Chapter 129 - Old Acquaintances

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Leon nearly stopped walking right in the middle of the marching formation, but fortunately for him, the next rank of second-tier Snow Lions was right behind him, pushing him onward.  But, even though he kept moving, his brain felt like it had locked up.  He didn’t quite manage to process Roland’s presence until he was already on the stage, standing next to Castor and Alphonsus next to the Legate.

Leon glanced back at the Paladin, hoping that against all odds, Roland hadn’t seen him yet.  And, it seemed like his hopes weren’t unfounded, as Roland was staring at the Legate rather than him.  But then, Leon’s field of view widened a little to see the woman sitting next to Roland, a woman he recognized as well: Dame Sheira.

Leon didn’t hear a single word of the Legate’s speech, he was so nervous.  He thought back on all the suspicions he had about Roland, about how it wasn’t unlikely that Adrianos Isynos had been acting on the Paladin’s orders rather than those of the noble house he had left.  If that were the case, then the one who had ordered Artorias killed was either Roland himself, or connected to him.

The time when he and the rest of the Snow Lions could leave the stage couldn’t come fast enough for him.

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After honoring the training cycle’s top unit, the knighting of the year’s graduating squires commenced.  Alongside Luke and Victoria, more than eight hundred other squires had managed to fulfill the Knight Academy’s strict graduation requirements.  All of these squires assembled into a loose formation upon the stage, while the knights they served tapped them on the shoulders with their swords.  Then, the squires made their oaths, affirming their loyalties to the crown and to the common people.

The entire ceremony, from the beginning speeches, through the honoring of the Snow Lions and the other units, to the knighting ceremony, was over in less than an hour.  It was a short, to-the-point affair, which Roland greatly appreciated.  He had no love for the pomp and circumstance of most ceremonies that involved nobility, and the knighting ceremony was almost always one of the longest, being one of the most important.

But, the ceremony finally came to an end and Roland, Sheira, and the two newly-made knights, Sir Luke and Dame Victoria, made their way off the field.

“Hmm,” Sheira mumbled.

“What’s up?” Roland asked curiously.

“… Did you happen to get a good look at the third-tier mages who were leading the unit on stage?” Sheira inquired.

“Not really,” Roland stated, “I wasn’t paying that much attention to really look at them.”

“Well, one of them looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite figure out why,” Sheira said.

“Huh,” Roland said.  In his duties as a Paladin, he met far more people than he cared to remember, so seeing someone who was somewhat familiar without being able to clearly remember them wasn’t that notable of an event.  Consequently, he didn’t give the matter much thought.  Sheira, too, didn’t spend too long thinking it over, as seeing Leon wasn’t that interesting for her.

This reaction might have been understandable and come as a relief to Leon if he knew about it, seeing as Roland and his knights had far more interaction with Artorias than they ever did with him, but he didn’t know about it.  As a result, he ended ditching the Snow Lions after the ceremony had ended.  It was customary—though not required—for the trainees to stick around and mingle with their families and the important knights who turned out to see the ceremony, but Leon wanted no part in that.  Instead, he decided to get out of the public eye and make his way back to the Snow Lions’ tower.

However, he didn’t expect that Roland and his comrades had the same idea.  This ended up with him walking less than a hundred feet ahead of Roland’s group, none the wiser about their close presence behind him.

“I’m finally a knight!” Luke said with a tone that suggested he never thought the day would come.

“Well then you should dress like one,” Victoria said, glancing at the uniform he wore with a scornful smile.  Luke’s uniform was only made from cotton, while hers had been made with some of the silkgrass she had brought back from the Northern Vales.

“I am dressed like a knight, without any of those gaudy baubles that the overly proud or childish like to cover themselves in,” Luke responded with a mockingly derisive smile at Victoria, who pouted and punched him in the shoulder—though without putting much strength behind it.

As their good-natured bickering continued, Luke happened to glance ahead of them a ways, and noticed one of the trainees who had just made it through their training cycle.  He didn’t think much of it at first, but only a few seconds later, a loud drunk was thrown out of a nearby restaurant, drawing the attention of everyone around, including both Luke and the trainee.  Luke only gave the drunk a quick glance, then turned his eyes forward again, only to freeze in place from shock.

“Is… is that…” he whispered, but Leon—whose face he had just seen and recognized—had already turned back to facing ahead of himself, so Luke didn’t get a second look.

“What’s wrong?” asked Victoria.  Sheira and Roland had both stopped behind Luke and were giving him curious looks while waiting for his response.

“I could have sworn I just saw Leon!” Luke answered.

“… Who?” asked Roland after it became clear that Luke wasn’t going to explain any further of his own accord.

“The son of that ‘Wraith’ guy from the Northern Vales we met last year!  The man who guided us to the Heartwood Amber!”

Roland, remembering exactly who Luke was talking about, immediately whipped his head around and examined the crowd ahead of them, but Leon had already disappeared into the throngs of passing pedestrians.  After more than a year with the far more nutritious food in the Bull Kingdom changing his body shape as well as his diligent training changing his aura, Leon had become unrecognizable enough that Roland wasn’t able to find him with only a quick cursory look at the surrounding crowds.

“Are you sure?” the Paladin asked Luke.

“Positive,” Luke answered.

Roland frowned.  He was one of the few that knew Artorias’ true identity as one of the last survivors of House Raime.  If his son had come south, Roland wanted to know about it and keep an eye on the young man.  To that end, he quickly surged forward through the crowd, easily parting the throngs of people in his way with his sixth-tier strength, while projecting his magical senses.

But, he didn’t find Leon.

“I saw him, I know I did!” Luke insisted once Roland returned and mentioned his lack of findings.

“I believe you,” Roland said.  He didn’t believe that Luke would deliberately lie, but he also didn’t think Luke was infallible.

“Do you remember what he was wearing?” asked Sheira.

“A dress uniform, just like us!”

“Really…” Roland mused.  “Well then that should make things easy.  Given the time frame, he would’ve just completed a training cycle at the Knight Academy, though I don’t know why he’d be down this far south.  Regardless, I can just check the list of trainees that are about to head off for their squireships.  He should be easy to find, assuming that was him.”

“I swear, it was him!” Luke insisted again.

“And like I said, I believe you,” Roland reminded.

As soon as Roland returned to his home later that evening, he dug out the list of trainees that the Knight Academy sent out to advertise to knights who might be looking for squires.  He scanned the document several times, but he found no mention of any trainee named Leon in the first or second-tier.  He did, however, find one ‘Leon Ursus’ listed as one of the third-tier Snow Lions.

‘Looks like I might have to pay a visit to the Knight Academy tomorrow morning,’ he thought.

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“Quiet down, all of you!” shouted the Snow Lions’ Senior Instructor.  “I get that you’re all happy that you’ve passed in first place, but we’ve still got some business to deal with!”

“But we’ve already turned in all of our armor and training equipment, what else is there?” asked one particularly dull first-tier trainee.

“We have to announce where you will all serve as squires!” the Senior Instructor reminded, instantly quieting everyone down.  They had come first in the FTX, so they were sure to get choice squireships.  Most were hoping for somewhere in the mild and pleasant Central Territories, or the warm and luxurious Western Territories.

“Well, then let’s just jump right into it!” the Senior Instructor said as he started flipping through the hundred sheets of paper he had brought with him.

“Castor!” he said, handing Castor the sheet on top.  Alphonsus was next, and then came Leon.

The papers were short memos that contained orders of where to report and when to report in by.  Castor had to stifle a cry of joy as he had been taken as a squire by one of the Legates leading a Legion within the capital, an incredibly prestigious post.  Likewise, Alphonsus was elated at his orders to squire for another Legate in command of a Legion about fifty miles south; not quite as prestigious as Castor’s squireship, but still more than enough to take pride in.

All throughout the Snow Lions’ tower, the young trainees were invariably overjoyed at their squireships, though there was some disappointment since only a small handful were staying in the Central Territories or were being sent to the Western Territories.  In fact, most of the Snow Lions were going east, scattered around the largest and most important Legion strongholds of the Eastern Territories squiring for Legates and Tribunes.  The East wasn’t nearly as attractive as the West, given how significantly less populated it was, but they could consider their future careers in the Royal Legions to be extraordinarily bright with these squireships.

The only exception to this jubilation was Leon.  The location of his squireship wasn’t specified in any way he could understand on the paper, and neither was the knight he’d serve under.  All that was listed under the location was somewhere in the Northern Territories called ‘Fort 127’, a place that Leon had never heard of before, though its remarkably generic name didn’t inspire much joy in him.

While the rest of the unit was celebrating, Leon approached the Senior Instructor and asked, “Sir, where exactly is this ‘Fort 127’, and why isn’t the knight I’m going to serve listed?”

“I’m not sure,” the Senior Instructor admitted.  “I was assured that all the paperwork for you is in order, though, so you’re going to join a Legion caravan heading to the Northern Territories in a couple weeks.  When you get to the largest fortress along the Naga River in the North, you’ll probably be given further instructions.”

“Thank you, Sir…” Leon said hesitantly.  He couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong, despite the Senior Instructor’s claim that everything was fine.

“Leon!” Charles called out from the crowd, distracting him from his clearly unusual posting.  “Come on, we’re going to head into town tomorrow to celebrate!  You in?”

Charles threw his arm around Leon’s shoulders and pulled him into the circle of himself, Henry, Alain, Matthew, and Bohemond.

“Don’t flake out on us, this time!” Henry said in a mock-threatening voice.  “These next few days are probably going to be the last time all of us are together—at least, for a long time.”

Leon smiled at the expectant eyes all around him.  There wasn’t much else for him to do over the next few weeks, so he agreed fairly quickly.  But, he also thought of Elise.  With this squireship, he’d be leaving the capital for two years at the very least, and he still hadn’t spoken much with her about their relationship.

And, he got the bad feeling that if he were to leave without having that conversation, he and Elise would never be anything more than friends, if even that.  So, he vowed to himself that he’d clear things up before leaving.  He had to, otherwise he knew he’d always regret it.

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Chapter 130 - Lion Armor

Chapter 128 - Post-FTX