Chapter 22: Secret Chamber Debriefing
'Bad luck strikes again so quickly after finally being able to get a good sleep?'
This thought crossed Thales' mind as he watched Gilbert calmly summon a few of the nearby Swordsmen of Eradication.
Yodel patted Thales' shoulder and shook his head. The expression behind his mask was not visible but Thales gave the silent Protector a 'smiley' in his mind.
The several Swordsmen of Eradication efficiently accepted their orders one by one. The originally empty and quiet Mindis Hall suddenly became lively. Fifty guards were dispatched under a unified command; moving methodically; sounds of commands and reports following one after another.
"Team 3 is going to the main entrance on the second and third floor."
"The deployment of troops is complete on both sides of the big hall!"
"Minor reinforcement on the roof of the hall is in place!"
Finally, Gilbert calmly gave a few more words to a Swordsman of Eradication that looked like the leader of the group. He then turned back to the study and carried Thales, who was peeping from the entrance of the study, back in.
As always, Yodel had already disappeared into thin air.
The middle-aged noble skillfully used his staff to pry open a plank behind the bookshelf. He then pulled back the bookshelf, revealing a secret chamber inside.
"Who is coming? Are they friends or foes?" Thales struggled to ask as Gilbert carried him in.
Gilbert lit up the Everlasting Lamp in the secret chamber and closed the door before asking in reply, "I suppose you wanted to ask who would choose to break into a well-guarded estate of the Royal Family without warning at five in the evening?"
Gilbert had obviously no longer considered the Young Master an ordinary child. Thales gave a mocking smile. He already knew the answer to the question.
"Sorry. I would need to inconvenience you and have you wait here for a moment. Secrecy is of the utmost priority." Gilbert carefully drew open a curtain in the dim light revealing a fairly large iron plate with six different kinds of filter holes in it.
Thales curiously approached and saw six different places in the holes. The first floor of the Mindis Hall, the garden, the balcony on the second floor, the corridor at the second floor, the stairs at the third floor and also the patio at the third floor along with the outdoor roof of the hall could be seen.
"This is a surveillance mirror that uses mirror reflections to see all the critical areas in Mindis Hall." Gilbert smiled.
'Isn't… Isn't this a periscope?' Thales exclaimed to himself quietly.
"It is time for the first group to fight. The other guys are scattered."
Yodel's voice came from the void.
Thales immediately stood in front of one of the surveillance mirrors. This was at the garden on the first floor. There was a group of ten Swordsmen of Eradication from the Jadestar family. They had set up a formation on tacit understanding, swords and shields simultaneously attacking five differently dressed but completely covered intruders!
However, the intruders also seemed to be a team that was well coordinated team. Two of them nimbly held their scimitars, moving among the swords and shields, looking for an opportunity and to rescue a companion that fell into perilous situation. One used an arm shield and a flail. He kept striking out through the dense sword and shield formation, causing one of the guards to back away again and again. Another one used a half-sword and leaned forward to attempt to break through any opening in the formation. The last one also held a sword and shield. He seemed to be looking for an opening while leading the attack.
"Hired mercenaries and adventurers!" Gilbert took a glance at the periscope and said, "It appears to be a team that had cooperated and worked together for a long time. They lived on wars or a lord's pay, working as hunters, soldiers, scouts, bodyguards or even assassins. There is nothing they would not do."
"I only arrived at Mindis Hall last night and there are already visitors?" Thales could not help but spat out.
"Is the Royal Family's majesty so cheap?"
"Mister Thales. I can assure you that the majesty of the Royal Family is by no means cheap. It is the exact opposite. This is what is strange about the Royal Family and is what made our enemies uneasy and afraid," Gilbert had lightly replied without sounding nervous or solemn. It was as though this was just a game.
"Enemies?" Thales turned his head and looked lost in thought.
"Yes. Do not worry about what is happening outside. The well-trained guards and Yodel would deal with everything. Now is also the best time to explain to you the third issue. Our enemies and our allies."
The middle-aged noble took a few steps back. He sat down on a dark colored sofa in the secret chamber. He then smiled and said, "Right now, your existence is our greatest secret that we want to keep from the people, especially to the nobles and lords of Constellation."
"The six big clans guarding the kingdom's territory and the thirteen distinguished families supporting the kingdom are core members of Constellation's Higher Parliament. Despite constant elimination and replacement it is contradictory. After all, they represent the ranking and influential nobles who, at the time of establishing the kingdom, vowed to govern Constellation together with the royal family."
'So, on the surface, this is a country where the King and the nobles rule together.' Thales took note of this in his heart. He needed more information.
"Were the nobles conferred territories in the kingdom? Do they have full control of their own respective territories?"
Gilbert nodded. "That is the initial source of power for the nobles since the time of the ancient Empire until now. It then developed into Constellation. Although many nobles had only their names and honor left, the ones that really hold the lifeline of the country are the six big clans and the thirteen distinguished families that still control large territories."
"In accordance to their vows and the imperial order, they were ordered to defend the territory from all sides, pledge allegiance to the King and also pay taxes. The only territory the Royal Family could directly control is the Jadestar Family's Central Territory.
'A country that is not at all inferior to the Middle Ages. Its productive forces are not acceptable compared to the country I saw.'
At this very moment, Yodel's voice resounded in their ears again.
"An intruder is at the roof of the hall. He is currently being blocked by a guard."
Looking at the calm and collected Gilbert, Thales held back the desire to look at the scene in the surveillance mirror.
"These suzerains may have their own legal private armies but, most of the time, they would choose to hire outsiders to do odd jobs — especially some jobs that require staying clear of incrimination. This is especially true for the more powerful and dominant lords, such as our guests outside." Gilbert curved the corners of his mouth.
"Then what is the significance of Higher Parliament formed by the nobles and suzerain, and their authority?" Thales asked in a susceptible voice.
"The Higher Parliament is the product of the Virtuous Monarch Mindis the Third during his rule. After paying a heavy price during the Fourth Peninsular War, the Virtuous Monarch ordered those with influence such as the suzerains and nobles, the officials, the sacrifice priest, the traders and scholars to form the Higher Parliament and the Council of National Affairs. The former was a place to discuss official business exclusively for nobles. The latter was for the wealthy and influential in Constellation. With Mindis the Third's superb mediating skills, he had eliminated numerous conflicts and obstacles, assigned taxes, allocating resources, borrowing and repaying loans, allowing Constellation to proudly retain its precious resources from the war that devastated both countries.."
'A leader that utilized the kingdom's powers to deal with conflict and reach a compromise, crafting a platform for a consensus of the hierarchy'. Thales committed this to memory.
"Ignoring the Council of National Affairs for now. The Higher Parliament of Constellation had been preserved after the Virtuous King rule. Constellation's national affairs such as the King's orders and decrees are announced after a consensus had been reached by the nobles and the Supreme King. This gave rise to certain accepted conventions. In fact, after the formation of the Higher Parliament, the disagreements the King had, nobles infighting, pretentious obeisance had all reduced," Gilbert calmly said.
'The prototype of the representative system? No. It is impossible for it to be such an advanced thing. It is a bit like a hierarchical nation turning into a nation with absolutism. Feudal lords make up the structure of the system but it is moving towards a situation where local influence compete against central authority.'
"However, with the arrival of the Bloody Year, the conflicts between the six big clans and the thirteen distinguished families became more apparent. For thirteen days after former sovereign King Aydi II was murdered, the Constellation Capital under the jurisdiction of Constellation closed its gates and restrained its troops, until Kessel returned. They then reached an agreement and coronated the new King."
'An independent feudalistic parliament — the feudal lords uniting into an organization voicing against the monarch. These are all bad news for me.' Thales thought apprehensively.
'The parliamentary process can actually eliminate the Royal Family's role. This is a frightening power. When the time is right, it could become the storm that would overthrow the Royal Family.'
"But King Kessel did not have any heir in the past twelve years — the six big clans have already observed that."
Gilbert had a vigilant expression as he replied in a mysterious and complicated way.
"Forgive me for speaking bluntly. Our powerful neighbor in the north, which is the Hero Raikaru and the Hero Chara's nation, Eckstedt Kingdom, which is also known as 'Western Peninsula's Blade', adopts a system where the suzerains elect a King. The King is selected from among the qualified suzerains."
As he spoke, Yodel's hoarse voice appeared again.
"The enemy is attacking on the second floor! Team 3 and Team 4 are dealing with it. There are also five more approaching the third floor."
This time, Thales did not make any action. Gilbert took a deep breath. He then pointed outside.
"Mister Thales. Right now, do you know where your enemies are?"
Thales remained silent.
'The Constellation's hereditary monarchy. A foreign country's elected monarchy. The six big clans and the thirteen distinguished families. '
Gilbert had pretty much given Thales the answer. However, Thales thought that the information was not sufficient. All kinds of possible conjectures flashed through his mind.
With his brain working quickly, he extracted valid elements as he continued to ask.
"If the King's bloodlines were cut off, the ones guarding the borders, the six big clans, would naturally be the first choices to inherit the crown. But does this also mean that the new King would inherit Jadestar's territory, assets, vassals and influence?
"If the six big clans were originally on equal footing, what would happen to Constellation when one suddenly becomes the Royal Family, expands rapidly and has orthodox supreme authority?
"The six big clans would become five big clans and one large beast. Would it be the same as during the rule of the previous royal family where everyone lives happily and peacefully together working towards a better tomorrow?"
Gilbert had been accustomed to being interrupted casually by the Young Master's words. However, this time the middle-aged noble quietly looked at him with a solemn expression.
Thales also looked back, his heart feeling heavier.
Thales' eyes glinted "In their joint efforts to secure the crown, they, the six big clans and thirteen distinguished families, also probably experienced a complicated and headache-inducing bargaining and splitting of the spoils. At the very least, they would need to discuss about who gets the crown."
'In particular, after twelve years without an heir, most people would think that the end of the Jadestar bloodline is inevitable.'
Thales deeply exhaled.
'Looks like my survival would really affect the peace and unrest of this country.'
Suddenly, a thought flashed through his mind. Thales was stunned for a moment.
"Gilbert." The boy stood up from the couch and frowned. He then slowly asked, "During the Bloody Year, what roles did the suzerains play? I seemingly heard you say something about forced abdication? Then the disaster of the Royal Family…"
Gilbert breathed in deeply but had a complicated expression. Thales felt a chill in his heart.
'His Majesty was beheaded at the throne. The princesses were strangled in their sleep. The concubine was burned to death in the castle. The princes' descendants were swaddled to death. The eldest prince fought at the palace entrance and died. The King's younger brother met with a surprise attack on the battlefield and perished. Then there were four more princes. '
Thales' mouth hung open as he dumbfoundedly fell back onto the sofa.
This was the first time he felt that life was so complicated after transmigrating. This guy was never discouraged even during the most difficult days in the Brotherhood.
There was silence in the secret chamber for a long time. This was until Yodel's voice again sent a warning.
"This seems to be the last elite group. They are now fighting on the third floor."
However, Thales no longer cared. His mind drifted towards the possible employer of the intruders.
'Why was there such a useless Royal Family? Such that they were massacred by the suzerains under them? In that case, escaping from the Brotherhood would be suicide!'
'My so-called father can still sit and relax on the throne safely wearing his crown? Who or what gave him such confidence?'
'Is it a Mystic?'
'Wait. Is my supposed father still the King now? Why could he still stay as King until now? This clearly means…'
"No!" Thales sat up immediately at the next moment. His looked solemn, but he firmly rejected his own guess.
"First of all, the Bloody Year disaster starts from top to bottom, outside to inside. Assassinating a widely accepted and wise king does not help the conflict between the nobles."
"Second, Gilbert. You said before that the Higher Parliament held power independently for thirteen days after the assassination of the King. They had no King for thirteen days! Was it because they could not evenly divide the spoils or reach a unified decision that they then established a new King? Or was it because they were terrified? They were even unprepared to deal with the previous King's death"
"The key point is that my father, His Majesty Kessel, was crowned after an agreement had been reached by the High Parliament. This shows that he has enough support from the big clans. Could it be that someone foresaw that Prince Kessel who was in his prime of life would not have an heir for twelve years so that the suzerains needed to wait for twelve years to take the crown? What kind of Psionic ability would guarantee this?"
"Finally, the last doubtful point. You said that my father had already taken revenge on all those that he could. The hidden dangers were basically resolved. The rest that he did not take revenge on, he could not or it was impossible to do so. Perhaps the six big clans were indeed horrible. But if they were really behind the killings of the Royal Family, then His Majesty, the 'Iron Hand' Kessel would have taken action in the past twelve years?"
"And by nature, the Royal Family and the six big clans were alike. They were simply powerful nobles with a long history."
"If they were really prepared to take the throne, they would know they could not — at least they cannot scheme together and start this precedent. The best of the clans massacring the royal family. What if one day they themselves rule the throne, how would they know history does not repeat itself?"
"The six big clans were not the ones that murdered the Royal Family! Am I right, Gilbert?"
Thales stubbornly stared at the middle-aged noble as though trying to dig something out of his head. He saw Gilbert step forward and give a lamenting smile.
Gilbert cleared his throat and nodded.
"Originally, my intention was to guide your train of thought to act as the enemy to the six big clans and that would be enough. However, it seems that I still underestimated you, my dear little Sir. I believe His Majesty would be proud that you could think of this. However, the suzerains that were at the palace were not completely guiltless. At the very least, during the slaughter of the Royal Family, they chose to sit aside and even happily watched it happen."
Gilbert's eyes looked sad. He hesitated for a while and then finally said, "There is definitely someone else behind the disaster of the Jadestar Royal Family but I myself am not clear about the real truth. Only His Majesty knows all the details. This is the tragedy of the Jadestar Family. It would be up to His Majesty to personally tell you about it."
Thales fixedly looked at Gilbert but then he huffed vigorously. It was as though a huge balloon was suddenly deflated. He threw himself onto the sofa behind him.
"Sheesh..." Thales could not be bothered with his etiquette as he rolled his eyes. "Just say it earlier!"
Gilbert laughed. He then bowed slightly. He tacitly approved the Young Master's words and thought to himself.
'Thales. This boy... perhaps Constellation may be different because of him. Although the Jadestar Royal Family's real enemy is not yet known, you are probably more terrifying than the so-called six big clans and thirteen distinguished families, but that is also unknown to them at the same time.'
Suddenly, a voice interrupted them.
"Everything is settled." Yodel's voice came again. "There are no survivors."
Gilbert's expression looked serious. He nodded and slowly stood up. "Very good."
Thales did not react and just stared.
'Everything is already over in the time needed to cook a meal?
'The stone had just fallen, but there wasn't even any noise?'
Gilbert stood beside the door of the secret chamber and gestured towards Thales, asking him to get out of the secret chamber. He said, "Do not worry, Mister Thales. They simply came to probe. These chores are better off being attended to by us. Your battlefield is a hundred times more perilous and vicious."