Paladin - the path north volume 1

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Chapter 5

Tar’vid watched on as the first wave departed, Tar’gelth had been the first to cross through the portal with a hundred Paladins and several thousand soldiers. Tarquin sat beside him sharpening his sword and though he didn’t show it, Tar’vid was sure he was impressed at the display.

“So, they are not to engage in battle until everyone’s through?” Tarquin asked, rolling a coin across his knuckles as he placed his sword down carefully.

“That’s what I’ve heard, makes tactical sense to me. No point engaging the enemy when we’re not at full strength” Tar’vid replied, trying to see anyone he might know as the Paladins began to pass through the gate.

“Ah, Tar’vid, I was hoping to see you before leaving,” Tar’gon said happily, appearing from behind him as he buckled on his sword belt.

“Late rising?” Tarquin asked with a wry smile.

“Something like that... and you are?” Tar’gon replied, looking Tarquin up and down.

“I am Tarquin, formerly of the Genstark company,” he said happily with a flourish of his hands.

“The Genstark company... you must be formidable then,” Tar’gon said, his eyebrows rising and a smile curling his lips.

“I am, though I have not, as of yet bested my friend here... it is only a matter of time though,” Tarquin replied as the coin stopped spinning between his thumb and forefinger.

“One fight at a time you two, just stay sharp out there... who knows what’s on the other side of that portal” Tar’vid butted in, placing a hand on Tar’gon’s shoulder.

“Who could stand up to us Tar’vid? We’re the most powerful army in Cerdic. Any northern army will shake in fear before us” he replied with a laugh, his voice raising so others nearby heard him.

Many did so as well, to great cheers from the soldiers and Paladins alike. Tarquin looked up at him warily, afraid of this untested confidence in their abilities. Tar’gon strode through the ranks of soldiers, passing through the portal a few minutes later. Tarquin picked his blade, standing up and moving beside Tar’vid.

“Putting so many of the younger Paladins in the vanguard is a mistake,” Tarquin stated with a look of concern.

Tar’gelth led the vanguard and Tar’vid was confident he would keep them safe. He had seemed level-headed and sensible on their journey here after all, with a cold detachment almost.

“Tar’gelth won’t lead them astray, he seemed more than competent from what I’ve seen” Tar’vid said in response and trying, perhaps, to reassure himself.

“I don’t know him, but the young Paladins that cheered Tar’gon are too eager for battle, so are all these soldiers... how many of them have even seen combat do you think?” Tarquin responded quickly, watching the last soldiers and Paladins pass through the portal.

Tar’vid couldn’t say, but the soldiers he thought were battle tested sat around making ready to follow with the second wave. The last soldiers eventually passed through the portal gate and it stood there shimmering for a moment longer before dissipating. Tarquin had already left by the time he turned around, instead, Tar’gorth waited for him, a stern look on the older man’s face.

“You ready for this lad?” he asked, Tar’vid noticing he wore mail under his tabard.

“As ready as I can be, but in truth I’m not sure what to expect” Tar’vid replied, looking quizzically at Tar’gorth.

“Always be ready lad, the Saints gifted weapons aren’t always the best option in battle,” Tar’gorth said unhooking a helmet from his belt. “The first wave isn’t prepared for battle, make sure you’ve properly armed Tar’vid, you drop that blade during a battle and the Saints armour is gone, there’s no shame in being prepared.”

“You sound like you’re expecting the worst?” Tar’vid replied, hoping for an explanation for his pessimism.

“Always, Tar’gelth was a poor choice for the van... he’s arrogant and too confident in himself. Do you remember Sah’eca telling the story of Sah’raen’s death?” Tar’gorth asked him, Tar’vid nodded as he remembered the tale of a fourteen-foot lizard thing that spat acid. “That was Tar’gelth’s fault, he rushed in without a plan. What Sah’eca also failed to mention was that he was ‘involved’ with Sah’raen, he has a bad habit of mixing work with extra activities, he got her killed, he’ll get them killed too.”

“So we’re gearing up for a rescue?” Tar’vid asked, feeling foolish for his assumption of Tar’gelth’s character.

“Aye lad. Tar’gelth’s picked the youngest and most impressive single fighters from our ranks, I’ve got our best formation fighters. Men and women who work as a unit. We move out in an hour, I just hope Tar’gelth hasn’t gotten them all killed by then” Tar’gorth said wearily, staring at the portal gate, perhaps willing it to open again.

“I’ll be ready, the Saints are on our side” Tar’vid replied confidently, he was the chosen after all.

“Aye, Tar’mine protect you lad” Tar’gorth replied with a pitying smile, what did he know of the Saint’s decision?

“Sah’ravel guide you” Tar’vid replied a moment later as Tar’gorth walked away towards the mess hall tent.

As Tar’vid went back towards his own tent he thought about Tar’gorth’s words, extra protection wouldn’t hurt after all. Deciding to follow the older man’s advice he went off instead to find Tarquin, they’d be prepared for the coming battle.

Tar’vid found Tarquin carousing around the female soldiers, and with a great effort dragged him away to the armoury near the centre of the camp. It seemed that the arming squires were instructed to outfit all soldiers and Paladins the same except for the inverted tabard colours. He let the mail shirt slide down over his waist, taking the weight on his shoulders, the tabard was pulled over his mail and the sword belted around his waist, his hips now taking the weight from his shoulders felt a great relief. A padded shirt had been layered under the mail and Tar’vid suspected the garb would be horrendously hot in the coming summer months, a suspicion quickly proven when he saw Tarquin, who also sported pieces of plate on his sword arm. The squires then thrust a spear and shield on them both.

“Tar’gorth’s orders, all soldiers and Paladins are to be ready to fight in a shield wall,” a young squire said timidly, intimidated by the two men.

“Very well” Tar’vid replied grumpily, he hated fighting with a spear, more so after his fight with Eldrin.

He took the weapon and shield, which felt heavy, a rectangular construction of willow and metal nearly five feet in height and slightly curved. Tarquin looked disgusted at holding one.

“This thing is ridiculous, what’s wrong with a regular shield?” he asked testily, lowering it to the ground.

“If Tar’gorth thinks it’s necessary, then I’m inclined to agree with him” Tar’vid replied, looping the shield strap over his shoulder, it was damned heavy though.

“I’m not convinced... always had my faith in Lisa here,” Tarquin said, patting his rapier affectionately.

The squires had already moved on to the next Paladins and were now ignoring the two of them. Tar’vid decided they should leave the squires to their job and hurried Tarquin out the armoury with the shield in tow. His friends complaining, unsurprisingly, lasted all the way to the portal gate and if the vanguard had seemed impressive, then their own portion of the army was doubly so. Thousands upon thousands of infantry and hundreds of the imposing oxen cavalry stood waiting patiently in their battle lines, it seemed Tar’gorth was all for discipline, unlike Tar’gelth’s disordered approach that had seen the army pass through haphazardly.

“Now that... that is impressive my friend” Tarquin commented, planting his spear as he looked on.

Tar’vid felt someone grab his shoulder, then spun him around with a tug. “To the back of the formation Tar’vid, your friend too,” Sah’rah told him, pointing far to the back of the field.

“The back? but...” he started to object, this was no way for him to be treated.

“You haven’t been trained in formation fighting Tar’vid, you’ll be a liability on the field. Now to the back” Sah’rah demanded, inviting no discussion on the matter.

“Pretty lady, I am...” Tarquin started before seeing Sah’rah’s expression. “...going to the back, come Tar’vid, the lady clearly knows what she is talking about.”

Tar’vid wanted to protest further, but Tarquin hurried him along as quickly as possible, perhaps not wanting to incur Sah’rah’s wrath. He felt betrayed though, taken from Luna only to be thrust to the back of a mass army, of which it had been made perfectly clear he wasn’t welcome in.

“Perhaps I should just go back home,” he said to Tarquin as they passed down through the ranks of soldiers.

“What, and leave me alone here?” Tarquin said with surprise. “It is all very well for you Mister Paladin, I had to join the army to keep an eye on you, If I leave they shall hang me for desertion.”

Tar’vid felt ashamed, he’d never even considered what Tarquin had given up to protect him, nor how much others had stuck their necks out for him.

“I’m sorry” Tar’vid said quietly.

“For what? I may have joined to keep you safe, but I did so willingly, for my friend” Tarquin replied with a smile, clapping him on the shoulder.

“I don’t deserve friends like you, I never considered what you’d given up for me” Tar’vid replied with a faint smile.

“We rarely get what we deserve, but you did well getting me. Tarquin l’estade is a friend to few and loved by all... except perhaps that Sah’rah, she seems a little sour” he said confidently.

“She’s pleasant enough, I think she’s been through a lot lately... also that’s the first time I’ve ever heard your last name” Tar’vid replied, uncomfortable hearing someone insulting Sah’rah, though he was sure Tarquin meant little by it.

“Only my closest friends know it, and my enemies before I kill them of course... also anyone who happens to overhear me, but it means little to them... until it is too late” he said before laughing loudly.

Tar’vid couldn’t help following suit, the man’s laughter was infectious as always., they drew the gaze of several groups of soldiers, some of which screwed up their faces to contain their own laughter.

By the time they were halfway towards the back of the army Tar’vid heard the unison crunch of boots as the portal opened once more, the army moving through the gate in file ten men abreast. Looking back, Tar’vid noticed that others were following behind them, mostly Paladins he noticed. It seemed Tar’gorth was deadly serious about tight formation fighting and he felt a little less victimised at being sent to the back now.

“Seems very few of us were spared this indignity” Tar’lin spat as he passed Tar’vid, the other Paladins were also less than impressed as they trudged past.

“Seems your public enemy status has been lowered now,” Tarquin told him with a smirk as they carried on walking towards the back.

“You know... if we just wait here, eventually we’ll be at the back by default” Tarquin complained once more, the back still some distance away.

“Perhaps, but I feel we’re already in the bad books if we slack off here who knows how much worse we’ll get it” Tar’vid replied, still eager to fight... to justify him being here and not with Luna.

“Do not be so eager for battle Tar’vid, can you truly say that any of your fights were fun, that at any moment you were certain you would not be killed... the only good fights are the ones you avoid, besides Luna will skin me alive if you get killed out there” Tarquin said, his words surprisingly wise

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you... but, do you think I’ll ever see her again?” Tar’vid asked, seeing the portal made him think this would be a one-way trip.

“Of course, I have little doubt of that my friend” Tarquin replied quickly, his confidence in the statement ironclad.

It was nearly mid-day by the time they arrived at the rear of the army and Tar’vid was surprised to see so many Paladins here, counting at least thirty, with more arriving periodically.

“I don’t think our commanders have much faith in your peers,” Tarquin said in a whisper, the other Paladins looked angry and fed up.

Tar’vid couldn’t help but agree as they followed behind the last army units, though the Paladins refused to form one themselves and meandered along as they pleased.

“We should just head up to the front line anyway,” one of the Paladins grumbled. “Tar’gorth hasn’t got any authority over us, only the grand master does” he continued, all Paladins were of equal standing once they had finished their journeyman phase after all.

“You think the grand master won’t have your balls for that?” Tar’lin spat, though Tar’vid knew he had thought about it as well, they probably all had, except Tarquin who had now happily accepted his place in the rearguard.

“Just relax all of you, I dislike this as much as you all do. But I have faith in Tar’gorth... that the Saints entrusted him to lead us for a reason” Tar’vid said loudly, though he wondered if placing his trust in someone so close to his discovery of Tar’gelth’s nature was a poor decision.

“I guess you’re right... the Saints must have a plan after all” Tar’lin said reluctantly.

Tarquin gave him a look of approval as if he’d stopped something going wrong with his words. They marched onwards silently for the next few hours as the soldiers passed through, seeming to instinctively hold their breath as they did so. Tar’vid looked up as he reached the shimmering portal, its radiant light washing over them as they came within feet of it, a smell of sulphur and burnt hair making him feel sick.

“Here goes,” Tar’vid said to himself, taking a deep breath as he realised this was now the point of no return.

Tar’vid stepped forward, a tingling sensation running through his body as he crossed the event horizon. The first thing Tar’vid heard was a soft crunch underfoot, then the soft fall of snowflakes upon his face... in an instant he was thousands of miles north and stood in what must have been a field, the thousands of other soldiers, seemingly taking the transition in stride, were already marching on. In the distance stood a great mountain, it’s peak seemingly flattened, and from the tale Tar’mine had told him that must be where Kendral castle stood.

“Come Tar’vid, we should stay close, this slight snowfall could easily become heavy,” Tarquin warned him as they went to catch up with the bulk of the army.

Tar’vid looked back tentatively as the portal blinked out, then turned back, though in the distance he was sure he had seen figures moving in the snow.

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