Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 12

Sah’rah watched on as the bombardment continued, yet still, after months of attacks, they hadn’t made so much as a dent. The massed rubble, however, had created a ramp up which they could now attack the fortress. It was, in fact, the only reason Tar’mon hadn’t been forced into an all-out assault thus far. As she had promised, a message had been sent to Tar’vid, summoning him to camp in order to visit Dagarn, at what had been dubbed ‘Shadow Cliff castle’. Many Paladins, soldiers and Mages had been sent there to help repair and garrison the fortress. Tar’vid, however, hadn’t returned yet, and she wondered whether Dagarn would begin to resent her not living up to her end of the bargain. Tar’mon had pulled her up on her return, asking where she’d been the last day or so. She had simply told him that they had found a Paladin keep, guarded by a war-bred Orc. Tar’mon had been emboldened at such news, sending scouts out to the other marks upon the map she’d found, though these other castles had been razed to the ground years ago, being little more than piles of rubble now.

“What are you thinking about?” Sah’eca asked, trudging up behind her and watching as another volley launched from the catapults.

“Too many things, perhaps I need to focus on myself a little more,” she replied, watching the rocks impact ineffectually against Kendral’s walls once more.

“Perhaps, have you spoken with Tar’gelth yet?” her friend asked with concern.

Sah’rah had put him from her mind, and cut him from her life, they had exchanged a few words at the council, but that was all.

“Not really, that part of my life is done now... I moved on.”

She looked over at Sah’eca, forcing a smile for her friend. It had been strange at first, but she had become rather fond of Sir Godwin, the knight was a refreshing change of pace for her.

The two of them walked back towards the siege camp, passing by the relentless catapult crews, who unceasingly loaded their war engines and fired, again and again, they must have felt humiliated, knowing their great war engines were essentially building a ramp. Kendral’s garrison had realised this tactic several days ago, they tried clearing the rubble once, though the unceasing bombardment had killed the entire crew and now they seemed happy to wait. As Sah’rah reached the camp, Sah’eca bid her farewell, leaving for the main camp where she was recording the history of the siege. Sah’rah entered the siege camp alone, passing through the mass of soldiers that watched the bombardment with apprehension. The crowd thinned out quickly as she came to the command building.

“My lady,” Sir Godwin said with a bow. “We have a visitor.”

“Who?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sir Godwin shook his head, opening the door for her as he always did.

She entered with a sigh, looking around the room for who it could be.

“Right here lass,” she heard from beside her and turned quickly, smiling as she saw Tar’gorth standing by the doorway.

“It’s been too long... is Tar’vid with you?” she asked quickly, they could catch up later, but Tar’vid had to meet Dagarn as she’d promised.

“Not yet, he’s travelling with an escort... should be here by tomorrow though,” he replied, stroking his long beard... she was sure it had gotten whiter since they had last met.

“How have things been with the Jakken?” she asked, offering him a seat at the planning table.

Tar’gorth shrugged and took a seat next to her. “Good and ill lass, on the one hand, they’ve accepted the young lad as the ruler... on the downside, they fight amongst themselves to control him. The previous ruling family have their claws into him deep, though he doesn’t see it of course...” he trailed off, looking tired.

“You look exhausted, old friend, perhaps you should rest before he gets here?” she offered, concerned for his health.

“I’ll survive, but him... who’d have thought the single best fighter in the north would be so naive lass. There’s a young lass running circles ’round him, and will he listen? By the Saints, I hope someone can talk some sense into him” he said, running his palms over his face slowly.

Sah’rah was silent for a moment before taking out the necklace the statue had given her.

“That’s pretty lass, the knight give it you?” he said with a wry smirk, reminding her of the Tar’gorth she remembered, had it really been only a few months since then?

“No,” she stated bluntly. “Torgard gave it to me.”

“Tar’vid’s sword or the Dwarf? Because either one makes you sound a bit mad” he replied, lounging back in his seat and waiting for her response.

“It was at the cliff castle, where I met Dagarn the Orc,” she said hastily, feeling she was losing Tar’gorth’s attention.

“There’s an Orc here?” Tar’gorth said in astonishment, leaning forward intently.

“Yes, he fought with Tar’mine during the last Blooming. Anyway, I’ll tell you about that another time, at the castle, there’s a keep flowing with magic, it remains as perfect as the day it was built. Inside are statues of the Saints and others that fought during the battle here a thousand years ago, the statue of Torgard gave me this necklace... I wondered if maybe you might know something about it?” she asked before he could open his mouth she stopped him. “No history lessons, Sah’eca filled me in when I showed her,” she told him, recalling the hours of her life lost to those stories.

“Then, no, there’s nothing I know of this item... perhaps Tar’gelth may...” Tar’gorth started before the words died.

“No,” she stated bluntly.

“But it looks to be of elven...” he tried again.

“I, said, no. I don’t trust him, I won’t let that bastard in on this... it stays between us four” she stated firmly.

“Very well, it’s your secret, and I shall keep it,” he replied. “Now, can we move on to more happy subjects?”

Sah’rah laughed as she took his hand in hers. “Of course, I’d like that.”

Sah’rah woke with a blistering headache, Tar’gorth had insisted she try some of the Jakken wine he’d brought... and that had been that. She brushed the hair from her face and rolled out of bed, placing her feet on the ground and steadied herself, splashing water on her face Sah’rah pulled on her shirt and britches, tugging on her boots before grabbing her sword and leaving her small hut. Sergeant Gable waited for her outside with several of her soldiers behind him, all in full regalia and fully armed.

“Are you not dressing for the occasion?” he asked concerned.

Realisation suddenly dawning on her and she cursed, loudly, remembering Tar’vid was arriving today.

“Wait here... I’ll be right back” she mumbled, ducking back into her hut once more.

“You may wish to hurry” Gable interjected, poking his head through the tent flap.

“Yes, well, some of us have a splitting headache and have to meet the head of the Jakken today,” she retorted testily, digging through her chest for her dress clothes.

“On the chair, I took them out ready for you last night... whilst you were... worse for wear.”

Sah’rah let out a deep sigh, she didn’t deserve someone like Gable.

“I may marry you one day” she sighed, glad her sergeant was a cable butler of sorts.

“I shall remember those words for later” he replied with a coy smile.

Sah’rah pulled on the white dress, leaving her britches on as the dress had a split from the bottom to the waist to give the female Paladins the ability to fight if need be, modesty, however, dictated they wear something over their undergarments. She left once more, tying her hair into a ponytail.

“How do I look?” she asked Gable.

“Like you’re trying to get over a killer hangover, ma’am,” he replied with a grin.

She curbed her urge to kick him and set off for the camp’s main gate to the south, feeling proud she was walking straight. When Sah’rah arrived, she found the senior Paladins already waiting, with only Sir Godwin to arrive. Tar’gorth stood nearby, annoyingly free from the effects of last nights drinking. She walked over to him and stood nearby.

“You’re looking particularly resplendent this morning lass,” he said with a smile, his long scar more pronounced with his white beard.

“Yeah, well your old and ugly,” she replied, letting out a small burp.

By the Gods, she wanted to throw up. Tar’gorth smiled, revelling in her discomfort as Sir Godwin arrived, resplendent in his plate mail and bright green tabard, with the sigil of a rearing stallion. He stood beside Tar’gelth, his squire Helmed behind him, carrying his lance and sword. It wasn’t long before they heard the beating of drums echo through the valley. It was nearly an hour later when Tar’vid and his Jakken escort arrived, nearly a hundred men in all. He came to her first, embracing her like a lost sister. She nearly threw up when he squeezed her.

“It’s good to see you again Sah’rah, you’re looking... good?” he said, searching for a positive.

“Well, it’s his fault,” she replied, indicating Tar’gorth with a nod of her head.

“I can relate on that accord, who’d of thought he could out drink even the men of the north” Tar’vid replied with a smile.

“I must have come from a good northern stock lad,” the old Paladin chipped in with a laugh.

Sah’rah felt glad that the three of them were together again, there was something comforting in Tar’vid’s unwavering optimism. The two groups were introduced to each other, though she recognised Tarquin and Bordin from their earlier meetings. Once the pomp and circumstance had been dispensed with, the Jakken were offered quarters as Tar’vid and his bodyguards mounted oxen for the promised journey to Shadow Cliff castle. Sah’rah rode with Sir Godwin and Helmed followed at a respectful distance. The journey to Shadow Cliff castle took a little longer than the last due to the oxen’s slower pace, though it was still well before midday when they arrived. Dagarn stood by the now repaired gatehouse with a smile on his face, wearing his full array of weapons and armour.

“Well met friends, you must be Tar’vid of Whitecliff,” he said, striding forward to meet them.

“I am, though I do seem to have added a few more titles since then,” Tar’vid replied before dismounting and approaching the Orc.

The two of them clasped forearms, as was the old Paladin way before entering the castle together, Tar’vid’s guards following behind closely with herself and Sir Godwin in the lead. Helmed led the horses inside as two of the large Jakken guards led in the oxen.

“I’ve waited a long time for your arrival, though the Saints said events may detain you,” Dagarn stated, leading them into the keep.

The Jakken guards, as well as Tarquin, seemed surprised at the change in temperature.

“My friend, we should get such magic instituted at the great hall. Not all of us are Paladins after all,” Tarquin joked as Dagarn rattled off a brief history of the keep.

They passed through the eastern wing of the castle, past statues she didn’t recognise and tapestries of events and battles she knew nothing of. After only a short time they stopped in front of a single steel door, barred by two silent sentinels, holding crossed halberds.

“I’ve brought the chosen of Tar’mine, to see the Saints,” Dagarn said aloud, the two silent guardians glowing green before their halberds parted, the door swinging open of its own volition.

“You’ll need to leave your blade here,” the Orc told Tar’vid.

He unbuckled his sword and passed it to Sah’rah. She immediately felt a twinge in her chest as a projection of Torgard appeared beside her.

“Don’t react, only you can see me, child. You must follow him in... it’s imperative,” he stated calmly.

“Tar’vid, I need to go with you,” she said, striding past him to the open iron door.

“Oh, okay...” Tar’vid said, realising he didn’t have a choice.

Sah’rah took off her sword and passed the blades over to Tarquin, seeing Torgard nod to her before disappearing.

Tar’vid stood beside her and took a deep breath, then, together they entered the chamber of the Saints.

The inner chamber was like that of the one in Brownfield keep, a simple white stone altar overlaid with a white cloth, marked with the cross of Tor’Dorvan. Tar’vid made his way over to the altar, spreading his arms wide, palms raised to the roof.

“Come Sah’rah, stand beside me,” he told her, closing his eyes.

She stood beside him and placed a hand tentatively on his shoulder, suddenly a bright light engulfed them. She thought back to when such a thing had happened during her judgement last year, the light had seemed brighter than she remembered. When she opened her eyes once more, they were stood on a large white platform surrounded by the mass of failed initiates. On their raised plinth stood the Saints and by the steps... stood an Elf, his long blonde hair flowing loosely down its back, a crest of the infinite dragon emblazoned on his tabard, the Elf was tall and handsome, mail and plate armour visible under its livery. The Saints stood though, a look of shock on their faces as the Elf passed by, placing a hand on Tar’vid’s shoulder.

“I’m, so sorry, Tar’vid” was all he said, walking past them before vanishing back to whichever shrine he’d come from.

“What did he mean?” Tar’vid asked her, before quickly running over to the Saints, their heads hung low and unwilling to meet Tar’vid’s gaze.

“What did he mean!” Tar’vid shouted in despair, his eyes glazing over... Sah’rah knew of only one thing that could have come from a Keldran messenger.

“Tell me!” he shouted once more, falling to his knees at the base of the steps.

“Tar’vid, I’m so sorry...” Sah’ravel started, Tar’mine raised his head and stepped down to embrace him.

“She’s gone Tar’vid... Luna and your daughter are dead.”

Sah’rah’s eyes streamed with tears as Tar’vid released a cry of such pain she would never be able to purge it from her mind.

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