Chapter 308: Collusion
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
Heroic Spirit Palace, the archduchess’ dining room.
“I need an explanation about today’s farce.”
Saroma glared at the two people with an unpleasant expression. One of them had a quiet look, and the other was smiling faintly.
“…Or you two can leave Heroic Spirit Palace now and look for your own accommodation.”
The archduchess said coldly.
“Oh, wow.” The heir to the archdukeship of the City of Faraway Prayers, Ian Roknee, watched?the angry archduchess with interest in the most comfortable position—reclining on his back. He turned his head and asked Thales, “Is this what you meant when you told me ‘she is very pleasant to talk to’?”
Thales took a deep breath. ‘Well, maybe it was because that time of the month is coming.’
But before he could speak, Saroma’s anger flared suddenly.
“You, respected Lord Ian Roknee,” the archduchess said coldly, “I remember you came to ask for help?”
“Uh-huh.” Ian nodded briskly.
“Through rudeness, disrespect, exaggerated movements, affectation, and crudeness?” Saroma showed no mercy. “And on our first meeting, you humiliated and provoked the rare talents of Dragon Clouds City?
“Besides, the welcoming banquet has been canceled tonight, because no one is willing to attend unless I agree to their request of challenging you to a duel at the banquet.”
“What an enthusiastic lot. Oh, how fortunate that I brought Monty.” The frivolous viscount laughed as he snapped his fingers in the face of the archduchess, who was denouncing him. “Problem solved.”
Saroma’s expression became more unpleasant as she watched the other party’s flippant attitude.
“Enthusiastic? Do you know how bad the situation was after you left? Do you have any idea how many nobles expressed their indignation at you towards me?”
Thales swore that, with his sensitive hearing, he heard the archduchess grinding her teeth behind her lips. “You should be thankful that they dropped off their weapons before entering the palace.”
“Ah,” Ian said, looking indifferent as he shrugged at Thales. “The hypocritical old Northlanders. With such energy, why not go to Black Sand Region and kill the king?”
Saroma was so angry that she was rendered speechless. She exhaled and glared at the carefree Ian.
“Oh, you know that the envoys of Black Sand Region are in the city, and everything that happened today will be known and reported back to Black Sand City, and then to the king?
“And do you know how many vassals of Dragon Clouds City will change their perspectives toward the City of Faraway Prayers and Black Sand Region because of what you did today?”
Ian’s pupils suddenly shrank when he heard Black Sand Region. He nodded slowly against the backrest.
“That is a problem…”
He turned to Thales and his eyes focused. “But we will solve that problem, right?”
But Thales said nothing. He clasped his hands together and placed them on the dining table, occasionally cracking his knuckles. This was a habit he had learned from the bald Archduke Lecco six years ago.
Saroma seemed fed up with arguing with the heir of the City of Faraway Prayers.
“Thales, you were the one who arranged this meeting.” The archduchess held her spectacles with a dissatisfied yet calm face and looked at the contemplative Thales. “Say something!”
Ian put on a silent grin and impersonated Saroma’s angry expression. He deliberately put on a resentful look, turned his head to Thales, shook his head, and silently mouthed, “Saaaay soooommmethiiiing.”
This made Saroma’s anger reach its boiling point,
“If all the people from the City of Faraway Prayers who came seeking help are people like you, then you can—”
Thales gently opened his mouth. He raised his eyes and looked across the table at Miss Saroma, whose cheeks were puffed from anger.
“Calm down, you are an archduchess, there is no need to get angry so easily.”
‘Ah, this is the girl who refused his impulsive proposal here the other day, told him that she wanted to stay in Dragon Clouds City and face all the unknown dangers ahead of her.
‘That Little Rascal… I will miss her.’
Thales slowly curled up his lips and unknowingly revealed a smile. The originally furious Saroma was embarrassed by his stare.
She thought of the methods Thales had taught her to soothe her temper and took a few deep breaths.
“I-I think…” The girl turned her eyes away involuntarily and snorted. She glared at Ian, who was looking at her with a grotesque smile and spoke, but in a much softer tone, “Maybe we should not waste any more time.”
Ian raised his eyebrows. He looked at the calm Thales and looked at Saroma, who had turned her head away, a blank expression appeared on himself.
He yawned, then struggled to sit straight without leaning against the back of the chair with movements making it seem as if he was spending his entire life’s worth of energy in doing so. He lazily picked up a piece of cheese from the table and muttered to himself, “I knew I found the right person…”
Under Ian’s strange reminder, Thales came back to his senses. The prince coughed and asked calmly,
“Count Lisban did not come?”
“Ciel said he had gone to appease the nobles.” Saroma shook her head, still feeling dissatisfied. “He also said that he hopes, at the next hearing, you could still be so relaxed when facing the counts.”
Thales’ pupils shrank. Ian stopped chewing on the cheese in his mouth.
“The next hearing … So he understood,” the prince whispered. “As expected of the Eye of the Dragon.”
Saroma showed a confused look. “What?”
“Maybe Monty told him.” Ian resumed the cheese chewing, but he raised his eyebrows. “That loudmouth must have heard on the road that I was coming to propose.”
After she heard the word ‘propose’, Saroma sighed deeply and her gaze became dangerous again.
“What are you two talking about?”
Thales did not speak, but his thoughts spun faster and faster.
Ian swallowed the cheese in his mouth, tilted his head, and scoffed. “It seems that you’re not as smart as you seem, My Lady. Indeed, beauty and wisdom are all—”
Even before he finished the sentence, he had once again provoked the archduchess.
“And you are more annoying than your nickname,” Saroma said coldly.
Ian was startled, then he smiled with a cheeky shrug. “It’s a pleasure.”
“Saroma.” The prince straightened up and looked at the two of them soberly. “This is Ian Roknee, representing the City of Faraway Prayers.”
Following his eyes, Saroma and Ian looked at each other. One side was full of vigilance and the other side full of disagreement.
“…And he came to propose to you,” Thales said plainly.
Saroma did not even flinch… But in the next second, the archduchess laughed coldly.
“Yes, thank you for your introduction.” Saroma’s gaze was not kind when she looked at Thales. The accusation and anger beneath her gaze were overwhelming.
She looked at Ian without even trying to hide the disgust in her eyes. She mocked, “At least he is old enough, right?”
Thales did not say a word. The one who replied was Ian.
“Look, she still doesn’t understand.” The heir of the City of Faraway Prayers did not look at the cold-faced archduchess. He smiled disdainfully and shrugged at Thales.
“My mother used to say that if women were masters, they would—”
“I don’t know what your mother said, Ian.” Thales jerked his head fiercely and interrupted him coldly.
Ian was slightly taken aback. His raised finger stopped in the air.
“Honestly, I don’t care.” The Prince of Constellation looked serious. “But if you still want to accomplish this mission, be more respectful. She is the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City, and she is the key to this game.”
He watched as the cheekiness in Ian’s eyes faded away, he then said in a solemn voice, “She’s also my friend.”
“And you, Saroma.” Thales looked into the archduchess’ eyes seriously. “Please believe me. We are standing on the same side of the chessboard. This is how he is, we have to slowly get used to his mannerisms…”
Saroma snorted, evidently still mad at Ian, but she did not say anything.
Ian inhaled gently, frowned, and seemed to have understood something. “Oh.”
Then, Ian leaned back and got closer to Thales’ ear. He stretched out his hand to block the archduchess’ vision and whispered, “So you mean to say… you haven’t tamed her yet?”
This time, it was Thales’s turn to be stunned. The expression on his face had not disappeared and he asked in surprise, “What?”
Ian sighed with the regret born from the exasperation of Thales’ failure. Saroma looked at the two who were whispering with a dubious look.
“You know, you’re the one who gave her this position.” Ian suppressed his voice. His tone was full of annoyance and dissatisfaction. “And six years, Your Highness! Even a princess of a country doesn’t take so long.”
Thales blinked, and seemed to understand something.
“Men more or less will treat their first woman specially, but…” Ian pouted, sounding as if he had experience in this and said in great distress and disgust, “She will overpower you, unless it’s in bed—”
A muffled sound came, accompanied by Ian’s groan of pain. The heir of the City of Faraway Prayers contorted his face as he sat on the chair embracing his stomach. He looked pained and betrayed.
After Ian and Thales, it was Saroma’s turned to be startled. She looked at them, puzzled. “You two…”
“He has a stomachache, it’s alright now.” Thales, who didn’t change his expression, pulled back his elbow. He did not look at Ian, who was pale and had cold sweat all over his face.
“Let’s get back to business. Saroma…”
The prince took a deep breath, moved close to the table and said earnestly, “You must know that it is a proposal. But first, it is impossible for him to succeed.”
Saroma’s gaze shifted.
“Dragon Clouds City only has one ruler in direct power left, with the absence of external forces or stressful situations…” Thales clenched his fists a little as he shook off the idea Nuven gave him. “Be it inside or outside, for passion of reason, you cannot marry a foreigner with considerable power.
“For the vassals of Dragon Clouds City, this is equivalent to inviting a terrifying, foreign enemy into their midst, allowing that enemy to seize power from their hands. For the archdukes of Eckstedt, this means that there might only be one heir of Dragon Clouds City and the City of Faraway Prayers instead of two, and it will mean an imbalance of power among the ten territories.”
Thales looked at the archduchess with a sincere gaze. “And the City of Faraway Prayers is not strong enough to ignore or even suppress dissidents, whether they are vassals, archdukes, or even kings, they will not will not permit your marriage.”
After she listened to the prince’s words, Saroma was distracted for a moment.
“So, they will not allow an outsider’s proposal…”
Saroma looked at Thales with an unwavering gaze. “Is that what you’re saying?”
Thales was so uncomfortable with her gaze that he quickly looked away.
“So, what he is saying is that coming here to propose to me is actually for…”
Ian placed a hand on his stomach with an unhappy expression, then snorted coldly. “Naturally, it’s for the purpose of luring out the Prince of Constellation, who rarely makes an appearance in court, but in fact plays an important role in the politics of Dragon Clouds City. ‘To draw the archduchess to your side, you must start with Thales Jadestar.'”
“What?” Thales was stunned for a moment. The archduchess blushed slightly.
Once he understood what Ian meant, Thales’ expression suddenly darkened and he said, “Is that how the rumors outside are being spread?”
“At least Black Sand Region did that, right?” Ian sighed, then he said jokingly, “What conditions did the king give you to win over you? Twenty virgins?”
Thales automatically filtered Ian’s joking tone out of his mind. His nerves tensed up in an instant.
‘Gave me…what conditions?’
It was as if before him was King Chapman again, holding Thales and his trump card firmly in the palm of his hand.
The prince resisted the urge to look at Saroma.
‘Damn. I mustn’t take this seemingly frivolous pampered brat lightly.’
“So,” The second prince replied without a single change in his expression, “Are you going to show off your riches and say that you will offer me double of what he did?”
Ian showed an incomprehensible smile.
“I’d love to,” Ian said, swaying his head as usual, then slowly added, “If what they offered you was a slap in the face.”
The Prince of Constellation responded with an impatient snort.
Still, he felt a chill in his heart as he recalled Lampard’s words. Although it was not an actual slap, it was close enough.
Saroma sighed softly. “Let’s get back on topic. So the proposal was just an excuse?”
“It was not just an excuse, it can explain a lot of things.” Ian smiled, giving off the impression that he was very considerate, all while ignoring the sound of Thales’ tongue clicking. Then, he waved his hand dramatically. “Look, just at the mention of the archduchess’ marriage, there Prince Thales appears.”
Thales massaged his forehead and exhaled in pain. “How old are you, Ian?”
“Nineteen.” Ian remained smiling, “I’m just one year older than the archduchess.”
‘No, you’re four years older.’ Thales then quietly looked at Saroma.
“Oh really,” the prince said plainly, “I feel as if you’re just nine years old.”
“Ah, I’ve heard of your brilliant achievements while you were seven years old.” Ian knocked on the table, picked up a piece of buttered bread, and put it into his mouth for a bite. Then, he said with his mouthful, “I’ll jush dake dat as a gombliment.”
Thales exhaled. He had gradually learned how to talk to the Viscount of Dual Wind City. Thales recalled the conversation from a while ago and began to think.
From the time he saw Saroma, Ian deliberately showed disdain for the archduchess, but had unwittingly asked about the relationship between the archduchess and Dragon Clouds City’s vassals, and even about her control over the territory.
He deliberately let the situation get out of control, but had actually cast multiple glances at Thales, perhaps to observe when Thales would speak and placate the situation, so as to gauge his influence on the archduchess. He also tried to figure out the real relationship between Thales and the archduchess.
Twice, he had very blatantly?tested Black Sand Region’s attitude towards Thales and Thales’ attitude towards Black Sand Region, and had also done it in a secretive fashion as well.
Thales secretly warned himself and became on guard. ‘Ian Roknee… He seems like a contemptuous and arrogant noble’s son. But in truth, his sharpest weapons were hidden beneath most of his jokes.
‘This “nuisance”… But for now, it isn’t a bad thing.’
Thales cleared his throat. “Let’s get back on topic, Ian specifically told me he wished to propose to you.”
Saroma’s expression was still unpleasant but she began listening to Thales.
“But like I said, asking for marriage is totally impossible. I guess he has something else to do, outside of the normal diplomatic channels, and discuss with me and you in a reliable and credible private situation.
“So, I went to the Heroic Spirit Palace in advance.”
Saroma looked at Ian suspiciously.
Ian blinked and swallowed the buttered bread.
“After the meeting, he told me that the City of Faraway Prayers is different from other archdukes of Northland; their positions are special, they also have a unique situation in Eckstedtian politics, and any assistance from the inland of Eckstedt is of great significance to them.”
Not only that, he kept hinting that he, as the future heir of the City of Faraway Prayers, was just like the Prince of Constellation who was forced to live among the Northlanders.
Thales sighed. “And he also reminded me that he knows that there will be only one thing standing in between the City of Faraway Prayers receiving aid from Dragon Clouds City, it is the conflict between the vassals and the archduchess—starting with your marriage.”
At that moment, Saroma’s gaze locked on Ian.
“Believe me.” The viscount snorted and, quite disapprovingly, said, “In the struggle between the archdukes and vassals…”
His gaze turned sharp. “In the entirety of Eckstedt, I am afraid there is no one who would be more deeply affected than the Roknee Family of the City of Faraway Prayers.”
Saroma looked at Thales thoughtfully, then at Ian again. The archduchess calmed down and asked him plainly,
“So… what do you want?”
“He has a proposal…” Thales looked at Saroma with sparkling eyes. “An unusual solution to the crisis.”
The archduchess bit he lower lip and seemed more interested in the food on the table. But Thales knew that she was contemplating.
“That’s why, we don’t have time to waste on boring and redundant ceremonies and banquets.” Ian’s face became less cynical. He solemnly stood up and stopped paying attention to the food on the table, “We need to discuss this matter in secret, decide together, plan ahead, and we’re short on time.
“I apologize to you for my words, My Lady archduchess. Everything during the afternoon to that moment just now was just a superficial test,” Ian spoke in a manner as if his words carried a lot of weight.
“Please believe that the City of Faraway Prayers is more than just a beggar requesting for help. In fact, I came with sincerity and know of your current difficulties and troubles. And the City of Faraway Prayers will use our methods to solve your problems in exchange for your commitment and assistance. What I need is just a little trust from you.”
His eyes were as calm as water as he gazed at the archduchess across him.
The lights in the dining room flickered slightly, and the shadows of the three people flitted about, like a boat drifting on the waves.
Saroma looked at Thales seriously. At that moment, somehow, Thales remembered how they fled Dragon Clouds City six years ago. The Prince of Constellation nodded at her.
Finally, the archduchess turned around. She was serious and calm.
“And what are your ‘problem-solving’ methods that would help me?”
Ian Roknee grinned, and he gave Thales a slight nod.
Then, he looked at Saroma gently and whispered those familiar words again,