As Trajan was meeting with Owain at the Bull’s Horns, August was meeting with Legates back in the capital. Much like at the Bull’s Horns, the capital had three Legions permanently stationed around it. Further out in the Central Territories were four more Legions, but as the Central Territories was the most peaceful region in the entire Kingdom, this was more than enough.
That being said, despite having the smallest contingent of combat soldiers in the entire Kingdom, there were dozens of administrative and logistical battalions in the Legion headquarters, almost doubling the number of soldiers in the Central Territories. There were also three or four thousand sixth-tier knights within the Legion, though easily three-quarters of them weren’t experienced in combat. Perhaps a quarter of all the Legates in the Legion were in and around the capital.
It was with as many of the combat Legates as possible that August had met in those three days as he attempted to scrounge up some additional reinforcements to bring to the Horns. Unfortunately, most of these Legates didn’t want to go against the will of their Consul, who was still refusing to march to Trajan’s aid without an express order from Octavius, frustrating August’s attempts to defend the Kingdom and bringing no small amount of stress down upon the Prince.
However, he was still making some small progress here and there.
“So, will you march with me to repulse these vile invaders from our land? Will you march to the aid of Prince Trajan, who has stood in defense of this Kingdom for decades?” August passionately asked the Legate in front of him.
“His Highness, Prince Trajan has been good to me,” the Legate replied. “I served under him when I was a Tribune forty years ago. If he has the need for me and my Legion, then I’ll be there.”
“Good,” August replied, hastily concealing his surprise and glee. “I want to be on the road by the end of the week, are your soldiers ready for that?”
“Your Highness, all Legions are expected to be able to march in as little as two days after receiving the order to set out. Perhaps some Legions have fallen lax without a real enemy, but I have not allowed the men and women under my command to let their skills atrophy and their readiness degrade. My Legion isn’t one of those in the west who barely remembers which end of a sword to hold, we’ll be ready to begin the march to the Bull’s Horns by the morning after next.”
“I look forward to it,” August replied, a small amount of the tension of recent days melting away. He and the Legate spent a few more minutes discussing when and where to meet, as well as what the logistical situation was like on the road. Since they were marching through friendly territory, the soldiers rounded up by August would be able to resupply at every city they stopped at, so they didn’t have to weight themselves down with so many supplies.
Roland and the Brimstone Paladin were waiting in August’s office in the Royal Palace when he returned from his meeting in another part of the palace.
“Give me some good news,” August brusquely said once the door was closed and they had some privacy.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Your Highness,” Roland replied. “I was stonewalled by the logistics guys I met with.”
“Same here,” Brimstone replied. “Neither the 5th nor 6th Legions will march without the Consul’s orders.”
“Disappointed,” August said with a dark look. “I at least managed to get the 7th Legion on our side.”
“Two Legions, then,” Roland whispered. They’d managed to get the 3rd Legion on board the day before, but none of the other Legates were going to move their Legions in defiance of their Consul.
“Three Legions at the Horns, three more assembling there from other parts of the east, and our two…” August muttered. “Half of what my Royal Father brought to bear on Talfar eighty years ago…”
There was a long silence as August worked through the problem in his mind.
‘Should I demand Legions from the other Consuls…? No, that would alienate them. Besides, the Southern, Western, and Ocean Consuls are all probably already in my brother’s pocket…’
This predicament truly brought to light how poor of a situation August was in, as regardless of the issue of facing a foreign invasion, the response he’d gotten from so many parts of the Royal Legions made it obvious that Octavius’ reach was a lot wider than he’d thought. The longer he thought about it, the angrier he became. The thought of the other Consuls and Legates putting personal ambitions and loyalties ahead of the Kingdom, preventing him from assembling a force to drive the Talfar armies back to where they’d come from infuriated him so much that he almost lost his royal demeanor a few times when dealing with them.
August had even grown desperate enough to assemble troops to march east that he’d attempted to contact Octavius with a comm stone, but his brother hadn’t deigned to reply so far, despite days having passed.
August sat forward in his chair, his eyes dark and his aura growing slightly colder with killing intent.
“Has either Bronze or Penitent made a decision yet?” he asked.
“Not yet, Your Highness,” Brimstone replied.
The Prince rose to his feet with a barely concealed look of anger on his face. “Then let’s go wring a decision out of them. Our Kingdom is at war, and they… You know what? I’d rather save my words for them! Let’s go!”
August then led Roland and Brimstone out of his office and toward his father’s recuperation villa. Roland and Brimstone exchanged slightly perturbed looks as they followed behind the Prince; it had been a stressful few days, and it seemed that only getting two Legions to agree to march to Ariminium had frayed at August’s patience.
The King’s villa appeared the same as it had the last time August visited, with nothing to break the peace of the quiet grove around it save the wind. August had to almost fight with himself to maintain that peace by not bursting through the front door like a man possessed.
Just as before, the only people within the villa were the Bronze Paladin standing guard outside the King’s door and the Penitent Paladin within the King’s bedroom.
“Here to speak with His Majesty?” Bronze politely asked as August walked up to him with a face that communicated nothing but death.
“No, I’m here for you and your brother-in-arms,” August replied.
“You haven’t sent any messages with your answer to our request for aid,” Brimstone added, his face stoic and serious enough that it could’ve been carved from stone, with none of the usual warmth and respect for the Bronze Paladin, one of the oldest and strongest warriors of the Bull Kingdom.
“We must guard His Majesty,” Bronze explained. “His condition demands that we maintain our vigil, at least until he wakes.”
August was quiet for a moment; it was all he could do to not immediately explode in frustration at the Paladin’s obstinance, and he needed that time to ensure that he didn’t start shouting the instant he opened his mouth.
Finally, he whispered, “Come with me,” and he pushed past Bronze to open the door. Normally such an act would see the person’s head rolling across the floor courtesy of Bronze’s bronze ax before the encroaching person knew what happened, but since it was a Prince doing so and the Penitent Paladin was inside, Bronze let it slide.
“Your Highness,” Penitent whispered in greeting. The bedroom was almost completely isolated from the outside, with enchantments preventing most noises from entering the room. The exchange with Bronze just a few feet away wasn’t loud enough to get past these enchantments.
“Have you made a decision about whether to ride out with me and defend this Kingdom?” August demanded.
“I have,” Penitent replied, throwing August for a loop. However, the Prince’s brief moment of hope and surprise was quickly quashed when Penitent continued, “I have decided to stay here with His Majesty. He has done so much for me that I cannot abandon him when he is at his weakest.”
The look of quiet devotion on Penitent’s face gave pause to August’s anger, but the latter wouldn’t stay bottled up for long.
“Is this all you two are?” the Prince asked, his voice trembling with anger and disappointment. “Are you nothing more than guard dogs, nothing more than glorified sentries watching over a sick King?”
“Your Highness…” Roland began, hoping to cut off August before he said something too disrespectful, but August flashed him a look that immediately shut him up.
“Sir Praecilius,” August began, turning to the Bronze Paladin, “I have given you days to think. What is your answer? Will you ride with me the day after tomorrow, or will you stay here with your ass glued to my Royal Father’s bedroom door?” August’s voice rose as he spoke, almost turning into a shout as he finished his question.
“I serve His Majesty, not a whelp that has yet to even bloody a man,” Bronze coolly replied.
“I am one of the Regents!” August barked, “When my Royal Father left to focus on his training, he left me and my brother to run the Kingdom! My brother shortly thereafter abandoned his duties, leaving me to run this damned Kingdom at only fifteen years old! For six years I have tended to this Kingdom’s problems, and now we face an invasion by a hostile foreign army! To be honest, I don’t give a single fuck about the technicalities that regulate the Paladin hierarchy, all I care about is the Talfar army pressing upon Ariminium and my uncle that stands against them! His Legions are outnumbered more than three to one! So give me your answer, Paladin! What are you going to do?!”
Bronze was stunned at Augusts’ tirade. He didn’t expect anything quite like it from the thin pale boy that August still was. Bronze’s eyes subtly flitted to Penitent, but he found no aid there.
After waiting a long moment for Bronze to reply, and when no answer came, August’s face contorted in anger and he spat, “Unbelievable. The two strongest, most respected knights in all the land, content to play bouncer. Unbelievable.”
With that, August turned and stormed out of the room, with Roland and Brimstone at his heels. For his part, Brimstone looked over his shoulder at Bronze and Penitent before he closed the door and shook his head in disappointment.
The two Paladins, left alone with no one but the King to hear them, sat in the King’s bedroom in silence for a few long minutes as they processed what just happened. Finally, when the two made eye contact, they almost broke out into raucous laughter at being bull rushed by a young man, not even a tenth as old as they were.
“Well,” Bronze said, choking back the chuckles that echoed in his bronze helmet, “I daresay that was the first time he acted even the slightest bit Kingly.”
“Indeed, it was good to see,” Penitent replied, “but he’s too eager to jump into battle. Let Trajan handle this, he’s the warrior that August isn’t.”
“That boy has never been tested in battle before, it remains to be seen whether he’s a warrior or not,” Bronze replied.
The two Paladins sat in silence for a long time, contemplating the reality of their situation.
“What would old Blackstone think of us now, I wonder…?” Bronze wondered aloud. The two were the last remaining Paladins of the previous generation, the last of the legendary knights that had served the father of both Prince Trajan and King Julius.
“… You want to see, don’t you? How Kingly August can be?” Penitent asked quietly.
Bronze let the question hang for another long moment before slowly nodding his head and whispering, “I do.”
“August hasn’t undergone the ritual to awaken his blood. Until and unless that happens, he’ll never be able to succeed to the crown.”
“That doesn’t matter to me, all I want to see is how he conducts himself when war is thrust upon him. As far as I know, that entitled shit of a brother he has that has awoken his blood hasn’t done any better with this crisis, preferring to stay in the west and party, or whatever else he’s been wasting his time with.”
Penitent sighed and glanced at the sleeping form of the King. “To guard the King is a grave duty, but it doesn’t take both of us to watch over His Majesty…”
Bronze lifted an eyebrow in surprise and curiosity, though his helmet obscured it. “So you’re saying…”
“Go. See what this young calf can do.”
Bronze smiled a smile that Penitent couldn’t see and clapped his brother-in-arms on the shoulder. “I’ll give those Talfar bastards a good thrashing, and then I’ll come right back!”
“Take your time, not like His Majesty is going anywhere right now,” Penitent said with a sarcastic smile.
Bronze left the villa to make his preparations. When August rode out of the capital two days later, the Bronze Paladin was right behind him.
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