Chapter 197 - Octavius

The meeting was over, and Octavius had succeeded in formally gaining the support of almost every high noble who showed up.  Even Gratian eventually voiced his support despite some initial reluctance.  The only person who didn’t was the Duchess of Vesontio, who left the meeting as soon as it was over having not said a single word throughout the entire affair.

Still, the amount of support Octavius received was overwhelming, and his face broke out into an enormous smile as he and his followers left the meeting room.  The two Paladins and Duke Duronius were just as elated as the Prince, but Gaius and the scribe were much more muted in their reactions to what had just taken place—not that any of them truly cared about what the scribe thought.

“You’re no longer needed.  Leave,” the Earthshaker Paladin growled at the scribe, who paled at the sight of an annoyed seventh-tier mage and made himself scarce as fast as his legs could carry him.  The Paladin then glared at Gaius, who the Paladin had come to dislike in the short few months they’d been acquainted, but as the latter was the Prince’s squire, the Paladin had no authority to dismiss him.

For his part, Gaius ignored the Paladin’s obvious antipathy and stared straight ahead.  The Paladin clicked his tongue in mild irritation, but didn’t say a word and turned his icy grey eyes back to the Prince.

Upon reaching their destination, a small and intimate terrace overlooking a radiant garden, the Prince asked, “So, what’s our next move?  The Legions?”

“That would be best, I think,” Duke Duronius said as he slid his aged body into a luxurious armchair and turned his clear grey eyes out to survey the garden.  “The amount of support Your Royal Highness received was overwhelming, but that common-born bastard back in the capital has been making some headway with the Royal Legions.  We need to do likewise; no matter how strong those nobles are, not even they can stand against all forty Legions.”

“It’s not like they’d have to fight all of them at once, though,” Octavius said with a frown as he took a seat next to the Duke.

“Of course they won’t, but just standing against the seven Legions in the Western Territories would be a daunting task even if all of our forces managed to assemble,” the Sapphire Paladin said softly.  With a glowing smile, she sat down next to the Prince and laid her hand atop his own. 

“Then how do we get the Legions on our side?” the Prince asked.

“I can speak with the Consul of the West,” Duke Duronius said.  “I will impress upon him how much respect you have for him and how much you value his service.  I also happen to know that his personal finances are extremely modest, so if I offer him some ‘help’ in that regard, he should be amenable to our cause.”

“Thank you, Grandfather,” Octavius replied, ignoring the Duke’s lack of formality in addressing him.

“Please, my boy, there’s no need for thanks,” Duronius said.  “It’s the privilege of the elderly to spoil their grandchildren.  Now, if only some members of my family would stop playing around and have some kids of their own…”

Knowing that he was being called out, the Earthshaker Paladin said in a defensive tone, “Let my elder sister handle the matter of succession!  I have no interest in making babies!”

“You see how my son disappoints in this regard?” Duronius responded, playfully poking at the Paladin.  “Both of my daughters have made names for themselves, one as my heir and the other as the Queen!  And yet my only son is content with being nothing more than a pet brute!”

“Perhaps it’s best he not reproduce, lest his greed and arrogance contaminate the rest of the Kingdom,” the Sapphire Paladin said, joining in on the good-natured teasing of her fellow Paladin.

“Oh, you two wound me so,” Earthshaker said, his words dripping with sarcasm.  “However will I live with myself knowing that I won’t pass on my blood?”

“I’m sure those maids you have tied up in your room will help take your mind off your everlasting grief, Uncle,” Octavius said with a wicked grin.

The Earthshaker Paladin’s face twisted into an ugly predatory smile, to the surprise of none of the others.  But, the only one who reacted at all to the knowledge that the Paladin had imprisoned women in his room was Gaius, standing quietly in the corner.  The other four chuckled at the thought of Earthshaker forcing himself upon unwilling common women, while Gaius had to look away to prevent his revulsion from being too obvious.

It wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened.  Gaius had come to the unpleasant realization that this was a regular occurrence several weeks prior when the Prince had him deliver a message to Petrus Duronius, the Earthshaker Paladin.  When he’d arrived outside the Paladin’s chambers, he heard screaming coming from within.  Gaius immediately entered the room and was in the process of drawing his weapon when he saw what was happening on the bed, and the looks of pain and terror on the faces of the three restrained women as well as Petrus’ utter glee.

In that moment, Gaius lost all respect for the Paladin.  His opinion of the latter only grew worse when instead of stopping due to the interruption, Petrus invited him to join in.  It was all Gaius could do to merely hand over the message and not to draw his weapon.  Had his sword left its sheath, Gaius knew he would’ve been killed instantly by the Paladin; he was still only a third-tier mage, hardly a match for even a naked seventh-tier mage.

After delivering the message, Gaius had immediately returned to the Prince and informed him of what the Paladin was doing, and the Prince laughed it off.  Gaius tried to press the issue, but the Prince didn’t care.

Gaius had done a lot of thinking since then.  He had no idea what might have happened to those girls and contemplating the possibilities of their fates kept him up at night, his face burning with shame at his inaction.

And now there were more women in the Paladin’s chamber.

It took a while for Gaius to mask his disgust, but fortunately, the others didn’t pay him any mind; he was only a squire, little more than a noble servant to the Prince.  Had he not been Octavius’ squire, he guessed they would’ve paid him far more attention given his status as the son of a Duke.  As it was, he was perfectly happy being ignored.

“Anyway, my boy, I should get back to work,” Duronius said.  “I’ll write to the Consul of the West and invite him to a small feast, then I should go and relieve my daughter of the Ducal duties I’ve forced upon her of late…”  Duke Duronius himself was an old man, being more than two centuries old, and had been leaving more and more of his responsibilities as Duke to his eldest daughter and heir to prepare for his retirement.

The Sapphire Paladin smiled sweetly at the Duke, and Octavius nodded respectfully.

Reading their mood, Petrus said, “And I have some training to get to.  I will see you soon, Nephew.”

Both of them left, but the Sapphire Paladin and Octavius weren’t alone yet.  Looking back at Gaius, finally acknowledging the presence of his squire for the first time, Octavius dismissively jerked his head toward the door.  Gaius silently bowed and excused himself, doing his utmost to keep his eagerness to leave from showing.

And then Octavius was left alone with the Sapphire Paladin.

“So, how are you, really?” the blonde woman asked.  She reached over with her free hand and laid it across the Prince’s chest, then rested her head on his shoulder.

For a moment, it seemed like the princely demeanor wasn’t going to drop, but then Octavius’ hands clenched, and his eyes narrowed in anger and frustration.

“Those fucking bastards didn’t show me any respect today!  I should’ve had all of their heads chopped off and their lands confiscated!  Especially that Vesontio bitch and fucking Gratian Tullius!”

“That would hardly buy us the support we need among the nobility,” the Sapphire Paladin responded.

“It would feel fucking fantastic, though!” Octavius stated as he leaned back in his chair.

“Don’t worry, my love, we’re going to get your fine butt on the throne soon enough,” the Paladin said, raising her head to look Octavius in the eye and giving him a smoldering look.

“It won’t be just my ass on the throne, though,” Octavius said as he pulled the beautiful blonde woman closer to him.  “Every King needs a Queen, after all, and I can think of no one better to stand by my side than you.”

“You flatter me,” she replied with a bashful look that she had spent a long time perfecting.

It had the intended effect, as Octavius couldn’t help but lean in to kiss her while she seemed so embarrassed.  As he did, the bashful look on her face disappeared, and her eyes widened in glee as she imagined herself upon the Queen’s throne.

The Prince began to paw at her clothing, but her hands almost instantly appeared to slap them away.

“Ah!” Octavius cried out in pain and surprise.  “I’m sorry, my love, you just got me so worked up I lost myself for a moment…”

“Don’t worry about that, my Prince, there’ll be time enough for that when August is dead and you’re acknowledged as the true King of this land.”

“Yes…” Octavius replied as he pulled her closer.  “Once my brother is dead, everything will work out perfectly…”

He started thinking about how to accomplish this task; murdering a Prince was no easy feat, even for another Prince.  It would require a subtle touch, something more than simply paying a cutthroat to do the deed or to bribe someone in the palace kitchens to poison him.

‘No, this will require some thought, some careful planning… But once it’s done, I will show everyone why I deserve to be King!  Even Father will see my genius!  I will show him the mistake he made in not declaring me Crown Prince!”

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Gaius was perfectly happy leaving the terrace when he was ordered to do so.  Getting out and walking around for a little while was a far better use of his time than staying there and being ignored.  In fact, he was so all right with it that he was actually a little surprised; a year or two ago, such treatment would’ve been the worst possible insult the Prince could’ve given him.

But, he didn’t only like getting away from the Prince to escape being treated as if he was beneath notice, he also enjoyed the time it gave him to think.  And now, as he slowly walked through the opulent halls of Duke Duronius’ palace, he found himself thinking of the women in Petrus’ room and his inaction for the other girls he knew about.  After a few minutes, his thoughts then turned to everything he’d done since he left Lentia more than a year ago—his over-the-top arrogance due to his status, ordering the Snow Lions assaulted in the streets, his rage and antipathy toward Leon.

Gaius came to a halt in a deserted hallway.  ‘Is this me?  Is this who I am?’ he asked himself.  There might have been a time when such abuse of commoners wouldn’t have bothered him, but there are few things that will change a person more than repeated defeat and humiliation, both of which he suffered at the hands of Leon and the other Snow Lions.

‘No.  I can be better than that.’

With a newfound determination, Gaius turned around and began walking with purpose rather than the troubled shuffling through the halls of only a few moments before.  If he wanted to be a great man, a great knight, then he’d have to act like it.  Those girls were innocent, and he wasn’t going to leave them to the depravities of Petrus Duronius.

It occurred to him that, while Petrus couldn’t kill or injure him since he was still a squire to a Prince, Octavius would surely charge him with treason if the Paladin were to make a big deal out this.  However, that was only if he were to be caught, and he had already thought of a plan to help in that regard.

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Chapter 198 - Risking Treason

Chapter 196 - Gathering in the West