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Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
He was dreaming.
This time, he knew this clearly.
He felt that there was a hollow below the emptiness of his feet.
It was a hollow that grew bigger and bigger until he fell into it.
He could not climb out.
He subconsciously raised his legs to get out of the horrifying hollow but was greeted by someone's calling.
Thales woke up all of a sudden.
It was only then that he realized that he was lying on a seat, and his right foot was planted firmly on the bottom of a carriage.
There was no hollow below his feet.
And he was not falling into one.
He only heard the rumble of galloping horses, the slowly rolling wheels, soft chatter from people, and…
“I am sorry to have interrupted your sleep.”
In the rocking carriage, Gilbert's gentle voice soothed his panic slowly.
“Did you have a good rest last night?”
Thales sat up straight, took a deep breath, and rubbed his face.
“No, I just…”
‘…I have not slept well in a long time,' Thales thought as he buried his face in his palms.
A second later, the prince looked up from his hands with a friendly smile.
“I just took a nap.”
Gilbert watched him seriously for a long time before a smile bloomed on his face.
“Your Highness. Eternal Star City is just around the corner.”
Eternal Star City.
The words seemed to contain some sort of extraordinary magic. In an instant, it swept away Thales' exhaustion and fatigue.
Thales turned his head in surprise.
The teenager dragged his slightly numb body to move to the side of the carriage laboriously before he opened the window.
“It has only been days since we entered Central Territory…”
Thales suddenly stopped talking.
As the horse carriage moved up the slope, he saw it past the numerous shadows of the cavaliers outside the window.
Under the bright sun were a vast plain, a smooth road, and orderly houses that formed a village.
It was as if it was a colorful ribbon between the blue sky and black soil.
An increasing number of people could be seen coming toward them on the sides of the road.
There were busy caravan merchants, farmers hurrying on their way, government officials charging down the path, and horse carriages of all ranges moving up and down the road either quickly or slowly, but always in an orderly fas.h.i.+on. They went to the side and made way at the unyielding commands from the regular troops. They stayed outside the temporary police cordon set up by the soldiers as they sized up the grand scale of the procession of horse carriages with curious gazes.
“It is probably some high officials or n.o.blemen…”
“Oh, there are even so many bodyguards who are clearing the path. It could be some grand count from a foreign land.”
“Do you think the horse carriages are filled with men or items? I guess it is some expensive bedpan…”
The distant chatter traveled to the teenager's ears faintly.
However, all this could not compare to the focus of Thales' attention.
He stared at a city.
In the distance, the lime brick walls stood tall and looked imposing, like a towering tree; the prominent sentry towers were of uneven heights and formed an unusual view; the blue star flags fluttered in the wind like billowing waves.
It was not as grand and majestic as Dragon Clouds City, as strong and st.u.r.dy as Broken Dragon Fortress, and as chaotic and free as Blade Fangs Camp.
However, for some unknown reason, a city as predictable, orderly and ordinary as this attracted his attention so much at this moment.
Eternal Star City.
Thales was so fascinated by it that he was dazed.
“You do not have to be nervous.”
Gilbert seemed to sense the teenager's complicated emotions. He said calmly, “You are home. That is all.”
Thales still could not take his eyes off the city in the distance. He was heard saying in a daze, “I know.”
Gilbert did not say anything. He only watched how the prince lose his composure while Gilbert smiled.
“If you wish, Your Highness…”
Gilbert revealed an encouraging look.
“Go and see it for yourself.”
‘…See it for myself…'
His unfamiliar yet familiar… hometown.
Thales registered the situation slowly, and resolution gradually appeared in his eyes.
Gilbert said with a smile, “I think it is time for Eternal Star City and the whole kingdom to see the heir they have not seen for six years.”
‘…The heir they have not seen for six years.'
Thales' gaze moved past the soldiers, pedestrians, the plains, and, in the end, he even looked past the walls in the distance and the sky in the horizon.
“Of course, Gilbert.”
Thales turned his head around. His expression was complex and hard to understand.
Under the prince' rarely seen gaze, the Foreign Affairs Minister fell silent for a few seconds.
Afterwards, Gilbert pushed the window open gently, knocked on the carriage, and craned his head out slightly.
“Lord Mallos, could you please slow down and raise the Nine-Pointed Star Flag? Perhaps it is time for His Highness to reveal himself before the public.”
Count Caso's shouts caused the horses and carriages to change their speed and trajectory simultaneously. The Royal Guards of Constellation who surrounded the prince's carriage started moving into formation at top speed and revealed the watchman, Mallos, who urged the horse to go closer to the carriage.
“And let His Highness take a look at his Eternal Star City…”
Gilbert was still talking when Mallos b.u.t.ted in.
“I am sorry. It is not possible.”
Mallos' voice traveled from afar, just like the sounds of horses galloping. His tone was gentle and polite, but he rejected the request without mincing words.
There was no room for negotiation at all.
Gilbert was stunned, since he did not think that his proposal would be rejected.
Thales also frowned.
Fortunately, the Foreign Affairs Minister only paused for a few seconds before he continued to look outside the carriage to make further attempts in persuading the watchman.
“All right then, Lord Mallos. I understand your work, but we will not have to stop or take a detour, when we enter the main road, His Highness only needs to…”
However, what greeted him was still Mallos' polite reply, “I cannot allow that.”
Thales was dumbfounded.
Gilbert also grew a little stiff. “Your Grace?”
Mallos' face appeared outside the window. His eyes met Thales' while he remained inside the carriage.
“I believe you know better than I do that the return of the prince will stir up a commotion. The n.o.blemen of Western Desert are lessons we can learn from… I can already imagine the crowd and chaos we will face if the duke reveals himself in public. They will range from civilians who are there to be entertained to n.o.blemen who will use all means to get some insider's news… It is too troublesome to us. As a safety measure, I do not think that His Grace should reveal himself. Instead, he should stay in the carriage until we enter Renaissance Palace.”
The watchman continued to smile as he watched the curious civilians on both sides of the main road and rejected him politely. “We do not have to cause a great fanfare to attract more attention.”
‘As a safety measure.'
When he heard the man's polite but resolute rejection, Thales frowned a little.
“Lord Mallos, if it is for the sake of safety, we have already returned to the capital, and we have you and even the regular soldiers behind us, so I believe that you will definitely be confident in ensuring His Highness's…” Gilbert said softly, but he was interrupted by Mallos.
“No, please do not overestimate us, Your Grace. Not only do we not have the Kingdom's Wrath, we are also not the Fortress Flower.” Mallos still maintained his smile, but it was not quite pleasant to Thales' eyes.
“If we really have to face the people who come charging at us like a flood, we might only have… half the chance to protect the prince.”
Gilbert was speechless for a moment.
The Royal Guards of Constellation looked at each other at a loss.
Mallos was his usual smiling self.
The prince felt a little down.
Gilbert sensed the tension in the atmosphere.
“While I admire the Royal Guards's cautiousness and scrupulous nature, but apart from this, are we not supposed to consider things in an even broader perspective?”
Count Caso sat up straight, supported himself by his cane, and showed an att.i.tude that was appropriate for a formal negotiation.
“Regardless of whether Thales appears as the prince or the Duke of Star Lake, on the first day of his return, he should make himself known to the public for a few seconds at the very least. He should let everyone see his return to the capital city and spread the news.”
The Cunning Fox of Constellation narrowed his eyes.
“This is for the sake of the royal family and for His Majesty's government and interest. What do you say, Lord Mallos?”
As he listened to the man's fair and n.o.ble reason, Mallos who was on the saddle lowered his head and kept quiet for a while.
Just when Thales thought he was about to give in…
“Hahaha… Perhaps I have not made myself clear. Perhaps you are only joking.”
Mallos looked up with a smile that was even more sincere, though his gaze was calm and indifferent.
“However, it is my mission to escort the prince safely back to Renaissance Palace, Count Caso.” The muscle on the corners of Mallos' lips curled up to make him smile, but there was no joviality in his eyes.
“Other matters are not my responsibility.”
The reply was like a nail that was struck into him with a force that was neither strong nor soft. It caused Gilbert to frown.
As he sensed the lack of cooperation on Mallos' side, Thales took a glance at the narrow and small carriage he had stayed in for a relatively long while, sensed the numbness of his bottom caused by the b.u.mpy ride, and looked at the vast scenery and the famous city that was his hometown outside the window, he fell into silence, and he felt a little gloomy.
“We have talked about this matter, Your Grace.”
Gilbert's tone grew stiff, “You and I have a mission of our own, and we strive hard as not to make the other person look bad. Before this, we have always worked well together, have we not?”
As he stared at Gilbert's eyes, Mallos smiled as well.
He was only quiet for a few seconds.
“I am sorry that my mission clashes with yours.” Mallos' expression remained gentle and polite. “But all I can do is merely say, ‘I am sorry', Count Caso.”
He nodded politely toward the end.
Gilbert's expression was a little unpleasant.
Although all sentences started with a polite and humble apology…
Thales listened to the man's repet.i.tive rejections, glanced at Gilbert who looked slightly unhappy, and used the corners of his eyes to look at the Royal Guards who protected him securely around him.
He suddenly thought of Dragon Clouds City, Heroic Spirit Palace, and Blood Court.
When he was in those placed, Nicholas' subordinates also blocked every entrance to the extent that no one could penetrate their strong formation.
As he pondered about it, the discomfort within the prince reached the peak.
“Your Grace…” Gilbert sighed.
“If the count could just stay inside the carriage, it would save us lots of trouble.” The watchman interrupted Gilbert with his usual smile. “And that will be enough.”
When he heard this, Thales could not hold himself back any longer and interrupted him. “So, you would rather trap me in the carriage because you think this is too troublesome for you?”
The prince subconsciously raised his volume.
“I thought His Majesty asked you to escort me, not imprison me?”
The horses' galloping around the area changed a little.
The prince raising his voice and speaking up was obviously unusual, and it caused a few Royal Guards, or rather, a few members of the Star Lake Guards to rush forth anxiously. That included Doyle and Glover, whom Thales had gotten familiar with.
Gilbert's expression changed slightly.
Mallos finally s.h.i.+fted his focus to Thales.
Thales frowned and appeared to want to argue for something.
But Mallos only paused a little before he revealed a smile.
“I am sorry to have caused this feeling in you, Your Grace. When you see His Majesty, you can bring this matter to him anytime and propose that I be dismissed from my duties.”
Thales was stunned.
Mallos watched Thales with a gentle gaze, shrugged, and said softly, “However, before that, according to the tradition and rules, as the Watchman of the Royal Guards and the person in charge of your guards… I am afraid I will have to prioritize the considerations and judgements about your safety above your personal preferences. Please forgive me as it is my obligation.”
In that instant, the air inside and outside the horse carriage seemed to have frozen.
Thales' expression stiffened.
Mallos' expression remained the same as usual.
Among the surrounding Royal Guards, Doyle and Glover exchanged a glance at each other. A few of them appeared shocked. They did not even dare breathe loudly.
For some unknown reason, Thales recalled the att.i.tude Roman had on his face while Thales was still in Blade Fangs Camp. It was an att.i.tude that said, “Don't teach me how to do my job.”
As Gilbert was about to say something to lighten the atmosphere, Thales closed his eyes. In the next moment, he immediately opened them again.
“You are the Royal Guards, and you are also my guards,” Thales said slowly, “You should respect my orders.”
Mallos only shrugged.
“You are the Prince of Constellation, and a duke of the kingdom.” The watchman was as courteous as ever, but he did not show any signs of relenting through his words. “You should also respect His Majesty's orders, especially on the first day of your return.”
His eyes reflected a sparkle that showed profundity.
Thales' face darkened.
The prince stared at Mallos and enunciated each of his words clearly. “Are you saying that this is His Majesty's order?”
In that moment, Gilbert's expression changed.
“No,” the watchman said faintly on his saddle, “It is my way of executing the order.”
‘His way of executing the order.'
Thales' gaze changed.
Doyle listened anxiously by the side. He suddenly felt that the air around him seemed to have become thick with tension.
Under everyone's gazes, the prince said softly to the watchman who refused to make a concession, “I want you to stop the horse carriage, now.”
Mallos only snorted lightly.
“I am sorry…”
“Your Grace!” Gilbert sensed something was amiss shouted, so he interrupted Mallos.
The Foreign Affairs Minister immediately turned to face Thales, whose expression was as cold as ice, and said gently, “Your Highness, you have traveled a lot today, perhaps you do need to take a rest… I believe that Lord Mallos merely intends to protect you…”
But Thales broke him off.
“Protect me like six years ago?” The prince's tone made it sound as if his words were immersed in icy water.
Gilbert was rendered speechless.
When Thales and Mallos's gazes met in the air, one was cold and sharp, while the other was calm and indifferent.
Doyle suddenly felt that something bad was going to happen while he watched this happen by the side.
The prince asked softly, “Gilbert, tell me, did the previous kings always personally dispatched transferred his own Royal Guards to form each Duke of Star Lake's personal guards, for example, John's?”
Mallos narrowed his eyes slightly as well.
The Star Lake Guards around looked at each other and had different expressions.
A few seconds later, Gilbert coughed and appeared to be rather awkward.
“This is because you were gone for too long, and were short of people you could use by your side, and His Majesty was worried…”
Thales did not listen to the rest of his words.
He only stared at Mallos closely, but it felt like he was staring at another person.
“I understand now,” the prince said softly, “Go on.”
Mallos' expression stiffened.
“What do you mean?”
Thales looked straight at him.
“Go on and smile, Lord Mallos.”
Thales snorted coldly under the baffled gazes of the Royal Guards.
“Because if you do not smile… You will look like a dead man.”
Mallos was dumbfounded.
Gilbert looked at Thales worriedly.
But Thales ignored Gilbert and only focused on looking at Mallos, who looked confused.
Mallos frowned a little. He ignored Thales, tugged his reins, and ordered, “Get back to your previous formation…”
But this time, the prince spoke before he could say more.
“Then, Lord Tormond Mallos, Watchman of the Royal Guards, who is conferred your knights.h.i.+p, and the captain of my Star Lake Guards.
The watchman's gaze froze.
Thales raised his volume so that the Royal Guards around him could hear him clearly.
“To thank you for your meritorious service of escorting me back to the capital city laboriously and dedicatedly…”
When he spoke, all members of the Royal Guards watched him in puzzlement.
Thales then enunciated his words clearly and slowly while his eyes were fixed on Mallos, “I wish… to reward you.”