Chapter 557: Relieved
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
In the empty banquet hall, Thales and Zayen faced each other from afar.
In the distance, the crowd thinned as guards and servants were still seeing off the nervous guests, whom from time to time looked over cautiously but in awe.
Zayen’s surprise lasted for only a second before his genteel upbringing restrained his expression.
The Duke of Iris Flowers did not speak, and ignored the few anxious glances cast at him from a distance. He merely paced through the mess on the floor towards Thales.
Thales looked at him coldly.
Until Zayen stopped in front of the short sword.
“So you just took a shot in the dark, bluffed, and tried your luck?”
The master of Covendier looked at the short sword on the ground, calm and half-smirking.
He appeared leisurely and contented, without any trace of losing his composure nor consciousness that accompanied one’s conspiracy being revealed and scheme being exposed—just like at the National Conference six years ago, when Thales uncovered “New Star’s” plan.
This made Thales doubly uneasy.
“I wormed it out of him,” Thales said without a change in expression.
“That this sword was given to him by a certain guest, and not obtained by some other unknown means.”
The prince glanced towards a few exits.
“Unfortunately, the security for tonight’s banquet was strict.
“And there were hardly any guests who were allowed to enter without being searched.”
Zayen suddenly said, “Why is it me then?”
He seemed genuinely curious. Someone who did not know any better would think the two dukes were talking about some interesting anecdote.
And not a disturbing political conspiracy.
Thales furrowed his brows slightly.
The youth suddenly realized that, compared to his impression of the newly promoted, young and promising Duke of South Coast from six years ago, Zayen’s aura now was much more reserved, and his build had become much sturdier too.
‘He’s changed,’ Thales silently told himself.
He was a little less lively and dazzling, and a little more somber and staid.
A thought flashed across Thales’ mind: his experience in the North might have made him stronger, sharper and more capable.
What about Zayen, who had been in Constellation for the past six years?
“Our talk collapsed,” Thales said calmly as he maintained the sophistication and decency of the Duke of Star Lake, “Before the banquet started.”
Zayen’s gaze shifted.
“But halfway through the banquet, you impatiently came over to chat about political gains and losses.”
Thales stared directly into Zayen’s eyes. “Or, put more simply…
“You were looking for a conversation when we had nothing much to talk about.”
There was a brief silence.
Thales looked towards the pillars of the hall in the distance, at the blurred figures of servants who were hurrying about to clear up the aftermath of the banquet.
“I know you’re polite, Zayen. And that you’re shameless.
“But not to this extent.”
Zayen nodded slowly and his lips curved upwards, as if he was savoring a glass of fine wine. “Couldn’t I just have wanted to chat with you…”
Thales interjected coldly, “You noticed it.”
Zayen’s gaze froze.
“You noticed that the royal guards were frequently shifting about to strengthen security. You realized that someone had unexpectedly discovered Anker’s existence in advance.”
The youth stared at the solitary short sword lying on the ground, and strode forward. “You couldn’t sit still.
“You had to hold me back, to ensure that the plan went smoothly, to ensure that, even after the king left, Anker’s target would still be present.
“That was your most glaring mistake.,”
Zayen did not speak.
“And in my experience, every time you fishily come over to make a good impression, something bad happens.”
Thales stopped in front of the short sword and looked directly the Duke of Iris Flowers as he called him by name, “Zayen Covendier.”
‘Old friend,’ Thales silently said to himself.
Zayen laughed, seemingly unperturbed.
“You’re too mistrustful, Your Highness.
“Perhaps because you’ve been schemed against and harmed by various people?”
Schemed against, harmed by.
Thales brushed off the images of Nuven and Chapman in his mind, as well as that of The Black Prophet, and chuckled, “And perhaps you didn’t realize, Zayen, the topics you mentioned tonight when we had nothing to talk about…
“King and vassals? Land and security? Governance and resistance?”
There was sarcasm in Thales’ words. “They reflected your thoughts.”
Zayen’s smile faded slightly.
“Before today, you’ve probably long agonized over the matter between Crow Caw City and Mirror River, and the grievances between Byrael and Doyle, as well as how to profit from this opportunity.
Thales ignored Zayen’s expression. He looked around at the countless furniture and dinnerware broken as a result of the commotion caused by Anker. He scoffed. “And all this—jeopardizing the authority of Renaissance Palace, driving a wedge between the Seven Jadestar Attendants, provoking conflict between nobles, revealing contradictions in governance…
“Is just to give me trouble?”
In the distance, Glover and Procca, who had just seen the last batch of guests off, was about to enter when they were halted by Mallos.
The watchman looked at the two who were confronting each other and shook his head.
The lights were still bright and Mindis Hall was quaint as ever, but compared to the lively scene before, the banquet hall was now quiet, cheerless, and empty.
Only Thales and Zayen were left, silently facing each other.
Lying horizontally between them was the short sword and its sharp blade.
After a long while, Zayen walked towards a long table nearby, picked up the wine glass left for him by his butler, and filled it with the renowned wine from Sera Dukedom. “Like most people from Western Desert, Anker Byrael is both realistic and pragmatic, and not someone who can easily be swayed by words.”
Thales frowned as he observed Zayen’s actions.
Zayen raised his wine glass, leaned on the long table and turned around.
“How were you so sure that he would give up?”
He appraised Thales carefully, as if trying to fit the youth in front of him with the boy from six years ago.
“And not go for broke in a fit of rage, go on a rampage and cause bloodshed?”
Thales turned his head sideways; a shadow flashed across his face.
“Because he’s just like you,” he said solemnly.
Zayen swirled the wine glass in his hand then smelled the wine. “Oh? How so?”
Thales looked at the wine glass in Zayen’s hand and felt that he, too, was thirsty.
“Before becoming a chess piece, he was a person.
“He’s a person. A very complicated, yet very simple person.”
The Duke of Star Lake reached another long table, swept the obstructing debris away, and picked up a random wine glass.
He did not care who had drunk from it before. With a flinging motion, he poured away the remaining liquid in the glass behind him.
The wine hit the floor and a few drops splashed onto Zayen’s boot, causing the master of Iris Flowers, who was savoring the aroma of the fruit wine, to frown.
Thales grabbed a jug of water, leaned similarly on the long table and turned around.
“Regardless of who instigated him, influenced him, or what compelled him, all his thoughts and actions, ultimately, stem from himself.”
Zayen quietly moved from his original spot.
“You were previously acquainted?”
“No,” Thales filled his glass, “But the intel report mentioned that he has a younger brother and three younger sisters, all of whom are still young and live in Crow Caw City,”
Thales’ gaze was fixed on the wine glass in his hand.
“That made me think: if he dies avenging his father, what will happen to them?”
Zayen looked at him and grinned slightly.
Thales put the jug down forcefully.
“Charge in here alone to air his grievances, kill his enemy and avenge his father.
“It sounds grand and satisfying,” Thales said solemnly as he stared at his reflection on his wine glass, “But in reality, this doesn’t solve anything: the royal family will not tolerate the assassination. His act will only be regarded as a crime committed in contempt of order, and as a bad example which ruins stability, attracting severe punishment to serve as a warning to others.
“As a Byrael, this will only cause their family that’s already in dire straits to perish.”
Zayen smiled even more subtly.
And Thales’ gaze gradually froze into ice. “But when I thought of him having to duel against Doyle, I understood.
“Anker did not want to kill anyone, nor even seek justice. Perhaps revenge was merely a pretext.”
Thales looked up suddenly.
“Under the trifecta of stress from his father’s huge debt, the betrayal of his vassals, and Doyle’s plot, he—inexperienced and at his wit’s end—merely wanted to fight for the last bit of security for his family: win public sympathy, force the royal family to act and guarantee that his family can safely survive this adversity, so that they won’t go bankrupt, lose their land, and be entirely ruined.”
Zayen was still calmly savoring the aroma of the wine, but did not drink it.
The prince’s tone started to become tense. “He took the risk, not for revenge, not for justice, but merely to fight for a future.
“And in order not to leave any loose ends and achieve his goal perfectly…”
Thales clenched his teeth.
“He had to die.” Zayen looked up and finished Thales’ sentence coldly.
Thales suddenly became distracted; he recalled Doyle’s decisive expression before the latter went into the duel.
The Duke of Iris Flowers’ voice lingered in the hall. It was faint yet mysterious. “He could only use the justifiable revenge and justice as excuses, bear everything, and use his death to erase all the blame and hatred.
“It would be even better if he could die honorably. It would attract praise and be dramatic and memorable.
“Like a hero.
“Becoming a blameless, perfect victim, only leaving behind yearning and sympathy.”
Zayen observed Thales’ expression and said musingly, “Only then can the cruel, selfish and hypocritical crowd be at ease and allow themselves to feel empathy.
“Only then will the royal family and the kingdom, under pressure, after this tragedy, have no alternative but to offer assistance and take care of his destitute family, salvaging them from ruin.”
Ripples started to form on the water in Thales’ wine glass.
Like waves on the ocean.
Thales was expressionless. “He’s not the type of selfish hero in legendary stories that everyone likes, the type who, out of anger, sacrifices himself for a righteous cause and leaves his family behind to mourn for him.
“Neither is he the type of scum that sees red and kills everyone in a rampage just because he feels trapped or because of some bullshit idea.”
Zayen stared silently at Thales; there were no ripples in his glass.
The prince gradually looked up. His gaze was deathly still. “He is just a run-down gentleman from the countryside with a family, with siblings.
“Bearing responsibility and suffering in silence in his difficult life.
“Someone who, under domineering power, struggles tirelessly to support his family and seek a lifeline for his loved ones…”
Thales’ breathing quickened. “An ordinary person.”
‘That’s why Anker was willing to back down,’ Thales thought bitterly.
‘He had to back down.
‘Because he was not alone.
‘He wasn’t living only for himself.’
At this thought, Thales could no longer suppress his anger. He raised his voice, “And you, Covendier, you took advantage this, took advantage of his humanity, took advantage of his purpose in life, the things that he cared about and were most fundamental to him.
“And made him your chess piece.”
Thales words were chilling. “To get at me.”
Zayen looked at him silently, and only breaking into a smile after a long while.
Like a warm spring breeze.
“Weren’t you the same?”
Zayen gently swiveled his wine glass and watched the liquid inside rotate orderly and smoothly in one direction. “Did you not also take advantage of this and ostensibly ‘persuaded’ him, but actually compelled him?
Zayen’s smile turned cold.
Thales’ wine glass trembled.
“Not long ago, when Byrael came to me,” Zayen’s tone was casual, “I saw a pitiful man who was scared and desperate, who wanted to seek help from the Iris Flowers family, well-known to be approachable.”
A flash blazed across the eyes of the Duke of Iris Flowers. “He needed hope.
“So I gave him hope.”
Zayen paused and raised his eyebrows. “Maybe even relieving him of the weight he was under.
“I told him that if he wanted to reverse his family fortunes, there was only one person he could turn to.
“Someone who has returned with a godsend halo. A ‘newbie’ who was different from the kings on thrones and the rulers in power.”
Thales gritted his teeth and stared at the water in his wine glass sloshing around.
Zayen walked away from the long table towards Thales, and continued in a pleased tone, “Until you decided to duel.
“Until you smothered his hope with power: regardless of whether he wins or loses in the duel, lives or dies, whether he kills the prince or never gets the case retried, his family will never see the light of day.”
Thales shuddered and closed his eyes.
The master of Covendier scoffed, “You took advantage of his humanity and forced him to give up on the duel, even forcing him to drag out an ignoble existence. The extent of your selfishness deprived him the mercy of death.
“The extent of your cruelty only surpassing mine.”
Thales was speechless.
The Duke of South Coast strode forward leisurely and stepped across the short sword on the floor.
“Do you know what future he will face after he walks out alive tonight?”
Thales’ breathing stopped.
Covendier reached Thales. His smile was enigmatic as he swiveled his wine glass. “Who’s the ruthless one now, Your Highness?”
Thales was silent for what seemed like an eternity.
He merely stared at his own wine glass.
He watched the water in the glass transition from rolling endlessly to wild waves then returning once again to calm.
Just when Zayen put away his smile and was about to turn around…
“Aren’t you going to drink it?”
Thales looked up. His expression was indifferent as he stared at the wine glass in Zayen’s hand.
Perhaps he was slightly surprised, but the Duke of South Coast looked at the wine in his hand and still replied cheerfully, “In terms of aroma, it’s not as good as Jade City imports.” Zayen shook his head and looked regretful as he swirled his glass. “But to drink…
“It’s not, not my preferred taste.”
Thales said nothing but merely scoffed.
In the next moment, he raised his wine glass and downed the water in it.
All of it.
The Duke of Star Lake finished his drink and relieved his dry throat. He wiped the corners of his mouth, unbothered by the optics of such inelegant behavior, then flung the remnants in the wine glass.
Zayen stepped back silently as water droplets splashed towards him.
Thales stood upright and left the long table!
Thales strode forward and interrogated coldly, “Just because I did not agree to your terms earlier? To collude lovingly with you?”
Zayen stood firm, but he frowned and realized: Thales was striding forward, straight at him.
“Or did you make up your mind to fall out with me and fight me till your last breath?”
Thales walked towards Zayen until they were within a foot of each other. The short sword was left emanating a cold gleam on the ground.
It was as if there were sparks when their gaze met.
Zayen glared at Thales, his leisurely expression slowly fading.
“This is a warning.”
Thales scoffed. “Warning?”
Zayen grinned and addressed him directly by his name, “At the banquet, I came to you on purpose, Thales.
“To be honest, I wasn’t afraid that you would find out it was me. No. I should say, I wanted you to find out.”
“It wasn’t just to create an opportunity for Byrael,” Zayen sneered, “but to give you a last chance, Thales.”
Zayen lowered his wine glass and leaned in towards the dejected Thales. “Byrael’s actions were all spontaneous. I merely guided him towards a clear path, gave him a slight nudge, and in passing, play a chess move.
“But you’re having a tough time handling it as it is.”
He pressed close to Thales’ ear, whispering like a lover, but in a chilling tone, “Can you imagine the scenes when the chess game gets serious?”
Thales did not reply, but merely clutched his wine glass tighter.
“I want you to know, Thales, I want to teach you: this is my response.”
The Duke of South Coast’s tone was uncharacteristically harsh, “My response to you offending me, rejecting me, and even threatening me after six years.”
Zayen’s breath left his earlobe.
The person before him morphed back into that affable, warm and youthful Duke of Iris Flowers.
But after a short few seconds, Thales took a deep breath.
“Me? Reject you?”
Thales’ expression changed. He carefully sized Zayen up from head to toe.
Upsetting the latter.
Until the prince jested sarcastically, “Sorry, I didn’t know you like men.
“My dear Zayen.”
At that moment, Zayen’s eyes suddenly turned cold.
But Thales was unfazed. He even raised his left hand, gently put it on Zayen’s right shoulder, then similarly leaned close to the latter’s ear, shook his head and tutted, “Otherwise I would have been a little more gentlemanly when I rejected you earlier.”
Zayen stopped smiling.
He did not move, nor look at the hand on his shoulder. He merely stared coldly at Thales.
“If you choose war, Thales, and are determined to be my enemy.
“Then this chess move is just a beginning.”
Zayen looked at Thales as if he was looking at a corpse. “Prince of Constellation? Duke of Star Lake? Protection under royal power? Good reputation? Loyalty of subjects? Experience in the Northland? Noble stance?” he asked rhetorically with a frigid and flat tone.
In the next moment, Zayen raised his left hand and held on to Thales’ left hand!
“I can destroy them,” there was viciousness the Duke of Iris Flowers’ every word, “One by one.”
Feeling the force from Zayen’s wrist, Thales pursed his lips.
“Here, on a chessboard familiar to me, I can make you wish you were dead.”
Zayen’s gaze was so sharp it could cut through flesh and pierce a heart. “When we stop pretending to be cordial to each other, when that time comes, even if I sacrifice everything, I can and will make you pay the most bitter price.”
The Duke of South Coast scoffed and moved Thales’ palm.
But to his surprise, instead of letting go, the prince who had kept silent swiftly grabbed Zayen’s wrist with a countermove!
Zayen’s gaze froze.
But what made him displeased and disgusted was not this act itself.
“Was it because of that conversation?” Thales asked softly.
“Six years ago, before I was about to leave Eternal Star City for the North, our parting conversation.”
Six years ago.
Leave Eternal Star City…
One second, two seconds.
Zayen’s gaze, initially bewildered, sank into deep frost and finally emanating indignance.
“Because I asked about your lineage, your family?”
Thales’ voice was faint. It flowed into Zayen’s ear like poison flowing into blood vessels. “And the secret about their misfortune?”
Whatever expression Zayen had instantly vanished from his face.
In that moment, the Sin of Hell’s River within Thales stirred for no apparent reason!
Almost making him lose his composure.
In that same moment, Thales knew, he had made the right move.
This was it.
Thales restrained the impulse of Power of Eradication, looked at the Duke of South Coast again and said through gritted teeth, “See?
“In a way, there’s not much difference between you and Anker.”
Thales felt a resisting force against his arm, trying to struggle free, but he clutched on tightly to Zayen’s wrist with no intention of relaxing his grip—at least he could not let the ever-elegant Zayen break free elegantly.
“Yet you ask me who the ruthless one is?”
Thales glared at Zayen, at his vacant expression, at his Blood Clan-esque grim face.
“It’s up to you.
Deathly silence radiated from their indifferent gazes.
In the hall, the atmosphere between them finally plunged to freezing point.
The royal guards waiting outside while the dukes were negotiating seemed to sense something and wanted to rush over, but were halted by Mallos.
Finally, Zayen turned around, avoided Thales’ gaze and stopped struggling to break free.
Instead, he laughed.
“From John the Black Eye, to Herman the Southerner, Alan the Ascension King, Midier the Oath Keeper, Erica the Conqueror of the North…” Zayen again became leisurely and artful, but the immense coldness of his gaze revealed the truth, “In history, many Constellation kings have punished Eckstedt.
“And do you know what I’ve learnt about dealing with Northlanders?”
Zayen stopped pushing Thales away, but instead pulled him closer and whispered calmly, “Before they fuck you…
“Fuck them to death.”
Thales’ gaze turned cold.
“Stop copying what I said.”
But Zayen grinned.
“You think, after you’ve survived the Born King, that you are entitled to be complacent and egocentric?
The master of Iris Flowers continued softly, “Trust me. Emulating Nuven the Seventh’s ways in Constellation will only make you die a faster, more miserable and more bizarre death.”
Thales felt a chill in his heart.
This version of Zayen was more disturbing than the brooding and sullen Duke of South Coast.
In the next moment, Thales’ wrist flexed as Zayen shook it off forcefully!
“Manage your men well, Your Highness.”
The Duke of Iris Flowers was beaming. “Like I said, times have changed.
“Things are not as before.”
Thales said nothing.
Were they too effective?
Zayen took a step back and brushed his shoulder nonchalantly, like there was a smudge. “You wouldn’t want to be fucked to death by me, Your Highness.
“Before you encounter a real enemy.”
Thales’ expression changed.
He slowly looked up.
“The only enemy I can see, so far, is you.”
Zayen burst out laughing as if he heard a funny joke.
“The art of choosing friends and enemies is a skill, Your Highness.
“Constellation is peaceful and prosperous, with a bright future ahead of it,” his smile remained, but his words became more subtle, “Those in view are friends.
“Those whom you can’t see, are enemies.”
Zayen raised the wine glass in his hand. There was still wine in it, its color still fresh.
“Let us rather die for friends than perish as foes,” he said warmly.
He smiled, then immediately loosened his grip.
Thales pupils narrowed.
The wine glass hit the floor and shattered to pieces, scattering glass everywhere.
Every piece of broken glass reflected the light in the hall and cast curious glimmers and shadows.
Zayen did not linger; he turned around to leave.
“That’s my property,” behind Zayen, Thales uttered coldly as he looked at the broken glass.
“Indeed,” Zayen replied without turning back around, “That’s why you’re distressed about it.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
Watching Zayen walk further away from him, Thales could not help but yell, “Acting like this in Eternal Star City—openly challenging the authority of the royal family, driving a wedge between Jadestar and their vassals, damaging the relationship between Renaissance Palace and Western Desert, endangering the heir of the kingdom.
“Or are you still banking on the Jadestar royal family dying out so that you can succeed the throne?”
Thales stared at Zayen’s back and continued in a hushed tone, “My father won’t be happy.”
“After this incident tonight, you’ll probably have your hands full tomorrow.”
Even then he did not look back, leaving his back to face Thales as he answered loudly, “But if you have time, you should visit Byrael in jail.”
Thales was stunned.
“Trust me, His Majesty will be pleased.”
Zayen’s voice became more and more distant as it echoed, “You might be the only one who’s unhappy.”
Thales pondered, “Why?”
“I told you, this is just a warning.”
Zayen’s strides were graceful as usual, and his posture was composed and elegant. “So I left you a little surprise reward.”
Thales was confounded.
“Be smarter, Your Highness. Know your place.”
Emotion gradually faded from the Duke of South Coast’s voice, “I told you, the next time will be a declaration of war.”
Declaration of war?
Thales looked at Zayen incredulously; his annoyance, fury, and loathing was concentrated on the latter.
‘What the hell is this damned, pompous f**cker up to?’
Did he still think that it was Thales who offended him tonight?
Shocked and infuriated, Thales wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to be angry.
Zayen’s figure exited the hall as he rejoined his butler.
Thales heard Mallos’ footsteps behind him.
The prince sighed.
It’s just the beginning.
At the thought of the ordeal he experienced today, and what he would face tomorrow…
This was only the first day, the first banquet.
After forcing himself to put up a poker face for the entire night, Thales exhaled and sat down exhaustedly. He said indignantly, “I still don’t understand why he hates me so much.”
Thales scoffed. The more he looked at the broken glass on the floor, the more he felt disgruntled, to the point that he wanted to smash the empty glass in his hand to vent his anger.
But halfway through the motion, the distinguished and affluent Duke of Star Lake took a few deep breaths and, bitterly but rationally…put the glass back down on the table.
“As if I ruined his entire family,” Thales said glumly.
Mallos arrived behind Thales and nodded silently. “Did you?”
The prince turned around and rolled his eyes.
“I relieved Doyle in advance. He has to go back and settle his family down,” Mallos seemed to have gotten used to the duke’s death stare, as he continued to report calmly, “Of course, tomorrow…”
Thales covered his face and groaned, interrupting his personal guard captain.
“By the way, Mallos.”
The watchman pricked up his ears.
“Your ad-hoc sniper squad,” Thales looked up wearily, “They haven’t been relieved, have they?”
Mallos glanced outside.
Since they haven’t been relieved…
Thales scoffed and cast a glance towards the Duke of South Coast.
His expression was somber and his words were chilling, “So if I order them to stealthily track and assassinate Zayen Covendier…”
“No,” Mallos replied instantly.
Thales frowned. “Why?”
“Because,” Mallos turned around and replied casually and unabashedly, “They have been relieved.”