Chapter 24:

Knightly honor

On the run with a witch from another world

Elegast’s hesitation made it clear that they harbored a big secret. He looked at Aldo with a questioning look, who quickly spoke in Elegast’s stead.

“It’s true, the two of us are much more than thieves! But before I get into that, help me move the Guild Master to a safe place.”

As we supported Elegast through the palace’s front lawn, Aldo picked up the thread again.

“So, where do I even start? Elegast and I go way back, we met at the Knight’s Academy when we were barely teens.”

“You’re royal knights! I knew it!” I couldn’t contain my excitement after meeting a true knight. They had been my heroes and role models ever since I was a kid. What he said next elevated my excitement to fanboy ecstasy.

“Not just any knights!”, Aldo proudly grinned, “In fact, we trained under Dancing Willow for a year. Man, did I hate his teaching methods, but we learned just about everything there is to know from him. He’s a teacher without an equal”

Chiyo wasn’t as impressed as I was. In fact, she raised an eyebrow at the name.

“What’s a Dancing Willow? Do you mean a tree? I don’t get how training under a tree is admirable.”

Chiyo’s ignorance floored me. How could she not know my greatest inspiration? I almost tumbled over my words as I started explaining.

“Dancing Willow is a living legend, he’s said to be the strongest swordsman alive. Had he been around during the Great Holy War, there would’ve been a lot less casualties, that’s for sure. I’ve heard that his raw power is only matched by the Devil himself. And all that without using an enchanted weapon! His techniques, speed, and strength are enough to dispel any foe.”

Chiyo raised a second eyebrow at my ramblings.

“How does a normal human get strong enough to be on par with the Devil, a being that caused destruction of unseen proportion? It makes no sense at all. Are you sure you’re not confusing him for some fairy tale hero?”

“Not at all! He was born into a bloodline of great swordsmen, and was blessed by the Gods at birth with overwhelming power. Combine that with his rigorous training regime, and you get Dancing Willow.”

In hindsight it was all a bit much for Chiyo to take in at once, but I didn’t pay her any mind and continued talking with great enthusiasm.

“Sometimes he takes apprentices to show them the knightly sword style, and they all go on to be masters of the blade. Training under him is a childhood dream of mine, though I’ve since long given up on that.”

Elegast laughed heartily at this forgotten dream of mine. “If you’re that excited to meet him, why don’t you just do it?”

That was easier said than done. Dancing Willow traveled all over the continent to protect the weak from danger, and to find new training methods. I asked Elegast where I might be able to find him and he immediately knew the answer. As expected of the Thieves’ Guild Master, he was really in the know on everything.

“From what I’ve heard, he’s currently putting together an expedition to the Lands Beyond. He’s holding exams in the remote mountains of Klaralven to that end. Who knows, with a bit of luck he’ll agree to train you. From what I’ve seen, you’re a promising swordsman, but your style lacks refinement and purpose. I’d say you still have a lot left to learn. He will certainly be wary of Chiyo, but I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

I plotted a map of the continent in my head and came to a tentative decision. “I see, I’ll consider it. We need to go to Klaralven anyway to find the Witches Guild, and I need more power to not need to be protected by Chiyo all the time.”

Instead of a smug counter, Chiyo understandingly winked at me. “You did a fine job of protecting me in the palace, don’t worry about it. And if push comes to shove, we can just combine our strength like we have until now, right?”

A levelheaded response from Chiyo? A rare sight indeed. But my mind wandered to another matter. There was still a major question left unanswered by Aldo and Elegast’s explanation.

“If you’re royal knights trained by the famous Dancing Willow, how did you end up in the Thieves Guild? I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Elegast’s demeanor changed markedly. “The short of it is that we were dishonorably discharged. We made a small mistake and ended up being heavily punished for it. To be honest, we were set up. I guess some nobles didn’t want knights of lowly birth in their ranks. The world of the aristocracy is like that you see. Skill doesn’t matter at all, it’s about who you know and where you come from.”

Chiyo got more worked up over this than I expected. “People cut in line just because of their lineage and who they know… That’s so unfair! Everyone should get equal opportunities to show their skills, no matter where they come from!”

Elegast nodded in agreement. “In a perfect world that would be the case. But this is not a perfect world by any means. Take our case for example: from one day to the next we were left with nothing, not even a penny to our name after all we’d done for them. It was then that a scheme to get back at them started forming in my head. You have no idea what kind of damage the royal family has done to this country.” He balled his fist and I could see a flash of anger in his eyes when he recalled these events.

Elegast clearly didn’t want to elaborate on what happened, but I got the gist of it. We were pawns in a revenge plot. In the end we both upheld our respective part of the deal, and then some, so I couldn’t be mad at them for using us. As I was pondering this, we came to the golden gate leading onto the square in front of the palace.

“This is where we split up, the Thieves Guild owes you one. The other thieves already went ahead with the loot, and we should probably follow suit before the knights notice us.”

I came to a halt. “I have one last question before we go. Why did you come to our help when we were fighting the witch hunter? I imagine you could’ve just left us there and made your escape, yet you risked life and limb to save us.”

“I’ll be honest. When I first heard of a witch appearing in the countryside, I had my reservations. After all, everybody knows witches have a dark heart and are unpredictable beings. I couldn’t imagine working together with one. But then, Aldo told me about his encounter with you two at the city gate. The account of this meeting was very different from what one would expect from a run-in with a witch. Normally I’d think you were simply hiding your true motives, but Aldo can judge a character like no other. It was he who proposed making use of your powers to break into the palace.”

“Aldo… we won’t forget what you’ve done for us. You’re a dear friend indeed.” I said to him. Chiyo vehemently nodded along.

Aldo got a bit teary-eyed and said his goodbyes.

“Chiyo, you’re truly a special case. As a former knight, we couldn’t stand seeing two friends get their journey cut short because we swept them up in a heist. If nothing else, we at least still have our knightly honor. Now, go quickly. Leave this city and venture onwards to find the answers you seek.”

Aldo rummaged in his pocket and brought out my hat. A clear scratch mark from the fight desecrated it. He pushed it against my chest and nodded warmly.

“Take care of each other. It’s an unforgiving world out there but if you’re together, you can overcome any obstacle.”

Having said that, Aldo and Elegast walked onto the square and made their way to the hidden tunnel next to the canal. We were about to follow suit, when we noticed a wooden podium with an old Inquisition scholar on it, giving a stern lecture to a crowd of early birds. He wore a long, pointy hat with a blue ribbon. Curious as she was, Chiyo walked towards the stage to listen to the talk. Unbeknownst to us at the time, it would be a defining moment in our relationship.

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