Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 22

Tar’vid entered the wise woman’s hut, letting his eyes adjust slowly to the gloom. He heard the creak of the floorboards underfoot, smell the straw in the roof, it always amazed him how much more acute his senses became in the darkness.

“Are you just going to stand there smelling my home young man?” the wise woman called out, her position hard to pinpoint in the dark.

“I wasn’t planning on it, but I seem to keep making poor choices as of late” he replied with a smirk, walking cautiously further into the hut.

Tar’vid had taken no more than a few steps when a lamp flared into life, the sudden bright flame nearly blinding him. Sat on cushions scattered around an unlit fire pit were the wise woman and the Dwarf Brundwill. Tar’vid hesitated a moment, he hadn’t meant to interrupt them.

“Don’t dawdle, young man, come here, sit” the wise woman scolded him, patting a cushion beside her.

Tar’vid shrugged, strolling over and sitting on the offered cushion, though it felt hard and seemed remarkably uncomfortable.

“Forgive my intrusion, Master Brundwill... I hadn’t realised there was company present” Tar’vid apologised, bowing his head solemnly.

“There’s nothing to forgive Lord Tar’vid, I was waiting here for you after all” the Dwarf explained with a broad grin on his face.

“But how? I only decided to come here twenty minutes ago” he marvelled, still trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable.

“I have a little, insider information, but that’s not for you to know. Where are my manners, I am Brundwill, son of Brundwi, at your service” the Dwarf replied, bowing his head before offering out his right hand... then realised his mistake and put out his left instead.

Tar’vid shook it, the Dwarf seemed pleasant and wanted to offer him something.

“I don’t wish to seem blunt Master Brundwill, but what is it you require of me?” Tar’vid asked, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible.

“Ah, yes... I require nothing of you Lord Tar’vid, more, I wish to offer you my service. My father was most adamant about it.”

“I would gladly accept your help Master Brundwill, but, why would your father send you to me?” Tar’vid queried, his discomfort forgotten.

“As I cannot explain it to you, nor could he explain it to me. Just know that I will fulfil my father’s request upon the ribbons in my beard” he replied, cheerfully stroking the long mountain of a beard.

The wise woman coughed audibly, making the two of them face her once more. “I do believe, young man, you came here for advice... did you not?”

Tar’vid nodded, his thoughts snapping back to his predicament. “I’m afraid I have acted rather, rashly... I face a knight in single combat.”

The wise woman nodded. “And you do not wish to kill him, yes?”

He nodded. “Sir Godwin is a good man, I am certain of it... he just has an acute sense of justice.”

“You’ve certainly changed Tar’vid, the young man I remember is really gone isn’t he?” She asked, running a hand over his face.

“Yes... he died in the Saints tomb, the old Tar’vid couldn’t have made it this far” he concluded, knowing it was his naive nature that had cost him so dearly in the past.

“My poor boy...” she said, standing up and opening her door. “There was never any need for you to come here, you already know what to do... am I right?”

Tar’vid stood up and made his way past her, stopping as he emerged into the late morning sun. “I think I do... I just needed reassurance.”

Brundwill pushed past them both, standing out in the fresh air and breathing deeply. “So... what’s the plan?” he asked, running his fingers through his beard.

Tar’vid sat by the edge of Windholme’s great lake skimming stones as mid-afternoon rolled around, Brundwill sat nearby shaking his head. The Dwarf had brought them here on his cart, perhaps hoping he was going to train for the fight with Sir Godwin. Tar’vid knew he needed little training now, Renard had taught him all he needed to know after all... no, a clear mind was called for now, his Paladin training still came in use, even if the Saints were truly gone, he could honour them in this simple way.

“Are you planning on flinging stones at him?” Brundwill asked sarcastically, taking out his pipe and lighting it.

“In a way,” he replied with a smile, though he didn’t want to kill the knight so magic was mostly off the table.

Brundwill sighed, it was highly exaggerated and Tar’vid knew he had something to say.

“What is it?” he asked, finally prying his eyes from the calm water.

“Well... since you mention it, here... this is for you,” the Dwarf said, reaching into the back of his cart and pulling out something that had a linen wrapping around it.

“This was made by request, a friend called in a favour for my father and his brothers to forge this.”

Tar’vid looked on intrigued, what could it possibly be? Brundwill unravelled the linen to reveal a helmet with a golden cross face guard, the white metal of the helm gleaming in the sunlight. Tar’vid could honestly say he’d never seen something this well made before.

“I know, right, probably the first time you’ve seen star metal. Gods alone know how he acquired it... but here you are” Brundwill said, a pang of regret on his face as he leapt from his cart and offered the helm to him.

Tar’vid held it, there was no real weight to it at all... the lining felt soft to the touch as well.

“What did I do to deserve such a gift?” he asked, pulling on the helm.

“Who knows, I heard you’ve done much to help others though, perhaps one of them did it” Brundwill guessed, walking back to his cart once more and taking out something else.

Tar’vid stood contemplating on where he’d gone so wrong, he’d once done what he felt was righteous... that would make the Saints proud, but since Luna had died he’d simply existed, his unwavering resolve had seemingly died with her. He staggered suddenly as Brundwill hit the back of his head with a hammer, Tar’vid felt convinced he’d die... yet he felt no pain, nor had the blow staggered him.

“What the hell?” he asked angrily, perplexed at the sudden assault.

“Feel anything? that’s the power of magically infused star metal... it utterly absorbs impacts and dissipates the force, just watch out for falling boulders, this stuff has a limit after all” Brundwill cautioned, throwing the hammer back in his cart.

Tar’vid took off his helm, checking over it for a dent or scrape. What he’d give for a full set of plate armour.

Brundwill turned to face him once more, standing atop the cart.

“Have you decided what you will be Tar’vid? who, you will be?” the dwarf asked.

“I will be a paragon... a shining example, such as Saint Tar’mine once told me I once was, this day will be my rebirth” he declared in response, the words feeling right.

The Dwarf smiled, had he known this would happen, that he would find purpose here, in this moment. Tar’vid looked up and summoned a pillar of earth to create his right arm.

“Let’s head back Brundwill, I can’t keep Sir Godwin waiting.”

They mounted the cart together, the journey back to within the walls feeling oddly calm and quiet. Tar’vid jumped into the back and began to dress for battle, and, pulling on his helm he smiled remembering his old one... a dragon indeed, what a fool he’d been.

Tar’vid stepped into the arena, having passed through a thick crowd dozens of people deep. It seemed everyone in Windholme was here now... good, he thought. The whole place went deathly silent as the two opponents faced each other, though perhaps that was just his nerves drowning out the noise. Godwin stood silently as the grave, like a statue covered head to toe in plate armour, a spear in one hand and a long sword at his hip. Tar’vid had only his mace, and a dagger strapped to his leg. Unlike Godwin, he wore the attire of the Jakken, chain mail and a chest plate, bracers and greaves, his Paladin tabard over the top. His helmet remained tucked under his arm.

“I see you aren’t quite as maimed as you led on” Godwin stated, his stance unmoved.

“I lost one thing... and gained another” Tar’vid replied, flexing the fingers on the earthen arm. “Besides, I believe I’ve regained what I had truly lost now.”

Godwin nodded, perhaps understanding, perhaps not... he had his own demons to wrestle with after all. Tar’vid felt somewhat freed now, no longer reliant upon the sword forms he’d spent his short life mastering, the footwork and positioning though, that was hard-wired into his brain. Tar’vid pulled on his helmet and advanced on the knight...there was no need for anyone to announce the start of their battle, Tar’vid circled the knight slowly at first, planning on testing his reflexes. Godwin struck quickly though, his years of wearing plate not hindering his speed at all. The spear point missed Tar’vid’s throat by inches as he leaned back to avoid the lightning fast thrust. Grabbing the shaft Tar’vid pulled hard on the weapon staggering the knight and allowing him to land a solid blow on Godwin’s pauldron, the force from the mace denting the steel badly. Godwin had anticipated the strike though and dropped the spear, throwing a punch into Tar’vid’s gut that sent him reeling. Godwin drew his blade in a fluid motion, the weapon deflecting off Tar’vid’s vambrace and shattering several links off his mail sleeve. Tar’vid dashed forward, using his helmets unique ability to head butt Godwin and drive him to one knee, the knight had enough awareness to grapple with him though, dragging Tar’vid down to the ground. The knight rolled free, creating some space to regain his senses and Tar’vid got back to his feet. Godwin adjusted his stance a little, the fighting techniques he used were unknown to him after all. Tar’vid closed with the knight again, though his attacks were slow and predictable, Godwin easily parried the strikes, counter-attacking perfectly to disarm Tar’vid and send him sprawling to the ground, a cut opened on his arm. Unrelenting to his downed opponent Godwin struck, only Tar’vid’s construct arm and armour saving him from the rain of strikes. Tar’vid kicked out blindly, getting lucky and taking out Godwin’s leg. Using the brief opportunity Tar’vid rolled back onto his feet, but Godwin pressed him once more, he knew he’d only have one shot against the knight. Tar’vid released the magic in his arm, the earth and stone collapsing to the ground. The distraction was enough though, as Godwin looked down Tar’vid caught him flat-footed and created a mound around Godwin’s foot, the knight stumbled and dropped his blade, Tar’vid jumping on the opportunity, he drew his dagger and pressed it to Godwin’s throat.

“Just do it Tar’vid... you have bested me” Godwin wheezed, his body tensing against the blade.

Tar’vid tossed the knife aside, letting Godwin stand as he let go of the magic... of the man he’d become, of his anger... of Luna, he had lost his path to grief and rage for so long now that he had thought it gone forever. But standing by the lake with Brundwill, hearing about how he had saved so many in the past...

“I’ve no need for vengeance, it’s not what she’d have wanted for me, what the Saints would expect of me,” he said in reply, walking away from the arena, the crowd parting cautiously before him.

As he left the stunned onlookers behind Tar’vid smiled, he’d never look weak in front of anyone again... by the gods, his ribs hurt though.

Epilogue

Velainna sat inside the Saints tower, she’d been here nearly every day since Tar’vid had left... it still upset her how things had ended between them. It was all his fault anyway, if he’d just taken her that day...

“Why’d I have to fall for a guy like that?” she sighed, leaning on the window cill and looking out longingly across the empty fields to the mountains.

“We cannot help who we fall for Lady Velainna,” Korgan said from the shadows.

She jumped at his voice, how long had the elf been there?

“I lost my wife a long time ago... you never really get over it. Though, I never wish to in all honesty. It’s all that drives me onward,” Korgan told her taking a seat nearby.

“Did you love her?” she asked, the question wasn’t really that strange she thought, many marriages were still arranged, especially given her situation.

Korgan laughed, it was a strange thing though, she’d never heard him laugh before.

“I did, yes. We met at the lords ball in Kivenia, though you wouldn’t know that place. She looked so beautiful in her purple gown... I had just left the Mages coven at the time and was, how should I put it... awkward around others.”

Velainna turned round to look at him, she had always found him strangely creepy for such a handsome man, but now, looking at him, she realised he had a softness to him that made his features more inviting.

The Mage smiled again, his hands open and inviting. “But she came to me... me, Velainna, a nobody as far as she knew... my Urieo.”

His tale stopped abruptly and she noticed the droplets falling onto the stone floor of the tower. “We were happy you see, for hundreds of years... until the Paladins went mad, they destroyed so many Elven towns and villages... including mine, my dear sweet Urieo and our children... gone in an instant.”

Korgan’s hands balled into fists as his anger rose, the room seemed to become darker with it.

“For the last three hundred years I’ve hunted them Velainna, I wanted to destroy their order, tear them apart, as they tore apart my life... then in one random act... they were gone, a freak occurrence did what I could not. It left me empty, without purpose... my plan to destroy them with their own champion now pointless.”

The elf stood up and placed a hand on her shoulder, though there was no malice in his action. “So I made a choice, to let go of my hate... I’ve killed so many, for nothing, hurt good men and women who were never responsible for my family’s deaths. I make you a single promise Lady Velainna... if Tar’vid will make you happy... I will give him to you.”

Velainna realised her hands were over her mouth, tears flowing down her cheeks... Tar’vid could be hers...

“What would you have in return?” she asked, there must be a price for such a thing after all.

Korgan smiled and held her hand. “Your happiness, is all I require” he told her earnestly.

Was this any choice at all then?

“I gladly accept your offer,” she said without any regrets.

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