Aymeric pieced together the fragments in his mind on the way back to the Holy See – and they were going back to the Pillars this time. He had checked to ensure that the elation of victory hadn’t gone to Estinien’s head, and that the Knight was not just leading him to attack another dragon. Which, from what he knew of the other Elezen’s upbringing, perhaps would not be such an absurd conclusion to leap to.
He had found Estinien in shock, seemingly unconscious and suffering from a nightmare when Aymeric had roused him. The rest of their squad lay dead, and, of course, Aymeric was saddled with the one man that actually wanted to go back to the source of such a tragic battle. But the Lancer was damned talented – extraordinarily skilled, even considering that he had been taught by Alberic – Ishgard’s own former Azure Dragoon. And then there were the rumours, of course. About Ferndale. About Estinien being the only survivor and seeing his family burned by Nidhogg as a child. It was those thoughts that accompanied Aymeric when he sighed, and decided earlier to pursue Estinien and help him on his fool’s errand.
But they had slain the dragon. Estinien’s eyes were alight with a fire he had never seen before as they trudged back along the icy snows towards the stalwart gates of Ishgard. Normally, the young man seemed aloof and despondent. Always alone as he practiced his martial skills with a single-mindedness that put the other knights to shame. Aymeric had watched from afar, and had always known the man would be capable of great things. That is, only if the fool stayed alive long enough for them to happen.
“What will you tell our… next superior?” Estinien asked him, suddenly, recalling that their Captain had fallen in the recent, harrowing battle.
“What do you mean? I will tell him the truth. That our forces were decimated by a ferocious opponent, but that we persevered and slew it, regardless.” Estinien turned to him and raised an eyebrow.
“Meaning.” Aymeric continued, at his prompting. “That I will omit the part about how the dragon was wounded, and actually returned to its lair, leaving the two of us alive. And that you were… how shall I put this… zealous in your convictions enough to pursue it, concussion and all, and defeat it.”
“With your help.”
“Yes. With the single arrow I loosed at its eye to distract it. Enabling you to execute a dive that the former Azure Dragoon would be envious of.” Estinien grinned. It was the first time Aymeric had ever seen him do so, and he was struck then by just how glorious and radiant he looked. Almost like Haldrath come to life, though, from his reputation, if Estinien had gleaned that Aymeric harboured such thoughts, then he imagined a sour battlefield report to his Commander would be the last thing on his mind. The man had been re-stationed from unit to unit, seemingly causing problems with each one he was allocated to. From rumours, he was rash, arrogant and lacked discipline. He started fights and was contentious with Knights far more senior than he, and yet, he now actually treated Aymeric with something akin to respect.
“It was a good arrow. Eyes are a weak spot for Dravanians.” Aymeric repressed rolling his eyes – Duh! As if he didn’t know that already. Did he think he had never heard of Saint Reinette? “You saved my life. Do not think that I don’t recognise that. I will vouch that you took command and salvaged the situation and saved my life. But I want to be in your unit.” Estinien said to him.
“Weren’t you previously in Ser Zephirin’s squad? His unit are still at full capacity.” Estinien tapped the side of his lance thoughtfully.
“Is Zephirin the useless long-haired fop? Or is he the blonde fellow who yells so much he is obviously compensating for something.”
Aymeric stifled a snigger, knowing it was against protocol to say such things about their superiors, but knowing it to be true anyway.
“Ahem. The latter.” Aymeric told him with a smirk.
“Ah.” Estinien chewed his lip.
“I punched him in the face before this excursion. That was why they assigned me to this battle in the first place.”
“Ah.” Aymeric said. Estinien look to him in concern, only slightly masked by his ever-stoic features.
“Is that a problem?”
“No. Your punch couldn’t have been better placed.” Estinien barked out a laugh.
“You’re going to make Captain soon, Aymeric. Make sure I’m on your squad. You’ve seen me fight. You know it will be worth it.” There was an eagerness in his voice that Aymeric could scarce decline.
“I’m sure I can make a case for it…”
And thank Halone he finally remembered his name.
“The man is an embarrassment to the order! His discipline is barely restrained and he completely lacks any respect for the chain of command. He was dismissed because of these undesirable qualities. The man undermined Ser Jandelain’s authority, headed to the Dravanian Highlands alone, and returned with a gruesome Dravanian head as a trophy. A testament to both skill and idiocy, true, but he then challenged his superior to ‘bring back something bigger.’” The Knight Commander, Ser Eicheneux, punctuated his remark by thumping the desk beneath his gauntleted fist. “He goes off on his own, and is unable to function as a part of a unit. Bah! His lack of discipline and not knowing his place are poor qualities of a lowborn knight. He has every right to be dismissed. Why, by the grace of Halone, would you actually want him in your unit?!” The broad man thundered. Aymeric stood tall and confident before him, mildly wondering if he would ever finish his tirade.
“I have seen his lancework, and it is impressive. We have worked well together before, and I think he will thrive under someone who respects his skill.” Aymeric kept accusation from his voice as much as possible. In the last couple of months, now he had built a rapport with Estinien, he had noticed how others treated him, and it had grated on him. But now Aymeric had been promoted to Captain, he sought to allow the man to flourish under the command of someone who respected and appreciated him.
“Respect his… Aymeric, have you listened to a single word I have just said? He is a low-born orphan rat, why by Halone would I need to respect him?” The Knight-Commander spluttered, outraged.
“If he doesn’t improve under my command, then by all means, do as you planned. But I believe he will. And if you do strip him of knighthood, then I pray you are not depriving Ishgard of the finest dragoon to ever fight in our war.”
That gave Commander Eicheneux pause. He knew of how skilled the man was, they all did, as much as they detested to admit it.
“Fine, take the mad dog! Then perhaps you will understand what I mean. But you are making a grave mistake. You may be young to make Captain, Aymeric, but this man will hound your every order and undermine your every command. I promise you. You will not keep your rank long with him in your unit.”
Aymeric was dismissed, and left the room with a curt bow. He proceeded to look for Estinien to inform him that he had made good on his promise two years ago. Guessing the Forgotten Knight wouldn’t exactly be his place of choosing – as it was the place the other Knights often caroused at during their time off – he headed to towards the Gates of Judgement. Then he remembered that Estinien was Alberic’s ward, and frequently trained with him. He probably frequented Camp Dragonhead out in the highlands, undoubtedly resenting training with the other Knights.
He said a few words to the knights at Dragonhead – there were very few he didn’t know the name of, after all – and found Estinien and Alberic with some target dummies. It was the former Azure Dragoon that noticed Aymeric first, and waved him over. The newly-appointed Captain noticed the anger and vehemence with which Estinien obliterated the poor practice targets with. So much so, that the elezen did not notice Aymeric approach.
“Ser Aymeric, tis good to see you.” Alberic greeted. Estinien turned, sweat making the snow-white hair not in his ponytail cling to his forehead.
“So, good news or bad?” Estinien asked without preamble. He picked a towel, wiped his head and moved over to them.
“Good. You may remain in the Knights, under my command.” Aymeric began. Estinien’s brow drew together, his body tense.
“But…?” He asked, his gaze flicking worriedly to Alberic.
“But if you decide again to indulge a mad whim to embark to Dravania and bring back the still-bleeding head of a dragon, and then challenge me to bring back a bigger head, then please bear in mind that I may just take you up on such an offer.”
It was the second time he had seen Estinien grin. And that time, Aymeric knew he was well and truly lost.