Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
After parting with Putray, who wore a strange expression, in Heroic Spirit Palace, following his habit for the past three years, Thales walked out of the narrow and desolate Blood Court with a book under his arm. He headed towards the stable in the company of his bodyguards.
Wya followed the group with a resigned expression, while Ralf quietly tailed the prince. It seemed like he was already used to this.
There were about a dozen Constellatiate soldiers behind themmost were men recruited from Broken Dragon Fortress years ago, including Genard the veteran and Willow, who was now no longer a new recruit. They had journeyed through countless hardships with the prince.
On the outer perimeter however, the personal guards of Dragon Clouds City’s Archduchess and the palace guards were sending messages back and forth. It was as if they were about to face a great enemy. Groups of soldiers departed to clear the path ahead of them every now and then. Lord Justin, who was leading the troops, wore a dark and tense expression. He was performing his duty meticulouslyto ensure the safety of the special guest.
After all, it was an order from the archduchess.
“For your safety, I sincerely suggest that you postpone our trip outside the palace for a few more days, at least until the archduchess’ hearing on state affairs is over, Your Highness.” Wya was seemingly unable to accept the second prince’s leisurely steps. “By then, the White Blade Guards I mean, the Archduchess’ Guards will have enough men to form your entourage, instead of putting their focus on the Hall of Heroes.”
Wya, the attendant glanced at the Northland soldiers around himit was half the number of men during the prince’s usual outings. Many Dragon Clouds City vassals visited the day before and after the council hearing. A great portion of the Archduchess’ Guards, be it the remaining former White Blade Guards or the elite soldiers trained by the Star Killer for the past few years, were assigned to the archduchess’ side.
Thales pulled out the brown-covered book from under his arm, stroking the words on it, “The Light of Humanity: The Beginning and End of the Temple of Knights”. He whistled in the way Ralf had taught him to, with nonchalance.
Wya Caso had only returned to his country twice during his past six years of serving the prince in Eckstedt. Every time he came back, he appeared to mature even more. However, he was just as solemn and overly serious as before. That tense demeanor of his never loosened up.
‘That won’t do especially when we’re facing opponents like that,’ Thales continued to smiled and speak to himself internally.
The prince then said in a relaxed manner, “The issue of my safety when it comes to assassins? The Northlanders are not idiots. If even a scalded kid is afraid of fire, it would be more so for a country whose king has been assassinated.”
Lord Justin, a former White Blade Guard, snorted loudly and mumbled something beside him. Thales, who had pretty good hearing, seemed to have heard him say, “Look who’s talking.”
Thales pretended not to hear it and shrugged. “Besides, it’s tragic enough to be put under house arrest in an adversary’s city like a prisoner. Do not strip away one of my very few forms of entertainment left.”
“Tragic? I find that you seem to be enjoying your ‘prison’ life.” Wya rolled his eyes. Now that he had become much closer to the prince, he retorted sarcastically, “Moreover, I have never seen any prisoner in such good terms with the ‘warden’, so much so that she promises you time to routinely get ‘fresh air’ every month as you please.”
Thales laughed. He waved at Wya without turning his head around. “Do not put it so simply. Playing chess outside the palace is the pitiable right I’ve earned from the owner of Dragon Clouds City as well as Count Lisban after putting in a lot of effort and suffering thorough humiliation in the process.”
‘Suffering from humiliation? Putting in much effort?’
Wya’s facial expression instantly became as sour as that of Lord Justin beside him.
‘Are you referring to the countless times you made the archduchess skip class with you and plunge the whole Heroic Spirit Palace into chaos?’
“Must it be today?” Wya’s submissive nature compelled him to suppress the urge to talk back. The attendant then said with a steely look, “If there is no other way, you can play chess in the palaceafter all, you only play against yourself.”
Under King Chapman’s surveillance in the eerie Dragon Clouds City, and before the prince’s status, which was a basic guarantee for someone to be burdened with great responsibilities, what Eckstedtian noble would dare play chess with the sole heir of Constellation unless he or she was looking for trouble or harboring ill intentions?
“Chess is not the point, ‘getting some fresh air’ is, Wya.” Thales continued to walk without stopping, patting the book in his hand with his left palm. “I do not count on people like you, who can come and leave Dragon Clouds City freely, to understand my feelings as a prisoner.”
Wya shook his head in resignation, but just as he was about to speak again
“Alright, Wya, please cut it out.” Thales waved his index finger behind him, ending the conversation coolly. “Learn from Midira. He never talks as much.”
Wya frowned. His skeptical gaze lingered on Midira Ralf, the Phantom Wind Follower.
As expected, the mute Ralf flipped him off emotionlessly without a word.
“I cannot deny that.” Wya sighed in pain. He looked down and rubbed his forehead. “He indeed doesn’t talk much.”
At that very moment, a youthful and loud female voice sounded above them.
“Oh-oh! Young Thales, are you leaving the palace again?”
Alarmed, a number of new guards appointed by the archduchess pointed their bows and arrows skyward. However, the other guards remained calm, seemingly used to it. Wya and Ralf rolled their eyes almost at the same time.
A thump sounded as a petite, hooded figure leaped down from a tree. She placed one hand on her waist and did a thumbs-up with the other hand while she tried to catch up to their pace. “No worries, with my presence, there will be no issues concerning his safety!”
“Why do you always crawl on the branches, Lady Aida?” Wya questioned the hooded lady, who was supposedly the prince’s chief protector.
“The sun’s too bright. Of course I have to stay under the shade!”
Wya lifted his head with a dubious look. He could not figure out how a shade had anything to do with tree branches.
“Sorry, Aida. I’m just going to play chess in Spear District.” Thales sighed, and said in frustration, “I’m not hunting hares in the outskirts of the city.”
Aida placed her hands on the back of her head, walking backwards and facing him. The hood that covered half of her face could not mask the disappointment in her voice. “Can’t you just take two more steps?”
“Two steps to get to the outskirts of the city from Spear Districtdo you mean the two steps of a great dragon?”
Aida said pitifully, “The food they serve in Heroic Spirit Palace is always cold. Don’t you think Kid, think about the steaming hare meat!”
“The cold meals in Heroic Spirit Palace are for your safety. To inspect the food”
“Speaking of safety…” Aida made a fist and lamented bitterly, “As your protector who follows you everywhere you go, I’ve fought a bloody battle. I was heavily wounded and I eventually saved all of you from the enemy as well as Dragon Clouds City Now, I just want some hot meat to eat, but you can’t even grant me this small request”
“Are you talking about a certain lady who rushed into Heroic Spirit Palace with a grease-covered mouth six years ago, only to find that everything was over? Then, she happily asked me for money to settle some bills to prove that she was not a chicken thief?” the prince replied calmly.
The next second, Thales turned on his heels, tilting his head in a practiced manner. He managed to dodge the finger of the angry and embarrassed elf lady, who had stood on her toes and attempted to poke him.
“Hey, hey, hey, you dodged it again! This is the third time!” The lady in the hooded cape froze in her place, lifting her right index finger and trembling. “Why are you so used to this?!”
Thales exhaled, shook his head, and kept walking. He left the mournful and helpless Aida (what happened to the adorable little Thales who could never evade my deadly poke?) as well as the countless soldiers and guards, who also ignored her while they walked forward.
During the past six years, everyone had already gotten used to the peculiarities of the protector. Wya cast her a sympathetic glance, whereas Ralf emitted a soft, quivering whistle as a foil to her current emotional state.
Thales sensed that the unique surge of power under his feet and on the side of his neck had slowly faded. He then felt a hint of weariness in his muscles. He frowned.
It was that familiar surge of power, which helped him evade Aida’s finger earlier.
The grim-faced Thales recalled the words of a man wielding a long, black sword on a certain bloody night many years ago.
‘”This is a cursed power you can only upgrade it through a special method”‘
‘It’s just as he said. It’s been six years since
‘But the effects and price for using it’ Thales clenched his fist, feeling the soreness in his legs and neck.
‘It has stayed the same.’
Thales strode into the stable beside Heroic Spirit Palace, and stomped on a stool to mask his intention of relaxing his leg muscles.
Surrounded by guards on both sides, the prince came to the paddock he was familiar with. A sturdy black horse stuck its head out of the fence, shoving its nose at him affectionately.
“Did you treat her well?” Thales stroke the black horse’s chin, smiling and checking her teeth. He said to the stableman beside him, “You know how Jennie likes to be clean.”
The professional stableman of Heroic Spirit Palace pounded his chest proudly, and promised the prince that his steed had never been healthier.
Jennie, the black horsethe prince’s ride was brought to Dragon Clouds City three years ago by the diplomat group from Constellation Kingdom. She was a good filly, chosen meticulously from hundreds and thousands of steeds. As a hybrid of a Northland war horse and a flatland stallion, she inherited her mother’s fiery temper as well as her father’s powerful leg strength; a lot of riders who tried to tame her had gotten a taste of both.
Surprisingly, Thales, who was particularly untalented in horse riding, got along with Jennie rather well. Even Viscount Kenney, the then-head of the diplomat group was in awe to see that.
Thales chuckled, shoving the book in his hand into a bag on the saddle. He untangled Jennie’s rein, while Wya and the other soldiers looked for their mounts.
“Good morning, honorable Prince Thales.” At that very moment, a gloomy but calm female voice sounded outside the stable. “As an elder in her fifties, I have the obligation to remind you to ensure your own safety during this trip.”
The soldiers and guards cleared a pathway, bowing to the visitor. The Constellatiates frowned in unison.
Thales shut his grinning mouth and sighed with his back facing the lady.
“Morning, Madam Ginghes.” He did not turn his head to look at her. He just carried on with preparations for his departure. “I thought you were supposed to be with the archduchess at this time, assisting Her Grace to present herself to the vassals and nobles in a formal, elegant fashion.”
Ginghes, one of the archduchess’ personal administrators, was a noblewoman in her fifties with the appearance of someone in her thirties. She was dressed plainly and she wore a simple headdress. She was proper, and often had an expression more serious than Wya’s. Her etiquette and language were impeccable.
Allegedly, she was a widow of King Nuven’s vassal. Six years ago, she was invited by Regent Lisban into Heroic Spirit Palace to take care of the archduchess as well as teach her some necessary rules of etiquette. Like Jines Bajkovic of Renaissance Palace, she was an excellent and responsible administratorif only she did not demand the Prince of Constellation, who should have been reading and relaxing as he pleased, to also attend Northland etiquette lessons.
By the way, she was one of the reasons why Thales skipped class with the archduchess for the first time.
Madam Ginghes still spoke with a voice that made one nervous against their will. “On a side note, I have brought messages from some important people.
“I suggest you listen closelyeven if you are from the South.”
Hearing that, Thales stopped what he was doing. He turned around and bowed before her.
Madam Ginghes nodded, feeling satisfied. She stretched her swan-like neck and cleared her throat.
“Her Grace of Dragon Clouds City instructed me to remind you that during the time of her hearing on state affairs,” the administrator said proudly, “the newly-arrived books in the palace”
“Noted, Madam Ginghes.” Thales scratched his ears as he felt his head pound. “Please report back to Her Grace that I will wait until she comes back to open the gift.”
Madam Ginghes narrowed her eyes. Although her expression remained unchanged, Thales knew that she was not pleased with the prince’s interruption.
A few minutes later, the lady spoke again.
The administrator’s attitude softened a little, but she still stared into Thales’ eyes. “Regent Lisban also demanded me to remind you that, during his regency, for your safety and the reputation of Dragon Clouds City, please obey the king’s order”
“Noted, Madam Ginghes.” Thales caressed Jennie’s head, comforting her of the displeasure brought on by her master not freeing her from her constraints. “Please thank His Grace, who still makes time to express his concerns despite being preoccupied with his duties, for me. Tell him that I will not leave Axe District and Spear District.”
Ginghes frowned slightly.
“Commander Soray Nicholas demanded me to remind you to cooperate with Lord Justin and the personal guards, considering the unique circumstance of the council hearing,” The lady’s voice softened, but it still made one feel uneasy. “Also, due to your problematic record of returning after eight at night two months ago
“This time, if you return later than five in the evening, he will withdraw your guards and lock the gatehouse. Meanwhile, he suggests that you to deal with your own problems regarding food and accommodation.”
Thales frowned before he took a deep breath and exhaled.
In his mind, he filtered out Madam Ginghes’ courteous wording. Instead, he visualized the displeased Star Killer with his folded arms and pale, dead face as he said, “You tell him, don’t bother to come back after five. Just let him die out there!”
The prince pushed open the fence, stepped on the stool, and then on the stirrup to mount the horse.
“Alright, Madam Ginghes.” The prince faced the stern-looking administrator as he contemplated his words for a few moments. “Again, please pass my word to that damn to Lord Nicholas”
Administrator Ginghes raised an eyebrow.
“Five in the evening?” Thales sighed and solemnly said, “How about he just go f*ck himself?”
The next second, Thales flung his reins without any hesitation. Amid Jennie’s loud neighs, they sped off!
The prince and his horse darted past the astonished administrator. They did not turn back. His personal guards and soldiers followed, including the resigned Wya, unfazed Ralf, and sulking Aida.
He flung the reins in his hands and dashed out of the plaza in front of Heroic Spirit Palace, heading towards the First Gatehouse.
The trip from Heroic Spirit Palace to Spear District did not take much time. With the Archduchess’ Guards and patrol units cooperating, the traffic on the streets and roadways was smooth.
Thales had been honest about one thing when he teased Wya earlier: this was a hard-earned opportunity to get some fresh airto play chess in Spear District near Heroic Spirit Palace.
On horseback, Thales controlled the rising and falling movements of his body as he watched Jennie’s ears and gleeful steps from behind. His lips curled up.
In the past six years, his horse-riding skills had improved drastically. In terms of culture and civility, Eckstedt may have been a cut below Constellation, but when it came to emphasis on military skills, even the most boorish and low-ranking Northland nobles could beat their Constellatiate counterparts by a mile.
Thales still remembered the outdoor lessons (to put it mildly), which he attended with the archduchess. When Nicholas, the “instructor” found out about his only two studentsThales’ horse riding skills were inadequate due to his “allergy” to equines; the archduchess refused to mount the horse out of fearthe Star Killer got himself some thick ropes. With a look of indifference, he tied the two of them onto the horses and ignited the horses’ tails.
The lesson took place once a day, two hours each time.
The results were quick to show. Ten days later, both he and the girl had become skilled, if not “expert” horse riders amid all the nausea and vomiting.
When this step was over, Nicholas untied them and began to correct their riding posture as well as techniques. He then introduced them to horse-riding equipment.
It was followed by lessons on how to wield weapons then learning to hunt on horseback.
Later on, a former White Blade Guard secretly told Thales that standard horse-riding training for the White Blade Guards was twice the amount of lessons and duration. On top of that, the torch to ignite the horse tail was replaced with a beehive.
Once he thought of this, the prince could not help sighing.
A second later, Thales tugged at the reins in his hand. Then, with a bit of force, he sat back at the same time. His legs glided to the back, forming a relaxed posture.
The intelligent Jennie began to slow down immediately. Once he made sure of this, Thales loosened the reins just in time to imply encouragement, comforting the extremely excited and beautiful filly, craving to vent her energy. She let out a snort of dissatisfaction.
Jennie stomped her hooves on the ground, and few seconds later, she stopped before their destination.
Wya and Lord Justin’s horses also stopped.
Thales was stroking and praising the elated Jennieshe recently picked up the bad habit of whining to get her master’s attention. At the same time, he lamented the fact that equines were just as difficult to deal with as humans.
He recalled the hundreds of cavaliers in Black Sand Region. ‘God knows how much time, and energy was spent on producing just one skilled cavalier unit.’
Thales stepped down from the stirrups, handed the reins to Genard who was behind him, and looked up at his destinationa chess room in Spear District.
Reportedly, it was originally a wonderfully-furnished inn for aristocrats until its owner died in a robbery during the catastrophe that shook Dragon Clouds City six years ago. After that, a fellow Camusian bought the place and renovated it based on the original dcor, turning it into a club exclusively for aristocrats. Business had been good, allegedly.
But surely, there was no way its business could be good in the presentever since the Prince of Constellation selected the place to be the designated spot of his monthly outing three years ago, the chess room was forced to be cleared once a month for him. However, it turned out not to be a bad thing, because business improved instead of declining. Many people had rushed to visit the place where the mysterious prince in the palace ‘had fought’.
Amid the business owner’s flattery, Thales stepped into the chess room. Hundreds of the Archduchess’ Guards and patrol units had thoroughly inspected the place, quarantining it from the neighboring areas.
The prince looked at the empty hall and sighed.
He ambled up the stairs and came to the state room on the first floor. Guards including Justin, Wya and Ralf followed him closely.
Led by the business owner, Thales walked through a door, arriving at the largest state roomit was a spacious, semi-outdoor room. The balcony on the side was facing the street of Spear District. The prince’s seat was on the balcony, from which one could overlook the street.
From the balcony, Thales was not surprised to see countless personal guards and patrols on duty along the street and entrances of some nearby buildings. There were at least two hundred men with arrows on their bows. They patrolled the place routinely, vigilantly guarding it against any unexpected people. Almost every man was eyeing him closely on the balcony.
Considering such an arrangement and atmosphere, on top of the martial law, even if the number of guards were reduced by half, there would not be another tragedy like the one six years ago.
‘Once bitten, twice shy’
The prince shrugged, sat down, and put down his book.
He shifted his gaze to the chessboard and chess pieces before him”The Rise and Fall of the Empire” was still popular in the Western Peninsular and it spread through the peninsular from Alumbia Kingdom nearly a hundred years agothe seat across the table, which was meant for his opponent was empty.
“Alright.” Thales gazed at the red king on the chessboard and cast a rather emotional look on the black as well as red chess pieces in the box while he spoke to Wya and Justin, who were tirelessly inspecting his surroundings, “You may go out. The door will be left open anyway. And there is a balcony. It will be the same if you stand outside the door or on the street.
“As usual, I want to be left alone.”
Behind Wya, Ralf nodded slightly. He put down a tray of examined food and water, grabbed the business owner who intended to fawn over them for a little longer and headed to the ground floor. Aida was nowhere to be seen. She was most probably on the roof.
“Prince Thales,” Lord Justin, the former White Blade Guard said cautiously, “as usual, three hours. If you need anything”
The prince exhaled. “I will let you know first thing.”
Lord Justin nodded and exchanged glances with Wya. Then, together, they strode to the doorway ten meters away behind Thales. They guarded the entrance as they peering at the prince, who was reading and playing chess.
“It’s the same every time.” Thales shook his head and chuckled. He then continued to take out the chess pieces from the chess box before he arranged them on the chessboard one by one.
The state room and street fell back into silence. The only audible sounds were the soldiers’ footsteps and Wya’s muffled grumbles targeted at Ralf behind him.
‘Imperial guards, catapults, shield warriors, pawns’
Just as Thales placed the second last chess piece, and reached for the last one, two fair and spindly fingers with beautifully-shaped nails emerged.
The fingers descended from above, pinching the black king and placing it onto Thales’ chessboard. They positioned it nicely and made sure it was perfectly aligned with the edge of the board before they turned its front to face the red chess pieces.
It was done in a meticulous, precise manner.
Thales raised an eyebrow. He looked up, unsurprised, nodding at the unexpected guest who appeared all of sudden.
It was a friend the prince had not met for a long time. The Air Mystic, Asda Sakern sat down elegantly and quietly in the chair across him. Then, he stared at the chess pieces on the chess board as his lips curled into a faint smile.