Chapter 300: Victory and Defeat
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales raised his head, inhaled, adjusted his breathing, and snapped out of his grim reverie to focus on the lesson.
“I have seen similar entries in two books, including ‘The Joint Ruling Pledge’ and ‘The Catastrophe of Black Eye’. While Eckstedt descended into an endless civil strife after Raikaru’s death, the bloodthirsty warrior, John ‘Black Eye’ Jadestar the First of Constellation, successfully inherited the King of Renaissance’s army and territories, earning the allegiance of his vassals.”
Hicks and Saroma were listening to him attentively, but only Thales himself knew that, even now, his thoughts were still laden with worries. He was only reading from his notes.
“In less than a year, Black Eye almost united the south, fulfilling the ambitions the King of Renaissance had left off. He annexed parts of the land in the coastal region and Blade Edge Hill, which has become the South Coast Region we know today. Constellation became stronger and greater…”
Thales recalled the time when he first arrived in Eckstedt: the look of disdain on Putray’s face and his explanations when Nicholas boasted about the Joint Ruling Pledge to him.
“At this stage, due to the failure of the agreement between Raikaru and Tormond, as well as the tension and unending conflicts between the suzerains within Eckstedt, Constellation took this opportunity to expand his influence in the north. When there was friction between the Arunde Family of Constellation and Overwatch City, belonging to the Tannon Family of Northland, John the Black Eye assembled a Constellatiate army of an unprecedented size and ventured north.
“Two days after the Black Eye attacked Overwatch City, the Smiler of Dragon Clouds City, Nuven Walton, also known as Nuven the First, made a suggestion: with the Queen of the Sky’s help, he mediated the conflict between Prestige Orchid Region and the City of Faraway Prayers. Ten suzerains gathered in front of Raikaru’s tomb. The Joint Ruling Pledge was signed. Nuven the First was crowned king, while the nine suzerains were conferred the titles of archdukes.”
Thales exhaled, browsing through the notes he made a few days ago in the library. “So, to a certain extent, I believe that it was the threat of the newly-risen Constellation that made the ten warring suzerains put their past feud aside, make compromises, and unite against the enemy. The evidence being what happened after that.
“In response, the Tannon Family sought help from Nuven the First in the name of the ‘Joint Ruling Pledge’ in spite of the restless conflict between the archdukes. But under the ruling of the pledge, Nuven the Smiler managed to recruit the army and vassals he wanted and fought against the Constellatiate army at the border of Overwatch City. It forced John the Black Eye, who initially had the upper hand, to give up on the plan to venture north, and change his target to the Western Desert instead.
“It was the first time the Joint Ruling Pledge took effect. It was also the first time Eckstedt waged war with Constellation in the name of the country. To a certain extent, it was the first time Eckstedt shook the Western Peninsula. No one would have imagined that, after the Battle of Eradication, there was another force of power beside the calamities who could make a country mobilize such a large army.”
A pensive sparkle appeared in Hirks’ eyes, and he seemed to be deep in thought.
Thales sighed. “So, back to the main subject, the rise of Constellation as a superpower led to the creation of the ‘Joint Ruling Pledge’ and the unity of the greatest country in the Western Peninsula, which prompted the ten archdukes to set aside their past differences, and created a system that was thence practiced by the country.”
“In other words,” Saroma asked with a strange tone. “Constellation intended to invade the Northland, but it instead resulted in the unity of Eckstedt?”
“Yes.” Thales nodded. “Which is to say, not only was Black Eye John’s intention to wage war and invade Eckstedt not fulfilled, but it made the Kingdom of the Great Dragon stronger.”
Thales finished and noticed that Saroma was watching him with starry eyes. He could not help but fake a cough. Hicks let out a laugh.
“We seem to find more interesting subjects starting from the Joint Ruling Pledge. If you want to weaken someone or a country, focusing too much on devastating their power will just lead to the opposite outcome.” The Old Crow sighed faintly, switching to another topic. “There is a Far-Eastern proverb that says ‘trying to be clever will result in an egg on one’s face’. Are there more examples?”
Thales narrowed his eyes. “Certainly.”
His attention was unknowingly captured. He looked down and leafed through his notes. “It was still about Constellation and Eckstedt, but this time, the roles were switched. It was about the changes made by the Virtuous King, Mindis the Third.”
In that moment, Hicks’ gaze froze.
“In the Fourth Peninsular War, the damage and pressure Eckstedt had done to Constellation not only left it covered in wounds, but left behind many opportunities. The suzerains in Constellation were losing influence, awaiting help and chances to recover, and they desperately sought aid from Eternal Star City. Because of that, the ruler faced fewer obstacles than before. Mindis the Third could create his own system to cultivate and promote his government officials, borrow funds and collect taxes without hesitation, and mediate between the frustrated nobles at extremely low costs. The threat and invasion of the Great Dragon allowed him to set up his own plan, which led to the system Constellation practices to this day.”
Thales concluded this rather familiar example in one paragraph. He lifted his head, but noticed that Hicks was watching him with a strange gaze.
“My dear, I did not expect you to use the Virtuous King as an example.” The Old Crow let out a soft hum. “You have to know, even in Dragon Kiss Academy, opinions on the Virtuous King ranged from positive to negative. Of course, they were mostly about his imitation and alteration of the examination system for government officials in Mane et Nox, as well as his decision to support the privately-owned institutes.”
Thales scratched his head. “Sorry, ahem, due to various reasons, I am more familiar with this piece of history, so I tried to find more materials relevant to it in the library.”
Hicks let out a light cough. “So, according to what you just said, war is a complex subject because momentary victory and defeat is also just a momentary representation. The positions of the victor and loser can switch at any time?”
Thales’ gaze left the notebook. He thought of King Nuven and Lampard, and of King Kessel and Arunde.
King Nuven attacked Black Sand Region, suppressed the Lampard Family for ten years, but unexpectedly cultivated a formidable warrior who orchestrated his murder years later.
Arunde conspired to seize the throne and plunged Constellation into a crisis, but his failure gave King Kessel a reason to gain absolute control over the Northern Territory.
What about Thales himself?
He appeared to have rescued the fate of the Walton Family in a graceful and marvelous fashion, delivered the archduchess to her seat, and protected Constellation’s interests.
However, the past achievements he was so proud of had turned into doubts after Lampard’s visit.
Thales sighed slowly. Suddenly, he had gained deeper insight into the Virtuous King’s famous quote: “A victory or defeat of the moment is nothing but a receding wave.”
‘It really is… interesting.’
“As a matter of fact, I think simply evaluating the result of the war with victory and defeat is ill-considered,” Thales said quietly when as he looked up.
The Old Crow raised his eyebrows marginally. “Do you mind elaborating?”
Thales cleared his throat, it was as if he had returned to his past life in his dreams.
“War is not a carpenter’s game. The opponent is not a piece of wood. If one side of it sticks out, it won’t go back to normal after you pound it with a hammer.”
Thales mumbled to himself for a while, then continued,
“War is an outcome of many factors along with interaction between two or more parties. The wood you pound on may become fragile, but perhaps it would become more intact, firmer, or even rougher and harder to the touch. It cannot be determined by a single strike, but rather on numerous other conditions and factors, and our perspectives.”
Hicks gave him a kind look, encouraging him to go on. Thales inhaled.
“War is a call for unity within the country that instigates it; to mediate conflicts, sharpen the weapons, define itself amid the bloodshed and flames…
“But it is also an opportunity that forces the other party to respond to the crisis, break out of conventionality and tradition, seek reformation, gather scattered forces within the country into a firm iron fist to meet its enemy in its new, improved state. Even after the war has ended. This influence persists.”
He could not help but think of the Virtuous King.
“After war, both parties would no longer be the same. I think Constellation and the Great Dragon are the perfect examples. Over a long period of history, both parties had changed accordingly due to war; the rise and fall of certain forces, tables turned and resulted in the current state of our society, deeply affecting our lives to this day.
“Perhaps, compared to the momentary bliss or pride in victory, the anguish and humiliation of defeat is what we always fail to observe in the face of war.”
Thales finished his speech and fell into deep contemplation.
“Excellent.” Hicks clapped gently. “I have to say, you have exceeded my expectation, young sir.”
Saroma frowned and said while she thought, “So, what you mean is, in the face of war, we should consider more about other things than shallow issues of ‘whether or not we can win’ or ‘what should we do if we lose’?”
Thales’ eyes shone. He gave her a thumbs up.
Hicks smiled. “You are right, dear Saroma. I rather like this conclusion.” He winked at them with a rather casual air about him, and a hint of slyness sparkled in his eyes. “I shall summarize this lesson.”
The two students each wore a look of intrigue. The Old Crow sighed. His eye behind his monocle quivered.
“First of all, Constellation and the Dragon, your fates are closely related and this is not meaningless nonsense. In the past, present, and future, in the span of hundreds of years, the fates of both countries are intertwined and impossible to break apart. Their history goes a long way back. The distance between the countries are so close; the ties between the both of them are tightly bound, so much that even a slight movement in one of them will have irreversible influences that are initially unnoticeable, but will become too jarring to ignore in the near future, am I right?”
The two students nodded firmly.
Their teacher heaved a sigh, and let out a sickly cough. “I think we can at least reach a consensus. War is not as simple as it seems. It is neither about mere destruction and restoration, nor simply about pillage and reconstruction. As for the matter of victory and defeat, it is the most facile aspect of war.”
Hicks gazed out the window and his eyes sparkled with emotion. “Therefore, My Lord, and My Lady, you are the people who have the power and conditions to start a war, even against one another. I am not convincing you to abhor war, but before you make a decision to start one, I think perhaps you should contemplate carefully. Can this decision help you achieve your aim? How many unexpected events will take place? What are the additional repercussions? What will it symbolize in the future? How do you evaluate its effects on both of you?”
Thales and Saroma fell into a pensive silence.
“War is not an impractical game. It does not consist of one party’s one-sided attack on the other to determine the outcome. I wish it was that simple, so simple that killing and bloodshed aside, we only have to sit in a tent and count the amount of leverages we have, wait for the shouts and screams outside the tent to die down, and then, we can determine who is the victor of the war, and then, that is the end of the war.”
Hicks stared out of the window absent-mindedly, seeming to have forgotten that he was supposed to summarize the lesson, supposed to only be ‘chatting’ with his students, and had instead started prattling on,
“But it is not. No. Death? Sacrifice? Interests? Costs? Victory and defeat? These are the most surface aspects of the war.” The Old Crow seemed rather sentimental. “More importantly, the fate of thousands and thousands of people in both countries is determined by it. It will affect what happens in the next hundreds and thousands of years. All the factors will be put to the test in this cruel furnace, while you and I—an influential suzerain and a powerless commoner—are the weakest chess pieces on the board, because it is not up to us most of the time, even if you are the one instigating or the one who won the war.
“Please keep this in mind, my dear lord and lady. Aside from the hypocritical moral condemnations, simple calculation of interests or damages, and pointless decorations of honor for the combatants.” Hicks heaved a deep sigh, as if he was recalling his past. “Do not underestimate the concept of war itself, it is not as simple as you think it is. It is not a game about victory and defeat, interests and costs, survival and death.”
As they watched their teacher’s demeanor, Thales and Saroma could feel the heavy weight in his words. They stared, speechless, at each other and did not dare make a sound.
“Alright. I was just being a little sentimental.” Hicks snapped out of his reverie, and let out a chuckle. “Now, let us go back to the main subject. Do you have more examples in which the momentary victory and defeat could not reflect the eventual outcome of war?”
But the Old Crow did not wait for them to speak. He blinked behind his monocle. “If there are no more examples at the moment, I want you to ponder over this example.”
Thales and Saroma were momentarily startled and remained so until the frail old man uttered a phrase,
“The Bloody Year. Regardless of victory and defeat, from what perspective and to what extent should we perceive and comment on this year full of tragedies and warfare?”
Thales froze, gawking at the teacher. He had a misconception that Hicks had glanced at him subtly the moment he finished speaking. It was a scrutinizing glance, which differed greatly from his usual casual attitude.
“It counts as your extra homework, I suppose, but you do not have to share your conclusion with me because we will not discuss it in the next lesson.” The Old Crow stood up with difficulty, laughing. “So, that is all for today.”
Before Thales could ponder over the meaning of that question, the two students had to bow respectfully to see their frail teacher off.
*Clik-clok, clik-clok, clik-clok…*
“Saroma.” Staring after their teacher’s silhouette, Thales shook off the gloom in his mind and said to Saroma in his most solemn voice, “Listen.”
Saroma, who was packing her notes, was somewhat startled. “What’s wrong?”
The prince wore a somber expression. He took a deep breath and gazed into Saroma’s eyes seriously, to such an extent that the girl began to feel nervous.
“Today, after our outdoor lesson, perhaps during dinnertime…”
Thales clenched his fist, recalling what he heard yesterday. The anxiety grew in his chest.
“I-I have a very, very, very important thing to say to you.” His tone was heavier than ever.
Saroma gawked at him as though she was not used to the prince being so solemn. “Very important?”
“Yes.” Thales felt that she did not perceive his sense of urgency. He immediately added, “You must consider this very seriously! It is about-about both of our futures! It is an important matter that will affect our whole lives!”
The archduchess was startled. She blinked behind her pince-nez, then…
“S-sure.” The girl cleared her throat, a little flustered, but she immediately put on her typical-solemn-archduchess look, stretching her neck proudly, and letting out a light snort. “I hope you will be punctual, Your Highness.”
Before Thales could react, Saroma started walking the next second in the standard dance-like stride and left the study with a swoosh.
‘Eh? Why did she run off without packing her books?’
Thales gazed at her back in confusion and saw her reddened ears.
‘And why does she…?’[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Then, Thales suddenly thought of something. The prince was shocked. He stood up abruptly, stretched out his right hand, and chased after her with an odd expression.
“Hey, did you misunderstand my intention? Little Rascal!”
On the other side of the Heroic Spirit Palace…
Hicks hobbled away with his walking stick, then walked out of the corridor. He huffed out a breath from his weak lungs, let out a pained cough, and then waved his hand, dismissing a servant who tried to help him.
“Thank you, but I am not that old…”
Hicks gazed at the fading Northland scenery outside the window, recalling the dialogue earlier. He wiped off the casual, mirthful expression from his face and became serious.
‘He might be very intelligent, and he might have those eyes, but… No.’
“But he is not like his father,” said the Old Crow, sighing with an emotional look on his face. He mumbled softly, “He is not like you either…”
Hicks’ lips curled up. He gazed at the sky outside the window, shaking his head, amused.
‘What do you think, Therren?’
The old man hunched his shoulders, then limped out of the hallway of Heroic Spirit Palace alone.