Jinaari looked at the other nine men in the room. They were all dressed in full armor, minus helms. Shields rested on their backs, swords on their waists. Seven of them he was about to call brother. The eighth? His gaze fell on Alesso. I did nothing to you, he thought. Yet you will never be happy until you’ve beaten me in some way.

“Hey, get your head straight.” Lukas looked at him. “I need you to be the arrogant prick I know you are.”

“You still want a command? And you call me arrogant,” Jinaari laughed. Two years had passed since Lukas had taken his vows. Now, he was here to watch those he trained took theirs.

Lukas smiled, “We can’t all be the best in Avoch with a sword. Some of us gotta be around to tell you where to go and who to fight. Besides your family.”

“Don’t remind me,” he growled.

“When’s that happening?”

“Next week, when I’m invested as Lord Defender.” He sighed. “Drakkus kept Her Royal Highness from being here and embarrassing all of us. I have no doubt there’s another medallion being made, so she can say she had part in this.”

“I’m sorry I’ll miss it.”

He looked at his friend, “Where else would you be?” Lukas had competed in the tourney, came in second to Jinaari. That his friend wouldn’t be there to watch was a surprise.

“Almair. I leave tomorrow morning.”

The double doors leading to the great hall opened. Jinaari stood behind Lukas, knowing the rest fell into line based on their skill. His eyes remained focused on his friend as he led the initiates through the silent rows of paladins. None rose as they passed. Until they were all brothers, they would remain seated.

Drakkus stood at the end of the hall, his hands resting on the pommel of his sword. Lukas moved to one side as Jinaari shifted his gaze to the Commander. The blade tip touched the flagstone beneath his feet. Beside him was a small table with eight medallions. Only eight? Who will be turned aside now? Curiosity ate at him. Was it possible that one failed a final test and wasn’t told?

Five feet away, a single flash of silver light shone. When it dimmed, Garret stood on the other side of the table. A single medallion dangled from his hands. As one, the assembled men dropped to a knee before their God.

“Jinaari Althir. Come forward.” The deep voice carried throughout the hall.

Without hesitation, he rose and walked forward. Kneeling, he said, “How may I be of service?”

“Give me your vow.”

“From this day onward, I am not just a man. I am a paladin of Garret. I will follow his laws. I will protect those who need it without hesitation. I will draw my sword in need, not anger. I will not attack those who cannot defend themselves. My life is no longer my own, but yours to command.”

The God placed the medallion around his neck. “Gladly do I greet my paladin. In you, I place my trust. In you, I will seek justice. In you, my will shall be known.”

Jinaari rose and walked to the side. Garret nodded at him and disappeared. The others began to file forward, giving their vow to Drakkus and receiving their medallion from him. When it was Alesso’s turn, Jinaari saw him glance expectantly at the spot where Garret had appeared. What’s he waiting for? I didn’t expect Garret to take my vow personally! The Commander cleared his throat after a few seconds. Alesso’s head swiveled and shot Jinaari a look of pure hatred as he knelt before Drakkus.

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