Chapter 291: Meryl Hicks
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Five days later, Thales sat dispiritedly in the archduchess’ study room in Heroic Spirit Palace. Meanwhile, sitting at the study table across from him, Saroma was absorbed in a copy of ‘Cahill Yarrow’s Poetry Collection’.
The Prince of Constellation lowered his head a little and sighed.
The shock he received in the library did not last long. The sketched schematics in that book could not give Thales more information.
He could only make a guess. There was a relationship and resonance between the Blade of Purification, a weapon that might have drawn the blood of the Great Dragon, and his strange body. And the bridge for this relationship was getting clearer…
But this was not what bothered Thales the most at the moment.
“I went to see Count Lisban.” Thales’ lightly spoken words caught Saroma’s attention.
The archduchess lifted her head, and her eyes brightened. “What did Ciel say?”
Thales scratched his head. “Lisban said that we have to wait until the City of Faraway Prayers sends an official letter to decide on an answer in regards to the issue with the Alliance of Freedom.”
The Prince of Constellation cracked a smile. “But don’t worry, Lisban is very confident about maintaining the independence and autonomy of the archduchess. He already has a plan; King Nuven’s Prime Minister is not an ordinary person.”
The corners of Saroma’s lips curled up a little. It was clear that the archduchess was in a good mood at the moment.
“Thank you, Thales.”
Thales shrugged. He could not help but sigh internally, recalling his private conversation with Lisban from the day before.
‘”Thank you for your concern, Prince Thales. We will, of course, be handling the matter pertaining to the archduchess. However, please do not forget that we are the vassals of Dragon Clouds City. You are, after all, just a guest, and not the ‘master’… Not in the past, not now, and definitely not in the future.
‘”Of course, as the archduchess’ most sincere ‘friend’, please don’t harbor any unnecessary thoughts, intentions, and not to mention actions. No matter what they are, it would be extremely disadvantageous to you, the archduchess, Dragon Clouds City, and Eternal Star City.
‘”I admire your intelligence and precocity very much. This is why I am quite unwilling to see you degenerate into a mediocre person who indulges in his lust. I hope that you conduct yourself well and know that the circumstances you are in are not very safe.”‘
‘What the hell.’ Thales closed his eyes and pounded his head hard. ‘What did he mean by “unnecessary thoughts and intentions”? And “a mediocre person who indulges in his lust”?
‘Ciel Lisban, an old man who is around sixty or seventy years old. What does he think about all day?!’
But it was very clear that Lisban did not want to accept his help. The former Prime Minister’s exact words were, “Your proximity will only cause Dragon Clouds City to suffer unnecessary losses”.
After this incident, Thales realized something. It was clear that the degree of how unwelcome he was in Dragon Clouds City had reached new heights. It was not just Lisban and Nicholas. Even Madam Ginghes and the two maidservants’ gazes when they saw him for the past few days had grown strange. Because of this, Thales had to be watchful and reverent even when greeting the servants. He was afraid that a masked man holding a knife would suddenly jump out of some corner and charge at him, shouting “For Eckstedt!”.”
Unexpectedly, on the matter of the prince voluntarily getting involved in Dragon Clouds City’s political struggle and his actions in “resolutely helping his friend to escape an unfortunate marriage for the sake of friendship”, Putray seemed calm and relaxed about it. He just smoked his tobacco pipe and flashed a lopsided, knowing smile. This made Thales very anxious.
Even Wya and Ralf’s eyes gave Thales the misconception that he had done something wrong.
“We are not surprised at all. You know, teenagers must go through some ‘unique events’ before they can grow up,” Putray had once said this while grinning cheekily and blowing smoke rings when Thales had unwittingly asked him about it during the breaks in Putray’s lessons with him about bardic poetry.
Because of this, Thales confiscated all of the monetary rewards that was supposed to be given to the lord on the day nobles were supposed to be rewarded for their deeds for the country.
In the study room, Thales shook his head and tried to chase the memories out of his head.
Curious, Saroma put down her book and asked, “By the way, do you know anything about the new teacher who is coming soon? I heard that he was introduced by that interesting vice diplomat of yours.”
“Putray?” Immersed in his memories, Thales said with a stoic expression, “He’s not my vice diplomat, I’m not close to him.”
Saroma stared at him in a strange manner and snorted soundlessly through her nose. She then returned her gaze to the book.
At the same time, two pairs of footsteps suddenly echoed from outside the study room.
*Thump, thump, thump…*
To be exact, it was a pair of footsteps, followed by another…
Thales furrowed his brow. It was the sound of wood touching the ground. The rhythm was disorderly, sloppy and careless, as though the people were just randomly making those sounds.
But it was very heavy, just like…
The room of the study door opened.
Madam Ginghes came in and bowed slightly at the archduchess and the prince. She then left in a polite and discreet manner.
A thin and frail figure appeared behind the female official. The newcomer had a slightly hunched back. He was holding a rather old and heavy walking stick. His entire weight was on the walking stick, and the tip of the cane rested steadily on the ground.
Ginghes closed the door of the study room.
The prince and the archduchess immediately sat up straight and stared at the newcomer. As he supported himself with his walking stick, he inched towards Thales and Saroma who were beside the study table.
“I apologize, My Lord, My Lady. I am old-cough, these worn bones of mine cannot stand up to torment.” Together with his arrival, a hoary, weak and raspy voice rang out. It was punctuated by a cough, intended to clear his throat, as though he could not continue talking if he did not do this.
“I sat on a carriage from Anlenzo Dukedom to Eckstedt. My a*s almost fell off from the vibrations. The young people were worried that I would die halfway and had no choice but to travel at a slower speed.
“Upon reaching Dragon Clouds City, I had to rest for four days to recover my strength.”
Thales shot a glance at the walking stick. He could not help but remember the Black Prophet whom he had met a few times, and he felt a rush of discomfort. The prince cast away those unnecessary thoughts, then sized up the newcomer with narrowed eyes.
He was a thin and short old man. The white hair on his head was sparse and he had plenty of wrinkles on his face. He looked as if he had gone through a lot of hardships in life.
The old man’s body was wrapped in a plain, dark-colored overcoat. The word ‘wrapped’ was used here because his body was much too thin, to the point that his clothes appeared as if they were hung on a hanger that was too small. The overcoat was accompanied by a white undershirt and a red scarf. He looked no different from an ordinary merchant tending to a shop.
He did not look to be in good spirits. His gaze was hazy and murky, and he wore, pinched onto his nose, a monocle over his left eye. When seen from the front, it made his left eye seem especially large. The old man had calm, and gentle smile on his face, though it looked as if it required him considerable effort to keep that smile on his face. His lips trembled up and down along with his smile lines, presenting a dreary impression of an old man in his twilight years.
He actually seemed older than Lisban, even older than how Nuven was like six years ago. Thales was inwardly shocked.
‘He’s at least seventy years old. How did Putray and Gilbert manage to ask this old man, who looks so ill that he’s about to keel over and die, to travel such long distances and come to Dragon Clouds City?’
“Good day, sir,” Thales said, a little worried. “I-Putray mentioned the matter of the new teacher to me, but he kept refusing to tell me who it is.”
Saroma stared at the new teacher blankly. She, too, seemed to be shocked by his age and condition.
“Perhaps he did the right thing; that way, when both of you meet this worn old man who is at the end of his life, you won’t be too disappointed.” The old man laughed dryly. He took another step forward, but he seemed to be exerting quite the effort. His right hand trembled slightly as he clutched the walking stick.
“Is it alright if I sit down? You know…” The skinny old man stared at his trembling right arm and scrunched up his nose with a disdainful expression. He shook his head. “My legs are not well.”
It was obvious that he did not have the intention to seek both of their—or at least the archduchess’—opinions. Instead, he picked the most comfortable leather chair and sat on it.
The skinny old man sank his bottom into the leather chair. He closed his eyes and heaved a sigh of relief, resting for a few seconds.
Thales and Saroma stared at each other with surprised expressions, not knowing how to react.
‘This is the… teacher both Gilbert and Putray praise highly?’
The old man seemed to be slowly recovering some of his energy. He opened his eyes and flashed them a weak smile.
“Don’t worry. I have always been weak since I was a child. I look like I’m in a horrible condition, but in truth, I have lived longer than many strong and healthy men, including many battle-hardened, burly fellows.”
Thales’ lips curled up at the corners and he forced a smile. “I heard that you were Gilbert Caso and Putray Nemain’s teacher, and that they only acquired their achievements today by the grace of your teachings?”
The skinny old man tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes. He seemed to be reminiscing.
“Oh yes, those two interesting fellows: the little grown-up, and the troublemaker.” The old man paused, as though he just remembered those two. His lips curled up. “A long time ago, when I was still a home tutor, the students I taught… hm, I think they were among them?”
Thales arched an eyebrow and exchanged another baffled glance with Saroma.
“Oh, yes!” The old man’s eyelid twitched and his left eye suddenly grew wide behind the lens. He looked quite terrifying.
He raised the walking stick in his right hand and placed it between his knees. He smiled slightly as he propped himself against it with his hands.
“As an opening, I think we should first introduce ourselves.” The old man stared amiably at the two students who wore awkward looks. The wrinkles on his face folded up like waves. The skinny old man cleared his throat.
“I will begin. My name is Meryl Hicks. I am from Long Chant City of the Dragon-Kissed Land in Anlenzo Dukedom. But most people who know me like to call me the ‘Old Crow’. Of course, my students usually only dare to say it behind my back.”
Thales thought of something. ‘Dragon-Kissed Land. That’s…’
“You’re from Dragon Kiss Academy? Are you a scholar?” Saroma’s eyes brightened. In high spirits, she inched her body forward and looked curiously at their new teacher. “I heard from Ciel that you have quite the reputation and that many outstanding people were once your—”
Hicks chuckled, then, with a shake of his head and a little sigh, he interrupted the archduchess.
“Even though I had indeed worked in Dragon Kiss Academy”—Behind the lens, Hicks’ left eye blinked lightly—”it is with embarrassment that I say I have never obtained the qualification of a scholar. During my travels to various kingdoms, I only managed to become a home tutor in the nobles’ castles by forging my peer’s certificate proving that he was a scholar.”
He spoke with a drawl, and his tone was casual. Even though he used such words, he obviously did not feel any guilt about it. He sounded as if he was only talking about something trivial like forgetting to bring his wallet when going out.
Thales and Saroma stared at each other for the third time, shocked. Both of them blinked.
Hicks the ‘Old Crow’ nodded amicably and playfully at them.
“Now, it is your turn to introduce yourselves. Ladies first, what do you think?”
Saroma opened her tiny mouth a little. She was not quite able to respond. Thales was also a little confused.
For the past six years, the teenage boy and girl living in Dragon Clouds City had been through numerous home tutors who were Northlanders: inflexible ones, nimble ones, stern ones, stubborn ones, apathic ones, friendly ones, humorous ones, pretentious ones, extremely fierce ones…
But every single tutor already knew what kind of students they were going to face even before the class began. The reaction they had after meeting the archduchess and the prince was also unlike that of this old man who called himself the ‘Old Crow’. At least, they had never spoken in such a nonchalant tone of voice. Hicks even told them about how he once forged a certificate and faked his way through life. None of these teachers had so simply asked the two young nobles to ‘introduce themselves’ either.
And, the way he addressed them…
‘My Lord, and My Lady?’
This reminded Thales of how, six years ago in Mindis Hall, Gilbert called him ‘young sir’ before he was recognized as the prince.
When he thought of this, he suddenly missed Gilbert.
“Both of you don’t have to feel ill at ease or nervous. I’m not here to make an enemy of you… unlike most teachers in the world.” Noticing the archduchess’ reaction, Hicks grinned widely and revealed a mouthful of teeth that were well cared for even though they were aged. He laughed, loud and casually.
“Dragon Clouds City did not offer me a salary just to annoy you both. Actually, this is just an informal meeting. If I’m not welcome here, I’ll just take this as a vacation to Northland.”
Thales swept his gaze over Hicks’ right hand that was still trembling slightly from tiredness, and frowned. The Old Crow exhaled and nodded with a smile.
While he looked at Saroma with a gentle gaze, he propped his right hand against his walking stick and tapped the back of his right hand lightly with his left hand. “Even though I have heard many things about you both before this, I’m actually more interested in listening to what you two have to say.”
It was obvious that the old man’s mannerism made Saroma feel a lot more at ease. The young girl glanced at Thales, the latter nodded encouragingly at her.
“Good day, Mister Hicks. I am Saroma Walton from Dragon Clouds City… ahem. I am Dragon Clouds City’s archduchess,” Saroma said carefully. “Actually, I am very stupid and do not know anything. I only know how to read books…”
“Ah, Your Grace, it is my pleasure to meet you, haha. At least we have a very apparent similarity.” Hicks blinked and smilingly poked at the monocle that was pinched onto his nose bridge.
Saroma adjusted her pince-nez and raised her eyebrows slightly. The corners of her lips curled up. Thales knew that this was her expression when trying to hold back a smile.
The Old Crow shook his head and turned to the other person. Behind the lens, his left eye widened marginally. “Thales, why don’t you sit a little closer?”
Having been observing the interaction between the two other people, the Prince of Constellation froze momentarily.
“You don’t have to act like a hedgehog. You might have always been getting into trouble, but that won’t be the case today, and you won’t get into any trouble here either.” Hicks knocked his walking stick on the ground and stared at Thales rather profoundly.
Thales’ throat stirred as he stared, wide-eyed, at the new, strange teacher.
“Good day, sir.” Finally, he politely moved his chair forward a little, withdrew his surveying gaze and nodded. “I am Thales Jadestar and I look forward to being taught by you. Thank you for accepting Putray’s invitation and traveling such a long way here to teach us.”
“Hm, Thales.” Hicks inhaled deeply and stared at Thales with his left eye from behind the lens. His voice was a little faint. “Jadestar, wonderful… Jadestar, as expected.”
Thales was startled for a moment.
“Oh yes, lessons!” The Old Crow did not continue his rambling. He slapped the back of his hand softly and sighed. “Both of you must be wondering what such a strange and lousy old man would be teaching you, and can teach you.”
The skinny old man on the leather chair sat up straight and raised his head, meeting the curious and observing gazes of his two students.
“I have thought about this problem. Even among the many students I have taught, both of you cannot be considered cannot be considered as average.”
Thales and Saroma stared at their teacher somberly.
In actuality, Thales was filled with anticipation for this Old Crow who was quite peculiar at first sight. This was because of how Gilbert was full of praises when commenting about Hicks in his letter, saying that Hicks was his “second most respected person in life”. It was also because of how Putray seemed unconcerned when talking about him, but in truth had just been keeping Thales in suspense with his words.
Hicks slapped the back of his hand and chuckled.
“Actually, I couldn’t think of what to teach both of you either. So, in the end I decided that… to hell with the lessons!”
Under the students’ extremely surprised gazes, the skinny old man said in a casual and relaxed manner, “Let’s just have a chat today.”
‘A… A chat?’
For the fourth time, Thales and Saroma looked at each other with shocked and confused gazes.
‘What is this…?’
Hicks sighed deeply and said, “It’s quite interesting, isn’t it? One of you is Dragon Clouds City’s supreme ruler, and the other is an ancient kingdom’s heir.
“One of you is male, and the other is female. But through fate, both of you are sitting in the same room and facing the same lousy old man.
“So, why don’t we talk about something that is related to the both of you?”
The prince arched an eyebrow. He stared at his notebook, closed it without saying anything, and pushed it aside.
The Old Crow creased his brow as though in deep thought. He alternated his gaze between the teenage boy and the young girl, both of whom were perplexed. “Hm, a topic related to both Northlanders and Constellatiates… Let me think.”
Hicks moved his eyebrows, and the wrinkles on his face shifted again.
“Oh, I know.” The old man looked amiably at Saroma. “My Lady?”
Saroma immediately nodded politely in reply. “Mister Hicks?”
The old man known as the Old Crow nodded, visibly satisfied. He then extended his hand towards Thales, beside him.
The boy was somewhat startled.
“This is Thales,” Hicks said seriously, “Thales Jadestar.”
“Ah, I know.” Saroma found herself unable to wrap her head around the situation.
“The steady, calm, vigilant, and handsome Prince of Constellation. He has a pair of interesting, sharp, gray eyes, but bears the fate of an ancient kingdom’s rise and fall…
“He struggles and fights within a dark, invisible vortex.”
Thales frowned. ‘This teacher… His use of words is a little…’
Saroma could not help but shoot a glance at the second prince, there was worry and pity in her eyes.
Hicks said flatly, “So, Saroma Walton, as the unprecedented Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City, you’re a youthful, young, restless and energetic Northland girl who’s in a tricky position. Do you…”
In the next moment, their gentle new teacher, Meryl Hicks from Dragon-Kissed Land, asked the perplexed archduchess with a smile,
At that moment, the book in the young girl’s hand fell on the floor.