Chapter 266: What A Shame (One)
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
“What the actual hell you are saying?!”
Archduke Roknee, who was recovering from his shock, could not suppress his anger anymore and yelled at Thales.
Thales was adjusting his breath and watching Roknee calmly.
The prince observed everyone’s expression and made a conclusion. ‘They don’t like this suggestion.’
It was not just Roknee. Other than Lampard, almost every archduke was extremely dissatisfied. Even the cunning Trentida gave a snort as an indication of his contempt.
However, Thales had predicted their reactions.
“In my opinion…”
Archduke Olsius raised his heavy sword again. His eyes flared. “How about we kill this little Constellatiate viper first, then kill each other?”
“Prince Thales!” Archduke Lecco’s deep voice was severe. “I advise you…”
Thales took a deep breath. Saroma was desperately shaking her head at him from a distance.
“My two minutes are not over yet.” The prince put on what he believed was his most solemn expression. “Keep your promise, let me finish—after that, you may chop me into as many pieces as you wish!”
Archduke Lecco fell silent with a furious look of disgust. Thales immediately turned around to Lampard, who gazed at him with a complex look.
‘I have to find something we all care about,’ Thales said to himself.
“If you become their king,” Thales said firmly to Lampard, “even if you let them walk out of here alive, the archdukes will be unable to publicly defy you, unable to come up with excuses to challenge their king, because it will mean violating the Joint Ruling Pledge.
“Other than being rid of their threat to you, you will obtain the status, prestige, and benefit of a king. You can continue to pursue your ambition in Eckstedt without having to face the wrath of Dragon Clouds City after the archdukes died.”
Lampard’s eyebrows furrowed and unfurrowed. He intended to speak, but hesitated in the end.
“Impossible!” Archduke Roknee snapped, gnashing his teeth together. “I will never vote for a king slayer to be king! This, in and of itself, is the most audacious violation and affront to the Joint Ruling Pledge!”
‘I knew it.’ Thales thought. The boy had to close his eyes and inhale again before turning to them.
“This is a necessary compromise!” the prince said firmly, “Archduke Roknee, I know there has been dissent among your vassals—Nuven saw it as an opportunity to interfere. Please consider this: if your Faraway Prayers City loses its suzerain today…
“Now with that example in your head, think about what is happening to the current Dragon Clouds City!”
Roknee was suddenly at a loss for words.
Thales turned to look at the others with an anxious expression. His tone of voice was sincere and earnest.
“Everyone, please discard unnecessary emotions and consider this with caution. It is so much better than your expected outcome!
“And all of it is for the sake of building the foundation of the new Eckstedt where there will no longer be any archdukes existing in it.” Thales was gasping for air. “You can only wait for the complete annihilation of your families and territories, unable to resist.”
Olsius’s face stiffened. He peered at the Archduke of Black Sand Region.
Meanwhile, Lampard lowered his head upon hearing this. His eyes narrowed and his eyebrows wriggled, as though there was another storm brewing in him.
“Now, you have prevented that outcome, and received important intel,” the prince’s voice echoed again, “but you plan to die in vain in Heroic Spirit Palace, leaving Eckstedt heading towards an uncertain direction, allowing your families and territories to plunge into chaos?
“Accept my proposal, at least you can return to your own territories safely, go back to your families, see your siblings, wives, children, friends, and relatives. You can make meticulous arrangements, then stand together once more against your new king. Be vigilant against the new threat in the dark!”
Archduke Trentida suddenly snapped his fingers with a strange look on his face.
Thales waited anxiously for the archdukes’ responses.
Archduke Lecco tried to control his emotions as he put down the actual meaning behind the prince’s suggestion word by word. “What you mean is… that you want us to bestow the power and status of a king on this king slayer, handing the right to wage war to this traitor and even shield him in exchange for an ignoble existence…?”
The bald old archduke’s tone changed. His gaze became razor sharp.
“Then wait as he, ‘the king’, annihilates us one after another so that he can rebuild his own kingdom?” The old archduke was like a volcano before its eruption. It was nerve-wracking. “You have underestimated us Northlanders, Prince Thales. We would rather die fighting here!”
Lampard let out a cold laugh right then and received furious glares from the archdukes.
Thales heaved an anguished sigh.
‘These goddamned Northlanders. I have to address and resolve their concerns.’
The prince closed his eyes, moved his head to the left as far as his neck would allow, then moved his head back swiftly.
“No! Even if he becomes king, he will not get what he wants.” Thales squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. His head ached. “At least you have known about Lampard’s schemes and ambitions. You know about his threats and guard against his presence. Even as his vassals, you can resist his influence with certain tactics…”
In desperation, Thales recalled what Gilbert, Putray, and Little Rascal had told him about the current state of Eckstedt, trying to piece together a convincing argument. “Such as—”
The prince’s words were stuck in his throat. He could not find a reason to persuade them in that moment.
While Thales was stuck, a youthful girl’s voice chimed in.
“You are not the dukes of Constellation. The archdukes of Eckstedt have far more power and higher status compared to the guardian dukes.”
Thales was startled. Puzzled and astonished, the archdukes shifted their gazes in unison.
Young Saroma’s voice trembled. Laced with a hint of timidity and rubbing the Triumph ring in her hand. She stuttered out, “Even if the king’s position is higher than yours, even if you have to pay him taxes… But just like before, you…”
Saroma whimpered, but she then swallowed, clenched her tiny fists, and uttered with reddened cheeks, “In accordance with the seventh clause of the Joint Ruling Pledge, ‘I obey the order of the king. My land shall obey my will.’ As long as you have a legitimate reason, you may reject the king’s orders, refuse to execute his laws on your land…”
The archdukes were astounded.
“According to the fourteenth clause, ‘One shall not turn down a fight for righteousness.’ In other words, regarding wars that violate certain principles and virtues, as long as you have reasons to convince your vassals and citizens, you may reject the king’s call for military recruitment. Even if you have to send troops, the number of soldiers is entirely up to you.”
Lampard’s expression turned grim.
Saroma continued timidly, “Besides, there are some records that are excluded from the pledge: If the king wishes to send officials to manage the internal affairs of your territories or the conflicts between suzerains, he must be a noble of significant status…
“You may need to pay him taxes, but the amount is decided during your provincial meetings and depends on your income and harvests of each year. This has been the tradition since the Tennon’s civil strife, proposed by the first Archduke Olsius.”
Archduke Olsius’ expression instantly changed into… something that was very interesting.
“Therefore, you do not have to fear the king.” Saroma inhaled deeply. “In Eckstedt, the king and the archdukes are the owners of the land. This is the right commonly recognized by the archdukes under the Joint Ruling Pledge.”
Lampard squeezed his eyes shut. ‘That is why the Joint Ruling Pledge must be decimated. With these limitations… Eckstedt will forever be a ten-headed dragon.’
Saroma went on, “It’s just… For the past ninety years, many archdukes did not dare to bring that up due to all kinds of pressure from Dragon Clouds City.
“But Black Sand Region is not Dragon Clouds City. He doesn’t control your trade routes or your rations. He isn’t even related to you by blood or marriage, which might have allowed him to interfere with your internal affairs.”
Saroma exhaled a light breath, her small face had reddened. After finishing her speech, she suddenly realized that all the archdukes were looking at her. The girl lowered her head nervously.
The archdukes, including Lampard, gawked at her as though this was the first time they got to know her.
‘That girl… What on earth…’
Thales heaved a sigh of relief, casting a grateful glance at Saroma.
Thales balled up his hands firmly and shook them in front of his chest. “Just like how you stood against King Nuven with the prestige and honor of archdukes; so what if he is the king? Can he send a warrant to order your surrender? Can the Black Sand Region, located at the border of Eckstedt, be worse than the mighty Dragon Clouds City?”
Thales added agitatedly, “As Northlanders, are you terrified of Black Sand Region, or you are unwilling to part with that bloody common-elected throne?”
Roknee looked up sharply and gnashed his teeth angrily. “Say one more insult about the Northland…”
Olsius added coldly, “And I will slice off your tongue.”
“Alright then.” Thales swallowed, nodding. Compelled by his rationale, he did not continue the previous topic. “I know you do not fear death, but compared to your pointless deaths and leaving Eckstedt in chaos, plunging your territories into confusion… Is this solution not ten-thousand times better?
“Living with hope requires much more courage and responsibility than dying in despair.”
Lecco did not speak, he was deep in contemplation. Thales’ chest rose and fell. He let out a faint sigh of relief.
However, this time it was Lampard’s turn to clench his fists and question the boy while shaking in hatred.
“If that’s the case…” The Archduke of Black Sand Region wore a frosty expression. “Why should I let them go? Why should I ascend that dangerous, rickety throne and become a mere figurehead?
“Why should I leave a potential threat untouched, allowing these mortal enemies with ill intentions to plot against me in secret, leading to imminent catastrophe?”
Lampard’s expression turned grim. “I would rather behead them here and now than play cat and mouse with them.”
As he said that, the three men in the stalemate grimaced. The possibility of a fight resurfaced.
Thales agonizingly raised his hand and furiously scratched his head.
‘Ahhh! These bastards!’
“Lampard!” Thales sucked in a sharp breath. “If you don’t do this, prepare to say goodbye to your future!
“In one day, six archdukes die in Heroic Spirit Palace. Then you bring the army from inside the palace and try to explain your actions to Prime Minister Lisban’s army and an enraged Dragon Clouds City, saying that it was all the Constellatiates’ doing and you were only a passerby?”
Lampard snorted coldly. He tightened his grip around his sword hilt.
‘This little sh*t. This… Bloody hell.’
“As for the threat from the archdukes—are you not Chapman Lampard?” Thales suppressed his anger and said in a solemn voice, “Renaissance Palace, Broken Dragon Fortress, Shield District, and now this… We have clashed several times, but you never gave in and managed to turn the tide at every dead end…
“Can’t you muster the courage to take another risk? For your ambition, for your Eckstedt, ascend that unsteady throne, continue your perilous game of wit on the second battleground.
“Die here in despair, or venture towards danger with a sliver of hope. Do you need me to tell you which to go for?”
Lampard’s breathing became uneven. Thales thought of Lampard’s past and added instinctively,
“Believe me, after killing several archdukes in a roll, your ambition will be put to an end! Your preparation and efforts for half a lifetime will all be lost in a moment, while the tragedy of your family will continue.
“Think about your family, think about your subordinates. Are you satisfied?”
Lampard froze. He gawked at the saber in his hand and fell into a long silence.
“Kid.” Archduke Olsius wore a grim expression. “One moment it’s this, the next moment it’s another. Just whose side are you on?”
Thales had to turn back to the four archdukes. He felt like a firefighter, running back and forth, utterly exhausted.
“It doesn’t matter which side I’m on,” Thales said tiredly. He sighed.
“…But no one among you certainly wants an unstable Eckstedt—on the verge of collapse, plagued by chaos and uncertainty—whether you face it alone or leave behind, right?”
The archdukes still appeared hesitant, but the eagle-eyed Thales noticed that anger had faded from Lecco’s face and his hands were lowered. Trentida, on the other hand, stayed quiet.
‘I need to work harder.’ Thales frowned as an idea came to him.
“You might not understand it, but I can guarantee you that… My father… King Kessel will be glad to an unstable Eckstedt.” The callous image of the Iron Hand King was formed in Thales’ heart. He tried to search for the train of thought that would fit the archdukes’ the most.
“As for whether he would whether he would mobilize his army and send them north when Constellation recovers and Eckstedt sinks into a terrifying internal strife after the death of six or perhaps seven archdukes so that he could use Eckstedt’s blood to unify the nobles in the country…
“That’s not something I can imagine anymore, especially when it includes the three southern archdukes near Constellation.” Thales narrowed his eyes.
Olsius’ expression changed. Archduke Lecco heaved a sigh and closed his eyes.
Archduke Trentida, who had remained wordless for the past few minutes, abruptly said, “He has a point. It’s not worth it to die here, the consequences will be grave.”
Olsius shot him a stern glare. “Porpheus!”
Thales’ eyes gleamed, as though he had found the breaking point.
“See, this is our common ground.” The prince landed a punch in his palm and glanced at everyone with a sharp look. “The development of this event has been quick. You are unprepared and left with no choice. You instead choose the hard way, intending to fight each other to death… But in actuality, none of you want such a cataclysmic outcome!”
Thales turned his head left then right, and earnestly said, “So, both sides will need a way to ease the tension, a choice that provides a path for retreat.”
Archduke Roknee calmed down. He shook his head. “Exchange our safety for the throne… This is not a choice; we can’t solve anything like this.”
Thales nodded, feeling a slight bitterness in his heart.
“It may not be the solution to the problem, but please remember that in this round, no one surrenders, no one admits defeat, and no one turns his back on his principles and faith.”
Thales gazed at the archdukes who gradually quieted down, and said solemnly,
“You have simply put aside the chessboard in the middle of a game, temporarily withdrawing the clashing swords and blades, put away your clashing fists, and leave the outcome to the next match.”
Archduke Olsius’s face contorted and a deep growl of frustration came from his throat. He thought of his Prestige Orchid Region and recalled his family dictum and tales told from generation to generation…
‘This Jadestar brat… Jadestar!’
Thales turned towards the seemingly hesitant Lampard.
“This is my suggestion: You, Lampard… You will become the king, free of the crime of regicide and the threat of the archdukes, gaining a new power and status. Even though your future might be full of obstacles, you can still pursue your ambition rather than be trapped in Dragon Clouds City that’s fraught with danger.”
Lampard did not speak. Thales turned to then face the archdukes again.
“You, the archdukes, will survive in this doomed circumstance, while at the same time realize what your real threat is, rebuild your alliance, return to your territories to protect your families, ensure that the Joint Ruling Pledge remains intact, and prevent Eckstedt from meeting its precarious fate.”
Thales was panting, praying to himself that the archdukes’ response will be what he hoped for.
Archduke Lecco slowly opened his eyes. He looked at Trentida, who gave a bitter smile.
Olsius peered at Lampard, who stood before him. He squeezed out a few words from the gaps between his teeth.
“To treat the king-selection like child’s play… This isn’t child’s play, it’s politics—”
Unexpectedly, the person who interrupted him was Trentida. This cunning man narrowed his eyes.
“It is a necessary compromise in exchange for profit.”
Like finding a life-saving straw to clutch at, Thales nodded gratefully. “You’re right, it is another way to fight. There is obviously a better choice, but instead, we choose to fight blindly, sacrificing our soldiers. That is foolish.”
Roknee turned to their ‘traitor’, Trentida, with a grimace. “So you’re on his side now?”
“If we all are killed right here by the Black Sand Region, then there is no side to take anymore,” Trentida said soberly. “The same goes for Chapman: If he kills us, then he’ll be killed by Lisban.”
Archduke Roknee let out a deep growl, apparently he was rather unsatisfied.
“Bow down to a king slayer and vote for him—against our will—to take the throne.” The archduke, his long hair tied in a ponytail, clenched his teeth with a dark look. “And stay quiet about his outrageous act… Can you imagine a worse way to violate the Joint Ruling Pledge?”
The archdukes’ faces darkened. They exchanged glances with one another. The mood was quite solemn. Thales could only force himself to go on.
“When you swore the oath under the Joint Ruling Pledge in the past, weren’t you also prepared to do this?”
Thales adjusted his breathing to calm himself down. His palms were sweating. “When you were facing the threat from Constellation, you made a painful but necessary decision, I can understand that. Now that you are faced with Lampard’s threat, you, similarly, have to make that painful but necessary decision.
“This is the responsibility and burden of a suzerain.” Thales felt like he was about to faint from the exhaustion. His brain was overworked. “It is the duty you have to bear because of your positions.”
Thales shook his head helplessly and uttered a sentence that even he himself thought was ironic, “It is for Eckstedt.”
Hearing this, Lampard exhaled. He looked away, flashing a wordless, mockful smirk.
Thales finished his last sentence. He felt drenched in sweat and was on the verge of collapsing.
He had done his best.
‘If it still doesn’t work… Then next…’
“Two minutes have long passed…”
Archduke Lecco, who had remained silent for a long while, opened his weary eyes as though he had just experienced an intense fight. “… Prince Thales.”
Olsius and Roknee raised their swords instinctively, watching the similarly alert Lampard.
“Sorry about that.” Thales swallowed painfully. His mouth was dry. “Maybe my perception of time is different from yours.”