Chapter 20: Red Constellation (One)
Conspiracies and tricks. Evil and ugliness. A lot of them are born in the secret chambers lurking in the dark.
However, conspiracies can also be forged under daylight.
Such as now.
As winter approached, on the afternoon of the sixteenth of November. In a spacious stud farm, an old noble who was bulky and fat stood under a parasol wearing a thick mink cape. His head was lowered and he was frowning.
While watching a few horse trainers train the horses, he struggled to listen to what another noble to his left was saying. After a long while, he slowly heaved a sigh and, watching a disobedient horse some distance away, he puckered his lips.
"What sort of royal treasure has disappeared that it warrants our esteemed king to seal off Mindis Hall for an indefinite period? What a pity. I was planning to visit Mindis Hall next week to take a look at Master Kolven's posthumous work."
The noble next to him was younger and slimmer with a relaxed expression. He raised up the aloeswood pipe in his hand with effortless ease and took a deep drag.
"Also, Gilbert rushed overnight to Mindis Hall to report to His Majesty regarding the situation for the gang battle in the Lower City Districts," he said cheerfully while blowing smoke rings.
"Really? Since when does our esteemed Iron Fist King care about the fate of the outcasts in the Lower City Districts? If only His Majesty treated his people with half the benevolence and kindness of our late King Aydi—" The bulky noble touched his thighs with deep hatred and resentment as the incorrigible horse fell on its forehooves.
"—why do we need to meet at a stud farm?"
"The king's faction is definitely planning something. I can guarantee that it is certainly not a trivial matter—it is perhaps something that can turn the tables over in one stroke." The pipe-puffing young noble's gaze was radiating with energy.
"Mindis Hall is such a good place. Having lost a royal treasure—hopefully it is not Master Kolven's artwork—the security there must have been tightened." The old noble had suddenly blurted out something that made no sense.
However, the young noble nodded in understanding. "I also have news that Gilbert was ordered to investigate the truth behind the burglary, and as of late, he will be visiting Mindis Hall frequently. With that man around, even the White Eagle can't do anything. We can probe, but we shouldn't go too far. We have to use other methods to disrupt their plans."
The young noble inhaled another mouthful of top-grade Fisola Tobacco, of which only six hundred pounds was produced each year. He reveled in it for a moment and blew a perfect smoke ring.
"Next month, the Eckstedt Diplomat Group will be arriving at our kingdom's territory." At that moment, the old noble's face showed sincere worry. "Ha... it had not been easy for Constellation and Eckstedt to achieve a state of peace."
"That is true." Compared to his elder, the young noble could not retain his composure. His aggression, will, and spirit showed. "If any accident happens to the diplomat group within our kingdom's territory, Our Majesty will probably be forced to act passively when he faces pressure from within and outside the kingdom."
"If Our Majesty does not handle it appropriately…" The old noble watched as the horse from a distance away got up. He exhaled in relief, drank a mouthful of tea and spoke in resignation, "Ha... as expected, a kingdom like ours where the crown is inherited is a backward one.
The two of them were silent for a while.
The old noble shifted his body and asked distractedly, "What is going on in the Western District?"
"Do not ask me, Sir. You know that I hate Mystics the most."
"Alright. Then shall we talk about the Black Street Brotherhood?"
"Those people still refuse to reveal anything." The young noble's countenance suddenly became displeased. "After being around for only around ten years, they already have such a big ego. Presumably, their confidence in their backer, whoever it is, is higher than their confidence in our 'New Star'."
"Do not look down on young people." The old man cracked a smile in resignation. His eyes shone with sagacity and sharpness. "When children do terrifying things—that is true horror."
Compared to the quick glances he threw the day before during the previous night and at dawn, Mindis Hall now looked bigger, more magnificent and, of course, emptier in the afternoon in Thales' eyes.
The ground floor housed a large parlor, a large banquet hall, and an open-air garden. The place was also equipped with a large-scale scullery and basement storehouse. There was even a depository for military equipment.
Apart from the open-air balcony, where a full view of the outdoor garden can be seen ("Due to considerations for your safety, I do not recommend that you appear on the balcony or outdoors within the month."–Gilbert), the huge first floor had three large-scale rooms with different functions—the noble banquet hall, the assembly hall, and the games room. There were also rooms of various sizes.
The corridors, exits, and entrances of the ground floor and first floor were full of dignified, armored guards, all of them positioned themselves while following the protocol of one sentry every ten steps. Their faces were hidden behind full-face helmets and every single one of them looked as intimidating as large statues ("Although they are Swordsmen of Eradication that belong privately to the Jadestar family, I still do not recommend that you poke their stomachs, young Sir Thales."–Gilbert). However, from a distance, Mindis Hall still looked eerily quiet and empty.
Thales' living room, bedroom, dining room, and study room—where lessons were conducted—were on the second floor. The second floor was only accessible from the first floor, through a crowded fleet of stairs. Moreover, eight fully equipped Swordsmen of Eradication were guarding the place at full attention, changing shifts every six hours. As for the area outside the windows and the roof, he heard that there were also guards that were stationed outdoors ("With Yodel around, you do not need to worry about threats from beyond the window."–Gilbert).
Every single dish, from broccoli and bread, to beef and plain water, was taken from the strictly-guarded scullery and the basement storehouse where they were prepared ("Pardon me, I have no way of ensuring their freshness."–Gilbert). From cooking to delivery, the dishes had to go through stringent poison treatment, prelibation, and poison-testing procedures.
'These safety and security measures are really beyond human imagination. It seems that I'm a lot more important than I thought I was. Should I say something like, "As expected of the ruling class"?
'I wonder if Jala is able to sneak in with her skills. What about a Mystic? Speaking of such…'
"No, this is out of the question. Pardon me for refusing, young Sir."
Thales raised his head to look at Gilbert, giving him a questioning look.
"So far, everything related to you is kept confidential." Gilbert shook his head firmly, "Pardon me for speaking bluntly. We have already sealed off Mindis Hall. Our communication with the outside world is limited to a few trusted oath keepers. Under this situation, for the royal family to suddenly dispatch troops to a gang in the Lower City District in search of three child beggars in hiding, whether it is to monitor or to assist them, would be extremely detrimental to both parties."
"Although the gang is nothing to us, actions that are too flashy would alert our true enemies and provide them with an opportunity to seize our weakness. Do not look down on the capabilities of those with malicious intentions. With the slightest clue, they would be able to reel silk from cocoons and find the source." He said in a deep voice, "To help your old friends, we have to at least wait for the… right opportunity."
Thales heaved a sigh and frowned, eating the last mouthful of buttered bread—it was sweet and greasy. He immediately took his cup and drank a mouthful of red tea.
'At least the food is much better.'
"If you are satisfied with the afternoon tea…" With impeccable etiquette, Gilbert took the teacup from the frantic Thales and bowed slightly. He continued, "…we shall begin our afternoon lessons."
In truth, while maintaining a smile, Gilbert muttered in his mind, 'Perhaps we should begin with dining etiquette?'
"How about Yodel? Where is he?"
"As a competent protector, he would naturally be on guard somewhere nearby."
Thales resisted the instinctive urge to look around. Once he knew that Yodel was nearby, he somehow felt a lot more at ease.
And so Thales tugged the bow tie on his neck that was making him uncomfortable and followed the slightly frowning Gilbert into the study.
"First of all, Thales, I spoke to Yodel yesterday."
Gilbert watched as Thales positioned himself on a leather chair and curiously looked around at the decorations of the study, especially the three filled bookshelves.
"You are an extraordinary child. I can see that—based on Yodel's assessment, and the few hours I spent with you since we met each other"
'Here it is.' Thales maintained a curious expression, but he raised his guard.
"However, this goes without saying—the heir of Constellation is naturally special." Gilbert placed his hands behind his back and slowly walked towards the study table, which was carved with the symbol of the nine-pointed star.
At that moment, his grayish-white sideburns made him look especially solemn.
"I believe that since Fate has returned you to Constellation, she must have her own arrangements."
Thales looked at the middle-aged noble and said nothing.
"I vaguely know about your past. The days on the streets must have been difficult. But please forget about them."
Gilbert picked up the book that been placed a long time ago on the black, aloeswood study table. He turned around and said gravely, "You will have a new identity, a new life, and even a new name. However, the most important thing would be the future you have to face and the burden that you will have to shoulder from this future."
Gilbert's piercing gaze looked into Thales' gray irises.
'Forget the past.' Thales meditated to himself. He looked at Gilbert's sharp eyes and nodded with a solemn expression.
'How is that possible…?' Thales mocked in his heart.
"I understand. So," Thales weighed his words and spoke slowly, "what does the 'me' right now need to know about myself and my past?"
Gilbert's expression did not change, but in his heart, he nodded slightly. 'Anxiousness, fear, helplessness, all the emotions that should be felt by a seven-year-old child under this kind of situation, are absent from this child.
'There is only calmness and caution. Even his excitement is minimal. He is indeed extraordinary.
'Is it due to the tough trials and tribulations he faced in the Brotherhood? Yodel refused to explain in detail, but the assassin was full of praises for this child. However, does being in a gang in the Lower City District really give someone this kind of experience? Or should I say that the royal bloodline that descended from the ancient empires, with almost three thousand years of history, is indeed extraordinary?
'Or maybe, his other half…'
Having thought of this, Gilbert furrowed his brows a little, but the competent noble still bowed slightly.
"My esteemed young Sir Thales, please allow me to regard you as such for the moment. You are seven years old this year. On the twenty-fifth of July in the year 665, you were born in Mahn Manor, which is on the outskirts of Constellation's capital city, Eternal Star city."
"Your biological mother is a noble lady, whose name shall not be disclosed because it is not convenient for us to do so. She passed away from excessive bleeding while giving birth to you. Before taking her last breath, she named you Thales, after the brightest star in the sky."
Thales furrowed his brows slightly.
"You grew up under the secret care of the Jadestar family in Mahn Manor. I, and another female official visited you occasionally. During that period, you grew up as a child adopted by Lord Mahn while he was hunting outside and did not know about your true identity.
"Last year in December, Lord Mahn died in battle on the border of the Western Deserts. Due to his lack of an heir, his assets and territories were retrieved by the monarch. At the same time, I brought you back to Mindis Hall, which is in the Twilight District."
Thales kept quiet and listened to the entire narration.
"And next month," Gilbert held the book in his hand tightly, "As the King, Kessel the Fifth's, illegitimate child, a member of the Constellation royal family, and the only surviving blood relative of the Jadestar family, you will be declaring your birthright. Then the royal family, Sunset Temple, and the upper house of Constellation will jointly recognize you as—"
Gilbert's expression was imposing and solemn. There were also slight hints of worry and sadness. "... the heir of Constellation's Supreme King."
After a long time, Thales exhaled lightly. 'Looks like it's way more complicated than what I imagined.'
"I get it. There are some parts that I'm still unclear about, but I will remember it firmly. I used to be Thales who grew up in Mahn Manor, and was also Lord Mahn's adopted child." Thales' eyes sparkled, and he propped up his hands before placing his chin on them.
His thoughts were being configured speedily. He grouped the information he already had and what Gilbert said, into various elements and converted them into valid information.
Gilbert nodded and sat on a leather chair opposite Thales. "For the remaining parts, I will provide the details for you to memorize and familiarize yourself with."
"Right now, this is your only task, and also all that you need to know."
'As expected, although he respects me very much… Deep down, he feels that there's no need to tell a seven-year-old child so much.' Thales' eyes sparkled.
"Next, I need to know your basics when it comes to—"
As Gilbert was contemplating the lesson he should provide Thales with next, of whether he should start with basic etiquette or languages, the heir of Constellation suddenly opened his mouth and interrupted him.
"So, we have decided on a common excuse for the people outside." Thales, who was curling up in the leather chair raised his chin from his hands. His gaze shone with bright light. "It should be time to tell me the truth, along with the predicament the king is in, and our common enemies and allies, whether public or those lying in the dark."
Gilbert was slightly stunned.
"For example, my birth mother's identity and why her identity is… not to be divulged; Constellation's difficult current state of affairs, especially the series of problems brought about by the royal succession;
"Perhaps you should tell me all of the above in detail so that I won't harbor any uncertainties when it comes to my future lessons. I will also be able to choose and prioritize the knowledge I need to learn. I believe that for the sake of Constellation, and also your king, this is the best choice."
As soon as he finished speaking, the middle-aged noble's jaw dropped slightly. He looked at Thales in surprise.
'Did Yodel talk to him about all this? No, it's impossible.'
Thales retracted his hands. With a calm expression, he coolly but determinedly waited for Gilbert's answer. At that moment, Gilbert felt like he was looking at the young Kessel Aydi Jadestar.
At that time, Prince Kessel's eyes had been sparkling like stars. The warm rays of light in his eyes had not yet become the bone-chilling northern wind.
Gilbert only remained dazed for a moment before he immediately snapped out of his stupor and heaved a small sigh. 'An extraordinary child, huh?'
Beginning from that moment, the middle-aged noble answered his young master with true reverence and respect.
"I understand. I will explain them to you immediately. In order to save up whatever limited time we have, if you have any other queries, you may also raise them now."
Thales frowned slightly. "Very well." He propped up his body from the comfortable leather chair that he was unaccustomed to. "Then I will be more straightforward."
Thales activated the extraordinary cognitive capacity of his mind and pulled up all the relevant information. Just like how he used to do when organizing relevant literature for his research, he summed up all the key points.
"You mentioned before that the Bloodline Lamp was blessed with Divine Art twelve years ago, but I am only seven years old. Why did your people prepare the tools to search for blood relatives from twelve years ago? I believe that this is related to my birth mother, whose identity cannot be divulged. Who is she? Why did she leave me with the gang after giving birth to me seven years ago? These questions can be categorized under 'Where am I from'.
"And, Kessel, my father, is still in the prime of his life. What is the reason for Constellation not having an heir for twelve years? Why has all hope for an heir been placed on an illegitimate child of unknown origin? There is something wrong with my father's attitude towards me. If it's not a problem with his personal attitude, then I'll have to ask. What is his relationship with my mother? Why is my identity such a secret? These questions can be categorized under 'Who am I'.
"Lastly, what does my existence mean to Constellation? Without an heir, what kind of problems would Constellation face? Who are our enemies, and who are our allies? According to what you said, Sunset Temple plays an important role in the matters related to me. How is this related to them? If I am acknowledged, or even if I just make a public appearance in the kingdom, what would be the state of affairs we would have to face? As an illegitimate son, what are my rights? As an heir, what would I be inheriting? These questions can be categorized under 'Where am I headed to in my future'.
"Where am I from, who am I, and where am I headed to in my future. Sir Gilbert, please answer these three queries for me."
It was as though time stopped at that moment. Gilbert stared hard at the boy before him.
From out of nowhere, a rush of surprise and fear appeared in his heart.
'Late kings from ancient ages, late kings of Constellation.' He sighed from the bottom of his heart. 'Is this boy your descendant? What kind of power is hidden within your bloodline?!'
After a long moment, the middle-aged noble uttered a sentence with slight difficulty, "Sir Thales." He exhaled and organized his words. "You are definitely unlike a seven-year-old child."
Thales immediately realized that what he had just said was inappropriate, but there was already no way for him to back down.
'Whatever, being a child prodigy who is familiar with the ways of the world is definitely better than being a clueless puppet.'
"More than one person had said this before; if you want to get into my good books, you will have to word it more creatively, Mr. Gilbert." To mitigate Gilbert's expression, Thales answered with a rare show of humor and cracked a smile.
Gilbert did not reply. He just cast Thales a deep look, not averting his gaze for a long time.
Just as Thales wondered whether time had stopped, the middle-aged noble, who was as still as a statue, suddenly opened his mouth and began to answer his queries. "My esteemed Sir Thales, firstly, where you are from... Everything began twelve years ago."
"In the March of the year 660, although the late King Aydi II was already of old age, he was still king. His reign was long-standing and steady, the people knew him as the 'King of Eternal Rule'.
"However, due to an increasingly fierce rebellion, the whole of Constellation sunk into an unprecedented turmoil. It even affected the entire Western Peninsula.
"War, disaster, famine—those were the issues of that year. A lot of people referred to that year as 'Bloody Year'. Amidst the chaos and bloodshed, King Aydi was murdered. Almost the entire Jadestar royal family was slaughtered.
"Among all the legitimate members of the royal family, only his fifth son, Prince Kessel Jadestar survived. At that time, he was thirty-five years old. In the end, he was crowned as king. That was your father, Kessel the Fifth, known as the 'Iron Hand King' among the people."