“Brendel, do you still remember when we first returned to Trentheim, I told you to keep our whereabouts a secret, and to refrain from exposing the news beyond our circle, right?”

As smoke gobbled up the room, Veronica was ultimately the first to initiate. Brendel nodded, it was something he did agree to, which even Princess Gryphine had to wait until Freya had returned to Castle Vallendaren to be able to announce her safety. 

The band of injured travelers including Maynild and members of the Folded Sword Squad was assigned to Schafflund, while the Korfa sisters left for Valhalla.

All that was left within Aouine were Medissa, Hipamila, and a few others, whose movement radius was only within the confinement of the castle. 

Even if these remaining people were still allowed to freely interact with the servants and Ciel’s disciples within the castle, they were not allowed to exit the castle except for special occasions, and that law was strictly enforced by Amandina.

At least until the Harvest Festival, no information shall be allowed to be leaked out into the open. 

As for the Princess, even if it all seemed harsh for a concerned sister on the wellbeing of her own brother, when Veronica somberly requested of Brendel, he knew full well the urgency of the matter, without much contemplation earnestly accepted the task and kept to his promise since. 

Noticing Veronica’s expression, he belatedly was left in shock, did the news slip?

If that was the case, then it has to be from the Herder’s guesthouse. However, the owner was an experienced veteran under the Red Bronze Dragon, not to mention a respectable war veteran of the Eleven Months War...his background is a guarantee on its own, doesn’t sound likely that he would be bribed.

Or could it be that the younger members of the Folded Sword Squad got spotted? But the chances for that are way too small. Now that Port Gris is a business hub, with significant Kirrlutzians presence, a few young men in plainclothes would not be too much of an eye-catcher.

Brendel thought about it but ultimately decided to wait for Veronica to reply.

Amandina stood silently behind, never once interrupted, her eyes aimed to the ground, saturated with complexity from deep contemplation.

As rings of smoke fizzled off to clouds of smog in the room, they formed various shapes of mountains or beasts. The Commander himself was unsatiated as he smoked and smoked away, the far end of his cigarettes glowed incessantly in the dimly lit room.

His arm of which the hand the cigarette was held supported on his knee, the other holding onto his thigh, his head unsurprisingly still fixated upon the sheepskin map as if there was a treasure to be found.

Veronica awkwardly snickered as she added, “Do you want to know the reason?”

Brendel shook his head, “I’m not used to digging into other people’s secrets, but I do know that this is crucial to you, and it requires hardly any effort from me, so it was not a tough call.”

“Thank you, Brendel,” Veronica nodded with admiration.

Right then, Mangrove knocked on his wooden low table a few times before finally lifting his head. With his remaining left eye, he scanned Brendel from head to toe, yet Brendel did not feel the usual arrogance from a Kirrluztian. Instead, it appeared more like a general evaluating his soldier.

“Good to meet you, Mr. Baron, I see you’ve not let your grandfather down.”

Mangrove spoke with a heavy Anker accent of Kirrlutzian, derived heavily from his brought up in the northern plains, and hence carrying the Northern Kirrlutzian brute flair.

But the prolific old soldier just left the remark as it was, without any follow-up or genuine conversation was he keen to start, then reverted back to taking a whiff of his cigarette.

Brendel was caught off-guard at this remark, seeing how the man before him was the Commander General of ten thousand Kirrlutzian troops after just a year of conscription, taking over his own grandfather as the united army commander, and was now placed on the same status as the Holy Cathedral and second to the Queen herself.

“Brendel, the truth is I would like to keep Lenarette here in your base for longer. And whatever arrangements you’ve had so far to maintain secrecy, please kindly retain them in place.” 

Veronica hesitated midway, then with conflicted emotions added, “What I meant is, I want you to inform the world of his ‘death’, do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Brendel was stunned. 

Royal dissent. The term subconsciously came into the limelight as a continuous series of events began playing out in his head. 

First that came to mind was the explosion, for after that the line of succession would naturally be questioned. After all, from an outsider’s perspective, nobody would have expected anyone to have survived the fallout.

But if that was the excuse they were going with, shouldn’t they instead broadcast to the world that he lived? What could Veronica be planning on?

Unless...unless the military had somebody else in mind, and would rather see the Kirrlutzian crown prince be exiled forever in Trentheim?! That was a treacherous thought!

Beads of cold sweat began rolling down Brendel’s forehead, but one crucial point noted, however, was that Lenarette was still free to move about, which effectively raised his suspicions. 

If the squad leader’s words were to be believed, then the crown prince would have been kept in house arrest away from the prying eyes of the public.

Veronica and Mangrove shared a gaze, the former appearing rather conflicted while the latter was once again seemingly unbothered as he puffed out a smoke ring, then decisively nodded at her.

“We’re suspecting that Her Highness the Queen was about to kill her eldest son,” 

“What?!” Brendel and Amandina yelled out almost synchronically. 

They too shared a glance, noticing the shock in each other’s eyes.

Amandina found it nearly impossible to believe, her first instincts prompted her to suspect all that was said, at her spot she stood still as a statue. On the other hand, Brendel was far more composed, taking a subtle breath, forcing himself to calm down as he inquired, “And why is that?”

Brendel’s calm demeanor left Veronica rather surprised as she replied, “Have a seat, I’ll catch you both up on the entire plot.”

Brendel nodded as he hinted at Amandina to sit on the couch across from him. Mangrove at that moment was still occupied with his chain-smoking, while Veronica paused to recollect her thoughts, and subsequently went ahead to explain the events leading to the point they were in.

“This has to begin with a brief update on the political climate back in the empire now. Our situation is notably different from Aouine’s, I’m sure you know this much. For the last millennium, the main issue that the empire’s ruling class had was the conflict between the royal authority and the church.”

As she narrated, her voice was calm and reasonably paced, which Brendel found relatively easy to follow. Behind the mist of cigarette smoke, her green pupils seemed to sparkle like emeralds as she diligently briefed on. Her fingers crossed and placed before her chest, her words, and the notable truths from within, were not as mysterious as they first appeared to be.

The Flame King Gretel of the Kirrlutzians, just like the Aouine founding father King Erik, was among one of the four Holy Saints, and to leave his people with a faith of their own, he founded the Holy Cathedral of Fire. After his death, the Kirrlutzian people had never had a king quite as gallant as he was.

Upon then, the royal sect and the church began to separate far from one another, and from that point on, the internal conflict between the royal sect and the church over the succession of the kingdom began to take shape.

Since then for a thousand years, that conflict had never once ceased, but unfortunately for all neighboring kingdoms, the Holy Cathedral was almost entirely headed by the wise and the farsighted, which never once led the kingdom to any real dissociation.

Nevertheless, the conflict gradually began a norm within the ruling class, evolving into a cycle through various points of history. 

Several sects had since taken shape within the kingdom.

The first was the Holy Cathedral of Fire, representing the welfare of the mortals, among which was House Cecil. Among one of whose lives Brendel had taken, Williams was a member of this clan, and so were a majority of the Holy Knights and Cardinal Order. 

Second of which was the Royal sect, among which was where the centralized power of the kingdom still remained, among which two of the three self-governing ranges within the empire were bound to by marriage. 

House Kirk of Flowerleaf Ranges was a key representative of this sect. With every generation wedded into the royal family, nearly all members had at least half-Kirrlutzian descent, their connections with the ebb and flow of the Royal sect were inseparable, one notable member of the House was Faina, who Brendel had met at the Loop of Trade Winds.

And the third sect was the military. Kirrlutzians were fundamentally a battle-hardened people, naturally then that the army enjoyed pinnacle status within the nation. The Empire’s four squad leaders were all descended from the three outstanding Noble families of the North, making the North nearly synonymous with the Kirrlutzian military Nobles.

Due to their recent longstanding confrontation with the Haizaiers, all regions north of the Anker mountains were prime breeding grounds of the military. Notable representatives of the Noble clans include Ashric, Nigel, and Nonage. 

The military houses usually align with the Royal sect, markedly except the Marines, as most of the marines were from the wealthier, Southern regions. The affluent southerners were largely educated in religious schools, received higher education, and were naturally the greatest believers of the Holy Cathedral of Fire.

With the three sects in an internal dissent with one another, their effects could be felt inside-out across the empire. The turning point happened one hundred and fifty years ago, when the devoted Rion passed, the significance of the church in politics faded. The then ruler, with the help of the prime minister of the time, Nedwin restructured the government and allocated all power to be centralized around the crown.

After that, the cycle was supposed to begin again, until the Silver Queen took reign. The Queen herself was a rarity among the empire, she despised House Kirk of her mother’s allegiance, while also unconfident about the royal sect. Regardless, what she detested the most was the religious sect, of which she brazenly denounced and relinquished from her court with the help of the now powerful House Pratt of her blessing. 

It was undeniable that she rushed her hand, but in turn gained the reverence of the Holy Cathedral and the Archbishop Valar, solidifying the tough and unbreakable image of the Queen. Thereafter, the compromise was brought forward.

But Constance, during her reign, had offended nearly all of the Noble factions, and in her later years experienced a fall from grace. Upon Lenarette’s succession, she was quickly forgotten by her subjects, a tragic ending to her tale. 

Nevertheless, the Silver Queen created a miracle of sorts, achieving a four-decade rule despite general hatred from her most prolific subjects, and throughout she managed to shave down the authority of the other sects and solidified herself as the sole decision-maker throughout the empire. 

The renowned Ironheart Queen did wholeheartedly live up to her name. 

“Her Highness has gone mad,” Veronica sighed, “She ordered servants to draft the entire map of the continent, and on more private occasions than one proclaimed her goal to unite the entire Vaunte under Kirrlutzian rule. Kirrlutz has been rapidly expanding the military behind closed doors, and our deductions are that Her Highness would use the opportunity of the Holy War to launch an all-out invasion in all sides.”

“You can’t be serious, you’re suspecting she will murder her own son because of this?” Brendel bafflingly shook his head. 

“Of course not, with the Queen’s health condition now, her rule should last two-three years at the very most. To conquer the entire Vaunte in two to three years, what are the chances, Brendel?”

“So you guys are suspecting that she was defiant to the prospects of abdication, but her health wouldn’t allow it?” Brendel rhetorically added. From memory, the Silver Queen did indeed abdicate after two years.

“Brendel, the keyword there is ‘should’. But Her Highness is getting younger by the day, and her health conditions and vigor seem to be moving backward towards her peak!

Her Highness once had a mythical encounter, and since then her appearance appears to be sealed in her late teens, but that was just her appearance. This time, her entire person seemed to have reinvigorated, like the second coming of puberty!”

That’s not possible! Mortals of Vaunte could extend their lives after an encounter with the Law, that’s true. Holy Saints of that matter do exist, and they could easily live up to centuries, but never once had they managed to reverse the aging process! Brendel thought to himself. 

Even with the fountain of youth, only the appearance can revert back to its younger days. To reverse the flow of life goes against the basic laws of the world. 

Veronica cracked an awkward smile, “I knew you wouldn’t believe us, but what we’ve said is all true. Mangrove wouldn’t lie to you. Lenarette is the royal successor that we in the military agreed upon too. This is an issue that directly affects our future, for glory or shame.”

Brendel paused for several moments, before rhetorically asking, “So you’re saying this is the reason he doesn’t want Lenarette to be in the kingdom?”

Veronica nodded, letting out a sigh as she replied, “As an exchange for the recognition of the Holy Cathedral of Fire, the late king once made a verbal agreement with the Valar that the crown will be handed to the first in the line of succession. Fifteen years have passed since the Year of the Fire Ritual, so now there is only a year and a half left.”

“If that’s the case, will the Holy Cathedral of Fire allow her to do as she pleases?”

“It’s not that simple, Brendel, for all these years, the Valar had only chosen to tolerate the royals because behind the throne were the support of the Dragon tribe,” The female squad leader lamented.

“The Dragon tribe?” Brendel was stunned, it was an unprecedented revelation. He looked up at the two squad leaders, Veronica was frustrated, while Mangrove unabashedly chain-smoked until the entire cigarette was burnt out. 

Reaching out into his coat he brought out a new box of cigarettes, appearing to be deeply immersed in his smoking habits, seemingly unfazed by the impending civil war back in his home nation. 

But from the faces of them both, Brendel knew they were not lying.

Veronica nodded, “I can’t say I’m familiar with anything deeper than what I’ve already told you, but the Dragon tribe did after all owe her a huge favor, and it does seem to be interconnected with her unaging beauty.”

She paused for a moment, before visibly uncomfortable as she continued, “Even though it might seem rather disrespectful to be discussing Her Highness’ personal connections, but with the pressing situation at hand it cannot be helped any longer.

Brendel, despite Her Highness acting the way she is now, you must know that she wasn’t like this before, not at all. She was once a graceful and soft-spoken princess, loved by all throughout the empire. Even the last Archbishop was deeply enamored by her.

But ever since that incident, her personality took a huge turn, she had become tough, cold, and self-centered. As to what really caused the sudden change in personality was a mystery to most. One thing is certain, however, is that the Dragon Tribe was involved in this one or another.”

“You said it happened four decades ago?” Brendel took to ask. 

“Yes, and after that, as remuneration to her, a contract was signed behind closed doors, of which only the preceding King knew about the contents agreed upon. A proof that this contract truly exists was during Her Highness’ coronation. The Dragon tribe envoys were present throughout.

Her Highness is after all the firstborn child of the empire. Nonetheless, the law of the land abides by male primogeniture, and only the eldest son could be nominated as crown prince and henceforth first in the line of succession. 

The late king too, seemed to have silently acknowledged Her Highness’ right to rule, and it was rumored that even the Archbishop was there to witness the event as it happened, and no objection was noted. With that, we as servants of the empire would just take it as we’ve seen.”

Brendel thought for a moment, before he pursued, “From what I’m seeing here, the Dragon tribe are bound for a return right?”

Veronica shown a face of bemusement, even the old Mangrove stopped his cigarette rolling and gave Brendel a decent, long stare.

Brendel knew he guessed right once again. If that’s the case, the Dragon tribe must have been suppressed by the Holy Cathedral of Fire. Besides, now that the Queen herself could continue her reign, the Holy Cathedral naturally had no reason to force her abdication. As for the promise, well that’s just a verbal promise.

If that’s the case,

Lenarette truly does have a clear reason to die.

Brendel frowned at the thought, trying his hardest to recall this part of The Amber Sword. At this point in the game’s history, these events were noted to happen.

The Silver Queen will abdicate after two years, as for what was bound to happen in between the players were not expected to know. After all, no one would be directly involved in the royal family’s decision-making, not even himself.

The possibilities, however, were endless, maybe in the actual game history the Queen herself had truly run berserk, but was eventually held back by the Holy Cathedral, Veronica, and the rest of the highly-ranked officials, and then history repeated itself.

But they were all just huge ‘if’s. 

Lifting his head once more, facing Veronica he took to ask, “What evidence do you have to prove all this?”

“Before I left the Kingdom, Prince Ratchet went missing, along with his sister,” Veronica solemnly replied, but her words were chilling as they were suspicious. 

“Her Highness seemed rather unbothered about it, however, which left Mangrove suspicious, thereafter prompting him to request for me to use the opportunity of taking Lenarette on a training excursion as justification, and brought the Crown Prince out of White Rose Avenue.”

Ratchet was the fourth prince of the Kirrlutzian kingdom, and an incident like this sure felt plausible to happen, but this little event had slipped Brendel’s memory at this point. After all, schemes and plots for the throne were just common occurrences amongst the royal family.

As long as the one dead was not the first in succession, hardly anyone would pay attention, less so if they were just ‘missing’. But Brendel felt that something was off, “And she actually approved this? You think she never suspected as much?”

Mangrove tapped his cigarette on the ashtray, finally decided to speak, “For the crown prince to depart for a training excursion has been a long tradition of the kingdom. Even for Her Grace the Queen, without a genuine reason she wouldn’t have unconditionally stopped this tradition from proceeding.”

Veronica nodded in agreement, “The core plan here is that, as long as Lenarette is alive, the Queen cannot officially declare the negation of this verbal agreement, and as long as it still holds true, Lenarette shall continue to hold the highest claim to the throne.”