Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
When the first ray of sunlight from the east crept its way onto the windowsill and into the room, Thales awoke.
Just like the past six years, he took a deep breath, rose from the ground, stretched his aching back, and tossed his pillow and blanket back onto the bed.
The ancient tree still looked stately in the court outside the window. Thales heard from the chatter of the servants that the tree had been there probably even before the founding of Eckstedt.
There were a few Constellatiate soldiers yawning, and the Northlanders were changing shifts outside the walls. It was still the same old arrangement: one-third of the Archduchess’ Guards, two-thirds of the palace guards.
…Guarding him securely.
After washing up, Thales sighed. He lifted his head from the washing bowl, rubbed his face, and took a look at his surroundings once more.
His vision swept over the books on the table, the sword and shield on the rack, and everything in the room. He then let out a breath and shook his head, as if he was free of his burdens.
Thales, like always, tied his own boots and buckled up his belt. His movements were very slow and meticulous. It was as though he was doing something sacred. He even spent more time than usual straightening his collar and tightening his sleeves.
He rearranged some of his important belongings: A perpetually sharp JC dagger at his back; a piece of black cloth that he always brought with him to cover his breath; the fangs bracelet that came to him from the Night Queen six years ago, after he experienced much misfortune; a lightweight palace map that hid terrifying secrets handed from King Nuven; and a poorly drawn sketch of a young girl by an anonymous person on a piece of unusual paper from Mindis Hall.
Thales discreetly slipped the paper into the map and rolled it into a scroll. He then tied it to the bracelet with the black cloth, and tucked it into his pocket.
‘Today. It’s today.’
A knock came from the door. The prince took a deep breath.
The door opened. Putray walked into the room biting his pipe, and said smilingly, “How early of you to be awake.”
The prince glanced at him but remained quiet. He just walked to the window and gazed at the scenery outside.
“I believe you’ve already known that the last immediate count arrived at Dragon Clouds City last night,” Putray groaned softly, “So, according to”
Thales nodded his head, and he spoke in a voice that contained not even a tinge of anxiety, “I know, since all of the vassals are here, the hearing shall commence today.”
‘Yes, it was today.’
He looked at the familiar yet strange scenery on the court, moved by a mixture of feelings. “How’s the diplomat group from the City of Faraway Prayers?”
“There’s no news yet.”
“How about Black Sand Region?”
“It seems they wished to listen to the discussions in the hearing, but they were barred at the palace gates.”
“What is the situation in Heroic Spirit Palace?”
“The usual. It’s just that there are more guards on patrol.”
Thales nodded his head. It was always calm before the storm. The prince’s line of sight scanned over the entire Blood Court.
This was the place where he lived in solitude for two years. It was the beginning of him being banished to this forsaken place since when the archduchess was young until she grew up.
According to Joseph, the child working in the scullery, this was once a room for some Dragon Clouds City’s archduke to recover from his illness. During that time, when he was so sick that nothing could be done to heal him, he decidedly passed down his title to his heir. As for the archduke himself, he walked into this forsaken court, then waited in loneliness for the day he heard the bell chimes of the ferryman from Hell’s River.
Since then, the Blood Court became a cursed place in Heroic Spirit Palace.
Thales silently looked at the appallingly dilapidated scenery in the court, but at that moment, a sense of closeness rose inside him, one that he had never experienced before in this place.
The prince chuckled.
“What do you think of Dragon Clouds City?” Thales suddenly asked.
Putray raised his eyebrows somewhat as he stood behind him. It seemed like he was shocked by what the prince had asked.
“Dragon Clouds City…? A city,” said the haggard, old man in a voice completely void of intonation while he blew out a puff smoke. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
‘Nothing more, nothing less?’
“She has stood here for more than a thousand of years.” Thales looked at the distant gatehouses which could vaguely be seen, then shook his head. “For the past one thousand of years, countless people came and went from it, lived and died in it.”
Kings, archdukes, soldiers, nobles, peasants…even dragons.
“But she has always stood here, regardless of who was above her, regardless of who reigned over her, and regardless of who was buried here.” Thales heaved a long sigh. “She witnessed everything… for thousands of years.”
Six years ago, the Prince of Constellation set foot onto this land, and nearly ignited the flames of war between two countries.
Six years ago, the Blood Calamity came rampaging in the dark of night, reaping lives and destroying the city while terrifying sounds roared in the air.
It was also six years ago when the Queen of the Sky descended from above. Under the dragon’s deafening roars, everything was burned.
And again, it was six years ago when the Great Dragon’s blood was spilled onto the land, that great Born King was murdered, and his murderer stepped on his bones, wore the crown while blood still dripped from it.
But she, Dragon Clouds City, was still here, and continued to witness numerous historical accounts…
…like the last thousand years.
The man who stood behind Thales did not reply, all he did was blow a perfect ring of smoke.
Thales snapped out of his contemplation. His expression changed slightly. “What?”
Putray sneered softly, and he looked rather relaxed. “If you trace back to Arunde Castle during the era of the Ancient Empire, then the history of Dragon Clouds City would be two thousand years old.”
Thales turned, and looked at him with a puzzled expression.
“Three thousand years if you consider the ruins of the Northern Royal City during the age of feudal kings,” said the man smoking his pipe with a teasing smile on his face.“But if it’s the broken walls during the uncivilized periodor during the period of time where the orcs’ tents were made from beast hideDragon Clouds City must have been around since four thousand years ago…” Putray gestured to the faded symbol of Cloud Dragon Spear by jutting his bottom lip in its direction. “If we go further up, we can go up to a few ten thousand years.”
Thales raised his eyebrows.
“But this piece of land, Dragon Clouds City, is still here.” Putray shook his head, his words contained a hint of disapproval. “And are you going to pray once for every single dead ant in the soil beneath your feet, be in awe of the history of Dragon Clouds City? Forget it, because to Dragon Clouds City, you’re nothing.”
The prince was rendered speechless. Thales turned away, he let out a sigh of resignation.
“Putray…” The prince shook his head mockingly. “You are definitely second to none when it comes to being a wet blanket.”
Thales forced down his feelings of sentimentality, turned around, and walked to the door. Putray smiled softly as he watched the prince’s back, and breathed out gently.
“I first came to Dragon Clouds City forty-three years ago.”
Thales came to an abrupt stop.
Putray’s voice continued to travel into Thales’ ears. His voice seemed drawn out, “That’s year 635, King Kahn had passed away, a year before King Nuven was crowned.”
‘It was so long ago.’
Putray gazed at the floor beneath his feet, unknowingly rubbing the pipe in his hand.
‘Everything in the past’
He smiled, shook his head, and said, “I was fifteen years old. As a newly appointed attendant for the prince, I was an utter dimwit.”
Thales turned with a frown on his face.
“Attendant?” The prince tested him by asking, “So, you were under”
“Yes, the eldest son of the late King, His Royal Highness Midier.” Putray was not even looking at him. He sighed softly. “He was younger than you are now, and he, too, got himself into trouble, unfortunately.”
A thought came to Thales’ mind.
‘Midier Jadestar. It’s that story.’
King Nuven told him about the tale six years ago after the duel. It was the tale about that young Jadestar on a diplomatic journey to the Great Dragon, who fearlessly faced the king and the archdukes.
The thin man was rubbing his old pipe.
“With the royal edict from King Aydi, our young diplomat group stepped into Dragon Clouds City. Excited, worked up, curious, nervous, uneasy, shudderingall kinds of stupid looks you can imagine.
“Clover had a fierce look in his eyes, feeling as if all Northlanders would respect him this way. Old smoker Jalpet who never put down his pipe, surprisingly did not touch it during those few days; old Barney was the lieutenant of the royal squad, and that paranoid man even thought that there could be enemies lurking in His Highness’ ears; Zakriel was a new recruit in the squad, he tried his best to keep a stern look on his face during his first expedition with His Royal Highness. He looks weaker than even the current Wya.”
Putray stopped smoking his pipe. His gaze was fixed on a point in the air, at a spot that was only stored in his memories. “But the late King’s eldest, the young Midier, only smiled.”
Thales did not say anything, he thought about the day of his first arrival at Dragon Clouds City and he pictured in his heart that, forty-three years ago, another Jadestar had arrived in Dragon Clouds City.
“It was as if he wanted to bury all his emotions in that smile, be it sadness, pain, anxiety, or his insecurities.”
The room sank into silence.
Putray placed the pipe into his mouth again, and took a deep drag, as if he wanted to keep those memories of the past firmly in his mind.
He breathed in and subsequently puffed out a few smoke rings. Putray’s face became blurred by the smoke, but his voice traveled into the air through that smoke, and it was filled with emotions Thales could not read. “Decades have passed, when I returned to Dragon Clouds City, I thought I would have felt my burdens, or I would be sentimental, or I would, as someone who came here before, smile at those who had just arrived for the first time, just like you now, immersed in your melancholy for this city.”
When the smoke dispersed, the thin old man lifted his head. “But I did not,” he said coldly.
Thales knitted his eyebrows.
Putray stared straight at him. His gaze was cold. “I felt nothing at all”Thales held his breath subconsciously”because the only piece of memory that surfaced in my mind when I came here was not of Dragon Clouds City’s bricks and walls, not the grass and the trees…”
Putray shook his head. He raised his foot and walked towards the prince. Thales watched him in a daze, not knowing how to reply him.
“After many years, I understood it.” Putray stood in front of Thales and looked straight into his eyes. “What I remembered wasn’t Dragon Clouds City, but only my partners then in Dragon Clouds City, and His Royal Highness Midier’s smile.”
It was his friends who journeyed together with him that year, while they had no knowledge of anything.
“What’s worth remembering for you isn’t the land,” the old man whispered, “but the people on this land, and the tale you live through with them.”
There was only silence.
After a long time had passed, the conflicted Thales opened his mouth and said slowly, “Then, where are they now?” Putray’s eyes moved. The prince elaborated on his question, “The diplomat group that year, I mean. Where are those who lived through the tale together with you?”
However, Putray did not answer. He walked decidedly forward, past by Thales, and left the room.
“You should leave already.”
Thales raised his head and fixated at the windows. He did so for a while.
“Yes.” Thales sighed lightly, then fixed his already neat collar. “I should leave already.”
The prince turned and walked out of the room.
“Even if it is the order of Her Grace, I will still advise you to keep a low profile during the hearing,” Lord Justin, who was in charge of the personal guard, said coldly while they were at the corridor leading from the Blood Court to Heroic Spirit Palace. “With your identity, if you act too conspicuously in front of those Dragon Clouds City counts, then you are a real fool.”
“Of course,” Thales said stoically. “Thank you for the counsel, Your Grace.”
He, naturally, ignored the troops of Dragon Clouds City around him and, accompanied by Wya and Ralf, walked forward, burdened by his own thoughts.
Justin nodded and returned to his position.
Wya pursed his lips, obviously very displeased with the attitude of the former vice commander from the White Blade Guards.
Thales’ attendant looked somber and his eyes were serious. It was obvious that he felt there was an impending storm. At his side, Ralf’s face still remained hidden beneath the silver mask. It was hard to tell what he was feeling.
“Why didn’t you bring Miss Aida here?” Wya asked worriedly, “On such a big day, your safety”
“You heard the lord.” Thales shook his head and sighed. “In the solemn Hall of Heroes, she would probably only cause trouble, especially when dealing with Northlanders.”
Ralf turned his head, cast a disdainful glance at Wya, and made a hand gesture that Wya could not understand.
Wya withheld his annoyance towards his partner, moved forward two steps, and said softly, “But according to you, Your Highness, the vassals in Dragon Clouds City are not like the archduchess. Their attitude towards you You know, this is a fight between the Northlanders, you can absolutely be uninvolved.”
Thales raised his eyebrows.
“Wya, do you miss the past?”
Wya was briefly stunned by the question which seemed completely irrelevant to the topic of their discussion. “Your Highness?”
Thales shook his head. Then, as if he had just registered Wya’s words, he smiled gently and said, “Sorry You know, today Putray was exceptionally melancholic, it felt like an old man’s last words before he passes on, he nagged on and on I, too, was affected by him.”
Wya looked at the prince quizzically, the worry in his eyes grew more prominent and he said without stopping in his movements, “I, too, miss the past, Your Highness, but I am more concerned with the future. Your future.”
Thales raised the corner of his lips.
By his side, Ralf released a sarcastic, weird hum, making Wya displeased again.
“Ralf.” The prince switched his target. “Do you miss the past?”
Thales turned his head and looked at the Phantom Wind Follower while he thought back in his heart to the distant past. “You know, those days in the Blood Bottle Gang, spilling blood on the streets?”
There was confusion in Ralf’s eyes. But after a few seconds, the Phantom Wind Follower swiftly lifted his head and made a hand gesture.
“No?” Thales sighed. “But at least you were free at that time.”
Ralf’s eyeswhich were above the maskmoved slightly.
‘Free? Blood Bottle Gang Lady Catherine… Nikolay’
Ralf clenched his fists tightly while he was lost in his daze, he felt a faint ache in his throat and knees. He raised his hands again and made a few hand gestures so as to continue his private conversation with the prince.
Wya, who watched from the side, felt incredibly displeased in his heart.
“Body, freedom.” Ralf’s eyes were aloof as he patted his own chest. “But, here, no.”
Thales let out a snort. “So you would rather continue living the life now?” The prince shook his head. “This is not a good way to live.”
Ralf huffed loudly, as if he was letting out a disdainful snort at his employer’s words. The former Phantom Wind Follower shrugged and knocked on his knees. There came a clunking sound from under his clothes.
“So, I changed my legs.”
Thales laughed softly, causing the guards beside him to turn their heads frequently.
“Very good.” The prince looked happy. “Today, you will go with me to the great hall, Midira.”
Ralf nodded. However, Wya immediately realized that something was not right.
Thales turned his head to glance at his attendant. “And you stay outside the great hall, Wya.”
Wya’s expression changed. “But”
Before he could finish speaking, Thales turned around and slung his arm around Wya’s shoulders, pulling Wya to him.
“Listen. I need you to stay outside to help me do something. This may sound a bit ridiculous…” Wya, who was a head taller than the prince, was drawn closer to Thales and heard his soft whispers. “In all honesty, I hope that it would not be necessary”
“Your Highness.” Wya’s expression became sullen and his tone was frantic. “If you feel that something is not right, please”
But Thales interrupted him.
“Remember what I said to you a few days ago?” The prince’s expression remained calm as usual, but the look in his eyes was incomparably grave. “Wya, no matter what happens”
Wya was stunned. As he watched the expression on Thales’ face, the scene where they first met each other came to his eyes.
‘Your Highness You’
“I know, ‘don’t panic’.” The attendant’s voice sounded like it was filled with anguish as he repeated Thales’ words, “And to trust you.”
Thales nodded his head and flashed a gentle smile. “And do you trust me?”
Wya did not speak. His face was tense as he placed his fist on his chest and bowed lightly
Thales patted his shoulders and nodded with a smile.
They continued moving forward, passing through an increasing number of palace guards and Archduchess’ Guards until they stood in front of the familiar Hall of Heroes.
‘The day of the state affairs hearing.’
Thales’ emotions were solemn as he mulled over those words. He walked into the hall.