In the hall, the senior ministers and suzerains began to whisper among themselves, even smiles could be seen on some of their faces.
Duke Cullen laughed heartily and whispered to the 'unpopular' Duke Fakenhaz, "She's a good girl. Did she learn to be so biting with her words from you?
"Biting with her words? Not at all," Cyril Fakenhaz said softly with warped lips, and he giggled with a sinister smile. "To me, this is a woman's natural ability."
Back in the hall, Lasalle's facial expression froze, and then he burst out in anger. "So, is it Constellation's style to use this sort of method to sow discord between Eckstedt's king and his subjects? It is just like how you have shamelessly and despicably plotted to murder our Prince Moriah!"
Thales' heart lurched in his chest. 'Here comes the "main course".'
His statement caused most of Constellation's nobles in the hall to feel indignant and angered.
Yet, there were few who fell into deep thought.
Before Thales could respond, Gilbert spoke with a praising smile, "The duchess' reaction is commendable. We have unknowingly launched a counter attack. Your Highness, Duchess Tabark's attack should bring us some positive results."
Thales turned around and looked at the elegant duchess.
Lyanna also seemed to have sensed Thales' gaze, and turned around to return it with a fierce stare. It was as sharp as a blade.
Thales hastily delivered a smile, then took a quick glimpse around the hall, pretending like nothing had happened, as if his gaze on the duchess earlier was actually unintentional.
"This is not as simple as merely sowing discord. It helps to probe into whether King Nuven and the Duke of Black Sand have uniform wills as well as objectives. This is very important!"
Thales was dumbfounded.
Gilbert continued patiently, "The fact that Lasalle abruptly reverted back to the main subject is an indication. Obviously, he also knows that he better not get entangled in the subject of who is stronger between King Nuven and the Archduke of Black Sand.
"In the first round, he was the one who was forced to strike first."
Recalling Gilbert's inference in the carriage earlier, Thales suddenly realized that the assassination of the Eckstedt Diplomat Group could have been a deliberate attempt of certain people in their own country.
'Looks like... though there is no evidence, but no matter what...
At least, in the minds of most people, the discord between King Nuven and the Archduke of Black Sand was quite huge.
He returned his gaze to the hall.
The One-Eyed Dragon of Nanchester snorted. "We murdered your prince? Even an idiot would be able to tell that the assassination of your diplomatic group was a plot to stir up warfare between our countriesIs Eckstedt going to be used so easily and willingly? Even my hunting hounds are not as obedient as you are!"
"Constellatiates, do you think we really care whether you are an innocent bystander or the instigator?" Lasalle spoke slowly.
"Since you are not interested in finding out the truth, why are you here? How about you just behead some of the people on the streets and give it back to your King Nuven?" Duke Zayen of South Coast Hill said sarcastically.
These words did not fail to stir up Lasalle's burning rage and enmity. Under the watchful eyes of the nobles, he strode forward, then held the Crimson Dragon sealed scroll up high in his right hand!
On the throne, King Kessel clenched both his fists and lowered his chin. His gaze turned gloomy and abstruse.
"No matter who despicably murdered the princewe swear to destroy them! Eckstedt will uphold justice ourselves, we do not need anybody else!
"But our prince, the only son and heir of the Archduke of Dragon Cloud City and the Common-Elected King of Eckstedt, died in Constellation's territory!"
Lasalle spread his arms, vigorously turned and ruthlessly gazed at each and every suzerain, noble and official in the hall.
"His last drop of blood fell on the land of Constellation, the last breath he took was the air in Constellation, the last scene he saw was the scenery in Constellation. He came to Constellation with good will, yet all of you could not and did not protect him!
"Regardless of whether he was killed intentionally or not, it was your incompetence and your conniving attitude which have caused his death.
"That is good enough!
"Constellation should be responsible for it, and should pay the price!"
Angrily, Lasalle tore open the seal from the Crimson Dragon sealed scroll. Then, he swiftly unfurled it!
"No matter what, King Nuven and Eckstedt must obtain some form of justification from Constellation!"
The six dukes almost frowned simultaneously!
Thales' pupils contracted, only to see that the fully written scroll had no signature or a seal stamp.
It only had a palm print.
A bright red palm print.
Could it be King Nuven's bloody palm print?
Commotion returned to the hall!
"I saw it with my own eyes. He did not sign it, he did not put a seal. He just cut his palm and pressed it down to make a palm print!
"This is King Nuven's anguish and despair! Do you understand now, Constellatiates?!"
The last few words uttered were as if they were spat out through Lasalle's teeth.
The commotion in the hall began to gradually subside.
Prior to this, Thales did not care much about the assassination of the Eckstedt Diplomat Group. The death of the foreign prince, who was a total stranger to him caused no pain to him. Yet now, he finally realized the seriousness of this matter.
The supreme king's sonorous voice rose up once again.
"I can comprehend King Nuven's despair and anger. Believe me, I have experienced that sort of feeling, and Constellation will definitely not evade its responsibility.''
Kessel spoked in an indifferent manner.
The One-Eyed Dragon Koshder gnashed his teeth, though in a barely noticeable manner.
'Is the king about to yield?
'Is it possible? How would the Northern Ferocious Dragon be fully satisfied unless we pay a hefty price for cutting off a big chunk of 'meat' from our Northern Territory?
'If we give in, King Kessel will end up being labelled incompetent and weak. Moreover, we will be destined to have our relationship with the Northern Territory sour even further. They are not exactly good friends of ours now.'
As he thought about these things, he could not help but look at Val Arunde, who was in full military uniform, frowning but keeping absolute silence.
It seemed as if this was the calm before a storm.
Lasalle put down his hand and continued coldly, "Thank you for your understanding, Your Majesty. Oh yes, I remember now. Hoho, if it is you, whatever you say, we can understand."
Strange looks appeared among those presented in the hall.
"Cut the nonsense. What are King Nuven's conditions?" Kessel ignored his underlying mocking words and asked him outright.
Under the watchful eyes of the people, Lasalle let out a steely harrumph, pulled out the scroll again and began reciting its contents.
"All subjects of Eckstedt, from His Majesty Nuven to the nine archdukes, upon learning of the tragedy, while bearing horrific sorrow and despair, we used our utmost rationale as well as intellect, and unanimously deem that Constellation must be held accountable for Prince Moriah Charleton's misfortune."
Finishing this statement, Lasalle looked up and glanced at the whole hall once over.
"It is fair. It is Constellation's shame that the dignified Prince Moriah met with such misfortune in this country."
Lasalle narrowed his cold eyes a little, then lowered his head to continue reciting from the scroll.
"Number One, to appease the deceased, Constellation must arrange to return the remains of our Diplomatic Group, especially that of Prince Moriah, in the most dignified, respectable, and glorious manner.
"Number Two, to uphold justice, Constellation must provide assistance in our investigation and surrender the murderer, including the mastermind behind this."
Fakenhaz let out a light snort and grumbled to Duke Cullen, who was by his side, "Assist them? My god, this sounds more like a superior giving orders to his subordinate."
However, being laden with anxiety, the latter only stared at Lasalle with a solemn gaze.
Eckstedt's Emergency Diplomat's recital still went on.
"Number Three, to restore honour, we would like King Kessel to personally extend a public apology to the entire Eckstedt."
Thales lifted his brows.
Gilbert's statement reappeared in his mind.
"It does not matter whether we fight or choose to form an armistice, His Majesty will not be able to escape from being criticized as a cold-hearted and ruthless king who disregards his people, oppresses the weak, and embarrasses Constellation. This will greatly impact His Majesty and Jadestar Family's reputation and influence in the kingdom."
But Lasalle was still delivering his blunt and ruthless speech.
"Number Four, to compensate for damage or loss, whether it be lands or resources, we expect to be reasonably and adequately compensated.Specifically, Eckstedt expects compensations in the forms of: (i) the two northern prefectures, which are adjacent to our Empire, and land the size of which shall be not less than that of the Pine Nut County, or (ii) a third of the preferential quota of the premium Eternal Oil from the Eastern Sea Coast of the whale hunting industry in Constellation, or (iii) two tenths of the preferential quota of the Crystal Drop Ore Mine at the Southern Coast Territory of Constellation. Any one of the three.
"Number Five, to uphold equality, the 'Fortress Treaty' needs to be revised by both Constellation and Eckstedt, especially the nonsensical boundary lines drawn twelve years ago. Pine Nut County, Sharladan County, Levor County, Bear County and Deer Cry County must be unconditionally returned to Eckstedt's rule. The Duke of Watch City will withdraw his land cultivation team from the Northern Pine Forest, and the number of hunters as well as herdsmen allowed into the Pine Forest annually can only be decided after consultation with the Archduke of Black Sand. The Duke of Lonely Old Tower shall have his patrol guards pulled backwards by three kilometers. They shall not unreasonably deny Eckstedtians from entering the public hunting zone."
The hall was so quiet that even the sound of a needle dropping could be heard.
But Thales knew that this was only on the surface.
Lasalle slowly put the scroll down.
"As mentioned above, these are the conditions stipulated by King Nuven and by the Eckstedt Empire."
Suddenly, the dreadful silence in the hall was broken.
"What crap are you talking about?"
Unable to take it any longer, Count Zemunto shouted, "Watch City will not retreat even one step! What is more, we will definitely not surrender Pine Nut County and Bear County! Go and tell that bastard in the Black Sand Region: if he wants our land, he will have to come and get it with his troops!"
Count Friess also spoke coldly, "Deer Cry County shall also remain the same! Besides, Lonely Old Tower will patrol wherever he wishes!"
Nevertheless, the Duke of the Northern Territory, who had the most authority to speak, chose to maintain silent. He gazed attentively at King Kessel the Fifth.
The people in the hall turned their sights towards the supreme king with varying expressions.
Kessel stared upon the steps under his feet, as if what had happened was rather trivial, and spoke with a calm face, "Nuven, oh Nuven Eckstedt is definitely too voracious to think that it could make use of the dead prince in exchange for our seven counties."
Not taking this insult lying down, Lasalle lifted his head and stared straight at Kessel. "The damage to Eckstedt is not the loss of a prince per se, it is also damage done to our honour and dignity!"
"Our diplomatic group came here in good will, but was shoddily treated! Who then will vindicate the humiliation Eckstedt has suffered? Who is going to tame the Great Dragon's flames of fury?
"What is more, Constellation, what you all took away was the only son to a father!" Lasalle continued with utmost fury. "The sole legitimate and true heir to the throne, who had come with a mission for friendship and peace, but died due to a despicable assassination!
"King Nuven lost his kin, his only son, his sole heir. Eckstedt lost the next Archduke of Dragon Cloud City, the future of the Walton Family!"
In the end, Lasalle roared.
"Even with such a devastating blow, King Nuven did not send an army but only put up some conditions. Is this not the most rational and restrained choice?"
The hall was then filled with inhales of discontentment among the nobles.
Kessel maintained his calm tone, yet with a voice that allowed no argument, he said, "The first three conditions can be fulfilled, but the fourth and fifth"
The King's voice rang coldly across the hall. "Constellation will never allow me to cut off our land, or prepare to surrender the quota of our resources. If we say that, what are you going to do?'
Val began to frown.
Duke Cullen sighed deeply, while Fakenhaz let out an unpleasant bark of laughter.
Lyanna and Zayen pursed their lips tight and kept absolutely quiet.
Thales lowered his heart in agony. 'Can war not be prevented?'
'Hahahaha, King Kessel." Lasalle laughed in extreme anger. "When we came to Eternal Star in the past, King Aydi similarly rejected the requests we brought forth on behalf of King Nuven and the nine archdukes.
"What happened after that?" Lasalle spread his arms wide open and again peered around the hall.
Many of the older suzerains, nobles and officials tensed up.
"Yes, we 'generously' dispatched our army."
With accelerated breathing and an even more icy facial expression, Lasalle continued, "Whatever that rightfully belongs to him, the Great Dragon will come and get it himself."
Everyone in the conference hall began to ponder the consequences of this statement.
Twelve years ago, the chaos and disaster of war involving most of Constellation remained vivid in their minds.
"When righteousness cannot be upheld, and justice turns to dust"
Lasalle raised his right hand in an oppressive manner and slowly clenched his fist. "Then Eckstedt will have no choice but to use war to safeguard our honour and His Majesty's dignity."
"By then, the problem will not be easily resolved with a few counties or some Eternal Oil."
Kessel replied in a seemingly profound manner.
"Is there no other method to properly resolve the grievance between Constellation and the Great Dragon in your eyes and King Nuven's?
"Do you really wish to witness bloodshed between the subjects of the two countries' borders?"
Lasalle responded quickly. "Your Majesty, war or peace, it is all up to you. To tolerate humiliation for the sake of your subjects, or go to war at all costs?"
He swept his icy gaze across the ministers, particularly Count Zemunto, then laughed sarcastically. "Especially when your Northern Territory does not even have sufficient military strength to defend Broken Dragon Fortress from the Black Sand Archduke's army?"
The Duke of the Northern Territory clenched his fist tightly.
Gilbert whispered into Thales' ear with a sigh, "During the Bloody Year, the Northern Territory was dealt a great blow when faced with the powerful vanguards of Eckstedt, second only to the damage suffered by Blade Edge Hill in the southwest. There was a time when widows outnumbered children in the Northern Territory."
"You are asking me to make a decision when faced with such a difficult choice?" Kessel let out a cold harrumph. "You might as well just get Constellation a new king!"
"Your Majesty, you are the Supreme King of Constellation. You are destined to shoulder this responsibility." Lasalle raised his head with a smile.
"If you cannot do it, then as you have said, you might as well choose a more capable individual to be the leader of Constellation from this hall full of nobles. Eckstedt will be more than happy to see this done."
The entire conference hall rose into a commotion within an instance.
Some even cursed aloud.
Nonetheless, Eckstedt's emergency envoy was not done with his talking!
Lasalle continued sinisterly, "In any case, the next King of Constellation is also destined to not be from Jadestar, is he not?"
Many of the nobles looked at Kessel oddly, but even more looked to Thales.
Was this envoy still ignorant about the National Conference?
Suddenly, Thales understood something!
'As expected, the assassination of the diplomatic group, the pressure by the suzerains to abdicate the throne, the arrival of the Great Dragon's Diplomatall these are intertwined. This would have been a meticulous scheme, if not for my appearance. Just as Gilbert had speculated, there are people from both sides of Constellation and Eckstedt working together, conspiring to wrest the ownership of the throne of Constellation from the Iron Hand King.'
But why did Kessel, his father, lead the subject of conversation to this particular point?
The words that traveled into his ear made Thales' heart jump in fright.
In the hall filled with astounded individuals, Kessel lifted his head and gazed at Lasalle. "In that case, Eckstedt, or rather the nobles of Eckstedt would be more in favor of a certain Constellation noble to be Constellation's supreme king?"
"Allow me to speak the truth." Lasalle laughed contemptuously. "There is none present here that meets our expectation.
"Eckstedtians only admire heroes of war, even if they are our enemies.
"Is there anyone among you who fulfills this requirement?"
Kessel sighed, though no one knew why he did so. "Of course, my vassals are either too far away or unwilling to launch their troops. Then, the only people who would qualify are those who must fight for their own territory, am I right?"
The hall suddenly turned silent upon the king's peculiar statement.
Lasalle sensed that something was astray. He looked to a person, gradually showing doubts on his face.
'Something is wrong. King Kessel He is'
Just when everyone was puzzled about the present situation, the plump Duke Cullen seemed to have realized something else. He exhaled deeply, and also looked towards the same person. His face showed extreme agony.
From Thales amazed expression, Gilbert suddenly realized what was going on. After a brief sigh, he gritted his teeth and lowered his head to let loose a sigh.
Under the entire hall's bewilderment and surprise, King Kessel took a deep breath, closed his eyes and said, "So, that is how it is."
The king whispered, "From collaborating with Eckstedt's ambitious individuals to provoking conflict through a diplomat assassination plot.
"To personally declare to me the feasibility of war and propose to issue the final general edict.
"Then, to incite the suzerains, who have been eagerly waiting for a chance to pressure me into naming the heir, causing us to be embroiled in internal confrontation while you watch by the sides.
"And finally to this Eckstedt envoy, who forced me into a dilemma, which could cost me dearly.
"In the end, you will successfully instigate war, and you would be able to easily gain recognition in the battlefield after conspiring with Eckstedt, and ultimately abdicate me.
"To achieve your motive, you would not hesitate to sacrifice your land, your people and even your country.
"Is that not so traitor?"
Each of the supreme king's words were more startling than the last.
Thales also began breathing more quickly in the process of listening to his speech.
Suddenly, the Iron Hand King, Kessel the Fifth opened his eyes. He looked towards a corner of the hall with a desolate gaze, at an individual who had kept quiet for a long while.
At this juncture, the king eyes were filled with misery and anguish.
"So, it is you."
He spoke slowly.
"Mastermind of all plots and schemes"
The king's low and muddled voice uttered a name, which was previously unimaginable by anyone.