Tapestry: Threads of Fate
- --by Gospel Lightfaith
Author's Note[edit | edit source]
It should be noted that this prequel backstory is written in conjunction with the player of Corran the Lightsworn. It is as much his story as Gospel's and weaves an interesting tale of how Fate often acts long before anyone is aware.
Chapter One: Arrival[edit | edit source]
The autumn afternoon was crisp as the coach passed through the rolling hills of Lordaeron. The young woman's pale green eyes looked out the window, the beauty of the day seemingly wasted as her gaze seemed far distant, a crease of thought between her brows.
"We should be there soon Miss 'Lina," her chaperone said as he sat across from her, "I pray you find Stratholme to your liking, though I wish you'd reconsider." The man looked at the young woman, a carefully cared for favorite of Northshire Abbey. She sat in a beam of sunlight that streamed in the window of the carriage, the pale blue of her dress only accentuating the luminous silver hair. Though the autumn light was warm, it only seemed to make her seem all the more fragile. She was a beauty to be sure, who had no place on the battlefield.
The brothers of Northshire Abbey had taken great care to see that she suffered no hardship since coming into their care. After the loss of her dear friend, Galen, 'Lina had been near-inconsolable. She'd been little more than a ghost, flitting through the abbey, scaring some of the parishoners half to death in the process. It took them a better part of a year to convince her to start living her life again, but even then she was a pale reflection of the bright, vibrant girl she'd been in her youth. They never imagined that a few years later she would be parting from them, to become a paladin of all things, "The Knighthood of the Silver Hand is no place for a lady of your breeding..."
Like a cloud's shadow passing through the light of the sun, her expression changed from distant thoughtfulness to quiet rebuke. Her gaze snapped to him, her lips compressing in a thin line of her displeasure, "I gave up that life long ago, Ontrand. I cannot sit idly by while our people suffer and our grain supplies dwindle." She reached out a delicate hand, placing it on the sill of the carriage window, "I cannot."
'Lina closed her eyes, still remembering those bygone days in the abbey. She could recall the steady stream of people; old and young, rich and poor, all became equal in the eyes of Mercy. She stood by, a silent silver ghost, listening to the softly murmured prayers of those who came and went. "Please, Light, let peace come to our ravaged world, let us see the rays of hope..." they all seemed to say.
One parishoner that 'Lina recalled with clarity was an older woman who came to the abbey each day, lighting a candle a candle with each visit to sit with it for hours. She would talk to it, as if she were speaking to someone else. 'Lina watched and listened to the curious woman for several days, finally managing to hear a snippet of conversation, "Oh, the harvest was so small this year, Sheena, Papa has not been himself since you died..." 'Lina had felt her face flush with embarassment, feeling as if she'd intruded on a very personal moment, but just as she stepped away, the woman looked up at her blinking her eyes in the dim light, "Sheena...?" There was such hope in the woman's voice, it brought tears to the young girl's eyes, "No, my lady..." 'Lina had said quietly.
The woman had risen from her place, crossing the distance between them. She reached out, turning 'Lina's face toward the light, "Oh...no, you are not my Sheena; you've such an innocent face, my Sheena had eyes that had seen too much in her young life," the woman smiled at her anyway, "But come, child, you seem like you need company just as much as I." From that moment on, whenever the woman had come to the abbey, she spent the day in 'Lina's company. They spoke of matters great and small; 'Lina learning much of the woman's life. She shared her own hardships and triumphs with this odd little peasant woman; the sort of person 'Lina would never have associated with in her old life. Such people had been beneath her back then, but talking to this woman, she came to realize that they were people with the same desires, loves, and feelings as she did.
"You remind me so much of my Sheena," the woman had said to her one day, "You seem so young and innocent now, but you have that same light within you. That same aura that you are meant for more than ghosting around this humble little abbey." The woman had looked at her intently, reaching out a hand to run her fingers through 'Lina's silver hair, "Never lose your gentle heart, Little One," she said, "That was my Sheena's mistake, she forgot what the suffering of the people is like, she began to fight for glory, for honor, for power..." She shook her head sadly, "She forgot things like Mercy, and Faith... and Love." The woman looked past her to one of the stained-glass windows, "Remember, my child, remember always that the Light is a symbol of Hope, to brighten our paths through the deepening night." Those words had rung true through 'Lina's heart and remained with her all these years. Not long after that, the woman ceased to return to the abbey, 'Lina had thought of her often, and asked of her, but no one seemed to know who she was. In fact, no one at the abbey had recalled seeing the woman at all.
In the years afterward, 'Lina became a steadfast emblem of faith in the abbey. She moved among those who came to pray, kneeling with them as they went before the Light with their supplications. She held those who wept in arms that were warm and comforting, her heart aching for their loss and their sorrow. She spoke of faith to those who came with anger in their hearts, thirsting for vengeance, soothing their tortured spirits, sending them back into the world with brighter outlooks. Many of them would remember her years later, a silver-haired angel who tended them in their hour of need, who turned them from the shadows of darkness and set them to the paths of Light.
As she tended the many who came to the abbey, 'Lina came to realize the state of the world. So much pain, so much sorrow. It was almost enough to break her innocent heart. It was then she knew, she had to do something, she could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as Darkness consumed the world.
"As you wish, my lady," the man replied quietly, but inwardly he cursed himself. He'd spent the entire journey here from Northshire Abbey trying to dissuade her, but she would have none of it. It was her 'Calling', she would tell them, she was meant to do this. Ontrand wept for her in the dark of night, when the fair creature slept, dreaming her innocent dreams of saving the world. He was no stranger to war, he knew exactly what would happen. She would die; a flower such as her would never survive the rigors of war. Secretly, it was his hope that perhaps, in a few weeks, she might return to the Abbey, ready to take on the mantle of a Priestess. Light knew that calling was far better suited to her than the life of a paladin. He could only hope that the rigors of training would deter her from this path, show her that a lady of her stature was never meant to wield arms and armor. He could only hope.
Oblivious to the ruminations of her travelling companion, 'Lina continued to look out the window as the magnificent city of Stratholme came into view. As the current stronghold of the Knights of the Silver Hand, it was resplendent with their pennants and banners; each one representing the many families who gave their sons and support to the cause of the paladins and Uther the Lightbringer. Guards on the ramparts hailed them as the gates swung open to admit them. The coach clattered through the streets of Stratholme, finally reaching the inner Bastion, where they passed through another gate. Once they rolled into that yard, however, stablehands came rushing forward to take the reins of the horses, slowing them and unharnessing them with a professional ease.
As the coach came to a stop, Ontrand rose first, exiting the carriage and turning to assist her out. She extended one of those elegant hands to him, her grip firm but sure as she stepped down; it seemed as if every eye in the courtyard went to her as she stepped into the full light of the sun. Ontrand couldn't help but give her a proud smile. Beautiful as she was, so well-tended and protected, she was here in the midst of chaos, bright and courageous to lend her aid where she could. Light, please protect her, the brother thought sincerely.
'Lina's gaze swept the courtyard, only too aware of how out of place she must seem. She inclined her chin proudly, however, determined to show them all that she was more than the innocent waif she appeared. Across the yard, out of the keep, three men in armor came striding toward her, so 'Lina drew a slow breath, keeping herself straight like a silver arrow in the midst of the yard. It was now or never; was she truly committed to this decision? She could still leap into the carriage and forget she'd ever thought to come here. Internally, she shook her head, resolute. Gospelina Katja-Syranelle uth Kestrodullin, the pampered debutante of a noble caste would be no more beginning today. Yet, who would she become? Even she could not answer that now, only time would tell. If she was worthy.
Lordaeron, The City of Stratholme
The dying light of the sun set in the west, painting the horizon in colors of gold and crimson. The faded amber light bathed the city of Stratholme, accentuating the two silhouettes that walked the battlements side-by-side. Those on guard duty stood aside respectfully for the two men as they walked, some of them shooting envious glances to the younger of the two. Ever since taking the mantle of leadership, Uther the Lightbringer had made it a personal endeavour to get to know each of the men in his command; it was something that endeared him to his soldiers, made them fight for him with all their hearts. Uther told himself it was to upkeep morale, but in truth, he learned as much about himself in these brief times with his men as he learned about them. Today, he walked with a thoughtful young man, whose courage in the field was touted among his peers. Yet, as Uther walked with him, he saw there was a hardness to his soul, like one who had built strong walls around his heart.
"I've been told of your courage in the recent excursion against those blasted orcs, Corran," Uther said casually as they walked, his armor clanking softly with each step. Yet, it was oddly a sound that brought the men comfort, knowing that he walked among them as an equal, "You are a credit to our Order."
Corran's steps faltered a moment, the tawny-haired young man looking up at his superior with piercing emerald eyes. His gaze held the utmost reverence for Uther, betraying the awe he felt at having been called into the paladin's august presence. It had been both a pleasure and a shock when Uther's retainer had come to him, presenting him with the invitation to join Uther on the battlements after dinner. Corran knew that Uther spent time amongst the men, he never thought that his day would come quite so quickly. However, while humbled by Uther's praise, Corran inclined his chin proudly, "It is nothing you yourself would not have done, my lord."
Beneath his flowing moustaches, Uther smiled before he reached up to stroke them thoughtfully, "Perhaps," he commented, "But you have shown yourself to be an honorable man, even in the heat of battle." The head of the Knights of the Silver hand turned toward the inner courtyard, placing his gauntleted hands upon the waist high rampart. Corran stood to Uther's left in respectful silence, letting him gather his thoughts. He followed his superior's gaze down to the yard below, but unlike Uther, Corran frowned slightly at the scene beneath him.
He watched as the lithe young woman exited the carriage, standing in the center of the yard. Corran listened as the yard came to a standstill; the trainees stopped at their bladework, the smiths stopped at their anvils, patrolmen paused on the battlements. The Knight-Captain frowned in disapproval. What was -she- doing here? This was no place for a highborn lady! He grimaced to himself, his jaw setting into a firm line as he made a mental note to find out which knight she was here visiting and severely reprimand that man. A battle-ready city was no place to bring a sweetheart, the distraction alone...! Just look at the mess she'd already made of the courtyard!
"...prophecy," Uther was saying as Corran's attention suddenly snapped back with a stomach-turning lurch. Blast! He inwardly flogged himself for his attention being elsewhere. He glanced down to that silver-haired form below, silently cursing. Distraction! Giving himself a mental shake, however, Corran turned his attention back to his superior, "My lord?"
Uther looked to him thoughtfully, a faint smile coming to his war-weary features. He shook his head, stroking his moustaches yet again, "Nothing, my boy, just the musings of an old man..." Inwardly, Corran seethed at having missed whatever Uther had been mulling over, almost in accusation he glared back at the young woman below. Damnable women! He supressed a sigh of irritation, crossing his arms over his chest as he stood resolutely at Uther's side.
Uther's voice was soft, contemplative when next he spoke, "I'm sure she'll be a fine addition to the ranks. They say she has a healer's touch..." He stirred next to Corran, leaning a bit farther forward, watching the girl below wih a look in his eye that Corran knew well. Uther had an uncanny knack for getting the length and breadth of a person's character, knowing instantly those who would benefit the Order and those who were better off in other professions. He was seriously appraising this girl for the Order...
If Uther had raised his mighty warhammer, Spesar, and clouted Corran on the back of the head, the reaction would have been much the same, "H-Her, my lord?" he blurted without thinking, his green eyes wide with surprise. Corran once more looked at the girl below; she was young, maybe barely twenty. Average height, slight build, silver hair that would make her stand out in any battlefield. It seemed completely ludicrous, she belonged in some mansion in the city, being waited on hand and foot. Not here among armored men, the smell of sweat, horses, and steel. Corran looked helplessly to Uther, confused.
The older paladin straightened, once more resting his gauntleted hands on the ramparts. The look he gave Corran was one of light amusement, "Indeed, Knight-Captain, we'll need ones like her in the coming days ahead." Uther shifted his gaze out to the distant horizon, now painted with the early colors of twilight. A heavy sigh escaped him, "Perhaps we'll need ones like her too much..."
Disquieted by Uther's sudden change in demeanor, Corran shifted in his armor. Vainly, he tried to reassure Uther, "We are doing everything we can, my lord, even now Arthas is tracking down that blasted Demon..." Yet, even that thought did not seem to bring much comfort to the elder paladin.
"There is more going on in the world, Corran... I feel it," the old campaigner said hesitantly as he shook his head, "Our Order will need every faithful heart in the dark time to come," his gaze once more went down to the courtyard where the silver-haired girl stood in the center, awaiting his retainers who were just exiting the Bastion. He placed a hand on Corran's shoulder, watching out of the corner of his eye as the young man followed his gaze to the girl, "Hearts like hers that will remember what peace and devotion are truly like."
Corran looked to the silver-haired young woman, wondering what it was about her that seemed to inspire even Uther himself. There had to be something. He wouldn't rest till he found out what. His mind made up, Corran looked to Uther as he resumed their walk, the older paladin discussing the various fortifications of the city. Even as they walked, however, Corran felt his gaze invariably drawn to that blue-clad, silver-haired dryad in the courtyard below, until she entered the Bastion with Uther's retainers. Yes, there was something special about her... He would take it upon himself to find out what.
Chapter Two: Enemy Mine[edit | edit source]
"You know, you really don't belong here, my lady..." the last two words were accented with a sneering sharpness, indicating the young man's disdain. 'Lina looked up from the book on tactical advantages, blinking in surprise. A young man, of perhaps eighteen, stood a few feet away with a wooden practice blade in his hand. Her eyes went to the sword, then to his face. Carefully, she set the book aside, inclining her chin.
"I take it you have some issue with me, Brendan?" she asked.
"You're damn right I do!" The boy snarled, slashing the air with the sword as he advanced toward her. Behind him, 'Lina could see two of his associates step into view, chuckling in dubious mirth. "You're some air-headed girl!" Brendan continued, "You don't know anything about fighting, anything about war! Why are you even here? I bet it's to impress some guy, or just to piss off your parents!" He snorted derisively, glancing to his friends, who cackled obediently.
'Lina rose to her feet, closing the book with an audible snap. She drew herself to her full height, looking up at Brendan with cool green eyes, "I came here because I was meant to be here," she said calmly, "I was Called into service. Why are you here, Brendan? Honor? Glory? To make a name for yourself in the world?"
Brendan's face twisted from fury to indignation as he stared down his long, aristocratic nose at her, "Pfft, you're such a stupid girl. Of course I'm here for the Honor. My father was proud the day I came to training; he said the Glory of our house was at stake!" He stared at her, his eyes glittering with his ambition, "And yes, I will make a name for myself. A name worthy of history books!"
The silver-haired woman smiled, though it was oddly sympathetic, "That is the difference between you and I, Brendan. I serve because I have seen the suffering of our people and desire for nothing more than to be able to help them." The boys all halted in their mockery abruptly as the shame they found in her words began to sink in. They glowered at her sullenly, the two toward the rear backing away and making a hasty retreat in the face of her cool nobility. Brendan slashed the air with his sword again, leveling the tip a mere few inches from her throat, "You'll never make Paladin, little princess. "
'Lina merely regarded him with that quiet detachment, "It's all right, Brendan. I forgive you." The boy, taken aback by such a response, frowned and took off down the corridor after his friends. She watched him depart with those calm jade eyes, but no sooner than he was out of sight did she sag back down on the bench she'd vacated at his arrival. It had been like this since she arrived, even among the other female trainees she'd found she was tolerated at best. Most of them viewed her as some pampered princess, incapable of truly appreciating the art of war as much as they. She sighed, pulling her feet up onto the bench as she tucked her knees beneath her chin.
"Shouldn't you be down in the yard with the other trainees?" a stern voice said over her head. 'Lina startled up, seeing a tall man standing over her, his hair a deep reddish gold. His authoritarian gaze took her in, making her flush in embarassment. She rose to her feet, shuffling uncomfortably beneath his regard.
She took a momentary glance at the insignia on his armor, noting his rank, "I'm sorry, Knight-Captain. I'll head down straightaway." She bowed shortly, unsettled bneath that imperturbable emerald gaze, 'Lina backed away respectfully.
He held out a gauntleted hand toward her, "Wait," he said, taking a step forward even as she retreated, "What is your name, trainee?"
"'Lina, Knight-Captain," she said quietly, "'Lina Kestrin."
He considered her a moment, taking in the delicate, heart-shaped face. The silver hair braided tightly and tucked under, close to her scalp to prevent any undue advantages to her opponent. Her clothing was snug against her lithe frame; loose enough cut to allow free movement, rather than restricting her. For a highborn maiden, she looked more the part of a trainee that even some knights he knew! Still, he frowned slightly as he continued to scrutinize her. For all that she was dressed as a trainee, those bright pale green eyes were still alluring beneath those coal grey lashes. Beneath her uniform, those lithe curves still spoke volumes of a very womanly figure...
She shifted from foot to foot beneath his regard, clearing her throat after a few moments, "Knight-Captain? Do I have your leave to go before I'm late?"
Corran blinked, shaking his head slightly, "Uh, yes," he managed, also clearing his own throat, "Yes, go on, Trainee 'Lina. If the Blademaster takes you to task, tell him Knight-Captain Ravencrest detained you."
She bowed respectfully, "Certainly, Knight-Captain." She turned to go when Corran noted her book still on the bench. He bent, picking it up, smiling to himself as he noted it was a book on tactics and warfare. He watched her keep herself to a composed walk until she reached the end of the hall, only then did she turn, trotting off toward the practice yard. Corran tucked the book into a pouch at his belt, he'd return it later then.
Ravencrest. 'Lina mused to herself as she made her way down to the training yard. Knight-Captain Ravencrest. She felt like she should know that name, but nothing came to her. She sighed, there was still so much about the Order she didn't know. She'd have to keep at her studies until she was more familiar. Undoubtedly, the other trainees would know who he was, but she dare not ask. She'd be laughed right out of the yard.
She sighed inwardly to herself as she made her way along the corridors. He certainly was handsome... Her lips curved upward slightly, feeling the slight flush of warmth touch her cheeks. After a few steps, however, she shook her head sternly, What am I thinking? He's my superior and certainly not at all interested in a silly little girl who can't focus on her duties! Silently berating herself, 'Lina stepped out into the bright sunshine as it fell over the training yard. Already the Blademaster was beginning the day's lesson. Her training mates stood off in a group, so she quietly loped over to join them.
Fortunately, the Blademaster did not take her to task. 'Lina would not have liked to invoke the Knight-Captain's name, since that might engender yet more ridicule from her compatriots. The Blademaster paired them off, taking no consideration for gender, "On the field of battle," he said, "You women will be treated the same as any other man. The enemy won't find a suitable opponent for you, so you get used to fighting men that are stronger and heavier than you are."
Fate, it seemed, wasn't quite so merciful to her today, though. Her heart sank with dread as she saw her opponent for the day was none other than Brendan. He grinned at her maliciously from across the field as he fell into an easy-seeming fighting stance across the practice ring from her, "Well, well... I hope you're ready to have your bells rung, my lady." The edge on his voice was enough to cut into 'Lina's gentle spirit; if he came at her full-force, there was no way she'd be able to counter him! She glanced around at the other trainees who were already sparring with each other. The Blademaster was down at the far end, tutoring one of the younger boys at parrying. She looked back to Brendan who was taking slow, predatory steps toward her. A thin sliver of dread iced its way down her spine, but she merely inclined her chin, hoping Brendan saw challenge in her eyes and not uncertainty.
Chapter Three: Defiance[edit | edit source]
The room was austere, adorned with the various accoutrement of war; battlemaps were strewn across the large mahogany desk, a stand in the corner creaked softly beneath the weight of ceremonial plate armor, and the furniture was more functional than comfortable. A simple woven carpet of Lordaeron wool covered the floor, the only reminder of a simpler time in a room made for the present and its hazards.
In this, his personal chamber, Corran was given a masterful view of the courtyard below where the trainees were already assembling for their bladework. He leaned against the easement of the window, the book of tactics that 'Lina had abandoned earlier in his right hand as he absently thumped it against the palm of his left. Distantly, he could hear the orders of the Blademaster below, but he wasn't really watching the proceedings. His thoughts instead turned to the silver-haired trainee, a faint smile curving his normally stoic features. The Knight-Captain caught himself in one of these moments, heaving a sigh of exasperation as he tossed the book down on top of the battlemaps.
What in the name of the Light is wrong with me? He thought to himself viciously, I've trained dozens of female trainees before now. Why does she have to be different? Why does she seem to invade my thoughts so?
He grumbled irritably at himself, rubbing at the back of his neck. She was a trainee, just like any other. In fact, she was more of a liability to due to her complete lack of prior combat training, not to even begin speaking on her obviously delicate nature! Corran paced over the Lordaeronian rug like a caged bear. She should be back home in some manor-house crocheting doilies, for Light'sake!
"Brendan, damn you, I said stop!" That caused Corran to stop completely in his tracks, his thoughts about silver-haired paladins derailed by the unfamiliar urgency in the Blademaster's tone as it rang through the courtyard below. The Knight-Captain crossed back to the windows, leaning on the sill as he looked down into the yard. He saw a young man, moderately built, perhaps some eighteen years old, beating on a vastly smaller, slighter form like it was a set of practice pells. Across the yard, the Blademaster was struggling to get through the press of trainees that now crowded around the pair, but despite the Blademaster's cries, the boy refused to let his opponent rise.
"Getting a good taste of battle are we now, my lady?!" Brendan yelled in impotent fury, slamming his practice shield down on the smaller figure. It wasn't when he raised his shield that the sunlight caught and sparkled in the silver hair...
"By the Light!" Corran swore vehemently, shoving himself off the windowsill and leaping for the door. He hurled it open, the door slamming on its hinges, much to the shock of the occupants of the hallway. His boots clattered down the steps as he took them three and four at a time, nearly bowling over the older squires as they ran their errands. He shoved the doors to the courtyard open, scattering a mixed group of trainees and squires like leaves before the wind. His greatsword clanked and clamored against his armor in his haste as he crossed the yard, roughly pulling trainees aside, left and right, muttering, "Clear off, the lot of you. Training is done for today."
He made his way through to the Blademaster, "What happened here?" he demanded as the trainees began to disperse.
The older man rubbed a sheen of sweat from his bald pate as he looked at Corran, "I'm not sure, Knight-Captain. I'd paired them all to spar, next thing I know this fight broke out..." He gestured helplessly to where Brendan sat sullenly against the far wall of the yard, kept in place by three of the Blademaster's own squires. The small huddled form on the ground was already being tended to by an armored knight, "It was fortunate that Knight Immortis was crossing the yard."
The older man lifted his head at the sound of his name, cradling the slight figure of the girl in his arms, he nodded to the two of them before turning his attention back to his charge. Carefully, this Immortis murmured a prayer over 'Lina's battered figure. Corran's jaw clenched as he saw the mass of angry bruises on her delicate, heart-shaped face. It tightened even further as he saw the trickle of blood from her lip. As Immortis' fingers began to glow with a soft, golden light, Corran could feel the Light-born energy flow through her, seeking out and healing the worst of her wounds first. The Knight-Captain watched as her vivid green eyes fluttered open, looking at Immortis with a brief moment of confusion, only to have a smile cross her features.
Corran supressed a scowl of irritation, seeing that grateful smile curve her lips, meant only for the man that held her in his arms. Yet, in the next moment, he caught sight of Brendan leaning against the far wall, penned in by the squires. Growling quietly, Corran stalked across the yard to where the young man leaned against the wall, watching the Knight heal the girl with a sly smirk on his features, "Explain yourself, trainee," Corran muttered darkly.
The boy glanced at Corran dismissively before giving a flippant shrug, even in the face of Corran's ire, "She was asking for it, Knight-Captain." He waved a hand toward where 'Lina still lay cradled in Immortis' arms, "She said to come at her like it was real. Guess she thinks she's got something to prove." Corran's gaze pinched in suspicion, not inclined to believe the boy any farther than he could throw him. He looked back over his shoulder to the girl on the ground, doing his best to ignore Immortis' arms holding her so carefully close.
"Is that true, Trainee 'Lina?" Corran demanded, more harshly than he intended. Those cool green eyes looked up at him, washing him in her eternally tranquil aura, making him feel almost ashamed of his anger. Even as he felt his ears redden beneath her regard, she looked between the him and her fellow trainee, replying calmly, "It is, Knight-Captain."
She's lying! Corran thought incredulously, staring at her in disbelief. Yet, in that moment he also saw her quiet nobility, lying there, battered and bruised in Immortis' arms. Brendan had beaten her bloody and yet there she was, protecting him from punishment! He felt another surge of embarassment, though he could not begin to explain why she caused such disquiet in him. The Knight-Captain stood there a moment, watching her as Immortis leaned in to brush his fingers over the cut on her lip, healing it over with the barest of touches. Seething, he rounded back on Brendan.
"BRENDAN!" The powerful shout echoed though the yard, but it did not emanate from Corran. Across the courtyard, causing everyone to look at the far end, stood a tall man stood in crimson enameled armor. He tucked his helm beneath his arm as he handed the reins of his white warhorse off to one of the stablehands. The boy glanced up, nodding curtly to Corran before he made his reluctantly to the side of the man across the yard.
Everyone in the yard watched and listened as the man loomed over the young man, "Is this what I've sent you off to become?" He paced around Brendan, uncannily quiet in spite of his full-plate armor, "A slacker who beats up pretty girls that don't know their place?" He shoved Brendan in the back, causing the boy to stumble to his knees, "I expect you to fight real men, not some worthless chit with no sense to stay home." The scarlet armored man aimed a kick at Brendan's ribs, causing the boy to double-over in pain.
The boy coughed, gasping for breath before the scarlet knight kicked him again, "You bring shame to your father's house, boy!" The crowd of people along the yard's fringes muttered in disbelief and surprise. He snarled again, rearing his foot back to land yet another blow on the squirming boy.
"Stop! Don't hurt him!" the clarion voice echoed across the quiet of the courtyard, causing Corran, and everyone else for that matter, to turn toward the speaker. 'Lina pushed Immortis away from her as she rose to her feet, the knight only briefly trying to stop her before she pulled away. Corran saw the anguish in those pale green eyes, as she took in the scene across the way. Again, the Knight-Captain was touched by the gentle mercy in her heart.
Setting his jaw firmly, Corran looked back to where Brendan lay at the feet of the armored man. He took a few steps forward, intent on putting an end to this, however, the man held up a hand of warning toward the paladin, "Not another step, Knight-Captain. I outrank you, and I -will- discipline my son as I see fit."
Sparing at the sanguine armor, Corran cursed inwardly as he saw the truth of the matter, "Commander..." he growled quietly. He could do nothing but stand there, glaring at the scarlet knight in helpless rage, his fists clenching and unclenching. The man was his superior and he was forced, by honor, to obey, as much as the idea rankled him.
Yet, to one in the yard, rank did not matter. Corran barely had time to acknowledge the silver-haired streak that passed him as 'Lina sprinted across the yard. She dodged and wove her way between bystanders with an almost sylvan grace before throwing herself bodily over Brendan's prone, whimpering form, "Leave him alone!"
Corran stared after the girl, finding himself dumbfounded yet again that afternoon. She had no reason at all to defend Brendan, much less to his own father. Yet, there she was, her lissome frame protectively shielding Brendan from further abuse against a man easily twice her size. The older paladin regarded her with a mixture of pride and shame: pride for her, for doing what she knew to be right, regardless of the risk; shame for himself, for having not done the same. Perhaps Uther was right...
Movement out of the corner of his eye brought Corran back to the present; his eyes widening as he saw the Commander raising his left arm in a vicious backhand, intended for the silver-haired figure atop his son. That spurred Corran into action, a rumbling growl emanating from his chest, "Oh no you don't, you bastard..." he muttered, reaching out to grab the man's shoulder and jerking him around to face him. Even as he did so, the scarlet knight's arm just began it's downswing, cutting the air above 'Lina's head, causing Corran to glare at him even more.
"Commander or no, you are overstepping your jurisdiction," the Knight-Captain said, loud enough for everyone in the yard to hear, "Trainee Brendan's punishment lies with the Blademaster, not you." There were angry mutters of agreement from the perimeter of the yard, bringing Corran a small seed of satisfaction. He released the noble's shoulder, grinning wryly "In fact, I would say that Brendan is beyond your ability to punish for his duration as a Trainee, as his discipline now lies with us." He paced around the scarlet knight, subtly interposing himself between the nobleman and the two trainees on the ground, "After all, outside influences are the reason they are separated from their families to train."
Scattered cheers rose from the edges of the yard, but nothing brought Corran's soul more elation than when turned and caught sight of 'Lina smiling up at him, admiration in her eyes. He stepped forward, extending a gauntleted hand to help her up, "That was a courageous thing you did, Trainee 'Lina," he said quietly, just between the two of them. A thrill chased itself up his spine as she placed her hand in his, pulling herself to her feet. She blushed prettily beneath his praise, lifting those green eyes to his with a smile...before her eyes filled with panic, "Look out!"
Corran instinctively pulled 'Lina to him, shielding her as he twisted his body to the left. As he spun around, he released 'Lina, pushing her toward her classmates without losing his momentum. Even as he did so, he could feel the impact of the Commander's fist on his armored shoulder. With an almost practiced ease, Corran continued his spin, before bringing his right fist up in a vicious uppercut. It caught the Commander square in the chin, knocking the taller man backward as he reeled from the blow. A deathly hush fell over the yard as the Commander staggered into a bale of hay, collapsing in an ungraceful heap.
The Commander struggled out of the hay, his hand going to the sword at his hip, "You'll answer to me, Knight-Captain..." he snarled, glaring at Corran malevolently.
Corran's emerald eyes narrowed dangerously, "You don't want to take this that far, Commander." It was not a question, it was a statement. The paladin flexed a gauntleted hand, but did not reach for the greatsword that was sheathed at his back.
For an instant, the entire yard and its occupants vanished from the minds of both men. They regarded each other: malevolence in the gaze of the Commander; quiet defiance in the gaze of the Knight-Captain. In a matter of moments, each man had sized up his opponent, each knowing that, in this, only one of them could prevail. The air around them was charged with tension, the herald before the storm.
The Commander's hand tightened on his blade, "You'll pay for this, worm!" he spat at Corran before glaring past him to where 'Lina stood among the other hopefuls, "You and that wretched trainee! She'll never make a paladin as long as I have something to say about it!" With that, the Commander shoved his way past Corran, storming toward the Bastion.
Corran turned, watching him go. Only once the Commander was inside, did his eyes search the crowd for 'Lina. Yet, the silver-haired trainee was gone.
Chapter Four: Old Soul[edit | edit source]
Bars of sunlight slanted in the tall windows of the Bastion's hall, making an almost zhevra striped pattern along the grey flagstones. Passing through these slants of light, a tall, grey-haired knight walked side-by-side with a delicate silver-haired girl. He bespoke her with a kindly, almost gentle voice, causing her to look up at him, "What you did for that young man was very admirable, Trainee 'Lina," The paladin smiled down at her, placing a careworn hand on her shoulder.
Shyly, she returned his smile as a faint blush touched her cheeks at his compliment. In her mind, she hadn't done anything special, just what anyone else would have done. "It was nothing, Knight Immortis, I assure you," she murmured demurely.
The older knight looked down at her with infinite patience, yet there was strength in his gait, and an aura of power was almost palpable around him. 'Lina found herself wondering if she would ever be as self-assured as this man. Wherever he goes, men must surely bow to his greatness... she thought in awe.
"You underestimate yourself greatly, Little One," he said quietly as they continued to walk the corridor. His iron-shod feet sent echoes rippling through the hall around them, making 'Lina feel small as she padded softly at his side. He folded his left arm behind his back as he walked, his right hand reaching up to stroke his short moustache thoughtfully, "There "There is much in you that is, as of yet, undiscovered."
'Lina came to a stop, which caused him to pause and turn back toward her, "My Lord honors me, but I..." she began, but Immortis reached out, placing a single finger to her lips. She blinked, her protestations dying in her throat before she could utter them further.
"I do not make idle compliments, 'Lina," Immortis' blue-grey eyes looked down at her in all seriousness, as he withdrew his hand. "Idle compliments serve no one and nothing. I tell you these things, because I know you will not let them affect your gentle spirit. One that is, I might add, the envy of many of your peers."
'Lina bit her lower lip as the feel of his touch lingered on them. She glanced up at him through her lashes, confused, "Envy, my lord?"
Immortis turned again, gesturing vaguely back toward the courtyard, "No one in the yard moved to prevent that boy from being beaten. No one but you." He regarded her contemplatively, his jaw firming as he regarded her, an underlying thread of rebuke in his tone, "Did you not think of the consequences of your actions? You defied a man who was your superior, vastly so. He can easily have you drummed out of the Hand for such insubordination."
'Lina flushed in embarassment. No, she hadn't thought, all she knew was that, regardless of how callously he'd treated her, Brendan did not deserve such punishment. She gnawed her lower lip shamefacedly before looking back up at Immortis, "No, I didn't, my lord. I didn't think at all. I just...reacted."
"Exactly," Immortis said, his tone softening,"You followed your heart, as any good paladin should. Too often there are those within our Order who think of rank and status first, all else second. That is not how we are meant to be..." The older paladin went to the window that overlooked the courtyard, resting his hands on the sill. He sighed, his gaze seemingly tired, world-weary to the impressionable young girl. He stood there many long moments, 'Lina quietly shifting from foot to foot. She'd not yet been dismissed, so she was obligated to remain until he did so.
As the sun sank beneath the horizon, Immortis finally pushed himself away from the window, seemingly startled to find her still standing there. "Oh, I'm sorry, 'Lina," he said, smiling apologetically, "I'd almost forgotten you were there, old memories take hold sometimes." Distantly in the city, a bell rang, counting the dusktime hour. The older knight waved her off, "You needn't bide your time here with me, they should be serving dinner soon and I know young people and their stomachs."
Somewhat disappointed by such an abrupt dismissal, 'Lina took her leave, making her way slowly back down the hall. She glanced back over her shoulder though, to see Immortis bathed in the crimson-orange light of the dying sun. His face was the visage of sorrow and loss, of a life lived within an era of war and strife. A soul that longed for nothing more than peace.
Chapter Five: The Summons[edit | edit source]
The following morning dawned bright and clear, the sun burning away the remnants of mist that clung to the lake before Stratholme. Guards patrolled the battlements as a page pelted his way across the courtyard to the officer's quarters, his tabard making a flip-flapping sound that echoed through the empty courtyard. The young boy panted as he charged up the stairs, pausing momentarily to get his bearings on the landing. His eyes glanced at the several doors on this floor, before finally making his way to one, pounding on it urgently.
"Knight-Captain Ravencrest!" he managed between breaths, continuing to rap on the door. The boy fidgeted from foot to foot impatiently. He raised his hand to pound on the door again, but was given pause as a voice spoke, "You won't find the Knight-Captain abed at this hour, boy," the officer across the way said with a chuckle, "You'd best check the lake."
Rolling his eyes, the boy let out an exasperated sigh and took off back down the stairs, the officer's laughter chasing after him like a determined hound. He was completely out of breath and staggering by the time he reached the lakeshore where he found a set of linen towels sitting out. He sighed, scanning the lake for any sign of the Knight-Captain. It took him a few moments, but he eventually caught sight of the man swimming easily through the water. The boy jumped up and down, waving his arms frantically, "Knight-Captain Ravencrest!"
The boy watched as the knight cut easily through the water with smooth, clean strokes of his muscular arms. It was a matter of moments before Corran made his way ashore where he picked up one of the towels, rubbing vigorously at his hair as he regarded the boy, "Aye? What is it?" The page leaned forward, hands on knees as he continued to catch his breath, "L-Lord U-Uther..." was all he got out before Corran left him standing on the shore alone.
The Knight-Captain took enough time to make himself presentable before taking himself into the office of the head of the Silver Hand. Uther could have easily had an audience hall built, but he found that to be pretentious, prefering to conduct the day-to-day business of the Order from his office, which also doubled as his war room in times of combat readiness. The room was in just such a state; battlemaps festooning the tabletops, much like Corran's own apartment; dispatches from this morning's round of scouts; notes in Uther's own neat, militant handwriting. Everyone was trying to second-guess the enemy, even now.
Corran fell to one knee, bowing his head respectfully. A shock of his reddish gold hair fell into his eyes as he glanced up past the huge oaken desk to the eyes of his superior, "You summoned me, my lord?"
Uther glanced up from the document he was working on, waving to his aides to leave the room. Corran could feel a thread of uncertainty lace his spine; Uther did not dismiss his aides unless he was intending to discipline a knight. Uther respected each and every one of his men; he would never cause them any undue humiliation, even among those who were closest to him. As the last aide closed the door, the sound to Corran, like the sealing of a tomb, Uther finally looked up from his work.
"Corran, isn't it?" he said at length, to which Corran could only nod. "You've been an asset to the Order for several years, Knight-Captain, so I find your latest activities to be... unsettling. I'm sure you know to which I am alluding." Uther settled his gaze on Corran, gesturing for him to rise. Obediently, Corran got to his feet, responding to his superior's inquiry.
"I do, my lord," Corran said, keeping his face impassive, "I am prepared to accept any punishment you have." Inwardly, Corran winced at the idea that he could possibly be turned out for his insubordination, but as he glanced at Uther, his uncertainly faded. There was a calculated look in the older paladin's gaze.
"I cannot accept such insubordination in my ranks, Knight-Captain, but neither can I disprove you were completely out of line. Therefore, I am giving you the opportunity to defend yourself in an open trial." A trial? Corran mused over that briefly, his sharp mind automatically weighing the benefits and the detriments of the idea. It made complete sense! Uther could not openly question one of his own Commanders, however, if there were enough who were willing to testify against him, then Uther would be free to deal with the man as he saw fit.
Corran nodded to Uther, bowing stiffly, "Of course, my lord. I place myself at your disposal." Uther smiled up at him, nodding, "You're dismissed, Knight-Captain, I will be sending my aides to speak with those who might be willing to attest to your actions."
Corran took his leave, Uther's aides filing back in as he opened the door. As he left, he could hear Uther already issuing the orders to his subordinates to find those willing to testify. As the door closed, he could hear one of them, "...a young trainee, 'Lina Kestrin." At that, Corran couldn't help but smile.
Chapter Six: The Spark[edit | edit source]
The trial commenced within the next week; all the witnesses had been thoroughly questioned by Uther's staff. To many, there was no doubt of Knight-Captain Ravencrest's innocence; he'd acted with honor and courage befitting his station, but there were those within the Commander's camp who called for the renunciation of Corran's rank for assaulting his betters. Thus it was that the milling crowd in the courtyard was filled with angry mutters from both sides.
Off to one side, 'Lina stood with the trainees, oddly isolated in the crowd as they all kept a good one foot distance or more away from her. Ever since the incident in the courtyard, the trainees no longer openly ridiculed her, but she wasn't exactly welcome in their ranks either. Many of them felt that she'd cheated them out of recognition, most of them having been sent away by Knight-Captain Ravencrest before the incident with the Commander. There were those that protested had they been there, they would have stepped to the fore long before "that dainty coward" 'Lina Kestrin.
A hushed pall fell over the assembly as Uther himself exited the Bastion, standing at the head of the stairs, Spesar in his hand. The great paladin hefted the mace down, resting its head on the flagstones, "This is a trial of honor between Knight-Captain Corran Ravencrest and Lord Commander Richard Valdelmar. By the Light's own Grace, may you both be tried fairly by this, an assembly of your peers. Let all know that justice still rules in Stratholme." With that, Uther thudded Spesar upon the stones again, and his aides began the trial in earnest.
"A week prior to this date, my lord, Knight Captain Ravencrest assaulted Lord Commander Valdelmar in this very courtyard..." Murmurs of dissent rippled through the crowd as those that were present in the yard that day protested the validity of that statement. Uther thudded Spesar on the stones, which brought an immediate hush.
"Knight-Captain Ravencrest," Uther said, "Do you have anything to say against this charge?"
Corran stepped forward, kneeling before Uther. The sun gleamed off the knight's well-polished, golden armor giving him a light-bathed aura, "I say only that I acted in accordance to my rank, my lord, and brought no dishonor upon my brethren."
Uther's face remained impassive as he motioned, "And you, Lord Commander Valdelmar?"
The Scarlet knight shoved his way through the crowd, mounting the steps. He bowed to no one, not even Uther himself, instead keeping himself nobly upright, "I call for Knight-Captain Ravencrest's immediate demotion;" he demanded haughtily, "Assaulting his superiors is clearly against all the tenets of our Order."
"We are aware of the charges, Lord Commander," Uther said patiently, "Do you have anything to say about the accusations?"
Valdelmar sneered a mocking grin at Corran, "He is guilty, of course."
With a sigh, Uther settled into the chair brought forth by one of his aids. He leaned Spesar against its side, looking toward the aides that were directing the trial, "Proceed, counselors."
The trial seemed to take an eternity, or at least that's how it felt to Corran. Men were brought forth to vouchsafe the integrity of both the Knight-Captain and the Commander; each unfailingly loyal in their praise of their superiors. As the witnesses of the events that day were brought forth, one could begin to see the divergences between the two sides take shape.
Those within Valdelmar's camp told of how the doting father had been attempting to discipline his son for viciously attacking a fellow trainee. It had been Corran, they said, who took the boy to task for "being beaten up by a girl". Lord Valdemar merely stepped in to defend his son. It was a perfectly painted picture of how the officer should and could have acted in the given situation. Corran rankled with each falsified testimony, but all he had to do was glance at Uther to keep himself at peace. He would get his chance at justice soon enough.
"And now, my lord, we would bring forward one Trainee 'Lina Kestrin to testify on behalf of Knight-Captain Ravencrest," the aide said, motioning to the silver-haired young woman who stood apart in the crowd. She inclined her chin, walking up the stairs with an aura of cool confidence. Her jade eyes went to Uther where he sat and she made a deep, courtly bow to him, "My lord, it is an honor."
Corran couldn't help but feel a surge of pride for her as he watched. For all that she was some delicate flower of society; there was no denying that there was strength in her. Ever since the incident a week ago, he'd heard 'Lina's voice spoken among her peers; some with anger, some with dubious respect, others with displeasure. It had to be difficult for her and lonely, but here she was standing like a shining example to them all of the beauty of perseverance.
When she straightened, she stood tall and noble before Uther's aide, who began his line of questioning, "On the day in question, Trainee Kestrin, what were you doing in the yard?"
Her voice was a clear contralto, clarion in the stillness of the morning, "I was in the yard at weapons practice with the other trainees, my lord."
At the sound of her voice, something stirred in Corran, beyond the hard, close-walled place that housed his heart. Her voice had almost a melodic quality to it, but somewhere within him it sang. The Knight-Captain shook his head, once again wondering what kind of siren this girl was, to ensnare him so. He set this face into a stern mask, though every time his eyes went to the silvery form on the stairs something in the very depths of his soul stood in awe.
"And what happened that demanded Knight-Captain Ravencrest's presence in the yard?" the aide continued.
For a long moment the young woman stood silent upon the stairs; her eyes went the man who was the esteemed leader of the Knights of the Silver Hand. Even as she looked at him, Uther regarded her curiously with those world-wise eyes, which caused a faint flush touched her cheeks. Lowering her gaze demurely, she knew there was no way she could even let the slightest falsehood fall from her lips before him. It would be tantamount to sacrilege.
"There was an altercation, my lord," she said clearly, her answers concise but confident, "Between myself and Trainee Valdelmar. It was...in excess of what was necessary for training, so Knight-Captain Ravencrest came to put an end to it."
"And was the Knight-Captain able to successfully end the conflict?"
'Lina shook her silver-haired head negatively, "He was prevented, as was the Blademaster, by the arrival of the Lord Commander."
The aide paced behind the young paladin hopeful, extending an arm to gesture toward the far end of the yard, "So what happened when the Lord Commander arrived on the scene?"
'Lina detailed the scene exactly as it had happened; the fact that no one stepped forward immediately to her throwing herself bodily on Brendan to protect him, "When the Lord Commander raised his hand to strike me, to get me out of the way, the Knight-Captain interposed himself. It was when he turned to assist me up that the Lord Commander threw the first punch..."
"Liar!" The enraged roar echoed through the courtyard as the Lord Commander mounted the first few steps below. 'Lina half-turned, looking below at the scarlet armored lord who glared up at her. "She's a stupid, lying chit," the commander snarled, looking past her to Uther, "Get rid of her now!"
The crowd around the Commander rippled again with angry murmurs of disagreement. Corran, standing off to one-side, glowered at the Commander, his fists clenching and unclenching as he strove to keep himself in check. Yet, before he could do or say anything there was movement among the trainees as Brendan stepped to the fore, "No, she's not," the boy said, looking to Uther and not his father.
Uther beckoned the boy forward with a mailed hand, so Brendan walked up the stairs to stand just below 'Lina, "She's a good and gentle soul," the boy said, shifting his gaze to the silver-haired young woman, "And someone I am proud to call my Sister in Arms."
The trainees became all a-twitter at this, but the Blademaster motioned them into silence. Uther's aide looked to Brendan, "State your name, boy, so that all might know who you are."
"My name is Brendan Valdelmar, son of Lord Commander Richard Valdelmar," he announced to the gathering. He looked to his father, who stood staring at him blackly. Glancing momentarily up to 'Lina, who stood fearless even in the face of the Lord Commander's wrath, Brendan seemed to draw upon her example. "My father is an abusive man who drove my mother from our ancestral home. For years he has lied about her being ill and off staying with her parents in the countryside. She left him, because he would beat her bloody, but once she left, it fell to me to endure."
The entire courtyard fell deathly silent as all eyes went to the Lord Commander. The sable-haired man stood there, red-faced in fury, he turned his malicious gaze on 'Lina, "Turn my own son against me, will you?" The scarlet-clad knight pointed at her accusingly, "This girl is a witch among knights, I warn you!" The corner of his eye twitched spasmodically as he hissed, "You'll burn for this, even if I have to set the flames myself!"
The Commander turned in a flurry of crimson cloak, but as knights moved to bar his way, Uther shook his head, "Let him go," the paladin commanded, "And let all hear and bear witness that Richard Valdelmar is no longer welcome within the ranks of the Silver Hand, so it is decreed." He thudded Spesar on the stones of the stairs with finality.
Corran watched the scarlet Commander leave the grounds, heaving a sigh that was half relief and half aggravation. It wasn't until he heard Uther call his name that he looked up. The older paladin came down the stairs to him, "You acted bravely, lad, no one can fault you for that." Uther looked to the crowd past Corran, "So don't take this personally," the older paladin said quietly.
After that, Uther hefted Spesar and moved past Corran to address the throng, "I am hereby demoting Knight-Captain Ravencrest to Knight-Lieutenant." Corran nodded his agreement, though he couldn't help but give a bemused smile as some people in the crowd "booed" at that announcement. Uther raised his hands for quiet, "This is a temporary demotion until such a time as the Knight-Lieutenant can redeem himself through his actions. Striking an officer, even with provocation is not something I can permit. We have laws and codes for a reason and I expect them to be obeyed."
"I thought you were very courageous, Knight-Cap...I mean, Knight-Lieutenant," Corran turned and almost immediately drowned in limpid viridescence as 'Lina looked up at him. The older paladin's breath seemed to catch in his throat in her presence, but he managed to murmur, "Thank you, trainee..."
She stood there a moment, looking up at him as a tendril of her hair fell, curving along the defined cheekbone. His hand twitched reflexively as he longed to reach up and brush it back with the rest of her argentine locks. Her lips curved upward in a soft smile that seemed meant only for him, they parted, almost as if she would bespeak him again.
"'Lina!" She turned her regard away from him to look back at where Brendan stood on the stairs. The other trainee beckoned for her, so she looked apologetically back to Corran and bobbed her head respectfully. Only then did she turn and trot up the stairs to where Brendan waited, together the trainees went inside as the crowd at the foot of the stairs began to disperse.
Oh, to be a trainee again... Corran sighed to himself wistfully.