Chapter 259: A Speculation
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
“In your eyes, what exactly are we, the archdukes to you, Lampard?”
Archduke Lecco suddenly spoke up before Lampard, who had lost his composure.
His words attracted everyone’s attention.
“As an ally who swore an oath of allegiance to us, you should have thought of these things when you used Constellation’s example to persuade us, shouldn’t you?” The old archduke flatly said, “Are we your allies… Are we stepping stones, or sacrificial victims?”
Lampard raised his head abruptly!
“This is our only chance! When Constellation recovers and becomes stronger, richer…” The Archduke of Black Sand Region was livid. “For the sake of a baseless assumption, you want to sit there resigned to your fate and watch Eckstedt slowly sink into oblivion? In your eyes, Eckstedt can never compare to you, right?”
At this very moment…
“Chapman Lampard,” the Archduke of the City of Faraway Prayers, Kulgon Roknee said all of a sudden, “what exactly is Eckstedt?”
Lampard was stunned for?a moment.
“Six hundred something years ago, right here in the banquet hall above our heads, those who returned soaked in blood were the legendary Nine Knights. Among them were our ancestors. They raised the hero Raikaru over their heads and together, honored him as king. The kingdom of Eckstedt was thus born.” Roknee raised his right hand and pointed at the stone carving of the Cloud Dragon Spear.
Archduke Olsius’ expression shifted.
Upon hearing this piece of history, Saroma’s eyes lit up while she stood behind Thales.
“After the hero passed away, as Constellation grew stronger day by day, and the disaster of the Empire was about to make a comeback—there were also ten heavily conflicted Northlandic suzerains who acted by their own wills. Under the witness of the Queen of the Sky, they took a blood oath of allegiance before Raikaru’s tombstone. Abandoning their bygones, they established the ten archdukes’ Joint Ruling Pledge,” Archduke Roknee said coldly. “It was then when we first fought alongside like dear brothers in the name of Eckstedt. Upon imminent danger before Cold Castle, we resisted Black Eye John’s great Constellation army!”
Lampard looked at Archduke Roknee in disbelief. Then, he looked at the others who seemed to be pondering.
Thales sighed softly.
Wars created countries, and countries created war.
“The reason why we built Eckstedt was precisely in order to protect our own cherished objects within the chaotic ways of the world… To protect our families, our bloodlines, our honor, our territories as well as the citizens who trusted us and were loyal to us… To protect our creed and spirit since ancient times!
“We are Eckstedt!” Roknee thumped himself fiercely in the chest with his fist. The crest of the Knight’s Canon on his shoulder trembled slightly. “Only when there are people like us who protect it and acknowledge it could Eckstedt exist!
“If we have to sacrifice, give up everything, and even forsake these things we once pledged our lives to protect—all for that illusory, so-called Eckstedt that you speak of, then Eckstedt would lose its original meaning of existence—what will there be left?” Roknee violently spat.
“Nothing but another tyrant and dictator’s toy, another Ancient Empire assembled forcefully under violence and oppression compelling its people to acknowledge it, only to be sacrificed in vain for the Empire that in reality, has nothing to do with them.” Roknee glanced at Lampard in disdain.
“Tell that to the Constellatiates then,” Lampard retorted viciously, when they detain you or your grandchildren and send you to the guillotine!”
“To be sent to the guillotine by them, or to be sent to the guillotine by you,” Roknee also sharply countered. “Honestly speaking, I can’t tell which is worse.”
Lampard raised his hand violently and pointed at Thales!
The prince was slightly surprised.
“But everything this boy has said: the decline, seizing of power, transformation—our so-called end of the road, they all haven’t happened!” He gnashed his teeth while he said, “And you’re here worrying about the future of your great grandson?
Lampard took a deep breath.
“Even if those things that worry you have happened, I believe that we can definitely find a way to overcome it so long as we pull together to work as one. Will we, the archdukes turn a blind eye to the problems at hand?”
The Archduke of Black Sand Region seemed to have recovered from his previous impulsiveness. He stared seriously at each archduke. “Before that, we have to take measures… The enemy close at hand, our enemy for the past centuries, they’re rolling up their sleeves for battle, progressively restoring strength—isn’t this even more terrifying?
“As for the others—whether or not I have an ulterior ambition, whether or not I want to harm you, and whether or not I want to rip up the Joint Ruling Pledge—we can slowly discuss everything later.”
Trentida and Olsius, both Southern archdukes who neighbored Constellation exchanged glances. They pondered briefly.
Thales felt his heart tense.
“Archduke of Black Sand Region!” Thales could not help but exclaim, attracting everyone’s attention!
“There are three errors in your words,” Thales said coldly.
Lampard’s expression froze.
The archdukes turned towards the prince at once.
“Go on, Your Highness.” Trentida clutched his beard. “Any more brilliant ideas?”
Thales puffed out a breath of air and rubbed his cheeks as he straightened his train of thought. “The first error, you mentioned Constellation’s threat and the trap you proposed on equal terms.
“My dear archdukes, when he told you about Constellation’s examples, about Mindis the Third and his successors, about all the things they’ve done in a hundred over years, you should have indeed felt a deep fear in you,” Thales took a deep breath and said gravely.
Lampard was stunned for a moment. He could not understand why he would support his inference.
“But this fear really isn’t from the dread towards the enemy country.” Before the archdukes could raise questions, Thales answered on his own. The topic of discussion then took a turn. “Instead, it comes from pure vigilance and panic from the heart.”
He took a step forward and hung his dagger behind his waist, revealing the most solemn and wearisome expression he knew.
“This is no longer one of those overused battle scenes in a novel about knights; no longer a short-sighted political trickery of the moronic nobles to repeatedly murder, frame, arrange for marriage, fight for land, campaign and more,” Thales said in a low voice, attempting to play up the atmosphere with his tone.
Trentida narrowed his eyes. He clicked his tongue and said, “Short-sighted?”
Archduke Olsius snorted discontentedly.
“I do not intend to offend.” Thales clenched his jaw. “But, the Virtuous King’s conducts and deeds were not in the above categories.”
He raised his head. “Rather, the ruler who sat on the throne soundlessly clutched the throats of all the vassals. Then step by step, bit by bit, inch by inch, slowly and feebly, but never pausing, he tightened that hand of power.”
The archdukes silently listened.
“He then smilingly used a gradually extending yet irrepressible and gentle flood to submerge the vassals’ status, power, wealth as well as privileges. One by one, family by family, he suffocated these famous, mighty suzerains in the long river of history like scattered ash and dispersed smoke, never to regain power.
“The shifts of power flowed slowly and quietly in his chess game, history rolled forward with torrential momentum between his fingers.” Thales imagined the affable middle-aged king in the portrait, and a chill suddenly grew in his heart.
“The threat of Constellation can be resisted by swords and armored horses, but such a silent threat flowing right under your noses…
“Once such a path, such a transformation, and such a threat begins, whether noticed or not, it will no longer be within the confines that the suzerains can control. It’s not the struggles and contradictions you’re familiar with,” Thales said with difficulty. “Even if you’ve arranged ten thousand supreme class Swordsmen of Eradication in your chambers; even if you’ve built sky-scraping iron walls around the city; even if you’ve dug a moat that floods a hundred miles outside the city; even if you’ve won hundreds and thousands of battles through ancient times on the battlefield; even if you’ve used rare wisdom and strategies to prevail over countless formidable, dreadful enemies; even if you’ve won immortalized, unparalleled reputation and prestige; even if the legendary Great Dragon and calamities guarded you by your pillow around the clock…
“There are no ways to stop such a great force, no ways to prevent your destined decline and defeat.”
The archdukes’ expressions turned grave.
Lampard gritted his teeth.
“Facing such a scenario, no matter how large, how strong, how boundless a power is, it’s nothing more than just a joke.
“So, what’s terrifying isn’t the threat, but it is when you already know where the threat is, yet you’re still powerless, only able to sit and wait for destruction,” Thales said darkly.
The archdukes’ expressions changed at once.
“Once you think about this sort of threat happening behind you, would you want to promise Lampard to join hands and walk down such a path with him?”
“Enough,” Lampard spoke firmly. With shades of anger on his face, he interrupted Thales, “I’ve had enough of your baseless hooting and poisonous words, boy.”
He took big strides as he walked towards Thales.
The prince quivered and Saroma turned pale.
However, Lampard only managed to walk halfway when Archduke Roknee’s figure appeared in front of Thales.
“Move back, Lampard.” Roknee tapped the hilt of the sword by his waist. His expression was cold. “I’ve never crossed swords with you before, but I’m very willing to give it a try.”
Lampard’s expression stiffened. He clenched his fist tight as he watched Roknee’s gaze grow colder and colder.
Archduke Lecco gently said, “Northlanders don’t behave like low class hooligans who draw their swords, killing someone’s whole family to vent their frustrations as soon they can’t agree to their words.”
Archduke Olsius lightly sighed. He took gradual steps forward and stopped behind Roknee, staring strictly at Lampard.
Lampard relaxed his fist only after a good few seconds. He snorted coldly and withdrew to the side.
With that, Thales finally took a deep breath and felt slightly at ease.
Thales then forced himself to continue speaking, “Lampard, your second error is that you think the words I’ve said—about transformation being the end of the road for the archdukes are baseless.
“No,” Thales said unyieldingly. “Constellation is the best example.”
The archdukes’ gazes froze altogether, even Lampard was no exception.
“Everyone, how did Lampard exaggerate the threat of Constellation’s national strength and potential to you?” Thales turned around. Whether intentionally or not, he pulled Saroma as he walked to the front of the other archdukes. “In his description, did Constellation become a giant dragon who was just one leap away from soaring?
“I don’t know how much everyone understands about Constellation…
“But, what I’m about to tell you next is only privy to the guardian dukes and appointed counts—meaning to say, it is information circulated only among the Six Great Clans and Thirteen Distinguished Families. Perhaps, it is the truth; perhaps, a rumor.”
In the face of the archdukes’ gazes, Thales gritted his teeth and said, “On the day I left Eternal Star City and went on this unfortunate trip, an unexpected person came before me and told me…
“That in Constellation’s Eastern Sea Hill, Cullen of the Sun Sword and Shield had turned into an ostrich, a yes-man to the Royal Family.” Many figures flashed across Thales’ eyes. The first was that fat prime minister, Duke Cullen.
“Fakenhaz of Western Desert Hill relied on the Western front line to strenuously support the four skull flags so that they would not fall.” Duke Fakenhaz’s terrifying appearance slowly surfaced.
“The legacy of Covendier, South Coast Hill’s Iris Flower, has been unstable. A few days ago, the Royal Family just took back three territories from three barons.” He remembered the young Duke of Iris Flowers, whose smile and etiquette were perfect, so much so that there was nothing about them that could be nitpicked.
“Blade Edge Hill’s Duchess Tabark of Blood Moon has already degenerated to a point where she cannot survive without the Royal Family.” Lyanna also appeared in Thales’ memories.
“The Great Deer Antler of the Land of Cliff’s Region was forced into a dead end. The Nanchester Family could not help but roll up their sleeves in an attempt to strike back.”
Finally, as Thales sighed, he suddenly remembered that “suggestion” given to him by the One-Eyed Dragon, Koshder.
“‘King Kessel has to step down from his throne, and you are to be crowned the king in advance.”‘
“And the Northern Territory that you’re most familiar with, that rich, powerful family that has sworn generational enmity with Lampard… Arunde of the White Eagle has been reduced by the heavy blows of the royal power to become vassals of the Royal Family a long time ago since their plot fell through.”
The expression on the archdukes’ faces changed into that of surprise, contemplation, puzzlement and numerous other emotions.
“And this is merely the Six Great Clans, who stand to be the proudest and grandest in Constellation. The Thirteen Distinguished Families below them and the traditional nobles who have even lower ranks, when they were deprived of their powers and statuses, what did they experience?
“You want proof? Constellation is your proof!” Thales exclaimed. “Look at our current state! The chaos in the National Conference, you think it was just a show?”
Lampard shut his eyes and clenched his fist tightly.
“Yet, this is still far from the end.” Watching the archdukes’ expressions, Thales solemnly said, “Those who were deprived wouldn’t give up on their power with folded arms. They refused to sit and wait for death. Rather, they silently waited for an opportunity and struck back while they were forced into a corner—you think Arunde just wanted the throne during the spur of a moment?!”
He took a step forward and pulled apart the clothing on his chest, revealing the burn scar left by Quide. He said through gritted teeth, “Since I was retrieved, I’ve experienced countless assassinations and conspiracies of all sizes. Even when I’m sleeping in Renaissance Palace, I can smell the faint tension and blood!”
Saroma covered her mouth as she looked at that scar on his chest in astonishment.
Trentida let out a whistle, whereas Olsius wrapped both his arms around himself.
Archduke Lecco looked solemn.
“The Nineteen Noble Families were only some among the representatives—this sort of resentment isn’t only limited to the big vassals and great nobles, but extends through the whole country. It extends through the people who are affected, and that resentment has grown to become chaos and indignation that is difficult to handle.
“The bloodiness of such battles is never ending. It only hibernates quietly until it finally explodes again one day, until the final outcome is decided,” Thales coldly said.
The prince turned his head around, and his tone was firm, “The chess game that Mindis the Third started welcomed its climax one hundred something years later, and I can definitely tell you that Constellation is currently at its darkest moment and facing its greatest danger. It is facing the conflict formed by new order and old blood…”
Having said that, Thales paused for a while. His pupils froze.
A terrifying thought instantly climbed into his heart.
‘Darkest… Most dangerous… New order… Old blood…’
In that instant, Thales hung his mouth open. His face was filled with astonishment.
Both his hands trembled slightly.
‘Can it be?’
“What’s going on?” Olsius said impatiently, “Stuck?”
When Saroma tugged on his sleeve, the prince finally came to his senses. But he could not suppress the panic in his heart.
Still, he tried hard to keep his emotions in check and pouted his lips.
“This is your third error, Lampard.” Thales forced down the questions that rose in his mind to the bottom of his heart and with difficulty, he asked, “Do you think that the chaos and weakness of Constellation is just temporary? That we can return to our peak once we recover, and be unrivaled in the Western Peninsula? No.
“Just as how there’s no transformation without cost, there’s no transformation without risks.” Thales was gasping for breath.
“The decline of the nobles was the cost; their retaliation is the risk Constellation faces.”
At that moment, the archdukes’ expressions had become very interesting. Even Lampard furrowed his eyebrows.
“Constellation’s current weakness and unrest is not incidental. Rather, it is something inevitable since it began walking on this path.” While he was speaking, Thales was making deductions in his head, and he was shocked by his new speculation. “This was what the Virtuous King left for Constellation.”
His face was pale. There was a dazed look on his face as he thought of the words left behind by the One-Eyed Dragon.
Saroma watched him worriedly.
“I don’t know how much longer Constellation can last, I don’t know where this country will go, I don’t know what sort of end it will reach,” the prince said. For once, without any ulterior motive, he truly and sincerely opened his mouth and said, “Will it be scattered and smashed? Or, have a happy ending once it experiences all its troubles?
“All I know is that in this torrent, whether it’s me or King Kessel, the Six Great Clans or the Thirteen Distinguished Families, we are all trembling in fear, swaying in this storm.”
‘Oh well. Whether or not it is real. At least… at least if I can convince them, sway their thoughts, that’s enough,’ Thales persuaded himself.
“You should have heard of it to some extent, about the biggest, most terrifying tsunami in this torrent so far…” Thales gritted his teeth, while his hand was pressed on his chest.
In that spot was a map given to him by King Nuven.
The archdukes exchanged glances at once, their eyes laced with doubt.
That instant, the words Gilbert said in Mindis Hall rang in his ear.
‘”Death and bloodshed covered the entire country. The upper levels were the court, the nobles, and the influential families. At the bottom were the knights, the businessmen, the laymen. They suffered heavy casualties. This was the most difficult page in the history of Constellation…”‘
“That’s right.” Before the archdukes’ eyes, Thales was breathing painfully. From all his countless recollections and clues, he mentioned the answer he gained from his speculation earlier.
“That tragedy where everyone lost, where there were hardly any winners.”
The Jadestar family tomb in Renaissance Palace, those countless stone jars and urns of various sizes, and that Duchess of the Tabark Family appeared before Thales’ eyes. Under the archdukes’ astonished gazes, he subconsciously whispered.
“The Bloody Year.”