Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 15

Sah’rah kept her gaze upon the rider leaving the castle gates, it had been half a day since their defeat and it took all her self-control not to rage at everyone around her. Sah’rah hadn’t thought she’d even remotely felt anything for Tar’vid... but his execution had sent her into a rage matched only by Tarquin’s. The Jakken merely stood around now or sat dejectedly looking to the sky, their chieftain was dead and not by single combat, but a humiliating execution.

“Did you care for him?” Bordin asked her, the gruff warrior seeming compassionate in his loss.

“I think perhaps more than I realized,” she replied, her eyes never leaving the small group of approaching riders.

“They’ll offer our dead back to us for the lifting of the siege... I’d take it, our combined troop’s morale is destroyed,” Bordin offered before slumping to the ground.

“It’s not my call, Tar’mon will decide,” she replied, crossing her arms in frustration.

Tar’mon stood by the marker stone with a dozen mounted Paladins, they had lost nearly a thousand soldiers during the attack, but the twelve dead Paladins were the biggest loss. Sah’rah let out a deep breath, Gable lay in a medical tent fighting for his life pierced by several arrows during the charge. Sir Godwin arrived a moment later standing beside her.

“You alright?”

“Physically? yes. Mentally... I don’t know, Tar’vid was the Saint’s chosen, our best fighter... losing him was a huge blow to us” she replied, walking towards Tar’mon and the oxen cavalry, leaving Sir Godwin standing by Bordin.

The riders arrived, each atop a swift and lean horse, their clothing and armour looked expensive.

“Hail there, I see Paladins here... where are the Huufain, Veska, and Kikkan leaders?” the lead rider asked, lifting the visor of his helmet to reveal a scared face with his left eye being a milky white.

“Ludvan died in the assault, Feyer is injured and Valaya fled once the retreat was sounded. We are all that remains,” Tar’mon stated with authority, his gaze like steel.

“You fought well, your King feels that had Tar’vid not fallen for his trap you may have taken the day... but you did not, and now your warriors are scattered and broken, your Chieftains wounded or dead. My King, however, is magnanimous in victory and offers you favourable terms.”

Tar’mon’s jaw tightened visibly, yet what could he do. There was little fight left in any of them, the allied tribes would be lucky not to be devoured by the remaining eight.

“What are your terms messenger?” Tar’mon asked, clenching his fists in frustration.

“You will burn your siege camp and return to the pass that you have fortified, there you will cease hostilities for two years, hostages are not necessary as we already hold many of your fellow Paladins captives. In return, the King will offer the offending tribes immunity from retribution for the same period along with the return of your dead. As another gesture of our goodwill, we shall also return six of your Paladins to you.”

Sah’rah was shocked out of her anger, the terms were incredibly generous. Perhaps once the Jakken had buried Tar’vid they could regroup behind Bordin. Where the Paladin army went from here though was unknown to her.

“We accept your terms, you may tell your King he shall have peace for now” Tar’mon conceded, turning his oxen and leaving for the siege camp.

The Messenger stayed where he was, staring at Sah’rah intently. “You were in the battle?” he asked with a rue smile.

“I was” she replied, refusing to break his stare.

“Interesting... I am Karnath Grilt, we shall meet again lady Paladin. I am sure of it” he said, before turning his horse poorly and galloping back towards Kendral.

“I’m sure we shall,” Sah’rah said to herself, noting his face mentally for the future.

A single droplet of water landed on the tip of her nose before a trickle of rain started, the first she’d known since arriving in the north. She made her way back to camp slowly, allowing herself to be soaked in the following storm as lightning flashed to the boom of thunder, dark days were ahead.

Sah’rah waited in camp for the next week as the Paladins and other tribes awaited the return of their dead, though in truth she and the others awaited the return of only a single person, the beheaded body of Tar’vid. It had been three days when Bordin and nearly all the Jakken left, leaving only Tarquin and Tar’vid’s old bodyguards waiting for their chieftain. In truth, she hoped it was all a mistake, that she hadn’t seen his head up on that pike... but those dead eyes, they had deprived her of natural sleep for days. Tar’gorth had helped with that... though they both were relying on drink too much these days. She stood up as straight as she could manage as the last wagons carrying their dead arrived, several men from the Kendral Garrison sat atop their horses as the dead were unloaded onto the waiting pyres, a great conclave of wise women had arrived just hours after the battle and now committed the names of every warrior to memory, that the skalds would weave into a tale, perhaps it would lessen the blow of defeat she thought.

“Any sign yet?” Tarquin asked, coming from the direction of a funeral pyre.

“Not yet, I almost can’t believe he’s dead,” she said, choking back tears.

“I know, to lose both my dear friends so quickly... I never thought I would have such a void in my heart again, after Samarkand fell...”

The last of the bodies were unloaded and still, there was no sign of Tar’vid, Sah’rah went over to the warriors on horseback ready to do them violence.

“Where is he?” she demanded, sensing Tarquin behind her.

“Of whom do you speak?” asked the first mounted warrior, his finery better than the others.

“Tar’vid, chieftain of the Jakken. Where is his body?”

The man looked behind him to another sitting patiently in the saddle who rode forward, manoeuvring his horse adeptly between the other warriors. Sah’rah was sure she’d seen the man before, as he pulled back his hood she saw the man’s lined face and grey beard, his long grey tinged black hair spilling out onto his shoulders. It was unmistakably the King of Kendral before her.

“He will not be leaving Kendral, he is with the Saint’s now, beneath Kendral castle. It is only fitting for the chosen of Tar’mine,” he said sadly, reaching behind him and untying a sack from his horse.

The King rode forward, handing down the sack and a sword to her. Sah’rah pulled the blade out a little, ‘Torgard’ etched along it’s fuller. She shed a tear, Tar’vid was dead... had he lived, Torgard would have returned to him immediately. As she held the blade she saw the form of the Dwarf beside her, his face downcast at the realization his master was dead. She snapped the blade back into its sheath. Looking in the bag she saw Tar’vid’s dragon helm and tabard, both cleaned, the helmet polished to a sheen.

“I know he has a son due soon, perhaps you could hold onto these until he comes of age. Tar’vid was perhaps rash and easily tricked, but he was a great warrior that fought till his last, his son deserves to know that one day.”

Sah’rah wanted to reply, wanting to rage at the man that had beheaded the best of them. But she could only stay silent and hold back her tears. As she contemplated her inaction Tarquin stepped forward, drawing his sword, a moment later and the riders all held their weapons.

“Should I do so, King of Kendral, would you accept my challenge?” he asked angrily, the light rain pattering against his armour.

“I would not, like I told Tar’vid... my strengths are not in combat, I achieved my position through strategy, not a strength of personal arms. I know you would kill me, though not as easily as Tar’vid would have I’m sure, I know he bested you many times in Fernhaven” the King replied, walking away from his horse, his warriors following as Tarquin stood open-mouthed.

How did he know about their training? Tarquin angrily sheathed his blade, and with his head in his hands walked away. Tar’gorth approached her a few minutes later clearly intoxicated.

“He’s really dead then?” he asked touching Torgard gently. “Of course he is...” he started before tossing away whatever he had been drinking and shouting angrily. When he had finished she walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Perhaps it’s time we both stop, for Tar’vid’s memory?”

Tar’gorth nodded. “Aye lass, I’ll be heading back to Windholme with the others soon... will you join us?”

“Not yet, once the army is relocated somewhere safer, then I’ll come” she replied, hugging him. She’d have to see if Godwin would join her, but either way Tar’gorth’s needs were greater than his now.

“I vow it now lass, I’ll defend his child the way I should have protected him.”

Sah’rah just nodded, it would be a long few weeks before she joined him.

Sah’rah looked back on the Paladin camp, her oxen’s breath misting in the rain. The relocation had taken over two weeks in the end, the last job being the firing of the siege camp. The next day six Paladins arrived at the camp, each had been released from Kendral as the King had promised, though none were sure how many were still held captive there. She turned back to the road ahead, the stone of the path slick with rain. Sah’rah looked to her left at Tar’gelth, he had insisted on coming along, something about honour and debts, though she doubted he knew anything of honour... perhaps he’d made his way through the whole Paladin army and was now looking for more conquests. Sah’rah smiled at the thought, Jakken honour would demand he married any woman he defiled.

“What’s got your mood up?” he asked her, his voice nearly lost in the wind.

“Just thinking about how our time in Windholme will be,” she replied.

“Would Sah’eca not join us, it seems a shame for those of us that went to Randell not to be reunited again.”

Sah’rah didn’t reply, Sah’eca couldn’t relocate because of her work. The mountains of scrolls and books would have taken months to transport, besides, Tar’mon was loathe to lose both her and the loveable Venna. Besides, would it ever be a reunion without Tar’vid amongst the living. As they made camp on the first night she couldn’t help notice that Tar’gelth offered more than the usual prayers to the Saints, she listened to him through the thin lining of their tents.

’Sah’ravel guide me,

for I have lost my way,

Tar’mine protect me,

for I am defenceless,

I pray for your guidance,

now more than ever before,

If you should hear my prayers,

please give me a sign’.

Sah’rah turned on her side and tried to sleep, the vision of Tar’vid’s dead eyes had faded considerably in the last few weeks and she wondered if, in time, he may go completely, though Sah’rah wondered if would be a good thing to forget him. She held Torgard tight, unsure if she would be able to give up the blade when she arrived in Windholme.

The morning started out dry, the rain had fallen for the whole of the previous week and the ground was boggy, forcing them to strictly use the roads for the next few days, avoiding the short cuts that made the journey significantly shorter. Tar’gelth seemed oddly upbeat those first few days, perhaps his prayers had been answered after all. Sah’rah felt her hand shake, it had been days since her last drink and she was feeling the craving of just one more cup, she tore her mind from such thoughts with a great effort, reaching for her flask and starting to raise it to her lips...

“Shit!” she cursed silently before tossing the flask aside, why’d she even brought the damn thing.

Tar’gelth noticed her actions and moved closer to her, tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure that was difficult, but the Saint’s aid us if we only ask,” he said piously.

Something had changed profoundly in him. The arrogance was gone from his voice, a new sense of calm surrounding him as the rain started again.

Something unsettled her and she replied tersely. “Perhaps they will, I just want to be out of this damn rain.”

The two of them arrived at Windholme a few days later, the rain abating somewhat as they climbed higher in altitude, the mountains surrounding them much smaller than they had been from the Paladin camp.

“Welcome to Windholme,” Tar’gorth shouted from the tall ramparts, meeting them on the opposite side of the gatehouse, a guard unit of warriors awaiting them.

“How are you?” she asked, nodding down to the wineskin at his hip.

“It’s still tough, but...” he took the wineskin, pouring out clear water onto her hand. “Only water from here on out” he said, re-tying the wineskin to his belt.

She dismounted and hugged him tightly, realizing how much she’d missed him.

“These last weeks have been so hard, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through” she confessed, not caring what the others thought of her show of affection.

“It’s alright lass, no one here has had an easy time of it... is that you Tar’gelth?” he asked, finally noticing the Elf.

“It is indeed I old friend, the Saints require me to be here and so here I shall be,” Tar’gelth replied calmly, and with a smile of all things, his old stoic nature a thing of the past.

Several of the Jakken warriors took their oxen’s reigns and led them off to the stables as Tar’gorth showed them around the town, though she would have said it was a city. They saw the great mustering tower, the various training yards, blacksmiths, stores and markets. From atop the walls they could look out over the valley and see many of the farmsteads and villages beyond. Just in Sah’rah’s sight was the village of the wise women, a small collection of huts that gave her a sense of unease. They finished the guided tour at the great hall, the structure seemed fittingly grand for the city sized town.

“Come inside, we should get you an audience with the Regent as soon as possible” Tar’gorth told them both.

Sah’rah and Tar’gelth followed him up the steps, the plethora of guards disarming them before they entered the hall. As the great doors opened their eyes were drawn to the large fire pit that ran almost the length of the hall, beyond that a large gathering of people stood. There, sitting in an ornate wooden chair upon a raised dais was a woman, her pretty face framed by long red hair, she wore a black dress and a sheer veil. Standing to either side of her was Bordin and Tarquin, their faces expressionless like stone.

“Wait here whilst I get an introduction,” Tar’gorth told them quietly, making his way through the gathered crowd.

Sah’rah couldn’t help wondering what her fate would now be.

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