Chapter 195: Spirit of the Contract
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
It was early morning in Dragon Clouds City. A two-wheeled carriage drove across a chaotic street, skillfully shuttling around.
As the carriage advanced, the cries of resentment outside the window grew lesser.
In the coach, Marquis Shiles turned around and looked at the silent Thales.
The marquis shook his head silently in his heart.
“Are you okay, Your Highness?” the marquis from Camus tentatively asked.
As though he felt something, Thales raised his head and glanced at Shiles absent-mindedly.
By the side, Little Rascal felt that something was amiss in the atmosphere and she secretly inhaled.
Under the subtle gaze of the marquis, Thales sighed after a long while.
“Just a little tired.”
Shiles gripped his staff with a solemn expression on his face.
“What are your plans, Your Highness?”
Thales closed his eyes and took a deep breath, expelling all the terror and uneasiness in his heart.
‘I have to pull myself together.
‘Especially during such times…’
The prince clenched his fist and he felt the wound caused by the dagger on his palm.
“I seem to understand a little now.” He opened his eyes and his gaze was firm. “With regard to Lampard’s daring actions to risk assassinating His Highness and even personally lead an army into Dragon Clouds City—we must rush to Heroic Spirit Palace as soon as possible.”
“It’s war again, isn’t it?” Marquis Shiles sighed.
He shifted his gaze towards the streets outside the window. Initially, his expression was hesitant, but with concern, he continued with, “Is there any other circumstantial evidence regarding the King’s assassination?”
Wave upon wave of White Blade Guards surfaced before his eyes as he recalled the scene of them using their body to resist bows and arrows for the two children.
He remembered the last White Blade Guard’s contorted face, the image of him struggling to turn around and face an attack.
‘The Dragon’s Imperial Guards.’
Thales came to his senses and shook his head. “Perhaps not. Judging from Lampard’s character, he probably would have cleaned it up well. Any news on Lampard or the others? What about the people in Shield District?”
“None, as far as I know.” Marquis Shiles tugged his cuffs lightly and faintly sighed. “Seems like things have gotten a little troublesome.”
“Yes,” Thales said. His voice low, he quickly pondered over the situation before him. “Nobody would have thought that Lampard would use such rapid, violent and extremely effective measures… I’m afraid that there are not many occurrences of an Eckstedtian king being killed by his own archduke.”
“Not even one.”
A young female voice rang in the coach.
Thales and Shiles were both stunned at once. They turned their heads around to Little Rascal.
“In the recent two hundred years or so, the Tannon Family of Prestige Orchid Region attempted to assassinate the common-elected king, but their plot was exposed—King Corsa gathered the troops of the other archdukes before the Tannon Family’s castle and erected the Roknee Family’s ‘Canon of Knights’ banner.”
Upon finishing her sentence, Little Rascal blinked and touched her head as though she was trying to recall a memory in detail.
“On the seventh day, the Mourning Archduke, Emerson Tannon who violated the Joint-Ruling Pledge was tied up and sent out of the city by his subordinates as well as the seething, discontented citizens.” The girl raised her head and said with certainty, “Before everyone’s eyes, King Corsa personally pierced through the traitor’s chest with the Soul Slayer Pike.”
“Jacob Olsius was the first to detain the Mourning Archduke and he sent him out of the city. Later, he became the first Archduke of Prestige Orchid with the surname ‘Olsius’.”
Thales and Shiles frowned. With a weird expression on their faces, they listened and waited for Little Rascal to finish.
Little Rascal took notice of the other two’s expressions. She blushed and shyly lowered her head at once.
They exchanged looks.
“You mentioned that she’s your servant?” Marquis Shiles was a little doubtful.
“Yes, this part of her was exactly what I took a fancy to.” Thales stroked his head. A little embarrassed, he quietly nudged Little Rascal, causing the latter to lower her head even further. “Heh.”
“Really?” Shiles cast a meaningful glance at Little Rascal and revealed a sly smile. “So that’s the case.”
Thales quickly switched topics, “So, whether it’s committing regicide or rebelling, both seem to be intolerable offenses in Northland.”
Shiles nodded and sighed. “How could Lampard have such guts? Even if he pushed all the guilt onto you…”
Thales put his hands down. His expression was solemn.
He remembered Viscount Kentvida from Black Sand Region and the Fire Knight of the Five War Generals.
“I’m afraid that we have underestimated Lampard,” he silently said.
Thales suddenly raised his head.
“But there’s still one hurdle he cannot go around.” The prince narrowed his eyes. “That is if his intentions are indeed what I think they are.”
Shiles fixed his gaze on his staff. “For instance?”
“Too many things are still shrouded in mystery. There’s a need to sort out the clues once again.” Thales shook his head, and his expression grew more solemn as his brain revolved frantically. “When did Lampard start planning this and how did he execute all of this?”
The carriage turned a corner.
“Is this important? Things have already worsened to such an extent.” Marquis Shiles fished out a fine pocket watch with a copper chain. “Forgive me for being frank. Apart from clarifying the facts, maybe you should consider how to escape. I can provide you with some methods…”
“This is very important.” Thales slowly nodded. Step by step, he straightened out his thoughts. “Things have worsened to this extent because we underestimated Lampard previously.”
“Let me ask you one last time.” Shiles’ face turned serious. “I can discreetly send you out of the city and even back to Constellation at this very moment—are you sure that you want to go back to Heroic Spirit Palace, back to that unpredictable vortex?”
Thales did not seem to hear his words as he was occupied with his own thoughts. “We are still not clear about the full picture of Lampard’s plan, so let us go back to the beginning, to when his plan first started…”
Shiles silently observed the young prince as his impression of him slightly rose in his heart.
‘Under such circumstances, how many people could still restrain their fear and think calmly?
‘Such a pity.’
The marquis silently sighed in his heart.
The prince’s eyes became still all of a sudden.
“Your Grace,” a thought came to Thales as he subconsciously asked, “why did King Nuven want to find Poffret? Why did he want to find Lampard’s collaborator?
“Huh?” The Marquis of Good Flow City raised an eyebrow.
‘Why did King Nuven want to… find Poffret?
‘Do you really need to ask this question?’
“Because Archduke Poffret killed his son?” Shiles rolled his eyes as he did not seem to understand the prince’s question. His expression was strange as he tried to answer Thales, “And it just so happened that King Nuven found out about it?”
Thales shook his head.
“Because King Nuven acquired the information of Lampard’s investigation—Disaster Sword, remember?” Thales’ eyes grew clearer and clearer. “This information linked both my assassination and Prince Moriah’s to Broken Dragon Fortress.”
“Hence, all of you decided that Lampard had a collaborator, consequently causing King Nuven to desire revenge.”
A world of ice and snow surfaced before Thales’ eyes.
Those were the words both Nicholas and Shiles told him a few nights before he arrived in Dragon Clouds City.
Shiles did not answer immediately. He paused for a bit, seemingly in deep thought. “You mean…”
Thales slowly exhaled. His eyes were solemn like never before. “I’m afraid that the moment I first set out from Black Sand Region; the moment Nicholas received news about Disaster Sword; and the moment King Nuven decided to seek revenge, we all fell into Lampard’s trap.”
With an unpleasant look on his face, he bowed his head slightly. From the side, Little Rascal could see his expression and she was too afraid to even exhale.
‘It’s still not enough.
‘Some clues are still lacking, some crucial clues.’
“A plan that can be executed on such a large scale, and such a long period of time,” Thales murmured, “from planning to execution, Black Sand Region to Dragon Clouds City, assassination to transportation of troops, operations to maintaining secrecy—it is absolutely not something a remotely-located archduke can complete on his own. Lampard definitely had an insider as his helper.”
“I agree with you when it comes to this.” Marquis Shiles nodded with a serious expression. “For this to become such a huge issue, I believe that Lampard did have a helper.”
“You have vast connections. Any leads?” Thales’ eyes glimmered.
“In your opinion, who’s the most suspicious?”
At this moment…
As if a thought had occurred to her, Little Rascal suddenly raised her head and extended it to look out the window.
Her face turned pale and she nudged Thales.
Only then did Thales noticed that their carriage had stopped.
Marquis Shiles kept the pocket watch he had been caressing for the longest time into his pocket. He sighed. “Your Highness, we have arrived.”
Thales’ heart moved, “So soon? I remember Heroic Spirit Palace is at—”
“Heroic Spirit Palace is still a little farther,” Shiles interrupted him and blinked. “You’ll be escorted by another officer for the rest of the route.”
Thales was a little stunned.
In the next moment, their carriage door was opened.
A gruff voice that caused Thales’ expression to change traveled into the small carriage.
“Marquis, many thanks for your help.”
A middle-aged noble in martial attire that Thales was more than familiar with, held the door with one hand and his saber in the other. Under the protection of densely packed soldiers, he ascended their narrow carriage.
“Otherwise, we would’ve had to spend a lot of time looking for our guest.”
The newcomer sat down. His sharp gaze was like a sword, sweeping past Thales and Little Rascal.
It felt as though Thales had been struck by lightning and his heart had fallen into an ice cave.
Little Rascal covered her mouth as a result of the shock. Her eyes were shrouded by horror.
The ruler of Black Sand Region, Archduke Chapman Lampard was sitting peacefully next to a smiling Marquis Shiles. He calmly closed the carriage door.
In the face of Archduke Lampard, Marquis Shiles radiated with the friendliest smile. It was the same smile he had when he first met Thales.
The marquis leaned forward slightly, and in a respectful tone, he said, “It is my honor.”
Lampard snorted lightly and turned his head around. His cold eyes swept across Thales. “You’re really good at running, Young Highness.”
Little Rascal recalled the bloody scene from earlier and shivered in fear.
The prince just stared blankly at the Archduke of Black Sand Region in front of him. He remained motionless.
Fear and panic instantly crept up his heart, but he forcibly suppressed them again.
‘This means that…’
A few seconds later, Thales finally recovered from the shocking scene before his eyes.
“Shiles Bamra, you!” He turned his head around and looked at the Marquis of Good Flow City in disbelief. “You betrayed us!”
Lampard said nothing. His face was as cold and serious as ever.
“Don’t be so surprised, Your Highness.” Marquis Shiles sighed regretfully and slowly shook his head. “This doesn’t suit your typical image of a genius. Moreover, I didn’t betray you.”
“Didn’t betray me?” Thales laughed in exasperation. “Don’t tell me that from the start…”
Thales paused and his face changed.
‘It can’t be.’
In that instant, he realized that he could be right.
“You were that helper.” Thales looked at Marquis Shiles, who was beaming from ear to ear. His face was filled with disbelief as he said, “You’ve been partners with Lampard from the start?”
“You’re quick to come to this realization, Young Highness,” Lampard said sarcastically.
A second later, Thales bellowed with shock and anger, “Shiles, you’ve betrayed King Nuven!”
Little Rascal shuddered slightly.
Lampard scoffed in disdain.
However, Marquis Shiles frowned.
Thales gripped his endlessly trembling fist as he stared furiously at the Black Sand Region soldiers, who were donned in patrol uniforms outside the window.
They had fallen into Lampard’s hands once again.
They were in a situation more despondent and terrible than the previous time.
“Tsk, tsk.” The Marquis of Camus shook his head as if he was somewhat disgusted by Thales’ words. “Don’t say that. I hate betrayers and serial villains the most—I’ve never betrayed King Nuven either.”
Thales desperately tried to suppress his impulses and fury. “I thought you had an agreement with King Nuven, and worked for him!”
“Of course. He needed to seek vengeance against the culprit who betrayed Moriah.” Shiles shrugged and appeared indifferent. “That’s why he needed me. It takes a third party candidate like me who can intercede freely among the archdukes and not trigger any suspicion.”
The marquis blinked. “The Crystal Drop Ore Agreement for vengeance. It’s very fair.”
Thales gasped for breath as he glanced at the unsmiling Lampard. “But you betrayed Nuven!”
“No, no, no, Your Highness.” Shiles sighed. He raised a finger and shook it lightly. “You’ve misunderstood.”
Shiles opened his eyes, and they were filled with sharpness. Yet, there was an indisputable trace of sincerity. “I am someone genuine and someone who keeps his promises. Keeping to the spirit of the contract is the first creed of the Bamra Family.”
“Spirit of the contract?” Thales gripped his fist tightly and clenched his jaw in fury.
“Right.” Shiles nodded and unfolded his left hand. “I faithfully fulfilled my agreement with King Nuven to help him find and deal with the enemy. He was satisfied, and I was a willing participant.”
Shiles raised a finger as well as his eyebrow, and shook his head. He seemed to be blaming Thales for doubting him. “I kept to the spirit of the contract.”
The marquis’ eyes were very clear.
There was no trace of remorse or shame.
It was as though these were his true colors.
Thales took a deep breath.
The Sin of Hell’s River surged up his head in a timely manner.
Finally, Thales slowly eased his breath and his brain started to calm down.
Marquis Shiles maintained his friendly smile and blinked. “And now, I’m just fulfilling another contract I undertook with Lampard.”
“As always, I’m adhering strictly to my promises—see, still keeping to the spirit of the contract.”
Thales released his clenched fist and watched Lampard’s hand, which kept its hold on the saber. He gave up on his notion of touching his dagger.
“How much have you done for Lampard?” Thales coldly said. “Did you help him prepare supplies? Or did you directly commit the regicide?”
Shiles exhaled and exchanged looks with Lampard. The latter’s eyes were filled with cold intent.
“I think not much.” The marquis retrieved his staff and smiled faintly. “I provided His Excellency with some news from Heroic Spirit Palace—those regarding the king’s whereabouts and the progress of his plans…
“I mobilized some contacts from Camus’ caravans, delivered news and items through conventional channels, covered up some news…
“Prepared some weapons and transported some people into the city with the travel charter granted by His Highness…
“Of course, when it came to disguising and substituting them into patrols, it was Sir Vlad’s task…”
Upon hearing Shiles recounting one chilling news after another, Thales looked up sharply.
“When did this start?
“When Nicholas came looking for me? When I entered Dragon Clouds City?” the prince said indignantly. “Or have you simply been Lampard’s insider from the very beginning?”
Marquis Shiles smiled without a word.
“That’s enough,” Lampard spoke up from the side. With his cold words, he glared at Shiles mercilessly. “We are on a tight schedule.”
However, Thales had no intention of paying attention to his enemy at all.
“What did he give you in order for you to risk the greatest taboo and cooperate with a king slayer?” the prince snapped. “A contract? Money? Power? After deducting the price you had to pay, how much more was it compared to what King Nuven gave you?”
Shiles shook his head.
“No, the problem does not lie in how much Archduke Lampard has given me.” The marquis turned to Archduke Lampard with an apologetic smile. “You can’t simply look at profit and numbers when it comes to doing business. Sometimes, some public praise and networking is required.”
“King Nuven was a pretty good collaborator. But even for a business that’s already in the bag, you should still leave some room for backup plans.”
Upon hearing that, Thales was stunned. He followed up with a cold laugh.
“So Lampard and Black Sand Region was the backup plan you prepared aside from King Nuven and Dragon Clouds City?”
Marquis Shiles turned his head around, pushed open the carriage door and tapped his staff on the footboard.
“You’re wrong again. A backup plan isn’t any ‘prepared’ person or item. It’s sort of a philosophy.” Shiles turned back around and laughed. He gestured at Lampard with his palm. “The archduke has proven his value and potential. So even if we hadn’t come to any agreements beforehand, he would have naturally become my backup plan when he showed up before me.”
Thales scoffed in disdain.
He circled his gaze back and forth between Lampard and Shiles. Through gritted teeth, he said, “Shiles Bamra, what about after Lampard? Have you prepared a ‘backup plan’ for him?”
Lampard raised his head slightly and cast Thales a chilling gaze.
It appeared as though he was looking at a dead person.
Thales’ heart froze.
Shiles stepped off the carriage without glancing backwards. His words were jovial, “If I were you, Your Highness, I would start thinking about my escape plan and not sow dissension in vain.”
Lampard snorted. “Very logical.”
Thales clenched his fist tightly and did not say a word again.
He scanned the densely packed soldiers outside the window.
‘They don’t stand a chance.’
His heart was filled with despair in that moment.
Behind him, Little Rascal clutched his arm tightly.
“I’ll hand over the following matters to you now.” Marquis Shiles turned around and gave a slight bow to Archduke Lampard. Then, he smiled at Thales. “Don’t worry, Your Highness. As I’ve promised, His Excellency will send you to Heroic Spirit Palace.”
“Thank you.” Thales scoffed in disdain. “Thank you for keeping to your spirit of the contract.”
Marquis Shiles smiled as though he did not feel offended at all.
Lampard extended his hand and slowly held the handle of the carriage door.
“After this, I’ll get my people to send the carriage back.” Lampard exhaled a breath of cold air and nodded at Shiles with a cool expression. “I will remember Good Flow City’s friendship.”
Shiles let out a hot breath and watched his coachman get down from his seat. Another soldier from Black Sand Region then took his place.
“No, there’s no need.” The marquis shook his head. His eyes were laced with an underlying meaning as they swept across Lampard and the two children; With a tone full of pity, he said, “I think I won’t be needing this carriage anymore.”
They were silent for a few seconds.
“This is goodbye, Your Excellency.” Marquis Shiles straightened his grand clothing, which had creased from going up and down the carriage. Then, he adjusted his bowler hat. His next words sounded respectful, “May all your endeavors go as you wish, and your heart’s wishes be fulfilled.”
The carriage door that Lampard was prepared to close suddenly stopped in its tracks. The Archduke of Black Sand Region paused for a while and turned his head around. He looked at Shiles with a stern gaze.
“My heart’s wishes be fulfilled?
“You think I will succeed?” Lampard plainly said.
Thales’ heart jumped.
‘What exactly are they trying to achieve?’
“Of course. You have a unique perspective and temperament.” Marquis Shiles exhaled with a sigh. “I’m honored to be able to witness such an important, crucial, vast and magnificent part of history.”
Thales’ heart grew tighter as he spoke.
‘Important and crucial.
‘Vast and magnificent…
Lampard laughed bitterly.
Shiles held his staff with both hands and nodded slowly. The smile on his face was as humble and respectful as before. “I have full confidence in your future, Your Excellency. There is no a doubt within me about that.”
The look in the Archduke of Black Sand Region’s eyes was complicated. He looked at the marquis with a subtle expression, and only nodded in response a few seconds later.
“Good day, Prince Thales.” Shiles turned his head around and looked at Thales, who had an unpleasant expression on his face. In the same respectful manner, he presented him with his wishes.
But Thales sensed an incomparable sarcasm in his words.
“May you and your servant… have all your endeavors go as you wish, and your hearts’ wishes be fulfilled.”
The door closed and the carriage started to move.
Only this time, the person staring at Thales in the carriage had become Chapman Lampard, who had an ice-cold expression.
Thales took a deep breath and tried his best to turn to the Archduke of Black Sand Region at his calmest and at the peak of his condition.
Under Thales’ murderous gaze and Little Rascal’s fearful eyes, Archduke Lampard appeared absent-minded as he drew out his old saber. His frightening gaze was immediately focused on the prince and the girl beside him.
“Young Prince, I didn’t know… When did you get a female servant?”
In the face of the blade’s cold glare, Little Rascal shuddered a little.
At that instant, Thales could only feel his skin crawl.