“Duke Arden von Agnus greets the fourth light of the Empire.” Duke Agnus bowed in front of the intent gaze of the 4th Prince; even while genuflecting, his pride and dignity shone through. His courtesy was neither excessive nor insufficient.
“I am honored to meet Duke Agnus, the pride of the Empire.” Kaiser stepped down from his horse.
The audience was dumbfounded when Prince Kaiser bowed his head with a gentle smile.
“Prince!” An embarrassed Evergrant shouted. No matter how high-ranking an aristocrat was, the fourth prince was a direct descendent of the Emperor himself, in an age where the Imperial family had never been stronger.
It was said that nobles treat dukes and princes much the same, but for a prince to treat a duke as a peer was uncalled for.
“Not only the Imperial Knights, but the Duke’s family are watching. The Prince’s actions could undermine the authority of the Imperial family…” Evergrant whispered worriedly into Kaiser’s ear. His voice was small, but most of the knights—including Duke Agnus—had superhuman hearing. Curiosity twinkled in the Duke’s eyes.
“As a powerless fourth prince, if I have to posture in a situation like this I’ll spend my life being ridiculed.” Kaiser smiled at the Duke.
The Duke was subtly surprised. He wasn’t wrong—the first and second princes had the greatest influence and were the most likely candidates for the throne. Even the third prince, who was relatively inferior, had a higher chance of taking the throne than the fourth prince. Power had a pride of its own, and power was precisely what Kaiser lacked.
“I apologize for the sudden visit, Duke Agnus. I was appointed by the Emperor and was only fulfilling his will. So please, kindly understand my immature behavior—”
“I don’t mind, Prince.”
It’s odd that there’s almost no talk of the Fourth Prince throughout all of vast Arcadia. This cub is keeping his claws hidden…
Duke Agnus kept his thoughts to himself, just as Joshua did. Joshua had been staring at Kaiser with a bitter smile on his lips, like an old man looking back on his poor life choices.
This is the guy. A hypocrite who pretends to have no self-respect on the outside, acts like a gentleman, and dresses himself up with all kinds of rhetoric, but is exactly the opposite on the inside.
How many people bled for that false grace?
How many people died for that smile?
Joshua was one of them.
In the end, I was betrayed by my trusted master, and my life vanished in the nameless wilderness… It will be different this time, Kaiser.
Did he feel Joshua’s gaze? Kaiser turned his attention to Joshua. Startled when they suddenly met eyes, Kaiser forced a smile while a cold sweat trickled down his spin.
“Hah! You must be the famed Young Master Joshua.”
Joshua didn’t answer, prompting Valmont to step forward. Though he was known for slacking, he knew what he had to do now. He was here to protect not only the lives of the Imperial family, but its prestige. Above all, this mission came directly from His Majesty the Emperor.
“Don’t be rude, Young Master Joshua. Compose yourself before the Prince.” The entire 9th Battalion scowled at Joshua.
If it were Duke Agnus himself, I wouldn’t say anything. But how dare a bastard— Valmont’s expression curdled. His sword was drawn in an instant, and the rest of the Imperial knights rested their hands on their own weapons.
The Duke’s Knights tensed. To them, Duke Agnus was greater than any Emperor. When their master was threatened they would fight, Imperial Knights or otherwise.
“Cheeky—!” Valmont clenched his sword.
“—That’s funny.” Joshua laughed, bursting the tension like a soap bubble.
“Wha-what?” Valmont’s eyes popped.
“There cannot be two suns over the Empire. Excepting their liege lords, the law of the Avalon Empire states there is only one person a Knight can salute. In such a situation, is there any reason I would salute to a self-proclaimed ‘fourth prince’?”
Isn’t he just a kid? Valmont’s jaw dropped. For the first time, Valmont discovered someone who was an even worse shitter than himself.
No other knights in the Avalon Empire could present such power as the Knights Templar did. Who else would they be escorting except the Imperial family?
Are you claiming they have to present His Majesty’s decree to receive courtesy?
“What a cheeky kid!”
“How dare you? He was cleaning horse dung not long ago, wasn’t he? He must’ve fallen into a dung heap and gone crazy!” The Prince’s retinue was in an uproar.
“There cannot be two suns over the Empire.” —at first glance, it seemed obvious. The Emperor, Marcus von Britten, was the center of their universe. It seemed like an expression of infinite respect, but under the circumstances it was obvious that he meant he refused to respect the rest of the Empire.
“Damn!” Joker, his cross-shaped scar pale against his reddened cheeks, drew his sword in anger. All of the knights followed suit, ready to kill for their respective masters.
“Stop!” A voice loaded with mana blanketed their surroundings. The knights groaned under the impact.
Duke Agnus strode forward with a grim scowl.
“Showing this damn attitude in front of the prince—Do you want to die?” His voice chilled them to the bones. He swept his gaze across the crowd, implying his sermon was not targeted just at a certain somebody. Even the Imperial Knights couldn’t challenge the weight of authority in his voice.
This is the power of the Nine Stars, Duke Agnus…” Admiration painted Valmont’s face.
“Knights! Sheathe your swords!”
“Yes!” The Duke’s knights obeyed without question.
“We’re in front of the Prince!” Valmont came to his senses and shouted urgently, “Please, sheathe your swords!”
Duke Agnus then turned his overbearing charisma to Joshua, standing next to him.
“Your hasty words and actions caused this. Apologize to the Prince.”
Joshua smirked bitterly. He’d lived a whopping half century, and yet… I thought my mind and body had grown enough, but my mind is like a child’s. When you despise someone so much you’re swept away by the moment… Joshua steeled himself, but Prince Kaiser spoke just before he could step forward.
“Don’t mind it. It’s already done… and he’s not entirely wrong.”
“Prince—?” Evergrant whirled around, bewildered.
“Young Master Joshua is right. The only person who deserves the salutes of the Knights is my father, His Majesty the Emperor.” Prince Kaiser wore a polite and benevolent smile. “I’m fine, so don’t worry about me my dear knights.”
“Prince…” Some of the knights teared up. They thought he was putting his pride aside to resolve a meaningless conflict.
But I would be lying if I said that I, a scion of the noblest blood in the Empire, wasn’t offended.
“Also, knights need to prove themselves with their skills…” Prince Kaiser beamed at Joshua. “I believe you’re well aware, Young Master Joshua?”
Joshua couldn’t help but chuckle. Kaiser truly was a clever spokesman; he’d quickly taken control of the atmosphere and affirmed the trust of his subordinates in one move, and now he smoothly segued into testing Joshua.
A master manipulator. Then, let me match your pace… Joshua left the Duke’s side with a sharp smile.
“Anytime you’re ready.”
“A cheeky bastard until the end, I see…” Joker came forward with a sly grin. “Prince, Battalion Commander, I ask your permission to perform this mana test.”
“Joker?” Valmont shot a worried glance at the Duke. Joker was careful to keep his fangs hidden.
“Don’t worry. I just want to see if the Young Master has the skills to back his words.”
“Let him do it.”
“Prince?” Troubled, Valmont turned to the Prince.
“Sir Joker has already surpassed an expert—a B-Class intermediate—right?”
“Taking the Young Master’s safety into account as well, I think Sir Joker’s experience would be helpful.”
Joker beamed contentedly as Valmont was forced to zip his mouth shut.
“Don’t be nervous… Young Master, if you can handle my first attack, you will pass the exam. Of course, the attack isn’t the same for everyone—”
“You talk a lot.” The space was immediately filled with a suffocating silence.
“It doesn’t matter to me.”
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