With the wide grin of a man who had just gotten what he’d wanted, Trajan clasped Leon’s hand. The latter was now his knight, even if there was still a great deal of paperwork to deal with before it became official.
“Your family has always stood for justice and righteousness in this Kingdom,” Trajan said to Leon. “I’m hoping you strive to live up to that reputation.”
Leon was quiet for a second or two, but he responded with, “I’ll do my best, Your Highness…”
“Good. Now, wait here while I fetch Sir Aquillius and inform him of what’s going on.”
Leon nodded, and Trajan began walking toward the door.
[What was all that about?!] Xaphan loudly wondered. [All that talk of peace and prosperity… I didn’t expect someone so relatively strong to be so idealistic!]
[It is surprising…] Leon mumbled with a strange look on his face.
[Oh, don’t tell me that you were actually buying into that little speech!] the demon shouted. [Mark my words, young mage, that Prince has some dark secrets! I guarantee that the paragon of virtue persona is a cover for some dark and twisted perversions! You keep your guard up around that man!]
[I’ll take that under advisement…] Leon quietly replied.
[I’m serious, boy! No one’s so altruistic as to genuinely desire those things!] Xaphan cynically shouted with some mounting frustration. [Maybe he’s only acting like this to curry support from people like you! Or maybe he’s just looking for more popular support… Aargh! What is wrong with this guy!]
While Xaphan screamed himself hoarse trying to work out Trajan’s motivations, the Prince himself returned with a slightly confused Aquillius, who stared at Leon and trying to read some kind of explanation as to what happened in the younger man’s stoic face. Unfortunately for him, Leon didn’t express enough for him to have any idea what was going on.
“Sir Aquillius,” Prince Trajan said as he stepped back onto the dais, “I am informing you of my intent to transfer Sir Leon here out of the Diplomatic Corps and into my personal retinue. Do you have any concerns or objections you’d like to raise?”
Aquillius almost reeled from surprise; Trajan taking Leon as one of his own knights was certainly not something he could’ve ever predicted, given the less than glowing picture he’d painted about Leon’s conduct in the Crater. However, as he thought about it a little more, he felt that it was understandable for higher-ranked knights to be interested in Leon, as, despite everything else, he was still a seventeen-year-old fifth-tier mage, an unthinkable amount of power to be held by someone so young—at least, in Aquillius’ mind.
“Your Highness… I have no objections, but I must admit to some curiosity regarding your purpose and intent in recruiting Sir Leon…” Aquillius said, keeping his tone even and taking pains not to seem like he was pressuring the Prince for an explanation.
“I’m afraid your curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied, my friend,” Trajan responded. “The reasons for my taking Sir Leon into my service are between him and myself. I think you can see that he possesses great potential, and I wish to nurture that potential personally. Beyond that, I’ll not say…”
“Your Highness,” Aquillius said respectfully as he bowed, “I will not object to this transfer, so long as Sir Leon has agreed to it.”
“Wonderful!” Trajan quietly exclaimed. “I’ll have my people coordinate with yours to get the paperwork done. I apologize for taking away one of your new recruits…”
“Please, Your Highness, to take promising young knights under your august wing is your prerogative,” Aquillius said, quickly returning to the obsequious attitude he put on when dealing with royals and anyone of comparable authority.
Trajan and Aquillius spoke for a few more minutes about the specifics of the transfer, and then the diplomat was shown out, leaving Leon and Trajan alone in the meeting room once again.
“Your Highness,” Leon said, “I have a squire… what will this mean for her?”
“Ah, she’ll follow you, of course,” Trajan confirmed. “I wouldn’t want to part a knight and his squire.”
Leon nodded, with relief evident on his face. He felt that he could trust Alix—or at least, he could trust her far more than any random squire that he might be assigned. Besides, he still felt an enormous amount of guilt for leaving her without explanation back in the Crater, and he didn’t want to be separated from her on those bad terms.
“So, what now?” Leon asked.
“We’re going to have to get you and your squire some new rooms,” Trajan said, ignoring Leon’s lack of ‘Your Highness’. “Let Sir Aquillius and my assistants take care of the paperwork, but right now why don’t you introduce me to your squire.”
“Right!” Leon replied. He walked back to the door, stuck his head outside, and waved Alix back inside. The other Legates and Tribunes were still there in the waiting room, but all of the diplomats were gone, leaving Alix alone with all of those high-ranking soldiers. Needless to say, she was more than happy to get away from so many higher-ups and duck back into the meeting room.
But, if she thought that she was going to get a break from such pressure, then she was sorely mistaken. Once inside the meeting room, Leon took her to personally introduce herself to the Prince. After finding a lost scion of House Raime, Trajan had allowed his stoic exterior to drop, but now that gruff and unsmiling demeanor was back, and Alix had to breathe deep just to not pass out from the Prince’s aura.
Introductions were made and the situation was explained to Alix, which certainly didn’t help her nervousness. ‘We’re going to be working for a Prince?’ she asked herself in disbelief as Trajan seemed to stare holes in her.
It was all she could to do to nod and signal her assent; Leon had already agreed, and as his squire, her opinion on the matter was largely superfluous. That being said, she did feel some appreciation for both Leon and Trajan for asking for it in the first place.
With that, their meeting with the Prince was over, and it was time for them to return to their room in the Diplomatic Corps’ residential building.
“Time to pack…” Leon said bitterly. “It’s a shame, I really liked where they put us…”
“So did I,” Alix admitted. She almost felt like she was about to burst into tears at the prospect of leaving such a luxurious room. “Would’ve been nice if we had been able to stay there longer than a month.”
“Hopefully we’ll get somewhere comparable, given who we’re now going to be working for…” Leon said, trying to keep their hope alive.
Alix was about to respond, but she quickly remembered that it was because of Leon that they were now moving out. She didn’t give him any angry looks, but she sighed and stopped talking, causing Leon to frown a little.
“Hey,” Leon said, “I think maybe we should talk when we get back to the room.”
“We have to pack, not a lot of time for talking…” Alix responded.
“Neither of us has that many things—we’ll have plenty of time,” Leon countered. Alix had to admit that he was right; one of Trajan’s assistants would come to their room in several hours to take them to their new place, but neither had so much stuff that they’d need even half that amount of time to get ready.
It was Alix’s turn to frown as they hurried back to their room. It turned out that Leon was right, they were done packing in less than an hour, and so found themselves waiting in the living room of their room for the Prince’s assistant to arrive.
“So…” Leon awkwardly began, “… I’m sorry for leaving you in the maze and sneaking off to the Cradle by myself.”
“It’s fine,” Alix said in a flat and resigned tone, “I understand why you did it…”
“You do?” Leon said, arching an eyebrow in slight surprise.
“Yes. I’m your squire and should be by your side, but you don’t trust me with all of your secrets.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you completely…” Leon muttered, hearing the dejection and disappointment in her voice.
“But you don’t know me,” she said. “The only people who know me that well are either dead or moved to the Great Plateau…”
“Well, then, let’s try and fix that. I doubt that working for the Prince will be particularly peaceful, and we’ll need to trust each other better if we’re to watch each other’s back,” Leon countered. He understood what she was saying, even if he didn’t quite agree with it; they had spent a couple months together by now and had spent hours every day training and chatting about books and whatever else interested them.
They knew each other quite well, at least in Leon’s inexperienced opinion. Still, he couldn’t deny the possibility that she didn’t feel the same way, and that his leaving her in the maze could only be taken as proof that he didn’t trust her.
Leon took a deep breath to steady himself, then launched into his questions. “Why don’t you tell me about your family? How are your parents doing? Got any brothers or sisters?”
Alix was quiet for a long moment, debating with herself whether or not she should actually engage in the conversation. Eventually, her naturally friendly disposition won out over her desire to remain surly and distant.
“My father is a blacksmith and my mother a tailor,” she said. “They moved to a town close to Teira after I joined the Legion, and my little brother went with them. They told me they were doing well in their letter I received last week.”
“That’s good to hear,” Leon softly said, “not all of us have the luxury of speaking with our parents anymore.”
Immediately, Leon regretted saying the last part of his statement, as it put a damper on the conversation and caused Alix to stop talking. Eventually, though, he managed to lift the mood by chatting about Anzu, who Alix was looking forward to seeing and playing with again.
By the time the Prince’s assistant arrived, the two were happily talking about the Myths of Ninurta, the story that gave Anzu his name.
Happy to be back on relatively normal speaking terms with his squire, Leon thought to himself, ‘I’m glad I didn’t have to buy anything to get that conversation going. Probably wouldn’t have been taken very well under the circumstances… Still, she needs some good armor and a better weapon.’
The two picked up their belongings and followed the assistant out of their room, both looking back forlornly at the luxurious residence one last time before making for the magical lift. As they walked, Leon couldn’t help but rue that he didn’t manage to figure out the trick to pulling something into his soul realm, as he was finally at the point where he’d need a second trip if he had any more things.
It was relatively late, and the walk back to the central keep was quick. However, instead of entering the keep, the assistant led them around to the side, to a tall building adjacent to the keep. The inside was actually quite similar to the Diplomatic Corps’ residential building, all white marble and luxurious carpets and murals, and two people behind the front desk. This building, however, wasn’t quite as large, and the two were taken to the eighth floor, which was also the top floor.
There were several dozen rooms on either side of the hallway, with enough space between them for Leon and Alix to know that the rooms were fairly spacious.
“You’ll be living in here,” the assistant said as he stopped them outside a room about halfway down the hallway.
When he pushed the door open, Leon and Alix stepped inside, then froze in surprise and shock; this room was nearly identical to the one they had just moved out of, though it was a little bigger and had a few more pieces of opulent furniture.
“Is… everything all right?” the assistant asked, seeing the two abruptly stop in the entryway.
“… Yes, everything is fine,” Leon said, not turning around and showing the assistant his red embarrassed face. Alix remained quiet, but she felt just as ridiculous as Leon at dreading what kind of place they’d move in to.
“Good,” the assistant said. “Then, I will come and pick you two up tomorrow morning around nine-thirty. Until then, feel free to get settled in. There’s a cafeteria on the second floor if you get hungry, but don’t feel like you have to eat there if you don’t want to!”
The assistant said his goodbyes, and the two looked at each other and burst out laughing as soon as the door closed. They then began to put their stuff away in rooms that appeared to be exactly the same as those they had just left.
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