The Battle

       The 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.
        Araniel 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.
        The 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.
        The 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 feet.
        Anger 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.
        Far to the North other plans came together. The sky for half the world around flashed with fire that the gods themselves wished  to never see 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.
        They 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.
        He 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.

        Only he did, every night. He opened his eyes between the tears. Someone was shouting at him.
        "Hey pussycat."
        Painfully, he raised his head from the bar. He ought to kill him for that insult, but it was not worth the effort.
        "We's closin'. Go flop somewhere."
        Shandis 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 nightmares.

        Mid-morning 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.
        He 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.
        Shandis 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.
        Across 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.

        As evening approached the Priest-Counselor came to where he sat curled into himself the entire afternoon.
        "My son, why have you come?"
        Shandis looked at the Elf, an older one from his lines in his face. "Why does anyone come to the temple?"
        "You are not anyone. You are yourself. Why have you come?"
        "Because there is no temple of my Lady Sharla so far from my home, Counselor."
        "Yes, 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 Vala."
        "I don't know what I seek, Counselor. I know only that what I have been doing has not found it."
        "It is difficult to find a direction if you do not know what you seek."
        "You lack peace?"
        "How do I explain it to one who was not there? How do I say it?"
        "Then tell me what you have been doing."
        "Running." Shandis took a deep breath. "I have been running from my own nightmares."
        "Any success?"
        "Always 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."
        "Where do you look now for peace?"
        "I 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 bottle."
        "Perhaps 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 at peace?"
        "It's a long story."
        "I have time."
        "The 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?"
        "You are Shandis then."
        "Yes. Why deny it?"
        "There are not many black Leomans that fought in the Undying War."
        "And I still fight it every night. It was 14 years ago, Counselor. How do I stop?"
        "The 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."
        "She is dead. And the second time it was my blade that slew her."
        The 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."
        Shandis stood, and the elder priest with him.
        "I understand that now. I must leave this place but I will not run again. Thank you, Counselor."
        "We can but serve. Go in peace, and may you find it as well."
        Shandis 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.

        Morning 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 before.
        From 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.

        The Merchant was a half-foot taller than Shandis. He looked down on the cat-man.
        "Do you ride?"
        "I can ride."
        "Have you a horse?"
        "I have one."
        "What weapons do you know?"
        "I am an Eyrian Veteran, I know my craft."
        "Eyrian eh. What Campaigns?"
        "Third Undying War, a man needs a second?"
        "Eh, what posting?"
        "15th Legion, 2nd Cohort."
        "Eh, that Legion was wiped out, but..."
        "But for one man, yes."
        The Merchant favored him with a wary eye and made some warding sign with his hand. Shandis narrowed his gaze.
        "If 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."
        The Merchant spat in his hand, and they shook on the deal.

        Five 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 past.
        The wagons shuddered to a stop. Bellowing indicated that some ox had a problem. The call went back for the healer.
        Julian, as he was called, checked the bellowing ox. Shandis slumped in the saddle and watched.
        "He won't pull, but I see nothing wrong" complained the teamster.
        Julian 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 out."
        "The Caravan master looked concerned. "How long, Healer? We are falling behind."
        "Just 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 more.
        Julian handed the nail to the teamster. "Well that is that. Stupidest creatures on the face of the world. Joote, we may proceed whenever you wish."
        With 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.

        Once 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...
        Shandis fell out of the nightmare. Julian the healer was kneeing beside him, a hand on his chest.
        "You are troubled." The healer's voice was gentle in the darkness.
        Shandis snarled slightly. "Your grasp of the obvious is remarkable."
        The healer started to stand. “I'll leave you then."
        Shandis grabbed for the healer's leg. "No, please stay. My words were uncalled for."
        Julian looked down at the lambent eyes. "Very well, I'll stay. What troubles you Shandis?"
        "Does the world know my name?"
        "Fame is difficult to leave behind when one stands out. I know of your service in the army."
        "Then why do you ask what troubles me? I think it is apparent."
        "Not necessarily. What troubles people varies. I would not assume.”
        "You look old enough, what did you do during the War?"
        "Which one?"
        Shandis looked at the healer in the darkness. "One needs to ask which war?"
        "In some cases, yes. "My duties in the Third War were well behind the lines. My services in the Second are known by few."
        "You don't look old enough to have served in the Second War."
        "That was one of the effects of my service, Shandis."
        "How do you cope?" There was as much plea as question in his voice.
        "I can teach you a means but the process takes time. A discipline of meditation. You are halfway there now."
        "I have not started!"
        "However, 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.

        Shandis 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.
        The 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.
        Shandis 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.
        Julian 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.
        Alarm 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.=
        As 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.
        Fights 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.
        Julian 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.
        Shandis working closely with Julian saw the ring...bright mithrial with a ruby hawk's head. "You're a Knight."
        "Yes." Julian gave him the briefest of looks. "You seem surprised?"
        "What are you doing out here?"
        "The 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 has time to think."
        One of the guards confronted him. "Why do you bother with that pig?" said Gudy, anger filling his voice.
        Julian didn't look up from his work. "Life is sacred, Gudy. Your life or his matters not. I heal the sick and injured no matter who they are."
        "That man tried to kill us."
        Julian 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."
        "Yea, whatever" muttered Gudy as he shuffled away.
        Shandis watched the exchange. Julian knelt back down to finish binding the bandit's wounds. "How did you do that?"     
        "Get him to back down?"
        Julian's 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 things."
        "I find no advantages to my estate."
        "How about experience? I saw you fight. They never laid a thing on you."
        "I am like any old warrior, Julian. In that, I am nothing special."
        "I think you underestimate yourself."

        That 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.
        As 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.
        "You're not cooking them?"
        "I am for me. I will for you if you want."
        "No, raw is fine." Shandis sank his teeth into the chop carefully. "The caravan has a cook. Why are you cooking?"
        Julian 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 stocked."
        "Why the whole wagon?"
        "You 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."
        "Not inside?"
        "Not enough room for that. Cupboards and bins a small table and benches, a place to sleep. That covers it."
        "I would have loved this kind of thing adventuring."
        "So 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."
        Julian 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.
        "You mentioned meditation training. I am desperate for something to ease the unrest in my soul."
        "Come on in then. A quiet place is best." He nodded in the direction of the guards that were getting a bit rowdy celebrating their victory.
        Julian 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?"
        "I seek inner peace. I shall not have it without until I find it within."
        "This is true enough. I will do what I can. Since the solution lies within, let us go within."
        "I am willing for I know of no other way."

        Shandis 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.
        **You are not dreaming Shandis. We are in your mind to see what can be seen.**
        Shandis looked about him. **There is no peace here.**
        **Yet these are phantoms of you own mind...memories you hold forth as defining you.**
        **Yes, they define me for I live in this place with its horror, pain, and death every night.**
        **You have other memories? Why this one?**
        **Why indeed? I don't want it. I don't like it. It ravages me, but I cannot escape.**
        **Something holds you here, Shandis.**
        **There is nothing here I value! Why does it torture me?**
        **What do you value?**
        **Joy, family, peace, love....** The shock was sudden. He came up short. **Araniel** And she was 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 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.

        Shandis 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.
        "This stuff damn near killed me."
        "In moderation it will not. Doctor's orders." Julian smiled.
        Drained, Shandis took a sip. "How much of that was real?"
        Again 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."
        Shandis shuddered again. "I'm...I'm carrying her stinking carcass around in my head. I've never let go. All this pain from that?"
        Julian 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."
        "Is it gone?"
        "Look 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 power."
        "So the nightmares...."
        "I 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 begin."
        "How did you cope?"
        "Much 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."
        "Sleep is what I need."
        "Good night to you then, and sleep peacefully."

        The 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 nightmares.
        Once 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 lasted.
        Shandis wandered over to the healer's wagon as dinner approached. Julian smiled and once again pulled meat from the box.
        "I'm not going to short you am I?"
        "No, I have enough for an old comrade in arms."
        "When can we work again?"
        "A 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 ingredients.
        Shandis watched the cooking as he ate. "If you don't mind my asking, why was an Eyrian Imperial Knight in the Coranthian Empire?"
        "No, 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."
        "I am sorry to hear that. I offer what condolences I can."
        "Accepted. The children of the union are all adults with their own children 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."
        "Idleness suits few, and fewer still will say it does."
        "True. You are going home?"
        Shandis 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."
        "I've never heard of Leomans turning their own away."
        "I hope that remains true."
        "It will if they follow Sharla."
        "They did when I left. I have evening watch, so I better be about it. Enjoy dinner."
        "Thank you, I shall."

        Shandis 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.
        Shandis 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.
        Gudy 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."
        "Evening, 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?"
        Gudy 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.
        The 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.

        In 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."
        "Ain't robbed no one" said Gudy.
        Joote looked at Shandis. "Well."
        Shandis nodded, "Robbed no, but he told the bandit he would free him."
        Gudy spat. "I've got no love for bandits."
        Julian stepped forward. "Joote, if I might offer my services." He held up the ring for Joote to see.
        Joote nooded. "Aye, Sir. Your judgment in this is welcome." He stepped back. Let the Knight deal with the situation, it was his place.
        Julian 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?"
        Gudy's eyes went wide. "I do not. I don't have to do that."
        Julian gave him a long, hard look. "I am a Knight of Eyrie. Would you like to reconsider that position?"
        Gudy looked scared for the first time. "I still say they is better dead. Kill them all, every one."
        Julian shook his head. "Did you plan to get them killed, Gudy? Or did you plan to murder them yourself?"
        Gudy was red faced. His eyes darted about like a trapped creature. "Better dead I say, DEAD! Murdering...bastards.”
        Julian 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.
        For 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."
        Joote nodded. "Done. Guards, make this so. Let's get moving."

        The 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 guards.
        Evening 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 persons.
        Julian stirred the coals below his pot. "Are you up for another session?"
        Shandis shuddered. "Yes, it's going to suck, but I need to get beyond this. What did you do in the last war?
        "I 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."
        "Not much fighting?"
        "Not 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."
        Shandis handed the plate back over. "Direct confrontation wasn't great either."
        "I 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."
        Shandis sighed. "Join the army and see the world."
        "Is that why you joined?"
        "It was the war mainly. I was young, eager, and too newly married. I don't feel young anymore."
        "A decade plus of what you have been through will do that. Come on, let's get to work."

        Once 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 this.**
        Julian stood beside him. **It is disturbing, yes. I see no healers.**
        **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.**
        **Why does this pain mean so much, Shandis?**
        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?**
        **A world seriously wrong.**
        Shandis turned to him. **Can't you help them?**
        A 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.**
        **I was powerless. Their pain is real enough.**
        **Real 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.**
        **What can I do?**
        **You must let go. Put this memory firmly in your past. You are not responsible for this.**
        **I wanted to do something. It hurts that I could do nothing.**
        **But 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 do.**
        Shandis shook the wooden ladle. **You call this help?**
        **Would they be better off without it?**
        **No. That is a mad thought.**
        **Who holds the bucket and ladle? Who carried it from man to man?**
        **Who else was there? Everyone did something or tried to.**
        **You were there. No one forced you to help.**
        **No...we were never required to aid the wounded. I couldn't leave them to suffer.**
        The 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?**
        Julian 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 grieve.**
        **Is not the pain of fourteen years enough?**
        **Not 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.**
        **I've 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.**
        **We now know why you have never felt at home again. Your heart never rested in the clan tree. It is here.**
        **Yes. I still love her, but I need my heart.**
        **Come with me.**

        The 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?**
        Julian 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.**
        **Your family are healers? How?**
        **I 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.**
        **This does not trouble you anymore?**
        **No, it was a hard lesson, but I learned to let go of it.**
        **How? I need to know how?**
        **By 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 kill her.**
        **And now you look on it easily?**
        **No. 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 is loss.**
        The 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?"
        "We can never be free of ourselves nor should we want to."
        "But it can be overcome."
        "We 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."
        "I will do this, I must do this. Tonight I need sleep."
        Julian looked regretful for the first time since Shandis had met him. "As do I."
        Shandis 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.

        Several 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... 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.
        **What are we seeing, Shandis?**
        **The clanhouse of my youth...Greyleaf. I think I am returning from my fostering. I have been gone two years. Much has changed, including myself.**
        **Does that explain the strangeness?**
        **I think so. I have not been in this place for many a year.**
        **I take it you don't mean physically.**
        **Not in this case, but it would apply as well. I have not thought of this day for a long time.**
        **Why are we here?**
        **I'm not sure. That day was no different than many days. I was coming home...a happy time.**
        **Yet it feels strange.**
        **Yes...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 more.**
        **Why is this important to us?**
        Shandis 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.**
        **A metaphor for other events?**
        For 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.**
        **What happens now?**
        **There 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.**
        **Do you think there is something to take from this?**
        Shandis 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 want.**
        **Then I think we are done for the night.**
        Shandis 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.

        All 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.
        He walked over to him. "Am I done, healer?"
        "Is any man done so long as he lives, Shandis?"
        The 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."
        "A 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 saving life?"
        "Become a healer?"
        "Yes. As 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 healing."
        "I have not been home for eleven years."
        Julian laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think it has been longer than that."
        Shandis nodded. "I have not known home or peace since the Forbidden Lands."
        "I will continue help you find the way Shandis."
        "Then I will go with you."

The Battle -- Garry Stahl, April 2010

        This 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 dream up.
        This 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.


This 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 permission.


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