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The Paladin (Short Story)

Brad TurnerMar 20, 2021, 4:16:37 AM
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*Because who said the blog has to be a blog?*

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The paladin sat before the dim fireplace in silence, holding a statuesque stillness despite his uncomfortable chair. Even his breathing took the shallowest of paces, as if to imitate the stillness of the priest adjacent to him, laid on his deathbed by an illness he had finally succumbed to mere minutes ago. The old man had been good to him, an ever-present mentor offering guidance and wisdom whenever the younger man needed. But now the paladin permitted his senses only to focus on the red coals and low-lying flames before him.

Try as he might to ignore it, the battle taking place so close to his beloved monastery would not leave his thoughts. He had done all he could to distract himself, primarily by watching over the dying priest, and then by partaking of the tobacco and alcohol his faith normally forbade him from consuming. He thought to read, but could not summon the focus, and had nearly tossed his books into the fire in frustration, cursing his futile efforts.

Why should he join the fray? Why come to the aid of such sinners and miscreants?

He knew not the odds the defenders faced, and he did not care. Here he would simply wait for the end, and when the door to the dishevelled monastery was finally thrown off its hinges, he would take up an arm and perish at the wicked blades of the barbarian horde.

Yet he hated sitting still, and hated himself for accepting defeat.

Their defeat, not his.

But what difference did it make?

In a sudden flash of movement, he stood, and angrily kicked his chair aside, his armoured boot chipping the wood. His gaze momentarily moved to the priest, half-expecting his commotion to wake the old man up. But his body remained as it was, his soul now far beyond the mortal vale.

‘What would he think if he could see me now?’

It mattered not.

Excuses, excuses.

Perhaps if he witnessed what it was he meant to ignore...

Abruptly, the paladin made his decision. He picked up his sword and fastened it to his belt before donning his helm and shield as he made for the entry hall.

Pushing open the heavy wooden door and stepping into the dim light of day, the paladin left behind what was now the priest’s tomb, and set off. The streets of the village were empty, as the men had marched to battle, while the women, children and elderly had barred themselves in their homes. The battlefield was not far away, and the walk there seemed to take no time at all. When he made his final steps to the ridge overlooking the valley, he stopped, and looked on.

The sounds of clanging weapons and the screams of the dying permeated the air, and the smell of smoke and bloodshed drifted into his nostrils. Men and beasts collided in a harried frenzy, absorbed in such savagery that it seemed difficult to distinguish the two. The barbarians numbered only in the dozens, as did the defending villagers and soldiers, but their numbers dwindled with every hack, slash, stab and smite. The paladin looked on, wishing he could feel completely unmoved by the sight and simply walk away.

But he could not.

Despite having witnessed the egregious actions of the sinners below, of the layabouts, drunkards, thieves, thugs, rapists, murderers and traitors, he could not summon the apathy he so desperately craved. He wanted nothing more than to leave these scoundrels to the fate they deserved. Why should he help them when they would spit on and scorn him tomorrow, as they had done so often before? They would carry on with their wasted lives; the tavern-dwellers would continue their brawls, the guard would continue to ignore crimes committed against the innocent, and the baron and his family would continue their petulant scheming against the other noble houses.

But he knew what would happen if he did not act. The barbarians would slaughter them all like animals, pillage their homes, and move on to the next village, not knowing or caring for the character of those they killed. Destruction would beget destruction.

Begrudgingly, the paladin made his choice. He unsheathed his sword, lowered the visor of his helm, and descended into the valley below.

*

The fighting ended as quickly as it had begun. Against all odds, the defenders stood their ground and won the day, driving off the remaining barbarians. Cheers were given and weapons and shields were raised in triumph, and while many had fallen, a much greater slaughter had been successfully averted.

But the paladin did not stay to witness any of it. As soon as he knew the battle was over, he left the valley, knowing the remaining fighters would not notice his departure. He gathered his few possessions, set off on his horse and rode to the east, hoping to reach the coast within the next several days. Where he would go, he did not know. He only knew the village in which he had spent the better part of his life would never see him return.

 

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