Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
“Never underestimate the Northlanders’ courage.”
This was what Putray said to Thales six years ago after they narrowly escaped death. At the time, the prince had firmly agreed.
But at this moment, as he stared at King Chapman who sat in the carriage, as immovable as a rock, Thales realized with horror that he still did not understand the weight of those words.
King Chapman coldly stared at Thales, his gaze a surveying one… just like when they first met six years ago.
In the past six years, Thales had imagined this hundreds of times: The terrifying king would stand on the highest point of Black Sand City, his deep, chilling gaze would stare in the direction of Dragon Clouds City, and his unhurried voicewould issue dangerous commands against the Prince ofConstellation. Even if Thales did rack his brains and exhaust his mind, he would not had been able to imagine that they would meet again in such a way after six years.
“You” Thales widened his eyes, unable to believe the sight before him. “Are you crazy?”
King Chapman did not reply, his gaze was still very chilly. Thales was subconsciously surveying his surroundings.
“Don’t worry.” King Chapman’s cold and worn voice arose. “There’s only you and me here.”
There was only a small window in the dark carriage, and it was made from a gray, one-way, Crystal Drop glass.
The Archduchess’ Guards and the prince’s own guards, led by Justin, were keeping watch around the carriage. They surrounded Black Sand Region’s diplomat group which consisted of ten or more soldiers.
Thales stopped looking around. He inhaled deeply and forced himself to calm down and think.
‘What’s going on? Lampard himself came to Dragon Clouds City? Most importantly’
Thales had unwittingly become drenched in cold sweat as he pinned his gaze on King Chapman.
‘All of Eckstedt don’t know that the ruler of their entire kingdom is now concealing his identity and hiding among this tiny diplomat group led by Viscount Kentvida. It also means that’
The prince gulped and said through gritted teeth, “Do you know what happened to the previous overly-confident and arrogant Common-Elected King of Eckstedt who left his heavy protection and went into dangerous territory?”
Having overcome his initial shock, he scowled and adjusted his tone so that it sounded natural.
“Let me give you a hint. His name starts with an N.”
King Chapman snorted softly. His emotions were indecipherable.
“Of course,I know him. I know him too well. Unlike you who only knew him for one fleeting day, I grew up hearing stories about him and looking up to his image.”
Thales furrowed his brow a little. He remembered that unforgettable king.
“So I knew at the time that, if he didn’t do as such, the outcome would have been much worse,” the new king said flatly.
Thales took in a deep breath. Mindful of the threat Lampard posed, he decided not to make small talk anymore and went straight into the topic.
Thales leaned his back on the carriage seat and said calmly, “All I have to do now is to shout and the renowned Chapman the First will be dead and gone, like melting slow in early spring, even the smallest trace will be gone. Both Kentvida and Kroesch wouldn’t be able to save you.”
He narrowed his eyes and tried his best to observe the king’s expression under the dim lighting. “And Regent Lisban will probably happily wipe his tears while he informs everyone in the kingdom that Black Sand Region’s diplomat group was unfortunately ambushed on their way back, and that Dragon Clouds City expresses deep regret regarding that”
The king placed his hand on his sword sheath.
Following the advice Nicholas, Wya, and the others constantly gave him over the past six years, Thales fixed his gaze on the top of Lampard’s shoulder. At the same time, intentionally or not, he inched his hand back towards his thigh, nearer to the JC dagger at his waist.
‘In such a small and crowded carriage, the longsword would only be a constraining burden. Besides’
Thales shot a glance at the carriage door through the corner of his eye. ‘As soon as I exit the carriage, it will be my win.’
However, the scenario he imagined did not happen.
King Chapman inched a little forward. He stared straight at Thales with his sharp, cold eyes while staying extremely close to Thales, causing the latter to feel greatly pressured.
“Indeed.” The king nodded slowly. “There is nothing the archdukes of this kingdom desire more than me dying an obscure death here, without anyone knowing; without the ability to hold anyone accountable; without no one coming to interfere with my death; and without bringing about consequences that can’t be solved due to my death is there?”
King Chapman softly tapped the old sword sheath between his knees.
*Thud, thud, thud.*
“Dragon Clouds City will probably be able to relax, and their old grudge against me which they had no way of resolving would be resolved. The threat that loomed close to them will be gone forever.
“All the archdukes who participated in that King Selection Congress like Roknee and Lecco will be freed from their heavy shackles and burdens.
“The fight between a certain rebellious and unorthodox king and the archduke will end. And Eckstedt, having been unstable for the past six years, will go back to how it used to be.”
*Thud, thud, thud.*
The king squinted his eyes a little, as though he wanted to see Thales more clearly. He slowed down the rate of his speech and enunciated each word, “And that special Prince of Constellation can stop worrying about his most dangerous enemy.”
Thales’ Adam’s apple bobbed slightly. The teenage prince stared at his enemy, hardly showing any sign of weakness.
King Chapman suddenly stopped tapping his sword sheath. His expression turned cold abruptly.
‘F*ck. I knew the “but” was coming.’
Thales snorted to himself. He recalled how he always used this word to poke fun at a certain young girl, putting a damper on her at her happiest moments and making her leave angrily. He could not help but think of a certain phrase: Karma is a b*tch.
“If you do that, even if the self-proclaimed genius prince gets a check in this match, he’ll still lose the game in the end,” the king said coldly, “You’ll be utterly defeated. You and that archduchess of yours.”
Thales froze for amoment. His mind was filled with doubt as he clenched his fists a little.
‘What? Me and the archduchess? Utterly defeated?’
“Do you want to see the archduchess’ head being pierced with a longspear and erected on the walls of Dragon Clouds City? Then shout for help all you want and let me die in a skirmish here. Don’t hesitate at all,” the king said plainly.
In that moment, the air in the carriage became thick and bitter.
Thales bit down hard on his lower lip and took in a forceful breath. “Lampard, what do you mean? What in the world do you want?”
The prince gritted his teeth. Thales saw that the unsmiling Lampard was curling up the side of his lips, which was a rare sight from him.
“It seems that you have been living well in Dragon Clouds City for the past six years.” King Chapman leaned back again. He looked indifferent. “My people reported to me every year that the archduchess and the prince have a very close relationship, almost like lovers.”
Stung, Thales furrowed his eyebrows. He could not retort.
‘Saroma…’ The second prince suddenly latched on to the crucial point. ‘Why did he mention Saroma?’
“As for myself? In these six years as Eckstedt’s common-elected king, I felt like a fisherman catching fish on a frozen sea, filled with fear as I took each and every step carefully.” King Chapman seemed rather emotional as he stared outside the carriage. “Thinking about how to catch all these despicable fish to fill my stomach, and at the same time trying hard not to become their food in the water.”
“From what I can see right now, you’re doing quite well,” Thales answered resentfully. “Otherwise, at a time when the whole kingdom is denouncing you, you wouldn’t have had the mood to find me in Dragon Clouds City to reminisce about the past. By the way, nice job with that gimmick regarding the Alliance of Freedom. You really put the City of Faraway Prayers and Dragon Clouds City in a tough spot.”
King Chapman chuckled, then snorted coldly.
“Thales, that’s just what it looks like on the surface. You know this better than anyone else.” The king had tacitly admitted to Thales’ accusation. He said calmly, “It’s been six years, but the ideal Eckstedt is moving further and further away from me.”
The Prince of Constellation went still for a moment.
“Thales, the ‘errand’ you gave me six years ago…” The king lifted his right hand and pointed at his temple. The crown had left a light mark there. “Is not an easy one.
“Almost all the archdukes see me as an enemy, not to mention the four archdukes who were present that day. The other three archdukes who were not able to participate in the King Selection Congress are also full of complaints.
“I faced many challenges while trying to implement my ruling. Even within Black Sand Region, there is much resistance.
“Roknee and Lecco travel around to condemn the king’s acts of injustice. My vassals are filled with accumulated resentment and are eager to cause trouble.”
King Chapman sighed softly.
“‘King slayer’.” The king lowered his head and stared at his hand-and-a-half sword. “This is the title they give me. Even the lowliest commoner ridicules me with this, even though my laws can increase their harvests by threefold; even though my orders will allow them to avoid being exploited by tax collectors, or oppressed by suzerains; even though everything I do is so that these humble and lowly people can also have a future”
The king stopped talking. He ran his fingers gently over his hand-and-a-half sword, his gaze grew colder.
“They are still against me. Maybe one day, my authority, hidden by the crown, will be no more. And the edicts I signed and issued will become waste paper. As for myself, perhaps I’ll starve to death in a besieged and isolated city.” King Chapman shook his head with a profound gaze. “I don’t know.”
“That’s because you’re trying to confer titles of nobility through a new standard, changing the current dynamics in the division of power and thus affecting everyone’s future.
“You’re trying to make a group of people, who are used to the present and the past, believe that an unfamiliar future will be even better. And you’re trying to make another group of people give up what they’re enjoying right now.
“Even in a time when there is ample wealth and food, and when the conditions to obtain all this wealth and food are at its most mature, it’s something that’s very hard to imagine for most people.” The prince shook his head.
“And you want to achieve in six years what Mindis the Third wasn’t able to finish in over a hundred years? This is reality, not a novel.” Thales raised his head and looked solemnly at the man who was once known as Lampard, and now as King Chapman. “This is a price you must pay.”
Silence fell upon the carriage. King Chapman fixed his gaze on Thales.
They stared into each other’s eyes for a whole five seconds until the king began to laugh softly.
“See, I knew finding you was the right choice. You are one of the few people who can understand me.” King Chapman’s smile was very cold, unknowingly making Thales feel anxious. This made the teenager realize that, because of the new form of address, the Archduke of Black Sand Region’s stateliness grew with each passing day.
“Not everyone can partake in this kind of conversation. Not even those who are as intelligent as Lhasa.”
Sneering, Thales shook his head.
“Lampard, before I get impatient and yell for the people outside, stop with the nonsense.” The prince’s tone became hard. “Why did you come find me? What do you mean by those words just now? What do you mean ‘lose the match in the end’?”
King Chapman did not immediately answer. The expression on his progressively worn face was a combination of mischief and sarcasm.
“Take a guess, Thales,” the king said flatly. “Just like in the past, aren’t you the best at this?”
Looking at the king’s calm and unhurried manner, born from his demeanor of having arrived prepared for this entire situation, Thales grew more agitated. He tried very hard to convince himself not to be impulsive.
‘Damn it. What’s making him so bold? What is he counting on? No. No matter what he wants’
“It’s plain to see that the Alliance of Freedom is not enough to hinder the City of Faraway Prayers and Dragon Clouds City.” Thales seemed deep in thought as he leaned against the leather carriage seat. “To save yourself from this situation where the public is denouncing you, you’ll need to divert their attention from you so you want to start with Dragon Clouds City.
“I reckon the archduchess’ marriage? You want to use her so that Dragon Clouds City, your greatest threat, will fall from internal strife?”
Thales raised his head coolly. “When there’s no longer any outside support, the indignation and discontent of Black Sand Region’s vassals can easily be eradicated. Your laws can then be implemented without obstacle.”
King Chapman’s expression remained the same. He neither agreed nor disagreed to what Thales said. Unexpectedly to Thales, the king pushed the hand-and-a-half sword between his knees aside and freed his hands.
“Speaking of Archduchess Walton, I have a question.”
Chapman Lampard placed his elbows on his knees. He then asked with a relaxed expression and a totally defenseless stance. “That year, how did Nuven make you an ally who willingly stood at Dragon Clouds City’s side?”
Thales shook his head brusquely. “He didn’t make me an ally, you were the one who forced me to stand on Dragon Clouds City’s side. Someone wanted to put the blame on the Prince of Constellation to achieve the great ambitions he had for the kingdom. But in the end, he became the victim of his own evil deeds.”
The moment he said that, Thales saw with satisfaction that King Chapman’s once calm and composed expression became much more unpleasant.
The king ignored his sarcasm, but Thales could feel that Lampard’s tone had turned colder. “I reckon that he gave you a promise An engagement, right?”
“I know that, under the circumstances where his bloodline was in danger of coming to an end, Nuven must have promised to marry his granddaughter to you in exchange for protection from Constellation’s future king.”
Thales subconsciously clenched his fists again.
“That’s why you care so much about the archduchess’ marriage, right?”
King Chapman’s speech was getting faster and Thales felt even more pressured.
“You think of her as your fianc, someone you have in your grasp. An important chess piece for Constellation to control Eckstedt. But now, she might be”
Still clenching his fists, Thales chuckled.
“Lampard, I really admire your imagination.” The prince snorted and shook his head. “Do you really think that the heir to the throne of Constellation can get married to Eckstedt’s Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City?”
The king smiled faintly.
“It could happen if King Nuven was still alive,” Chapman the First said softly, “Still, my uncle made quite a good deal. Even after he died in that accident, the late king’s gift brought about an unexpected recompense. Under the illumination of Constellation, the Dragon Spear Family survived amid unpredictable storms and currents, a complete stroke of luck for them.
“Sparing no effort, you broke conventions and supported her in becoming archduchess. These past six years, with Lisban and the others, you made every attempt to help consolidate her position, doing all you could to maintain Dragon Clouds City’s stability from the earth-shattering disaster of King Nuven’s death.”
In the carriage, the king slowly inched forward and stared oppressively at the heir to Constellation. Enunciating each word, Lampard spoke in a manner that shook Thales to his core.
“Even though you knew that the young girl sitting on the archduchess’ throne…
“…does not have the Walton Family’s blood at all.”
At that moment, the muscles in Thales’ entire body tightened altogether.
‘He knows He knows?!’
Usually adept in thinking and remaining calm when he handled matters, there had never been a moment when Thales desired immediate hostility and to solve the problem at hand with violence.
The sight of a helpless and crying Little Rascal from that year appeared in Thales’ mind. He had the urge to grab his dagger and yell for the guards outside the carriage.
‘Chapman Lampard Kill him I just have to kill him. Then, this secret will forever’
The prince took a deep breath. The Sin of Hell’s River surged in his body, but it did not rush to his limbs. Instead, it went to his brain.
Under the effect of the Sin of Hell’s River, the last remaining bit of rationality returned to Thales’ mind. It was like a traveller clinging to the edge of a cliff while shouting with all his might for Thales to calm down.
The opponent came here prepared.
Thales showed an expression that was a combination of bewilderment and surprise. “Saroma? She’s not from the Walton Family bloodline?”
Under Chapman’s gaze, the prince took two deep breaths, as though digesting the information.
A few seconds later, Thales said with an extremely disdainful look, “Hah, are you slandering the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City with lies to achieve your goal? I thought you haven’t stooped down to that level yet.” The prince shook his head scornfully.
Staring at Thales’ expression, King Chapman sighed.
“Do you really not know? Or are you just pretending to be the victim who’s hearing this horrifying truth for the first time?” King Chapman took in a breath. His gaze was terrifying.
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe you.”
Thales’ gaze froze.
“You know, I was also quite surprised at first, but Madam Calshan has always been rather convincing.” The king shook his head, his countenance was frosty. “The Secret Room gave me plenty of information, such as the fact that there are no more direct descendents of the Walton Family. The little girl with the Walton Family name right now is just a replacement.”
Thales did not move, but his heart was already beginning to stir.
‘Shit… The Secret Room’.
Thales recalled the conversation between Nicholas and the Red Witch he had eavesdropped on that year while escaping from the secret passage at the gatehouse. He could not help but shudder.
‘Yes, the Red Witch, she knows about Little Rascal’s true identity!’
The king snorted coldly and softly. “There’s no point in hiding it anymore. Let’s talk, frankly and sincerely.”
Thales’ heart slowly tensed up. ‘Regardless of what method Nicholas had used to make Calshan let us go that year, it’s obvious that’
Thales slowly raised his head and stared at the king.
‘Nicholas’ method is no longer effective.
‘Lampard knows from the Red Witch? Damn it.’
“If you insist on refusing to talk to me, I’ll be very curious about what will happen once her identity is disclosed,” the king said nonchalantly. Chapman’s words were like a dose of lethal poison spreading through Thales’ heart.
“Think about it: To assume the title as Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City and deceive all of Eckstedt in front of the Bright Moon Goddess’ spokesperson, and under the jurisdiction of the Joint Ruling Pledge”
Thales slowly clenched his fists and gulped. He had on a calm facade, but his actual feelings were far from what he appeared.
‘This is Saroma’s greatest weakness. This is Chapman Lampard’s objective? To come to me with this secret? Damn him!’
Thales’ heart was beating at a rapidly growing rate. It was almost out of control.
In the next moment, Thales closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. King Chapman observed the Prince of Constellation’s expression with considerable interest.
But the king was disappointed: although the prince was not as calm as usual, his expression had not changed.
Thales opened his eyes and inhaled deeply. His expression was a taunting one. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
‘Think, Thales. Think!
‘If the Red Witch told Lampard about this a long time ago, why did he wait six years to suddenly appear in front of me and reveal this bargaining chip? Why didn’t he hold on to this critical evidence earlier and force Dragon Clouds City to stand with him? This means that’
Thales snorted coldly. “I really don’t understand. Will fabricating rumors, questioning Saroma’s bloodline, and undermining the legitimacy of the archduchess really bring you any benefit? Or do you think that I will give in to your meaningless threats and submissively obey your orders?”
The king arched an eyebrow. There seemed to be a hint of praise in his eyes.
“Just like six years ago, you’re still so calm and hard to deal with, aren’t you?” King Chapman said in a thought-provoking tone. “Even though it has come to this, you’re still struggling to find the slightest possibility, hoping that I’m just making an empty show of strength?”
The king looked confident that he had the upper hand over Thales. He had a calm expression.
“Then, what are you still waiting for? If you really don’t want to solve this issue together with me in a satisfactory manner, if you’re really so strong-willed, confident and unworried, then why don’t you do as you said and let the people outsidelet all of Dragon Clouds Citykill me? Isn’t this what all of you have always looked forward to?”
The prince instinctively looked outside the carriage. Lampard continued speaking slowly.
“If you’re really not worried that, along with my death, everyone will learn of the archduchess’ true identity, and that the rumors regarding her faking her bloodline will spread and cause a lot of noise…”
King Chapman’s sneer sent a chill down Thales’ spine. “When she has no choice but to stand on the altar before every Eckstedtian and go through the Bloodline Ceremony, and in the end face a sorrowful demise”
Thales said nothing, but his heart started to beat faster and faster.
“Perhaps at that time, you’ll remember today; you’ll remember how the confident and determined Prince of Constellation sent his little girlfriend to the gallows and listened as her black-and-blue face gives one last painful moan. Oh, it might be the stake instead. Death by hanging is much too lenient.”
At that moment, Saroma’s tearful eyes appeared in Thales’ mind. He clenched his fists without realizing it.
“Of course, can you still guess what will happen to the Prince of Constellation who conspired to deceive the Northlanders and seized Dragon Clouds City together with her?”
Like a statue that is not amenable to reason, the king spoke in that endless chill in the air around them, his words carried a pure, oppressive power. “Go ahead. If you really think that there’s no point for this conversation to continue, then let me perish together with that archduchess of yours. The choice is in your hands, here and now. All it takes is one single thought.”
Thales closed his eyes once again, he did not want his opponent to detect anything in his gaze.
‘This is really bad.’
King Chapman raised his voice, as if he was interrogating him and persecuting him. It was as if there was a terrifying ball of flames burning in his eyes. “Choose!”
Thales snapped wide open. He instinctively wanted to open his mouth and shout. But when the words were at the tip of his tongue, he stopped himself forcefully.
King Chapman stared at him coldly without saying a word.
There were several moments where Thales moved his lips, but he did not manage to say a single word. He felt as if there was a weight worth a ton hanging from his tongue.
Cold sweat dripped down his forehead.
Several seconds later, Thales sucked in a deep breath before King Chapman.
‘No. You can’t.’
With a heavy heart, Thales said these words to himself quietly, ‘You can’t do it You can’t make the decision that can cause Saroma to be exposed to danger while she is in a foreign land.’
In the end, Thales unfurled his fists and the prince’s face became one of exhaustion and sullenness. The king narrowed his eyes and watched the second prince raise his head again with a look full of interest.
‘Calm down, Thales. All your exits are blocked off. Right now, you must face your greatest enemy, Chapman Lampard, head on. Just like how you did before.’
Thales muttered quietly in his heart. ‘But the game hasn’t ended; I haven’t been checkmated. Lampard thinks he has the trump card and that he has made a splendid move, but’
“You have been grumbling just now about your current situation all this while, Your Majesty, though it did make me think of something very interesting.”
The king frowned.
“Let me guess. Your dissenters can go along so ‘peacefully’ right now because they lack a good reason to circumnavigate the Joint Ruling Pledge and completely turn against you and pull you down from your throne with their blades.” In the calmest voice possible, Thales spoke as though he was talking to himself, and as though nothing had happened.
“A fair word of warning, Your Majesty. Years ago, you were chosen as the next common-elected king from among six of you during the King Selection Congress.” Thales shrugged in a relaxed manner and said, “That is why, if one of the archdukes’ votes is proven invalid, and if she has no right to take part in the king selection”
King Chapman’s expression changed.
The prince voiced his counterattack indifferently, “Then, would the throne you obtained in the past due to this one difference in vote still be considered legal, reasonable, and rightful? What do you think?”
The prince’s sharp and chillingly aggressive gaze met squarely with the king’s. “King Chapman, the man who ascended the throne during the incredibly heated King Selection Congress, and who ruled Eckstedt for a total of six years…”
In the next second, King Chapman looked as if he had been struck a fatal blow. He clenched his fists tightly. His gaze had regained the cold and fierce glare Thales was familiar with, just like the Archduke Lampard of the past.
“Now, do you still intend to use those boring rumors as blackmail and force me to do things, King Chapman?”
The carriage descended into a suffocating silence again, until one side decided to break it.
“Ha ha ha ha!” The corners of the king’s lips curled up, and he laughed loudly.
King Chapman tapped his knees gently. When he stared at Thales, it was as if he was looking at a bird who could not escape its net.
“So the girl who is sitting in Heroic Spirit Palace is indeed not of true Walton blood, yes?” Lampard said coldly.
During that moment, Thales sucked in a deep breath and remembered what happened just now.
“Then if that is the case, the Red Witch” Thales spoke while feeling mentally and physically exhausted, “The Red Witch did not tell you anything, right?”
‘As expected, he was just putting on a show But even so, you can’t take any risks, Thales, you can’t.’
When King Chapman saw the prince’s reaction, he snorted coldly. “About the status of the new Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City? Of course not.”
The king placed his hand-and-a-half sword on his knees again, then spoke in a cold voice that shattered all Thales’ hopes. “She did not even utter a single word.”
Lampard narrowed his eyes marginally, and the light shining from his eyes was incredibly fierce and dangerous. “Up to the moment just now, I was watching your reaction.”
Thales lowered his head and gritted his teeth.
“You do not dare take risks, Thales,” King Chapman said fiercely, “You would rather use various interests to corner me and negotiate with me rather than take the gamble. You did not want to bet that I did not know this secret, and that I was only testing you, correct?”
The prince did not speak. His gaze was fixed on the floor in the carriage.
The king who now had ticket to victory in his grasp, placed his hands on his hand-and-a-half sword again.
“Thank you, Thales.” He quirked his lips upwards, and his words were filled with a profound meaning. “My dear friend.”
In the next second, Thales sighed long and hard.
…He had lost this gamble.