Chapter 148: I Am Watching You, I Have Warned You
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The king finished speaking.
The meeting hall was filled with stony silence. For a period of time, there was only the hissing, cracking sound of flames in the braziers, and the irregular breathing of the people around him.
Almost everyone was stunned by the king’s announcement in that instant.
They remained speechless for five seconds, until a childish voice belonging to a boy broke the silence.
“What the actual hell?”
All the attention, including King Nuven’s profound gaze was directed to the Prince of Constellation, Thales Jadestar. He was standing in a corner with a flabbergasted expression on his face.
Putray faked a cough behind the prince and the dazed Thales then realized what he had done. He quickly flashed an apologetic, awkward smile.
Nevertheless, no one minded a foreign prince’s gaffe at the moment.
The tall Archduke Roknee stood up abruptly, and with a grim expression, said what had been on his fellow archdukes’ minds, “Your Majesty, please reconsider your decision. This is not just about your family’s vengeance, but also the future of Eckstedt!”
The members of the Imperial Conference by the king’s side were also panicking. The face of the administrator behind him darkened by the seconds. It was Lord Mirk. He tried to whispered something into King Nuven’s ear, but the latter merely gave him a wave of dismissal. His actions shut Mirk and his close vassals up instantly.
“This is my decision,” the king softly said to his close vassals.
At that very moment, the thought of King Nuven’s old and frail figure somehow overlapping with the robust silhouette in Renaissance Palace suddenly crossed Thales’ mind.
Thales also noticed that among the people in the hall, there were only two who appeared unfazed. The head of the White Blade Guards as well as Star Killer wore a blank expression on his face; and the Red Witch Calshan, Head of the Secret Room still smiled in a kind and gentle fashion.
As for the newly-arrived High Priestess of Bright Moon Temple, Juwle Holme, Thales could not even see her face underneath her veil.
“How old is King Nuven this year?” Thales turned his head around to ask Putray in a whisper.
“Sixty-nine, if I remember correctly,” answered Marquis Shiles Bamra, who was beside Putray. The guest from Camus frowned. “On the other hand, Lord Poffret is thirty-three, still at the prime of his youth… Damn it, we just signed a mining contract with Eckstedt.”
“This situation is out of control. Be on your guard, Your Highness.” Putray appeared worried and conflicted. “If King Nuven insists on having a duel…”
Thales nodded with a solemn look. He knew what Putray meant.
If King Nuven died here, the anchor of peace between the Jadestars and Waltons would cease to exist. And he, the Prince of Constellation would also lose his only ally in Dragon Clouds City, in Eckstedt.
Besides, the archdukes’ attitudes towards him were not exactly friendly, particularly Lord Poffret, who apparently hated his guts.
Thales gritted his teeth.
Meanwhile, King Nuven left his seat. He walked forward, and beamed at the archdukes.
“What is wrong, o noble and prideful Roknee?” The king’s aged, but thunderous voice boomed across the spacious hall. “Are you afraid that I, an old bat cannot defeat a young man?”
The long-haired archduke did not reply, however his answer was obvious from his light head shake.
“I do not think it is an unsound concern, Your Majesty.” Archduke Trentida rubbed his right hand with a grim look and glanced at the puzzled Archduke Poffret. “Trying to fight a young man for women is one thing; a duel is an entirely different matter…”
“You are aware of your age, are you not, Your Majesty?” Archduke Olsius was even more straightforward. “Arresting him would be a much better choice… Are you aware of the consequences?”
“This is the consequence!”
Nuven raised his voice, roaring at the room of people where all eyes were trained on him. “This is the consequence one must bear when a member of the Walton Family is harmed in any way!”
Everyone in the hall instantly got a fright.
‘This is not good.’
Thales watched their interaction with worry. ‘Has Nuven the Seventh been driven mad by impulse and hatred?’
The old king’s enraged gaze swept past the three archdukes. “You know very well, if anyone angers the Dragon Spear Family, he or she must pay the price. The Waltons are willing to put everything at stake for revenge. That is who we are.”
The three archdukes were dumbfounded. Their expressions changed. Under the king’s menacing gaze, they turned their heads away and said nothing more. They were like lionesses that submitted to the leader of the pride.
‘But something doesn’t feel right.’ This was what Thales had realized.’This is not just about irrational vengeance,’ he thought.
‘This is a warning from the king, from Dragon Clouds City, from the Walton Family.’
“Haha.” Archduke Lecco laughed awkwardly. He was the oldest among them and he was seated farther away from them. “Our king certainly likes to joke, doesn’t he…?”
King Nuven turned his head and cast him a glance.
The smile on Archduke Lecco’s face froze, although he did not seem to notice it.
King Nuven snorted, shuffling towards Poffret. His eyes seemed to burn with endless fury. “What do you think, Conkray Poffret? Do I look like I am joking?”
All eyes were upon Archduke Poffret, who had been challenged.
“You, you are insane. A duel?” The young archduke was confounded. He scrutinized the old and ailing King Nuven from head to toe. His lips quivered as he mumbled, “In the name of revenge, you would even risk your own life—”
But he was interrupted by King Nuven.
“Why are you so surprised?” the old king said coldly. “It is your best and only chance. If you kill me, you do not have to face the consequences of your crime. All the charges against you will be dropped.”
Poffret jumped. He raised his head and stared at the king.
“Of course, you may also admit defeat right at the start of the duel and admit to your crimes,” Nuven said, smiling coldly. His eyes were shimmering with hatred.
Without waiting for Poffret’s response, the king turned around to face the other four archdukes.
“Is this not the result you anticipate the most?” King Nuven roared like a wrathful dragon. “If I die here…
“All of you can save the time you spent plotting petty schemes, no?”
The archdukes all froze.
The king looked across the room full of people as he cackled away. “Then, Eckstedt will see that another king selection is done. A hurried one, perhaps.
“But, it is also your chance to ascend to the throne and rule the kingdom.” He narrowed his eyes. “That is very close at hand, is it not?”
The archdukes remained quiet. Everyone in the room stayed idle and their breathing became heavy.
“You are the king.” Archduke Roknee sighed. “You make the decision.”
King Nuven replied with a hearty laugh. He then whipped around to face the High Priestess of Bright Moon Temple.
“High Priestess Holme?”
The veiled high priestess responded with a slight nod and lifted her arms solemnly. Her left hand held onto her right elbow, while her right palm was open and facing up. It looked like she was carrying a plate.
High Priestess Holme closed her eyes and lowered her head as everyone watched her in grim silence.
Suddenly, Thales heard a peculiar ringing in his ears.
He had experienced it before back in the Hall of Stars, in front of the Ritual Master of Sunset Temple, Liscia during the Bloodline Ceremony.
This time though, he felt much better. At least this time, he did not have as intense a reaction as last time.
Perhaps… he was bound to be affected by every holy ritual connected to the gods?
As Thales stayed composed, feeling fortunate for how well he was feeling, he heard a voice amid the ringing in his ears.
“I am watching you.”
Thales looked up swiftly, but all he could see was the blank ceiling.
Perplexed, he glanced around to only see a room full of stone-faced people, waiting for the ritual to end.
Putray and Shiles appeared equally somber behind him.
‘What was that…’ Thales scratched his head in confusion. He continued to scan the room. Seeing that nothing stood out, he heaved a helpless sigh.
‘Fine. If I’m hearing things, something is wrong with my ears… I need to see a doctor…’
“I have warned you.”
Thales felt a jolt running through his body. Instinctively, he turned and nervously looked around the hall again.
‘It happened again!
‘Who is it?’
It was real. He was certain that someone was speaking to him—it was like a whisper into his ear.
Thales could not recall how the voice sounded like, but the words were clear as day!
‘Could it be…’ he thought in a panic, ‘Yodel, the elusive Masked Protector?
‘This voice… it’s completely different from Yodel’s raspy voice!’
Thales was feeling rather jittery. Once he was sure that no one here had spoken, he cast his disbelieving gaze to the High Priestess of Bright Moon Temple, who had both her eyes closed.
‘It can’t be?’
Thales’ odd behaviour had drawn the attention of a few others. Shiles looked at him curiously while Putray scowled, as though he was chastising him.
Realizing this, Thales was shocked. He immediately turned around and stood properly with a serious expression.
The strange ringing eventually faded.
Nevertheless, Thales’ bewilderment and anxiety continued to rise.
“The Bright Moon hath answered.” High Priestess Holme opened her clear, serene eyes. “The goddess doth not opposed.”
Most people in the hall sighed, but the archdukes said nothing.
“As it appears, a duel is bound to take place,” the high priestess said in a deep voice. “And I shall be the goddess’ witness.”
There was no further objection.
The old king flashed a contented smile and averted his gaze back to his opponent.
In the still silence, Archduke Poffret gradually regained his composure and calmed his rapid breathing.
He stared at King Nuven and his eyes glimmered with an odd emotion.
“Hah… very well.” There was a peculiar smile on the young archduke’s face. “That is your proposal, is it not?
“To challenge me to a duel in the name of the king… I have no right and no intention to turn it down.”
Poffret lifted his chin, revealing his baleful glare. “What are we waiting for then?”
King Nuven gave a wide grin too. His eyes shone with a blinding spark.
However, Thales in the meantime, felt utterly perplexed.
‘”I am watching you.”
‘”I have warned you.”
‘What does it all mean?’
Thales forced his emotions down and tried not to think about the strange voice he heard.
He shook his head, as though doing so could fling those words out of his mind.
He had enough troubles for now. He needed to sort them out one at a time.
Thales looked up at the White Blade Guards as they moved the long, heavy table from the middle of the hall. The crowd cleared out a space for the duel as well.
Following the others as they retreated near the braziers in the corner, Thales realized that there were about five or six flights of stairs on the sides of the oval-shaped Hall of Heroes. The center of the hall was empty.
Based on memory fragments of Thales’ past life, it looked like a colosseum. A thought suddenly then appeared in his head. ‘Is it possible that this meeting hall in Heroic Spirit Palace was built for a duel?’
“Is it luck or misfortune?” Putray snorted. “During your first visit to Eckstedt, you get to witness a rare duel.”
Thales grimaced. “Must the king go into the arena himself?”
“During the Age of the Empire, the participants could request someone to fight on their behalf,” Putray whispered. “But, we are now in Northland—the Northland after the fall of the Empire no less. One must fight their own fights, even the kings.”
“I’ve heard a thing or two about Northland duels, but…” Marquis Shiles, who stood beside them sighed. “This is my first time seeing this. God, a seventy-year-old king versus a thirty-year-old archduke. No matter what the outcome is, I can tell this story over and over again for a year when I get home.”
“Is a duel a rare occasion? Is this not what the king selection requires? I thought the archdukes who want to become king would prepare for duels?” Thales asked.
“A king selection duel will only occur when two parties get the same number of votes. It is carried out to determine the final winner. This has not happened for a long time.” Putray shook his head. “Reportedly, during the King Selection Congress thirty years ago, Nuven the Seventh had gotten the support from all six archdukes. There was no need for a duel.”
“I heard that Count Lampard of Black Sand Region defeated his older brother in a duel and obtained the right of inheritance. Is it true?” Thales asked with a sullen expression as he watched the two men in the arena take off their robes. He could see Lord Mirk preparing the arena in a gloomy manner.
“That duel made him known across the whole nation, and even Constellation,” Putray said grimly. “It is rare for Eckstedt to have such a vicious, terrifying and bloodthirsty suzerain with passionate followers. Lampard was assigned important roles afterwards, and he went on a diplomatic mission to Constellation.”
“But the other suzerains are wary of him since he is a cold-blooded man. He was able to bring himself to kill his own brother after all.” Marquis Shiles pursed his lips. “This is all I know about Northland after travelling to all the cities in the north.”
“That aside, the decision for this duel is too rushed… Are all the Northlanders insane?” Thales gritted his teeth. “Has he not thought of the consequences of his defeat?”
Suddenly, a cold voice made itself heard. “In Northland, a duel is a sacred ritual.”
Star Killer, Nicholas, appeared out of nowhere and stood beside them. His eyes were fixed on the two men on the arena. “It is a way to prove whether you are a devious, selfish coward who hides behind your army and guards, or a powerful, brave warrior who would risk your life for the goal in your heart.”
Thales sighed and shrugged.
Standing in the center of the hall, King Nuven was only dressed in a combat cloak with tight sleeves. The cloak was embroidered with the Cloud Dragon Spear emblem and the sleeves allowed him great mobility. The same could be said for Poffret, whose left sleeve was sewn with an image of the Blood Shoe.
“The duel is my idea. As for the weapon, you may decide.” King Nuven eyed Poffret closely.
Poffret took a deep breath and hesitated for a few seconds.
“The battle axe.”
The young archduke looked up at King Nuven calmly. “The double headed battle axe. That will be the weapon.”
King Nuven’s pupils contracted.
Everyone in the hall broke into boos and hisses.
“Hah.” Archduke Trentida laughed at Archduke Olsius. “Cunning little brat.”
Archduke Roknee huffed in disdain. “Weakling.”
“Battle axe? Is it what I think it is?” A thought appeared in Thales’ mind and he turned around to ask.
“Wielding a double headed battle axe requires enormous strength and patience. It can hack both ways, and is highly destructive. With a spike on top, it can also be used to stab the enemy. This weapon was once popular in the battles against the orcs,” Nicholas replied calmly. “But this cumbersome weapon is rarely used on battlefields these days. Most Northland axemen prefer the lighter single blade battle axe.”
“Smart choice.” Putray squinted as he shook his head. “He is taking advantage of King Nuven’s old age.”
Shortly after, the weapons were delivered.
Thales stared at the two massive weapons being carried into the arena by guards. The axe was a weapon with thick handles made to be held by both hands. It was half the height of a grown man and had two crescent blades, each about the size of one’s chest. The blades glistened with a ghastly glow. There were also miniature blades on top of the axes for stabbing. It was indeed a powerful and formidable weapon.
Thales swallowed. This axe probably weighed twice his weight.
He thought of the enormous battle axe used by Arracca’s opponent in the battle at Broken Dragon Fortress. Nonetheless, the Kingdom’s Wrath snatched said weapon from him and hacked him in the face in the end.
Poffret peered at King Nuven, who was across him and gave a light chuckle.
He grabbed the giant axe from the guard with one arm, weighing it in his hand.
Then, with a jerk, the young archduke hauled the weapon up.
Poffret smiled, feeling pleased. He turned around and swung the giant axe into the air with loud, sharp swooshes.
As if it was a very simple matter to do.
Thales watched his easy and relaxed movements, gawking at him.
“This damn thing sure is a handful.” Poffret placed the giant axe on his shoulder. He looked up and shot a glare at King Nuven, who stood before his weapon. “Be careful not to sprain your back, Your Majesty.”
The king ignored him.
He merely stretched his hand out and pressed it gently on the axe handle, giving it a few squeezes at certain places. He then took a deep breath, and held on to the axe handle with both hands.
His presumption was more or less the same as Poffret’s.
‘After all, King Nuven is already seventy.’
Before Thales could finish his inner monologue, the old king clenched his teeth and lifted the giant axe steadily.
He even threw the axe into the air. It took a 180-degree flip in the air before falling back into his grip.
Thales gaped at the old king, who was apparently still pretty tough.
Like Poffret, King Nuven carried the giant axe on his shoulder (which seemed like the standard posture while holding an axe). He heaved a long sigh as storms brewed in his wild eyes. “You do not have to worry about me. When I was fighting orcs in the war… your father was still being breastfed by his mother.”
King Nuven smiled a demonic grin.
Poffret’s expression darkened.
“Looks like our king is as impressive as ever,” the bald Archduke Lecco said and sighed. “If I were him, I would have been… by that axe…”
“It’s too early for any conclusion.” Archduke Trentida shook his head with a strange expression on his face. “If something bad happens to our much-revered king…”
“Isn’t that what you want?” Archduke Roknee snapped at them brusquely. “The damned king selection.”
Snubbed, Trentida looked away.
Archduke Olsius was combing through his full beard, scowling as he did so. He was thinking about the Heirship Duel of Black Sand Region twelve years ago.
As Thales was still agitated by the possibility of King Nuven’s defeat, High Priestess Holme ambled to the center of the arena, capturing the attention of the room full of people.
Everyone grew anxious all of sudden.
High Priestess Holme stood between the two opponents and her bright eyes beneath the veil took a peek at each of them.
She raised her right hand, pointing King Nuven.
She announced with a clear and cold voice, “For vengeance, this man has called for a duel.”
King Nuven glared at his opponent coldly.
The high priestess raised her left arm, pointing at the young Poffret.
“For prestige and glory, this man shall accept the challenge.”
Poffret exhaled with a somber expression.
“In the name of the Bright Moon Goddess, I shall serve as a witness.” The high priestess took a few steps back slowly and nimbly. Each step she took was followed by a verse.
“Blades and armor dance amid the shower of the silver moonglow.
“In the freshly-spilled blood, the light of godly glory shines.
“Courage is a flame, incinerating noble souls.
“Death is anything but a way back to one’s long-separated home.”
Both King Nuven and Archduke Poffret’s facial expressions turned grim. They lifted their giant axes off their shoulders.
King Nuven stooped down with his arms outstretched. His left hand glided down the axe handle and reached the part where the axe handle as well as the axe blade were joined. Meanwhile, Archduke Poffret positioned his weapon by his side, holding the axe blade as close to his cheek as possible. He maintained the best posture to perform a hack.
They stared at each other with hostility.
Thales squinted and saw every negative emotion one could possibly own in both of their eyes.
The high priestess retreated to one corner of the arena and took a deep breath. She then raised her arms and pointed them to the sky as if to make a final prayer.
The audience held their breath.
A second later, the high priestess retracted her arms. She placed her hands on both shoulders, lowered her head, and said, “The duel will now begin.”