Vol.1, Ch.2, P.1
Into vivid view emerged the headquarters of the 5th Chivalric Order, honoured home and hall of the knights.
As our carriage passed through the main portcullis, a vast training field spanned before our eyes. This stretch of land supposedly also served as a staging area for the entirety of the 5th; an appropriate purpose, for the field reached far and wide indeed. Encapsulating it was a winding wall, generous in its circular embrace.
Facing the field was a grand edifice: the headquarters proper. As bastions of the kingdom, the five Chivalric Orders are numbered according to their power and prestige, with the 5th being the lowest. Yet in spite of this, the headquarters’ construction was most impressive and imposing, clothed as it was in brilliant arrays of brickwork.
Emilie and I summarily disembarked our carriage and joined the procession of recruits wending its way into the training grounds. There, we all assembled before a speech platform, onto which stepped a man of little more than thirty years of age.
“Hail and well met, little lions!” his voice thundered. “As Knight Mareschal of this esteemed 5th Chivalric Order, I, Bartt Tallien, welcome you! One and all!”
Knight Mareschal—that would make him the top military commander to the Order. Quite young for the position, this Bartt Tallien. But a rarity? Not so.
The 5th functions on the side as something of a college, where the sons and daughters of nobility descend to earn their investitures and build their aristocratic careers. It is also host to commonborn personnel; while it has its fair share of long-serving veterans, great in number, too, are those choosing to abide the coming of more fruitful opportunities.
Thus a quick turnover here was not at all strange, even amongst members of the top brass. That the mareschal himself was relatively early in his years for his station, therefore, should elicit no surprise.
“Joyous am I overmuch! To give salute to you all! And as equals henceforth, to join swords with you that we might further bolster the aegis of our kingdom!”
This Mareschal Tallien, too, counts himself amongst the nobility. His manner of speech certainly sounded the part, to say nothing of the ornate armour that encased him, silver as it was—just like his tongue.
Ah, yes. Silver: the most excellent of all odyllic conductors. Arms and armaments forged of this metal can be made effective to an extreme once infused with odyl. Within the Orders, only those ranked lieutenant or higher are fitted with such equipment.
Beyond its functionality, the argent gear is also beautiful in both shape and craftsmanship, and is surely the subject of much admiration from officers lesser-ranked. Of course, such things were no less trivial than trinkets to one void of odyl like myself.
“We shall smite the foul Nafílim whence they fester!” Mareschal Tallien continued. “That is our solemn duty, to which we pledge our very lives! For King and Country! For Family and our fellow Man! From this day henceforth till the hour of your last breath, my little lions, deign not to forget this!”
Thus marked the end of the mareschal’s opening speech. His second-in-command, the under-mareschal, appeared next to present to us a rundown of the headquarters’ facilities.
At ground level were numerous training areas and offices for each of the brigades. Further furnished with bathhouses, a mess hall, and other like amenities, much of a knight’s time was to be spent here, from the look of it.
The second floor housed rooms for conferencing and the storage of reference materials, as well as communal barracks shared by the officers.
Private quarters for Order members of lieutenant rank and up were located on the third floor—any other officer required authorisation to step foot upon this level.
Facilities other than these, such as the smithy and a simple shop, were located in separate buildings, it seemed. I’d wager one could scarce leave the headquarters’ grounds and still live in comfort.
An order was then announced: we were to assemble at the training field at the next light of dawn. With that, we were given free reign for the rest of our first day at the Order; the next was to be the official entrance ceremony.
“Well… that’s it, then,” said Emilie. “We should meet again later, Rolf. In the mess hall, let’s say.”
“I’ll see you there.”
With a new promise of a supper to be spent together, Emilie went off on her way to the women’s barracks. The promise did not stand, however, for later that night, I found her missing from the mess hall.
The skies wheeled to the next morning. Assembled upon the training field were we recruits, just as ordered. Only, here too, was Emilie nowhere to be seen.
The entrance ceremony was set to begin, and later in its course, the brigade assignments themselves. It bears reiterating that one does not immediately become a knight upon joining a brigade. Recruits start life at the Order as swains: underlings in attendance to a senior knight, from whom they learn the particulars of chivalric duty.
With the ceremony commencing in earnest, a stately, well-built man stepped onto the speech platform—one Marquis Norden, master of the eponymous marquisate upon which the 5th Chivalric Order’s headquarters itself was situated. As lord seneschal, the charge of the 5th’s operations fell to him, and consequently the budget for such flowed through his coffers.
It seemed he paid visits to the headquarters throughout the year. The annual entrance ceremony was one such occasion, during which he would give his briefing. This year was no different.
Thankfully, the marquis made himself not a man to mince words, and so kept the briefing short. What followed thereafter was supposed to be the brigade assignments, but the under-mareschal handling the ceremony’s proceedings instead spoke words that none expected.
“We shall now commence the rites of investiture!”
The marquis then took the opportunity to put in a word himself.
“Justly do I host the many of you, subjects of this Order so entrusted to me by His Majesty. And all the more so, should you avail us with excellency of service. Indeed, the worthy amongst you shall ever be accorded that which is your due. Of this, I entreat you all to know, and know well.”
At the knights’ signal, a girl joined the marquis on the platform.
“To wit, here stands the Lady Emilie Mernesse.”
My eyes widened.
“Newly inducted on this day, like the lot of you. But by way of the Roun of Orisons, she has been graced with extraordinary odyl—the most, mind you, in all the written annals of this Order. Duly and solemnly do I pay reverence to her promised power, and so on this day shall I confer to her the honour and duty of damehood.”
The recruits hummed with whispers and rustles. This was unheard of—a new officer, not only skipping the toil of swainhood, but being knighted right at the start of her first year.
“…I see. So that was the way of it,” I thought aloud. I understood then why Emilie had been absent: she was informed that a coming rite of investiture was to receive her, and had been preparing for the accolade from night till dawn.
In the evening before one’s knighting, the body must be bathed and purified. Thereafter, one must suffer a sleepless night with a sword ever-clasped in both hands. Such is the custom of this kingdom’s Chivalric Orders.
Emilie was stiff in her expression, as if arrested by anxiety. She then knelt before the marquis and offered up her sword. The nobleman received it, and unsheathing it, presented the sword skyward. Then, with the flat of the blade, he tapped Emilie’s shoulders three times.
Standard procedure for an accolade. In eras past, it was a simplified rite of investiture carried out on the battlefield. However, it was retained for use in more peaceful circumstances, as per the Orders’ conviction that a knight’s battle with the Nafílim endures ever more.
Recalling such details, I watched on as Emilie took back her sword and rose to her feet. A tinge of worry clouded her countenance. She peered through the lines of recruits, as if looking for someone. Then, hanging her head, affixed the sword to her hip.
Emilie was made a dame.
The dream I long held—realised in the blink of an eye.
At that moment, I felt something of a distance growing between us. Where we once peered at the horizon together, I now stood alone, looking on as Emilie faded further into the reach.
With Emilie’s accolade done, the under-mareschal returned to the platform and raised his voice.
“We shall now announce the brigade assignments!”
One by one, the recruits were then told of which brigade they would serve. Cavalry, infantry, sorcery, support, logistics, and so on—the Order has no shortage of specialised brigades. Each is further split into three by number, and to which a recruit is assigned is determined by aptitude.
Delight and displeasure, conviction and consternation—the whole gamut of emotions were on display as the recruits each received their assignments.
“Next: Rolf Buckmann!”
“You shall henceforth go with the Owlcrane Brigade!”
A stir erupted amongst those present.
The Owlcrane Brigade: a unit under the direct supervision of the mareschal.
In his time, St. Rakliammelech was said to have a fondness for birds, especially so for owls and cranes, hence the rather poetic eponym. Operational in all the five Orders, this brigade comprises only those truly capable.
But therein lies the rub: what designs would a brigade of such import have for someone void of odyl as me? The whole of it was concealed from my ken. In its place, then, was the ill foreboding that began to gnaw at me.
Revision – 2022.10.27