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The kingdom through the.., p.11
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       The Kingdom through the Swamp: The Courts Divided - Book 1, p.11

           Kell Inkston
 
CHAPTER ELEVEN: BEING A KNIGHT

  Around this time, perhaps a bit before, perhaps a bit after, Lain walks the block in front of the keep, eyes peeled and taking in the sights and sounds of Liefland fully. He looks over a group of giggling fairy children, huddled around a point on the block as they craft colorful paper lanterns with the help of an aged fairy woman. He sees a dutiful pair of dwarves signing off a trade deal with an ent— trusting, friendly gazes and chatter steaming from both parties as the documents are exchanged. He even spots an astute-looking elf looking over a wooden craft formed by the hands of none other than an orc, who himself is laxing in his chair reading a book on pottery. It’s a happy scene, but every now and then, a fairy will look over him in passing, recognize that he’s human and frown.

  All around him is the characteristics of happiness, a vibrant peace that pervades every soul that walks the street under Liefland’s colorful lamplights. He feels like he’s invading, somewhat, as if he were reading a novel and looking in on the finer lives of others- filled with just enough adventure, just enough discourse, just enough romance to make any other reality seem dull by comparison.

  He takes a quick seat on a bench and folds into himself pathetically. All these years of hearing stories of Liefland from his parents, and now that he’s here, the inhabitants look down on him- as though he’s an unsightly blot of ink upon the long, flowery paragraphs of fairy life, something that detracts from their day, rather than improves it.

  A nearby mother fairy stands in the square along with her child. Lain smiles and nods towards the child’s curious gaze, but once the mother looks over him, she takes up the child’s hand, says something, and walks off.

  He couldn’t hear the full sentence, but he very clearly discerned the word “bastard”. Lain realizes that his neck is still visible, the glowing mark of Algandar’s Syndrome glowing faintly.

  Lain covers his neck, gets up and enters the nearest tavern with his head down.

  The tavern’s a lively place- a joyous harvest-time jig played by a trio of fairy folk, each a different race and each a different instrument in hand. Lain slowly merges into the warm fairy bar, looking for somewhere to sit when he spots a spectacled Spirakandrin boy downing a dwarven stout- Dresmond Ulveroth.

  Lain takes the seat next to him. “Hey.”

  Dresmond’s gaze draws to Lain sharply, quickly, a speed expected of a war survivor. “Evening, Gainswold.”

  “You’re off-duty too?”

  “Technically, yes,” Dresmond says, looking back to his drink.

  Lain nods and takes a moment to order the manliest-sounding drink on the list: 'The Bleeding Dragon'. “Lucky us that the drinking age is the same as it is back home, huh?” Lain says with a smirk.

  Dresmond nods. “Yeah. I haven’t had a pint since I was deployed. It sucks because I should only have a couple.”

  Lain nods again in agreement. “Yeah, we gotta be ready should the need arise.”

  “So, what brings you here, Gainswold?” Dresmond asks with a bland, forward expression as he stares at the drink shelves.

  Lain shrugs. “Oh, you know. Did my job and Knight Love gave me leave. Thought I’d see the sights.” He says this with a businesslike, forcefully-disinterested look about him that he assumes is 'cool' to others.

  “Alright. Well I’d be happy to share some drinks with y-” Dresmond stops as the bartender delivers Lain’s Bleeding Dragon, a small, fruity, pink liquid that has enchanted rainbow fizzles zipping out- one girly drink to rule them all.

  Lain addresses the bartender with a look of pure horror. “Th…thanks,” he says bluntly as he takes up the tiny-stemmed glass and looks over it.

  Desmond, a boy with an appreciably-dry sense of humor formed from his time on the battlefield, raises his brows and looks back to his own drink. “A little something to light up the night, mmm?” He says in a way that sounds serious to the untrained ear.

  Lain scoffs, spinning about the fabulously bright drink. “This? Yeah, you know, a girl let me finish hers once and I thought it was pretty tasty, actually. You know how it is…”

  Dresmond nods as if interested. “Well flavor’s everything for some people, I guess.”

  “Y-yeah! I don’t get why you wouldn’t drink what you like- I mean, are some people insecure or what?” Lain says with a huge, awkward grin.

  Dresmond nods again. “Some people are pretty insecure- that’s for sure.”

  Lain nods back and clears his throat. “Right, so you don’t get to drink on the line?”

  Dresmond looks to Lain as if it were a ridiculous question. “Well, no. There’s not really any beer to go around. They sort of push us out there and tell us to keep marching until we find enemies, then we camp around there killing ‘em. Not all that cushy- we have to get just about everything off the land or other soldiers.”

  Lain draws back with a raised brow as he throws down his drink in a single go- it’s ridiculously tasty; he can see why girls like it. He takes a breath and responds. “Sorry to hear… I guess I have it sort of lucky. In Kanvane the students are served a pint with each dinner once they’re sixteen, and students in the A plus range get unlimited access to the scholar’s bar.”

  Dresmond’s teeth clench in something resembling both envy and pity- an oxymoronic, offhandedly superior feeling. For a moment, Dresmond wonders just what incredible things he would have accomplished if he had a full paid tuition to go to Kanvane Magic Academy, largely thought to be the most prestigious school on the entire planet- the playground of the next generation’s kings, queens, lords and ladies. “I heard. It’s a surprise they can keep their students actually doing work instead of partying all day,” Dresmond says plainly.

  Lain shrugs. “I heard it gets pretty crazy.”

  Dresmond squints an eye as he readjusts his glasses. “Heard?”

  “Oh, uh… Yeah,” Lain looks to the side. “I wasn’t quite good enough to make the cut. I was top of my class… in some classes.”

  Dresmond nods. “What classes?”

  Lain pushes forward his glass with a sheepish smile. “…Painting.”

  There’s a quick, blink-of-the-eye moment when both boys recognize how pathetic Lain really is in comparison to others with the same quality of upbringing, most of which by this point would be conjuring up beasts and creating metals from magical substances in the pursuit of deeper understanding.

  “I see… Well don’t let it get you down. The Knights need people of all kinds- you don’t have to be a skilled mage, or even good in a fight, to honor us— you just have to give it your all.”

  Lain squints a brow. “My all?”

  Dresmond smirks bemusedly. “Of course. How much would you trust me if I weren’t willing to bite the heel of a giant to save your life?”

  The lively clinking of mugs and music throughout the tavern washes over the two as Lain stares at his empty, girly glass, now at the end of the bar. “… Would you really do that for me?”

  Dresmond readjusts his spectacles. “Of course.”

  “Even if it killed you?”

  Without a pause, Dresmond nods. “Yes. Knights are to be examples to others. To be frank, if there was someone more important and I had to choose, I won’t lie, I’d choose the VIP.” Lain nods, finding it a perfectly fair conjecture, and Dresmond continues. “But if it were just you, and just me, and just some Easterner pointing a gun at you, I’d jump in the way.”

  Lain taps the bar with his index finger thoughtfully. “So what if you were the higher ranked man? What if you were so important that it’d be a waste on me?”

  Dresmond looks aside, scratches his chin and sighs. “While this time as a knight on loan to the W.K.D.R.’s been… tough for me, that kind of 'efficient' thinking is only for warzones- and as such because it works there. But in the life of The Knights, we must be willing to be a stepping stone for others, even if it means our life. If one person cannot sacrifice himself for another, that is a display of character that does not shine well on him. If one c
an sacrifice himself, however, it brings honor and glory to all the knights.”

  Lain looks down at the bar, resting his elbows on it and crossing his arms. “So you mean to say that everyone in the knights should be willing to sacrifice themselves for others?”

  “With a few exceptions, yes. As a knight it’s our duty to… well, show love to others, really.”

  Lain’s expression quickly turns perplexed. “Really?”

  Dresmond squints an eye in humor. “Have you not read this? It was in the assigned readings for training.”

  Lain inhales through his teeth, and Dresmond shrugs before breaking the awkward pause. “Yeah, well I didn’t get through it all either. I did read though, that while as knights we are often seen as the ‘defenders of the realm from threats internal, external, common and supernatural’, King Rayna’s primary goal for the creation of The Royal Knights was to make society a kind, generous, loving place, in which people do things for others simply because they want them to have better lives.”

  Lain hums and brushes his chin. “So like, we’re meant to show people we care about them, and that’s supposed to be how they care about others as well? Does that really work?”

  Dresmond nods. “You can teach people to care, but it’s difficult. You plant a seed of love in their life and it might take years before it sprouts into something that others will see. So you plant a lot- it takes time. Really, it’s a bunch of little things, daily acts of goodness to another, I think.”

  Lain’s expression is somehow both touched and bewildered. “But... like, wait a minute... what?”

  “What do you mean, ‘what’?”

  "Aren’t we all about kicking monsters and dragons and shit?”

  “Well, yeah, but that’s just one way we show it. You’re freshly out of training, right?”

  “Yeah.”

  “So I take it you’ve never spent time in the knight relief corps?”

  “Ahh.” Lain raises his brows in some sort of realization. “So that’s what they do. I thought they were for delivering supplies to other knight outposts and such.”

  “Well, that too, but they're mostly for educating the people of the kingdoms on how to take care of themselves.”

  Lain leans back a bit. “So as a knight, we should do anything that shows the people around us that we care?”

  “Yup.”

  “What if they don’t care for us in return?”

  “That’s not our job- we must give freely without expecting anything in return.”

  Lain nods— for some reason, only now, once he’s thought on it, does it really seem to have an appeal. “You know… that’s actually pretty cool.”

  Dresmond nods in agreement. “Once you get back to New Reinen, you should go to the library and ask for ‘The First Foundation: A History’.”

  “Yeah?”

  “It clears up a lot. It was part of the assigned reading, but obviously most trainees B.S. it because it’s like six hundred damn pages.”

  Lain nods calmly. “Alright. Thanks.”

  “No problem.”

  There’s a short silence. “I think I’m gonna take a walk around the place.” Lain puts his payment on the bar and takes up from his stool.

  Dresmond nods. “Alright. Have a good night.”

  “You too… Thanks.”

  Dresmond raises his pint with a smile, and Lain steps out into the night. He feels like he fits in now, though his puzzle piece is obviously different from the fairies’ whom he had so long envied— his is that of a knight’s.

 
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