Several hours after sending Leon and Alix on their way, Aquillius put his work down and called it a day. He hadn’t gotten word back from Gerold about whether the former two had been settled in or not, which brought a smile of anticipation to Aquillius’ face.
‘I wonder how that young knight dealt with Gerold’s behavior… No diplomat worth his salt would ever lose his cool when confronted with someone antagonistic, so hopefully, he conducted himself well. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow…’
Aquillius happily left his office and descended to the ground floor, then turned and made his way over to the diplomat’s quarters. He rarely got any correspondence sent to the residential building, so he was quite surprised when the receptionist knocked on his door and gave him Leon’s message just before dinner time. His curiosity was piqued, so he took a seat in his favorite armchair by the fireplace and opened the message.
“Hmm,” he hummed in thought. His forehead creased slightly as he re-read the message. He’d known that Gerold would be abrasive, but not outright insulting. Leon’s response to Gerold’s terrible attitude wasn’t what he expected of a diplomat, but the fact that Leon was owning up to it was a promising start.
The message closed with Leon giving his and Alix’s room number, and a request for further instruction, so Sir Aquillius rose from his chair and left his quarters. A quick minute in the magical lift brought him to Leon’s floor, and soon enough, Aquillius found himself loudly knocking on Leon’s door.
The door opened in seconds, and Leon was brought face-to-face with a stoic and serious Aquillius. The latter was a career diplomat, and if he didn’t want someone to be able to read his expression, it was an easy thing for him to wipe his face of all emotion. He did this now, so Leon wouldn’t realize just how much pleasure he was taking in seeing the younger man’s surprise and momentary panic.
“Sir!” Leon said. He stared for a second before stepping to the side and saying, “Please, come in!”
Aquillius availed himself of Leon’s hospitality and entered the room.
“I received your message,” the diplomat said sternly, “but I want to hear what happened from you.” He took a seat at one end of the dining table and asserted himself by gesturing to the seats at either side of him, inviting Leon and Alix to join him.
Alix hurried over, while Leon took a moment to steady himself and regain his own normal stoicism. Once he sat down, Aquillius stared at him expectantly, so the younger mage launched into his explanation of what happened. He started with Gerold’s brusqueness when picking them up, to their confrontation that started over his name, and ended with when Gerold left them at the doors of the residential building.
“I see…” Aquillius muttered. He watched Leon speak the entire time, and he didn’t see any obvious moment where Leon lied. He also kept an eye on Alix, and she didn’t react in any way that made Aquillius think Leon was telling an unexpected lie. Him showing up unannounced was mostly because he wanted to catch them off-guard and disturb any coordination the two might have put into lying, yet he didn’t see a single instance where he would’ve guessed Leon wasn’t being honest.
For almost half a minute, the three sat there in silence. Leon and Alix were slowly getting more tense, though neither showed it, while Aquillius was perfectly comfortable, yet neither did he show it.
Finally, the diplomat said, “You’re no diplomat, that’s for sure. No true negotiator would’ve lost his head and laid hands upon someone insulting them.”
“I’m aware of that, Sir,” Leon said, only showing his regret by averting his gaze.
“And you’re owning up to it. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is a quality that I value,” Aquillius stated, bringing Leon’s eyes back to his own. “You’re not a diplomat, but you’ve got the potential to be one. I will speak to Gerold about this matter, but for now, you two may consider yourselves not in trouble.”
“Thank you, Sir!” Leon and Alix said in unison.
As Aquillius stood up, he continued, “However, my mind may change after my conversation with Gerold, and if there is a punishment that needs to be meted out, you can rest assured that kicking you out of the Diplomatic Corps will not be it.”
Aquillius calmly walked back to the door, but as Leon opened the door for him, he turned to the younger man and said, “Oh, and come to the lounge tomorrow around ten in the morning. I’ll have one of my junior diplomats give you two a tour of the place. Get you acquainted with the post, and all.”
“Yes, Sir!” Leon acknowledged. And with that, Aquillius departed.
As he walked down the hall, Aquillius allowed his serious face to drop, and he almost split his face in half with his smile.
‘Yes, he has some potential, but only if properly nurtured,’ he thought to himself.
Leon stood there with the door open in shock for several moments before he closed it behind the diplomat.
“That was…” he began.
“… unexpected,” Alix finished. “But, at the same time, relieving. We have new instructions, and we’re not in trouble over that whole thing.”
“Yet. Not in trouble yet,” Leon corrected.
“I suppose…” Alix muttered. She preferred to be more positive, but she had also gotten to know Leon well enough to know that he preferred to examine the negatives.
“Anyway, let’s get to training,” Leon said, leading Alix over to the sandpit.
After they were finished with training, Leon and Alix had to find themselves some food, as the kitchen was devoid of any. Fortunately, there had been a map of the citadel waiting for them on the kitchen counter when they had arrived, so finding a place for dinner wasn’t that difficult. Of course, they then had to do the same the next morning for breakfast.
So it was with a full stomach that they made their way to the lounge on the fourteenth floor of the diplomatic building, only to discover that the lounge’s kitchen was still serving breakfast. Leon was a little regretful that they hadn’t come here for free food, but the place they’d gone to wasn’t that bad, so he put it behind him—though the delicious smell was making doing so difficult.
He and Alix didn’t have to wait in the lounge long before a young woman almost seemed to bounce over to them. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with a headful of shining gold hair, and a smile that lit up her cute face. However, Leon barely registered her looks, as he had noticed her fourth-tier aura and realized that she wasn’t one to take lightly.
“Hi, there!” she said enthusiastically. “You two are Sir Ursus and Alix, right?”
“That we are,” Alix replied, matching the other girl’s chipper smile.
“I’m Anna, one of the knights assigned to Sir Aquillius’ diplomatic team! He asked me to show you two around and to introduce you to the team we’re going into the mountains with!”
“Well, then lead on, Dame Anna,” Leon responded.
“You can just call me Anna, Sir Ursus,” Anna said with a wink.
“Call me Leon,” he bluntly replied.
“Good to meet ‘cha!” Anna said with a smile and a laugh. She then reached out and grabbed one of Leon’s and Alix’s arms, and started pulling them to the magical lift.
“We don’t need to be led around like pets,” Leon muttered.
“But you don’t know where you’re going!” Anna insisted. She pulled them into the lift before she let go. She then mashed the runic circle that would bring them down one floor almost a dozen times.
“Is there some kind of hurry?” Alix asked.
“Oh, no hurry!” Anna replied. “I just don’t like wasting time!
“It shouldn’t be a problem to relax and take things a little slower,” Leon said.
Anna’s smile grew a little strained, and she said, “I really don’t like wasting time!”
As soon as the lift doors opened, she grabbed their arms again and started half-dragging them across the hall, without giving them much time to stop and examine their surroundings.
The lift had opened into a long hallway with dozens of doors, almost all of which Anna completely ignored as she pulled Alix and Leon along.
“This floor is entirely made up of our offices! But, this is the only room you need to know for now!” Anna said as she stopped them in front of one particular door. She pushed it open and led Leon and Alix in, giving them a quick glimpse of a large stylishly furnished room with three other people within. There was barely enough time for Leon and Alix to get a good look of those three people, or for them to give the two newcomers a look of pity before Anna dragged them back to the magical lift.
“Is there anyone we should meet right now?” Alix asked, in a subtle protest to try and get Anna to stop.
“Nope!” Anna said as the magic lift doors opened and she dragged them inside. “There’s another floor we need to see, and then we can go and talk to people!”
This time, they went down five floors, and the lift opened into a large lobby with more than a dozen different hallways branching off. But, again, Anna barely gave the two time enough to get their bearings before her hands were on their forearms and she was dragging them down one hallway in particular.
“This is one of the floors with all the scribes who keep track of all of our logistics! This floor also houses our archives, where copies of every treaty, agreement, official piece of correspondence, and all the rest of the stuff that comes in and out of here is kept!” Anna explained.
She had them stop in front of a door, but she didn’t open it; rather, she simply said, “Remember this room number! These are our archives! If you’re ever given something to bring down here, just poke your head in and give it to one of the scribes inside!” She then turned to Leon and said, slightly quieter than usual, which was still her speaking at a relatively normal volume, “But, you don’t need to worry about being used as a gopher! Knights aren’t given such mundane tasks!”
Alix frowned a little, guessing that she, as the squire, would be used as the gopher in this situation.
Anna then began dragging them back to the magic lift. Once they were inside, she mashed the runic circle to bring them back to the lounge on the fourteenth floor.
“Do you two have any questions?” she asked on the way up.
“What are the other floors in this building?” Alix asked.
“The first few floors are, as I said, scribes, bureaucrats, and archive storage. Then, the top few floors are the diplomats’ offices, with the higher floors for the highest ranked knights.”
“What about the top floor?” Leon asked. “Sir Aquillius made it seem to us yesterday that he and his two other sixth-tier colleagues are the top guys here, so who works on the fifteenth floor if they’re on the fourteenth?”
“That’s a guest floor, for visiting royalty,” Anna swiftly answered.
“You mean they don’t stay in the castle?” Alix asked with some slight disbelief.
“The Bull King and his relatives stay in the castle. If any visiting royals from other Kingdoms come here, then they stay here on the fifteenth floor. Or, if any high nobles from any Kingdom visits Prince Trajan, they will stay up there as well,” Anna informed.
“I see…” Leon muttered.
“Now, if there isn’t anything else, let’s meet the people Sir Aquillius is takin’ with us into the mountains!” Anna exclaimed with her usual enthusiasm.
After they arrived at the lounge, she pulled Leon and Alix toward Aquillius’ office. However, her actual destination was a meeting room just off to the side, where there were about half a dozen other people—four men and two women—who were going through a stack of paperwork together, all of whom looked up in curiosity when Anna burst in, dragging Leon and Alix behind her.
“Heeeere’s the new guys!” she announced.
“Dame Anna, you are a knight, please act with a little more of the grace and dignity expected of your station,” said one of the people in the room, a woman with black hair neatly tied up into a proper bun and wearing a pristine dark blue formal dress that didn’t have so much as half a wrinkle.
“And how am I not acting dignified?” Anna asked good-naturedly.
The serious woman narrowed her eyes in displeasure, but before she could speak, the other lady in the room said, “Please, Dame Anna, introduce the newcomers to us, we’d like to learn their names before we delve into boring talks of dignity and grace!”
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