“August, let me introduce you to someone…” Trajan said as he gestured to Leon to step forward.
Leon, for his part, wanted nothing less than to be introduced to Prince August after the latter’s reveal of his acquaintance with Roland. But Trajan called him out, and there was no helping it; Leon took a few hesitant steps forward and genuflected for Prince August.
“… This is Sir Leon Ursus,” Trajan said as Leon and August made eye contact.
August was almost struck speechless at the sight of Leon’s golden eyes, his youth, and his robust fifth-tier aura, but it was Leon’s name that surprised August the most.
“That’s… an interesting name,” August said.
“Sir Ursus came to us from the Northern Vales,” Trajan explained, though the name itself gave that fact away, “and despite some difficulty adapting to the way we do things, has proven himself to be one of the finest young knights our Legions have to offer. I’ve taken the liberty of mentoring him myself.”
Leon couldn’t help but cringe both at Trajan’s complements, and at the reminder of his stupid decision during the first assault, and he didn’t notice that August’s eyes hadn’t left his face since attention was first drawn to him.
“That’s wonderful to hear,” August said with an odd smile, “this Kingdom’s Legions can always use promising new blood, regardless of where they were born… Sir Ursus, you are most welcome in this land…”
Trajan’s smile faltered a little, as there was something in August’s tone that put him off a bit, but just as he was about to question his nephew about it, an adjutant said, “Your Highness! Our cavalry!”
When Trajan looked back out the window to see what the adjutant was on about, he saw that, for the most part, the Talfar infantry that hadn’t made it to the east side of the rock spikes had been killed, and the Legion cavalry was clearly preparing to go out and chase down those who had managed to flee.
“Send the order to hold their ground! They are not to venture past those spikes!” Trajan immediately ordered, and the adjutant scrambled to get the order sent in time.
“Why shouldn’t we pursue a fleeing enemy?” August asked. “They’ve broken, shouldn’t we kill as many as we can?”
“Normally, yes, we should,” Trajan admitted, “but the Talfar cataphracts and chariots weren’t committed to the fight, their strength is still near its peak. They may have broken and started retreating back to their camp, but we shouldn’t risk our weaker cavalry by sending them out into a vulnerable position where we can’t support them with arrow fire and defensive enchantments.”
August frowned, but he nodded, deferring to Trajan’s wisdom.
“Nephew,” Trajan began, instantly catching August’s attention with a tone of extreme seriousness, “we have much to discuss, but for now all that can wait until after the battle is over. For now, I must see to my Legions and fortress, and ensure that everything is still in order.”
“I understand,” August said with a jovial smile.
The elder Prince departed the command tower to make his inspections and meet with his Legates in the field, and Leon, Alix, and Anzu were right behind him. As they left, though, Leon could feel August’s eyes burning a hole in his back.
‘He knows who I am,’ Leon thought in panic.
In the time it took the Legion cavalry to mop up the remaining Talfar infantry that hadn’t managed to retreat, the signal to fall back was given. Rather than pursuing their broken opponent, Roland, Brimstone, and Bronze led their units back to the Horns.
At the main gates, August met the Paladins that accompanied him east.
“Your Highness!” Roland enthusiastically called out as soon as he was through the gates. His silver and red Paladin armor was barely scratched, though its luster had faded from the dust and dirt of the battle, and the man himself looked hardly worse for wear. “I bring word of victory! The enemy has been pushed back!”
“I saw, my friend,” August said, smiling in amusement at Roland’s insistence on such formality when in public.
Together, the two began to lead the way back to the stables in the Southern Horn, with the other two Paladins keeping order among the twelve thousand knights and men-at-arms behind them.
Along the way, Roland described the battle, but August wasn’t a particularly military-minded man, and the descriptions felt same-y to him. Roland’s magic was strong, and his unit crashed into the Talfar lines again and again until they broke. That was all he needed to know, as far as August was concerned.
As Roland was finishing up his fervent descriptions, August suddenly interrupted, asking the Paladin, “About a year or so ago, you came to me to request leave in order to find out more about a young squire, but you found out he’d died in the Northern Territories…”
The Prince was light on the details, despite remembering everything Roland told him back then, but he and Roland were in public and he didn’t know who could be listening in.
“I remember, Your Highness,” Roland said, his smile dropping slightly as he wondered why August was bringing this up now.
“Describe this boy to me,” August commanded, and it was a command, despite his airy tone and bright smile.
“Uhh,” Roland mumbled as he recalled his mission to the Northern Territories more than two years ago. “Dark hair, black or very dark brown…” he said as he tried to picture Leon in his mind. In truth, he’d never paid that much attention to the boy, focusing more on Artorias during his time in the north.
“Take your time,” August said, noticing his friend’s discomfort and slight panic.
As Roland got his thoughts in order, he said, “The boy was tall, maybe about six feet or so, rather thin…”
August frowned in dissatisfaction. The Leon he’d just met was about as tall as Roland mentioned, but he was much more heavily built than the Paladin was describing, but just as August was going to interrupt with a more direct question, something occurred to Roland.
“There was something else… his eyes were yellow, I think? Maybe gold? Seemed a bit unusual to me, but I have to admit that I never really looked at the kid.”
“I understand,” August said as a smile bloomed on his face. “That was all I needed to know, thank you.”
“May I ask Your Highness about your sudden interest?” Roland asked.
“There’s a young knight—not even twenty, I’d say—in my uncle’s service named Leon Ursus. He’s tall, fifth-tier, and as built as a mage of that strength should be…” Here, August paused. He was also a fifth-tier mage, but his physique was rather lacking, though he knew perfectly well why that was the case. “He has golden eyes,” the Prince finished. He glanced meaningfully over at Roland and saw the Paladin staring back at him slack-jawed.
“I… I thought he was dead! I was told he was dead!” Roland rambled.
“There must have been some miscommunication or mistake, or maybe this isn’t the same person,” August said. “The name and physical description could just be a coincidence, but regardless, I’m going to speak with my uncle soon, and I’d like you to join me. I have a sense that this ‘Leon Ursus’ will be joining us, and I would like to know if you recognize him.”
“Yes! Yes, Your Highness!” Roland instantly agreed.
The clean-up after a battle like what the Legion soldiers had just endured was always long and tedious. Thousands of bodies had to be collected and tallied, but there also had to be a sizeable number of soldiers keeping watch just in case the Talfar army tried to launch raids against those dealing with the dead. No one seriously thought that the Talfar army was in good enough shape to do this, but Trajan always insisted on the precaution.
There would be a meeting once night fell for Trajan to get a full idea of casualties sustained and damage inflicted on the enemy, but until that happened, he didn’t have much to do after making his quick inspections. Consequently, he was now waiting for Prince August in one of his sitting rooms with Leon.
“I understand,” Trajan whispered.
Leon had just told Trajan about his experience with Roland in the Northern Vales, and about the Paladin’s connection with Adrianos Isynos, one of the men-at-arms under one of Roland’s knights, and also one of the men who attacked Leon’s home and killed Artorias.
It had taken Leon a little while to get through the story, as he kept hesitating and questioning if telling Trajan all of this was the right call, but in the end, he decided to trust the Prince. Trajan already knew that Artorias was dead, of course, but hearing the full story from Leon was another thing entirely.
Trajan had been good friends with Kyros Raime, though admittedly not as close with the Archduke as King Julius had been. Still, Leon’s story of the death of Kyros’ last living son left Trajan quietly furious. He stood staring out of a window with his back to the rest of the small sitting room, but he was emitting so much killing intent that Leon felt a little sick.
“I will look into this Paladin,” Trajan stated as he turned around. The sitting room was dim, and his face was cast in shadow as his back turned to the light of the setting sun. “If Sir Roland had any hand in the fall of your House, then he will pay dearly for it.”
“Thank you, Trajan,” Leon said.
“Is there anything else you can tell me about these events? Any information about those assassins?” the Prince inquired.
For a moment, Leon contemplated telling Trajan what he had learned from Valeria, about her family’s connection with Adrianos, but his voice caught in his throat. “N-No,” he stuttered. Trajan caught the stutter, but he trusted Leon enough to let it go for the time being.
“I know the man who looked into the events surrounding the attack on Artorias Raime’s villa eighteen years ago, and I have a couple other contacts I trust to look into these matters discreetly, I’ll send them a few letters.”
“Thank you,” Leon repeated.
“For now, though, you can rest assured that you have nothing to fear from Roland. Unlike the other Paladins, Roland is not a seventh-tier mage. He’ll have to go through me to get to you.”
Leon smiled and laughed in embarrassment. The only other man to ever express so much concern over his well-being was Artorias; most other guys he’d met were either too intimidated by his and Artorias’ lifestyle or were kept at enough of a distance where that concern wouldn’t be warranted. In other words, he wasn’t used to this treatment, and was happy, embarrassed, and surprised all at once.
A knock at the door prevented any more talk of that nature, though, and a messenger informed Trajan that just about everyone had arrived for the post-battle meeting.
“Let’s get to it,” Trajan said once the messenger left. “Make sure to control yourself, don’t fly off the handle at the first sight of Sir Magnus.”
Leon sheepishly agreed, knowing that as soon as he saw Roland, his first instinct would undoubtedly be to attack and remove him as a threat.
All of the Legates, high-ranking Tribunes, diplomats, and other important knights had gathered in Trajan’s meeting room. They rose when the Prince entered, and only took their seats again once Trajan sat down on his dais. The only people missing now were August and the three Paladins that accompanied him.
They didn’t have long to wait, though. Not even a minute after Trajan’s arrival, August walked in through the door, causing the rest of the knights to rise once again.
Leon paid extra attention to Roland, and he saw the Paladin’s eyes scan the crowd of a couple hundred knights. He felt like he knew what the Paladin was looking for, or rather, who the Paladin was looking for. And it seemed like his suspicion was confirmed once Roland’s gaze finally drifted toward the front of the room, where Leon stood behind Trajan.
As soon as Leon’s figure entered Roland’s vision, the Paladin’s eyes widened in surprise and recognition. He was a little taller, with shorter hair and a much more filled out body, but now that he was looking for him, Roland instantly recognized the young man he met in the Northern Vales.
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