Edessa walked through a corridor and immediately saw the former Chief Archbishop of Ampere Seale pruning the flowers in the courtyard with a pair of clippers in hand. The old man was dressed in a long robe. His back faced her while he bent his head close to the lush green branches, looking absorbed in his work.
Wood shuddered slightly when Edessa called him. He turned around with a slight smile. “Edessa, you’re here.”
"Yes, Chief Archbishop. May I ask why you were looking for us?" Edessa bowed and asked.
Wood put away the clippers and turned around, casually placing a cut branch on the stone table in the courtyard. Edessa saw his silver-gray eyebrows relax as he spoke to her. "Go fetch your master and tell him that if he wishes to meet me, then the day to do so is today.”
The attendant stood there dumbfounded. It seemed as though she wasn’t able to respond for a moment, but after a brief pause, a glimmer of surprise appeared in her eyes. “Master Archbishop- ”
"There is no need to thank me on behalf of your master, Edessa," Wood said, but then he waved his hand. "I have promised you nothing; he earned this opportunity, but I'm afraid it's ultimately up to you all to convince Her Highness and that man."
"Only you would give us a chance, Master Archbishop."
"Then hurry up and get ready," Wood replied.
Edessa hurriedly nodded. She bowed to this former Chief Archbishop of Ampere Seale with her utmost sincerity and then backed away. The old man sighed as he watched her leave the courtyard, watching her figure disappear down the corridor. He picked up the clipper again, but right then, the sound of rustling footsteps came from the other side of the corridor.
He was slightly startled and stopped what he was doing again.
The squire led Brendel, the princess, and her party through the corridor. The sunlight seeped in between the neatly trimmed walls of flowers and other plants outside, leaving a streak of light which resembled the stripes of a zebra on the floor of the corridor.
"Mr. Brendel, Haruz will be in your hands," the princess said softly after she casted a glance at Haruz, who was silent, upon seeing them noticing them walking at the back.
Brendel also looked at the young prince.
In fact, Haruz was also discreetly looking at his gaze. The prince’s eyes - which were not quite the same as his sister's somewhat dark gray eyes - were full of anxiety, and there was even a tinge of pleading in his gaze. Brendel couldn't help but be a little amused. He didn't really say much; he simply promised to keep the young prince’s secret.
He was, of course, capable of keeping a secret, but not this one. He knew that the true secret was that this young prince of Aouine might have some kind of unusual talent in him, like the one which was described in the article in a previous forum: with just a glance at those obscure black magic books, one could master all the spells. Even the talented Buga Wizards of the People of SIlver could only regret their inferiority for not possessing such a talent.
However, now was not the time to reveal this secret to the public. On one hand, he did not want Haruz to become arrogant because of it, and on the other hand, he wanted to protect His Highness, the tiny Crown Prince of Aouine.
He gave a light nod at the princess's request.
Light began to fill their vision; the hedge of holly trees had come to an end. The squire led them around the corner of the corridor, and then Brendel saw the former Chief Archbishop of Ampere Seale.
To him, Wood looked thinner than he had been half a month ago, but also much more relaxed, as if the old man had been waiting for them for a long time. He smiled immediately when he saw them. "Princess Gryphine, Mr. Brendel, the two of you have arrived."
Then, he looked further behind them. "Miss Amandina, Miss Romaine, and His Highness, it’s good to see you all." Amandina nodded politely, while little Romaine beside her waved vigorously at the Chief Archbishop. Only Prince Haruz stood behind everyone timidly.
Princess Gryohine sighed at the sight of her brother. She bowed slightly to Wood. "Master Archbishop," the princess looked up and directly said. "We are here regarding the negotiations with the north."
Wood froze before he composed himself again. The princess of Aouine was so direct, her poise indicating that she had no qualms about the price. It was clear that she was telling him that she wasn't about to compromise on the issue.
Princess Gryphine’s attitude wasn't quite what he expected, but that was precisely why he couldn't help but sigh. He understood the princess’s determination from the start. The Holy Cathedral of Fire thought it had a victory in hand, but it had ended up causing a huge problem.
Although the Holy Cathedral had already compromised countless times with Aouine’s problems, it was clear that today was the final major event. If this princess could solve the problem in the north with a single move, then Aouine’s unification and even revival would only be a matter of time.
The Kirrlutz would not be happy to see a revived Aouine, but there was no core conflict between the two yet after all. Compared to the Hawk’s empire, Aouine was nothing more than a small kingdom that was content to live on borrowed peace. The same was true for Wood, who was a more faithful believer in the way of the Holy Cathedral of Fire than the Kirrlutz, and thus at one time advocated the neutral attitude of the Holy Cathedral.
Even though this attitude couldn’t continue to be maintained, he still supported every one of the Holy Cathedral of Fire’s actions. Those actions taken had proven to be wrong, but the former Chief Archbishop of Ampere Seale needed to consider solutions in repairing the damage caused by those mistakes, rather than questioning the actions of the Holy Cathedral of Fire.
He pondered for a moment, but he still didn’t speak. Brendel, who was on the other side, replied, "Master Archbishop, Aouine, after all, believes in the doctrine of the Holy Cathedral of Fire. The Holy War is imminent, and I'm sure the Holy Cathedral doesn't want to see its allies fall into civil strife. But if there's Aouine, then neither the foolish Holy Cathedral of Earth nor Madara will be an issue for the KIrrlutz."
His gaze flitted over to Brendel. This was the fourth time he had seen this young man, and it was this young man that gave the Holy Cathedral of Fire a great deal of trouble, but Wood had no animosity towards Brendel. Instead, he had some appreciation for the man.
"Did you say the Holy Cathedral of Earth and Madara?" he asked, his eyebrows raising. "Mr. Brendel, I heard you were one of the first people to escape from Bucce and went through that war, and yet you speak those words. Don't you think that it’s because of the stigma against the Black Rose of Bramando?"
Brendel was amused. It is impossible for Madara's change to be hidden from everyone, especially Sanorso and Kirrlutz, the two empires bordering it. The Holy Cathedral of Fire must have already had information about Madara's stirring. Why else could they have reacted so quickly in the First Black Rose War and immediately ordered their retreat?
But the worst thing was that the Kirrlutz clearly intended to let these fools run free. Aouine was simply more of an important chess piece to them, but it was not impossible to give them up. Based on everything that occurred in the other history, he judged that the bottom line for the Kirrlutz people was when Aouine at least kept the northern part of Ampere Seale. That was why Madara had made such smooth progress in the Second Black Rose War.
The Kirrlutz people had a wishful plan of using Madara to hold the attention of Sanorso, and it was only after the Third War of the Black Rose when Madara finally came back to their senses. But by then, everything was too late, and that was the reason why a prolonged war followed.
Brendel shook his head as he recalled the memories of the war that had taken place in the Alkash Mountains. He shook his head. However, he could still see through Wood’s facade. "If it were only a prejudice, I would not have mentioned the Black Rose of Bramando. Unless I missed out on some of Aouine’s enemies?” he replied.
He paused, and then spoke in a veiled manner. "If Aouine blocks Madara's path north to the west, those douchebags will have to head east to look for an exit now."
Wood immediately fell silent.
The old man clearly understood that the young man in front of him had seen through everything, including Madara's and the Kirrlutz’s plans. He looked deeply at Brendel. "Madara has recovered the Mercury Staff. The rise is inevitable. As far as I know, their emperor has already gained great prestige in this war. The time to consolidate this ancient kingdom is imminent. I fear that it will be a few years at most for the time when the undead march north and west.
"And will Aouine be able to complete its unification and have the ability to resist the Madara invasion by then?" He looked over at Brendel. Wood did not make a false claim this time, for he knew it would be nothing more than a waste of their time.
But before Brendel spoke, he reminded, "Don't forget that there's another war in northern Aouine. The Holy Cathedral of the Earth has started on the Holy Sword early because of the sword you have, Mr. Brendel."
Princess Gryphine was listening quietly. Amandina frowned as well. They had actually all heard Brendel speak about the threatening nature of Madara, and the princess herself recognized it as well, but they didn't think that time would be so pressing.
When the half-elf princess heard the rumors about the Mercury Staff, she couldn't help but gently inhale a breath and ask, "Mercury Staff? Are the rumors actually true? That it was Loki’s Mercury Staff?”
“Exactly.” Wood nodded.
"How is this possible? Why didn't the Holy Cathedral of Fire tell us about these things at all beforehand?" Princess Gryphine couldn't help but feel some frustration. "Isn't Aouine also under the rule of the Holy Cathedral of Fire? Whether it be the royal family of Covardo or House Seifer, they had been faithful to the doctrines of the Holy Cathedral of Fire for generations because we believe in the Flame King’s righteousness and integrity. But Archbishop Wood, what do you take us for!"
"It is because the Kirrlutz people never believed that Aouine could withstand the invasion of Madara, and they were powerless to fight simultaneously with the Holy Cathedral of Earth, Sanorso and Madara's mediators. Thus, they had to give up a portion of their interest in Aouine so that the undead of Madara could stir trouble with the Wind Elves, Your Highness." Brendel replied.
Princess Gryphine stared angrily at Archbishop Wood, and Archbishop Wood was embarrassed. He wondered why the young man always seemed to be able to catch a glimpse of what they were planning. He coughed and replied, "It's not exactly like that, but Mr. Brendel is right; the Holy Cathedral is not omnipotent in the end, and the Kirrlutz also have many enemies. Aouine must still save themselves even if they could resist Madara’s invasion, and we may not necessarily give up our interests here, as I'm sure you can understand."
The princess took a breath and then calmly nodded. "I understand, but Archbishop Wood, you should understand this now. Aouine has such a wish, but will the Holy Cathedral of Fire support this?”
"No." Wood shook his head. "Your Highness, I'm sure you understand. There are also many factions within the Holy Cathedral, and not everyone supports you. It is really up to you to gain the support of others and plan on how to solve this problem. There are many entrenched noble forces in Northern Aouine, and you can't expect them to sit still and await their death."
"But the problem now is not that I expect them to sit still and resign themselves to fate, but that they want me to do so instead," the princess bit her lip and replied coldly. "The nobles in the north are stirring, each wanting independence. I will never compromise with them on this issue, and if they want war, I can only give them war, but I would like to know, which side will the Holy Cathedral be on?”
She looked up at Wood, knowing clearly in her heart that a large portion of the northern nobles might, in fact, choose to compromise if the Holy Cathedral did not stand with them.
But Wood shook his head. "Your Highness, I can stand by you, but that doesn't mean anything, as you should well understand. Especially now that I'm not considered the Chief Archbishop of Ampere Seale anymore. There is no way the Holy Cathedral will give up its influence in the north."
This was like a dead end, but there was always a solution to a problem. Brendel looked at Wood and suddenly spoke. "So you have a solution to this problem, right, Archbishop Wood? Why don't you tell us about it?"
Wood was slightly taken aback and he looked at Brendel. Brendel, however, continued. "I remember that you told Amandina, who is my assistant, that you might be able to fix the chaos in the north."
"No." Wood shook his head. "Mr. Brendel, it is not me, but someone else."
Both Brendel and Princess Gryphine were stunned. They couldn't help but stop and look at each other.
"Who?" The princess asked. She couldn't think of anyone who could resolve the chaos in the north. The bishops in the Holy Cathedral of Fire? Or the Emperor of the Kirrlutz Empire, or the Buga people? The Silver Elves?
She even thought of the dragons for a moment.
But Archbishop Wood said, "That man also wants to see you. However, he needs your permission before doing so. You all may not wish to see him due to certain reasons, especially you, Princess Gryphine."
"Me?" Princess Gryphine pointed to herself in confusion. "Why? And who in the world is that, Archbishop Wood?"
Instead, Archbishop Wood asked, "Princess Gryphine, are you acquainted with your brother?"
The princess suddenly let out a light gasp.