Vol.1, Ch.6, P.1


Through the quiet night, I drave my steed unimpeded.

The hour-sand was flowing fast, but at last I arrived at headquarters before the break of dawn. There, I made my way back to the barracks and savoured but a scant few hours of slumber.

Today, the routine would start anew. I got up, had a change of clothes, and prepared to set out for morning training, just as the half-light of the waking skies peeked through the windows.

The door banged. Fierce knocks, one after the other.

“Rolf Buckmann!” came a muffled shout. “Come out at once!”

Rather urgent at such an hour—who could it be?

I opened the door.

“Yes—” finding three leaders, “—sirs?”

No familiar faces here.

“Buckmann, is it?” the frontmost leader glared. “These past two days—what’ve you been up to?”

“Sir. The mareschal gave me two days’ leave,” I began explaining. What ill. “I left for town at ereyesterday’s eventide, and returned not till the late hours of yesternight.”

Nothing about my escapade at the Albeck viscounty could be revealed here. I had no other choice—spending my days off in town would be my excuse. It was sound enough. Members of the Order are free to do as they please upon given leave, after all. Curfews, staying the night elsewhere—no such limitations confined them. Thus my dallying in town should not have set off any bells.

The leaders exchanged looks.

“Come,” was their terse response.



Following them, we wound briskly through the halls before emerging out into the open. Before long, I was led to the stables. Only, there was something odd about the scene here. The early-bird stablehands were stopped in their duties. All was quiet.

I looked across the stalls.

One of them was empty—a stall that I was very familiar with.

“What do your eyes tell you, ey?” one of the leaders pointed. “The mareschal’s steed—it is gone. The same mount as your charge, none other.”

“Yet it was here ereyesterday, when last I’d checked,” I countered. “As I’ve said, I was not present at headquarters till my return late last night. In that time, responsibility for the mareschal’s horse should’ve fallen to the stablehands.”

“Those same stablehands attest that they’ve not caught sight of the horse. Not as of yesterdawn,” another leader said. “What’ve you done with the horse ereyesterday? Tell us!”

“I’d done just as I’ve always done on that morning. I groomed the horse, fed it, and took it for a walk.”

“And then what? Your numb wits got the better of you, did they? You forgot to send the steed back to its stall!” a leader raised his voice, shaking his head. “Gutter-scum ungraced! A scarecrow makes for a better stablehand than you, it does!”

“Nay, sir. I made certain to return the horse back to its place,” I confirmed. “Once more did I check ere my evening departure for town—then, too, was it right here in this stall.”

“And we’re to believe your muddied account, eh? The words of an addle-pated alga. Trustworthy indeed!” scoffed another leader. They were all livid, more so than usual. But they had good reason to be: Emilie’s steed was a most special one. “The mareschal was bequeathed that horse by none other than His Majesty. You know where it has gone. Tell us!”

“Any soul would be frayed of nerves to care after so dear a horse, ‘tis certain. But to let it run off? Spineless overmuch, are we!?”

“That steed fetches more coin than you’ll ever be worth, ungraced! Don’t tell us you hadn’t realised even that!?”

They spoke true.

The vanished horse was one given to Emilie by the king of our land, a boon for the 5th’s successful recapture of the Godrika Minery two winters past. The steed was invaluable indeed, and to Emilie and our entire Order both, it was an emblem of great honour.

It need not be said that to lose such a precious prize was a grave matter. There was fear mixed in with the anger of the leaders before me, one of earning the displeasure of our king, all by the fault of an ungraced foolish enough to let the horse escape.

A heated sigh.

“That does it. We speak with the mareschal,” a leader relented as he began making his way out. “Come!”



A doorway.

Upon its face, an engraved plate. “Chamber of the Dame Mareschal,” it read. And past the door was I, standing before Emilie as she was sat at the command desk. Flanking her were the three executive officers, their eyes fixed upon me in their fury.

“I believe I’ve heard enough,” Emilie said calmly. “Yet Rolf has made it clear he returned my horse to its stall, did he not?”

“My fair Mareschal Mernesse,” one of the leaders addressed most deliberately. “With all due respect, surely you’ve not fallen for the words of this fellow?”

“Not once has he failed in his office. I see no reason to doubt him so.”

“Fail, madame?” another leader raised his eyebrows. “He is a toothless ungraced, unfit for battle. He but whiles away the days scrubbing armour and sweeping up our places. Perhaps he is unspotted in his menial duties—but what of it? ‘Tis neither here nor there, I’d say!”

“You have known him since your earliest days,” the third thought to air his mind, “that, we understand very well. But madame—you are Mareschal to our Order.”

Part well your private affairs from your public office, coddle not this cur-dog of an ungraced—the thinly-veiled implications of the leaders’ words.

It was no secret that some amongst our ranks maintained a particular misgiving: that Emilie was insufficiently impartial in her consortion with me. Yet my eyes saw differently. Emilie was ever fair in her interactions; it was the others that were taken with partiality in their flagrant displays of discrimination. But of course, they thought otherwise.

The doubts they harboured for their own mareschal were heretofore unaired to any open degree, for like a fine mist before the rising sun, such unease was quick to dissipate before Emilie’s sheer charisma.

Yet was I always the thorn jabbing their jealous hearts, an ungraced ever by the side of their dear mareschal. It was only a matter of time before such spite spewed forth into the open.

Emilie was fit to be the next hero-dame. That much they saw, and eager were they to crown her to such effect. But the coronation, as it were, could not continue on account of who else but myself. A disease in their flesh, a flaw in their machinations. To enthrone Emilie, they felt the pressing need to fling me as far from her side as possible.

“My leaders. Calm, please,” Emilie soothed the leaders, before turning to me. “Rolf. Might I hear from you of your whereabouts over these last two days?”

“Aye, Mareschal,” answered I. “Verily was I told to take rest from my duties by none other than yourself. A rest spanning two days.”

“Yes. ‘Tis certain those were my words to you.”

“Only, the stablehands were not apprised of this. Not immediately, at least. So it was that on the morning of ereyesterday, I took it upon myself to care for your horse.”

“Indeed… I did put you on leave rather asudden. A deed done in the late hours three nights past. ‘Twas my fault. I neglected to notify the stablers.”

“As per usual, I fed and walked the horse, returning it to its stall after tidying up the place.”

“There! That’s when you let it loose, is it!?” barked one of the leaders. And like heated hounds, they were all of them foaming from the corner of their mouths.

“Nay, sir,” I shook my head slightly. “As I’ve said time and again, I made certain to bring the horse back.”

“Then where is it gone, ay!?”

“Tame yourselves, will you please?” Emilie hushed the leaders once more. “Rolf. Go on.”

“Yes, Mareschal,” I nodded. “Given leave, I thought it best to also take rest from my training. I handed in the proper papers, and thus was the leave made official for that day and the next. I then browsed the library till dusk loomed, and from there headed off to town.”

“What followed?” Emilie pressed.

“I but remained in town till my return to headquarters very late last night.”

“Ah, so you stayed the night,” an officer jeered instantly. “Over at a bawdy-house, was it? Had your way with a whore, you did!”

“What?” Emilie’s eyes widened. “That’s nonsense! Right, Rolf?”

A thick silence.

One of the leaders pounced at the opportunity.

“Certainly, there are men amongst those awaiting war who are… well, compelled to part with a pretty coin for a whore only half as pretty. For our part, war is our duty, one that has us wager away our very lives. Thus even knights such as we have need of ‘comfort’—not least in the hours before our reckoning,” the leader expounded, not once breaking his glare upon me. “Our ungraced here finds no place in our battles. Yet he thought to bed with a harlot, as if to spite our good sacrifices. Oh! For shame.”

“R… Rolf?” said Emilie, visibly shaken. “You were in town—what were you doing there?”

Indeed, Rolf Buckmann. What were you doing? Give away any particulars, lie or no, and the Order will be quick to question the locals for any corroboration. There, they will find just as quickly that you were never really there at all.

This must not come to pass. They must not know. You must’ve been there, but as no more than a shadow that nary a soul would pay a mind. What, then, will be your excuse, Rolf Buckmann?

“Difficult to say,” I stated, unblinking. “I’m afraid I downed one too many bottles to remember.”

Anger flashed through the veins of the leaders.

“The nerve! Dare you jest before your Mareschal!?”

“Look at this stain upon the escutcheon of our Order!”

“Wait! Wait, please! Still your steeds, everyone!” Emilie shouted, having risen from her seat to soothe the livid leaders. Afterwards, she looked at me earnestly. “Rolf. I shall hear from you in greater detail on the morrow. Till then, pray be on your best behaviour,” she said, as calmly as she could. “Please, Rolf. Collect your thoughts. You have my ear—so long as you speak the truth, I will hear aught you have to say.”

So it was that the indictments made against me were to be brought to full bear on the next morrow. The leaders all fired their glares at me, as if their very eyes were as weapons made to kill.

For her part, Emilie was taken not by anger, but by anxiety. To me she looked, her face sullenly writ with the many questions she dearly wished to ask.



The following day.

The thick rustle of shuffling feet filled the air as the leadership filed into the Order conclave—a large conference space, one that I found myself standing squarely in the centre of. Before me was a U-shaped table, great in length, at which the leadership all took their seats.

The panel consisted of the entirety of the 5th’s executive officers. Not one was missing—not even Felicia. Gathered at the behest of the three leaders from yesterday, I suspected. The palpable ceremony of it all spoke clearly of the Order’s intent to take up the matter with utmost gravity.

At the very middle of the panel sat Emilie. Her erstwhile dawn-like face was sunk with a dusked expression.

“Gathered are we here today to solemnly deliberate upon the failings of one Rolf Buckmann,” one of the leaders announced full-throatedly.

It would seem they mean to make judges of themselves. How garish of a gathering, really. Shawl their shoulders with the mantles of magistrates and this could very well look the legitimate tribunal.

“A steed of the Reuscher breed has been reported missing from its stall as of ereyesterday. It bears mentioning that this same steed was no less a gracious gift from His Majesty to our honoured Dame Mareschal, the Lady Emilie Mernesse, for her decisive deeds in the recapture of the Godrika Minery,” the leader presented at length. “Rolf Buckmann, swain to the Mareschal herself, finds amongst his menial duties the care of the selfsame horse. This hearing commences on action of inquiry concerning his culpability in this grievous affair.”

A peculiar mien was upon the face of that leader. One of elation, or ecstasy even. The enthralling delight of declaiming the sins of the ungraced, from the look of him.

For my part, I stood ready before them all, set in my coming assertions, resolved in my rationality.

First things first. The matter of the missing horse—before aught else, it is but a foul fabrication.

Over and over had I reviewed my actions of that day, thinking that I may have been remiss somewhere. But nay. My memories all point to one conclusion: on that morning, I had returned the horse to its stall, and at evenfall, found it there yet again on my way out of headquarters.

As for the happenings in the Albeck viscounty, I certainly will not utter a single word of it, all things considered. Chancing otherwise would invite a grave wound upon the whole of House Mernesse, and the inflicting hands are not ones to be stayed so easily.

The night we liberated Godrika. I remembered it all too clearly: Emilie wept, on and on. Her tears were pure regret itself.

‘My heart tells me to step down as mareschal,’ she had confessed. Yet two entire winters ago that was. In all that time, she had been toiling away at her duties as our commander, that her family might find a foothold against the fickle turbulence of aristocratic life. For House Mernesse, she would surely stay the course—as the shining mareschal to the 5th, as a devoted and loving daughter to the Mernesse family.

How sorrowed and pitiful she looked on that night. It remains, to me, a vision unfading. Her very soul itself seemed to be sobbing away.

Only, her misery is unabated. Her thoughts are still ravelled. Yet Emilie endured on and on to this day. I dare not let it all come to naught.

But there was one pricking truth: keeping a tight lip about the Albeck incident and falsely admitting to losing the horse are two acts not mutually exclusive. Were I to endeavour both, certainly I would be allowed to stay in the Order. Emilie would make sure of it.

I had heretofore hung on to life here at the Order, that I might someday be knighted.

A childhood dream. A soul-defining ambition. The aspiration to become a figure of gallantry, just like in knightly tales of old.

The path illuminated by such prose and poetry all impelled me towards one conclusion: to affirm my faults and say my sorries. Show them the sincerity of my remorse. Await the coming of their good graces. All to have my shoulders tapped by the sword. All to be called a knight.

…But is that truly becoming of a knight?

To admit to a crime uncommitted?

To apologise for faults unfounded?

Were I to be made a knight upon a foundation of falsity, then just what is a knight?

The many meetings I’ve been graced with, the hard-fought battles I’ve won—all have over the years sparked the candle of change within me. A meagre, lone candle of a change, but a candle that burnt nonetheless.


The Mareschal Tiselius.

Warmly did she shower me with praise for my actions on the battlefield. Yet what was it that she saw in me, really?


The cruel and cunning catoblepas.

Defiantly did it fight till its very last breath, a battle that shook me to my very core. Yet what was it exactly that crossed my heart as I witnessed its final moment?


The trio I met at the Albeck manor.

Bravely did those women endeavour their first steps to gentler days ahead, after enduring so long and lamentable a nightmare. Yet what was it that I gleaned from their hopeful eyes?



What manner of man did I wish to make of myself?

A question I had asked myself over and over and over, through the many restless hours of an entire day. The end of that durance of self-enquiry found me now standing in the midst of this conclave.

My will is steeled.

My soul is set.




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