Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales stood at the side of the study table on the second floor while feeling uneasy. He brought out a towel soaked in hot water from the wooden basin.
He was still dressed in the training uniform, which had different spots soaked with sweat, and also stank. His skin was sticky and oily. The lacerations and bruises ached slightly, and the soreness remained in his body, causing much discomfort to him.
It was as if he returned to the period of time when he was a child beggar.
But Thales did not say a word.
He merely rubbed his face and his neck quietly. There was a slight bit of expectation and nervousness in him as he occasionally looked at the valiant shadow who had her arms folded before her chest as she stood by the window.
In silence, Jines looked at the sun that had now almost reached the horizon. She also watched the servants quickly light the lights in the courtyard. The expression on her face from the side made her seem quiet and profound. She seemed to be pondering on some thoughts or revisiting memory lane.
“You should not have allowed them to do that.”
Jines’ voice was cold, clear, and powerful. Her voice was resolute, and it was the type of resolution belonging to someone who had gone through hardships in her life.
Thales instantly stopped wringing the towel with his arm.
“You should not have allowed the guards to behave so presumptuously just now.” The female official slowly turned around. She remained with her back as straight and sturdy as she did six years ago. She was like the cedar in the winter.
Her eyes were as sharp as ever. Her tone was as strict as ever, and it made Thales remember the first time they met six years ago.
That time, she also wrapped her arms over her chest as she did right now and had a profound expression that was difficult to understand while she sized him up from head to toe.
And now, six years later, Thales subconsciously wanted to turn his head away in an attempt to avoid the eyes of his instructor who had imparted him with rudimentary knowledge.
“Perhaps,” he said softly. His tone was a little helpless, but there was also some degree of emotion in his voice.
Thales picked up the towel and covered his own eyes in time. He pushed his dirty face and the expression he could not quite control into the warm and soft fabric.
Jines did not say a single word.
Then, he put down the towel and attempted to look at Jines’ eyes in a calm manner. He tried hard to put on his most natural and warm smile.
“Madam, I am glad… to see you again.”
After six years.
Jines did not respond immediately. She remained quiet as she fixed her gaze upon Thales. Those eyes that were initially strict and cold had gained some emotion that he could not quite put to words.
“Very well.” A few seconds later, the first-grade female official moved her eyes away. She took a deep breath as if she was holding back something.
“Then, your etiquette lesson will begin now.” Jines’ tone returned to become stable and strict. She walked away from the window.
Thales snapped out of his daze. He felt the anxiousness that he habitually felt whenever he was in front of his instructor who imparted him with rudimentary knowledge. He forcefully endured the tiredness in his body as he quickly threw the towel down.
“No need.” Jines stopped him from taking away the wooden basin. “We will not be practicing table manners today.”
His memory in the past surged into Thales’ mind, but Thales forced it down.
The female official sat down in the guest chair and ignored the refreshments beside her. She took a quick glance at Thales, who seemed a little flustered after the training. She had a slightly gentle look on her face.
“Your first lesson will not be long as well, because you obviously need rest now.”
Thales was shocked for a few seconds before he immediately nodded in gratitude. “Thank you, madam.”
But Jines’ expression turned serious after that. “Do not be in a hurry to rejoice. We are going to replace the time we lost in the next lesson.”
At that instant, Thales felt as if he had returned to six years ago. He remembered looking at Female Officer Jines who was strict in both the training field and dinner table, and who would tell him to lift his shield and grip his fork and knife properly with a cold face.
The familiar feeling came back up to his mind, and he was unable to suppress it.
That scenario seemed as if it happened just yesterday.
It was as if he never left Northland. Time flew and did not return for years.
It was as if the period of time that lasted for more than six years was just a dream from yesterday, and it never happened in reality.
And when he woke up in the morning today, he sat up properly before Jines as he listened to the lesson attentively.
Thales suppressed the sting in his eyes and the surging emotions in his chest. He nodded and remembered the etiquette belonging to Constellation. He sat up straight and seriously.
Jines had been staring at him until Thales recomposed himself.
“During the age of the Empire one thousand years ago, the supreme emperor assigned his personal praetorian guards around the princes to fulfill their duty to their masters as knights.”
Jines went straight into the topic, as usual. Her eyes sizing up Thales.
“After the Battle of Eradication, even though the tradition of knights in the old days were almost completely lost, this habit has been passed down through the generations of Constellation kings. They assigned Royal Guards to guard adult princes by having them serve as their personal guards, attendants, servants, supporters, and all the way to vassals in the future.”
Thales had never thought that Jines would speak of the history the moment she opened her mouth. But the teenager picked up soon after that.
She was not satisfied with his performance earlier on.
“And the princes since the ancient times up till now all had to learn how to manage and use these servants who bore extraordinary meaning and had complicated backgrounds, along with how to get along with the Royal Guards as well as form a camaraderie with them.”
‘Servants who bore extraordinary meaning and had complicated backgrounds…’
Thales clenched his fists lightly.
He recalled Mallos’ indifference, Doyle’s scorn, and Glover’s coolness back at Mindis Hall.
But in the next second, he also remembered Zakriel’s silence, Barney Jr.’s persistence, and Samel’s extreme attitude back at the Prison of Bones.
“This, is without a question, also a part of the Royal Family etiquette.” Jines’ words became more solemn and respectful.
Thales silently listened to her.
The female officer’s eyes was as sharp as a blade, and they cut straight into Thales’ heart.
“Remember this. You are the Duke of Star Lake, the master of Mindis Hall.
“You are also their master.”
‘The Duke of Star Lake.
‘Mindis Hall and their master.’
The teenager’s eyes flickered slightly.
“You are no longer a bastard who needs to hide from plain sight to deceive others. You are now officially the second prince, the heir to the throne.”
Jines’ words were stern.
‘Bastard. The second prince. The heir to the throne.’
“Is that so?”
Thales spoke in a daze, and he caused Jines to stop speaking for a moment.
A few seconds later, Jines’ voice became much more unyielding than before. She sounded like she was a little displeased with his response. “Indeed. As the Duke, you must take the initiative to show them your prestige, your unyielding attitude, and your sternness.
“Show your servants the consequence of not treating their prince with proper respect.”
‘Take the initiative to show them your prestige…’
“Prestige, unyielding attitude, and sternness?”
Thales repeated her murmurs. He forced himself to smile.
The duke slowly exhaled. In his mind, he saw Renaissance Palace, which was dark and profound.
He also saw the throne situated high above within the meeting hall at the end of the long and deep corridor.
He relaxed his shoulders. “Perhaps.”
Thales forced himself to smile even more, but he appeared a little dreary.
‘But that is really not my style. It’s not.’
He did not say the rest. He merely said it quietly in his heart.
Jines furrowed her eyebrows.
It seemed that she had not anticipated that her student whom she had not met in many years to react this way.
The silence in the study room remained for several seconds.
“Northland sent word through their letters saying that you have been through a great deal of hardships. Your temperament is more superior than others. You do not show the slightest terror in the face of enemies who are much more ferocious and tough. You are neither too humble nor arrogant, just like how you behaved at the National Conference.”
Jines spoke coldly, “So why did you become so much weaker in front of your fellow guards at this place then?”
Thales remained silent for a moment.
“Because those instances were different.”
The teenager seemed to have been deeply affected by her words, and he sighed gently. “Back at the National Conference and in Northland, I only needed to face my opponents.
“And now, I need only to follow the lessons and lift my shield.”
‘Lift my shield.’
Jines seemed to be reminded of something, and her mind wandered for a little while.
Thales pursed his lips as he pondered deeply. His face seemed slightly solemn. “But I do not need to just face my guards here.”
Thales stared into the distance in a daze.
Jines did not say a word, she merely frowned as she sized up Thales.
A few seconds later, she slowly said, “Your guards, Mallos and the others…”
But Thales interrupted her. “Madam, please.”
Thales shut his eyes and sighed long and hard.
“All this while, Gilbert will only choose to speak pleasantly, and Yodel always remains in silence. As for the others…”
Jines was instantly shocked.
Thales raised his head and revealed a smile that looked a little unnatural. “But you, Madam, you are the person who imparted me with rudimentary knowledge about the sword and etiquette. You are also his…”
Thales did not finish what he wanted to say, but Jines could vaguely sense something.
The Duke of Star Lake lowered his head.
“I thought you would be more sincere than them.”
Jines repeated in her shock. “Sincere?”
Thales nodded and looked at Jines. “He does not like me.”
Jines was stunned.
Thales calmly spoke the truth as if this was merely an utterly ordinary fact.
“Since the first moment he saw me, he did not like me. This is not some secret.”
The duke chuckled softly and emotionlessly. “Even my guards are well aware of that.
“This is the reason.”
At that moment, Thales’ eyes were calm and tranquil as he stared at Jines, who seemed a little surprised.
She wanted to say something, but in the end, she did not.
The study room remained silent for a long time.
The female official had a profound look on her face. Her eyes shone with a light that could not be deciphered as she looked Thales up and down.
Finally, Jines took a deep breath and slowly said, “The Wrath of the Sea.”
Thales was unable to respond to that. He was confused for a moment.
Jines schooled her expression which had changed slightly. She lowered her eyes and said in a low voice, “That is what Mallos said. What is it with the Awakening of your Power of Eradication?”
‘Oh, the Wrath of the Sea.’
Thales was still immersed in that strange emotion. He exhaled before he recollected himself.
“I do not know.” The duke forced himself to shake his head while he spoke honestly, “This is also the first time I hear about it.”
But Jines laughed.
“Most of the Knights’ Power of Eradication in the kingdom are similar and closely related to their personal experiences, and they are especially similar to their teachers who taught them their legacy,” the female officer calmly said, “There is still a small portion of who are the complete opposite. The master and disciple are complete opposites of each other.”
Thales suddenly had a thought. He pondered over her words and came to the conclusion that there were some similarities between Ricky and her words. “Is that so?”
‘So, the Wrath of the Sea…’
“So, the Northlanders taught you quite a lot, did they?” Jines stared at him and said either intentionally or unintentionally.
Thales remembered his life in Eckstedt. He subconsciously curled up the corners of his mouth. “You can say that.”
But when Thales looked up again, he suddenly felt that something was not right.
The person in front of him was Jines, but when did Jines’ strict eyes turn gentle?!
She quietly looked at Thales. There seemed to be an indescribable emotion in her eyes.
It caused Thales to not quite know how to handle the situation.
He looked at his instructor who imparted him with rudimentary knowledge move her mouth a few times. There were multiple times in which she seemed to want to say something but stopped.
“Brat.” Finally, Jines spoke.
This time, her voice was no longer the clear and unyielding voice. It was a gentle and husky voice. “You seemed to have… become thinner at Northland.”
Thales was instantly stunned.
Jines fixed her eyes on him. She revealed a smile that Thales rarely saw.
Her smile was peaceful and elegant, but there was some degree of sorrow in it that he could not quite put to words.
That had Thales’ mind turning blank for a moment.
Since he returned to the country, Yodel, Kohen, Gilbert and many of his old acquaintances were excited and full of sentimentality after seeing him.
“‘You have grown taller.”‘
“‘You have grown.”‘
“‘You have become mature.”‘
“‘You have become… more like a certain someone.”‘
“‘You have become thinner.”‘
That was the first time Thales heard a comment like this.
The teenager looked at Jines in a dumbfounded manner.
And Jines just stared at him quietly. The wrinkles at the corner of her eyes seemed to be indicating a sad smile.
At that moment, it was as if there was some sort of power filling up his chest.
Thales could not help himself but look away. He blinked rapidly at an angle Jines could not see. At the same time, he squeezed out a smile and changed the topic of the conversation.
“Um, well, ah… these few months have been quite hectic…”
But Jines did not listen to him. She did not notice that Thales’ voice had changed in terms of tone either.
For the first time since their meeting, the female official picked up the teacup beside her. Her posture was dignified and elegant.
“You know.” Jines’ voice was still gentle and filled with sorrow. “Long ago, your grandfather did not like him that much as well.”
Thales’ body stiffened for a moment right there.
He turned his head around mechanically and looked at Jines.
The female official remained seated peacefully in her chair. She caressed the teacup in her hands, but there was a sorrow he never saw before on the corner of her eyes and the side of her lips.
“According to rumors, after the late queen passed away and the crown prince left the palace, there was a long period of time where he was welcomed in all of Renaissance Palace.”
Jines stared dumbly at the reflection in the teacup.
“The servants even so ‘careless’ to the point that they forgot his meal and oil for his lamp. The Royal Guards would often ignore his whereabouts and his safety all the time.”
Thales was shocked.
He suddenly remembered that scene many years ago, where that figure with the scepter spoke to him
In the cemetery room, the shadow that held a cane poured his heart out to him in the family tomb.
“He said that during those years he stole things everywhere in the palace when he was a teenager, and he lived like a rat,” Jines said gently, “He had to rely on himself to survive.”
Thales trembled all of a sudden.
‘Stole things from everywhere, rely on himself to survive, lived like… a rat…’
The teenager subconsciously tightened his grip on the armrests, as if he was grabbing on to the holes in the walls of the houses in Abandoned House.
Jines looked up.
“But that did not affect him grinning mischievously and jumping about in a lively manner while he grew up under the discrimination, neglect, contempt, and curses from the all the people in the kingdom, until now.”
Jines quietly looked at Thales again.
Thales stared at the floor in shock.
A few seconds later, Thales recollected himself and took a deep breath. “Thank you, madam.”
The teenager smiled again. “I understand.”
Jines curled up the corners of her mouth. She wanted to put up a smile she was not familiar with, but a moment later, she seemed to have noticed something as she put down her teacup. She schooled her face in an unnatural manner.
“So, brat, I am saying that you are too skinny. Look at how the others pummeled you…”
Jines noticed that her voice quivered. So, she took a few breaths in. She also turned to an angle that Thales could not see and stayed there for a while. “Remember to eat more.”
Jines hesitated for a moment before she added. “And also, sleep earlier.”
But this time, Thales was not led into the same atmosphere by her strict tone. The duke smiled a little and said, “Of course, madam, of course.”
A few seconds later, Jines turned her head around once again. Her expression and her tone became cold and strict again. She sounded as if completely unconcerned about Thales. “Speaking of which, brat, how much do you understand about your guards?”
Thales looked and adjusted his emotions. “Not much?”
Jines had her mouth twitch and remained silent for a moment. “Listen carefully, then.
“After the Bloody Year, your father was too ruthless with his purge and dragged in too many people who were related to the Bloody Year in order to eliminate threats.”
Thales’ expression changed.
The anger within Disaster Sword’s Marina while they were in the underground prison flashed before his eyes.
Jines said with a serious face, “So, the thing that vanished along with the threat in and outside of Eternal Star City was ‘trust’.”
“And do not forget as well that your father had no successor for twelve long years.
“Not only did this weaken his prestige, but it also stirred up the ambitions within the dukes. It had even dealt a blow to trust with the traditional advocates of the royal family, who were the direct vassals of the Jadestar Family residing in Central Territory, and whose leaders are the Seven Jadestars Attendants.”
Thales subconsciously asked another question. “And also loyalty?”
Jines cast him a glance, and she declined to comment. “During those twelve years, your father had to promote and put many new people into important positions. For instance, the three generals, Gilbert, whom you are familiar with, Count Godwin, Viscount Kenney, Baron Gales, Kirkirk Mann, Solder Ryder… They became the main force of the king’s party, and they consolidated his rule over the kingdom.
“But on the contrary, under his ruling and under the dissatisfaction of the other guardian dukes, the traditional royal vassals like the Seven Jadestars Attendants descended into a decline and silence. They gradually grew further and further away from Renaissance Palace.”
‘The Seven Jadestars Attendants…’
Thales recalled the explanation given by Gilbert. He started contemplating about this.
Jines solemnly said, “Until…”
Thales raised his head and furrowed his eyebrows. “Me?”
Jines remained in silence for a little while, but she still nodded afterward.
“Thanks to you and thanks to the renewed continuity of Jadestar Royal Family line, the Seven Jadestars Attendants began to gradually show their goodwill to the Nine-Pointed Star once again one after another after they were divided in loyalty and drifted further away from the royal family in silence.”
But Jines’ face turned serious soon after that.
“But they are still observing from afar.
“And you cannot win their acknowledgment with merely your title and bloodline.
“Your father could not rely on one successor to wipe away their grudge that came after the Bloody Year and win back their trust as well.”
Thales remembered Doyle and Glover. “Is that so?”
Jines sighed. “Your Star Lake Guards are just an example.”
Thales did not say a word.
Jines remained in silence as he fixed her attention on him. She said softly, “The day you officially show yourself in front of the nobles during the banquet will arrive very soon.”
The lady’s eyes turned sharp. “Stay vigilant, brat.”
Jines’ tone made Thales be unable to help himself but feel nervous.
“You and I are alike. We are inferior to them.
“But you are like your father as well. You are superior to them.
“And you also came back from Northland, so you are an outsider to them.”
The continuous string of sentences caused Thales to fall into deep thought, and at the same time, it made him vigilant.
“And that would mean, at the end of the day, you are still not a part of them from your core to your appearance,” Jines said firmly.
‘Not a part of them.’
Thales opened his mouth, as if he wanted to say something, but he shut his mouth in the end.
“I spent over thirty years to understand this.”
A rarely seen sign of someone who experienced many things in life appeared in Jines’ eyes.
“I hope that you can understand it sooner.”
“Banquet… Alright, then. But so what? What can they do, eat me?”
The teenager brushed his chin while he felt troubled.
Jines shut her eyes and shook her head. “No.”
But the female official opened her eyes, and an even sharper glare was hidden within them. “But they will rip you to shreds.”
When he heard this description in the form of a metaphor, Thales was instantly dumbfounded.
“But… I am the son of the king, the heir to the king’s throne, right?”
“That is correct.”
Jines appeared wary and solemn. “So they will behave gently, elegantly, and politely as they tear you apart.”
Thales nodded, though he looked as if he did not quite understand her words. “Then, what should I do?”
Jines remained quiet for a moment. “You know, brat. Six years ago, you already knew.”
Thales’ expression changed.
“Lift your shield.”
Jines stared at him, just like how she did while she taught him how to use the sword many years ago. “Never put it down, until you are dead and your enemy is dead.”
Thales became silent once again.
This time, he thought of many things.
“Then, what about my father? Is he the same?” the teenager asked airily.
Jines’ arm trembled for a moment.
Her gaze as she stared at Thales changed. It was as if she had returned to become the Jines Bajkovic who asked him whether he had become thinner.
A few seconds later, Jines sighed softly.
“Brat, do you know what this place is?”
Thales was well aware that his question was hurtful, so he smiled in resignation to relieve himself of the embarrassing situation. “Uhm, study room?”
Jines looked at him again.
Thales could only keep put away the smile that he thought was humorous and replied bashfully, “Mindis Hall.
“The jewel of the royal family, the Royal Pavilion of the Virtuous King, and the great artistic manor.”
And also one of his childhood memories which he was utterly familiar with.
“Oh, and it was also the place where its first owner, Mist King, Mindis the First passed away in his young age three hundred years ago.”
Thales wanted to make himself sound a little humorous, but for some reason, he constantly failed.
Jines looked at him quietly.
“You are correct, but that is not all.”
Thales raised his eyebrows.
“Eighteen years ago…”
The expression on Jines’ face changed.
The female official’s eyes became slightly dazed as if she was staring at something while there was fog in front of her.
“After the Crown Prince of Constellation, your uncle, First Prince Midier Jadestar became of age, this is the dwelling place he chose.”
Thales’ expression changed slightly.
“You are talking about…”
Jines looked at him.
“That man who was destined to sit on the throne.”