Chapter 283 - Under Triumph

Creating a knight in the Bull Kingdom was surprisingly regulated; to knight someone was a privilege reserved for those of a certain level of importance.  When he was a Tribune, Leon was high-ranking enough to hold that honor, but now that Trajan had stripped him of that rank in punishment for his recklessness, it was an honor he’d lost.

Consequently, knighting Alix wasn’t something he could just do on the spot, he had to wait until Trajan gave him Royal permission.

And so, when they were certain that the feast was over, Leon and Alix’s training session came to an end and they hurried back to the palace in Calabria.  By the time they returned, however, almost everyone had gone to sleep, including Trajan, forcing them to wait until morning.

This was a problem because that morning was when they had to get back on the road and continue towards the capital.  Fortunately, Justin Isynos wasn’t accompanying them, he told them he had to stay in Calabria for a month or two and make his preparations to move out of the palace and hand over power to whoever took over the Exarchate when he was gone.

So, despite some disappointment from Alix, the knighting ceremony was put off for a little while.  On the plus side, though, she was now going to be knighted in the Royal Palace itself, an honor that completely made up for the delay, in her opinion.

About a week and a half later, the column finally began to approach the outskirts of the capital.  On the way, August and Trajan’s group met back up with the two Legions from the Central Territories that they had gone east with.  The stop in Calabria hadn’t been long, but it had been enough for the Legions to gain enough distance that the two groups merged back into one for the final leg of the journey.

The pace had been blistering by mortal standards, more than fifty miles per day, but for mages, that wasn’t such a big deal—though, to be fair, many of the first-tier mages were smoked and barely on their feet, but as the capital appeared in the distance, they picked themselves up and kept walking with as much pride and dignity as they could.  They were a victorious army marching home, even if most of the actual fighting had been done by the Legions of the Bull’s Horns.

Before they were able to enter the city, however, a rider approached the column and made straight for Prince August.

“Your Highness!” the messenger greeted with a bow.  “I bring a message from the palace!”  He was a young man, appearing to be barely twenty years old, and possessed with second-tier strength.  It was clear from his greeting alone that he didn’t recognize Trajan, not that the elder Prince cared all that much.  However, August cared a great deal that his Uncle wasn’t being shown the proper respect.

“Greetings, what message have you brought to me and my uncle?” August asked, making a point to call attention to Trajan and his status.

The messenger instantly paled and hurriedly bowed to the elder Prince, but Trajan simply growled, “Get on with it.”

“Yes, Your Highnesses!” the messenger replied as he pulled a letter out of the breast pocket of his green Legion uniform.

“Who sent this message?” August asked as he held his hand out for the letter.

The messenger gingerly handed it over and replied, “Sir Tacitus, Your Highness!”

August nodded in acknowledgment as he opened the letter.  Tacitus was the King’s appointed Chancellor, the chief legislative official within the Bull Kingdom.  It was the job of the Chancellor and the veritable legion of lawyers that worked under him to ensure that the King’s will was made into law and to resolve any conflicts that that will may have with existing laws.  The Chancellor also served as the head of the King’s advisory council, in effect serving as the monarch’s right-hand man.

Over the past few years, August had leaned heavily on the elderly Tacitus, a man who had been serving King Julius throughout his entire reign and Julius’ father for decades before that.  All in all, Tacitus had more than a century’s worth of experience working in the Royal Palace, and August considered him a wise and indispensable member of the Royal government.

August opened the letter and quickly read through the contents.  His face dropped with every line, from first the stoicism that all members of the Royal Family were expected to present when in public, to annoyance, and then to anger.

“Thank you,” August said to the messenger in clear dismissal.  The messenger, understanding that there wasn’t going to be anything for him to take back with him, bowed once more to both August and Trajan, then rode off, though not before looking back over his shoulder one last time at Trajan, who cut an imposing figure dressed as he was in full, gleaming, glittering steel plate armor that emphasized his already gigantic arms and shoulders.

“Explain,” Trajan quietly demanded, seeing the look on his nephew’s face.

“It seems that my brother has returned to the capital during my absence,” August bitterly stated.  “What’s more, he’s already made arrangements for the army to return to the capital under triumph.”

“I see…” Trajan muttered as a similar look of annoyance flashed across his face.

To cross the city limits under triumph meant a great deal of required ceremony that Trajan would’ve been much happier to avoid, but given how prestigious such a thing was, it wasn’t lightly canceled or ignored—and besides, canceling it would take more time than simply accepting it, and he just wanted to get to the Royal Palace after the long journey.

“The wording, though, is quite clear,” August continued, “this is a triumphal procession for the army, meaning you, Uncle, and the rest of the soldiers.  I and the Paladins that followed me are prohibited from participating…”

Trajan grunted in displeasure.  For the returning army to enter under triumph was almost expected—they had defeated a strong enemy and won a great victory, after all—but for one of the Princes that led them and the Paladins and their retinues that greatly contributed to that victory to not be included was a grave insult that spoke volumes about Octavius’ attitudes toward his brother and the Paladins that followed him.

Trajan began to get a gut feeling that he made the correct choice in who to support.  August was relatively self-centered, as any Prince who had been raised in the secluded Royal Harem was going to be, but Trajan hadn’t seen any sign that he would behave so rudely toward loyal and critical members of the Kingdom’s military.

As they continued to ride, August began to slow down.  Trajan and the two Legions would be stopped at the city limit while the triumph was prepared, but he had no idea what he and the Paladins were ‘supposed’ to do.

‘What… should I do?’ August wondered to himself as he glared at the approaching city.  He couldn’t just go around and enter the city from another road, he couldn’t afford such an embarrassment given how politically unstable his position was, and waiting for the triumph to end was similarly out of the question.  However, he couldn’t enter the city during triumph preparations, leaving him with little choice as to what he could do.

But there was one more choice…

Along the Gold Road, even the outlying buildings were made of beautiful white stone and polished marble, with the slums and lower class districts concentrated around the northern side of the city.  The point that truly marked where the capital began, however, was a massive triumphal arch, with three immense arched gateways with decorative columns to each side and an intricate frieze above them all showing scenes from the first Bull King’s unification wars that created the Bull Kingdom.

The army stopped just before this triumphal arch.  There was a company of honor guard waiting for them, dressed in green and gold dress armor that was far too ostentatious to be anything other than ceremonial, and was led by a Legate rather than a Centurion.

“Your Highness!” the Legate called out, bowing toward Trajan as the column advanced.  He glanced at August, but he gave the younger Prince nothing more than a thin, derisive smile before turning back to Trajan.

Once his eyes locked with Trajan’s, however, he felt the full weight of the two and half centuries that Trajan had spent building his killing intent crash upon him.  Despite being a sixth-tier mage just like Trajan, the Legate almost collapsed from the fear and overwhelming pressure.

“You know, I really don’t care when people forego the usual ceremonies when it comes to me, but don’t get carried away, the dignity of the Royal Family is not for you to dismiss,” Trajan growled, the warning he packed into his statement going unsaid, but being perfectly understood, regardless.

“I… apologize, Your Highness!” the Legate said first to Trajan, and then again to August.  The Legate bowed to the latter Prince, and he had to go much further than the standard bend at the waist or genuflection before Trajan relieved the pressure his aura had upon the hapless Legate.

The Legate struggled to his feet looking more than a little embarrassed and humiliated after being so handled in front of his soldiers, but there was nothing he could do about it.

“Your Highness… is aware of the regulations regarding entering the city under triumph, I’m sure,” the Legate said as he struggled to quell his rage, “however, as the Master of Ceremonies here, I must insist on repeating them.”

Trajan glared at the man, but he nodded to signal him to continue.

“None in the triumphal procession may enter armed or armored,” the Legate stated.  “Neither may anyone within the procession enter mounted upon a horse, war beast, or any other animal; they must walk in upon their own two legs.”

“Mmhmm,” Trajan grunted impatiently.

“You must walk from here to the Monolith of Victory, give the proper thanks and veneration to the Ancestors, and then from there to the Royal Palace, where the Prince-Regent shall greet Your Highness and grant the appropriate rewards for victory.”

Trajan nodded, then growled, “If that’s all, get lost.”

“I… It is, Your Highness,” the Legate said, almost instinctively calling out Trajan’s rudeness, but fortunately, he thought better of it before the words left his mouth.  He then turned around, but just before he joined his waiting company, he added, “The triumph will begin in about an hour and a half!”

“Noted,” Trajan responded with barely another look at the Legate.  This whole thing rubbed him the wrong way; he wasn’t even technically in the capital yet and here he was already infuriated at the politicking.

Trajan turned around and rode back to Minerva.   He quickly relayed what was happening, and the lady knight instantly took charge, getting the knights off their horses and having everyone put away their weapons and armor.  Fortunately, at every major entrance to the capital there was a large Legion post house, and the one they were near had stables large enough for all of their horses and enough storage space for the soldiers who were weaker than the fifth-tier to securely leave their weapons and armor.

Once everything was in motion, Trajan was joined back at the front by Minerva, Leon, and several other of his high-ranked knights.

“Your Highness,” Leon quietly asked, “is it really necessary for the removal of armaments?”

“Yes,” Trajan replied with a bitter expression.  “Or at least, it’s required by the regulations of a triumph.”

“They could’ve given us more warning, though,” Minerva grumbled silently enough that no one apart from their small group could hear.

“If this were about our victory, they would’ve informed us long before we arrived, proper triumphs take months to organize,” Trajan said, almost spitting out the words.

The group fell into silence as everyone began to pull their weapons and armor back into their soul realms.  The sixth-tier knights were done in seconds, but it took almost an hour for those like Leon who were quite heavily armored to finish up.

While waiting for his subordinates to get ready, Trajan approached August, who had just gotten back to the triumphal arch after storing his horse in the post house.

“I take it you’ve reached a decision as to what you’re going to do?” Trajan asked the younger Prince.

“I have,” August replied.  “My brother seeks to humiliate me by using this triumph to block my entering the city.”

“I would guess the same,” Trajan agreed.  One clue that the triumph was only being used for political purposes was that none of the eastern Legions were present, this was a parade being thrown for the two Legions who were returning home, neither of which actually saw any combat during the short war.  Of those who were normally stationed in the capital, it was only the Paladins and their subordinate knights who fought, and yet they were being singled out and excluded from this celebration.

“I don’t care what my brother has ordered, though,” August said, eliciting a look of interest from Trajan.  “I and the Paladins will enter this city, even if we’re not a part of this triumph.”

Trajan smiled and said, “Good.  This victory is as much yours as it is anyone else’s.”

Several minutes later, the Legate approached Trajan and said, “Your Highness, it’s time, let the triumph begin.”

Trajan glanced past the triumphal arch and saw that the Legion band had been prepared, musicians specifically trained for official Legion ceremonies such as triumphs or other such celebrations.

The Prince sighed in resignation—he really didn’t want to bother with this pageantry—and ordered the Legions to begin the march into the capital under triumph.

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Chapter 284 - Triumph

Chapter 282 - August's Offer