Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 16

Bordin watched as Tar’gorth approached the throne of the Regent, his hand never leaving the grip of his axe. He looked to the back of the hall, spotting two figures and recognizing Sah’rah from the battlefield. The Elf he didn’t know though, and his grip tightened. Tar’gorth approached Languardia without challenge, the old man had become a father figure for her during these past troubling weeks, in turn, her need of him had kept him sober. In a way he was proud of her, he had thought Languardia would be an incompetent ruler, a despot unused to the power she’d come into... but she listened to her advisers greatly. More surprisingly to him though was how hard she’d taken Tar’vid’s death, it seemed she had genuinely cared for him, perhaps, even loved him. She spoke with Tar’gorth in whispers as they both occasionally looked toward the back of the hall. Eventually, Tar’gorth stepped back and Languardia stood, seeming like a child beside him.

“The Paladins at the rear of the hall may approach,” she called out in a commanding voice.

Bordin stepped forward holding his axe at the ready, Tarquin beside him, blade drawn. The two Paladins came forward as the crowd of petitioners and plaintiffs parted before them.

“Tar’gorth has vouched for you both to be here, his word carries great weight... what is it you come to offer?” Languardia asked, her voice sounding regal and beyond her years.

“I speak only for myself Regent, for Tar’vid, your late husband, was a dear friend of mine. The Paladin army is broken and unlikely to recover. I would offer you my sword in service” Sah’rah said, kneeling before the Regent.

Languardia stepped down off the platform and made her stand, kissing her cheek. “I gladly accept your service Sah’rah. Tar’vid held you in high regard, after all, he said that you and a Paladin named Tar’lin were possibly the only sword fighters near his skill.”

Bordin baulked at the comment, Tar’vid was the finest swordsman alive if reports of his duel with Rorgna were to be believed. That a woman could be his equal was preposterous.

“And what of you Tar’gelth? Are you to offer me service as well?” she asked, allowing Sah’rah to stand beside her chair as she sat once more.

“Alas, no, my lady. I wish only to stop here a short time, the Saints have guided me here, yet my path lies farther east” Tar’gelth replied with a bow.

“Further east?” Languardia replied in surprise. “To the east are the forsaken lands, no man has ventured out that far in decades and none have returned.”

Tar’gelth shrugged, rising once more. “It is where the Saints have sent me and so for better or worse, I must go.”

Languardia looked to Tar’gorth and Sah’rah, both seemed surprised though at the Elf’s announcement.

“Very well Tar’gelth, we shall provide you with what we can. I wish you luck on your journey.”

Tar’gelth bowed and with that Languardia called an end to the day. Sah’rah joined the guard retinue at Languardia’s request and escorted the Regent to her chambers with the others, once Languardia had entered Bordin took Sah’rah aside.

“Did your knight come with you?” he asked, trying to start the conversation pleasantly.

“No, he had his duty, and my destiny lay elsewhere. It was good while it lasted though,” she replied rather bluntly, it was one of the things he liked about her.

“How long are you intending on staying then?” Bordin asked her, if it were for only a short time he could hardly be sure of her loyalties.

“Until the Regent has no use for me, the Paladin army is broken in my view, in two years time the other tribes will descend upon them at the behest of the King” she stated plainly.

Bordin hadn’t exactly pegged her as tactically astute, but looking back, she had allowed the Veska to take the brunt of the punishment during the siege and the Paladin army had suffered relatively low losses in comparison.

“What you say is true, I can’t help wondering if Languardia fancies some of those oxen cavalry of theirs” he admitted, the girl was as ruthless as her father at times.

“Do not fear for my loyalty Bordin, I swore myself to Languardia as if it were an oath to Tar’vid. I will defend his kin to my last. I feel I owe that to him.”

Bordin nodded before letting her leave. He trusted something about her, in a way that he trusted the old man and Tarquin. He left Tarquin and Tristain on the first watch, heading for the main hall to find his brother. Upon reaching the hall and it’s raging fire pit he found Svein nearby.

“Greetings brother,” Svein said upon seeing him approach.

“Aye, greetings indeed. How goes the harvest this year?” Bordin enquired, with the heavy rains these last weeks the coming winter would be hard.

“Exceedingly well, seems we were due a break this year. Three leaders in the space of a month, if it weren’t for the two-year peace I swear we’d be assaulted on all sides immediately.”

Bordin sat down beside him, his brother’s face seemed more lined than it had a few weeks ago... though perhaps it was merely the firelight.

“Reena had a boy last night... she hadn’t noticed the pregnancy, or hidden it perhaps. Thing is, she died during childbirth...”

Bordin hung his head and sighed, a double hit for his brother. He could have gone to war, though the outcome would have been no different, and now his first wife was dead, it had been dangerous for her to carry a child at her age...

“What are you naming him?” he asked, trying to steer the conversation from his brother’s guilt.

“Is it strange I was thinking Svein’vid? Our chieftain could fight better than all others, perhaps my son would be just as good if his name was synonymous?” Svein replied with a humourless laugh, covering his mouth with his fist. “So much loss this year my brother, this one gain seems like it’s the only silver lining.”

Bordin nodded, indeed they had lost much, but perhaps they were destined for better next year. New warriors would be trained and there would be another year before the inevitable battles would come calling.

“I think Svein’vid would be a good name. By the way, I’ll run it by Languardia. I’m sure she’d be honoured,” Bordin said with a smile, “I’ll leave you to mourn my brother.”

“My thanks, brother, time heals all I hope,” Svein replied, turning once more to his thoughts.

Bordin hoped that was true, there was much healing to be done.

Bordin looked out over the training yard, watching the young men practice the shield wall fighting of the Jakken, though all the tribes fought in a very similar way. The last year and a half had passed by so quickly he thought. From the yards raised platform he watched as Languardia made her way to the altar of Thorgar. She had much to thank the father of the Gods for, she had given birth to twins, both had been strong and healthy from the beginning and it had been a great start to what had been a good year so far.

“What surname did Tar’vid pick before the battle?” she had asked him after the birth, holding the twin sons of Tar’vid in her arms.

Bordin was well aware that Tar’vid had picked no surname. But he had chosen one, one that suited his old friend and chieftain.

“Ap Ultar,” he had replied solemnly.

“Ap Ultar?” she had replied.

“It means of great strength in the Paladins language, I had Sah’rah check it for me. I think it would have suited him well,” he’d replied a little downcast.

“I like it, thank you Bordin. Gerhart and Gerson Ap Ultar, I shall name them both for our God of war... for both shall need to be strong in the years to come,” she had told him with a smile.

Bordin could see the two boys now, each being carried by a nursemaid and surrounded by guards as he’d instructed. Gerson was particularly the talk of the Jakken owing to his half brown, half red hair, though Gerhart had Tar’vid’s facial features and eyes. His gaze was pulled from the boys as Sah’rah berated the young warriors, her time in the Paladin army had made her a tough drill instructor and he was sure they feared her more than any death on the battlefield. The drilling continued for several more hours, and though each of them wanted to finish, she would not. The woman’s stamina and will to fight was remarkable, for even Tar’gorth’s resolve couldn’t match her. When eventually the practice ended the young men crashed out on the grassy slopes of the area, Sah’rah casually taking the steps to the platform in her stride.

“With these boys and last years, I think we stand a good chance of holding our territory next spring,” she said, not even slightly out of breath.

“If only all our warriors could fight like you,” he smiled, remembering a time when he had doubted her skill.

“Well, things have changed this last year, the Paladin army is ready to call it quits I fear. Sah’eca tells me the Mages are ready to head home, the soldiers never regained their will to fight, nor did the command... it’s over for them,” she said with a heavy heart.

Even though Sah’rah had committed totally to the Jakken, she still must have felt aggrieved at the Paladin capitulation. She had left all notions of returning when news that her friend Gable had succumbed to his wounds a year back, the healers unable to save him.

“It will be a great loss, in a way they’re a great bulwark against half the tribes coming up the valley. Your idea of gating the long valley and fortifying the bridge were plans that should have been implemented decades ago,” he complimented her.

She gave a slightly mocking bow before laughing. “I think the worst is finally behind us now, I can... I can almost look to the future now,” she told him, her face seeming hopeful for the first time in a long time.

“Don’t put a curse upon us, Kailhein is ever ready to put one over on us, the trickster God is the bane of the overconfident,” Bordin warned making a motion over his breast to ward off the ill luck.

“I have nothing to fear, they’re your Gods big man, not mine,” she joked, heading back down the platform to the training pit.

“Okay, ladies! Back up, shield wall!” she cried to the groans of the gathered men.

Bordin looked eastwards, feeling an unnatural breeze upon his face. He could see a freak storm on the way, and as he thought about it the alarm from the great tower bell rang out for everyone to gather in the great hall or nearest shelter. The training equipment was hastily stored inside the shed embedded into the hillside and they made their way to the great hall to wait out the storm, he heard a crack of thunder and cursed, why had Sah’rah said that.

Bordin listened to the thunder crashing over the great hall, Sah’rah sitting untroubled beside him and Tar’gorth.

“You seem tense,” Tar’gorth said, picking over a chicken leg, the grease dribbling down into his beard.

“Something sits ill with me old man, there are foul deeds afoot this night” he replied, looking around the room with a wary eye.

Tarquin entered the crowded hall, finding them and crouching down. “The Regent is safe, as are the boys, I doubled the guard to be sure, there’s something off about this storm. The wise women that arrived several days ago made no mention of such a thing.”

Thunder cracked again, a flash of lightning visible through the closed doors that rattled ominously. He mouthed a prayer to Thorgar and Juioh for his brother’s safety, out there on the tower alone Bordin hoped he would last the night. Lightning flashed again and the doors burst open as a chill wind blew in like a gale, the gathered civilians cowered at it’s passing. He stood hastily with Sah’rah and Tar’gorth, the other guards and warriors following suit, along with the few Paladins present, all of them drawing their weapons. A shrill cry split the air as spectral forms flew in through the door, a swirling cloud of purple malice, a twisted visage forming on it. Bordin swung his great axe at one, the blade passing through it as the spirit laughed maniacally. Everyone now gathered looked upwards at the spirits as they circled the halls lofty rafters, Bordin sweated in fear, their weapons could do no damage to these beings, what did they want? and how could they be killed?

After a few tense minutes the spirits lined up their targets, Bordin followed their eye lines, ‘by the Gods’ he thought.

“The Paladins! They’re after the Paladins!” he bellowed, the four Paladins present looked at him terrified, Sah’rah amongst them.

The spirits flew down, passing through the Paladins weapons and armour, vanishing inside them. Sah’rah looked over to him, panic in her eyes. The other Paladins stumbled, but not Tar’gorth, the spirits hadn’t gone after him.

“Bordin! What the hells is...” Sah’rah started, before collapsing heavily to her knees and screaming in pain.

One of the other Paladins stood first, a young woman called Sah’van, her head snapping upwards, a piercing cry echoing forth. Before the others could react Sah’van had sprouted claws and ripped one of his warriors in half.

“Kill them!” shouted many of his warriors, as they lopped off the head of a nearby Paladin, his head flying through the air. The civilians panicked, rushing out the door and into the night, trampling each other to death in the process, Bordin stood tall as they avoided Sah’rah and Tar’gorth, who seemed unaffected.

The hall was clear of living civilians but the former Paladin was still tearing through his warriors, three more lay on the ground, limbs torn away. He looked down at Sah’rah, whatever had taken over the other Paladins hadn’t gotten to her yet. Bordin and Tar’gorth charged the demon, his axe biting deep into its chest before the former Paladin spun around, striking him and sending Bordin into the fire pit. He rolled clear as his wits returned to him, he had been smothered, perhaps by his own men as he’d caught fire. Bordin stood as quickly as he could, witnessing the true power of Tar’gorth as he battled the demon. Bordin formed up his remaining warriors, preparing for a defiant stand should the old man fall. Tar’gorth’s blade sliced the demon’s flesh, it’s wounds unable to close from the strikes as it had from Bordin’s own attack. Tar’gorth took a huge blow to his leg and Bordin watched it buckle violently, yet the old man took the opportunity and removed the creatures head with a double handed blow. Tar’gorth collapsed backwards, groaning in pain as the Paladin’s headless corpse returned to a human form. Sah’rah had passed out during the battle but seemed unchanged, so he and his warriors ran over to Tar’gorth, helping the old man on to his one good leg, Tarquin having already gone to get the wise women.

“What in the seven hell was that old man?” Bordin asked as they carried him into the chamber at the rear of the hall, passing by the dead and dying as the other warriors helped those who still could be.

“Demons lad, bastard demons, and they’re targeting the young Paladins... you have to get warriors to the Paladin camp, it’s going to be a massacre.”

Bordin helped him onto a bed, the sheets turning red instantly. The wise women appeared moments later and he grabbed what warriors were available, though they were few now.

“Gather what horses we have and as many men to mount them, we’re riding hard for the Paladin camp!”

The storm had begun to pass overhead now and started to veer westward towards Kendral and the Paladin camp, he hoped they could arrive in time he thought as Sah’rah was carried into the back of the hall, her prone body seemed to be fighting against the demon trying to possess her.

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