Chapter 313: The Beginning
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
After the archduchess took her seat, all twenty something nobles in the hall sat down as well.
Thanks to the archduchess, Thales had received quite a fair bit of education on the nobility, filled with their unique Northland features. Compared to the knowledge Gilbert taught him in one short month, which was so long ago that they were starting to fade, he was more familiar with Eckstedt’s glorious history.
…Such as Dragon Clouds City’s day of the state affairs hearing.
It originated ninety years ago by the Archduke of Dragon Clouds City, Nuven the Sixth, who later became the Forty-Third Common-Elected King. He was the grandfather of the late king, Nuven the Seventh, and was a king worth remembering.
He was the one who established the Walton Family’s most prosperous period, and was the first of three successive kings from the same family.
Under Nuven the Sixth’s rule, the Kingdom of the Great Dragon fought against Constellation several times at the border between the two countries after the Virtuous King passed away. This king had never lost a battle in the face of the three Great Clans—the Northern Territory’s Arunde Family, Overwatch City’s Zemunto Family, and Lonely Old Tower’s Friess Family—pushing Eckstedt’s southern border until it was right in front of the Broken Dragon Fortress, thus allowing the Northlanders to be the only ones to enjoy the Eastern and Western Pine Forest.
He supported the newly-formed Alliance of Freedom in a few wars. On the other hand, while facing the sudden uprise of Camus Union, he nipped their budding power with his powerful hand, stopping the continuous expansion of their power and influence and gaining a firm control over the eastern side of the Golden Passage.
He even redrew the Glacial Quiquer Defense Line—which had been in the original position for a long time—once more banishing the fierce and violent glacial orcs to the north of the Thirty-Eighth Sentry Ground.
Internally, the tradition of the Dragon Clouds City vassals to greet and report regularly to the archduke also began from the time of the excellent Nuven the Sixth. The vassals would show their loyalty to the archduke, report the important affairs of their territories in order to obtain the permissions to execute certain rules in their territories or obtain the support of the archduke. Meanwhile, the archduke would showcase his authority and tolerance by listening to his vassals’ general situation, and maintain and strengthen his relationship with his vassals. Hence, the day of the state affairs hearing.
‘It is also proof of Dragon Clouds City’s expansion of ruling power,’ Thales thought. ‘But now…’
The archduchess’ voice rang clearly in the hall, jolting him from his thoughts.
“Lisban, Karkogel, Nazaire, Lyner, Cotterson…” even though Saroma’s face was pale, she still called out the family names of the vassals under her one by one according to their seats while facing so many people. Each suzerain nodded slightly when their names were called. “Banner, Hudson…”
In one breath, Saroma called out the names of almost twenty families. Among them were two families who shared the same name and had to be distinguished by their territories.
Almost all the seated nobles nodded respectfully. At least, they appeared respectful.
‘If this happened in Constellation…’ Thales could not help but recall the pomposity of the National Conference. He thought of the Six Great Clans, Thirteen Distinguished Families and the Jadestar Family’s own immediate vassals. ‘Just calling out these families’ names would…’
The prince sighed. ‘My God, I hope they have a roster.’
“Welcome, everyone.” Under the sharp gazes of the Northland nobles, Saroma inhaled deeply and shot a glance at Lisban. She said slowly, “Once again, the great families of Dragon Clouds City are gathered together on this glorious day of the state affairs hearing. Because of your presences, the Cloud Dragon Spear appears even sharper. With your loyalty, the Walton Family becomes even stronger.”
A crisp female voice echoed in the stone hall, fading gradually and eventually disappearing.
At the same time the archduchess finished speaking, as though by agreement, almost all the vassals solemnly raised their right fists and pounded their chests three times consecutively as a reply to their feudal lord.
*Thump! Thump! Thump!*
The dull sound echoed throughout the hall. Even Heroic Spirit Palace seemed to shake entirely.
“Look, do you understand what I mean now?” With a bored expression that said ‘I told you so’, Ian pounded his chest and said beside Thales’ ear, “Gorillas…”
Thales let out a soft cough.
While the vassals pounded their chests, Saroma did not move an inch. But Thales knew her very well and could feel that the maiden was hiding her nervousness and anxiety beneath a calm exterior.
“The hearing will begin now.” The archduchess cleared her throat. “Ciel?”
Count Lisban was originally sitting on the primary seat to the archduchess’ left, but he raised himself slightly from his seat and turned to look at everyone in the hall.
The five frontmost counts finally rested their gazes on the regent. But Thales noticed that those looks were not as friendly as he had imagined.
‘Six years ago, during King Nuven’s funeral… What were the attitudes of these five extremely important people?’ Thales reminisced.
“According to the usual practice…”
Regent Lisban’s steady and gentle voice echoed in the hall, just like how it had done so countless times for King Nuven during the Imperial Conference. “Is there anything all of you want to consult the archduchess about?”
No one said anything. From what Thales could see, the twenty or more vassals did not even whisper to one another. They gazed, sharp and fixatedly, at Lisban, as though they wanted to cut the old count into pieces.
…Especially the five most powerful vassals.
Thales could not help but clench his fists.
Lisban looked around the hall. Still, none of the vassals answered. It was as though they planned it. Lisban’s expression became more and more unpleasant.
“Manners are dead.” Ian’s annoying voice rose softly beside Thales’ ears with a vague hint of perverse delight. “I reckon that no one wants to say hello to the archduchess.”
In the silence where even the sound of a pin dropping on the floor could be heard, Ian’s words were quite jarring.
Many of the Northlanders turned to look at him, their gazes were cold.
Ian made the face of someone caught red-handed and smiled apologetically at them.
This was the first time Thales participated in the hearing in these six years, and the first time he saw the attitude of Dragon Clouds City’s suzerains towards their feudal lord. Thales’ heart ached as he stared at Saroma, who was doing her best to maintain a calm fa?ade on stage.
During these six years, beginning from the moment he stepped into the Hall of Stars and became Constellation’s second prince, his journey had been very difficult. But at this moment, compared to Saroma, the first archduchess in Eckstedt, all the events he had faced which he thought were difficult…
“Very well, it seems everyone is doing well, and there is not much bad news,” Lisban said coldly. He looked up and bowed slightly at Saroma. “My lady.”
The eyes that were focused on Lisban were unanimously cast onto the archduchess.
Thales stared pitifully at the lonesome Saroma. The maiden cleared her throat unnaturally and subconsciously avoided her vassals’ stares.
“Ev-ahem, everyone, I know that all of you do not like small talk,” Saroma spoke a little quickly and her voice trembled slightly, “So, I will get straight to the point.”
Compared to the silence in the hall when Lisban was speaking, the moment the archduchess opened her mouth, many of the vassals lowered their heads and whispered to one another.
“This is a good sign. The archduchess at least has the ability to ease up the atmosphere,” Ian mocked softly beside Thales’ ears.
The archduchess continued speaking.
“I believe that all of you already know that the king’s envoys came from Black Sand Region last month. A few days ago, the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group also came to Dragon Clouds City—”
“Are you talking about that farce of a meeting, My Lady?”
Sitting third to the archduchess’ left, clad in martial attire, was the Count of Phalen Castle, Cotterson. He said coldly, “Of course. It was very entertaining… The majestic Dragon Clouds City being completely f*cked by a young lad.”
Count Cotterson’s choice of words was quite boorish. Some of the people snickered softly, but most of them snorted coldly. Saroma’s face grew even paler.
Thales scowled a little and turned. As the one responsible for this, the Viscount of Dual Wind City giggled without any self-consciousness. He seemed to find it very entertaining.
“Is it funny?” Thales glared at him, his gaze as sharp as a blade.
While Thales glared at him in annoyance, Ian realized something and stopped smiling. He let out a soft cough while appearing solemn. “I’m sorry.”
“Dragon Clouds City is faced with a choice.” The archduchess regulated her breathing and continued her words from before, “And all of you are vassals I respect and who served my grandfather for many years. Hence, we’re here today on this extremely important day of the state affairs hearing to jointly discuss our decision.”
Just when Thales thought that the vassals would stay quiet again, a bright and clear male voice came unexpectedly.
“We respect you, My Lady, just like how we respected your grandfather,” a count sitting on the second seat to Saroma’s left said. His tone was congenial and respectful, which was rare. His golden beard rose and fell with his words.
“That is why we’re here. Flatiron County responded to your call,” said Count Hearst of Flatiron County as he gazed gently at the archduchess.
As though she had met her savior, Saroma flashed a smile and looked gratefully at the person who spoke. “Thank you, Count Hearst.”
The thirty-something-year-old Hearst shook his golden beard and nodded with a smile.
Thales frowned. He stared at the enthusiastic Hearst and shifted his bottom in an unnatural manner.
‘This damn chair is so uncomfortable.’
“My God, Thales, do you see how he’s staring at that girl?” Ian’s words came at an inappropriate time. “My bet is that every time he looks for a woman, he imagines that she is—”
Thales’ mood took a turn for the worse. He turned abruptly. “Will you die if you keep quiet?” the prince replied coldly.
Ian immediately raised his hands and stuck his tongue out with an innocent expression. He silently gestured with his mouth. “Yes.”
Thales was so angry that he did not want to pay Ian any more attention.
Count Hearst’s words seemed to have initiated the vassals’ conversations. Cotterson, who spoke sarcastically just now, touched his chin and snorted softly.
“It’s the same for Phalen Castle,” Cotterson said slowly, “But I noticed that we are not the only ones who responded to the call and came here.”
Count Cotterson moved his finger and pointed at a corner of the hall.
Everyone’s eyes followed Cotterson’s fingers. Thales’ heart sank.
“Why is he here, My Lady?” Cotterson pointed coldly at the Prince of Constellation with his wrist bent. “Why is this Citizen of the Empire present in Dragon Clouds City’s most important meeting?”
A considerably loud murmur immediately erupted in the hall. It could even be considered an uproar. At that moment, Thales became the focus of the meeting.
The archduchess revealed a worried and anxious expression. Lisban narrowed his eyes. Nicholas furrowed his eyebrows, all while he still had that cold look on his face.
‘Fine. Even though I wanted to keep a low profile so much…’
“I’m here in answer to the archduchess’ request and the heir to the City of Faraway Prayers’ invitation,” The Second Prince of Constellation said coldly, “To witness this meeting concerning Eckstedt’s honor as a third party.”
The moment he finished speaking, the murmurs in the hall became even louder. Thales could even hear their discussion clearly.
“So, that is…”
“Take a guess. He’s here, and that girl is here, too…”
“Dragon Clouds City… Such a mockery…”
Thales clenched his fists. Ian looked at Thales and shook his head helplessly with a sympathetic but powerless expression.
“I don’t remember being cohorts with the Citizens of the Empire,” Cotterson said coldly without even glancing at Thales. “Where are the guards? Chase him out.”
A considerably loud murmur of agreement erupted among the vassals.
Nicholas joined the conversation. As the archduchess’ guard, the Star Killer glared condescendingly at the nobles whom had descended into chaos, and said bluntly,
“You are standing on Dragon Cloud City’s soil, Count Cotterson. You are standing in Raikaru’s Heroic Spirit Palace, and this is the Hall of Heroes. It’s not up to you to give orders to us while the archduchess is before you.”
Nicholas’ expression became stern. It might be because the Star Killer was indeed highly renowned, or because he followed King Nuven for twenty or so years, but the hall slowly became quiet…
…until Cotterson replied Nicholas tactlessly.
“Shut up, Your Grace. You have no right to talk about f*cking orders to me.” Cotterson gritted his teeth and glowered at the Star Killer who stood on the stairs, like he was seeing his enemy.
“King Nuven promoted you, a humble and lowly person, to be his personal guard, and made you a lord. But you repaid him by neglecting your duty. And with your incompetence, you caused His Majesty’s death. You also put us, put Dragon Clouds City, in this predicament.”
At that moment, there was a rarely seen flush on Nicholas’ pale face. Thales had seen him looking like this before—this was a sign that the Star Killer was angry.
“If I were you, incompetent person, I would find a quiet place and kill myself before it’s too late, instead of shamelessly staying by the archduchess’ side and pretend that nothing happened.” Count Cotterson’s words rang clearly in every single person’s ears.
“You’re a White Blade Disgrace who caused the king’s death! Bah!”
Many of the Northland nobles snorted coldly in unison.
Nicholas immediately lowered his head, not letting other people see his expression clearly. He said nothing at all.
However, Thales could see that his clenched fists were trembling violently. The prince knew that what Cotterson mentioned was the biggest trauma in the Star Killer’s life.
In the hall, Nate Monty of the City of Faraway Prayers’ diplomat group furrowed his eyebrows. The Raven of Death looked at Nicholas, who was behaving abnormally, and sighed softly.
The archduchess finally spoke. There was an angry tint in her words and it had seeped into her voice subconsciously. “For the king’s sake, Nicholas fought hard against the calamity until the last moment. This isn’t the appraisal he should receive.”
“Of course, if this trash didn’t neglect his duty,” Cotterson said with a cold huff, “You wouldn’t be here, would you?”
Saroma swayed a little and bit her lower lip hard. The vassals began discussing among themselves in murmurs again.
“Everyone, let it go.” An old voice arose.
“But from what my administrator told me, My Lady, it may be said that Prince Thales is the most troublesome Constellatiate in the world. He even caused that unpleasant mass brawl during the hearing the other day,” the oldest count, Count Nazaire, said slowly. His words sounded fair and reasonable, bringing the topic back on the prince.
“I sincerely suggest that you let him rest in his own room while we discuss our affairs.” The old count narrowed his eyes slightly. “You know, even though we don’t mind, there are widespread rumors regarding this prince.”
Everyone stared at the prince again. Their gazes would even alternate occasionally between him and the archduchess.
Saroma’s expression changed and she was, for a short while, at a loss for words. Thales closed his eyes. Ian had an array of expressions on his face while he sat beside Thales. He opened his mouth and was about to say something beside Thales’ ear—
“Not now, Ian.” The moment Ian was about to speak, Thales spoke coldly and made Ian swallow his enthusiastic words.
‘Those vassals of Dragon Clouds City, they’re deliberately doing this.’
Thales recalled the sordid exchange between the nobles in Renaissance Palace in the Hall of Stars six years ago and thought, ‘So, they’re attacking the archduchess’ authority in stages.
‘And now… No, I can neither say anything nor refute them, or else, I’ll make the situation even worse.’
Thales clenched his teeth hard.
“The prince is the archduchess’ guest, Cotterson, Nazaire.” Lisban spoke at the right time. He stared coldly at the two counts. “As this is her promise, he shall stay. If you disregard the archduchess’ honor and can’t stand the sight of him, you have two choices: close your eyes, or leave.”
Cotterson let out a cold snort. He, apparently, was not a fan of the regent.
“Don’t forget about your blood feud, My Lady. The legal heir before you, Prince Moria, died in Constellation, and his remains are scarcely cold yet.” Count Lyner, sitting third to the left of the archduchess, said expressionlessly, “All the tragedies after that originated from this young prince’s visit.”
“‘Remains are scarcely cold yet’, really?” Ian whispered inappropriately again. “It’s been six years. Even the Great Dragon’s carcass should be cold by then.”
Thales did not even feel like paying him any attention. Saroma inhaled harshly, as though composing herself.
The archduchess stared at Thales from afar and said through gritted teeth, “The jury was already out on that tragedy, Lyner. It has been out since the late king was alive. As for Prince Thales, he is our guest now… and we should get back to the proper matters.”
“Did you just say that the death of your blood kin is not ‘proper matters’?” Lyner suddenly raised his volume. “I have to say, your actions have made me rather disappointed…” Count Lyner’s face was still as cold as ice. He did not move his gaze, but his words were like a snake hissing, and it was difficult for anyone to ignore it.
“…Respected Lady Saroma Walton.”
Under his gaze, Saroma’s hand trembled slightly while she held on to the armrest.
The sound of discussions from the twenty-something nobles in the hall grew louder.
Regent Lisban’s words were filled with clearly detectable emotions. He enunciated each of his words clearly, “Take back your words, Lyner, especially when you are talking to Her Grace. How dare you say that you are disappointed towards the granddaughter of King Nuven, the Born King?”
Lisban leered at Count Lyner. “From the time His Majesty was just a prince, he used thirty years to make the Lyner Family rise to power, all while you were on the brink of destruction—”
“This is what I am worried of, Lisban,” Lyner retorted without fear. “King Nuven, the great Born King people would willingly die for, is no longer around, leaving us old bones behind to protect a gir—”
“Lyner!” The person who cut him off was still the blond-bearded Count Hearst.
Lyner stopped talking for a moment. He cast the seated archduchess a glance, and only changed his words after a moment’s hesitation. “…to help retain Dragon Clouds City’s dignity.”
When he said these words, Saroma lowered her head and pursed her lips. The hall was filled with silence.
Count Lisban coughed lightly.
“My apologies, Lady Saroma.” The Count of Flatiron County stared at the miserable looking Saroma and said gently, “I do believe that Count Lyner simply misses the former king too dearly and placed too much importance in Dragon Clouds City’s future.
“But he respects you and your blood, just like I do, My Lady.” Hearst nodded slowly and respectfully.
“Bah.” Ian put on a disgusted face and whispered, “This is a classic hero-saves-the-damsel-in-distress, I’m about to puke. Still, it’s really useful, look at that girl’s face…”
‘God dammit, so noisy.’
For the first time ever, Thales realized that he really wanted to strangle Ian so that he could stuff all his words, which had a tendency to get straight to the point, right back into his throat.
The prince kept a close eye on Saroma.
The archduchess cast a glance at Hearst, who was busy trying to save her from the predicament, and gave him a forced smile.
“The person before you is a descendant of the Born King, young Hearst.” Lisban interrupted them while they were communicating with their eyes. “Without a doubt, she will lead the future of Dragon Clouds City.”
Hearst smiled and nodded slightly to the regent. “Of course.”
“You’re beginning to sound more like King Nuven, Prime Minister,” Count Lyner said slowly and nonchalantly, but each of his words were filled with a criticizing tone. “Just like how you, the great regent, stood beside His Majesty’s body six years ago and told us with a tone that allowed no argument that our archduke has changed and we only had to kneel down.”
“Don’t bring your personal grudges to the table, Lyner.” Lisban’s face was icy cold. “This is a glorious place, we should not leave room for selfish motives and dark desires.”
Lyner’s lips curled up in response.
“I’m starting to become a little impressed with that little girlfriend of yours.” Ian sighed and patted Thales’ shoulder. “Six years have passed. How did she survive among these people?”
“I don’t know.” Thales shook his head. He stared at the untamable counts and could not hide the look of worry on his face. “This is the first time I attended a state affairs hearing. Before this, the important counts would send their imperial administrators over. I believe their personal attendance in this place has caused the situation to become more difficult.”
Ian cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, you didn’t refute me?”
A puzzled look appeared on Thales’ face while he was observing the counts. “Refute what?”
“Nothing,” Ian replied seriously and shook his head just as solemnly.
An old voice rose in the hall again.
“Relax, Lyner. Be more respectful.” Nazaire, who had served the longest, sighed and said, “Before you is the count with the most power in Dragon Clouds City, the Eye of the Dragon Lisban, who has controlled the city for six years. You do not want to provoke the Regent of Dragon Clouds City, he has countless ways to deal with you.”
Lisban met Nazaire’s gaze, and it felt as though the air had become cold.
“Oh, I think what he truly wants to say is, ‘Go to hell, Lisban.'” Ian narrowed his eyes.
Thales agreed with it wholeheartedly.
“Since he wants the Constellatiate to be here, then let him be,” Nazaire said softly. “After all, Dragon Clouds City is no longer like it was before.”
Lisban glared at Nazaire, who was the same age as he was, then spoke softly, though his voice was incredibly clear. “Really, Nazaire, my old friend?”
“My old friend died six years ago,” Count Nazaire said slowly. “He died along with His Majesty in the vortex of power.”
During the period of time when Lisban and Nazaire stared at each other, the counts kept quiet, as if this was their arena, and Saroma was completely at a loss for what to do while she sat in her chair.
Ian’s whisper cut in at an inappropriate time again, “Let me guess, someone slept with the other’s wife when they were young?”
Thales shook his head. He lowered his head and stared at his right hand, then sighed.
‘The situation is incredibly disadvantageous to us. It’s much worse than we initially thought. Before the five counts, the archduchess doesn’t even have a chance to speak. Even with Lisban’s help. No, it’s clear that Lisban’s existence has made the situation worse. The Regent of Dragon Clouds City is a position that many envy. We can’t let this continue.
‘Go, Ian. We need you.’
In the next moment, a pained scream suddenly rang through the hall.
The voice was so loud that the silent Hall of Heroes sounded as though a whirlwind had appeared.
All the nobles, including Saroma and Lisban, turned their heads in shock to the source of the voice.
Right before their eyes, they saw someone suddenly shoot up from among the nobles and vassals in the hall.
The Viscount of Dual Wind City from the City of Faraway Prayers, Ian Roknee, stood up from his chair and clutched his abdomen with his face contorting. He stared at the person beside him in disbelief.
Prince Thales pulled back his hand impassively while beside him, and sat upright with a stern expression… as if the person who had just pinched the flesh at Ian’s waist before he twisted it at full strength was not him.
Ian gritted his teeth in exasperation and mouthed these words to Thales, “How dare you?!” Yet the prince did not move, as if he did not know Ian.
Ian sucked in a deep breath and lifted his head. Only then did he notice that everyone in the hall had their gazes directed on them.
The Viscount of Dual Wind City put on an embarrassed smile. “That is…”
The five counts frowned.
“Viscount Ian.” Lisban scrutinized Thales before he quietly directed his gaze back to Ian. “What happened?”
Ian sighed, then attempted to kill Thales several times with his eyes. The prince’s expression was calm. He gave a thumbs up on his knee.
‘Good luck. May God bless you.’
Ian could only sigh. With an expression that said he absolutely did not want to do this, he first bowed slightly to the archduchess, then tilted his head to look at the counts.
“While I would be delighted to watch the internal structure of Dragon Clouds City turn against each other, what say we talk about some proper matters first?”
Ian showed his pearly white teeth and smiled a bit. “You should know that lunch is very important. We cannot push it back.”
The attendants in the diplomat group from the City of Faraway Prayers who sat together had faces that turned livid.
Only Monty, the old friend of the Star Killer, stared at Ian’s performance with an expression saying he was here to watch the fun.
The vassals of Dragon Clouds City stared at this completely informal young man in shock and bewilderment. This was the first time most of them met Ian personally.
Count Cotterson put on an expression as if he wanted to kill him. He looked askance at Ian and said with a cold sneer, “And where did you come from? How dare you ignore our glory in Raikaru’s hall, you clown.”
Ian blinked. In the face of this derogatory nickname, his smile grew brighter.
“Where did I come from?” The Viscount spread his arms and smiled like a child. “The circus, obviously!”
In the next moment, Count Cotterson’s sneer froze on his face.
Thales exhaled, feeling that oppressive air in the hall instantly disappear.
“I came here specifically to remind all of you that it’s almost time, so get back to your positions.”
Ian cast a glance at the archduchess on the stairs, then at Thales beside him. He shrugged and announced to the vassals in the hall excitedly,
“The show is about to start!”
On the other side of the hall, all the people from the City of Faraway Prayers, excluding Nate Monty, lowered their heads and sighed long and hard.
Their faces were filled with woe.