"Heavenly Father, blessed art thou. Thou hast given thy unworthy children of Ivalice life where there was nothing, light where there was dark, and hope where there was once fear and despair. Oh virtuous creator of all that is right, it is to you we pray. We beg thy forgiveness for our sins and transgressions, hoping that thou might lead us into the light of virtue. Forgive our imperfections and shelter us from evil. Thou hast our faith, our love, and our eternal devotion. Farlem."
Algus was too young to understand just what those words meant, barely six. As the prayer echoed around the hallowed walls of the chapel, resonating with the clear voices of young and old, man and woman, each adding their own deep timber and high-pitched, warm thrum, Algus looked to the upturned face of his mother. It was during church that he found her to be most calm, face alight with the joy and rapture of prayer. He did not quite understand why, but it was a moment he could cherish. His mother barely acknowledged his squeeze of her hand and his small, innocent smile looking up at her, but he did not mind.
Next to her, Algus' father stood stiffly with his eyes closed, face stern. Unlike his mother, Rodolph did not show joy from prayer -- instead, it was a duty that he faithfully served as a son of Ivalice, and a pious follower of the Glabados Church. They were two very different people, his parents, and even at a young age he understood that. When his father opened his eyes and saw Algus watching him, inattentive, he glowered at the boy, jerking his head towards where the priest was beckoning them to be seated and take out their scriptures to read from.
Seating himself down, the boy leaned against his mother, offering her a wide smile as she retrieved the small, loosely bound book from the back of the pew in front of them. Only rich, noble churches like the one the Sadalfas family attended could afford so many books, but Algus was not yet aware of this. His father read from an old book taken from the pocket of his jacket while Algus and his mother read from hers. Algus was only just learning his letters, so the scriptures were much too complex for him, but he liked to look along and listen to his mother's soothing voice.
He settled back into the pew, bottom rather uncomfortable on the hard wood, and snuggled up next to his mother as the congregation started to read along with the decrepit, white-haired priest that led their services. The man was stuffy and always looked like he was smelling something awful, and Algus did not think too highly of him. His father respected the old man, however, and the one time he had caught Algus insulting him Rodolph struck the boy, hard, sending him onto his knees in a sobbing fit. Alainne had tried to comfort her son, looking up at his father with pleading eyes, but Rodolph would not tolerate any disrespectful behavior. After that, Algus kept his mouth shut when it came to his opinions of the old priest, even IF the old man himself was starting to get hard of hearing and would not hear Algus either way.
After an hour, the service became dull and Algus started fidgeting, eyes darting around the church. He rocked back and forth a bit before his father reached over and put a steady hand on his shoulder, giving him a nasty look. Algus scrunched up his face and looked down. He was very glad when the whole thing ended -- even though it was so interesting when it began, by the end of the morning he was itching to go outside and play. He held on to his mother's hand tightly as they exited the dim building out into the warm sunlight, shading his eyes with the other hand.
"Algus," his father barked, stopping to look down at his son with a cold, dour expression. "I disapprove of your behavior in there. You must be quiet and still in church, understand?"
The boy's eyes focused down on the ground, frowning. "Yes, sir," he answered with all the reluctance of boy of six could muster. When his father gave a gruff monosyllabic reply, he looked back up. A few children around his age were playing together in the dirt outside the church, their parents, dressed in drab, soiled clothing, kept one wary eye upon them while they begged the nobles coming out of the building for a spare coin. "Why weren't they in church, father?" Algus pointed at the peasants, eyes curious. His father grunted, lips curling up into a sneer.
"Those are peasants. Peasants are not allowed in our holy chapels, Algus -- they breed disease and crime. Even God hates them, or else why would they be so miserable and poor? No, those commoners have no place in our church, son. They have no God but the small amount of coin they can muster up." He shook his head and then spat as if to emphasize his point.
"Can't I play with them?" The boy motioned to the children. It looked like they were having fun, and he wanted to join in! His father never let him have any fun.
His father proved his thoughts valid, yelling in disgust, "Absolutely not! No son of mine will be mucking about in the mud with a bunch of ill-bred rats." He yanked Algus' hand away from his mother, dragging him along to where their carriage sat, servant patiently awaiting their arrival. He tipped his hat at the family as they climbed inside, and then snapped the reigns in his hands, beckoning the horses to move forward. Algus gave one last sad look from the window before they jolted off back to their house, where he would have to play alone.
"Do you think the war is going to be over soon?" Alainne posed the question of out the blue, looking up from her plate of roast Juravis, rice, and sliced tubers. Her fork was poised at the edge of her plate, eyes full of worry as they sought to meet her husband's.
Rodolph shoveled another forkful of meat into his mouth, chewing slowly before looking up, seeming exasperated. "It's not that easy to judge," he said, humoring her - a woman could not understand such complicated matters, surely. He ignored the serving girl as she put another flagon of ale in front of him and continued speaking. "Prince Lenard seems poised to attack Zeltennia within the next few months, even as late as the new year. He's certainly preparing for battle, regrouping all of his troops. The Hokuten have gathered there alongside the Nanten, and both groups are now massing at Bethla Garrison."
As he spoke, Alainne gasped. "Zeltennia? But that's so close - what if the fighting spreads here?"
"Silly woman," Rodolph said, disgusted, "not only does the Marquis have his own troops ready to keep out invaders, but there is no way they'll manage to get past Bethla Garrison. No, they'll definitely be stuck there for a little while." As if to emphasize his lack of concern, Rodolph lifted up his mug and took a great gulp of his ale, tilting his head back as he drank. "I suspect we'll have an even worse shortage of grain next-" He felt a pull at his arm.
"Why don't you ever use that sword, daddy?" Algus tugged on the sleeve of his father's shirt, pointing up at the sword mounted upon the wall above the mantel, gleaming in the light of the lamps. "It looks strong!" He fidgeted in his seat, as antsy as he had been that time in church, just over a year ago.
Vaguely annoyed at being interrupted, Rodolph looked over to where his son was pointing. When his eyes stopped upon the sword, his gaze softened, and an almost reminiscent smile touched his face, bringing back some youth to his appearances. "That," he said, voice swelling with pride, "has been passed down in our family for generations." Rodolph braced his palms upon the table, grunting as he pushed himself up onto his feet. Wincing at the pressure on his injured leg, he shuffled over to the wall, leaning a hand upon the surface. He reached up with his other hand, sliding it along the length of the blade fondly, before wrapping his fingers around the well-worn black leather hilt and hoisting it off of the stand, which was situated in front of a passive shield bearing the Sadalfas coat of arms. A faint smile on his lips, Rodolph carried the sword back over to the table, slowly sinking back down into his seat.
"See, son?" His voice rumbled as he displayed the blade for Algus to view. "Three feet of tempered damascan steel, sharp enough to split a hair. This sword had been in our family for almost two hundred years -- it first belonged to my great-great-grandfather, Torphin. See these rubies inlayed on the hand guard? These were part of a gift given to our ancestor by the late Marquis Lagot for saving his life. An assassin had been sent by one of the Marquis's rivals at court. Well, Torphin, who was one of his lordship's personal guards, knew something was wrong. He had a true fighter's instinct, I've been told."
"When the Marquis was traveling to his estates outside of Limberry, Torphin sensed an enemy in a nearby tree. He shouted a warning to the Marquis and the rest of his fellow guards and then hurled himself from his saddle, aiming to block his lordship from the arrow. Torphin was hit right in the back, and if he hadn't blocked the arrow the Marquis would have been shot straight in the heart! One of the other guards picked the assassin off, but for Torphin's bravery and loyalty, the Marquis granted him a lavish reward."
"With some of the reward money and gems, he commissioned this sword. See the design on the pommel? The Sadalfas family crest, same as that shield up there. This sword represents our family's courage, honor and nobility. It is only to be used to further our family's honor -- a sword to be used while in service Not against common thieves and brigands," he ended bitterly, pushing his plates backwards with a clink and laying the sword down upon the table in front of him.
Algus effected an expression of awe, tentatively reaching out his hand towards the sword. As if burnt, even before touching the sword he wrenched his hand backwards, eyes darting nervously over to his father, who nodded. Beaming, eyes wide, Algus slid his hand along the cool, bright metal of the blade. Suddenly, he let out a cry -- the boy had nicked a finger on the sharpened edge. Holding back tears, he stuck his finger into his mouth and sucked on the cut.
"Oh, Algus " His mother crooned, reaching out towards the boy, before Rodolph laid his hand upon her arm with a shake of his head.
"No, Alainne." His voice was stern. "That cut is an honor. It links him by the blood of our noble family -- the blood that runs through his very own veins -- to this blade. He will wear it with pride. Hear that, son?" Dull brown eyes flicked over to Algus.
Algus nodded, eyes wide. "Yessir," he answered, voice muffled by the finger still in his mouth.
"Good boy," Rodolph finished stiffly. He stared down into his mug of ale with a blank expression before picking up the tankard and draining the rest. With a sigh, he limped back over to the wall to place the sword back upon its display.
"Traitor! Traitor! Your granddaddy was a traitor and a coward!"
With an "oomph," the ten year old Algus was sent stumbling forward, snow dripping down his neck. He winced, trying to pull himself up straight while more snowballs pelted the back of his head.
"Coward! Scum!" The boys continued to taunt, jeering, their high boyish voices full of gleeful malice. Gritting his teeth and shivering, Algus slipped forward in the snow, trying to keep walking. He drew his jacket closer to his body as more patches of snow slid down his wet hair and onto his neck.
One of the older boys, a rather scruffy looking brute, furrowed his eyebrows and stepped forward menacingly. His oversized palm shot out to grab Algus' shoulder, tugging him backwards. "Hey! You stop when we're talking to you, scum!" He sneered, fingers digging into the smaller boy's shoulder which was, thankfully, padded -- otherwise, Algus would have had some bruises.
"Get OFF of me!" Algus growled, wrenching his shoulder back and twisting around to fully face the small group of boys, eyes darting between the three of them.
One of the boys, a tall, skinny youth with a streak of dirt smeared across his cheek, smirked and stepped closer to Algus and the larger boy, crossing his arms over his chest. "Or you'll do what?" He taunted, lisping through uneven teeth.
Face scrunched up in anger, Algus balled his hands into fists and replied, "I'll I'll "
"Yeah, what?" The last boy interrupted, looking very smug. He was just as small as Algus, his appearance resembling that of a rat, and it was obvious that he was lucky to have bigger, meaner friends. Until recently, the boy had been one of Algus' playmates, until the constant teasing from the other children made him abandon Algus without even a simple apology. He fell into his current crowd by pathetic flattery, and Algus loathed him above the others for his betrayal. Falling into place between the two other boys, he now helped to form a triangle trapping Algus in.
The boy smirked as Algus narrowed his eyes at him, shaking in anger. "I'll kill you, Ralfas," Algus concluded, keeping the worry from his voice. He was outnumbered, and two of the boys were significantly bigger and stronger than he was.
"You won't get away with threatening any of us, whelp," the first boy sneered again, shoving Algus towards the tall boy, who grinned as he grabbed Algus. Right fist balled tightly, he punched Algus hard, once, twice in the stomach before pushing him down into the snow. "Not so tough now, eh?"
Algus felt his breath leave him as he collapsed into the snow, coughing as he tried to draw in slow breathes. He felt ready to vomit, wincing as he tried to draw himself up onto his knees.
"Stay down, vermin!" The tall boy shouted while Ralfas just looked down upon him with a faint smile, hands thrust into his pockets. When Algus continued to rise, the tall boy slammed his boot down onto Algus' face, sending him sprawling backwards with a sickening crunch. Algus cried out and clutched his hands to his nose, which was rapidly staining the snow beneath him red. He started to sob, curled up in a ball, while the other two boys proceeded to kick him viciously. Every now and then Ralfas would sneak in a kick or two of his own, but he mostly stood back and watched, glad to be in the company of those powerful and not the wimp now sobbing at his feet.
"Stop, stop please!" Algus begged almost shrieking, sobs wracking his body like bolts. "Please, please stop, help!" All he could feel was pain and cold as each boot collided with his huddled form. He sheltered his head and face with his arms, trembling with each new kick.
Finally, mercifully, the pain stopped. The biggest boy stepped back. "I think he learned his lesson, don't you, guys? Let him go running back to his traitor daddy. This coward won't dare talk back to us again."
"M-my dadd?y's no traitor," Algus whimpered, moving his arms down enough to be able to peer up at the group through swollen eyes. "Even if it IS true, and it's NOT, it was my granddaddy that did it. My daddy was just a kid!"
"Traitor's blood! Same thing, just like you!" The skinny boy aimed one last kick at Algus' stomach before the group walked off, leaving him crumpled like a broken doll in the snow.
She found him there an hour later, sobbing weakly in a pile of dirty snow. She had expected the boy home quite some time ago, and worried as only a mother could be, she went out in search of her little boy. When she spotted him, Alainne let out a small gasp and ran to his side.
"Mommy ?" Algus' voice was soft and pleaded as he gazed up, dried blood caked around his nose.
"Mommy's here, baby..." Crying softly to herself, his mother scooped the boy up into her arms and carried his bruised body home. As she entered the door, her husband was coming down the master staircase. When he saw the state Algus was in, and retreated into his study in disgust.
Alainne paid him no heed. She brought Algus into his own room and treated his wounds gently, brushing off a maid's request to help. She washed off his face first, then examined him for other wounds. When she discovered two unevenly broken ribs, she laid the tips of her fingers on his forehead. "Sleep, my boy," came her melodic croon, and Algus felt himself drifting into a deep sleep. With this done, she was able to mend his ribs with a weak cure spell that she knew. He would need time and sleep to fully heal, but that would get rid of the worst of it.
Brushing her fingers along his forehead, she pushed back his still-damp hair and kissed him softly. His mother then pulled the blankets up and tucked them around his shivering body. Alainne gave him one more worried look before backing out of the boy's room and quietly shutting the door. As she was doing so, an arm snaked around her front, pulling her backwards.
"Come into bed, now," Rodolph commanded, whispering huskily into her ear. He trailed his lips down to her neck, which he nipped hard enough to leave a mark. "I am in need of you."
Alainne stiffened and moved from his grasp, arms crossed over her stomach nervously. "I am worried about Algus. You saw the state he was in when I brought him home -- what if that happens again? He had two broken ribs! You cannot just ignore that!"
"You are my wife and will do as I say!" The man barked, grabbing her arms hard enough to make her wince and try to pull backwards. "It's the boy's own damn fault for not being able to fight back! He earned his wounds and can suffer them without you simpering all over him, making him even more pathetic and babied! He is a part of the proud Sadalfas family line, and must learn to take care of himself!" His eyes were wide and frenzied.
Whimpering, Alainne drew back and ducked her head, shaking. "He has a fever," she whispered, not daring to look up. "I think he's caught a chill, God knows how long he was out there in the snow I need to take care of him. He's only a boy!"
"He is well on his way to becoming a man," Rodolph said sternly, wrenching his wife down the hallway towards their bedroom. "Right now you need to satisfy my needs, not the brat's."
There was nothing more she could do to object. Defeated, she allowed herself to be pulled into the darkness of their quarters.
Algus was still curled up in bed two days later when his father barged into his room, abruptly waking him up. "Get up, boy!" he ordered gruffly. "It's time I taught you how to fight! You can't just lay down and take a beating when someone's after you!"
Rubbing his eyes, still rather groggy, Algus mustered up a, "What ? Huh ?" before his father grabbed his arms and hoisted him out of bed.
"I'm going to teach you how to fight properly, boy!" Rodolph clapped his son on the shoulder, other hand resting upon the beaten-up hilt of his sword.
Algus' eyes went wide as he started to comprehend just what his father was saying. "Really?!" He exclaimed excitedly, face lighting up. "With a sword 'n everything?"
"When you're ready for it," his father grunted, "but for now I'm just going to teach you how to throw a proper punch. Fighting is usually for common folk, but a noble needs to know how to defend himself in a fight. You never know when some scum is going to jump you -- or, for that matter, one of your own peers " he grumbled, before continuing his thought, "and as a proud Sadalfas it will be your duty to put them in their rightful place - groveling at your feet like a dog."
"When can we start?" the boy asked, a smile covering his face. He almost did a little jump, but felt a sharp jab of pain in his ribs and decided against it. His father caught the cringe.
Rodolph went quiet, considering. He could start the boy right away, or give him another few days to get better. Normally, he just would have just made the boy deal with the pain, especially if he had seemed to object to training. However, something about his enthusiasm made Rodolph stop and think about his condition. He would probably over-exert himself and end up passing out, and that would be disgraceful. "In another few days, when you can walk around without flinching like an old woman. Now, get back into that bed before your mother comes home." His calloused palm went to ruffle the boy's hair before he left.
Algus could barely contain his glee. His father wanted to teach him how to fight! He wanted to teach him!
In order for that to happen, he would need to heal first. The boy crawled back into bed and spent the next few days in excited anticipation.
Training ended up being much longer and harder than Algus had ever expected, but he was proving to be quite adept. He was nimble and agile, able to dodge blows his father sent at him quite easily. Though his father's leg was still somewhat stiff from his old wound, he was back to work as a mercenary. Work came and went; sometimes he would be gone for only a day, and other times for weeks on end. Whenever he was home, however, he never neglected to give Algus a bit of training.
The boy practiced tumbles and falls while his father was gone, punches and blocks, and how to (rather crudely) use a small wooden practice sword his father had bought him. He was a fast learner, and every now and then his father would bless him with a short word of praise. Algus soaked and basked in each one, elated that he could cause his father some form of pride. Lessons and tutors came and went, but his father was always there, teaching him a new sword technique and practicing with him. By the time Algus had turned thirteen, he had grown from a rather gawkish youth to a lean, agile teenager. He had long shed his boyish curls, leaving his hair hacked short. He was only bullied a few times after the initial attack, but his training allowed him to fight the boys off enough that they left him alone.
It was rumored that an end to the long war was in sight. Both Ivalice and Ordalia were going into severe economic regress due to the costs of war, and even Algus was able to see the toll it was taking. Beggars littered the streets while thieves prowled at night, making it unsafe to go out unless accompanied by guards. Drought and revolt plagued the land, causing severe food shortages. Zeltennia had been invaded and, after a long siege, had fallen into enemy hands. Refugees fled by the hundreds to Limberry, causing an even greater food shortage. Riots had broken out in several major cities and had to be put down by the few remaining bands of knights not at war. Both kingdoms yearned for peace.
Rodolph had managed to grab a job along with several other men, escorting a high noble and his family from his country estates to his secured city mansion. The job took three weeks total, and if no damage was made to the lord's self or property on the way to the city all of the men would be rewarded handsomely. He was due back that night, and both Alainne and Algus wished to properly greet him.
His wife, ever dutiful, had gone into the market to pick up ingredients herself for a large dinner that she would have the chef cook. As a noble, even a lesser one, it was almost disgraceful that she would do such common work, but she was soft-hearted and did not mind being around more common folk. Plus, picking the ingredients herself would ensure that he had the best meal one could give. Algus tagged along, eager to look at the weapons displayed. A maid trailed behind them, ready to hold what her mistress purchased.
The trip was pleasant. It was a nice afternoon, oddly cool for summer with a nice breeze, and they took their time. The sun was starting to go down as they returned to their manor, maid laden down with packages. Alainne carried a bundle of flowers she bought from a smiling common girl for just fifteen gil. Algus strode along at his mother's side, unladen by any parcels.
When they reached home, Alainne could tell something was off -- for one, no guards were at the door, and no servant came out to great them. Becoming increasingly more agitated, Alainne told the maid and Algus to stay behind her before entering the dark house, nerves prickling in fear. What was going on ?
The rest of the night would forever be burned into Algus' mind, until the day he died. The shouting, the flash of light, the sound of blade hacking through flesh
They entered the manor to find four guards dead, right within the door, and another maid butchered just ahead. A gruff, dirty looking man cut down one of their servants as they came in. Algus slipped in blood, falling down with a crash as both Alainne and the maid let out screams of terror, ingredients flying everywhere as the maid dropped all of her packages and ran for her life.
At the sound of the screams, half a dozen men came streaming out from various parts of the manor, loot in hand. One man, a toothless, scrawny looking rat, carried their family sword.
Algus cried out, trying to climb back onto his feet, but his hands and knees were slick with blood. "UNHAND THAT!" He screamed, lunging towards the closest man who knocked him down easily with a twisted grin.
Madness ensued. Alainne ran to go help her son, and the two were set upon by the bandits. They struggled to escape, Algus slipping through the filthy hands of the thieves, but Alainne was not so lucky. When she bit the fingers of a man who was trying to silence her, he let out a feral grunt and brought his knife up to her throat, slitting it.
Time froze for Algus. Hands grasped at his limbs, but all he saw was the red sprouting from his mother's neck, pouring down her dress in a great rush. He saw the light extinguish in her eyes, watched as her knees buckled, sending her falling down -- almost in slow motion -- onto the bloody, tiled floor.
A scream of pure rage and agony ripped through Algus' throat, seeming to go on forever. He was unable to move from his position, unable to think, all he could do was shake and scream, tearing at the hands around him like a wild animal.
Something hard cracked against the back of his head, and everything went dark.
It was a night he would remember for the rest of his life.
His father found him hours later, caked in blood and barely conscious, babbling incoherently with his mother's head resting upon his lap. At some point he had covered her throat with his tunic, wrapping it around to hide the large gash. His eyes were swollen from the constant sobs that wracked his body as he cried, "mother, mother!" over and over, rocking back and forth, brushing his grimy, rust-stained fingers over her pale, bloodless cheeks. "Mother, mother!"
That was the last time Algus saw his father entirely sober. For the rest of his life, Rodolph carried around some bottle or flask of spirits on hand, and he spent most of his days locked up in his study in grief. Neither father nor son would eat until one of their few remaining servants would all but force them to. Algus recovered faster than his father, who never seemed to get over the death of his wife. He felt as if a part of him was gone. His light, his love, his Alainne He was never kind enough, never showed her how much he loved her
And so, he sought his solace in alcohol, drowning his sorrows, sunk deep within his own depression. Algus started taking care of him, trying to bring him up from the dark places his father just wanted to curl up within. They both tried to heal, and within that time a year past.
By St. Ajora, these damn uniforms were uncomfortable. Algus fidgeted awkwardly, a grimace plastered on his face. His father gave a disapproving look and clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't be nervous, son," he said, misinterpreting his son's discomfort. "You'll finally be amongst your equals, receiving the training you deserve. Stand tall and proud - you are the son of a long, noble family line, and you are going to help bring us back the honor we deserve. Understand?"
Algus snapped to attention when his father started speaking. "Yes, sir!" He answered, standing up very straight. By God, though, this uniform was uncomfortable! It dug into all of the wrong places, not fitting properly, but they really could not afford a better seamstress - they already had to dismiss another maid because they could no longer pay her salary. Money had been tight since his father stopped working as much, and he refused to sell any of their family heirlooms and jewels. A house that big cost a lot to keep up. If his mother was here, she would have been able to fix his unifo-no. He must not think about that.
His father nodded, giving him a friendlier pat on the shoulder. "Make me proud, son." With that, he ducked back into the house while Algus climbed inside the carriage waiting for him.
The academy was about an hour's ride to the north, winding through the streets of the lesser nobility first, where his family had lived for the past generation - though once considered higher nobility, after his grandfather's disgrace that was barely even acknowledged - around the estates of the higher nobility, and finally to the academy which rested at the feet of the marquis's fortress and private estates. After a year of preliminary training, if he was deemed talented enough to continue his career as a cadet, he would be housed within the marquis's fortress in the student barracks for the rest of his three years of training. After that time was up, he would graduate from the academy as a full knight and would be assigned a unit. Some knights were moved directly to the ranks of the Nanten, while others were hand-chosen by the Marquis to be part of his personal guard. That was what Algus has his sights on - either that, or rising to the rank of General in the Nanten.
The ride through the richer parts of the city was pleasant. Guards were always patrolling the street, keeping away the filthy beggars and trash that thrived in the gutter. Algus could just sit back, shades open, and enjoy the view without having to see the sewer scum. It was nice to have a bit of peaceful time to himself. After his mother Well, during the last year this had been hard. His father's drinking had continued to get worse, and Algus would oftentimes come home to find his father rocking in his sturdy chair, hugging a flask of spirits to his chest. It hurt most when he would start sobbing, crying out for Alainne
But things would be different now. Algus would shape himself into a fine young soldier, worthy of praise and promotion. His actions would honor his family, and his father would have something to take pride in. Things would turn around, he just knew it. He was already quite strong and capable -- why, they would be lining up to honor him, give him his blessings! And when he was a knight, he thought rather darkly, he would find those men and exact revenge. Smiling to himself, Algus slumped back against his seat and watched the landscape move passed.
"As knights of the realm, you will be charged with upholding the law." The training master paced in front of them, tight muscles and cords flexing as swiveled his head to meet each boy standing before him in the eye. He was stern and cold, towering over most of the boys by at least a foot. "You and your fellow knights will work in groups, generally, but at times you will also be expected to work independently, moving about on your own. You need to be prepared to fight and survive alone and with others. You must learn the way of the sword, of the bow, and those that are capable will learn the ways of the mage. You will be expected to draw upon all of your innate resources and make up for those that you do not have. You will protect the nobility and serve those above you.
"It will not be easy. As a knight, you will be exposed to harsh conditions, will face constant danger, and you are expected to put your duty above all else. While in training as a cadet, you will not be pampered any more. You will be hardened, transformed from the soft young whelps that stand before me into hard men, capable of killing without cowering at the sight of blood. You will bring honor to your families, to the Marquis, to all of Limberry. Some of you won't make it. You'll go crying back to your mothers and end up some soft lord, looking over lands and dining until you get sick. The rest of you, however You will be sharp as a blade, hard as steel, and the glory of the Limberry Aegis Knights."
He stopped his pacing, staring at the nervous group of teenagers, boy and girl, harshly. "For now, you are first year cadets, the lowest of the low. If an older cadet asks you to do something, you would best well do it. For the next year, you all have to prove your worth if you wish to be accepted as full cadets. Come next spring, some of you lot'll be shipping out. Until then Get ready for some fun." His grin was broad, almost carnal -- some of the cadets audibly gulped. Algus stood firm, eyes straight ahead, hands clasped behind his back. No man would scare him.
His lack of concern drew him some attention. The training master looked him over, stepping forward. "Well, at least we have one lad not shaking in his boots. Name!"
Algus was quick on his toes, barking out, "Algus Sadalfas, sir!"
All of the boys looked on, some shifting around nervously, others going white as one of their own was subjected to the scrutiny of the gruff, older knight.
"Sadalfas, eh? Got some traitor blood in you, then?" He leered cruelly and leaned down, face only inches away from Algus' own. The boy tried his hardest not to cringe away, and began to sweat.
"My own blood is pure, sir, despite the actions of my ancestors." Hopefully this would be the right reaction, he thought to himself, mind racing. Despite previous convictions, the man was starting to make him very antsy
The training master guffawed. "We'll see about that, whelp. I'll have you crying back to your traitor parents before the season's done." He turned away sharply, shouting, "Back in line! You, there, stand up straight! You look as spineless as a snail!" His attention was turned to a scared looking shorter girl. "What's your name, brat?"
"Malinn Tarrison," she said rather unsurely, adding a rather quick and belated "sir." She was unable to control her wince as the training master stepped forward, eyes sharp.
"Well, Malinn," he said slowly, staring down at the girl. "You look like you're shaking there in your boots. Scared of me, girl?" He grinned again, narrowing his eyes.
The girl must have been Algus' age, but she seemed years younger as she blanched and stammered for a reply. "N-no sir!" Her eyes were wide, pupils dilated in obvious terror. What she was afraid of, Algus was unsure -- while the training master seemed of course large and intimidating, he was just a man, and a man chosen for such traits so as to effectively train young bloodless nobles into grown killers, sworn to protect and defend the realm and, Algus thought, the Marquis.
"Good. We would not want any cowardly knights, would we?" Without saying another word, he turned and found another to inspect, this one looking around with beady little eyes, attitude caught in some strange juxtaposition between nervousness and arrogance, standing in between two larger, tougher looking boys. "You, boy! Name!"
He gave a start and took a moment to gather himself together before responding warily, shrinking back further between the two boys. "Ralfas Amalric, sir."
Algus felt his blood run cold. All of the adolescents had been herded into the empty room upon arrival, shuffled along the dark wood floor and not even given time to breathe before the training master swooped in upon all of them, commanding them to line up for inspection. He had not gotten a good look at everyone Could it really be Ralfas? He almost jerked out of line but managed to contain himself, settling with sticking his head out and staring at the other boy with open resentment. Ralfas, catching his astonished and angry look, smirked and focused his gaze upon the training master.
"Oh, you think you're funny, boy?" The training master grinned right along, almost cheery, inviting Ralfas in on the joke.
Always somewhat daft, Ralfas grinned back. "My father always says I'm a bit of a charmer."
The older knight threw back his head, giving a hearty laugh, before balling his hand into a fist and slamming it down against Ralfas' jaw, sending him sprawling backwards. "Charmer?" He barked, entire attitude changed, almost seeming to be charged by anger, "You brats will be learning respect here, and modesty! When I ask you if you're funny, you'll say, 'No, sir!' You're here to learn how to be a knight, not a court jester! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?" He grabbed Ralfas' collar, hauling him up onto his knees.
Ralfas winced, drawing backwards in fear. "Y-yes sir!" came his swift and high reply, eyes barely open into thin slits.
"Good," said the man, letting go of the boy's collar. He slumped back down against the floor, beet red from shame. His jaw was already starting to swell up, turning an ugly shade of purple. Algus could barely suppress his malicious glee, trying his hardest to keep a satisfied look off his face lest he be subjected to the same embarrassing (and painful) fate.
"You lot are dismissed," the training master informed the entire group of cadets. "Your first lesson is in twenty minutes -- do not be late." Without so much as a backwards glance, he stalked out of the room.
Their first lesson, it seemed, would be how to keep up with their own training. Male and female cadets alike were rushed through armor fittings, the choosing of equipment and practice weapons, and books and scrolls needed for their academic lessons. By late morning they were already exhausted from the sheer amount of things they would need to start their proper training. All equipment used within their first year was loaned from the Academy. If they lasted, they would be expected to replace all of the equipment with their own gear.
Come the next day, they would trickle into a routine that would last through their entire span as a cadet: warm-up in the morning, followed by chocobo-riding training. They would then spend the rest of the morning learning basic weapons skills -- bow, sword and staff. All were expected to gain reasonable proficiency with the weapons within the year. After their second year, they would be split into groups depending upon which weapon they seemed most apt in. Swords would be replaced by the heavier, broader knight swords. During their fourth and final year, some would switch over to other weapons: axes, maces, and flails. By the time they were ordained knights, they were expected to be experts of at least two weapons. They would learn to fight on chocobo-back, and on foot, in groups, and by themselves.
When lunch rolled around, all of the new cadets eased into the mess hall awkwardly. Some, recognizing older friends, went over and sat with them. Others formed tables together, not knowing what else to do. Ralfas had gone off to a table with friends, but not before Algus had managed to elbow him in the side on his way through the crowd of milling first year cadets. He only heard the boy's "oomph" before he was out of sight, and Ralfas did not even know what hit him.
In front of the crowd, Algus cast his gaze around the busy mess hall haughtily. These were his people, he thought with pride -- his fellow cadets, all noble born of the truest blood. Surely he belonged here, amongst his peers! Pride swelled in his chest, before he realized He had no one to sit with. Well, surely he would make friends fast? Keeping this thought in heart, Algus went and lined up to get his meal.
He found the food to be bland looking, and, after finding an empty table to sit at, he discovered that it was just as bland in taste, though hearty: a small round of bread, stew with what seemed to be tender chocobo meat, and some vegetables. It was nothing like his mothe-- no. He must not think about that. Instead, he focused on chewing and thinking about what his new life would be.
With training such as his, he must be a prodigy, surely. His fellow cadets would flock behind him, admiring his skills. Girls (and at this thought, he blushed) would be lining up to meet him, adoring his handsome looks.
Algus was so caught up in his daydreaming that he did not notice the group of sullen looking older cadets come up behind him until one of them shouted. "Hey, boy," he snarled, grabbing Algus' shoulder. The younger boy whirled around, taking in first the faces of the group and then their ranks, visible upon their uniforms. They seemed to be a mix of third and fourth year cadets, close to knighthood. "This table belongs to us. You look green as grass, so we'll let it go this time, but we'd better not catch you sitting here again!"
Fists clenching in anger, Algus rose from his chair. "My name is Algus Sadalfas, not "boy," and I don't see it marked anywhere that this table belongs to just one group of people!"
Arrogance poured from the older cadet as he replied, "I don't care if you're the Marquis himself, this table belongs--" He was cut off by an older girl in her fourth year stepping forward, lips curled up into a look of distaste.
"Sadalfas, did you say?" Her voice reeked of astonishment and disgust. "That traitor family? By Saint Ajora, how did they let such filth as you enter? To think that a traitor's whelp could be part of the Aegis Knights!"
The other boys blinked, looking Algus over with growing animosity. "Not only did you dare to take our table, you, a lowly new cadet," The original speaker stepped even closer to Algus, venom dripping from his tone, "but you come from tainted blood! Your kind of lot doesn't even deserve to eat from the same plates as we do, let alone be a pure knight of noble blood!"
Algus snarled, shoving the older, larger boy backwards hard enough that he had to be caught by two of his friends. "YOU TAKE THAT BACK!" Fists balled tightly, he advanced upon the group. "I come from the most noble of family lines! My grandfather was no traitor, that is a filthy lie spread by those who were jealous of him! YOU TAKE BACK THAT INSULT UPON MY FAMILY LINE, OR I'LL MAKE YOU TAKE IT BACK!"
The group was obviously not expecting such a violent reply, and were taken aback for a few moments, staring at the brazen younger cadet in blatant astonishment. By this point they were drawing quite a bit of attention and stares from fellow cadets. The boy who had been shoved growled and came at Algus, murder in his eyes. "Is that a challenge, brat? You wish to fight me, Jessamy Blouet?" His face was just inches from Algus', daring him to respond.
There was a resounding crack as the Algus slapped Jessamy, hard, and then ducked backwards, retreating towards the table. "I challenge you, noble against noble."
Jessamy's eyes were livid as he reeled back a step. "You'll regret that, worm."
Tables were moved aside by Jessamy's pack as the two began circling each other. Anyone around could tell that the older boy had the advantage -- he stood in a trained fighter's stance and was over half a foot taller, not to mention more muscled, than Algus. The crowd of onlookers grew, shouting words Algus did not even bother to listen to. All he could do was focus, lest he end up face first on the hard tiled floor.
Jessamy feinted forward, testing the boy's reflexes. Algus jerked backwards, warily eyeing the older boy as he retreated back a step. Though he had fought a few quick skirmishes with bullies, he had never fought against anyone fully trained, especially on the verge of knighthood. Sweat started to bead along his forehead, and he prayed that it would not drip down into his eyes.
The younger boy decided to risk a blow and lunged forward, aiming a punch right at Jessamy's chest. Easily dodging to the side with the grace of a trained fighter, Jessamy pivoted on his heel and slammed his knee up into Algus' stomach, causing him to fall forward gasping. As Algus fell, a well-aimed kick was aimed at his buttocks, sending him sprawling down onto the floor. Algus rolled to the side, avoiding a kick to his stomach, and jumped upwards and back barely gaining balance on his feet, panting. Jessamy was barely breathing hard. Still, Algus would not be defeated. When Jessamy came in with a punch, Algus ducked under and rammed his shoulder into the older boy's chest, throwing him back a few steps, and then followed up with a punch that nicked Jessamy's cheekbone.
So caught up within their own duel, neither boy heard the commotion as several fully armed knights pushed their way through the crowd, coming to investigate the source of the disturbance. When Jessamy tried to slam his foot into Algus' side, he was roughly jerked backwards by strong, callused hands. Algus was likewise detained, and together they were hauled off to explain themselves.
" Disgrace! What an utter disgrace, two cadets brawling like common thugs, in the mess hall no less! I expect much better from you, Jessamy Blouet, you are less than a year away from finishing your training! And you, Algus Sadalfas, you are only here as a favor to your father! Why, if I had not known him as a boy, I would have never allowed you to attend, not after your grandfather's disgrace. And what do you do to repay me, but brawl with another cadet! No, young Sadalfas, this behavior is not tolerated here. I do not know what likes you grew up alongside, but a noble conducts himself in a prope4 manner! Your father should be here soon, we must have a chat about your actions today Your first day!" The Academy's headmaster, Baldric Dumont, paced around his office, motioning wildly with his hands as he lectured the two sullen boys sitting before him. Algus was properly cowed, face hidden in his hands.
What if he had ruined everything? Was he really going to be kicked out, his first day ? He would bring further disgrace to his family! God, the shame he would bring upon his father
"Blouent, dismissed. I will arrange a suitable punishment for you later. Sadalfas, stay seated; your father will be arriving." The headmaster sunk down into his chair, clasping his hands, elbows resting upon the desk in front of him. He peered down at the two boys coldly, dark eyes barely even reflecting the light of the torches posted along his walls. Jessamy stood and bowed, wordlessly retreating from the room. If he looked back to give Algus a nasty look, the younger boy did not notice.
Algus sat there in silence, face still buried, until his father arrived. He seemed drawn out and tired, dark bags sagging beneath his eyes. "Good afternoon, milord," Rodolph mumbled with a bob of his head towards the headmaster.
Baldric nodded and motioned to the empty chair next to Algus. "Please, Rodolph, be seated."
Rodolph did as he was told, sitting down next to his son, who was too ashamed to even look up and at him. He fidgeted uncomfortably as Baldric resumed speaking. "Now, Rodolph, I know we go back a long way, but how your son acted today was inexcusable. He brawled with a fourth year cadet in the middle of the mess hall, for God's sake! When you asked me to take your son in as a cadet, I did so only on the condition that he has none of his traitor grandfather's bad blood. You assured me that he would be polite and an exemplary student. This behavior, though " He shook his head. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Algus?"
Withdrawn within himself, it took Algus a few moments before he took in a large, rattling breath and looked upwards, face blotchy. "He challenged my status as a noble and the honor of my family," the boy all but whispered, meeting Baldric in the eyes. Rodolph stifled a groan as his son began to speak. "As any noble must do when faced with such a grave insult, I challenged him to a duel."
Baldric scowled, looking the boy over critically. "I would hardly call that brawl a 'duel,' young Sadalfas."
"Please, sir, please let him stay," Rodolph exclaimed, suddenly on his feet. Algus had never heard his father plead before. It made his blood run hot with shame, knowing that he had caused his father to do something so disgraceful.
"Father, please " He whispered, but was cut off by Baldric.
"I am not so sure I should, Rodolph. If this is how he is to behave I can't have such lack of discipline. No, this is a cultured establishment." The headmaster shook his head.
"I will never behave in such a manner again; for that I swear, milord!" Algus joined his father in standing, eyes bright with the shame of unshed tears. He held his emotions in check, fighting back the flood that threatened to escape.
Baldric stared at the boy long and hard for a good minute before stiffly nodding his head. "One more chance. If you ever act in such a way again, you will be promptly expelled. I never want to see you in my office again, Algus Sadalfas."
Rodolph's expression changed to one of relief, but Algus stayed the same: hard, sharp, and bright-eyed. He bowed. "Yes, milord Headmaster."
Sighing, Baldric shook his head and looked over to Rodolph. "I am sorry we had to have this meeting, old friend. Hopefully it will never have to happen again."
"Yes, milord," Rodolph said formally. Knowing when he was dismissed, he grabbed his son in arm and exited the room.
The two, parent and child, spent their carriage-ride home in shamed silence. Algus stared out the window, too afraid to even look at his father who had slumped back against the seat. By the time they reached their manor, neither could bare to be in the other's presence. Rodolph was just about to retreat to his study when Algus spoke up, for the first time since they had left Baldric's quarters.
"Father," he said softly, painfully, "I apologize for my actions today."
His father, who already had his back turned to the boy, stiffened.
Algus continued, taking a step towards his father. "I was just defending our family's honor, as you have told me to do! I did not let someone push me around, I was able to defend myself!" Though he had taken the harder beating, he had given Jessamy a few bruises of his own.
"Defending?" His father repeated quietly, "You called that defending? You are a disgrace. I cannot even bear to look at you." Without waiting for his son to reply, Rodolph went to hide in his study, where he would cradle a bottle of spirits and wallow in his own pity.
Algus, defeated, went to his quarters.
The Academy buzzed with gossip surrounding Algus' brawl the previous day. As he went through his first day of real training, his fellow cadets gawked at him, whispering whenever he turned around. Wishing he could make it all stop, he forced himself to focus only on his training. He was deemed skilled enough to skip past the most basic sword training class, but he had to relearn some of his footwork, which was incorrect. He was completely new at bow and staff work. By the time lunch rolled around, he was thoroughly exhausted from his morning of physical training, and was dreading the afternoon in which he would study various areas of academia knights were expected to understand: mathematics and logistics, tactics and strategy, mapping territory, manners and decorum, and various other subjects Algus knew nothing about.
Likewise, Algus was dreading the mess hall, where he might encounter Jessamy and his band. Almost worse, he would be confronted with even more shame as he dined alone, the voices of his peers buzzing around him, spreading news of his scandal to those few who did not already know. He was quite pale when he entered the dining space, picked up his meal, and went down to sit at an empty corner that -- hopefully -- no one else would claim.
He was halfway through his meal when a group of boys, very similar in rank and appearance to Jessamy's group, approached his table. He felt the pit of his stomach sink with dread, watching the boys almost fearfully. He could not afford any more trouble!
"Algus, is it?" The lead boy asked, thrusting his hands into his pockets nonchalantly. He tilted his head to the left a bit, looking Algus over without malice.
Warily putting down his silverware, Algus nodded and replied with a short "Yes, it is."
Withdrawing one hand from his pocket, the boy thrust it towards Algus in greeting. "Parcin Emory. I was very impressed with the guts you showed yesterday, taking on someone several years your elder without so much as a blink. You've got courage, I'll tell you that. I don't like too many runts, but my friends and I," and with this, he nodded back to the five cadets behind him, "we were talking, and we think you'd make a good addition to our little band. What do you say?"
It took him a minute to digest -- after all, it was all so sudden! -- but after moments of gawping up at the crowd (Emory was, after all, a very old and noble family!), he stood and took a small bow. "Thank you for your kind invitation," he replied, heart thudding in his chest. Were they merely tricking him, trying to get him off-guard so they can embarrass him even more. "Though, do I take it that you are willing to accept me, despite my family's history?"
Parcin smirked, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't care much for the past. It seems much more effective to live in the present, don't you agree?" He friends nodded along.
He seemed like someone Algus could trust, and he liked the older boy almost immediately. "Then I would be honored to join you."
"Come over here, then," spoke up a shorter boy standing behind Parcin, "and we'll go through introductions." Picking up his tray, Algus followed the group over to where they were sitting in the thick of the mess hall. Younger boys watched in awe; could the uncouth, barbaric traitor's whelp, the boy that had been brawling during yesterday, really be accepted into one of the most well respected groups out of all of the cadets?
Algus felt himself grinning smugly as he settled down with the boys, barely able to contain his glee. He had no clue just who he had joined yet, but within the next week, he would find out. Where Parcin and his crowd went, people watched. They lowered their eyes when looked at, they backed off nervously and allowed the boys to take any place they wish. The only ones who seemed to be unaffected by the regal charm exuded by Algus' group was Jessamy and his gang, who watched their rival cadets with undisguised loathing.
Parcin seemed to have run of the cadets, along with the rest of his group: Alerot, Darius, Quenall, Arnulf and Langot. Algus fit right in with them, laughing when other, younger cadets tripped up and made mistakes, sneering when their peers tried to look them in the eye.
After their afternoon training concluded one day, the group took a trip into town. Algus' father, more often drunk than not, would probably not notice his absence -- he barely took meals outside his own quarters anymore. It pained Algus to see him this way, but he had pledged to do well in his training and become a knight that his father could be proud of. So far, except for his first day, Algus had been succeeding, excelling in his training above others his age.
"I know a tavern we could go to, the Boar and Bear," Arnulf suggested. He was not too much taller than Algus, but was a fourth year. "The serving wenches there " Trailing off, his grin told the rest and the group guffawed.
Parcin nodded his consent, as leader of the pack. "Lead on, then."
Arnulf took them deeper into the filth of the city, where guards did not even bother to patrol. Traveling in an armed group, obviously noble, Parcin's group encountered no trouble -- no one would risk attacking a group of cadets, not unless it was a very large group and they had something to gain. They reached the tavern unmolested, laughing carelessly as they burst into the dank, dark building which reeked of piss and alcohol. Algus had never been anywhere quite so seedy before.
The boys treated themselves to some drinks, including Algus, who did not know much about drinking. He had ale before with Parcin and his group, but they had never done anything this well, risky, Algus thought to himself. Despite the danger, he indulged himself and quickly started to become light headed. When Darius tugged at his shoulder, he stood and followed the boy outside, where Parcin, Quenall and Arnulf stood surrounding one of the serving girls. Langot and Alerot were nowhere to be seen -- they was probably still inside. Algus joined their circle, watching as Parcin laughed drunkenly, pushing the girl down.
"Come on, wench, you'll never get a chance like this again " He crooned into her ear, fingers digging into the girl's arms hard enough to bruise. The girl's eyes were rimmed with tears and she stared up at the strong teenager, almost a man, and whimpered.
"Please, m'lord, please lemme go, I jus' want t'do my job, I have'ta be getting' back inside, the mistress'll be lookin' fer me soon " She cried, sinking back into the filthy hay beneath her. Parcin laughed, pushing himself down onto her.
"Silly wench," he said, cruelly tugging at her bodice. "You know you want me, I can see it in your eyes. You've been watching me all night, you want this Algus, Quenall, hold this bitch down."
It took until then for the situation to actually sink in. Astonished, Algus looked down as Parcin looked at him impatiently, motioning for him to hold the girl's arms. This Could he do this? To a
A peasant wench, some filth fit only for the middens. She was an animal, not even worth being called human. She was not like a pure, noble lady -- she must have already bedded many men. Algus felt himself hardening, and with a smirk he went and held the girl down. Parcin laughed again, holding his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams.
Come the end of the year, Parcin, Arnulf and Langot were inducted into the Aegis Knights, having successfully completed their training with the highest honors. Quenall, Darius and Alerot remained as fourth year cadets, and Algus was promoted to second year. As a second year cadet, he was not allowed to live within the barracks. His father barely bade him goodbye as he moved from home, which left Algus depressed for days. He had gotten this far -- why was his father not proud of him? He was skilled in the art of swordsmanship and archery, though his staff-fighting skills were lacking. He was quick to pick up new ideas and concepts in class, and even the stiff old training master praised him. Algus was shaping up to be a fine young cadet.
During early autumn of his second year, bands of thieves were ravaging the countryside. A band of knights, accompanied by a troop of fifteen cadets, was dispatched to deal with the problem. Algus, Ralfas and Alerot were chosen to be part of the cadet squad. The group hunted down ten bandits in early October, and encountered another group of nineteen at the end of the month. In mid-November they managed to track down the last of the big bandit gangs, and surrounded their camp. Complete slaughter ensued.
Algus, separated from the rest of his group, managed to corner an injured man between some of their dilapidated hovels, a shallow wound along his chest bleeding sluggishly. "Mercy!" He cried, falling backwards, eyes wide with terror. "Mercy!"
"Mercy?" Laughter bubbled at the back of Algus' throat, and he let it burst out sharply. "You are some common scum, pig! You survive by stealing from good, honest men! Still, you want mercy?" Algus continued to laugh, sword pointed at the man's throat.
"I s'render, lord," the man begged, "Throw me in jail, jus' don't kill me!"
"I have no mercy for animals like you," Algus said cruelly, running the man through on his blade. Eyes wide in astonishment, the man gave one last gasp before collapsing in a pool of his own blood. Algus scrunched up his nose in distaste, wiping his blade upon the man's tattered shirt. One less rat to plague society, he thought to himself and turned.
Standing behind him was Ralfas, shaking, sword in hand.
Algus' expression darkened. "Out of my way," he commanded.
Ralfas shook his head. "No!" He yelled, still trembling. "He was asking for mercy! We're not supposed to murder people, we're supposed to bring justice! We could have brought him in to face trial along with the rest of his kin! Have you no honor?"
Sneering, Algus stepped forward, brandishing his sword at his fellow cadet. "You, speak of honor? You, who beat a defenseless boy senseless, you, who would kick him when he's down?" He let out another sharp bark of laugher. "I fail to see where you are any better."
Ralfas' trembling increased. He had no stronger boy to defend him, no one at his back. "That was different These disgusting thieves deserve a beating, of course, but to outright kill them when they beg for their lives? I have to stop you, I have to tell them that you're like this " He raised his sword, eyes wide with terror.
"Come now, why so dramatic? Everyone would agree that I'm doing the right thing. I'm ridding this world of pests, one at a time. What if he had escaped? He could have bred more rats for me to have to hunt down!" Algus stepped closer to his one-time childhood rival.
"STOP!" Ralfas raised his sword, pointing it at Algus' chest. Annoyed, the stronger boy raised his own sword and smacked the blade away. "Stop acting like this, you sniveling worm! You're trying to lecture me, when you wouldn't stop when I begged! You kept on, you who would join anyone bigger! Pathetic weakling!" Algus gripped the hilt of his blade, slamming it onto Ralfas' wrist. The boy yelped in pain, dropping his sword and cradling his wrist to his chest. Algus smirked. "Weakling," he repeated.
Ralfas snarled at the taunting, drawing a dagger from his belt and lunging at Algus' chest. Shocked, Algus' reflexes responded without a single thought, countering the lunge by stabbing his blade right through Ralfas' chest. His mind started to kick in just as the blade started to slide deeper into the boy's tender flesh, red blossoming around Algus' blade.
Algus gasped, eyes wide as he numbly withdrew and dropped his blade, falling backwards in horror. Ralfas stumbled forward a step, before collapsing onto his knees, eyes vacant of all life. He fell forward, hand outstretched towards Algus, dagger just inches from his fingers. Those eyes, completely blank, stared at Algus in pure disbelief.
It must have been a quarter of an hour Algus sat there amongst the blood and gore of his fallen opponents, completely numb from shock. He had killed an ally. He killed a fellow cadet, stabbed him straight through. It was Alerot who finally found him, comprehending the situation quickly. His eyes darted between Ralfas and the dagger and Algus and his bloody sword, understanding the horrified look that haunted Algus' eyes.
"Get up," Alerot hissed down to his friend, who looked up at him, lost. "UP!" The older boy hauled Algus to his feet, retrieving his sword from the ground. "I don't know what happened here, but it must have been that bastard Ralfas' fault. Either way, this is the situation: You found Ralfas fighting with this guy," he nodded towards the bandit corpse, "and were unable to get to him in time before the bandit impaled him. You lunged in, killing the man, and then tried your hardest to get Ralfas to safety before he died. Understand?" He shook Algus urgently, eyes darting towards the fires set in the main part of the bandit encampment, where the battle was coming to an end. Algus just look at him blankly. Growling, Alerot slapped him. "UNDERSTAND?"
Algus finally seemed to snap out of it, shivering violently. "Y-yes " He whispered, staring down at the corpses of the two men he had killed that night. Mouth set with grim determination, Alerot started dragging Algus back to where their main group was assembling to assess their losses.
Everyone accepted Alerot's explanation of what happened to Ralfas, praising and commending Algus for his bravery. If they thought that he was quiet and more reserved than usual, they attributed it to his guilt for being unable to save a comrade in time.
When November came to an end, the group of weary knights and cadets rolled back in to the Marquis's' domain. Algus was heralded as a hero of their group, even given accolades by the headmaster. Throughout this time, Algus started to perk back up, justifying the murder of his fellow cadet within his own mind, with the help of Alerot and, when the story was explained, Quenall and Darius. It was self-defense, they all told him, patting him on the back for his quick reflexes. He was a useless, spineless piece of trash anyway. Algus started to believe this, and soon began to puff up with each word of praise spoken for his actions that battle. They honored him! Surely, his father would be proud!
Algus continued his training, and when the end of the training year came, he bid a sad farewell to his remaining friends, all that had been left of Parcin's gang. He was on his own now, despite the gaggle of young cadets that would follow him, having heard stories of his bravery and strength upon the battlefield. Algus accepted none of them: they were all followers, not worthy of being his companions. He was a proud man of the Sadalfas family, no longer a boy but a blooded warrior, and he could not besmirch his good family name by associating with his lessers.
He seemed to race through his third year, receiving nothing but praise from his superiors. After his seventeenth birthday, he was awarded a week of off-time to go home and visit his father, who seemed to waste away before his eyes. Once robust and proud, his father had been reduced by his alcohol addiction and the pain of Alainne's death into a shadow of his former self, which broke Algus' heart. To see his father, so diminished, so weak compared to the strong figure that had raised him
His father smiled when he saw Algus. He said he was proud of him, that Algus was turning into a fine son. A hero! Though Algus was almost worried by how free with praise he was for his son -- praise that Algus once had to painstakingly earn, one word at a time -- he felt like all of his actions had been validated. His father was finally starting to see him as a son, not just an inconvenience.
Algus returned to the Academy days later, both worried for his father's fragile state and bursting with the knowledge that his father finally believed he was able to restore honor to their family.
Algus' pride would not be short-lived; three weeks later, word spread around the Academy that the Marquis was intending on taking a journey to meet Prince Larg in Igros to discuss some matter of grave importance. Knights were being assembled to help guard the marquis's caravan, though numbers were kept small to allow for discreet travel.
Algus was selected to be amongst the marquis's guards.
When he received a summons from the headmasters, his gut clenched with worry. What had he done? Algus had been the perfect example of a future knight! He reached the headmaster's door and knocked, waiting for the word to enter.
When Baldric called him inside, Algus sat down nervously before the lord. It had been many years since he first sat, cowed, within the same chair. Now, however, Baldric looked pleasant and relaxed -- even eager.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I've summoned you here," Baldric started.
Algus nodded, mouth dry as cotton. "Yes, milord," he replied solemnly.
Baldric stood and began to pace, choosing his words carefully. "The Marquis has been making some inquiries into you, young Sadalfas. It seems that he remembers the great act of loyalty your ancestor Torphin has done for his family. He has heard good things about you, and is hoping you shape up to be as loyal a servant as your ancestor was for his."
Algus was in awe -- the Marquis had heard about him? He had asked about him?
Baldric continued. "That's not just all, boy," he said, stopping and facing the younger man, looking him straight in the eye. "I'm sure you've heard by now that the Marquis plans on departing soon for Igros." He did not even wait for Algus to nod. "He wants you to accompany him and his knights, to see how you perform."
There was a long stretch of amazed silence while Algus, wide-eyed and gawking like a country boy, tried to absorb this new information. "M ME, sir?" He finally managed to sputter, jumping to his feet.
"Down, son." The headmaster waved his hands down, motioning for the boy to be seated once more. "Yes, you. I assume you accept?"
Algus repressed a whoop for joy. Instead, he stared Baldric straight in the eye and nodded. "I do, sir."
"Good," the older man nodded stiffly. "You leave at dawn."
The attack took them by surprise. Thirty men proclaiming to be a part of the Death Corps had surrounded their caravan on the Mandalia Plains, just a day's journey east of Igros. A bloodbath ensued, and in the ensuing chaos the Marquis was kidnapped. Algus fought off opponents, watching helplessly as his comrades were slaughtered around him. When he finally saw men on the horizon, sporting the uniforms of the Hokuten, he regained hope: help had arrived!
"Thank God," he shouted, "reinforcements!" Slashing at the nearest man, he retreated backwards towards the incoming troops. With their help, the remaining thieves were killed. His own men were scattered, though most lay dead upon the plains.
When the battle drew to an end, he met with the leader of the band of knights that had saved him, a young man that looked his age. "Are you okay?" He and another young man, this one with darker hair, looked Algus' wounds over.
Algus nodded, grim. "Barely, but the Marquis "
That spoiled brat, Ramza! Algus marched through the snow beside Zalbag, Ramza's elder brother and a great leader of the Hokuten Knights. It was an honor to serve beside such a great man, Algus thought, though he was not the Marquis. Still, he knew reality, unlike his naïve little brother: commoners meant nothing, they were just dirt. Only nobles were worthy of gracing this earth. Ramza would eventually learn that and cast off his pathetic commoner friend, Delita. It would be too late, however -- Ramza would never be Algus' friend again. The naïve little brat sickened Algus, and he was not worthy of being a Beoulve.
Zalbag, Algus and their troops trapped Golagros and the commoner girl, Teta, at Fort Zeakden. They had the fort surrounded, with Golagros desperately trying to retreat inside. He screamed down, voice hoarse. "Get out of here now! What if something happens to her? And don't do anything funny! There's tons of powder inside the fort! More than enough to blow all of you to hell and back! Got it? Then, get out!"
Coldly, Zalbag met his frenzied gaze. "The Hokuten will never be threatened by you!" He shouted in reply.
It was then that Algus caught sight of Ramza and Delita, coming forward with their own band of fighters. Zalbag and Algus looked on coolly as Ramza yelled at them in astonishment. "Brother!" He exclaimed, "Algus!!"
Algus sneered. Ramza was too late to make a difference -- he would just have to be given a lesson on reality, and how things were meant to be. While Delita screamed to his sister, Zalbag gave the order. "Go on, do it!"
With a smug look, Algus took his crossbow and aimed it up, right at the stomach of Delita's little sister, who was in the way. "Yes, sir," he replied calmly, letting the bolt loose. It flew true, piercing Teta. When she collapsed to the side, he fired a second bolt, not even listening to the kidnapper's surprised cry. This one was not as good as the previous, and instead buried itself into the thick muscle of Golagros' leg, sending the man down to his knees.
While Delita screamed, a knight came up behind Zalbag to report. "General Zalbag," he said, "more enemies are on the mountain path! There are about fifty of them. I've been informed one of them resembles Wiegraf!"
Zalbag nodded, understanding. "Alright, I'll be right there. Take care of the rest, Algus."
"Yes, sir!" Algus replied, eyes narrowed upon his prey, aiming his crossbow up at Golagros, who was limping towards the door into the fort. His shot was obstructed when Delita lunged at him with a snarl. "What are you doing?" He said, annoyed.
"Algus! You bastard!" Grief ripped through Delita's throat, tears streaming down his face.
This common boy thought he could take him on? Him, Algus Sadalfas? He sneered, loading another bolt into his crossbow. "You want to fight? Come then, let's go!"
He hadn't expected it to end this way. He hadn't expected to die this early, crumpled up in the snow once more, like when he was a boy. He wasn't bruised this time, though -- he was thoroughly broken, life's blood seeping from his body, staining the pristine snow beneath him. He was dizzy, head spinning, and his eyes were starting to unfocus.
Was this really death?
Could he really have been killed by such despicable weaklings? He was a proud son of the Sadalfas line, a warrior hand-chosen by Marquis Elmdor to be within his personal guard. Zalbag Beoulve had seen his worth as well, and had chosen him to lead this attack!
Everything was going dark. Was this what his mother experienced as she died, life taken by a filthy, common thief? He now suffered death at the hands of a commoner, someone pretending so hard to be a noble. It was almost laughable.
Mother. His mother, he would see her soon. But what of his father? Must he die this far from home, on foreign soil? Was his father destined to lose all of those he loved, all of his family? Who would take care of him?
Above all else, Algus hoped that his father would be proud of him. He lived, fought and died to redeem the Sadalfas family name.
Would it all be for nothing?
All That Glitters Is Cold 4 Fanfic Competition
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