Chapter 68: Dominance of the Capable
To the majority of Constellatiates, their impressions of the Eckstedtians were of this: Hardy people who also had the ability to withstand extremely cold weather.
However, the second impression may have differed.
Most of the civilians would scratch their heads in uncertainty and say that they were 'barbaric' and 'rude'. Whereas the merchants would merrily utter, 'trustworthy', and 'good business'. The mercenaries and the adventurers would laugh mysteriously and tell you that whether it was for assaults or retreats, the Eckstedtians were the best choice.
Old soldiers who had encountered them, would frown, then sigh after a sip of beer and a puff of tobacco. From the memories that were deeply etched within their memories, they would remind you not to trifle with Eckstedtians.
But based on Thales' knowledge of the Peninsular's history, at least the aristocrats and feudal lords of Constellation held an absolutely different, complex point of view towards this strong northern neighbour.
Being the most powerful nation in the Western Peninsular, Eckstedt possessed intimidating, formidable military might with amazing records of victories in wars. Even among the three strong and credible allies during the Peninsular War, Eckstedt remained a ferocious and dreadful Dragon to the others when the alliance turned confrontational.
In contrast to the orderly and methodically delicate Constellation, this was an intrepid state, filled with romantic and rebellious moods, coupled with heroic and belligerent spirits. Its long tradition traced back even way earlier than the Ancient Empire.
From the remote, uncivilized era where the Northern King established the 'Alliance of All Beasts' with the orcs to the time the Iron Blood King gloriously sacrificed himself during mankind's last defense against the Orcs, the most frigid gust of cold wind had swept past this Northern Territory, which was occupied by humans, waking them up from their weak, uncivilized age.
During the Age of Feudal Kings, the Final Quiquer War saw two thousand armored human cavaliers charge courageously to the front line in the 'Holiness Exorcism Campaign'. They had to fence off the twenty thousand heavily armed orc soldiers in the final feud to rid themselves off the offenders. Later on, the northern knights gathered under the emperor's flag, with swords and flames raging all over the ground, and conquered the land to establish the Ancient Empire. These various events in the Northern Territory manifested how the human race used their knives and swords to become the most powerful weapons in the world.
In the northern province during the Age of the Empire, the 'Revolutionary King', Quiso's attempt to revolt against the tyrannical emperor may have been relatively unknown in this self-proclaimed, authentic imperial state that was Constellation. However, Thales had read before that the Revolutionary King only led three hundred soldiers in assaulting the Three Great Armies of the Empire when he was old, but he was killed in the glorious, revolutionary attempt. This event indeed aroused the awareness that the seemingly strong and powerful Empire, was in actual fact infested with multiple problems and internal strife. This marked the prelude to civil unrests in the Empire.
An event closer to the contemporary Eckstedt, was none other than the Battle of Eradication, which changed the world. During the darkest and most despair filled moment, the heroic Raikaru and his knights descended from the sky and charged into the enemy's headquarters. This battle was the 'Reversal Gust', which rekindled the flame of hope in revolutionary movements not only in the northern provinces, but also the entire world. It also saved the northern and western fronts, which were in imminent danger, not to mention the chaotic and fragmented post war continent. Together with his nine dedicated knights, he founded the legendary Eckstedt.
Even more recently, the legendary adventures of the Eckstedt born hero Chara, the Oath-keeper Midier and Kaplan the Prophet as well as their alliance during the Third Peninsular War against the Eastern Peninsular Alliance, remained as stories Errolians loved to dwell upon with great relish until now… At least that was the case in Western Peninsular.
In comparison, Constellation resembled an aging gentlemen, encumbered with heavy imperialistic, orthodox beliefs. Even the nation's founding story was filled with bitterness and sorrow. Eckstedt, on the other hand, was more like a robust young warrior that flourished with resistance and heroism, one who would charge without fear, and die without regrets.
With that spirit, an Eckstedtian was now before Thales.
Ignoring the hostile gaze of the officials and aristocrats from Constellation in the hall, Baron Lasalle Wieder, the emergency envoy from Eckstedt, stood upright in Renaissance Palace, which was adjacent to the conference hall in the Hall of Stars.
Standing casually, with both arms folded and his head lowered, he occasionally lifted his head up to sweep his view around the hall, but this was done with grace and not the slightest rudeness. Seemingly, this was his nature, however the inconspicuous smile on his face did make the spectators frown.
Lassalle appeared to only be slightly over forty years old, and as he held a red- colored dragon print scroll in his hand, Lassalle showed no signs of fear instead, he looked somewhat arrogant. When his antagonistic eyes swept through the hall, people in the hall who met his gaze had the false impression that this Eckstedtian was giving them haughty looks instead of them staring and judging his envoy.
Under this circumstance, Thales pursed up his lips tightly, stood by Gilbert's side at a concealed and inconspicuous location, which was a few stairs up, beside the king of Constellation's seat.
Those present in the hall, ranged from the six dukes from the Six Great Clans, who had identical expressions, the thirteen counts from the Distinguished Families, to the various officials participating in the conference: Chief of Intelligence Morat Hansen, Minister of Finance Gill Mahn, Military Advisor Shaun Ritter and so on, all stood quietly besides the king's seat.
The entire center of power within Constellation was waiting for King Kessel the Fifth to speak as he sat on his throne.
Yet, King Kessel the Fifth's sky blue eyes were carefully observing the emergency envoy dispatched by Eckstedt when Prince Moriah was assassinated.
To be able to cross the borders from Dragon Cloud City nonstop and head straight to Eternal Star City in just six days showed just how urgent the matter was, and what the attitude this envoy possessed.
"What have you brought, envoy of the Northern Dragon?" King Kessel's voice travelled through the air.
"Me? Hmph. I personally have brought nothing." Eckstedt's emergency envoy Lasalle laughed briefly, but all of a sudden, his expression turned cold. "Very soon, all of Eckstedt will bring their griefs, their despairs, and also…
The entire conference hall turned dead silent.
Baron Lasalle stared intensely at King Kessel without backing down even the slightest.
During the suffocating silence, just as Thales wondered who would be the first to bring up the main subject, Kessel the Fifth broke the silence.
"I know you."
The king uttered slowly, his dignified voice spread to the entire conference hall. "Twelve years ago, the current Archduke of Black Sand, who was then Count Chapman Lampard and also the count for a single city, represented Eckstedt to visit Constellation as the son of the Archduke—you held the reigns to his horse in that diplomatic group."
Astounded by Kessel's good memory, Lasalle frowned a little.
Then, he laughed lightly.
Lasalle's laughter was filled with an irritating, mocking tone. "What an amazing memory, Your Majesty. I too remember very clearly, you were only the fifth prince then. You stood at a corner, all alone."
With his hands behind his back, he walked forward and continued, "… Look at Chapman Lampard. He strongly proposed to the old, grey-haired King Aydi, who had suffered a great deal by constant rebellious unrest. As long as they returned the five counties, which originally belonged to the Northlanders back to their rightful masters…
"Eckstedt will generously dispatch an army down south to help quell the intensifying rebellious unrests that have been plaguing our neighbors for six hundred years."
Many frowned upon hearing this.
Suffering a great deal from the constant rebellious unrest – the Bloody Year. Thales recalled this event.
But Thales also took note that this envoy had placed emphasis on Northlanders before Eckstedt.
'What was the implication?'
"Well, I remember King Aydi had politely declined Grand Duke Lampard's so called 'proposal'." Duke Fakenhaz sneered. "Yet, you still 'generously' sent your army to the south… What a good neighbor you have been!"
Lasalle smiled mysteriously without saying a word.
Count Zemunto said angrily, "Maybe Archduke Lampard was not so literate. Those five counties you mentioned, have been respectively ruled by the Arunde, Zemunto and Friess Families. Our ancestors owned those lands ever since the founding of Constellation—those are indisputably Constellation's lands!"
Out of Thales's expectation, Lasalle laughed.
Under the angry eyes of the entire hall, his soft laugh gradually turned into a big hearty laugh.
"All these years, cold winds have been getting stronger and more frigid in Eckstedt. Our shepherds and hunters have to tolerate this bitter cold weather when they are out. When they return, they have to use snow to vigorously rub their nearly frostbitten hands to prevent their hands from freezing."
Most people could not grasp what he was trying to say. Lasalle laughed grimly. "Year after year, decade after decade, we managed to turn our trembling hands, which were only good for wielding whips and holding bows into steady and strong arms, fit to brandish powerful swords."
Lasalle paused momentarily and looked around before he laughed unscrupulously. "In comparison, the weather in Constellation is getting warmer and more comfortable, well suited for weaklings, who are only good at gasping for breath on women's bellies. Such is the descendant of the Oath Keeper Midier!"
This instantly caused an uproar in the hall.
Thales was shocked. How could a visiting envoy choose to abuse and insult the host rather than get into the main subject?
Somehow, he reckoned that so far as the incident of the prince's assassination was concerned, Constellation was in an absolutely disadvantageous position. Besides, from the parliamentary meeting the day before, one could easily gauge Constellation's military might and strength.
Henceforth, it looked like Eckstedt held complete reigns over whether they wanted to hold Constellation accountable, when they wanted to hold Constellation accountable, and how they wanted to hold Constellation accountable over the incident.
Thales heaved a sigh.
Count Friess slammed his hand on the sword hanging by his waist, and with rage burning in him, he asked, "What are you getting at?"
But Kessel the Fifth calmly waved his hand, waving off the enraged nobles who were about to rush forth.
"What I am saying is, since when did the lousy excuse of the land belonging to my grandfather valid to set the standard for claiming land ownership?"
Lasalle took a circular stroll in the hall, and met the gazes of Constellation's aristocrats and feudal lords with his fearless stare.
Lasalle spoke with a hostile expression, "Regardless of Eckstedt or Constellation, the strong and the victor would only leave after claiming his spoils of war, while the weak or loser would have to give up his gambling chips to protect himself. Every inch of land has to be conquered, these are the international laws. Just as Senjem, the King of Mountains of the East Peninsular said: only the able shall dominate."
Only Gilbert and a few others slightly shut their eyes, pondering what his intentions were. King Kessel looked as if he was in deep thought while he swept his sight across the nobles in the hall.
Gilbert whispered to Thales, "Be careful, Prince Thales. In diplomatic affairs, there should not be any meaningless arguments or exchanges. This is actually a test and a change of steps before the official clash of swords. The opponent is probing our steps and our ability, before finally making his first sword strike.
"The fact that he did not urgently dive into the main subject, implies that he may not have good grounds to put forward conditions, but it is also probable that he has some even better points for negotiation."
Gilbert continued softly, "Up till now, this is his plot: By infuriating and directing us towards the topics of military strength and the rules of the strong versus the weak, he is planting a seed in our thoughts. At the same time, he is gauging our response to determine his next move. Moreover, when he finally brings up the real topic of discussion, we would lean towards the tendency of thinking about war, unconsciously placing more importance in the value of war and hence, neglecting other equally important alternatives."
'Do we have other choices?' Thales frowned.
Lasalle step forward and stared at King Kessel with a burning gaze. "Does Constellation have the ability to guard and defend your so-called territory?"
The anger and rage among the aristocrats had now reached the limit.
With extreme rage and a swift tap on his northern military uniform, the Northern Count Zemunto shouted, "Bring it on, bring on your army—"
But his words were immediately cut off by an even more firm and stable voice!
Val Arunde had on a composed smile. His firm voice drowned out Zemunto's and echoed throughout the conference hall. "Very well, as the Duke of the Northern Territory, I was actually worried about my territory not being big enough! Since Grand Duke Lampard desires our five counties in the north, and I have been wanting his Black Sand Region, then how about we dispatch our troops and exchange out territories based on our capabilities?"
Upon the Northern Duke's rebuttal, Eckstedt's emergency envoy frowned slightly but soon smiled afterwards.
"The Duke of the Northern Territory has given a very good response, but what Count Zemunto said earlier may have exposed some information to the opponent," Gilbert solemnly reported to the second prince of Constellation.
Thales nodded. He understood. In the face of provocation, Count Zemunto challenged the opponent to a fight, whereas Val chose to declare his intention to conquer his opponent's land. The meanings behind their words and their attitudes as well as their resolve towards being invaded instantly showed a big difference.
Right at this moment, a young girl's gentle voice interrupted the ongoing conversation.
"The able shall dominate? If this is the case, then that Archduke of Black Sand should rise to arms soon, get rid of your King Nuven, and capture the throne."
Upon hearing this, Lasalle's facial expression turned drastically.
"Because I do believe that he is actually stronger that King Nuven, is he not? To fight the South, he has to face an entire empire, but to fight the north, he only has a king to deal with. Why not give it a try? Perhaps, he will succeed."
Under the astounded eyes of the spectators, the fifteen-year-old Duchess of Blade Edge Hill, Lyanna Tabark sat among the male suzerains like a lone flower on the cliff. She continued coldly, "Why don't you bring these words to the Grand Duke Lampard of Black Sand? Just as Senjem the King of Mountains said, 'Only the capable shall dominate'."