The eyes of countless nobility at the apex of the empire were driven to one place.
The emperor was laughing from his throne on top of the pedestal.
His soft expression was completely different from his usual self, which was so expressionless that people wondered if he was a wax figurine.
But the surprise was not over yet.
The emperor, the Aragon Empire itself, rose from the lion’s throne. The nobles fell into shock, but the captain of the Golden Lion Knights, Jean Granite, shouted in a deep voice at the emperor’s action.
All the knights stationed at the bottom of the pedestal pulled out their swords at the same time. The knights clasped their scabbards tightly and positioned it near their stomachs.
Simultaneously, all of the knights turned to face the emperor. The sunlight reflected on dozens of swords and blended with the gallant spirits of the Royal Knights, creating a spectacular sight.
The wind caused the various noble families’ flags to flutter.
However, the eyes of the nobles were focused on a single flag, the giant flag of the Golden Lion. The emperor slowly walked down underneath the drifting flag.
He slowly descended the twenty-four steps.
Immense shock could be seen in the eyes of the noble. For the first time since they gathered in the palace today, the emperor had spoken and smiled for the first time. Furthermore, the absolute was now proceeding to walk down the stairs.
Anyone could tell who the emperor was walking towards unless they were a fool.
The emperor came to a stop in front of Raven, five or six steps separating the two figures.
Raven was quite surprised.
Raven was equipped with a long sword.
Five steps were the ideal striking distance. He could draw his blade and slash the emperor within the blink of an eye.
However, the emperor seemed completely calm, and the same was true for Count Jean Granite, as well as the other Royal Knights. They remained in their spots, completely impassive about the situation.
Raven had a rough guess for their unorthodox behavior. Perhaps the emperor himself was an outstanding knight. Or maybe, he had a safeguard in place that freed him from any worries.
The emperor slowly opened his mouth while the hundreds of pairs of eyes intently waited for his next move.
“Has it been 10 years? No, it must have been 11 years.”
It was a surprisingly soft and comfortable voice.
But Raven stayed silent.
Alan Pendragon’s childhood self might have seen the emperor, but it was Raven’s first face-to-face encounter with the absolute.
Above all, Raven could clearly feel the cold, sharp energy that was deeply hidden beneath the calm gaze of the emperor.
“Yes, you lost your memory.”
“That is correct, Your Majesty.”
“Even so, you have changed too much. Your expression, your eyes… It’s all so different from when you were a child.”
The emperor’s tender eyes flashed with a keen glow, like that of a primordial beast.
Raven suddenly felt breathless.
The emperor couldn’t have… Did he notice that Raven wasn’t really Alan Pendragon?
Raven maintained his calm and responded.
“It’s not the first time I’m hearing that. Even Duchess Elena mentioned it as well.”
The emperor observed Raven for a moment, then the glare faded from his eyes.
“Of course. 10 years is enough time for even an impregnable boy to grow into a great knight. Anyways, how is your mother doing? I thought she would be accompanying you.”
“The duchess is well. She will be leaving for the imperial castle soon.”
“That wretched girl. Even if she’s become an outsider, to think she wouldn’t visit for over 10 years…”
His words were reproachful, but the emperor was smiling.
Raven could guess how much the emperor cared about Elena from the genuine smile.
The emperor took another step forward. One step, another step, two more steps.
An invisible spirit rose up from the emperor in an instant and encircled Raven like a spider web.
Raven almost fell on one knee at the overwhelming force that tightly bound his body. It was as if he was facing a soaring mountain. Besides, only he could feel the spirit, and others were unaffected at all.
Sweat started to form on Raven’s forehead, and he wondered if he should rouse up the Spirit of Soldrake. But then after a brief moment, he gave himself up to the heavy, fierce spirit that was trying to crush him.
His instincts were telling him that it was the right move.
Although Raven’s shoulders shook slightly, Raven stood in his place without any changes in his facial expression.
A glimmer appeared in the emperor’s eyes, then the vast spirit withdrew in an instant.
The emperor smiled and spoke towards Raven, who was standing straight like a rock.
“I was told that you accomplished many things for the empire, and for my sake. Do you want anything as a reward?”
The emperor’s smile deepened when Raven answered immediately.
“You truly are Gordon’s son. I understand. But you know there’s something here that only you can do, right?”
He noticed that the emperor’s words contained a plethora of meanings.
“I will do my best.”
“Good, very good. So… make yourself at home, Alan. No.”
The emperor stroked his chin once, then patted Raven’s shoulders before continuing his words.
The words reverberated deeply.
Raven’s eyes trembled uncontrollably for the first time.
The emperor had addressed him as Duke Pendragon.
The master of the empire, the great ruler of the world had recognized him, the illegitimate child that died on the battlefield, as a duke of the empire.
Many images passed by.
The face of his mother, who had smiled brightly as she suffered from a critical illness.
The faces of his father and brother, who had admitted guilt with smiles as they died, after stating that the idiot bastard son was uninvolved in the matter.
The face of Soldrake, who had smiled as she died on the Robstein Plains.
All of their faces flitted by.
His heart throbbed, but Raven spoke while suppressing his emotions.
“I will become a lord befitting of the Pendragon’s name.”
The emperor patted Raven a few more times while he gazed at Raven’s shaky eyes, then turned around.
The Royal Knights turned their bodies, in sync with the emperor as he slowly ascended the steps.
The emperor sat down on the lion throne and gave a glance towards the head official of the empire.
“The master of the great empire, the ruler of the Nine Lands and the Two Seas has spoken! Let the pillars of the empire continue to serve their duties! The Golden Lion has no doubts of your loyalty! Remember that he will always stand by your sides! May the empire last forever! Long live his Majesty Aragon!”
“May the empire last forever! Long live his Majesty Aragon!”
Count Jean Granite raised his sword, and the knights and the soldiers struck the ground with their halberds and scabbards.
“May the empire last forever! Long live his Majesty Aragon!”
Everyone present in the White Palace shouted in one voice, and the thunder resounded throughout the imperial castle.
“May the empire last forever!”
“Long live his Majesty Aragon!”
The emperor waved his hand several times as the people cried out for the empire and the emperor. Then, he slowly exited the palace, escorted by the chief official, a following of maids, and Count Granite.
“Take them away.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The chief official gestured at the emperor’s words, and the maids quickly backed away after bowing.
At last, only two men were left by the side of the emperor in a corridor that led deeper into the palace.
The emperor, who had been walking a few steps ahead in the quiet hallway, suddenly collapsed.
“Y, Your Majesty…”
The chief official and Count Granite hurriedly assisted the emperor.
“Well, then. I forced myself, it’s been a while.”
A faint smile hung around the mouth of the emperor, although his forehead was covered with sweat. Count Granite carefully helped him with a dark expression.
“My apologies, Your Majesty. Because of my inadequacy…”
“What are you talking about? You are not to fault for this. I am fine now.”
After patting Count Granite on the shoulder, the emperor straightened up once more.
“It is the fate of the one who is born Aragon. Do not blame yourself, Lord Granite.”
The emperor moved his steps with a bitter smile after speaking in a helpless voice.
Emperor Aragon’s complexion was completely opposite to how it was when he looked down at the hundreds of nobles and officials at the palace. Count Granite bit his lips as he followed behind the figure of the emperor, which seemed rather powerless.
The fate of the one born as Aragon.
Everyone in the imperial castle would know the significance behind those words.
It was related to the reason why the Aragon family could rule at the apex of the empire, even though they possessed neither a contracted dragon nor a blessing from an angel. The Aragon family was granted the Spirit of the Emperor from Goddess Illeyna, which granted them the power to rule over humans.
The spirit appeared in the sons of the Aragon family, and it was more prevalent in the direct descendants.
Ian was also granted the spirit as a direct descendant of the emperor. It was the very spirit that Raven faced when he first met Ian.
The royal family was always succeeded by the prince who possessed the strongest spirit. Although there were occasional exceptions, the firstborns tended to have the strongest spirit, so there were no major difficulties in selecting the crown prince.
But there was an exception in this generation. The second prince, Prince Ian, possessed a stronger spirit than his older counterpart, Prince Shio.
However, Ian deliberately suppressed his spirit due to his devotion towards his older brother, which was quite contrary to rumors. His rather erratic personality was also due in part to the forced suppression of the spirit as well.
When the direct line of the Aragon family ascended the throne and vowed to the goddess, their spirit naturally grew stronger.
However, it gradually weakened after having children, and more so after the children reached adulthood. Just like nature’s providence, in which the body grew weak and frail as it grew older, the spirit also prepared for the next generation.
The unconscious Prince Shio was currently 28 years old, and Prince Ian would soon turn 25.
Prince Shio was at an age where it would not be strange for him to have ascended to the throne, and indeed, he was supposed to have ascended the throne as the new emperor two or three years ago.
But after he was poisoned and lost consciousness, the emperor lost his successor, and he was forced to sit on the throne for several more years.
In other words, the emperor’s reign, which lasted more than 30 years, was nearing its end.
Of course, he would be able to last two or three more years if he stayed as quiet as the previous year, but he had overexerted himself and greatly radiated the Spirit of the Emperor in front of the many nobles and officials that gathered in the palace today.
It was to let everyone know he was still healthy. His goal seemed to have been fulfilled, but the emperor took a large blow.
That was why Count Granite was so worried. As the loyal subject of the current emperor, and not the entire imperial family, Count Granite could not bear to see his master suffer.
“I gave Ian my support with this, so it’s enough.”
“With all due respect, would it not be better for you to directly announce the succession of the throne to Prince Ian?”
“Haha… Ian has a special affection for Shio. As long as his brother is lying in that shape, he would never take the spot directly.”
“But… If you do not force it onto Prince Ian now, a great disturbance may arise. Your Majesty, what’s more is that…”
“Geoffrey’s spirit is growing bound and leaps as the days pass, is it? That’s why the Governor-General of Leus and the lords of the coast are acting as such.”
There was yet another exception.
The spirit of Prince Geoffrey had been growing surprisingly strong over the past few years, even though he was born outside of the direct line.
Even though it was lacking in comparison to Shio in his prime and Ian, it was certainly a surprise. In addition, Geoffrey was closely associated with Count Sagunda and other influential nobles of the empire.
“…That is correct.”
“That is why it is more problematic. If I force Ian to take the throne, do you think they’ll stand idle? Arangis is openly making his move, it won’t be strange for something else to erupt at any time.”
Count Granite was forced to close his mouth.
It had already been accepted as fait accompli that the Arangis Duchy was somehow involved in the assassination attempt of Crown Prince Shio, even though it wasn’t officially announced.
There were quite a few imperial knights who sought to immediately send troops to the Arangis Duchy to hold them accountable for their crimes, and Count Granite shared the same sentiment.
However, they could not act directly as it could deal a fatal blow to the security of the empire and the royal family.
The empire was already in its fourth year of repelling the northern barbarians among small and large battles. In the midst of all this, if they started a war with a powerful duchy, some coastal nobles might also begin to act within the chaos…
‘The great empire… It might be bitterly torn apart…’
Count Granite had no choice but to shiver at the thought of shattering of the empire, the glorious supremacy that had lasted for hundreds of years.Previous Chapter Next Chapter