Chapter 112: Constellation, the Dragon, and the Long Gone Empire
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
“The Master of Mountains?”
Thales was stunned. “Why have I not heard of this before?”
Chuckling, Putray explained, “Because this god does not have a spokesperson in the human world. Hence, it does not have a temple or a church. Even records of the manifestation of its presence or power are scanty. It only exists in stories and folktales passed down orally by the people. For travellers who traverse the mountains and plains, worshipping the Master of Mountains enables them to keep their mind at ease as well as stay safe when travelling far away from home. So, the act of gifting to the mountains is more of a ceremony, a means of helping travellers to overcome the severe cold.”
“Passed down orally?”
“During the era of the Ancient Empire, the Master of Mountains was once a shared belief among all human beings. Not just among us Northlanders, but also all of you—the Rudollians in the middle of the world who built the Empire, the Calunsians in the Southwestern Thornland and Dragon-Kissed Land, the Barren Bone people in the Great Desert, the ‘bandits’ in the Near East—the Nedanese, the Seles who pasture in the Eastern Plains, those dark-skinned Crimson Earthlings in the Extreme South as well as the Kassaians who navigate the islands with great ease. Apart from the Far Easterners, almost all humans knew and acknowledged the existence of the Master of Mountains.” The old Kaslan swigged a mouthful of ale and spoke with much emotion from behind the bar counter.
“Now however, apart from the countryside in Northland where people are plain and honest, and where these simple beliefs are still visible… the name of the Master of Mountains has pretty much disappeared; just like countless other precious Northlandic traditions. Only large temples enshrined in power and money are left.”
“The Rudollians and Northlanders?” Thales lowered his head in curiosity and started to eat another piece of bread. “I remember the title of the Supreme King of Constellation included—”
“Yes, we all know.” Archduke Lampard’s adviser, Viscount Kentvida laughed mischievously and tauntingly. He then said, “He is the suzerain of the Rudollians and?Northlanders in the Western Peninsula. But I sincerely suggest that you omit that second part in Eckstedt. Northlanders have never acknowledged your rulership over us.”
“From my knowledge, two thirds of the Northland Province during the Ancient Empire’s?era was within the borders of Eckstedt, while the remaining one third was in the Northern Territory of Constellation. Those Constellatiates called themselves Northlanders and acknowledged the rulership of the supreme king.” Putray sharply refuted.
“That’s where the problem lies.” Viscount Kentvida tapped the bar counter in contemplation. “Northland belongs to the Northlanders. Why should they be under the rule of Constellation and under the rule of a Rudollian king?”
Thales suddenly realized that ‘Northland’ stood for the Northland Province from a thousand years ago during the era of the Ancient Empire. It was a geographical concept. ‘Northlanders’ was a concept that existed even before the Empire was established and it referred to the humans who lived on that land. As for Eckstedt, which was only established after the Battle of Eradication, that concept was far less important compared to Northland, and it even much less so for the concept of Northlanders.
It was just like Constellation—a kingdom that only existed after the Battle of Eradication. In truth, the people who lived on the land that Constellation was built on were known as the ‘Rudollians’ thousands of year ago. It appeared that they were the main race of the Ancient Empire.
Today, Northlanders and the Rudollians were scattered throughout both the Black Sand Region of Eckstedt and the Northern Territory of Constellation.
Thales lowered his head and casually looked at the wheat residue that settled at the bottom of his glass. He was suddenly reminded of Sunset Pub in the underground market of Eternal Star City. Jala the cheeky, female bartender, the plump and fierce-looking cook, Edmund and the owner of the pub who had only appeared once or twice when Thales was there.
“Why? Because of history,” Putray said faintly, “Presently, whether it is in Black Sand Region or the Northern Territory, the Rudollians and Northlanders have lived together for many years. They no longer create any distinction among themselves.”
“Hmph, it’s because all of you seized the land and people from Northland,” Kentvida refuted,?“You seized Cold Castle four hundred years ago and the Lonely Old Tower two hundred years ago from us. Your Northern Territory is our Southern Land!”
Listening to the argument between Kentvida and Putray, Kaslan, the owner of the tavern could not help but let out a laughter that perplexed those around him.
A chill ran down Thales’ spine as he heard their conversation. ‘So, this is what the Eckstedtians think?’
He thought about the soldiers’ manner and attitude towards them when they first entered Lampard’s military camp. He finally understood why.
Constellation wanted to defend its land in the North, while Eckstedt wanted to recapture the territory, which belonged to the Northlanders.
Both parties were battling for their own justice, and it was ironic indeed.
These were all things he would not have been able to hear within Constellation.
Putray chuckled. “If you really want to talk about how ‘Northland only belongs to the Northlanders’, then we have the Arunde Family in Constellation’s Northern Territory, who once ruled the entire Northland Province on the emperor’s behalf…”
“Hmph, the senseless arrogance of Constellatiates.” Viscount Kentvida snorted coldly. “In the end, the lot of you still go back to talking about the Ancient Empire, don’t you? It perished a long time ago. Are you still hung up on the supreme power and glory of the Pegasus Throne? Do you miss those emperors who controlled the entire world with the wave of their sleeves? Do you miss that era where the map of the kingdom spread from one end of the room to another?”
“The Empire was the most precious legacy, the most glorious page, and the most powerful existence in human history. There is no doubt about that,” Putray answered coldly, “Even though it does not exist anymore, its splendor never faded and is still cherished today.”
“Ha! I almost forgot!” Kentvida raised both of his hands and laughed at Thales in a taunting manner. “‘The Empire shall last, so long as the stars remain.’ Is that so, Your Highness?”
Thales shrugged and smiled at him.
“Do not joke about the royal family,” Putray spoke in a cold tone, “His bloodline was once at the top of the world, witnessing the rise and fall of the human race.”
“Bloodline?” Kentvida snorted.
“Northlanders do not believe in bloodlines. Heroes who can bear the weight of the kingdom and its people automatically become king.” The next moment, the Viscount of Eckstedt narrowed his eyes and spoke in a serious tone, “Your Highness, listen up. The Empire ruled by the so-called imperial family you were born in left the world with nothing but an extremely chaotic nightmare!”
“Umm, thank you for your advice.” Thales scratched his head awkwardly and gave a hollow laugh. “That’s certainly a new point of view.”
“New?” Kentvida stared at him and said plainly, “Have you heard the story of Quiso Lampard, Your Highness?”
“Quiso Lampard? An ancestor of the Lampard family? The Revolutionary King?” Thales answered enthusiastically.
“You don’t have to hear about it from the subordinate of an archduke—” Putray was about to speak when he realized that Thales was raising his hand to stop him from speaking.
“Please continue, Viscount Kentvida.” Thales said, smiling. “I am very interested in all knowledge.”
Putray and Kentvida glanced at Thales in surprise.
“Do you know about Archduke Trentida from the Reformation Tower? He’s one of Eckstedt’s ten archdukes,” Kentvida said softly after ruminating for a while, “The Reformation Tower neighbors the Lonely Old Tower of your kingdom. It is ruled by a family of knights who are famous in Northland history, the Trentida Family. Their family’s symbol is a blade radiating bright light.”
“I don’t really know about him. Sorry, I am only seven years old.” Thales shook his head in embarrassment. “But I am very willing to listen to your story. What happened to the Trentida Family? How is it related to Quiso Lampard?”
“It has nothing to do with the Trentida Family, but more to do with their territory—the Reformation Tower and its periphery,” Kentvida sighed and said, “That was Northland’s Far Eastern Land and also one of the Sighing Mountains’ entrances. During the era of the Ancient Empire, before the peninsulas were separated, the Reformation Tower was once the epitome of barbaric acts and chaos. Do you know how the Reformation Tower got its name?”
Thales shook his head in cooperation.
“During the age of the Ancient Empire, that place was once a prison for those in exile, and it also acted as an execution field. Everyone who went there needed to be ‘reformed’,” Kentvida shook his head and said, “Reformation Tower… Unfortunately, most of the prisoners there did not leave the place alive to reform their lives.”
Thales nodded his head, deep in thought.
“And in that time, they once put a famous person behind the prison’s bars—Quiso Lampard.”
Upon hearing that, Thales furrowed his brows slightly.
He knew about this person when Gilbert filled him in on the world’s history—Quiso Lampard was the ‘Reformation King’ of Northland.
He was the man who started the first ever internal rife in the Ancient Empire.
However, according to the books, he was a bandit who roamed freely across the Northern Pine Forest in Northland. In a robbery, he accidentally killed a government official of the Empire, and was hence captured by the Empire. His accomplices then raided the execution field and rescued him.
The Empire’s first ever internal rife started because of this and things became increasingly violent.
But today, Kentvida was telling him a completely different story.
Kentvida faintly said, “Rumor has it that the Lampard Family is the descendant of Takmukh, the deceased king of the North from the Barbaric Era, which was before the orcs invaded.
“And over a thousand five hundred years ago, Quiso Lampard was only an ordinary woodcutter in the Ancient Empire’s Northland Province. However, he had excellent skills, he was bold as well as righteous, and he provided help to the poor and weak. He was renowned in the area. Even the Duke of the Northland Province, Arunde knew about his existence.
“This was the Empire’s most glorious era or so it was called. The elves compromised with the Empire and the dwarves became craftsmen, the orcs fled behind the glaciers and the dragons became extinct; only the Far East was not conquered.
“So, when the battle to conquer the Far East was going strong, Quiso was enlisted into the army. He headed into the battlefield joyfully as he was filled with glorious purpose and pride to be battling for the Empire. Due to Quiso’s unmatched bravery, fighting capabilities, and prestige among the Northlanders, he moved all the way up until the Empire sealed him as a count and appointed him as the general of the Northland army.”
A chill ran down Thales’ spine.
This story was completely different from what he remembered.
“Under the great efforts of Quiso and other army groups, the Far Easterners were steadily losing ground and becoming entrenched in a besieged city. There was only the Kirin Holy Capital left, but its army was decimated and its food supply was depleted. It was basically lifeless and on the verge of falling into the Empire’s hands. The Empire’s heroic undertaking to unite the world was almost becoming a reality.
“Because of this, the emperor was immersed in paramount supremacy. His desire became more and more undue and his demands were almost endless. He never stopped drafting forced laborers, and tax charges increased with each passing day. As the best source of troops, the Northland Province was the first to bear the brunt.
“At one point, the Northlanders could not take it anymore. They started refusing to pay their taxes and escaping military services, they chased away the emperor’s tax collectors and started treating the Empire’s authority with fury, they treated the Empire with verbal abuse instead of devotion and obedience.
“And Duke Arunde, the emperor’s slave could not collect enough taxes or draft enough forced laborers anymore. Not to mention, there were numerous tax evasion incidents. Even the Arunde Family’s soldiers were often sour-faced due to this.
“Hence, the emperor’s slaves thought of a solution: look for Northland’s most renowned person—the Northland army’s commander, Quiso—to talk to his own townsfolk. He was having days off and recuperating at home at that time.”
Kaslan sighed and Putray remained silent.
Kentvida on the other hand, continued talking.
“They urged Quiso to become their colleague and join them in pressing for taxes as well as drafting forced laborers. However, Quiso did not agree. They then urged him to make a declaration to convince the Northlanders to submit to the Empire. Quiso still did not agree. They then ordered the general to help them find the protesters from Northland in the name of the Empire. But Quiso did not agree either.
“This is what Quiso said, ‘I am loyal to the Empire, but I am a Northlander.’
“In the end, the emperor found out about this incident.
“The emperor issued an edict and there were two words written on it.”
Kentvida’s gaze became extremely icy as he plainly said, “‘Choose one.'”
Thales could only feel a chill running down his spine.
“The next thing the Northlanders knew, Quiso was banished to the Reformation Tower until he proved his loyalty towards the Empire once again. The emperor could not face the fact that his own general could not do this.
“However, a whole year passed and Quiso did not relent. At the same time, the Northlanders who learned about his imprisonment were boiling with resentment.
“In the end, hearing reports about his people’s discontent every day and having to endure the duke’s apology for not collecting enough taxes made the emperor fed up with Quiso’s stubbornness. He decided to make an example out of him and deter the people of Northland using punishment as well as terror to reiterate the dignity of the Empire.
“Consequently, Quiso Lampard was brought to the execution field.
“There, he watched helplessly as his son was beheaded, his wife garroted, his daughter hung, and his friends flogged to death… All of this just because Quiso was unwilling to respond to the emperor’s edict!
“Finally, when it was Quiso’s turn, the furious Northlanders and Quiso’s subordinates broke into the Reformation Tower and charged into the execution field. They killed the Empire’s soldiers and rescued Quiso.
“When news broke out, the entire of Northland was shaken. The people picked up their weapons again as they donned their armor and gathered beside Quiso, who was on the verge of death. But this time, it was not to enlist in the Empire’s army, they were going to rebel against the ruthless ruling of the Empire.
“I’m sure you know what happened next…”
Thales pondered about the story. ‘This is so much different compared to what the books in Constellation say.’
Contemplating, Thales said quietly, “Yes. The Reformation King battled until the end, and with his last remaining three hundred people—”
However, when it came to the end of the story, Kentvida still gave Thales a surprise.
“There is one small difference,” Kentvida cut Thales off as his eyes shone brightly. “He did not battle until the end.”
“Quiso did not have plans to engage in battle at all. From the very beginning, he dismissed most of the rebel soldiers. He only led the last three hundred people who refused to leave and launched a last assault on the three main armies from Lonely Old Peak. That was the only battle in Quiso’s so-called reformation.
“It was more of a silent protest towards the emperor, and not a rebellion towards the Empire, which he had been loyal to all his life, was it not?
“After Quiso died, every single family in Northland lit candles and honored him as king according to ancient traditions from the era of the feudal kings. The Reformation King was probably a title Quiso was unwilling to bear even till his death.
“This is the true story of Quiso Lampard, the Reformation King… Many Eckstedtians are very familiar with it.
“Do you understand now, descendant of the Empire?” Kentvida said plainly, “Do you see what the Empire has actually left for Northland?”
Kaslan watched Thales’ reaction with considerable interest.
Fortunately, everyone else were sitting at round tables a few meters away from them. Or else, Thales reckoned that there would soon be another pub fight between the Constellatiates and the Eckstedtians.
“An elaborately modified story.” Putray snorted and laughed. “I wonder though, how do you know the emperor’s edict so well down to every single word?”
“Go ahead and be sarcastic, citizen of the Empire. The only thing on your mind is the Empire’s glory anyway.” Kentvida’s gaze was filled with hatred.
He continued speaking, “What did the Empire give to the world? Years of military service, battle expeditions without rest and heavy taxes that knew no limits. From the West Billow Cliff to the Crimson Soil, and the Thornland to the Far East, everyone knows about the Empire’s ruthlessness and harshness.
“Greedy, degenerate officials of various ranks and folly ruled in a cruel as well as pressing manner. The so-called mighty people of the Empire had long since become decadent and rotten from top to bottom, from the inside out, from the Pegasus Throne to the expedition troops, and from the Praetorian Guards to the City Gate Officials.
“Racial conflicts turned into increasingly violent, ugly and dark religious oppression. How many people died from utterly unjustifiable and cruel torture courtesy of the Empire’s Secret Forces? And how many people died for heresy under the Bright God Church? Did you know that ancient beliefs such as the Master of Mountains, the Maiden Guardian of the Ocean and the Prairie Godfather disappeared because they were banned by the Ancient Empire? All of this happened amid conspiracies that were jointly plotted by the emperor and the Bright God Church.
“Then there was the Northern Temple of Knights, which was forcibly demolished by the emperor a thousand years ago… It was the cradle and holy land where knights originated. It was the legendary place where humankind worked together to fight against the ancient orcs!”
Kentvida drank a mouthful of ale and sneered. “Citizen of the Empire, stop basking in past glories. You excite yourselves with false prosperity, but all of you have no idea how hideous your position in history is.”
“You can continue with your own thoughts. However, history cannot be changed, even until now,” Putray said in disdain.
“I can only see your carriages speeding on the driveways built by the Empire. There are no exceptions from when the king goes out on trips to when the people leave their homes.
“Your currency follows the gold, silver and copper standard set by the Empire. These little coins are stabilizing your kingdom’s economy and your people’s livelihood, preventing your kingdom from falling back to how it was in the era of the feudal kings.
“No matter how much of the northern accent and styles are in your language and texts, they still originated from the Empire’s ancient or common language. From birth to death, what all of you mutter is part of the Empire’s culture and tradition.
“Your art, poetry and music are influenced by the Empire’s glory. No matter how hopeless the Eckstedtians are known to be in terms of culture, all of you have to admit to this.
“What does that prove?” Kentvida rudely cut him off. “If you want to label the things that the Empire forced upon us as favors, and feel self-satisfied over it—”
“Forced?” Putray seemed to feel provoked. “The feudal king’s knights in Northland went under the command of Great Emperor Kamelot Carlose almost at the same time as the corps of the Ancient Chauvinistic Country’s feudal king. All of you were the earliest supporters of the Great Emperor and the most active ones in the establishment of the Empire!
“Very well,” Kentvida snorted coldly and said, “Now, we, the children of Northern Wind and Dragon no longer need that diabolical Empire. We rely on our own efforts. Please throw away your arrogance, citizens of the Empire.”
“I have seen the northern wind plenty of times,” Putray said faintly, “As for dragons, if you are referring to the one embroidered on Eckstedt’s flag… hmph, the material is quite good.”
“The meaning of the dragon on Eckstedt’s flag does not lie in its existence. After all, we do not rely on a legendary beast to protect this kingdom,” Kentvida said solemnly.
He then glanced at the Constellatiates as he raised his glass and took a large swig, smiling meaningfully. “It symbolizes the beliefs and qualities the Eckstedtians had when they established the kingdom. They are teachings that Raikaru, the Northland Hero taught us during the Battle of Eradication—force, patience, strength, tenacity, pride, persistence and… never surrender… even in the face of a huge monster like the Empire.
“What do all of you have left?” Kentvida sneered and said, “Constellation is only an antique. It does not have any meaning of existence in itself. It only exists as proof of a bygone history, calling back spirits of the dead from a kingdom that has long perished.”
“If you want to label the act of carrying the torch of humanity’s most precious past as ‘calling back spirits of the dead’, go ahead.” Putray shook his head mockingly. “At least, we care about these things. What does Northland have left? You condemn the Empire for dismantling the Temple of Knights, but the truth is, Eckstedt and the so-called Northland have even lost the mastery of the Northland Military Sword Style!”
Kentvida was about to reply when Thales heaved a long sigh.
Kentvida and Putray turned towards the Second Prince of Constellation at the same time.
“Did all of you know that even though Putray and Viscount Kentvida are from Constellation and Eckstedt respectively, I have found two of your biggest similarities through this unpleasant encounter between the both of you.”
Putray and Kentvida were both stunned.
“So, what are they?”
Kaslan, the owner of the tavern had been watching the entire affair and he was the one who spoke. He tapped his chin with profound interest and asked Thales, “What are the similarities?”
Thales raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“While both of you are speaking on behalf of your respective stands, there is only one thing on your minds.
“It is something very cliché.”
Putray revealed a puzzled expression on his face whereas Kentvida furrowed his brows slightly.
“The Empire,” Thales said softly.
He then ate the last mouthful of bread.
Putray and Kentvida froze at the same time.
Kaslan clapped and laughed out loud. “Hahaha… such an interesting conclusion. What about the second similarity?”
“The second one… umm,” Chewing the rye bread, Thales muttered, “even though both of them said so many things about the Empire…
“None of them have actually seen the Empire with their own eyes, whether it’s the Last Empire from six hundred years ago, or the Ancient Empire from over a thousand years ago.”
Kaslan’s laughter became increasingly louder.
Putray and Kentvida’s expressions on the other hand, darkened.
“Well said, Second Prince of Constellation!” Kaslan jubilantly smacked his hand on the table as he laughed loudly and looked at Thales. “They have never seen the Empire!”
“Thank you for the support.” Thales shrugged. “On one hand, this shows that the Empire’s influence is indeed profound and lasting.”
He looked at the two men. “On the other hand… the both of you were arguing with points based on your imagination…”
Putray and Kentvida froze again.
“Both of you were debating over what each of you imagined the Empire to be like.” Thales spread his hands. “Both of you presumably built your imagination of the Empire based on your own reality like your feelings right now, your opinions on the Empire, and your views on history.”
The two men who were arguing looked at each other and turned away.
“Get over it, lads.”
Kaslan, the old man shook his head. “Apart from pompous families and loathsome scholars, no one remembers these ancient legends, glorious pasts, lost history and sacred traditions anymore.” He pointed out the door. “However, this thing… these gifts to the mountains prevent the youngsters who are outside in this bitter cold winter from freezing and starving to death… And that’s enough. As long as it is useful to humans, it’s existence is meaningful. The Master of Mountains did not disappear. He lives on within the slits of every Day before the Bitter Cold Winter and within the gratitude of travelers who take the food from the trees.
“The same goes for the Dragon and the Empire.” Kaslan sneered.
Putray and Kentvida did not speak anymore. However, they had unpleasant expressions on their faces.
Thales broke into bright smile.
Kaslan snapped his fingers.
Brian, the tavern worker with a burn scar on his face appeared. As usual, he had an unpleasant expression and looked as if everyone owed him money for their alcohol. Under his boss’ signal, he rudely slammed a glass of alcohol onto the counter and pushed it towards Thales. The alcohol was obviously colored differently than the rest.
He stared fiercely at Thales before turning and going back into the scullery.
Thales raised his head in shock.
“Top-notch rye wine, specially supplied by Hero Tavern!” the old man said cheekily under Thales’ astonished gaze. “It’s supplied by an old comrade-in-arms from Prestige Orchid Region. There is only a limited quantity every day.
“It’s different from those low-quality alcohol they’re drinking. This is for what you said earlier!”
Thales widened his eyes and looked at the old man with white hair. He then lowered his head and looked at the alcohol inside the glass.
“Don’t hesitate, lad! Drink it all up!” Kaslan flashed the strong, powerful muscle on his right arm, which showed no signs of aging at all. “There are two sets of criteria in judging whether a man is good. One, whether they wave their axes with enough force; two, whether they drink with enough briskness!”
“Uh… man? I am only seven years old…” Looking at the wine glass, which was as big as his head, Thales widened his eyes and awkwardly repeated what he said when dealing with the Archduke of Black Sand, “You know children cannot drink alcohol. It’s bad for health…”
“That is bullshit!” Kaslan flicked his wrist in a dismissive gesture and bared his yellow teeth.
Under Putray’s extremely unamused expression, the old man slapped Thales on the shoulder. His totally unrestrained force made the latter stagger. “Being seven is all the more reason for you to drink!
“Child, you will never grow up if you don’t drink!”