Seventh sons are meant to be lucky children. Special. Holy, even. Growing up, Monty knew he must be the exception that proves the rule.
Born last and smallest, Monty grew up in the shadows of his six big, gruff, and boisterous older brothers. He knew early on that life on the family farm was not for him. He was going to be a Knight of the Radiant Order, and not all their jabs and mockery would stop him.
When he could get away from his chores and his family, Monty fled to the peace of the forest with his trusty bow, hunting squirrels and rabbits, and practicing his knightly courtesies out of sight of his family and home. Sometimes, he’d go all the way to the crossroads on his solitary hunting trips -- and look up at the sign that pointed the way to Heaven’s Reach, the way to the Radiant Knights and all Monty’s hopes.
It was here that Monty had first seen the Knights of the Radiant Order, riding by in pairs -- gleaming silver and gold, the suns of their shields glittering in the bright sunlight from above. One of the knights, his helm under his arm, had seen Monty too -- and waved to him.
His five eldest brothers just laughed at him when he told that story, or if he mentioned his ambitions, or if they caught him practicing his swordplay with a stick. They called him “Sir Monty the Squirrel-Slayer” or the “Knight of Nothing” as they ordered him around the farm. Turult, though, was different. Only two years older than Monty, but nearly three times his size, Turult made it his personal mission to make his little brother’s life miserable.
Monty fell hard in the dirt by the chopping block behind the barn. Again.
“Get up, sir,” mocked Turult. “What, can’t even chop a few logs? Did they hurt ye, little knight? Did the mean dead tree put up a fight?” He tried to emphasize the last word with a kick to Monty’s ribs. The smaller boy rolled away from the blow, coming up spitting and furious.
“Just wait,” Monty said, as he’d said a hundred times before. “I’ll be a knight, you’ll see.”
Turult made a grab for Monty’s collar, catching him -- how was such a lumbering idiot always so quick? -- and lifting him up to his toes. Turult shook his little brother, “Should respect your elders, Knight of Nothing. Sir Monty the Mangy, of the woodpile and the pigsty.” Glee touched Turult’s eyes as he said ‘pigsty’ and Monty braced himself for yet another unpleasant and manure filled afternoon. He was rescued by his father coming around the corner of the barn.
Turult dropped Monty, squirming guiltily under their father’s eye. “Just playing, pa,” mumbled Turult.
“Ye ought to be working,” said their father. Turult turned beet purple and hustled away, keeping well out of their father’s reach as he went.
Monty’s father watched Turult go, frowning..
“Ye alright, boy?”
Monty nodded, sullenly picking up the hatchet he’d discarded when Turult showed up.
“Monty,” said his father. “I heard what ye said… Son, you’re getting too old for this knight business.”
“I’m going to be a knight,” said Monty, stubborn, “And serve the Radiant Order.”
His father’s brow darkened. “Did I raise a fool? Ye’ll be a farmer. Like me and like yer brothers. You’ll not go adventuring off to some Light-forsaken corner of the world, to die in foreign mud!”
Monty swallowed. It would be wise to stay silent, but he couldn’t. “You’ve sons enough for farm work. You’ve got heirs to spare, pa. Why shouldn’t I be something else? Why shouldn’t I be a knight?”
“Farming’s what ye’re fit for,” growled his father, stepping forward and cuffing Monty hard on the side of his head and setting the boy’s ears ringing. “Ye’re near enough a man -- it’s time to set aside childish dreams and take yer responsibilities and future seriously. You need to start acting like the man ye will be.” His father stumped away, leaving Monty with his unchopped wood.
Monty hefted the hatchet and said to himself, “Time to start acting like the man I will be.”
Monty ran away from the farm that night, and took the road to Heaven’s Reach.
“A knight? A holy brother? You? Hah! You’d snap like a twig if we tried to put a proper helm on you.”
The clerk snickered at the thought, clearly amused by her clever image. Monty stood in front of her, facing one of a hundred desks in the vaulted Hall of Recruitment for the Radiant Order in Heaven’s Reach. The sounds of rustling paper, quick footsteps and murmuring people echoed in the hall. Monty had been back here every day for a week -- loitering so he could try his luck with each new clerk that took a shift at the handful of desks that dealt with new candidates for joining the knightly Order.
Some said it kindly and others cruelly -- but they all said ‘no’.
Clinging to what tattered dignity he could, Monty wove through the crowd out of the Hall. Again. He slumped down to sit on the stairs. He would come back again to tomorrow. Tomorrow, the clerk would see that he was the stuff the Radiant Order was made of.
His stomach rumbled, protesting.
Monty turned towards a deep voice and found himself faced with a Knight of the Order. He was old, grey-haired, and built like a small mountain. He wore his armor, sunbursts polished and shining.
“What?” asked Monty.
“Back again. I saw you here yesterday,” the old knight scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, I think I saw you here the day before that too. And perhaps the day before that?”
Monty felt a blush rise to his cheeks.
“I want to be a knight,” he said, stubborn and dreading the scorn that was surely on the way. “I wish to serve the Radiant Order.”
The old knight didn’t laugh. He continued to keep his thoughtful eyes on Monty, and said, “Well, you’re a little young for a knight…”
Monty jumped up to run away. He couldn’t bear to be told ‘no’ by a knight in the Order itself.
“Wait, wait. It’s not your fault you’re young,” said the knight. “Maybe try again in a year or two.”
“I can’t go home,” said Monty. He thought of Turult and his father, mortified by the idea of returning home a failure.
“Didn’t say that, did I?” said the Knight. “Come along. What’s your name? I’m Magnus. You any good with that bow?”
“Chop, chop,” cackled the quartermaster. “Those turnips won’t dice themselves. Chop, chop!”
Monty sighed, glancing at the heap of vegetables next to him. If turnips were monsters, then Monty would be a hero. How had he ended up as an assistant cook in the XIIIth Crossbows. He’d been excited all those months ago when Commander Magnus explained who he was -- commander of a several regiments of knights, foot soldiers, and crossbowmen, including the XIIIth -- and even more exalted when he’d recruited Monty on the spot. From there, however, his time serving the Radiant Order had been somewhat disappointing. The regiment commander he’d been turned over to for assignment took one look at Monty’s skinny arms and told him to report to the quartermaster -- there was no way such a small boy could crank the crossbows of the XIIIth.
He’d done as he was told, pleased at least to be serving with a regiment as fabled as the XIIIth -- word of the deadly accuracy and legendary bravado of them had reached even his family farm, along with their nickname: the Fulgurati. Now though, he knew that those stories told of the heyday of the XIIIth, which had most definitely passed. The regiment was full of rejects like Monty now -- the old, the injured, the young. They were a joke.
Not far from where Monty sat chopping his turnips, the bowyers replaced strings on old crossbows, leaving them stretched to shape the new strings. Monty’s fingers itched to try one, instead of continuing work with his little paring knife.
The quartermaster slapped a wilted leek down on the cutting board next to Monty, making him jump.
“Chop, chop!” said the quartermaster. “The commander is coming!”
Sure enough, Monty looked up and saw that Sir Magnus was riding through the camp, under the banners of the Radiant Order and his various regiments. He was well-beloved among all his men, and in his presence Monty felt there was something noble even in chopping vegetables for Sir Magnus.
As Monty watched, a group of men, the leading one wearing a messenger's tunic, approached Sir Magnus. The messenger waved a scroll in one hand, and Sir Magnus signaled him forward, through his honor guard.
Something was strange though… Monty saw a glint of steel in the other hand of the messenger just before it happened. When he reached Sir Magnus, the messenger clasped the commander’s arm and yanked him off his horse. An assassination attempt! Sir Magnus tumbled down to the ground, the weight of his armor turned against the old knight. The assassin knelt over him, knife flashing towards the fallen commander.
The moment he’d seen the knife in the hand of the messenger, Monty was moving. He darted forward -- too far to get there sprinting, too far to stop anything -- and snatched up the nearest crossbow. He fitted a bolt in place, set the stock to his shoulder and raised the weapon.
A hundred yards, a few horses, campfires, and a dozen people stood between Monty and Sir Magnus where he lay defenseless on the ground. It was an impossible shot.
Yet, with the crossbow in his hands, Monty felt his heart grow with hope and certainty. He held his breath, heart steady.
The knife in the hand of the assassin messenger flashed down, yells erupted around the scene, and Monty pulled the trigger of his crossbow.
When the XIIIth relates the tale of that day, they say that from the clouds above the camp came the voices of heaven, singing, and that gentle hands of sunlight moved the bystanders out of the path of Monty’s shot. They say that pure light followed the bolt, springing from Monty and guiding his arrow true. They say that the crossbow’s dart buried itself in the assassin’s heart, charing his body as though he’d been struck by holy lightning and no mere arrow.
If one were to choose a moment when the Fulgurati began their return to glory and fame, a single turning point, then it would be this. Sir Magnus’s mismatched regiment went on to regain their place as the fiercest bows of the Radiant Order, with Monty as their very own good luck charm, their seventh son: Monty the Marksman who never misses.
If, on the battlefield, you chance to meet them, you’ll know them by their humming -- as they sing along with the angels, come to take the souls Monty has marked as his.