gaze on Thales.
Archduke Roknee’s expression froze.
“I’ve told you earlier that as the last ruler, he will bring to himself all ruling power and ride on the aggressive trend caused by the reformation to swallow up the nine other archdukes’ territories. Those territories will become his nourishment and food. In this way, he’ll forge an unprecedented and supreme crown of Eckstedt for himself.”
There was a dark look in Thales’ eyes, which was difficult for any normal person to see. He then said in a dreary tone, “Who do you think would be the only person closest to the version of this truth in Lampard’s plan?”
Staring at the archdukes’ expressions, he shook his head slowly. He walked towards the fallen brazier and squatted down steadily.
The prince extended his hands and fiddled with the cold firewood before he fished his dagger out.
“But whether Lampard succeeds or not, other than the last ruler, there will be no space for the other nine archdukes within the borders of the reformed Eckstedt,” Thales continued to say. His words hit the archdukes’ hearts like a hammer.
Thales shook JC’s dagger and removed the sheath, which Yodel gave him from his belt without changing his expression. He blew on the sheath gently.
“Please keep this in your minds, all of you. It may be around a decade, several decades, or centuries
“But if one day, all of your families fall into decline and vanish; all of your descendants become destitute and homeless; and all of you no longer have your statuses, the start of it all was from the time you agreed to Lampard’s conditions.” Thales stood slowly and turned to face the archdukes.
Thales’ eyes brightened and he abruptly placed his dagger back in its sheath.
Amid the clear, metallic sound, the archdukes’ faces turned grim. They stared at Thales without moving.
“This is the answer to the riddle,” Thales said in a low whisper. “This is why Lampard was unwilling to show all of you his true motive in the beginning. This is the cruel truth behind his act of gathering all of you to ‘save Eckstedt’, while he decides not to turn back on his actions.
“Lampard will unite forces with all of you to defeat Constellation,” he softly concluded, “but ironically, just before Constellation is defeated, all of you willbe reduced to flying ashes and smouldering smoke.”
Silence descended into the hall once again.
“Chapman, I have to say that this is really” Face filled with disbelief, Trentida was about to speak but he had nothing to say. In the end, he just sighed. “Forget it, I don’t know how to describe this feeling.
“This is unsettling indeed,” Archduke Roknee added coldly. He looked at Lecco, who was their leader, but the latter furrowed his brows tightly and said nothing.
Archduke Olsius crossed his arms and supported his chin with his palm. With difficulty, he said, “Chapman”
But Lampard was faster than him.
“Those were all baseless lies, things that have not happened yet, exaggerated speculations used to instill fear!
“He’s using them merely as reasons and all of you really believe him?” the Archduke of Black Sand Region’s voice was still cold, but a hint of agitation could be detected. “Don’t forget that the threat of Constellation is the real one!”
Lampard strode forward and placed his hand on the long table. His expression was icy. “The things we saw and heard twelve years ago, and everything King Kessel has done throughout these past twelve years, haven’t all of you been witness to that?
“Why would all of you rather be swayed by words with no truth whatsoever than take action based on solid and indisputable facts?”
Thales was still the one who answered him.
“Solid and indisputable facts?” the prince said faintly.
This time, Lampard turned his head around. His gaze was resentful and murderous.
Thales paid no heed to Lampard’s gaze. He asked the other archdukes softly, “Your Grace, what does Lampard plan to do after all of you successfully invade Constellation?”
The archdukes’ emotions were obscure as they stared at each other.
Lampard’s gaze was focused and his fists were clenched.
“He wants the Northern Territory of Constellation,” Archduke Roknee said softly.
“He wants to guard the borders for us, monitor and keep Constellation under control,” Roknee said, extremely slowly and coldly. However, his tone was forceful. “For that, he is willing to give up the common-elected throne, and even Black Sand Region.”
Thales exhaled slowly.
“That is simple.” The prince flashed an ill-intentioned smile and stared at the steely-looking Lampard. “Archduke of Black Sand Region, if you think that my words are unreasonable, you can proveyourself with solid and indisputable facts.
“I reckon that in your own territory, and anywhere else within the borders of Eckstedt, the effort to reform would be beset with difficulties and even go nowhere.”
“But the Northern Territory is different.
“For Constellation, the Northern Territory is just a borderland where reformation is not yet complete. It is still shrouded by traditional power and old customs. But for Eckstedt, the Northern Territory, which is also part of Northland, has similar customs to that of Eckstedt, and is already showing early signs of reformation. This can be seen from a lowly tax collector like Vlad. He is a testament to the nobles’ waning power. It is the best place for you to base your reformation off The source of hope for you to light the fire of change.”
Thales then flatly said, “Archduke Lampard, for the sake of the unity between all of you, do give up the Northern Territory Let someone else have it.”
Lampard raised his head abruptly and fixed his gaze on Thales.
The archdukes raised their heads too. Their expressions differed.
Thales’ countenance was still calm and nonchalant He learned this from Raphael. That pretty boy’s attitude was often exasperating.
‘Shiles complained that the Northern Territory was excluded from all the terms Lampard gave him, from tax exemption to resource contracts.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’
“Of course, you can also make a guarantee that you won’t carry out reforms that imitate those of the Virtuous King, ordo things that endanger the other archdukes’ families,” Thales resumed while he curled the corners of his lips.
“With neither the Northern Territory nor the opportunity in your hands, you won’t be able to start a reformation that may cause destruction. Hence, you will be cleared of suspicion.” Thales’ expression became severe. “This way, the other archdukes will be able to continue working with you with no qualms.”
After Thales said that, an extremely long silence descended upon the hall.
Lampard froze where he was.
He subconsciously placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and left it there.
The other archdukes exchanged information through their gazes.
No one moved or said a thing.
There was a surge of cold wind in the hall. The fire flickered, and everyone’s shadows swayed
Saroma bit her lower lip and stared anxiously at the archdukes, whose expressions varied.
It felt as though a few centuries had passed when finally, a voice broke the silence.
“Actually, Chapman, we’re willing to trust you,” Archduke Lecco’s gloomy voice rang. “But, I have no choice but to admit that this child’s words has made me very worried.”
Trentida shrugged. “It does make quite a bit of sense.”
Lampard raised his head slowly. His stiff face seemed even more worn in the shadows.
“Tell me, Chapman.
“You’re our ally, bound by an oath we swore by placing our palms together. To refute this conceited prince’s words, put our worries and wariness to rest, and prove that we’re still united as one in the impending war, why don’t you give up on the Northern Territory?” Archduke Lecco stared straight at Lampard and sighed softly.
Lampard said nothing. Instead, he stared at Lecco in a daze.
“Of course, as an apology, we’ll make it up to you with a suitable amount of lands and interests. It can be Olsius’, Trentida’s or even mine. It’s up to you. There will only be more land for you.” The old archduke coughed. He sounded a little sad. “You know, the task of keeping a foothold on the Northern Territory, guarding the border area and monitoring Constellation can be done by the others too.”
After Archduke Lecco finished speaking
Lampard raised his head and shot a glance at every single archduke with the most incredulous gaze ever.
Thales pursed his lips and fixed his eyes on Lampard.
He stared at Lampard’s face, which seemed frozen.
Lampard clenched his teeth and furrowed his brows hard. There was an explosive anger in his gaze.
“I know that this is a lot to ask.” Olsius’ face was pale and he shook his head apologetically. “But, I swear that if you prove yourself, I’ll make sure with my own hands that this viper from Constellation pays the price.”
‘Viper from Constellation?’
Thales raised his eyebrows a little.
Once again, Lampard’s face twitched slightly. It seemed like he was smiling, but at the same time, it did not look like a smile.
At this moment, Archduke Roknee raised his gaze. His eyes were piercing. “You know this is for Eckstedt.”
Lampard clenched his fists.
Trentida shrugged and avoided Lampard’s gaze. He said nothing.
Since the beginning, Archduke Lecco was the only one who stared into Lampard’s eyes without flinching.
“How about that, Chapman?” The old archduke’s bald head seemed especially glaring. His voice was soft and slow but aggressive, “What is your answer?”
Lampard cracked a smile and gritted his teeth, like a wild beast posturing before seizing its prey.
“Chapman, one word is enough,” Trentida’s tone was very contradictory. He seemed extremely anxious despite speaking softly.
Thales furrowed his brows. He saw that next to Lampard’s waist, Lampard’s fists were starting to tremble.
The Archduke of Black Sand Region’s expression became increasingly unpleasant akin to a lion whose territory was being breached.
Thales’ heart skipped a beat when he saw Lampard’s expression.
Finally, a few seconds later, Lampard shut his eyes and exhaled loudly.
The other archdukes stared at him without averting their gazes.
It appeared as though this was the most important moment ever.
Immediately after, Lampard opened his eyes and made a sound.
However, it was not a word.
Raising his head, Lampard cracked his lips open and let out a sorrowful, defiant laugh.
His laughter became increasingly louder.
The other archdukes’ gazes gradually dimmed while they stared at his actions.
Thales slowly extended his hand and held the nervous Saroma.
Lampard finally stopped laughing.
“Fine. We’ve already reached this point, haven’t we?” Lampard turned and revealed an indifferent and relieved expression. “All of you actually believe in what he’s said, right?
“All of you won’t just be keeping an eye on the Northern Territory” The Archduke of Black Sand Region turned and stared at his sword. His tone was cold. “Even if we invade Eternal Star City, all of you will continue to monitor me and watch out for my every move, afraid that I’ll disturb your interests.”
Olsius gritted his teeth indignantly. “So, your choice”
“I just find it very ironic.” Lampard’s expression changed. He suddenly raised his voice, “Why don’t all of you understand?
“It’s obvious that a very rare chance is before your eyes. At a time when the opportune moment to defeat Constellation and change history is within your reach, why are all of you acting like cowards?” Lampard gritted his teeth. Staring at every single archduke’s serious expression, he growled overbearingly.
Lampard abruptly turned and faced the four archdukes. His face was filled with disbelief. “The ending hasn’t happened at all, and we haven’t even reached the end of things yet. But after listening to a child’s nonsense, all of you are cowering and hiding like a herd of frightened antelopes.”
The archdukes looked at each other and said nothing.
“So frightened by a child’s lies”
Lampard’s face was twisted. He raised the sheath of his sword all of a sudden. “The Joint Ruling Pledge, the destruction of families, discontinuity of bloodlines, reduced power and waning of status What sort of f*cking excuses are those?
“What is Eckstedt in all of your eyes?
“Aren’t we Northlanders?” The Archduke of Black Sand Region gritted his teeth and waved the sheath of his sword. His cape swayed along too. “We don’t wonder ‘if we can do it’. We only talk about whether ‘we’re going to do it’… We are Northlanders who are more afraid of failure than death, are we not?!”
His question, uttered with pain and great difficulty, reverberated throughout the hall.
“It seems that the answer is already very obvious.” Archduke Lecco sighed softly and shut his eyes.
Trentida placed his hand on his forehead and heaved a long sigh.
Roknee chuckled flatly.
Olsius’ expression was sorrowful.
Thales gently shut his mouth. He felt that a heavy stone had been lifted off his chest.
Staring at Lampard, whose expression was strange, Thales sighed in relief and thought, ‘For this round, I’m done with laying the chess pieces out.