Chapter 565: Of Course—Not
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“That girl got help.”
Solder got right to the point. “When she disappeared from the battlefield and her fate was unknown.”
At the Imperial Conference, some confusion was cleared up but more questions followed.
The Minister of Trade, Viscount Kenney chuckled mockingly. “Was it the Great Dragon then?”
Thales flashed back to when the disheveled and dopey Little Rascal sat in the ruins, face to face with the enormous and elegant head of the dragon.
But Viscount Kenney soon realized that no one found his joke funny.
On the contrary, the expression of the ever-cheery Duke Cullen froze, and the Chief of Finance, Kirkirk Mann looked terrible.
The Minister of Agriculture, Krapen roused from his drowsy state and his eyes were wide with shock. Stylia Nydis, who had kept silent all this while, lowered his head contemplatively.
Sitting next to Gilbert, Thales suppressed his curiosity and impatience, and concentrated on watching the Foreign Affairs Minister rifle through the information in his hand.
At the end of the table, the king was motionless, like a stone sculpture.
The entire Imperial Conference was exceptionally silent.
Viscount Kenney’s smile gradually faded.
Amid the silence, Advisor Solder’s voice rang out, ending Viscount Kenney’s awkwardness.
“It was the Troubled Citizens.”
The military advisor placed both palms on the table and looked at everyone.
Thales sensed that, after Solder said ‘no’, most of the officials breathed a sigh of relief.
“It was the local Troubled Citizens of West Billow.”
Solder frowned. His palm brush past the roads and cities on the map and lightly tapped a blank space without any chess pieces.
“They helped the Archduchess, helped her survive on the battlefield.
“And helped her seek and gather some of the elites from Dragon Clouds City.”
The military advisor scooped up a few white chess pieces that were outside of the map and placed them by the side of the white queen.
Thales felt relieved.
‘So Saroma was aided by the locals and survived the treacherous battlefield.’
But he immediately sensed that something wasn’t quite right.
“Wait a minute, I thought Count Caso said,” Viscount Kenney asked, baffled, “Soria Walton massacred Fort Liberté, and there was deep-seated hatred between him and the people of the Alliance of Freedom? If the Troubled Citizens knew about the archduchess’ identity, why did they…”
Many turned towards Gilbert.
The Foreign Affairs Minister held up his glasses. He looked slightly distressed as he skimmed through his notes. “About this—I apologize, give me a few minutes—I remember it was somewhere around these few pages…”
Solder coughed and looked towards the man from the Secret Intelligence Department.
The scar-faced man stepped forward steadily and relieved Gilbert of his awkwardness. “That’s what the Secret Intelligence Department thought at first—that the Troubled Citizens of the Alliance of Freedom and the Northlanders were irreconcilable adversaries.
“We discovered later that our intel was incomplete.
“So we immediately linked up with the local intelligence centers and cross-checked the information against the historical data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister finally found the page he was looking for. He exhaled and took over, “Ahem, my fellow ministers, the situation in Alliance of Freedom is a little unique.”
Gilbert looked up and turned back into the Cunning Fox of Constellation that Thales knew. “In fact, unlike the Troubled Citizens of the City of Faraway Prayers, the majority of Troubled Citizens in the Alliance of Freedom—particularly the ones mentioned by Solder—the ones living in villages and the countryside, of lowborn status, impoverished, discriminated against, and doing the most inferior work even if they tried to earn a living in Fort Liberté.
“Their deep-seated hatred is not against the Northland invaders that mainly target nobles, but the upper-class living in Fort Liberté.”
Thales frowned. He remembered that Roknee Jr had once implied to him that the Troubled Citizens were one of the problems in the governance of the City of Faraway Prayers. But he never knew that this was a problem beyond the borders of the City of Faraway Prayers.
“It’s a little…complicated?” Viscount Kenney voiced his thoughts.
Everyone sat upright and looked towards the speaker.
“Not at all.”
King Kessel stared at the ring on his hand, his gaze lingering on the gleaming gold.
“Just like what happened last night.”
The Imperial Conference fell silent.
Thales subconsciously looked away to avoid everyone’s purposeful gazes.
Gilbert’s timely interruption drew everyone’s attention and eased the tension. “A hundred years ago, Camus Union implemented the ‘Hundred-Nation Trade Route’ war strategy and expanded their powers eastward, destabilizing the entire Golden Passage.
“At that time, Eckstedt was ruled by ‘Steel Breaker King’ Nuven the Sixth who had only been crowned recently. He went up against the Camians multiple times before both sides finally reached a compromise: they would support the local power in the east end of the Golden Passage in establishing a country with an open trade route but was still loyal to Eckstedt as its suzerain state.”
Advisor Solder frowned. “The Alliance of Freedom.”
Gilbert nodded. “As the byproduct of a compromise between two kingdoms, the structure of the Alliance of Freedom had been abnormal from the start: Its source of power and governing foundations lay not within itself but externally, and was inclined to benefit the upper-class. Taking advantage of the profits from the trade route, it grew from the cracks of both kingdoms.”
Gilbert turned a page and continued solemnly, “After ruling for nearly a century, the high-ranking officials, elders and noble families in the Alliance of Freedom, although sharing the same lineage as the Troubled Citizens, were accustomed to being at the top of the pyramid, exploitative business practices, holding important positions and enjoying privileges. They no longer saw themselves as part of the Troubled Citizens.”
‘So that’s why.
‘The reality was far more complicated and specific than portrayed by a dull sentence like ‘Located west of Faraway Prayers and east of Good Flow, the Alliance of Freedom enjoys trade profits’ in books.
‘As for Saroma, what she has to face will be more difficult than what I will have to face.’
“So the lowborn Troubled Citizens are actually a local force that can be persuaded to fight against the upper-class within Fort Liberté.”
Prime Minister Cullen stroked his chin, looking naïve. “Only that, for the past few decades, the Northlanders have focused on the nobles in the city, on the political powers that they fostered through their compromise with the Camians?”
Gilbert sighed, “Never mind distinguishing between Troubled Citizens and nobles… To be exact, for the past few decades, the Northlanders have been indifferent to the entire Alliance of Freedom.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister frowned wordlessly: aren’t we the same? Even we were in a hurry to update our intel after being shocked by the news from the battlefront.
Thales calmed down, but could not stop himself from wondering, ‘But, how did Saroma…’
“So, that girl garnered the support of some Troubled Citizens, but…” ‘Wallet’ Kirkirk Mann asked, squinting, “we’re talking about a violent and costly war with real guns and swords, not logging and agriculture.
“Could a bunch of poor people in ragged clothing really have helped her win it?”
This question hit the nail on the head. Despite being well-mannered nobles, everyone was so curious that they could not help but lean forward in anticipation of the answer.
Solder’s reply was swift and resolute as usual. “But at least they could provide her with a passageway, one that only lowly Troubled Citizens who did hard labor knew about, to secretly sneak into Fort Liberté.”
Thales’ eyelids twitched.
“According to our intel, one night after the Alliance of Freedom returned in triumph to Fort Liberté, the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City led the Archduchess’ Guards—many of whom were White Blade Guards during King Nuven’s reign—and covertly infiltrated the inner city of Fort Liberté.”
Thales subconsciously leaned forward, joining the others, and stared at that white chess piece.
Solder Ryder hunched forward. On the battlefield from which the white chess pieces had retreated and where the black chess pieces again stood, against the momentum but unstoppably, he pushed that special white queen towards Fort Liberté.
Like sunlight that finally pierced through thick clouds.
“With the help and guidance of the Troubled Citizens, with a mere few hundred soldiers, she effortlessly captured every senior ranking official of the Alliance of Freedom.
“Drawing the curtain over the entire war,” Solder concluded.
Soft gasps could be heard throughout the room.
Thales bit his lower lip.
He imagined the situation that night.
‘A small group of elites, covertly infiltrating, effortlessly, captured every senior ranking official…
Thales was lost in thought.
Looks like he wasn’t the only one who learnt a thing or two from Chapman Lampard’s madness six years ago.
“From the governor-general and elders, to officials and generals.”
Methodically, Solder toppled the few black chess pieces that were left in Fort Liberté one after another.
“Including the crucial Josh Kenya and the young Ivan Polado.
“No one was spared.
“All in one go.
“All becoming prisoners overnight.”
Solder retracted his fingers and stared at the only white queen standing on the battlefield, then sighed, “Right when they were engrossed in their victory and completely dropped their guard.”
A long bout of silence followed.
After a while, Viscount Kenney voiced his disbelief as he stared at the map with chess pieces scattered on it. “So this war was just two sides acting as each other’s foils in a contest to see who is stupider?”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and didn’t know if he was mocking or lamenting.
Everyone else shared this feeling to some extent.
“If you looked through historical accounts of wars, My Lord, you would likely discover that that is true of many past wars,” Solder responded coldly, clearly in a bad mood.
“In many instances, the outcome of the war isn’t due to the prowess of the victor…
“But the stupidity of the loser.”
Solder lowered his head.
‘What’s more, the factors involved in war are complex. There is too much chaos, too many coincidences and too many unknowns.
‘We could be sitting here and strategizing about every last detail on paper.
‘But to be on the battlefield in person, facing reality…
‘We probably wouldn’t be any better.’
“At least the Northlanders conquered Fort Liberté,” Gilbert sighed, and tried to smooth things over, “And lived up to their name of being ‘invincible in open battle’.
Thales exhaled discreetly.
Duke Cullen asked loudly, “So she captured the top rank, controlled the inner city, but the remaining soldiers and civilians in Fort Liberté…”
Solder nodded and turned towards the scar-faced man.
The man from the Secret Intelligence Department stepped forward respectfully.
“Following the rescue of Karkogel, the remnants of the Dragon Clouds City army regrouped and the chain of command was restored.
“With the help of the Troubled Citizens, they entered the city in batches over the course of several days and joined the archduchess.
“Finally taking Fort Liberté without a hitch.”
Solder continued on his behalf, “And so, when Faraway Prayers retreated in defeat and Defence fled in panic, when the tide had turned against Eckstedt, Dragon Clouds City emerged as a force to be reckoned with and reversed the outcome of the war.
‘Big Soldier’ finished speaking. There was silence around the table.
Everyone was still feeling the aftereffects of the battle that unfolded on the table, immersed in different emotions and temporarily dazed.
“Hmph,” the white-bearded Chief of Finance, Kirkirk Mann scoffed in disdain, “They suffered crushing defeat on the battlefield and had to depend on a woman sneaking about to salvage the situation.
“Even if they have won the war, Eckstedt has lost face. They have been reduced to a laughing stock.”
Everyone in the room was flooded with mixed emotions, and no one responded.
Until a young voice said, “Lord Mann, this room is called ‘Ballard Room’, is it not?”
The ministers turned around to discover, to their surprise, that the speaker was the Duke of Star Lake, who was a first-time participant of the Conference, who had acted cautiously thus far, and had never spoken of his own initiative.
Kirkirk Mann took the question seriously and sat upright. “Indeed, Your Highness. This is the great Ballard Room. Why do you ask?”
Thales appraised him for a while before replying with a grin, “No reason.
“Let’s get back to that laughing stock of a country that had to depend on a woman to salvage the situation.”
Kirkirk Mann was baffled.
Everyone in the room had a different expression.
Gilbert coughed softly and signaled Thales with his eyes. The latter then leaned backwards and stopped talking.
“The girl did more than just that.”
Solder’s words pulled everyone’s attention back to the battle.
The military advisor looked up and, indicating towards the scar-faced man beside him, said, “The Secret Intelligence Department has more detailed information.”
The spy from the Secret Intelligence Department bowed and switched to another document. “With the fall of Fort Liberté, the capture of its top rank, and the surrender of its army…
“The Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City, confident from having the upper hand, ordered for every captive, every oath-breaker, without exception, from the governor-general of the Alliance, elders and high-ranking officials to generals and soldiers…”
The scar-faced man took his gaze off the document and looked austere. “To all be sentenced to the guillotine.”
Thales stopped breathing.
The officials exchanged whispers.
Prime Minister Cullen frowned. “She is indeed the part of Nuven and Soria’s bloodline. Her ruthlessness and brutality are not second to her father and grandfather.
“Well, you know what they’re like, women,” Kirkirk Mann groaned, “Always so easily offended, narrow-minded, calculative and vindictive.”
“She’s suffered such huge losses. I would do the same if I were her.” Viscount Kenney sighed. ” At least she made it quick, and didn’t torture them first.”
Thales did not speak, but merely frowned in contemplation.
“How many?” Gilbert looked over and interrupted the discussion at the long table, “How many did she kill?”
The eccentric scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department glanced at the ministers.
With a blank expression, he swapped over to another piece of paper and read out an unexpected number, “Zero.”
The entire Ballard Room fell silent.
The ministers were wide-eyed and gaping in disbelief. It took them a few seconds to digest this information.
At an unnoticeable angle, the corners of Thales’ lips curved upwards.
The scar-faced man nodded in acknowledgement.
“On the scaffold, before the blade was released.
“The archduchess removed her helmet and armor.”
The scar-faced man spoke in a steady and natural tone, but his words seem to carry an unusual power as he recounted the saga thousands of miles away, “The young lady walked away from her military escorts towards the front of the scaffold, and announced to the trembling audience below.”
The man from the Secret Intelligence Department switched to another piece of paper. With a mix of surprise, doubt, disdain and vigilance, the ministers concentrated their attention completely on him.
“That there had been enough deaths in the war.
“That enough blood had been shed by both sides.”
The ministers exchanged looks of confusion.
“She said that the lives and livelihoods of millions of people and the sons and daughters of countless families should not have to pay for the selfishness and mistakes of a few high-ranking individuals.”
The scar-faced man looked up. “She said, someone once told her.
“War can’t bring peace, just like death can’t pay for life.”
Thales’ eyes grew wide.
“And she, the ruler of Dragon Clouds City, would not repeat the mistakes of her father and grandfather.”
At the end of the long table, the king suddenly moved. Against the light, he looked up to reveal a pair of eyes in the darkness.
“Amid the heated public debate, in front of everyone, the archduchess forgave and pardoned all the prisoners of war and untied them one after another. Finally, she helped the despondent Ivan Polado up to his feet and told him…”
The scar-faced man turned over a page and continued in a somber tone, “On the battlefield, you injured my people. But in response, ‘Astonishing Ivan’, I pardon your life, in exchange for an end to this war and hatred.”
The agent’s voice faded away.
The conference room was silent once more.
After a few seconds, the emotional Thales sighed and asked pointedly, “Easily offended, narrow-minded?”
Kirkirk Mann had an unnatural look on his face.
In an outburst, Viscount Kenny exclaimed, “Pathetic soft-heartedness! To release the enemy in their territory, she will be destroyed…”
But before he could finish, the agent from the Secret Intelligence Department turned over the page to another document. “The archduchess even publicly issued a ‘Peace Order’.
“While stationed at Fort Liberté, the entire Dragon Clouds City army, whether general or soldier, shall not harm or abuse the prisoners of war, harass or loot residential homes, impede public security, or disrupt the social order.”
The scar-faced man looked up. “Anyone found to be in contempt of the Order will be severely punished in the name of Dragon Spear and Soul Slayer.”
Viscount Kenney as well as Duke Cullen were stunned by these words.
“That can’t be?”
The prime minister frowned. “Can her vassals and army tolerate it? How would she satisfy their greed? What did they spend so much money and grain and journey so far for? For traveling and sight-seeing? With so many dead and injured, how are they supposed to call it even?
“Does she really think that, by sparing a few dozen Alliance leaders, their people will be subdued? Does she not have a wise subordinate to stand up against her?”
The ministers exchanged whispers; many found the situation equally perplexing.
Solder’s calm voice could again be heard, “After their previous defeat, and in the face of the archduchess’ prominence in the war, I guess there aren’t many subordinates left that dare raise objections.”
The scar-faced man nodded. “Her deputy commander, the highest-ranked Karkogel, was the first to kneel in acknowledgement of the order.
“The rest followed suit.
“Not daring to dissent.”
Thales slipped into a daze. He was transported back to the council hearing in Hall of Heroes. There, Saroma was frantically yelling, but her vassals were cold and unmoved.
“As for Fort Liberté…”
The scar-faced man continued reading his intelligence report, “The archduchess strongly advised the governor-general of the Alliance to have the Alliance elders take out their savings and donate their land to aid the Troubled Citizens and relieve the difficult situation.
“She even revised statutes to reduce taxes and reestablished the courts to review old cases.
“And in passing, resolved the ‘food and lodging problems’ of the Dragon Clouds City army.”
Beside Thales, Gilbert took a deep breath and his gaze was complex.
“She ‘advised’ the governor-general of the Alliance, ‘advised’ the elders?”
Kirkirk Mann chuckled. “Hah, either the archduchess’ sincere attitude was so moving, or the Alliance elders were very receptive towards the advice due to their noble moral characters…”
“We’ll never know for sure,” Gilbert said quietly, “But my guess is that, both the sword in her hand and the blade on the guillotine must be very sharp.”
“At first, some were not too enthusiastic about the ‘advice’, and agreed to do it overtly but opposed it in secret,” the scar-faced man frowned.
“So in the end, the archduchess sent the Star Killer to have a heart-to-heart with the elders…”
‘A heart-to-heart with the Star Killer…’
Thales felt a phantom pain in his left wrist.
“It is said that some ‘expressed penitence and died of shame’ from the eloquence of the Star Killer, the rest…”
The agent from the Secret Intelligence Department looked up and concluded while stepping back respectfully, “Became more enthusiastic.”
The officials exchanged a flat look of comprehension.
“Changing statutes and establishing courts,” Minister Kenney said with a frown, “She might as well just stick a Black-Based Red Dragon Flag atop the city gate tower, bestow it to a trustworthy Northlander, declare that Fort Liberté is annexed into Eckstedt and be done with it.”
“Because she, or should I say her subordinates, are smart enough.”
Gilbert’s expression was somber, “They knew to balance the pros and cons of staying and leaving, to seek profits while avoiding harms.
“This way, while occupying the territory, she would not have to bear the burden and strain of governance.
“When she leaves, she will reap the benefits in the form of commemoration and reputation.”
The king’s fingers slammed onto the long table, startling everyone.
He did not say anything, but continued to look towards the military advisor.
Solder got the message and cleared his throat. “In short, the Troubled Citizens rejoiced at the Order.
“The Alliance elders, for the most part, appeared emotionally stable.
“The Dragon Clouds City army has also been appeased.
“Just like that, Archduchess Walton used both carrot and stick and showed grace as well as authority. Add that to the huge losses suffered in the war, Fort Liberté—which was a spent force even from the start—lost their last shred of strength and willpower.”
With mixed emotions, Solder looked at that white chess piece that stood out among the rest and lamented, “‘The Lady of Blazing Blood’ managed to conquer the city effortlessly and peacefully.”
Unwittingly, Thales puckered his lips.
He knew, that it must have been far from ‘effortless’.
“‘The Lady of Blazing Blood’, Viscount Kenney queried with a frown, “Really?”
Solder scoffed softly, “That’s what everyone calls her. Or do you prefer I call her ‘Lady Dragon’?”
Kenney smiled but did not reply.
Solder went on, “With the fall of their capitol and the surge of Troubled Citizens, the other cities within the Alliance of Freedom lost their will to fight and were dispirited even before the enemy was in sight.
“That was how the Eckstedtians dramatically turned the tide of the war.”
The military advisor slowly sat down and no longer moved the chess pieces on the map where the war situation was settled.
Minister ‘Wallet’ coughed. “My question is—when she lost in battle and was far away from her home territory, that was when she was in the direst of straits, with no army nor funds—how did she manage to gain the support of those foreign Troubled Citizens?
“She couldn’t have slept with them all, could she?”
Thales stared at Kirkirk Mann with a blank expression.
‘This minister really is advanced in years…
‘He should really consider an early retirement,’ he thought.
The agent from the Secret Intelligence Department stepped forward once again.
“We don’t know, but we discovered that the nickname ‘Blazing Blood Dragon’ originated from the Troubled Citizens and only spread to the Northlanders after.”
Kenney wondered, “Why this nickname?
“Did she light herself on fire, stand on a carriage, and charge towards the city?”
The scar-faced man shook his head. “There are all types of rumors. Some say they witnessed a dragon descending from the skies to help her conquer the city…”
Kenney frowned. “So it really is the Great Dragon?”
But he noticed many ministers were shaking their heads at him.
“Impossible,” Solder started again, seemingly a little annoyed, “It might be because you have joined the Imperial Conference fairly recently, Viscount Kenney, that you don’t know this.
“But according to the secret agreement made between ‘Black Eye’ John and the entire Eckstedt kingdom centuries ago,” the military advisor scoffed, “the Queen of the Sky, as a supernatural being, would only intervene in worldly affairs when Calamity reappears.
“Otherwise, we would have been turned to ashes five hundred years ago.”
Gilbert coughed to remind his old friend about his choice of words.
“Only for Calamity? I mean, it clearly appeared in Dragon Clouds City six years ago—”
Viscount Kenny seemed to have figured something out. He looked pallid.
“Oh… I see…”
Thales thought about his encounter with the dragon six years ago, and recalled the Queen of the Sky telling him that he had a beautiful Drakonic name. He couldn’t help but glance over at King Kessel in the distance.
Unfortunately, the king remained still as a sculpture.
“Of course, Lord Kenney,” the scar-faced man said tactfully, “For the past few centuries, we have kept vigilant about the possibility that the Great Dragon might break its promise.
“But so far everything has turned out fine.”
Kenney nodded awkwardly.
The scar-face man continued, “As for the Archduchess’ moniker, some say her blood can start a blaze, burning the enemy alive. Some say once she removes her clothes, she is able to spread her dragon wings and fan a gale. There are even rumors that say, when she howls at the full moon, she can turn into a dragon…
“The one about the full moon, that’s the legend about werewolves,” Solder couldn’t help but interject as the theories became more and more outrageous.
“They’ve long been exterminated by Enemy of the Wolves with the help of Immortal Hunters.”
The spy from the Secret Intelligence Department understood what the military advisor was trying to say, and stopped reciting from the report. He summarized, “All these are not credible.
“How this nickname came about is still a mystery.”
The officials started exchanging whispers again. Thales noticed Gilbert casting a quizzical look at Vicar General Stylia Nydis; the latter shook his head.
At that moment.
“What kind of girl is she?” a gravelly voice asked. The ministers stopped their discussions and turned towards the head of the long table.
The scar-faced man bowed towards the dark outline of the king. “According to our intel, when she was one, her parents…”
But he was immediately cut short, “Thales,” the king’s said slowly, making Thales shudder, “I’m asking you.”
There was a glint in Kirkirk Mann’s eyes. “That’s right. His Highness lived in Dragon Clouds City for six long years. He must know her well, they may even be friends…”
But the Chief of Finance suddenly recalled the situation where he was interrupted by the prince earlier.
Some pondering made him realize the cause. Kirkirk instantly turned pale, lowered his head and dared not go on.
‘What kind of girl is she?’
‘Is she the girl in the library with glasses and gleaming eyes, or the disheveled and quivering lass in Heroic Spirit Palace?
‘Is she the young lady that gritted her teeth and dragged herself forward in the ruins? Or the archduchess who issued a call for action with glowering eyes?’
In that instant, Thales was overwhelmed with mixed emotions.
The Duke of Star Lake took a deep breath before looking towards the head of the long table, staring into those extraordinary eyes.
“That girl looks calm and gentle, harmless,” the prince said softly, “Even a little…dull, sometimes.
“But Little… Saroma?”
Recalling the scene when she refused to leave with him, Thales lowered his head and the corners of his mouth curved upwards subconsciously.
“She’s a real fighter.”
Done reminiscing, Thales looked up and uttered every word firmly, “Regardless of what she’s up against.
“Calamity, dragon, or…kings.”
Thales could hear the ministers whispering around him.
Until, at one end of the long table, the king said coldly, “Is that so.”
Thales paused: Gilbert nudged him with his elbow somewhat forcibly.
The second prince got the gist and coughed. “Ahem…I mean, she might be a tough enemy. Of course, she could also be a potential ally.”
Under the scrutinizing gazes of the entire table, Thales continued solemnly, “Fortunately, we have a good relationship… What I mean to say is, I’m on talking terms with her.”
The ministers looked at each other.
The king was silent for a while before asking, “Is there anything that can be used against her?”
Thales’ forehead twitched.
“There should be,” he replied while maintaining a poker face, “I’ll have a think when I get back.”
Thales could not see King Kessel’s face clearly, but the latter’s voice could steadily be heard, “She can be our ally?”
Thales’ eyes lit up.
“She holds the real power in Dragon Clouds City, and isn’t just a puppet of her vassals?”
“Have you ever slept with her?”
Thales’ expression changed before the echo of his voice faded away. Reacting quickly, he hastily added, “—not.”
The long table fell silent.
Inexplicably, Thales’ face was burning from the gazes directed at him, their implications unknown.
Several seconds later, the king’s probing gaze was finally removed from him.
He merely left the youth with an odd nasal sound, “Hmmph.”