Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 13

Bordin waited patiently, his eyes never leaving the silent sentinels by the door. He cursed under his breath, crossing his arms as he ignored the others stares.

“How long is this going to take?” he asked aloud, already annoyed he’d been left behind.

“As long as the Saints need him,” Dagarn replied lethargically.

Bordin had seen the orc fight several times in the past and knew better than to pick a fight with him.

The sentinels suddenly moved their weapons aside and the door swung open, a few seconds later Tar’vid exited, his whole body trembled and his eyes were red raw from tears. Sah’rah followed behind closely, whispering in his ear and holding his arm in a comforting manner... what had happened in there? Tarquin took a step forward, willing to risk asking the question, but Sah’rah shook her head and the duellist stopped in his tracks.

“My chieftain, are you alright?” Bordin asked finally, it was doing Tar’vid’s reputation damage just standing there.

He suddenly shrugged off Sah’rah’s arm and pushed past them all without uttering a word, looking for all the world like a lost child.

“My chief...” he started to ask again when Sah’rah caught his arm.

“Let him go,” she told him forcefully as he saw her eyes were also red from tears.

“What in the hells happened in there?” he asked angrily, removing her hand from his arm.

“There... was a messenger from Keldran, he brought ill tidings... Luna is dead, as is Tar’vid’s child, Randell, their village has been razed to the ground... they only found chard corpses in the village hall” she replied, tears rolling down her cheeks once more.

Bordin grunted such things happened in undefended villages quite often. Why had he not sent her to a town or burgh? He looked back suddenly as Tarquin fell to his knees, trembling with rage.

“Who!” he screamed. “Who did this? They will pay for this!”

“The culprits were tracked down... and the King’s justice was given swiftly” Sah’rah replied.

Why was she so distraught? From what Bordin knew, she’d met Tar’vid’s wife once, and nearly been killed by her. Tarquin, though, had been close to Luna, perhaps more so than Tar’vid had been. Tarquin roared with anger and grief, storming from the entrance way and smashing several statues to pieces with his fists.

“How can you be so aloof Bordin?” Sah’rah asked him. “Tar’vid is your friend is he not? By the Gods, his first child is dead, before he could even see her.”

“I have lost several children, to illness, to miscarriage... you see enough death and it strips you of something, pray you don’t suffer the same as I have,” he replied coldly before walking away, he had to drag Tar’vid back from the abyss he was surely on the edge of.

Bordin followed Tar’vid’s tracks, his chieftain’s tracks weren’t hard to find, deep footfalls were everywhere he’d run. Bordin peered inside a room where the door had clearly been broken, though now it was repairing itself. Sat in the middle of the room was Tarquin, head hung low and crying. Just what was his deal with Luna? Tar’vid’s reaction was in line with the way he worshipped her... hells below, she’d probably been his first, Bordin couldn’t imagine marrying his first partner, she had been a whore after all. He left Tarquin to his strange grief, the strange man wasn’t his priority right now, Tar’vid, and his weak mental state was. Bordin pushed on, the strange corridors twisted and warped in unfathomable angles, until, Bordin found a single door open and oddly inviting. He stepped through, finding a spiral staircase a few feet inside.

“He would’ve gone to the top wouldn’t he” Bordin murmured to himself before beginning his ascent.

The staircase seemed to have no end, with every section well lit from endlessly glowing lamps set into the walls. Eventually, though the staircase finished and Bordin emerged out onto the roof, the brisk cold reminding him of how warm it was indoors. He spotted Tar’vid immediately, perched upon a parapet.

“I wondered whether it would be you or Tarquin that came... I guess he didn’t take the news well either?” Tar’vid asked, his voice unnaturally calm.

Bordin didn’t reply, instead, he slowly walked over to the wall and rested upon the crenellation beside his chieftain.

“You planning to jump?” he asked, fully aware of how fragile Tar’vid was right now.

“I wanted to... couldn’t take this pain in my heart. But I’m too scared, I don’t want to die Bordin... but how do I go on without her?”

Bordin sighed, he’d seen the same look Tar’vid had on others before, on the faces of defeated enemies, on their women and children’s faces as they paraded through the homeland of the defeated, the look of a broken man.

“You’re our chieftain now... you don’t get to take your own life. You want to die? fight me and I’ll kill you, send you straight to your God of choice” Bordin replied dispassionately, his breath misting in front of him.

He felt Tar’vid’s eyes on him, the soft southerner had probably expected some kind of kindness, well that kind of thinking didn’t fly up here, not in the harshness of this land. Tar’vid barked a half-hearted laugh, pain still wracking his face.

“Is it strange I expected comforting words from you?” he asked, a hand half covering his face.

“If you did, I must have been getting soft around you” Bordin replied, no one had ever expected comfort from him, what had Tar’vid done to the Jakken.

Tar’vid dropped back down to the floor, his pained face replaced with a mask of seriousness. His chieftain would hide his feelings for the sake of his people... In turn, he’d watch over Tar’vid.

“Gather the others Bordin, our business here is done... we leave in an hour.”

Bordin nodded, leaving Tar’vid alone atop the tower.

Bordin found the journey home a quiet one, which suited him just fine. Tar’vid had immediately passed through the siege camp like a breeze, leaving Tristain to gather his men and return home later. Only Tarquin and Holjar now rode with them as the cold north wind whipped at their cloaks, forcing them to hunker down as they rode, but not their chieftain, Tar’vid sat upright and resolute against the bitter wind like a bulwark. Bordin couldn’t see his face but knew that his young chieftain maintained his mask. By the time they arrived in Windholme Tar’vid was back to how he usually was, his upbeat attitude raising the spirits of those that met him. It was only when the two of them were alone did his true feelings become known, pent-up rage and sadness, each threatening to consume his chieftain. Over the following weeks Languardia, who he still distrusted, tried her hardest to please him, though his outward mask held firm and she seemed happy... genuinely so, Bordin was starting to feel bad for her.

Tarquin was a different case though, the foreigner had seemed flippant and easy going in the past, yet now he was almost constantly angry, only his strong friendship with Tar’vid keeping him in check at times.

Bordin was taken from his thoughts as Tar’vid emerged from his room in full war dress, Tarquin and himself falling in step behind him.

“Is there a special occasion today?” Tarquin asked as they passed by the kitchens where Languardia worked quietly.

“There is, Bordin, gather the fighting men... only those with a male heir mind,” Tar’vid told them before he left them outside the great hall, making for the meeting square.

Bordin made his way over to the city’s great watchtower, a structure that stretched nearly a hundred feet into the air. It had been used in the past to warn of invading armies, but now it served to summon the fighting men to the meeting square with its great bell, its booming tone could be heard throughout all the Jakken territory when struck. He entered through the large oak framework, passing by half a dozen men that guarded the tower at all times. Bordin ascended the steps until he reached a ladder thirty feet high. Letting out a deep breath he climbed upwards, banging on the trap-door barring his way.

“Who is it?” came a shout from above.

“Your damned brother, open up the pissing door!” he shouted back.

Bordin only had to wait a few minutes before he heard bolts being slid back and locks being opened before, finally, the door was opened up. Svein offered him a hand, pulling him up onto the observation deck.

“What brings you up here brother?” Svein asked, waving his free arm to encompass his little realm.

“The chieftains calling us to battle, only men with male heirs are to come,” Bordin replied, it meant there was likely a heavy butchers bill to be paid.

“Rules out your boy then brother told him he should have married that Kikkan girl,” Svein said nudging his ribs.

“Kikkans are a bunch of bitches...” Bordin replied grumpily, in truth he was irritated with Borvin, his son was fifteen now and he should be married. Now he would miss a chance to fight alongside the others.

“Aye, that they are... good for rutting though,” his brother agreed partially as he went over to the great bell and picked up the bronze club.

“So only men with male heirs?” Svein asked again, Bordin nodded slowly, knowing his brother had nine daughters by three wives.

Svein struck the bell four times, the bell ringing only for the ears of those affected, the bell itself a remnant of Dwarviari construction. Bordin walked back towards the trapdoor when Svein caught his arm. “Do our family proud brother.”

“There’s time yet, perhaps you have a boy on the way soon.”

Svein laughed, neither of his wives was near-term and from his own admission, none were with child.

“But I shall make our family proud, brother,” he finished, climbing down the ladder and out through the tower gate.

He had a bad feeling about the coming battle, he shrugged off the feeling and went to find Tar’vid.

Bordin stood at the head of the column heading towards the Paladin siege camp, Tar’vid walking beside him with Tarquin. By his own declaration he shouldn’t be going, he had no children to carry on his family name and the bell had not tolled for him.

“You won’t dissuade him from a battle lad,” Tar’gorth had cautioned him when he had suggested confronting his chieftain.

“It is against our ways old man, who succeeds him should he be killed?” Bordin questioned angrily, though this was the first time Tar’vid had ever broken a Jakken custom to his knowledge.

“So be it, my friend, just know you won’t change his mind. I have known him a while now. He’s quite single-minded when it comes to battle,” Tarquin had added.

Bordin spat, staring forward aimlessly as they walked onwards.

Bordin had stormed to Tar’vid’s apartments after the announcement, flying through the main hall and ignoring everyone there. He arrived at Tar’vid’s bedchamber to find it open already, a small gathering inside.

“Ah, Bordin! Come in, great news...” Tar’vid started, Languardia sat up on the bed and put a finger on his lips.

“I’m pregnant,” she smiled innocently.

Bordin looked over to the wise woman with a raised eyebrow, she nodded, confirming the girl’s words. The little bitch had managed to get her way, and now there was a potential successor in place. If Tar’vid were now killed, Languardia would rule in his stead until the child came of age.

“But is it a boy?” he asked hopefully, if it weren’t he could force Tar’vid to stay by Jakken law.

“It is, I, Miradana the wise of Gaila, confirm it.”

Bordin’s heart sank, there was no way to stop him now. A wise woman’s word was immutable here... especially one of Miradana’s reputation. With the news of the pregnancy, Tar’vid married Languardia to great fanfare from the other tribes, representatives being sent to him from at least eight of them. Bordin noticed that all were young women of marriageable age, perhaps hoping another wedding would be on the cards later on down the road. Tar’vid had almost immediately mustered the fighting men of Windholme, he seemed almost happy to be going to battle, though it was a façade. Tar’vid had married Languardia out of necessity, a bastard couldn’t inherit and his chieftain would’ve been in the same bind. As Bordin had watched from the sidelines Tar’vid stood atop a small mound, sword and shield in hand.

“As you all know, we soon march to war” he announced, though the warriors all looked dejected, they all knew Tar’vid couldn’t march with them and morale was low.

“What you all do not know, is that my wife is with child. The wise woman says it will be a boy!”

The warriors looked up then, many with a smile spreading across their face.

“That’s right, I will now fight with you you, I will bleed with you, but I shall not die, for I am Tar’vid, chieftain of the Jakken and I know not defeat!” Tar’vid roared, his gathered warriors roaring their approval with him. “So ready your weapons, we have widows to make and comfort!”

With that the warriors left to gather weapons and provisions for the march to Kendral.

“What if you’re killed out there?” Bordin asked him quietly as Tar’vid left the remaining warriors.

“What does it matter... it’s no less than I deserve, is it not?” Tar’vid had replied before walking away.

“Bordin, what are you thinking about?” Tar’vid asked him, breaking Bordin’s reminiscing.

“Just thinking about why you married that woman, should you have wished it, alliances could have been cemented with other tribes through a more ‘fitting’ marriage” Bordin replied grumpily.

“That’s still on the table Bordin, like you said, perhaps I need more than one... to preserve the bloodline of course,” Tar’vid said with a rare smile.

Bordin had almost forgotten what that genuine smile had looked like... how infectious Tar’vid’s mood could be.

“I guess you’re right, I suppose you have a family name in mind?” he asked, realising that Paladins had no surname to speak of a while ago.

“Not yet, I feel like maybe you’ll think of one for me after the battle.”

Bordin shook his head, how was he so sure that he wouldn’t just suggest his own family name. Though the thought had crossed his mind, it would be too shameful to actually propose it, the Windwalker family had founded Windholme itself and ruled there for some years before being defeated and replaced hundreds of years before his birth. Bordin had feared the worst upon hearing of the battle to come, and when they had headed out for the siege camp his fears were confirmed. Tar’vid was leading them as part of the assault on Kendral’s walls, any assault on the ancient fortress would cost a huge amount of lives, especially with Rorgard leading the defence, the current King hadn’t initially made the other tribes bow to him out of reverence for the position, he’d beaten them all badly enough to enforce his claim.

“Are you sure we should be in the first wave my chieftain?” Bordin asked, looking back on the thousands of gathered men, sure many of them wouldn’t return.

“It will be a joint attack Bordin, the Veska and Huufain tribes will be joining us... the Kikkan will be in reserve, besides, there will be my brother and sister Paladins and their soldiers with us,” he replied confidently, perhaps already aware of the Kikkan and their reluctance to fight.

“Their soldiers? You not one of them now my chieftain?” he teased, a smirk crossing his face.

“No... I’m not,” Tar’vid replied coldly. “And stop calling me chieftain. You’re inflating my ego Bordin.”

“Very well my ch... Tar’vid and fear not, every man here has your back, I guarantee it, I don’t know how, but you won us over.”

Tar’vid thanked him, clapping his shoulder. Though Bordin saw a sadness still there in his false smile, the same he’d seen on Tar’vid’s face all those months ago at Shadow Cliff castle, there was still a few days to go until they reached the camp... perhaps he was imagining things and the mask really was gone now.

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