True Knighthood

Several days had passed since the fateful clash with the Aerolian Elite ended. "My liege," a knight announced as he stepped into the king's bedchamber. King Bertram was still weak from the encounter with Tristan Swiftstrike several days before, and was slowly recovering. "the family you have asked for is here." Behind the knight entered the entire Smith family one by one. Asa walked in first, followed by his wife Laura, who had just recently arrived in Altus. Peter was next to enter, then little Luke, with an exhausted Eli ending the parade. Once inside, the king sat upright and looked upon them all.

"You hail from the village of Oren, do you not?" The king asked as he cleared his throat.

"Yes, Your Majesty." Asa answered for his family.

"Many good things have come from that place." the king mentioned passively as he shifted in his bed. "But the things your sons have done may have surpassed them all, as far as I am concerned." He winced as he climbed out of his bed and ambled to Peter.

"Your Majesty! Please rest!" a knight pleaded. "Your wound hasn't healed yet."

"I'll be fine," King Bertram grunted. "You, Boy. You told my men that you used a power similar to our attackers to rescue my daughter?"

"Y-Yes, your Majesty." Peter stammered, not sure of how to speak to the king. "In the city, I met a man called Zale, who wished to give you and your knights the same gift he gave me. He told me he wishes to give this kingdom magic to fight back against the enemy."

"Milord, he speaks the truth," the knight admitted. "For the past few days, a man named Zale has been asking for an audience with you. We kept him at bay until the threat of the Aerolians had passed."

"Is that so?" the king sighed quietly. "Very well. Find that man and bring him here. If he knows anything about acquiring these strange powers, I would ask that he share his secrets with us." The knight nodded and left the room to do fulfill his king's command. The king turned his attention back to Peter. "What do you know of this power, young man?"

"When Zale gave it to me, he told me that the powers varied from person to person. He also mentioned that there are two determining factors for each person; where they are from and- well-" Peter paused in an attempt to remember how Zale described it. "-the other is a secret power that is determined by a person's true nature, or so I was told. I have yet to learn of my secret power."

"I see. Anything else?"

"When I left the town to pursue the kidnappers, I took the time to practice using my ability. When I had arrived at their camp, I found myself too exhausted to move, and I had passed out in their presence. This leads me to believe that the use of this magic is physically draining, if overused."

"Ah, yes," The king said as he took a deep breath. "I heard from my daughter about what happened next. The men took pity on you and spared your life, even allowing you to leave as they had likewise offered my knights. It was then that the soldier who served under that fiend Swiftstrike attacked."

"Correct, your Highness," Peter added. "When the man used his magic and his sword together, his wind turned deadly, but when he only used his magic, the wind lost its ability to cut like a blade. I also noticed a change in my power when I used the mercenary's club."

"Yes," the king said as he thought on the attack. "That man, Swiftstrike, used his magic differently with his sword than he did with his hand." King Bertram glanced out the east window to the city below. "You have been most helpful, young man, and you and your brothers have done more for me than I could fairly repay in mere gold. It would be a great comfort to have you all serve as part of the Terr Knights."

Peter paused for a moment to consider the offer. "We would be hono-"

"No, your Majesty!" Asa blurted as he fell to his knees. "My sons mean the world to me; surely you as a father can relate! I lost a brother to the perils of knighthood already. To lose a child would- would be-" He began to sob as he thought of his deceased brother, and imagined his sons facing a similar fate.

"You can't talk to His Majesty like that, blacksmith!" a knight admonished, only to be hushed by a simple lifting of the king's hand.

"I would not wish for any man to experience losing a son," King Bertram sighed as he looked down on the man pleading before him. "It's a burden far too heavy to bear." The king stood in pensive stillness, then called for the knight that berated Asa. "Please give them guidance to the courtyard," he ordered, pointing to the rest of the Smith family. "I would like to discuss matters privately with this man."

"It will be done, milord," the knight answered swiftly. He led the family out of the room with great haste, but hesitated to leave the room himself. "Milord? Do you mean to be left alone with this man in your condition?"

"Bah, I can't even hold a private conversation in my own home, can I?" the king laughed dryly. "All right. Call for a servant to take them then." The knight nodded and requested a young woman who was nearby to take care of the Smiths, then stood in the doorway once the family was gone. "As I said, I would not wish to make you suffer losing a child, but I fear that hard times are ahead. We are entering a war against a cruel people. Tell me, would your hamlet provide more protection than these castle walls?"

Asa paused to think on the question. "N-Nay, sire."

King Bertram looked out the window, down at the courtyard. "You said your brother was a knight, correct?" He glanced back at Asa, who nodded in reply. "Was this man's name Thaddeus, perhaps?" The shocked expression on Asa's face gave the king his answer. "It seems your family is very much a credit to the royal family. Did he ever tell you about how he earned his knighthood?"

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Eli groaned as he walked along with the rest of his family. He stared at the silvery gauntlets that fastened to his body. "Ever since these things stuck to me, I could not remove them. And every time I try to sleep, a loud voice wakes me up, but no one is there." He stopped his pondering as his mother approached him, with tears welling up in her eyes. "I'm fine, Mother."

"Fine? You lost your arms!" she cried. "You look like you haven't slept in days! How can you say you're fine?"

"But, Mother, I'm still alive and so is Luke!" Eli answered. "And if I live the rest of my life with these metal arms, I won't complain. It was a divine miracle that they worked when they did!"

"Miracle. Feh," Peter huffed as he leaned against a column. "If I were there, then this probably wouldn't have happened."

"Really?" Eli asked, slightly agitated. "From what I heard, you barely survived against one of his men. You think you could have overpowered a general by moving a few rocks around?"

"Maybe. I wouldn't have gone and lost both my arms like a fool. If it weren't for that-that metal, you would be dead now, as well as everyone else in that madman's sight." As Peter's eyes fell on the silver arms, he felt a sharp pain in his forehead.

"Stop it, both of you!" Laura screamed. "How can you be fighting like this?"

"It's not my fault-" Eli watched as his mother began weeping over the sight of her grown sons squabbling like children. "I'm…sorry, Mother."

"Um…" The servant girl was unsure about speaking up, but she decided to intervene before another argument could start. "The courtyard is this way. Please follow me." As she turned to the courtyard door, a little figure stood between the family and the door. Next to her was another servant, a keeper of historical records. "Your Highness!" the girl announced as she curtsied in respect to Princess Emily. The Smith family followed her lead and gave their respect as well, putting away all signs of disagreement.

"You!" Emily shouted as she pointed at Luke. "I have proof that diamonds are for girls." She then looked up at the man next to her. "Please show him the portrait."

"Ah, yes!" the bespectacled man answered quickly. He turned around and pulled on a cloth covering, revealing a portrait of the royal family from many years past. In the portrait were five people: a much younger King Bertram with grayish-black hair holding the hand of a young Princess Rubella, a young boy, presumably ten in the portrait, with short, blue hair, his scrawny body covered mostly by a long cloak held together with a lapis clasp, and a woman in white with an infant in her arms. "This is the Royal family of Terr. Her Highness, Princess Emily, asked for a portrait of her mother, Queen Diana."

"See her crown? It's full of diamonds." Emily announced loudly.

"Oh yeah?" Luke argued. "Well, look at that sword in the background. It's the same color! Maybe that sword is made out of die-mands too!"

"What?" Emily glared at the similarly colored sword in the painting. "T-That's not the same! You can't prove that!"

"Well, you can't prove that it isn't die-mands!" Luke added confidently. The two children continued to bicker over the color of the sword as Laura could only gaze on the event in horror.

"Excuse me," Peter asked the servant girl. "but where is the Queen now? Shouldn't she have seen-" He stopped himself, already sure of the answer.

"Our beloved queen passed away," the maiden replied. "It wasn't long after this painting was finished. The royal family, save for the infant Princess Emily who was left in the care of a nurse, left for the empire of Atlan to arrange a union between our people and theirs. Our prince, Lazarus, was to be married to a princess from there, but the ship they traveled on was swept up by a terrible storm. Queen Diana, Prince Lazarus, and Princess Rubella were all thrown off the ship by a powerful wave. Amid the panic, a lone man willingly dove into the sea and attempted to pull them all back to the ship."

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"Thaddeus searched the open water for them, but he could only find my daughter and wife. My son was never- my son-" King Bertram could barely hold back his tears as he recounted the event.

"Your Majesty…" Asa gasped.

"He carried both my daughter and my wife in an attempt to save them both, but the waves were too fierce, and if nothing changed, all three of them would have drowned," The king continued. "It was then that my wife decided that only one of them could be saved. She pushed herself away and ordered Thaddeus to take our daughter back to the ship, telling him that someone else dove in after him to carry her to safety. It wasn't until he was brought back onto the ship that he realized that none of the other men were willing to dive into the wild waves." The king began to weep, but he would not let the story end there. "Thaddeus was fatigued nearly to the point of collapsing, but when he saw the cowardice of the other men, he struggled to the edge of the ship with the intent to go back out into the swelling sea. But she had…already sank…by the time he reached the ship's railing. The storm subsided not long after the sea swallowed her up, content with all it had stolen from me."

"I remember, my king," Asa answered. "Thaddeus told me it was his weakness that held him back. He said, 'If I could have been stronger, I would have saved them all.' He never told me exactly what he meant, but I'm sure he was referring to those moments in the churning waves."

"Stronger?" the king said with a bitter chuckle. "I could tell that there were several men stronger than Thaddeus, but every single one of them stayed on the ship, cowering in fear. If it weren't for one man's courage, I would have lost not only my wife and son, but my daughter as well. That is why I brought Thaddeus into the Terr Knights; he was a man of great courage and honor, traits that are essential for true knighthood."

"Knighthood…" Asa sighed. "Then you will be knighting my sons as well?"

"I won't lie, brother of Thaddeus. They have great potential, and all three have proven their courage. This kingdom will be at war soon, and you have undoubtedly seen the nature of our enemy. They won't be content with mere surrender; not anymore. They will raze the kingdom, leaving none alive. The safest place for you and your family is right here in these castle walls." The king turned to the knight that guarded the door. "I'm beginning to grow weary. Please take the blacksmith to his family so I may rest for a while. If I am to meet this outsider, Zale, I would wish to be able to meet him in the throne room instead of my bedchamber."

"As you command, my King," The knight answered dutifully. "This way, blacksmith." Asa picked himself up off of the floor and followed the knight out the door, leaving King Bertram free to rest.

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"Impossible!" Tristan fumed as one of his men tended to his wounded side. The group of Aerolian soldiers escaped the power of the Godmetal and hid themselves in a forest far from Altus. "I thought that we destroyed all of the Godmetal. How did they- Argh, watch it, fool!" he shouted at the man aiding him. "That hurts worse than when I was struck!"

"We don't have much medicine left from Aerolus, sir," the soldier answered. "I gave you as much as we could spare to numb the pain, but even that wasn't enough."

"Well, get more. I am Tristan Swiftstrike! I cannot allow myself to die from an infection because a foolish man gave shoddy treatment!"

"Still as short tempered as ever, aren't we? It's no small wonder nobody actually likes you," a voice chuckled.

"What dead man just said that? Show yourself!" Tristan ordered. "NOW!"

"Let's not get too worked up, now," the voice continued as its owner presented himself. He wore a jester's outfit, colored in yellow, crimson, and black, and a mask that was black on one side, and blood red on the other. As he approached the soldiers, he removed his mask, allowing them to see his face. "After all, I am curious to see how well you've accustomed to magic."

"Of course," Tristan grunted as the soldier tending to his wound applied more medicine. "Only a fool would speak like that to me. What are you doing here, Baz?"

"Why, selling magic, of course!" Baz laughed. "After all, my goal is enabling everyone to use magic."

"How dare you, you profiteering rouge?" Tristan snapped. "You give us a power, then turn around and give it to our enemies? I should cut you down where you stand!"

"There's that unbridled wrath again," Baz taunted. "Be at peace, Baron Bloodboil. I've only visited one village so far." Baz's smile once more turned sinister. "Would you like to see where it is?"

"Take us there. Now." Tristan barked as his medic finished bandaging his wound.

"Only if you allow me to give you and your men more magic power." Baz bargained. "After all, I think I know what you plan to do."

"Fine by me, jester. Lead the way." Tristan stood to his feet and ordered his men to join him as he followed the enigmatic peddler deeper into the forest.