Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Although Thales was confused by the strange Royal Court meeting, and the clash between Lisban and Kentvida was suspicious, the second prince did not plan to dwell on them for too long. If there was one thing he learned from that frightful night six years ago, it would be
“So, you came to see me?”
In the Blood Court, Putray, whose evening stroll was interrupted, slowed down to a pace while he turned his gaze at the smiling prince, feeling displeased.
“Yeah.” Thales mimicked Putray’s strides casually. His right hand tapped his saber rhythmically. Ralf and Wya followed behind. “And I hope you can provide me with a good answer.”
Putray gave a cold snort. “Are you counting on a bad-tempered, mean, and adamant old man who has just arrived in Dragon Clouds City two days ago to analyze such a complex situation involving foreign diplomacy as well as internal affairs?”
The noble flicked his pipe with a casual look on his face. “Perhaps you should ask Gilbert. I cannot be of much help”
‘Bad tempered, mean, and adamant old man?’
Thales inhaled deeply.
The prince turned around, walking backwards in front of Putray while lifting his hands before the man.
“I just won’t mention for now, how in the moment of that greatest despair six years ago, that bad-tempered old man managed to find the Secret Intelligence and Nicholas to miraculously get me out of the Secret Room as well as Lampard’s grasps”
“Then, you assisted us in barging into Heroic Spirit Palace, sent the prince into the Hall of Heroes in an ingenious fashion, and even miraculously saved Dragon Clouds City in the end” Behind them, Wya picked up where the prince left off in a show of great teamwork. Even Ralf nodded and grunted behind them.
Thales gave them both a thumbs-up.
Putray grimaced. “‘Won’t mention for now’?”
Thales ignored Putray’s grimace and went on, “I’m just trying to say how that bad-tempered old man had, on the first day of his arrival in Dragon Clouds City, managed to describe to me the shocking secret from the council hearing on state affairs in the secretive and heavily-guarded Hall of Heroes in such a strange, vivid and detailed manner?
“Do you know how furious Lisban was when Kentivda revealed the contents of the council hearing?
“This is not an intel anybody can obtain!”
Putray raised his eyebrows. “I have many friends. That is all.”
“What’s more important is” While walking backwards, Thales lifted his right index finger and pointed at Putray. “…amid the complicated, unpredictable political climate of Dragon Clouds City, you suddenly appear after disappearing for six years?”
Thales leaned forward. His eyes were narrowed. “Are you telling me this is a coincidence, that you are just here to introduce a tutor and deliver a pair of eyeglasses?”
“Ah-ha.” Putray let out an awkward cough. “Speaking of the eyeglasses, you know, they are specially made for the archduchess”
“Wya, Midira, guard the perimeter. Don’t let anyone hear our conversation,” he interrupted Putray, very wisely snuffing the latter’s plan to change the subject.
After the two slightly confused individuals left as ordered, Thales turned around and looked at Putray.
Putray gazed at the prince, feeling a hint of uneasiness in his chest.
“You know, I did not pursue the line of questioning that day.” Thales’ expression changed slightly. “But Wya warned me more than once about it.
“After I was trapped in Dragon Clouds City, you vanished without a word, then reappeared before me after six years.” Thales raised his head.“I don’t distrust you, but why didn’t you come back sooner, or later? Why now?”
Putray’s expression froze.
“Wya inherited his father’s sensitivity.” A few seconds later, Putray sighed and quietly said, “But not his grace.”
Thales ignored him and went on, “Six years ago, when I was first recognized as the prince you just returned to Eternal Star City, and was asked by Gilbert to escort me up north as a vice diplomat.”
Putray stopped walking. He lowered his head, making it so that no one could see his expression.
“As it turned out, Gilbert made the right decision. Not everyone could deal with the White Blade Guards, Secret Room, Black Sand Region, Secret Intelligence, as well as Count Lisban in an isolated city with limited resources, and not be at a disadvantage. In fact, you even dealt with them masterfully and effortlessly.”
Thales stopped walking as well. He shook his head. “Although you are good at keeping a low profile, and perhaps the others do not care as much, I know better than anyone else. A powerless prince would not be able to save the day alone. You had made a decisive retreat, conserved our resources, contacted other parties, rescued the prince, suggested that I launch a counterattack, broke into Heroic Spirit Palace, played a game of wits with Black Sand Region, then turned the tables”
Thales took a deep breath. “Six years ago, the actual savior of Dragon Clouds City was you, who saved it countless times behind the scenes.
“A former civil officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a former viscount who was demoted after the Bloody Year.
“And the attendant of the late king’s eldest son, Midier Jadestar.
“Lord Putray Nemain.”
Thales peered at his face, as though wanting to capture his micro-expressions.
Putray did not speak.
Thales suddenly recalled what Putray said to him in Heroic Spirit Palace about the Bloody Year.
‘”That summer, I made a decision
‘”But that was a mistake
‘”An unforgivable mistake
‘”Because of it, the Northern Territory had met many disasters”‘
“From what I know, these are not things an ordinary person can do.”
Thales’ expression dimmed slightly. “Don’t you think you are a bit of a mystery, Putray?”
At that very second, Putray jolted slightly. His facial expression stiffened as if he had been exposed.
“Be more forthcoming.” Thales observed his reaction and sighed. He then turned around and waited for him to catch up. “Putray, don’t be like the fellows in the Secret Intelligence Department. You know I don’t like them.
“Tell me, what kind of situation am I in now?”
They walked past a giant tree. Wordlessly, Putray knocked the ash out of his pipe with a gloomy look.
Thales stared at him in silence.
“I understand.” At last, Putray let out a faint sigh. His tone of voice shifted back to the time when they first met, “What do you want to know concerning the current situation, you troublesome, young prince?”
Thales frowned slightly, recalling the questions he had in his mind.
“Links.” A few seconds later, the teenage prince glanced around, and whispered cautiously, “I want to know what are the links connecting the important issues on the political stage and the hidden agenda as well as benefits under the tableI believe this is your specialty.”
Putray shoved his pipe back into the tobacco pouch, slightly taken aback. “Links?”
Thales nodded, mimicking the way Lisban placed his hands behind his back as he gazed into the distance.
“Six years ago, Miranda Arunde told me in the prison cell that all the occurrences in Dragon Clouds City may seem unrelated to one another, but there was an important clue linking them all together.” Thales narrowed his eyes. “We later discovered that the clue behind the scenes was called ‘Dragon’s Blood’.”
In that instant, Putray slowed down subconsciously. He began walking one step behind the prince.
“These past few months, since King Chapman introduced the new enfeoffment act, the City of Faraway Prayers has united various parties to denounce the king. Lampard is in a bind due to the condemnation. Meanwhile, I have been criticized as a hostage; the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City has been met with forced marriage arrangements; the internal structure of the Alliance of Freedom has destabilized; and Black Sand Region’s representative is on a diplomatic mission to Dragon Clouds City.” Thales became completely unaware of his surroundings and continued to ponder.
“Although everything came in bits and pieces, and some of them don’t even seem to be connected to each other… I can sense that the current situation is similar to that of six years ago. There is a hidden link between all of them.
“I want to capture it instead of passively waiting for it to come knocking on my door, bringing trouble in its wake.”
Putray’s gaze flickered slightly.
Both of them remained silent for a few seconds.
Eventually, Putray let out a long sigh.
“You know, when we met the day before, I thought you were more cheerful than before.” The skinny man shook his head. “But now I realized that you are, in fact, more anxious, more vigilant, and more nervouscan you really fall asleep at night?”
This time, Thales stopped in his tracks.
“Six years ago, I was brought to my knees once due to carelessness.” The prince’s gaze slowly became focused. “The cost for it was my freedom, and having a king as my enemy.
“The feeling of instability and uncertainty, the helplessness and trepidation of not knowing where my future lies are feelings I don’t want to experience again,” said Thales flatly as he peered at an old and broken slab under his feet.
In that second, Putray felt for the first time, that this fourteen-year-old teenage boy beside him was indeed a Jadestar Prince.
The nobleman shook his head slightly and whispered, “You’ve changed.”
Thales snapped out of his daze and smiled slightly. “Everyone changes, more or less.”
Putray stared at him for a long while.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity to Thales, Putray strode forward. This time, his facial expression was no longer filled with laziness and sarcasm. Instead, it became stern and tense.
“All these years, the Alliance of Freedom’s survival has depended on the City of Faraway Prayers.”
‘Here we go.’
Thales immediately caught up to him, ready to listen.
“As the affiliates of the Great Dragon, they provide Eckstedt the benefits they obtain from the Golden Passage. Meanwhile, through their control over the Golden Passage and the western region of the peninsular, Eckstedt keeps Camus in check,” Putray said seriously, scratching his chin.
“It’s just like our relationship with Sera Dukedom, you know. Constellation has Dragon-Kissed Land as its affiliate. It will have control over the southeast region of the Golden Passage and the shoreline of the Sea of Long Corridors, even have influence on Thornland.”
“I know. Saroma’s teachers have mentioned that Eckstedt fought a war with the Alliance of Freedom twenty years ago.” Thales coughed and waved his palm to discourage the bard’s urge to sing and perform. “Cut to the chase, the main point?”
Putray shot him a displeased look, very annoyed by the fact that Thales had transformed from a young prince who loved listening to stories to a teenager who interrupted him. Nevertheless, he went on, “About the war you mentioned
“More than twenty years ago, the governor-general of the Alliance of Freedom found a new ally. They thought Nuven was preoccupied by the treacherous situation at the Glacial Defensive Line, then assumed he was not in good terms with the City of Faraway Prayers, thus he did not have time for the western region. Therefore, they thought of the possibility of the declaration of independence for the first time.”
Thales was slightly astonished. “New ally?”
“The White Mountain,” he said cautiously.
“Those arrogant White Elves interfered with human affairs, which was uncharacteristic of them. Despite their limited influence, they were not to be disregarded. They supported the Alliance of Freedom’s request to seek independence,” the nobleman said while he strolled. “Of course, some people suspected that the Camians were also behind itthe political marriage between Eckstedt and Vine City of Southern Camus had made a lot of cities in the northern region very nervous.”
Thales was slightly startled. He thought of Marquis Shiles who always wore a smile on his face.
“And what happened next?”
“What happened next?”
Putray emitted a light snort. There was a hint of mockery in his voice. “The overconfident governor-general of the Alliance detained the goods meant to be delivered to Eckstedt as tribute, and wrote a carefully-worded but firm letter requesting Eckstedt to reevaluate the diplomatic relation between both parties.
“In spite of the tension between the City of Faraway Prayers and Dragon Clouds City, being the supreme ruler of the Nation of the Great Dragon, King Nuven did not gloat, or reply to the letter to start an argument over trivial matters.” Putray made a grim face. “He released enlistment orders without hesitation. The army of Dragon Clouds City traveled a long way to meet the soldiers of the City of Faraway Prayers and Defense City. They then advanced towards the Alliance of Freedom.”
Thales listened to the past of the Alliance of Freedom and Eckstedt quietly, quickly linking the details not recorded in history books or mentioned during lessons to the current situation.
“In the end, twenty thousand Eckstedtian soldiers trampled every city gate and chevaux de fries of Fort Libert. Prince Soria’s brigade even entered White Mountain and threatened the senate council of the White Elves.
“They colored the Good Flow River with the blood and severed heads of their enemies,” as Putray said that, he became slightly emotional, as though he had witnessed the event himself. “Allegedly, even after two years, the aristocrats of Good Flow City did not dare consume or use the water from the upstream of the Alliance of Freedom. The price of the famous fresh water produce in Good Flow River plummeted as a result.
“That year, King Nuven reinstated the Nation of the Great Dragon’s absolute dominance at the end of the Golden Passage, intimidating the small countries and cities, which got carried away in times of peace. He told the Alliance of Freedom with blood that there was no friendship between a Great Dragon and mere ants.”
“Nuven,” Thales mumbled, thinking of the late king with matchless power as well as influence, and his tragic end. “Him again.”
“King Nuven’s thirty-year reign had shaken the Western Peninsular, not without reason,” Putray whispered and sighed. “Plus, not every king could fulfill his promise: ‘standing at the forefront of the kingdom.’ Since then, the Roknee Family of the City of Faraway Prayers’ rebellious attitude towards Dragon Clouds City changed. Even the Camians became more well-behaved. Good Flow City even humbled themselves. The marquis of said city himself traveled to Northland to offer an apology with a smile.'”
A thought appeared in Thales’ head.
“Twenty years ago, as the king, the Archduke of Dragon Clouds City deployed his army to support the City of Faraway Prayers in the name of Eckstedt.”
The prince landed a punch in his palm. “So, now when the Alliance of Freedom shows signs of instability, Lisban mentions that Roknee has to make a choice”
Thales recalled what Regent Lisban said in the hall. “If the City of Faraway Prayers intends to receive the nation-wide support led by the king like they used to, Archduke Roknee has to give in to the king, give up on the movement to call for the denouncement of the king among the nobles”
The skinny nobleman gave a light snort.
“Indeed. This is a good plan. In the name of the king and Eckstedt’s commitment to uphold righteousness, he can take away the archdukes’ initiative to fight for the country and place it in the hand of Black Sand Region.” Putray nodded. “I can imagine, with King Chapman’s help, Roknee”
But Thales shook his head firmly.
“The Archduke Roknee I know will not choose to compromise with Lampard.” The ferocious faces of Lampard and Roknee surfaced as the tense scene in which they pointed their weapons at each other in the hall surfaced in Thales’ mind. “He would rather live up to his beliefs amid bloodshed and fire, fighting against the king until the end of time.”
‘Besides,’ Thales thought, ‘nowadays, the tension between King Chapman and the archdukes is far more intense than the conflict between King Nuven and the archdukes in the past.’
Putray let out a laugh. “That makes things even more interesting.”
They walked up the stairway leading to the prince’s bedroom, gazing at a damaged tree root, which had extended to the area beneath their feet.
“If Roknee turns down the king’s ‘help’, he will have to face the internal dispute of the Alliance of Freedom alone. If necessary, he will even need to deploy forces alone to reinstate the influence of the Nation of the Great Dragon Nation.
“If the Alliance of Freedom escapes Eckstedt’s control, losing a large sum of income will be a small matter for the City of Faraway Prayers, but Archduke Roknee’s reputation will definitely suffer horribly. Neither the City of Faraway Prayers suffering humiliation nor Eckstedt being disgraced spell good news to him.”
Thales tried to recall the geography of the western region of Eckstedt. “Dealing with the Alliance of Freedom alone Are the City of Faraway Prayers and Roknee capable of doing that?”
“Then, it is the time to test the City of Faraway Prayers and Archduke Roknee’s capability to influence his vassals.” Putray seemed to be recalling something. “I think even if the process isn’t going to be as smooth as the cooperation between the three archdukes twenty years ago, it is not too difficult for the ever-vigilant City of Faraway Prayers to deal with the tiny Alliance of Freedom, the neighboring desert, and the Golden Passage.”
“But the problem is, once all his attention is shifted towards the internal dispute, even if Roknee continues to reach out to the other nobles, his efforts to denounce the king will be affected.”
“So, Regent Lisban’s suspicions are legitimate. Lampard is involved in the internal dispute of the Alliance of Freedom. He could even be the person behind all of this,” the prince said flatly. “He aims to stop the approaching footsteps of Archduke Roknee and the City of Faraway Prayers, since they are in their own trouble, and save Black Sand Region from being burned by nation-wide denouncement.”
Putray raised his eyebrow. “Who knows?”
Thales stopped in his tracks with a confused look. “Nonetheless, I still cannot figure this out. If this is just a game of wits between the common-elected king and Archduke Roknee, why did King Chapman send Kentivda to Dragon Clouds City? Why did Lisban say that Dragon Clouds City has been delivered into the eye of the storm?
“Why Dragon Clouds City?”
Putray stopped walking as well. A faint smile appeared on his lips and a strange glow gleamed in his eyes.
“You’ve found the key to this matter, young prince.”
Thales raised his eyebrows.