Upon entering the palace, Ignatius instantly found himself surrounded by all his old friends, comrades, and admirers, who covered him in embraces and kisses and lamented over his condition. They questioned him on where he had been, why he was dressed in a ruined potato sack, why he now walked with a limp, and what had happened to him to make him so dirty and so cut and bruised as he was. His answer to all of their questions was, “I am a pitiful knight, and I am to be executed,” and everyone was shocked at the very idea of the execution of their dear Sir Ignatius. He could not be executed, they said. Why, he was the most beloved and revered knight in Fair Alora! He was their hero! Surely, he must be mistaken. He could not have deserted. Someone or something must have stolen him away in the night, or perhaps he was bewitched, or he certainly had a good reason for taking off either way. Ignatius protested all of their claims, until he realized there was just no use and they just didn’t understand. He sighed mournfully as he was led to the washrooms, and the footservant questioned him about the starry white flower tied to his sack.
“It is a hero’s medal I was given during my time away, for aiding a creek whose waters were in distress,” Ignatius told him.
“Ah, Ignatius!” said the footservant. “Even when you are called away from Fair Alora, still you continue your heroic deeds!”
“It was not a heroic deed,” Ignatius said, “and I was not called away. I took off without leave.”
“You have earned a hero’s medal for it,” said the servant, “so clearly, it was a heroic deed!”
Ignatius was bathed thoroughly, so that his pearl-pink complexion returned and his hair shone as gold as any sunbeam. He was given one of his satin and brocade outfits, and his hair was combed and tied back with golden tassels. The sack, reduced to only a lapel-piece containing the creek’s hero’s medal, was placed with all his many honors and medals for heroism and valiance. Ignatius looked at them as he was led down the hall to the king’s chamber, and he felt a sudden sense of delight and contentment, the way he had felt when he was first given the hero’s medal. But the feeling left him as he remembered what he had done, and the punishment that awaited him.
Standing at the doorway of the king’s chamber were Ignatius’ nine comrades from the king’s guard: Elgon, Arwinn, Rothgar, Cecil, Ivan, Riven, Leron, and Elric. They were all smiling at him, even Elric, the only one whose envy and resentment ever turned to dislike. Ignatius did not smile back; he instead kept his eyes averted and fixed on the doorway in front of him.
When Ignatius was led into the king’s chamber, he was surprised to see the red squirrel, sitting on the arm of the king’s sofa and talking quickly and ceaselessly into the king’s ear: “And so, your highness, I simply will not hear of you executing Sir Ignatius, not after the service he has done for myself, my family, and my children who are yet to come. He is a hero, through and through. And if he really must be punished, surely you can show him the kindness and mercy to give him a much lighter sentence than execution.”
But the king shook his head as if to dismiss nonsense, and said, “Why, who ever gave you the idea that I would execute Sir Ignatius? I could never dream of doing such a thing, no matter how heavy a crime he may have committed. And so far, you have spoken to me only of acts of heroism, not of crime.”
Ignatius finally spoke up: “Sir?”
“Ignatius!” The joy in the king’s face at this moment was like none he had ever displayed before. He embraced his knight and heir, holding him as if he never would let go. Ignatius sighed, but this one was a sigh of love and contentment.
“Sir,” Ignatius began, his head resting on the king’s shoulder, “I have...”
“I already know of your adventures of the past three days, Ignatius,” the king interrupted. “Your red-furred friend from the forest has told me everything. And I don’t think I could ever be more proud of you than I am right now, but I know you will find a way!”
“But I have committed one of the worst acts a knight can commit,” Ignatius said. “The act of…”
“A good knight,” the king interrupted again, “displays bravery and heroism even outside the limits of his kingdom. Like with any other man, there will be times when a knight will fall into trouble and disgrace. It is the way he handles himself and the way he displays himself to others during these times that makes him good. Bravery, valiance, strength, chivalry, determination, and heroism, in times of good and bad, within the walls of the kingdom and out in the wide world—these are what make a good man a good knight.”
Ignatius knew he was forgiven for everything. Not only forgiven, but revered for the way he had continued to display the qualities of a knight even when outside the watchful eyes of his kingdom. Ignatius had been a knight in an old potato sack in the same way he had been a knight in armor and finery—something that none of the other knights of Fair Alora could lay claim to. Ignatius never deserted again, and though there were times when he felt that he had done wrong, these were few and far between and he never again considered himself the worst knight. The squirrel and his wife, mother, and children were moved into the palace and made his close companions. He lived in happiness and with the ceaseless admiration of his peers, and accepted his eventual ascension to the throne with the grace expected of a great king. And the remains of the old potato sack, with the white starry flower still tied to the lapel, forever remained in the hall amongst all of Ignatius’ other medals and honors.