Vol.3, Ch.7, P.4
“You…” Her Highness said, scarce above a whisper, “…thou art… Bailon—Sir Edgar Bailon, yes? Pray speak at thy liking. We are met here for counsel; if thou givest, so shall we lend ear.”
“You are most gracious, Highness,” my adjutant bowed.
An upright man, this Sir Edgar. He wore his forty and some winters on his crown of grey-speckled hair. If memory serves, his précis listed six years of service in the 4th, as well as a long-spanning tenure in Central thereafter.
“As the Mareschal Valenius’ chief adjutant, it is with regret that I measure our knights of the 5th ill-advantaged in this operation,” he stated clearly, before turning a glance my way, as though to beg leave in continuing on. I nodded. “Like as not…” he started again, “…our foes, the endemic Víly, shall soon make of their victory a token in persuading alliance from the neighbouring Nafílim.” A most probable development, one earning audible agreement from Juholt himself. “In such case, meagrest of the Orders as we are, I fear our number would march to their unmaking, needless as it is certain.”
Five years past, when Rolf and I were yet sproutlings in the Order… ‘twas then that he offered me this key counsel:
‘…Strategy is the stroke of a brush… Tactics, the swing of a sword…’
Words that rang like a prophecy in our battles together, but much more so for the virtues of the former.
‘…Ten moves decide the day… yet only two are played on the battlefield…’
By his reasoning, then, we the 5th ought refuse this battle, if even before the march do we deem ourselves ill-steeled for the jaunt and joust.
“And such accounts not another rub: distance,” Bailon continued. “To wit, the span betwixt headquarters and battlefield both. Suffice it to say, the 5th’s home at Norden is much too far from Tallien.”
He had the right of it. Norden straddled the royal capital, whilst the viscounty of Tallien was situated where else but anear a far march of the realm. None could doubt that indeed a vast expanse laid between the two territories. Why, ‘twas a week’s time that Felicia herself had spent to reach the western fringeland of Ström, neighbour to Tallien—and by carriage, no less. What languor would await an entire Order, then, were they to march afoot? Much the same as our expedition to the Erbelde three years past, surely…
“As per today’s proceedings, we now know our foes to be shrewd in strategy. No doubt they shall bring to bear a fatal brunt upon any force so fatigued by a long march,” concluded Bailon.
“Thy reason resoundeth,” Her Highness conceded. “A closer Order should prove meter for our purposes; such be thy thought, Sir Edgar?”
“Precisely so, Princess,” Bailon nodded. “But preciser still: Your Highness’ observation, for indeed amongst us the humble 5th are those quite acquainted with the Viscount Tallien and our dear rebel. Much momentum might such associates confer to the thrust of this operation.”
“Mm… Facility and familiarity; two swords swung as one, and with nary a need to send a force in full,” the princess summarised. “What thinkest thou of this, Lady of Valenius?”
“…I am agreed, Highness,” I said, pressed by her gaze. “By your royal command, I shall send at the soonest an associate most available. Mayhaps one amongst my Owlcranes shall best serve.”
To this, Her Highness nodded in consent. Gerd, Raakel, Sheila—whom should be tasked was a decision for another hour, as this one found me yet too occupied with fraught thoughts of Rolf.
“Now, as to the Order destined for Tallien—Lord Hugo?” said the princess.
“Yes, Highness,” answered the chancellor. “If closeness be the main criterion, I should measure the 2nd Order most mete for the task. Only…”
“…Only, they are much preoccupied at present,” Her Highness finished for him.
Currently were the lands about the 2nd… insecure, to say the least. What’s more, there was growing concern that the Víly’s triumph might galvanise Nafílim hostility. For the 2nd to now march from their post, then, would be to leave their home as a babe in the woods.
“My dearest apologies, Highness,” Cromheim bowed.
“It is an ill-helped matter,” said the princess. “But if not the 2nd…”
“Then we the 3rd,” answered Juholt. A subtle smirk was on his lips, and in his eyes, the glint of confidence. No objections were aired… ‘twas decided, then. The 3rd Order would march to Tallien, and there face the Nafílim threat.
Sir Matthias Juholt—a knight of unchallenged surety, a tree fortress-like, whose very shade is as a shield against all peril. A shield soon to meet Rolf’s sword…
And so were the pieces chosen, the board set. Though I was left with nary a breath of relief in my lungs, at the very least, I felt some weight lifted from my shoulders, to know that this ill council was nearing its end…
“If I may.”
…or so I thought.
“Sir Erik,” the princess confirmed. “Speak.”
Erik Lindell, Knight Lieutenant to the Owlcranes of the 1st. Verily had he presented himself afore me as an aspirant to the post of chief adjutant not long ago. That Bailon was sat beside me now should tell well of my decision in that matter. And just the same, that Lindell himself was yet amidst the 1st’s retinue should tell of his end.
“This humble knight has known the viscount for many winters,” Lindell revealed with a bow. “We are as brothers, I daresay.”
“Oh,” the chancellor muttered, as though recalling for himself the same fact. “Indeed, you have both got such a bond, haven’t you?”
‘…Erik and I are well-acquainted…’—the words of Tallien himself, sure enough, uttered on the final night of our march to the Erbelde.
“Ever has the Lord Bartt treated me with much cheer and charity; if he should be destined for dire straits, so should I like to lend my oar and deliver him from such danger,” said Lindell. “Your Royal Highness. Pray, grant me leave to be by his side in this terrible time.”
“We see no need to prevent such valour,” answered the princess. “So be it. Leave shall be thine—if given as well by thy fair Mareschal.”
“‘Tis so, Highness,” nodded Tiselius.
Thus ended the exchange. Much violence had Lindell once wrought upon Rolf; that the two might meet again upon the battlefield stirred no small boding in me.
“Then are we decided,” said the princess. “Riding to Tallien shall be Sir Matthias Juholt and his knights of the 3rd Order, there to smite the Nafílim menace. Joining them shall be Sir Erik Lindell, to lead and succour at need. Whilst from the 5th shall be dispatched an officer of the Lady Emilie Valenius’ bidding, to serve as associate adviser to the Viscount Tallien and bane to the rebel, Rolf Buckmann,” Her Highness summarised at length. “This council is adjourned. Godspeed, ye knights, and may Her grace guideth you true. Long live Londosius.”
The great hall thundered as we stood at once from our seats.
“Long live Londosius!”
A salute in unison, and a sendoff to the grimmest council in all my time in the Order.
“Forgive me, madame,” said Bailon with a slight bow. We were headed back to the royal inn. The air was heavy inside the driving carriage. Twilight blazed through the windows; the day had been long.
“‘Tis all right,” I said, shaking my head. Like as not, my adjutant yet felt it a transgression to have counselled Her Highness without my prior consent. “I never had the spirit for this operation, at any rate.”
‘Twas the bare truth. Why, if aught, I should be thanking him, really, as for the time being, it meant not having to cross arms with Rolf. Yet the alternative gave little relief, for ‘twas Juholt and the 3rd who would march in our place. Just the idea of it had my heart on the tenters.
What I ought say, what I ought do from hereon out… I knew not. Not at all. Down the royal avenue we drave, yet amidst all the motion, I felt myself at a strange standstill, trapped in a circle of thoughts.
“…Pardon, Sir Edgar,” Felicia said. “Has aught come concerning the horse?”
Her voice sounded strained, as though wrung out of much brooding. Nay… not “as though”; she truly had been brooding, lost in reflection for days on end. She’d fought her dear brother, after all… and returned with a wound from his blade.
…What has become of our world? What? How blissful we were, till not more than five winters past. Our many springs beside the ravines, our summers upon the meadows, our falls under the foliage. Was it all but a dream? More and more, it seemed so. More and more, I felt left behind by all the change, by all the haste about me.
Rolf trouncing magicks, his bitter bane—a cause for celebration, if true. And naught short of a miracle, even for a marvel as he. Yet… hardly inconceivable, knowing him. Oh, would he were here today. I should like to congratulate him, and rain upon him all the praise and merriment as my voice and vigour would allow.
But he wasn’t. And neither could he be.
For he’s turned his back to the realm, brandished his sword against his own sister, and declared to her his full foeship.
What was his mind? Truly?
Very much did I wish to meet him. To share words. To understand at last. Yet, just the same… just the same was I afraid to do so. Horribly, horribly afraid.
And so did Bailon earn my thanks. Not for a while, at least, must the 5th march against one of their former own. Escapism, I know. But nevertheless, I was grateful for this borrowed time.
Waging battle against Rolf… never must such a reckoning come to pass. But should it… I feel my heart would be broken forevermore.
“The inquiry proceeds,” Bailon answered Felicia. “However, it has been months since the incident; as yet, we’ve uncovered no clue as to the hand behind the horse’s disappearance… My deepest apologies, Brigadier.”
“Nay, I ought apologise, as well,” Felicia returned, shoulders sinking. “Already I’ve troubled you much on this matter…”
‘Twas not more than a week ago when Felicia had returned. But after she’d given her report, our meeting did not end there. No, there in the privacy of my chamber, I then gave her a report of my own: Maria’s story. And therefore, the innocence of her dear brother and the injustice that was his exile.
I remember well Felicia’s state when all was told. She but remained sat, still as stone, her eyes lost of all light as they seemed to gaze away at some ghost. And no matter how much I called to her, no answer came… save the tremblings upon her lips, through which passed whispers beyond all hearing. Moments of this silence dragged on, till ‘twas broken at last by a slow turn of her head. To me she looked, and with a shadow deepening in the fathoms of her eyes, asked me thus:
‘…Then… then who…?
…Who was it that set the horse loose…?’
Thereafter I relaunched an inquiry into this very matter, with Bailon at the helm. He seemed most appropriate for the effort on account of impartiality, given that not yet was he a presence in the 5th at the time of the incident. And from then on has Felicia, at every arisen opportunity, been pressing Bailon for even the slightest development. And seeing her so desperate, a thought grew in me: should the day ever come when the truth is given to her…
…what would she do?
Such a question I had yet the courage to ask.
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