At the end of the evening, it was the Lady Elissa who had emerged victorious. Having battled and beaten over a dozen opponents, her strength and prowess in combat had been proven beyond all doubts. First in etiquette. Second in history. First in heraldry. First in law, and now also first in battle. By all means and reckonings, she had proven herself to be the first and foremost amongst all the squires.
As the last opponent conceded defeat – Lord Jerimiah Brightblade – a loud chorus of cheers rang out. Squires stomped their boots in unison, clanged their blades against their shields, and a general uproar of whoops and shouts congratulated all for a job well done. Lord Mourningblade allowed the racket to continue for several long moments, before he finally held his hand up. Silence instantly settled in, with one last clang of boots snapping together as all the knights present lifted their swords to the sky in proud salute.
“My Brothers!” The old lord’s voice echoed and carried across the courtyard, enhanced by a small touch of magic from a helpful healer standing not far from his side. “As the sun settles on this day, let us recognize all who have tried with all the power of their hearts, and the might of their blades, to join our Order today!”
“HURRAH!!” A loud cheer rang out from the older knights who stood gathered around, though this time the young combatants remained silent and waited patiently for the lord to continue.
As the deafening cheer slowly tapered off, the old lord finally raised his hand and spoke once again. “Many of these fine young men and women have proven themselves worthy and have passed all requirements to stand proud within our ranks!”
“HURRAH!!” This time, it was the youngsters who yelled, while the older knights remained silent and smiling.
Once more, Lord Mourningblade waited for the clamoring to settle before he lifted his hand and sighed deeply. “And unfortunately,” he continued in a softer voice, which was still carried strongly by the healer’s magic, “there were many who fell short and found lacking this year as well.”
Silence from both sides greeted this proclamation.
“However,” the old lord continued, starting to raise the volume of his voice once again, “it is the mark of a man not in how he succeeds, nor how he fails. The true spirit of a man shines only when he faces himself, and chooses how he lets his success and failures define him. Too much pride in one’s success leads to arrogance and vanity! Too much doubt, regret, self-pity or self-doubts leads to a different road of depression and darkness for a man!
“I say to you now, one and all,” Lord Mourningblade’s voice was loud and thunderous across the courtyard once again, “to become the greatest that one may be, you must be both humble and persistent. Success today may very well grow into tomorrow’s failure, if one does not continue to grow and evolve! Failure today is nothing more than a building block, laid upon the road to tomorrow’s success!
“Who here amongst you is certain of your success?”, the old lord asked, slowly and deliberately. “Who here knows they’re worthy to be a Knight of the Rose?”
Silence greeted his words for several moments, until a young boy standing off to the side yelled out, “Me! I’m worthy! And so is my older brother Tristam!” All eyes turned to stare at the young child – a strapping young lad no older than five or six at most – and then Lord Mourningblade tilted his head up and laughed freely.
“If we all could but have the innocence and confidence of youth,” Lord Mourningblade exclaimed, a smile still twitching across his lips. “What say you, Lord Tristam? Do you have the confidence of your brother? Are you certain you have passed all requirements to join the Order?”
All eyes turned to look at the young man that Elissa had defeated first in the competition. Saying nothing for a few moments, he considered carefully how to respond and then shook his head from side to side. “I do not!” His voice rang back, loud and clear, so all could hear his response. “I challenged above my station and lost in the first match-up of today’s competition. I barely passed the test in law and did not much better with heraldry. I still have many flaws, and I cannot say with certainty whether the Order has found me acceptable or not. That is for the elders to decide, not I.” Slowly, he bowed his head respectfully to show he’d given his answer.
Lord Mourningblade was silent for a few moments, and all in the courtyard grew silent and restless waiting on his response. “You show much wisdom,” he praised, “for you have not passed. For many of the reasons you listed yourself, the Order has found you unworthy to join the ranks this year. How do you wish to proceed?”
Silence laid heavy all around as Tristam weighed his options. After a few short moments, he slowly sank to one knee. Drawing his blade from its scabbard, he held it in both palms, offering it back towards the older lord. Lowering his head in respect, he spoke slow and deliberately in response. “I have been found unworthy. This blade is not mine.”
Taking a moment to pause and take a deep breath, he slowly lifted his head and stared defiantly at Lord Mourningblade. “At least,” he continued, “at this moment, I’m unworthy and it is not mine. That does not mean that I shall be unworthy tomorrow, nor that it shall never be mine. If you would have me, Milord Mourningblade, I would like to remain a squire and continue my training until next I can test my mettle and prove my worth to both you and the Order of the Rose as a whole.”
“Well spoken, young man!” Lord Mourningblade turned and looked back at the other knights standing behind him, who were lined in two neat orderly rows. “What say you, my brothers? Shall we allow the young Lord Tristam to stay and continue his studies?”
Slowly, without saying a word, nor watching another, each knight drew his blade and held it high into the sky. Sunlight danced and reflected off the steel as Lord Mourningblade nodded, understanding their verdict, and turned back to face Tristam and the crowd.
“Sheath thy blade, if you so desire young one, and remain with us” he commanded. “It is the wish of the Order for you to stay and continue your learning. The final choice however, must remain yours. Sheath thy blade and stand proud behind the knights on my left, a squire still; or, lay down thy blade and walk thy own path wherever it may lead you. The choice is completely yours, and all here will respect whichever path you choose to follow.”
Nodding slightly, Tristam slowly rose to his feet and sheathed the blade back into its scabbard once more. Holding his head high and proud, he slowly walked from his place in the line he was standing in and strode across the courtyard to stand with the knights off to Lord Mourningblade’s left.
“HURRAH!!” A cheer went up from both the squires and the knights. Even though he may not have earned his place amongst the Order, Tristam was still a brother walking the same path as the rest of them, and they cheered to see the strength of his spirit and determining shining bright and unbent at this minor setback on his journey of life.