A hooded figure, sitting beneath a tree in the grey vales of the Ghostlands, resting as the rain fell down in drizzling sheets before him. The curve of a pale jaw, a sharp nose, the points of elven ears, and a equally sharp smile. Heh. A shield on one side, and a sword held carelessly in one hand, resting across his bent knees. He breathed deeply of the chill air.
What is righteousness, boy?
The tall elf strode back and forth before him, her back stiff, her gait proud. An awesome figure of a woman. She bore the plate armor as if it were no more then feathers. He watched, wide eyed, as her gaze snapped back to him. Fire and ice, the memory recalled.
What is righteousness?
He flicked rain off the edge of his hood, hearing the soft clank as he moved. Another smile. He’d been travelling for some days, and the weather had only gotten worse, and yet his smiles increased. It would figure, wouldn’t it? He’d…removed himself, with discretion, with care. With a concience intact, even if his heart lay cracked. A head tilted to the sky, and he breathed the cool air again. Hearts could be mended, he thought. And the Light had not left him, even in this.
The sound of broken wood, the dowel of the false sword lay in his stinging hand. He blinked away the tears. She was harsh, cold, and relentless in her way.
He nodded, without resentment. With a shy smile he kept hidden as he reached for the next wooden blade, his feet already slipping and dodging as her own came crashing down towards him. She didn’t approve of smiles, or much cheerfulness. It was was a waste. A frivolity.
But she wasn’t without her warmth. The fire behind the ice could melt hearts, and warm the soul to it’s core. It shone, briefly, with her approving nod at his dodge, and his soul soared. She pushed him, but she at least could care.
Good, boy. Again. Again.
War had not been kind, but he had been prepared for that. The muck. The heat. The quiet, and then the terror. Mother had trained him well. He took out a candle stub from his pocket, rolled it between his hands. She had shown him the path of the Light. She had lit the fire. Protect the Sunwell. Serve the Light. Serve your people and follow the righteous path.
His smile faded for a moment, and he lost himself in the cold wind. He hadn’t been prepared for all of it. Not at all. The violence, what he thought was only necessary… he closed his eyes and slid the candle away. He fought. He had done his service. He could live with that, just. But the other thing…
Live steel now, flashing in the sunlight. The cut and thrust, the screech of wind riders and dragon hawks and horses, the horror of fel bursts scorching through the sky, of blood in shades that seemed impossible.
He’d survived. Staggered back to the camp. She had not held his hand, nor mourned with him. But there was a letter, and words that added up to…not comfort, but understanding. And advice.
This is not the worst of it, boy. Seek always the path of righteousness, for in the worst of times, that is all you will have. Keep your morals, your principles. Keep your eyes upon the Light.
He grabbed up his satchel, ignoring the rain. Corruption was a nasty business. Battle was too. Him and his unit… they tried. But things got ugly. His smiles, for a time, dimmed. He held onto his honour, and walked away. Dismissed, he was told. Seek out another company. He refused to yield, and left.
That part stung. He owed something still to his people, he still felt the urge to serve. The thought of what she would say… he sighed, and hefted his shield to his back. So he would find another path. He had sought out the priests of his kind…now, again, the smile grew. There had been new life and new hope in the quiet chapel halls. In books and prayers and a timed pattern of life that seemed too similar to the army he had served.
He couldn’t keep cloistered forever, though.
What was righteousness?
To serve with a smile, and bring peace.