Translator:EndlessFantasy TranslationEditor:EndlessFantasy Translation
Under night curfew, only the barely discernible sound of the wind could be heard in the streets of Blade Fangs Camp.
The two people in the small house stared at each other in silence while immersed in their own thoughts.
“After witnessing the tragedy that hit Black Sand Region, as well as the changes that transformed Beacon Illumination City, I sank into a period where I felt the most dejected, depressed, defeated, and fed up. I even argued constantly with my father during those days. I returned to my old fiefdom and locked myself up there.” Quick Rope silently watched the flickering light from the lamp. “Then, in a field belonging to a remote countryside, I met Diana.”
Thales could not help but frown when he heard the unfamiliar name. “Diana?”
Quick Rope remained absent-minded. “She seemed to be a shepherdess that was very plain and common.
“That afternoon, I told her impatiently that I was the relative of a nearby disciplinary officer, and that breaking into her goat pen was just an accident. I also told her that I would never steal her goats. Her eyes immediately sparkled and she asked for a compensation of twenty silver coins for her frightened dairy goat.”
Quick Rope was immersed in reminiscing about his past, he giggled. “She lost a female nanny that was producing milk, but immediately afterwards, she went towards extorting a fat wallet with loads of money. Why shouldn’t she?
“Just like that, we got to know each other, a domineering shepherdess, and a goat-stealing thief who abandoned himself to despair.”
Thales observed his face and saw that his eyes were filled with incredible tenderness. He could not help but ask, “What’s so special about her?”
Quick Rope lifted his head and curled the corner of his lips.
“Oh, Diana was the most special girl I had ever seen,” said Quick Rope with an interesting face. He sounded smug, just like a man bragging to his neighbor about his wise and kind wife. “Especially since she was raised by a vulgar, short, old man with a quick temper.”
“She was always smiling, lively and wild, even after her adoptive father passed away. Even in the eyes of the Northlanders, she was not reserved. The dwarf she had for an adoptive father taught her how to herd goats by waving a hammer. Oh lord, it was painful when she struck me with her shepherd’s crook.”
Moriah (not really, since he changed his name and abandoned his family name) was still smiling. Thales could feel the relaxed tone that was unique to Quick Rope as he grumbled. Obviously, he did not dislike Diana’s crook as much as he said it.
“Diana was working on two jobs, one was herding and milking the goats, and the other at the inn. She was a smart girl who couldn’t be bullied.”
When he spoke of the girl, Quick Rope beamed with joy. “She once brandished the cane and chased five or six thieves away. She also beat the sh*t out of the dirty-minded village chief. She also once used her flowery words to coax the guests who molested her into emptying their pockets. She knew how to trick the master of the inn, and even fought back against the master’s daughter who bullied her.”
As Quick Rope described her, Thales looked down and formed a picture of the unusual shepherdess in his mind. Fierce and cheerful, waving the crook in a way that made her seem like a fierce and adorable wolf cub, using its forelimbs to safeguard its food by baring its teeth and brandishing its claws.
“Often and with glistening eyes, she counted the coins that were hidden under the bed, but that money wasn’t her dowry, she didn’t keep one like what the other girls did. She did not rely on some man who was willing to marry her or make do with spending the rest of her life with him, neither was she dressed up to the nines, hoping to be some big shot’s mistress because she always believed that her life would not be restrained by anything.
“She was just the opposite of me.” Quick Rope’s eyes dimmed.He watched the light with an infatuated expression. “She believed that one day, she would earn enough money and ride a horse carriage that would carry her away from the village and lead her to the harbor in the Elaphure City. She would buy a boat and become a female seafarer who would explore the world, spend the rest of her life in perilous situations and mirages.”
‘A female seafarer.’ Thales thought of something and instinctively glanced in Quick Rope’s direction.
“But she didn’t know that, other than passengers, sailing boats would never admit women as they think women on the sea are an inauspicious sign.” Quick Rope looked down, the corners of his lips remained curved up. “An old sailor told me that the Maiden Guardian of the Ocean does not like her kind.”
Thales did not say a word.
“I’m not sure if it was love or not, or if it was only naive affection, but at least when I lay down next to Diana, sniffed the sweet smell of goat’s milk from her body, watched her cheerful and lively smile, or even when I tasted the softness on her lips, I could forget a lot of things that didn’t turn out as I had wished.”
Quick Rope said with a blank face, “It was only in front of her that I was Moriah, and not the heir who was a walking dead man. I could say my real wishes and thoughts out loud, I didn’t have to disguise my globetrotting dream as wanting to become a mercenary to show that I was a tough Northlander warrior.”
Quick Rope stopped talking, as if he was remembering how he felt at that moment.
The moonlight was hidden behind the clouds, the low-quality lamp oil was slowly burning away, the simple and crude house made of clay slowly became even darker in the night.
No one wanted to reignite the fire.
“What happened afterwards?” Thales asked in the darkness.
Quick Rope inhaled and changed his posture. He looked as if he had just snapped out of his daze and continued his story.
“Just like that, as I traveled between Dragon Clouds City and my fiefdom, I witnessed the dark twistedness of power while I basked in Diana’s cheerful gentleness.
“For Diana’s sake, for her dream to travel around the world, I went against my heart and did as my father asked except for his requests for me to get married. I tried my best to convince him again and again that the future Archduke of Dragon Clouds City must marry a wife that matches our political interest, so we couldn’t rush the matter of my marriage.
“My father was actually pleased with me. He thought I had finally come to my senses since I knew that I had to weigh what was good and bad for Dragon Clouds City. Even though he didn’t know the reason behind my sudden motivation in this game of power, he couldn’t care less. He probably thought it was just the same as teaching Soria.”
Quick Rope snorted, there was a faint hint of sorrow in his laughter.
“But, of course, this couldn’t go on forever. My father still got me a potential wife who wasn’t bad in his eyes. He wanted me to see her in the name of revising the Fortress Treaty, even though she and her family lived in the land of our enemies.”
‘Fortress Treaty Land of the enemies.’
In that second, Thales looked up abruptly. He could not hide the surprise on his face. “So, your diplomatic mission six years ago”
Quick Rope nodded and sighed quietly. “Yes. Six years ago, according to the plan, after revising the treaty, Dragon Clouds City was to propose to the noble descendant of the Empire, Duke Arunde’s only daughter, who was also the Lampard Family’s enemy for generations.”
He shook his head in disdain. “Even though we hanged the former Duke Arunde in Cold Castle around ten years ago.”
Thales frowned. “Miranda? How can that be?”
Quick Rope sighed. “Be it the marriage proposal or the treaty, both were only part of his strategy. My father didn’t want to let Constellation recover slowly after the battle, neither did he want to allow the Archduke of Black Sand Region to use the fortress as an excuse to arm his forces and refuse to listen to his orders. He wanted to test King Kessel and the Arunde Family, and provoke the Archduke of Black Sand Region. The reaction of these three people would tell us what step to take next.”
“So this was the importance of your diplomatic mission,” Thales said dazedly.
“To prepare for the next battle or negotiation, be it with Constellation or Black Sand Region.”
New Star and Dragon’s Blood. He tightened his hold on his arm.
Quick Rope snorted coldly. His voice was filled with sarcasm. “That’s right. Regardless of if it was to bring the Northern Territory to our side, to cause division to Constellation’s internal structure, to revise the treaty for personal interests, or to suppress Black Sand Region and take the opportunity to add to my prestige in the selection of the future king My father… he always planned so well. He aimed to kill more than two birds with one stone. He could turn a simple matter into something else filled with all sorts of traps, and there will always be a profound and long-lasting significance behind each of his actions.”
When King Nuven was mentioned, Quick Rope became quite low-spirited.
“Don’t play against him in a game of chess, Thales, because you will never know how deep and profound his tricks are in the game. You wouldn’t know how many trump cards he has up his sleeves either.” Quick Rope looked indifferent. “As for the people who are wrapped around my father’s finger and are completely ignorant about it Well, they are incredibly sad existences, aren’t they?”
‘”Don’t play against him on the chess board wrapped around my father’s finger and are completely ignorant about it”‘ Thales’ breathing quickened.
He recalled his conversation with King Chapman in the horse carriage. When King Nuven was mentioned, both he and Chapman could see the reverence and fear in each other’s eyes, from the bottom of their hearts.
Who would have thought that someone who died years ago could still put them in such a difficult situation?
Quick Rope’s words were filled with complicated sorrow. “My guess is that Chapman and Conkray finally realized this one point in their countless fights against the king: do not play against King Nuven.”
Both men were silent for a little while.
“What happened next could probably be the template for a lot of knight’s tales and bardic poems,” Quick Rope said with a reluctant smile. “My father finally realized that his son and heir actually fell head over heels in love with a shepherdess from the countryside, and fought against his mission over this.”
Thales raised his eyebrows. “So the Born King was not too pleased with this, I suppose?”
“‘Not too pleased’?” Quick Rope snorted coldly and said with faint resentment, “Your choice of words are too polite, Thales.”
“What happened after that?” asked Thales.
Quick Rope paused for a while. In that moment, his silhouette in the darkness became desolate andmournful.
“My father confidentially dispatched his men to my fiefdom, Thales.”
Quick Rope said in a dejected tone,
“He found Diana. He found her.”
There was a long period of silence. It was quite a while before Thales managed to open his mouth to force the question out of his mouth. “What happened?”
Quick Rope did not seem to have the motivation and desire to go on, but in the end, he spoke again. This time, his voice was hoarse.
The man who spoke sounded like a walking corpse. He did not move and seemed lifeless. “She died on the day I received the news and rushed back to my fiefdom.”
Thales held his breath. Quick Rope continued emotionlessly, as if he was narrating a story about another man, “I pushed the White Blade Guards away madly only to see her body, left out cold for a long time in her goat pen; there was still a smile on her face. She was poisoned to death.”
Quick Rope’s voice quivered. There was a slight hitch to his voice and it was filled with fear and regret.
“They told me that she took her own life by taking the poison, but Thales”
In that moment, Thales recalled that night in Heroic Spirit Palace.
Thales thought of King Nuven’s exquisite ring, Triumph. He thought of the girl who once lived, Alex.
Thales immediately felt a chill crawl down his spine. The Prince of Constellation held back from saying anything.
Only Quick Rope’s agonized panting could be heard in the house. Finally, he calmed down his emotions.
Thales came around. “What?”
“The shackles of power, Thales.” It was unclear when it started, but there was faint determination in Quick Rope’s voice. “That night, I stared at Diana’s dead body dumbly, just like when I had stared at Soria’s dead body, and…
“…I suddenly understood that I never managed to free myself from those shackles.”
Thales listened quietly, but the underground tomb of Renaissance Palace rose in his mind, along with the large and small pots and jars made of stone.
Raymond Pass in Black Sand Region.
Ghost Prince Tower in Blade Fangs Camp.
Quick Rope leaned back, the back of his head hit the wall heavily.
“Ever since I was born, I was controlled by this pair of shackles. I was shackled when it wanted me to control myself to behave, when it wanted me to be content with the present situation and be a compliant and harmless viscount. I was also shackled when it pushed me to change the way I lived and become an ambitious king who intimidates all my people. I never escaped.”
He gritted his teeth and said, “The shackles were loose at one time, then tightened at another. It dragged me forward and backward, and the whole time, I deceived myself and others into thinking that I was free from them… I finally understood.”
Quick Rope came to the edge of the bed. He put his legs on the ground, his elbows were on his knees as he leaned forward and fixed his eyes on Thales.
Quick Rope’s tone caused Thales’ heart to tense up. “I had to either obey, yield, and let it chain my body and mind tighter and tighter, or abandon it entirely so that I can maintain my true self.”
Thales stayed quiet.
“Moriah was long gone, Thales. He did not die when he was assassinated by the Constellatiates, or when he fled from Heroic Spirit Palace,” Quick Rope said in a freezing tone, “He died when he became King Nuven’s son and began his life as part of the Walton bloodline.
“So that night, I climbed the Black Track laboriously out of Dragon Clouds City. There, the man named Moriah was brought to life for the first time since he was born. He no longer lived for others, and he no longer lived as the version of the person he was supposed to be in another person’s eyes.”
In the darkness, Quick Rope’ eyes sparkled. “On that day, I saw myself use my own hands to save myself and change my fate, and once I had shattered all my delusions and escaped out of pure luck, I completely abandoned those shackles which were called power but was imprisonment in reality. I said ‘no’, loud and clear, to it and everything it represented, including the restraints forced on me disguised under the pretty name of ‘responsibilities’; including the hypocrisy and pretentiousness that were claimed as ‘virtues’; including deception regarded as ‘righteousness’.”
Quick Rope’s voice faded away, only his determination and resolve remained in the air. After quite some time, deeply moved, Thales forced words out of his mouth.
Thales sighed and said, “That’s why you chose to leave even if you may have to bear the bad names of being a coward, a weakling, or a deserter.”
Quick Rope laughed disapprovingly. “You may think whatever it is that you like, but I”
However, the next words from Thales stunned Quick Rope a little.
“Maybe sometimes, compared to submitting to the gazes of those from the world and taking a path that is planned by others for you, forging your own path may require even more courage.”
There was some semblance of sentimentality in Thales’ voice.
The way Quick Rope looked at him changed slowly. There was no longer a barely discernible mocking look in his eyes, but seriousness and solemnity. “…Maybe.”
Moonlight pierced through the clouds, casting silver rays on the ground. The two princes watched each other in silence.
Thales could feel resolution and determination in the other man’s eyes, along with some barely noticeable hesitation and bewilderment.
Thales could not hold himself back from asking, “But how did you do it, Mo-Quick Rope? How did you keep yourself from turning back? Those… Can you really let go of it that easily? After you left, have you ever regretted your decision?”
This time, Quick Rope was the one who was taken aback by his question. He sank into deep thought. There was a moment where Thales could see a bit of conflict in his eyes.
At last, Quick Rope managed to unfurrow his brow.
“Six years ago, when I survived the sea and heard about the upheaval in Eckstedt, and the news of my father’s death I was indeed shocked. I fell into despair and regretted my decision.”
Quick Rope let out a deep sigh. “But as I have said before, my father’s ending was destined, with or without my presence.
“As for Dragon Clouds City and Eckstedt If I was there, they could have been in a better situation, but they could also be in worse. I don’t think that they would become better or worse solely because of me.”
In that second, Quick Rope was like an old sailor who had been through countless trials and hardships, and was telling his story around the fireplace at sunset after he had returned from his final voyage.
“I do not want, and cannot be too greedy. I can’t attempt to control matters that are beyond me. If there could be two outcomes in history, should I be weeping bitter tears over the devastated Dragon Clouds City in my absence, or should I be cheering excitedly because Dragon Clouds City survived, because I wasn’t there?”
Thales was stunned.
“All I could do was this: I could only save myself. Only this. And that is enough,” Quick Rope said airily.
“And I was here, either in the desert or at sea. I tried my best to keep the small crew fully operational, I helped maintain the business of a small tavern, I helped a small group of mercenaries survive, I helped these small groups of people whose numbers I can count with one hand.”
Quick Rope glanced through the window at the mottled wall outside the house and the somber alley. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think what I’m doing here, or the values I can find here, would be more insignificant or less valuable than acting like a powerful person who can’t be affected in any way while I moved my bargaining chips around in the secret chambers of Dragon Clouds City. I do not think that the values I gain here are less important than the ones I would gain when I chat frequently with the suzerains on topics related to history, our mission, the kingdom’s welfare and the people’s livelihoods.
“I have merely… chosen a life that belongs only to me.”
Thales listened quietly, the surprise in his eyes could not be concealed. Finally, the Prince of Constellation looked away and let out a long breath.
It was like he had just fought a hard battle and became somewhat tired.
“I’m sorry, Quick Rope.” Thales leaned against the wall and smiled a little as his whole body relaxed. “Earlier, I said some inappropriate and presumptuous words to criticize you. You know, when I suddenly met the culprit who caused me to be held hostage in another country for six years” Thales spread his arms.
Quick Rope looked up with smiling eyes. “I understand. So, have you calmed down? Is the interrogation over?”
The two men looked into each other’s eyes with a smile, the once unfamiliar enmity between them dispersed slowly.
“Yes. I get it now, it was your choice,” Thales said softly as he let go of the grudge he held in his heart. “And I have no right to comment. I respect your decision.”
Quick Rope took a deep breath. He opened his mouth and said two words, but there was a wave of sentimentality that he could not hold back in his voice, “Thank you.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fully agree with your opinion”Thales moved his waist to ease the pins and needles in his back caused by the lack of blood flow”especially about how history works or how you think of responsibilities.”
Quick Rope winked at him. “But you said this: you respect my decision. This is far more precious than a complete agreement.”
Quick Rope stared quietly at the features on Thales’ face in the darkness. He smiled. “Thank you.”
Thales raised his eyebrows. He hummed softly. “Alright. I’ll accept it.”
However, Quick Rope shook his head. “No… That was for Alex.”
At that moment, Thales stiffened.
Quick Rope stared at Thales with a serious expression. “In your stories about Dragon Clouds City, you mentioned many things that are regarded as secrets. The battles, calamities, Lampard, the coronation and you spoke of them all as if you personally saw them, but you never mentioned yourself.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Either you are bluffing, just like those vendors by the streets who hear all sorts of rumors or you are Thales Jadestar, who was personally involved in all of it at the time.
“So, thank you for helping the current Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City during that horrifying night.”
Thales let out a deep breath. He scowled and said, “Didn’t you just say that your results in Politics class was very bad?”
Quick Rope shrugged and smiled again. “Naturally I can’t compare to a certain person who slaughtered everyone with his words during the National”
“No.” Thales shook his head. Before Quick Rope could speak, Thales already answered his own question, “I’m thinking, Quick Rope, that you’re probably very smart, smarter than most of the nobles who look very conniving and sly.” He continued with a sigh filled with emotions, “But your teacher never noticed.”
Quick Rope’s smile froze a little, then he sniggered before continuing with the earlier topic.
“I know how that girl is,” Quick Rope said faintly. “Other than her mother’s looks, she also inherited her father’s pride and arrogance. Alex might have a hateful personality, but she isn’t a bad girl. Since no one controlled her behavior when she was a child, she became a little willful.”
Thales felt his heart clench. ‘Alex’
As he listened to Quick Rope speak of the girl in his memories, Thales felt that his heart had become empty. What he saw before his eyes was how she had spasmed in pain before she passed away.
‘No.’ Thales felt as if his soul had left his body as he thought in a daze. ‘No, Moriah… He still doesn’t know. He doesn’t know’
“I feel relieved knowing you’re protecting her.” Quick Rope chuckled. “So, thank you, Thales. Thank you for doing so many things for her, be it those that I know of, or those that I don’t.”
‘But but she the girl in his memories has already’ Thales gritted his teeth.
Quick Rope narrowed his eyes and looked at him, then changed the topic of conversation. “Be careful, Thales. I may have just said that regardless of whether someone cares about you, or whether you care about someone in your heart but the love between you two is even more difficult than the one between me and Diana.”
During that instant, Thales was frozen. ‘Love?’
Thales said with a sigh, “Quick Rope, you’re mistaken”
But Quick Rope interrupted him, “Don’t think that this won’t affect you, Thales. In this era, bloodlines and family backgrounds are a curse.”
Quick Rope placed a hand on his knee, and pointed at Thales with the other. His expression was stern. “With your status, someday there will be someone, be it your family, friends, someone with a great reputation, or someone you trust, they will come before you and tell you in no uncertain terms that, for a greater benefit, for the greater good of more citizens, and for a grander goal, you must give yourself up along with your life, your love life, your freedom, and that you must submit to them; that you have to become their slave and join their games.”
Thales was stunned.
“And your choices will determine who you are.” Quick Rope stared at Thales, making the latter incredibly uneasy. His expression did not change. “But no matter what you choose, no matter what you sacrifice or keep, you have to make sure that they are your decisions, Thales. Don’t let others make them for you.”
The former Prince of Eckstedt narrowed his eyes. “You absolutely must not let them make those decisions for you.”
Thales stared at him in a daze. At that moment, he had mixed feelings in his heart. His mind was filled with pity for Alex, guilt for lying to Moriah, worry for Little Rascal’s future, the myriad of emotions towards the shackles of power, and not knowing whether he wanted to laugh or cry from this misunderstanding. These emotions were stacked together so tightly that they filled his mind.
He felt incredibly complicated and had no words for it.
“As for me, don’t worry.” Quick Rope quirked an eyebrow, and his smile was simple and sincere. “Once I settle matters with Dean, I’ll go far, far away. I won’t return to Dragon Clouds City, nor show myself. I won’t cause trouble for my niece, and of course I won’t cause trouble to you. This is my promise to you, the promise of a Northlander.”
The light was too dim. He did not notice the awkward look on Thales’ face and said seriously, “If you truly love her, then Thales, you and Alex will have my blessing, even though I can’t say it out loud, you have Moriah Walton’s blessing.
“Separation is just temporary. I hope the two of you will meet each other soon, and that everything will end well for you.”
‘Hope that Alex and I will meet each other again soon? Meet where, exactly?’
The boy’s face twitched slightly. He did not know whether he should tell Quick Rope the truth or reject his blessing. In the end, he sighed and did not say anything.
In the face of the hopeful Quick Rope, the Prince of Constellation forced an awkward grimace.
“Thanks Thank you, I guess.”