Chapter 288: The Dragon’s Blood Has Yet to Dry
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales’ mind was still in a muddled state, but he started to think that he may have grasped onto something. Putray took out his pipe again and started to fill it with tobacco.
“It’s just as you said, if the iron-willed Archduke Roknee refuses to submit to Black Sand Region, then he will not rely on the king’s enlistment orders and the name of King Chapman. He will decide to deal with the mess of Alliance of Freedom on his own.” Receiving the prince’s gaze, Putray did not flinch even in the face of his gaze. He spoke in a straightforward manner, “But he also intends to continue denouncing and standing up against King Chapman…”
Thales took a deep breath.
“Roknee will need extra assistance to take down Alliance of Freedom with the smallest price.” The prince’s train of thought became clearer. “Like Dragon Clouds City. Like the Walton Family, who have deployed their soldiers to assist the City of Faraway Prayers before.”
Thales raised his head with a solemn look. “I’m beginning to understand now.”
Putray nodded and ignited his pipe.
“If Roknee receives the support of Dragon Clouds City, if the archduchess promises she will deploy her forces to assist the City of Faraway Prayers in the battle like twenty years ago,” Thales said calmly, “then Roknee can reject and condemn Lampard’s ill-intended conspiracy in a brazen manner. He can clean up the Alliance of Freedom while he bravely says ‘no’ to the king.”
“I understand now.” Thales thought of the young archduchess and pinched his chin in frustration. “After Roknee made his choice, it’s now Saroma’s turn to choose whether or not to support Roknee and join his side to fight against the king.”
Putray snorted lightly.
“But this time, compared to the simple petition we have seen before, it is a completely different matter. If she supports the City of Faraway Prayers, it means she must bring out her bargaining chips, prices must be paid, and promises must be made. Soldiers must be recruited, then deployed to the west to fight the Alliance of Freedom and their supporters when necessary.
“The current situation is akin to the time when Prince Moriah was assassinated, when King Kessel faced the choice of going to war or choosing peace.” Huffing out some smoke, Putray loosened his bite on the pipe in his mouth. “In the name of Dragon Clouds City, the archduchess has to make a decision: to go to war or to choose peace? To pay the price, support the City of Faraway Prayers in their effort and settle the matter of the Alliance, or stay on the fence and see how it all plays out.”
The prince lifted his head slowly.
‘The decision King Kessel was forced to make when Prince Moriah was assassinated?’
Thales recalled the Supreme King of Constellation who raised the scepter in his hand frigidly when pressured by the vassals in Renaissance Palace.
“Wait, it would have been fine if it was someone else.” Thales recalled the past feud between the two countries as was told by Putray, and he could not help but be slightly astonished. “However, Dragon Clouds City…”
“Ah.” Putray was rather surprised to see the prince’s reaction, but he nodded emotionlessly. “To an ordinary Eckstedtian, the subject regarding the Alliance of Freedom is merely a matter of ‘to go to war, or not’.
“However, to Dragon Clouds City and the Walton Family, it is not just about the honor of the Great Dragon, it is also about the reputation of the family.
“You have to understand that, twenty years ago, on the day the harsh letter from the Alliance of Freedom’s governor-general arrived in Dragon Clouds City, before the melted snow on the envoys dried, Nuven the Seventh gave enlistment orders without hesitation.” Putray huffed a mouthful of smoke. His gaze was sharp.
“His army marched towards the Alliance of Freedom.”
Thales’ facial expression became very solemn.
“A year later, in front of many shivering elders of the Alliance in the then surrendered Fort Liberté, the eldest son of King Nuven, Soria Walton chopped off the fingers of the governor-general, one by one,” Putray’s tone slowly became somber as well. “Allegedly, after he cut off each finger, he questioned one of the elders loudly, ‘Do you know how to write a letter?’
“After the last finger was cut off, Prince Soria tossed the disrespectful letter of credence, which demanded Eckstedt to ‘reevaluate the diplomatic relation between both parties’ back to the nearly unconscious governor-general.
“‘No, you don’t know,’ Soria said, laughing. Then he hanged all the elders who did not answer ‘no’.”
“Soria Walton.” Thales frowned. “He sounds like a cruel general.”
Putray narrowed his eyes, lowering his head slightly. “But he also successfully made the Alliance of Freedom remember the wrath and terror of the Great Dragon. For many years along the Golden Passage, Soria’s name wielded more power than that of King Nuven—the Vine City of Camus benefited from that as the in-laws of Walton Family as well. Even their most hateful enemy in the alliance did not cause trouble in terms of their goods.”
Thales clenched his fist.
“Do you understand now, Your Highness?” Putray gazed at the prince. “King Nuven declared war. Soria won the war. Just like that, two generations of the Walton Family defended the dignity of Eckstedt with weapons and blood.
“However, twenty years later, when the archduchess, who is denounced and is faced with doubt by the people, faces the Alliance of Freedom, faces the same problem, and instead chooses to stay and watch on the fence, chooses to cower and avoid the fight…”
Thales exhaled, finally grasping the key of the whole situation.
“She has no choice,” the prince said firmly, “To uphold the reputation of her father and grandfather, to defend the dignity and influence of the Dragon Spear Family, to discredit the chastisement and criticism towards the archduchess behind her back, Saroma has to deploy the army.
“Therefore, in this battle of wits between King Chapman and Archduke Roknee caused by the instability of the Alliance of Freedom, Dragon Clouds City is the key. The archduchess is a mandatory player in this game, and she is also a turning point for Roknee to turn the tables and send King Chapman back to square one, which will be a very awkward position for him.”
Thales frowned. “That is why Black Sand Region sent someone to Dragon Clouds City, because it is indeed situated in the eye of the storm—it is vital to the tension between several major forces.”
However, Putray shook his head. “If only matters were as simple as this.”
Thales looked up in astonishment. “What do you mean?”
“Like I said, this situation is very similar to King Kessel’s predicament years ago.”
Putray inhaled a puff of smoke. His eyes shimmered with shrewdness and vigilance. “If the archduchess makes a promise to the City of Faraway Prayers, supporting Roknee’s decision to wage war on the Alliance of Freedom in the west during this critical moment…”
The skinny nobleman tightened his fist. His tone of voice became anxious. “The question is, how many vassals will support the decision of the archduchess?
“How many men can be recruited? Who should be recruited? How many should be left here? How many should be deployed?”
“When the common-elected throne is no longer in Dragon Clouds City, how is the archduchess going to persuade the vassals and nobles to fight a long war for the honor of the Walton Family?
“How should interests and costs be separated in the war?
“If the vassals refuse to oblige and only Walton’s immediate territory is willing to answer the call for war, should they still fight?
“If an army is indeed recruited, which experienced and honorable vassal should lead the troops?
“If the troops are deployed to the west, how much should they fight to show off the Waltons’ dignity and protect the city’s interest at the same time so that the vassals will not be displeased?
“To what extent should an archduchess do before her acts can be considered as protecting the honor of the Dragon Spear Family?”
‘The predicament King Kessel faced years ago…
‘What Kessel faced…
An eerie thought surfaced in his mind.
“If the archduchess cannot keep her promise to the City of Faraway Prayers, she will only obtain a bad reputation of being an indecisive and weak-willed leader,” Putray’s speech was uttered in an odd rhythm, which made one uncomfortable. He went on, “But if the archduchess keeps her promise yet cannot fulfil it at a critical moment due to the internal disputes of Dragon Clouds City, such as the vassals’ objection, insufficient number of soldiers and resources, or perhaps the army recruited by Dragon Clouds City returns in disgrace…
“Then under the scrutiny of the whole of Eckstedt, this matter will have a destructive influence on the archduchess’ governance.”
Thales frowned. “So, if Saroma only sends the army under Walton without the forces of her vassals…”
Putray gave a cold snort and shook his head. “When an influential archduke with countless vassals can only deploy his own immediate army onto the battleground, then in the eyes of many, that archduke’s reign has come to an end.”
Thales sighed deeply.
At least, with Putray’s guidance, he found the clue that linked everything together.
“In conclusion, all these problems can be summarized into one sentence.” Putray took a puff of the pipe. The wrinkles on his skinny face tightened. “Now, under the archduchess’ governance,?can Dragon Clouds City return to its days during King Nuven’s reign, where the city shook the Western Peninsular, where the ruler could control the entire city like an arm controlling the fingers, uniting the entire city to the point where it is invincible from the inside out and able to move with ease?
“At the moment, Dragon Clouds City, the Walton Family, the archdukes and the vassals are watching her right now. At the moment, Dragon Clouds City and the Walton Family need their prestige to muster their army. The time to test her power has come.”
Putray let out a cold snort of laughter. “To defend the name of her family; to protect the honor of her country; to stand against King Chapman, the archduchess, whose position is sensitive in nature, must represent Dragon Clouds City and make a promise. Then, she has to ensure that this promise can be fulfilled.”
Thales stared open-mouthed at Putray.
Putray’s gaze was focused on Thales’ gray eyes. His tone of voice was daunting, “How much is the archduchess, who has been in power for six years, willing to pay to make sure the vassals will support this promise?”
Thales inhaled deeply, clenching his fists.
Thales exhaled a puff of air, and said in great difficulty, “Pay?
Putray nodded. He observed the prince’s facial expression and emitted an emotional sigh before he softly said, “Such as, whether or not she’s willing to show her vassals the sign of good faith and trust.
“Such as, the archduchess marrying below her status to one of the vassals…
“…to maintain the focus of power within Dragon Clouds City in exchange for the vassals’ trust and cooperation.
“With her husband’s support and the continuation of the bloodline, she can reinstate the pride and honor of the Walton Family. The cost will be turning from an archduchess to the wife of an archduke.”
Putray’s voice was soft, but it bore so much weight in the prince’s ears that it sounded like a thunderous thump.
Thales closed his eyes feebly.
He furrowed his eyebrows and clenched his teeth.
The Little Rascal from six years ago rose in his mind.
He recalled that day six years ago, where he met a girl covered with dust reading in the library, as though she was addicted to the pages.
He recalled that in the Hall of Heroes, the girl had trembled with a face full of tears while she helplessly stared at the Ring of Triumph on her hand.
He recalled that on the street of Shield District, the girl screamed while she pulled him out of the tentacles.
“Tell me, Putray,” Thales opened his eyes and said weakly, “now that the conflict between the king and the archdukes has escalated, the Alliance of Freedom is looking for trouble, the City of Faraway Prayers may seek military assistance from Dragon Clouds City, and Saroma is in desperate need of the vassals’ support…
“Someone used this chance to cause a dispute on the day of state affairs hearing, latching on the subject of the archduchess’ marriage. That someone caused trouble, reminding everyone that their suzerain is unmarried…”
Thales raised his head and sighed wearily as he flatly said, “Is it really a coincidence?”
Putray did not answer immediately.
He turned his head around and looked at a towering tree in the courtyard, staring at its rotting roots.
At last, Putray sighed. “There is a rather bold saying, but it is mostly true. I advise you to keep it in mind.”
The noble tightened his grip on his pipe with a cold look in his eyes. “It is this: there is no coincidence in politics.”
Thales lowered his head dejectedly.
A breeze blew across the Blood Court. In the distance, Wya seemed to be complaining about something to Ralf. The Phantom Wind Follower was seen folding his arms again with a look of contempt.
“I see,” the prince began softly. “It all lines up.”
He raised his head to gaze at the sun above him.
“At first, it was the denouncement of the king, which the City of Faraway Prayers started; then it was the ceaseless troubles King Chapman faced; followed by the incident on the day of the council hearing; soon after, there was Kentvida’s arrival; and lastly, the Alliance of Freedom…”
Putray gazed at the prince in silence, listening to his speech.
“Looking from the point of view of an outsider, the Alliance of Freedom caused this ruckus because of the conflict of interest between them and Eckstedt, which was prompted by brewing internal turmoil within the Great Dragon Nation over the past six years.”
Thales then firmly said, “In actuality, it is the rift left by the strange king selection six years ago. It is the intellectual grapple between Chapman and Roknee, Black Sand Region and the City of Faraway Prayers, the common-elected king and the archdukes. It will not stop until one party is completely wiped out, and now, it is time for them to make the next move…”
Thales pressed onto his saber and took a stride forward. His facial expression was rather unpleasant.
“From within, it is the discord caused by Nuven’s death and the unconventional line of succession, resulting in Archduchess Walton being in power. It is the rough waves that have been repressed by Lisban’s influence and the other archdukes’ support. Now, six years later, it has finally risen in the most frenzied fashion.” The prince clenched his teeth. His tone of voice became increasingly anxious.
“Lisban must be furious. As the highest vassal under the archduchess and the regent of Dragon Clouds City, someone—regardless of who he is, has attempted to contact the other vassals without his knowledge, trying to interfere with the line of succession to the throne.”
Putray’s lips curled up in a barely noticeable fashion while he stood behind Thales.
“You are right about this.
“Though there may be someone pulling the strings in the dark, this is indeed the seed of discord we planted in Dragon Clouds City six years ago by running around Heroic Spirit Palace, then breaking its rules and tradition,” the skinny nobleman said with great emotion. It seemed as though he was back in that time of despair in Dragon Clouds City, where he had to flee in fear for his life.
“This seed has sprouted after six years to lash back at Eckstedt.”
With a stiff expression, Thales clenched his teeth, nearly crushing his fist.
‘It’s not over.
‘The poison-like Dragon’s Blood…
‘Not only has it not dried yet, it still flows in Dragon Clouds City.’
The two of them fell into silence.
Just as Putray thought that the prince was agitated by the newly-acquired intel…
“There is one thing I cannot understand.” Thales turned his head to look at Putray. He was oddly calm when he asked, “Why me?”
The nobleman gawked at Thales in astonishment.
Unexpectedly, the prince did not panic. He was not agitated. There was no significant change in his facial expression, not even a show of nervousness.
‘This little fellow…
‘Compared to six years ago…’
Thales pursed his lips, and the spot between his eyebrows moved ever so slightly. He was pondering over something.
“This is a fight between King Chapman and Archduke Roknee. Dragon Clouds City has been dragged into the storm.” Thales’ gaze started to gain a sharp edge, making Putray rather uneasy and wanting to look away. “But why?”
Thales simply asked, “Why did Kentvida request to see me? To meet up with a Constellatiate prince?”
Holding the prince’s gaze, Putray inhaled as he raised a stiff hand and held his pipe.
“I do not know.” Putray blinked, then averted his gaze.
“Perhaps it was a… coincidence.”
At that very second, Thales narrowed his gaze, as though he was searching for something in Putray’s eyes.
Putray smiled and took a deep puff of his pipe, but this old chain smoker who smoked tobacco like his life depended on it suddenly found out that his pipe had been extinguished.
He sighed. “I suggest that you don’t concern yourself with this affair in Dragon Clouds City too much—Frankly speaking, due to the incident yesterday, your current position is rather awkward.
“After all, this matter has nothing to do with you for now.” Putray shrugged. “Unless you cannot bear to see your young lover’s…”
Thales was momentarily taken aback.
The prince’s expression turned as dark as thunderclouds. He looked at the nobleman and frowning while he wore a dubious expression. “Young lover?”
Putray blinked again. “It was just a joke, Your Highness.”
Thales let out a snort of frustration with his arms crossed.
But he was suddenly startled.
Thales frowned, eyeing Putray’s facial expression closely.
“Wait a minute, Putray.
“Your wording earlier…”
The prince gazed at the skinny nobleman with a dark look. His voice was filled with confusion.
“What do you mean by ‘this has nothing to do with you for now’?”
Facing Thales’ inquiring gaze, the skinny nobleman let out a cough before his expression became solemn.
“It is time for your meeting with the archduchess—you should be on your way to the library now,” Putray said with a serious look.
“You should not let the archduchess wait too long.”
Thales was immediately astounded.