banners were raised stark against the dark clouds that scuttled
across the sky. For two weeks the sun had not been seen, and for
three days this battle had been fought unending. His cohort, once
1200 strong was down to 500. 500 tired and weary men with little
hope for another day.
fell the day before. She died in his arms, his name on her lips. She
was fair and bright. A jewel tossed into dark waters that
flashed still to those that sought the light. She laughed in the
face of all danger, and her laughter had carried him on. They had
been comrades at first...soldiers in the service of the Emperor.
Volunteers that fought to protect that which they loved, the land of
their birth. Friends they had become and, in time, lovers. Strange
it was to love this woman with her ears on the side of her head and
no fur, but love her he did. Now she lay with the tens of thousands,
dead and cold in this place of dying. There is nothing left to fight
for except living, and he wondered at the value of that.
drums of the enemy began again, and the pipes of his own Legion spoke
their shrill answer to that challenge. In spite of the weariness in
his body and the dull ache in his soul he felt the again the thrill
of the sound. The Imperial Standard rose above the field again, that
torn and bloodied rag they had followed for a thousand miles, With
the rest he shouted his defiance at the foe.
battle raged. In the second hour a hero had joined his unit, his
bright sword flashing even in the eternal twilight. Still the enemy
came, living, and the dead. The undead were worst of all, you had to
hack them apart. His armor (which he hated) chafed, he was hungry,
and tired, but he fought to live, and now he lived to fight. Nothing
else mattered. In the fifth hour the hero fell, buried under a mass
of the enemy. The foe let out a mighty shout, the hated Paladin was
dead. The bright sword sailed through the air, and landed at his own
welled within him, anger like he had never known. Anger at the foe,
anger for the dead, anger at what ever power begot this war, anger
for her. It flowed though his being like fire. He took up the sword
of the fallen hero. Tiredness fled, hunger fled, the bright steel
flashed in his hand and he roared like his savage ancestors of old. The
sound shook the battlefield. The disintegrating morale of the
hundred left rose in response. The foe hesitated, unsure. He
charged into the milling mass hewing as he went. They fell like
wheat before the reaper. They fled like chafe on the wind. For an
endless hour he fought on. Then, she stood before him. Her eyes
empty, a sword raised against him, the wound that slew her black
across her breast. The bright sword urged him on, and he complied.
to the North other plans came together. The sky for half the world
around flashed with fire that the gods themselves wished to
again. The Undying King fell a third time, and the Land Herself
cried and heaved at the wound left behind. Everywhere the hordes of
the Undying King fled the fields, the undead robbed of power fell
where they once stood.
found him hours later, surrounded by bodies of the foe twenty deep The
bodies of his comrades in arms an honor guard of the dead about
him. They tended his wounds and he returned to them.
carried his twice fallen love from that field of death. He dug her
grave with his own hands and laid her to rest, the Imperial Standard
of a dead cohort her shroud. The bright sword he left on that
scarred and bloody field, and he never looked back.
he did, every night. He opened his eyes between the tears. Someone
was shouting at him.
he raised his head from the bar. He ought to kill him for that
insult, but it was not worth the effort.
closin'. Go flop somewhere."
the Leoman stood on shaking feet. He made his way into the night.
Somehow he staggered his way back to his room over a hardware supply.
The Dwarf that ran the place slept like the dead. Even a stinking
drunk cat crawling in at the dead of night bothered him not the
least. Oblivion followed, as well as the nightmares...always the
light and the sound of tradesmen in the street brought him painfully
back among the living. The light hurt his eyes, and his head thudded
with the Dwarf's hammer. The dead rat in his mouth was about ten
days old. He reached around until his hand found the wine skin
beside his pile of furs to wash it out...empty. The jerky was also
gone. So he was dry and hungry.
dragged out his hidden purse and with bleary and uncooperative eyes
counted the coins. Thirty pieces of silver left. Thirty...wasn't
that the number of betrayal or something? In any case, it was only a
week's worth at his current high rate of low living. He would have
to find work. First he would have to get presentable.
spent the balance of the morning at the baths. Three silvers it cost
him for a lengthy session, the services of a barber, and to have the
leather of his gear cleaned. When done he felt presentable. On his
way out he caught a glimpse of a ragged Leoman and stopped to take
another look. It was a mirror. He looked in morbid fascination at
the creature he saw. His bright amber eyes were a dull yellow. His
coat and hair, even though freshly cleaned, were dull and lusterless.
His face was drawn and looked twice his thirty-three years of age. His
ribs showed even through the fur of his coat. He had done this
to himself. He needed a drink.
the street in a tavern he sat with the spirits in front of him. He
raised the glass to his lips. He saw that...creature...again. With
a snarl he threw the glass from him and ran from the tavern. The
rest of the day he spent in an Elven temple.
evening approached the Priest-Counselor came to where he sat curled
into himself the entire afternoon.
son, why have you come?"
looked at the Elf, an older one from his lines in his face. "Why
does anyone come to the temple?"
are not anyone. You are yourself. Why have you
there is no temple of my Lady Sharla so far from my home, Counselor."
this is true." The priest lowered himself to the ground. "Your
people are few and rare in this land. So you seek the aid of the
don't know what I seek, Counselor. I know only that what I have been
doing has not found it."
is difficult to find a direction if you do not know what you seek."
do I explain it to one who was not there? How do I say it?"
tell me what you have been doing."
"Running." Shandis took a deep breath. "I have been running from my own
to begin with. I traveled, adventured really. I gave up on that
when I landed here. I came with my pockets full of money. The first
night of celebration left me too drunk to stand or dream. It was an
answer...I thought. I have spent my time and my money since looking
for the dreamlessness I found that night. All I have found is ruin."
do you look now for peace?"
don't know. I tried going home 12 years ago, it followed me there. It
followed me on the road, and it followed me into the bottom of a
it is because you are what you are running from. Where ever you go,
there you are. You need to make peace, not find it. Why are you not
a long story."
Undying War for a start. They called me a hero. They fussed and
piled honors at my feet. All I did was live. All I did was do what
I had to to survive. Is that being a hero?"
are Shandis then."
are not many black Leomans that fought in the Undying War."
I still fight it every night. It was 14 years ago, Counselor. How
do I stop?"
path of all the Mother's children differs. I am not equipped to show
you the way. I can only tell you, as you have learned, that running
will not find the peace you seek. You must stop running, and
confront that which you have lost and that which you have seen."
is dead. And the second time it was my blade that slew her."
Elf shook his head. "A terrible thing indeed, and your burden
is not a light one. But Shandis, it is your burden. Yours to carry,
or yours to leave behind."
stood, and the elder priest with him.
understand that now. I must leave this place but I will not run
again. Thank you, Counselor."
can but serve. Go in peace, and may you find it as well."
left the temple. Two marks bought him fresh meat for dinner. He
spent the balance of the day cleaning the loft where he slept. In
the morning, nightmares or not, he must find work.
dawned bright with the promise of heat. Shandis sat astride a low
wall with the remains of a rabbit in hand. Bought live, the fresh
killed meat tasted sweeter than anything he had eaten in months. It
helped that his mouth was not raw and dry from drink the night
his perch he considered several avenues of possible revenue. In the
port of the lower city he could get work on a ship. It was not his
first choice. High rigging didn't bother him. That was easy. Leomans
couldn't swim, and he was not an exception. Further up town
the caravansary had several overland options in the process of
assembly. Leaving town seemed a good idea, getting paid for it
seemed even better. Decision made. He tore a last bite from the
rabbit, and left the crows to fight over the picked over carcass.
Merchant was a half-foot taller than Shandis. He looked down on the
you a horse?"
weapons do you know?"
am an Eyrian Veteran, I know my craft."
eh. What Campaigns?"
Undying War, a man needs a second?"
Legion, 2nd Cohort."
that Legion was wiped out, but..."
for one man, yes."
Merchant favored him with a wary eye and made some warding sign with
his hand. Shandis narrowed his gaze.
you're telling the truth, you can fight...that I'll not argue. If
you're a liar, you're a bold one, and that has uses too. Good
enough, I'll take you on."
Merchant spat in his hand, and they shook on the deal.
days later Shandis observed his situation. Caravan guarding was
about as dull as it got, if you are lucky. So far, they had been
lucky. The caravan was typical for the type, 20 wagons pulled by
oxen, and one wagon with horses carrying a healer. Nineteen other
guards rode in a loose ring around the lot. They shared duties and
tents at night. No one was objectionable. The healer was an
interesting case. Half-Centaur he called himself. Tall and fair,
skin like weathered bronze and hair the color of fine silver. Once
in a while Shandis caught the look of haunted eyes...a man with a
wagons shuddered to a stop. Bellowing indicated that some ox had a
problem. The call went back for the healer.
as he was called, checked the bellowing ox. Shandis slumped in the
saddle and watched.
won't pull, but I see nothing wrong" complained the teamster.
carefully ran his hands over the ox's legs. He checked the tightness
of the yoke and harness. "Nothing ails him without, the fault
must lie within." He continued his slow examination of the
beast. "Ah, an object within the stomach. I'll have to have it
Caravan master looked concerned. "How long, Healer? We are
a moment, Joote. I stopped opening them up for this years back." The
Healer cast some arcane ritual and, staring as if he was looking
into the beast, plunged his hand into the side of the ox. The placid
beast's eyes widened slightly, the Healer rummaged about for a
moment, and pulled his hand out with a rusty iron nail held between
his fingers. The ox settled back to a placid chewing...bellowing no
handed the nail to the teamster. "Well that is that. Stupidest
creatures on the face of the world. Joote, we may proceed whenever
much shouting, by fits and starts, the oxen got back underway. Shandis
resumed his place beside the road. Soon they would be
leaving friendly territory. The healer walked back to his wagon and
vaulted into the seat.
again the claws of the grasping dead reached for him. He sought his
weapon as they piled on top of him. Another hand touched him...
fell out of the nightmare. Julian the healer was kneeing beside him,
a hand on his chest.
are troubled." The healer's voice was gentle in the darkness.
snarled slightly. "Your grasp of the obvious is remarkable."
healer started to stand. “I'll leave you then."
grabbed for the healer's leg. "No, please stay. My words were
looked down at the lambent eyes. "Very well, I'll stay. What
troubles you Shandis?"
the world know my name?"
is difficult to leave behind when one stands out. I know of your
service in the army."
why do you ask what troubles me? I think it is apparent."
necessarily. What troubles people varies. I would not assume.”
look old enough, what did you do during the War?"
looked at the healer in the darkness. "One needs to ask which
some cases, yes. "My duties in the Third War were well behind
the lines. My services in the Second are known by few."
don't look old enough to have served in the Second War."
was one of the effects of my service, Shandis."
do you cope?" There was as much plea as question in his voice.
can teach you a means but the process takes time. A discipline of
meditation. You are halfway there now."
have not started!"
you are willing to learn, Shandis. I will give you slumber tonight. I
don't see any trouble popping up." The hand returned, Julian
spoke arcane words. A gentle energy flowed into Shandis and he
surrendered to it.
awoke with a light shaking. He was neither hurting nor tired. The
nightmares had fled for the remainder of the night. It was the best
night's sleep he could remember in a long time. He ate the stew
offered as breakfast with little complaint and simply avoided the big
chunks of vegetables. The camp cook was decent in that he didn't
believe much in spices. The Humans of the caravan grumbled at the
bland food, but it suited his carnivore's stomach.
oxen, as usual, were difficult getting started but once moving were
willing enough. So with a grumble and a bellow they were once again
on the road.
found himself riding beside the healer. He stole glances at the big
half-Centaur while keeping an eye on his job. They were no longer on
the friendly parts of the Coranth-Eyrie road. The border passing
that straddled the Domain/Haven border was treacherous. While
neither Haven nor the Domains tolerated bandits, an agile band could
cross and recross the border and avoid the patrols of both.
stood in his seat looking to the side Shandis could not see. "Trouble."
and with that pulled a well-worn staff out of
his wagon. Shandis urged his horse forward and around the big draft
animals. Yes, a dust cloud. That usually did not bode well.
quickly spread up and down the caravan. The bandit band came riding
in to be met with arrows and bolts from the guards.Three arrows and
Shandis dropped his bow. He did not take up his sword. This lot was
lightly armored. His claws would do quicker work.=
the bandits came in he leapt from the back of his horse onto the
nearest dragging the startled man from the saddle. A few quick
slashes and he would not rob again. Another bandit rode down on him,
he jumped up and snarled in the horse's face. The rearing horse
dumped its cargo. The bandit was quick to his feet, but Shandis was
faster. Before he could get his weapon to bear, Shandis was on top
of him slashing away.
continued up and down the line. The bandits could not hope to lead
the ox hauled wagons away if any guards remained. Shandis saw the
healer in the middle of a flurry of staff, hooves, and fists. Healer
he might be, but fight he could. A third man slashed at him with an
ax. It was easy to duck in and rip the man's padded armor and flesh
apart with sharpened claws. That foe down he looked about for
another and found the fight winding down. None of the bandits stood,
but neither did all the guards. They didn't even get a chance to get
away so quick was the fight.
dropped his staff and began to see to the guards that were wounded.
Shandis being himself unwounded grabbed a water skin and washed the
blood from his hands. He then lent a hand to the effort. Julian
moved quickly from man to man. Some got a word and a draught, others
he laid hands upon and healed at once. Once the guards were healed
he looked to the bandits.
working closely with Julian saw the ring...bright mithrial with a
ruby hawk's head. "You're a Knight."
Julian gave him the briefest of looks. "You seem surprised?"
are you doing out here?"
good work. Even Knights need to kick back and think now and again. This
road has known my tread for fifty years give or take. A
familiar place and long days with little to do...one has time to
of the guards confronted him. "Why do you bother with that
pig?" said Gudy, anger filling his voice.
didn't look up from his work. "Life is sacred, Gudy. Your life
or his life...it matters not. I heal the sick and injured no matter
who they are."
man tried to kill us."
stood up. "And your point is?" He looked Gudy in the
eyes. The stare lasted a brief second before Gudy flinched and
looked away. "I don't care what a man, woman, or beast has done
Gudy, my oath is to heal."
whatever" muttered Gudy as he shuffled away.
watched the exchange. Julian knelt back down to finish binding the
bandit's wounds. "How did you do that?"
him to back down?"
voice was weary. "The horror of what I have seen is reflected
in my eyes, Shandis. It is difficult for others to meet my gaze. It
has advantages as you just saw. However, it has many more
disadvantages. I can never gaze into a lover's eyes, among other
find no advantages to my estate."
about experience? I saw you fight. They never laid a thing on you."
am like any old warrior, Julian. In that, I am nothing special."
think you underestimate yourself."
afternoon they lost two men and captured three of the bandits. Joote,
the caravan master, fretted the whole of the afternoon and
night over the time lost. They ended up camping on the same ground.
dusk settled around, Shandis' nose caught the smell of fresh meat
from an unexpected direction. It was coming from Julian's wagon. He
wandered that way to see what the healer was up to. Julian had his
own cooking rig on the side of his well equipped wagon and was using
it. Julian looked up from his labors. He pulled a few more chops
from the box and slid them over to Shandis on a plate.
not cooking them?"
am for me. I will for you if you want."
raw is fine." Shandis sank his teeth into the chop carefully. "The
caravan has a cook. Why are you cooking?"
chuckled. "I mentioned being an old hand at this. I learned
early on not to depend on the caravan cook if I wanted to eat well or
even decently. Quality in that department varies widely. It was
learn to cook and be responsible for the food, or risk using my
spells on myself. It's easier to cook, and I like to." He
oiled the pan and tossed chopped onions into it. They sizzled.
“Usually I offer to do the cooking. It cuts down on the
healing. I joined this group late. The cook was hired and the larder
the whole wagon?"
never know what you will need, so I pack for it. I have a whole
field hospital in there. It's something I have built up over the
years...A home away from home and all the supplies a healer might
need...even a tent for surgery if required."
enough room for that. Cupboards and bins a small table and benches,
a place to sleep. That covers it."
would have loved this kind of thing adventuring."
would I. Most of the places we went would not allow for the wagon. It
stayed behind. This luxury of preparedness is for the
well-traveled road alone."
took the meat out of the pan and ate. Shandis gave him the
companionable silence of the meal. Once Julian had finished and
cleaned his pan with salt he continued.
mentioned meditation training. I am desperate for something to ease
the unrest in my soul."
on in then. A quiet place is best." He nodded in the direction
of the guards that were getting a bit rowdy celebrating their
opened the door and ushered Shandis within. As he said, the rear
most areas were bins and drawers to either side. There was just
enough room to get past them. The center held the only furniture. A
booth with a folding table. The front was more storage and on the
top of that was a bed. Julian sat on one side and motioned Shandis
to sit on the other. "What can I do for you?"
seek inner peace. I shall not have it without until I find it
is true enough. I will do what I can. Since the solution lies
within, let us go within."
am willing for I know of no other way."
knew this place. The smoke and stench filled his nostrils. The
armor chaffed his body and the sword lay heavy in his hand, but
Julian was there. He had never been in this dream before.
are not dreaming Shandis. We are in your mind to see what can be
looked about him. **There is no peace here.**
these are phantoms of you own mind...memories you hold forth as
they define me for I live in this place with its horror, pain, and
death every night.**
have other memories? Why this one?**
indeed? I don't want it. I don't like it. It ravages me, but I
holds you here, Shandis.**
is nothing here I value! Why does it torture me?**
do you value?**
family, peace, love....** The shock was sudden. He came up short. **Araniel**
before him but not the twisted mockery. It was Araniel the
beautiful, the loving. The battlefield faded into mist and only
Araniel remained. He reached for her...to find himself holding her
shattered corpse in the mud, smoke, and stench of the battlefield.
Shandis shook with rage and pain. A howl of anguish ripped from the
bottom of his soul and rent the night. He turned on the healer
standing passively beside him. Claws bared, he lunged. Julian
caught his hands. Shandis raged in his grip. At last, his rage
exhausted, he fell against the Healer with only his pain and sorrow
to vent, and he cried great wracking sobs. Julian held him without
comment. There is a time for silence.
was not sure how long the mind journey took or how long he cried. But
it was full night by the time he looked out the wagon's small
windows. He sat weary on the bench, the table had been lowered, and
a cup of wine was in his hand. He looked at the wine ruefully.
stuff damn near killed me."
moderation it will not. Doctor's orders." Julian smiled.
Shandis took a sip. "How much of that was real?"
the wan smile. "All of it, Shandis. Your mind is as real as
anything else, and to you, a good deal realer. I made nothing up. I
am simply the guide."
shuddered again. "I'm...I'm carrying her stinking carcass
around in my head. I've never let go. All this pain from that?"
shook his head. "That and that alone? No. It is the strongest
pain, but not the only pain. No one goes though what we have been
through and comes away with only one scar. It will take more than
one night to exorcise all your personal demons."
for yourself. Only you can know. I don't think it is totally
gone...yet. But in knowing the name of your pain, you rob it of much
can't promise in one session you will never have nightmares again. But
you have at least an idea of what they are about. Healing can
did you cope?"
the same way. I didn't lose anyone I loved like that, Shandis, but
the horror of all I saw had an impact. I can't say all the dreams
are gone, but they are far fewer and less frequent."
is what I need."
night to you then, and sleep peacefully."
morning came cold and gray. Shandis did not dream that night. He
didn't feel well-rested, but the dreams did not come. By the time
the heat of the day had come his mind was made up. He rode the line
of oxen watering by the river. He would continue with Julian's
therapy. Better brief and knowing pain than these endless
again the day brought nothing but heat and boredom. Swat the flies
and fight the droopy feeling the heat of the day brought on. Joote,
the caravan master, had no plans to stop moving while daylight
wandered over to the healer's wagon as dinner approached. Julian
smiled and once again pulled meat from the box.
not going to short you am I?"
I have enough for an old comrade in arms."
can we work again?"
couple of days. The mental sessions are hard on the non-telepath. Give
yourself time." This time Julian was fixing a braised
dish. He ladled stock into to the camp oven and added other
watched the cooking as he ate. "If you don't mind my asking,
why was an Eyrian Imperial Knight in the Coranthian Empire?"
I don't suppose that is too nosy. I was settling affairs. I lost my
wife recently. She was Coranthian. We were comrades in the late
war...the second one. She did not suffer what I and some of the
others saw. Time, as is its habit, came for her."
am sorry to hear that. I offer what condolences I can."
"Accepted. The children of the union are all adults with their own
long ago...great-grandchildren even. They have grown apart from me. The
culture of their Mother and her people prevailed. I am going
home to to put that in order and present myself for duty again. I do
better with occupation."
suits few, and fewer still will say it does."
You are going home?"
stared into the distance. "I don't know. It has been eleven
years, and I left the clanhouse troubled. I don't know that they
will want me."
never heard of Leomans turning their own away."
hope that remains true."
will if they follow Sharla."
did when I left. I have evening watch, so I better be about it. Enjoy
you, I shall."
got his horse. He rode the line around the wagons. He watched the
dinner hour pass and people settle into night time occupations. If
the weather was like the night before, only nets would be used
tonight. His own bedroll was laid out for the night before dinner. He
would be getting to it late. The sun was well set and his eyes
adjusted to the dim light. He waked the horse slowly around the camp
looking for the unusual. Gudy was not in his bedroll and did not
have the watch.
had a good idea were the man would go. He quickly rode to the fifth
wagon with its supplies and the prisoners. There was Gudy, sneaking
between the wagons. Shandis slipped into the fifth wagon and
dismissed his horse. She would wait patiently until called.
moved as quietly as a big man not accustomed to stealth could move. He
had a plan...a simple one. He pulled the flap of the wagon aside
and moved to get in with the prisoners. Killed escaping had a nice
ring to it. He hoisted himself into the wagon and grabbed the bonds
of one prisoner...shushing the man as he cried out. "Silence
fool, I'm getting you out of here."
Gudy." Shandis sat to the back with only his eyes shining in
the light that filtered in. His sword was loose between his knees.
"Care to explain yourself to Joote?"
gritted his teeth and gripped the dagger harder. "Not really." He
lunged toward the Leoman coming up almost short enough when the
tip of Shandis' sword proved a tad faster. Gudy let loose with a
shriek of surprise and pain as the sword sunk into his gut. Shandis
put his back against the crates and kicked him off the blade and out
of the wagon.
big man landed heavily on the dirt. Shandis was quickly behind him.
Gudy dragged himself up bleeding freely. He found himself bereft of
dagger and facing Shandis' ready sword. Gurdy's eyes darted about
desperately looking for a way out. Ways that were quickly blocked by
other guards. Julian was next among those arriving on the scene,
taking in the bleeding man and the armed Leoman.
the morning, Joote was not pleased. He was already down two guards.
"How do I handle this!" He paced before Gudy in irons and
his accuser. "I will not have common thieves in my company."
robbed no one" said Gudy.
looked at Shandis. "Well."
nodded, "Robbed no, but he told the bandit he would free him."
spat. "I've got no love for bandits."
stepped forward. "Joote, if I might offer my services." He held up the
ring for Joote to see.
nooded. "Aye, Sir. Your judgment in this is welcome." He
stepped back. Let the Knight deal with the situation, it was his
stepped before Gudy. "If you have no love for bandits, it is
curious that you would want them freed. Indeed, you were most upset
at my healing of those three men. Curious, to say the least. Care
to be examined as to your motives by telepathy?"
eyes went wide. "I do not. I don't have to do that."
gave him a long, hard look. "I am a Knight of Eyrie. Would you
like to reconsider that position?"
looked scared for the first time. "I still say they is better
dead. Kill them all, every one."
shook his head. "Did you plan to get them killed, Gudy? Or did
you plan to murder them yourself?"
was red faced. His eyes darted about like a trapped creature. "Better
dead I say, DEAD! Murdering...bastards.”
took Gudy's head in his hands. He looked into the man's eyes, long
and fully. Gudy whimpered and squirmed. Julian at last let him go,
and Gudy slumped to his knees sobbing.
a long moment Julian stood contemplating the ground. "You leave
me in a delicate position, Gudy. Your pain aside, your actions are
not right. We cannot trust you. Turning you out simply makes
another bandit. Joote, I'll not kill a man for something short of
harm. Load him in with the other three and shackle him to the wagon.
Behavior worthy of a bandit shall gain the same sentence. He'll be
dealt with when we reach Jewel."
nodded. "Done. Guards, make this so. Let's get moving."
odd looks didn't last the day. If Gudy had a comrade in the company
they didn't show it. More looked at Julian. They hadn't realized
there was a Knight in the caravan. He didn't flash it. Shandis rode
his post and kept a sharp eye for trouble. They were now down three
found him around Julian's wagon again. Hell, he had good food and
good company. The combination of good food, good company, and a lack
of drink was agreeing with him. Not to the total exclusion of
nightmares, but it was better. At least these guards were savvy
enough not to try and wake him. He had injured less cautious
stirred the coals below his pot. "Are you up for another
shuddered. "Yes, it's going to suck, but I need to get beyond
this. What did you do in the last war?
was made a Knight after the second war. I put out fires...healed and
soothed where required after others cleared out the aberrations as
they popped up."
that time, not for me. In some ways it was more exasperating than
direct confrontation. The urge to stop reacting and do something
proactive was strong."
handed the plate back over. "Direct confrontation wasn't great
have yet to find any aspect of war that is. It was however, work
that needed doing and work I am ideally suited for. He was using
different tactics...wear down governments and cause chaos. Someone
needed to keep the people, if not happy, at least willing to
continue. I worked for happy."
sighed. "Join the army and see the world."
that why you joined?"
was the war mainly. I was young, eager, and too newly married. I
don't feel young anymore."
decade plus of what you have been through will do that. Come on,
let's get to work."
again the darkened sky, the smoke and haze, but not the battlefield.
Rows of pallets lay in the open the cries of the wounded filled the
air. Shandis felt the tears come unbidden to his eyes. **Gods, not
stood beside him. **It is disturbing, yes. I see no priests...no
by this point we had none...nothing but the hands of other soldiers
to bandage, to give comfort, to hold the dying. It was worse than
the fighting. I would rather face that.**
does this pain mean so much, Shandis?**
found himself moving from pallet to pallet, a drink of water, a word,
anything to ease the discomfort. **I can't do anything. It's
useless, nothing really helps. Some would beg to die. The dead
don't feel pain. What manner of world is it when a man fights to
live then begs to die?**
world seriously wrong.**
turned to him. **Can't you help them?**
weary pain stole across Julian's face. **No. They are your
memories, not real men. I am but a guest in your mind. Only you can
take action here.**
was powerless. Their pain is real enough.**
enough that I feel it, Shandis, but I am no god to wish it gone. If
I could do that we would not be here now.**
can I do?**
must let go. Put this memory firmly in your past. You are not
responsible for this.**
wanted to do something. It hurts that I could do nothing.**
you did. You gave them water. You held their hands. You gave
comfort to the dying. Sometimes, that is all a priest or healer can
shook the wooden ladle. **You call this help?**
they be better off without it?**
**No. That is a
holds the bucket and ladle? Who carried it from man to man?**
else was there? Everyone did something or tried to.**
were there. No one forced you to help.**
were never required to aid the wounded. I couldn't leave them to
scene shifted around...once again the hated armor. Hell on earth,
the screams of the wounded filled his ears. He walked between the
corpses looking for the few that lived. **I have to find them.**
Shandis' eyes dated about looking for movement, listening for cries.
Araniel lay dead on the ground. Shandis slid bonelessly to the
earth beneath the weight of grief. **I thought I was passed this. Why
must I see it again?**
sat beside him. **Because grief is not an instant thing, Shandis. You
have only started to let go. That means you have only started to
not the pain of fourteen years enough?**
if it's the wrong kind of pain. Not if we cherish it. Pain is a
warning. It tells us to stop doing that. It warns us of injury. We
must address the pain and let it go.**
never let go. I dwell on the pain, the loss. I couldn't go home. She
wasn't there. I would have left the clan for her, Julian.**
now know why you have never felt at home again. Your heart never
rested in the clan tree. It is here.**
still love her, but I need my heart.**
scene shifted...a quiet forest grove. A coffin was being lowered in
the ground. Shandis looked around at the gathering of half-centaurs.
**Where are we?**
watched the scene. **My memories. This is the funeral of my first
wife. She died suddenly, three months into our marriage, pregnant
with our first child. I lost both.**
family are healers? How?**
tortured myself for years with that question, Shandis. A healer
that is not there cannot help. This was my battle. Like you, I ran. I
took to the road we now walk for fifty years. There was no horror
at least...just a deep, abiding sense of loss and guilt. I was off
healing others as my wife lay dying.**
does not trouble you anymore?**
it was a hard lesson, but I learned to let go of it.**
need to know how?**
learning that I cannot be more than one place at a time and by
learning that I cannot change the past. I cannot know what will be
before it is. I was not at fault. I still grieved, but I did not
now you look on it easily?**
This will always be a place of great pain, Shandis. Acceptance and
time have dulled it to an ache, but it will never heal totally. Loss
scene faded away. The wagon came back into focus. Shandis sat
shaking on the bench. Julian looked sad and weary. Shandis looked
to the healer. "So I can never be free of it?"
can never be free of ourselves nor should we want to."
it can be overcome."
can be masters of our memories and not let them be our master. Do
as we might we will never unweave the past by even a single pass of
the shuttle of fate."
will do this, I must do this. Tonight I need sleep."
looked regretful for the first time since Shandis had met him. "As
made his way to the waiting bed. As he worked the pad into a
semblance of comfort, he noted that Julian had not yet doused his
light. Shandis lay back looking at the sky wheeling over head. The
Crone sparkled in the stars. He knew now what memories that Julian
had to deal with, at least a little. He only hoped that his own let
him sleep tonight.
such sessions down the road he and his fellow guards were hardly
required anymore. They had crossed the Eyrian border two days ago.
Jewel would be coming up shortly. Shandis was once again in the
familiar setting of the Healer's wagon. The place was becoming homey
to him...and terrible. Once again the journey into the mind, once
again... ...no. This was different. The battlefield was gone. Dappled
light played between the leaves of the trees. The worked
wood of the clanhouse was under his feet. The smells of home and
family and the sounds of the younger kids dashing through the
branches surrounded him. Shandis looked around him. A bundle was at
his feet...a small one. He felt himself tall and strong. He was not
a child. Yes, Julian was there.
are we seeing, Shandis?**
clanhouse of my youth...Greyleaf. I think I am returning from my
fostering. I have been gone two years. Much has changed, including
that explain the strangeness?**
think so. I have not been in this place for many a year.**
take it you don't mean physically.**
in this case, but it would apply as well. I have not thought of this
day for a long time.**
are we here?**
not sure. That day was no different than many days. I was coming
home...a happy time.**
it feels strange.**
why? I am home, but...I don't feel at home. That is it. I don't
feel at home. I have changed and grown up. I don't fit here any
is this important to us?**
looked at Julian. His ears at half mast. **For the first time in my
life I knew I had changed, and those I loved had changed. Things
would never be the same again. It was a threshold in time that could
not be recrossed.**
metaphor for other events?**
a brief second the battlefield threatened to reassert itself. Shandis
willed it away, and it stayed away. **No, this is a moment
unto itself. It will play out again under different circumstances.
However, it is the moment itself which is important. It is a lesson
of life we all must learn. This was my point in learning it.**
is a party of course. Over the next couple of weeks I am a guest in
my own home. I'll get the letter from Bluewood that I am accepted by
them as a permanent member. Another party and I'm off to be married.
Then the war. Once again, everything changed.**
you think there is something to take from this?**
looked around. The scene was one of peace if not one of home. **I
don't have to live there. I can move on. Things have changed, but I
can change them further. I can change from misery to anything I
I think we are done for the night.**
once again headed back to his bed roll. It was well after dark. He
felt better...more solid...even if the sessions with Julian left him
wrung out. At least the night after every session he slept like the
dead. Tonight felt no different. One would never consider that
rummaging though one's own head would be this exhausting. It
was...he would never doubt that again. He could hear some soft
banter among the other guards not on shift. Sleep, it seemed, for
many was not swift in coming. They were no more than a few days away
from Jewel and a big payout. Plans were being made in the darkness. No
doubt some of them would drink and whore the money away in mere
days. It might have once been his plan as well. Not this time. He
wasn't sure what is plan was yet, but it was not that. Shandis lay
back on his bed and let exhaustion take him.
the caravan master's worrying aside they got onto Jewel half a day
ahead of schedule. Shandis pocketed his pay and the nice bonus for
the bandits killed and captured as well. He was back in the Empire
and he had money in his purse, but where to go from here? He spotted
Julian watching him.
walked over to him. "Am I done, healer?"
any man done so long as he lives, Shandis?"
weight of the question hung there. "I don't know. I need to go
somewhere to find something...different. My demons are not what they
were, but I don't feel free of those shackles yet. I am freer, but I
have no direction."
change in profession perhaps? I sense a gentle nature long
suppressed. To be at peace, be peaceful. Your hands are able. You
have the spark within you. Might I suggest a good therapy would be
I said, I am going home. A long journey, but in the middle of
Anadolintoro. The healer school founded by my Father is there. We
will know by the time we arrive if you are indeed cut out for
have not been home for eleven years."
laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think it has been longer than
nodded. "I have not known home or peace since the Forbidden
will continue help you find the way Shandis."
I will go with you."
Battle -- Garry Stahl, April 2010
is a piece of character background. It involves two of my own
characters and places and events from within my game. While not
every element here would be considered "perfect" for the
story, I am not writing any character as different than they were to
benefit the tale. An historical telling, not what the bards would
was an "off screen" event. A part of Shandis' background. The events
that led him away from a drunken end and to become a
healer. He never did go back to Bluewood. He is however a respected
member of his community and a teacher for others.
is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and situations are
fictional. Any resemblance to persons, places, or situations living or
dead is coincidental.
Garry Stahl: 2010
unless other Copyrights apply. All rights reserved, re-print only with
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