Chapter 146: The Culprit
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
It was the first time Thales saw the dark gold crown atop King Nuven’s head. The king was adorned in a golden red ensemble, which was both solemn and impressive. With his own backing as a robust king and while being surrounded by his vassals, he descended the steps and walked towards the meeting hall’s central long table. He sat on the throne exclusively for the common-elected king.
In Thales’ eyes, this nearly-seventy-year-old man had lost his dull, cryptic first impression. What replaced it was an unprecedented prestigious spirit, like a silent yet frightening lion in its pride.
Nuven Walton the Seventh had a tall, straight back. He supported himself with the armrest as he shot his bright, expressive eyes across the hall. Under the obvious scrutiny of the king, the four archdukes unnaturally turned their heads and averted their gazes.
Lord Mirk stood behind the king with a serious expression on his face. Dozens of elite warriors from the White Blade Guards stood at every corner of the meeting hall, vigilantly holding on to their white sword handles. There were more unfamiliar faces for Thales; the king was flanked by two rows of men, who had mixed expressions on their faces and wore robes supposedly meant for noblemen. They exchanged undisguised glances among themselves as well.
This was also Thales’ first time seeing King Nuven’s personal vassals from the Royal Court of Dragon Clouds City.
Compared to the neat and regulated Royal Court of Constellation, whether it be their placement, posture, movement or expression, Eckstedt’s ruler and his vassals had a certain fierce, rough, and wild aura that seemed to seep through from their bones. It made them appear casual and unrefined. This disturbed people who witnessed the scene for the first time—it felt like they were standing in the midst of carnivorous animals.
Thales could not help but glance at Putray. He received a slight nod in return.
In the meeting hall, the long-haired Archduke Roknee expressed his doubts in a muffled, rumbly voice, “What do you mean, Your Majesty?”
Archduke Trentida glanced at the white-haired, bright-eyed vassals by King Nuven’s side. His face paled as he said, “Your Majesty! I do not know what you are trying to do. But from the presence of Count Lisban, the chief of governmental officers to Count Siler, who handles foreign affairs… Have you brought half the Imperial Conference here before us?
“Could it be that you want to discuss why the wine at the banquet was so sour earlier?” he asked half sarcastically, half accusingly.
Archduke Olsius, who stood by his side did not hesitate to stare at the king as well.
Not without concern, Thales took in the scenario before him. ‘How will things end?’
“It seems like all this while, my leniency has spoilt the lot of you.”
There was an elderly vassal, who was half-a-century old next to King Nuven. He replied the Archduke of Reformation Tower with no trace of politeness, “Listen well, Your Excellencies, Archdukes of Eckstedt. The king you vowed to be loyal to, the common master the Northlanders swore to follow is commanding you—”
The old vassal’s face was ice-cold as he reprimanded them without even caring about even the slightest bit of paying respect to them.
Archduke Trentida and Archduke Olsius’ complexions turned frigid, whereas Archduke Lecco just looked pensive.
Only Archduke Roknee, whose expression remained unchanged sat at the left end of the long table. He appeared the same as when he first met Thales.
“Your Majesty, at least tell us your intentions behind this lame trap?” A few seconds later, Archduke Lecco of Defense City let out a long, extended sigh and slowly sat down.
“Conspiring with this rascal from Constellation to taunt the archdukes…” Archduke Olsius also sat down in his own seat. He icily continued, saying, “I feel like my dignity has been greatly compromised.”
At this moment, a wave of knocking sounds reverberated across the hall.
The four archdukes collectively turned their heads towards the head of the table.
Nuven the Seventh had a stern expression on his face. He was knocking on the table steadily with his right hand.
Thales narrowed his eyes. He noticed a unique looking ring on King Nuven’s right pinky. A black gemstone was embedded in the center of the silvery-white metal ring.
The king was nonchalantly knocking on the table with that very gemstone.
“Dignity does not give you the right to question your king, Reybien,” King Nuven said in a steady voice. His gaze was locked on the table, as if he was particularly intrigued by the spot he was striking. “There is only one thing you brats need to do, the same as it was a decade ago.
King Nuven gradually raised his head. A stern look radiated from his eyes, and it was a look that did not tolerate other opinions as he addressed the archdukes.
“Just as your forefathers obeyed my father a long time ago, and later on obeyed me…
“At least then, we lived together in harmony.
“Do you understand now?”
The archdukes held their breaths simultaneously.
A few seconds later, Archduke Lecco sighed. He was the first to say, “According to that boy, you used a lie to test our loyalty? We are now out of reach from our entourage and guards, this is really making me question my safety…”
“Old bald man, if I really disregard the consequences and take your life, you think you can walk out of Heroic Spirit Palace—not to mention Dragon Clouds City—alive; plainly on the basis of those petty soldiers of that supreme axeman behind you?” Lecco was stunned speechless as King Nuven abruptly raised his voice
“This is not your Defense City.”
The archdukes all frowned at the same time.
“Can you at least tell us what we’re waiting for?” Roknee brushed his long hair aside and snorted coldly.
On the left of King Nuven stood another minister with a seemingly contemplative expression. With a meaningful yet smiling expression, he said, “Your Excellencies, Archdukes, His Majesty has demonstrated extreme altruism. Please do not worry. However, if you are aware of each other’s identity and duties… find yourself a seat and sit down properly.”
The hall suddenly sunk into a silent, purposeless wait.
A good few minutes passed.
Finally, the restless Thales rolled his eyes in embarrassment as he observed his surroundings.
He caught the bearded archduke’s attention.
With a violent expression on his face, Olsius cast his gaze upon Thales. In that instant, the others successively threw their gazes in his direction as well. “Brat, I will dig your heart out after this. That’s the price you will pay for taunting our dignity.”
Roknee, Lecco and Trentida all looked at him with varying expressions. There was alertness, thoughtfulness and also doubt.
Thales closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.
‘I thought things would be really simple… Identify the mastermind and with a wave of King Nuven’s hand, arrows will soar, vengeance will be taken. Then, I can just slip away and be done with it.
‘But now, from the looks Olsius is giving me, the side effects and consequences seem grave.’
“Your Excellency, just save some of your energy,” Thales heard himself saying dispiritedly. “There’s no point in mentioning things you cannot fulfil in the first place…”
He no longer wanted to explain himself.
Olsius gritted his teeth. Just as he was about to start speaking, yet another newcomer joined them in the meeting hall.
Following the sound of cluttered footsteps, a young brunette appeared. He was clad in a heavy, long robe with a blood red horseshoe embroidered on it. He walked into the crowded meeting hall.
Escorted by his entourage, the Archduke of Beacon Illumination City, the young Conkray Poffret stood before the crowd.
Thales took a deep breath and exhaled with a heavy sigh.
Upon Poffret’s arrival, Archduke Trentida’s eyes lit up. He surveyed the people in the hall and revealed a big smile.
Archduke Roknee was the only one scowling. Archduke Lecco on the other hand, looked surprised.
“Now, we’re all here: the five archdukes invited here by Your Majesty, together all at once under the attentive watch of the White Blade Guards.” The Archduke of Reformation Tower twitched his brows. “Now, the question comes, what is it that you’re planning to do? To wipe us all out by the ridiculous criminal charge of plotting a conspiracy, or…”
Trentida’s voice abruptly stopped.
The rest of his speech was cut off in his own throat like the sudden rupture of a bowstring.
The Archduke of Reformation Tower stared blankly at Poffret’s line of followers.
His men were disheveled and empty handed, they did not look good. The warrior next to Archduke Poffret himself had to be propped up. Blood flowed down between his fingers as the pale-faced warrior was held up by his shoulder.
Around them, the cold glimmer of the White Blade Guards’ unsheathed battle swords guarded them intently.
The Star Killer, Nicholas had a chilly air about him. He was the last to enter the hall and saluted the king once he was there.
Trentida then came to his senses.
Poffret and his men were disarmed as the White Blade Guards escorted them here.
Archduke Poffret himself stood with a vacant look on his face. His body was still chilly as snow trickled from his brown hair.
“Are you done?” the young archduke raged. He raised his head to address the people. “A noble archduke should not be receiving such criminal treatment in the king’s palace and castle!”
“What exactly are you trying to do, forcing me to this meeting hall by military force?
“This is a challenge to our ancient Northland tradition, a disregard to Raikaru’s joint pledge!”
King Nuven squinted his eyes.
The four archdukes had mixed expressions.
In a hidden blind spot, Thales’ brows twitched.
‘It’s finally ending tonight.’
“Your Majesty, this is what you wanted us to wait for? To watch you utilize all means in gathering the five of us together?” Archduke Lecco looked at the disheveled Archduke Poffret. Indifferent, he grudgingly said, “Now, can you tell us the whys and wherefores of this already?”
“Could it be as the rascal mentioned, that we still have to wait for Lampard to come along?” Olsius raged.
Trentida let out a muffled laugh.
Under everyone’s gaze, the old king of Eckstedt paused for three seconds before gradually saying, “Very well.” King Nuven folded his arms together. He looked stern as his eyes shot sharp rays across the room.
But his following words surprised almost everyone.
“Little Thales, my clever guest.”
King Nuven slowly turned to the side to look at Constellation’s prince.
Thales, who was prepared for a good show got startled.
‘Have we become this chummy now?’
“Come, enlighten my loyal archdukes. Tell them why they’re here.”
As his voice fell, a spark glimmered in his eyes.
“Tell them… the so-called truth.”
In that instant, there was a mixture of doubt, surprise and gloom in everybody’s eyes. They turned towards the Second Prince of Constellation.
Thales stood blankly in his place.
Thales reacted hastily and put on an ugly smile. He raised his arms and spread them out on both sides.
“I have no intention of embroiling myself into Eckstedt’s internal strife, Your Respected Majesty.” Thales smiled. “Internal affairs are to be resolved by yourself. This is—”
He could not finish his speech.
“You have already been embroiled in it, Thales.” Nuven’s deep, old voice accompanied by his profoundly meaningful eyes, interrupted him. “You involved yourself a long time ago. You cannot run now, future King of Constellation
“And you promised to finish this for me. You gave your word, did you not?”
Thales gritted his teeth.
The archdukes were looking at him and the doubt in their eyes slowly turned heavy.
Thales swallowed and frowned.
‘Nuven, this damned old man.
‘Does he intend to demonstrate to the archdukes that the successor of Constellation has stood by his side?’
Thales’ brows were locked tighter together.
King Nuven’s eyes sharpened.
“Go on. What are you waiting for, little prince?” Olsius resumed his fierce glare at him. “After fooling us with your ridiculous words, tell us the truth. I thought Lampard would show up just now.”
At the nudging of Putray’s whispered reminder, he exhaled helplessly.
Thales finally stepped forward to meet the eyes of almost everyone in the hall.
“My apologies, Your Excellencies.” Shouldering the unfriendly gazes of the five archdukes, Thales summoned up his courage and said, “Tonight, most the things I say will be fake, only one thing will be true.
“Price Moriah was assassinated in Constellation.” Thales sighed. “One of the masterminds behind it is among you.”
As soon as his words dropped, the five archdukes collectively scowled.
The king’s intimate vassals started whispering.
The second prince ignored the noise, which erupted in the hall.
“King Nuven had me find the culprit who worked with Lampard in the murder of Prince Moriah,” Thales said expressionlessly.
“Haih, I knew it…” The bald Archduke Lecco sighed. “The purpose of inviting us over was not just to deal with the Prince of Constellation.”
Archduke Trentida turned his head and shook it disapprovingly. “The culprit working with Lampard? Hah, I know now.”
“But this wasn’t exactly a good assignment…” Thales turned to the five archdukes and nodded. “Almost all five of you are suspects.”
The five archdukes turned their heads awkwardly to avoid the double line of sight from Thales and King Nuven.
“Reality has also proven that you indeed do not know your place.” Thales laughed lightly and continued, “Frankly speaking, it really did not occur to me that those words could have lured the four of you here… I thought it would only be two of you at the most.”
“My loyal archdukes, the joint rulers of Eckstedt, it seems like you are all harboring great goals and ambition,” King Nuven slowly said.
Whispers and murmurs rang throughout the hall again.
Olsius and Lecco’s facial expression changed in embarrassment, while Roknee maintained his cold facade. Trentida giggled, whereas the young Poffret remained gloomy.
King Nuven observed the floor silently with his hands folded together.
“So, since it is almost impossible to identify the culprit among the lot of you by acting according to customs…” Thales sighed.
“I had to find another way out. I stopped investigating the suspects first. I decided to act from the reality of the matter, from how the murderer would act in accordance to the current situation.
“I see, so that’s the case,” Archduke Roknee of the City of Faraway Prayers said. “Whatever you said previously was false… There’s no such thing as a secret meeting between Dragon Clouds City and the Black Sand Region. There is also no alliance between Walton and Lampard, correct?”
Thales shook his head. “Of course not. I invented this crazy nonsense—His Majesty would never join forces with a blood enemy who murdered his kin.”
At the long table, a strange gleam flashed across King Nuven’s eye.
“I got it,” Archduke Lecco mumbled. “The key lies in Lampard, does it not? Because the so-called culprit who murdered Moriah secretly conspired with Lampard?”
“Hmph, what a lousy scheme—trying to convince us and the culprit at the same time.” Olsius snorted. “Lampard working together with His Majesty? Leading him to think that Lampard would betray him and reveal his identity to His Majesty?”
“The scheme was executed so bluntly.” Archduke Trentida leaned back and laughed. “Will someone actually be fooled by it?”
Thales stared at the three of them. His gaze wandered back a forth for a few seconds.
Eventually, the second prince chuckled.
“No”—Thales shook his head sternly—”it is not that simple.”
“Don’t forget the words I’ve spoken to you: those about Lampard not being a murderer, but only being identified as one by the Secret Intelligence Department.
“Maybe the innocent archdukes would believe this,” Thales continued resolutely, “but only him, the culprit would not. As Lampard’s accomplice, only he will know that Lampard was indeed one of the murderers! Lampard will never be cleared as a suspect in the prince’s murder. It is then impossible for Lampard to be working with His Majesty, hence making it impossible for him to betray him.
“Only the culprit himself would know.” Thales turned and looked around to assess the reactions to his speech. “The so-called ‘Walton and Lampard alliance’ I was talking about was just to alarm people. Lampard would never seek an alliance from His Majesty.”
“Then, what did you actually mean that night?” The bald Archduke Lecco glared at him. “You said a lot of things about how His Majesty would put hatred aside and favor his interests. If you cannot convince the murderer of the alliance between Lampard and His Majesty—”
“I never prepared for him to believe it,” Thales said fully. ” I only wanted to tell him, His Majesty suspects that Lampard was not the murderer and he is still attempting to contact Lampard.”
At the head of the long table, King Nuven let out a cold-blooded laugh.
“Moreover, if I had started this from when Nicholas picked me up, their liaison would have begun a long time ago.”
Archduke Olsius impatiently said, “You just said that Lampard was the murderer. He wouldn’t have the guts or desire to work with His Majesty. And, you haven’t been able to draw out the name of the culprit from Lampard—”
“I wasn’t finished!”
“Through King Nuven’s investigation, we also realized one key point,” Thales interrupted him ruthlessly, startling Olsius. “The culprit also did something else!”
“He also participated in my attempted murder, the assassination of Constellation’s prince!”
The whispers in the hall ceased instantly.
“While Broken Dragon Fortress and Lampard played their little games, he bribed an organization called the Disaster Sword. They utilized Lampard’s Mystic Gun Unit to murder me in an attempt to frame Lampard,” Thales took a deep breath and said each word severely.
“This is what I wanted him to know!
“I want to let the culprit know that His Majesty, King Nuven is now aware that the murderer of Prince Moriah is the same person who framed Lampard!”
Behind Thales, Putray sighed. Marquis Shiles however, stood smiling by his side.
Thales just shrugged. “At the end of the day, amid all the nonsense I told you this evening, I only wanted to make two points: one, His Majesty is contacting Lampard; two, His Majesty knows that Prince Moriah’s murderer is also plotting against Lampard.”
Under everyone’s doubtful gaze, Thales slowly nodded his head.
“If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter if His Majesty is able to work with Lampard anymore. What’s important is that when His Majesty contacts him to confirm Moriah’s murder, will he also reveal this fact to Lampard?”
The archdukes were instantly shaken!
They now understood the causes and effects of this incident.
“And this is very possible! After all, just as I have theorized, His Majesty, King Nuven has already contacted the Black Sand Region through Nicholas…
“In the face of such a possibility, the culprit who has murdered His Majesty’s son and betrayed Lampard would surely be quaking in his boots by now… In order to gain Lampard’s trust, would His Majesty reveal the fact that the person who framed him is the same person who murdered Moriah?
“And Lampard just so happens to be the one who knows the truth behind the murder of Prince Moriah, and the identity of the culprit!
“Therefore, the key does not lie with His Majesty, but with Lampard himself.” Thales gauged everyone’s reaction and released a deep sigh. “If the king does not mention it, then he will be considered lucky. But how long will this luck last? Will this matter be mentioned in the next correspondence?
“If the king mentions it, then Chapman Lampard will know that his accomplice stationed a traitor within the Black Sand Region Army, and framed him for crime in Broken Dragon Fortress!
“That is betrayal!
“In that moment, if I were Lampard, the first thing I would do is reveal the culprit’s identity to His Majesty,” Thales’ eyes shone with certainty as he spoke firmly.
“By the hands of the Dragon Spear Family, let this preposterous betrayer and accomplice pay the heftiest price in Dragon Clouds City!”
Upon hearing that, King Nuven suddenly threw his head back in laughter.
His laughter grew louder as time went by.
Conversely, everyone else in the meeting hall remained speechless. In silence, they watched as the king laughed.
Once King Nuven stopped laughing, he cast his gaze on the archdukes—one of them specifically.
“Go on.” At this point, King Nuven’s eyes were piercing as he stared at the speechless archduke. His elderly voice now clouded with a murderous intent, “We are all looking forward to it.”
Thales turned around and nodded at the old king.
He breathed out through his nose and raised his head.
“Once that happens, the culprit’s identity and misdoings will never be concealed from Lampard and His Majesty’s eyes!
“The thought of Archduke Lampard revealing his identity and crimes through their correspondence…”
“The thought of how his every minute in Dragon Clouds City increased his chances of exposure…
“The thought of King Nuven’s inability to vent the raging fire of his vengeance…”
Thales strolled towards the center of the hall. He sighed and looked at the outstanding archduke.
“How could you sit still, eat well, or even sleep well? How could you not flee to your own territory and pray for safety within its secure walls?”
The five archdukes displayed various expressions on their faces.
But the four of them had their knowing gazes cast on the one archduke who had always stood out from the beginning.
“So, this is how it is…” Thales slowly said as he adjusted his line of sight to look at this person.
When they first met in the very same meeting hall, this person was kind, fair and passionate. Tonight, he did not say a word. He only replied with silence.
It was the youngest archduke, who had a crimson horseshoe embroidered on his robes.
With a friendly smile, Thales said, “His Majesty, Lampard and my mutual rival—the murderer of Prince Moriah, my attempted murderer, Lampard’s accomplice and betrayer…
“The banquet was going swell, and the palace as well as city gates were opened for the first time. I suggested such a brilliant proposal and awaited your arrival. Can you tell me why, at four in the morning, before the light of dawn even filled the sky…
“You could not even make it for a goodbye, but hurried to leave Heroic Spirit Palace? You ascended onto your carriage and galloped towards the city gate without a care for Dragon Clouds City…
Thales shook his head and with mixed feelings, he read out the culprit’s name, “Your Excellency, the respected Archduke of Beacon Illumination City—Conkray Poffret?”
By this time, the hall was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Then, the young brunette, whose identity was being celebrated looked up. His body was covered in chills and snow as he looked at the Prince of Constellation.
There was only numbness in his eyes.