When he had first seen Diarmuid from a distance, not knowing who he was, Ares had not thought much of him at all. There was this strange sense of familiarity about him, a feeling of resemblance that Ares could not quite place, but he had dismissed it as simply an odd, irrelevant feeling. After all, Diarmuid appeared relatively weak, seeming to only barely win his battles against opponents of real significance. Any similarities between himself and such a person had to be purely coincidental. Even so, Ares could not shake that strange feeling, and not long after the capture of Melgen he decided to ask Diarmuid about himself.
“Hey there, Ares.” Diarmuid greeted with a friendly grin as Ares approached him once the army had made camp. “I don’t think we’ve talked before. What can I do for you?”
“You are Diarmuid, correct?” Ares asked, suddenly feeling unsure. Why would anyone be so welcoming to somebody with the reputation that he had? It was refreshing, but also very strange.
“That would be me.”
“Diarmuid… I feel as though I know you, somehow. Have you any idea?”
Diarmuid blinked, once, then twice. “You really don’t know who I am?” He asked, sounding surprised. “Though, we’ve never actually met.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea.” Ares replied with a shake of his head. “Care to enlighten me further?”
“If I remember right, you’ve already met Nanna. You know how she’s the daughter of Lachesis?” At Ares’s nod, Diarmuid continued. “Well, I’m her brother, Lachesis’s son. Your cousin.”
That struck Ares like the hilt of a sword, and his eyes opened wide in disbelief. “You… the son of Lachesis? That can’t be right. Mother never told me Aunt Lachesis had a son.”
“Guess she forgot some details.” Diarmuid shrugged. “For a long time, I thought mom had forgotten me too. Just found out recently from Nanna that she went missing trying to look for me.” There was a hint of sadness to the way that Diarmuid said that. He was more affected by it than he let on.
“Hm.” Having never been the best at dealing with emotions, Ares decided to leave any attempt at comfort unsaid. “I think you take more after your father.”
“Eh? You think so?” Diarmuid sounded surprised by that, but not displeased. “...I guess that does sort of explain why you didn’t recognize me as your cousin. My father… I hope to be half as incredible a knight for one day as he is always.” He smiled sadly. “That might be an impossible dream, though. Even after everything, I’m still so weak.”
At last, Ares knew exactly what to say. It was one of many things he had wished somebody had said to him as a child. “Knighthood is a long and winding road that you both travel down. He just got a head start on you. So… even if you’re weak, don’t have such a low opinion of yourself.”
Now Diarmuid was surprised by Ares’s words. “Huh. Never thought you of all people would be comforting me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ares narrowed his eyes, glaring at his cousin as Diarmuid laughed easily.
“It’s just, I’ll admit I thought you were pretty scary at first, what with the black clothing and bloodthirst and revenge quest. ...In fact, you’re still pretty scary to me.” Diarmuid laughed again while Ares just rolled his eyes with a small smile. It would seem that Diarmuid was the sort of person to laugh in the face of danger, real or perceived. “I was actually working up the courage to talk to you so I could properly meet my one and only cousin. Talked to Nanna and Lene for advice and everything. Then all of a sudden you walked up, and here we are.”
Frowning, Ares looked down at himself. “...Am I really that scary?” It was quite common for him to hear that, though less so for anyone to say it to his face. He’d tried not to let it get to him, but it often seemed to be on the back of his mind.
“Well, sure. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and I’m sure anybody who knows you can tell you’re a good guy at heart.” Diarmuid smiled with complete confidence. “Fear is just a part of us, so what matters is how you use the fear others have of you. Nothing about you really needs to change.”
There weren’t enough words in the libraries of Belhalla to express just how relieved Ares felt when Diarmuid told him that. Some small part of it was captured in just three words: “Thank you, Diarmuid.” His face softened as he said that. “That means a lot to me.”
“Don’t mention it! Just speaking my mind!” Diarmuid grinned widely, though his face grew thoughtful mere moments later. “Say… since you’re a prince and all, you’re going to take over Agustria some day, right?”
“That’s the plan, anyways. We still have to win this war first.”
“Hahaha, don’t remind me!” Diarmuid sounded as cheerful as ever, though they both knew it was no laughing matter. “Anyways, what I was thinking was, you’ll need knights to serve you when you become King. I’ve got nothing better to do after this, so why don’t I join you?”
“And let me guess, you want a room of gold or a title too.” Ares replied, half-jokingly.
“Mm, nope!” Diarmuid said after giving it only a moment of thought. “Can’t think of anything I need to buy, and I don’t really need a title. I just think you have a kind heart and a good head on your shoulders. That’s exactly the type of King I want to serve. Nothing else to it.”
“...Cousin, I think we’re going to get along well.” Suddenly, a mischievous smirk appeared on Ares’s face. “One condition though. I only accept knights who are at least twice as good as your father.”
Throwing up his hands in defeat mockingly, Diarmuid groaned out of frustration, playing along. “And just how am I supposed to achieve that when he’s the best of the best?!”
“It’s quite simple. Aim to be better than the best.” Ares answered without hesitation. “I know you have the potential for that in you. And even if you fail, you’ll still end up a better knight than you were before. Striving to outshine all the rest to be the very best is what being a knight is all about. Don’t you agree?”
“Hmm, sounds exhausting if you ask me.” Diarmuid met Ares’s eyes, conveying a true seriousness that defied his words. “For you though, cousin, I guess I have no choice but to make the effort.”
“I’m sure you’ll manage somehow.”
A moment passed, and then Diarmuid’s eyes lit up. “Oh! By the way, Nanna wanted to have a meal together once we finally met, just the three of us. Are you up for it?”
There were so many things that Ares wanted to say to them both. So much gratitude to express, so much to catch up on and information to share and tease each other about.
A family all their own to reestablish.
To Ares, the choice was made as soon as it was offered.
“Tell her I’ll be there.”
5 Years Later
Jugdral was freed from the great evil that had ruled it, and Agustria was once again united under a widely respected King. This King was diligent and honest, quickly returning peace and prosperity to his people, who had long been bereft of such things. However, even this great King sometimes needed to take breaks from the immense task of keeping his country safe and prosperous, and he spent some of this time riding in the woods with his cousin, who had become the greatest of all his knights.
“Goodness, Ares, don’t take off without me.” Diarmuid sighed, having finally caught up on his own horse. “Worrying about you will be the death of me one of these days, if you keep putting yourself in danger like this.”
In response, Ares placed a hand over his heart mockingly. “Really! The greatest of all my knights cannot protect his king? What a scandal! Maybe I should make you do my paperwork and I do the clearly very difficult job of keeping me safe instead.”
“Haha, very funny.” Diarmuid rolled his eyes, smiling in spite of himself. “There could be an attempt on your life, my king, you never know. Especially if you act like this. There’s such a thing as being too careless.”
“There’s also such a thing as being too careful. I became king in order to change lives, not to neglect them.” At Diarmuid’s pleading look, Ares threw up his hands in the air. “Alright, alright, fine. I, King Ares Nordion, first of his name, do hereby pledge to take basic precautions to keep myself safe, so help me Naga. There, feel better?”
“Showoff.” Diarmuid elbowed Ares in the ribs, and they both laughed merrily. “Do you ever think about the conversation we had when we met, Ares?”
“All the time, cousin. All the time.” Ares smiled wistfully. “It was… five years ago, now, wasn’t it?”
“Exactly right.” Diarmuid confirmed. “I don’t suppose I’m actually twice as good of a knight as my father, am I?”
“No.” Ares answered immediately.
That reply surprised Diarmuid, but he quickly hid it. “Heh, figures-“ Before he could finish, Diarmuid was cut off by his cousin shaking his head.
“You’re a better knight than you need to be, and you always will be. You might not be the strongest or the fastest knight who’s ever lived, but you’re the most honorable I’ve ever met. That sense of honor allows you to guide me in a way that nobody else can. Not Seliph, not Lene, and not Nanna.” Turning to face Diarmuid, Ares smiled softly in a way that only those closest to him ever saw. “That is one of the many reasons I’m proud to think of you as my brother. If not by blood, then certainly in spirit.”
For a moment, it was as if Diarmuid forgot how to speak, and he nearly fell behind Ares as they continued riding. Surely, Ares did not mean that. Yet at the same time, Diarmuid knew that he did. His cousin was a very honest man, and he had somehow been even more genuine in that conversation.
As the king and his knight rode together, the knight grew a small, truthful smile. He had last a mother in years past, but today he had gained a brother.