Knighthood, 107

Standing up for Yourself Is Hard if You’re Not Confrontational, but it’s Still Important

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“The security for the king’s funeral and the queen’s coronation will be similar to that for the wedding, and I shall oversee it personally,” said Sir Richard, voice grave, hands clasped behind his back.

“With respect, sir,” said Sir Pascal, an older, barrel-chested knight who was shorter than Edwin. “The king was my charge. I would like to have the final honour of overseeing security for his funeral.”

Edwin glanced at Devin to see if he was going to ask the same for Gabrielle’s coronation, but he didn’t say anything. The knight commander had paused, watching Sir Pascal carefully. “Very well,” he said. “The funeral procession will, of course, be the part fraught with the most difficulties. We expect a large crowd and most of the guests from the wedding are still in the city and will require protection as well.”

“Yes, sir,” said Sir Pascal. Edwin didn’t know him well but had met him enough times to know he wasn’t normally this quiet. It wasn’t a surprise. He’d probably known the king for decades. “I’ll handle it.”

“In the meantime, I want a full review of castle and our own security efforts,” said the knight commander, voice turning hard. “That this was permitted to happen is a disgrace.”

Edwin held in a sigh. Despite what he’d said to everyone the other morning, the king hadn’t died of natural causes. He’d been assassinated. Nobody else in the order knew because the royal family wasn’t telling anyone. As if Edwin needed to feel worse about Gavin’s dad being dead.

“You all will conduct an audit of your own subordinates. Those who were on duty will submit reports detailing what they saw, did and heard that night,” said the knight commander. “To be collated and compared with reports from the castle guard so we can discern where the gaps in security are. Those of you who were not present on the night of the king’s death will also include a report explaining what you were doing that was so much more important than protecting the royal family.”

Devin had had that night off too, but Edwin knew full well that comment was directed at him. He didn’t say anything, though.

“I suggest that we request the queen place the castle guard under our command for the time being,” said Sir Pascal. “To ensure a continuity of security.”

The knight commander nodded. “I shall put in the request. Sir Devin, if she is amenable to that we will likely put them under your command, given that their captain currently reports directly to the queen. I will also make the same request pertaining to the city guard, who also failed to notice assassins prowling in the night, but I will have them report to me.”

Gabrielle might give in about the castle guard, Edwin thought, though he doubted it. But even not knowing her well, he was pretty sure she was going to tell the knight commander to fuck off when he asked for the city guard to be placed under his command. It wasn’t like it was something the order was actively trying to do, but everyone knew that Richard didn’t like that there were other security forces in the city.

“Yes, sir,” said Devin. He took a breath. “I don’t expect the queen to be particularly amenable to the suggestion.”

“Then it shall be incumbent on you and I to convince her of its necessity,” said Richard. He looked down at his desk. “Those of us who take security seriously must always convince others of its necessity. No progress has been made in determining the route the assassin used to enter or exit the castle. The snow covered up any tracks, but we must consider the possibility a portal was used. Sir Elaine.”

“All of our portal rings were and still are accounted for,” Elaine told the knight commander, at tight attention. “None were in use the night of the assassination.”

“Nonetheless, we must consider it. A criminal used one to escape the city the day of the wedding, it’s possible another criminal could have used one to enter. A thorough audit of the rings must be performed. Anyone who had access to them should be questioned.”

Edwin should have continued staying quiet, but he didn’t. “I’ll notify the prince that he’s being summoned for questioning, sir.”

“Excuse me?” asked the knight commander. Everyone was looking at him.

“The rings are kept in a locked box in his bedroom. So far as I’m aware, only Prince Gavin and Sir Owen have keys to it. Per security protocols set up before the wedding, someone counts them every evening, and they’ve all been accounted for every time. If a portal was opened in the castle, it would have had to have been with one of their consent.”

“Are you implying that Prince Gavin orchestrated the assassination of his own father, boy?” asked Sir Pascal.

Edwin met his eyes. “No, Pascal, the knight commander is.”

“I am implying no such thing and I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth, Sir Edwin,” said the knight commander, glaring at Edwin.

Edwin didn’t glare back, just looked at him. “My apologies for misunderstanding,” he said mildly. He’d been practicing a mild voice that Gavin sometimes used when he was pissing people off. “But only two people have unrestricted access to the portal rings to easily remove and replace one without anyone noticing. Even Sir Elaine and I don’t have keys to that box.”

“He’s right,” said Elaine. “I will question the prince’s staff on the chance that one of them saw something, but I sincerely doubt that was the method of the assassin’s entry.”

“Very well.” The knight commander sighed. “Loathe though I am to admit it, we are unlikely to find the assassin. An act such as this suggests considerable skill and resources, meaning someone likely contracted the Empty Moon. As nice as finding the actual killer would be, we will likely have more luck finding the person who paid them.”

Which they were not qualified to do, Edwin heard him not say. Some nobleman had been assassinated in the castle last year and Prince Franz had found his killer by doing some kind of financial audit or something. It was going to have to be someone like him who figured that part out, not the knights.

“We can, however, take steps to mitigate the danger to the royal family in the future,” said Sir Pascal. “Replacing some current bodyguards with more experienced knights would be a good first step. People we can be sure will actually be present and doing their jobs when it matters.”

“Sir Pascal, I think we all understand that you are upset,” said Elaine, relaxing a little. “It is natural to want to blame someone when something like this happens. But I, for one, would appreciate you pointing that blame outside this order.”

Pascal’s eyes had gone stormy. “Sir Elaine, I do apologize if I’ve offended you. I assure you I do not place any blame on you.”

If Elaine was going to stand up for him, Edwin owed her at least doing the same. “No, you’re placing it on me.”

“I’m sorry if you felt that way.”

“And I’m sorry that you’re such a coward.”

Sir Pascal went extremely tense, armour clattering once. “Excuse me, lad? I shall allow you to retract that statement.”

“I won’t take advantage of that allowance,” Edwin said, trying to sound calm. “You have a clear problem with me but instead of stating it, you’re lobbing vague insults and snide comments into the air. That’s cowardice as far as I’m concerned.”

“Sir Edwin,” the knight commander growled. “This inappropriate behaviour will cease right now.”

“I don’t believe standing up for myself is inappropriate, sir,” said Edwin, looking sidelong at him. “You appointed me to this position and you have also spent the last several weeks making it clear you don’t think I’m qualified for it. Frankly, I am tired of indirect insults that leave room for plausible deniability. I’d rather you just removed me from the position if you don’t want me in it.”

The knight command seethed, but quietly, and Edwin realized in that moment that he wouldn’t remove him from his position. Because he’d have to do what Edwin was doing right now, and stand up to someone in authority to justify it. Only Gavin, but people had different ideas about what authority meant. And he couldn’t do that.

“The problem we have with you, son, is that you’re arrogant,” said Sir Pascal, still livid. “We all know you were given everything you have because the prince likes you, but you act like you earned it despite the fact you let strangers into the princes’ rooms daily to howl at the moon with them, that half your unit was only hired because the prince…”

Edwin looked at him. “The prince what?” he asked. Once, Edwin would have agreed with that. But the order needed fewer people like Pascal, not fewer people like himself. “Please go right ahead and say what you were about to say.” When Pascal didn’t, Edwin said, “Gavin is a pain in the ass. Elaine and Sir Owen chose bodyguards who he’d trust, so he wouldn’t try to slip them. I let people into Grey Rain’s room for the same reason. Have you ever tried to chase a wolf? If he decides he doesn’t trust me and runs away, I can’t protect him. I don’t care if he’s fucking half the city if it means he pays attention to me when it’s important. And none of that had anything to do with what happened the other night.”

“You were not at your post. What were you doing instead of protecting the king?”

Edwin shouldn’t say this. It wasn’t kind and it wasn’t fair. But he wasn’t feeling kind or fair right now. “What were you doing, Sir Pascal?” he asked quietly.

“I was at the castle.”

“Right. Letting your charge die.”

“Edwin,” warned Devin.

“Your charge was murdered in his own house,” Edwin said, as Sir Pascal went pale. “With one of your subordinates right outside the door. And you didn’t find out about it until over a half hour later. It was my night off and everyone I’m supposed to be protecting is still alive. So, Pascal, what were you doing instead of protecting the king?”

“Edwin, that’s not fair,” Elaine said, voice quiet. Pascal looked stricken, like he might cry. Or draw his sword.

“I know. And I’m sorry about that. If it really makes you feel better to blame me for something that I had nothing to do with, then go right ahead. But it’s not making you feel better, Sir Pascal. It’s not making you feel better either, sir,” he said to the knight commander. He turned back to Sir Pascal. “It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault, it’s not the prince’s fault, it’s not the fault of anyone except the people who conspired to murder the king. I also think I only got my job because I was the prince’s boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good at it and it doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. If you personally dislike how the prince and his family have chosen to live their lives, that’s your business and I invite you to keep it to yourself, because the next time I hear you make a racist comment about Grey Rain I’m going to hit you. If you personally dislike me, that’s perfectly fine, but we have jobs to do and I’d appreciate it if you could stop glaring at me when you’re on duty and fucking do yours.”

Pascal stared at him, and Edwin stared back. He wasn’t even projecting calm like he often did when stuff like this happened. He was just calm. After a second, Pascal turned away and faced the knight commander again. “I would like to apologize for my breach of decorum,” he said to the knight commander. “It has been a trying week.”

Richard gave a grave nod. “I think it best if we all leave our personal feelings outside and focus on our work. All of you have your tasks. I want those reports by dawn tomorrow. Dismissed. Edwin, a moment.”

Everyone saluted and left, but Edwin stayed at attention until the doors shut. The knight commander waited a moment, then sighed. “At ease. You are not making yourself any friends by being so disagreeable, son.”

“I’m not your son, sir, I’m your subordinate. I’m sorry if you spent your early career being treated terribly by your own superiors, but that doesn’t mean I should have to put up with the same treatment.”

“We were all as idealistic as you, once,” Richard told him, not abandoning the fatherly tone. “But we grew up, and you will too. It isn’t wrong to stand up for yourself and you were right, Pascal’s remarks were out of line. But there are ways to approach such things without making a scene.”

Edwin shook his head. “With respect, you haven’t seen me make a scene yet, sir.”

Richard sighed. “You are a talented knight, and you will go far in the order. Take this advice. Don’t squander that future. Rejecting the order will get you nowhere. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll find you have a place here.”

Edwin already knew he had a place here. He’d earned it. There was no point in arguing, though, and he had reports to collect. “Thank you for the advice, sir. I should go get those reports from my unit. Do we know what poison was used on the king? I may know people who can track down where it was acquired if it was here in the capital.” Those people were Twig and Noel and Stuart, but the knight commander didn’t need to know that.

“I shall get you that information posthaste, then,” said the knight commander. “You’re dismissed, Sir Edwin.”

Edwin saluted. “Thank you, sir.”

He left, and wasn’t entirely surprised to find Elaine in the hallway waiting for him. “You make it hard to be on your side sometimes.”

Edwin smiled. “I appreciate you standing up for me.”

“Anytime. Pascal’s an ass and frankly, so is Richard. Devin’s better, but only marginally, if you ask me. When’s your coup?”

“It’s not a coup,” Edwin said, shaking his head. “And it’s on hold, because…”

“You can’t disrupt the king’s funeral over it, I know. Do you know Gabrielle’s position on this?”

“No,” Edwin said. “I don’t know her, really.”

“You’re married to her brother. Find out. She’s the queen.”

“Right.” Gabrielle’s help would be really good. She also had more pressing things on her plate right now. “Thanks.”

Elaine smiled at him, patting his shoulder. “You did well in there. Come on, let’s get to work.”

Edwin nodded and followed her, because the best advice that had been given in there was his own. He had a job to do and he should fucking do it.

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