Chapter 569: Hand in Marriage
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Thales sat in his chair, but his body did not feel like his own.
He realized, in that moment, that he was face to face with the king alone at the Imperial Conference.
He could not pretend to be deaf nor stick his head in the sand.
“This morning, when reports about the war in the north arrived, involving Dragon Clouds City…”
King Kessel’s voice rang out in the narrow room. It lacked the echoes and sense of spaciousness as it did in the meeting hall.
But made one feel more uneasy.
“Gilbert insisted that his student sit in, claiming it would be a ‘practical lesson’ for the prince.
“He wasn’t that anxious even when he was trying to make excuses for your farcical actions last night.”
Thales thought about Gilbert, and felt a surge of both gratitude and sorrow.
“Today, Bob Cullen specifically mentioned the increasing rampage of pirates from the north, saying that he has to reorganize the Splendid Port navy to protect the trade interests of the Seven Eastern Sea Ports.”
Kessel sat in the main seat, in the dark where not even the light of the Everlasting Lamp could reach him.
“Koshder’s men, on the other hand, rushed to the Ministry of Agriculture early in the morning and, in the name of purchasing spring crops, inspected the volume of grain exports locally to the Land of Cliffs Region—mainly grains that are also grown in the north.”
Thales took a deep breath.
Prime Minister Cullen and One-Eyed Dragon of the Land of Cliffs.
“As for Eckstedt…” the king scoffed, indicating disdain in his tone, “The diplomatic mission from Elaphure City has been in Eternal Star City for a while, but have been very restrained. Until last night, after the banquet, they finally sent communication back home via messenger crows.
“Those Northlanders from Reformation Tower seemed to have kept their hands clean and left no trace of fault behind. Too bad the Doyle family were out of luck; their private trading of grain reserves was revealed.”
Jorge of Elaphure City, and Levi of Reformation Tower.
Thales stared at the map on the table.
“You thought you were being discreet when you were hustling about for that girl.”
The voice of the Iron Hand King tautened, like the scattered blasts of a Mystic Gun being focused on Thales. “But in actual fact, your every move was transparent.”
Thales’ throat felt dry.
Obviously, the tea in Ballard Room was not prepared for the sake of the Duke of Star Lake.
“I thought you would calm down a little at the Imperial Conference and keep your besotted tail feathers in check.
“I underestimated the determination of the Duke of Star Lake—or should I say—Polaris.”
King Kessel paused. He repeated that word coldly and ironically. “Was it for…love?”
The king’s voice faded away.
Thales looked up.
“But…” the youth retorted subconsciously, “It’s not love.”
The king’s gaze pierced through the darkness and sunlight indomitably.
And landed on Thales.
There was contempt in his father’s response.
“Then it’s worse than love.
“Is it a desire for youthful beauty? Or an interest in conquering noblewomen?”
Kessel the Fifth boomed, “Or are you an arrogant breeding pig that finds self-esteem in its swaying dick?”
Thales closed his eyes.
Countless scenes from the past six years flashed across his mind—library, Hall of Heroes, Shield District, dining room, study room…but none was of aid to the situation before him.
‘But we’re not.
The youth clenched his fist.
He tried to maintain his breathing and drive away that sense of unease that he had never felt in the past six years.
Why did he feel so uncomfortable, frustrated, frantic and irritable?
Thales looked up and with much effort, started to defend himself, “Saroma and I, we share a good relationship, it’s true.”
He endured the Iron Hand King’s cold gaze, like enduring a blizzard, as well as his inner desire to retreat and cower in fear.
‘You can’t escape it.
‘Find a way out.
‘Just like how you faced your past adversaries: King Nuven, King Chapman…’
“But outside of personal friendship, I have…”
Thales took a deep breath and finally finished his sentence, “I have a duty towards her.”
In that moment, Thales felt the air around him start to flow again, like his words and thoughts.
From the dark came a rhetorical question, not much better than the last. “Duty?”
Thales found himself nodding gently.
“Six years ago, I personally—no, I should say, you and the force of the entire kingdom propelled her onto the throne of Heroic Spirit Palace.”
King Kessel did not speak.
The youth met the king’s gaze and, as he slowly gathered his emotions, continued in a firm tone, “The whole of Constellation…
“We all have a duty to bear.”
The prince seemed to return to the state he was in when he faced the dukes at Eckstedt, and started to speak more fluently. “And I don’t see such duty as a meaningless moral burden.”
Thales suddenly realized that there were a number of windows in Ballard Room.
But what entered through them was draft instead of light.
“Because of what happened six years ago, she is naturally close to us, close to Constellation.”
The Duke of Star Lake straightened out his logic and continued methodically, “In Eckstedt, in Dragon Clouds City, in an organization that is incompatible with us in terms of interests and ideologies, this is particularly valuable.”
The king remained motionless.
His gaze stayed the same.
“That’s why I believe Saroma can be trusted and relied upon.
“My attention and aid towards her, even from the kingdom’s perspective, are not meaningless.”
Thales endeavored to act like an official before the throne, speaking confidently and resolutely, like Solder and Kirkirk earlier. “Like I said, she can be an ally to Constellation.”
He stared at his father.
King Kessel chuckled softly.
“An ally to Constellation?” he asked hoarsely, like a beast awakened from hibernation, “Or a weakness of yours?”
Inexplicably, Thales was reminded of The Black Prophet whom he had not seen in a very long time.
He recalled their first encounter.
“I understand your concern.”
He put on his full armor and concentrated his mind, treating the person before him as an opponent of the same caliber as Nuven and Chapman.
“A Camian once told me that numbers and profit shouldn’t be the only focus in business. Sometimes, attention should be paid to word-of-mouth marketing and connections too.”
The king scoffed. “Business?”
But Thales went on, undeterred, “Even in the most common of wars, our allies will be attacked, our friends will be vilified, and our comrades will be threatened.
“That doesn’t mean they are our weakness.”
Thales strained his pubescent voice to make it sound more mature and rational. “On the contrary.
“To gain profits, we have to bear an equal amount of risk.
“So last night, for the sake of our interests, I could not sit by idly and do nothing.”
He had to be resolute. He had to be firm.
“Because I believe that she will bring us greater value and benefits in future.”
Thales stared into those piercing eyes in the darkness as he strived to raise the shield that was unique to him alone.
King Kessel was silent for a long while.
So long that Thales grew stiff from his sitting posture.
The Iron Hand King sneered, “You use ‘us’ to drive your reasoning.
“You tell me that this is something that’s done for ‘us’.”
The king pressed a hand on the arm of the chair.
Kessel moved from the darkness into the light, and revealed his figure, face and gaze like a statue.
As well as the Nine-Pointed Star Emblem on his attire.
It was more pronounced than the emblem on Thales’ collar.
“But what about yourself?”
For some reason, the king’s actions gave Thales the chills.
Like a ferocious beast emerging from the fog and brandishing its claws.
“Your feelings, your intentions, your considerations, your preferences…” the king went on coldly, “What about where you are?”
‘Where I am?”
He did not think more about it but merely replied instinctively, “I’m within ‘us’.
“If, outside the interests and stance of the kingdom, I can take into account sincerity and live up to my personal friendship with her, then it’s a win-win for everyone…”
But the king responded immediately, “No.”
King Kessel’s tone was calm but held a natural air of authority. “You are pretending to be within ‘us’.”
“Because you think I’m a ruthless king who is born for Constellation, rational and calm, and prioritizes only the kingdom,” the Iron Hand King’s words were callous, “Who despises feelings and impulses, and only considers gains and losses.
“So you rack your brain and waste your breath just to pretend to be like me, in order to face me.”
Thales froze for a second.
“To prove that your actions comply with interests and political considerations,” the king’s words were placid, “So that I’m convinced.
“And thus let you get away with your willful behavior, and let your girlfriend off the hook.”
Thales was waiting for a chance to retort, but what the Iron Hand King said next stunned him completely. “Like your usual trick: understand the opponent’s methods and logic, then defeat them on their own battlefield.”
Kessel rubbed his fingers together as he scoffed, “Tackling King Nuven with meticulous calculations.
“Fighting Chapman Lampard by staking everything in one bet.
“Handling Williams with dominance…
“Or like last night.
“Using the weakness of human nature to play a game of virtual chess with the kid from the Covendier family.”
Thales stared blankly at the king.
The king’s words echoed in Thales’ mind.
‘Pretend to be like him, in order to face him…’
The youth had an illusion that he had been stripped bare from top to bottom and was standing naked before the king.
With nowhere to hide, uncomfortable, and unable to escape.
“But some things can’t be disguised.”
Kessel the Fifth looked up.
“Like last night.”
Thales’ pupils shifted.
The Iron Hand King stared at him from afar.
It was that feeling again.
That oppressive feeling that neither King Nuven nor King Chapman had ever given him.
The helplessness that made it seem like there was a weight on him restricting his every movement and a lump in throat whenever he tried to speak.
“Why?” the king asked, catching him off guard, “Why did you risk yourself last night?
“By getting personally involved in the situation, yet still enjoying it?”
Two figures appeared before Thales’ eyes.
It was the faces of Anker and Doyle.
The youth took a deep breath, regained focus, and tried to explain, “The situation at the banquet last night was tricky. It was an impossible situation, there was no appropriate choice between the two that were presented.
“That’s why I got personally involved. It was to create a third choice. To show them an entirely different Thales Jadestar, for us to…”
But in that moment.
Thales was cut off.
“You didn’t get involved because of ‘us’.”
King Kessel surveyed him from afar, as if looking at a game of chess.
“But purely because of yourself.
“You wanted to save both the chess pieces and the game of chess itself.”
Thales felt a chill in his heart.
“Because that’s you.
“Whatever the situation, you always attempt to find a win-win solution, a perfect choice, to meet your own high expectations.
“It’s best that no waves are created and no harm is caused.
“Avoiding the ugliness and sacrifice you are least willing to face.”
Thales felt his breathing stagger.
He wanted to speak to relive the tension, but…
‘It’s useless, Thales.’
The youth opened his mouth but closed it again in vain as he thought bitterly, ‘Useless.
Thales lowered his head in a daze.
‘Just like he said, there’s nowhere to hide.
“But what I don’t understand is…” the king was still speaking, “Hasn’t the damned fate given you a damned answer every time?”
Thales was stunned.
King Kessel’s gaze seemed like it was cutting his chest open.
“You fought off attacks from all directions at the National Conference, but faced the malice and suspicions of more people.
“You turned the tide in Dragon Clouds City, but propped up an enemy more formidable than his predecessor.
“You spoke up for the archduchess in Heroic Spirit Palace, but put yourself in the risky situation where you faced public anger, and had to turn to a worse ally.
“You were ambiguous at Blade Fangs Camp and tried to benefit from both sides. Just when it seemed like there was renewed hope, you were given a rude awakening last night at the banquet by the endless conflict between the two sides and ended up embarrassed.”
As he listened to his personal experiences being narrated to him, Thales’ body turned numb.
Was it so?
That towards his choices…
Fate had given him a response every time?
“Just like last night, you wisely saved the chess pieces and the game of chess, won moral approval and reputation…” the king’s tone was sarcastic, “But left the shit on your ass for the entire kingdom to clean up.”
Thales was stumped.
More justifications started to bubble up to the surface, but just as the words reached his mouth, he found himself unable to utter them.
“A third choice? Hah. Just like how you are used to the willfulness of a street beggar, but delusional about the status and dignity of the kingdom’s bloodline.”
These words shook Thales.
“You walk along steep cliffs but are delusional about clear skies.
“And continue to hold the belief that, as long as you are unafraid of death, you will be able to stride forward steadily.”
Kessel’s reprimand was like a sharp blade that carved at his heart.
The king removed his piercing gaze from Thales and stared into the void.
“Just like you and that girl from Dragon Clouds City.”
Thales, helpless, allowed the voice of the supreme king to drill into his ears.
“You tell yourself that, out of values and stance, a strong ally will benefit you.
“But you further tell yourself that, out of feelings and desires, a dear lover will make you give willingly.”
King Kessel’s words took a sharp turn. “But if you confuse these two points and drift between the two, thinking that you can easily handle and balance both.
“Then you’re wrong.”
The king’s gaze was ice-cold as he emphasized his words. “Until you understand that every time, your every self-righteous perfect choice, involves a greater price.”
The youth gulped again.
“I think she—The Lady of Blazing Blood, has proven her value and stance in that battle.”
Thales cleared his throat in an attempt to not sound like he was at a loss.
But for some reason, his sentence was disjointed. “She’s strong… she can be strong.
“She can benefit us…”
The king scoffed.
“You know,” he stared straight at Thales and said coldly, “I’m not talking about her.”
Thales’ body swayed slightly.
The Iron Hand King ended sarcastically, “Polaris.”
Thales never hated this title as much as he did now.
Just as how he hated that moment.
“What about you,” after a few seconds, Thales’ voice could finally be heard saying faintly, “Your Majesty.”
The youth spoke softly and his pitch was steady, but his words seemed like a weak interrogation after enduring much hardship.
“Is the respected Lady Jines your ally or your lover?”
In the dark, King Kessel’s eyes flitted.
The air around them was no longer frozen.
But there was an added tension as if there was an avalanche incoming.
“And are you really like what you claimed? A ruthless king who despises feelings and impulses, and only considers gains and losses….” like a drowning person gasping for air above water, the youth asked in an undulating tone, “Who is rational and calm, and prioritizes only the kingdom…
“And can separate everything clearly and unambiguously?”
Kessel’s gaze turned keen.
But Thales couldn’t tell whether it was anger or sadness that surged within it.
He did, however, realize that it was the first time he had refuted his father today.
Or was it… the first time ever in his life?
The statue that was King Kessel moved in his seat. He lifted his chin slightly and said in mild fury, “You…”
But Thales interrupted him.
“I’m a Jadestar.”
He strived to continue breathing, as if that was the only way to prevent himself from suffocating. He had to also clench his fists tight to maintain the pitch of his voice.
“As the prince of Constellation, as the kingdom’s bloodline.
“If I cannot be responsible for a, a girl who is suffering because of me.”
Thales realized he could not control his slight stutter, but he continued to finish his sentence, “Then during times of crisis, in critical moments, what right do I have to stand up for my kingdom and my compatriots?”
King Kessel’s gaze changed; it emanated a mysterious glow.
Thales stared fixedly at the king.
“That’s right. This has nothing to do with her.
“It’s only about me.”
A few seconds passed.
The waves in the king’s eyes finally subsided.
He looked at Thales again and said in an assured tone, “You care about her.”
The youth lacked courage to raise his head and look his father in the eye.
But he had to face it.
Just like how Kessel questioned his past actions.
He had to reply.
“I do care about her.”
The youth could not imagine his own expression in that moment.
He knew that his words made it out of his throat only after overcoming many obstacles and barriers.
The same applied to his thoughts.
“She is a true friend of mine, and a friend in times of need.
“She is my savior, my schooling peer.”
Thales lowered his head and his voice started to fade.
“Of course I care about her. I am concerned about her, and possibly…like her quite a bit.”
King Kessel did not respond. He did not even bother to scoff with sarcasm and contempt.
He merely looked quietly at his son.
Thales took a deep breath.
He drove away the pain in his gaze and forced it to be firm.
“So that’s not love.”
‘It doesn’t have to be love.
‘It can’t be love.’
The moment he said those words, Thales shuddered inside as if the ground under is feet was replaced by thin air.
He was weightless. Off balance.
Thales looked at King Kessel as he continued to gasp for air and clear his mind in a daze.
Until the king asked indifferently, “Is that so?”
It was apathetic, non-judgmental.
Thales shut his eyes before opening them again.
“I’m very realistic.”
After overcoming the previous discomfort, Thales could finally adjust his sitting posture unhindered. He looked up with an inexplicable emotion.
“I am your son, the bloodline of Jadestar, the heir to the kingdom.”
King Kessel’s face shifted slightly under the sunlight.
“I have long understood that my destiny is fated to be full of ups and downs and ominous disasters.”
Thales glanced a little to the side and seemed somewhat melancholic.
“But just like you, I made a choice.”
He turned again to look at the king. It felt like he was looking at himself. He recited the subject of his next sentence in the language of the Ancient Empire, “For Constellation I was born.”
The king turned to look at him wordlessly.
Ballard Room was silent as before, but the air was no longer still.
Thales exhaled, like a prisoner who had broken free of his shackles breathing indulgently under the sun.
The youth continued through gritted teeth, “So I will not, and cannot have any outrageous thoughts, romantic feelings nor discourteous intentions towards her.”
‘And bring her…
‘The same disaster.’
“Because I care about her, care about Saroma, care about my friend.”
King Kessel did not speak.
With mixed feelings of anguish and distress, Thales blurted the words that had long been buried deep within, reaffirming the matters that he had already figured out, “So it’s definitely not love.”
‘It cannot be love.
In that moment, it was as if he was a bird released from its cage, finally able to spread his wings confidently and soar in the skies.
Until he would fall to the ground from fractured wings.
“You asked me where I was,” the young duke said softly. He found himself appreciating the dimness of the stone room. “I’m here, in Renaissance Palace.
“Just like you.
Thales turned gloomy.
“And you don’t have to worry about…me and her.”
As his voice faded, Thales realized that, unbeknownst to himself, he had been sweating profusely and was short of breath.
It was far from the decorum befitting the Duke of Star Lake.
The silence in the room dragged on.
As if to leave room for this honest confession.
Until its meaning was thoroughly comprehended.
“Is she great?” King Kessel asked out of the blue, surprising Thales.
But the youth immediately felt downcast.
“I don’t know.”
He closed his eyes then reopened them, trying hard to erase all expression from his face.
“I… don’t want to know either.”
Ballard Room fell into complete silence.
After what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, the king’s figure actively retreated from the light.
He fell back into his seat in the dark.
His face was no longer visible.
Only his voice could be heard.
“Sometimes I wonder.”
His words were as pointed and mean as before, but it no longer brought with it that piercing sensation.
“Why your rationality is on par with your stupidity.
“Why are they both in the same brain,” the king sneered, “But still living harmoniously.”
Thales did not speak.
He sat by the long table in a daze.
Just then, the youth started to understand.
In his lifetime, he had faced three kings.
King Nuven’s wanton methods incorporated both strength and tenderness, showed both mercy and authority, and was as unpredictable and inestimable as the ocean.
King Chapman, on the other hand, persecuted and threatened him with tangible harms and benefits, like a blade pressed to his neck and a thorn in his back.
But the Kessel the Fifth before him.
The Iron Hand King.
He was entirely different from the previous two.
As the supreme king of Constellation, he did not speak dramatically nor know how to articulate grandiose words.
But Kessel had an even more bizarre and terrifying ability.
Relying on this ability, he could transcend mercy and authority and harms and benefits, strike at one’s innermost being and latch onto the damned crux.
Forcing Thales to face his true self.
Composed and placid.
But utterly heart-wrenching.
The king reached a hand out to pull a lever on the table.
The door to Ballard Room opened.
A few unfamiliar royal guards appeared at the entrance. Someone walked past them and entered the room.
It was the scar-faced man from the Secret Intelligence Department.
But Thales did not seem to notice. He sank into his chair with a blank expression.
“Take him out,” King Kessel’s voice rang out mercilessly, “Let him see for himself the terrible mess he left behind.”
Thales looked up in a daze.
“Don’t dawdle.” The king lowered his head and started reading the next document. “Ballard Room has more important matters to deal with.
“Remember what you said here today.”
Thales could not recall much of what happened next.
He could not even recall how he walked out of Ballard Room in a daze.
And he could not remember how the scar-faced man, with a stony expression and awkward gestures, apologized stiffly to him about how he could not defy the king’s orders, but because Lord Mallos was preoccupied, he would be escorting His Highness instead.
Until Thales followed him distractedly out of the palace through a side gate, and got on a carriage.
“Where are we going?”
Thales pulled himself together and, with some effort, regulated his emotions as he felt the sway of the carriage.
“The Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Department, Your Highness—by order of His Majesty,” across him, the fierce-looking scar-faced man replied while scratching his face.
‘Secret Intelligence Department.’
But he realized something else that was off.
The scar-faced man in front of him…
His voice, sounded different?
Noticing the prince’s gaze, the scar-faced man grinned and started to peel off the skin from his face.
“Long time no see, Your Highness.”
The person before him threw the scar-face disguise away, lowered his head, rubbed his eyes and greeted Thales in a relaxed and mischievous voice, “How have you been?”
Thales was stunned.
It was him.
“You don’t look too happy. What happened…”
In the carriage, his old acquaintance, the Barren Bone man, Raphael Lindbergh opened his dark red eyes and stared directly at Thales. “Were you dumped by your girlfriend?”
Thales’ expression froze.
The prince, who was not in a good mood in the first place, leaned backwards.
“If you spout another word of nonsense…”
The Duke of Star Lake stared at the roof of the carriage and said expressionlessly, “I’ll ask the honorable Miss Miranda for her hand in marriage.”
Raphael’s face sank.
So the carriage became completely silent.
And no one spoke along the way.