Chapter 563: Cause and Effect
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
After a long bout of silence, Duke Cullen sighed. “I guess dividing their forces was their second mistake?”
Solder’s expression was tense; he did not respond.
At the head of the table, King Kessel sat up straight and revealed his stern face for the first time from the darkness. “Gilbert?”
The Foreign Affairs Minister, ‘Cunning Fox’ Gilbert, who had kept silent for a while, nodded with a somber expression.
“Perhaps the Eckstedtians understood the pros and cons of this matter ideologically, but in practice…they failed to do it.”
With a keen gaze, Thales’ tutor began to analyze the situation. “The outcome directly affects the City of Faraway Prayers. They would be the most motivated to seek a breakthrough.
“Defence City is unconcerned. They would opt to err on the side of caution and stability.”
Gilbert scoffed softly. “As for Dragon Clouds City: the Heroic Spirit Palace has a strong foundation and is revered, but have lost respect by having Archduchess Walton at its helm.
“Its position is the most awkward, being caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Thales’ heart sank.
“It’s understandable that they would want to win through a surprise attack to gain prestige.”
Gilbert sighed slowly. “I think the consideration behind this choice is not military, but mainly politics.
“A hundred stubborn wise men are not as good as a hundred cooperating fools.”
Thales stared at the white chess pieces that were split up on the map and felt distressed.
‘Saroma, what were you actually thinking then?’
“Speaking of politics…” the Chief of Finance, Kirkirk Mann broke the tension in the air and asked, “This war was started by the kin slayer. It’s now in full swing. Hasn’t Lampard tried anything dubious behind their backs? Like meddling with prices, grain supplies, intel or public sentiment? To provoke the archdukes of the three cities?”
Solder looked towards the scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department.
The latter put away the papers in his hand and nodded.
“Since Chapman was crowned, Black Sand Region had been making things difficult for archdukes who refuse to comply with the king’s orders. This was the norm.”
But with a change in tone, the scar-faced man went on, “This time, however, things have been very strange. From the declaration of war to military recruitment, from the departure of the troops to the actual battle, from spies to officials, Black Sand Region has stopped almost all internal and external means of harassment and obstruction, and abstained from meddling in the battle of the three cities, concentrating only on subduing the internal unrest in their own region.”
Everyone at the Imperial Conference was stunned.
The king directed his gaze at the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Gilbert nodded in acknowledgement, but looked worried. “It’s true. Diplomatically, King Chapman has even issued notices and diplomatic notes in solidarity, condemning the Alliance of Freedom and fully supporting the western expedition of the three cities in pursuit of justice.”
Everyone was again shocked by these words.
Only Thales bit his lower lip.
“So this time,” Prime Minister Cullen rubbed his chin and wondered aloud, “Not only has Lampard not meddled, he resembles a generous and selfless king more than ever?”
The officials exchanged glances, evidently puzzled.
Until the king’s words disrupted the air of doubt, like a chunk of ice plunging into a still lake.
There was a chilling gleam in the king’s eyes as he clenched his fists. “By not moving.”
Even after the king finished his sentence, many were still left confused.
“He’s moved? He’s interfering? By not moving?”
Viscount Kenney was dumbfounded. “Your Majesty, I don’t understand.
“You mean, Lampard has an undisclosed private arrangement with them?”
The king did not respond, but merely looked up.
At the long table, the one and only youth gripped his knees subconsciously.
But King Kessel’s voice still rang out coldly, and entered his ears unhindered.
“Tell me, why King Chapman has moved.
“And how has he moved?”
Thales felt a chill in his heart.
‘Why did Chapman move?’
All eyes were on him. With much difficulty, he looked up.
Thales met the king’s gaze with a blank stare.
Beside him, Gilbert, although worried, coughed and gave him a look of encouragement.
Hence, Thales, the Duke of Star Lake, spoke at the Imperial Conference for the first time ever.
“After King Nuven passed, King Chapman’s unscrupulous and ruthless tactics, which makes the Walton, Roknee and Lecco families feel threatened, remain the only driving force that unites them.”
The second prince took a deep breath. He brushed off irrelevant thoughts and continued slowly, “But when King Chapman makes it clear that he’s stepping back and has no intention of meddling in their affairs…”
Thales did not go on.
The ministers looked at each other and began to understand.
But the king, with overtones of scrutiny and interrogation, pressed on, “What else?”
Thales clutched his knees tightly.
After some effort, he relaxed his grip.
“Originally, Dragon Clouds City, City of Faraway Prayers and Defence City joining forces and waging war against the Alliance of Freedom was a chess move against the king,” the Duke of Star Lake started again. This time, everyone listened intently to his analysis. “But after Lampard’s sudden visit to Dragon Clouds City on the day of the council hearing, the entire Eckstedt knew: the king had triumphed resoundingly in the political battle.”
‘The day of the council hearing.’
Thales dismissed the blight from that dreaded day and continued, “If the three cities confronted King Chapman though this war, it would be meaningless.
“They lost their greatest motivation to fight against the king. Limited to promises made that they can’t take back, in order to fulfil the oath of alliance, they had no choice but to mobilize their troops.”
Everyone at the conference exchanged whispers and nods.
Thales breathed a sigh of relief.
“What else,” the king asked again, seemingly unwilling to let him off the hook.
Thales paused for a moment.
In that moment, he vaguely knew what King Kessel wanted to say.
Thales was expressionless. Even in a chaotic state of mind, however, he responded instinctively, “On the day the oath was made, the prince of Constellation, who was the hostage of Dragon Clouds City, colluded with King Chapman…”
The ministers’ eyes flitted back and forth, the implications of which were still unclear.
Thales continued breathing distractedly. “After that, he was suddenly kidnapped, and disappeared.
“Not only did that disrupt the entire situation, it caused the three cities that swore the oath of alliance to lose trust…and suspect each other.”
After he said this, Thales felt empty inside.
Everything is connected.
It was precisely his decision on the day of the council hearing that affected the war at Fort Liberté in that moment, thousands of miles away.
Perhaps this was what King Kessel wanted him to say out loud.
Among the factors that caused the three cities to be at odds, that caused Little Rascal to suffer defeat…
Thales’ heart ached a little.
“And so it was. This military expedition, Dragon Clouds City did it for glory, the City of Faraway Prayers did it for gain, and Defence City wavers in the middle hoping to benefit from the dispute.”
Thales endeavored to keep speaking, as if narrating a story that was unrelated to himself. “They lost the most fundamental aspect of good faith, leaving only a façade of harmony which belied the fact that each were harboring their own intentions.
“Whether it’s divergent opinions or a division of troops, it was all predestined.”
A façade of harmony which belied the fact that each were harboring their own intentions.
Wasn’t that his most significant experience in the Northland these past few years?
Wasn’t that the strongest weapon that he used to counter Lampard on Dragon Blood’s Night?
The prince’s face was stiff after he finished speaking. Silence lingered around the long table.
It wasn’t after a long while that Kessel scoffed softly.
Uncommonly (and for the first time ever in this lifetime), he praised his son. “Very good.”
Beside the prince, Gilbert sighed.
“Far from the center of power, internal strife arises when enemies are eliminated.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister lamented, “In the distant western frontier, in merely allowing previous issues to simmer by deliberately not taking action, King Chapman made Northlanders forget why they stood together, and what they were fighting for.”
Everyone in Ballard room was engrossed in the indescribable atmosphere in that moment.
Until Solder let out a long sigh.
“His Majesty is right, and so is Count Caso.
“This is not war, not military affairs, not a game of chess.” There was fatigue in the military advisor’s eyes. “It’s politics.
“Maybe at the negotiating table and in the banquet hall, in the face of aggressive pressure exerted by the king, the Alliance of Three Eckstedtian Cities had a common purpose and could share a fraternal relationship.
“But under the current situation, when it comes to commanding an army on the battlefield, and when actual interests and life and death are at stake, each of the three cities have their own contrivances, there is no clear line of command between them, and no strongman like King Nuven to restrain them…”
Solder had a look of pain on his face. “Then it’s inevitable that disagreements would arise and they would find it difficult to join forces, and even suffer from a divergence of ideologies and fight only for themselves.”
Thales gently shut his eyes.
In that moment, a distant piece of memory flashed across his mind. It was an excerpt of an ancient poem:
“Armies combined but not united, marching forward but hesitant.”
Viscount Kenney coughed. “I had a sense when I visited the Northland… When to take risks, when to retreat, every move the kinslayer king made was clear-cut. He seemed to have had a thorough grasp of the situation. There must be an expert in his court aiding him in strategies.
The scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department nodded.
“‘Night Owl’ Lazaar Kentvida has been added to the Secret Intelligence Department’s key persons list,” he responded cautiously, “We’re fully monitoring his every more, whether he’s having an audience with the king or taking time off in his hometown.”
Viscount Kenney nodded in satisfaction at this information.
The king rapped the table. “Carry on.”
After that bout of sentimentality and emotion, the Imperial Conference reverted to its previous atmosphere. Solder Ryder started again, “After the army was divided, Karkogel of Dragon Cloud City personally led troops and launched a relentless series of attacks along Good Flow River, putting the Alliance of Freedom’s remaining elite squad under a stranglehold.”
From the three groups of white chess pieces, he picked a few and placed them beside the black knight.
Thales was uncomfortable as he watched the reenactment unfolding on the long table. He was reminded of his first encounter with Asda at Red Street Market many years ago.
That was a chess room too.
The Air Mystic strategized by moving chess pieces around too.
But so much has changed since then.
“It was going well at first, but as the battle progressed…”
In the next moment, Solder’s pupils contracted and he toppled the white chess pieces under his hand.
“The one-armed duke was captured.”
Everyone was momentarily stunned.
In the next second, a commotion broke out in the conference room.
“How did they do it?”
“This is Karkogel we’re talking about!”
“The elite soldiers of Dragon Clouds City…
“Even without the support of the other two cities, there’s no way they could have been defeated by such an opponent, is there?”
Faced with a flurry of questions, Solder shook his head somberly. “There is no intel on that. All we know is that, whether by luck or coincidence, it happened.”
The scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department nodded in acknowledgement of the military advisor’s reply.
Thales looked uncertain as he thought about Karkogel.
The man reputed to be “the best fighter under King Nuven”.
It was inconceivable that, in open battle, he would be defeated by an unknown solitary squadron from a small country, what’s more be captured.
The scar-faced man looked through his intel. “We only know that, after their commander-in-chief was captured, the Dragon Clouds City army was dispirited.
“The Alliance built on their success by pursuing the Dragon Clouds City army. In the face of dynamic attacks, the Dragon Clouds City army continuously retreated in defeat, and even had an incident where there was a failure in command which resulted in an inability to control the front and the rear simultaneously.
“Even the Archduchess was separated from her troops in the chaos, and her whereabouts are currently uncertain.
“Without their leader, the army was practically like the walking dead.”
‘Separated from her troops in the chaos.
The prince took a deep breath and tried to keep a poker face.
Thales felt Gilbert’s hand on his palm, signaling for him to stay calm.
Solder continued to recount the battle that occurred thousands of miles away, “At the same time, at the battlefront, the City of Faraway Prayers took over at the frontlines. They were trying to take advantage of the lack of troops in Fort Liberté by going all out to attack the city.”
But in the next moment, Solder’s expression turned grim. He tapped his fingers repeatedly beside Fort Liberté on the map, making the black and white chess pieces—which varied greatly in numbers—wobble.
“Eckstedtians suffered a bigger loss than expected. This time around, determined to risk their lives, the soldiers and civilians of the Alliance of Freedom are putting up a strong fight.
“The City of Faraway Prayers failed repeatedly in conquering Fort Liberté.”
Compared to the grave tone in which they were said, the implications behind these words were even more worrying.
“Failed repeatedly…” Gilbert muttered over and over somewhat contemplatively.
Amid the confusion of the ministers, Solder coughed and move the second group of white chess pieces to the flank, and continued to explain, “As for those from Defence City, they consolidated the battle lines around the periphery, and collected provisions and maintained law and order in passing.
“But not only did they not reap many rewards, they encountered strong resistance from countless Troubled Citizens. Army morale plummeted. ”
At the head of the table, the king furrowed his brows. He looked towards the Foreign Affairs Minister and asked, “Troubled Citizens?”
Gilbert held up a pair of lorgnette and opened a notebook. “Most of the Freedom of Alliance, the eastern parts of the Northern Sea Kingdom, and the western parts of the City of Faraway Prayers territory—these areas were originally part of the West Billow Province of the Empire, and the indigenous people of the area are called the ‘Troubled Citizens’ of West Billow.
“Although the area lies at the end of Golden Passage, most of them live in poverty and are lowborn. For centuries, whether during the successive colonization by Eckstedtians and Camians respectively, or by the senate of the Freedom of Alliance established by high-ranking officials and nobles through compromise, they were treated harshly.”
Thales recalled the story that the heir to the City of Faraway Prayers, Ian the Nuisance, had told him about the ‘Troubled Citizens’ of West Billow.
“I don’t understand.”
The Minister of Trade, Viscount Kenney, voiced the question that was on everyone’s minds, “When I visited the Golden Passage, the army and civilians of Alliance of Freedom…weren’t that strong? What’s more, they are now going up against the Northland Barbarians?”
Solder shook his head. “No, it’s precisely because they are going up against Northlanders.”
This time, Solder looked towards the Cunning Fox of Constellation.
Gilbert sighed as he reopened his notebook. “Twenty years ago, Nuven’s son Soria Walton led an attack against Fort Liberté.
“After he conquered the city, in order to avenge his men that died in the battle, he carried out a three-day-long massacre and looted wantonly, leaving behind bleak ruins and starving civilians.”
‘…aren’t in Eckstedtian records.’
The Chief of Finance, Kirkirk Mann, nodded somberly, “I remember that incident. Northlanders reportedly want to cover it up at first. There were even scandalmongers who equated that inhumane beast with Prince Horace, how ludicrous.”
Gilbert frowned and went on, “The governor-general of the Alliance had all his fingers chopped off, was dragged around the city for twenty miles to his death, and had his corpse displayed in public to serve as a warning. This atrocity horrified the surrounding areas.”
The Foreign Affairs Ministers put down his glasses and closed his notebook. “And the current governor-general of the Alliance, is the grandson of the last governor-general.”
Thales glanced at Gilbert’s notebook.
Played down in recorded history, the past in reality was leaden and oppressive.
“That was why they put up a resistance.”
Upon hearing this, Prime Minister Cullen sighed deeply. “In the face of tyranny, there isn’t a place where the people are naturally cowardly and are willing to be sitting ducks.”
Perhaps because these words struck a chord, the Imperial Conference fell silent and no one said anything for a while.
Gilbert nodded and lamented, “It’s cause and effect. The current state of the war was actually predetermined twenty years ago.
“Now, the Northlanders are just repaying the debt for their previous acts of brutality.”