Chapter 321: The Price of Saying “No”
Translator:?EndlessFantasy Translation??Editor:?EndlessFantasy Translation
The hall sank into silence again.
Thales closed his eyes as if he was being tormented by the thought of his impending fate.
However, no one knew that the Second Prince of Constellation had finally realized one thing the moment Count Lyner uttered those brutal words.
‘There was a connection,’ he silently said in his heart.
‘The struggle of Black Sand Region, the interference of Constellation, the rebellion of the Alliance of Freedom, the battle of the City of Faraway Prayers, the storm in Dragon Clouds City…
‘Most of the things are connected together.
‘They all point to one crucial point.
Thales clenched his fist.
‘Is it really as I’ve guessed?
‘But if this is the case…’
At this time, a clear female voice could be heard.
This made the tense Thales open his eyes and return to his senses.
He looked up blankly and saw the archduchess’ seat at the highest spot in the hall. Many of the vassals did the same thing as he did at the same time.
The clear and resolute voice echoed in the hall.
Right then, she had a conflicted look on her face. Her gaze was constantly moving between the vassals.
Count Lyner, who threatened to release Thales by “installments”, was slightly stunned. “My Lady?”
Saroma cast Thales a few deep glances.
But after taking a few breaths, she seemed to have made up her mind. She turned her head before she took another deep breath.
“Everyone, six years ago, I made a promise in the name of the archduchess before the king and four archdukes.”
The archduchess took a few deep breaths, seemingly to calm herself down.
She anxiously said, “I have promised that…
“…Prince Thales is a guest of Dragon Clouds City… I am responsible for his safety.”
The girl’s face was tense, as though she was struggling to get the words out of her throat. “In Dragon Clouds City, before my eyes, he will not and should not be hurt.”
Once she said this, the vassals responded differently, especially the six counts, whose expressions were the most complicated of all among the vassals in the hall.
The archduchess finally managed to adjust her breathing.
The uneasy Thales was stunned as he looked Saroma, who had forced herself to be calm.
“Responsible for his safety?”
Count Lyner seemed discontented with that remark. His eyebrows were raised so much that they were practically standing. “Excuse me, My Lady, but how about our safety?
“What about the safety of the warriors who risked their lives in battles for your honor?”
The vassals appeared to reach a resonance with Count Lyner’s words. They responded in a low-key manner with nods, snorts and other actions.
Count Nazaire looked at the archduchess with varying gazes and seemed to be hesitating about something.
Count Lyner aggressively said, “What are the positions of these people in your heart?”
“Do not tell me that in your heart, this Prince of Constellation is more—”
Lisban sensed that the situation was going downhill. He abruptly cut in, “Lyner!”
Lyner let out an enraged huff, turned his head around, and glared at Thales with hostility again.
The atmosphere in the hall suddenly became very awkward, and no one wanted to speak.
Ian looked at the situation in the hall and exhaled deeply.
Displeased, he knocked his chair to vent his dissatisfaction towards the accident. “F*ck!”
Perhaps it was only during such moments that he resembled a typical Northlander the most.
Yet, Thales only lowered his head and quietly allowed the quarrels in the hall to enter his ears, not paying any attention to them.
After a few seconds, the embarrassed archduchess looked like she had adjusted her emotions.
“I will negotiate with Constellation,” she said softly.
“But before that, my guests will not be hurt in any way.” The archduchess raised her head and gritted her teeth. “This is our bottom line.”
‘If you insist in this way…’
“Negotiate?” the person who spoke this time was Monty from the City of Faraway Prayers.
“You need one whole month just to go back and forth from Dragon Clouds City to Eternal Star City.” Monty folded his arms and stood in the middle of the hall as he ignored the strange looks from the nobles on both sides.
He then said coldly, “The military situation is urgent. You can wait, but my boys and comrades cannot wait.
“Furthermore, we cannot turn this war—where we will win with certainty—into a permanent burden and let our true enemy benefit from us.”
He did not say who the “true enemy” was.
Saroma was instantly rendered speechless.
The vassals began to talk again.
Ian frowned and wanted to say something, but under Monty’s fierce gaze, he did not open his mouth.
The pressure returned to Thales.
The harsh Count Cotterson snorted and sneered coldly. “It makes sense.”
He shrugged and turned to Lyner. “So, the easiest way is to show them our attitude in a very clear manner with a letter—are you sure that only one hand will be useful?”
Count Lyner smiled at him in response.
Thales shook his head helplessly. ‘We’re back to this topic again, huh?’
“Someone needs to let them know that Northlanders keep their word—”
Once again, he was interrupted by the archduchess.
Saroma clenched her teeth. Translucent drops of sweat could be seen on her forehead. She seemed to be experiencing a very intense struggle with herself. “It’s not that simple.”
Doubtful gazes appeared on the vassals’ faces again.
The girl looked at Thales. The anxiety and nervousness in her eyes did not reduce even in the slightest bit.
“I remember that King Kessel made a promise a long time ago.” The archduchess gasped loudly, and her forehead was glistening from her sweat. It looked like she was trying to convince the men in the hall. “Anyone who jeopardizes the safety of Prince Thales will become the eternal enemy of Constellation. The head of Prince Thales’ murderer will be the condition for the next King of Constellation before he is crowned.
“We must be cautious.”
This sentence seemed to have quite the effect on the men.
At least, the vassals who had previously been glaring at Thales with hostility and speaking rudely about Thales stopped their discussions. This was because they were momentarily stunned. They then started to ponder about many problems.
Only Thales continued to look at the archduchess with a complicated gaze. A myriad of negative emotions swam in his heart.
‘She’s protecting me.
‘Even if this would ruin some of the reputation she built up today, she’s protecting me.’
Finally, Count Lisban broke the unbearable atmosphere.
“Our Lady’s considerations make sense.” The former prime minister and current regent, who had worked hard for Dragon Clouds City for decades, coughed.
Lisban raised his head and swept his gaze past every vassal, “If that king is really cold and ruthless, if he does not care about the future of his kingdom, if he does not care about his son’s life, then no matter how many times we ‘release’ the prince, the result will be the same.
“In the end, we will be the ones pushing ourselves into a dead end. Is Dragon Clouds City really ready to take the Prince’s head and become a target of public criticism?”
The hall sank back into silence.
The archduchess cast a grateful glance at Lisban. “Yes, Ciel. That is what I meant.”
Lisban nodded gently, which caused the rest of the counts to frown and cast dissatisfied eyes on the regent.
However, the girl let out a sigh of relief.
But then, she was taken aback, because Thales was staring at her from the distance.
The Prince of Constellation sighed and looked hesitant. He shook his head slightly in her direction.
‘Don’t,’ Thales thought quietly in his heart.
In her seat, Saroma was stunned as she watched the prince’s movements.
She recalled what Thales said.
“‘Promise me, Saroma.
“‘During the next day of the council hearing, regardless of what happens, don’t do anything stupid.'”
She gritted her teeth as she looked at Thales, who was shaking his head in a resigned fashion.
“Hey, My Lady.”
This time, Monty was the one who spoke.
The harbinger of the diplomat group from the City of Faraway Prayers deliberately raised his eyebrows. “Despite all that, are you not precisely trying to reproduce your ancestor’s glory and spirit to proof that you are a qualified ruler? Is that not why you summoned the vassals to Dragon Clouds City?”
The Raven of Death clicked his tongue and said, “And now, in the face of a threat from the citizens of the Empire, you are retreating? Are you afraid?
“Was all your talk about protecting your family honor earlier just empty words?”
Dissatisfied noises immediately rose in the hall, and the expressions of the vassals became much more unpleasant.
Saroma’s expression turned unpleasant again in the face of her guest, who was intentionally making things hard for her.
“Show a little respect, Raven of Death,” the golden-bearded Count Hearst rebuked him quickly. “You have also served in the White Blade Guards and are indebted to King Nuven. There is no reason to make things difficult for his granddaughter.”
“Speaking of which, you know, I left the White Blade Guards and Dragon Clouds City more than a decade ago.” Monty shook his head in a sarcastic manner at the archduchess. He did not even bother trying to hide his contemptuous tone, “Compared to those years, all of you have really become older and much more foolishly sentimental. I am beginning to suspect—”
Nicholas, who was next to the archduchess, changed his expression. In a low and indisputable tone, he said, “Shut up, Monty!”
When he heard his former superior’s words, Monty was instantly rendered speechless.
He snorted a little, but did not say a word.
Thales could not help but reevaluate the fierce looking Raven of Death.
Once again, he felt that something was wrong about the visitor of the City of Faraway Prayers.
‘But… what exactly about him is off?’
At this time, Count Karkogel, who had not spoken for a long time, suddenly raised his head.
“Then we will bring him!”
The one-armed count sternly said, “Bring him to the West!”
All the people in the hall were shocked, including the archduchess, Thales, and Ian.
Their shock lasted for a few seconds.
Count Lisban frowned and said, “Bring him? You mean…”
The one-armed count nodded and coldly said, “With the prince along with us, we will deploy our forces and solve the problem regarding the Alliance of Freedom!
“We will bring him to the siege, bring him to the war, bring him along to kill the enemy!
“We will leave the problem to those Constellatiates who are carrying the Double Cross-Shaped Stars Flag and standing opposite Fort Liberté.”
The archduchess’ expression changed. “What?”
All gazes from the vassals were trained on Thales.
Thales was also startled.
“We will let the enemy know that we have their prince on the battlefield,” Karkogel said coldly. “If they do not want to see any tragedies or accidents, it would be best for them to do what they are supposed to do, until we get rid of those cowards in Fort Liberté.”
After he said those words, the hall seemed to be covered with a layer of ice and snow.
Monty laughed. “I like this idea! Things that cannot be solved at the negotiating table must of course, be solved on the battlefield!”
Saroma showed a disbelieving look before she subconsciously peered at Thales. Shortly after, she trained her gaze on Karkogel.
Lisban and Nazaire looked at each other. They had their own thoughts regarding the matter.
“Maybe this is a good idea,” a few seconds later, the old Count Nazaire said plainly. “Indeed, My Lady, the promise you made at the start is very important.
“It is also best that we do not harm Prince Thales with our own hands.
“Compared to getting involved in an awkward negotiation where we will end up affecting all parties in this mess, and the results would be unknown, bringing the prince as a bargaining chip to the frontlines and making our enemies afraid of taking action is a much more effective course of action.”
Count Lisban, who was listening at the side, sighed.
“It makes sense. If anything happens to Prince Thales, it will be because of the fight with his own Constellatiates,” on the other hand, Count Lyner still wore an indifferent expression, but his words were sharp. He looked at Saroma’s anxious expression and chuckled.?“It will not be our responsibility anymore.”
Thales furrowed his eyebrows even more.
When all the vassals agreed to send their armies, he thought they had won.
However, accidents always happened out of nowhere.
The archduchess widened her eyes and shook her head subconsciously. “How are you going to treat him?”
When they heard the archduchess’ words, several counts frowned.
“If our enemies remain still, then we will treat him as we normally would. He can treat it like we are just taking him out on a walk,” Karkogel’s low voice seemed to have some kind of power, which made people shudder.
The hall was quiet for a moment.
Saroma cleared her throat, and the archduchess spoke again, “And if the enemies do not hold back?”
Count Lyner sneered coldly and Count Cotterson shrugged.
“Then we do what we have to do,” Karkogel said in a cold voice. “As long as we conquer Fort Liberté, everything will be over.”
‘Have to do what?’
Thales remained quietly with his head lowered while his thoughts surged in his mind.
‘What should I do now?
‘If I want to solve my current dilemma… I will need to pay a corresponding price.
‘The problem is…
‘Must I take that step?
‘That’s my last card, my trump card.’
Count Hearst watched the archduchess’ expression. His golden beard flickered, and he frowned. “I think it will work.”
“Ciel,” she struggled as she asked the last count, “do you agree to this as well?”
“My Lady.” Regent Lisban looked at the girl with a straight face. “This is the best solution as of now.
“Countless people are going to war for you, and you must consider things in terms of the war and their lives.”
“No problem,” Ian said at that very moment. His eyes lit up and he coughed lightly before he smiled again. “The City of Faraway Prayers will welcome His Highness.”
Thales’ heart felt like it was being seized by something.
He looked up and waited for Saroma’s response.
Saroma also looked back at him with uncertainty, and their gazes met in the air.
Thales sighed and shook his head gently.
‘Don’t. Don’t do it for this…’
A few seconds later, the archduchess’ expression became firm.
She looked at Thales and shook her head.
Thales was astounded. He knew what her reply was going to be.
The archduchess pulled her head up!
“Thales must stay in Dragon Clouds City! He must stay in Heroic Spirit Palace!”
Saroma’s expression was firm and stern. “And I promise to personally write to King Kessel, to remind him that his heir is staying with us. I will use every means in my disposal to ensure that Constellation will not pose a threat to our war.”
Thales sighed deeply after he heard this.
All the expressions on the vassals’ faces changed.
They looked at their female overlord with an unfamiliar and dissatisfied gaze.
The atmosphere in the hall appeared to return to the time when Ian proposed.
Thales looked at the archduchess worriedly. There were no longer any words that could describe the emotions in his heart.
‘If you do this… then all our previous efforts… will all be in vain.’
Thales opened his eyes gently.
He made a few gestures at Ralf who was behind him.
The Phantom Wind Follower was slightly stunned, and he looked nervously at the hostile gazes in the hall. It looked like he wanted to remind Thales about something, but he eventually bowed slightly and left with his back close to the wall.
Thales shifted all his weight on his knees and looked indifferently at the floor tiles as well as his boots.
‘In the end, we still have to take this step, huh?’
His fists were quivering.
“Well, My Lady. As rumored, your relationship with the Prince of Constellation is really good.” Monty sneered coldly.
It was like adding fuel to fire. His words made the atmosphere in the hall more solemn and serious.
Lisban saw that the atmosphere in the hall was getting worse. He coughed and interrupted the Raven of Death, “My Lady, I do not like to say this, but—”
However, someone interrupted the regent more quickly.
“I will say this on behalf of the gods. You have said a lot of ‘no’s in regards to this matter.”
Opposite Lisban, Count Nazaire frowned and slowly said, “My Lady, as a ruler, you?certainly have the right to say ‘no’ and force us to carry out your will.”
The old count enunciated each word clearly, as though he cherished every single syllable he uttered.
“But remember, every time you say it, you have to pay the price.
“It is just that some prices are visible to the eye, while some are invisible.” Under the archduchess’ shocked gaze, Count Nazaire said, “Unless you have the ability to fool your people over and over again, you will have to pay an exorbitant price, and one day, that price will gather into a huge debt that your noble self will not be able to afford to repay.”
Saroma folded her hands together, though they were still concealed by her sleeves. Her expression turned unpleasant. “Count Nazaire—”
Nazaire did not give the girl the opportunity to speak. He simply continued on with his words.
Among the six counts, Nazaire’s words were not as comforting as Lisban’s, not as gentle and courteous as Count Hearst’s, not as sharp as Count Lyner’s, not as harsh and unpleasant as Cotterson’s, and not as shocking and powerful as Karkogel’s, but they seemed to contain a special force that allowed no one to disagree with him.
The expression of everyone there inevitably changed.
“My Lady, what we are talking about right now are the soldiers of Dragon Clouds City,” Nazaire whispered. “The decisions we make here are about their lives. Do you truly understand the price for saying ‘no’?”
“Those are the sons of countless mothers, the husbands of countless wives, the fathers of countless daughters,” the old count spoke these words very slowly, but the vassals consciously listened to every word. “These Northlanders are leaving their homes to go to another place in order to answer to your call.”
Saroma’s breathing had become chaotic as she stared at Nazaire in a daze. She felt as if there was a heavy stone weighing down on the air.
Nazaire gently raised his head and steadily said, “Whatever your reason is, you should not have betrayed your people for an outsider, an enemy hostage.
“The cost of doing so…”
He looked into the archduchess’ eyes. “Perhaps, this might make your people, those who are willing to fight for you, to be bitterly disappointed, thus ignoring you, their ruler.”
As a result, the vassals’ gazes instantly changed as they stared at Saroma.
Saroma stared at the count with cold sweat dripping down her face as her lips quivered.
The old Count Nazaire sighed slowly. “Then, one day, the debt accumulated by this price will exceed the blessings that you and your family have given us. It will exceed our loyalty to you and your family.
“When that time comes, no one will be willing to fight for you anymore.”
The hall was quiet and no one spoke again.
In the corner, Thales slowly shook his head with a blank expression.
‘So, this is the end.’