Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales walked down a corridor in Heroic Spirit Palace gloomily.
Nicholas was a bad liar.
He hid the truth about King Nuven’s decision six years ago, and even about Moriah.
It was clear that the former White Blade Guards commander, Lisban, as well as the Secret Room held a secret from Thales and even Saroma. This meant that the secret would most likely harm them.
Thales did not even need to verify if the secret Lampard told him was true anymore.
This was Thales’ conclusion.
On his way to the dining room, Thales could not help but clench his fist.
‘However, right now, Dragon Clouds City just happens to be facing its most complicated and chaotic situation in six years.
‘This international problem is happening right before our doorstep, and it’s testing the archduchess’ decision-making.
‘The archdukes in the country are observing Dragon Clouds City’s actions from afar, and their thoughts can’t be read.
‘The vassals in the territory are restless, casting their greedy eyes on the archduchess’ marital arrangement and power.
‘King Nuven’s influence covers the entire sky, enveloping the heir of Dragon Clouds City.
‘And the most terrifying opponent—the current Common-Elected King of the Great Dragon Nation, Chapman Lampard—has been sharpening the knife in his hand in the dark, ready to reap all possible benefits from this storm, which is on the verge of descending upon us.
‘Saroma, a powerless lone girl, is in between all of this, facing countless threats.’ Thales felt an ache in his chest just from thinking about it.
The people revolving around her who originally seemed trustworthy like Nicholas, the extraordinary warrior and the wise, experienced Lisban, were earlier proven to be otherwise by Thales.
Thales stood in front of the entrance of the dining room. His clenched fist gradually tightened.
The peace in the past six years had been an illusion, and his carefree life was a dream. Behind Saroma’s name was the cruel and cold-blooded deception of the former king.
The image of the spasming Alex before she was poisoned to death and the look on her face as life faded away from her emerged before his eyes.
As for Saroma, no, Little Rascal… this was never the life she wanted. However, she was forced to face all of this with enemies in every corner and direction. She was helpless, lost and confused in a destiny forced onto her.
Most importantly, she lived in a cage forged by lies, but was completely unaware of the danger around her.
‘If I hadn’t discovered this secret, this truth, would Saroma live the rest of her life in the dark naively, until the day the truth is dug out under the sun in the cruelest possible way?
‘If that day arrives, when the conflict in Dragon Clouds City erupts, the moment the king’s blade is wielded, and the secret of the bloodline is revealed…
‘How will she, a lonely and helpless girl, bear all of it?’
Thales exhaled in anguish, feeling upset and weary.
‘She had a chance to run away.
‘It was you, Thales. It was you who asked her to become Saroma Walton six years ago.
‘And now, what can you, a helpless and ostracized hostage, do?
‘What can you do for her?
‘What perspective and what kind of position can I utilize to interfere with this internal strife within Eckstedt?
‘What can I do?
‘What can I do?’
It had been six years, but they still lived in the shadow of the Dragon’s Blood. Six years later, they still could not escape King Nuven’s palm. Six years later, they…
“Prince Thales, do you need help?”
An impassive and polite voice jolted Thales from his reverie.
“Madam Ginghes.” Thales put his worries aside and tried hard to snap out of his somber mood. He composed himself and looked at Ginghes, who stood at the doorway of the dining room. “Sorry, but…”
Thales glanced at the light shining from the dining room and vaguely caught a glimpse of the girl’s silhouette.
“Can you let me be alone with her for a while?”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Ginghes frowned, scanning the prince from head to toe with a dubious stare.
“Last time, it was because Her Grace was in a bad mood, so I could understand why you wanted to be with her alone.” The palace official who took care of the archduchess said flatly. “But, this time…”
“I really need to talk to her alone.”
Thales stared at the female official with what he imagined to be his sincerest gaze. “Please, Madam Ginghes.
“This is very important.
“If you still care for the archduchess, if you understand her current predicament…”
Thales stared at Ginghes with a solemn look.
This time, the female official, Ginghes gazed at him for a long time.
It was almost like she was eyeing an antique closely.
“I do not know what happened, Your Highness.” At last, the cold and clear-minded official spoke softly in a formal manner, as she always did, “But Her Grace…”
The official stopped talking all of a sudden.
At the next second, Ginghes behaved in a way the prince thought she never would.
It was the first time Thales saw fatigue flicker in the well-mannered and composed female official’s eyes. Wrinkles began to emerge at the corners of her eyes.
“She is just a young girl.”
Thales lowered his head and nodded slightly. “I know, so—”
“But she is also not just a little girl,” Ginghes interrupted him firmly. “She is also the ruler of Dragon Clouds City.”
Thales raised his head and looked at her strangely. He found the female official slightly different today.
“Most of the time, because of your care, consideration and company, Her Grace can feel that she is safe, and let go of her worries as well as wariness.
“As a friend, you take care of her, worry for her,” the usual stern tone was absent from the official’s voice. It was, instead, full of helplessness and emotion. “She is very fortunate.”
Ginghes’ next line held a different meaning.
“The problem is, she is not safe.
“She must not feel that way either.”
Thales gazed at Ginghes. He was at a loss for words.
“We are leaving now, Prince Thales.” The look on the female official’s face became formal and unsympathetic again, as though the emotions he saw earlier were a mere illusion. She gave a slight bow. “I hope you and Her Grace enjoy your meal.”
The prince frowned. He realized that this female official he knew was competent and responsible but stern in a frustrating way. Now, she showed that she had a different side.
“Also, Her Grace is not in a good mood. Today, she…”
Madam Ginghes lowered her voice and said, “You know, after the time you were kicked in the knee… it has been a month.”
Thales was slightly startled.
When he finally understood what she meant, Ginghes had turned around and left.
‘”Because of your care, consideration and company, the archduchess can feel that she is safe…”‘
With complex emotions, the second prince watched as she and the other two female servants left. He lowered his head and hesitated for a moment before he took a deep breath. He tried hard to recompose himself and strode into the archduchess’ dining room.
Saroma was sitting at the dining table quietly. She appeared lonely while firelight shone on her from both sides of the walls.
“Whoa, lettuce.” Thales took a seat across the archduchess, looking at the dishes on the table, smiling. “I haven’t eaten this for a long time.”
As he expected, the dishes on the table were vegetables, fruits, and other bland food. The meat broth was steaming, which was rather uncommon. Food becoming cold was no longer new, because under Nicholas’ threat, the cooks in the scullery had to inspect a dish repeatedly until it became cold.
‘This is the archduchess’ special monthly menu.’
Saroma raised her head under the firelight. The prince could not help but notice that she was rather weary.
‘Is it due to physiological reasons, or…’
“Hey.” The archduchess looked at the prince with a gaze he had rarely seen. The latter could not read the meaning behind it. “Thales.”
Her voice did not seem to harbor much emotion.
“You said you have an important matter to discuss with me today?”
Thales exhaled, and the troubles he faced were back in his mind instantly.
“Yes, I, err…”
He took a deep breath. Thales’ words were at the tip of his tongue, but when he opened his mouth, he found them stuck in his throat.
He gazed at the gloomy-faced Saroma before him while he maintained the most basic, polite smile on his face. Despite that, he was suddenly at a loss for words.
‘Saroma, you’re actually facing an extremely terrible situation, and you’re not safe.
‘Even if you live through this storm, live through the forced marital arrangement the vassals are trying to impose on you as well as the strife between Roknee and the king, you are still in a difficult position.
‘Because the ones you think you can trust are actually deceiving you.
‘You are alone and helpless. You are in grave danger. Your biggest secret is in someone’s grasp.
“Hey?” Saroma’s gaze landed on his lips. She was slightly puzzled.
But Thales was frowning. His fists under the table slowly tightened. He still wore a smile on his face, but he was struggling internally, and he did not know where to begin.
‘Should I tell her the truth? That Nicholas and Lisban aren’t loyal to her, or at least haven’t been frank with her?
‘They may be conspiring in King Nuven’s plot, and you could just a puppet under their manipulation.
‘Is this what Lampard has always wanted? Using me to sabotage the harmony within Dragon Clouds City as well as the relationship between the archduchess and her subordinates?
‘But… does harmony even exist in Dragon Clouds City?
‘If she doesn’t know about it and is kept in the dark until the day the secret is revealed, will it be a greater harm to her?’
“What is going on with you?”
Saroma eyed his silent expression and gently asked, “Are you worrying about something?”
Eventually, Thales loosened his clenched fists and exhaled.
“It’s the same as always. You know, the outdoor lesson, being beaten up by Nicholas,” the prince turned his smile into a self-ridiculing joke.
“Perhaps I should try using lime powder.”
As per her wont, Saroma would observe his wounds while she frowned, then smile. It would then be followed by her responding to the prince’s teases.
“No.” However, Saroma stared at him, shaking her head firmly. “That’s not what this is about.”
Thales was slightly astounded. He cast her an inquisitive gaze.
“I can sense it.
“It’s about something else.” The eagle-eyed Saroma asked, “What do you want to tell me?”
The second prince gazed at the serious archduchess, falling into silence for a few seconds.
“Listen to me, Little Rascal.” At last, Thales calmed down, wiping the fake smile off his face. Then, he somberly and wearily said, “You’ve… been the archduchess for six years.
“That is not a short period of time.”
Saroma stared at him, turning her head away. Under the veil of light and shadow, her facial expression could not be seen.
“But, in the past six years…” Thales looked at the girl in the hard and large seat, recalling the sight of her taking the seat all by her lonesome self in the Hall of Heroes. His heart wrenched in pain.
“Have you felt tired, annoyed, upset?”
The girl was slightly taken aback. She lifted her head. “What?”
Thales heaved a sigh, braced himself and said, “What I mean is, from the day you took the title of the archduchess, you have been forced to bear with the vassals’ questioning gazes, the people’s doubt, countless affairs, deception, and conspiracies. The archdukes are watching you like a tiger eyeing its prey. The king harbors ill-intentions towards you. Even Nicholas and Lisban…”
As he said that, Thales could not help but lower his head, feeling rather upset.
“I know you actually don’t want any of this.” He felt rather remorseful. “Besides… you had a chance to leave, leave that uncomfortable seat.”
At that moment…
“I am terrified.”
Thales looked up. “Hmm?”
“That time, when you wanted to head back to Heroic Spirit Palace, wanted me to become Saroma to save this country, I was terrified.” Saroma forced a smile under the light.
“I was thinking that you may not come back alive when you went back to face the archdukes.
“And I wasn’t prepared at all to be an archduchess.”
The girl sat across the dining table. Her slightly reddened cheeks in the firelight was a sharp contrast to the solemn decorations of the room.
“But you didn’t hesitate at the time. You said that due to the future of two countries and countless lives, you can’t just walk away, leaving destruction behind.”
Thales gazed at her in silence.
His fists tightened on his knees.
“Because you weren’t afraid.
“I thought that I shouldn’t be afraid too.”
Saroma’s lips upturned. She appeared to be surprisingly delighted. “Besides, you said you would always be by my side and protect me… just like the time we were in the Hall of Heroes. You took me away without hesitation in front of the king. And in the past six years, you, Ciel, and the others have been protecting me…
“I know, no matter what I encounter…”
When he heard this, Thales could not contain himself any longer. He raised his head sharply.
“But I can’t!”
An astonished expression appeared on the archduchess’ face, and she stared at the agitated prince in confusion.
“I can’t protect you.
“You are the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City, in a situation no ordinary person can imagine, while I’m just a powerless prince.” Thales thought of Lisban’s words, chosen carefully to not reveal anything. He also thought of Nicholas’ gaze, saying that he was hiding things, and the perpetual air of vigilance as well as tight surveillance in Heroic Spirit Palace.
He gritted his teeth and said, “There are too many threats that we’re facing; too much danger, too many problems.
“Lampard, Roknee, the counts of Dragon Clouds City, and…”
Thales inhaled deeply, struggling to speak. “You know. I’m not capable of protecting you.”
Saroma gawked at him, her lips trembling slightly.
Thales thought of what Ginghes had implied, and added, “I can’t protect you forever. Even Lisban and the rest—”
The archduchess interrupted him.
“Black Sand Region’s offer.”
The girl pursed her lips and went pale. The smile on her face slowly faded.
She forced a smile while she mumbled, “Ciel told me this evening. You went to meet the people from Black Sand Region. So, I suppose this is what you wanted to discuss with me today.”
Thales instantly felt a headache building up due to the problem at hand.
“I’m just…” The prince sighed. “Listen, Lampard indeed wants me to persuade you to side with him, but I’m still…”
The girl’s voice was soft and hesitant. “Thales, you want to go home, don’t you?”
The archduchess’ facial expression reminded Thales of that time two years ago, when she was reading a tragic poem named “Jasmine’s Battle Flag”. She wore a similar facial expression when she read the part where Jasmine eventually died in a battle in the rain.
“Is that the king’s offer, to release you back to your country?” Before Thales could reply, Saroma laughed coldly. “You feel frustrated, bored, and exhausted. You no longer want to play games with a foolish, boring girl, so you’ve come to tell me that you can protect me no longer.”
She let out a self-deprecating laugh. “This is your so-called ‘important matter’?”
Thales’ breathing froze.
“I guess it’s annoying to be around a dumb, foolish little girl with an odd temperament.” Saroma lowered her head. “Am I right?”
Thales pressed his palm on his forehead in agony. “No, Saroma, no. It’s not like that. Listen to me, I want to tell you that—”
“You’re homesick, aren’t you?” But the girl did not appear to have heard him at all. It seemed as though she was talking to herself, “If you have the chance, you’ll leave this place without hesitation, leave Dragon Clouds City, leave everything, and go home?”
Putray asked him the same question before.
Back then, his reply was…
“I…” A word tumbled out of Thales’ lips, but he clenched his teeth and forced himself to stop.
He really wanted to deny it, say that he was not homesick, comfort her with a lie.
“You know, as long as you’re still here…” Thales took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. He could only answer carefully. “Saroma, I will not leave just like that.”
The girl lifted her head slightly.
“Sorry, I’m not in a good mood today.” A few seconds later, Saroma seemingly calmed down a little. The girl shook her head and forced a smile. “I’m not questioning you—Ciel and the others must have been very displeased with you—I’m just… sorry.”
She apologized, turning her head away.
“You’ve been imprisoned here for six years, away from your family and friends, facing grave danger. The king, the archdukes, the vassals, the Northlanders—the people in Dragon Clouds City don’t treat you well.” Saroma shook her head, as though she was mocking herself. “Naturally, you would be homesick.
“I do not have the intention to chastise you.”
She lowered her head dejectedly.
Thales gazed at the archduchess before him, and suddenly realized that in the past six years after she became the archduchess, she had been stepping on thorn bushes. She had been living in worry and fear, struggling to survive. Never once did she feel comfortable and safe.
The prince felt dispirited.
‘The prisoner isn’t just me.
‘And I must tell her that the path ahead will only get rockier and more dangerous. It will be filled with more obstacles and more…’
Suddenly, an impulse and a surge of emotion rose in his heart.
In that second, the muscles on Thales’ arm contracted slightly.
He pushed out his chest slowly and raised his head.
“Saroma, I’m asking you.”
The prince gazed at the gloomy-faced girl and said in his most solemn tone of voice, “If you have the chance—And I mean, if you have the chance…
“Will you want to leave?”
With slightly reddened eyes, the girl lifted her head like a startled hare. “Leave?”
“Yes.” Thales nodded firmly, looking Saroma in the eye. “Together, we can leave this city, leave this country, away from trouble, away from danger, away from these foolish and pointless schemes as well as conspiracies, leave the destiny King Nuven imposed on you!”
In that instant, Saroma was utterly stunned.
“Leave… and… go where?”
The Second Prince of Constellation stood up from his seat. He placed both hands on the surface of the table, staring at her with a sharp gaze and stern expression.
“Sa—no, Little Rascal, I am asking you again.
“Are you willing to let go of everything you have and leave for Constellation with me?”