“His Majesty has officially released his warrant.”
Gilbert sat opposite Thales. He was grinning from ear to ear as he lifted his teacup and took a gentle sip from it.
“Presently, the news regarding your return and your appointment as duke has been spreading across every corner of Eternal Star City. A few days later, everyone from all of Central Territory and the entire country will know about this.”
Thales was in the living hall, but he was there as the master instead of the guest this time. He smiled in resignation.
The teenager stood up with the laziness that was present after someone got up in the morning. He leisurely walked to the window.
The first rays of the morning sun shone through the curtains. It lit up the guest room, which was decorated in an inconspicuous manner. It was also very clean, which made it look like it was new.
Thales pulled up the casement. Fresh air began to gush toward his face, along with a layer of noise that was grating to the ears.
“True.” The new Duke of Star Lake yawned while he leaned against the window. He massaged his waist and said, “I can already feel it from here.”
The area of Mindis Hall below the window was not quiet.
The garden and the path beyond the metal gate were fully occupied with all sorts of carriages, and he had not even counted in the guests who walked or rode here, and there were many of them. Some of them were dressed up luxuriously, with their family emblems being shown in an obvious manner.
The Royal Guards and the Jadestar Private Army outside the metal gate dedicated themselves fully to their tasks and were incredibly busy. While they gave explanations, they tried to dissuade the guests at the same time.
Thales stuck himself near the window. The sin of Hell’s River surged to his ear. He roughly caught some words here and there.
“Apologies, Your Grace. Mindis Hall does not welcome guests this month.” Vanguard Glover’s stiff and stern voice traveled into his ears.
“Only those who have His Majesty’s special warrant can pass…”
Soon after that, another voice that sounded a little agitated drowned out Glover’s voice.
“No no no, Luke. We might have been schoolmates for four years, but we were never close. So, all unrelated personnel are strictly… what? You are just here for the scenery? That is enough, you! You have been here for the scenery for two consecutive days! And you remained here for eight hours just to stare at the scenery! Do I strike you as an idiot?!”
It was Doyle.
He was standing right before a nobleman who had an innocent look on his face at that moment. He waved his hand at Mindis Hall, which was right behind him. He looked exasperated.
“You’re all so noisy every day… I do not need to… the prince, does he not need to rest?”
Thales could not help but quirk his eyebrows.
Another voice which was befitting of the person’s status and gentle came into his ear.
“…Then, Honorary Viscount Khema, you should look for the successor of the Karabeyan Family you have spoken of. Ask him about the secret to being an exception, which will allow you to meet the duke.” That was Mallos who wore a gentle smile on his face, but was unapproachable as he encountered another noble who was not very easy to deal with.
“Oh, you belong to a family of royal merchants? You also have three beautiful daughters from nine to nineteen years old, and there is a possibility that they could become the prince’s wife? My apologies. Perhaps as the future kin of the royal family, you could His Majesty’s gracious warrant to enter? When that time comes, you can return for another visit. I will surely form a parade and clear a path to welcome you for your arrival.”
“Alright. The Mallos Family express our gratitude toward your care toward us. It truly devastates my heart to be unable to purchase your family’s goods…”
“I thank you for your kind regards for my parents and family, even though they are no longer with us in this world…”
“Yes, then I represent all of my female relatives who are well and alive and thank you and your groin for your greetings…”
“Alright, Your Grace. I will definitely bring your words to the grave of my ancestors so that they know what you said…”
“But before that, I need to detain you at the police station momentarily for the safety of the Duke of Star Lake…”
“Why is that? Because I suspect you secretly carry weapons with you, and you have bad intentions toward the duke… where is the weapon? You see, the diamond on your ring is too shiny. That is harmful to His Grace’s eyes…”
“Then I suggest you bring a complaint about my attitude in my service directly to His Majesty or Lord Adrian…”
“How long is the detainment? Rest assured. There are only two months left until the duke’s welcoming banquet. By then, your plan would have lost its effectiveness. After that, the Royal Guards would officially bring the lawsuit of you mentioning that you want to assassinate the royal family on you…”
When he heard this, Thales sighed and pulled down the window. He no longer listened to that Viscount Khema, who had a big belly, try to anxiously defend himself with words such as, “No I am not, I did not, you cannot accuse me of such nonsense”. He also did not care about that viscount running to his carriage with terror on his face.
This was the third day he returned to the capital and resided at Mindis Hall.
Since the second day, Mindis Hall was as crowded as the marketplace. The people who wanted to visit him came and went in a continuous stream.
It was so noisy that the Star Lake Guards could not get a moment of rest.
“You should not have met that descendant of the Karabeyan Family a few days ago, even though he was your old friend.” Gilbert put down his teacup and sighed.
“As of right now, the capital is full of many nobles, government officials, and people of fame and prestige. They would all mimic whatever they see and will try to use their connections to get in.”
“Yes, yes, I understand now.” Thales returned to his seat. He spoke in a daze, “This is the price.”
He underestimated the influence and the impact of his return to the kingdom.
The prince did not just attract visitors.
Apparently, the Duke of Star Lake moving into Mindis Hall had not only awoken snapped Mindis Hall out of its usual peace and quiet. The upgrade of the specifications of the mansion had also affected all of Eternal Star City.
The Town Hall had consecutively issued six urgent orders: replantation of plants, replacement of lamps, the cleaning of all streets in Twilight District which were visible to the prince’s eyes of the prince, and decoration of the streets in a beautiful and grand manner. Not an ordinary citizen was allowed to enter, and not even a beggar was allowed to be seen. The appearance of the city had a tremendous improvement. To a certain extent, it had become even more beautiful than Eastern City District, where the great noblemen gathered.
The police station had reset their patrol schedule and arrangement of manpower. The police stations in Twilight District and the other two districts very nearby—which originally argued over trifle matters with each another—became united. They cooperated with each other earnestly and sincerely. Countless police officers strove to be the first on duty, and they behaved cautiously and conscientiously. Batches of Public Security Teams competed with each other for shifts. They patrolled the area day and night, turning the sector, which was located in such an awkward position that people almost forgot about it, into heaven among men. People would not pick up what others dropped on the floor and could even leave their doors unlocked during the night.
The Chief Garrison Officer of Eternal Star City urgently increased the city defense teams on the city walls around Twilight District, even though Twilight District was miles away from the city wall. It was done in an attempt to make sure that “no rascals or the likes of them could pass us and pose a threat to the prince”. He also purposely requested for a warrant to transfer regular soldiers from outside of the city to set up a special line that was specifically for the purpose of opening up a path for supplies and logistics for Mindis Hall. According to a certain soldier, “Even if we are transporting the prince’s poop out of the city, it must not be tainted by others!”
Thales massaged his forehead in a dispirited manner.
Gilbert helplessly smiled. “I can already imagine the situation when I return home… I will probably never be so welcomed in my entire life.”
“As His Majesty’s most trusted vassal, you have always been very popular to begin with.” Thales sighed. “Also, believe me when I say that compared to Constellatiates, Eckstedtians will welcome your arrival even more.”
Gilbert nodded in sudden realization.
Over the past few days, if they disregarded the huge group of chance takers who craned their necks while they waited outside the wall in hopes to test their luck to meet the prince, the days in Mindis Hall was quite peaceful.
He enjoyed an uninterrupted sleep, breakfast, moving about freely, lunch, another uninterrupted sleep, moving about freely again, dinner, moving about freely yet again, and yet another uninterrupted sleep.
‘Oh, that’s right. I can move about freely as long as I remain indoors because it’s necessary for me to avoid the paparazzi—ahem. I mean, I have to avoid those fanatic chance takers who are begging to see the prince.’
Even though his life was about the same as when he was in Dragon Clouds City, but…
There was no scheming against each other. He did not feel insecure because his enemies remained in the dark. He did not need to be under constant high pressure where he had to be ready to do something at all points of time. He did not need to feel nervous because he was trying to survive in a desperate situation. There was no frantic journey of fleeing thousands of miles.
No one interrupted his life, no one butted into his life, and no one questioned his life.
He was really a little… Unfamiliar with it.
Thales picked up the teacup. He moistened his throat in satisfaction.
Six years ago, when he stayed in this place as the guest, he had to get permission from Gilbert to do everything. Compared to that time, six years later, now that he had become the master of this place, he had actually gained some benefits.
At least he could directly give orders to people around him, for example, asking them to get him a harder bed. When he said something, his words would be obeyed as well, at least on the surface.
‘I’m truly living through these days like a degenerate…’
Thales slowly leaned back and let out a wail (which was really a sigh full of praise) that specifically belonged to a degenerate from the bottom of his heart.
He lived such a pleasant life that he was about to forget about that person in Renaissance Palace…
“So, Gilbert. What sort of arrangement do we have for today?” Thales gloomily pointed at the top of the table. “Why did you bring along such a huge stack of papers?”
Gilbert, who had been lovingly staring at the duke, turned his head around as if he suddenly remembered something. He moved the stack of papers on the table down to his knees as he pulled out a pair of glasses at the same time.
“Please forgive me. I’m old now, and my eyes are not that good anymore…”
The Foreign Affairs Minister who was now past middle-age spoke in embarrassment.
His glasses were very special. It was a hand-held folding glasses without a nosepad. Instead, a handle was specially made on the right side of the glasses’ frame.
“By the way, the gift you requested to be given to the Archduchess is ordered from the same hand-made spectacle workshop…”
While Gilbert spoke, he lifted the spectacle in front of his eyes as he began reading the papers on his knees.
“I have no idea what you are thinking. After all, they craft spectacles specially for scholars and old folks like myself. The color design is neither fancy nor trendy. I am afraid that you would not be able to please the young girl. Did you not think about giving her anything else first…?” The words spoken by the Foreign Affairs Minister seemed to be hinting some hidden meaning. However, the expression on Thales’ face remained the same as ever, since he had already experienced many things. He turned a deaf ear.
It remained unknown as to whether it was because he saw that the prince did not respond at all or he finally found his target on the papers. Gilbert gently sighed and said, “Your welcoming banquet has been initially set to be more than two months from now.
“The newly appointed Duke of Star Lake will be officially introduced to the entire kingdom, or at least to all of Eternal Star City.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister still had his head lowered. He did, however, look over the top of his glasses to stare at Thales.
‘Introduce me to the entire kingdom.’
Thales felt a chill run down his spine.
He sucked in a deep breath and sat straight in his chair.
The lackadaisical attitude and ease of mind he had over the past few days instantly vanished.
‘It’s about time.’ He sighed and told himself. ‘Wake up, Thales.
‘Other than the noble owners of cat lovers…
‘Where else on earth would I be able to find happy degenerates?’
Thales cheered himself up. “And this period of over two months until the banquet?”
Gilbert looked up and away from the papers. “It is your time to rest, adapt, and adjust.”
Gilbert shook his head to disagree. “No, that is not a long period at all. Truth be told, it is a little too short.
“After all, you have stayed in Northland for six years.” The Foreign Affairs Minister began to size up Thales. He observed Thales’ habitual way of sitting, which made him seemingly sloppy, but he was actually sitting in a way where his elbows supported him so that he would roll to the ground anytime. His gaze was also sharp and straightforward, and he would also stare directly into someone’s eyes without looking away. His casual clothes were convenient for movement, but not very serious. He frowned in a barely noticeable manner.
“There are too many things we need to correct, from your speaking style, your mannerisms, habits, etiquette, and knowledge.”
It was Thales’ turn to frown this time.
“Speaking styles, mannerisms, habits?”
Gilbert noticed he had misspoken.
“Apologies. I definitely mean no disrespect. But what I mean is that we need to prepare too many things…”
The Foreign Affairs Minister took a glance at Thales as his tone became respectful and cautious.
“Forgive me for being straightforward. Although you had revealed yourself to the public in a stunning manner during the National Conference in the past, that was still six years ago.
“During the past six years, aside from learning about you from the bits of news scattered here and there, no one understands you.”
“Currently, they only know that Prince Thales has just returned from the brutish, savage, perilous, and bitter Northland after he grew up under the care of unreasonable ruffians in the north, along with the Eckstedtians’ influence and education.”
Gilbert did a standard bow, and he sincerely said, “And what we need to show them…”
Thales leaned back against the chair as he massaged his head in resignation.
“I understand. You can just tell me straight away.” The young Duke of Star Lake sighed deeply.
“Everyone everywhere in the kingdom are skeptical. Would the second prince have had his mind twisted by the barbaric and perverse Northlanders, have his personality led astray, become silly after he was hit by the Northlanders, get his sexuality twisted…
“After all, to them, the Eckstedtians are all illiterate. So they might even suspect that the successor who returned to the kingdom merely has the appearance of a Constellation Prince, but is actually a brutish and illiterate person from the Northland in the inside?”
After he finished speaking, Thales let out a breath in vexation.
‘You trapped me for six years, six years.
‘Are you satisfied now?
‘Alright, Chapman. I can consider this is a small win on your side.’
Thales thought in boredom.
“I did not say that.” Gilbert smiled joyfully. Then, his face instantly turned serious. “But in regards to your sexuality… you were joking, right?”
Thales did not have the energy to put an end to this small joke. He went on speaking, “And what you need to do before I make my debut will be to turn me into a prince who appears to act more locally, has more appropriate mannerisms, is more acceptable to the people, and more…’Constellatiate’?”
“Not entirely, Your Highness.”
Gilbert seemed to have let go of the “joke” which was not entirely reassuring. He smiled once again and said, “Truth be told, your journey to Northland is one of the most eye-catching features in your experiences. It is just like the legendary journey that only mercenaries experience. It is unfamiliar and mysterious, and it will draw forth awe and wonder in people who have no idea what happened.”
‘People who have no idea what happened…’
Thales mocked himself for a little while in his heart.
However, when Gilbert mentioned mercenaries, Thales was suddenly reminded of Quick Rope and the mysterious and terrifying Ricky.
“So we may wish to appropriately retain some of the marks left on you by Dragon Clouds City…”
Thales snapped out of his daze. “Marks?”
Gilbert nodded with a smile.
“We will let the others know the benefits of Duke Thales being on two sides of the national border at the same time. You are the only one in this era to have received the Empire as well as Constellation’s inheritance and to have been honed by the Northern Wind and the Great Dragon. You are capable of arguing fiercely with the vassals at Renaissance Palace and also capable of surviving the treacherous situations at Heroic Spirit Palace.
“You are the Chosen One.”
The air went silent for a second.
Thales lowered his head under the Foreign Affairs Minister’s bright eyes. He subconsciously rubbed his face.
‘Damn it, as expected of someone engaged in diplomacy.
‘Compared to “package the country bumpkin Thales”, what he said sure sounds prettier.
‘The power of Constellation’s Cunning Fox has not weakened.’ Thales sighed as he thought.
With just a few decent and innocuous words, he managed to dispel the displeasure in Thales’ heart.
From this alone, the difference between Gilbert and Putray, that gloomy old man who likes to say things that spoils the mood, if truly like night and day.
Perhaps that was the reason behind why one of the two who worked together at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was able to rise to a high position, become the king’s trusted aide, and have his fame spread across the Western Peninsula.
In the meantime, the other remained wandering about the lands. He worked hard day and night, but regardless of how much he achieved, no one would know.
Thales quietly pondered.
A few seconds later, Thales composed himself and smiled as he answered, “Alright, if I am truly an illiterate, Gilbert, would it not be a little late for you to begin eliminating illiteracy while I am fourteen?”
“Perhaps others will not understand, Your Highness, but I am your designated mentor.” When he spoke of the past, Gilbert could not help but feel emotional. “You only took a six-year break in between lessons.”
He winked at Thales. “So, do you still remember how to compose a sonnet?”
Thales and Gilbert chuckled softly at the same time.
But against Thales’ expectations, Gilbert suddenly spoke while he chuckled, “So, it was merely a six-year rest.”
His voice became deeper.
“Only six years, Your Highness.”
Thales’ smile faded away. He stared at the Foreign Affairs Minister with a curious look.
“Do not be discouraged, child.” Gilbert did not look at him. He merely spoke slowly. “You must know that sometimes, fathers make mistakes as well.”
Thales was stunned.
“Give him time, Your Highness,” Gilbert said airily, “Give him time.”
His voice quivered slightly.
The temperature and the light in the guest room seemed to have dropped and dimmed at the same time at that moment.
Thales remained silent as he contemplated.
Gilbert did not say a word as well.
The two of them sat face to face in silence just like that.
After a long while, Thales finally sucked in a deep breath and smiled.
The prince fixed his eyes on the middle-aged man who personally taught him how to read, who had been full of energy while he was young, but was now a middle-aged man with graying hair and seemed exhausted. He said seriously, “Gilbert, thank you.”
Gilbert forced himself to smile. He composed himself. “For what?”
Thales lowered his head. After a long while, he quirked up the corners of his mouth. “For… everything.”
At that moment, only the vague noises coming from outside the window could be heard.
Gilbert sighed. “No, Your Highness, everything… was all for you.”
Thales did not utter a single word.
Gilbert swept his gaze over Mindis Hall, which was familiar to him. In the end, he revealed a fatigued but relaxed smile on his face. “Your Highness, welcome home.”
At that moment, a gush of warmth from six years ago rose in the prince’s heart.
It swept away the gloom he felt in the past.
It was as if the estrangement he felt during the first moments he returned to Constellation was just a fleeting cloud.
It was unworthy to be mentioned.