Stronghold for one of the largest knight orders in Ivalicethe Nantenthe castle was also home to the late Prince Goltana, who was also known as the Duke of the Black Lions. It was here that Prince Goltana had commanded the Nanten during the Lion War and it was here that he had forced Ovelia to become Queen.
The memories burned within Delita like fresh wounds received from a battle, as he followed Ramza and the others through the city, searching for a place to stay. This city was where he had served as a Black Sheep Knight under Baron Grims and it was here that he had become King of Ivalice.
But not all without consequences.
Ovelia He unknowingly whispered her name, reflecting on a terrible past that should not have been if it wasnt for his ambition. He let his ambition take control of him and it was this ambition that had killed his wife.
Raizen, who walked alongside his father, was the only one in the group who heard his whisper. He quickly glanced at him and saw haunted eyes that contained a deep sadness within them. Father , he thought, wondering what painful memories Delita was recalling as he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Father, are you all right?
Delita blinked in puzzlement, slightly disoriented as his mind slowly returned to the present, turning to see his son staring at him worriedly, his hand on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort and support. Father, are you all right? Raizen repeated softly.
Yes, replied Delita a bit abstractedly, Im all right. Just remembering old memories. He smiled faintly, patting his sons hand reassuringly before turning forward. It was then that he noticed where they were in the city.
They were close to the wall that separated the city in two: Upper Zeltennia and Lower Zeltennia. The wall served as a division between aristocrats and commoners. It was near this wall and the entryway to the upper division of the city that they found lodging.
According to the wooden sign hanging above the door, the tavern was called Roaring Fang, named so after the crest of the Nanten, the black lion. The party quickly entered the simple wooden two-story building as the first drops of rain began to fall. Ramza was about to follow, but was stopped by Delita, who said:
If you dont mind, Ramza, I would like to show my son around the city. This is one of the largest cities in Ivalice, after all, that harbors a long history. Its best for Raizen to know of this citys role in this countrys history.
Ramza knew the hidden intent behind Delitas request. He knew that Zeltennia held many memoriesboth happy and sadfor his friend. It seemed the sad ones outweighed the happy, the regret evident in his dark eyes. Perhaps it was time to put those sad memories to rest and make new oneshappy ones that would atone for his past.
He then nodded. Of course, Delita. Well wait for the both of you here. You know the city well enough to find your way back. Try not to stay too long in the rain.
Yes, of course, Delita said. Thank you, Ramza. He then walked away, beckoning his son to follow him.
After a brief farewell to Ramza, Raizen followed his father as he passed through the arch that marked the entry to the upper division of the city. As he walked slightly behind him, he wondered what things his father would show and tell that made this place hold so much meaning for him.
Night had fallen when both father and son reached Zeltennias church ruins. Fortunately, the rain had stopped, the sky clearing allowing the waning moon to shed what little light it could give, enough for them to see their surroundings.
The hallowed stone walls still towered toward the heavens as Delita made his way into the ruins. Everything was still the same, from the eastern wall to the archway he just passed through.
Just like that day.
Raizen stood behind Delita, marveling at the architecture of whatever building it used to be. Unlike the buildings at the city proper, the stones spoke of greatness despite its disrepair. What is this place, father? he asked, his voice hushed in awe. For some reason, he felt humbled and strangely comforted. Why are we here?
Delita glanced over his shoulder to study his son briefly before turning forward, his head lowered slightly. These ruins are the remains of an ancient church, he replied in a solemn tone as he walked forward. Come, my son. I want to show you something.
Raizen followed as they went deeper into the ruins. Learning the ruins to be a church, he could almost imagine the steeples and the stained glass windows that had decorated the walls, could imagine moonlight filtering through those colored panes as they lit the pews and the altar
He realized that his father had stopped at the place where the altar should have been and knelt and he wondered if he was going to pray. But as he approached quietly, mindful as to not disturb his prayer, he heard him whispering softly as if he talked to someone.
Ovelia Its been twenty years, hasnt it? Twenty years since I
The King shuddered a sigh. I was a fool to have betrayed your trust, the trust I swore in my dead sisters name. Both of you must be very disappointed in me. Im sorry for all the things I had done in the past.
He laughed coldly into the air. Its funny. Im apologizing to you now when I should have apologized to you a long time ago. It may not hold any meaning now but I do hope that you have forgiven me, Ovelia, wherever you are. He sighed again, quivering.
Listen, Ovelia I have not only come here to seek your forgiveness but to also seek your counsel. I ask that you watch over us, watch over yourourson, as we travel the unknown road ahead. He then smiled softly. Our son Raizen is a grown man now. He has inherited your looks, but most importantly, I see your strength and will in him. He will become a great king, as you foretold when he was born. I hadnt believed it then but I believe it now, and that is why we walk this unknown path together. It is the only way I can think of to atone for all my past mistakes.
Raizen looked over his fathers shoulder as he spoke and saw a grave. He then looked to the simple tombstone and read the name engraved there: Ovelia Atkascha
Mother... he whispered as he too fell to his knees besides his father.
I chose to bury your mother here, Delita spoke as he continued to stare at the grave. This place was where she would come to find comfort, to have time to herself. It was here that I comforted her when she found that she was living a lie and it was here that I He clenched his fists as tears threatened to burst forth. When he had control of his emotions, he continued:
I thought it appropriate that she should rest here, amidst the walls that provided her solace from everyday life as a Princess, and later, as a Queen.
So, this is what you wanted to show me, Raizen whispered. Mothers grave He placed a hand on the tomb reverently. I am here now, mother, and I shall carry on your will to the best of my abilities. This, I swear on your grave. He bowed his head in respect.
After a few moments of somber silence, Delita placed a hand on his sons shoulder. Come, he said as Raizen looked up at him, its time we returned to the others. The next we return here, it shall be on a happier note.
Yes, Raizen agreed as he stood up after his father.
I know your mother is proud of you, my son, Delita smiled faintly. And that you shall make good your vow. With one last look at the grave, he turned away only to find a figure standing just ten yards away.
Reuel! he gasped, recognizing the figure immediately by the long jagged scar that ran diagonally across his face. Delita remembered how he had come by the scar, having witnessed its carving as they had fought side by side during the Lion War.
The man blinked at Delita and stared. How is it that you know my name, sir? I believe we havent met before.
Delita stroked his beard. Perhaps if I shaved this beard you would recognize me, old friend. But, alas, I must keep the beard for my identity to remain a secret. On the other hand, I know that I can trust you, having fought alongside you during the war. He stopped stroking his beard and looked at Reuel directly.
Reuel stared into the strangers dark eyes and saw years of pain and grief, yet there flashed hope. He had seen those eyes before, a fellow knight he had fought with who was his dear friend. Could it be that this stranger is the one and the same? He then imagined the stranger without the beard and he gasped, his mouth opened in modest shock. Delita?
Delita smiled. I see that you have figured it out all by yourself, Reuel. I expected as much from the one they called Slash. The nickname referred to the scar that was slashed across his face. So, what brings you here to this sad place?
I came here to visit the grave of my dead Queen, your majesty, Delita noted the bitterness in Reuels tone of voice, as I have done so many nights before ever since the funeral. He snickered, adding derisively, Unlike my King, who had abandoned his country, but most importantly, his wife! Quickly, he walked towards Delita, who in response put himself on the defensive.
He had anticipated this sort of reaction from the people and knights unknown to him, but not from his friends. It seemed that he had been gone far too long.
Ive waited to do this for twenty years, Reuel stated grimly and Delita heard the distinct hiss of a sword being drawn from its sheath. He narrowed his eyes, carefully watching the glint of Reuels sword as he placed a hand near his own, ready to draw it in an instant.
Reuel pointed his sword straight at him, shouting defiantly, You are not fit to be King, traitor! And for that, he pulled back his sword, I will carry out your sentence: death! With a roar, he charged at the monarch, putting all his strength behind one blow, hoping to end this quickly.
Delita stood calmly, unafraid, watching as Reuel begun his attack, yelling, Die, Delita!
A flash and a clang later, Reuels sword flew through the air and landed somewhere within the skeletal remains of the church. That fact didnt matter to him as he stared at the person that had unarmed him in alarm.
Delita saw that he was pale, almost transparent, as if he had seen a ghost. Perhaps he has for what ghost was better than his own son, who resembled much like his mother.
Y-Your highness! Reuel stammered, shuffling back in fright. He gaped at the apparition of his Queen before him, who was in truth Raizen, his eyes round with fear. Please f-forgive me, your h-highness! I-I never meant to anger you! I swear!
Raizen looked pitifully at the man cowering before him. Stand up, he commanded.
What? Reuel looked up, unsure if he heard correct.
I said stand up! the Prince repeated harshly. Take a good look at me!
Shaken, Reuel slowly stood up, flinching slightly as Raizen stepped forward where moonlight illuminated on his stern features. He stared at the apparition, learning that it was not an apparition, seeing the firm jaw, the mouth thin as dark eyes flashed grimly at him. But the resemblance was uncanny!
I am not Ovelia, as you can see, Raizen said, staring hard at Reuel.
Yes, the man agreed, but you bear a remarkable resemblance to her.
That is not without reason. Reuel turned to see Delita approaching slowly, his hands held out to either side in a gesture that he came in friendship that he did not wish to retaliate against Reuels earlier action. Raizen is Ovelias son, he said as he placed a hand on his sons shoulder, and mine as well.
What?! Reuel breathed. Men dont normally faint but he suddenly felt a little lightheaded and would have fallen if Raizen didnt reach out and steady him. H-How is this possible? he gasped softly, staring at Raizen in a different light. Why were we not informed of the Princes birth?
Because I didnt want anyone to know, Delita simply answered. Those who knew about Raizens birth had been sworn to secrecy on pain of death. He smiled cynically at Reuels appalled expression. I was a different man then, Reuel. You would understand if you knew the truth behind my attainment of the throne. But thats all in the past. He turned away, looking at the grave that was bathed in soft moonlight. All that matters now is the present and the future to come.
And what is the future, your majesty? Reuels voice had become bitter once more. The Church now rules Ivalice. No one dares oppose them lest they be burned at the stake for heresy. He sighed and shook his head sadly. Some have tried. All have failed.
Delita turned to Reuel, his gaze piercing so that the scarred man could do nothing but look away, afraid that he would see the despair in his heart. Thats why Ive returned, the King said firmly. To regain back my throne and restore Ivalice.
Reuel then laughed, angrily reminding Delita of the time Rae had laughed at him for declaring the same plans. What can you do? the scarred man scoffed. The Church reigns supreme! Theres nothing anyonenoble, knight, and commonercan do. Not even you, your majesty.
Delita smirked. You give up too easily, Reuel. Politics is liken to a battlefield. Every enemy has a weakness. One must merely find it and exploit it.
And I assume you know this weakness? Reuel crossed his arms over his chest as he looked at Delita, awaiting an answer.
Perhaps, Delita replied cryptically. It depends on where your loyalty lies. Are you loyal to the Church or to Ivalice? Note that I didnt ask if youre loyal to me, he quickly added, for I have yet to regain your trust after my years of absence.
Even though, Reuel began, my answer is still the same.
And that is ?
I am loyal to the Kingdom of Ivalice and to its people, the scarred man replied strongly. As a Nanten Knight, I vowed to protect the people from all forms of evil and I believe oppression to be one of them. It saddens and angers me to see that we, as knights of the kingdom, are powerless to help them.
Well said, Delita nodded in approval. If you wish to help them, Reuel, then listen well to my plans
Ramia happily scurried about the shrubs and bushes chasing butterflies flitting about, their colorful wings delighting the little girl. As she was about to jump to catch one particular butterfly that caught her eye with its white wings that seem to glow silver in the sun, someone called, Ramia.
The little girl quickly forgot about the butterfly, bounding eagerly to the caller. It was a woman with golden hair, much like hers, and blue eyes, standing beneath the branches of a tall tree. The woman smiled warmly as the little girl skipped towards her, matching her smile.
Mama! Ramia greeted cheerfully. The woman knelt and opened her arms, the girl running to her embrace.
Ramia, there is something I want to tell you, the woman said when they broke apart.
What is it, Mama? the girl asked curiously.
See this tree? The woman stood up and patted the trunk of the old oak tree that stood next to them. See how tall and strong it is that no matter how hard the wind blows, it continues to stand?
Yes, Mama, little Ramia nodded.
One day, youll be like this tree, tall with pride and honor and strong against injustice and cruelty.
Just like you, Mama? Ramia asked as she gazed up in awe at the trees great branches that seemed to blot out the sun.
There was a pause.
Mama? Ramia shifted her gaze from the branches to her mother, who looked down at her, remorse shone in her eyes.
Become a strong tree, Ramia she whispered as a strong wind blew through the garden, her image fading away as if the wind carried her to an unknown place.
Mama! Ramia cried as she reached out for her, trying to catch her but the wind carried her far beyond her reach.
No, Ramia, a gentle voice urged as she felt a hand grab her shoulder.
Ramia turned to see Agnes, as she remembered him when she was but a girl.
The garden disappeared then only to be replaced by an open square surrounded by stone walls. Shadowy images and faint voices surrounded them just like that day
Where did she go? she asked innocently as she looked up tearfully at her grandfather. Where?
Agnes smiled softly as he knelt down in front of her. Do you want to find her? he asked and when Ramia nodded, he said, Then go find her and bring her home, Ramia. Youre the only one who can.
I am? Ramia stared at her grandfather speculatively.
Agnes nodded. Yes. You are the last of the Oaks line, Ramia. Do not be ashamed of your name. Do not give in to the wind or to the axe. An Oaks stands tall and strong against all just as our namesake is resilient against the elements.
I understand, grandfather, Ramia replied, no longer the innocent four-year-old girl, but the strong nineteen-year-old knight.
Agnes smiled and nodded, his eyes alight with pride, and Ramia could not help but return it. Your path is your own now, Ramia, he told her. Have the courage to carve it. It is the Oaks way
Ramia started into full wakefulness, blinking in confusion as the images from her disturbing dream quickly faded away like scattered leaves in the wind. She managed to snatch a few of those fading images before they drifted away altogether, desperate to keep those images and words in her mind and heart for to forget them is to forget who she really was.
She spoke the nameher true nameproudly, finally understanding the meaning behind it. The name bore a great legacya legacy full of honor, pride, loyalty, and justice. But such a legacy does not matter now that the name bore a great shamea shame that she had witnessed when she was very young.
She now understood why her grandfather had endured the taunts at the palace, had kept the secret from her. He had been protecting her from the terrible truth since the beginning; even her adopted family had lied to her about her heritage, so that she would not be burdened by the disgrace of her family.
Your path is your own now, Ramia. Have the courage to carve it. It is the Oaks way
Her path was clear now. She would restore honor to her name, to her family, and to do that is to clear her mothers name. She would find her and bring her home just like her grandfather requested
Thank God, youre awake! a voice full of relief broke into her thoughts.
She looked up to see Galvin standing at the foot of her bed, his eyes clouded with worry, realizing for the first time that she was in her room. A fire burned bright in the fireplace and the drapes to the window were wide open, offering a breathtaking view of the capital at night, wondering how she came to be here. The last thing she remembered was being in the family vault
Galvin saw her confusion. Father and grandfather brought you here, he explained as he sat on a wooden chair situated near the hearth and sighed as he stared at the fire. When you hadnt shown for lunch, we werent worried, thinking that you needed more time to yourself. But when dinner came and you still hadnt shown up, we became worried and searched for you. You werent in your room or at the gardens. Grandmother then suggested that we search the Oaks family vault and there we found you sleeping on the floor, clutching a bloodied tunic as if it were a stuffed toy. It appeared that you had cried yourself to sleep.
He shifted his gaze from the fire to Ramia. Her eyes were downcast as she gripped the sheets firmly. I learned the truth down there, Galvin, she whispered chokingly. That I am an
Oaks, Galvin finished for her and she looked up in surprise. Father has told me as much, he explained softly, the fire reflecting in his dark eyes.
Did he say anything else? Ramia loosened her hold on the sheets, but Galvin saw that she had become reserved, perhaps still coming to grips with the truth.
Nothing beyond that, he shook his head. I was hoping that maybe you could He then laughed uneasily. Perhaps I shouldnt burden you with my curiosity seeing that you have a lot to mull through. Are you hungry? he suddenly asked as he stood up. Ill bring you dinner.
Galvin, wait, Ramia called as he was about to leave. Galvin stopped and turned to look at her. I shall tell you what you wish to know. No, she shook her head when Galvin was about to protest, I feel that I should tell you... Tell you everything
Are you sure? Galvin asked a bit hesitantly and when Ramia nodded, he said, Very well, resuming his seat by the fireplace. He then stared intently at Ramia, who had freed herself from the confines of her bed and was now looking out the window.
I was born here in Oaks Keep, she began in a distant voice, successor to a long line of knights that had served the royal family for many generations. Lord OaksGrandfatherwas commander of Lesalias St. Konoe Knights before he retired. My mother, Agrias Oaks, was a Holy Knight serving in Lesalia and would have followed in her fathers footsteps, becoming commander of Lesalias knights if she hadnt been convicted of terrible crimes.
Galvin saw anger flash in her eyes, saw a hand clenched tightly in rage. I was very young, her voice was filled with anguish, but I could never forget that day; the day my mother was taken away from me.
What, Galvin paused, wondering if the question he was about to ask would offend her, seeing that the memory brought out feelings of anger and grief. He licked his lips nervously, feeling quite ill at ease. What crimes was your mother con Again he paused, thinking of a better way to ask his question without giving offense. What crimes was your mother, he began again, charged with?
Ramia closed her eyes as she sighed. Crimes that are all punishable by death, she whispered in reply as she opened her eyes and once again stared towards distant Lesalia. Her mind pierced through the walls and buildings until she could see the city square and the two platforms, the court of law that had condemned her mother to a life of servitude. Father Jarens verdict rang clearly in her mind:
Agrias Oaks, you have been found guilty on all three charges of heresy, murder, and treason. You are hereby stripped of your rank and are sentenced to help rebuild Fort Zeakden and other ruins from the war along with other convicts such as yourself for as long as you have breath in your body.
Heresy, murder, and treason, she echoed softly, but Galvin heard it as loud as a thunderclap despite the crackling of the fire.
Those were dire crimes indeed, all punishable by death as Ramia had stated.
Instead of death, Ramia continued, she was condemned to lifelong servitude, rebuilding ruins from the Lion War.
Thats terrible, Galvin murmured, knowing that such degradation of a knight was a punishment far worse than death. A knight lived on two things: pride and honor. To have one or the other or both taken away is to strip the knight of their existence. In simpler words, to kill them, perhaps not physically but spiritually.
Ramia nodded. My mother preferred death, but Father Jaren denied her request saying that death was an act of mercy, an easy escape route from the world. Whats worse
Wait a minute! interjected Galvin. Did you just say Father Jaren? The same Father Jaren that had presided over Lord Oaks funeral this morning?
Ironically, yes, she whispered then chuckled softly. Funny, isnt it? The priest that had blessed me with knighthood had also cursed my family name.
Galvin sat quietly, reflecting on what Ramia had told him. He wanted to say something to fill in the gap of silence that followed, but was saved the trouble when there came a knock on the door. Both of them turned to see Celinda enter followed by Demitri bearing a loaded tray from which appetizing smells wafted.
Im glad to see that youre well, Ramia, Lady Birch smiled as she approached her adopted daughter. You had us all worried.
Im fine now, mother Ramia returned with a faint smile. Thank you. She then frowned upon realizing what she had called Celinda after her discovery of the truth recently and the hope that her real mother was still alive. I still can call you mother, can I? she asked her a bit apprehensively. Calling her Lady Birch or some other fancy title now seemed strange after the fifteen years she had known her as her mother.
Of course, daughter! Celinda happily replied as she embraced Ramia. You may not be my daughter by blood but you are the daughter of my heart.
Ramia was glad of the answer, returning Celindas embrace fully.
As Ive told you before, Celinda said as they pulled apart, whatever happens, we will always be there to support you. Now, she motioned towards the tray that Demitri had set down on the round wooden table besides Galvin, you must be hungry. Why dont you eat and regain your strength?
Ramia realized that she was indeed hungry, the odors emanating from the tray enticing her. She filled her belly, and with everyones help, drained the fresh wine jug.
Demitri slowly sipped his share of the wine, studying Ramia carefully from the rim of his goblet. The sadness of today still lingered in her eyes, but now there was a glint of determination, of a purpose, of a path that she has decided to take.
a curse to those who finds it
He remembered Lord Oaks words regarding the chest that a Divine Knight and two Shrine Knights had delivered all those years ago. Was it truly a curse then that Ramia had found the chest or was it more of a blessing?
Or perhaps both?
Maybe a curse had been placed on the young Holy Knight, the curse of knowing the truth, yet he felt it was a blessing as well. Now that Lady Ramia knew the truth about her heritage, he had no doubt that she would do anything in her power to regain the honor lost on that day. He hadnt been present during the trial, but he did receive news of it, saddening him but he still remained loyal to the family praying that they would one day be redeemed.
Perhaps that day drew near.
Is anything wrong, Demitri? Ramia asked upon seeing his thoughtful expression.
Deep in thought, he was caught off guard by the question. Quickly gathering his wits about him, he murmured an answer: Nothings wrong, Ramia. I was just wondering what youre going to do now that you know your true heritage.
The determination he saw in her eyes seemed to burn brighter as she stared solemnly into the heart of the fire. The way she looked now reminded Demitri of Lady Agrias, remarking how alike they were. He stared intently at Ramia along with Celinda and Galvin, awaiting an answer.
Im going to clear mothers name. Her voice was clear, resolute. I will restore honor to the Oaks name. This is the path Ive chosen and I shall carve it to the best of my abilities.
I have no doubt you will, Ramia, Celinda said as Galvin nodded in approval. Demitri was sipping his wine, gazing thoughtfully at Ramia once more. So alike, he mused as he finished his wine and excused himself from the room, taking the finished tray with him. Lady Agrias would be proud of her daughter, worthy of the Oaks line.
I guess we should be going too, grandmother, Galvin suggested as he stood up from his chair. That wine has made me pleasantly sleepy. It would be wise to retire early. Celinda agreed and both said their good-nights to Ramia before leaving the room.
It was then, when she was alone, that Ramia noticed a chest between her wardrobe and armoire. Knowing the layout of her room, the chest did not belong there or at any other place for that matter. Curious, she went to it and as she neared, she saw that it suspiciously looked like the chest she found in the vault. Hoping it to be, she quickly opened it and smiled softly when she saw that it was.
She had planned on bringing the chest up so that she could take care of the equipment within, but was glad that someone had already relieved her of that task. Perhaps it was Demitri, she murmured as she went to her armoire and retrieved a rag. He seems to know what Im thinking.
She then settled herself on the floor as she began to wipe down the dust that coated Agrias equipment, happily humming a tune she suddenly remembered from her brief childhood here in Oaks Keep.
Andrew quietly sat near the hearths fire where it provided him light and warmth to comfortably read a book. He frowned as he read Agnes journal that Demitri had bestowed upon him saying that it was Lord Oaks wish that he read it. What he read so far, he found quite disturbing, his frown growing deeper. As he flipped a page, he heard someone enter the chamber. He paused in his reading as he looked up to see that it was his wife. How is she? he asked as she came to sit across from him on the bed.
Surprisingly well, Celinda answered. Shes taking the truth better than we expected.
Thats good, Celinda heard the worry in her husbands voice, because unlike her, the truth within these pages, he held up the book he was reading a moment ago, is not taken so lightly.
What is that book? his wife questioned curiously. And what truth does it contain?
Its Agnes journal, he replied, and the truth Well, he passed the book to his wife, its best that you read it for yourself.
But these are his private thoughts! Celinda protested, pushing the tome away. How could you take advantage of his death, Andrew?! He was your most trusted friend!
And he trusted me to read this, Andrew returned calmly. Demitri informed me of such and after reading it, I believe I know why.
He then grew quiet and Celinda took that as a sign for her to begin reading the journal. Passages upon passages she read, flipping through the pages quickly. The entries were written mostly about knightly matters and duties, but it seemed that Lord Oaks was also a creative man, reading his beautiful poetry with pleasure. Then there were those entries that talked about Ramia and the progress of her training in the knightly arts. It was in one of these passages that she found the cause of her husbands unease.
June 22 in the 18th year after the Lion War
Today marks my daughters forty-first birthday. Agrias I have not forgotten you, my daughter, even after the disgrace you placed upon our family with your treachery. But you must have had a good reason to do what you did. You were always the sensible type, hiding a kind and gentle heart beneath that stern front you put on for everyone. I see these same qualities in your daughter, my granddaughter, and its these qualities that remind me of you. However, there is something about Ramia that troubles me.
They say that every noble family has a distinct fighting style, from their stance to their techniques. I had taught Ramia everything about our family techniques. She practices them everyday, in the gardens, the same as you, and I could not help but watch her with pride as she executes them with grace and efficiency. Today, however, was different.
As I watched Ramia do her daily exercises, I noticed something peculiar about her stance and the way she swung her sword as she executed techniques that I had not taught her. I wondered how I had missed such details when she had been under my tutelage for three years now. I continued to watch in curiosity as she continued to drill herself in the sword, performing both techniques taught by me and the unknown. It was then, when she executed a technique involving two quick sideward slashes that was finished by a downward slash as she followed through with her previous slash by jumping and turning in the air in a full circle, did I realize where and who I had seen performing those same techniques.
Could it be that I may have discovered who Ramias father is? What else could explain that stance and those techniques? Blood calls to blood after all. If what I saw is true, then there is no doubt on who the father is or was. It could be none other than
Good heavens! Celinda gasped as she read the name. It cant be! She then looked at her husband, who was staring out the window, and asked anxiously: Do you think its true? That Ramias father is
Andrew let out a long sigh. Theres only one way to find out. It seems well be staying here a little longer, my wife. He then turned towards her and gently took the journal from her saying, But I know this, and much to Celindas surprise, Andrew threw the book into the fireplace, watching solemnly as the fire consumed the pages, blackening them to ashes
No one else must know of this.
Morning sunlight fell slanting onto Ramias face so that she awoke feeling refreshed, yawning and stretching before she pushed back the sheets and rose. She smiled in greeting to the new day, to a new beginning. There was a lot of work to be done this day, the first and paramount task to be is to remove the black cloth covering the banners. The time of mourning has passed. It was time to forge ahead. No use dwelling in the past
Ramia frowned, turning away from the window to approach the table where she had placed her mothers armaments the night before. The Crystal Helmet glinted faintly as did the breastplate with its tripartite crown etched at the center and a small wreath of oak leaves at the upper left. Ramia briefly passed a hand over the equipment, clenching it afterwards.
A stained past was difficult to erase, to forget, especially when your family was renowned for their loyalty and service to the royal family. But I will, she vowed silently, staring a moment longer at the equipment she had lovingly cleansed before getting dressed for the day.
Clothed in a white linen shirt and brown trousers, her sword swaying at her side, the black ribbon gone now, she marched to the dining hall where the rest of her family was gathered around the table, engaged in quiet conversation. They took a pause in their meal to greet her as she joined them, taking her seat next to Celinda.
It was their first meal together ever since she and Galvin had left Limberry to become knights. Ramia was glad for their company as she joined in their conversation, nibbling on a biscuit.
So Ramia, what do you plan on doing today? Andrew asked from the head of the table.
Why do you ask, father? Ramia returned nonchalantly.
Because I was wondering if you are up for sparring with me this afternoon, her father replied. Im curious to see what skills my dear departed friend has taught you.
There was a pause as Ramia swallowed a piece of her meal. I would very much like that, father. Ive always wanted to test my skills against a worthy, she smirked teasingly at Galvin, opponent.
Galvin sputtered in anger when he saw Ramias smirk, nearly choking on his meal so that his mother had to pound him on the back to help him catch his breath. Alex smiled at his sons reaction. Perhaps well join you in your little sparring practice, father, he said as he rubbed his bearded chin. Im curious to see my sons skills as well.
Galvin would have protested if he wasnt occupied with clearing his airway. Very well then! Andrew exclaimed with a chuckle. Im looking forward to this afternoon.
Soon after, breakfast was adjourned and everyone went their separate ways. Ramia called for Demitri, the majordomo of the household, to her late grandfathers study. Answering her summons, he faced her now across the width of an ornate desk, awaiting her instructions.
Ramia frowned at the majordomo, seeing that he still wore a black sash about his waist. Remove that sash, Demitri, she instructed compellingly. The time of mourning has passed, she continued as Demitri obeyed her instruction. Tell the others as such. Also, I want the paintings in the vault to be put back to their respective places and for the black cloth to be removed from the banners.
As you wish, Demitri said. And the banners?
Ramia heard the uncertainty in his voice. He had a right to feel that way for to leave the banners is to proclaim that the Oaks line still thrived despite the death of, supposedly, the last of the bloodline because in Lesalia, Ramia was known as a Birch instead of an Oaks. Certainly, the banners would attract attention if they were left hanging on the walls. But there was something her grandfather had told her in her dream, something about not being ashamed of her name.
They shall remain, she declared.
Demitri nodded, smiling faintly in approval. The decision to leave the banners hanging is a sign that she had accepted her heritage despite the risk of ridicule and criticism that was sure to come from the nobles.
I shall personally attend to the removal of the black cloth, Ramia continued, when you are ready. Other than that, I have no further instructions. You are dismissed, Demitri.
The chief steward bowed and took his leave, but as he was about to open the door, he stopped and looked at Ramia. On behalf of all of us here in Oaks Keep, I must say that we are glad to have you back, Ramia Oaks, he said appreciatively. We have long waited for the time when the Oaks name shall be spoken proudly once again. We have faith in you and, he smiled softly, we are proud of you. You are surely worthy of the Oaks line. He then quietly left the room, leaving Ramia to meditate on his departing words.
She turned and stared out of a window, seeing that the study looked on to a patch of the garden where gardeners were already busy tending the shrubs and trees that grew there. One glanced up, catching her eye and waving. Ramia waved back, smiling, thinking that if all this was what she was to inherit then it would be easy to find a sense of purpose.
She watched the branches of the trees sway to the wind, multi-colored leaves scattering in its wake, much like herself slowly casting off her Birch name and as spring sprout new leaves on the trees; she too hoped that by then she would sprout as an Oaks and no longer a Birch.
She pondered the future as she continued to watch the leaves fall like snowflakes until Demitri returned announcing that they were ready to remove the black cloth. As she left the room, a small leaf fluttered through the open window, settling itself on the desk near a childish drawing of a knight hidden among the papers
Ramia supervised the removal of the black cloth, looking up at the walls from the entrance of the keep as the familiar green and silver banners were slowly revealed. The silver wreath of oak leaves seem to blaze brightly as the sun shone on them for the first time in a month.
As she admired the standards, pleased to see them swaying in the breeze once more, she heard the faint clanking of armor in the air. She and Demitriwho was standing besides herturned to see two riders approaching from the road.
The flash of armor indicated that they were knights and when they had come closer, she recognized that one was a Shrine Knight and the other was the Divine Knight that attended to Father Jaren.
Tomas and his companion rode through the two oak trees that marked the entryway to Oaks Keep into the enclosure, only to halt scant feet away from Ramia and Demitri. Greetings, Lady Ramia, the Divine Knight greeted as he dismounted from his chocobo followed by the Shrine Knight. Please forgive us for our sudden arrival, but Father Jaren thought it imperative that you should receive this. He gestured to the Shrine Knight, who stepped forward carrying what seemed to be a bundle of cloth, presenting it to Ramia.
Its the Oaks family banner that once hung at the throne room, Tomas explained. Father Jaren thought it best to give it to you, Lord Oaks prized pupil.
I understand, Ramia whispered softly as she took the proffered banner reverently. As with the banners at the keep, the banner at the palace had also been covered in black cloth for the past month. Now for that banner to be removed from the throne room is to say that the Oaks family no longer exists to serve the royal family.
But Ramia promised within her heart, as she thanked and bid farewell to both knights, that the banner would hang from the ceiling of the throne room once again, no longer stained with the past, but respected as an equal among the knighthood.
Placing the banner in her armoire, she later joined Demitri as he and the other servants replaced the paintings on the walls of the keep until noon. She learned that her family were out in Lesalia and so requested the majordomo to join her for lunch. Demitri happily obliged, honored by her request.
Ramia saw Demitri as a friend than a manservant, both sitting at the long table in the dining hall. Ever since the day she came to Oaks Keep, she came to rely on the white-haired man. And now that Lord Oaks was dead, she came to rely on him more in both his friendship and advice.
That was why she had invited him for lunch.
Both were silent for a while, enjoying their simple meal. Demitri could see that Ramia was deep in thought, her eyes staring blankly at her plate, eating more from habit than want of food. He did not mention it, eating his own plate in silence. Then suddenly:
The manservant looked up at the call of his name, seeing Ramia staring thoughtfully at her plate. Demitri, she began again, then looked up at him, did you know my mother?
Yes, Demitri nodded solemnly. I knew her since she was but a child.
Ramias eyes seem to light up at that answer as she eagerly leaned forward in her seat. Can you tell me about her? I want to learn more about her.
Ill be happy to tell you anything you wish to know, Ramia, Demitri smiled as he settled comfortably in his seat.
Though the dining hall wasnt really the best place to tell stories, Ramia didnt seem to mind as she listened with a keen ear, nodding in some parts where she agreed and sometimes laughing in parts she found amusing. She was so engrossed in the stories that she nearly missed her sparring appointment with Andrew.
Standing beneath the shade of an oak, Andrew watched Alex and Galvin spar with wooden swords, their dull thudding a contrast to the rustling of the leaves as a light breeze blew.
Galvins mouth opened in a snarling yell as he hurled himself forward, sword lifting as though he intended to smash the blade against his fathers unprotected head. Alex stepped sideways as the sword came down, his own moving to block and cut, but Galvin turned in midstroke, shifting the direction of his swing without lessening its momentum so that his sword moved over his fathers, landing hard against Alexs forearms. The blow slowed the Limberrian knight and Galvin whirled away even as he thrust forward, his stroke reversing to hack against Alexs back.
Alex gasped at the force of it, his feet shuffling an intricate pattern as he sought to move out of range and turn to counter the attack Galvin pressed home. The wooden sword clattered together, then both men were swinging away, returning, trading blow for blow until Alexs blade struck Galvins neck and Galvins landed in a side-swing against his fathers midriff.
Enough. Alex grounded his wooden sword and his son followed suit, wiping a hand across his sweat-beaded forehead. That was done well, Galvin, he said, the approval shining on his face, echoed in his voice. I am proud of you.
Galvin smiled in the warmth of his fathers praise. Thank you, father, he returned, as solemnly as he was able.
You have improved both in skill and in strength, Alex continued smiling. I have no doubt that you will fare well in a battle. Isnt that so, father? He turned to Andrew, who nodded in agreement as he said, I believe so, though on that last cut, both of you should have died. He then grinned at his son. It seems that you have an equal, Alex.
Galvin chuckled at that remark. If thats true, grandfather, then father will have no chance against Ramia because she has beaten me more times than I could count despite my improvement.
Is that so? Alex grinned in amusement as he ruffled his sons hair, missing the frown that crossed his fathers features upon Galvins remark. I find that hard to believe!
Speaking of Ramia, Andrew muttered as he rubbed his beard, his eyes focused on the path to the side of them, shes late.
With that thought, darkness invaded the sunlit afternoon as a cloud drifted overhead, which only served to darken his mood. Minutes ticked by before the sun shone its glorious face once more and with it, the hurried footsteps of someone approaching quickly.
Ramia knew that she was late when she saw her fathers frown as she neared. She arrived, gasping apologies, but Andrew waved a dismissive hand. Im just glad you were able to make it, Ramia, he said. Are you ready or do you want to rest a while?
No, Ramia replied, her voice surprisingly calm and clear despite having panted for breath a moment before, her hazel eyes staring hard at Andrews. Im ready.
Lord Birch grunted and nodded in approval. When Alex was about to hand him the wooden sword, he shook his head. No, well be using naked blades. Galvin gasped while Alex frowned in disapproval. Andrew stared at Ramia who seemed not the least bit afraid.
But, father, Alex protested, either of you could get hurt or worse, killed.
Fathers right! Galvin quickly added, concerned for them especially Ramia. It was not everyday that you spar with a veteran as his grandfather. He was certain that she was no match for Andrew Birch, former commander of the Aegis Knights of Limberry in spite of her prowess. Both of you are not wearing any protective armor.
Andrew ignored their objections as he continued to stare at Ramia. There was a reason why he wanted to duel with naked blades. It was the only way to see if Agnes had spoken true about Ramias father. A wooden blade was not the same as a regular sword. It was cumbersome and it could not perform as well as a steel blade. He needed Ramia to be at her best and to be so is to duel with a real sword.
Lord Birch silently drew his sword and Ramia did likewise much to Alex and Galvins heated disapproval. Stand back! he ordered them with a swing from his sword. I dont want you to get hurt on our behalf.
Seeing that arguing would not change their minds, Alex and Galvin reluctantly stepped back, but kept a hand near the hilt of their own swords, planning to intervene if things got out of hand.
Andrew assumed a defensive stance, watching as Ramia took an attack stance, placing most of her weight on her left foot, raising her left arm in front of her as if she held a shield. Her sword was held up to the side of her as she studied her father, her hazel eyes impassive.
Unfortunately, Andrew did not recognize the stance, having never seen it before. But if he had, it escaped his memory at the moment.
And at that moment, his daughter decided to make her move.
Ramia roared as her feet carried her swift across the grass, her sword swinging in a furious arc at her fathers skull. Andrew raised his own sword and steel rang loud against steel. Come now, Ramia, Andrew scoffed. Is that the best you can do? Show me what Agnes taught you! Show me that you are truly an Oaks!
Show me the part of you that is your father!
Fine, answered the Holy Knight, I will!
She turned her sword as Andrew parried, deflecting her fathers cut, driving in again to hack at his belly. Andrew stood his ground, trading blow for blow, the garden filled with the clamor of steel on steel. Alex and Galvin watched anxiously, seeing that the duel was becoming serious as Andrew rained critical blows on Ramia. Fortunately, Ramia was quick to turn those blows and answer in kind as she slowly drove her father back toward a wall of trees.
Lord Birchs arms soon ached from the jarring blows of his daughter. They were quick, precise, and powerful.
The blows of an Oaks.
But there seemed to be a graceful quality added to those blows, something that an Oaks was incapable of performing, of replicating. The fighting style was a mixture of both the Oaks style and the style of her fathers family. No sooner was this realized that Andrew knew Agnes had written true in his journal.
It was soon confirmed when Ramia suddenly ducked under his swing and turned, the flat of her sword sweeping him off his feet. Andrew quickly rolled back to avoid Ramias follow up attack, feeling her blade cut the grass from where he was a moment before, but Ramia was upon him as soon as he was on his feet.
Her blows were becoming more dangerous nearly drawing blood if he wasnt quick enough to block or dodge it at the last second. He needed to end this now.
Father, stop them! Galvin urged, unable to bear the sight, seeing that Ramia could kill Andrew in one precise blow. Grandfathers going to get killed!
Alex, however, did not hear his sons plea, instead his eyes fixed on the battle raging across the grass. Like his father, he had recognized the fighting technique Ramia was employing. Impossible, he thought, but it is. Does father know? Was this why he wanted to duel using naked blades? He watched closely as Ramia smiled, sensing her victory. She suddenly jumped back, holding her sword behind in a stance that Alex knew well.
No! he cried as he rushed forward, sword in hand as she was about to swing her own. Ramia! Thats enough! He moved his sword to deflect the swing that surprisingly did not come. Instead, he found Ramia leaning on her sword, laughing.
Do you really think I would go through with that move, Alex? she asked. I had no intention of hurting father. Besides, she sheathed her sword and grinned, I won.
Andrew stepped forward, beaming as he looked at his daughter with pride. I did my best. I have no regrets for losing. Youve trained well. Both of you, he added as Galvin came to join them. Such courage and diligence is lacking in knights these days. He turned to his son. We leave Oaks Keep in good hands.
Indeed, Alex agreed.
Youre leaving? Ramia looked from her father to her brother then back to her father again in disbelief. So soon?
Andrew smiled then, a thin and narrow spreading of his lips, and answered her: Youre not a child anymore, Ramia. I dont need to take you by the hand and tell you where to go. Only you can decide what you do from now on. Im sure your grandfather told you as much.
Ramia nodded. I must carve out my own path. Only I can decide what I make of it. It is the Oaks way.
And an Oaks you are, her father said.
When are you leaving? suddenly asked Galvin, referring to Ramias earlier comment.
On the morrow, Andrew replied. Now come, he turned and began walking towards the keep. Its best we wash this sweat off before attending dinner.
The others agreed and fell into step beside him as they ambled across the grass darkened with the lengthening shadows of the surrounding trees as the sun had begun to set to the west.
Ramia sighed as she plunged into the steaming water of the tub. She floated in the heated water, her eyes closed as her muscles loosened, cleansing the sweat from the effects of the duel. She could stay there thinking idly of nothing in particular.
She lay there until her stomach reminded her that it was time for dinner, and rose to dry herself and after, dress in a shirt of gray linen surmounted with a sleeveless tunic of soft leather and breeks of matching hide fitting snug into her high boots. Ready, she went to join her family at the dining hall, the appetizing smells of roasted meats and fresh-cooked vegetables quickening her steps as she approached.
The hall was no larger than Limberry Castles own dining room. Great windows of glass filled the hall with the fading autumn sunlight that danced over the flagstones of the floor, sparking off the sconces set into the stone walls. Tapestries covered most of the stone, ancient banners that hung between niches in which stood small pots of various plants and ancient suits of armor.
Seeing that the others were already seated, she made her way down the hall to the far end facing the minstrels gallery that stood above the door. She smiled in greetings as she took her traditional place next to her mother. This was to be their last meal together and though the thought saddened her somewhat, it was good to know that they leave with no regrets of supporting her in her decisions, that they leave as part of her family.
And as such, they ate as a family, talking of the days events. Celinda and Tiana spoke of what they bought at the many shops in Lesalia, saying that a trip to the capital was well worth their time and money since they did not travel much beyond Limberry.
As the ladies were shopping, Andrew and Alex paid a visit to the palace hoping to spar and talk with a few knights on duty there, but were disappointed and somewhat disgusted at how things were handled in the palace. Prince Clemence was an idle ruler who did not hear the cries of his people, but only the cries of the Church. And like their ruler, the knights belonging to either the St. Konoe or Atkascha orders had become lax in their duties, wasting their day away at the taverns or lounging at their posts while the Shrine Knights seem to enjoy their occupation of the capital, seeming to step all over the knights of both orders.
Both men told as such and Ramia could not help but nod in agreement.
Prince Clemence needs to set his priorities straight, Andrew began in a grave tone, or the people will start rebelling. Ivalice is like a powder keg ready to blow. If it comes to civil war He sighed as he shook his head.
Everyone on the table shared his sentiments about the state of affairs in Ivalice. Lest someone was brave enough to unite them and lead them against the Church, they could not do anything but endure this oppression.
They all longed for the day when Ivalice would be free of fear and oppression from the Church.
Despite the dark rumors the Birches heard from the capital, dinner ended on a high note with Ramia telling her plans for the morrow and the others voicing their approval. They then retired to their chambers, the days exciting events settling down with yawns and well wishes as they each found their beds.
Sunrise found Ramia fresh bathed and dressed in a clean pair of clothes similar to yesterdays garb, standing in the stable yard as Andrew and Alex saddled their mounts while the grooms readied the carriage that Celinda and Tiana were to ride. It was clearly going to be another fine day, the sky clear and the sun already warm enough to lift the early chill.
The travelers were dressed in simpler clothes, Andrew and Alex readily reassuming their riding gear, their swords at their sides, while their wives both wore gowns of practical cut, designed for the relatively close quarters of the carriage rather than for the banqueting hall.
Ready, Lord Birch, the driver of the carriage announced when the grooms finished. By your leave, we ride as soon as we may.
Andrew nodded then turned to Ramia and Galvin. All said their farewells, exchanging embraces and kisses. The two men then mounted their chocobos as the women embarked the carriage.
Ramia raised a hand in farewell as the party rode away from the stable. She watched until they grew indistinct against the green of the grass and then turned to Galvin, who stared longingly after his family.
You know, you could have gone with them, she commented softly. Youre not bound to serve here anymore.
Galvin gave a soft smile, his eyes still set to the distance. I took an oath to serve the Oaks family. Knowing that Lord Oaks left behind a granddaughter, that vow still holds. He then turned to look at her. Besides, you need some looking after even though you are a Holy Knight. Im sure grandfather and father would agree.
Im sure they would, Ramia agreed, smiling. Im glad you decided to stay, Galvin.
He nodded. Me too.
Ramia wondered, as they went back to the keep to help Demitri and the others clean and organize the west wing, if Galvin had made the right decision to stay. Though thankful for his gesture, she could not help but feel as if she had endangered him. She was the daughter of a heretic after all. Who knows what would happen to him once news broke out that she was trying to clear her mothers name? Would the nobles ridicule him for supporting her? And what about his family? What would happen to them?
The repercussions could be devastating, but there was nothing she could do now but go on with her path. Certainly she had never been in this situation before, and even as a part of her wondered what she did and where it should lead, another told her that this was what she wanted.
She would delay no longer.
Galvin and Demitri stared at Ramia and shook their heads in wonderment.
Ramia the majordomo breathed as he bowed in respect. Lady Ramia
Ramia nodded, her hazel eyes burning with resolve, her jaw set.
Both men studied her as if for the first time, which in a way it was, for this day must, they knew, change her life. She was dressed in a long, blue tunic with sleeves that covered the full length of her arms; the Reflect Mail went on over that, its etched symbols of the tripartite crown and wreath of oak leaves prominent on its gleaming surface. Pants of soft brown emerged from the armor, going down her legs where knee guards interrupted their flow into huge, worn brown boots. Her hair was bound in a thick braid, held together by a blue ribbon. The Excalibur hung in a dull scabbard at her side, the knight sword glowing faintly at the hilt, yearning to be wielded again after a fifteen-year-long slumber. She stood very straight, her bearing noble, and they felt awed by her presence.
It is time, spoke Ramia, her voice solemn.
Galvin nodded. I shall await for your return, my lady.
He followed Demitris example, bowing as Ramia left the entrance hall, following the corridor that led to the stables. Her chocobo waited there, its crested head turning at her approach. It warked a greeting and Ramia smiled softly in answer as the groom handed her the reins, stepping back as she swung astride her mount.
The sun hung hidden behind a bank of dark clouds that covered the sky as she rode through the paved tunnel and began the journey down the hill to the main road at its base where it would inevitably bring her to Lesalia.
Normally, she would have enjoyed the little ride to the capital, watching as butterflies flitted about the wildflowers that grew along the road, but with the change of seasons also came the change of perspective.
She was no longer the squire training at the palace or the knight mourning the lost of her lord. She was the daughter of a Holy Knight who believed in her mothers courage and it was this belief that gave her the strength to overcome the obstacles that would surely come
The first being the meeting with Father Jaren.
Lesalias north gate appeared ahead, its gaping archway inviting all to enter. The Shrine Knights on duty leaned casually against wall or spear, yawning as the sun finally burst forth from its cloudy prison to shine on their golden armor. Ramia trotted confidently into their midst, pausing long enough for them to do their duty of monitoring visitors.
Recognizing her immediately, they let her pass with not so much as an inquiry despite the armor she wore. Being knights of the Church, they were not familiar with it.
But the commoners were.
Ramia stared straight ahead as she rode along the avenue, hearing gasps and faint whisperings from the people that had begun to throng the street. If she were paying any attention, she would have seen that some were actually bowing their heads in respect as she passed.
Out of habit, she almost turned to a side street that would bypass the city square, but she stopped and continued along the avenue. This time she would ride through the square to reach the palace not for want of a shorter route but the desire to see it.
The place where her life was forever changed.
She saw the square up ahead, saw the two platforms. She slowed her chocobo as she entered the archway marking the entrance to the enclosed space, staring hard at the court of law. Voices from the past echoed as shadowy images began to fill the square. Her chocobo pranced nervously, sensing its riders grief and anger.
Her mind had traveled back in time to that day fifteen years ago.
Ramia was transfixed as she again witnessed the flogging of her mother tied onto the single wooden post. She unknowingly clutched the reins of her mount as the apparition of a Shrine Knight swung back the plaited leather.
And as it fell on her mothers shoulders, Ramia flinched.
Each time the lash descended, Ramia clutched the reins tighter.
At each blow, Ramia grew angrier.
And as the shadow of her younger self shouted, so did she.
Ramia drew the Excalibur, the sword glowing brightly as if in anticipation of the holy power that would once again flow through its blade. Thunder rumbled above as she urged her chocobo towards the platform, towards that single post, shouting, Absorb power in the sky and strike! She held her sword up toward the heavens and lightning snaked its way to the blade, imbuing it with its power.
She swung her sword, releasing the holy energy stored in her blade. Thunder boomed as a few lightning bolts crashed down upon the platform. The wood gave way, splintering under the might of the Holy Sword skill and in a few seconds the platform was nothing more than kindling.
The citizens of Lesalia heard the disturbance and as they gathered at the entrance to the city square to investigate, Ramia had already ridden away towards the palace.
Thundering through the gates and into the flagstoned courtyard, she hopped off her chocobo, paying no heed to the grooms who briefly glanced at her, recognizing her armor, as they hastily stabled her mount, whispering in shocked tones. The two plate-armored halberdiers guarding the door to the palace also recognized the armor, being part of the Lesalias St. Konoe Knights, and as Ramia passed between them, they could not help but bow in respect.
Unlike her first visit to the palace that had elicited stares of wonder and surprise from those roaming the halls, this time they gasped as she charged through the corridors, and more than once she thought she heard her mothers name being whispered among them.
She smiled faintly, pleased with their reaction. The memory of Agrias Oaks still lived, whether with respect or not remained to be determined. That small detail, however, bolstered her courage considerably, and when she reached the doors to the audience chamber, she was ready to confront the priest.
Tomas stared in mild curiosity when Ramia burst into the audience chamber. Knights posted around the room gazed in shock at the disturbance, as if they had woken up from slumber. Only Jaren Kazut exhibited no emotion, simply setting down his quill and looking at Ramia with dark questioning eyes.
Father Jaren, I must speak with you, Ramia declared in a strong, clear voice that seemed to magnify within the chamber.
Jaren nodded and motioned Ramia forward. I see that you are wearing the armor I had gifted Lord Oaks a long time ago, he commented when he could see her clearly.
A fitting inheritance being that this armor belonged to my mother, said the Holy Knight, her hazel eyes glaring.
A black brow rose, like an arching caterpillar, Jarens small eyes fixing her inquiringly. Im sorry, but I believe I did not hear you correctly, he said. Did you say that the armor you are wearing now belonged to your mother? And when Ramia nodded, he exclaimed, Preposterous! Your mother, Lady Celinda Birch, is not a knight nor is she capable of holding a sword.
That is because she is my foster mother, Ramia countered. My true mother, she paused as she looked at each of the knightsLesalian knightsnoting their discomfort as they avoided her gaze, is Lord Oaks daughter, Agrias Oaks! Do any of you deny it?
She looked around again and saw that a few knights averted their eyes while others hung their heads in shame. Tomas remained silent while Jaren grunted, searching for a parchment among the stack of papers to his side, and as he did he asked, And how did you come to that conclusion, Lady Ramia?
Ramia lowered her head, her eyes hooded in shadow so that those present could not see her sorrow. I remember she whispered painfully. I remember everything My childhood at Oaks Keep The trial The adoption I remember it all
I see Jaren finally found the parchment he was looking for, pulling it out from the pile to be placed before him, pausing briefly as he read the document before speaking again. Then you know that the person you speak of is a criminal of the Church, a heretic; also a traitor and a murderer. Now that doesnt sound like the mother of a prestigious Holy Knight. Isnt that so, Lady Ramia?
No, it doesnt, she replied softly then raised her head and looked directly at the priest. That is why I was adopted by the Birch family, to protect me from the truth. Her voice gained strength as she continued: Now that I have uncovered the truth, I wish to do something about it.
The priest sighed. What I said at Lord Oaks funeral was true. I do admire you, Lady Ramia, and I do not want any harm to befall you. I do not deny that Agrias is your mother, but if you insist on helping her, then I have no choice then to arrest you and convict you of heresy for aiding a heretic. Your mother was convicted of the same crime. I pray that you not follow her footsteps. It would be a shame to lose such a promising Holy Knight among the ranks.
His words carried a note of finality that Ramia could not help but hang her head in defeat. I understand, she whispered chokingly. Thank you for your time, Father. She bowed and quickly turned away, determined to leave as composed as she had entered despite her unbearable sorrow at her failure.
If you wish to see her, shes being held in Bethla Garrison.
Ramia paused in mid-step, startled at the priests words. She looked back and saw that Jaren smiled. I can grant that much at least, he explained.
Ramia nodded her thanks. Bethla Garrison she murmured as she left the room.
Jarens smile grew wider when Ramia left, pulling out a clean piece of parchment and scribbling a quick letter. Tomas, he called, sprinkling sand on the wet ink to hasten the drying process, take this letter to the jailor guarding the heretic.
The Divine Knight, hoping to get a quick glimpse at the letter, stepped slightly forward, craning his neck somewhat over the priests shoulder, but the ink had already dried and Jaren was affixing his seal. Not wanting to look too obvious, he stepped back as he was given the letter.
It carries special instructions regarding our prisoner, the priest explained in brief. Make sure he receives it.
Tomas nodded in understanding and left in silence. If it had been fifteen years ago, he would have questioned Jaren, but he soon learned that it was better to obey without question to be in good terms with the priest.
And Jaren was in a good mood, chuckling portentously as he filled a goblet with red wine. Everything is going according to plan. He sipped his wine, savoring its taste and the captures that were sure to come, unaware of the uneasy glances of the knights present
Ramia sat at the table in her room, gazing hard at the fire burning in the hearth, its light reflected in her eyes.
Night had fallen in Lesalia, the sun gone behind the western horizon, the twinkling of the lights marking the Imperial Capital joining the starlit sky so that one must look closely to distinguish star from distant torch.
A decanter stood at her elbow, a cup of cider clutched in her right hand. She vaguely sipped her drink, watching the flames flicker, the logs crackling gently in the quiet of her room.
Your mother was a Holy Knight of Lesalia?
That question came from a young squire shortly after her meeting with Father Jaren. Delighted to hear such a curious inquiry, she happilyproudlyanswered. Her reply spawned more questions from the squire, who seemed to be eager to learn more.
She smiled at the memory, sipping her cider once more. She had been happy to answer them until a group of three knights came, their presence scaring the squire away.
Ramia frowned then, gripping the cup tightly, brows furrowing in anger. Noticing her armor, they had begun to question her, asking how she came by it and why she was wearing it. Unashamed, she told them everything, but before she could finish, they had begun to laugh at her.
Worthy knights dont betray us like she did, one had commented derisively. A disgrace is what she is.
With an anguished cry, Ramia flung her cup into the fireplace, the flames bursting briefly before settling down to its usual glow. She closed her eyes, holding her head in her open palm, trying to hold back the tears that welled in her eyes as a choked sob escaped her lips.
Damn them she muttered bitterly. Damn them all!
The tears flowed then, weeping at the futility of her chosen path. She knew that there were some that still honored the name of Oaks but because of their fear for Jaren, none were willing to support her. Unknowingly, she cried herself to sleep as the fire burned low
Of a childhood memory where she held her mothers sword, gazing up in awe as her mother made some slight adjustments in her armor. She then would lift the sword up to her with great difficulty, her eyes shining in wonderment as her mother outfitted the weapon, her last piece of equipment, before being carried off to the stables where she would be given a kiss and a hug. Her mother would then ride off to Lesalia, giving a last wave as she disappeared over the hills bend
Ramia woke with a start, head jerking upright from the table. She winced at the crick in her neck, rubbing the sore spot as her eyes wandered around the room, coming to a halt at the sheathed sword lying on the table just in front of her.
It suddenly occurred to her that the answer she had been seeking was there all along, right beneath her very nose. Chuckling softly at her idiocy, she reached for the sword, lifting it in both hands. How odd it was that the sword she found to be a burden as a child had become light in her hands
In the hands of its rightful successor.
There came a soft hiss as Ramia pulled the weapon partly out of its sheath. Mother, I will not fail you, she vowed silently, staring at her reflection on the blade, those determined eyes staring back. No matter how hopeless it seems
As she placed the sword back into its sheath, there came a knock on her door accompanied by a voice: Ramia, are you awake? Galvin is waiting for you in the dining hall for breakfast.
She looked out the window and saw that she had slept the night away at the table. The sun was not long risen, but still it lit the dome of the distant palace as if the roof was a second sun. Compared to yesterdays overcast, the sky was a pristine blue, dew glistening on the grass swaying in the breeze.
Tell Galvin Ill join him shortly, Ramia replied loudly as she rummaged through her wardrobe, pulling out a linen shirt, leather jerkin and breeches, suitable attire for a chocobo ride.
And prepare our chocobos, she added once dressed. Well be going on a journey.
She grabbed the Excalibur on the table as the voice asked through the door, A journey? To where?
Ramia turned to the window, her eyes set as she watched a flock of birds soaring to the east. She too would soon be following those birds heading southeast to