Chapter 567: Head Over Heels
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“When will you understand that your father’s methods in ruling the country has nothing to do with the ending he will inevitably obtain with how willfully he acts?”
A familiar piercing voice echoed in his memory.
“And he’s not the only one who will be affected, countless others will be affected as well, be it the king’s partisans who support the king, or people like Koshder who oppose him. The conflict that escalates between them will bring about an ending no one can ever predict.”
Thales sat quietly in his seat and focused his attention on the map in front of him, trying his best to dismiss from his mind what Fakenhaz said to him at Ghost Prince Tower.
Was this the kingdom he had to face?
In that moment, all the ministers were cautious.
“You should know, Solder. Never mind the implementation,” by the conference table, like an ailing old man, Prime Minister Cullen asked weakly, “Do you know how severe the consequences will be for the kingdom if just your words today were disclosed to the public?”
The military advisor snorted and shook his head.
Just as he was about to speak, the Foreign Affairs Minister interrupted him.
“It’s one thing if we scrimp and save and bear the financial responsibility in supporting the regular soldiers of the royal family,” Gilbert sounded gentle as ever, but his words were brimming with warning, “As for passing a law throughout the kingdom to pare down the rights of suzerains to recruit armed forces?
“Solder, that’s a different issue.”
Solder frowned, as if disagreeing.
But out of long-standing respect and admiration for the Cunning Fox of Constellation, he did not immediately refute.
Thankful for the supportive view, Prime Minister Cullen cast a grateful gaze towards the Foreign Affairs Minister.
“Take Eternal Star City as an example: the regular soldiers of the royal family and the Jadestar Private Army, the former are professional soldiers while the latter are recruited for fixed service periods.”
The prime minister nodded towards the shadow seated on the throne against the light and smiled. “Even though from separate sources, they are both part of His Majesty’s arsenal.”
In the eyes of the ‘Sword of the Gulf’, the master of Splendid Port City who was from a prestigious family, there was no longer the slickness of a nice guy, but the seriousness of a negotiating merchant instead.
“It is the same across Constellation: suzerains hold a small but professional cluster of elite guards, and recruit from the general populace to serve as the main force in the battlefield if and when necessary.
“Regular and irregular, coordinating in battle. Enlistment and recruitment, implemented in parallel.
“This is a convention of the kingdom, a long-established tradition.”
The Chief of Finance, Kirkirk Mann scoffed softly. Viscount Kenney squinted. Lord Krapen simply continued to daydream.
“But it is precisely this parallel implementation of enlistment and recruitment that is bogging our army down!”
Hair thinning but still hale and hearty, Solder ignored everyone’s gazes and rebutted loudly, “Reality has proven than the private recruits of suzerains, even the private army of the Jadestar family—no offense, Your Majesty—are poorly organized and of inconsistent quality, and is unable to match the elite regular soldiers of the royal family.”
King Kessel adjusted his sitting posture in the shadows; his face was obscure as before.
Thales’ gaze flitted as he recalled that, many years ago, the guards guarding the sealed off Mindis Hall were recruited from the Jadestar Private Army of his family territory.
“This is why he has not been given a noble title…”
Kirkirk Mann shook his head disdainfully at Solder while waving his hands in the air and complaining to the prime minister, “Every time the atmosphere is good, this darned Big Soldier has to stir the pot, spoil the party and mess everything up.”
Advisor Solder turned abruptly towards him and glared at him with a piercing gaze. “This is probably why you’ve never been given a noble title, Wallet.”
Kirkirk Mann’s face turned beet red.
But after a few seconds, faced with Solder’s keen gaze, the furious Chief of Finance lowered his head.
Inaudibly mumbling something.
Thales heard through hell’s senses that what Kirkirk probably said was “Speaking as if you don’t have to take a shit.”
With this minor verbal victory, Solder no longer looked at Kirkirk, but turned towards everyone. “Since the establishment of the military staffing structure during the era of the ‘Sand King’, the regular soldiers of the royal family have experienced decades of development and tribulations. They have proven to be reliable and professional elite troops. In all aspects ranging from recruitment to training, defense to offense, their status and significance far outweighs that of the ordinary personal guards of suzerains.”
He continued fervently, “Take the three major guard units as an example: Baron Murkh’s Fury Guards are one of the best at fighting hard battles. Fierce and dauntless, they are not inferior to the heavily armed elites of Eckstedt.
“Lady Sasere’s Starlight Guards bear the important responsibility of defending Broken Dragon Fortress. Experienced, they are particularly skilled at defending under pressure, wearing the enemy out and impeding tactics.
“Baron Williams’ Stardust Unit is the dagger and arrow of the western frontline. Swift as lightning and able to travel thousands of miles in no time, they are a formidable force.”
Thales thought about Constellation’s Three Commanders and the elite troops they led, seemingly contemplative.
Solder turned towards Duke Cullen, and asked in a somewhat challenging tone, “So is the Jadestar Private Army—as recruits—capable of this?
“Or even just a small proportion of the professional private troops of the suzerains—the Black Lion Infantry Battalion of Western Desert, Arunde’s White Eagle Scouts or the Mountaineers of the Great Deer Antler family, are they capable of this?”
The king’s figure shifted, exposing the sunlight behind him, which shone on Solder.
Making the military advisor appear upright and forbidding.
Duke Cullen was silent.
Moments later, the prime minister raised his cup to his mouth and took a sip. “When it comes to war matters, Solder, I defer to you.
“But militarizing for self-defense is the natural right of suzerains, and to aid their ruler in war is their traditional duty. It is the status quo in which everyone has been immersed since birth.
“The recruits of the hundreds of suzerains of Constellation, from Central Territory to Blade Edge Hill, make up ninety percent of the entire armed forces of the kingdom. And the command duties of each of these private armies are enmeshed with local customs and the title appointments of countless individuals.”
Cullen looked at Solder with a serious expression. “Territory population, tax receipts, and production output, all aspects of local governance are involved.
“This should not be taken lightly.”
But he did not receive the response he was hoping for.
“Ninety percent of the entire armed forces of the kingdom?” Solder scoffed, “You mean the hundreds of soldiers that you and your fellow loyal suzerains managed to gather six years ago at the National Conference?”
Faced with Solder’s ruthless gaze, Prime Minister Cullen’s hand that was holding his cup trembled slightly.
“Solder, we’re at the Imperial Conference,” Gilbert interrupted promptly. His warning tone calmed the heated atmosphere a little. “Mind your speech.”
In response to the Foreign Affairs Minister’s warning, Solder retracted his confrontational attitude and said slowly, “I apologize, Count Caso.”
The military advisor turned towards the rest and, with a determined expression, bellowed, “Your Majesty, my fellow ministers!”
“His Highness has returned, only a token substance of the ‘Fortress Treaty’ remains. There is no longer a political buffer between us and Eckstedt!”
Gilbert promptly gave him a consoling look, and indicated to him to stay calm.
“And the awkwardness when the dukes were discussing the number of troops to mobilize six years ago in the Hall of Stars is still a vivid memory.” Solder did not look at the prime minister, but he could not stop the others from doing the same.
Duke Cullen merely swiveled his cup and pretended not to notice.
“This was why I took the trouble to carry the detailed battle reports to Ballard Room.”
There was pain in the military advisor’s expression. “Constellation cannot afford another Bloody Year.”
In that instant, it seemed like someone suddenly muted the sound in Ballard Room.
Not even breathing could be heard.
The table, their palms, documents, cups—every official seemed to have found something more interesting; no one dared look towards the throne at the head of the table.
Thales took a deep breath and caught a glimpse from the corner of his eye:
King Kessel remained indifferent as usual, unperturbed, as if he was just an observer of this conference before him.
And an observer of the disaster over a decade ago.
“Enough! Stop being alarmist!”
Several seconds later, Kirkirk Mann, who had long formed an opinion, finally burst out saying, “Count Caso was very clear earlier: there is endless infighting in Eckstedt, they are on the decline!”
Solder’s expression turned cold as he shot back rapidly, “Thus balance is lost and we are in a state of turbulence!
“Which is why we need a strong army, now more than ever!”
Kirkirk had a look of contempt on his face. He was about to retort when his expression changed all of a sudden.
“Ah, Solder, I get it now,” the Chief of Finance said subtly, “You’re so passionate about this. Is it because you’re going to retire soon…
“So you want to help those close to you, those bumpkin oafs in the regular army and those little vampires in the Ministry of Military Affairs, be promoted and knighted in a departure from the norm to occupy high ranks?”
Kirkirk Mann narrowed his eyes and scoffed. “Just like how you are now?”
Solder’s expression changed.
“In the eyes of a businessman where everything is about profits,” he growled and turned around in rage, but did not appear as dignified and gracious as before, “Even the sunlight reeks of the stench of money.”
Kirkirk Mann sneered. “The stench of money?
“After spouting so much nonsense,” the Chief of Finance slammed the table, clenched his teeth and pointed at Solder, not inferior to the latter in terms of intensity, “Aren’t you just trying to get some money from the treasury?
“Oh Sunset, to think I was hoping you guys at the Ministry of Military Affairs would settle down a little after the mess that Williams caused in Western Desert!”
Solder took a deep breath, and seemed like he was about to erupt, but finally refrained under the look Gilbert gave him.
Observing the argument between the two and the attitudes of the spectators, Thales gradually understood the flow of discourse at the Imperial Conference.
“It was precisely what happened at Western Desert that strengthened my determination.”
The military advisor’s voice trembled slightly, clearly holding in his anger with much willpower, “Civilian recruits who serve voluntarily are self-evident. Most of them face the problem of loose discipline and inefficient organization, and their status on the battlefield is awkward.
“Regular professional troops may be small in number and skilled in battle, but if they only obey the orders of individual headstrong suzerains, this could easily give rise to the risk of internal commands when coordinating in battle. The consequent harm is far worse than that of recruits.
“As shown in the chaos at Blade Fangs Camp, as well as Eckstedt’s defeats.”
Solder continued solemnly, “We thought the parallel implementation of enlistment and recruitment would bring us the benefits of both, but in fact we are suffering from the disadvantages of both!
“For the sake of war or politics, whether regular soldiers or recruits, reform is a pressing matter.”
His words were well justified, and sounded less obstinate and reproaching than before. Even Kirkirk, who couldn’t stand the sight of Solder, could not come up with a rebuttal straightaway.
But unexpectedly, it was Gilbert who spoke next.
“Putting aside expanding the regular soldiers of the royal family in the vicinity of Eternal Star City,” the Foreign Affairs Minister coaxed patiently, “But Master Solder, in the eyes of many, to interfere with the autonomous rights of local vassals, especially limiting their power to militarize and recruit, this will be seen as an attempt by the throne to persecute freedom.”
Perhaps because he did not expect his old friend to not support him, Solder roared without giving Gilbert face, “As though they won’t think of it that way if we stayed quiet and kept conceding?”
Gilbert’s expression dimmed.
“Look at what happened last night,” the military advisor went on coldly, “the incident that happened at the royal banquet.
“No matter who they are, the fact that they dared touch the heir of the kingdom demands a reaction from us!”
Thales kept a blank expression as he pretended to not notice everyone’s gazes.
But in his mind, the words of the Duke of Western Desert grew louder:
“Did you not realize that, compared to…six years ago, the things your father and the current suzerains are doing now are too severe?”
“What is ironic is that they really think that through a ‘victory’ like this, they could wipe out their enemy’s ambitions and hostility.”
Back in reality, Solder’s words seemed to reflect Fakenhaz’ thoughts like telepathy, “Even if for the sake of posterity, sooner or later we have to dissolve those regional recruits that are seemingly grand in scale, but in fact under-performing and over-compensated, and may even lead to fatal consequences in critical moments!”
Thales closed his eyes gently.
“They will only continue to force their enemies into increasingly desperate situations until the final moment. If it is not now, then it will be in the future.”
Solder surveyed the table and concluded through gritted teeth, “Those antiques that are bound to be phased out.”
Kirkirk finally tired of arguing with him and retorted impatiently, “Go tell them then!”
The Chief of Finance slammed the table gracelessly, making Gilbert and the others frown.
“Master Cullen is sitting right here. Tell him in person, tell the Seven Jadestar Attendants, Six Great Clans, Thirteen Distinguished Families, and countless suzerains. Tell them that the kingdom intends to abolish their recruitment system and remove their power to recruit!
“Tell them that their scions need not take martial arts lessons nor train in horse riding anymore. Everyone will focus on agriculture and they don’t have to be soldiers anymore—and they should hand over all the money and taxes that were originally supposed to be used for recruitment to the Department of Finance, for us to support the regular soldiers of the royal family?”
Solder seemed accustomed to clashing with Kirkirk at the Imperial Conference. “I don’t think you fully comprehend the basic cause and effect of it all, Wallet,” the military advisor retorted coldly, “It’s not because they pay sufficient taxes that we can afford to support the regular soldiers.
“It’s because we have regular soldiers that they are able to pay sufficient taxes!”
These words seemed to have burst a bubble; many had strange looks on their faces.
Particularly Duke Cullen, who was cited as an example by Kirkirk.
“Ha, ha, ha!” the Chief of Finance gave a sardonic laugh and said morosely, “Are you aware, that thanks to you, Big Soldier, when outsiders claim indignantly that ‘Oh, those crafty rascals from the king’s party are trying to hoodwink the king in a dark room again, persecuting the loyal and virtuous’, I will think: maybe we’re not so innocent after all.”
“In that case, maybe innocent you, and your accountants, should join the ‘loyal and virtuous’ camp,” the chief military advisor mocked in reply.
Thales scratched his head:
He suddenly realized that the Imperial Conference of Constellation, with its exclusive and small number of participants, was not necessarily more straightforward than the large-scale National Conference nor the rough-hewn council hearing of Dragon Clouds City.
“Be careful, Solder.”
Prime Minister Cullen sighed. He interrupted the argument before Kirkirk could return fire with new words, “Some words, once spoken…
“Come with a price.”
Solder shifted his gaze away from Kirkirk and responded to Cullen, “Are you saying that as the prime minister, or as the Guardian Duke of Eastern Sea Hill?”
Prime Minister Cullen looked uncomfortable.
Gilbert cut his belligerent old friend short. “Enough!”
The Foreign Affairs Minister evidently held considerable sway over the conference. His words prevented an argument between colleagues in time before it devolved into petty bickering.
The conference room fell silent for a while.
A few seconds later, Cullen let out a long sigh and seemed quite emotional.
“I never thought I would say this here, but please understand, Master Advisor…”
The rotund Master of Splendid Port City leaned against the table and expressed candidly, “At the Imperial Conference, I hold the positions of prime minister and guardian duke concurrently…
“But currently, the significance of this matter to Constellation far outweighs either of my capacities.”
These words stunned the officials, Solder included.
Even Thales could not help but look up at this normally wily duke.
“Despite having humble origins, you now hold an important position too, Master Solder Ryder,” the prime minister of the kingdom, Bob Cullen said as he stared directly at Solder, “You should understand this better than anyone else.”
Solder was silent for a long while.
After a few seconds, he unexpectedly bowed towards Duke Cullen.
“I am in the wrong, Prime Minister.
“I understand your dilemma.”
This gesture improved Thales’ impression of him.
Finally, a voice that commanded respect rang out in Ballard Room.
“Bob has a point.”
Everyone looked towards the head of the long table with solemn expressions.
King Kessel looked up and revealed part of his face against the light, looking somewhat menacing. “It would be unwise to rashly intervene in the vassals’ rights to militarize.
“Lampard is a living example.”
These words seemed to set the tone for the earlier debate.
Prime Minister Cullen breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
As if by tacit understanding, the ministers sighed with relief along with him.
“Since you said so,” Solder looked disgruntled and unwilling, but admitted defeat nonetheless, “I withdraw my proposal about reducing recruits throughout the kingdom.”
The corners of Prime Minister Cullen’s mouth curved upwards as he turned back into the jovial Duke of Eastern Sea. “Thank you for being understanding.”
The Chief of Finance leaned back in his seat and looked like someone who had escaped disaster. “Thank goodness.”
Gilbert pursed his lips and smiled at his colleagues.
In that moment, Thales looked towards the king seated at the end of the long table and suddenly realized:
The Imperial Conference is indeed different.
At least, at the National Conference, King Kessel would not have been able to suppress the Six Great Clans and Thirteen Distinguished Families with just a few words.
And at the council hearing, even in the face of her vassals, the archduchess still needed to exercise great caution.
It was only here, in Ballard Room—regardless of how fierce the arguments get between ministers…
That the Iron Hand King is forever seated at the head of the long table.
“But, Your Majesty,” Solder’s words interrupted Thales’ thoughts, “If you trial it in Eternal Star City first, lead by example, and reduce the number of Jadestar private troops serving fixed terms, then it should eventually be achievable?”
Everyone was shocked.
Contrarily, it was Kessel who started to think about it seriously before gradually saying, “If it doesn’t implicate other regions…
“Then there shouldn’t be much dissent.”
There was a glint in the military advisor’s eyes.
“And we can pick talent from the disbanded Jadestar Private Army and use this opportunity to expand the regular soldiers of the royal family…”
The king pondered for a while.
Several seconds later, King Kessel spoke again in a conclusive tone, “Alright. Solder, Kirkirk, Krapen, agree on the details.
“Start by reducing the service period of Jadestar Private Army recruits, and mindfully supplement the regular soldiers of the royal family.
“Then observe the effect.”
Apart from Kirkirk’s shocked expression, everyone else at the table looked hesitant but did not speak.
The military advisor was jubilant. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
In the next second, Kirkirk Mann hurriedly spoke!
“Wait—wait a minute!”
The Chief of Finance, who was initially relieved, sprung forward from a leaning position and pointed at Solder in bewilderment. “Expand—How did we end up here again?”
The eyebrows of the military advisor twitched slightly but he did not respond.
The Chief of Finance looked at the king, then at Solder; his expression was in a state of flux.
“I understand now, Big Soldier. You did this on purpose!”
He was pale from shock. “This nonsense about reducing the military strength of the dukes, it’s all a guise—you made up your mind from the beginning to ask for a high price and receive a low offer!”
Kirkirk pointed at Solder in disbelief, his finger trembling wildly. “Your aim was to obtain funds to expand the army from the very start!”
Having his request granted, Solder looked calm. “I have conceded, His Majesty has agreed, and no one else has any further opinions.”
Kirkirk looked around and found, to his surprise, that Cullen looked solemn and Gilbert was wordless—no one opposed it like they did earlier. “You think I’m a pushover, don’t you?”
Solder scoffed, “After the expansion is complete, the Ministry of Military Affairs will submit the new list of personnel salaries and supplies purchases to you.
It was Kirkirk Mann’s turn to erupt.
“Damn you ‘Big Soldier’!”
The Chief of Finance had on the ferocious expression of a dog guarding its kibble, and uttered word by word, “I will graciously repeat to you once more—just like I have for countless times on countless occasions last year—the maintenance cost of the regular soldiers of the royal family is already se-vere-ly o-ver-run!
“I strongly advise that you take a good look at the financial statement of the previous year. If that’s too much for your bird brain, at least refer to the past quarter!
“If, after that, you still insist on expanding the regular army, I recommend that you seek sources of revenue on your own—by the way, the patronage of wealthy ladies is currently popular at Red Street Market, and those oafish soldiers with six-packs under your command would be all the rage!”
Solder furrowed his brows slightly. “And you know that how?”
Kirkirk Mann blushed and coughed. “Having to manage finances, coordinate taxation, and formulate economic policies, I naturally have to be familiar with, with…every trade.”
Amid the awkward atmosphere, a shaky voice asked, “May I interrupt?”
Everyone directed their gaze to the speaker. The Minister of Agriculture, Lord Krapen warily put on a smile. “My fellow ministers, I read Master Solder’s proposal to expand the army last year. Despite increasing grain stocks…
“The rate at which land is cleared for farming, agriculture, mining, logging, and urbanization across the country is far behind the rates of expansion of the army and appointment of nobles…”
He put on a flattering smile and asked tentatively, “Do you know what this means?”
Kirkirk Mann felt encouraged. He loosened his shoulders and raised both arms. “Look at that, Big Soldier!”
But the next person who responded was not Solder.
“This means we can’t just cut back on spending. We need to broaden our sources of income at the same time.”
Kirkirk turned around and saw the speaker clearly.
The well-mannered Minister of Trade, Viscount Kenney nodded in acknowledgment. “Eckstedt’s decline from internal fighting will inevitably lead to unrest in the surrounding areas. Their territory is vast and almost a third of trade routes will be obstructed. Merchants and commodities will be forced to re-route, affecting even the Eastern and Western Peninsula maritime trade.”
The newly appointed minister observed the expressions around him as he attempted to hold on to this rare opportunity to speak. “If we can seize this opportunity and take advantage of when the Northland barbarians are pre-occupied, deploy troops and go on the offensive, for example, controlling the three major trade routes of the Great Desert, recapture Mystery Sea Passage, further influence the areas around Dragon-Kissed Land and the shipping lanes along the Sea of Long Corridors…we can earn more profits from abroad?”
Gilbert frowned, and Prime Minister Cullen ground his teeth.
Even the king’s gaze flitted.
“Did I hear you right, Sharp-faced?” Kirkirk Mann queried in disbelief, “It’s one thing that Solder wants more money to expand the army…
“You freaking want us to go to war?”
Viscount Kenny revealed a friendly smile, which unfortunately did not suit his pointed face well. “Chief Kirkirk, we are talking about absolute control over key trade routes, strategic crossroads, resource-rich lands and high-volume maritime trade, that’s a huge sum of money—if successful, I guarantee that you will never have to worry about sources of revenue ever again.”
But the Chief of Finance heard only one keyword, making him suspicious. “If?”
Viscount Kenney’s smile did not diminish. “To achieve all this, maybe, and I mean maybe, the regular soldiers could indeed do with a temporary increase in troops and armaments…”
Kirkirk gritted his teeth. “Maybe?”
Kenney coughed. “Yes. But there is no doubt that, as the economy of the kingdom gradually recovers, prospering commercial trade will need trade routes, markets, funds, exchange, and more opportunities, which will in turn provide a considerable amount in tax receipts for the country. This will be a continuous virtuous cycle…”
Kirkirk’s face was contorted and ashen. “Continuous?”
Viscount Kenney shrugged. “Anyway, Advisor Solder, Chief Kirkirk, for the next expedition, consider it won’t you?”
Kirkirk Mann understood what Viscount Kenney meant. His gaze darted back and forth between the Minister of Trade and the military advisor.
Solder pondered for half a second. “It’s not impossible. In that case, we should find a time to look at a map and find possible targets. And the regular soldiers of the royal army would need to train…”
In that moment.
“You can all go ahead on your own!”
The ministers were startled. They turned around together.
Kirkirk had stood up unnoticed and his lips were trembling in anger. “You prodigals, you wastrels!”
This miser of a chief was not miserly about his miserliness. “Just don’t expect to get so much as a penny from me!
“Not a penny! Not! A! Penny!”
Under shocked gazes, Master Wallet spat resentfully, “Talk is cheap. Why don’t you personally head on over to the Royal Family Bank, flatteringly and humbly invite all the big financiers to Red Street Market, treat them to good wine and food, fulfil their every whim and fancy, lower yourself when speaking to them as if you were a prostitute, toast and laugh, and shamelessly coax and pester, all to ask for an extension to repay the debts, then ask them to loan us more money to make up for the fiscal shortfall?”
Gilbert coughed softly, hoping to remind Kirkirk about his use of language.
But Kirkirk did not seem to notice as he continued through gnashed teeth, “Then return to your office, and wait for vampires like you and Solder, like cubs that haven’t been properly fed, chase you around, weeping and wailing, asking you for money, turning the financial statements that took so much effort to embellish into a blackhole again?”
Kirkirk babbled on, his anger rising as he showed hints of crazed desperation. “Chief of Finance? Bah!”
Perhaps because it hit a sore spot, Kirkirk slammed the table with a palm. “That’s right, I’m a fucking shameless male prostitute that sells his asshole! After willingly being fucked, before the money between my buttcheeks gets warm, I have to get up and hand myself back over to the pimp! I even have to pay for lubricant out of my own pocket!”
Kirkirk Mann shut his eyes and flailed his fists in front of his chest, and stressed his words, “Damn it, this happens every year!
Thales was as shocked as he was baffled.
Even the king had a peculiar expression on his face.
After a few seconds, Gilbert coughed heavily. “Kirkirk, keep in mind where you are!”
The Chief of Finance gasped for air as he pulled himself back together and was aghast.
“Ahem ahem, that, erm,” he bowed towards the king in embarrassment, “I, I was just drawing an analogy. It’s just metaphors, metaphors…”
There was silence at the Imperial Conference.
“I know it’s difficult, Kirkirk,” Finally, atypical of his character, the king offered words of comfort, “That’s why I need you in this position, more than anyone else.”
King Kessel stared at Kirkirk from a distance. “This is work that even the highest of nobles are not able to handle.”
The Chief of Finance trembled slightly as he looked inexplicably touched.
“Of course, Your Majesty. Of course.”
Encouraged and recognized by the king, Kirkirk Mann responded with gratitude, “To serve you is my honor…”
“Here he goes again,” Military Advisor Solder said indignantly, “How many budget plans has he glossed over using this method…”
Yet Kirkirk continued to stare at the king devotedly, as if he did not hear it.
King Kessel raised a hand to rub his forehead. “Enough. Let’s take a break.
“We’ll continue in the afternoon, and discuss how to help Kirkirk solve the budget issue.”
These words rang out like the recess bell. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Apart from the center of the topic—Solder and Kirkirk—who glared at each other before turning away in disdain.
Cullen, Krapen, Stylia Nydis, the scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department… Everyone bowed courteously and left their seats.
Thales exhaled in relief too. He stood up along with Gilbert and helped the latter tidy his notes.
The king did not even open his eyes.
But everyone knew who he was referring to.
Deep down inside, the prince sighed and sat back down.
‘I’ll have to face it sooner or later.’
The ministers each cast a look at him but their expressions varied.
“Relax,” Gilbert patted his shoulder and whispered, “Just answer truthfully.”
Solder walked past Thales intentionally and bowed to the Duke of Star Lake, “I hope you weren’t alarmed, Your Highness.
“It’s a shame. If the war in Western Desert went on for longer,” the military advisor sighed, “that could have further proven than the private armies of suzerains are useless and only pose a grave risk.
“Then the proposal to reform recruits into regular soldiers would have been more convincing.”
He looked at Thales ruefully, “It would have been great if you had stayed longer in the desert, Your Highness…”
Thales froze for several seconds.
‘Why does this sound strange?’
A few minutes later, following the closing of the stone door, only Thales and the king were left at the Imperial Conference.
The narrow Ballard Room felt much more spacious.
But the atmosphere grew heavier.
Seated where he originally was, Thales attempted to suppress his anxiety as he watched King Kessel massage his temples.
All of a sudden.
“Do you love her?”
Thales was confused. “What? Love what?”
But the king had no intention of putting the question to him in the first place.
“Every time she is mentioned.”
King Kessel put down his hand, and reveal a pair of cold eyes from the darkness. “You act like a hen protecting its chick.”
Thales was shocked but attempted to maintain his poker face.
After the incident last night, he envisioned the reasons why King Kessel summoned him: assassination, duel, bet, acting at his own discretion…
“We have a good relationship,” Thales frowned in reply, “but, no.”
The Duke of Star Lake snorted with laughter and shook his head. “She is the Archduchess of Dragon Clouds City.
“I don’t love her.
“And it’s impossible that I do.”
After he uttered these words, King Kessel stared at him for a long while.
Thales felt a chill run through his spine.
“Then why, at the banquet last night,” the king asked softly, but his every word was hard-hitting, “Gilbert, Eastern Sea Hill, Land of Cliffs Region, Elaphure City, Reformation Tower. You moaned to everyone you could find and asked for their help, groveling…
“Just to help her?”
Thales’ heart skipped a beat.
‘How did he…
Thales frowned hard and attempted to explain himself, “I don’t understand. I met many people last night, but…”
But the king used affirmative sentences, which left no room for him to refute.
“Your performance last night was terrible.”
The Iron Hand King leaned back and slipped into the darkness of Ballard Room. There was a sliver of contempt in his tone. “Master Polaris.”
Inexplicably, this nickname that Northlanders gave him made Thales shudder.
“So, the heir to the throne of Constellation has fallen in love with the Northland girl from Walton family.”
His father, his supreme king continued coldly, “Head over heels.