Chapter 41: Midier Jadestar
That night, under Jines' piercing stare and merciless reproach, Thales finished his dinner (which had quite a lot of rules, and was also a boring but unavoidable etiquette class) with difficulty. After all, etiquette served as a code of conduct and was one of the criteria for the division of social strata. At least, with trembling hands, he was now able to use the table-knife and fork according to the rules.
However, Thales could feel the fury and dissatisfaction hidden behind Jines' beautiful eyes. He vaguely knew that this was related to the history of Constellation Gilbert was talking about in the afternoon.
'The Empire shall last, so long as the stars remain.'
This vow carried a huge and heavy weight. Even for someone like Thales, who did not know about the legend of how Tormond the First built the country very well, his heart could not help but begin to race and his blood boil.
Gilbert and the entire hall of guards (Thales only knew later that they were all the descendants of the Final Empire's last remaining army troop) embodied that spirit in those words. However, Thales, with sharp perception, noticed Jines' abhorrence towards this sentence, and even the meaning behind the sentence.
But he did not dare to ask.
He did not know what the attitude of this female official (who claimed herself to be his father's lover) towards him was.
From Jines' gazes towards him, Thales had seen flashes of hatred. He had also seen her forced forbearance, and her hesitation when going near him. The only thing he had not seen was a sincere smile from her. Therefore, the entire etiquette class was abnormally dreary.
That was until, out of Thales' expectations, Jines, with brightly burning eyes, broke the silence first. "You don't like these rules and etiquette, do you?" Looking at Thales who was bending his wrist with great strength so that he would not exceed the standard movement allowed for the arm when eating, Jines suddenly spoke coldly, "Your facial expression is practically uglier than a horse who just had a bridle put on it."
Thales was shocked by the sudden question. In a flurry, he tried to answer in suitable terms. "Erm, Madam Jines, I know that all these are a must, and I am still trying my best to adapt—"
However, he was cut off by Jines again.
"Of course you must learn these sets of etiquette," she spoke coldly, but her tone was filled with disdain, which made her sound as if she was mocking him, "But you had better not become their captive… To walk, sit and lie down in a so-called dignified manner does not mean that you are truly very dignified. Similarly, having that glorious and prideful history behind you does not mean that you are truly…"
Jines did not continue speaking. She instinctively stopped herself from saying the rest of the sentence.
A surge of coldness passed through Thales' heart.
It seemed that this lady held something against Gilbert's teaching method.
"Madam Jines," he probed carefully, "Gilbert's history lesson this afternoon… you… you looked like you didn't… didn't…"
"Hmph, what a joke. That there was a mighty and age-old kingdom… Why would I dare to have any complaints?" Jines sneered and denied Thales' words. However, the latter could obviously read the sarcasm and derision in the female official's eyes. Thales stared fixedly at Jines, at his father's lover.
"Madam Jines," Thales asked carefully and softly. "You were not my father's female official from the start, were you?"
Jines raised her brow. Her lips trembled slightly, causing the beauty mole beside her lips to quiver as well.
"And you… don't like these sets of etiquette and rules either, and even dislike—" Thales hesitated for a while, but looking at the fork and spoon in his hands, he still asked, "Dislike this kingdom?"
After Thales finished speaking…
Jines looked at Thales with a dumbfounded expression.
'This child... He is really sensitive.'
Jines turned her head around and looked at the golden silver nine-pointed star symbol on top of the fireplace in the study room. She did not speak for a long time.
Just as Thales stuck out his tongue, thinking that he had said something wrong and was preparing to lower his head as if nothing happened and continue battling with his knife and spoon, Jines heaved a sigh. She stared at the knife and spoon in Thales' hands, lost in thought, and softly said, "I was born in Bajkovic Town in Seude County. It is a little town by the ocean on the eastern part of the kingdom. Although it is not a prosperous trading harbor, the people there have a self-sufficient economy through fishing. It is considered a nice place in Constellation.
"My father was the mayor and was quite renowned among the eastern counties. All along, he strictly raised us to obey the rules, conform to etiquette and become ladies. He hoped that one day, our family could also become a noble family with a long legacy."
Thales' gaze sharpened. While Jines was not paying attention, he discreetly flexed his already stiff wrist.
"However, I was a stubborn, rebellious daughter. I hated these rules and etiquette since young. Which was why even when I was sixteen and almost an adult, I was still a wild girl who did not even know the social dances used in court, I ate crudely and spoke wantonly." Under the lamp, Jines smiled bitterly while looking at the moon outside the window. However, her tone was full of nostalgia.
"Of course, my father would not let me fool around. In short, those memories are not very pleasant. Things had sort of reached a stalemate. My family wanted to strip away my status and right of inheritance, and send me to the temple to become a priestess."
Thales stuck his tongue out where Jines could not see it. He knew that priests in temples usually vow to never get married and serve the Gods all their lives.
'For things to reach this extent, it was probably more than "sort of reached a stalemate."'
Jines lowered her head slightly, and her gazed dimmed, but she then immediately raised her head and flashed a cheerful smile. "However, at that time, a prince became a guest at our palace."
'What?' Upon hearing this, Thales, who had been exercising his wrist stopped. 'Prince? It wouldn't go like one of those soap opera plots I'm thinking about, right?'
Jines continued speaking, "He heard my story, but only laughed out loud. He pardoned my crime in public and promised me that I don't have to abide by the rules and etiquette that normal noble girls have to. However, the condition was that after I reached adulthood, I must be able to find a way to make a living independent of my status as a noble's daughter."
'This… is indeed very much like a soap opera.' However, there was slight uncertainty in Thales' heart. 'Weren't the prince's actions and views, a little, how do I put it, erm, too advanced and modern?'
However, Jines looked as if she was talking to herself. The corner of her lips curled up slightly by itself. She did not notice Thales' reaction at all.
"Then, I left my family castle and followed the prince to the capital city. From reading the court newspaper to the prince daily to having the difficult task of being a bookkeeper, a scribe who gets paid a copper per page, and a police station secretary, to a Class Five Police Officer… my life completely changed because of him."
Thales was stunned for a while. Based on his impression, Jines was a standard court noble. He never thought that she had such a rich and colorful past.
"However, after moving from profession to profession for years, I still became a female official in the end." Jines self-deprecatingly shook her head.
"Look at me, I'm a disgrace among nobles who hates rules and decorum. However, I'm here now, teaching the kingdom's heir… teaching him the customs I used to loathe the most.
Once she finished talking, Jines returned her gaze to the dining table and stared at Thales—his table knife fell again.
Thales laughed awkwardly. He then asked a question which even he felt that it sounded like it was from a soap opera. "That kind-hearted prince. Was he Ke… was he my father?"
'Your father?' Jines' gaze became a little hazy in an instant.
However, Thales did not get his expected answer.
The female official turned her head over slowly. There was an abstract expression on her face, one that was complicated and difficult to decipher.
"No, it's not him." Jines spoke softly, "Even now, I still remember the type of smile on that prince's face as he pardoned me—a dirty, whiny girl with shackles on her wrist.
"That warm, tolerant and sunny smile. It was as though he was relishing in all of the world's beauty. No manner of ugly or dirty things could make him change his expression.
"As for your father Kessel, at that time, he was still a pompous prince who was famous for being wild and unbridled. The only thing on his face was a devilish grin that made ladies become seized by fear and trepidation. He didn't have this type of reassuring smile."
Thales looked at Jines in shock.
'King Kessel… wild, unbridled; a pompous prince?'
He saw that Jines' gaze was shining, as if harboring countless emotions and sentiments. She then slowly uttered each of the following words. "That day, the one who came to our palace was the late king's eldest son.
"His Majesty Kessel's eldest brother, Midier Jadestar, the former crown prince."
Duke Zayen frowned and put down a letter that had a symbol of black fangs as a seal. "And so, the three supposed elites that we thought were honoring the Corleone family's agreement to provide help were merely the losers of their clan's internal struggle." He crossed his hands below the Tricolor Iris Flowers.
"Under the guise of the Corleone Family name, they used our invitation card, borrowed our voyage ship, relied on our passports and used us—the Covendier Family—like idiots. They then sailed across the Ocean of Eradication, escaped the Hill of Pain, and went into hiding in Eternal Star City. They stayed for a long time in our manor, and took away a considerable amount of blood…"
"Is that so?"
The two supreme class knights who stood before his study table, Lord Cassain and Lord Seychelles, did not speak. They just looked at the sweat-drenched, bald, middle-aged man who kneeled on the floor between them with a complicated expression.
Cassain remembered that the bald, middle-aged man came under the old Duke's command at the same time as he did, and was a Tower of Eradication batch mate who served under the Covendier's Tricolor Iris Flowers.
Unfortunately, the middle-aged man lacked skill and was heavily injured in a battle. Ever since then, he could only deal with civil duties. Even so, the old Duke still pitied his circumstances and with trust, assigned him to handle all affairs related to crossing the ocean.
'What was his name again?' Cassain searched through his memory with effort, but could not recall it no matter what.
"Yes… it is so… they showed the Sacred Blood Signet that only Blood Clansmen in the direct line of descent of the Corleone family have. That blond-haired one also threatened us with a terrible attitude…" The head of the kneeling middle-aged man almost touched the floor. He explained, stuttering, "They also had your… your handwritten letter…"
"Enough." Duke Zayen heaved a sigh and massaged the area between his eyebrows. The butler, Ashford, who was beside him, immediately grasped the situation and poured him a glass of handmade grape wine, which had been made in the Sera Dukedom.
With effort, Zayen smiled in resignation. "You are not at fault in this matter. You can go now. Remember to be more careful next time."
As though granted an amnesty, the middle-aged bald man kept nodding his head in apology. Only after being urged by Seychelles did he leave the room, trembling.
"He used to be a talented person, but he is useless now," Zayen said with a face filled with lament and raised his wine glass. "Send him immediately to the Eastern Peninsula again, and get rid of him in the international waters. Don't do it within the nation's border or territorial waters. I don't want to be charged with murder."
Upon hearing this, a thought appeared in Cassain's heart.
"My esteemed Duke," he could not help but speak, "if you let him stay, he would presumably become even more dedicated…"
Cassain did not notice Seychelles signaling beside him.
"I can forget about it if it was a normal affair. However, for this type of crucial secret, I do not want there to be careless mistakes." Zayen sighed and said, "He already made a mistake, and he will definitely harbor grudges and become gloomy. His doubts towards his future will only increase as time goes by.
"And he knows about our contact with the Corleones. This is related to that plan. And both of you know how important that plan is."
Cassain finally noticed Seychelles' signal. He lowered his head and did not speak anymore.
"For the next voyage, get someone new." Zayen tasted a mouthful of wine with disappointment. "When father was still around, they were much less undisciplined when it came to work."
Ashford calmly replied, "It takes time for loyalty and prudence to be formed."
Zayen shook his head and sighed. "Unfortunately, what we lack the most right now is time. That thing will be happening in a month, and our people cannot be a part of it. There had better not be any accidents."
Seychelles nodded slightly. "Sir, please rest assured that for those mercenaries we paid such a high price to hire, even if they were asked to assassinate the king, there is enough chance that they would succeed."
Lord Cassain trembled slightly, he did not know why his colleague was so daring in his speech.
Zayen paused for a moment. He only looked at Seychelles after a while.
"Do not speak carelessly," the young Duke said coldly.
Seychelles lowered his head and apologized. However, he was laughing coldly in his heart. 'It doesn't seem like the duke is displeased.'
"You people should be departing. Both the Cullen and the Nanchester family will be sending people over. Be careful about this, do not begin any conflicts with them."
Zayen's gaze was ice-cold. He carefully said to Cassain and Seychelles, "When those mercenaries succeed, both of you get rid of them."
Cassain trembled violently. He raised his head in disbelief. "Sir! Get rid of them? Aren't we using someone else's name to hire the mercenaries? Some- some of them are from the Tower of Eradication and are my—"
Zayen suddenly looked towards him, his gaze was as sharp as swords.
Cassain's throat trembled. The supreme class knight could not finish his words.
"Then, advise your friend to go home," Zayen said calmly. However, Ashford knew that this was how he showed his dissatisfaction. "And switch someone who is not your friend over."
Seychelles pulled hard on the back of Cassain's clothes, stopping the latter from speaking.
"As you wish, sir." The clever Seychelles nodded and dragged the pale-faced Cassain away.
Zayen slowly heaved a sigh to calm his mood down. He looked at the old duke's portrait some distance away.
"Cassain is already old," he said plainly. "After this matter is over, send him back either to Jade City, or his own territory."
Ashford's countenance was calm. He nodded slightly.
"As for the issue related to those Corleone refugees, Ashford, handle it personally. Start the investigation from those cavaliers who suddenly broke into Vine Manor that night." Zayen spilled the red wine from the bottom of his glass onto the floor. His gaze was ice-cold. "Contact the Corleone Family. Write a letter directly to the Night Queen. Tell Katerina what happened over here, and take the opportunity to increase our bargaining power."
Ashford nodded his head. "As you wish, Sir."
"I remember that Mindis Hall's investigation was assigned to Blood Bottle Gang. Is Nikolay not found yet?" Zayen narrowed his eyes and looked at Ashford.
"No, sir." Ashford bowed slightly. "Blood Bottle Gang is like a host of dragons without a head now. There are rumors that he went overseas in search of the Blood Mystic."
'The Blood Mystic?' Zayen shut his eyes tight and exhaled.
All the education he had ever received compelled him to use his entire body's strength to swallow the entirely crude words that he really wanted to say.
"There is no other way then. Dispatch our people to directly control Blood Bottle Gang." Duke Zayen opened his eyes. There were no emotions at all in his pupils. He put down his wine glass and said, "Within these two months, I want to take control of all the rumors and information in Blood Bottle Gang's territory, from civilians to soldiers, and from nobles to traders."
Ashford nodded lightly.
"The messenger dispatched to Eckstedt should be on his way back. Let's see whether the Archduke of Black Sand is willing to seize this opportunity." Zayen leaned back on his comfortable couch and narrowed his eyes.
'Wait for it, father. Tricolor Iris Flowers will very soon take a step forward...
'... If all goes well.'