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When Ari and Shahana
came into Three-Fork Town,
they found Johan and Althey in
the common room of the inn,
doing their best to heal
a group of mercenaries.
Mercenaries of Gorrein,
Ari realized to her surprise
as she recognized Venore.
Looking closer, she spotted
Tirayna in the group too.
"Well, this is a surprise,"
Shahana said slowly.
"We and Gorrein have had
a parting of ways," Tirayna said
through her teeth. "You don't
have to make a fuss of it."
"I don't kill children,"
Venore insisted. "I won't.
"I just like to fight for money."
"All right," Shahana said,
shrugging off her pack.
"Who's still injured?"
"Just me," Tirayna said
as she let go of her shoulder.
"I popped it back in, but
it still hurts like hell."
"Does anyone have
a room yet?" Ari said.
They all shook their heads.
"Right then, I'll go talk to
the innkeeper," Ari said.
It didn't take long to make
the arrangements, but that
was because there was
so little to be made.
"Well, we're humped,"
she said to the others.
"There's only two rooms left,
and they're joined with a door."
"So what?" Tirayna said.
"Lock the door. Push a bed
over it if you're paranoid."
Ari looked at Shahana,
and her mentor nodded.
"I believe we can all get along
for the few days we'll be here."
So Ari helped Althey up the stairs,
because the poor healer was
just about asleep on his feet,
while Shahana and Johan
leaned on each other and
the mercenaries did the same.
Ari hadn't even gotten everyone
out of their travel clothes and
into bed when a knock on
the door brought dinner.
There were bowls of
a loaf of multigrain bread,
and a whole apple pie.
Everything was warm
and rich and delicious,
simple though it was.
"Do you really think
it will be all right?"
Ari asked Shahana.
"Yes," said Shahana,
"but if not, we'll deal with it."
Well, that was what being
a paladin was all about.
The night passed uneventfully,
though, and morning brought
another servant with breakfast.
This time they had a skillet of
cabbage topped with a single loop
of sausage to share, and a basket
filled with little rounds of bread
stuffed with seeds and dried fruit.
Ari dawdled over the last of hers,
gazing glumly out the window
at the cold, pouring rain.
"Let's go downstairs and see
what's about," Shahana said.
"Good idea," Althey said.
"In all this wet, someone is
bound to slip and fall, and
need a healer. At least in
the common room, I'll be
easy for them to find."
"Everyone comes to
an inn when it's raining,"
Ari said. "Those who don't
have too much work will come
early, and anyone who can
finish theirs will come after."
"Then they get cranky and start
bar fights," Johan pointed out.
"Grab the game bag," Ari said.
"We can teach people how to play
Hexes and Blessings. Maybe
that will keep them calm."
So that's what they did.
It was a good thing, too,
because when they got
downstairs, Venore was
already trying to pick a fight
with some fisherman's boy.
Ari gave a cheerful whistle.
"All right, who wants to learn
how to play a new game?"
At that, Venore abandoned
the boy so fast that he looked
disappointed instead of relieved.
So the paladins demonstrated
how to play Hexes and Blessings,
then they all played together.
It was surprisingly pleasant.
There was a tense moment
when Raquel arrived with Hanj
in tow, and both stiffened at
the sight of the mercenaries.
Shahana waved to them,
though, and they came warily
but willingly to the table.
They even joined in the game,
drawing out the next round.
Then Tirayna brought out
a battered old broadside
with a bawdy song on it.
They had gone through
three rounds of the song
before Ari realized that it
was alphabetized by verse.
"This is fun," Althey said.
"It's too bad that we can't
do this all the time."
"I don't see why not,"
Ari said. "Shahana
told me there used to be
a whole city like this."
Johan winced and said,
"The Shining City was
lost to us long ago."
"Well, not entirely,"
"Enough," Johan said,
his voice sharpening.
"People would never
get along," Venore said.
"You'd have fistfight after
knife fight -- fun for me,
but probably not for you."
"Not necessarily," Ari said.
"Shahana, didn't you say
you used to play Chances
with the followers of Gorrein
in the Shining City as a girl?"
"I did," the older paladin said.
"All kinds of people came there,"
Johan said slowly. "I remember
that. It was Gailah's seat of power,
but there were other temples, too."
"It was always the most mixed
of the great cities," Shahana said.
"Gailah is the Goddess of Peace,
so it worked better there than
it ever did anywhere else."
"I miss that," Raquel sighed.
"Everything is so broken up now."
"So what?" Hanj said. "It's normal."
"No," Shahana said. "It's not.
We must never forget that
we are part of each other."
Johan sat up then, as if
something had just occurred
to him. "Why don't we try
to build on that, then?"
"There aren't enough of us
anymore," Shahana said. "We
couldn't fill a schoolroom,
let alone a whole city."
"More now than last year,"
Raquel said, and Hanj nodded.
"Just over a third of the elders
currently have a novice in tow."
"All right, that is up," Shahana said.
"It won't stay up forever, though --
some are getting too old for this."
"Well, it's not like we have
much of a choice anymore,"
Raquel said. "There isn't
a place to retire, unless you
want to hide in plain sight
or become a hermit."
"What was it like before?"
Hanj asked, leaning forward.
"Oh, they could retire to
the Shining City and work
in the temples, or teach in
the schools," Raquel said.
"They looked forward to it."
"If it's too dangerous to gather,
we could spread it out," Johan said.
"One retired paladin here and there
wouldn't attract too much trouble.
They could each attend something --
a shrine, an actual circuitball field,
a bookshop, even a schoolroom."
"That could work," Shahana said.
"As long as we don't pile up
too many people together,
some could come and go,
learning what they could."
"No reason we couldn't do
the same thing traveling,"
Ari said. "We already offer
our services. Just put about
that we'll teach lessons to
anyone who wants to attend."
"Not everyone wants to learn
what we have to teach,"
Shahana said sadly.
"So teach whatever they
want to learn," Tirayna said.
"I picked up that broadside
because the boys love the song,
and it teaches them their letters."
"She's right," Ari said. "We already
teach Hexes and Blessings. We
could work up a list of topics for
villagers, and teach those if
there aren't any other paladins.
If there are, we'll teach -- what?"
"Reading and writing, liturgy,
singing, illumination," Johan said.
"I used to love studying those."
"Weapons training," Shahana said,
then looked at Althey. "Healing too,
along with first aid and herbcraft."
"We should teach submission,"
Johan said. "That's hard to learn,
and it's absolutely crucial -- not just
for paladins of Gailah, but all of them.
It's the core of learning the vocation."
"You're thinking about bringing people
together again regardless of their patrons,
aren't you?" Shahana said. "That's risky,
Johan; we would have to be careful."
"I think he's on the right trail with that,"
Ari said. "Division hasn't really served
the world very well all these years."
"You have a point," Shahana said.
"It's time to try some new things.
There are many subjects that
we could teach, or even ask
some other paladins to teach."
"Try Plumere, God of Knowledge or
Abakai, Goddess of Numbers and Math,"
said Johan. "I bet they'd agree to help."
"Likely so," Shahana said. "That
would reduce the risk, too --
those paladins don't get
targeted the way we do.
It would be safer for
them to teach classes."
"I miss the library, too,"
said Johan. "It's hard for
Althey to learn just from
memorization and healing
me -- I think that he would
do better with books."
"We could collect some
to pass around," Ari said.
"I had a nice hornbook that I
gave away after I finished it."
"So a traveling school, like
some of the tinkers have,"
Venore said. "It could work."
"How would we find each other,
though?" Hanj asked. "The world
is big, and we're just passing through."
Shahana and Raquel chuckled.
"Don't worry about that," Raquel said.
"Gailah can guide us to each other if
we explain our plans and pray for help."
"I wish we could help," Tirayna said,
"but I can't teach more than basic letters."
"Maybe we can," Venore said. "We know
how to fight. We could teach that ... and help
keep the paladins safe. Maybe that would
make up for some of what we've done."
"Are you planning to do it for free?"
Tirayna said dryly. "I can't see that."
"You wouldn't have to," Raquel said.
"We used to have some paid guards
in the Shining City. We could take up
a collection to hire guards to station
at the gathering points as they go up."
"It sounds like we have a plan,"
Shahana said. "Well done, everyone."
Just then, lunch came out of the kitchen,
and Tirayna got up to buy some for the table.
She came back with a basket of travel bread,
another of apples, and a thick wooden platter
that held several different kinds of cheese.
"A round of apple cider," Raquel said,
waving to one of the servers, who
deposited a tray of mugs for them.
The apples were sour, the cheese
creamy and sweet, and the bread
full of many nuts and seeds.
It wasn't falls that Althey
wound up treating, but folks
who came in with coughs
or sniffles to be soothed.
"If I had a cauldron,
I could brew up a syrup
and just pass that around,"
he said. "It'd do as much good,
and it'd be a lot less exhausting."
"Ask between meals," Ari said.
"The cook may loan you one
when they're not all in use."
"That's a good idea," Althey said.
"I'll try it later, but for now, I
think I could use a nap."
"We'll walk you back up,"
Shahana said, so they
all returned to their room.
Once Althey had sprawled
on the bed for a nap, Johan
beckoned to the women.
"Come here, please, I want
to show you something."
His hands shook only a little
as he unwrapped a package.
Gold leaf gleamed even
in the gray stormlight from
the rainy windows, and bits of
blue and red dotted the page.
"What is this?" Shahana whispered.
"I call it the Canticle of Thorns,"
Johan said. "I've been making
a page or two at a time, when I
have the materials for it. I needed
to make sense of all the hardships,
so well, I turned them into liturgy."
"It's beautiful," Shahana said.
"You've outdone yourself, Johan."
"I do what I can, but it isn't much,"
he said. "Still, it's a beginning."
"Enough pages make a book,"
Ari said. "How many are there?"
"I don't know," Johan hedged.
"That's all right, though -- I have
some other resources as well.
I'm sure we could pull together
more materials as needed, too."
"If you could make copies and
pass them around, that would help
our efforts so much," Shahana said.
"I'll think about that," Johan said.
"I needed to show you this, but
I'm not sure that I'm ready to
share it with anyone else yet."
"Ask Gailah," Ari suggested.
"She knows everything about you."
"That's what I'm afraid of,"
Johan said, looking away.
Ari snorted. "Don't be silly,"
she said. "Gailah chose you.
She won't abandon you now,
no matter what you look like inside."
"I think," Shahana said, "that Gailah
will appreciate the Canticle of Thorns.
Perhaps it's to acknowledge that
the path of paladins is paved with
hardships, and make that part
of learning the vocation."
Johan took a deep breath.
"Yes," he said. "I'd like that."
* * *
Venore is a young mercenary of Gorrein, with dark brown hair. She enjoys games, but gets bored easily. (introduced in "Chances Old and New")
Tirayna is an old mercenary of Gorrein. She has short silver hair. (introduced in "Chances Old and New")
Raquel is a paladin of Gailah, the mentor of Hanj. She has long iron-gray hair. (introduced in "Chances Old and New")
Hanj is a novice of Gailah, who prefers a war hammer as his primary weapon and has a strong throwing arm. He has rusty-red hair, and his bony wrists
stick out the ends of his sleeves. (introduced in "The Course the War Has Taken" and named in "Circuits and Cycles")
Plumere, God of Knowledge (introduced in "Patches")
Abakai, Goddess of Numbers and Math (introduced in "Learning the Vocation")
* * *
This poem refers back to events in several others including "The Course the War Has Taken," "Chances Old and New," "Circuits and Cycles," "Ink," and "Mistakes and Changes."
Three-Town Fork -- a river community, two settlements on either side of the water and one on the big hill that divides it into branches. Alone, each is no bigger than any of the other little towns in the area, but together they hold enough people to resist the ravages of war better than most. They even have enough men left to mount a small militia. (Introduced in "Follow Your Heart")
Ethics and morals define the boundaries of civilized behavior. While there is great variation in the details, people generally hold that consistent lists of things are right or wrong. That is, there are lots of things that are wrong in some societies but right in others, and a much smaller list that everyone agrees are right or are wrong. Not quite universal, because some individuals break the rules, but certainly ubiquitous. Among the prevailing wrongs is killing the innocent, and especially killing children. This is because philosophic rules tend to follow evolutionary advantages; killing children undermines the survival of the species, so it is not only wrong but gets pushed out of the gene pool. That doesn't mean nobody ever does it, just that most people won't and it's bad for a lot of reasons. Read about developing a personal code.
Supper consists of Beef and Barley Stew, Multigrain Dutch Oven Bread, and Homemade Apple Pie.
Breakfast features a Cabbage and Sausage Skillet along with Fruit and Nut Muesli Bread Rounds.
Lunch provides Apples and Cheese and Healthy Seed and Nut Bread.