Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Arc 6: Curse of the Royal Tribulation
“I cannot believe this.” Gilbert’s voice rang as the carriage moved forward. His voice rose and fell slightly.
Thales sat across from him while he leaned against the carriage. He stared at his teacher. They had been separated for six years. He had mixed feelings about their current reunion as well.
“I still remember how you were still a child when we parted six years ago, young Sir.”
Besides his slightly excited breathing, Gilbert’s posture and way of conduct was still appropriate for his status, and he was as elegant as ever. He looked like he was the epitome of how a noble should be.
Thales shrugged and smiled. “Maybe I was not just a child.”
“Of course.” Gilbert gave a knowing smile. “You are, naturally, not just a child. But look at you now.” Gilbert stared at him closely. He felt relieved and emotional as he sized Thales up, unable to control himself.
“You have grown up.” His voice rose and fell. “You are fourteen years old now. Based on the standards of the Empire, you are now a true adult. You can carry a sword to battle and marry a woman to form a family…”
‘Going to war, marrying a woman, and forming my own family at fourteen years old?’
Thales scratched his head.
“Er… about that, as times change and society evolves, I believe that we have room to discuss such matters…”
When he saw Thales react that way, Gilbert laughed heartily.
The wheels rolled, and the two of them fell silent for a moment. Then, Gilbert sighed.
“So, it has been six years, Your Highness. Are you well? How was the north?”
‘Am I well? How was the north?’
Thales had imagined many different scenarios that would happen when he reunited with his old friends.
He had also imagined how he would exaggerate things and grumble emotionally about how terrible Northland’s food was, how cold Heroic Spirits Palace was, and talk about the silly Little Rascal, the annoying female official, Ginghes, the foolish Star Killer, the cunning Lisban, the accursed Lampard, the gluttonous Aida, and the boring fights his two attendants waged against each other through their eyes…
He had even imagined pouring out all his suffering, displeasure, and complaints in one go. The Eckstedtians’ strange gazes, the eccentricities of his teachers in Northland, a certain someone exacting revenge for a personal matter by abusing his power during outdoor lessons, the constant monitoring, and the unreasonable searches…
However, when the reunion actually happened and when it was time for him to speak…
“Well…” Thales stopped reminiscing, and he smiled brilliantly. “You know, it was the north.” The prince shrugged in a relaxed manner. His smile was warm and faint. “It was… just like how the north would be.”
Gilbert did not reply immediately. Instead, he stared at him for a long period of time, and he focused on the bright smile on the boy’s face, as though he had understood something.
A few seconds later, Gilbert replied gently, “Yes, Your Highness. I have negotiated with the Northlanders—the Northland barbarians—before, I know what you mean. I know.”
Gilbert’s gaze was calm and gentle, but for some unknown reason, Thales felt as if there was a huge weight on his shoulders, and he felt like he could not withstand that weight.
The carriage became quiet again. For a period of time, they could only hear the horses galloping outside the carriage.
Thales took another deep breath.
“What about you, Gilbert? How is Eternal Star City and Constellation? How have all of you been over the past six years?”
When Gilbert heard his questions, he froze for a moment before he slowly held his staff.
“Oh, I am old now, and I am no longer as good as I was when it comes to riding. I now sit in carriages more and more frequently, and there is also a need for the words written by the transcriber and secretary to become bigger day by day.”
Thales listened quietly while he stared at Gilbert, who had gotten older by six years.
Six years ago, they also sat in a carriage that was headed for Renaissance Palace.
On this day, six years later…
Gilbert turned his head around and smiled faintly.
“Besides those things, I am still the same. I work, live, breathe, and wait…” He paused for a second and peered into Thales’ eyes. “I wait for your return.”
For a time being, he had nothing to say about that, and he was at a loss for words.
Gilbert’s expression darkened.
“I cannot imagine just how much suffering you had to endure in Eckstedt.” He stared at his staff, and he spoke rudely, which was something rarely heard of him. “Those thrice damned Northland barbarians, that trip should have only lasted for a few weeks before your eventual safe return and you came back to our watch. I still remember telling you that everything would be all right, but…”
Thales could not bear to watch.
Gilbert leaned against his staff, lowered his head, and sighed. “We have been negligent in our duties and dragged out into this mess…”
Thales shook his head at him, but the Foreign Affairs Minister continued to speak, his voice sounding regretful. “From King Nuven to the calamities, and then to Black Sand Region. It was already frightening enough reading about it from your letter, but you went through all of that…”
Thales had to raise his voice to interrupt him. “Gilbert!”
Gilbert trembled faintly before he stopped speaking.
The prince smiled. “Hey, I made it through all of that.”
Gilbert watched him quietly before he smiled a few seconds later.
“Yes.” The Cunning Fox of Constellation revealed a tired look that was rarely seen when he served as the prince’s teacher. “You made it through all of that. You made it through all of that in the north.”
He nodded slowly, but it was clear that his mind was occupied.
Thales suddenly noticed that Gilbert’s energy and attention was no longer as good as before.
When he sensed the fluctuations in Gilbert’s emotions, Thales had to change the subject while there were complicated feelings in him.
“What about the people left behind in Dragon Clouds City? Putray, Ralf, and that someone… um, that… oh, Aida! And… Wya?”
When he heard the last name, Gilbert appeared to suddenly snap awake.
“Oh, them. Please do not be worried about them. They may still need to remain in Dragon Clouds City for a period of time, but since you, who are the most important, have returned safely, there is no longer any reason for Dragon Clouds City or Black Sand Region to detain your attendants.”
Thales released a sigh of relief and nodded.
A few seconds later, the boy suddenly spoke, “Gilbert, make sure that they and your son come back safely.” The prince raised his head and said seriously, “Without them, I would not have been able to last until now.”
Gilbert was momentarily stunned.
Thales exhaled. “If there is a need for it, I can write a letter and have someone hand it straight to Archduchess Walton. We are rather close…”
Gilbert watched him quietly before he smiled. The wrinkles on his face could be seen clearly.
“Your Highness…” The Foreign Affairs Minister looked at him with a grin. “They will be fine as long as you are fine. And my son definitely knows about this.”
Thales raised his head. He smiled as well and nodded.
Gilbert seemingly noticed something. He took a few deep breaths and collected himself so that he could return to the professional and solemn Foreign Affairs Minister, the Cunning Fox, Count Gilbert Caso.
“I have plenty of things I want to tell you, Your Highness, but…” A polite smile returned to Gilbert’s face. “Since you have already returned, there are far too many things that we must arrange right now. The prince’s banquet to welcome his return to the country, as well as a complete education and advisory group for you. Of course, we will do so in consideration of the prince’s needs, his status as a duke… Oh, it has to fit the dignity of the Duke of Star Lake…”
When he heard the last sentence, Thales’ expression darkened.
“In truth, I want to ask about this matter.” Thales’ face became very stern. Even Gilbert instinctively hid his smile.
“The Duke of Star Lake,” the prince enunciated each syllable clearly and looked at his teacher in puzzlement.
“Gilbert, what is the meaning of this?”
Gilbert paused for a moment, as though he was pondering over something. A few seconds later, he smiled faintly. “Please do not worry, Your Highness. It is a good thing.”
Gilbert sighed with a well of emotions in him. He looked at the retreating plains outside the carriage window. “The Duke of Star Lake has been an honorary title that belongs solely to the Jadestar Family in the history of Constellation, and it is only given to royal family members. Even though it is not as powerful and influential as the six Great Guardian Dukes, and the actual power as well as estate the duke has are also insignificant, what the title symbolizes is definitely extraordinary.” Gilbert turned his head around and looked at Thales sternly.
Thales raised his eyebrows. At that moment, a familiar feeling returned to him. He felt as if he was no longer sitting in the carriage and heading back on the Avenue of Blessings. Instead, he had returned to the study in Mindis Hall.
Gilbert’s steady voice, which was characteristic of him, rose slowly.
“Five hundred years ago, Line Breaker Sumer the Second appointed his eldest son, Alan, as the Duke of Star Lake so that he could begin managing the land and be involved in government affairs. He gave his son a legal way to help him in managing the country’s matters.
“Then, when Sumer the Second passed away, Prince Alan inherited the crown as a duke, and he was the Ascension King, Sumer the First.”
Thales listened to his words and searched through his memories about how Little Rascal looked at the world—Ahem, he searched through his memories about how the Northlanders regarded Constellation’s history, which he had learned during his six years in Northland.
If he remembered correctly, Sumer the Second was the one who profited from the devastating Dual Star Confrontation as the unexpected third party and claimed the crown. To prevent blood relatives from fighting for the throne in the country and fratricide from occuring again, he announced the inheritance law that made sure the eldest son would inherit the throne or title of duke, while all the other younger children would change their surnames. They would also be given a territory to rule.
“‘As expected, we’re more modernized. If we choose a king, it’s only natural that we choose the most powerful. Just fight, and everything will be solved.”‘ This came from the Star Killer, who had been free and just stood by the side to listen.
Under that law, many individuals from branch families belonging to families with great surnames were forced to leave their homes and change their surnames. It also helped many families chase away numerous cousins who stayed under the complicated tree of their family genealogy and eyed the dukedoms with covetous eyes. Many of the vassals who were not the eldest children of their families hated Sumer the Second for that, and because of it, Sumer the Second gained the nickname—Line Breaker.
As for the Ascension King… Thales found the name familiar for some strange reason. He felt like he had heard of it not too long ago.
Gilbert continued to speak in a measured tone, “From then on, half of the Jadestars who were the Dukes of Star Lakes were either officially or unofficially announced crown princes. When the late king passes away, they will wear the Nine-Pointed Star royal crown, and they will inherit the supreme throne of Constellation.”
‘So, the Duke of Star Lake can be considered a title crown princes have before they inherit the crown—Hang on…’
While Thales was stilling thinking about who the Ascension King was, he frowned.
“You just mentioned that half of them became kings.”
Gilbert continued smiling as if he had predicted that Thales would ask this. “The other half are the most trusted family members of the king, like your grandfather’s brother, the Starlight God of War, John Jadestar, or are the most trusted assistants of the king, like the ancestor of Ice River City’s Talon Family. They are in control of great power and provide assistance to the king in governmental affairs.”
‘John Jadestar, Starlight God of War.’
Thales’ heart sank.
He remembered many things, such as the amusing tales the veteran Gerald told him when he was in Starlight Brigade back in Northland, Samel’s appraisal of the Duke of Star Lake while they were in the Prison of Bones, and the Duke of Western Desert telling him about John’s backstory while they were in Ghost Prince Tower.
The more Gilbert spoke, the more excited he became.
“Hence, Your Highness, to Constellation, the Duke of Star Lake is a title that is given to the king’s heir as an honorary title before the crown prince inherits the throne, or it is given to the closest family member of the king to show his grace and trust of the person. From there, the duke can provide aid to the king as his blood relative and strengthen the Jadestar Family’s rule.”
‘Closest family member. Grace and trust.’
Thales coughed lightly and narrowed his eyes before he said, “But I remember that during my grandfather’s rule, even though the Duke of Star Lake was his brother, John, the crown prince he chose was—”
To his surprise, Gilbert very quickly interrupted him. His voice was firm and resolute.
“This proves one thing. Your grandfather was willing to use his life to believe in his brother, John, just like how he believed in his heir. In fact, he believed that John would continue to assist the future king loyally as the Duke of Star Lake after he himself passed away.”
‘Used his life to believe in his brother, John, just like how he believed in his heir.’
For some reason, Samel’s indignant words in the prison echoed in Thales’ head.
“‘Was it a patricide, or a fratricide?”‘
Gilbert took a deep breath, and he continued to stare at Thales seriously, as though he would allow no disagreement.
“And John never disappointed your grandfather. As the greatest contributor of the Bloody Year, the former Duke of Star Lake and his Starlight Brigade marched south to fight against the rebels, then they marched north to fight against Eckstedt. In the end, he turned the tides through his great efforts and saved all of Constellation.”
‘John Jadestar, the greatest contributor of the Bloody Year. Marched south to fight against the rebels, then marched north to fight against Eckstedt. Turned the tides through his great efforts and saved all of Constellation…’
Thales mulled over those phrases and tried hard to suppress the strange chill that rose from the bottom of his heart.
“Yes.” The prince’s expression was dark, and his tone was calm. “Then, he died.”
Gilbert was stunned for a moment.
However, the Foreign Affairs Minister was obviously experienced. He frowned and very quickly took over Thales’ words.
“…And he made the title gain an even nobler status than before. During the eighteen years Starlake Fortress was empty, when the people talked about the Duke of Star Lake who spilled his blood on the battlefield, they only recalled his loyalty, the tragedy that befell him, and his glorious past.”
When he listened to how flawless Gilbert made the entire thing out to be, Thales did not reply. Instead, he stared at Gilbert for a long time.
During that moment, Thales suddenly remembered what the Disaster Sword Marina said.
“‘Please investigate this matter and find out the truth.
“‘Find the truth behind Duke John’s assassination in Zodra during the Bloody Year.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister frowned slightly under the prince’s gaze.
He suddenly had a feeling that the student he was once very familiar with had become a little unfamiliar.
A few seconds later, Thales turned his gaze away. “That is right.”
Gilbert sighed in his heart. He forgot the strange feeling in him. “Hence, receiving this title is a manifestation of His Majesty’s trust and his high opinion of you. This means that you are no longer a prince who lives under your father’s shadow, who only has a noble rank but has no real power. You are now His Majesty’s arm, the Duke of Star Lake. You have a territory, power, and status. Your position is equal to the other suzerains, and you can stand up to them.”
When he said that, Gilbert looked at Thales in excitement. “With this status, you can even go into the Imperial Conference and attend the meetings about national affairs. You can share His Majesty’s burdens, and your presence will not be unexpected.
“And when you communicate with other countries, Constellation’s Duke of Star Lake will be a powerful title. It was a far mightier name than that of King Kessel’s son.”
Thales still did not speak. He only appeared contemplative.
Perhaps it was because he wanted to state the details, but also because he was worried about something. However, Gilbert only paused for a fraction of a second before he continued, The smile on his face had yet to disappear.
“And of course, it is an announcement to the vassals whose ambitions remain: your status in His Majesty’s heart is still incredibly important even though you have left the country for six years. Your legitimacy to the crown cannot be shaken.”
‘Status in His Majesty’s heart.’
Thales appeared dazed, but he rejected the idea in his heart.
‘Come on, there’s still room for discussion regarding the matter.’
Even though he was not in the mood, Thales still cooperated and wore a surprised face. “Wow.”
Gilbert seemed to have been tricked by his look. The Foreign Affairs Minister had a relieved expression on his face.
“Yes, I know, Your Grace.” He held his staff tightly, and he unknowingly changed the term of address for Thales. “I have been waiting for this day for too long.”
It seemed that Thales had remembered something, and he appeared to be in a slight daze.
“So, earlier, Count Kroma immediately left.” The prince narrowed his eyes and looked at Gilbert. “He knows that no matter how close and familiar he appears to be with the prince to the people, and no matter how much he tries to become closer to me and form a rapport with me, he still cannot win against this title that has been empty for eighteen years, and has an extraordinary status in the kingdom?”
Gilbert paused for a moment.
“Perhaps, perhaps not, but that is a matter for them to worry about.” The Foreign Affairs Minister sighed. “Right now, the most important thing is that you are about to return to Renaissance Palace and your home soon.”
Thales was stunned for a moment.
The carriage continued moving forward. The plains outside the window were broad, and the scenery was very magnificent. It showed the great beauty of Western Desert.
Yet, Thales knew that this was the first unfamiliar sight he was seeing.
“Home, is it?” Thales mumbled.
When he saw the prince react in that way, the strange feeling in Gilbert’s heart increased, but he quickly skipped the subject, because he was used to observing words and expressions. He shifted his attention to Thales’ weapon.
“Your Grace, this is…” Gilbert stared at the sword lying beside Thales’ hand, and his expression changed slightly.
Thales snapped back to attention and sighed in a troubled manner as well.
“Does it not look familiar? This is the Fakenhaz Family’s treasured sword, Sentinel.” Thales patted the hilt of the longsword. “I have to say, it is a good sword.”
Gilbert focused his gaze.
The Foreign Affairs Minister’s expression turned a little solemn.
“The national sword of the Ancient Empire is not just valuable, it also has a long history. It bears a significant meaning. The Duke of Western Desert is too… generous, do you not think so?” Thales stroked the sword hilt and raised his eyebrows.
The expression of Constellations’ Cunning Fox became very stern. “When you consider his reputation, yes.”
Thales pursed his lips and nodded. “Then should I put it away so that no one will see it?”
Gilbert shook his head and said, “No, there are too many ways for others to come to know about this. For example, if Duke Fakenhaz attends the banquet without the sword, the other nobles will ask him, and…”
Thales shrugged. “Then should I return it?”
Gilbert paused for a moment. “I am afraid so.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister had a contemplative expression. “I can write a letter for you saying that you respect the history of the sword. It will be tactful, suitable, and respectful. Our swiftest horses can send the sword back in just a few days’ time.”
However, this time, to his surprise, the teenager prince before his eyes only smiled faintly before he put Sentinel back into its sheath.
“No, I am lacking a sword I can use smoothly.”
Thales smiled and looked at Gilbert. His next words stunned the latter. “I will keep it.”
Gilbert stared at Thales in a daze. The unfamiliar feeling in his heart reached its peak. “Your High—Your Grace, forgive me for being straightforward, but considering our relationship with the suzerains of Western Desert, the meaning behind returning the sword surpasses the sword’s value. If the people see you receive the sword—”
However, Thales interrupted him.
“Gilbert.” The prince placed the longsword by his side again. His tone was calm, and he seemed to be stressing certain words. “Are you worried about the world watching me receive Fakenhaz’s gift, or are you worried about my father seeing it?” Thales’ gaze changed.
At that moment, Gilbert was truly shocked.
“Your Grace, I suggest that you do not think too much about this…” It appeared that the Foreign Affairs Minister wanted to say something, but he did not in the end.
“Gilbert, I saw all three of them.” Thales stared at the scenery outside the window, and his mind slowly wandered. “Be it Fakenhaz, Kroma, or Bozdorf. These local nobles from Western Desert, their attitude toward me, and how they fell over each other to tell me something has allowed me to sense this: your caution when you talked to me about the Duke of Star Lake and how worried you were about me forming ties with the nobles of Western Desert shows that this seemingly useless title of duke is not really that easy of a task, is it?” The prince closed his eyes and sighed before he opened them tiredly.
Gilbert instinctively wanted to refute his words, but the moment he met Thales’ gaze, he stopped speaking.
Thales leaned back against the carriage wall and sighed slowly.
Gilbert watched him quietly.
A few seconds later, the Foreign Affairs Minister sighed, and he wore an exhausted but simple smile. “My young Sir, perhaps you do not know this clearly, but do you know why we are here?”
Thales was slightly taken aback.
Gilbert exhaled and pointed outside the window to the distance.
“Because six years ago, your performance during the National Conference prevented this ancient kingdom from sinking into division and degeneration.
“It is why we have the chance to meet again six years later on this day.”
The memories of the past inevitably returned to his mind.
“Very soon after the conference, with your magnanimous heart and resolute courage, you went north to Eckstedt. You sacrificed yourself to extinguish the flames of war and protected the country.”
‘Went north to Eckstedt…’
Thales pursed his lips.
“But that was not all you did.” Gilbert’s voice gained an airy quality, but the words he said became graver, “Over the past six years, as the Born King passed away, Dragon Clouds City has become weaker, and Eckstedt is currently engulfed in an even more chaotic internal strife.
“Based on what I know, Beacon Illumination City has just increased the tariff on provisions for Black Sand Region and Reformation Tower, causing the price for food in the latter to be incredibly high. The suzerains for the three regions are full of complaints toward each other, and they are practically mortal enemies at this point.
“The City of Faraway Prayers and Defense City are immersed in conflict in Golden Passage. They are fighting a hidden battle against Camus Union, who harbor malicious intents, behind the Alliance of Freedom’s back. The fight has been drawn out for a long time, and it is difficult for them to get themselves out of the mess.
“As Dragon Clouds City’s traditional eastern allies during King Nuven’s reign, Glacier Sea and Elaphure City’s relationship with Dragon Clouds City has been going south. They have changed sides multiple times during national affairs, and they are engaged in internal strife.”
‘Dragon Clouds City…’
When he heard that name, Thales could not help but clench his fists.
“Most importantly, the three archdukes in the south, be it the Archduke of Prestige Orchid, the Archduke of Reformation Tower, or Chapman the First, who makes us wary of him the most, have lost their common enemy. Even though they have always cast covetous glances at our territory, since Black Sand Region has been proclaimed king, the balance between the three has been broken. Their attention has turned to the lands within Eckstedt, and they are now on guard against each other.
“The three suzerains of the three regions are wary of each other. Because of that, they have had to greatly reduce their army at the borders of Constellation so that they can be prepared for the threat from each other.”
Gilbert looked at him gently. The smile on his face was the same as it was when Thales was in Mindis Hall.
“Hence, during the past six years, the pressure on the northern part of the country has been drastically reduced. The Northern Pine Forest has returned to our patrol area, and even the fiercest Eckstedt hunters do not dare head south to hunt. The citizens of Overwatch City and Lonely Old Tower have welcomed a rare peace and prosperity.
“And the defense line at the borders of Black Sand Region are unprecedentedly empty. It is said that the Fortress Flower brought her patrols and went over the border to set up camp in Black Sand Region. They stayed there for three days and nights, but the scattered Eckstedtians did not dare approach them. They only dared to watch from a distance, because their suzerains and their king hated each other, and they had no time to pay attention to the south.
“The danger to Broken Dragon Fortress has been resolved. The effect it brought was instantaneous. The cultivation of land, harvests, the caring of livestock, business, and other professions in the Northern Territory has slowly recovered. For example, when we organized your rescue from Western Desert, quite a lot of soldiers were mobilized from the regions around Broken Dragon Fortress. They are all enlisted soldiers.”
Gilbert paused for a moment. There was a deep wave of sentimentality in his voice.
“I still remember that six years ago, the regular soldiers serving under Baron Murkh were stationed in the Central Territory. They kept their army ready for battle and were anxious making preparations for the north because they were wary of any changes occurring to the fortress. They were not to leave their positions as they liked within a short moment’s notice.
“But on this day six years later, the army of the Kingdom’s Wrath rode to all places in the land according to His Majesty’s orders. They spread the influence of the royal power to Eastern Sea, South Coast, Blade Edge, and Western Desert. Wherever they went in the four regions, the people would submit to them. Wherever they pointed their swords, the vassals would bow their heads and obey. We once lost control over the territories in the country, but now, they are placed before His Majesty’s long meeting table, and all are under his control.
“Since the decline of the Great Dragon was a rare chance, we could let loose and carry out our goals, be it unifying the nobles in the country, restating royal power, fighting against Camus, hammering down on Dragon-Kissed Land, warning Alumbia, intimidating the Three Kingdoms of the Mystery Sea by deploying troops to the borders, and seizing back supremacy in Western Peninsula… The things we did not dare to do in the past have been placed in our schedules one by one.”
When he listened to the news of the current political situation in the country, Thales frowned deeply.
‘So many things have happened in Constellation over the past few years?’
“Your Highness, the heavy blow dealt by the Bloody Year caused the kingdom to be in decay for years. We were dispirited, and could not pick ourselves back on our feet.” Gilbert sounded like he was in great grief. “It has been nearly twenty years. That time is enough to mark the time for one generation. We, who have the blood of the Empire flowing in our veins and once dominated over Western Peninsula had to be meek and subservient. We had to conceal our talents, and we lived while trembling in fear as if we were walking on thin ice.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister’s gray hair reflected the setting sun outside the window. His voice rose and fell, making it clear that it was difficult for him to compose himself.
Gilbert sucked in a deep breath. His expression changed as his tone became spirited. He now looked as if he was radiating life.
“However, almost twenty years have passed. Look at us now, the Great Dragon has folded its wings. Our great enemy has been beheaded. The galaxy shines, and Constellation has regained its luster.”
Gilbert’s gaze seemed to contain light. It made Thales feel like he could not breathe.
“We can finally regain our breaths and free ourselves to restore our vitality and manage our country. The days until the kingdom returns to standing at the top of the world are no longer far away.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister held Thales’ shoulder gently.
“And all of this, from saving Constellation, unifying the kingdom, extinguishing the flames of war, and recasting the might of Renaissance Palace are related to you, my young Sir…” Gilbert inhaled deeply and looked at him with complicated emotions. His eyes shone with unshed tears. “My Duke Thales.”
Thales only stared at him in a daze. He could not say anything for a long period of time.
Gilbert blinked away his tears and also composed himself.
“That is right. It is indeed not easy to be this ‘useless’ duke.”
The middle-aged noble put on an anguished but gratified smile.
“But it is precisely because of all your efforts and struggles in the past that you have become the most suitable person to inherit this title from among the millions of lives in this great kingdom,” Gilbert said softly.
At that moment…
A familiar sound traveled into their ears from outside the carriage.
Thales snapped back to attention.
He recognized that it was one of the Royal Guards. He was the blond knight who previously remained behind Mallos. He was Derek’s distant relative, as well as the one who mocked the Kroma Family and said that they harbored ill-intentions when they escorted Thales—Doyle.
“We have reached Rorun Fortress. It is the place where we will rest today. We will set out tomorrow.”
Thales was still immersed in strange emotions and before he could react, Gilbert had already composed himself. He stood up with a smile.
“Thank you, Doyle. I will go over now.” Gilbert pushed open the carriage door and walked out. His voice continued to travel into Thales’ ears from outside the carriage. He sounded polite, and the signs of him losing his composure earlier were nowhere to be found. “And we are very thankful for the Royal Guards’ service.”
Doyle’s laughter also rose. Clearly, he was very familiar with the Foreign Affairs Minister.
“We have our mission, Your Grace. Also, since we are assigned as the Duke of Star Lake’s personal guards, perhaps you can call us the duke’s personal guards, or Star Lake Guards.” Doyle’s voice was very cheery, as though he never experienced worries.
Thales was stunned again.
‘Star Lake Guards.’
The Royal Guards as well as Gilbert’s chatter and laughter could still be heard outside the carriage.
However, Thales only sat in the carriage quietly. He did not say a word or move.
No one knew how much time had passed, but when Doyle urged him out of the carriage again, the teenage prince sighed and leaned back against the carriage. He said in a barely audible tone, “Are you there?”
A few seconds, a very faint and hoarse voice rose out of the blue from the air. “Yes.”
Thales shook his head in a daze before he snorted. “Did you hear what I’ve done from what Gilbert said just earlier?”
“‘From saving Constellation, unifying the kingdom, extinguishing the flames of war, and recasting the might of Renaissance Palace…
“‘It is precisely because of all your efforts and struggles in the past that you have become the most suitable person to inherit this title from among the millions of lives in this great kingdom.”‘
Thales was absentminded.
“Yes.” The answer in the air was still short and crisp. The speaker still treated his words like gold, just as usual.
Thales gave a casual response to Doyle as the man urged him to get out of the carriage again, but then he looked up with a dull expression and stared at the top of the carriage. His gaze was unfocused.
“Yodel, have you ever had a moment in your life where you felt that everything in your life does not feel real, and you cannot get used to it?”
A few seconds later, the Masked Protector’s voice traveled into his ears faintly. “Yes.”
The ghost of a smile appeared at Thales’ lips.
“Very good. Then it means I am not insane.” His voice was dejected.
“Thales…” His name rose in the air, followed by some hesitant but comforting words. “Everything will become better.”
When Thales heard that, he smiled again.
‘Everything will become better.’
“Yes,” Thales said dazedly in the carriage, “Every single time when things go south, I tell myself that as well.”
Yodel no longer spoke.