Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
There was complete silence in the Hall of Heroes.
Apart from the members of the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group who knew Ian very well, almost everyone, including the six counts, stared in disbelief at the young Viscount Roknee, who stood on his chair with a smile, and his hands raised in a tilted manner as though they were looking at something strange.
Thales had no choice but to lower his head and cough softly. He nudged Ian’s leg.
While lost in his own world, Ian stirred slightly, as if he finally became aware of how awkward his situation was. He lowered his arms resentfully and jumped down from the chair. He waved at everyone in the hall with a stiff smile. “Hey, everyone?”
All the nobles in the hall came around from their shock. One after another, they either moved their heads unnaturally or coughed softly, like they were ashamed of what just happened in the Hall of Heroes.
Just moments ago, the five counts had been overbearing and aggressive, but right then, they said nothing. Instead, they sat with unpleasant expressions and stared at one another.
Thales chuckled internally as he watched. ‘Ian interrupted their increasingly aggressive interrogation. In face of such an unreasonable person and such a baffling situation, how will they react?’
“Did this clown obtain your permission to stand here and insult all of us?” Cotterson turned to the archduchess. His cold gaze, stiff expression, along with his martial attire, made him look like a wall of ice. “My Lady?”
Saroma was about to answer.
“My Lady and Your Graces.” Old Bonni, the noble from the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group who had reprimanded Ian once, suddenly stood shakily and bowed at the seated archduchess with a solemn and distressed expression. “That was just a joke. On behalf of the City of Faraway Prayers, I apologize for Ian’s”
Before he could finish speaking, Monty the Raven of Death beside him extended his large hand and placed it on Bonni’s shoulder. He forcefully pushed old Bonni down. The old noble looked confused.
Ian blinked and nodded slightly at Monty, who had a slight smile on his face.
At this moment, the archduchess finally did not seem as if she could not continue to watch this anymore. She coughed.
“Everyone…” Thales could tell that while speaking, Saroma was looking at the counts’ pale faces and she was doing so while holding back a smile. “This is Ian Roknee from the City of Faraway Prayers, Archduke Roknee’s eldest son and heir, and the Viscount of Dual Wind City.
“He is here on behalf of Archduke Roknee.”
Ian smiled in a friendly manner and bowed slightly at the archduchess.
The counts looked at Ian in unison, but none of them showed any surprise. Instead, they looked relieved, like their assumptions were confirmed. This made Thales think that they perhaps already knew who Ian was.
“The City of Faraway Prayers, Roknee.” Cotterson sized Ian up from afar. There was a hint of solemnness in his gaze. “I have met your father. The ‘Long-Haired’ Kulgon is a respectable man, and his words are even more trustworthy than a longsword. I also respect the Roknee Family. They have been good examples for the knights in Northland for over a thousand years.”
The corners of Ian’s lips moved slightly, and there was the ghost of a smile on his face.
Count Cotterson shook his head scornfully. “But when I saw you, brat, I really felt ashamed for your father and family.
Laughter rang among the vassals. Thales saw Ian’s gaze flicker slightly.
“The feeling is mutual.” The heir of the City of Faraway Prayers sat down in his most relaxed manner. “When I saw you, I felt ashamed for Dragon Clouds City and the archduchess, too.” Ian snorted coldly. “You are a count who hid outside the city when calamity befell the city, and suffered no injury while your king died in battle.”
Count Cotterson’s expression became cold.
Ian yawned in a pretentious manner and repeated Cotterson’s accusations of the Star Killer just now. “If I were you, coward, I would find a quiet place and kill myself before it’s too late, instead of shamelessly staying by the archduchess’ side and pretend that nothing happened.”
Beside the archduchess, the Star Killer frowned slightly. These words were like a rock cast onto the surface of a pond, sending shock waves down the hall.
The nobles in the hall seethed immediately.
The nobles, especially the five counts, fixed their gazes on Ianwho seemed totally unconcernedas though he murdered their fathers.
Thales heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Heh, young Roknee is brave indeed.’
“Say it again, viscount,” Count Cotterson said through gritted teeth, emphasizing Ian’s title, “And we can have a duel, you and I.”
Ian laughed. “Of course!” He waved his hand boldly. “A duel!”
Thales felt shocked. ‘Wait, what is Ian’
But before Thales could understand what was going on, the heir to the City of Faraway Prayers snapped his fingers and flipped his palms in a totally unrestrained manner. He pointed at the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group with a relaxed expression. “I will now appoint the City of Faraway Prayers’ Lord Nate Monty to fight in my stead, giving him full right to represent my honor and duel with you! You can both fight to the death without any worries! How about that?”
A distance away, Monty immediately froze while scratching his neck. Ian continued smiling.
The counts’ expressions became stiff once more. They stared at Ian.
‘Using a proxy for a duel is this person really a Northlander?’
Thales exhaled. ‘Fortunately, Ian is still being Ian, and didn’t suddenly become a good, heroic man who faces death unflinchingly.’
“You are hiding behind the Raven of Death in the face of a duel?” Count Cotterson shot a glance at the resigned Monty, then at Ian. There was an insuppressible anger in his voice. “Such cowardice, you’re really a humiliation to Northlanders.”
All the nobles in the hall either snorted coldly and disdainfully, or laughed mockingly. Some even cursed. But Ian happily endured these looks. He seemed to feel nothing from them.
“You flatter me.” Ian crossed his legs, then his arms, and shrugged. “It is my honor to be able to bring humiliation to all of you.”
The hall descended into chaos again. The Northlanders’ objections and curses rose into the air like a flood. Thales sighed softly and tapped Ian’s shoulder.
‘You’re good, brother.’
At this moment, when things were about to go out of control, the archduchess’ clear her throat and a pleasant voice suddenly rang throughout the hall which was buzzing with noise.
Saroma’s resounding and high-pitched voice sounded especially unique among the low-pitched male voices that were making objections. “This is not the time for us to have internal conflicts!”
Nicholas threw a hard punch on the wall beside him. The noises in the hall gradually softened.
Along with the Star Killer’s action, the Archduchess’ Guards in the hall, as though they had practiced it before, raised the swords in their hands and knocked them hard on the floor.
The dull but deafening sound echoed in the hall and silenced all the enraged nobles.
It was hard for them to conceal the looks on their faces. They gazed at the highest seat in unison.
Saroma shot a glance at Regent Lisban. After getting his affirmation for her to continue, then only did she begin to try finishing what she wanted to say.
“No matter what we think about Viscount Roknee, we cannot neglect the most important matter at hand: The City of Faraway Prayers has brought bad news regarding the Golden Passage.” The archduchess inhaled. “The Alliance of Freedom who lowered their weapons to the late king twenty years ago, recently destroyed the agreement they signed with my grandfather.
“Everyone, this is a provocation. More so, it is an infringement to our dignity; the glory Dragon Clouds City obtained from that place twenty years ago is being infringed upon.”
The moment the archduchess finished speaking, Ian snapped his fingers. While the people in the hall glared scornfully at him, he threw his hands open and made a gesture that showed his agreement.
Thales closed his eyes. ‘It’s coming.’
No one said anything, they all seemed to be deep in thought…
…Until the old Count Nazaire said slowly, “The cowards in the west are finally firm in their attitudes again.” The Count of Rubble Hill and Laughter Court heaved a long sighed. “However, history is always repeating itself, and the people still don’t remember the lesson they learned.”
Perhaps it was because Eckstedt’s affairs captured the counts’ attention for a bit, but it could also be because it concerned the war they once fought. Nonetheless, the counts did not dwell on ‘the disgrace of the City of Faraway Prayers’ anymore. Even Count Cotterson only snorted softly and turned back.
“The Alliance of Freedom Those cowards wouldn’t dare do this by themselves. Who’s supporting them from behind?” The one-armed Count Karkogel furrowed his eyebrows after having stayed silent all this while, looking as if this affair was of no concern to his. “Those long-eared creatures again?”
“No.” Ian seemed to be behaving a little more normally. This allowed the members of the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group to relax quite a bit. “It’s very peaceful at White Mountain. We didn’t receive any unusual news about the White Elves.”
“I still remember what happened twenty years ago.” Count Lyner’s expression still did not change. “Those cowards from the alliance only had mercenaries fighting for them. It was easier to tear apart their battle formation than to tear a piece of paper, and breaching their city wall only took as much effort as climbing up a ladder.
“It’s not a major issue. The City of Faraway Prayers can totally solve this by themselves.” Ian flashed a smile.
“Stop putting up an act, everyone.” The Regent of Dragon Clouds City, Count Lisban, clapped his hands. He said solemnly in a forceful tone, “I believe that all of you aren’t idiots. All of you know very well where the key in this game of chess lies. You also have an idea of who the person behind the Alliance of Freedom is.”
The five counts narrowed their eyes and watched Lisban.
Ian coughed. “Everyone, I believe that all of you know that King Chapman is oppressing and tyrannizing over the nobles in his territory.” The Viscount of the City of Faraway Prayers sighed. “The City of Faraway Prayers along with our companions who have a common goal such as Defense City and Elaphure City are busy running about because of this misfortune.”
Ian raised his eyebrows. “And now, we need the support of Dragon Clouds City to tell the whole kingdom that the king cannot act willfully. The matter with the Alliance of Freedom is just an interlude in this, but it cannot be neglected. That is why I am here.”
The hall was quiet for a moment. Everyone looked at the six counts in front. But the response Ian received was not very positive.
Count Lyner said coldly, “Then, go and look for the king. Perhaps after you give the king what he wants, the Alliance of Freedom will yield submissively.”
Ian scowled a little.
“Stop disturbing Dragon Clouds City,” Cotterson said with a cold snort. “This is not our battle. At least, not now.”
Thales furrowed his eyebrows. ‘They all understand. It’s just that they’
Count Lisban spoke at the opportune moment, “But this is indeed our battle, and we cannot run away from it.”
Thanks to decades of accumulated reputation, the prime minister’s words caused everyone to look at him with solemn eyes.
Lisban said in a forceful tone, “Twenty years ago, Dragon Clouds City responded to the Alliance of Freedom’s rebellion with blood. This is the Dragon Spear Family’s glorious past, and proof of our late King Nuven’s stateliness. We are the leaders of Eckstedt, and it is our unshirkable responsibility.”
As he stared at the sternly speaking Lisban, Nazaire could not help but narrow his eyes.
“Moreover, this matter concerns the Walton Family’s honor and the Born King’s glory,” Lisban said coldly. “Now that an unforeseen event is happening in the west, the Walton Family cannot sit back and ignore it, and we are all the Walton Family’s vassals.
“Perhaps, the Alliance of Freedom thinks that because the Born King is no longer around, there is nothing to be afraid of about Dragon Clouds City, and it is alright to destroy the agreement from twenty years ago…”
The five counts stared at Lisban with varying expressions.
“They are wrong, and we must be the ones to tell them so!”
Lisban’s voice echoed in the hall. Everyone went quiet.
From the corner of his eye, Thales could see that Ian snorted softly and disapprovingly.
Saroma finally flashed a smile while under immense pressure. She cast a grateful glance at Lisban.
“You are right, Ciel. There is a need for us to dispatch troops to the west like we did twenty years ago, and restore the Walton Family’s prestige.” The archduchess seemed to heave a sigh of relief. “As for King Chapman’s”
At this moment.
Across from Count Lisban and seated on the first seat to the archduchess’ right was Count Nazaire. It was he who had spoken.
“Of course we are willing to go to war for Eckstedt’s honor and your glory, My Lady.”
His voice was old, but even so, it did not affect his stateliness at all. For a moment, he even reminded Thales of the late Born King.
Right then, Nazaire spoke methodically and patiently, like an experienced elder, “But as a vassal who had experienced the late king’s kindness deeply and is loyal to the Walton Family, it is my responsibility and duty to remind you to think twice.”
Saroma’s expression tensed. Thales clenched his fists. He felt that something bad was about to happen.
“Perhaps the act of following your grandfather’s footsteps and dispatching troops to the west may indeed lead to praise, it might even become a story passed down with approval. But what happens after we go to war, when we emerge victorious and dismantle the Alliance of Freedom’s city walls again?” Nazaire looked around the hall and said softly, “We, Dragon Clouds City will be nothing but a chess piece that hovers back and forth between the City of Faraway Prayers and Black Sand Region, utilized by others.”
Ian raised his brows.
Saroma’s expression tensed even more. She appeared a little anxious and spoke, “But”
“Yes. Perhaps you would have protected Dragon Clouds City’s dignity, and others will praise you and say that you are ‘not too bad’.” Nazaire unhurriedly interrupted his feudal lord. “But what will Dragon Clouds City truly obtain?”
All the nobles in the hall listened calmly to his words… especially the five other counts. Lisban’s expression was particularly unpleasant.
Nazaire continued speaking, “The power to command Eckstedt again? Jewels and war prizes gifted to us by the City of Faraway Prayers? Or the king’s certificate of commendation from Black Sand Region?”
His voice echoed in the hall. Nazaire stared at the archduchess with an electrifying gaze. Saroma bit her lower lip and shot a glance at Thales, as though asking for help. However, Thales was powerless to do anything at this moment.
The archduchess was a little panicked. “My grandfather did this twenty years ago. He gained”
She was interrupted once more.
“He was the king at the time. Your grandfather Nuven and we represented all of Eckstedt,” Nazaire said slowly. “And now?”
Nazaire heaved a long sigh and stood shakily while everyone stared at him solemnly. He looked at the Soul Slayer Pike behind the archduchess, his gaze was filled with grief and yearning.
“The situation now is no longer how it was like twenty years ago, My Lady.”
Even though his tone was light and casual, there was a sadness in his voice that was hard to ignore. “I hate to say this, but this is not to be overlookedDragon Clouds City has been without a king for too long.”
At that moment, Thales sized up the old count again, the warning bells in his mind kept ringing. He could sense where the direction of the conversation was going.
‘Shit. This man is definitely a ruthless character who is in no way inferior to Lisban!’
“We have endured many hardships brought unto us by those from the outside world.” Nazaire turned and his voice became cold. “What is the point of being a pawn again, treading through this mess with our blood?”
Quite a number of people in the hall started whispering. Meanwhile, the archduchess was at her wits’ end,
Lisban fixed his gaze on Nazaire. “Hardships brought unto us by those from the outside world? Old friend, what do you mean by this?”
Count Lyner was the one who answered on Nazaire’s behalf.
“Is he not being clear enough?” Lyner’s words was scathing as usual. “Six years ago, along with four other archdukes, the king almost forcibly ensured that Dragon Clouds City went into the hands of the first archduchess in Eckstedt’s history.
“And we, his most trustworthy vassals, only received the news the next day, and came to the city to have an audience with the archduchess.”
Everyone stared at one seat. There, Saroma’s face grew paler.
Nazaire shook his head. “I mean no disrespect, My Lady.” He flashed an apologetic smile at the young girl on the seat. There was disappointment in his tone. “But we are no longer the powerful Dragon Clouds City.
“Throughout these six years, the morale of the vassals have become low, our soldiers are not united, the nobles lack the spirit of cooperation and have trouble working as one.
“And now, opponents like Black Sand Region and the City of Faraway Prayers can just walk ostentatiously into our city to spy on us and insult us in Heroic Spirit Palace.”
Nazaire clasped his hands tightly together and his expression was solemn. “From that day onwards, all of Eckstedt began looking down on us. A girl sits on the archduchess’ seat and, together with us, watches powerlessly at Dragon Clouds City, dilapidated and desolate after being subjected to the calamity, the king’s passing, and the havoc wreaked by outside forces.”
Ian was about to say something, but Thales grabbed his shoulder.
“No.” The prince frowned. “It’s not the time yet.”
The archduchess bit her lips hard and did not say a thing.
Across from him, Lisban’s gaze was so sharp that his eyes were spitting fire.
“You want us to leaves our homes and fight a distant war for someone else’s sake. I can understand how you feel. As the late king’s successor, the pressure you bear is unimaginable.” Nazaire nodded and became respectful and apathetic again. “But you might be overlooking a bigger crisis that we are facing.”
“What are you saying?” With everyone in the hall staring at her, the archduchess said with difficulty, “A bigger crisis?”
Nazaire shook his head and did not speak.
“I reckon the count meant that, throughout these six years, to other people, the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City is a young and weak orphan girl with neither husband nor heir. To them, the Walton Family is shaky and unsteady,” Cotterson said in a rather mocking tone, “Even we, the vassals of Dragon Clouds City, feel that we’re already like the setting sun, about to disappear into the horizon forever”
The atmosphere in the hall became more unendurable. Thales stared at Saroma, who sat on the stage and was helplessly moving her lips like a fish on a chopping board that was powerlessly struggling to break free.
He clenched his teeth even harder.
“Are all of you criticizing me?” Saroma asked with difficulty. “Accusing me for making Dragon Clouds City”
“No, we are concerned for you. We care about you and understand where you are coming from, My Lady,” Nazaire said gently, “Just like how we ardently love Dragon Clouds City and are loyal to the late king.
“So, we know what sort of predicament you face, and what sort of burden you are shouldering. We want to help you, My Lady. You and the Walton Family need to become powerful. This way, we can unscrupulously dispatch troops to the west.”
Nazaire coughed and sat back down.
He raised his head and looked opposite him, at his former comrade. “At the same time, Dragon Clouds City cannot continue wasting away in such a weak, chaotic, and empty state, and look down on herself while all of Eckstedt watches her. And I am also sick of ceaselessly fighting against Ciel. We used to be friends who could entrust our lives to one another. But now we have made enemies out of each other because of you.”
Nazaire and Lisban’s eyes met. They saw the wariness in each other’s gazes and disappointment.
“You, Count Nazaire, are you saying that” The archduchess stuttered a little. With her head lowered, she pressed her arms hard against her seat.
“Yes, My Lady.” Nazaire turned around and suggested calmly and rationally in an unhurried manner, as though he was the most competent advisor in the hall, “We want to help you to stabilize your position.
“I think that it is time for you to find a husband For Dragon Clouds City.”
 A warrior trusts only in their weapon. To say Roknee is just as trustworthy, if not more, than their weapon is high praise indeed.