Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Arc 5: The Traitors
The radiant sun hung high in the sky.
At the south gate of Dragon Clouds City, a team of knights reached their destination.
When the thin man stepped into the famous cityheading northwardsand saw the hustle and bustle of the crowd at the city gates, he could only sigh with emotion.
‘Even after the disaster, Dragon Clouds City remains dignified, majestic, rugged and impressive. Even the sounds of the people quarrelling on the streets are loud and sonorous.
However, he still forced down the surging thoughts in his mind, and took his eyes away from the towering statue of Raikaru. He still had things to do.
The man lowered his head and reared up his horse’s reins.
The thin man spoke plainly to the dozen or more knights behind him. “Get ready, we have a long slope to climb.”
The knights did not utter a word and quietly kept pace with him, as though they were used to his indifferent tone.
This was a low profile team. There were no identifying signs such as flags, ornaments, and crests. They only had their baggage and sundries on the horses, and the hurried look on their faces.
It was clear that this was the first visit for some of them to Dragon Clouds City. They looked around them in amazement.
“This is Dragon Clouds City?” A young retinue wondered, “Was it not almost destroyed by the disaster? How can it still look so undamaged?”
“The one that destroyed Dragon Clouds City is rumors, not the calamity,” the thin man replied easily, “Get rid of those thoughts, Mark.”
A few minutes later, a Northern military noble brought a few cavaliers to greet them. After a brief meeting, they were taken directly away from the queue and entered the city.
They walked through the open space in front of the city and began to go uphill.
“It is quite flattering that the Chief Garrison Officer came personally to meet us,” the thin man said plainly, “Viscount Leisdon.”
“Unfortunately, the archduchess is in the Hall of Heroes. Today is the day of her state affairs hearing and Regent Lisban is also inside.” The Northland noble named Leisdon looked very capable and very powerful. With a few gestures from him to the patrols, they began to work in perfect unison.
While he was on his horse, he nodded at the thin man.
“Lord Putray Nemain, who came from the Kingdom of Constellation far away.”
The Lord of Constellation, Putray, replied with a nod.
Viscount Leisdonthe old subordinate trusted by Count Lisban who remained as the Chief Garrison Officer of Dragon Clouds City after the succession of the archduchesslooked at the travel-worn Constellatiates and nodded gently, “But I think you will definitely wish to see the prince first.”
The Constellation attendants looked at each other with excitement and curiosity.
The prince. The legendary second prince.
“Absolutely.” On the bustling Northland streets, a smile appeared on Putray’s thin face. “Please take us to the Blood Court.”
Leisdon raised his eyebrows slightly.
The Blood Court
“Of course. The Blood Court, located in the most remote and ruined corner of Heroic Spirit Palace. It is home to a special guest.” Leisdon sighed, “Please come with me.”
The viscount frowned and waved his hand. A military courier immediately set off. After about ten seconds, a team of patrols in front of them immediately turned and headed in the direction of the Heroic Spirit Palace.
Putray nodded with approval and pulled out his pipe. “You are a clever person, I admire that, unlike your former guest relations ambassador.”
Viscount Leisdon sneered and rode beside Putray.
“The former guest relations ambassador?” The corners of Leisdon’s lips curled up. “I heard that he secretly obstructed the mission to contact the prince. He was later found to be close to a Count of Black Sand Region.”
“So I volunteered for this position this year,”Leisdon had an unpleasant expression as he let out a cough”after he was suspend- cough! Ahem! Replaced.”
Putray inhaled a puff of smoke. While sitting on his horse, he watched the smoke ring change shape, then said sentimentally, “Thank you for understanding our anxiety.”
“It is my pleasure.” Leisdon nodded thoughtfully, “This is Dragon Clouds City after all, not Black Sand City.”
Upon hearing the name of this place, Putray narrowed his eyes and said, “King Chapman still sends a special envoy to ‘express his sympathies’?”
At the mention of the common-elected king, Viscount Leisdon’s face showed disgust and disdain. “Three times a year, and never late.
“If he could, he might even want to buy all the messenger pigeons that fly over Constellation’s sky so that he could monitor our every move.” Leisdon looked at Heroic Spirit Palace on the mountainside. “Especially the whereabouts of those two.”
Putray puffed out a smoke ring, “But I heard that your king recently encountered a large problem.”
“You can say that again.” Leisdon crooned, visibly pleased. “Since his coronation, Chapman Lampard’s troubles has never stopped.”
When they heard that name, the Constellatiate attendants had nervous expressions on their faces as they hurriedly perked up their ears, concerned about the new king who had just recently began ruling Eckstedt.
“Lampard went mad several months ago. He wanted to appoint new nobles without following through the ranking system, and it, in turn, caused him to offend the old vassals in Black Sand Region. From a mass protest by the vassals using aristocratic protocols, to the king ordering a restructuring of the territorial laws, King Chapman and his direct vassals have been fighting battles of intellect and courage. It has been entertaining show after entertaining show, haha!”
Viscount Leisdon’s lips curled upwards.
“And his troubles did not end there. Half a month ago, with the four archdukes from the north and west as the leaders, these archdukes launched a resistance against the king for persecuting the nobles in his territory. In the name of the Joint Ruling Pledge, they reached out to the old vassals in Black Sand Region who had their positions taken from them by the king as a way to abolish taxes. They called out for these people to join them against the king’s tyranny, and I heard that their forces are very strong.”
If Leisdon could save up a portion of the country’s expenses with a justifiable reason, and even watch the king be stuck in an embarrassing situation while feeling anxious, why should he not be happy?
Putray snorted to himself.
“I suspect Dragon Clouds City will soon be invited to sign their Joint Condemnation Letter.” Leisdon exhaled a breath. “You know, having the reputation of ‘kinslayer’ is already quite bad.”
“It is really unkind of you calling your own King Chapman the kinslayer,” Putray whispered.
“I heard that the Long-Haired Roknee from the City of Faraway Prayers is the first to call him that.” The Garrison Officer smiled happily. “It is practically the worst nickname for a king in all of Eckstedtian history. You must understand, even Jacob the First, who took his own aunt to be his queen, was just known as ‘the Disgrace’.”
Putray gave a light laugh, not wishing to give a comment.
‘Such a poor reputation. Still, that doesn’t mean his method was no good.’
“I heard that Constellation is unstable as well. Even though the plagues in the three southwestern countries have finally subsided, it is now showing signs recurrence.” Viscount Leisdonchanged the topic unpretentiously. “And King Kessel seems to have sent three batches of regular soldiers to Blade Edge Hill?”
Putray narrowed his eyes slightly. “Healing is not as easy when the old wounds are too deep… Just like you lot.”
Leisdon and Putray stared at each other. The two people, from the Dragon and Constellation respectively, nodded while they had their own thoughts in their minds.
The group rode through the lively Dragon Wings Plaza, through the messy Bow District, past Axe District and Spear District where the upper-class citizens stayed, and all the way up the upper town of Dragon Clouds City.
Finally, the team reached the First Gatehouse that separated the Axe District from Heroic Spirit Palace. Putray gazed at the towering gatehouse and sighed again.
With a stern expression, Viscount Leisdon spoke with the patrol team defending the gatehouse for a few minutes before the patrol team let the Constellatiates pass through the gates.
Immediately afterwards, several patrol soldiers came up to them and thoroughly searched themfrom their luggage and baggagewhich made many of the Constellatiates angry.
“Be patient, this is a necessary process. Oh, there is a gift for the archduchess in that box. Please be careful with it.”
Putray raised his hands out of habit and awaited the frisk while he comforted the Constellatiates from their bad mood, asking them to endure the fierce and rough Northlanders. He then said to Leisdon who waited for them, “It seems that your security has improved a lot.”
Leisdon’s face grew tense.
“We added three more passcodes, a lot of sentry posts were added in front, even the emergency warrants issued by the archduchess have corresponding security measures. We even started trying to recruit Psionicsthey are rare among Northlanders. This was reportedly suggested by the prince.” Leisdon’s tone became quite blunt and seemed to be repressing something, “The gatehouse will always be a thick wall that separates us from danger.
“The story of a famous, high-ranking military officer working together with the moles in the military to deceive the gatehouse will not be repeated.”
Finally, after a complicated search, the group of Constellatiates passed through the gatehouse and arrived at the open space in front of Heroic Spirit Palace.
Putray had mixed feelings as he gazed at the eight large furnaces in front of the palace gate that were both familiar and unfamiliar. He remembered the scene where that small figure went through the palace gate alone. He could not help but sigh.
A team of palace guards surveyed them with unpleasant looks. The Constellatiates dismounted from their horses, the guards then took them away.
“The Blood Court is over here. Follow me, please.” Viscount Leisdon led them away from Heroic Spirit Palace’s magnificent palace gate and walked into a remote cloister.
The road beneath their feet became narrower and narrower, and was even overgrown with weeds. Despite that, there were gradually more guards on the path.
“How is he doing?” Putray looked at the guards with mixed feelings. The Constellatiates’ attentions were drawn to his question.
‘He?’ Leisdon frowned, he understood who the other party was inquiring about. ‘How is he doing? This question’
“Everyone has different opinions on him.” The garrison officer chose his words carefully. “But I would say the prince is very quiet.”
The group from Constellation glanced at each other. This suited their judgmentsfrom both the elders and the youngstersabout the prince.
Putray was taken aback. “What do you mean?”
‘This fellow’ Putray remembered the figure of the little adult who spoke frankly and, every now and then, left people dumbstruck.
Quiet? He could not believe it.
“Most of the time, he sat quietly and read books, sometimes talking to himself, or even whispering. You could also say that he neglected sleep and forgot his meals. And every time, it would be in a different place, from the corner of the courtyard to the Cliff of the Sky. He caused worry for his bodyguards.
“Every month, he wants to leave the palace for Spear District to play chess. He likes to stay in a private room and play chess by himself for hours until the attendants remind him that the archduchess’ team of personal guards need to eat.
“He does not care much for the disputes in Dragon Clouds City. Whether it is the royal court, banquets, or hunts, he declined them all, even if the nobles have eyes on him.
“Instead, he is rather close with the servants in the royal court. It seems that he likes to smile at them very much, he even greets a messenger crow if he sees one.
“Many teachers teach him and the Lady Archduchess, yet half of them were unable to stay for two months, saying that they ‘could not approve of the prince’s way of thinking’. Count Lisban gets headaches over this.”
“Ah,” Putray shook his head, he did not know whether to laugh or cry. “I came here to solve that problem.”
Viscount Leisdon had a strange look on his face,
“But his relationship with the archduchess is very good. The two of them often stay in the library from morning till afternoon, which caused him to form many enemies among the nobles in Dragon Clouds City.” After Leisdon finished this sentence, he continued, “Count Lisban is very dissatisfied with him because of this.”
‘Not only that, but it also brought a lot of dissatisfaction and protests to the archduchess.’
Leisdon spoke softly. Putray nodded gently as he had a clear idea of what went on.
They walked through the countless porticus and past numerous guards to, in the end, arrive before a run-down, old three-story building with practically no lobby. There were still many palace guards stationed there, surveying them with vigilant and ferocious glares.
A Constellatiate attendant whispered to his companion, “It’s just like prison, you know, with prison guards everywhere.”
A palace guard who was apparently the leader, walked out to them. He was tall and had a sharp gaze, a long sword at his waist. Viscount Leisdon approached the leader of the guards.
“Lord Justin.” The Viscount nodded politely as he extended his hand and gestured to the Constellatiates behind him to introduce them. “These are”
The former vice commander of the White Blade Guards, Lord Justin, who once defended the palace resolutely during Black Sand Region’s attack nodded as his glance gave them a once-over.
“Putray Nemain, I recognize him.”
Putray put on a smile. “Glad to see you, I wish to”
But Lord Justin obviously did not like to talk much. He remained impassive and cut Putray off straight away. “I know your intentions. He’s at the backyard. Follow me.”
Putray smiled and thanked him for his understanding.
“I will be here waiting for you.” Leisdon stood back and nodded with pursed lips. “There is still some time before the archduchess’ hearing.”
With anticipation, the attendants looked at each other, following Putray through the first story of the small building until they reached the backyard.
Even when the sunlight, the canopy in the backyard was still gloomy and run-down. It seemed as if no one had lived there in a long time. The bricks of the floor were uneven and riddled with stone fragments. The pale tree trunks and the cracked courtyard walls had practically become one, and the walls were desolate. Shadows covered the floor and there was an ominous atmosphere in the air. All those who saw this would feel depressed.
About a dozen guards who were unmistakably Constellatiate soldiers stood at the entrance of the shabby courtyard.
A young Constellatiate man of about twenty years old saw them from a distance and came to greet him.
“Oh, this is a surprise,” said the young man who was tall and lean, but had sharp gaze. “His Highness said’I thought you would not be here for another week.'”
As the young man approached Putray, the Constellatiate attendants could not help but notice that he held at his waist a single-edge longsword without its scabbard.
Putray blew out a puff of a smoke and raised his eyebrows. “It’s nice to see you, Attendant Wya Caso.”
When they heard the family name, the guests from Constellation cast Wya a strange look.
‘So this is the Cunning Fox’s’
However, the prince’s attendant did not like that type of look. He turned around, revealing the scenery behind him.
The guests’ attentions were then drawn to the strange man who leaned against the wall with his arms folded. He had light-colored short hair and a silver mask that covered his face from his nose to his throat, revealing the tattoo on the upper-half of his face. He sized up the people with a cold yet watchful gaze, as if they were intruders.
It made them feel uncomfortable. Some of them even thought that he was probably not very friendly.
There was a dull noise. The eyes of the guests from Constellation immediately shifted to the source of the sound: Two people at the courtyard were having sword practice.
What caught their attention was the seven or eight-year-old boy.
He held a sword and a shield and he sweated all over, but he had his teeth clenched tightly, and there was determination on his face. Again and again he withstood the attacks from the bodyguard.
“The arms should be raised. Pay attention to the rise and fall of my shoulders, predict the next attack, and defend in time.” The bodyguard with him was not very tall, but deliberately lowered his posture as a consideration for the boy’s maneuverability and height. The wooden sword knocked his joints from time to time, forcing the boy to retreat.
Another dull sound came as the boy fell to the ground. He bit his lower lip, wiped the sweat off his head, rubbed his aching knee, and looked at the bodyguard in dissatisfaction. “Must I do that?”
“Stand up!” The bodyguard shook his head. His tone was severe and not in the least accommodating. “Raise your sword!”
Wya frowned as he watched the seven or eight-year-old boy. It looked as if he could not bear it, but decided not to voice his complaints. Beside him, Putray narrowed his eyes and observed the training.
The group from Constellation craned their necks to look upon the little boy who gritted his teeth in his struggle, yet his showed a hard and unyielding expression.
‘That is the only Prince of Constellation? The one inside the enemy’s country who risked his own life to maintain peace between the two countries
The visitors stared solemnly the boy as he got knocked down by a sword.
The little prince looked at his hands and legs, sighed heavily, and began to rise in a sluggish manner. “But isn’t this too exaggerated”
“If you still want to inherit your father’s throne and take over his responsibilities, isn’t this necessary?” The guard’s words traveled from his helmet sternly, causing all those who heard it to feel afraid. The onlookers shook their heads. “Sharp blades might be able to tear through flesh, but when it is held by a pair of unsteady hands, then you won’t even be able to cut even the frailest reed!”
The still-a-weakling prince could only suck in a deep breath, force down all his emotions, focus again, and raise his sword and shield.
Quite a number of onlookers stared, as if they could no longer bear the sight. Many of them cast the newly arrived Putray a glance with strange expressions on their faces.
The exercise started again.
“You understand the gist of this sword style.” The guard who looked like an instructor may be stern, but he still kept his duty and tirelessly taught the boy to guide his movements. “Your footsteps must be steady, but you cannot be stiff. Control your center of gravity. This is especially important when you shift from being offensive to defensive”
For the third time, the determined but frail boy fell on the ground. The wooden sword was dropped as well, he simply did not possess the power to strike back.
Behind Putray, the attendants from Constellation looked at each other with disappointment in their eyes. They averted their gazes from the boy, and some of them could not help but shake their heads and sigh.
Clearly, the prince lacked talent when it came to fighting, which was why he was so extremely dull when it came to this. It made their expectant hearts become somewhat filled with complicated emotions.
If this was Constellation’s future
“That’s enough.” Wya could no longer bear to watch the sight while he stood aside. The prince’s attendant folded his arms over his chest and said smugly to the boy’s instructor, “He’s only eight years old!”
Ralf whistled softly as he leaned against the wall, and made a gesture no one could understand.
The young prince on the ground sucked in a deep breath and clenched his fists, then pounded the ground, but he still glared at his instructor with a look that said he did not want to admit defeat.
“Eight years old?” The guard snorted coldly, then lowered his head to look at the boy. “When I was his age, the enemies I faced were definitely not as merciful as to give you a second. No, they were not as merciful as to give you a twelfth chance to stand up again!”
The young prince, who had now stood up again, had turned pale.
“You understand, without me having to tell you, just how special your status is.”
The guard’s words were blunt, to the point that the boy with the unique status blushed slightly, abashed. Still, the boy said in a recalcitrant manner, “But I’m still smarter than them”
“This has nothing to do with being smart or not!” The guard’s voice became even more severe.
“All of your opponents are older, better, and much more experienced than you! Without a strong will and body, how can you stand on the highest place and control the entire”
At that moment…
An extremely loud cry rang through the whole place. It even attracted the attention of the palace guards further away. The area became silent.
They saw Putray take a step forward and pat Wya’s shoulders, signalling for him to move back.
The guests in Constellation watched their leader on this trip, looking forward to him bringing some sort of change to this very frail prince of theirs. After all, that was the future of Constellation
It was only then when the eight-year-old boy noticed Putray’s arrival. He scratched his head, somewhat embarrassed. When the onlookers saw this, surprised expressions appeared on their faces.
The lean lord watched the training grounds with a sharp gaze. A second later, he sighed softly.
“Your Highness, stop fooling around.” Putray put away the stern look on his face. With a profound glance, he then said resignedly, “You should be more mature; you have to grow up now.”
The boy blinked, then looked around him anxiously, as if he was a little fearful.
Several seconds later…
The guard in front of the ‘prince’ moved a little and threw away the wooden sword in his hand. He stood straight and turned his head around. The guard worked his shoulders, and while his joints made those cracking noises, he removed his gloves and the protective gear on his arms.
“Ah, you’re still the same as ever, your sense of humor is lacking.” A muffled voice came from behind the helmet, and it was as grating to the ears, like a drake’s voice.
The people in the area, regardless of whether they were Ralf or Wya, stared in resignation at the ‘guard’.
Putray rubbed his forehead, feeling a huge headache coming.
The new attendants from Constellation stared at each other in surprise. For a period of time, they could not react to the situation.
Right before their eyes, the stern ‘guard’ removed his helmet to reveal a handsome face of about thirteen or fourteen years old.
The teenager flung his sweat-covered head, moved forward, threw his helmet to Ralf at his side, then grinned heartily at Putraywho was taller than him by half a head.
Right before everyone’s eyes, the real Second Prince of Constellation, the teenage-looking Thales Jadestar heartily punched Putray’s shoulder like a normal Northlander man.
“It’s been a long time, Putray.”
Forced back a step, Putray shook his head in resignation.
“And they said you were rather ‘quiet’. What a truly “quiet” prince.”
Thales laughed boisterously and slapped Putray’s shoulder. He gave a refreshing and relaxed smile at the people behind Putray, allowing people to perceive him as a very friendly person.
“My dear friends from my homeland, welcome to the Northland!” the prince said in a loud voice while he cheerfully thumped his own chest, producing muffled sounds from it.
While the attendants had flabbergasted expressions on their faces, Putray gritted his teeth as he felt a spectacular headache. He gestured with his mouth at the child.
“What’s with the boy?”
It was only then when Thales scratched his own head and turned around.
“Joseph, I met my old friends.” Contrary to the attitude of the stern teacher he adopted just now, the prince knelt down and spoke gently to the boy. “We’ll end things here today. You can go home now, your father must be anxiously waiting for you.
“Don’t be hasty. My teacher once told me that, when you learn this sword style, you must first learn how to get beaten up.”
The young boy exhaled as if he was just released from a stressful situation. With a roll of his eyes, he removed his protective gear. “I thought that would end by today.”
The teenage prince turned his head around and raised his eyebrows at Putray, whose face was almost as dark as thunderclouds.
“This is Joseph, the head chef’s son. His dream is to take over his father’s position and become the head chef of Heroic Spirit Palace, then manage the entire scullery. His status allowed him to become a student of a chef at just eight years old, but you must know that the competition in Heroic Spirit Palace’s scullery is incredibly intense, and his weakest area is in cutting meat. That’s why he needs to have special training when it comes to using blades”
“That’s enough.” Putray sighed in resignation. He flicked away the ash in his pipe. “I am very happy that you have become happier during the past six years, Prince Thales.”
Instead of the stern brat of the past.
Thales’ expression went still for a second. He stood up, his smile fading away.
As the prince’s expression changed, the atmosphere between the guards and attendants grew cold as well.
“No,” he said faintly, “not six years.”
Putray gave him a puzzled glance in response.
“I remember it very clearly.” The prince raised his head and, with a slightly sentimental tone in his voice, he said, “Today is the 14th of May, Year 679.”
Thales stared at the sun in the sky, and with a complicated gaze, he heaved a long sigh.
“It’s six years and 107 days.”