Chapter 60: Real Intentions Revealed at the End
The terror caused a commotion among members of the populace and those from the minor nobility classes as well as those from the intermediate nobility classes. The guards had no choice but to shout loudly.
"Cyril, you are very daring in speech." Val gave Cyril a meaningful glance. "Thanks to you, no one will raise the question of returning to the private and small conference room now."
The counts who were seated on their stone chairs responded with silence.
Duke Fakenhaz's gaze was dark. Even when he laughed, his voice was shrill. "This would have happened sooner or later. I only got rid of the relief and terror on your behalves."
"The banquet's 'unwelcome presence'." Duke Cullen sighed. "Indeed, you deserve this title."
Like most of the counts from the Thirteen Distinguished Families, Zayen's face was gloomy and he did not say anything.
After more than ten seconds, disorderly buzzing sounds from the panic-stricken populace in Star Plaza could be heard from the Hall of Stars. The news of the impending clash between Eckstedt and Constellation was completely out in the open.
Count Sorel stared straight at the king with a hostile glare. "Your Majesty, you have achieved your desired effect in announcing this impending disaster to the citizens of our kingdom. The question is, how do we clear up this mess now?"
Kessel's face was cold as ice and he said nothing. He only gave Sorel a quick glance, the latter was still putting up a stubborn front.
Count Talon stared impolitely at Sorel. "It's easy. Do we fight or negotiate? If we were to fight, we shall return to our respective territories and mobilize our forces."
"We still have the chance to negotiate. We have allies. We can invite them to resolve the dispute, just like twelve years ago." Zayen slowly raised his head and looked at the other suzerains. "War might not break out if we make the necessary sacrifices…"
Fakenhaz cut the young duke off and spoke sarcastically, "The one who died in their diplomat group was a prince. He was King Nuven's only son and the only heir of the Walton family. Make sacrifices? True, we probably just have to cut off a piece of land from the north and give it to Eckstedt. That will do."
Count Zemunto said coldly, "The Northern Territory will not hand over a single inch of land. Our family has guarded that land for generations."
"But it is true that the prince died within your territory, is it not?" Count Dagestan laughed out loud. "This is your responsibility. Of course, you have to pay the price."
Count Friess raised his head, and there was a fierce glare in his eyes. "If you are not joking, Dagestan, then we can have a duel on the Stage of Eradication right now."
"Alright, then. Why don't we hand them twenty percent of the Eternal Oil supply in Eastern Sea?" Duke Fakenhaz pretended to be deep in thought. He first looked at Duke Cullen and then Zayen, flashing a nonchalant smile. "How about the Crystal Drop Ore in the south?"
"Even jokes must have a limit, Cyril," Duke Cullen replied in a rare show of sternness.
Zayen flashed a friendly smile at him and shook his head slightly. At that moment, Kessel the Fifth knocked his scepter lightly on the floor. All the nobles went silent and looked towards him.
Under the king's gaze, Gilbert nodded and took a step forward. He spoke with a frown, "According to sources of the Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Department, Dragon Clouds City already learned of their prince's demise in Constellation yesterday. The Archduke of Black Sand acted even faster than their king. He began recruiting troops and mobilizing his army two days ago. The two other Archdukes in the southern part of Eckstedt were two days slower than him, but there is not much difference."
The hall was immediately in an uproar!
"Silence!" Gilbert said, loud and stern.
Amid the complicated emotions of the people in the hall, the supreme king spoke in a low and sincere voice, "If war breaks out between the two kingdoms, the royal family and the Talon Family will give our all in assisting the Northern Territory."
Count Talon nodded firmly.
The king looked towards the Duke of the Northern Territory with a flat expression. "Val, how many troops and provisions can you supply?"
Val Arunde responded sternly, "How many troops? Are you joking? I have already called together all my vassals. We have fifteen thousand infantrymen, a thousand archers, five hundred heavy cavalier units and even a small amount of Mystic Guns! They will reinforce the Broken Dragon Fortress in the shortest time and receive orders from the commander, Lady Sonia Sasere.
"That is our territory! And if war breaks out, even the women and children will carry weapons! As for provisions, it depends on how much land we are able to defend."
The two counts, Zemunto and Friess, nodded firmly and added on, "The three thousand and five hundred people in Overwatch City shall pledge their lives and battle!"
"Lonely Old Tower has only two thousand infantrymen. However, we will fight until the end, even if there is only one soldier left."
"We can handle the pressure from the three Archdukes of Eckstedt. However, if it comes down to the entirety of Eckstedt…" The Duke of Northern Territory straightened his back and surveyed every single noble with a piercing gaze. "We need the strength of all of Constellation."
Kohen, who stood behind old Count Karabeyan, scratched his head. In a low voice, he asked in bewilderment, "Isn't this National Conference directed at the entire kingdom? Why are they announcing the disposition of their troops like that?"
Old Count Karabeyan closed his eyes softly and sighed lightly, then lowered his voice and told his son with a tired expression, "Can't you see it? The nobles from the north are acting in front of Eckstedt.
"Do you believe that Duke Arunde can gather ten thousand men? Constellation never recovered from the Bloody Year. I suspect that those suzerains have at most one third of the troops they just declared."
Kohen was immediately stunned.
He looked towards the emblem of the two silver cross-shaped stars on the ceiling of the hall. 'As descendants of the Empire and the Western Peninsula's Shield, has Constellation weakened to this extent?'
Kessel the Fifth nodded lightly and turned towards the scary-looking Cyril. "How about the suzerains of the Western Desert?"
Cyril Fakenhaz tilted his head backwards and shut his eyes. "The Ruins can only dispatch a thousand infantrymen. Lately, the Barren Bone Tribe has been creating commotion again. As for Mystic Guns, we don't even have enough for ourselves."
The young Count Derek Kroma muttered, "Wing Fort is not known for its military force, but we can dispatch a hundred of the best Raven Whistle Light Cavaliers."
Bozdorf furrowed his brows hard. "Brave Souls Fort has been in a state of unrest lately. An orc was made leader. He is now gathering together the forces of power from various families. Black Lion Family can only dispatch two hundred men."
The stinginess of the Western Desert nobles caused the nobles present to begin whispering among themselves.
Kohen furrowed his brows. He once served at the Western Desert's frontline during the Battle of Elimination which came after the Desert War. Based on what he knew, the Western Desert army force was definitely not that weak.
Val looked coldly at Fakenhaz. "You were pretty enthusiastic when revealing the secret just now. When it came to the drafting of troops… hmph."
Another surge of cheers rang from Star Plaza into the Hall of Stars. This time, it was an excited cheer and there were many passionate voices inside.
Count Talon touched his five-pointed star breastpin and sighed. "Haih. I bet that the guards have only passed down the messages regarding the Northern Territory's army force, but not the Western Desert's."
Kessel the Fifth maintained his composure. He turned and asked Cullen, "How about the Sun Sword and Shield Family, and the entire Eastern Sea?"
The plump duke said with a smile, "Your Majesty, most people on the Eastern Sea earn their living from the sea. We do not have enough troops. However, we can contribute on monetary terms and enlist mercenaries. If an all-out war breaks out, as long as it is not winter and the sea is not frozen, our naval fleet can even attack Eckstedt's Eastern shore."
Beside the Duke of Eastern Sea, Count Noah Javea and Count Clark Almond looked at each other and nodded.
Duke Fakenhaz spoke in a shrill voice, "Thank you for reminding us that it happens to be December now. Winter is here."
Kessel the Fifth tapped his stone chair and asked in a profound manner, "So there are no men, only money? I remember that during the Desert War, you told me that you have no money, but can contribute men. And that it was still a little far to transport the troops from the Eastern Sea to the Western Desert?"
"Five years ago, all the people did not know how to go out and earn money. That is why there was no money, but plenty of men. But now, all the people are out earning money. That is why there are no men, but plenty of money," Duke Cullen answered with a smile and without batting an eyelid.
The king snorted softly, and the Duke of the Northern Territory's expression turned extremely unpleasant.
King Kessel turned his head towards the nobles from the south.
Before the king could ask, Zayen answered with a worried tone, "There are no usable cavaliers in the entire South Coast Hill. The Covendier Family can gather two thousand infantrymen from Jade City's borders. There are also some Mystic Guns. However, they might suffer due to the climate if they were to battle for an extended period of time in the north. My vassals will also definitely be unhappy. I cannot guarantee the quality of the troops."
The old Count Karabeyan also spoke at the appropriate time with a solemn expression, "It is the same for Walla Hill. Even if the vassals are included, I am not confident that I will be able to gather even three hundred soldiers."
Kohen, who was behind the count, lowered his head and sighed softly.
He still remembered that when his two sisters went to visit their friends, his father immediately dispatched five hundred troops to escort them.
Count Lascia was even more direct. "The soldiers from the moors are not suited to battle in the north at all."
Kessel the Fifth did not say anything else. He only exhaled lightly. "The Guardian Dukes of the Land of Cliffs and Blade Edge Hill have not arrived yet. However, I assume that their stance, along with that of the other four families, would be the same."
As nobles from the Land of Cliffs Region, Count Sorel and Count Dagestan turned their heads and did not say anything.
In contrast, the heads of trades and tradesmen who were observing the conference began whispering among themselves. More than anything, they were worried about the impending war.
"Is this how all of you would repay Constellation?"
The Duke of the Northern Territory looked extremely furious. He stood up abruptly and pointed at the two cross-shaped stars above him, then spoke furiously, "This is the kingdom you swore your loyalty to and is also the greatest kingdom in human history! Even if the Northern Territory is not your territory, the Double Cross-Shaped Stars Flag waves on it! Just like your territories!"
Count Dagestan said coldly, "Your Grace, five years ago, I fought for Constellation, too. In the end, I lost my eldest son forever in the Western Desert. I guess you, who do not have a son, will not be able to understand this…"
"Bullshit!" Val opened his eyes wide in fury and turned his head abruptly. "My only daughter, the heir of White Eagle, is now at Broken Dragon Fortress at the border between the two kingdoms. She is under the command of Lady Sonia Sasere, the Fortress Flower! Her life and death depends on the outcome of the battle between the Great Dragon and Constellation!"
Having heard this, Kohen could not help but lower his head. He sighed and looked towards Raphael, who stood behind the Black Prophet.
"Perhaps we don't have to wage war. We can choose to negotiate. Even if Eckstedt dispatches their army, it would be for the sake of gaining something." Duke Cullen shook his head and sighed.
"And then force the Northern Territory to submissively hand over its land?" Like a hunting falcon, Val glared at every single person who replied.
At this moment, Zayen raised his head with a firm gaze and looked at the king. "Now that we know the chips in our hands and the size of our troops, the choice of whether to battle or to negotiate depends on Your Majesty's will."
Everyone's gazes immediately turned towards Kessel.
Val's gaze was anxious and stern. There was a smile in Cullen's eyes, though it had a complicated look within it as well. Cyril's gaze was a ruminating one, and Zayen's gaze was calm.
"So, this is my kingdom?" Kessel slowly raised his head. His gaze cut into every single suzerain like a knife. "The king only has his regular troops and direct vassals in the face of the entire army force of another kingdom?
"Or I will have to represent Constellation and disgracefully agree to all their possible terms and conditions?"
Cyril Fakenhaz grinned and said, "Hehe, there cannot be a battle without sufficient firepower. However, the royal family's dignity cannot be something that can be placed on the negotiating table either..."
Kessel the Fifth sighed, "Indeed, it is just as what Mane et Nox says, 'All kings are lonely people'."
At that moment, a resounding voice angrily erupted with every single syllable practically roared from the main door of the Hall of Stars!
"Your Majesty, please take back those words! As long as we are around, you will never be lonely! As nobles of Constellation, and descendants of the Empire, how can we back off?"
Amid the commotion in the hall, a noble who seemed to be in the prime of his life entered. His left eye was covered in horrifying scars, and he wore a yellow-and-black cape with an image of deer antlers on it. He walked towards the six stone chairs coolly and arrogantly.
Part of the nobles and members of the populace in the hall started clapping enthusiastically. As for the rest, some sneered with contempt, and the others shook their heads and sighed.
Duke Cullen flashed a resigned smile, while Val and Zayen looked grim.
"Nanchester's One-Eyed Dragon," Cyril Fakenhaz laughed loudly and said, "I thought you would only arrive at night!"
The mayor of Steep Forest City and the Guardian Duke of the Land of Cliffs spoke with a fierce expression.
"Compared to this… look at what all of you have done?"
He kissed Kessel's ring but did not sit down on his stone chair. Instead, he turned towards Val. "Sir Arunde, do not worry! Steep Forest City shall dispatch all its troops and head north towards Broken Dragon Fortress!"
However, under Val's surprised and complicated gaze, he immediately switched the topic and turned towards Kessel the Fifth.
"In the face of this war that will affect the whole nation, as long as you can set your followers' minds at ease, I cannot think of any reason to back down!"
Almost all the nobles in the hall furrowed their brows.
'Set his followers' minds at ease?'
Kessel the Fifth slowly said, "Koshder, what do you mean?"
"Your Majesty, do you still not understand?" Koshder asked sternly, "There is an impending all-out war, but the nobles are terrified and confused. They are making all sorts of excuses! Under this situation, to endure the torment of deciding whether to battle or to negotiate all alone, as our king...
"This is unfair to you! But why do you think this is happening?"
Koshder shut his single eye tightly and took a deep breath. He then firmly said, "Iron Fist King, Your Majesty! The suzerains and the nobles do not dare to follow you! All of Constellation is laden with fear… that tragedy was over twelve years ago, and the late king's remains are already buried! However, we still do not know what you are thinking! We do not know what sort of king we are following!"
All the nobles went completely silent in an instant. Gilbert and Jines furrowed their brows at the same time.
Kessel tightened his grip on his scepter slightly and stared at Koshder with a complicated expression. However, Koshder continued speaking without backing down, "We are all afraid of you. Nobody knows what a solitary king who acts without hesitation—who is the only person left in the Jadestar Family—would do! Moreover, this is a war we are talking about!"
Koshder turned, the sharp gaze of his single eye swept past every single suzerain. He enunciated every single one of his words clearly, "Your Majesty! The blood is gone, but Constellation still remains. Why do you have to endure the suspicion and envy of nobles, even when it comes to such an obvious choice of whether to go to war?"
Kessel the Fifth's gaze became increasingly dark and cold. On the other hand, the four dukes simultaneously avoided his gaze.
Koshder pointed at the two cross-shaped stars on the ceiling and spoke loudly, "Your Majesty, for the benefit of Constellation and for the dignity of the Jadestar Royal Family, we cannot be hesitant when it comes to this crisis! That is why, Your Majesty, please share the burden of Constellation with us! To battle or to negotiate. Let all of us bear the price of this decision together!
"If Constellation is to have a bright future and a stable society, and if the royal family does not cease to exist… I believe that no one will back down in the face of such an important war for the kingdom!"
At that moment, many people have already sensed something. Morat Hansen lowered his head, soundlessly curling up his lips.
'It's coming. That was fast.' Zayen squeezed his nose bridge and shut his eyes. 'It's coming. Hopefully it goes well.'
Cullen smiled as he watched Koshder act. 'It's coming… Interesting.'
Val looked at the Guardian Duke of the Land of Cliffs in a daze and clenched his teeth. 'Is this their aim? Are both Kel and I their prey?'
The counts were whispering to each other on their stone chairs. Some of them were plagued with worry and the others nodded profusely. Only the members of the populace who were observing the meeting whispered among themselves in confusion.
However, everything in the Hall of Stars was still ongoing.
"Your Majesty, you will soon be forty-eight years old—on the eve of Constellation's battle with the Dragon!"
Under the watchful eyes of the crowd, Koshder threw off his cape and, with a stern expression, he waved his arm towards the nobles in the hall.
"Please choose an heir to the kingdom among us nobles! Please use your action to tell the nobles that you still care about this kingdom's stability and continuity, that you still trust these suzerains, who are your right hands!
"Then, we will battle for Constellation's dignity and Jadestar's honor! Without complaints! Without backing down!"
Silence. Absolute silence. A suffocating silence.
No one dared to be the first one to say something after hearing these words.
That was until a shrill and unbridled laughter broke the silence. "Hahaha…"
Under everyone's bewildered gaze, Duke Fakenhaz opened his mouth and laughed crazily and joyfully. His messy teeth looked especially scary. "What did the Far Easterners say again? Real intentions will be revealed at the end?
"Your Majesty, do you want to fight this war with dignity? Exchange it with your throne! Hahahahaha…"
 Not to be confused with the Battle of Eradication.