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Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
In the tower, Cyril snorted coldly.
“I dare say, if the Virtuous King saw how all of Constellation was suspicious of each other today, ready to jump at each other’s throats, he might feel somewhat regretful about the decision he made back then.”
This time, Thales only listened quietly and did not say anything. He recalled what he said to convince the five archdukes in Heroic Spirit Palace as he tried his best to turn the tide.
“‘Constellation’s current weakness and unrest is not incidental. Rather, it is something inevitable since it began walking this path.
“‘This was what the Virtuous King left for Constellation.”‘
Back then, this was what he said on-the-spot after he racked his brains for a solution, made a solemn vow, and tried his best to show ‘evidence’ to the archdukes in order to persuade them from what they wanted to do.
To be honest, he did not quite believe his own words. But now… Thales subconsciously clenched his fists.
Cyril seemed to not have had enough even as he watched Thales quietly. After he clicked his tongue and shook his head, he raised his volume, made his pitch higher, and said, “But did you know that as you ‘overcome obstructions’ and ‘reach the summit’ successfully in the terrifying future, perhaps we, who are reaching our end, may just be…” The duke’s tone was light, like a devil’s crazed whispers beside his ear. “…the most insignificant lot.”
Thales immediately looked up. “What do you mean?”
The Duke of Western Desert no longer looked at him again with his terrifying face. He only moved his head and sighed.
“Do you think that, after the suzerains of the feudal territories and the old noblemen who rule the local regions are wiped out, the civilians who finally have a say in the National Conference, and the new noblemen whom you rely on as weapons, will feel satisfied and pleased, and step away after having made their mark?”
Murderous intent began to fill Cyril’s gaze slowly. “When you ascend the throne and subjugate the dukes, and take back authority without allowing room for any negotiations, where do you think the large number of regular soldiers, on whom the royal family spent a fortune on to control the dukes, should go? Where does a mad dog who bites anyone it likes like Arracca Murkh go? What could a woman who undermines the morals of society like Sonia Sasere do for you? What help could a shameless bastard and trouble-maker like Williams offer in all levels of society?”
Thales took a deep breath.
The Three Commanders of Constellation. He recalled the insolent Kingdom’s Wrath, the reliable Fortress Flower, and… the annoying Legendary Wing.
Also, their subordinates from Broken Dragon Fortress to Blade Fangs Camp… The countless regular soldiers of the royal family were mobilized frequently, and they gradually became the norm in the kingdom.
“As for Caso the ‘Cunning Fox’, Kirkick Mann the ‘Wallet’, Ryder the ‘Big Soldier’, the old Godwin, and the sharp-faced Kenney in the Imperial Conference, who all claim to be loyal to you, see themselves as the king’s party, and who consider knocking down influential noblemen as their responsibility, what would they leave behind for you and ask from you when they succeed?”
The duke’s choice of words indicated greater danger the more he spoke. “Did you honestly think that when the Jadestar throne is held supreme above all, and the kingdom is no longer under threat, when countless humble men abide by the king’s will, when you wipe off the natural fear towards higher-ups, cause waves of rebellion to take the old vassals down, and give way to a new generation of noblemen who serve the supreme royal power…”
Cyril’s voice was so sharp that it almost penetrated the room door, and it sounded to Thales like a hissing, venomous snake.
“You can rest well at night?”
Thales was silent for a long while. However, the duke did not plan to let him off just like that.
“What is more terrifying is…” When Cyril spoke, his tone was laced with a strangeness that made him sound like an alarmist. “…when the merchants who rose to the rank of noblemen because you betrayed the government officials and realized that their gold coins could no longer buy them more glory, when the mercenary knights who earned their titles by widening borders and developing uncultivated lands realized that their swords could not bring them the glory of the Six Great Guardian Dukes who were the founding members of the nation…”
At some point of time, Cyril started pacing again. Thales only noticed this when the man’s voice traveled from his left while he was in his daze.
“When the bureaucrats who studied laboriously to be literate and cultured could only earn a meager salary by working on official documents, when the creditors in the royal bank find that the king has no plans or ways to search through the citizens’ houses and confiscate their belongings domestically or expand outward to transfer warrants, raise liability, and increase profits, when countless new noblemen yearn for more power and profit but cannot find big targets like us anymore, then the enemy they can plunder from and people they can make demands from…”
The duke still spoke with that sarcastic tone unique to him, but Thales could no longer feel even a tiny bit of humor from his words.
Cyril’s cane hit the ground violently.
The Guardian Duke of Western Desert blocked the window and stood against the light while his huge but empty robes covered him firmly like the shadow of an eclipse.
“Who do you think they, who have lost their respect and fear towards higher-ups and cannot wait to be in power, would direct their weapons to? Will they point it at their superiors or their subordinates?” Fakenhaz asked coldly, “And who is the superior? Who is the subordinate? What happens if they point their weapons in their superior’s direction? And what happens if they point it at their subordinates?”
‘Superior. Subordinate.’ Thales subconsciously clutched the JC dagger with his left hand; it was still fixed onto the bed frame. ‘There’s a price to pay for any form of revolution.’ The teenager thought in his daze. ‘Some prices may not be obvious at first, but just like the chess game Cyril mentioned… it will only be obvious a hundred moves later. So, will I, Thales Jadestar, be that “one hundred moves later”?’
“Let us not mention that these are only your assumptions…” Thales inhaled deeply, pulled himself together, and shook his head. “If the overall situation is indeed like this, it is inevitable. Then, we will certainly have a corresponding solution like introducing changes to the state of affairs and balancing all parties’ interests. There must be a better solution.”
However, Cyril only smiled disdainfully. It was not his typical mocking or sarcastic tone that was outright offensive, but the genuine disdain that stemmed from the bottom of his heart.
“That is why you have never been a ruler… Hmph, do you think that all citizens are decent men who are honest, loyal, grateful, and seek to repay kindness? That if the government is well-organized, they will live in peace and work happily? That if you bring them something good, they will be perfectly contented and so moved to tears that they will give their allegiance to and support you, even if you are going to hell?”
Thales turned his head away and creased his eyebrows.
The prince was unhappy because of how he was rendered speechless. “I will say this again: I do not like rhetorical questions.”
But this time, Cyril did not buy his act of refusing to engage in the conversation because he then spoke in rhetorics.
“F*ck you,” the Duke of Western Desert did not show him any respect and spoke coldly. Thales swore he even heard the Western Desert accent only heard among the locals. “This is not a face-to-face transaction, your people are not merchants. Do you think if you give them money and wealth, they will immediately give you the goods you want? This is not a tavern brawl where you can rely solely on fists to win back your dignity and force your opponent into submission.”
The duke’s body swayed and he took a huge stride forward swiftly. His robe, which fluttered continuously as it was blown by the cold wind, flew toward Thales like a hunting vulture.
“This world is not as simple as you think; you cannot always reap what you sow, your efforts will not always be repaid, you will not always achieve glorious deeds that will be remembered for generations, and your people will not always be blessed with good fortune even if you make concerted efforts and work your heart out for them. Humans are not that simple; they will not always repay kindness, be contented with the profit they earn, fear strict punishment, and obey authority.”
Cyril’s tone was urgent and sharp. It sounded like he was reprimanding Thales resentfully because he did not meet his expectations.
“No.” He watched Thales, who was slightly frightened, and hit the ground violently with his cane. “Ever since I started assisting my uncle with government affairs, I have ruled Western Desert for more than twenty years. Trust me, your people will always surprise you and react in ways that are contrary to what you wanted. One man may be willing to work with you; he may be loyal and obey you. But when there are thousands or tens of thousands of people?”
Fakenhaz snorted coldly. His gaze was cold, alert, and wary, looking like a ball of untouchable flames.
“A group of people is like a giant creature with a bottomless appetite and a shark that is always after more prey. They will always surprise their ruler and react in ways that you are unprepared for.”
Thales was a little startled to see Cyril like this. This was not his usual self, at least not his usual self when he was at the National Conference six years ago… provided if he was not acting.
Cyril turned around and gritted his teeth hard. “If you hate your people, they will hate you more; if you love your people, they may not love you. Highly oppressive power may bring on more intense rebellions, but having your people’s interest will not always lead to genuine loyalty. It is common that good intentions may just ruin things and you will end with the opposite of what you wanted.”
*Thud, thud, thud.*
The duke began pacing more quickly. As his cane hit the ground repeatedly, terrifyingly faint and dull sounds were heard.
“At the end of the era of multiple kings, the first king who replaced post riders with messenger crows extensively introduced unprecedented and revolutionary changes to the world, but he died bearing the absurd accusation of ‘being infatuated with trivial matters that prevented him from making progress’, and ‘being a tyrannical ruler who was obsessed with precious creatures’. A thousand years ago, Emperor Basel was kind and merciful. He made bold and decisive reforms to change the old system, and wanted to take his citizens, who had nowhere to go, under his wing, but he was depressed in his final days among the large number of complaints and the surge of public opinion.”
As he listened to these vaguely familiar stories, Thales furrowed his eyebrows. “Do you mean that we are on an uncontrollable track and we may be heading to unexpected consequences that may be against our wishes? No one can halt the track by force or turn around and walk away from it.”
The duke refused to comment.
Thales then decided not to show any consideration to Cyril’s feelings. He snorted coldy and replied, “Would that not make what you just said—about how the threatening storm was inevitable and all the cautionary concerns you mentioned—utter nonsense?”
Cyril seemed angered as well. He let out a fierce groan, hit the ground with his cane, and stopped walking.
“No, what I mean is, if we rely on simple and violent approaches to achieve the desirable result, it often takes twice the effort to achieve even half the result, and we may also work in ways that may defeat our purpose.”
He stared unwaveringly at Thales. “Even if the aim is correct, and the direction is right, if the approaches are different from what we initially planned, and the methods are flawed, our efforts may then be fruitless, and one may even make a fool of himself in trying to be smart. This is indeed the problem we face—it was a mistake made jointly by your father and his enemies.”
‘The correct aim and right direction. Different approaches from what is initially planned and flawed methods… your father and his enemies… a mistake made jointly by them.’ In that moment, Thales suddenly realized what Cyril meant and what his position was.
Cyril said coldly, “The powerful Ancient Empire stationed a massive number of soldiers to guard Thornland, while the Duke of Thornland ruled the Southwestern Province—known for their rebellious spirits—with an iron fist. He slaughtered them until they submitted to him, and the emperor was impressed that the rebels were suppressed. The duke also seemed to have outstanding political achievements that were highly effective.” The duke’s tone suddenly took a turn and grew eerie and gloomy.
“However, when the Empire fell, the Children of Thornland were the ones who held flags and rebelled the loudest. They hung the Province Governor-General and the family of the Duke of Thornland’s heads on flagpoles, wiped out the Empire’s armies, and crashed the Empire’s territories!”
As Thales’ thoughts rushed even more, he inhaled deeply and leaned against the wall.
“If memory serves me well, the Fakenhaz Family bears the Four-Eyed Skull as their crest, and your family motto is ‘power comes from violence’?” he said softly, and waited for the man’s reply.
‘Power comes from violence.’ The Duke of Western Desert was speechless. He was quiet for a long time, until a gust of cold wind blew in.
“You are correct,” the duke said faintly. A rare hint of complexity showed in his eyes. “But outsiders only know this line, and it is the worst line.”
Cyril’s eyes were fixed on Thales. His withered and terrifying face did not look like that of a living person.
‘Power comes from violence. It is the worst line.’
“So—” Thales asked probingly.
However, Cyril Fakenhaz interrupted him rudely. He said his next words coldly, and his words were accompanied by a profound tone that caused Thales to sit upright and hold still. “Power governs over self-interest, and self-interest triggers conflict, which in turn produces violence. Violence causes submission, forms habits which in turn forges order. Order then acknowledges the ones in power again.”
Thales was flabbergasted. Strangely, Fakenhaz, whose voice was usually sharp, unbearable and coarse, spoke rhythmically, and in a manner that showed his respect for something.
“This is the logic behind ‘power comes from violence’. It implies a perfect and unbreakable cycle. As for the power and violence that outsiders discuss with gusto, they are only two small puzzle pieces in the whole picture.”
The way Cyril looked down, narrowed his eyes, and supported himself with the cane made him look like a vulture who rested on a tree, waiting for an opportune moment to take action.
“Far too many people like to simplify or skip quite a number of steps in the middle. They think that profit-sharing will earn obedience, and that resorting to violence will bring power. This is the greatest problem, especially the revolutionists who want to introduce changes to the world and change what has been accepted as the norm.”
‘Power comes from violence… only two puzzle pieces.’ Fakenhaz’s words caused Thales to sink into deep contemplation.
Cyril snorted coldly again. “Do you know what we call the group of important people who are most desperate, eager, confident, and skilled when it comes to changing the world?” Cyril’s next word attracted Thales’ attention. “Wizards.”
The room was quiet for a few seconds. Thales loosened his grip on the dagger. He could not help but look up and tried his best to suppress his surprise while his solemn gaze met the duke’s equally burdened one.
“And do you know what they to the world in the end?” Cyril did not continue speaking.
The two men glanced at each other in this inauspicious room at the top of the tower; one man’s gaze was terrifying while the other’s was confused. But Thales quickly shook off the puzzled look, which came at an inappropriate time.
Thales immediately registered what he meant with his words. “Cyril, you are not here to help your vassals or speak on their behalf. But neither are you on the king’s side, and you have not come to give your allegiance or express goodwill to the kingdom’s bloodline, am I right?” Thales said directly. It might have sounded like a question, but the intonation suggested that he was certain of what he said.
Both of them were silent for quite some time. Finally, Fakenhaz’s face revealed a friendly smile. It was not his typical hypocritical smile, but a cunning and relaxed smile, although it was rather horrifying to see it on his face.
“I have told you: Do not take me for some pedantic, stubborn, and old-fashioned fuddy-duddy.” The duke let out a long sigh, as if he was about to make a small conclusion for their conversation.
“The Fakenhazes are not conservatives who cannot adapt to current circumstances. If this is truly the tide and the overall situation, I will not be miserly in making changes, and I will be resigned to my fate without resentment nor regrets. I also believe that both order and habit can change.”
Under Thales’ observant and serious gaze, Cyril’s eyes sparkled.
“But a change like this must be taken step by step, bit by bit, and drop by drop, like how water flows into a canal. Everything falls into place logically, unlike now.”
Cyril lifted his cane and pointed it outside the window.
“The north rebelled, and the prince returned to his home,” the duke said coldly, “hence, some people aimed to profit over the misfortune of others. They threatened the king and forced him to hand over the control of the Western Frontlines in the name of the safety and survival of the heir to the throne. Other men simply decided to feign civility and employed dirty means to wipe out the Western Desert suzerains’ armies, supplies, and military stations. They suppressed them violently and set out to exterminate them ruthlessly.”
As Thales listened to the situations that were described lightly, even though they were actually situations that would strike someone with fear, his expression slowly changed.
“Did you not realize that, compared to the little tricks done under the table to force your father to abdicate, shift blame onto others for your attempted assassination, and garner support six years ago, the things your father and the current suzerains are doing now are too severe? What is ironic is that they really think that through a ‘victory’ like this, they could wipe out their enemy’s ambitions and hostility,” Fakenhaz said with utmost seriousness. Cyril waved his hand decisively, and he was rather imposing when he did so. “No.”
This was a rare moment when Thales thought that the duke was completely comparable to the heroic and magnificent archdukes in Northland.
“They will only continue to force their enemies into increasingly desperate situations until the final moment. If it is not now, then it will be in the future.”
Thales pursed his lips as thousands of thoughts ran through his mind. “But are you not the leader of the dukes in the west, the head of the people here, the suzerain of the Ruins that has the vassals under his control, and the Guardian Duke of Western Desert?” the prince said slowly, “When Renaissance Palace and the Ruins places the fight centered around me and power on the chessboard, do you not think that you ought to be held responsible for it and do something about it amid this entire mess?”
Cyril laughed. “This is why you are still not the king.” The duke stole a side glance at Thales. “Do you think that in all significant moments of history, it is always someone’s will that governs the tide of change?”
“You must understand, when your suzerains and subordinates are indignant, when all of them stand tall and fearless, besides going along with the flow, you do not have many other choices when you stand in front of the tide.” Cyril’s voice was cold.
Thales’ eyebrows furrowed even further. The duke said in a ghastly manner, “Unless you want to replace the king and stand in the way of other people’s hopes. If you cannot be their leader, you become their enemy. You will be the first to collapse when you are attacked by both internal and external forces.”
Thales was quiet for a long time. ‘So Cyril meant to say that…’ The teenager suddenly recalled the National Conference a long time ago, when the votes were cast to determine if he was an illegitimate child or the rightful prince.
Back then, Cyril voted “yes”, but his nominal vassals, the two families of the Thirteen Distinguished Families, voted “no”.
Thales inhaled deeply as he dragged his wild thoughts back to the present. “Is it really that horrible?”
Cyril sank into silence for a while. “When you become a king, you will understand all this better than I do. Do not forget my words: People will always react in ways that are out of their ruler’s expectations, and their actions will take you off-guard. Unfortunately, the Western Desert suzerains happen to be among them.”
Fakenhaz turned his head away, and stared at him faintly. “Of course, to your father, you and I are among them, too.”
As he listened to the man who seemed to have an underlying meaning in his words, Thales did not say anything in response. The duke turned around and looked at the gray and gloomy sky outside the window again.
“There must be consequences as one entices his people into rebelling against the nobles, and restrains the authority the nobles have over their people unscrupulously. Your people are not your chess pieces, and neither are the nobles sacrifices.”
His voice was cold, like the rustling breeze during fall. “If the suzerains of feudal territories get in the way of the overall situation, it is the same as committing suicide. However, Renaissance Palace may not achieve what they desire either. It is also a great taboo for both sides to be too hasty in getting what they want in this situation.”
Thales clenched his fists.
Cyril looked up at the Western Desert sky. He appeared to be lost in his thoughts as he lamented softly. “More than a hundred years ago, the chess pieces did not create noise on the Virtuous King’s chessboard, and it was a pleasant and calm game. However, at present, the chess game that your father and they play…” The Duke of Western Desert paused for a few seconds. “No, this will not end well. The Bloody Year will not be the only tragedy.”
The lost look in his gaze vanished as he pulled his thoughts back to reality. His gaze turned sharp and alert. “Unless His Majesty can exterminate every living soul in this land and wipe out all opposing voices from its roots… I do not know, perhaps in the future, when Constellation can provide a Mystic Gun for everyone, when messages can be delivered in the blink of an eye, and when the ruler on the throne can easily wipe out the entire world with a gentle nod, he might succeed then.”
The cold wind continued to blow into the tower, accompanied by a whooshing sound. However, both men appeared to be dazed.
This time, Thales was quiet for a very, very long time.
After a long while, Thales spoke gloomily in his dry and hoarse voice, “Believe me, even if that day ever comes, he will not succeed.”
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