Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
King Kessel sat high on the throne while he watched Thales quietly.
His gaze was quiet and indifferent, his movements were languid, and it was completely different from King Nuven’s awe-inspiring might and King Chapman’s aggressive presence.
But it did not make the teenager feel the slightest bit relaxed.
The prince gulped. He tried his best to release his tense muscles and mind.
Up to this date, Thales did not understand his father.
What sort of person was he?
Callous? Quiet? Mighty?
Aside from the time they were in Jadestar family tomb, which was more like an experience where Thales just listened to Kessel and did not say anything, Thales had not spoken even ten sentences to Kessel the Fifth.
Thales even had reason to suspect that the time they had spent together alone during the past six years did not add up to even fifteen minutes.
However, in the teenager’s short life, the Iron Hand King was like a dark cloud that hung high above his head. He seemed to be far away in the distance, but he would always cast his shadow on Thales and envelope him within.
Regardless of whether it was the National Conference, the negotiation in Eckstedt, Dragon Blood’s Night, the day of state affair hearing in Dragon Clouds City, the earnest advice from Gilbert, or the criticisms from Koshder the One-Eyed Dragon, all these encounters constantly reminded Thales indirectly about what sort of person his father was.
But when he truly faced this dark cloud, Thales discovered that he still was not prepared.
He still did not know how to face him.
“You are mistaken.” Thales lowered his head and avoided that silent gaze that brought about unease. He sucked in a deep breath and tried to chase to away the negative emotions that he did not notice vaguely, but had been provided an accurate description by the king, and became even more prominent in him.
“I am not anxious. In truth, leaving Eckstedt and returning to the kingdom—”
But the king did not give him time to defend himself.
“Do you find this tone familiar?”
Kessel no longer stared at Thales. His lips curled up into a peculiar arc. He seemed to be rather scornful.
Thales looked up swiftly, and there was puzzlement on his face.
The king spoke coldly on the throne above the stone steps.
“That bag of old bones in Western Desert should have pretended to be mysterious just like this and deceived and intimidated you while he talked about all sorts of irrelevant matters, yes?”
‘That bag of old bones in Western Desert? Pretended to be mysterious, talked about all sorts of irrelevant matters? Deceived and intimidated?’
Thales understood something.
He remembered what Adrian told Gilbert just now.
“‘He has taken a great interest in the messenger crows from Western Desert since yesterday.”‘
‘The messenger crows from Western Desert…’
While he speculated the king’s intentions, Thales exhaled and said calmly, “Yes, Fakenhaz has indeed come to me, but I—”
But unfortunately for him, the king still did not give him a chance to explain.
Or rather, he simply did not care.
“Where is the sword?” Kessel interrupted him calmly. “Where is the national sword of the Ancient Empire that is delivered as a gift by the prestigious Four-Eyed Skull Family in Blade Fangs Camp, that caused some people to be suspicious and uneasy, some to be elated, and caused all of the people in the kingdom to make endless speculations?”
Thales’ words came to a halt.
Just as he expected, Kessel had also come to know about the sword named Sentinel.
It should be… the Legendary Wing who told him.
With certainty, Thales answered loudly, “It is in my luggage, and it is being taken care of by Lord Mallos’ subordinates, but—”
“No.” For the third time, King Kessel interrupted the Duke of Star Lake. “It is not there.”
The king slowly leaned back and had his back pressed against the back of the throne on the stone steps.
“It is in your heart.”
Thales was startled.
Kessel the Fifth watched the Duke of Star Lake under the stone steps with an indifferent gaze.
“And you do not even know where the sword will thrust.”
Thales was silent for a long moment.
Clearly, the king was very displeased with the matter in Western Desert.
“I am deeply sorry for the matter that happened in Western Desert.” Thales tried his best to regain his composure. He did everything he could to treat the person before him like a vassal in Northland to whom he could negotiate with. “But Fakenhaz came to me because—”
But he still did not manage to finish speaking.
“When I sent you to the north…”
King Kessel spoke in a manner that was different from Northlanders and the people from Western Desert. His tone was very light, and his inflections were minor.
But the King of Constellation’s interruptions delivered with his soft words did not lose to King Chapman’s terrifying voice and Fakenhaz’s alarmist talk.
“I did not have such great expectations for you.”
Thales found himself rendered completely speechless.
King Kessel practically sat slouching against the throne. His posture suggested that he was relaxed, but his gaze was fixed on Thales.
“At least, they were not so high that I expected you to restructure Northland and crown a new king.”
‘Restructure Northland and crown a new king.’
Thales shut his mouth. He sensed the weight behind the words, along with the faint scorn and criticism in them.
‘That’s right. Restructure… new king…’
This was indeed what he did six years ago, but Dragon Clouds City stank with the stench of blood, and corpses were strewn all over the place. Heroic Spirit Palace had been at a critical state where they were about to erupt into confrontation.
The teenager bit his bottom lip.
With slight displeasure, Thales looked up again.
“I did not intend for things to be this way, but—”
When he spoke of the things six years ago, he thought that he would remember the unfairness and injustice he suffered that year, and he would then ask the king about his schemes with a cold sneer. He would even mock him about the Secret Intelligence Department’s failure and ask him why he put Thales in such a dangerous situation.
But at that moment, when he saw King Kessel’s calm gaze, he knew that the king did not care.
A small voice told Thales in his heart.
‘He will not care.’
Thales pursed his lips.
He squashed down the indignation at the bottom of his heart, and he turned his head to the side and said, “That was… an accident.”
Thales was not quite used to the darkness in the meeting hall. Six years ago, this place had been a large and bright hall.
The teenager suddenly remembered the only day he stayed in Renaissance Palace. He remembered his first impression toward this palace: a cold room, a sturdy stone bed, the chill that crept into his bones, and the quiet darkness.
It was… just like Abandoned House.
“No.” The king snorted faintly and dragged Thales’ thoughts back to the present. “That was not an accident.”
Thales stared at his son, and his tone became rather peculiar. “You are the accident.”
Thales’ heartbeat ran a little wild.
“At least, that is what the Secret Intelligence Department said.”
‘Secret Intelligence Department.’
Thales’ heart sank.
‘The Secret Intelligence Department again.’
The king narrowed his eyes slightly.
“You must understand. There are very few things in the world that can take the Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department by surprise.”
‘That might not be the case.’
Thales retorted in his heart quietly.
When he heard about the Secret Intelligence Department and was interrupted multiple times, the displeasure that Thales had just forced down rose in his heart again.
“Alright.” The prince sucked in a breath. “Let me put it this way. If there was really an accident, it must be because you—”
Thales paused for a moment before he changed his address. “Because they do not trust me.”
The lamps in the meeting hall were slightly dark. The shadow on the throne became even more indistinct.
King Kessel hummed, and he said something that sounded like a question but was not.
“They do not trust you?”
Thales answered with a snort, “Yes. Regardless of whether it is the calamities or Lampard, the Secret Intelligence Department locked down all news before their operation and left me in the shadows, even if it was harmful to me.”
The teenager exhaled. “There were a few times where I nearly died.”
Thales stared at the king. He wanted to see if he could decipher something from the dim light.
The meeting hall was silent for a few seconds.
But caused him to be slightly disappointed was that Kessel continued remaining still while he sat in a relaxed manner on his throne. His tone did not change in the slightest.
The king’s aloof mannerisms made Thales instinctively clench his fists.
“I had no choice.” Thales felt his tone becoming more forceful and bold. “I had to adapt to the situation and search for a way to survive.”
The king remained as he was before Thales said those words. “Is it?”
Thales felt gloomy.
“Yes!” He increased his volume and said in a displeased manner, “Be it for me or for…” The teenager paused for a moment, cast the king a glance, and said, “… Constellation.”
Kessel’s gaze was as difficult to decipher as ever. But this time, his words were different. “Just like what you did during the National Conference?”
Thales froze for a moment.
He suddenly remembered that six years ago, he had been unwilling to be a puppet during the conference. When he spoke, his words stunned the crowd, and he had rebuked the vassals in the country.
He could not help but feel a little diffident.
But Thales still nodded. “Yes.”
The teenager’s tone was a little gloomy. “I… had to do it.”
The king raised his head and looked toward the other end of the meeting hall as if he was thinking of something.
A few seconds later, he snorted lightly and repeated. “You had to do it because they do not trust you.”
The king turned the scepter in his hands and said in a contemplative tone, “You had to do it?”
Thales did not know how to answer.
Perhaps it was because he had not met Kessel for too long, or perhaps it was because his perception toward the king had been distorted by all the rumors he heard over the years. Thales discovered that he could not decipher the supreme king’s emotions and actions.
It was as if there was a curtain between them.
And this was something he had never experienced before when he faced Nuven, Lampard, the five archdukes of Northland, and the three dukes of Constellation.
The king chuckled softly in the end.
In the next moment, King Kessel raised his head to reveal his eyes, which was as calm as usual, but had become profound for some reason.
“Are you saying that they do not trust that you could fraternize with King Nuven, so much so that when he died, you were wrapped in trouble, had the flames of disaster affect you when it should not, and was caught in enemy hands, and you had to counterattack while you were in a desperate situation, return to Heroic Spirit Palace, and crown a new king?”
King Kessel continued to speak. Each of his words contained a unique charm. “Or do you mean that they do not trust that you could become close with the girl from Dragon Clouds City, so much so that she gave up on everything so that you could stay, angered her subjects, and publically broke ties with all her vassals, and you had to meet up with Lampard in private and search for another path?”
Thales only felt that his throat had become slightly dry.
The king continued to smile coldly. “Or could it be that they do not trust that you can conceal your identity in Western Desert to form shady ties with a group of mercenaries until you had your identity discovered, and was used to threaten the Baron of Blade Fangs Camp, and you had to…”
The king did not continue speaking. He only smirked.
But that was enough.
Thales shut his eyes and sucked in a deep breath.
‘I knew it. He knows. He knows everything. But…’
Thales suddenly realized all the arguments and reasonings he formed while he relied on his own strength six years ago had become very powerless while he was faced with those few sentences.
He could explain his actions, but regardless of Asda or Giza during Dragon Blood’s Night, Little Rascal’s background, Quick Rope, or the secret of the former Royal Guards…
He could not explain his actions.
He cannot explain his actions.
Thales opened his eyes and said with great difficulty, “Is that what the Secret Intelligence Department said?”
This time, the king stared at him for a long time.
Eventually, King Kessel spoke again, but his tone gradually became stern.
“Morat’s report said that you do not know how to explain yourself, even though you are a prince. You improve slowly, and every time you do things your way and act recklessly, you force everyone to handle the trouble you caused.” Kessel narrowed his eyes. “Or, in their words, clean up your mess.”
The teenager froze for a moment.
Thales exhaled deeply, and he put on a smile that was even uglier than a crying face.
“I understand. I… am deeply sorry.”
But the king chuckled. “But Gilbert kept on telling me that you improved very fast. You learn from difficult situations, and you grow when you experience hardships. With every experience you gained, you become wiser. You are a rare genius.”
Thales’ heart grew warm.
“He-he praises me too much.”
Kessel sized him up, and he stopped turning the scepter in his hands.
“But Aida has a third opinion.”
At the instant he heard the name, Thales was stunned for a moment.
Thales looked up in puzzlement. The king had already stopped leaning against the back of the throne. He leaned forward to scrutinize Thales.
“She said in her letter that you improve too slowly, but also too quickly, and it made her incredibly vexed.”
When he heard the pronoun used clearly, Thales repeated in disbelief. “Ai-Aida?”
A certain crazy and vivacious shorty popped up in his head.
Thales widened his eyes and moved his lips rigidly.
‘That person… knows how to write letters? Kessel’s lying, right?’
But Kessel the Fifth did not seem to find this amusing or ludicrous. The king continued to speak at his own pace.
“She said that you improve too slowly, so much so that you do not have the courage to go with her into the forest outside Dragon Clouds City to hunt rabbits to add to your meal.”
Thales’ face darkened.
His father snorted coldly again. “But you also improved too quickly, so much so that every single time she wants to go out and hunt in secret, you will know beforehand and send someone to keep an eye on her actions.”
Thales ran through the king’s words to confirm that he had indeed said those things, and he could not help but be puzzled. “Alright, that happened. But is Aida hunting rabbits important?”
The king did not answer. He only stared at the second prince quietly under the dimming light.
Because of Aida’s name, Thales’ spirits were slightly lifted, but the king’s gaze made his heart tense again.
“But I can tell that you have indeed become different from six years ago,” the king said airily.
Thales was stunned for a moment.
He turned his head around slowly to avoid the king’s gaze as he looked down on him from above.
“Six years is a long period of time.”
But Kessel shook his head.
“No. Regardlessly of Morat or Gilbert, they are all wrong,” the king said softly.
Thales’ breathing quickened.
The king’s eyes became sharper.
“As for Aida? Hmph…”
Kesse’s words were very strange. Thales could not tell whether he was regarding Aida in scorn or was sentimental at that moment.
This made Thales suddenly curious.
He wondered whether Black Prophet Morat, who was said to be able to see through lies, could see through the king before him.
“No…” The King of Constellation’s words attracted Thales’ attention again.
“You did not improve fast enough, and neither did you improve slowly enough,” Kessel said languidly.
‘Did not improve fast enough, and neither did you improve slowly enough.’
Puzzlement surged into him, and a light crease appeared between Thales’ eyebrows.
“I… do not understand.”
Fortunately, the king did not interrupt the teenager this time, and neither did he change the topic.
But Kessel’s next words contained a profound meaning, and it rendered Thales silent.
King Kessel raised his head to look at the ceiling. His gaze was unfocused as if he was looking at the past.
“If you had improved fast enough, your growth would have been unexpected but satisfactory, and in just six years, you would have been able to bear the entire weight of Constellation alone on your shoulders, but you did not.”
Then, the king stared at Thales again, and his gaze became cold and indifferent once more.
‘Bear… the entire weight of Constellation on your shoulders.’
Thales gulped, and he felt that his body had become tense.
The king stared at him from the distance, and there was some degree of disappointment in his eyes. He lowered his head and looked at his opened left palm, and his voice when he spoke next was slightly desolate.
“If you had improved slowly enough, you would have grown so slowly that you will act dutifully and in accordance to the prescribed order of things, and your growth would have been slow enough that we could slowly remove the burden of the kingdom bit by bit from you, but you did not.”
The king clenched his fists, and he looked at Thales again. His gaze was slightly cold.
‘Act dutifully and in accordance with the prescribed order of things…’
Thales had understood some of the meaning behind his words. During that moment, Thales did not know how to answer to Kessel’s words.
“As of right now, you just had to improve at a pace that is neither fast nor fast,” the king said coldly, and his tone became increasingly colder. “You take your time, and you are stuck in between.”
Kessel snorted coldly with a few hints of derision and disappointment.
“You surpassed expectations, but are also a disappointment.” He shook his head.
Thales sucked in a few deep breaths. He wanted to say something but found that he could not.
This time, the silence between the father and son lasted for an extraordinarily long time.
They only looked at each other quietly, and they said nothing for a long period of time. This silence lasted until the teenager could no longer suppress the depressive feelings in his heart.
“I…” Thales paused for a moment.
With indescribable unhappiness and gloom, he exhaled a few times and tried to laugh, but found that he could not.
“I thought that on the first day I return to Eternal Star City, you will talk about some positive topics such as us reuniting as father and son, father.”
Thales turned his head around and tried to find something to say that will ease up the situation.
But Kessel clearly did not have the same intention.
“And I thought that after you experienced so many things, you will understand what it means to live for Constellation, prince.” The king’s gaze burned, and his tone sounded as cold as winter.
Kessel stared at Thales and snorted as if he regarded him with contempt. “Fortunately, we still have time to teach you how to become a Prince of Constellation again.”
‘Become a Prince of Constellation again.’
Thales did not speak.
He could only feel a strange emotion rise within his chest. It made him feel uncomfortable all over his body, and he could not break free from it.
But in the end, he said nothing.
“Your welcoming banquet for your return to the kingdom will be held one week later as the moment you will show your face to the people of the kingdom again.”
The king turned his head to the side and made nothing of Thales’ silence. Thales did not know whether Kessel had treated his silence as tacit agreement, or whether he did not even care to acknowledge it.
“During this period of time, just keep a low profile and let the kingdom slowly digest the news of her heir’s return. Do not do anything that you ‘must’ do anymore, understand?” Kessel said coolly.
Thales remained silent. After a few seconds, he responded with great difficulty. “Just like six years ago?”
Kessel the Fifth looked up, and he spoke with a drawl, “Even more so than six years ago.”
‘Even more so than six years ago.’
Thales stayed rooted to the spot and did not move.
A few seconds later…
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Thales’ throat was hoarse, and he sounded like an old machine.
Kessel stared at him for a few seconds before he spoke slowly, “Very good, son.”
The king’s voice was a little mocking.
Kessel the Fifth leaned against the back of the throne again and sank into the shadows.
The meeting hall returned to dead silence once more.
Thales panted a few times to calm his heart.
“I believe that you have no more words to say, Your Majesty,” he forced himself to say respectfully.
The person on the throne above him did not answer.
Thales treated this as tacit agreement.
The Duke of Star Lake bowed slightly, and with complicated and indescribable emotions, he walked back to where he came from.
The king’s words echoed in the meeting hall.
Thales stopped moving.
“Your Majesty, is there anything else?’
But King Kessel only shook his head in the shadows.
“There is nothing else, but you must stay here for at least fifteen minutes,” the king said coldly.
Thales was stunned.
Kessel retained his posture. He only showed a pair of eyes that shone coldly in the shadows. It formed a contrast with the Constellation Staff in his hands.
“Because to the outsiders, this is how long it should take for a father and son to engage in a positive topic.”
Thales’ breathing froze.
He gulped laboriously.
‘I see. So, the reunion of a king and a prince… is only worth fifteen minutes.’
The second prince turned around and looked at his father on the throne. He could not give voice to the emotions in his heart, and his tone was slightly resentful.
“But we do not need it.”
Kessel snorted. “We do not, but the kingdom needs it.”
The displeasure in Thales’ heart surged into him again.
‘I see, there is absolutely no need for me to be anxious because the matter that has been set in stone six years ago will still happen six years later.’
Thales adjusted his breathing and chuckled coldly.
“So, I will have to stay here for fifteen minutes, and only by doing so will the whole kingdom not know about the rumors regarding the conflict between the members of the royal family and the estrangement between father and son, right?”
The shadow on the throne froze slightly in the face of the prince’s slightly provocative words.
A few seconds later, King Kessel snorted just as coldly.
“They originally did not know, until you received that sword.” The king’s words gained a deep chill.
Thales froze swiftly.
He did not understand. “That sword is just—”
But Kessel only increased his volume to interrupt him. “But they still do not know.”
At some unknown point of time, the king had already stopped leaning against the back of the throne. Under the firelight, he stared at Thales coldly, as if he was staring at his enemy. “Because I had to put an end to all the laws placed in Western Desert, from the laws regarding taxation, land measurement, and even conscription to show the greatest kindness to your new friends.”
Thales’ thoughts came to a screeching halt.
Kessel hissed his next words, and his choice of words was crude. “All because of your damn sword.”
Thales frowned in the face of the king, whose expression remained the same, but whose emotions had become even colder than winter. He could not understand this.
“If you are displeased because of this, I can return the sword at any moment. You do not have to consider anything about me, and you can just continue with your plan to conquer Western Desert—”
But the king suddenly asked, “But will it change you?”
Thales stopped with whatever he was saying.
“Changed… what?” Puzzled, the prince followed up with a question.
Kessel narrowed his eyes while he sat on the throne on the stone steps.
“Have you learned anything during your trip that you nearly died a few times?”
‘The trip where I nearly died a few times…’
Thales’ mood turned cold.
A few seconds, he said faintly, “Yes. I learned many things.”
“No.” Kessel denied him firmly. “If you had truly learned anything at all, then you should know that if it were not because of that sword, you would not have become the Duke of Star Lake at all.” The King of Constellation stared at the Duke of Star Lake from the distance, and his eyes shown with an anger that could not be dissolved.
Thales was stunned.
“Why?” he instinctively asked.
The light in the meeting hall seemed to have become darker by one degree.
“Why?” Kessel was so enraged that he laughed.
As the king laughed coldly, he tapped the floor with his scepter, and a dull thud spread to the entire hall.
“Because you… are not worthy.”
At the instant he heard the last two words clearly, Thales’ entire being froze.
But he did not have a chance to think about it in-depth, and neither did he have the chance to answer.
Kessel the Fifth did not look at Thales anymore. Instead, he spoke loudly and coldly.
The door to the stone hall opened, and two sets of footsteps walked in at a relaxed pace.
Gilbert’s slightly puzzled voice rose from behind Thales.
“Your Majesty, what—”
But the king immediately interrupted him. His tone was firm and brooked no argument.
“Have the herald draft-No. Gilbert, you will personally write a warrant from me. One that is for the public.”
A look of surprise appeared on Gilbert’s face.
“Prince Thales has returned to the kingdom from afar. To commend his glorious achievements and show his honorable status…” The King of Constellation paused for a moment before he snorted. “… along with my trust and love…”
When he heard that phrase, Thales gritted his teeth.
King Kessel sized up his son, and under Gilbert’s puzzled gaze, he spoke airily, “From today onwards, Mindis Hall, which is located in Twilight District and is among the estates of the royal family, will be given to the Duke of Star Lake, and it will be his special abode.”
Gilbert cast Thales a glance. There was great delight and puzzlement simultaneously in the Foreign Affairs Minister’s eyes.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Gilbert quickly nodded in obedience.
Thales looked up slowly, only to find that King Kessel did not even look at him.
But the king’s decisive orders had yet to end. “Adrian, you will go with the duke. Have your men escort him straight to Mindis Hall. He should be very familiar with that place.”
Gilbert looked as if he wanted to say something, but did not in the end.
“Understood, Your Majesty.”
And Thales only stood by the side without saying a word.
The king snorted coldly, and he sank into the shadows again.
“Of course, that must be fifteen minutes later.”