“My subordinates in Pretani have finally made contact with the Elder Council, their offer of peace was genuine. Or at least, it is now,” Fonteius stated. He, and most of the others in the meeting room, had heavy doubts about whether Gwen’s offer was legitimate, but in the wake of Owain’s surrender and the retreat of the tattered remnants of his army, Talfar’s Elder Council finally made time for Fonteius’ subordinates and assured them of their peaceful intent.
“That’s good to hear,” Trajan said.
“Indeed, it’s a joyful thing to hear of the stabilization of the eastern border,” August said. “By the way, Sir Aquillius, I’m told that you were the one who masterminded the current peace with the southern stone giants, is that true?”
“To a degree, it is, Your Highness,” Aquillius said with both a smile of pride and a slight bow of humility, “however, I did not do it alone.” The diplomat’s eyes briefly glanced at Leon, but he said nothing more. If Trajan didn’t tell August about Leon’s involvement, then Aquillius certainly wasn’t going to.
“You should be commended, the mines of the Eastern Territories are one of this Kingdom’s greatest sources of wealth, and you have ensured their safety. In fact, everyone here has ensured the safety of the Eastern Territories, and you all deserve a reward!”
“We have only done our duty, Nephew, there is no need for a reward,” Trajan said.
“You have all endured for weeks against tremendous odds! Even if was your duty, it was performed magnificently!” August replied.
Trajan’s mouth began to turn into a frown, and he said, “We still have other business to conduct, so perhaps we could discuss this later?”
August was taken aback, but he agreed.
“Good. Now then, on to the much dirtier part,” Trajan growled, his voice deep and furious and his aura laden with killing intent. “Bring in the prisoners!”
At his order, three people were led into the meeting room: Gwen, Owain, and Arthwyn.
Gwen and Owain, at least, stood with dignity even when being stared at by hundreds of fifth, sixth, and seventh-tier mages, but Arthwyn was still bound and gagged; whenever the gag was removed, he would rave and rant about how he would kill Trajan if given the chance, burn Ariminium to the ground, slaughter every Legion soldier who called the city home, and other unpleasant things of that nature. Eventually, the gag was simply left in.
“I have called you three here to pass judgment upon you,” Trajan said. “You have invaded my Kingdom, butchered my people, and shattered the peace that has lasted between our nations for eighty years!”
Owain didn’t particularly enjoy this short castigation, and Gwen enjoyed it even less as she wasn’t an active participant in the war, but Arthwyn stared wild-eyed at Trajan and struggled against those holding his chains. Fortunately, the former Marshal didn’t get far, the sixth-tier mages holding his leash were far too strong for him to break free.
“What, then, will you do with us?” Gwen asked as diplomatically as she was able under the circumstances.
Trajan paused for effect as he looked each of the three in eyes. “First…” he slowly began, drawing the sentencing out even further, “I condemn the former Marshal Arthwyn to death by beheading.”
Once the sentence was done, the three sixth-tier mages that were securing Arthwyn grabbed the former Marshal and held him down while a Tribune appeared from the crowd with a headman’s block and a bucket. Once Arthwyn was securely held on the block, Trajan rose from the dais and drew a large two-handed sword with a rounded tip from his soul realm.
The Prince didn’t hesitate; as soon as he drew up to Arthwyn’s side, he raised the blade and brought it down, without even giving Arthwyn the time for last words or to contemplate his failures. In an instant, the former Marshal’s head fell into the bucket and his blood pooled on the floor of the meeting room.
Trajan casually returned the executioners blade to his soul realm and walked back to the dais as if he hadn’t done anything. Arthwyn’s body was left next to Owain and Gwen, but as a statement of intent or an attempt to intimidate, neither could say.
The next person to speak wasn’t Trajan, who proceeded to stare at the other two Talfar officials, but August.
“As for you two,” the younger Prince said, “we’re going to keep you here as our honored guests until the time comes to ransom you back to your Kingdom. A Marshal and a Prince ought to fetch a high enough price to rebuild everything you’ve destroyed and pay the pensions for all of our dead soldiers, I should think…”
“And what of our peace?” Gwen asked with no small amount of bitterness. “I have been charged by Her Majesty, Queen Andraste to broker peace between our Kingdoms!”
“We’ve no intention to invade your lands,” August said in a conciliatory tone, in contrast to Gwen’s more accusatory voice, “and since your Elder Council has made it clear that they never wanted Prince Owain to invade us in the first place, I doubt there will be any more invasions of our lands, either. We’re in a state of de facto truce, we need no formal treaties until we reach an actual peace agreement.”
“How will Your Highness inform my Queen?” Gwen inquired.
“Our Diplomatic Corps will let Pretani know, and I’m sure that Queen Andraste will learn of it shortly after,” August responded.
“Hmph! Very well,” Gwen shot back, realizing that she wasn’t going to be let go any time soon, despite the fact that she was sent as a diplomatic envoy.
For his part, Owain was just happy that his head was still atop his shoulders; his eyes hadn’t left the bucket that Arthwyn’s head had fallen into, and he didn’t seem to be paying any attention to what was being discussed.
Once all that was done, though, the rest of the meeting was more dry, boring, logistical talk that Leon could barely manage to pay attention to, mostly about how to get the citizens of Florentia back to their city and how to house and feed the other three Legions that had arrived, especially since there was still another on its way.
When the meeting was finally over, Trajan dismissed Leon as he had nothing else for the young knight to do, so Leon made for the door just behind the rest of the knights. He saw out of the corner of his eye Roland attempting to get closer to him, as August had dismissed the Paladins as well, but Leon had little desire to speak with Roland. Even with Trajan promising him protection, he wanted as little contact between himself and Roland as possible.
As soon as he stepped out of the meeting room, he got the perfect excuse to hurriedly ditch the keep and leave the Paladin behind.
“Sir!” Alix said in greeting as soon as she saw him.
Noticing her slightly anxious expression, Leon asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I was talking to some of the other squires while we waited, and they mentioned that Henry was injured in the last battle!”
“Did they say where he’s being treated?” Leon asked.
“At the hospital in the Southern Horn,” Alix relayed.
Leon was concerned about his friend, but he was also immensely grateful for the excuse to hurry out of the keep, and he seized upon it, quickly leading Alix and Anzu toward the doors before Roland could catch up and initiate a conversation.
“You know,” Leon said as they walked out the main doors, “I honestly didn’t expect as much concern from you over Henry’s well-being, I got the impression that you weren’t that fond of him…”
“I wouldn’t call him a friend,” Alix explained, “but I do think he’s all right. A bit too prone to bragging and exaggeration though…”
Leon chuckled and agreed, saying, “That he is…”
Upon arriving at the hospital, Leon was directed to Henry’s hospital room by the nurses at the front desk, and much like when Trajan came to visit him a couple weeks prior, he found Henry’s room easily enough simply by the people outside of it. Specifically, he saw Charles, Alain, and Ateia all by the door.
“Leon!” Charles called out as soon as he glanced up and saw his friend. However, a quick side-look from Ateia snapped him out of his informal demeanor and he added, “… Sir!”
“Relax, no need for that kind of shit,” Leon said with a dismissive wave. He held a great disdain for formalities, especially when they were applied to him.
“It’s good to see you again, Sir Ursus,” Ateia said, ignoring his previous statement completely.
“And you, Dame Ateia,” Leon responded. He then stoically nodded at Alain, who stoically nodded back, despite a dirty look from the lady knight. Alain knew Leon decently enough to know that he was serious about not liking formality, and he also knew that since he wasn’t Ateia’s squire, she couldn’t technically punish him for anything, so he pointedly didn’t correct himself.
“How’s Henry?” Leon asked.
“Hmm? You’re here for my squi-… Ah! That’s right, you two went to the Knight Academy together, didn’t you?” Ateia responded. “He’s fine, he tried to take on a fourth-tier Talfar warrior when the bastard crossed the bridge from a siege tower, and he got a sword across the chest for the trouble. Fortunately, his armor held, so while he got banged up more than is healthy, he’ll live.”
Charles wasn’t too satisfied with Ateia’s rather flippant attitude and light explanation, and added, “That slash also shattered his shoulder, and the healers are busy putting it back together. And that fourth-tier warrior that injured him was killed by Dame Ateia seconds later.”
“Good to hear,” Leon said with a wicked smile.
“I would never let anyone hurt my squire and get away with it!” Ateia said with a smile to match. “Or at least, not those who seriously hurt him,” she added with a nod and a wink sent Alix’s way.
At that moment, the door to Henry’s room opened and a healer and two nurses walked out into the hallway.
“Ah, Dame Ateia!” the healer exclaimed. “I must insist again that you not wait in the halls!”
This statement made Leon frown a little, as indeed, he and the rest of the group were the only people in the hallway; he didn’t realize that it was against the rules of the hospital to wait in the halls and he was a little embarrassed. Even more, though, was his annoyance at the nurses at the front desk not telling him this to begin with.
“How’s my squire doing?” Ateia asked, ignoring the healer’s statement entirely.
The healer sighed in exasperation, but he still said, “I have another nurse finishing things up in there with the boy. Once he’s done, your squire will be good to walk out of here.” As the healer began to walk away to treat his next patient, he added, “And I would recommend a day or two of bed rest as well!”
“Noted!” Ateia responded with a happy smile.
The group then walked into Henry’s room and found their brown-haired and lean-framed friend sitting up in bed with a male nurse using a healing spell on his shoulder.
“Oh, hey!” Henry almost shouted as they appeared. “And Leon! And Miss Alix!” he said with surprise.
Leon responded with a smile and said, “You’re looking well, I guess that Talfar warrior should’ve tried a little harder.”
“Yeah!” Charles said with a sarcastic tone, “If he cut just a little bit deeper, we wouldn’t have to look at your ugly mug anymore!”
“Trust me, my friend, it’s a far greater curse I must endure to look upon your ghastly visage than it is for you to witness my beauty!” Henry responded, and the two stared daggers at each for about half a second before bursting into laughter.
“Ah! Come here you little bastard!” Alain shouted as he almost ripped Henry out of bed for a hug.
Fortunately, for Henry, the nurse had just finished with the healing spell seconds before, so the tall and muscular Alain didn’t hurt him too much with his bear hug.
The four friends began to catch up with each other, telling their own tales of their deeds done during battle, though Leon merely said that he guarded a tower during the first assault and was at Trajan’s side for the second. This also drew Alix into the storytelling, and though she didn’t consider Charles, Henry, or Alain particularly good friends, she did get quite enthusiastic as she told the story of her own picking off of Talfar warriors with her bow and her disgust at their usage of their levied peasants as human shields.
After a few minutes, Ateia had to interrupt to express her own thanks at Henry’s recovery and to give him a couple days off, as the healer ordered. With that said, she started making her way to the door, but just as she was about to leave, she turned back and said to Leon, “And Sir Ursus, I’m still waiting for that rematch!”
“Soon,” Leon promised with a smile of anticipation, and Ateia nodded, then left.
And with that, the group was left alone to relax in the wake of a short but hard fought war.
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