Chapter 87 – War Warning

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Ged had already stood and made his way to the podium in order to give his little sister his hand so she could step down. Around me, I could hear a widespread ripple of feminine sighs. My eldest brother did indeed have a lot of fans, as Amelia had claimed.

I noticed in that hesitant step from the podium that Amelia was also having to deal with high heels hidden under her skirt. I still didn’t get the logic behind high heels nobody can see except for moments like this, but apparently it wasn’t just Mother’s weird thing. Unless Mother was the mastermind behind adding them to Amelia’s wardrobe.

Come to think of it, she just might be.

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Ged then took the podium as Amelia made her way back down to her place in the class– not first place, but still first row, five rows ahead of me– and surveyed the crowd. He spotted me and I swear for a moment that serious expression of his softened into a slight smile. He got his serious back, pressed his glasses into place as he looked out at us, reminding me in that instant of a certain angel, and began speaking.

“My fellow students, my father has requested me to speak to you not as a student or as a prince, but as student commander of the Royal Academy. Tradition dictates that members of the military should first hear news of this nature directly from their commander. The lower school and advanced students are currently being marshaled on the parade grounds and I shall be delivering the same message to them after this.”

A ripple of murmurs passed through the parents in the galleries. I noticed heads around me among the students shifting around a bit as well. This was clearly not a standard speech.

He continued, “It’s my unfortunate duty to report to you the decision of the Privy Council, made earlier today. The council has ruled that sufficient evidence exists to show that the Kingdom of Hamagaar has been cooperating with the demons who have overrun the Regaritan Empire.”

The murmuring increased a bit. The idea that this was happening wasn’t the news; there were plenty of good reasons that the Hero’s Party had ended up in Hamagaar. The news was that the Privy Council was officially calling attention to it. It clearly telegraphed the direction this speech was headed.

“Based upon this evidence, and due to frequent incursions into our kingdom by demons that have in fact been coming out of Hamagaar, as evidenced by a large number of demon nests that adventurers have been encountering in our northern territories adjacent to that nation, the council has made the decision to join my father, His Majesty Owen the Second, in declaring war upon the Kingdom of Hamagaar, and has furthermore extended to His Majesty the agreement that such a war shall be conducted for the purpose of adding Hamagaar to the King’s territories and cleansing it of demonic influence. We contend that the royalty ostensibly ruling that nation have become puppets of the demon lord, the great enemy of civilization who has already brought ruin to the Regaritan Empire.”

He stopped and waited as the room filled with agitated whispers and some shaking sobs in the galleries. I think the latter were mothers realizing what this might mean for their babies. To a certain extent, the student body was also whispering among themselves. I could feel the fear around me.

Pressing his glasses again, he continued, “I say the following with a heavy heart, but I am obligated to say it. You are all exhorted to remember that we students are, in return for our privilege to attend the Royal Academy, citizens in service to the king should he call upon us. This can indeed mean interrupting our studies here at the school, should our presence be required on the battlefield.”

I heard a small whimpering sound behind me. One of my fellow female students, I assumed. Many more were coming from various directions around me. Next to me, Ferna was quietly whispering, “My Lady? Does that mean you too?”

It obviously meant me too, considering I was already the king’s knight, so I didn’t answer with any more than a quick frown. But she needed to be more worried about Cord, standing on the other side of her. Plus, maids like herself weren’t exempt, although they were unlikely to be called upon for actual combat duty.

He finished by saying, “I now turn the podium over to Sir Belgar of the Royal Knights, who will assemble all knights present for the knight’s pledge.”

Belgar stood in front of the podium and shouted, “Knights, assemble!”

The shaken atmosphere was horrible conditions for doing this. I seriously wish they had done things in the other order. But I had to immediately stop thinking about the ramifications of the news. War or no war, Belgar taking the stage was my cue.

Like many house knights in the ranks around me, I stepped out of position and made my way to the end of the row and then walked to the front, to the wide space between the first row of students and the stage. Cord followed me, taking his place in the back rows with the other house knights. The royal knights who served in school security and the knight attendants for the Royal children were formed up in the front rows.

This was the part I hated. I had argued (politely) with Sir Belgar about it, but he and Miss Adena had both been adamant. As a ducal daughter, in noble terms I outranked every other knight present, so I had to stand in the absolute front.

I could hear the whispers in the galleries, which started as I took my place at the front. My cheeks were becoming dyed slightly red as I blatantly stood out in exactly the way I hate doing.

But then I saw Mother beaming down directly at me, so I made sure to stand straight and not shrink at all. When I stand out, I am being her prided Tiana. That was more important than my personal misgivings.

I wonder when I started thinking that way?

Uncle Owen moved forward again, accepting Sir Belgar’s sword from him as he took center stage. Belgar stepped back and took a knee, which was our signal. All of the men, and the small number of women among the house knights went to their knees as well, but I and the other female royal knight– during practice, they had addressed her as ‘Lady Chiara’– descended into deep curtseys. Taking a knee in these outlandish ‘uniforms’ that Mother had concocted for female royal knights was out of the question. Unlike the female house knights, our attire was unmistakably dresses for ladies of the Court, and etiquette dictated that we must curtsey.

In the same motion, we all drew our swords. As we descended, we dropped our sword points to the floor in front of us.

But perhaps most striking of all, I was also at the same time unfurling my wings. I held them at their full span, nearly three paces, my wingtips touching the floor.

The murmuring of the crowd became quite a bit stronger once I revealed my true nature. I was standing out as a knight and a fairy vampire to a degree I had never, ever planned. But it couldn’t be helped. I was painted into the corner by etiquette. And etiquette, in Orestania, is rigid to a degree no American ever experienced.

“Swear before me, all you brave and worthy knights,” Uncle Owen demanded as he raised Belgar’s sword in salute. “Swear before me, regardless of your house, your family or your affiliation. Swear on the souls of your swords and on your honor as knights. Swear before me, before your peers and before all present that you will defend these treasured students, noble and commoner alike, against all who threaten this academy’s peace!”

That was the whole point of the knight’s pledge. Between the three levels of school, we had knights from more than fifty houses at this academy, and some of those houses were dire enemies. But all were now being obligated by the king, upon their honor, to defend everyone, even the worst enemies of their personal houses, while associated with this school.

In unison, we all took our right hands off our swords– or, for those who wielded one-handed swords, switched hands– placed our right-hand fists on our hearts and declared, “Your Majesty, we so swear!”

The pledge didn’t really mean anything new for we royal knights, because our existing oaths already required us to do all of the above. But we were pledging anyway, in order to make clear that we were there for all students, not just the royals or the nobles. And maybe, we were there to shame the house knights into taking the pledge to heart.

After all, about half the student body were commoners. A respectable number of them were students in their own right, either the children of merchants or scholarship students like Mireia, and there were also many attendants to nobles. Female nobles from viscount families or higher could have a house knight to guard them, and men of such rank could have maids or valets. The child of an Earl or Marquess might have one of each. Tossing low-ranking commoners into this high a population density of nobility was asking for trouble without some symbol of discipline in their midst.

Uncle Owen lowered the sword, then turned toward Sir Belgar and extended it out to him hilt up, just as if it were being presented to a new knight. Belgar took it and bowed down while holding it in the same fashion, and Uncle Owen turned and returned to his place in the royal party.

Sir Belgar turned toward us, raising his sword one-handed, and commanded, “Royal knights, stand and face the student body!”

We stood. I tucked my wings together but kept them materialized as we turned as a single unit. Since we were in reverse position, I then stepped forward to remain slightly ahead of the rest. Then Belgar declared, “Students of the Royal Academy of all ranks and classes, we royal knights are your guardians during your studies. We shall hear the plea of anyone who seeks His Majesty’s protection.”

We all saluted with our blades like he had, and declared in unison, “We swear on our honor as the knights of King Owen!”


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- my thoughts:

It takes time to mobilize a country, but this war will grow significantly in importance as this story continues. For now, think of it as a seed I planted for later harvest.

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