Chapter 18: Father and King
Arc 2: Heir of the Kingdom
Dawn had arrived.
In Mindis Hall, the most important and most awkward reunion between father and son in the entire kingdom was unfolding.
Thales blankly stared at the robust noble before him who was his father.
He turned towards Gilbert and Yodel, a little terrified and helpless. However, both of them were quiet and had their heads lowered.
He then looked at the guards around the gallery hall, but the superiorly equipped soldiers had their gazes hidden behind their face-concealing helmets and stood motionless.
Then Kessel the Fifth's thick and sonorous voice rang beside his ears. "He looks like a skinny mud-monkey."
Indeed, Thales was not looking his best. His short, jet black hair was cut unevenly (Sinti's handiwork) and covered in dust. His tiny face was full of muddy prints and handprints. Although Asda the Mystic had used a mysterious method to stop his various large and small wounds from bleeding, the abrasions, cuts, and bruises left by the incidents in the Abandoned House and Red Street Market still riddled his body. On his dust-covered body, the child beggar costume made of sackcloth was also tattered and had a huge tear at his chest, almost revealing the burn there. Before entering Mindis Hall, he was even shivering in the cold wind.
"I believed that you two would not get it wrong." Kessel's voice rang in the gallery hall.
Thales raised his head again and looked at Kessel. His king, his father. But Kessel had already turned his head away and was not looking at him anymore.
A slight sense of discomfort surged in Thales' heart, but he immediately suppressed the uncomfortable feeling.
Kessel's thick and sonorous voice continued resounding, "Both of you know how important this matter is. Right now, the only people who know about this are the three of us. Of course, I will transfer Jines here, as he requires qualified care. That is why the people in the know would be the four of us. When Morat returns, I will personally talk to him about this.
"From now onwards, Mindis Hall shall be completely sealed off. To the world outside, spread the word that a royal treasure has gone missing and that I am extremely furious. We cannot take the risk of dispatching the royal guards as this would be too obvious. We must not let the enemy know of our next step.
"In the following month, his safety will be overseen by Jadestar family's private soldiers, consisting of fifty Swordsmen of Eradication. The level of defense might be considerably weaker due to the numbers, but these soldiers excel when it comes to loyalty and privacy. They can keep this secret. As long as they do not attract too much attention, it should be more than enough. Yodel, just to be on the safe side, stay guard here as well. Aida and the royal guards will be responsible for my safety this month."
Yodel did not say anything. He nodded his masked head slightly.
"Gilbert." Kessel still did not spare Thales even a single glance. He caressed the crystal on his scepter and spoke as he was immersed in his thoughts, his tone was full of authority. "Have you thought a reason for visiting Mindis Hall at dawn?"
"Of course, Your Majesty. The excuse is a ready-made one—there was a fiery battle between the gangs at the border of the Lower City Districts and the Western Districts. There were countless fatalities and a number of wounded. I hurried overnight to the imperial palace you were temporarily dwelling in to report this matter," Gilbert answered respectfully.
"This is not enough. I will be returning to the Renaissance Palace tomorrow. However, for the following month, you will need to visit this place frequently. A better reason is needed." King Kessel shook his head.
"What if I say that the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the royal treasure are too mysterious and that you ordered me to thoroughly investigate this matter?"
"It is a little rough around the edges. But for one month's time, it is adequate." King Kessel contemplated for a while and nodded.
And then the King of Constellation finally placed his gaze on Thales, who was at a loss. His gaze was so sharp that Thales unknowingly took a step back, it did not feel at all like a father was looking at his son—the king looked like he did not care about Thales at all.
"One month's time, Gilbert, one month. Before his status is officially recognized, you are his personal tutor, and will be responsible for all matters concerning his education."
"Yes, Your Majesty, as you wish, I shall do my best," Gilbert answered respectfully.
Thales' heart sank.
Kessel assuredly tapped his scepter on the floor and contemplated for a moment. "You have to get him ready. He cannot appear in front of the entire kingdom, the Six Great Clans, and diplomatic envoys from other countries like this. From etiquette to disposition, and from knowledge to appearance, he needs to look presentable. What we need is a proper heir to the kingdom, not an abject street beggar."
'Street beggar?' Having heard this, Thales clenched his fists slightly.
"We will set Eckstedt Diplomat Group's welcome banquet as the goal. I hope that he will be able to make an appearance by then. This will not be easy, but I believe that you are able to carry it out well."
Thales' heart quivered slightly, but he silently listened to King Kessel's orders that left no room for doubt as the king planned his future step by step.
However, there seemed to be no space for Thales' own will in his future. Why was it like this? He had just escaped from that miserable place that he had once gritted his teeth and persevered through when he lived there. He had just escaped from that miserable place that he had once gritted his teeth and persevered through when he lived there. He still had many questions and uncertainties in his heart.
But this King Kessel that was standing in front of him did not seem to care about his thoughts at all. He only announced his orders sentence by sentence and spoke about his own wishes. "No one has to know about his past, but there has to be a story. Gilbert, invent a story regarding his origin. As long as his bloodline can be confirmed—I will discuss with Liscia regarding this, it is not impossible to deal with the Gods—we need not fear gossip.
"Pick some of his peers out from the roster of nobles, along with educators and attendants for the heir. After he is recognized, all this will become the focus. Make sure to put all of these in the records in advance. I want to see the list of names before next week.
"And just to be safe, Gilbert, you have to reconfirm the clauses for royal succession in the 'Holy Constellation Constitution', along with precedents for cases like him in the Jade Star family. If there is anything that might be cause for dispute, it would not be too late for us to remedy it now."
Thales furrowed his brows and continued listening as they plotted his future and his life. He was like a marionette.
"As for his marriage contract, I have an idea. We will discuss it later, Eckstedt—"
At that moment, Gilbert spoke and cut the king off with a respectful expression.
"Your Majesty, there is still some time left as of right now." The middle-aged noble seemed to sense that something was amiss, but he tried his best to express his opinions. "If you need to spend time alone with this child, we can—"
However, Kessel swiftly waved his hand and stopped Gilbert mid-sentence.
At that moment, Thales saw that the eyelashes on the king's deep-set eyes fluttered. He felt as if a surge of strange emotions was emerging on Kessel's expression. Thales wanted to say something, but before the words reached the edge of his mouth, he swallowed it back.
'What… What should I say? What can I say? What should a seven-year-old child who is meeting his father for the first time say? Hey, father whom I just met, can I say something? Perhaps you should listen to my opinions instead of talking to yourself? Ah, it's too strange.'
Kessel looked like he intended to turn his head towards Thales, but then he turned back abruptly. He rested both his hands on his scepter and gazed at the three portraits, not speaking for a long time.
Only at this moment did he seem to resemble a human being.
Kessel turned around after a long while. He did not look at anyone. However, the authoritative voice that belonged only to Constellation's King, Kessel the Fifth, rang once more, "In short, the duty bestowed upon the two of you is a very heavy one. Constellation has been heirless for twelve years. Only last week, whether by intention or not, Koshder mentioned in his letter about the succession system in Eckstedt. Both of you know how the Six Great Clans would react.
"His appearance is a variable, but also an unexpected bargaining chip and advantage for us… It is time to alter our plans, to make sure that we are one step ahead of our enemies. Ensure that his presence is utilized to the utmost."
Thales was stunned. Was this… his father?
'Variable. Bargaining chip. Advantage. Utilized to the… utmost? Are these what a father should say in front of a son he has never met?'
Thales heaved a sigh in his heart and lowered his head. 'So this is what it is… This feeling of not belonging… This doesn't feel like a reunion between father and son at all… He's more like a chess player who is naturally and nonchalantly moving a chest piece.'
Thales was obviously not the only one who felt this strangeness. Gilbert's countenance changed slightly, as though he wanted to say something. But in the end, he only lowered his head and heaved a small sigh at an angle the king could not see.
But there was still someone who cut the king off without regard for the atmosphere. "Your Majesty."
Thales turned his head around in surprise. It was the silent Yodel who had spoken.
The secret protector's expression behind the mask could not be seen, but his hoarse voice was extremely firm.
"He is first and foremost your kin—your son! And only then is he your heir. You cannot just ignore that he is your son."
Thales raised his head and saw that Kessel the Fifth heaved a long sigh before he closed his eyes.
"Yes, he is my son." With eyes still shut, the king held his scepter tightly and spoke drearily, "That is why I am here today. I entrust him to both of you. Remember—one month."
Yodel's gaze behind the mask's lenses froze for a moment. In the end, he lowered his head and did not speak anymore. A slight feeling of uncertainty and shock crept into Thales' heart.
The king nodded. He looked at Gilbert and Yodel, who both knelt on one knee. He then took one look at the dazed Thales with an indiscernible and complicated gaze, then walked away without hesitation.
Gilbert and Yodel slowly stood up.
The robust figure slowly walked down the stairs. The footsteps were heavy but authoritative. A king's authority.
'What? It ended… just like this?' Thales was stunned and watched in disbelief as his "father" left.
'This isn't right. This so-called father… He sired this body, didn't he?
'But why. Why does he seem so… emotionless? Also... the matters related to my future… Have they been decided just like that? I didn't even have a chance to speak…'
"Wait a moment!" Thales finally could not resist and shouted out loud. He was done being a powerless chess piece.
The robust figure paused for a moment and turned.
Gilbert looked at Thales in shock. Yodel's expression was still hidden behind the mask.
Watching the slowly turning king and enduring his sharp gaze, Thales suddenly felt as if there was a frog in his throat. But with great effort, he still opened his mouth and spoke.
"I… Although we have never met…" Stumbling on his words, he extended his hands and swung it helplessly in front of his body while weighing his words. "But since you are my… I mean, since we are…"
The king held the stair railing and looked at Thales with an indescribably complicated gaze.
Thales shut his eyes tightly and opened it again, exhaling. "I think…" He pronounced the words with difficulty, his usual eloquence nowhere to be found.
'D*mn… What sort of attitude and words should I use when facing… this person, who is my father and the king at the same time?
'Adoration? Indifference? Stupefaction? Surprise? None of them seem right.'
Gilbert, who was beside him, extended his hand towards Thales as though he wanted to say something. But, in the end, he chose to remain silent.
Thales' breath quickened. He furrowed his brow and said, "I am actually a little perplexed. Perhaps, as my… you can give me some answers. After all, we are… related by blood. And you talked about so many things such as the heir, the kingdom, and the marriage contract, but I don't know anything. This might not be important for you, and you don't really care…"
Kessel the Fifth held on to his scepter tightly, not giving a single reply. His brows furrowed slowly.
Thales bit his lip. He felt the burn on his chest start to hurt again.
'D*mn it. Even my worst thesis report is less awkward than this.'
He swung his hands around lightly as he constructed his sentences. "But this is my future. If you have already made your decision… You should at least help me understand the situation a little. Besides, you said that no one needs to know about my past… But at least I want to, what I mean is… At the very least, I need to know about my own past.
"I really want to know what actually happened. And also, the path I will be walking on."
Kessel's gaze when he looked at Thales changed. It was no longer a scrutinizing, judgmental and critical gaze. It was as though, for the first time, he recognized that Thales was a human being—and also his son.
Thales heaved a sigh. Whatever.
He opened his eyes and looked straight at his 'father'.
"Yes, I want to know everything about myself. I want to know my origins. Like… who my mother is, where I was born, and how I became the way I am now. Along with my identity, my future, and the choices I have… Answers like these… Instead of being an outsider, a chess piece, an object… That is if I really am your…" Thales gritted his teeth as he said that word, "son."
'Although your actions… are really unlike a normal father... Even though you are the king…'
Thales felt a little dizzy. The energy he expended tonight was too much for his seven-year-old body to bear.
The king finally looked him in the eye. His sky-blue irises shone brightly inside his deep-set eyes. At that moment, Kessel the Fifth's gaze was quite complicated and indecipherable. Thales could not interpret anything further from it.
"Child, what is your name?" The highest ruler in Constellation asked with his dignified voice.
Thales stared at Kessel. "Thales." He heard himself say, "My name is Thales."
'Only now does he think of asking for his son's name? My god.' Thales mentally shook his head.
"Thales, listen properly." Kessel narrowed his eyes, his tone cold. "You do not need to know about many things; you need not concern yourself with them either. Your path has already been decided, you just need to follow it."
'What?' At that moment, Thales felt a surge of coldness in his heart.
"If you still have any uncertainties, go ask Gilbert."
And then, Kessel the Fifth, the thirty-ninth Supreme King of Constellation, the Southern Island, and the Western Desert... left Mindis Hall without looking back. His cloak disappeared from Thales' sight.
'Damn it.' Thales lowered his head and fixed his stare at the expensive black floor tiles with a tight frown.
'Is this really the sire of this body, and not an enemy?'
"Child, Thales." Gilbert, who was behind him, could not resist and silently tapped his shoulder. "Do not worry and think too much about it. His Majesty just has too much on his plate. He's actually—"
Before Gilbert could finish his sentence, Yodel suddenly walked forward and crouched down before Thales. He took out Thales' JC's dagger—which had somehow, at some point, gotten into his hands (Gilbert's expression changed. He touched his waist and knitted his brows)—and softly placed it in Thales' hands.
Thales snapped out of his thoughts and was slightly stunned.
The head behind the dark purple mask nodded slightly, and a hoarse voice slowly said, "Relax. You are his son, related by blood, bound together by fate. Nothing and no one can change this."
Thales sucked in a deep breath. 'They probably misunderstood. Did they think that I'm feeling disappointed because my 'father' ignored me?'
He kept his dagger and clenched his fists tightly, forcing out a smile.
"Don't worry." He suppressed the dissatisfaction in his heart and spoke plainly, "Thank you both."
Looking at Yodel who had cut his words off with his actions, Gilbert exhaled from his nose in displeasure. He, also, crouched down in front of Thales and spoke gently, "My young Sir Thales, you have experienced too much tonight. What you need now is rest, and perhaps treatment. Thales, please come with me. Yodel, I will look for you later. We need to talk."
Thales nodded and obediently followed Gilbert.
Yodel, who was left alone, raised his head and looked at a vase that was placed in the corridor some distance away.
Using his sharp and frightening gaze, he observed that thin cracks that were barely noticeable had appeared on the vase.
Yodel furrowed his brows slightly behind his mask. He knew that before Thales had growled angrily… The vase was still in perfect condition.
Was it a coincidence?