Chapter 143: Who’s There (Two)
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
A few seconds passed.
“Hah! Citizen of the Empire, you’ve underestimated the nature of a Northlander!” Lord Olsius snickered, shaking his head. “You don’t know Nuven at all. When he was young…”
Nevertheless, Thales noticed the tone in his utterance. Instead of the tone of assurance which he spoke with earlier, it sounded like what a wife would say when being told that her husband cheated on her, the ‘no way, he is always loyal to me’ kind of self-delusion.
“Whoa, you have so much faith in your king.” The second prince raised his head. His eyes were sparkling.
“Stop trying to drive a wedge between us. You don’t know Nuven.” Olsius turned away. His voice full of frustration. “We are closer than you can imagine.”
“I heard. But… he might have been a good king when he was young. Generous and righteous. Even willing to risk his own life for a mere foot soldier,” Thales said casually. “He is a Northlander, yes, but above all, he is only a man. A man can age.”
Archduke Olsius fixed his stare on Thales.
“I heard this from Nuven’s most trusted man. I met him at his tavern,” the prince said, smiling. “A notable former commander of the White Blade Guards, Kaslan Lampard—I think you know about him more than I do, and I believe he knew more about your king than you did.
“Old people always wish to arrange for the future of their offspring after their own deaths. Fun fact: this is what the Duke of the Northern Territory said. He was also responsible for the scheme to assassinate Prince Moriah while he was in Constellation.”
Thales just provided a perfect example of taking someone’s words out of context. He sighed quietly to himself.
Archduke Olsius remained quiet and expressionless.
“You have seen how he acted back in the Hall of Heroes.” Thales’ eyes turned grim. “What do you think a lonely old man who just lost his only son, the last beacon of hope for the family, is capable of doing?”
Olsius took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly.
“That’s only your speculation,” said the bearded archduke in a deep voice, “which is based solely on the ridiculous theory that suspects Nuven to have been so sensible that he could suppress the grief of losing his son.”
Thales pursed his lips. Olsius was still quite level-headed at this point. Secretly, Thales was pleased with himself.
He let out a sigh of relief.
It was the time for him to place the final card on the table for this negotiation.
Thales heaved a sigh. “By the time you discover any evidence of their scheme. You will have King Chapman on the throne.”
Archduke Olsius’ beard quivered.
“Besides, at an inn in Constellation, our people have heard things.” Thales looked down at his feet. “Some chatter from an Eckstedtian envoy in our country, Baron Lasalle.”
Olsius was bemused. “Lampard’s lackey?”
“As he implied, Lampard was not the person behind the conspiracy against King Nuven’s son.” Thales nodded and smiled an enigmatic smile. “The real culprit, Prince Moriah’s murderer, is someone else.”
There was an eerily long silence that lasted longer than any periods of silence before this one.
Thales stared at Archduke Olsius, watching him transition from confusion to shock, and finally falling into deep contemplation.
‘Could he be the culprit?’
Eventually, Archduke Olsius gave a long sigh. “Isn’t the news from Constellation about—”
“The news from Constellation is what we wanted you to think!” Thales said coolly. “To conclude that Lampard of Black Sand Region was the evil mastermind, so that you will fall out with each other and start fighting among yourselves.
“We never really identified the culprit. Just so you know, the only clue we had was based on a confrontation in the palace between several Constellation suzerains. We couldn’t even be certain that Black Sand Region was somehow involved in the killing.”
Archduke Olsius’ pupils slowly contracted.
Clearly, this piece of information was beyond his expectations.
“This has always been the favorite tactic of the Black Prophet, Morat, of Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department.” Thales shook his head in resignation. “In other words, the feud between Walton and Lampard, between Dragon Clouds City and Black Sand Region which you have always believed in might not exist… which means if Lampard could convince King Nuven that he did not take part in the plot to kill Prince Moriah…”
Olsius stared at Thales in disbelief.
“There might not be any blood feud between Nuven Walton and Chapman Lampard at all,” Thales said with a sigh, giving a shrug. “They could ally with each other.
“On the contrary, Nuven wouldn’t trust you, because maybe…” Thales thought of Conan , a fictional, bespectacled child detective in a blue suit from an anime he watched in his past life. He mimicked the way Conan adjusted his glasses, touching his nose bridge, his eyes narrowed, and pointed at Olsius! “The real mastermind was among you!”
Thales was not done yet. Still with his eyes narrowed, he dropped another bombshell, “The culprit also did something else, King Nuven told me.”
Archduke Olsius’s pupils slowly shrank.
“He said that the person also attempted to kill me with a Mystic Gun Unit at Broken Dragon Fortress, and then shift the blame to Lampard…”
The archduke’s breathing became heavier with each passing moment. Thales watched him closely, refusing to let any of the archduke’s expressions escape his eyes.
A few seconds later, the Archduke of Prestige Orchid lowered his head and chuckled. Olsius’ gaze was sharp. “If what you said is true, they could indeed become allies, but these are all empty words. There’s no evidence whatsoever.”
Thales expected this reaction. Unfazed, he responded, “Marquis Shiles, the city envoy from Camus. We have had quite a conversation throughout the journey.
“The intel from his network suggested that the day Nicholas arrived at Lampard’s military camp, the night he greeted my arrival… he released three messenger crows at midnight.
“You may confirm with him that… the breeding and selling of messenger crows is a business trade in Good Flow City.
“But receiving an envoy from a rival country wasn’t a big deal. Why would anyone need to contact Dragon Clouds City three times at the military camp in Black Sand Region?” The look on Olsius’ face was grim. Thales gave him a firm nod. “We can tell that at least one of them was trying to contact the other.”
Lord Olsius wordlessly placed a hand on his sword hilt.
“If Nuven really intended to ally with a likely successor to the throne for the survival of the Walton Family, I, or even Roknee of Faraway Prayers City, would be a better choice than Black Sand Region.”
The archduke spoke after a moment of silence and firmly threw him a question in his response. “Besides, even if they are in cahoots, how exactly will things go according to their plan? Eckstedt is unlike Constellation; we choose our king! Nuven can’t possibly appoint Lampard as his heir before his death, can he?”
Thales again recalled a famous question directed at one infamous politician in his past life, “Can this be an order made by the authorities?”  And he burst into laughter.
“Well, no!” the prince uttered. “Chapman Lampard of Black Sand Region has certain advantages that make him the best candidate for the throne.”
Olsius said nothing. He was waiting for the foreign prince’s answer.
“Your Grace, aren’t you curious that, with the feud revolving around the Fortress Treaty, and after what happened to Prince Moriah, why two countries have not gone to war yet?” Thales asked lazily.
Olsius’ gaze flickered slightly.
“You…” Still staring at Thales, the archduke’s gaze slowly changed. “You were sent to Eckstedt… In the name of the King of Constellation, your father swore that your safety will ensure peace between the two kingdoms. If not, there will be a total war that is more destructive and more costly than an archduke could bear on his own. By then the whole of Eckstedt will be involved. Therefore, it’s only wise for King Nuven to stay on the Jadestars’ side, prevent a war, and keep Black Sand Region in his place…”
Olsius’ face grew increasingly sour, while Thales gave a smirk.
“Yes, these two factors are the main reasons Eckstedt hasn’t waged war on Constellation yet. If these excuses are taken out of the equation…
“If King Nuven is no longer wary of the price of warfare, manages to demand compulsory participation from all the archdukes in the name of the common-elected king, and eases each archduke’s concerns for having to face the Constellation army alone…
“If King Nuven no longer needs to prevent Black Sand Region from expanding their territory, but instead needs to help them with that to make sure they obtain leverage for the king selection…
“Lampard of Black Sand Region will undoubtedly stand to become the biggest beneficiary of the war… being close to the Northern Territory of Constellation and, most of all, having King Nuven’s support.”
Olsius looked up at the ceiling. His expression was obscured from Thales.
“Now you know why King Nuven summoned you to discuss the mobilization of the army, and even attempted to observe your attitude towards the decision to kill me.” Thales gazed down at his feet as the hubbub of the banquet echoed in the distance.
Archduke Olsius lowered his head.
The Second Prince of Constellation gave a light chuckle.
“I wonder if you are ready for it.” Thales raised an eyebrow and spread out his arms. “To call Lampard ‘Your Majesty’?”
“That’s why…” Reybien Olsius stared at Thales. This time, there was no hatred and hostility in his eyes, only solemnity. “You came to me… even if their alliance is merely your speculation.”
Thales gave a pained nod and sighed deeply.
“Yes. Perhaps Lampard is still trying to contact King Nuven.” Turning his neck, he rubbed his palms together in frustration. “Perhaps they haven’t joined forces yet. Even if they have, this situation, to you, is not potentially irreversible.
“Nuven suspects that someone among you is the culprit for Moriah’s death, and Lampard might become your king. These are the losses you could face, Archduke Olsius. However, you don’t have to bear consequences that soon, so don’t worry.
Thales lifted his chin, staring at Olsius solemnly. “I, on the other hand… If things end up the way I suspect it will… Dragon Clouds City and Black Sand Region will seize control over all of Eckstedt. War will be declared.” With a hint of anxiety in his vacant voice, the prince continued, “I, still being in Eckstedt, will become the first victim; I will meet my tragic fate before any of you do.
“This is why I came to you. It’s for my life.” Thales glared at Lord Olsius who seemed stunned. He said through clenched teeth, “And for your future as well!”
The two of them fell silent again.
The sounds of commotion and the crackling of the fire echoed in the background.
“Why me?” Olsius said in a hoarse voice. “Why not the others? Roknee? Poffret? They seem more reliable, don’t they?”
Thales stared at him, shaking his head lightly. “Only yours and Trentida’s territories are the closest to both Constellation and Black Sand Region. You can’t turn a blind eye to any matters involving them.
“As for Trentida, I don’t trust him,” the prince whispered. “Hence, out of all the five archdukes, you, Reybien Olsius of Prestige Orchid, are most likely to side with me.”
Olsius inhaled deeply and peered out of the window.
A moment later, the archduke turned around to face Thales with a sharp glare. “At this point, just tell me what you plan to do.”
Thales mentally snapped his fingers.
He smiled and said, “We are still in King Nuven’s palace. There are very few chances to meet and talk. You can verify the clues I had observed. If you think that my speculation makes sense and agree that certain precautions must be made, I have struck a deal with Lord Shiles—he will provide me some intel. Tonight’s banquet will go on until the next morning, or even the next afternoon.”
Archduke Olsius nodded.
“At four in the morning, the palace and city gates will open. By then, the first group of guests will leave. The guards will be as exhausted as they are. You can evade them all and leave the banquet hall,” Thales said cautiously. “Meet me in the meeting hall. I will leave the party at one point, too, and find an excuse to rest there.
“And then, we will come up with a plan—to keep me alive and jeopardize the alliance between Nuven and Lampard.”
Olsius stared at him.
“I will consider it.” The bearded archduke had a complicated expression. “But, you know, ONLY consider it.”
“Of course.” Thales arched an eyebrow. “It’s up to you whether you come or not.”
The archduke fell silent. While Thales was feeling anxious, Olsius let out a chuckle.
“Little brat, you might be one of the very few smart people I’ve met.” The archduke shook his head. “But I still don’t like you one bit.”
“No offense taken,” Thales responded promptly with a smile. “After all, Jadestar and Olsius are mortal enemies.”
In the end, Olsius glanced at him with a complicated and cryptic expression. Then, the archduke turned and left.
Wya came and stood before Thales as the latter stared after Olsius’ silhouette until it disappeared around the corner, then Thales gave a sigh of relief.
The prince began to relax, his body went limp, and was held up gently by Wya.
“Your Highness,” the attendant whispered, “how did it go?”
“He saw through my connection with Nuven right away.” Shaken, Thales felt himself bathed in cold sweat. “Luckily, I improvised a bit…”
He looked up at Wya. “What did Ralf say?”
Hesitantly, Wya made a few hand gestures he himself did not even know the meaning of.
“Very well. It means Marquis Shiles has held the third archduke up.” Thales wiped the sweat from the back of his skull, shaking his head. “Look, here is your reply, with these gestures… Get Putray to deliver the note. The next target should be on his way. Hopefully Shiles’ acting is good enough to not raise Olsius’ suspicion.”
Several minutes later, Thales had recomposed himself, and now stood in another corridor. He recalled the general temperament of his target, and made his decision.
Hearing footsteps behind him, he took a deep breath and turned around.
Accompanied by Wya, he flashed the most dazzling smile at the person who approached them.
“Your Grace! My Lord! Do you know who would be the next Common-Elected King of Eckstedt?”
In the next second, the Archduke of Reformation Tower, Porpheus Trentida, the man with the bowl cut, stood firmly before Thales. He scowled at Thales with a face full of doubt.
Ten minutes to four in the morning. Heroic Spirit Palace, meeting hall.
Thales sat at the long table where King Nuven was yesterday. Staring at the empty stone hall, he felt a little unsettled. There was only one thing he feared more than darkness and loneliness—the anxiety and uncertainty of the unknown.
The contents in the braziers behind him burned and crackled without care in regards to all the things around them. He placed his hand on the long table and sighed.
‘Who will show up later?’
His conversations with all five archdukes had finally come to an end, amid all his panic and fear.
The first was Olsius of Prestige Orchid, the one who made him nervous the most, on whom he had spent more time on, and who almost found out about his connection with King Nuven, putting him at risk of ruining their scheme.
Trentida of Reformation Tower appeared skeptical, but their conversation was relatively brief compared to the former. Trentida fully comprehended what Thales meant soon enough. His gaze was brimming with skepticism, though it was unknown whether it was directed towards him or Nuven.
The two archdukes from the southern territories were not the most difficult people to deal with.
Archduke Lecco of Defense City to the north was the third one. This bald old man, however, was the hardest. Every now and then, his seemingly old and inane gaze flickered with sparks of acuity—he snorted at Thales and remained doubtful until the end. Thales, with a forced smile on his face, had to spend about twenty minutes on their conversation.
Compared to that, his talk with Archduke Roknee of Faraway Prayers City in the west ended rather quickly. The long-haired archduke stayed silent the entire time, and responded with only frequents nods or head shakes. Seeing him, Thales could not help but feel that to Roknee, it did not matter to him whoever it was that becomes king.
The last person was the Archduke of Beacon Illumination City, the brown-haired Conkray Poffret. He was the friendliest of all archdukes, and the one most alarmed by Thales. When he left the hall in a daze, Thales even had to offer a word of comfort—that none of the things he said had happened… yet.
‘But…’ In his hand, Thales squeezed the pocket watch Putray gave him. The cold metallic feel made him tense. ‘Who could it be? Who would show up tonight? Who is the person who hired the Disaster Swordsmen to assassinate Moriah, and then tried to eliminate me?’
‘Perhaps… no one would bother to show up? If I can’t find the culprit…’ Thales chuckled helplessly to himself. ‘Hopefully King Nuven will kick the bucket tonight.’
At that moment, the sound of footsteps appeared from outside the stone hall.
Thales was alarmed. He sat up and straightened his back.
The footsteps were heavy and rhythmic, echoing one after another, stomping on the stone brick floor.
As they advanced, a shadow was cast into the stone hall. It seemed to belong to an especially tall person… who finally strode into the meeting hall.
Illuminated by the firelight, Thales discerned the figure’s long hair and incredibly stony expression. His robe was embroidered with the image of a scroll.
The second prince was startled. It was the one person, of all the archdukes, he did not expect. The flames in the braziers continued to burn.
The man stopped before him. “I am here,” he said faintly.
Thales hopped down from his chair, frowning.
He still remembered how this man refused to follow King Nuven’s order to kill the Prince of Constellation in a duel. His reason being that child-killing was a disgrace to his honor. But right now, he stood here in front of Thales.
“Good day to you…” The Prince of Constellation paused, staring at the tall, large man with an almond-shaped face before him, and sighed in disappointment.
“Eckstedt’s Archduke of Faraway Prayers City, Kulgon Roknee.”
 “The bespectacled child detective in a blue suit” is the protagonist of a Japanese anime, Detective Conan, whose signature posture was adjusting his glasses while identifying the perpetrator of the crime by pointing at them.
 “Can this be an order made by the authorities?”: In October 2000, a question was asked by a Hong Kong reporter regarding Beijing’s alleged attempt to ensure the reappointment of the then Chief Executive of Hong Kong. It was directed at Jiang Zemin, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Said utterance became part of the Moha Culture internet meme when said reporter was berated by Jiang for asking so.
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