“I’m sorry, Sir,” the knight said to Jean. The archers he’d brought to the fort to reinforce the Legion soldiers hadn’t managed to kill the two Valemen who had ventured out to retrieve the corpse of the werewolf.
Jean had to restrain his fury and frustration at missing such a golden opportunity.
‘We almost had Hakon Fire-Beard himself! If these shitty archers had killed him, that Valeman army would’ve disintegrated!’ Jean though to himself. ‘If these were my men, we’d have gotten him!”
However, with the knight waiting for his response and the archers also casting their eyes toward him, Jean clamped down on his emotions. “It’s all right,” he said. “We can kill him later. For now, we just need to focus on working together to prevent the Valemen from breaching the wall and ravaging the Northern Territories…”
The knight and his archers smiled and nodded, while Jean had to turn around and walk away, so as not to let his anger get the better of him. He ended up walking back to the first-aid tent, where the medics had just finished with Hugh’s treatment.
“How is he?” Jean asked the lead medic.
“He’s… actually going to be fine. Those healing spells we got from that other knight worked perfectly! In fact, Sir Hugh had contracted lycanthropy from his wounds, but with the healing spells, we managed to lift the curse before it became irreversible!” the lead medic said excitedly.
“That’s great!” Jean said, his excitement rapidly matching the lead medic’s own. “Wait a minute, what knight did you get those spells from? I thought they were from Leon Ursus…”
“He was a third-tier mage, Sir, I just assumed he was a knight,” the lead medic said with a shrug.
Jean could understand the confusion. There were over five hundred men at the fort on a normal day, and the lead medic couldn’t be expected to know everybody, especially not someone who only transferred in the week before.
“Thank you,” Jean said, clapping the medic on the shoulder. “When do you think Sir Hugh will be fit for battle?”
“He could be back on his feet by tomorrow night,” the lead medic replied.
“Wonderful! Keep me informed if anything changes!” Jean said as he turned and left the tent.
Outside of the tent, Jean was alone; everyone in the fort who wasn’t critical for logistics was on the wall, which made the rows of tents quiet, dark, and devoid of human life. Jean took a deep breath to steady himself. He hadn’t gotten more than an hour of rest at a time ever since he received word that the first watchtower had lit its flare. He was exhausted, but he couldn’t let himself rest for more than a minute or two, given the situation the fort was now in.
He yawned, stretched, then started making his way to the tower he’d assigned Leon to.
Leon had only been sleeping for about half an hour when Jean knocked and entered his and Alix’s room, but he was a light sleeper and woke up immediately.
“Sir!” he said in greeting as he groggily sat up.
“Please, stay comfortable!” Jean said as Leon rose and Alix stopped meditating.
“What brings you here, Sir?” Leon asked after shaking himself awake a little.
“Just to thank you for those healing spells. I’ve been told that Sir Hugh will live thanks to them.”
“That’s good to hear,” Leon said, glancing over at Alix and seeing her face light up in happiness.
“I was wondering,” Jean continued, “did you make those spells yourself?”
“I see. I don’t suppose you have anymore?” Jean asked tentatively.
Leon nodded again.
“Well, if you have any spare spells, I’d like to ask you to give them to the medics in the first-aid tent. The coming battle will leave a great many of us injured or dead, and even one spell can make the difference for a soldier on death’s door. I hate to seem pushy, but it is literally a matter of life and death…”
“… I understand,” Leon said slowly. “I have a few extras that I don’t think I’ll need, so I’ll run them out to the medics first thing in the morning…”
“Thank you,” Jean said. “Moving on, you’ve done damn fine work these past few days. With your performance in mind, I’ve decided to have you knighted once this situation blows over.”
Leon’s eyes widened in shock. The Knight Academy required every trainee to serve a squireship for no less than two years before they could graduate, but technically, any knight or lord can knight someone if they feel like it.
“Sir… I appreciate it, but I don’t think the Knight Academy would look too kindly on-“ Leon began before being interrupted by Jean.
“To hell with them!” Jean said. “They sent you here, so you’re my guy. You’ve been acting as a knight, so I’m going to hold a knighting ceremony for you when we fight off the Valemen! It’s not like the Knight Academy can actually do anything to me! They just won’t like it. The only deterrence they have is denying their high-quality squires to any knight that breaks their regulations, and I never would’ve gotten any of their squires anyway! I’m still confused as to why they sent you all the way up here! Whoever made that decision must be blind or something…”
Leon fought back a smile. He very much wanted to be a knight, and Jean’s promise greatly excited him. But, he only had to remember that there were thousands of Valemen outside ready to kill everyone in the fort for his smile to die back down.
‘It’s an empty promise,’ Leon thought to himself. ‘It’s not likely that anyone’s going to get out of here alive, so his promise to knight me when this is all over doesn’t actually mean much.’
“Thank you, Sir,” Leon said out loud.
Jean nodded, then said, “I’ll let you two get back to it,” and left.
When he closed the door, Alix said excitedly, “You’re going to be a knight!”
Leon lay back on his cot and frowned. “Maybe,” he said.
“You’re doubting the commander?” she asked.
“No, but we have thousands of Valemen to carve through, first,” Leon answered. “Better to get some rest than worry about what will come next, assuming we survive. Rest will help us a lot more than worry.”
Alix frowned at Leon’s lack of excitement at Jean’s promise, but he closed his eyes and quickly went to sleep, so she returned to meditating. After all, she didn’t intend on dying; she wanted to be a knight as well.
The entire fort was awake by noon. No one woke them up, but there was a deafening blast of a horn that disturbed the rest of everyone still sleeping.
“Hmm? What’s going on?” Leon asked, hauling himself out of bed and grabbing his sword.
“Uuugh,” Alix grumbled as she rubbed her eyes. “That’s the signal for someone approaching from the south side… It’s not a Valeman attack…”
She turned over and went back to sleep; she’d only gotten a few hours and needed a lot more. Leon, however, had gotten plenty, so he walked outside onto ramparts to see what was happening. He took a deep breath of the cool northern air, then cast his gaze to the south of the fort, where he saw about half a dozen riders bearing a noble banner. If he recalled from the old book of noble heraldry Artorias had taught him with correctly, it was the banner of Count Whitefield.
‘Are reinforcements on the way?’ he thought hopefully.
He didn’t have to wait long for an answer, as Jean sent a messenger to summon him and the rest of the fort’s leadership and other high-tiered mages.
They assembled around the conference table in Jean’s cabin. Jean sat at one end of the table, while the six Whitefield knights sat at the other. Most of the fort’s knights sat at the table, but a few soldiers—such as Leon—had to stand so that room could be made for their guests.
Said guests were dusty from the ride, but their clothes were still colorful and obviously expensive. The knight in charge even wore a blue tunic that Leon recognized was made from silkgrass! That one garment cost more silver than an average family made in a year! The rest of the Whitefield knights wore clothes that were all over the spectrum but were all just as bright and eye-catching.
“You received our message, so how soon could we expect reinforcements?” Jean asked the lead Whitefield knight as politely as he could.
The knight didn’t answer right away, instead leisurely brushing a long strand of rich brown hair away from his perfectly chiseled face. “My Lord… has confidence in your garrison to deal with a few pathetic barbarians…” he finally said, his words dripping with scorn and derision.
“So he won’t be sending any warriors to help man the wall?!” Jean asked, attempting to restrain his rapidly-mounting anger.
“It is my Lord’s understanding that you have already received reinforcements?” the knight said with a mocking smile. “My Lord’s vassal Barons were kind enough to send you their personal warriors, were they not?”
“Two hundred men are hardly enough to call reinforcements!” Arrius said angrily.
Jean glared at Arrius, shutting him up, then said, “We’re eternally grateful to the local Barons for recognizing the threat we’re now under, but the men they were able to send are not sufficient to deal with the thousands of Valemen on our doorstep!”
“Thousands?” the knight asked rhetorically. “I doubt they number that many. The men of the Legion are the hardiest and most skillful soldiers His Majesty possesses, surely you all can handle a few unwashed savages?”
Jean merely frowned, but most of the fort knights grew furious and almost lunged forward at the Whitefield knights. The naked arrogance and dismissiveness they were displaying were too much for many of these battle-hardened men. But, Jean slammed his fist into the table and forced them to restrain themselves.
“We only number five hundred! Seven hundred with the warriors from the local Barons! And we have two miles of wall to defend! When the Valemen attack, the wall will be breached, and then Count Whitefield will have to deal with the Valemen in the open. They will raid his villages, rape and enslave his people, and burn his land. If you don’t come to our aid, your Lord will be, at the very least, ruined,” Jean explained as calmly as he could.
“Unlike you,” the Whitefield knight said while sneering at Jean, “we can handle the savages. If they, somehow, push south, they will break themselves upon our swords and spears!”
“When they push south, your lord will have allowed thousands of Valemen into the kingdom. What’s more, he will have allowed the destruction of a Legion fort and the massacre of its garrison. If I make it out, I will make it my personal duty to ensure he’s arrested and executed for treason,” Jean threatened. He glared at the knight, but the knight seemed unperturbed.
In fact, his derisive smile only grew wider as he said, “If.”
Another Whitefield knight next to their leader added, “Make all the threats you want, but at the end of the day, you’re only a disgraced Tribune exiled to the fringes of the kingdom. You have no power to follow through with your big talk.”
“I think we’re done here,” the lead Whitefield knight stated, and he and his entourage stood up and made for the door, shoving their way past a few of the Legion knights in their way.
Noticing the expressions of said Legion knights and knowing a fight was about to break out, Jean rose from his seat and shouted, “Let them go!”
The Legion knights glared, but they allowed the Whitefield knights to pass. However, the last Whitefield knight to leave the cabin glanced back over his shoulder at Jean, then spat on the floor. Jean scowled, but he still let them go.
“Those cocky bastards ought to be strung up by their entrails,” muttered Arrius.
“They want us dead,” Jean said.
“Why in all the fucks aren’t they going to help us?!” Edmond angrily wondered.
“Count Whitefield fought hard to stop the Bull King from building a Legion fort on his land,” Jean answered. “Now, he sees an opportunity to get rid of us, namely by letting the Valemen overrun the fort.”
“But he’ll lose the support of his outlying Barons as well as thousands of his own peasants,” Gaston remarked.
“I’m sure he considers it a small price to pay to get the Legion out of his land,” a cynical third-tier knight replied.
“His motivations don’t matter,” Jean said. “What matters is that he won’t be bringing his army to help us. We’re on our own, at least until the Consul of the North arrives.”
“When might that be?” Edmond asked.
“A week,” Jean guessed. “He’ll probably have to wait for permission from Count Whitefield to enter his lands, and the Count will no doubt stall.”
“So then, we’re fucked,” another third-tier mage muttered. “We can’t hold the wall against thousands of Valemen! They’ll breach our fort and kill us all! We have to run!”
“We’re not deserting our posts!” Jean forcefully shouted. “To do so would be to abandon the Legion itself, and for such a crime, we’d be sent straight to the headsman’s block! Besides, without Count Whitefield, there are thousands of peasants in the surrounding villages that would be left to the mercy of the Valemen if we were to run!”
The rest of the knights stared at the man who advocated running away. Leon, too, stared. He had never once considered running; to do so would be to abandon any chance he could begin his investigation into his family’s downfall from within the Bull Kingdom. He had committed to his path, and a small thing like a Valeman army wouldn’t make him alter course.
Plus, he still had his invisibility ring. If things were to truly go to shit, Leon was confident he could find a place to hide and activate it, then escape. But, that was only an option if everyone else—Alix and Jean specifically, along with most of the garrison—were dead, and the walls had been breached. Until then, at least, he was still a Legion soldier.
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