Tar’vid looked aghast at the remains of his right arm, using his left hand to feel over the stump. He couldn’t hear what the Elf was saying... he was too focused upon his missing arm. He felt tears welling up in his eyes, he was useless now, all he’d ever been good at was fighting... now, what was he?
“Tar’vid... Tar’vid?” the Elf asked. “Have you heard anything I’ve said to you?”
“My... my arm, what did you do?” he asked, though he was starting to surge with anger at this injustice.
“WHAT. DID. YOU. DO. TO. ME!” he screamed in rage, everyone around him shrinking back at his fury, unsure what to do with him. All except the Elf, who stood perfectly still before him.
“Your arm was unfortunate, had you not tried to kill the King perhaps you would still have it,” the Elf said calmly.
Tar’vid remembered back to the siege, remembering a spear piercing his arm and the pain that followed, he still thought he could feel his arm until he looked down to the empty space. Tar’vid had thought his death inevitable and with that, he had tried to end the battle right there. Clearly, it hadn’t worked, yet here he was minus an arm... his sword arm.
“What happened then?” he asked, feeling a lucid calmness fall over him.
“The man you killed, we removed his head and placed your helmet on it. To your troops, one severed head looks much like any other I figured,” the King said in response, Tar’vid noticed he still kept a safe distance away.
“As your life started to slip away I sealed your mind inside a Grail crystal. The King’s healers saved your life, but the arm was too damaged and had to be removed,” the Elf explained in his usual calm voice.
“But why, why not just kill me, or lock me away?” he asked, forgetting he couldn’t gesticulate with the stump of his arm.
“Because you are required, were you not, your life would have been expunged years ago. As to why I kept your mind sealed away, that is easily explained... your blade, Torgard, had we not handed it over, your allies would have doubted your death, especially without a body. Whilst sealed away your blade could not find you, and whilst here you were sheltered from the demon cloud that swept the land only hours ago” the Elf said, walking around him in a slow circle.
“Demon cloud?” Tar’vid asked he thought such things a mere creation to frighten the common folk back home.
“Yes, they tear through the dimensional barrier every few hundred years, seeking out weak hosts to inhabit... it’s how they are born,” the Elf explained stopping behind him. “It’s ultimately what killed your Saints, and by their deaths, your whole order. The Paladins are finished...”
Tar’vid couldn’t believe him, wouldn’t... but, the looks upon the faces of the other Paladins changed his mind. His life had collapsed around him in a matter of minutes, perhaps it would have been kinder to let him die. Tar’vid looked around the chamber properly for the first time. It was lavishly finished, gold gilded figures on the walls of Elves and dragons, Minotaurs, and Orcs... behind him, larger than life were the Saints, along with the companions present at the last battle for the Blooming, all of them now long dead. The rest of the chamber stood littered with cages and bedrolls, fires and stacks of boxes, he spotted Tar’gon, his former rival unmistakable, even with his long beard.
“Why keep us alive then, when more powerful Paladins have perished?” Tar’vid asked finally. “And what is your name Elf?”
The Elf smiled, perhaps the first sign of emotion to have crossed his face. “I am Korgan, a Mage from the order of seeing, though I no longer associate with them. As to why you seven are still alive, as I said before Tar’vid, you are required. The others, dumb luck, I suppose. Now, I’m sure the King has plans for you... as for myself I have business southwards, I will, however, see you before you leave in the spring.”
Without waiting for his questions the Elf turned and opened up a portal, stepping through it and vanishing before anyone could move more than a footstep.
“Why would I stay here until spring?” Tar’vid asked, having no intention of staying so long... unless spring was around the corner.
“Because you aren’t ready for your role yet. You need to be stronger before I release you back to the Jakken. Besides, don’t you want to see the Blooming?” the King asked him.
Tar’vid wanted to leave but knew that as soon as he arrived at Windholme in his maimed state he would be challenged and killed immediately.
“Stronger how?” he asked. “It’s not like I can grow another arm.”
“Perhaps not, but I’m sure Tar’gon here would relish the chance to face you in combat. For the first months of his captivity it was his biggest regret that he couldn’t face you” the King said, gesturing to the still caged Paladin.
“Are you going to let him out?” Tar’vid asked, moving towards Tar’gon’s prison.
“That depends on you Tar’vid. Will you stay here until the spring or not?”
Tar’vid eyed the King suspiciously, why was a King following the plans of an Elven Mage. But he had to admit, without a plan or greater ability to fight he wouldn’t last long in the Jakken’s warrior society.
“I will stay... if you let him go” he replied, sitting down on the steps as the King released Tar’gon from his prison immediately.
The Paladin stepped out and tossed down his stick, looking Tar’vid up and down.
“Can we get a couple of swords then. This has been a long time coming” he said with a smile, visible even under his long shaggy beard.
Tar’vid took several test swipes with his wooden sword, it felt awkward and several times he nearly tossed the sword over to his right hand that no longer existed. Tar’gon made no such test swings, the man knew he could beat him easily... Tar’vid felt this was futile.
“Let’s get this over with,” Sah’faei said, waving the two of them to start.
Tar’gon closed the distance quickly, thrusting with a deliberately sloppy attack. Tar’vid sidestepped it, instinctively going right and realizing he couldn’t attack. Before he could bring his blade to attack Tar’gon had knocked him off balance and floored him in just a few strikes. Tar’vid stood up, steadying himself with his sword.
“Again,” he said angrily, his tone brokering no discussion.
Tar’gon shrugged, perhaps happy to finally have a chance to use his skills. Tar’vid went on the attack immediately, his strikes were still fast and precise, though they lacked something. Tar’gon realised after only a few strikes he had nothing to fear, he easily parried Tar’vid’s next blow and tagged his knee as he stumbled by. Tar’vid crashed to the ground again, his sword clattering on the stone floor. He cursed under his breath, rising again and picking up the sword.
“Again?” Tar’gon asked, his posture still relaxed, he hadn’t even warmed up yet.
“What’s the point” Tar’vid replied, tossing aside the sword and sending it skidding across the floor. “I can never be even half the warrior I was.”
Tar’gon lowered his sword, coming over and placing a hand gently on his shoulder. “Perhaps not, but we can retrain you at least. You still have your fighting instincts, we just have to switch that muscle memory to your left side is all.”
Tar’gon picked up Tar’vid’s sword and tossed the weapon to him.
“Now let’s try this again... also, half the warrior?” he chuckled. “Very poor choice of words.”
Tar’vid raised his sword once more, he wasn’t convinced that fighting would ever be his forte again, but he might have the confidence to defend himself at least. And so they trained, his life depended on it.
Tar’vid had been up at dawn every day since his reawakening, and for the last few months, his swordsmanship had increased a little... though he had now accepted that such a pursuit was frivolous. His time wielding a blade was over, he would have to become more tactical and cunning... the Tar’vid of old had died in the siege and he would have to remould himself. Leaving the catacombs of Kendral behind him, Tar’vid emerged out into the sunlight, his aimless wandering taking him wherever the Gods would will. He fell to the ground as someone crashed into him, Tar’vid cursed as he tried to break his fall with his missing arm and sprawled out comically.
“Gods, I’m so sorry,” a woman said apologetically, reaching out a hand to help him up.
“Don’t worry about it, I was being absent minded... the fault is mine” he replied as she lifted him back to his feet.
Tar’vid noticed her smile, a small thing that seemed to light up her small face...
“Luna?” the name left his lips in a whisper.
“Who?” the girl asked puzzled, she was the spitting image of her, it took all his willpower not to cry and embrace her.
“You’re the Paladin my father talks of, aren’t you? He said you were once the greatest swordsman in the land... it seems the fates are cruel indeed.”
Tar’vid no longer seemed to find comments on his missing limb painful, though the painful reminder talking to him threatened to overwhelm his emotions.
“They are indeed, though I’m alive for a reason... perhaps I may have a part to play before my death” he replied without a thought, only able to speak his immediate thoughts.
Tar’vid pondered her words though, it was, in truth, the only time he had considered what his future worth might be.
“I should think you will. The lord of the Jakken is not one to be taken lightly” she told him. “Where are my manners, I am Velainna, Rorgard’s first daughter.”
“I figured, your father is fixated on keeping me here.”
Velainna brushed the dust off his clothes, holding his arm firmly. It seemed his initial shock at her appearance had faded.
“You be more careful in future Tar’vid, no telling who you might bump into.”
He smiled as she dashed off, perhaps Rorgard had orchestrated this whole encounter... Tar’vid shook his head, had these months really made him so cynical?
Taking a random direction he found himself in the middle town, the two and three story buildings looming high in the narrow streets. Other than the main streets though, the roads were strangely tranquil, the people mostly ignoring his presence. His wandering brought him out into a large open square, market stalls filling most of the space there. It would seem most of the people were here, the noise of the crowd seeming comparable to the din of battle. The noise strangely daunted him, pushing him back into the alleyways almost involuntarily. Tar’vid stood there, just watching from the relative safety of the ally as people passed him by, their stares at his otherness obvious now. Eventually, he made himself move away, what had happened to him? His confidence felt shaken, was this due to his inability to fight?
“You seem lost stranger,” a man asked from behind him as another stepped out of the shadows to confront him, a studded mace in hand.
“Indeed, it’s my first time outside of the tombs in some time” he explained calmly, aware he was about to be robbed.
As he turned to face the speaker, he noted the other man held his weapon as was proper. The speaker, however, had only a belted knife and seemed confident against a one-armed foreigner. He approached Tar’vid without fear, placing a hand heavily upon his shoulder, noting that the other man kept his distance.
“How about you hand over your valuables friend?”
Tar’vid looked at the man disgusted, though it shouldn’t have surprised him that scum like this existed here, just like everywhere else.
“Don’t look like that, we’re just simple men trying to make a living in a cruel world.”
“It is indeed a cruel world” Tar’vid replied, looking down angrily at his missing arm.
Without thinking he grabbed the man’s knife, pulling it free and plunging it into his guts, feeling blood gush forth from the stomach wound. Tar’vid pushed the mewling man to the ground without much effort, turning to his friend quick as lightning.
“You can continue trying to rob a man with nothing, or you can get your friend to a doctor... stomach wounds are a particularly painful way to die I hear,” he told the more competent robber, remembering back to the Inn so long ago.
The robber dropped his weapon, circling by Tar’vid to retrieve his friend from the ground.
“Who are you? Clearly not just some wounded veteran from the attack years ago” he asked, lifting his friend who whimpered as he got back to his feet.
“I am Tar’vid, Lord of the Jakken and one of the last Paladins... you would do well to renounce your ways. Though he is gone now, I am still Tar’mine’s chosen” he declared confidently, reaching down and picking up the mace.
“I shall remember this Tar’vid, I am Kelhii and I swear vengeance upon you.”
Tar’vid watched the men retreat dispassionately, letting out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. His body shook, he’d been terrified deep down, knowing a straight up fight would have been his death. Tar’vid studied the mace, its weight felt good in his hand. He retraced his steps back towards the tomb of the saints, stopping beside a pool of water to wash the blood from his hand as best he could. Should he tell the others about this encounter, he’d handled it pretty well given the circumstances he thought. Entering the darkness of the tombs once more the guards let him pass without challenge, no one noticing the bloodstains on his hand and sleeve.
“Enjoy your stroll?” Tar’gon asked, a training sword in his hands.
“Not really... I think I realised something” he replied, still hiding his hand.
“What might that be, don’t tell me you’re giving up?”
Tar’vid nodded, his days on the front line were truly over now.
“I won’t accept that, you were amongst the best of us, perhaps even the best. I won’t let you wither away in here” Tar’gon reprimanded him, his passion was admirable.
“That was in the past, I’m tired of living there and wallowing in pity... I must carve out a new path, one not rooted in battle and bloodshed” he replied earnestly.
His path seemed unclear, he would have to make his way without the Saints to guide him. Perhaps Korgan could help him when he returned in the spring. Tar’vid ignored the rest of Tar’gon’s pleas, going back to his old bedding and slumping down on the ground, his eyes were drawn to a mound of dust nearby. It was strange, it looked as if the door to the heroes tomb had been opened, and recently... what was in there?
Tar’vid wallowed in his uselessness for the next few days until Rorgard came to rouse him.
“Tar’vid, perhaps it’s time for you to see that which you were sent to guard,” Rorgard said to him, clearly dismayed at his current state.
“What’s the use... I am capable of guarding nothing” was all he could bring himself to say... what would Tar’mine have thought of him now.
“Korgan will be back soon... perhaps he can fix him again?” Tar’gon suggested, Tar’vid wondered if he could consider the Paladin a friend now.
“I hope so, he said Tar’vid is key to our survival” the King replied, dejected at his inability to control the situation.
The door of the Heroes Tomb swung open suddenly, nearly crushing Tar’gon. A giant stepped out, nearly eight feet in height and dwarfing all around him, even the tomb door seemed of a regular size to him. The giant stroked his long black beard, ruffling his long hair and eyeing Tar’vid with his large red eyes. He reached down, lifting Tar’vid to his feet with a single pull.
“Come with me Paladin, I have need of you” he commanded, his voice deep and terrifying.
Tar’vid froze, though the King indicating he should do as the giant commanded. He followed the giant into the tomb, the walls emanating light from their very core. Then he saw it, a great glowing ball planted in the middle of the giant room... could that be the Blooming of hope?
“Do you know what this is?” The giant asked him, Tar’vid’s eyes remaining locked on the Blooming.
“Yes... It’s the Blooming, what Tar’mine intended for us to guard. Now he’s gone... the few of us that remain must finish the job” he replied, his resolve returning to him as he spoke.
“Huh, you humans are interesting. I don’t know why the Blooming always picks you creatures” the giant said to himself, stepping forward and blocking the Blooming from his view.
“That’s something you rarely see,” Tar’gon said in awe, making his way in with King Rorgard.
“Indeed, I stopped my experiments upon it some time ago though... it seems that defending against me has prolonged its build up of energy, the damage may have set it back thirty years or more... hard to tell” the giant said with a shrug.
“Who are you?” Tar’vid asked, moving to stand beside the giant, craning his neck to look up at him.
“Me? I am Renard, the Dwarviari assigned to Kendral. Possibly the last of my kind, we don’t see each other often, hard to know if any are still alive.”
Tar’vid had thought all the Dwarviari dead a long time ago... to think there were beings this old still alive. Renard stood beside the Blooming, it dwarfed even him and Tar’vid glanced around the massive chamber, the sarcophagus’ of the Saint’s fallen comrades lined the walls of the great chamber. He took a step forward, drawn towards the glowing sphere and realising he had lost control of his body. Renard raised an eyebrow at him, yet still, his body moved him forwards, compelled by the Blooming.
“Renard! Stop him! The Blooming will tear him apart!” Rorgard yelled, though his voice began to be drowned out by a searing static that threatened to deafen him.
“No” were Renard’s only words, anything more blocked out in the noise.
Tar’vid could feel the Blooming’s power as he came within an inch of it... perhaps it was for the best if he was destroyed. Letting his body move of its own accord his hand reached out, the power hit his fingertips, filling him with energy, so much he felt he’d explode at any second. His legs gave out and he fell to the ground, his fingers digging into the dirt as he cried out in pain, Tar’vid’s body swelled as power began to seep from every pore. Then it was over as he collapsed to the ground, darkness washing over him, even as the Blooming glowed more brilliantly than before in his mind’s eye.
Tar’vid opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as large amounts of light stung him.
“You’re still alive then” Tar’gon said with relief, kneeling above him. “I tried to stop you... but something held me back, I thought you were a dead man.”
“I wouldn’t rule it out just yet, there’s a long way to go before the Blooming opens” he replied, forcing himself to sit up.
He reached up and brushed the hair from his eyes, his hand felt... rough though. Tar’gon looked at him in shock, as did Rorgard. Renard, however, seemed to be smiling, why would he... Tar’vid then realised, he had both hands again, though looking at his new hand he found it was made of earth and stone. Yet he could move it as deftly as if it were a part of his own body.
“It seems the Blooming has given you a gift, Paladin” Renard chuckled, offering him a hand up.
“But why? Is it because I’m the chosen?”
“Perhaps, the Blooming normally just destroys those that touch it. Rorgard lost six men before we gave up trying” Renard explained, hoisting him up without effort again.
“I didn’t approve of what you did then either. What if Tar’vid had been killed, Renard?” Rorgard chided the Dwarviari.
“Then it was fated, all men die, after all, eventually, so will I.”
“You can die whenever, Renard, Korgan wants Tar’vid alive for the foreseeable future” the King raged, seeming like a petulant child... was he that terrified of the Mage?
As his focus wavered, the arm he’d unconsciously constructed fell away. It had been strange to have two hands again and Tar’vid made to leave when Renard stopped him with one massive hand upon his shoulder.
“Don’t you want to test your abilities first Paladin?” He asked, spinning him around.
“Well, surely they work similarly to when I used prayers,” Tar’vid thought, glad to have his healing ability back.
“That’s not how magic works, unlike your prayers which were a workaround, magic works by combining the base elements. Most creatures can’t use them at all... the lucky ones can use one, maybe two. Only one man has ever wielded all five...”
“...Tar’mine” Tar’vid finished, so, he wielded earth, that was a base element and made sense based upon his arms composition.
“Your Earth-based magic could prove useful in the defence of this place... Dondor was the greatest earth wielder and forged many of the great weapons left in the world today.
“So, I can levitate rocks?” He replied, extending his hand to a pile of stones.
“Can you use air magic?” Renard asked sarcastically, waving his hand.
“Let’s find out.”
Tar’vid focused, as he had when prayers had worked, embracing the power around him, though this felt... different, there was no need to battle back the flow, it was as easy as turning a tap... too easy. A column of rock burst out from the pile of stones, shooting twenty feet into the air and vanishing into the depths of the vaulted ceiling.
“By the Gods” Rorgard exclaimed, his gaze following the column of rock upwards.
“I may have overdone it a little” Tar’vid apologised, running his hand through his hair, noticing a small trickle of blood running from his nose.
“Your grasp is quite amazing Paladin, perhaps that prayer training was useful after all... you should both leave as I train him, it could get dangerous... oh, and send more food. That was my reason for leaving the chamber in the first place” Renard commanded, ushering the other men to the door.
As the Dwarviari closed the door Tar’vid wondered why he’d been granted such power by the Blooming, surely others were more worthy than he... and besides, what if he lost control and destroyed himself.
“Where do we start?” He asked, flexing his fingers in readiness.
“We start with a history lesson, then you take it slow, can’t have you damaging anything else, including yourself... I especially can’t have you destroying the city.”
Renard proceeded to give the full history of magic and how it had developed. It was a full two days before Tar’vid even tried out his magical abilities again, and even so, it was on a small scale. Once he had mastered molehills he moved on to creating his arm once again, though that was more difficult, having to create a column up to his stump before creating the arm itself, the effort leading to another nose bleed. After a few weeks, he could raise small barriers and columns without strain, his arm could even remain permanently, he just had to keep a small amount of power within him, though it made using more magic difficult. Another month passed that saw him able to create more complex structures, small huts and houses at a push, flattening them back into their base components once more was far easier. Eventually, Renard was happy that he wasn’t a threat to anyone else and allowed him to leave the chamber by himself. On his first day that he ventured outside once again, he ran straight into Velainna, catching her with a soft column of soil.
“I know of only one person clumsy enough to bump into me twice” she exclaimed, reaching behind her as she realised she hadn’t hit the hard floor.
“Sorry about that, it’s been a long time Velainna” Tar’vid responded, letting her stand straight.
“I never knew you were a Mage, seems like an important detail to leave out you know.”
“It’s a recent thing, but I’ve control of it for the most part.”
Velainna looked him up and down, hands on her hips as she analysed him. “There’s something different about you.”
Tar’vid waved his arm comically, realisation dawning on her immediately. She grabbed hold of the arm excitedly, poking and prodding at it.
“It’s like rock, wait, it is rock. You made this with magic?” She asked him, taking a step back.
“I did, feels almost like I never lost my arm” he replied, though that wasn’t really true... this made the loss feel worse in a way.
“What about your sword work, can you fight like you did?” She asked, perhaps happy for his return as a warrior.
“Sadly not, there’s no muscle memory... probably because there’s no muscle” he replied with a smile, one he forced as he closed the fingers on his arm.
“Why are you doing this to yourself?” She asked him, moving closer once more.
“Doing what to myself?” He countered, unsure of what she meant.
“Your arm, it’s gone and using... that, is hurting you... isn’t it? Being there and yet, not what it should be.”
Tar’vid sighed, releasing the small amount of power he had, the arm crumbled away and crashed to the ground, breaking apart on impact.
“Do you feel better now?” She asked, holding his hand gently.
“Not really... it fell on my foot” he joked, kicking aside the rocks and earth.
Velainna laughed, walking alongside him as she led him down into the town. She quizzed him more on what he’d been up to since their last encounter and he happily filled her in, leaving out the encounter with the robbers.
“I’m to be married Tar’vid, my father has arranged it for the summer... I expect it will be a clan chief” she told him, a little sadly he thought.
“I thought you would be happy to marry? Most women are” he asked, sure she’d make a good wife to any man lucky enough to have her.
“I am... it would have been nice to know him first perhaps. Though if I didn’t like my betrothed, there’s not a lot I could have done anyway.”
She stopped him suddenly, not far from where he had encountered the two men.
“Promise me you’ll come to my wedding, I have few friends Tar’vid, I would appreciate a friendly face.”
He nodded, squeezing her hand. “Of course, I expect my list of friends has been reduced as well... I haven’t even prepared myself for hearing of their demise.”
Tar’vid suddenly thought of Sah’eca, Tar’Gorth, Bordin and Tarquin... but Sah’rah most of all, they had become close before he’d led so many to their deaths. He made a silent prayer to the Saints for their safety, little good it would do now though he thought.
“I’m sure many will have survived unless they were in the Paladin camp that night... that was terrible. Only the infantry and mages that hid in the cave lived... every Paladin died that night” Velainna told him, shuddering at the thought of that massacre.
They walked through the market together, Tar’vid felt none of the anxiety he’d felt last time, perhaps it was Velainna’s company... maybe it was that he no longer felt helpless, if anything, he was more dangerous now. The stalls sold little in terms of food, mostly warm broth and soup, he expected the market was most active during the summer months, perhaps he’d even see it one day. Velainna bought reams of fabric and lace, even finding some silk, a rare item this far north.
“Getting a head start on your dress?” he asked nosily, pleased she was finally looking happy.
“Of course, it has to be perfect” she replied with a smile, it lit up her face and made her so beautiful... she reminded him of Luna once again in that moment.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Tar’vid hadn’t even realised he was crying... Luna and his unborn child, it had been at the back of his mind for so long now he’d almost forgotten. He wiped away his tears and smiled for her, it felt selfish to ruin her happiness with his misery.
“Nothing, the wind just got in my eyes” he lied, walking to the next stall.
Velainna soon forgot and remained upbeat as they continued around the market, the good mood lasting until they returned to the tomb entrance, the dark halls having been his home for so long now he was almost sad to leave come spring. All the Paladins had gone now and only he and Tar’gon remained.
“Can we do this again tomorrow Tar’vid? I’ve had a nice time today” she asked, Gods she looked so much like Luna in the fading daylight.
“I’d like that, be safe going home” he replied.
Was he being selfish, being around her because of how she reminded him of another he still loved... he’d done that to Languardia and still felt guilty about leaving her alone all these years.
“Excellent, and don’t worry, my father’s guards are everywhere past this point,” she told him with a smile, leaving him alone by the entrance.
Tar’vid went inside, descending the steps down to his home.
Tar’vid stretched out on his bed, the last few weeks had revolved around either training or spending time with Velainna. Spring, however, was around the corner and he’d have to leave, then when summer came she’d be married... it made him feel happy for her, yet sad within his own heart at that knowledge. He stood up, walking past a snoring Tar’gon and dressed for a stroll. Tar’vid had promised Velainna they would go out today and Tar’gon would only insist on more training, besides it made him feel better being around her, even if it was a fleeting happiness. He looked at the stockpile of weapons Tar’gon had amassed, ‘if you can’t sword fight, you have to use something’ he’d said, thrusting a mace into his hands. Tar’vid smiled, weapons were unnecessary to him now he thought, walking away from the Saint’s tomb, heading up the sweeping stairs to the next landing and finding King Rorgard waiting for him.
“My scouts tell me the snow is beginning to melt, the passes will be clear in three days Tar’vid” he stated, though without any gladness in his voice.
“You should sound more upbeat, your eldest daughter will be married come summer... surely that is cause for celebration?”
Rorgard moved his hand to the pommel of his sword, Tar’vid noticing he wore mail under his winter clothing. Was he going to try and kill him?
“Do you still intend to leave here?” The King asked, his face stern and grave, just as it had been when they first met.
“I do, though I promised Velainna I will return to see her married in the summer” he replied earnestly, Velainna was a good friend... perhaps more than that.
“It is kind of you to keep her company, though perhaps her husband will not be so tolerant” Rorgard cautioned him.
Tar’vid nodded, though he would still keep her company these last few days, he owed her that at least for all she’d helped him through... whether she was aware of it or not.
“You are right, after her wedding... she will not see me again... I swear it” Tar’vid agreed, though he did not want it to be so.
“I’m glad to hear that Tar’vid, I want Velainna to be happy. Though I must always put Kendral before all things... do you understand?”
Tar’vid nodded, though he knew he lacked the foresight to put the greater good above his morales. “I do, and it’s that sort of dedication I admire in you King Rorgard. Given your choices, I would put my family before all... I do not envy your position as many would.”
Rorgard smiled humourlessly, removing his hand from the sword pommel.
“You know Tar’vid, when you first arrived, I thought of you as little more than a warrior, devoid of honour or brains... after all this time, I have seen your real power, not this newly acquired magic, no... ah, I shouldn’t tell you, it might make you conscious of it” the King chuckled, guiding him towards the entrance.
Wondering what he’d meant they walked through the remaining corridors and stairways together, though Rorgard didn’t even try to engage him in conversation. His face was deep in contemplation, right up to the point they emerged into the sunlight where Velainna waited, staring out over the short wall, down into the city. The King placed a hand on his shoulder, strong enough to be a warning.
“Remember you have given me your oath Tar’vid, do not steal her heart.”
Velainna spotted them almost immediately, coming over and hugging her father enthusiastically before taking Tar’vid’s arm and leading him off into the city, the bright morning sunlight glinting off the glistening stone walls. The reflective sunlight shone in her eyes giving her an ethereal glow that had often accompanied Luna, she seemed so happy, so beautiful... he regretted getting so close to her now after foolishly swearing that oath to her father, even knowing how he felt about her. This was best though, he’d only ruin her life, as he had everyone else that had crossed his path.
“What are you thinking about?” She asked him, those doe eyes staring up at him and threatening to steal his heart.
“Just thinking about my departure, your father told me the passes will clear in three days... so, I shall be leaving then” he replied, keeping the emotion from his voice... he didn’t want to leave her now, damn his oath!
“Must you go? I’ll be so desperately lonely without you around Tar’vid” she said sadly, squeezing his arm tightly. Perhaps it was too late not to break her heart.
“I have promised your father I will leave you be, I cannot break an oath... however much I would like to” he replied with a sigh, for he desperately wanted to.
“Since when? My father has only talked about making you stay since you were revived. It’s been Tar’vid this, and Tar’vid that... I thought he may marry you himself” she pouted, nearly crushing his arm.
He remained silent on the matter, driving a wedge between Velainna and her father would accomplish nothing now. Besides, he had forgiven Rorgard for taking his arm some time ago. Even if he hadn’t said it aloud... he had gained something more valuable, a new perspective perhaps. Velainna eventually let the subject die, her demeanour lightening once more as they walked around the second ring of the city, the older buildings giving way to the new, more poorly constructed ones. They made one last tour of the second wall ramparts, stopping just after mid-day at the top of the Saint’s tower that afforded a view of the lower city many didn’t know existed.
“Will you truly stay at Windholme? Those Jakken are incredibly boring” she said, pouting once more and flicking her hair in his face purposely.
“That may be true, but I’m a rather dull person. Not like the Kendral people at all” he replied, standing beside her and leaning upon the stone window.
“I’ve never found you dull, clumsy, but never dull... I know you’ve made some deal with my father... but, I... well.”
Velainna leaned in quickly, kissing him and wrapping her arms around him. Then she pulled away just as quickly, as though nothing had happened.
“I would ask you if you love me, but I know you cannot answer truthfully for fear of hurting me” She said to him, hiding in the shadow cast by the wall.
“Don’t say another word, Tar’vid... let me believe that you do, even if you do not, I don’t think I should see you again...”
He heard her start to cry, though he couldn’t bring himself to comfort her, knowing where it would lead and unwilling to face those consequences. So like the coward Tar’vid left the tower alone.
Tar’vid elected not to wander the streets in his new found misery, taking the quickest route instead back to the tomb where he would wait out his last days with Tar’gon. As Tar’vid arrived at the entrance he met the King once more, a full guard with him.
“It would be best if I remained alone for the remainder of my stay... and I am truly sorry I can only fulfil part of my promise” Tar’vid volunteered, knowing Velainna’s love would, in time, turn to hatred of his cowardice.
“I appreciate you telling me, though in truth I was aware of how she felt some time ago, she seemed...happy. To the detriment of her chores, I might add, though, I am glad she experienced it. I shall miss you Tar’vid... until the summer comes of course.”
“I think it best I don’t attend, King Rorgard, it will be painful for Velainna to see me again” Tar’vid replied, though it was more than that, he couldn’t bear to see her wed another man if he were being honest.
“Perhaps. Think about it though, your feelings may change when you go home Tar’vid” Rorgard ventured, though Tar’vid doubted they would.
“I expect there is little left for me there now, they have thought me dead for nearly two years, much will have changed... and there will be many battles to be fought.”
Rorgard nodded, letting him leave and enter the tomb that had become his home.
“How was your stroll?” Tar’gon asked with his cheeky smile, though Tar’vid was in no mood for it.
“I’m going to sleep” he replied grumpily, pulling the sheets over his head childishly.
“But it’s only just approaching mid-afternoon according to the guards... Tar’vid, are you even... forget it” he said, giving up and throwing his training weapon on the ground in frustration.
Tar’vid let his tears flow freely, but he wouldn’t cry... no one would see him weak again... not ever.
Tar’vid tightened up the draw sack bag that contained his few belongings, resting the mace on his shoulder as he and Tar’gon left the tomb behind. He had hoped to see Renard before they left, but the Dwarviari rarely left the Saints tomb, and even when he did it was for food, ignoring everyone else like ants. The two Paladins were given an honour guard, the tomb walls lined with King Rorgard’s royal guard, the best warriors from across the tribes, their loyalty only to the King. Tar’vid wondered if there were many Jakken in their ranks. He and Tar’gon emerged out into the pre-dawn light to be met by Rorgard, and, surprisingly, Sah’faei.
“I hadn’t expected to see you again,” Tar’gon said, perhaps surprised to see the Paladin once more.
“Well, life here is too boring. Besides, the King’s paying me well to escort you two to Windholme” she replied with a grin, though truthfully Tar’vid barely remembered her at all.
Horses were brought forward for them, though before he could mount Rorgard stopped him.
“I have a request of you Tar’vid... when I summon you in the winter, come at my call... grant me this and the Jakken shall receive my favour.”
“I shall call when you ask, regardless of my own feelings” Tar’vid replied, though he was sure he’d regret it.
“Then go with the god’s blessings Paladins, until the next time.”
The three of them trotted their horses through the empty streets, only the sound of hooves on cobblestone audible, though he knew Tar’gon and Sah’faei were conversing at the rear. The trio left Kendral without fanfare, passing out onto the plains that he had only ever seen covered in death and blood, now, it seemed so quiet. He reigned in his horse suddenly as a portal opened a short distance away from them, Korgan the Mage stepping out, as serene as ever.
“I thought you weren’t coming” Tar’vid stated, manoeuvring his horse over to the Mage.
“It would seem the Blooming has increased in power, my portals aren’t stable enough to get within Kendral’s walls anymore. Perhaps it’s for the best, it should stop any surprise attacks in the future” Korgan speculated, checking a small pocket book he pulled out of his flowing green robes, marked with the symbols of Keldran.
“Surprise attacks?” Tar’vid asked.
“Indeed, the Blooming is a powerful thing Tar’vid... did you think the Paladin order was the only one interested in it?” Korgan replied, making a flippant sweep with his hand.
“I kind of did, how many more know of it Korgan?”
“I expect many do now, especially since that last power spike a few months back. Plus, there will be creatures from the void closer to the time, now that the Dwarviari has delayed the Blooming, Kendral will be under siege much longer than Tar’mine was.”
Tar’vid had heard the stories of the battle through Paladin texts, though never much on the subject of why... there had been dragons at that battle he recalled, what chance would they have against such beings, even Tar’mine and Sah’ravel had won by a slim margin at the height of their power. He clenched his fist tightly, Kendral would need him, perhaps soon... but until then he had to return to Windholme... who still lived was a mystery to him and he had to know.
“That’s a bridge we’ll have to cross at a later date... until then, I’m returning to Windholme. If you need me, I’ll be there Korgan” he stated, wheeling his horse back towards the mountain trail some distance away.
Tar’vid halted as the others caught up, hanging back from his quick conversation with the Mage.
“Before I leave Tar’vid, know that I’m gathering aid... as the Elves aided Tar’mine, so too shall you be aided.”
Tar’vid bowed, any help would be greatly appreciated, regardless of how monstrous the task may now be ahead of him. As Korgan vanished through another portal he looked back to Kendral and the tower of the Saints, hoping that Velainna might be watching. Breaking her heart had crushed him, perhaps more than he’d thought at the time if only he could go back to that moment...
“What did he want?” Tar’gon asked, reigning in beside him as he looked back.
“He was bearing bad news, Kendral castle could come under siege shortly and we have no Saints to defend it” he replied, setting his horse to moving once more.
“Ah, not great I admit... but we can’t lose hope. The Gods won’t let the world burn” Tar’gon replied, spurring his horse on to lead the way.
“Why’s he so optimistic these days?” Sah’faei asked her horse keeping pace with his.
Tar’vid chuckled, remembering all their time together these months past. “Perhaps, we’ve rubbed off on each other.”
They carried on until reaching the old Paladin siege camp, the buildings derelict and burnt out. It felt unsettling as if they were passing through the remnants of a long-dead civilisation. How long before people forgot about the Paladins, referred to them only in legend. The trio encountered little during the time they were there, only rats lived here now... though it made the place no less unnerving to him. Leaving the camp brought an easing of tension he hadn’t known was there, but when he thought back it had always been there, the ghosts of his past were here and the death of his order ahead of him at the remains of the main camp.
Tar’vid led the way through the rotting structure of the main gates, the tents and buildings the order had created having fared little better.
“This is horrible” Sah’faei commented, her voice low.
“I agree, I’d hoped never to see this place,” Tar’gon said, his weapon drawn.
Sah’faei followed suit, all of them keeping their wits about them. As they passed by the mass of dilapidated dwellings Tar’vid noticed one out of the ordinary, it seemed newer, a small hut made of earth with a smouldering fire nearby... who would live out here?
“Should we look for the person living here?” Sah’faei asked, voicing his own question first as she dismounted and carefully peaked inside the hut.
“I guess so, could be a Paladin after all” Tar’gon ventured, using his horse to leap onto the hut’s roof and surveying the rest of the camp. “Over there! There’s someone in a clearing... there’s a lot of markers out there though.”
Tar’vid went to a trot as Tar’gon leapt down onto his horse, wheeling it around to follow after him and Sah’faei. The three Paladins exited the mass of dwellings to a sombre sight, there must have been a thousand grave markers, maybe more. Tar’vid’s eyes scanned the rock markers, each one had a Paladin’s name engraved upon it, before he knew it he’d dismounted and started to check each marker, forgetting his search for the hut dweller. Tar’vid’s heart pounded as he checked the stones, hoping not to find those he knew... Tar’gorth, Sah’rah or Sah’eca, hells bellow, even those he didn’t know felt like a knife wound to him as he viewed hundreds of markers. He found, however, that there were none of the younger Paladins here, only the veterans of the order... then he came upon it, with tears in his eyes he found Sah’eca’s marker... his heart sank, if she was dead, then Tar’gorth and Sah’rah had surely stood little chance.
“You’ve seen better days, Tar’vid” spoke a familiar voice, one he had thought to never hear again.
“Tar’mon? How did you survive? Where are the survivors?” Tar’vid blurted out, his questions pouring forth uncontrollably.
“One at a time, Tar’vid, let us speak at my hut before your hair goes any whiter,” The old man said, his voice strained... perhaps he hadn’t spoken to another soul since that day.
The others had the same reaction, disbelief and questions, so many questions. The four of them retired to Tar’mon’s hut where he began making a fire, then tossed the sticks aside.
“It’s not like any of us need the heat” he joked, though Tar’vid recognised the pain behind it.
“What happened Tar’mon? In your own words, not the Kendral garrison’s” Tar’gon asked, squatting down beside their old Lord commander.
“It was probably the same as you’ve heard, a demon cloud... who’d have thought they were real? I didn’t recognise the danger in time... and all the newest recruits were possessed and turned... not a single one survived. Then the demons slaughtered the remaining Paladins, I... I’m the only survivor outside of the army. The mages saved a good portion of them behind a barrier, then Sah’eca led a counter charge... all of them were killed... all of them.”
Tar’mon’s head fell forward, droplets forming on the earth below him. “And... I just watched. I was so scared that I couldn’t move. All my brave Paladins... I’m a coward Tar’vid, a bloody coward... as my penance I will maintain their graves until I die... though, I am not even worthy of this task.”
Tar’vid couldn’t bring himself to hate the man, were he in the Lord commanders position he’d be dead... and what good would that have accomplished.
“What happened after that? The demons couldn’t have just vanished” Sah’faei chipped in, grabbing Tar’mon’s arm and shaking him.
“They left, cloaked in the human bodies they’d possessed” Tar’mon replied, seemingly unfazed by Sah’faei’s roughness.
“Left? Where did they go?” Tar’mon butted in, still leaning on one of the huts tables.
“Towards Kendral of course... you just came from there, surely you knew?”
The three of them looked at each other concerned, nothing of the sort had even been discussed within the city walls. Had they infiltrated the garrison... their fighting ability would certainly be beyond any of Rorgard’s men. Should they turn back?
“What if Kendral is infiltrated? The Blooming could be in danger” Tar’gon said, moving towards the centre of the room, a hand on his sword.
“Allow me to do this task, I’m sure you want to return to your wife Tar’vid, and I expect Sah’rah and Tar’gorth will be happy to see you also” Tar’mon cut in, standing up and walking out of the hut.
“They’re still alive...” Tar’vid said to himself, a feeling of happiness coming to him for the first time since his time with Velainna.
“Very well, let’s press on to Windholme” Sah’faei announced, grabbing Tar’gon’s sleeve and dragging him out of the hut.
They mounted their horses and galloped away from the old Paladin camp, Tar’mon having seemingly vanished with his footprints having stopped only a few yards from the hut. Tar’vid didn’t look back as they barrelled past the rear gates of the camp, entering onto one of the many thawing tundras. Their horses made short work of the roadways, the journey flying by in no time at all it seemed. In only a few days they reigned in upon the hill that overlooked Windholme.
“To think, it’s been two years since I’ve been home” Tar’vid announced, shielding his eyes as he surveyed the town... it had changed little in his years of absence it seemed.
“Let’s not keep them waiting, they think we’re all dead after all” Sah’faei said, moving her horse further down the road with a click of her tongue.
Tar’gon smiled, following on behind her. Tar’vid looked once more at the great hall, wondering how his children had been without him... he’d see them soon, them and everyone else.