The courtyard was eerily quiet for a moment, except for Amandina who softly exclaimed short in short bursts and the merchant lady who was looking around.
Princess Gryphine was staring at her brother as if she was staring at an object, the look on her face so cold that people dared not to intervene. One of Brendel’s hands had even quietly tightened its grip on the hilt of the sword under his coat, his eyes fixated on the two siblings' every move. He had a slight suspicion that this king might have a few screws loose due to such a huge mental shock, but regardless, Brendel could guarantee that if he dared to make the slightest mischief, he would have the courage to send the black blade of the Halran Gaia straight into the other’s heart before then.
As for the identity of the king's eldest son… Did such a thing still hold any meaning in Brendel’s eyes?
However, the king's eldest son didn't make any move. He merely stood at the center of everyone’s gazes, not the slightest bit bothered at all. His long hair hung down naturally and his eyes were closed. Brendel couldn't find a hint of nervousness in his appearance. It was as if he had just given an absolutely normal greeting like ‘good afternoon’, instead of saying 'please let me have the throne'.
"Give me a reason, Brother." In the end, the princess used her charming voice to break the silence. It was like the ethereal sound of water droplets falling into a well.
And yet, her face seemed to be sealed with a layer of ice.
"The reason is simple, Gryphine." The king's eldest son was calm. "Because you need time to unify the Southern border. You can find many supporters South of Ampere Seale. Mr. Brendel, the Count of Trentheim, may soon replace Count Radner’s position. The less power-hungry Duke Anthony and Duke Viero, the Highland Knights, will also stand with you because of Mr. Brendel. When we have a unified South, the Northern region will no longer be a hindrance to you."
"Then what about you?" asked Princess Gryphine. "Do you become the King of the North?"
"You need someone to help you go back on your word without harming the dignity of the royal family. That’s not all; the nobles in the North are more receptive to me than they are to you, because the Seifer Family has natural authority over them. Besides that, there is a war waiting in the North, and I can serve as a natural barrier for you. It's already clear to you which one will win or lose: a unified South or a war-torn North?"
Brendel was slightly taken aback.
He couldn't help but look up, as if trying to re-evaluate this eldest son of Aouine’s king. The princess did the same thing; she looked up as well. "If this is a lie... it is perhaps one that is poorly put together, Brother,” she ventured, her demeanor serious.
"There will be a war between the North and the South, but you and I both clearly know when it will happen, Gryphine. Even now the North only has a crippled Black Blade Legion and the White Lion Legion that is not all that obedient. It is already impossible to defeat the South anyway” Levin replied calmly. Then, he listened closely as if to confirm that Archbishop Wood had already walked away. "Would the Holy Cathedral of Fire allow Aouine to have a civil war under such circumstances?"
"They want you to compromise with the North. It will be best for Aouine to maintain the status quo, just like everything that happened after the Year of the Astrologer."
"What if you had the absolute power to purge the North? Before they had time to rebel-"
The dead silence was like dust settling in the courtyard, leaving every other sound under it, unmoving.
"With all due respect," Brendel finally managed to speak up, as if he had thought long and hard about it. "Your Highness, while the Queen and Duke Seifer have you as a puppet, I understand that you are actually involved in this 'game' behind the scenes?"
Levin turned back suddenly, facing the direction of the voice. His eyebrows immediately shot up, and his whole person seemed to change. "You're even smarter than I imagined, Mr. Brendel. I’m glad that I’m not your enemy. Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion - was it a guess, or a hunch?"
He was relying on the hard work of those before him. The history in his previous life had only a few words about this prince, and no one even had any idea as to his whereabouts. However, the naturally inquisitive players were very good at making baseless speculations when it came to analyzing Levin Ornassen. There were quite a number of articles that analyzed the character and his life’s history.
Some of it was created out of thin air, some of it was speculation, and some of it came from rumors, but as long as one connected this information with His Royal Highness, the eldest son of the king himself - a very real existence - it was very easy to come to a conclusion.
"Due to ambition. And a man of ambition will not willingly become a mere pawn." Brendel felt that he had never for a moment been so wise, as if he was blessed with it. All the speculations he had seen in the past about this royal eldest son had become the foundation of his speech at this moment.
It was as if he was standing on the shoulders of giants as he raised his head and calmly spoke. "Since you were able to find a single lifeline in Archbishop Wood in the midst of such a desperate situation, how could you allow others to easily manipulate and use you before?”
"Wonderful words, but that is indeed true." The prince sighed. "I have prevented some things within my capability. While I wish for my mother’s actions to succeed, I don't necessarily agree with her methods.
"Besides, there is selfishness in anyone's heart, and I do not consider it a sin," he replied.
The princess tried to speak, but she suddenly stopped. She looked at Brendel and motioned for him to continue. Brendel understood the implicit trust that she placed in him, so he opened his mouth. "Then, what exactly do you really want? Which side are you on?"
"I said this before: we stand on the same side. I wish to become the King of the North, and you need me to be your barrier in the North." The king's eldest son’s eyes were filled with calmness.
But Brendel carefully observed for a change in the man’s expression. He had an instinctive feeling that the prince was not revealing everything. He looked to the side subconsciously just in time to see the maid beside Levin frown slightly.
She looked as though she was about to speak, but the king's eldest son held out his hand to stop her.
"Everything is but a bubble. You know very well about your final outcome. Is being king of the North for a mere year and a half worth giving your own life?”
"Brother." Princess Gryphine finally managed to speak up.
The prince chuckled and replied, "Gryphine, have you ever experienced what it is like to be unable to control your own destiny? I promised that I'll walk my own path someday, if only for a minute, or a second. Remember the words I told you during the winter hunt?”
"...Aouine is a black forest, and you said that if you were that wolf, you would make the same choice as it did..." Princess Gryphine remembered he trap that had plunged into the snow and the bloodstains which stained her vision red.
In the Year of the Astrologer, the scenery where the bitterly cold wind blew across the plateau still sent a chill down the body.
"Even if it means biting off my own leg, I’ll do it for freedom, because the wilderness is where I belong," replied Levin, revealing his pearly white teeth. "Besides, it’s not certain that I’ll surely fail. The North may be difficult, but there is always a chance of survival. Seeking a chance to survive in the midst of desperation is exactly what I'm best at.
"Gryphine, if you cannot defeat me, I will fell you without mercy. Like you, I will not allow Ampere Seale to remain divided for long. Not even for a day." His cold voice echoed through the vestibule.
Even the merchant lady was shocked. She stared back at the madman with widened eyes.
The prince was indeed deranged, but at least he was a madman with elegance. He bowed to his sister, making it impossible for others to find something wrong with this.
The princess thought coldly for a moment before shouting at him. "Did you think that I wouldn't dare to kill you?"
"...However, I won't agree to your request."
"What then?" The king's eldest son wasn't surprised. He asked this with a smile.
The princess looked at him quietly.
Two carriages emerged in a single file out of the manor. Many people waited in the courtyard to board them.
"He was not telling the truth," Amandina reminded her lord in a whisper as she got into the carriage. "At least, he wasn’t completely telling the truth."
"I know. Which part exactly?" As always, Brendel helped Amandina into the carriage, an action that made him different from the norm, but he was oblivious to the strange looks cast by the servants. Instead, he looked up and asked Amandina.
"I don't know, but I think he's hiding something. It’s just my intuition.."
"Intuition is also an experience, my Lord," Amandina replied in all seriousness.
Brendel contemplated this and thought it made some sense. He turned back and looked at the other carriage. The carriage's emblem was so dark to the point that you couldn’t make out its true color. He had the same doubt in his mind. The king's eldest son was definitely the most sedate person he had ever seen. Such a person was unlikely to tell the whole truth.
But the point is, what is he hiding?
He turned back again to see Romaine poking her head out. He proceeded to pinch the tip of Romaine’s nose, causing her to fall back with a grunt. He then boarded the carriage and greeted the young prince and the cold-faced princess before sitting down next to Romaine.
Princess Gryphine was frowning as if she was thinking about something.
Brendel was perhaps the only one here who understood what was going through her mind, but he didn't say much. He just lifted the curtain and looked out the window. The view of Ampere Seale outside the window was slipping into twilight.
As of today, Levin Ornassen of House Seifer, that brother of hers, would no longer be the Crown Prince of House Covardo. Under the joint appointment of the princess and the Holy Cathedral, he would have a legitimate, brand new title as part of the Seifer family.
This new Archduke was appointed to reorganize the North for the war with the Lion's Mane, but in truth, he was promised to be the King of the North. Everyone was well aware of this.
Although everything had yet to be finalized, Brendel could already guess how the princess would respond.
This looked like a compromisation by the king's party.
But only a handful of people understood the truth of it.
Some might argue that the princess should have been more assertive, but some might also argue that this was the more mature political tactic. However, what really puzzled Gryphine was that her own brother looked utterly confident.
No one knew if that was the wrong choice to make.
But in Brendel’s case, it actually turned out pretty well. Aouine didn't need the name of the greater good; they needed the right amount of time, and with a little more time, he would be able to save the kingdom.
And now, the king's eldest son was giving them exactly what he had dreamed of. As long as the nobles in the North were no longer stirring, the princess would be able to free up her hands to clean up the mess in the South.
The more important point was that after three years of peace, the enemies Aouine could face would no longer be limited to these pathetic beings at hand.
The king's eldest son had his own plans. Was Brendel any different from him?
Valhalla was the cornerstone of everything here, and he was incredibly sure of this in his mind.
He took one last look out of the window at the golden sunset. There was a glittering beachfront in that direction/ It was as if he could see the spectacular view of the Loop of Trade Winds through the golden clouds. Then, he dropped the draping curtain and stopped thinking about it.
As for the king's eldest son’s true motives, such history was left to the future to judge.
At least, that was how it was to Brendel.