“She turned down the invitation?” Emilie asked, seeking confirmation from the servant she sent to her daughter extending an invitation for her, Leon, and Alix to join her for dinner.
“Yes, my lady. Young Lady Elise was quite emphatic, in fact,” the servant answered. He was standing at the door, where a light enchantment had created a black curtain-like wall that blocked all light from passing. Just beyond it, Emilie was lounging on a sofa, completely naked. She was leaning back against one of her concubines, an exceptionally muscular dark-skinned man from the Samar Kingdom, while another concubine, an almost effeminately thin man, rubbed her feet. Both men were also naked.
The servant, of course, knew what was going on behind the light curtain, so he didn’t pry. He respectfully remained behind the curtain, though Emilie wasn’t nearly so shy as to care if he saw her body or not.
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Emilie whispered. “I was hoping to meet that boy that has so captured my daughter’s attention…”
Ajax had written to her almost immediately after Leon had left Teira, and had included just enough details in his letter for Emilie to correctly guess Leon’s identity. And, though she didn’t say it out loud, as she didn’t want to say it in front of her concubines, Leon’s identity as the last survivor of House Raime piqued her interest in far more ways than him simply being Elise’s lover.
“Very well, I won’t insist that she join me,” Emilie said after a few moments of thought. “However, please relay to her my disappointment, and my expectation that she finds the time sometime soon to make a formal introduction between myself and her boyfriend.”
“Yes, my Lady,” the servant replied, and he left to relay the message.
For a moment, it seemed like the man rubbing Emilie’s feet was about to say something, but a quick glare from her shut him up. She wasn’t about to let her daughter’s obstinance ruin her relaxation time.
Roland leaned back into his favorite chair, stretched out, and cracked open a book. He had just returned from a meeting with Prince August and had almost collapsed from exhaustion when he returned home. It was only the smile of his wife, Melissa, and the sight of his son walking over to him that kept him going long enough to get out of his uniform and persevere until he made it to the family room in his villa.
This place was his sanctuary, with no one but himself, his wife, his son, and his most trusted servants allowed within; and even the latter had to have a serious reason to enter, as Roland made it clear that when he was in this sanctuary, work was set aside.
“It’s so rare we get moments like this, anymore,” Melissa said with a contented smile on her face. She was sitting across the table from him, in another armchair with their son sitting in her lap dozing off.
“It’s a shame, but as a Paladin, I have work that has to get done,” Roland replied.
“I understand,” Melissa stated. “My own work keeps me more than busy, but we should really allocate more time to just relax as a family like this.”
“I certainly wouldn’t say no to that,” Roland said. “However, this is a critical time for Prince August. Octavius has continued to tour the Western Territories and has even made a few appearances in the South over the past year. Prince August has made several repeated attempts to get him to return to the capital and assist with the administration of the government, but Octavius has refused every time.”
“Why would he do that? I would think being in the capital would give him more power than constantly being on the move,” Melissa wondered aloud.
“… We think he’s been gathering support from the nobility in order to shore up his claim to the throne. He’s already visited every Duke in the West, and most of the Dukes in the South. We also know that almost every high noble in those Territories has visited him at some point, which is troubling, to say the least, as Prince August certainly isn’t going to be giving up his own claim any time soon,” Roland said, his face contorting with worry.
“Prince August is a smart man,” Melissa said, reassuring her husband. “He’ll get on top of this, and you’ll be right there at his side as he does so. But, for now, you’re supposed to be relaxing, so let the work talk drop!”
“Yes, dear,” Roland said with a chuckle.
The two took a few more minutes to rest in silence before they rose and moved to a nearby couch, where they could both play with their son. It was a fine time, and for a brief moment, Roland forgot all about being a Paladin. That is, until a servant timidly opened the door of the family room and stuck her head in.
“What is it?” Melissa asked in a voice that was, perhaps, a little too sharp.
She immediately regretted snapping at the servant, who ducked back behind the door and quietly said, “An urgent letter came for the Good Sir, my Lady!”
Roland sighed, then walked over to the door, where he apologized to the servant and received the letter.
“Who’s it from?” Melissa asked.
“The Office of the Consul of the North,” Roland answered, his eyes narrowing. He immediately sat down and stared at the letter in his hand, remembering the lengths he’d gone to in order to look into the Academy trainee-turned-squire Luke had seen on the street about a month previously.
It had started the day after the commencement and knighting ceremony, when Leon and the rest of his circle of friends had already gone out to celebrate completing their training in the Academy. Prince August had no need for him, so Roland made his way down to the Knight Academy around one or two in the afternoon, accompanied only by Luke.
“Sir Roland!” exclaimed the secretary in the entry hall of the Academy’s Administration building.
“Good day,” Roland said in greeting.
“W-what can I help you with?” the young secretary behind the desk asked.
“I’d like to speak with the Legate as soon as possible,” Roland answered. The secretary nodded furiously, then waved at a nearby first-tier mage to leave, who Roland assumed was there to act as a runner.
The runner came back almost immediately, and Roland was led to the Legate’s office.
“Sir Roland, welcome!” the Legate said as he stood and walked over to shake Roland’s hand, and gestured to the chairs and couch in his office.
Roland graciously took a seat, and asked, “I’ve come here to inquire about a trainee that was recently sent off for his squireship.”
“Getting right to the point, eh?” the Legate said with an appreciative nod. “What’s this trainee’s name? I might have heard of him.”
“Leon Ursus,” Roland answered.
The Legate knew exactly who Roland was asking about. He remembered Leon from the duel he had with Gaius during the Combat Test. More importantly, he was one of the few people in the Bull Kingdom who had correctly guessed Leon’s identity. The Legate’s heart rate skyrocketed, but his face remained jovial, showing no sign that he was affected by Roland’s purpose.
“That name does sound familiar,” the Legate had to admit, “I believe he was one of the third-tier trainees who led the Snow Lions to victory this past cycle…”
“Can you tell me anything else about him? Physical description, perhaps?” Roland asked, betraying his own burning curiosity by leaning in and narrowing his eyes.
“Can’t say that I can, I don’t actually interact with the trainees very much in my position,” the Legate answered. After he’d guessed who Leon really was, he’d made the decision to avoid involving himself in the younger mage’s affairs, to minimize the risk of drawing the attention of those who had destroyed House Raime as much as possible. He’d even made excuses to involve himself as little as possible in the training of Leon’s cycle, and to not check the squireships Nicomedes gave the third-tier trainees in Leon’s year.
“Well, then, how about where and who he went to squire for? He was in the winning unit, so he had to have been sent somewhere within or close to the capital…”
There was a short silence following Roland’s follow-up question, while the Legate smiled at the Paladin. He deliberately dragged out his response, making Roland impatient.
“Why are you so interested in this young boy?” the Legate asked, slowly enunciating each word.
“I believe that he’s a boy I encountered recently in the Northern Vales. If I’m right, then I’d like to take him as a squire, if possible,” Roland answered.
“We’ve already issued orders for this boy, and he’s likely on his way to his assigned post as we speak,” the Legate said. “Did you file a formal request for this boy to be your squire?”
“I didn’t,” Roland admitted. Most sixth-tier knights would have a high enough rank that they would have someone one of their subordinates send for a squire, and actually knew little about the trainees in any given year. Roland, however, liked to be a little more discerning, and to do his research on every trainee in the Academy. Consequently, Luke had only been his second squire.
“So, then, you want to deprive another deserving knight of an Academy trained squire, so you can take him on yourself?” the Legate pressed, hoping, but not believing, that Roland would let the matter drop.
“I’m not trying to inconvenience anyone, but as I said, if it’s possible, I’d like to look out for this boy. I saw him fight in the Northern Vales, and I’d very much like to take him under my wing,” Roland explained.
“Assuming this is the same person,” the Legate added.
“Assuming this is the same person,” Roland repeated.
After another moment’s pause, the Legate stood up. Roland made to do the same, but the Legate waved him back into his seat. The Legate stuck his head out of his office door, spoke a few words to one of his assistants, then returned to his seat. ‘I can’t get too close to this, and if I stand in the Paladin’s way too vehemently, then he’ll likely guess that I also know who Leon Ursus is…’ the Legate had thought.
“I’m not going to get in your way, Sir Roland,” the Legate said out loud. “However, I don’t know where this Leon Ursus is being sent. So, I’ve asked my logistics officer, Sir Nicomedes Tullius, to join us. You may direct all your questions regarding the specifics of where the young Ursus is being sent to him.”
“Thank you, Sir Aeneas,” Roland said gratefully.
“Don’t thank me just yet, Paladin,” the Legate said. “I will not rescind Ursus’ orders. He’s going where Sir Tullius has sent him. If you want to take him as your own squire, you’ll have to take that up with the unit he’s been assigned to.”
“I understand,” Roland responded.
They waited in the Legate’s office for a few minutes, until Nicomedes arrived.
“Nico!” the Legate said in greeting. “Please, take a seat, Sir Roland has a few questions regarding a specific trainee we’ve just sent out for his squireship.”
“Well, I hope I can answer Sir Roland’s questions,” Nicomedes said.
Roland and the Legate quickly brought Nicomedes up to speed on who Roland was looking for.
“His name does sound familiar,” Nicomedes said. He was a little startled that Roland was looking for Leon, but he didn’t let it show on his face.
“Do you remember where he’s being sent to?” Roland asked.
“Unfortunately, I do not,” Nicomedes answered, lying through his teeth. “I have almost one thousand trainees to see to every year, and I can hardly be expected to remember where I send each and every one, wouldn’t you agree?”
Roland frowned, as he figured the Tribune would remember the third-tier trainees, at least, but he didn’t question Nicomedes. “Can you check your records then?” he asked the Nico as politely as he could.
“Is this an official request, or just something you’d like to know?” Nicomedes asked.
“This is a personal request,” said Roland.
The Legate almost winced as soon as the Paladin said this, and he felt the powerful urge to glare at Nicomedes. ‘I was hoping to ignore official documents, but now that that asshat has brought it up, that’s impossible now…’
Nicomedes glanced over at the Legate, who frowned, sighed, and said, “There are a few forms that you are going to have to take care of, if this isn’t official business, Paladin.”
Roland grit his teeth in frustration, but he nodded his head and tried to not let it show. “If you could help me, that would be great…” he said.
“Then I will have the proper forms sent over to your home as soon as I can,” Nicomedes said.
“Thank you,” Roland said as politely as he could. With his business done, he rose, said his goodbyes, and left.
He met Luke back in the entry hall, who came over and asked, “So, what’s the news?”
“I get the feeling that the Tribune in charge of logistics here is slightly corrupt, and that the Legate isn’t so squeaky clean either,” Roland said quietly.
“If they’re noble, then I’m sure they’re both a little more than slightly corrupt,” Luke said with a smile.
“Indeed, nepotism and corruption are fairly strong ingredients in blue blood… Still, they avoided my questions by throwing bureaucracy in my face. Neither are wrong, they’re just a obstructionist asses…”
“What do we do now?” Luke asked.
“We wait for the forms to come to my house, then we wait for the answer to my inquiries. Not much else we can do right now.”
Luke frowned, mirroring Roland’s own expression.
After the Paladin left, the Legate turned to Nicomedes.
“Have you ever forgotten where you’ve sent a trainee, before?” he asked, his eyes narrowing in obvious suspicion of his Tribune.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Nicomedes said flippantly.
“You were deliberately avoiding his questions,” the Legate said.
“There are rules and regulations that everyone must follow,” Nicomedes countered. “Whether they are nobles or up-jumped commoners, they must follow the procedures.”
“I don’t like yelling at my subordinates in front of others—I find it humiliating for everyone—so you will not do something like this again or I will do just that. It costs the Academy nothing to tell a Paladin—or a Consul, for that matter—where a trainee has been sent if they ask, and it puts that Paladin or Consul in our debt,” the Legate said, his anger mounting.
“I would be happy to cooperate with a Paladin,” Nicomedes passionately said, “however, that man is no Paladin. He was appointed by the Fourth Prince, but when the King returns, I’m sure he’ll be kicked out in a heartbeat! Paladins should be seventh-tier mages, and of proper lineage!”
“Enough!” shouted the Legate. “Roland will fill out the paperwork, and you will tell him what he wants to know without delay! Maybe then I won’t have you replaced!”
The Legate began to emit his prodigious killing intent, and Nicomedes, despite having been fired up just a few seconds before, sank down into his chair like a withered stalk of grass.
“Now, tell me, where did you send Ursus?” the Legate growled. He could tell that part of the reason Nicomedes was denying Roland was that he didn’t want anyone looking into where he sent Leon, which he found obviously suspicious.
Nicomedes lost what little color remained in his face, and hesitantly said, “… A fort on the northern border, watching over the Frozen Mountains for Valeman activity…”
The Legate scowled and stared coolly at his Tribune. ‘That’s actually a good place for that boy,’ he thought to himself, but he was careful not to let his approval show on his face. ‘The enemies of his family would hardly look into such a backwater, I’d wager…’
However, his approval of where Nicomedes sent Leon was based purely on knowledge of Leon’s identity; as the Legate of the Knight Academy, he couldn’t openly support the decision. Sending a trainee to a nowhere fort wasn’t strictly against the rules, but it simply wasn’t done.
“Do you remember what it was like when you first arrived here?” the Legate suddenly asked.
“… Sir?” Nicomedes said in confusion.
“I mean how I would scrutinize your every action, and constantly hover over your shoulder making sure you didn’t succumb to the same corruption that caused me to dismiss your predecessor, and his predecessor.”
Nicomedes clenched his teeth in frustration. He absolutely remembered that time, he couldn’t do a single thing without the Legate closely scrutinizing it. After years in the position, though, the Legate had backed off and given him quite a bit of autonomy, so long as he kept his nose clean and wasn’t more corrupt than any other high-ranking knight in the Royal Legions.
“Do you want to go back to that time?” the Legate asked.
“No, Sir,” Nicomedes immediately replied.
‘I feel that, perhaps, I have been too generous in my granting of autonomy. That will have to change…’ the Legate thought to himself.
“The dignity of the Knight Academy demands more than a tiny border fort. I will be taking a more active role in squire assignments from now on,” the Legate said, causing Nicomedes to frown in dejection. “And you had best cooperate fully with the Paladin, or else I will be taking a much closer and more official look into this matter. Understand?”
He couldn’t actually punish his Tribune, as Nicomedes hadn’t technically broken any rules, despite the obvious disregard for ethics. Still, the Legate certainly intended to make Nico’s life much harder for the next year or two, to make sure the Tribune wouldn’t do anything so blatantly corrupt again—and so that he wouldn’t have to open any official investigations into the matter that would leave paper trails.
Suffice it to say, Roland learned that Leon had been sent to Fort 127 a week later. It had taken that long for the paperwork to be processed, but once it was, Nicomedes made sure that the Paladin was informed right away. If he didn’t, then the Legate would have real cause to remove him from his office, as he’d specifically ordered Nico to inform Roland as soon as the paperwork allowed.
It then took Roland another few days to find out exactly where the fort in question was, and when he did, he almost screamed in anger and frustration. He couldn’t leave the capital on a whim, and so was forced to send a letter inquiring after Leon to the Consul of the North, who could then pass it on to his subordinates, who would then pass it on the commander of the fort.
Now, a little more than a month later, Roland received an unexpected reply from the Consul of the North himself, rather than the expected fort commander.
“What does it say?” Melissa asked.
Roland had opened the letter and slowly read it through twice. It was short and to the point, and Roland’s face grew red from anger as he read through it. He sighed and took a few moments to choose his words carefully, so as to not break out into undignified swearing and cursing in front of his son.
“The Consul says that I don’t have a right to know about the squire in question. He says that only Paladins, Princes, or the Bull King himself can make such inquiries of him.”
“But you are a Paladin,” Melissa said, her head tilting in confusion.
“The Consul would disagree, I think. He’s implying that since the King didn’t appoint me personally, that I’m not a real Paladin.”
Roland’s face was bitter and angry, but he held it in as best as he could.
“I’m going to see Prince August tomorrow,” he said.
“You’re going north?” Melissa asked. She wrapped her arms around their son and held him close. He was playing with a toy soldier and making war sounds and wasn’t paying any attention to what his parents were saying.
“I am. They will find it harder to deny me what I want to know if I’m there in person.”
Melissa frowned for a moment, then asked, “How long will you be gone?”
“No more than a month,” Roland answered with a confident smile. “I want to be gone from your arms for as little time as possible, so be assured that I’ll make this little trip quick.”
“I’ll be holding you to that,” Melissa replied.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Efflorescence - Chris Rose - Sir_readsalot - Michael Garfein - Zachary Spencer - I Dewa Bagus - Eric Parker - Kyle J Smith - Story Seeker - Bruce Fritz - B liz - Carl Wallentin - Jacob Hill – Scott Paris
Please visit Royal Road and leave a rating or review!
Patreon (Up to 15 chapters ahead)