A/N: After Chosen One Edna Fisher realizes that sorcerer Redway is her not-dead-after-all son, Percival, she and the others ride a dragon to Coldwater to stop him from attacking the city. When it comes out that Redway was abused by his fellow Knights back when he was a Knight, a squire steps forward and says, "Me too."
The squire's arms were covered in dark bruises and scars that looked like cigarette burns. Percival looked at them, his chest heaving. Then another squire stepped forward and did the same. Then another. Then an older Knight, hesitantly. Then more.
Many of the Knights looked furious, but nearly all the squires and several older Knights were soon standing there with their sleeves or pant legs rolled up or collars pulled down to show bruises and scars and burns and even, here and there, a brand not unlike Percival's. Edna couldn't stop staring at them. It wasn't that she hadn't believed him, that the Knights had abused him this way.
She just hadn't realized it was so widespread.
That so many of them had experienced it and put up with it and never breathed a word about it. Because they thought no one would listen or because they thought someone would blame them or because they knew it would only get worse. She understood that.
Behind her, Clem drew a sharp breath. Edna was too realistic to hope her sister hadn't gone through the same before she died. She reached back, found the girl's hand, and squeezed.
Percival's grip on his sword slackened.
"All of you?" he said.
The doe-eyed squire looked around at all the others with their arms held out and their cuffs rolled up and nodded. Edna let go of Benjamin and tottered back down the stairs toward her son. The magic threatening to rise up and burst out of him seemed to have died down. His chest was still heaving but the sparks had quieted and some of the color had come back into his face. His eyes were no longer hard and glittering but quiet and wet and a little red.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think—I didn't realize—"
Edna touched his shoulder. He was shaking.
"Percival," she said quietly, "put down the sword."
He dropped it and fell to his knees, still staring at the squires, the Knights, with their bruises and their burns and their brands and their scars. His friends slipped out of the crowd and joined Edna at his side. She shivered, not sure what to make of them. But they stood there quietly, crowded around him, and they all looked so tired. Ash and smoke had settled in their hair and clothes and faces and they all looked so old suddenly. She realized for the first time that, if not for their dragons, they would have been horribly outnumbered. Their weapons hung limp at their sides.
"What is all this?" the same doddery old Knight asked from the bandstand.
Percival looked around dully as the Knight came down the bandstand stairs. Clem walked next to him with the Sword of Destiny still in her hands, but her eyes were fixed on Ag and Bill, who were glowering in the crowd. The doe-eyed squire made a move like he wanted to roll his sleeves back up, now that a head Knight was heading right for him, but the old man said, "Let me see, son."
The squire stood quietly staring at the ground as the old Knight examined his arms. At last he patted the squire on the shoulder and said, "All right," and the squire immediately hid his bruises away again, as if he had used up all his courage and couldn't bear to have anyone see them anymore. But the Knight wasn't done with him.
"Who did this to you, my boy?"
The squire said nothing. The other head Knights had come down now, too, and one of the younger ones, who might have been under Edna's age by some years rather than over it, said sharply, "Your superior officer asked you a question."
"The others, sir," the squire said, looking like he wanted to sink into the ground.
Edna's fingers tightened on Percival's shoulder. She remembered what he had said about things getting worse for anyone who dared complain and hoped that the head Knights would really do something about this, that they wouldn't let him go back into the ranks to be bullied and abused worse than ever.
"What others, boy?" the younger of the head Knights said. The older Knight waved a hand at him as if to say to give the boy some time.
The squire's voice went even quieter. "The other Knights, sir. A lot of the instructors. Anyone bigger than me, really."
The old Knight looked around at the others standing there with their cuffs rolled up and collars down, all looking about like the squire in that they might have wanted to sink into the ground. The head Knights had come forward to examine more of them now and were frowning.
"And this is the same for all of you?" the old Knight said.
They all glanced at each other to see if anyone else was nodding and nodded to.
"This is serious indeed," the old Knight said. "We shall have to investigate."
"A stain on our noble calling," the younger Knight said disgustedly. He touched his throat and said in a magically magnified voice, "Pending investigation, all Knights at this base are hereby suspended. Any bases that are found to have claims of abuse will be shut down until these claims can be verified and the perpetrators removed for questioning."
The squires looked up as if they could hardly believe it. Some of the crowd erupted into cheers, but most of them just stood there looking befuddled, and the Knights who had looked unhappy before looked outright furious now.
"You can't possibly suspend all the Knights," Ag said angrily, pushing through the crowd. "You can't shut down every base just because some of the new recruits can't handle a little hazing."
The old Knight looked at him with a stern expression. "This is quite beyond hazing, my boy. This is, I would almost hazard to say, torture."
"You can't shut down every base because this man—" Ag pointed at Percival, who was still sitting there as though numb—"this man, who flew in on a dragon with the intent to destroy the city, who's probably behind all the recent attacks, says the Knights—”
“This man will be dealt with,” the younger Knight said over him. Edna felt Percival’s friends move closer, ready to defend him, but he still sat there as if he hadn’t realized he’d been mentioned. “What he has done does not erase what these squires say their superiors have done. He will face charges, but our officers must also face the consequences of their actions.”
Ag’s face turned red. “You can’t—”
“Can’t what, young man?” the younger Knight snapped. The older Knight drew himself up to his full height, which was not very tall. “We are your superiors. If we say that you are suspended pending an investigation, then you are suspended and there will be an investigation. Your behavior now is hardly helping your case.”
All Ag’s hopes for the future seemed to be falling to pieces before him. He pushed the older Knight aside. The old man fell to the ground with a cry. Ag raised his sword and ran at Percival, and Edna almost hoped that Percival would get angry again, that his anger would save him after almost destroying him, but no: it had abandoned him at last, at this one moment where it might have helped—he looked up dully into the blade of the sword—his friends raised their weapons—
The Sword of Destiny blocked Ag’s blow. Clem stood there in front of Percival with a look of cold fury on her face.
“Back off,” she said. “You killed my sister. I’m not letting you kill Edna’s son.”
Edna could have cried with relief. She hobbled forward with her knitting needles raised. Ag eyed them warily but didn’t back away. But Percival’s friends had their weapons raised as well, and after a moment the doe-eyed squire stepped forward with his own sword, and then the other squires and Knights and at last, looking like they now really had no clue whatsoever what was going on, the head Knights as well, except for the two who had spoken: the younger of them was examining the older, who seemed unable to get up after his fall.
“Arrest that man,” the younger Knight said angrily. “And that other one, too. And—well—you’re going to have a lot of arrests to make.”
And the whole thing ended in confusion as Knights tried to arrest each other and Percival and his friends and even Edna until she beat them away with her handbag and said crossly, “Do you really think he meant me?”
The city had burned down; the fire marshals managed to put out the fires at last, but the city would have to be rebuilt almost completely. Percival was hauled to his feet and dragged off to who-knew-where, since the prison had burned down with everything else. Edna opened her mouth to say something to him, though she didn’t know what, but she saw his eyes turn skyward: his dragons were flying back to Dominion. She wondered if he wished he was going with them or if he was tired of living that way.
She caught sight of Methodius in the crowd as things calmed down, but Benjamin broke away from her and jogged over to him the moment they spotted him.
"Benjamin!" she called, but at least she felt he would be safe this time; he was running off toward a wizard, not into a blazing fire or a swarm of dragons. Perhaps he would strain himself and his injury would bother him again, but she hoped Methodius would be able to deal with that, even if he was awfully useless for a wizard. She saw him gesticulating urgently, and then the two of them headed back across the river together.
And there was Clem, still standing where she'd stood over Percival, with the Sword of Destiny stuck in the ground in front of her. Edna drew closer and saw that she was crying, fat tears sliding quietly down her face and dripping off her nose.
"Clementine," she said.
The girl turned and wrapped her arms around her. Edna hugged her and rocked her and felt the same.
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