Otto Luoxi locked himself in the study after he returned home.
He did not understand why things had turned out this way.
Ever since the king had been ill, Appen appeared to have been in a great shock until recently, when he was finally able to recollect himself. But the way he spoke and the manner in which he conducted himself were somewhat different than before.
To put it more accurately, he had become rather unfamiliar to Otto.
As Appen's playmate, Otto believed that he knew the prince very well. Appen was not that type of power-hungry person who would attain his ends regardless of the means. Sometimes he even felt the prince was too juvenile to be a competent king. Because of this, he planned to, in collaboration with Belinda and Oro, fully support Appen and help him with governmental duties after the prince ascended the throne. After all, the three families had been assisting the king since the foundation of the Kingdom of Dawn.
That was the reason he had replied "Yes" without hesitation.
However, Otto found that Appen did not care about his answer.
He asked him that question simply out of a sense of insecurity.
Although the three families were very willing to support the royal family, he had never thought about whether His Highness really needed their assistance.
At this thought, Otto felt Appen more distant.
He breathed a long sigh. Perhaps he should take the initiative to do something about it.
But what should he do?
Neither pharmacists nor alchemists could do anything about the king's illness. He had no knowledge of medical treatment and certainly could not completely ease Appen's mind.
[Or cheer the prince up?] Otto pondered.
He had vainly tried numerous times to do so. Perhaps it was impossible to raise the prince's spirits by himself.
The three families must cooperate and work together. Only in this way were they possibly able to find the reason behind Appen's behavior.
With this thought, Otto got to his feet abruptly and walked out.
"Master, it's late now. Where are you going?" The steward trotted to him as he passed through the hall.
"To Tokat's place. I'm staying over!"
Otto knew every turn of the road leading to the territory of the Tokats'. As Otto knew Tokat well, nobody in the mansion stopped him. Otto went straight to the martial arts room. As he expected, Oro Tokat was practicing with his guards.
"Hey, what brought you here?" Oro took off the sweaty headband and tossed the guard his wooden sword. "You need a wingman?"
"I have something to tell you."
He pulled Oro to the resting room next door where he spilled out his thoughts and plan. At length, he asked, "What do you think?"
"To find out why Appen has become so weird?" Oro twitched his mouth. "Sorry, I'm not interested."
"He's a prince, the successor of the King of Dawn. He'll not be our buddy forever, don't you understand?" Oro shook his head. "Plus, Appen is 20 years old. He isn't a seven or eight-year-old any longer. We don't have the obligation to cheer him up every time he's ill-tempered. If he doesn't want to spill his guts, and then fine, I don't want to be nosey."
"Aren't you planning to assist Appen Moya?"
"It'll be called 'assistance' only if His Highness needs it. Otherwise, you're just being annoying."
[Did he also notice the change in the prince?] Otto thought with a quiver. "But we three families always support Moya..."
"Three families?" Oro smiled carelessly. "After Andrea died, there are only you and me." He turned around and walked out while waving his hand. "Since you're here, let me take you to Crimson Dream. Get yourself laid and forget about these trifles. You look so stressed."
"Andrea is alive."
Oro stopped abruptly.
[Sorry.] Otto apologized in silence. He had failed to keep Andrea's secret.
"Andrea Quinn is still alive." He repeated. "I saw her in Border Town when I went to the Kingdom of Graycastle."
Oro instantly turned around and dashed to him, almost pushing him to the wall.
"What, what did you say? Is, is it true?"
"I saw her with my own eyes. She's with Prince Roland Wimbledon."
"With Prince Roland Wimbledon..." Oro's eyes were wide open. "Like they're in a relationship?"
"I don't know." Oro bit his lip. "But she's become a witch. Only Prince Roland is willing to accept witches out of the entire Kingdom of Graycastle."
"Hang on. You said 'witch'?" Oro was stunned. "What actually happened at that time?"
Otto Luoxi related all the details of what Andrea had experienced back then. He felt the sweetness of revenge as he watched Oro torn by his emotions. It was too late for Oro to do anything about it now because he firmly believed that the Quinns had fallen off the cliff at that time. Now, Andrea would fall in love with neither of them.
"That was the reason her father made it look like an unfortunate accident and had people believe that Andrea fell off the cliff..." Greatly depressed, Oro threw himself on the floor after hearing the story. "Damn! Why have I never thought of opening up her grave and looking into the matter?"
[Such a... cunning guy!] Oro snapped in silence. "Ahem. Therefore, we can see an urgent need to cheer Prince Appen up." Otto reminded him.
Oro gave his friend a side look. "Huh? What's the connection between these two incidents?"
"Of course there's a connection! Think about it. Appen's hesitating about forming an alliance between the two nations, and he didn't even give an explicit reason. If the plan of joint defense fails, we'll have to fight against the church alone in the event of an attack. If the church invades the Kingdom of Dawn first, you'll take the knights to defend the country, won't you?" Otto asked.
"Absolutely. It's my duty."
"If you're killed in action, you won't see Andrea again, correct?"
"Um, it sounds kind of rational. No, how can you be so sure that I'll be killed?" Oro challenged indignantly.
"Even the Kingdom of Wolfheart, whose people are famous for their strength and power, has been defeated by the church. What're your odds of winning?" Otto ignored his friend's protest and continued, "If the church, contrarily, attacks the Kingdom of Graycastle first, Roland has to fight back, right? If he's dead, Andrea will very likely die with him. Even if she's caught alive by the church, she'll suffer tortures more miserable than a clean death. If the two nations, however, enter into an alliance and agree to offer mutual assistance, the church won't boldly launch an attack. Both you and Andrea will be alive and will probably see each other in the future. In this light, do you still think the alliance is significant?"
"We need the prince to help with that. Now, do you still think the two matters are relevant?"
"Are you in?"
Oro answered resolutely, "Yes!"
With these words, Otto and Oro clasped each other's hands tightly.
Yorko returned to his lodge, exhausted but pleased. As he pushed the bedroom door open, he heard a voice from inside. "You're finally back."
Yorko was shocked. Who would sneak in his room and wait for him right after his arrival at the Kingdom of Dawn? Could it be Denise's husband who married into the family? He was still debating whether he should run away or plead for mercy when the man lit the candle and walked to him. It was Hill Fawkes in the candlelight.
"You scared the hell out of me. Do you know?" Yorko heaved a long sigh. "Whatever you've got to say, can't you wait till tomorrow?"
"We can only talk unnoticed at nighttime." Hill threw up his hands. "Please understand that I have a habit of being cautious."
"Alright then." Although Hill was his guard, he was appointed to him by Roland and could not be treated as any other guards. "Well, say what you want to say since you're already here."
"It's now a good opportunity to recruit talents among the refugees from the Kingdom of Wolfheart. You can view it as a business and hire masons, literates, and anyone who has an expertise. His Majesty will disburse you all the necessary expenses. You'll get five silver royals for each person you hire."
"For God's sake, I know nothing about business! I talked to Denise just for a casual chat. You don't think I'll be really trafficking refugees, do you?" Yorko put his hand on the forehead. "Plus, slaves are usually traded on the border of the two nations. It doesn't look nice for me to go there as an ambassador!"
"This is His Majesty's order," Hill said in a steady tone. "You don't need to leave City of Glow. Tradesmen will sooner or later transfer slaves here, although at a higher price. It saves you trouble to screen them. As to the business side of the matter, you can discuss with Denise Payton. She's quite a well-known businesswoman around this area. It's a piece of cake for her to send refugees to the Kingdom of Graycastle. "We'll benefit a lot once the transportation route is determined. For example, we can disguise ourselves as tradesmen and retreat unnoticed when facing unexpected danger."
Yorko's jaw dropped. "Have you been to the capital of the Kingdom of Dawn?"
Hill shook his head.
"Then how do you know such details?"
"I was collecting information from people on the street while you were busy socializing."
"I thought you were just a great knight. I didn't know you're also a good tradesman." Yorko smacked his lips.
"I'm neither a warrior nor a tradesman, but I can protect you when there's a crisis. This is also what His Majesty entrusted me to do."
"So you are..."
"Just an ordinary... acrobat," Hill answered while smiling.