Chapter 315: The Archduchess and Her Vassals
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
The moment Nazaire uttered the last word, the whole Hall of Heroes slipped into a strange atmosphere.
The hall was quiet and deathly still, neither was there noise brought by an upsurge of group sentiments; the nobles seated on the side of the hall started to lean forward and whispering to one another in pairs or small groups.
In the middle of the indistinct buzzing noises, the nobles looked up from time to time, sneaking glances in an odd and estranged manner at the archduchess on her seat.
It was just like the gnawing and eroding sounds made by thousands upon thousands of ants that hid everywhere in the lofty and solid, wooden beams. As annoying as the sounds might be, if one broke the wood to search for the source of the annoying sounds, they would find no traces of the source.
Saroma’s expression froze while she sat on the archduchess’ seat.
Even though the girl had anticipated this a long time ago, when this matter was finally brought up, the archduchess could not help but tense up from head to toe.
It was similar to how a veil covering a person’s face was finally removed, mercilessly and without the person’s permission.
Thales listened to the whispers surrounding him while looking at the expression of the girl. His heart was filled with emotions that were difficult to be put into words.
Below the archduchess’ seat was Lisban, who kept a somber face while his eyelids were slightly lowered. In his eyes was a freezing gaze that looked like the ice shards that were about to fall from a roof.
It took a while before the expressionless girl spoke in a clear but cold voice, “Count Nazaire, is this your suggestion? A husband? For the sake of Dragon Clouds City?”
The moment she spoke, the whispers in Hall of Heroes disappeared. It was as if the gnawing ants had stopped and hid themselves.
Nazaire looked quietly at the girl who was watching him with a stone-cold countenance. No emotion could be detected from his eyes.
“This is how things should be,” the old Count said lightly. “The Walton bloodline must continue, just like how the marriage between Chara the Hero and Princess Renee ensured the continuation of?governance over Dragon Clouds City.
“The Walton Family also needs a legitimate offspring of true Walton blood and is a male heir to console the vassals who are worried and to intimidate our rivals. This is to tell the world that ‘Dragon Clouds City is blessed and protected, and is as strong as it was in the past.’
“It is only after that will it be possible for the Walton Family to reclaim their pride, and for Dragon Clouds City to reclaim its prestige and influence. No matter what method we will have to use to do so.”
Nazaire spoke casually, but whenever he uttered a sentence, the whispers in the hall reduced and the girl’s face paled even more.
“As such, I propose that you select someone who is young and talented, who can bear the weight of such heavy responsibilities and is well-groomed, from the capable vassals or their equally noble and loyal family members, as your husband,” Nazaire said with a straight face. “He will be the father of your future child and descendent of the nobles of the Dragon Spear Family.”
The archduchess did not respond immediately. However, Thales sensed that the girl had instinctively shifted her gaze towards his direction, yet her gaze stopped halfway abruptly, and she focused on the tiled floor in the center of the hall.
The tiles belonged to Heroic Spirit Palace; the tiles still stood strong and have lasted through a millennium.
“Are you saying that, as a woman,” Saroma said softly, “I, as a matter of fact, do not have the right to be in line to inherit everything from the former Archduke of Dragon Clouds City?”
The anxiety and uneasiness in her voice gradually wore off.?A trace of bitterness and sadness that were reflective of the speaker began to fill her voice instead as she said,?“So this is why you asked me to get married as soon as possible, so that I will give birth to a true, legitimate heir to Dragon Clouds City?”
The hall came to a complete silence. The vassals who had been loyal to the Walton Family for generations stopped exchanging words in whispers. One by one, they lifted their heads and observed the course of events in the hall.
The five counts sported different expressions, though all of them looked at their female feudal lord in silence.
Lisban’s eyes were fixed on Count Nazaire, though the latter was not aware of it at all.
Upon seeing this, Thales let out a sigh while Ian who sat next to him shrugged.
“Just the opposite.”
In came Nazaire’s voice which, in comparison to the archduchess’ airy and cool voice, was strong and firm as he said, “The fact that you are of the Walton bloodline, and have the right to lead Dragon Clouds City, makes it even more necessary for us to do this. As the immediate next-in-line to the archduke’s seat in the direct bloodline, ensuring the legacy of the Walton Family’s continuity is your obligatory responsibility.”
Saroma looked down, her eyes pinned on the long dress over her knees.
At that moment, Thales, who was observing this scene quietly, suddenly realised that he had been unfortunate and fortunate during the six years he was away from all the unpredictable politics.
Finally, a low, deep but angry shout was heard in the hall, “As far as I’m concerned, we are discussing the matter of responding to the Lady’s call. It is about the agreement on deploying soldiers to the Alliance of Freedom.” Lisban’s voice was like a blizzard from the Day before the Bitter Cold Winter, scraping away the last smile on the nobles’ faces in the hall at once. “It is not about changing the agenda by force while butting into the Lady’s personal affairs with no show of respect. What you just did is exactly the same as overthrowing your ruler,” Lisban finished frostily.
Across from Lisban was Nazaire, who turned around to face the regent as if Lisban was his greatest enemy of the day, as if his earlier lecture to the archduchess was merely an unintentional reminder.
The old count was glaring at the regent, his eyes fixed on him for a long time.
“We are discussing the same matter, Lisban—the future of Dragon Clouds City.” Within a second, as if to provoke Lisban on purpose, Nazaire said something, in the calmest and gentlest manner, that would change Lisban’s expression immediately. “This is tied to the fate of the entire Dragon Clouds City. Do you think we would be so muddleheaded that we let the fate of the city fall into the hands of some powerful official with ulterior motives?”
Other than the two of them, the other four counts also had some minute reactions. Among them, Lyner and Cotterson did not even bother hiding the cold snort they let out.
The only person who did not utter a word was the archduchess. She was still staring at the long dress on her lap, as if the prints on her dress were very fascinating.
Lisban turned around to look at Nazaire. This time, he did not conceal his dissatisfaction.
The regent let out a scoff. “So, this is why you are forcing the archduchess to marry the man of your choice? You think that seizing Dragon Clouds City is not considered a muddle-headed act, I suppose?”
The argument between the two men of power echoed in the hall, but no one dared to interrupt them. Thales listened to their conversation quietly.
Lisban and Nazaire were both equally experienced players in politics. As far as their merits and achievements were concerned, they were nothing less than those of the Nine Knights of Raikaru in the Northlander families. Since the King of Dragon Knights’ era, they had been the right-hand men of the Walton Family, supporting the Cloud Dragon Spear flag so that it would continue to fly in Dragon Clouds City and never fall.
A second later, Nazaire and Lisban moved their eyes away and stopped looking into each others’ complicated gazes.
“There has never been anyone who could force an archduke to do anything, not even the King.” Nazaire lowered his tone and changed the topic. “However, it is because the archdukes know what their responsibilities are very well that they deserve to be in their position and are served by loyal vassals.”
Nazaire did not look at Lisban again. Instead, he stared at Saroma with a strange gaze. The latter’s face was pale, but there was also a red flush on her cheeks. Her gaze, too, was still and did not move.
“My Lady, please be reminded that you do not only represent yourself; you do you not represent as just Lady Saroma, and neither do you only represent a young lady from the Walton Family.” Count Nazaire let out a light snort. “You represent, first and foremost, Dragon Clouds City.” His pronunciation was very clear; the stressing of his words was obvious, making what he said all the more unquestionable.
Saroma could not help but unclench her teeth.
“That is why you cannot think only of yourself, My Lady,” Nazaire said sternly, “It is more important for you to think of Dragon Clouds City.”
Lisban’s face turned ghastly pale.
In the hall, the remaining dozens of vassals’ began whispering again. Their whispers this time were louder, more rampant, and more unbridled.
Nicholas frowned. There were several times where he wanted to lift his hand, but when it extended to the blade on his back, he would force himself to bring his hand down.
Thales bit his lower lip and his eyelashes fluttered slightly.
In the corner of his eye, the Little Rascal of the past lowered her head and trembled a little.
Ian threw a weird glance at him and said softly, “Hey, don’t get distracted. When is our turn?”
Thales only pursed his lips tightly, and he said not a single word. Soon, Ian no longer paid attention to Thales. This was because immediately, out of everyone’s expectation, the girl suddenly lifted her head!
“What if I say ‘No’?” The archduchess, whose voice was usually clear but weak, suddenly spoke with a rarely heard curtness in her tone.
One by one, each and every face in the hall was stunned.
On the archduke’s seat, the girl showed an elegant but indifferent expression, and said in her sonorous voice, “What if I say… that I am unwilling to do so?”
Like the surface of a lake that had been thrown a stone, annoying whispers rose like ripples in the hall again.
The sound of commotion rose and fell in the hall. When the noise was too much to bear, Nicholas had no other choice but to speak in a serious manner to maintain order.
As he listened to the rumors, Thales began to furrow his brow.
There were a few people who turned subconsciously to take a look at Count Lisban, the latter only remained silent.
Saroma glanced at Hearst with complex emotions, then, with great difficulty, took a look at Count Lyner, who had been a constantly aggressive since he stepped into the hall. She then cleared her throat. “If I reject this in the name of the archduchess… Gentlemen, if I order that my marriage will not be decided here and shall not be decided upon, if this is the case”—the archduchess’ voice echoed in the hall—”What would you do?”
After the archduchess uttered her words, the hall seemed to be unaffected for a while. However, Thales could somehow sense that the temperature around the six seats that flanked the archduchess seemed to have lowered.
Count Lyner snorted softly. “My Lady, I remember that there was a time when King Nuven, the late king, meant exactly what he said when he said ‘no’.”
The counts’ expressions turned cold.
“But… Your Grace, you indeed are in the position the late king once held.” Count Lyner’s voice did not carry any emotion, but each and every word said by him went straight to the point, “But please do not think that you are him.”
Saroma’s face turned pale and she gritted her teeth. “Count Lyner…”
Once he noticed that the atmosphere was not right, the amicable Count Hearst spoke up. He lifted his hands while facing both parties, as if to mediate between the two, and he eagerly said, “My Lady, Count Lyner, I think we should calm—”
This time, Count Hearst was ruthlessly interrupted by Count Lyner. “We know what you are up to, Count Hearst! So please do not ‘teach me’ what to do! Only the late King Nuven has the right to do so.”
Thales could see things clearly now. Even though Lyner’s words were directed at Count Hearst, his gaze was fixed on the archduchess. This caused the pressure on Saroma to increase. Hearst’s golden beard quivered.
The Count of Flatiron County, who had just hit a snag, turned his expression into a cold one and did not say another word.
Things went a little outside of Thales’ expectations.
A few seconds later, Saroma still held her head high and looked at her vassals without showing any weakness. She glanced towards a certain direction in the hall and let out a breath as she seemed to have made up her mind.
“Gentlemen, I understand your concerns. I also know that Dragon Clouds City is nothing like how it was in the past. I know that we are facing hardships. The late king’s departure left us wounded, be it physically or mentally.”
Saroma took a deep breath and spoke seriously with the tone she used in Hicks’ class. “This is the reason why I have called for this hearing and have invited you all,” the archduchess said coldly, allowing no dispute. “Gentlemen, I need this war.”
As the words were uttered, the six counts, including Lisban, frowned.
In an unnoticeable corner, Thales smiled faintly.
Whoever that was sitting there was not the helpless Little Rascal. Rather, she was the young lioness who kicked his leg while holding the hem of her dress.
‘”Saroma, do you remember? Choose the person you want to become.”‘
“Not Lisban, not the City of Faraway Prayers, not anyone else but me! It is I, your archduchess, who needs this war!”
The girl said through gritted teeth, and her eyes scanned the hall with anger.
“I need this war to secure my position, to strengthen my governance, and to warn my enemies. And I need your support, vassals of Dragon Clouds City.”
Every count turned around. Their eyes were fixed on the same person—Regent Lisban. It was as if he began it all.
The archduchess, however, had once more acted beyond their expectations.
“Please do not look at Ciel, gentlemen.” Saroma’s voice trembled a little, like twigs that bore the weight of snow and swayed in the cold wind. “He never taught me this.”
Regent Lisban was taken aback.
While she spoke with determination, anger sparked in Saroma’s eyes, which was something that had long since never appeared. She gazed at the entire hall, especially the six counts. Thales was also surprised.
Count Nazaire’s gaze froze slowly, and finally fixated on the archduchess’ hand which held on to the armchair.
A few seconds later, he said softly, “Very good. You surprised me somewhat, My Lady.”
Saroma took a deep breath. She thought that Nazaire’s strange gaze seemed to have the power to read one’s mind. But the strangeness in Nazaire’s eyes only lasted for a moment before his initial seriousness and composure took over, as if the surprise brought on by the archduchess was merely a random accident.
Silence was restored in the hall.
Only Thales and Ian carried with them completely different feelings while they observed the development of the event. The archduchess’ face was as still as water. The vassals’ gazes were like swords.
Very soon, Count Nazaire heaved a sigh before rejoining the conversation, “Of course, as a count, I have no power to object or even stop your decision.”
Nazaire, like a slightly disappointed old man, shook his head and said softly, “But when we are faced with the crisis of the Alliance of Freedom, please pardon my objection to what you just expressed, and I would even advise you with my actions. This is not a good way to establish your might. It is wiser to stay out of this chaotic duel between the City of Faraway Prayers and Black Sand Region.”
Saroma held her breath subconsciously and her arms tensed up. Nazaire stared at her calmly without a word. Thales breathed out through his nose unknowingly.
‘Well done, Saroma. We’re almost there. In this game, if we form the most important connection linking the war and marriage together, we win.’
Lisban, who was seated across him, scoffed. “Are you saying that you, Nazaire, in the face of the Alliance of Freedom’s crisis, are about to reject My Lady’s request, and you would rather… you would rather refuse to collect taxes for the Lady, just like the vassals of Black Sand Region who went against King Chapman?”
Nazaire was not bothered by him in the slightest.
Count Cotterson, who had always been straightforward, narrowed his eyes while watching the archduchess before he said with a furrowed brow, “I certainly do not wish for that outcome, My Lady. We, however, may not have a choice under these circumstances.”
Saroma’s expression changed.
The archduchess started speaking a little faster, “The deployment of soldiers to the Alliance of Freedom is to protect the dignity of the Walton Family, to whom your ancestors vowed to serve loyally.”
The archduchess clenched her teeth and said coldly, “If we stay out of the Alliance of Freedom’s war and refuse to extend our help to the City of Faraway Prayers, then we, regardless of myself, the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City or you, the vassals of Dragon Clouds City… We will become the laughingstocks. Whether it is me, a weak girl who cannot even defend her forefathers’ legacy, or the cowardly Northlanders who do not even dare to face the opponents they once defeated!”
The other four counts, be it the merciless Cotterson, the straightforward Lyner, the quiet Karkogel, or the gentle and polite Hearst, looked away, avoiding Saroma’s gaze.
Only Count Nazaire looked at the archduchess with his bright eyes, and he could not help but sigh. “Although the Walton Family and our reputation may be jeopardised if we refuse to deploy soldiers, this guarantees that we will not drown in the vortex.
“It must be made known that in the six years of internal conflicts and disasters, Dragon Clouds City is already on the verge of collapse…”
At the side, Lisban snorted, incredibly disdainful.
The archduchess ground her teeth in anger and said, “But you knew that,?Count Nazaire, and all of you. You know that we must deploy soldiers! Even if it is not for the Dragon Spear Family or to help the City of Faraway Prayers, the simple act of suppressing the king’s ambition will allow us to not be kept floating helplessly in the vortex known as the internal conflict of the country! This is for Dragon Clouds City!”
The next moment, old Nazaire suddenly spoke in a louder voice and interrupted Saroma!
“If that is the case, for the sake of the Dragon Clouds City, why could you not understand?”
Saroma was confounded. Downstage, Thales clenched his fists repeatedly.
Nazaire suddenly changed the way he looked at the archduchess. There was a sharp glare in his eyes. “Resolve cannot be formed solely on the power of spoken words. If you can be open-minded and clear-headed while choosing your husband, the future of the Dragon Spear Family will be secured again, then all hardships will be resolved. We will then enlist soldiers. Deployment of soldiers east to the Alliance of Freedom in the name of Dragon Clouds City will come after your wedding.”
The count continued coldly, “Restoring the reputation of the family, upholding the dignity of Dragon Clouds City, winning over the support of an ally from the City of Faraway Prayers, even dampening the king’s insolence and arrogance, and?showing off our existence and power… Are all these not better solutions?”
The archduchess bit her lower lip. Before her twenty or so vassals, she seemed a little shaken.
At that exact moment, Saroma’s regent, Count Lisban spoke out in a timely fashion.
“To deal with the king? Really?” Regent Lisban snorted. “At this critical moment where the City of Faraway Prayers and the king are in conflict, you are here stirring trouble on the topic of the suzerain’s marriage. So, are the benefits given by Black Sand Region and the bone thrown by King Chapman that alluring?”
At that moment, Nazaire turned around suddenly to glare at Lisban, as if he was a ferocious beast whose tail was stepped on.
“Watch your tongue, old friend. Lampard did indeed come to me before.” Count Nazaire’s words were cold, as if there was an unresolvable enmity between him and Lisban. “But Dragon Clouds City’s Nazaire Family are not people who a kinslayer like him can command, no matter how good he is with his words or how diabolical he is.
“However, please believe me, My Lady, this is the best future for Dragon Clouds City.” Nazaire continued speaking. “The power you should have in possession will not be affected in the slightest. As long as you choose a noble in Dragon Clouds City as your husband, you are free to choose whoever it is you want as your husband with whatever method you desire. This is Dragon Clouds City’s—”
Lisban cut him off in anger, unable to tolerate his words any longer.
“Enough, Nazaire!” The regent spoke coldly, “You keep going on with all your empty words about this being for the sake of Dragon Clouds City, but to have the archduchess marry one of you? This is how you want to solve this problem?”
Lisban shook his head. His gaze was like sharp gaze. “Do you truly know what this will bring to Dragon Clouds City?”
The focus of the argument seemed to have returned to the two counts.
Nazaire’s voice was low, but his gaze did not leave Lisban. “My Lady, I know what Ciel-Count Lisban has been telling you. It is definitely some nonsense about the archduchess needing to keep the balance of power between the nobles in check, to maintain the balance of power in Dragon Clouds City, that having a suzerain recklessly marrying one of her vassals is not beneficial for Dragon Clouds City’s internal rule, and something about you not handing over your status and power to the internal power of Dragon Clouds City and other such reasonings for you to not marry below your status.
“Indeed, it is not without reason that he said those things. I have worked with Ciel for many years. I know more than anyone else that he is no fool. There are indeed these sort of problems lurking around.”
Nazaire watched Lisban with a complicated expression, but when he turned towards the archduchess, his gaze became even more peculiar.
He said softly, “I originally did not intend to say my next words, My Lady, but I suddenly realized that I should not treat you like an ignorant child. After all, you are an archduchess.”
A thought came to Saroma. Lisban furrowed his brow even deeper.
“That is why you think that your marriage is just what a certain person said, that it is under our control and it is just for us to tie the Walton Family to one of the families in Dragon Clouds City?
“No.” With slight fatigue, Count Nazaire whispered softly,
“It is for a greater, more important purpose.”