Voice: Gee! It’s been two weeks since your last exam! What took ya so long this time!?
Azhure: For one, I still had a project going on a week after exams are over. Then, I thought of posting Alicia (and eventually this) to Sufficient Velocity, which was what I did, and then Alicia Chapter 13 happened. I’m thinking of rewriting them fully rather than just unannounced aesthetic editing.
Voice: Sure! Much like More About the Otherworldly Court 1 which you totally forgot your plan to rewrite ’till you posted that on SV!
“Curses! I should have searched for a better poisoner!” Van va Kirash, the second prince of the kingdom of Kirash, grunted in frustration, slamming his fist on a round table.
Weeks ago, he had hired an assassin skilled in poison to kill the duke of Illyer, Allister al Illyer. The prince was sure this would be it for the duke – the assassin was rather talkative for his trade, boasting that he can slip in, poison the duke, and escape unnoticed without assistance.
But then his messenger reported that not only he failed, he was also captured as well. At least he ought to shut his mouth with that poison of his, Van sneered. Bloody amateur. Even my messenger does his job better than him.
And speaking of said messenger, Van looked at the kneeling man who delivered him the message and calmly ordered, “You may leave,” while swaying his hand lazily at him.
“Excuse me, my lord,” the messenger replied before getting up and leave for the door.
“Another failure, dear?” Then, a feminine voice in concern came behind the second prince.
“Yes, mother,” Van sighed as he turned around to face his mother holding a folding fan. “And I am getting rather tired of this farce.”
When the king, his father, fell ill and will seemingly pass away without naming an heir, many had thought Van would become the next king instead of the first prince Albert. After all, because of his mother, their father preferred the second prince over the first. The king had engaged prince Albert with the daughter of duke Illyer to have him marry into the family, so that’s what everyone thought.
“E-Excuse me?” Van gaped with his eyes widened, not sure what he heard from the duke was right.
In the many congregations of the nobility within the palace of Kirash, the second prince was conversing with the duke of Illyer about his plan to wage war against the Fichs, knowing the weak state the empire was in, upon taking the throne. With the duke’s reservations against the empire and the offer to make him the supreme commander for the campaign, Van thought it would entice him.
However, the duke seemingly rejected it with an open insult on his face.
“As I said, you are a jackass,” the duke repeated. “You do not have what it takes to rule this kingdom with dignity, especially when you wish to plunge this nation into an unnecessary war with the Fichs. This is why I have decided that prince Albert should be king instead of you!”
“Wha- what?” Van gasped in surprise, shocked by the duke’s blatant disrespect to him, the second prince, with what he called him as.
Turning to the crowd of aristocrats, the duke continued, “Those who seek the right path shall find it by joining me to support prince Albert as the king. Make the right choice.”
“What is he saying!?”
“Is he saying what I think it is?”
“He is starting a succession war!”
“Good day.” Ignoring the confused murmurs of high society, the duke strode off the chamber like it was nothing, leaving behind the second prince, his mother, and the other nobles with their jaws opened. One of them almost dropped his wine glass.
And just like that, the stage was set for a succession war with the duke of Illyer, Allister al Illyer, with his status as a war hero on top of the prestige of his house, spearheading the Albert faction with half of the naive aristocrats enthralled by the duke’s charismatic words.
“What happened though?” Van’s mother cupped her cheek. “I know I have not been keeping up with your exploits because you were doing very well. So what happened with the duke?”
‘Very well’ was a bit of an understatement, despite duke Illyer’s initial bravado which garnered a substantial following, Van had totally decimated his brother’s faction.
Using negotiations, promises, bribery, blackmail, and threats, he was able to cut down or turned the rival supporting nobles over to his one by one. A great war commander the duke was one, but Van knew he’d never survive the political war.
However, when the eventual last man standing was duke Illyer himself, he got stuck.
“My usual tactics on the other nobles bore no fruit with the duke,” Van explained, “and he still stubbornly refused to sort of compromise short of me giving up my right to the throne – not with him openly calling me a ‘jackass’ and everything!”
“Ah yes, it was quite shocking for the duke to spout such foul language,” Van’s mother grumbled, peeved by the reminiscence of the duke badmouthing her son. “But anyway, since your diplomatic means did not work, you did the more… aggressive means?” she asked, emphasizing the report of the poisoner’s failure from earlier.
Of course, when initial attempts to remove the duke through subtler means didn’t work, Van tried the more direct methods. Keyword: tried.
“I did, and as you can see, it all failed thus far,” Van confessed, rolling his eyes and looking away from his mother. “It was only fortunate I did not pay those assassins in advance. The street thugs only wasted pocket change, aside from all the brigands I had to keep paying to put them in line in hopes of catching the duke along the road that is.”
If there was one thing that described the second prince, it was his opportunist tendencies and his relentless pursuit of those opportunities such as the bandits he stationed across the Illyer’s vast territory. That was also how he was able to remove almost every supporter of Albert’s faction, taking every striking opportunity like a predator.
But right now, these opportunities, or perhaps the lack of thereof, only lead to dead ends when it came to the duke.
“Did you try to kidnap a member of his family as a hostage?” Van’s mother then asked. “Prince Albert’s fiancee perhaps?”
“I did, it was also a secondary objective given to the agent watching over those brigands, but even the second attempt had failed,” Van shrugged. “Even my more… creative solutions did not seem to do the trick, wasting investment of the people I gathered.”
Like the messenger from earlier who’d never spill any secrets, there were people all over the kingdom with certain talents that Van could use. And long story short, those people have troubled past and Van helped them up, making them his loyal hounds in the process.
No need to question how those people were troubled.
“Well, that is certainly troublesome,” was Van’s mother’s overall response. “Must you really remove the duke?”
“I do,” Van answered. “As long the duke supports my brother, he will still contend me on the throne. In fact, he is supporting the entire faction on his shoulders alone right now! I had thought otherwise, which was why I targeted the fools around him!”
“Truly!?” Van’s mother widened her eyes. “That sounds ludicrous!”
“Yes, he has the influence necessary to become the sole pillar of older brother’s faction,” Van nodded seriously.
And the only good thing out of it was that because the duke was the last obstacle to the throne that Van could recklessly divert all of his resources on the duke without much fear of any setbacks for doing so.
“To begin with,” Van continued. “The Illyer household was a splinter of our family some generations ago, giving them traces of royal blood and thus in line for the throne should this family tree abruptly end.”
“Ah yes, the Illyers are a ducal household,” Van’s mother realized. “But if that is so, then why does the duke not try to become king himself? He is rather popular, right?”
“No mother, the duke much too honorable for that.” Van deadpanned in seriousness. “I cannot see such virtuous man having power-hungry ideas – I tried using his anger towards the Fichs to invite him, not his ambition.”
All the Illyers were, it was something that baffled the second prince. Perhaps the Illyers were just ‘fortunate’ to have honorable heads every generation; or were they satisfied with what they have? Or maybe they were raised to be so, being the frontal defense against the age-old enemy nation. Van could never know.
“Then why did the duke pushed for your half-brother to be king? The Illyers have been neutral since its founding. What changed?” Van’s mother muled in wonderment before coming with an idea. “Is it because of prince Albert’s engagement with his daughter?”
“No, it could not be,” Van, however, firmly denied the easy claim. “Despite what marriages between noble houses entails, the Illyers stubbornly maintained their neutrality no matter who their children marry, making political marriages with the Illyers non-existent.
“As for marriages with the royal family, there was a situation like this and the Illyers at that time did not side with their prince engaged to their daughter, causing his rival to take the throne. The losing prince simply took over the Illyers. Ridiculous, I know.
“And that was supposed to be our case, my brother was engaged to the daughter of the duke to marry into the family as the duke had no male heir and possibly strengthen their affirmed loyalty to the crown. Father had never planned to make his firstborn son king.”
Incidentally, there were rumors that the duke had transferred the first prince’s engagement from the elder daughter to the younger. Van could never confirm it though, and everyone else must be looking the other way when the duke did the transfer, but he could see that it was not entirely farfetched.
And speaking of engagements, Van thought in the back of his mind. I ought to spend more time with my fiancee when this is over. His half-brother for one spent an awfully lot of time with his fiancee, a consequence of him frequently holing up in the duke’s mansion.
“However, it seems to be not the case,” was Van’s mother’s response to her son’s iteration.
“Yes, as the duke instead started a succession war out of nowhere with himself leading the faction, and stubbornly refused to reason,” Van sighed, pouring himself a cup of water from a jug on a table and gave himself a drink.
“I am not even asking to cancel older brother’s engagement,” he continued – hence the half-hearted effort to remove the first prince directly (also because it’s regicide). “And I was quite willing to work with him for my conquest and beyond if it came to it, but no, the duke wants me gone entirely!”
“I see.” Van’s mother listened to everything her son spouted curtly. She always did listen to her child’s ramblings since he was a child. “But then, do you have any idea why the duke acted the way he did.”
“Well,” Van calmed himself down. “There is only one thing I could think of…”
“…you do not have what it takes to rule this kingdom with dignity, especially when you wish to plunge this nation into an unnecessary war…”
“…and it is that the duke thinks I am unfit to rule, and against my plan to wage war against the Fichs, going by his declaration against me back then.”
“Really? Bah! Nonsense!” Van’s mother spat. “He must be getting senile early, my son is a genius and will unite lady Aquarius’ land as the greatest king of Kirash! He is a fool to be blind by your greatness!”
“Thank you, mother,” Van smiled. “I certainly will live up to your expectation.”
“However…” Van’s mother suddenly shifted to a somber tone. “Is it truly fine to attack the Illyers?”
“Hm?” Van raised his eyebrow, noticing his mother’s changed atmosphere. “Why?”
“They are blessed by lady Aquarius, are they not?” Van’s mother iterated. “It might invite her ire. I think the peaceful methods you did before are more appropriate.”
“Oh…” Van clicked in realization. “That.”
He almost forgot, the first thing that came to mind about duke Illyer, or the Illyer family in general: their blessing from the greater water spirit herself – the large factor of his influence. It was the thing that caused the Illyers to exist, when the brother of the king was noticed by Aquarius, she gave him her favor and granted him the name ‘Illyer’ and thus starting the line.
From then on, water spirits practically refused to do their arts against the Illyers short of unwitting talismans, band together to answer their requests with gusto, and scramble to be named from them which was something the main royal family was not entitled to… which was why Van totally forgot about this fact.
“And I believe it should not be a problem,” Van calmly stated.
“Huh?” Van’s mother naturally, widened her eyes and had a very concerned look. “Are you sure, Van? You are treading dangerous grounds here, you could invite-”
“Because I believe the Illyers have lost some of their blessings,” Van interrupted. “I would have not gone after the duke if it was otherwise.”
It was also the grounds to convince the crooks he hire to go after the duke. However, he still had to pay extra.
“What!? That is preposterous!” Van’s mother exclaimed in disbelief. “How could that be!?”
“Before the current duke, the last Illyer to have named a water spirit was a hundred and fifty years ago, four generations of Illyers without a named spirit,” Van explained. “Duke Allister was the first to name an intermediate spirit in his family in that many years and was still the only one, making it a fluke.”
Although there were rumors the eldest daughter of Illyer to have named a greater spirit candidate, they were just that, rumors and Van wasn’t going to fret over such groundless claims.
“Do you really believe duke Allister’s named spirit was only a happenstance?” Van’s mother asked concerningly, as her son was treading dangerous grounds. “It is because of that the duke was able to repel the Fichs decades ago. The blessing might have returned to the Illyers if what you say was true.”
“I am sure,” Van affirmed himself. “Besides, lady Aquarius would have already punished me, or every enemy crossing the Illyers throughout history in general. Her blessing to the Illyers only extends that far.”
And the greater spirits have always acted impartial, lady Aquarius has given enough blessings to her ‘blessed.’ She will not exact revenge against anyone who killed them in any circumstances either or history would have been different otherwise.
So if Van defeated duke Illyer or even killed him, then so be it.
“You know it is fortunate there are no water spirits here to expose lady Aquarius your blasphemy,” Van’s mother sighed. “I still think lady Aquarius might be helping the Illyers. The duke has avoided you the entire time, and you never know how it went wrong.”
It was true, for all of his limitations in the political game, the duke of Illyer was surprisingly good at keeping himself guarded – perhaps a part of him being a war hero -, a large part of Van’s trouble taking him out.
For one, he kept a very strict border in his city, with guards selected by the duke himself double-checking anyone who entered, and keeping extra vigilance to any infiltrators both in and outside the walls – any spies or hoodlums Van sent could only enter with clothes on their backs and nothing else, nor can they act too suspicious either while professional assassins demanded more coin for the hassle to smuggle their tools in.
And the guards couldn’t be bribed either; whether their wages were really good, their reverence or fear of going against the Illyers who were blessed by the greater water spirit, or something else that kept them in line – Van quite envied the discipline Allister’s men have, or anyone really would love to have that kind of men under their tow.
Furthermore, of the spies Van sent, they couldn’t do much either. Other than hearsays of the commoners, they produce nothing else on the duke. Moles couldn’t be sent to infiltrate the duke’s household either, the duke had not been hiring any new house workers since the succession war and all the existing staff apparently memorized each other’s faces, even the Illyers themselves did too, and thus able to single out any perpetrator in familiar clothing. And obviously, none of the duke’s staff could be bribed either.
Not even the citizens under Illyer’s city were willing to commit treason against their lord either. Some spies, already limited in their function, learned that in a hard way. Weaponsmiths, pharmacists, and talisman scribes also seemed to be ordered by the duke not to sell their wares to anyone they don’t recognize, further difficulting the procurement of their items.
“…No mother,” Van said. “I believe I have an inkling when it went awry.”
It was when Van had a stroke of luck in the Illyer case. He had found a window of vulnerability in the duke’s defenses in the form of a common maid, which his men noted they could snap her like a twig, in his house who still visited her orphanage in some backwater village. Long story short, Van hired some mercenaries to hold the orphanage hostage to coerce the maid to betray her lord, thus allowing the second prince to finally start destroying the duke.
And during that time Van discovered, “It was when the duke made a partnership with a merchant company called Bell Conglomerate.”
“That does not sound very convincing.” Van’s mother deadpanned.
From what Van could gather, Bell Conglomerate was your average mercantile business in except it was the richest with numerous establishments under its crest, which was a rusted bell of all things, wherever you go in Illyer’s city. Essentially, the Bell Conglomerate ran most of the city’s market.
Of course, Van already heard of this company through scant few reports his spies desperately tried to fill. While he could appreciate their efforts, he already knew of its existence as the Conglomerate were rather well-known outside of its base with the products they exported.
So naturally, he tried to influence such a merchant in hopes to manipulate the city’s economy as a way to ruin the duke. However, all the letters Van sent to the Conglomerate’s manager seem to be left unanswered – perhaps the duke had intercepted them and offered that partnership to nip the bud from growing further.
Ah, yes, did he say ‘manager?’ Apparently, Bell Conglomerate was much bigger than one city, spanning multiple countries and territories, and the merchant company in Illyer’s city was but a branch called a ‘Bell Branch,’ all under its enigmatic leader named Alan Bell.
However, Van took the last bit with a grain of salt. He believed this Alan Bell never existed as no one other than the managers, or so they claimed, have ever seen him too and was nothing more than a posy to add a flair of mystique to the alliance of multiple merchants operating under the same banner.
It was the only way for a company like the Conglomerate to become that big – there was also the fact that the main branch was never clear -, and there were past instances of it, they must have followed an example from that. However, that amalgamation of merchants in the past didn’t last as the ‘managers’ fought each other for dominance.
“Just hear me out, mother,” Van tried to convince her mother, but she doesn’t seem to be budging. “I promise it-”
“Your highness!” Suddenly, the door swung into the chamber violently as an attendant slammed it open.
“How rude!” Van’s mother snapped in disdain, flipping open the fan she had kept folded throughout the mother-and-son conversation over her mouth. “To barge into a private conversation like so!”
“It better be important,” Van growled, taking a stern posture.
“The king woke up,” the attendant immediately reported. “And his majesty wishes to see you!”
And with what the attendant just announced, Van broke out of his stance and exclaimed, “W-What!?”
Azhure: I wrote too much, the conversation between the second prince and king will happen in the next chapter even though I was planning otherwise.