Legacy of Honor Chapter 12
The Ties That Bind
Ramia gazed at the field of wheat that was spread before her like the sea in wonder. She looked up at the wide sky, all sunshine blue now, with the clouds fading like childhood memories, and felt the wind on her face and laughed for the sheer wonder of it all. This seemed a marvelous land, vast and verdantshe saw the farmers reaping the harvest, their wide-brimmed hats a contrast to the pointed hats she was used to seeing on the banks of Diara. Most sheared the wheat with their sickles while the rest bundled them and carried the sheaves to a chocobo driven cart where they were taken to the storehouses of Lesalia.
Andrew slightly turned his head briefly glancing at his adoptive daughter. Ramia had grown into a fine young woman though her sturdy red linen shirt and trousers hid the burgeoning contours of her figure. The golden glory of her hair was drawn back in a braid held by a simple green bow. Her features were proud, the mouth wide and full-lipped above a firm jaw, her nose aquiline, her hazel eyes large. It was almost too strong a face, yet poignant, a complete mirror image of her mother.
This worried Andrew causing him to harbor doubts about this endeavor. At the age of fourteen, Ramia was ready to begin her training as a squire, a novice of knighthood. He vaguely recalled the solemn, formal, religious ceremony that had taken place about a week ago that promoted Ramia from a page to a squire. It seemed all a blur, an event that happened too quickly. Soon they were on the road to her daughters next step towards knighthood, a step full of uncertainty.
Agnes, I hope you know what youre doing, he thought grimly.
As the sun fell away to the west, the party of five made camp where a wooden fence separated the fields of wheat from the grazing grounds of those chocobos that pull the carts. The three knights that accompanied Andrew and Ramia on their journey to Lesalia prepared dinner and when everyone had their fill, they set up a watch.
In the morning, they quickly broke their fast spurred on by Ramias eagerness to reach the capital and her new home. They crested a hill of which the party could see the capital spread out in all its glory.
Ramia gasped when she saw it, for it was far larger than Limberry Castle. The stone that bulked from the grassy meadow stood high as four tall men, solid and square, with towers rising higher still at each corner. A city surrounded the palace on three sides, its buildings dwarfed by the mass of the castle.
Andrews group made their way down the hill, following the road that wound its way through the plains that surrounded Lesalia. Ramia could see that the road led to the north gate of the capital but instead of forging ahead, they turned to a side road that led uphill to a simple citadel.
It was, Ramia saw, encircled by an area filled with a variety of shrubs and trees that ended at the walls of the fortress adorned with banners of the noble family. Like the banners at home, they were long and green and portrayed the symbol of the family that resided here. Neatly trimmed shrubs lined the road to the stone edifice, the gardeners somewhat surprised at the arrival of Andrews party especially when they caught sight of the young woman.
Ramia did not notice their stares, however, for she gasped as she saw two oak trees ahead marking the gate of this bastion. Their branches were full and spread wide like two giant sentinels on duty. The party trotted in between them into an enclosure...
...and before them was the citadel that was not as simple as Ramia first believed it to be.
What had appeared to be simple shrubs and trees surrounding the bastion were in reality a beautiful garden filled with flowers of various colors where butterflies flitted about and bees buzzed, where birds crooned and insects crawled. The bastion itself was as magnificent as the garden that encircled it with windows and balconies, each allowing a view of the garden below.
She was barely aware of the knight who came forward to take her reins, smiling as Ramia tore her gaze from the magnificence about her and dismounted. She was given no more time to study her surroundings for a servant had arrived and requested that she and Andrew accompany him. They marched briskly across the enclosure to the main doors of the citadel, leaving the three knights to take care of their chocobos.
Andrew seemed at ease while she felt vaguely like a country bumpkin. She assumed a look of casualness, but nonetheless gazed around in wonder as they were led across a tall-ceilinged room with a floor of flagstones and walls hung with ancient tapestries to a second door. They progressed steadily inward until their escort reached a stairway that curved up toward the second floor. He began to climb, Andrew and Ramia following, until they came to a corridor lit by some nearby windows and he halted at a door inlaid with brass plates. He pounded once and when a voice called from inside, pushed the door open, as he announced, The master awaits you.
Andrew entered without hesitation, Ramia following a pace behind, trying hard to remember the protocols Ray had instilled in her. It was not necessary, for the man who came toward them as the door closed opened his arms and embraced Andrew as might an old friend, unmet for too long a time. Andrew in turn returned the embrace with enthusiasm, leaving Ramia the opportunity to study the lord.
Agnes was a fraction shorter than Andrew and some years older, his face thin and homely. His soft, yellowish hair was cropped to shoulder length, more gray in it than showed in Andrews, bound with a plain circle of gold, a long mustache decorating an upper lip that was saved from weakness by the wide, firm set of his smiling mouth. His robe was dark green, unadorned, and the belt about his narrow waist was of simple black leather, a sheathed dirk adorning his side.
When, finally, he released his grip on Andrew and turned toward Ramia, the young woman saw that his eyes were blue and tired, the pleasure that shone there contrasting with the deep creases lining his cheeks and brow. Is this the child I saw so long ago, Andrew? he asked with a smile, studying Ramia.
Ramia gaped, not sure how she should respond. Rays instruction had not included lessons on the informality of lords.
Agnes made it easy for her by clasping her shoulders as she began to bow and saying, Ramia, welcome to Oaks Keep. Your arrival here marks the beginning of your next step towards knighthood. I hope you will enjoy your stay here as you train under my guidance. His voice was soft, echoing the weariness andsadness?that showed in his eyes.
My lord, Ramia began, it is an honor to be here and to receive such training from a respectable knight of the crown.
Agnes nodded once, his expression solemn for a brief moment before returning to its pleasant self. Im glad, he said. Perhaps you would like to settle down and talk to Galvin. Hes been wanting to see you.
Ramia looked at Andrew, her mute inquiry answered with a nod. I would very much appreciate it, my lord, she said.
Agnes nodded and called for a servant, who arrived and escorted Ramia out of the room. When the door closed, Agnes gave a great sigh. By St. Ajora, Andrew! She looks like Agrias when she was at that age! he exclaimed.
Yes. Andrews expression grew solemn and he stroked at his gray-streaked beard. Are you sure about this, Agnes? She has begun to question her heritage. Are you not worried that she may find out the truth? The paintings
are gone, Agnes supplied as he crossed to a spindle-legged table, filling two goblets with a pale, golden vintage that sparkled as he passed the cups as casually as though they drank in some tavern. Ive placed them all in the vault and I possess the only key. He then motioned toward chairs set about a window recess, their backs and arms inlaid with gold, the seats of soft, blue material.
Andrew nodded slowly, unsure, as he took a seat. Perhaps she is safe from the truth here but what about the palace? He motioned at the window where the southern gate of Lesalia was shown. Wont the other nobles talk if you bring her there?
That is a risk I am willing to take, Agnes stated, sipping wine as he stared moodily out the window over the grass surrounding the nobles residence to the rooftops of Lesalia. Set as it was atop a hill, the keep commanded the finest view possible of the capital.
Then you risk too much, his friend returned gravely. Its best if she trains in Limberry or perhaps in Zeltennia. Its far less risky than her staying here.
Agnes sighed, a great gusting of breath that sent the ends of his mustache to swaying. You know that Ill not have it any other way, he said somberly. I am not long for this world and I would feel assured if all of this, he spread out his arms to encompass the room, and this, he tapped his head, were passed down to her. He then smiled as he added, She is family after all.
Yes, theres no denying that, Lord Birch agreed. But she must not know. Proper precautions must be made to ensure that, meaning that you must tread carefully when visiting the capital.
I shall, Agnes nodded in agreement, calm enough now to join his friend by taking the seat next to him. Now tell me, how is Celinda doing?
Ramia gazed briefly at her surroundings as she was led to her quarters, oblivious of the glances the servant was giving her.
The servant could not help but be amazed at the changes ten years could make on a person. He remembered her being nothing more than a child that was on the verge of forging a path in life then to see her all grown into a young woman that was walking that path. But what shocked him the most was the uncanny resemblance she had of her mother.
He knew of the incident; all of them knew. The working staff was given warnings not to mention anything of it while Ramia was to reside here. But will that be enough? He looked back one more time and stopped when he saw that he wasnt being followed.
Ramia stood facing the wall with a thoughtful expression.
Is something wrong, Mistress Ramia? he asked curiously.
Theres something missing here, Ramia replied softly more to herself than in reply to the servants inquiry. I dont know how but I just know. Strange, isnt it? she asked as she walked away from the area in question.
Quite, the servant replied bluntly seemingly uninterested in the matter as they resumed their walk. In actuality, however, he was troubled. Something was indeed missing from that wall, a painting of Lord Oaks wife. He made a quick mental note to report this little incident to Lord Oaks, knowing that he would find it startling.
There were no more incidents as they continued to traverse the hallways of Oaks Keep. He brought Ramia through more resplendent corridors to a chamber from which emanated the sweet scent of flowers set in a pot atop the mantle of the fireplace, the sun shining through the curtained window that offered a splendid view of the Imperial Capital.
Your room, the servant declared stepping to the side as Ramia entered slowly, marveling at the splendid sight. Yet, she felt as if she had been here before perhaps in a previous life, if there existed such a thing.
Shall you be visiting Master Galvin, Mistress Ramia? he asked, cutting into Ramias thoughts.
Yes, of course, Ramia replied, once I have everything set here.
Very well, the servant nodded. I shall wait here. He bowed once before closing the door.
As soon as the door closed, Ramia flung her satchel excitedly on a bed large enough to hold three people. The squire stalked to the window and stared out, spreading her arms as if to embrace the scenery and smiled.
This was to be her new home. She couldnt wait to meet the city and its people, to explore the streets and the meadows, and to meet other squires and knights at the palace. Her heart pounded with excitement at the mere thought of it.
But it was best to use that enthusiasm to explore the keep, to know its walls for she was to be staying here for the duration of her training. With that thought in mind, she turned away from the sight of the capital to look about her, thinking that the soft, silken draperies and the luxurious carpets that hid the floor were too lavish, a room fit for a higher ranking official than a lowly squire like herself.
She walked around, exploring the contents of the wardrobe, finding clothing of a nature to suit her purpose of training in the knightly arts. Among the leather jerkins and breeches, however, were clothing of a nature that matched the luxury of the room. Next to the wardrobe was an armoire where she found a shield and a dagger within. These were to be hers no doubt.
Satisfied with her room, she decided it was time to visit Galvin. The servant nodded, smiling as Ramia walked out of her room. Shall we be going, Mistress Ramia? he asked politely.
Yes, Ramia replied then smiled as she added, And please, call me Ramia.
The servant nodded. As you wish...Ramia. I am Demitri.
Well, Demitri, Ramia began, if you can so kindly bring me to Galvin...
Demitri nodded once more, steering Ramia down the corridor in the direction of a staircase, as he led her to where Galvin awaited.
Galvin growled in frustration, thrusting his sword onto the soft earth. Ill never master that technique! he muttered through clenched teeth. Its impossible!
For the past hour or so, he had been in the garden attempting to execute a sword technique that Lord Oaks had shown him. He performed the moves correctly, albeit slowly. He cant seem to execute it flawlessly, always pausing in mid-swing, which may cause him his life if he were in a real battle. Impossible! he muttered again furiously.
Galvin quickly turned towards the voice, his cheeks slightly red from embarrassment. They turned a shade darker when he saw who it was that spoke. R-Ramia! he stammered, mortified to know that she may have been watching him sputter angrily. W-What a surprise!
Ramia stood beneath an arch of white wood, vines snaking their way through and around the structure. There were three other arches, each placed at a point of the compass, providing entry to the circular clearing that was bordered by hedges. It was but a small part of the garden that Ramia had glimpsed from afar.
Whats so surprising? Ramia grinned as she entered the clearing. You knew I was coming, right?
Galvin laughed awkwardly as he rubbed his head. It must have slipped my mind, he said, smiling uneasily.
Practicing? Ramia gestured towards his sword.
Galvin suddenly became serious. Yes, he nodded as he took up his sword. Lord Oaks showed me a sword technique that he wants me to master. Problem is, Im having trouble executing it flawlessly. I keep pausing in mid-swing.
Can I see? Ramia asked eagerly, her eyes shining with excitement.
Galvin thought for a moment then nodded. All right, but dont laugh! Ramia nodded vigorously in agreement, anxious for Galvin to demonstrate, who took a deep breath as he went into a fighting stance.
He stood still as he mentally pictured himself doing the technique. It was difficult, he knew, having done it so many times. The technique was not powerful; it only served to stun the enemy or enemies. It was a move more accustomed to exhibitions than in battles but Lord Oaks had informed him that it had proven itself in battle. He did not doubt his lords words and so made an effort in mastering it.
Ramia watched as Galvin stepped forward making a downward diagonal slash at the same time. He then reversed his swing, his sword slashing diagonally upward as he pivoted on his left foot, the momentum of his swing carrying his body into a full circle...
An image suddenly flashed in Ramias mind of a person doing the same technique that Galvin was demonstrating. That move..., she thought as Galvin raised his sword...
Ive seen it before...
...to do a downward slash as he completed his circle.
Galvin let out a sigh when he had completed the technique. He smiled as he turned to Ramia and asked, How was that for a demonstration? A look of concern suddenly appeared on his face when he saw that Ramia was just staring at him, her face slightly pale. Ramia, whats wrong?
That technique... she said in a hushed tone. I think Ive seen it before.
Really? Galvin inquired. Where? When?
Ramia shook her head. I dont know. But one thing is certain... She smirked mischievously. Your technique needs some work.
Galvin sputtered, his face turning slightly red with anger. Well, if youve seen it before, then you would be able to perform it perfectly. Go on! he challenged with a wave of his hand. Lets see you do it! He stepped to the side as Ramia walked towards the center.
She unsheathed her sword, the sword she had received during the ceremony from which she was promoted to squire, and took practice swings with it. On her journey to Lesalia, she was taught how to handle the weapon even sparring with the other knights when time permitted. She was very confident that she could perform the technique with ease.
After doing a few swings, she got into her own battle stance. With a shout, she performed the technique quickly and effortlessly. She then stood quite still for a moment before sheathing her sword.
Galvin could only stare in amazement as she turned towards him and smiled. Hows that? she asked.
P-Perfect! he gasped in awe. And on the first try, too! Amazing! How did you do it?
Ramia shrugged. It just came naturally to me.
Galvin shook his head in disbelief. Strange... He was about to say more but was interrupted by a servants call.
Forgive me, Master Galvin, Mistress Ramia. The servant bowed slightly in apology. Lord Oaks and Lord Birch request your presence at the stables.
Thank you, Nathan, Galvin said gratefully. Inform them that we shall attend to them shortly.
Very well. Nathan bowed again before leaving.
Galvin then turned to Ramia and said, We should be going. We dont want to keep them waiting.
Yes, Ramia agreed. We must be obedient to our lord and do instantly what is asked of us.
That is correct, Galvin nodded in approval. Protocol demands it.
The stables were built hard against the keeps west wall, long, tile-roofed structures scented of hay and the companionable odor of the chocobos. An exercise yard of packed earth fronted the covered stalls, surrounded by grain stores and tack houses and the quarters of the grooms themselves. These latter were split by a tunnel giving access to the interior, and Galvin and Ramia trotted down the passage to the yard.
Both lords were standing there, watching as the Limberrian knights saddled their mounts, Andrews tall black chocobo already accoutered. He was still clothed in his riding gear, his sword latched on his waist, his arms crossed over his chest. He and Agnes turned as both Galvin and Ramia approached.
You are ready to go, Ramia remarked.
Why so soon? she inquired a bit sadly. It has not passed midday yet.
I am aware of that, Ramia, Lord Birch concurred. But its imperative that I return to Limberry as soon as possible. I have duties to uphold as you will soon know when you too become a knight. The reason why I called you here is to bid you farewell.
Ramia nodded, her eyes watering, realizing that this may be the last time in a long while that shell ever see of him. Father... she murmured as she put her arm to his shoulder, hugging him, grateful for the responding embrace.
Look to Lord Oaks for advice, Andrew urged when they broke apart, and to your own heart for what is right. Know that I am proud of you. He then turned to Galvin. You have grown since last I saw you, he smiled as he studied his grandson. He could see the physical heritage he had inherited from Alex in the broad set of his shoulders, his body lean and hard. His hair was tied into a plait away from a face that could woo any maidens heart. It seems youve been taking care of yourself very well, he added after.
I am, Galvin said. I wish you well on your return home, grandfather. Give my regards to mother, father, and grandmother. He put out his hand and his grandfathers locked against it.
I will, Andrew nodded then turned to Agnes and said, Take care, old friend, and look after these striplings. Ivalice is in need of good knights.
I shall, Agnes agreed. Take care on your journey.
Lord Birch nodded once more. He then spun and shouted for the waiting Limberrians to mount. He climbed astride his own chocobo and raised a hand in farewell. As he clattered down the paved tunnel, Ramia wondered if it had been moisture he saw in the brown eyes or merely reflected sunlight. The knights trotted after him, calling their farewells, and the stable yard grew abruptly silent.
Come, Agnes beckoned his two squires. Its time we begin todays lessons.
Ramia soon learned that though she was a squire, she still upheld those duties of a page, serving at meals, washing the dishes, and looking after her lords mount. Besides these household chores, there was the rigorous practice of the martial arts.
For the next few days, she was taught the various equipment she would be wearing on duty as a knight. There was her armor and gauntlets, helmet and shield, and most importantly, her sword. She practiced putting on these various equipment and thus accustom herself to their weight.
At first, it was cumbersome. When she walked, it was with stiff strides and when she fought, her movements were slow and awkward. Galvin seemed to move fluidly while armored and she envied him for that. But then she remembered that he had been in training for two years and was already accustomed to its weight.
So, everyday she made an effort to overcome this simple burden of metal. As she did this, she was also taught how to properly wield her sword and use her shield. She would spar with Galvin, who was fully armored as she, and whenever she would fall, he would help her up and resume the training with gusto.
As the weeks passed by, Lord Oaks observed Ramia improved with each passing day. Soon she was moving as fluidly as Galvin, unhampered by the weight of her equipment. Pleased with her progress, Agnes decided that she was ready to learn how to combat while riding on a chocobo.
Naturally, a squire had to be a skillful rider. One of the goals Agnes set was for his squires to leap into the saddle in full armor. It sounded simple enough but when Ramia tried it, she failed, falling unceremoniously to the ground.
Easier said than done, Galvin had warned her.
It was sound advice. Besides leaping onto saddle in full armor, she had to ride her chocobo fully armed and at full tilt. It was a challenge, but nonetheless, with Galvin and Agnes helping her along the way, she was able to master the art of riding.
Ramia continued to train in these things, seeking to improve her skills both in combat and in riding. Agnes was impressed by her show of vigor and determination. Even Galvin did not show as much enthusiasm as she.
A few months passed...
Agnes elected it was time to speak with Ramia about his decision for her to test her skills against other squires at the capital. As he expected, Ramia was in the garden occupied with her unceasing search for perfection. Agnes waited silently to the side, unwilling to disturb the concentration of the young squire. Besides, it was always a pleasure to observe her actions.
Ramia was certainly a quick learner, mastering those techniques that only his family knows while Galvin still struggled with the first few. There was no denying that Ramia was truly his granddaughter. He was proud of her, and was it sorrowful for him to not tell Ramia about her true heritage, still it was good that he could be a part of her life once again.
Ramia seemed to be unaware of his presence as she swung her sword in a high arc that curved almost too fast for the eye to follow above her head and down, the motion ending with her standing in a relaxed manner.
Agnes clapped once and Ramia quickly turned to see who it was. M-My lord! she exclaimed in shock when she caught sight of Agnes. She sheathed her sword and bowed. I never knew you were present!
Agnes waved a dismissive hand as he approached. That does not matter, he said with a smile. What matters now is that you are ready.
Ready? Ramia was puzzled. Ready for what?
Ready to test your skills against other squires, Agnes replied in a patient tone. You have trained long and hard during the past months and I believe you are ready to take your training a step further. I have taught you everything I know. Its time you learn more from others. What say you?
If you believe it to be so, Ramia began, then I accept.
Agnes nodded, pleased. Very good. Then on the morrow we shall visit the Imperial Capital.
And pray that none shall question your presence.
Morning delivered a clear day, the sky a pure blue without a cloud to mark its beauty. Birds sang a welcome to the rising sun and from the garden, squirrels chattered. A breeze blew over the walls of the stable yard as Galvin and Ramia prepared to embark for Lesalia.
As Ramia placed saddle and harness on her chocoboyet another gift that was bestowed upon her as a squireLord Oaks arrived in full regalia, his breastplate shining softly in the morning sun, his hair combed back and fixed in place at the nape of his neck with a clasp of hammered silver. His cape of white was clasped at his left shoulder by a badge of gold on which, in bas relief, stood the tripartite crown of Lesalias St. Konoe Knights and above it, his familys insignia. A sword was belted at his waist, the hilt elaborately carved to represent a tree with its branches spreading forth to form the quillons.
As he approached, a stablehand stepped forward leading a chocobo of pale feathers from the stable already equipped for the ride ahead. Agnes was handed the reins and he mounted afterwards. Ready? he asked his squires when they were astride their mounts. They nodded in answer and he nodded in return before heeling his chocobo forward followed by his squires.
He took the lead as they rode at a moderate pace down the hill, Galvin and Ramia flanking him from behind. Soon they rode along the main road to Lesalias northern gate. As they trotted along the road, Ramia noticed smaller holdings dotting the plains and she questioned about them.
Farms, Agnes replied, for raising livestock and vineyards for wine. They provide the food needed to sustain the people of Lesalia.
Ramia nodded in understanding. Lesalia was the largest city in Ivalice after all. It made perfect sense for farmers to provide them with food as much as the sailors back in Limberry provide them with fish. Her curiosity satisfied, she began to enjoy the little ride to the capital. When they had finally reached the gate, Ramia could only gape in awe.
She had seen nothing like the city. Not even the grim splendor of Bethla Garrison could compare with what she saw illuminated by the waxing light of the rising sun, for in size and magnificence Lesalia dwarfed even her wildest imaginations.
Ramia leaned forward on her chocobo, deaf to the shout of the knights who were guarding the gate, her eyes wide as she stared, turning her head from side to side, still unable to encompass the full glory of the place. Houses were piled like boxes, one atop the other, their rooftops of tile and marble, slate and wood, shimmering color against the brilliant glow of the sun to the east, while to the west lanterns flickered away in greeting to the arrival of a new day. She was so enrapt with her surroundings that she didnt hear the exchange between Agnes and the knights.
Greetings, Lord Oaks! hailed the officer. What business do you bring to Lesalia?
My squires have come to train at the palace, Agnes replied calmly. He then watched as the officer took a quick glance at Galvin but stared a moment longer at Ramia.
The officer then nodded. Please enter. He and the other two knights on guard stepped to the side as the trio passed through the gate.
As they watched them leave, one of the other knights questioned, Didnt you see the girl? She looked like
I know, interjected the officer. One of you go inform Father Jaren of what you saw. He would certainly be curious as to know why she has returned to Lesalia.
Agnes was relieved to see that they had passed without any difficulty. However, he knew that Ramias presence had already received some attention and probably had formed some curious questions from the onlookers.
Ramia couldnt care less as she studied Lesalia at closer quarters, finding it as marvelous as it had seemed from the keep. Initially they rode past taverns that were silent and nearly empty of patrons but come evening, they would be as rowdy as taverns anywhere. Then they began to pass bazaars and kiosks that were beginning to open up for business, displaying a bewildering variety of goods. Past the shops were houseshouses as she had never seen. All brilliant tilework and mosaics of tiny colored stones, with ornate balconies and roofs hung with lanterns and pennants and metal cylinders that chimed as the breeze struck them.
Being so early in the day, not many people thronged the streets, which made their progress a whole lot easier. Wide avenues ran down to the gates and city square, interconnecting streets and alleyways crisscrossing between them.
Galvin knew that the most direct route to the palace gates was through the city square. He was surprised, however, when they turned to another street instead of continuing down the avenue to the square. Puzzled, he was about to question Agnes but halted when he saw his lord staring at him from the corner of his eye as if to say not to question. So, he kept silent, wondering all the while.
Agnes knew the route they took was the long way to the palace but he had to avoid the city square. For one, it painfully reminded him of what took place there ten years ago and for another, it was for Ramias sake.
The platforms used in the trial were a permanent fixture of the city square now, a reminder to the people that the hunt for the heretics still continued even after ten years. It would explain why Lesalias streets were lined with merchants for the square had served as the marketplace before then.
After a few more turns, they were back on the main road, the square behind and the palace before them. The avenue ran straight, rising toward the palace. It was a building of such simple grandeur that without ornamentation it still could not help but dominate all of Lesalia. It was white, though the eastern wall was painted yellow by the sun, square, with a great dome at the center of the roof and tall, narrow windows along all the sides Ramia could see. A low wall surrounded it, bearing no insignia, no flags or pennants, but she knew this to be the fabled royal palace, home of Ivalices monarch.
The gate was open and they trotted through into a flagstoned courtyard. Ramia gasped when she saw that Galvin had spoken right when he had described the palace in his letter. It was absolutely breathtaking!
Dismount, Lord Oaks commanded as he jumped off his chocobo. Galvin immediately obeyed but Ramia followed slower, still in awe of the palace surroundings. Grooms in white and gold livery came to take their reins. Ramia was reluctant at first to relinquish her mount but seeing that Lord Oaks and Galvin did not protest, she relented.
As their chocobos were stabled, the trio walked across the courtyard to a door guarded by two plate-armored halberdiers. Ramia gazed around her surroundings, her mouth slightly ajar, as they marched across a high-ceilinged room with a floor of striated red marble to a second guarded door. Past this there were fewer sentinels, and the rooms became smaller, set with alcoves in which stood statues made of stone and marble and metal. Stained glass windows lined the corridors, reflecting dazzling patterns of color in the light of torches burning in ornate receptacles.
As they passed through these hallways, those who were roaming the halls paused to look at the trio, especially to a specific member. Their stares of wonder and surprise did not go unnoticed by Ramia. Why are they looking at us like that? she questioned Agnes remembering to add, my lord?, after.
Just ignore them, he replied gruffly. You have other things to worry about.
Ramia noticed the hint of anger and remorse in his tone of voice and wondered if she had brought up a sensitive subject. But why did their stares troubled Lord Oaks? She soon received her answer when they finally reached the practice ground.
The practice ground was designed for footwork, not cavalry practice which was practiced outside Lesalias walls where the plains afforded them the space. It was large enough that combatants might circle, but not so large that they might avoid one another for long. Squared, it was walled by the palace. Squires of all respective classes crowded the arena as they honed their skills.
As they entered the practice ground, they were stopped by a knight who was accompanied by his three squires. Well Agnes! Still have the gall to show your face around here, I see! he exclaimed with a sneer. His shout must have been loud for all activity ceased in the arena.
Ramia looked around, puzzled on why they were attracting attention. She then looked at Lord Oaks and saw that his face was taut as he stood very still. Confused, she looked to Galvin, who shrugged, unsure of what was happening himself.
If youre quite done, Agnes began calmly, well be on our way. He tried to pass through but the knight placed a hand on Agnes chest and shoved him back as he said, Not so fast.
The others laughed as Agnes fell back with a grunt. My lord! Galvin shouted echoed by Ramia as they rushed to his aid. Are you all right?
Im fine, Agnes muttered as he stood up with dignity, refusing to give the others the pleasure.
Go back to your keep, Agnes, the knight commanded mockingly. Theres no place here for those who train traitors. His order was echoed by those around him and soon the arena was in an uproar.
Ramia wondered why Lord Oaks remained impassive as they continued to taunt him. What had he done to deserve such harsh treatment? From what she learned from him, he was an honorable man that demanded the utmost respect. And now to see other knights mocking him...
Angered, she stepped forward to confront the knight who started this whole charade despite Agnes soft protests. You dare mock my lord, sir?! she challenged. Youve not only insulted him, but you have insulted me as well! To think that such knights exist here... You are not worthy to be called a knight, much less to act like one! She broke off, torn between rage and embarrassment, barely hearing Agnes murmured, Well said, lass!
Insolent brat! The knights face was livid. How dare you! He suddenly fell silent as recognition dawned on his face. You! he gasped. Whats your name, girl?!
Ramia raised her chin proudly as she stated: I am Ramia Birch, squire to Lord Oaks.
There came a collective gasp in the arena and Ramia suddenly felt nervous. She looked around seeing that the others wore the same surprised look as the knight before her.
Ramia...Birch...? the knight repeated slowly. Squire... He then began to chuckle softly. I see now! he exclaimed as he looked at Agnes with a knowing smile. Interesting... To think you would be training her just like you did her mother!
My...mother? Ramia whispered in shock. How would you know my mother?
By the way you look, the knight simply replied. You look just like her when she was young. Theres no mistaking it. Ask Agnes. Its probably the reason why he had decided to teach you the knightly arts.
Ramia turned to Lord Oaks. Is that true? You knew my mother? she asked him in a whisper.
Agnes looked at the childnoat the young woman and sighed. Yes, its true, he replied sadly.
You can almost say that they were like family, the knight added casually and Ramia turned back to stare at him. Like father and daughter. I wouldnt be surprised if he taught you the same tricks that he had taught her.
Before Ramia could question what he meant, Lord Oaks stepped forward and answered promptly, Is that a challenge, Gyle? Do you question my methods?
Not your methods, Agnes, but your honor, Gyle replied indifferently. And the honor of your squires especially that young girl there. He pointed at Ramia.
Agnes began to speak, but Ramia grasped his arm, shaking her head and saying, No, my lord. Let me handle this. She then looked at Gyle and said, You question our honor. Let us settle this honorably then. A duel. One of your squires against me. If I win, I want your promise that you will not impugn our honor again.
You have it, said Gyle, laughing. Tomorrow then we shall meet here. Im looking forward to your defeat. With that said, he and his squires walked pass them, Gyle still laughing.
Ramia, what have you done? Galvin whispered in awe when they left.
The right thing, said Lord Oaks, smiling grim admiration.
Ramias challenge issued, she had found herself feeling somewhat embarrassed to have created such commotion in the practice ground. Her wordsand Gyles responseshad been passed rapidly around the arena until every knight and squire there knew of the forthcoming duel, and after them the servants had taken word into the palace until, she felt certain, all of Lesalia must know she had challenged Gyle to prove the honor of Agnes and Galvin and hers as well. The embarrassment, however, was offset by genuine anger at Gyles audacity.
Her first day at the capital had ended on a subdued note, terminating with the shadows lengthening on the practice ground as the sun set to the west. As the arena emptied, she had been aware of the glances cast her way, and several times overheard the comments of the nobles, mostly that they would find it entertaining if she were to lose. That only served to further strengthen her purpose. It was a deep-seated conviction that she must win, for she had been trained by Lord Oaks and remembered his words of wisdom.
As the trio prepared to leave the training ground, they were graced by the arrival of a distinguished figure. Father Jaren emerged followed by Tomas as they entered the arena.
Milord! Agnes greeted as he bowed. Galvin and Ramia followed suit, softly muttering their greetings.
Ah, Lord Oaks! Jaren returned with a smile. Its good to see you again! I hope Im not interrupting anything.
No, Milord, Agnes shook his head. We were about to leave. Is there anything we can do for you?
Jaren smiled as he said, No, thank you, Agnes. Ive heard the news about a duel and came to wish the young squire good luck. He then gazed at Ramia and asked, Is this she?
Yes, Agnes nodded as he beckoned Ramia forward. Ramia, I want you to meet Father Jaren, advisor to Prince Clemence.
Its an honor to meet you, Milord, Ramia said as she bowed, at the same time wondering why she felt uncomfortable around the man. It was strange, to say the least, for this was her first time she ever saw the priest. As Jaren came forward, she felt like running behind Lord Oaks, as a child does when they were afraid.
Jaren studied Ramia inquisitively. Ramia... The last time you were no more than a child. Now... He then ducked his head in acknowledgement. As it is mine. I shall pray for your victory.
Thank you, Milord. Ramia bowed once more before stepping back, eager to keep her distance away from the priest.
Perhaps you should be going, Jaren turned his attention back to Agnes. I think Ive kept you here long enough.
Not at all, Milord, Lord Oaks disagreed, though I thank you for your concern. Before we leave, I wish to ask you one question. Jaren nodded and Agnes continued. Will you be attending, Milord?
Of course, answered the priest with a grin. I am quite looking forward to it.
Ramia was silent throughout the return home, preoccupied with her thoughts. Her first trip to the capital wasnt what she would call pleasant. After the confrontation with Gyle, the arena slowly returned to its routine as squires and knights trained, albeit reluctantly. They gave them a wide berth when they approached as if they harbored the plague. None would talk to them, some even leaving as if they sullied the arena with their presence. Then she remembered the recent encounter with Father Jaren and her feeling of uneasiness around the priest.
Ramia wanted badly to ask Lord Oaks why the other knights resented him, but could not find the proper words. Instead, she decided to look into the matter herself, determined to find the answer. Consequently, she slept soundly, her final thought on the victory that she would surely obtain at tomorrows duel that would show everyone that they were equals, full of honor and pride as the rest of them.
She woke well-rested, dismissing the servant who came to help her dress, bathing alone and selecting clothes she felt suitable for the occasion. Dressed in trousers overset with high boots of sturdy leather, a simple linen shirt and her sword, she went to the dining hall, where food was set.
Lord Oaks and Galvin were already present, dressed in similar fashion, though both wore sleeveless tunics bearing Lesalias tripartite crown on chest and back, their swords at their waists.
The duel is fought with wooden swords and bucklers, Agnes informed, as custom dictates. But Ramia, fighters have died in these duels. Take heed.
Ramia nodded calmly. She understood the warning Lord Oaks gave and though she was still a squire, she would fight to the best of her ability, showing that she had what it takes to become a knight for already she had the heart of one.
You are not afraid? Galvin asked, the question rhetorical.
No, smiled Ramia then added innocently, Should I be?
No! Agnes exclaimed with a chuckle. Of course not! Believe you will win and you shall. Now come, eat, but sparingly.
It was, Ramia knew, wise advice; a food-filled belly was more prone to suffer from the stabbing blows of the wooden blade, and even with the light armor they would wear, such thrusts could be excruciatingly painful. As she sipped the wine that accompanied the bread and fruit she chose to break her fast, Agnes offered advice on the techniques Gyles squire was likely to employ. She listened with a keen ear, already planning the counterattacks she would use against such techniques.
Afterwards, they rose together and marched to the stables. Soon they were riding down the hill once more to Lesalia...
When they entered the practice ground, Ramia was ready. Her limbs were loose, her concentration focused on the duel; she was aware of the audience watching from the surrounding tiers of seats, feeling the firmness of the packed soil beneath her booted feet, noting the shadows cast by the palace buildings and the areas of light where the early sun might blind her.
Gyle stood at the center with his squire, who was surprisingly a female. She was slightly tall, her light brown hair unbound, cascading to her shoulders. Her mouth was set in a grim line as her gray eyes glared at Ramia. Agnes bid Galvin to stand at the side before approaching them.
Well met, Lord Oaks! Gyle greeted and Agnes repeated the greeting, bringing his fist to his left shoulder before swinging it out to the side afterwards in salute as he said, May the honorable duelist win.
With the formalities done, two men in Lesalian livery came forward, one bearing a selection of wooden swords, the other bucklers. Gyle bowed mockingly, inviting Ramia to take first pick. She studied the practice blades, hefting them and checking the wood for weaknesses.
Each one was roughly the length of her forearm from blunted tip to hilt end, constructed of straight hardwood shafts carved flat, with blunt-rimmed metal disks dividing the blades from the leather-bound hilts. She made her selection and turned to the bucklers. These were not much larger than her face, circles of fire-hardened wood overlaid with hide, held by a single wooden grip. She made her choice and stepped back.
Her opponent began her selection, turning as Agnes, a frown on his face, demanded, And armor? Where is the armor?
The question brought a response from the crowd and an innocent smile from Gyle. I agreed to a duel, Lord Oaks. No mention was made of armor, he stated.
It is customary, said Agnes.
Lord Oaks fears for his... Gyle paused for effect, enjoying watching Agnes fidget, before he finished, ...squire. He would have said granddaughter, would have enjoyed it in fact, but he thought it best to dishonor them in this fashion.
Ramia saw Agnes take a step forward and cried out, There is no need of armor! I shall not hurt my opponenttoo much.
Gyles smile froze on his face. The eyes he turned toward Ramia flashed a stormy green. Vallyn shall teach you respect, girl.
Then shall we begin?
All four turned towards the voice. Jaren stood among the crowd, Tomas hovering around him as usual. May St. Ajora bless you both and may He elect the rightful victor. Let the duel begin.
Both Agnes and Gyle left the arena, leaving the two young women to face each other. Ramia studied her opponent, seeing how she moved her feet, how she balanced herself. She held her own buckler closer in, the wooden sword out to the right, waiting, unwilling to commit herself until she was sure of a stroke that would not leave her opponent crippled.
Whats the matter? Vallyn asked mockingly. Too afraid to fight? Her wooden sword thrust forward to punctuate the taunt, a low, straight strike propelled by the full weight of her shoulder, directed at her opponents abdomen. She grimaced as the blow was deflected, turning faster than Ramia had expected to counter the answering swing.
Lord Ilde told me everything about you and Lord Oaks, Vallyn continued in a mocking tone, circling, her left arm extended to present the buckler, her wooden sword held low. But Ive sworn not to tell the truth for it would bring shame to you all as I will to you when Im claimed the victor.
Ramia said nothing and this infuriated her opponent, for she made a sudden feint, thrusting forward at the waist, then loosing the strike to ram the buckler at Ramias face as she brought her blade up and over, anticipating a blow to Ramias neck.
The sword scraped Ramias side as she turned, deflecting the buckler with her own blade and punching her opponent hard in the belly. It was less soft than Ramia had thought but still Vallyn gasped, dancing back in time to avoid the upswing of her opponents weapon. She continued backward, crouching with her buckler protective over her midriff as Ramia advanced, knees bent, feet moving in short, shuffling steps that suddenly became larger as she drove forward, parrying Vallyns defense to make a cut and reverse that snapped that squires head back, then down, leaving an ugly welt along her jaw and a swelling bruise across her cheek.
Had Ramia struck with full force, her opponents jaw would have broken. As it was, Vallyn staggered, eyes glazed, while Ramia waited, sword lowered, for her to recover. When she did, raw rage blazed in her gray eyes and she roared as she hurled herself forward, the sword crisscrossing the air before her. Ramia parried the blows, allowing Vallyn to drive her across the arena until she sensed the barricade at her back. Before Vallyn could pin her there, while triumph flashed in the squires eyes, she ducked under the blade, spun to avoid the jab of the buckler, and kicked Vallyns legs from under her.
Her opponent cried out as she crashed to the ground, her sword flung from her hand. Ramia stood patiently, allowing her to rise, then stopped to flick the fallen blade to the panting, furious squire.
Vallyn snatched it from the air and turned again. She advanced slowly, buckler to the fore, right arm bent at the elbow to hold the sword on a straight line, more cautious now, aware that she faced an opponent more formidable than she had anticipated. Ramia let her come, seeing hatred in the gray eyes now, extending her own buckler, her sword alongside.
They fenced for long moments, Ramia again familiarizing herself with VallynsLord Ildesstyle. She turned two thrusts, then quickly stepped back as Vallyn swung her buckler in a slashing motion across her chest, closing fast. A foot lashed out to hook her knees as the sword drove at her face. She pushed the blade away, but felt her legs go as Vallyn slammed a shoulder against her chest, toppling her off-balance. She landed on her back, legs lifting in time to send the downswinging blade to the side. Then she was rolling as Vallyn stabbed, driving the blunted tip into the earth in a torrent of blows that could have broken ribs had any landed. Voices shouted from the audience, cheering the combatants on but neither paid them heed.
Ramia then felt the sword pound earth close by her and reversed the direction of her roll, turning her body back to trap the blade and force it down flat against the dirt. Vallyns buckler slammed hard against her shoulder, jarring her arm and bringing an unwilling grunt of pain, but she ignored it, turning again to lift her legs and thrust her feet into her opponents stomach.
Vallyn was lifted up, then hurled back by the double kick. She tottered, arms flailing, then sat down heavily. Ramia sprang to her feet and kicked the fallen blade toward the squire. Your blade, she said, smiling mockingly. She could not resist it.
Again she waited until Vallyn was on her feet, flexing her shoulder to ease the bruise she felt forming. Vallyn spat and screamed in rage at the insult as she charged. Ramia backed away, deflecting blows, letting her opponent tire herself, circling the arena with buckler and sword working together in defense. She went round once, then a second time, then turned a thrust, dodging inside the punching buckler to ram her own sword into Vallyns belly.
The squire grunted, doubling over, and Ramia swung her buckler against the side of her jaw. She saw Vallyns eyes cross as the head snapped sideways, and straightened it with a short swing that laid the flat of the wooden sword in a line from temple to chin. Vallyn went down on her knees. Then she leaned forward until both hands rested on the earth. Her head drooped, lowering until it touched the soil. Ramia stood back.
Enough! she heard Jaren cry. I declare Ramia Birch the victor.
No! Lord Ilde screamed from the side. I refuse to acknowledge defeat! Go, Mason! A well-built young man of medium height stepped forward from Gyles side, carrying a Slasher in his large hands. He lumbered forward, wearing a cocky grin, his brown eyes flashing dangerously.
It is done! shouted Lord Oaks. Gyle, cease this madness at once!
Gyle shook his head once, spat, and turned back to gaze at the fight, anticipating his victory. Agnes also turned back as he looked on with worry for Mason wielded a sharp weapon while Ramia was left armorless, armed only with practice tools.
Ramia stood ready, lifting her buckler slightly, her sword raised. She was confident that she could topple this giant as easily as she defeated Vallyn. She remembered that axes were strong against defense, could actually break through ones defense, but they had their disadvantages.
Utilizing that knowledge, she was able to step to the side as the axe swung forward, easily avoiding the lumbering attack, driving her shoulder against Masons left arm just below the angle of the shoulder. Mason yelped, staggering sideways as his left hand loosened around the shaft of his weapon. Before he could recover from the attack, Ramia took a half pace round and sideways as she rapped down with her blade, catching Mason on the right arm so that he completely dropped his axe. She then kicked the weapon away from Masons grasp.
It is over, Ramia stated calmly as she leveled the wooden sword on Masons throat. Why dont you go help your friend?
Dont listen to her! Gyle shouted furiously. Get her! Now!
Obeying his lords wishes, Mason lunged barehanded for Ramias weapon. Ramia stepped to the side, raising the blade to her left shoulder. She swung it down as Mason came level, using the pommel, placing the blow carefully, measuring its force as her father had taught her. It landed against the base of Masons neck and the squire jerked abruptly upright, his head lifting as his eyes opened wide, staring sightlessly. Then snapped shut as his body went limp and he fell, nerveless, to the dirt of the arena.
Gyle was about to send his third and final squire after Ramia but Jarens voice halted him. That will be quite enough, Lord Ilde, the priest stated dispassionately. Though it would be entertaining to see Ramia defeat your last squire, I must bring this duel to an end. I believe Ramia won fairly and honorably. Do you think otherwise?
Gyle grounded his teeth as he tried to suppress the anger that surged within him at this humiliation. As you will, Your Eminence. He forced the words out as he bowed slightly. He then gestured his third squire to carry Mason while Vallyn stumbled to her feet, moving awkwardly, bent from the pain in her belly. As his squires left the arena, Lord Ilde turned towards Lord Oaks and said in a cold voice, This is far from over, Agnes. The child will soon learn the truth. How do you think she will feel when she finally discovers that shes been living a lie? With that last threat, he left the arena.
Despite Ramias victory, none shouted approval nor did any congratulate the promising squire with the exception of Jaren, who came down to the training ground to praise the winner personally.
The undoubted victor, Jaren smiled. I congratulate you, Ramia. I am pleased to see that Lord Oaks has taught you well.
Ramia became tense, fighting the urge to run away from the priest. She bowed low as she whispered, Thank you, Milord.
They were soon joined by Galvin and Agnes much to Ramias relief. You fought well, Agnes told her, smiling proudly.
And taught Lord Ilde a lesson, added Galvin.
Youve trained a fine squire, Lord Oaks, Jaren told him. Have you thought of training her in the ways of the Holy Knight?
Ramia gasped at this, staring at the priest in shock. She had been a squire for only a few months. How could she have the potential to become a Holy Knight?
She would undoubtedly be the best, dont you agree? Jaren continued. Quite an asset to the knighthood. What do you think, Lord Oaks?
Yes, she does have the makings of a Holy Knight, Agnes agreed a bit slowly, but I must think on it. Shes only been a squire for a few months. Its too soon to decide.
Jaren nodded. As you will. If you do decide to train her in the ways of the Holy Knight, know that you have my blessing. He then turned once again to Ramia. Congratulations again, Ramia. I anticipate the day youll become a knight and benefit the knighthood. They could use a skilled warrior like you. Ramia muttered her thanks and Jaren nodded before walking away.
Tomas gave a slight nod to Agnes before following the priest out of the arena. When the Divine Knight caught up to the priest, he asked, Why did you make such a suggestion to Lord Oaks? What are you planning for that girl?
Tomas, Jaren began with extreme calm, its been ten years since this hunt has started. I had the misfortune of killing our one link to them. I will not do the same mistake twice.
Are you saying that she is our link? Tomas questioned.
Of course, Jaren smiled. Who else would suit better than the child of a heretic?
Many questions poured into Ramias mind as they journeyed back to Oaks Keep much like yesterday. Why, after winning the duel fairly, did the others still resent them? Why did Father Jaren suggest that she train to be a Holy Knight? What did Vallyn meant when she said that the truth would bring shame to them all? What was the truth? Was Lord Oaks hiding something from her?
Determined to find the answer, she decided to confront Lord Oaks as soon as they reached the keep. Her goal set, she tried to enjoy what was left of the ride.
As soon as they reached the stables of the keep and dismounted, Lord Oaks immediately went into the keep. Ramia immediately ran after him resolved on accomplishing her mission. She never knew Lord Oaks could walk so fast, almost losing him among the halls of the bastion.
Agnes knew that Ramia was following him. He was deliberately leading Ramia to a place where he felt the most comfortable: the window at the foyer. It was there that he stopped and looked out. He heard Ramia approaching from behind and knew the questions that were burning within her mind. Before she could voice them out, he spoke: You wish to know the truth of why the other nobles loathe us. You wish for me to explain why Father Jaren suggested that you train in the ways of the Holy Knight. He then turned and looked at her as he asked, Isnt that right, Ramia?
Yes, Ramia replied in a serious tone. What secrets do you hide, Lord Oaks? Does Galvin know of them?
No and I wish for it to remain that way until the time comes for me to pass on. As for you... He took a deep breath and sighed as he shook his head. I cannot tell you...yet.
Why?! Ramia demanded. Why later and not now?
Please be patient, Ramia, Agnes urged. The truth will reveal itself at its own time. You must only wait.
Ramia sighed. Very well, Lord Oaks, she conceded as she bowed slightly. I shall honor your wish. She left on that final note, seeking the gardens to ease her troubled mind and heart.
Im sorry, Ramia, he thought darkly as he watched her leave, but I cannot let you know or risk more humiliation. Theres enough disgrace in our family already... He then turned back to gaze out the window, remembering that night all those years ago when he had led Lavian and her friends through a secret passage out of the castle and Lesalia instead of arresting them as was his duty. He knew then that he was committed and could not turn back: his path was chosen...
Agnes Oaks would make sure that his granddaughter shall not make the same choice that he and Agrias had made, remaining free from the chains that bound him to his sin and the sin of his daughter, to be the light that shines through this dark era of his familys history...
The year went by quickly and the next, both squires training under Agnes tutelage, dueling with reluctant squires at the palace, and fighting mock battles on the plains of Lesalia. Soon Agnes judged Galvin ready to become a knight at the age of eighteen. A letter was sent to Limberry informing his family of the news.
Two weeks after the letter was sent, the Birch family arrived and preparations were made for the knighting ceremony, a date set.
Now it was the night before the ceremony.
Galvin entered the chapel of the keep donned in clean white garments. He was alone for this was the time of prayer and fasting when he asked God to guide him when he becomes a knight. He laid prostrated on the floor before the altar where his sword was placed in front of a miniature statue of St. Ajora. He spent the night in that position and when came morning, he rose with great difficulty, weak from fasting and from lying. He approached the altar, reverently taking his sword in both hands while saying a little prayer to St. Ajora before he girded it about his waist. This act signified the significance of the event: a knight was belted with the sword of knighthood. The all-night vigil complete, he left the chapel, making his way down to the entry hall where the accolade, the act which served as the culmination of the knighting ceremony, would take place.
His family was there, both grandparents and parents, among with other nobles from Limberry. Though those nobles resented Alexs decision for Galvin to train under Lord Oaks, they still honored the Birch family for they ranked the highest in the Aegis Knighthood of Limberry and it was good to see the tradition continued.
Lord Oaks stood in the middle, leaning on his sword, while Ramia stood to his side holding a breastplate. As Galvin approached them, the hall became silent as those that attended watched.
He soon stood face to face with Lord Oaks who asked in a loud voice: Galvin Birch, why do you wish to become a knight?
In which Galvin replied in equal measure: To protect and serve the people and to serve God.
Galvin fell to one knee as Agnes raised his sword. In the name of God and St. Ajora, Agnes began as he laid the flat of the blade on Galvins shoulder, I dub thee, Sir Galvin Birch, he concluded as he tapped Galvins other shoulder with the blade.
Cheers rang throughout the hall as Galvin stood up. Ramia came forward with his breastplate followed by his grandfather and father carrying helmet and shield, respectively.
New armaments for the new knight, Alex smiled as he presented the shield to his son.
Thank you, father. He then adorned himself with the gifts.
Let us celebrate this momentous occasion! Lord Oaks bellowed as soon as Galvin was finished. He then steered his guests to the dining hall where a marvelous feast awaited them.
Three years later, Ramia found herself in a similar position...
Ramia marched proudly to the royal throne room dressed in a white robe, accompanied by Agnes who strode in front of her while Galvin, who had decided to continue serving Lord Oaks after his knighting, took the rear. Both men were adorned in their finest armor for the occasion, shining magnificently as they passed through the sunlit corridors of the Imperial Palace.
Unlike Galvins knighting ceremony, which was simplistic in form, Ramias was quite the opposite for she had been trained in the ways of the Holy Knight. Galvin was not the least bit jealous. Actually, he was proud of her. Training had been quite difficult for her especially for the last three years but she had completed it and was going to be awarded for her efforts.
Soon, they entered the throne room, packed with high nobles. She was awed by the splendor of the room, especially by the ceiling from which hung the banners of those serving the royal family including Lord Oaks and her familys. She then quickly looked forward as Lord Oaks and Galvin brought her in and left her standing among the four who would also be knighted as Holy Knights for these were the best Lesalia had to offer.
They stood before the throne, where Prince Clemence waited, dressed in purple and gold, Jaren and Tomas standing to either side of him. This was the first time Ramia had seen of the prince. He looked to be a sickly man, contrary to the wise and strong ruler of Ivalice she had imagined, his face gaunt, the eyes vacant. His long palebordering on whitehair hung limply about his head as he sat slouched on the throne. She then frowned when he yawned as if the knighting ceremony was a trivial matter, wondering angrily how he could be a prince of the kingdom. It was an insult to her and to all those who were being knighted that noon.
As soon as Lord Oaks and Galvin took their place among the nobles, silence filled the room. Prince Clemence rose and as he did, the five candidates for knighthood knelt. The prince gave a pompous speech before calling each of the candidates forward to be blessed by Jaren and knighted by his hands.
Agnes smiled when it was finally Ramias turn. He looked on with pride as she stepped forward and knelt before the priest with her head bowed low. Jaren invoked the blessing of St. Ajora as he anointed Ramias head with oil. He then stepped back as Clemence approached, raising his sword, delivering the accolade silently. Rise Lady Ramia Birch, he declared afterwards, and welcome!
Ramia rose and bowed, her eyes alight with joy.
When the last of the candidates was blessed and knighted, Jaren announced, These Holy Knights are approved before St. Ajora. Let all here know and ask His blessing on their attainment.
Clemence followed, saying, These Holy Knights are sanctioned in the eyes of Ivalice. Let all here know that.
We are Holy Knights in the eyes of St. Ajora and Ivalice, the candidates declared in unison. We shall serve them faithfully from this day forth.
Jaren raised both hands, palms outward, as he intoned a prayer to end the ceremony. The throne room then rang with the shouting of the nobles as each of the Holy Knights were given their symbols of authoritysword, shield, armor, and helmetall blessed by the Church.
As Clemence led the celebrants to the banquet that waited in the hall beyond, Lord Gyle stood at a remote corner of the room, watching with narrowed eyes at the triumphant smile that curved Agnes lips. He had not completely forgiven the insult dealt him when his squire was defeated by Agnes upstart squirenow Holy Knight. An eye for an eye... he muttered darkly as he turned away. Well see wholl be smiling in the end...
Agnes sipped on a small cup of brandy as he looked out his window, the lights of Lesalia glowing brightly so that he could faintly see the wall that surrounded the huge city. He had returned from the palace, along with Ramia and Galvin, the celebration that lasted the whole day having exhausted them. The two had immediately sought the comfort of their beds. He, on the other hand, was still brimming with happiness at the event. His goal had finally been reached, his keep secure for future generations now that Ramia had attained the rank of knighthood. It was almost as much happiness as he could imagine. He threw back his head and laughedsoftlyinto the night. He had never experienced such joy since...
Since the day Ramia was born.
Similar to her birth that marked the beginning of her life, today marked the start of her life as a knight. The slate had finally been cleaned, the seedling had sprouted. All was turning out as he had planned. With that thought in mind, he emptied his cup, placing it down on a small table next to his bed where a single lit candle glowed softly.
Suddenly, the small flame flickered as if a small breeze blew but none of his windows were open. He quickly drew out a concealed dagger from beneath the sleeve of his sleeping robe, his mind yelling danger, as he looked up in time to avoid being pierced by an intruders sword.
Candlelight revealed a figure cloaked in black, its face hidden behind a mask. Agnes knew who he faced, or more specifically, what kind of enemy he faced: a dark assassin, a ninja.
This worried him somewhat. Ninjas were hired mercenaries that specialize in assassinations and espionage. They were also very expensive and they rarely failed in accomplishing their missions. It seemed that this ninja was hired to kill him but by whom?
As he tried to find the answer, the ninja spoke in a cold tone that sent a chill down his spine: Time to clear the forest of all oaks. A shuriken flew from its hand, not towards its quarry, but towards the single candle.
The room suddenly went dark.
Without delay, Ramia rolled out of her bed, pulling a knife from beneath her pillow just as a slender sword stabbed the place where she had been sleeping a few moments ago. Who are you? she demanded the intruder as she brandished her weapon.
The woodsman, the figure replied coolly as it removed its sword from the mattress. And Ive come to chop you down. It then jumped towards Ramia, the sword raised to strike, thinking that the girl would try to block it with her puny weapon.
But she thought otherwise as she rolled forward towards her adversary, landing on her feet, and as the intruder was about to land from his jump, she held up her knife towards it, letting gravity do the work as the body fell against the sharp object. Ramia felt blood spill over her hands as the twelve inch blade buried itself to the hilt in the torso of her would-be assassin. She let go of the grip and stepped back, watching as the figure feebly tried to pull the knife from its belly. It only succeeded in making a soft cry before falling over, dead.
Ramia stared in disbelief at the dead body. This was the first time she had taken a life and it was not a pleasant feeling. She was relieved to have survived the brief encounter and yet wondered if she should be elated or sad to have taken a life needlessly. But she assured herself that it had been necessary in order to defend herself. Consequently it led her wondering why it had come to kill her.
Ramia decided to report this little incident to Lord Oaks now, whether he was sleeping or not. Someone wanted her dead and she needed to know why. Perhaps Agnes could provide her with an answer.
Taking proper precautionsfor there may be more than one assassin lurking in the keepshe shed her bloodied nightgown in favor of shirt and trousers. Sword in hand, she cracked the door open and peered out into the moonlit hall. Seeing that it was clear, she slowly exited the room and went down the corridor, fully aware of her surroundings as she made her way to Lord Oaks room.
As she neared, she faintly heard the sounds of a struggle. Pushing all caution aside, she drew her sword as she ran towards the chamber, kicking the door open in time to find that she was too late as she witnessed the assassin plunge its sword into Lord Oaks body.
No! Ramia screamed in righteous anger, her sword flaring brightly, summoned by her power as a Holy Knight.
She raised her sword as she intoned: The doom of a planet... The assassin removed its sword from its victim and lunged towards Ramia, intent on finishing the mission its partner failed to accomplish before she could finish her summon. But it had underestimated its opponent as Ramia finished, swinging her sword towards the assassin as she shouted: Crush Punch!
A magical spike burst forth beneath the assassin, impaling the ninja, instantly killing it. The spike then retreated back into the earth and, as the ninjas body fell lifelessly to the floor, Ramia quickly sheathed her sword and ran to Lord Oaks side.
Agnes was leaning against the side of his bed, clutching his wound in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood that continued to pour in an endless pool around him. My lord! Ramia exclaimed as she knelt by his side, wondering if there was anything she could do to help.
Ramia immediately turned to see Galvin standing at the door with Demitri, who held a candelabra. Get a chemist, quickly! she ordered them, knowing that time was running out for Lord Oaks. Aware of the dire situation, both men immediately responded, hurrying to the stables. The only place they could retrieve a chemist was at the capital.
Dont bother... Ramia turned again to her wounded lord, who took a shuddering breath before continuing: Its too late... Nothing...can help me now...
Dont say that, my lord! Ramia urged fiercely, her hazel eyes piercing. Galvin and Demitri will return here with a chemist and you shall be well again!
Agnes chuckled softly which soon turned into a fitting cough. When he had finally caught his breath, he said, You have truly...inherited the spirit...of your mother... She said...exactly the...same...thing when...her mother...was dying...
My grandmother? Ramia whispered in shock, wondering how well Agnes knew of her family.
My wife... Agnes amended.
Your...wife...?! Ramia nearly swooned from the revelation, still trying to recover from her initial shock. Then that means!
Oaks Keep...is your home, Agnes continued as if Ramia hadnt spoken. He then reached for something around his neck and, with his other hand, grabbed Ramias hand and placed the object onto her palm, closing her fingers over it afterwards. You must...carve out your own path...from now on... he said, his voice gradually growing weaker as he kept his hand over Ramias. Only you...can decide...what you...make of it... Never forget that... He then closed his eyes as he took another shuddering breath.
My lord...? Ramia called hesitantly, afraid that he had already gone, but was relieved when those blue orbs opened.
Ramia... Agnes tried to smile but it came out into a slight wince but Ramia could see the joy conveyed in his eyes. Im glad to have seen you grown...into a beautiful...woman... He then repeated the last words he had spoken to her on that fateful day fifteen years ago: Know that I love you...and youll always be close...to my heart... And sighed the last part: My granddaughter...
Wait, Lord Oaks! What do you mean?! Ramia cried out as she felt his hand go limp. She knew then that she would have to find her answers to her many questions by another way.
What do you mean? she whispered as she stared into his sightless eyes. Granddaughter... She then opened her hand to see what Agnes had given her in his last moments.
Was this the key to unlocking the answers to all her questions?