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An Unexpected Path

As the evening rolled by, other names were called one by one by Lord Mourningblade, usually in the order they fell during the day. Those that were found worthy took their proud place with the knights to his right. Those that had fallen short had a choice to make. A few simply returned their blades and said their goodbyes, to seek their fortune elsewhere in life. A few others underwent the same trial that Tristam had, where the elders were asked if they wished to allow them to remain as squires. In all but a handful of cases, the elders accepted the applicant back into squireship to continue their learning.

William Longfellow was refused, with the elders instead recommending that he follow the path of the warrior, over the path of the knight. His fighting spirt was too strong, often trampling the needs for compassion, mercy, or law. William’s motto was simply, “All’s fair in a fucking fight!”, which didn’t quite meet the standards of the knight’s code; though it did suit the warrior’s creed perfectly.

In an act that surprised almost everyone present, Jerimiah Brightblade – ranked second amongst the squires -- was also refused entry into the Order. Instead, a recommendation was made for him to apply to the Order of the Golden Sun instead. In the opinion of the elders, his devotion to the gods was too great and should their ever come a time when Jerimiah would have to choose between his duty to the gods and his duty to the people, they felt as if he’d choose the gods. The Order of the Rose was dedicated to the people, first and foremost, and thus it was felt that he was completely unsuitable for their ranks.

Amazingly enough, Jerimiah laughed heartily hearing the reason for his rejection and proudly saluted the elders with his blade. “You’re correct, Milords,” he agreed easily. “Though I do have a burning desire to help and serve the people, I freely admit that my devotion to the Gods comes first in my heart. Never had I considered the two to be in conflict, but I accept the wisdom of the elders and listen fully to their advice. Should I ever be placed in a situation where I would have to choose between the people’s needs and the god’s desires, I would be forced to set the people aside and follow the wishes of the heavens.

“I readily accept that I may not be suitable for the Order of the Rose. Your assessment that the Order of the Golden Sun may both suit me better, and I suit it better, is both reasonable and logical. Should they have me, I shall attempt to walk the Path of the Golden Sun instead.” Proudly striding forward, Jerimiah turned the blade he had been holding and presented it hilt-first to Lord Mourningblade.

“If the Heaven’s will it, we shall still become brothers, my lord – just brothers of different orders,” Lord Mourningblade replied with a smile as he accepted the squire’s blade.

“If the Heaven’s will it,” Jerimiah agreed before turning and proudly walking to the edge of the courtyard to stand with the other witnesses. His father, who was standing amongst the crowd, pushed forward and hugged him once tightly; a large smile beaming across his face. There was no shame in being told to choose one Order over another. All knights were part of the same brotherhood; some simply held tighter to one set of virtues than another. To the Lord Brightblade, his son hadn’t failed in becoming a knight; he’d simply found a different road of virtue to travel upon.

And then, there was only Lady Elissa left standing in the center of the field. First amongst the students, she was the last to receive the Lord’s decision and learn her fate, but Lord Mourningblade was silent; silent for so long that people began to fit and whisper uneasily to themselves as he seemed to be struggling to offer his judgment one last time. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to all present, he coughed slightly and cleared his throat.

“High Lady Elissa el’Thundra,” pausing, Lord Mourningblade nodded his head slightly in respect before continuing. “It is with great pride and much honor that the Order of the Rose finds you worthy to join our ranks.”

“HURRAH!” A cheer erupted from both knights and squires. “HURRAH!” A second cheer erupted from the crowd as they joined in the celebration, glad for the awkward silence to finally be broken with the good news.

Lord Mourningblade simply held up a hand and waited patiently for the hubbub to die down. Once the courtyard was quiet once again, he coughed and cleared his throat a second time before continuing. “Unfortunately, child, it is my duty to inform you that you cannot join the Order at this time.”

A small gasp of shock slipped from the onlookers and the old lord raised his hand once more for order. “By a covenant long established, and with a duty that transcends the whims and wishes of an old man, I am duty bound to inform you that there is another path which you must follow. As first among the students, strongest of arm and greatest of knowledge and wisdom, there is another duty which you cannot refuse.”

A low murmur went up from all around. The Order was an organization established upon the principle of honor, dignity, and free will. All who were here, were here willingly. Those that had failed, had the choice of whether to remain in service as a squire for another year, or else leave and find their own path. It was unheard of for one to be forced onto a path, without choice.

“And, if I refuse this duty?” Elissa asked what everyone was thinking.

“Then you will be stripped, enslaved, and forced to fulfill it regardless,” Lord Mourningblade answered coolly, with steel in his voice. “The covenant is one that must be upheld, regardless of one’s personal wishes. You are first amongst the squires, the duty is yours to fulfill – willing or not.”

“I… see.” Elissa’s mind was in shock. Now, she understood her uncle’s request. Had she placed lower in the rankings, it would be another who would stuck with this unrefusable burden, and not her. “What exactly is this duty,” she asked hesitantly, filled with apprehension.

Slowly the old lord hobbled over to where she was standing in the field and held out a small golden scrollcase to her. “Your orders are inside here,” he explained as he waited for her to take it. “Do not open it until you are packed and have everything you need to travel. Say your goodbyes before the sun rises in the morning. If you’ve not fulfilled your duty by then, you will be hunted, arrested, and charged with High Treason.”

Nodding slightly, Elissa slowly and deliberately reached out for the scrollcase. Her mouth was dry and she didn’t trust herself to speak at the moment, so she simply nodded slightly to show she understood.

“Then all are dismissed,” Lord Mourningblade shouted, his voice reaching every corner of the courtyard. “Let the celebration begin!”

“And,” he whispered quietly so only Elissa could hear him, “may the gods have mercy on you, my child.”

Refusing to wipe the tear in the corner of his eye, Lord Mourningblade turned and slowly walked back to join the rest of the elders – many of whom were already participating in the festivities.

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