The promenade deck of the riverboat was empty at this hour of the night. The great Essic Hane wouldn't be moving at all but for the fact that the lake is over one hundred miles across, and free navigation the whole way. Shandis paced the deck. It beat laying in his cabin and listening to the insistent beat of the paddles against the water. The regular mechanical sound was disturbing, and for him at least it was a deterrent to sleep.
       Once again the thought of sleep brought him back to seven years ago when he had arrived at the Healer's school a desperate and if not broken, then weakened being. Years of therapy and learning had at least laid the inner demons that had plagued him for so long. He could sleep peacefully. At least he could sleep peacefully when that infernal paddle was not beating on his eardrums.
       Shandis looked over the dark waters at the moons shining low on the horizon. Three more days and he would be in Woodmanor for the first time in many a year. A place he fervently prayed to the Lady had forgotten him. He didn't want to be a hero. Now he simply wanted to be a healer. For the first time in his life he was setting out on the road, and he didn't have a sword.
       Once again he looked over the water and wondered if you could somehow cast a slumber spell on yourself. Every try he had made failed. Well earplugs were not comfortable, but they were more comfortable than that paddle. Some sleep was better than none. Shandis turned toward his cabin and his troubled bed.

      Long habit woke him as light spilled though the cabin window. His cabin partner continued to sleep unabated. Shandis briefly debated rolling back over, but discipline won out. He dropped quietly to his feet. The boat had stopped moving. That would mean they made landfall sometime in the early morning. The stop would likely be brief. An exchange of cargo and passengers. On the rivers proper the pilots didn't like to move at night.
       The advantage to not wearing clothing is you didn't have to dress. A smooth motion buckled his carrying belt and he slipped from the cabin without waking the portly gent that shared it with him. A brief stop at the lavatory took care of those needs and he gave his hair a quick brush. At least he didn't look like he had been up half the night.
       The dining room was serving breakfast. The usual cereal filled fare preferred by most humanoids.
       "Excuse me." he asked the steward. "How long are we likely to be tied up?"
       "At least an hour or more sir." was the quick reply.
       That was more than enough time to go ashore for fresh meat. A fresh killed fowl or rabbit sounded much tastier than over cooked pig, and bread. Shandis made his way to the main deck, dodged the cargo operations and trotted down the gangway. A few minutes later he had breakfast.

      The long lazy day drifted away. The boat was on the river proper now. No more sailing at night. Not until they reached the Woodmanor Lake and Quayside. Shandis found himself a deck chair. Not too many people had bothered him this trip. Both a relief and, well, he wondered if his hair had turned green or something. Either people were that caught up in their own business, or he was moody enough to indicate he wasn't much conversation. His roommate was plying a young and pretty woman with his intentions. It would be nice. Female attention wouldn't be that hard to find, or if necessary buy. He cocked an ear in the direction of the pair. Buy, she clearly was selling. Well his fat merchant cabin mate wouldn't be showing up any time soon. He had to admit to himself as they walked passed, for a Human she looked like a pleasant romp.

      "Healer Shandis." The sound of his name banished the slumber the heat of the afternoon had snuck on him. "Healer, we have a man that needs attention." The speaker was the ship's Steward.
       "I will come at once." Shandis stood to match his words.
       The Steward led him back to one of the better staterooms. On a larger single bed his cabin mate lay naked and still, his face flushed. Shandis quickly went to work. A moment's examination told him enough. "My attentions are late Steward. Only a priest can help him now. He is dead."
       "Dead? This man was fine this morning."
       "Yes, he is my cabin mate, or was. Whose cabin are we in?"
       "Clove Room. The room is unoccupied healer."
       "Interesting, then I'll be disturbing no one if I look into this death further. The Magistrate's coroner in the next town will want any information he can get. I'm curious, how did you find him if the cabin is empty?"
       "We clean all the cabins, occupied or not."
       "Good, I'll get started."
       "Are...are cutting him open?"
       "No, I won't muss the bedding any more than it is. We will need some sheets to wrap the body. I suggest the Captain make for the first sizable town, scheduled stop or not."
       "Use the ones you have."
       "As you wish."
       The Steward left quickly. Obviously a man unaccustomed to death. Shandis started his examination of the body. He would need to get the man's name from the passenger lists. A quick preserve spell would keep rot from disturbing things. A plea to Sharla for the soul's safe passage wouldn't hurt either.
       A few minutes of examination proved that the cause of death was not obvious. Something internal, or magic. There wasn't a mark on the man head to foot, he had an erection. Shandis finished tying the body into the bed sheets. When he came out there was a crewman by the door. A handful of passengers a distance back obviously watching.
       "Crewman, do you have the key to this door?"
       "Yes sir, and the Captain wishes to see you."
       "Then lock this door and lead the way."

       Shandis shortly found himself on the top deck in front of the Capitan in a tiny office.
       "Healer,. please be seated." Shandis sat. "Now, what can you tell me of this sad event?"
       Shandis took out his notes. "Not as much as I would like. I do need the name of the passenger. He was my cabin mate."
       The Capitan consulted a list. "Brom Smithson".
       Shandis leaned over to the desk and added the name to his report. "I obviously did not perform a full autopsy. It will be necessary to establish the cause of death. Right now I am leaving that as undetermined."
       "Not natural causes?"
       "No. I don't know. There are a number of causes that leave the body outwardly unharmed. I have neither the magic or the place to discover them. I do have a few questions of my own."
       "Ask then."
       "Before the unfortunate event I saw Mr. Smithson talking with a young woman. What of their conversation I caught dealt with sex for hire. She was a measure and a half high. russet haired, fair of complexion. Her business I understand, but if she had a cabin, why go to one that was unoccupied?"
       The Capitan frowned. "Curious as you say. The description is not enough to find her on this list. Do you think her involved in the death?"
       "I do, if not the cause, a witness to his collapse that saw fit to not report it at once. Strange to say the least."
       "I must agree healer. We have a number of prostitutes that ply the river. I could easily name any number of them, but this woman I can't say I know, face, figure?"
       "Very pretty, heart shaped face, quite mammal in the human fashion. I didn't get a close look at her eyes. She was wearing a green gown, one piece, no bodice."
        The Capitan thought for a long moment. "No, none come to mind of that description. It is not to say a new woman is not possible. The clothing is parlor wear, not the typical girl off the river. Can you draw?"
        "I have some training in that direction."
       "Can you give me a likeness of the woman?"
       "I will try, understand my skills are more to medical conditions, not portraits."
       "I'll take what I can get, and meanwhile I'll pass the word for the crew to watch for her."
       "When do we reach town?"
       "Late afternoon."
       "Then we have that long to find her, unless she goes for a swim."

       An hour later Shandis had his portrait. He considered it a decent likeness, and not too generic. The crew were called in in turns as the Capitan instructed them. "Look for this woman, do not disturb her, don't make a fuss if you find her report to the Steward or myself.

       Early evening found the town of Ferryborn shortly ahead. No sign of the woman or a green dress had been found. Chances were they would not. Shandis waited on the bow for the ship to get up to the pier. He didn't even wait for the vessel to be tied up before he jumped ashore. The Magistrate's House was easy to see, he headed there at once.

      Two hours later the body of Brom Smithson was in the surgery of the local coroner. They had laid bare the poor man's body and delved into his organs. The Constable and Magistrate watched from the edges of the room while the doctors worked. At last they laid down their knives and retractors.
       "Well?" Magistrate Fellon was not a patient man.
       Shandis cleaned his hands as he spoke. "We can find no cause of this man's death save that he is dead. His organs are normal, there are no clots in his brain. He simply stopped living."
        "What about the erection?"
       Shandis continued. "I did not say his death was natural. Men die with an erection often. If there is any stress it is not uncommon. The circumstance of his discovery are also unusual. If he simply found himself over weary, his own cabin was not far away. The woman of interest should have had her own cabin."
        Fellon grunted. "Dalden, what do you make of this?"
        The Coroner shook his head. "I am but a Churgon Magistrate. I bow to the Healer in this."
        "You're the coroner damn it, we need a call."
        Dalden looked to Shandis. Shandis finished drying his hands. "If a factual determination is required, we need a witch. Someone to read the bones, cards, or what ever is fashionable this year. Medical science is not helping. We need magic, magic more than I can offer. Based on the autopsy I am recommending that it be listed as 'death, cause undetermined'."
        Dalden nodded. "Then I will make is so."
        Fellon grumbled. "Galt!"  
        The lean man unstuck himself from the wall. "Yes M'Lord."
        "See if that hedge witch is home. Go now. I want answers before the Essic Hane sails."
       Galt nodded. "I'll do that."

       Maggie the witch came quickly, she was soon seated at a table with the Capitan, Steward, Shandis and the officers of the law. She looked to be a slip of a girl. Shandis knew that such looks were often deceiving. Those that practice the Craft were often much older than they looked. Maggie laid out the painted cloth she used for her divinations. "So we need the cause of death for a dead man."
       "Reason for death, and if it was foul play or not." Fellon was direct.
       "We have the man himself, or his remains, a name he was traveling under and certain of his possessions to aid your work." Added Shandis.
        Maggie nodded. "Then you know something of the process. Why do you say, 'name he traveled under'? A curious way to cast the matter."
        Shandis' ears twitched. "Because I do not know if that was indeed his birth name. It is bad to assume."
       "Yes, that would be the Healer way. Let us begin then."
        The witch took the offered items and begin her ritual. Maggie took each item proffered and placed it on the mandela painted on her cloth. She gathered her sticks in hand. Shandis didn't catch any of the words used, the Craft rituals were different than his own. At last she cast the sticks down. They bounced in a shower of light and landed about the cloth and the objects on it. She took a deep breath and started to examine the relationships. "The man we speak of is dead, this we know. He traveled far to get here, again we know this. His most precious possession was stolen from him...not...a material thing. The taker was a woman. She is not done with the company of this room. I....No, that is all I can read in this."
        Galt looked across the table with stormy eyes. "Ominous."
        Fellon was rising from the table. "What say you now Healer?"
        Shandis turned to Maggie. "Thank you for your time at this late hour Lady. Do you wish an escort home?"
        Fellon glowered. "I meant on the death in question."
        Shandis twitched a cat smile. "Politeness always first Magistrate. Death, cause undetermined, possible murder."
        Dalden nodded. "Then I will make it so."

       A pleasant walk in the forest took Shandis and the witch Maggie back to her door. She worked the latch. "Come in Healer. You seemed eager to walk me home."
       "Yes, I was. You were holding back. I could tell."
       " is not wise to speak of future things. The future is not yet real, and I don't wish to eliminate possibilities."
        "I cannot argue with that. Was that the only reason?"
       "You are woven in this deeply. Your path is long, and tangled. For so new a Healer."
        "Like witches, Leomans do not show their age. I am a new Healer, I am not young. My path is indeed long and tangled. These are not revelations to me."
       "Why are you so woven in this?" The woman was pulling a wine skin out and pouring a measure in two glasses.
       Shandis sat. "He was my cabin mate. We have traveled together since the boat left three days ago. I saw him with the woman in question. I discovered he was dead. I did the autopsy on the body. I think my entanglement is obvious at that."
       She handed Shandis a cup. "Yes, that would explain much. This woman, I do not think you have seen the last of her."
       Shandis looked into the cup. "I was getting that idea. Not a pleasant idea."
       She reached for his face. "Are you troubled?"
       Shandis started at the unexpected touch. "Not how you might think lady. I've faced difficult people before."
       She looked at him with hooded eyes. "Can I help in any way?"
       Shandis watched her body language. He "spoke" Human fairly well. "If that is what you are offering, I'll not turn it down."

       Shandis got back to the Essic Hane sightly before dawn. It was good night, if not a restful one. Maggie the witch had proved a good source of stress relief indeed. She had fed him as well so being not at all hungry he flopped into his bed and for once allowed himself to sleep most of the morning away.

       By the time Shandis had joined the ship's company lunch was being served. They had picked up new passengers as well. One stood out among the others. Most men didn't wear a breastplate as casual clothing. A mark of one of the holy fighting orders. The surprise came when the Paladin approached him directly. He stood over the table. "You are Shandis the Healer?"       
       "I am, what do you wish sir Knight."
       "I am told you are a man with answers, and I have questions."
       "Sit, depending on the questions, answers can be forthcoming."
       "The cabin I was assigned had evil within it."
       "Indeed, which cabin were you given?"
       "Yes, that adds to the body of knowledge. I am not surprised."
       "You are not. Why would you not be surprised?"
       "Yesterday I found a body in there. One I believe suffered a foul fate. Even divinations were not clear on all things. However one can readily interpret that the man had his soul stolen."
       The paladin looked troubled, as one might expect. His face suddenly brightened. "Forgive me Healer, I forget my manners in my concern. I am Sir Drakken of the Guardians."
       "Pleased sir."
       "I take it you have no suspect?"
       "I do, but I fear the chances of finding her are slim. The boat spent the whole night tied ashore. Crew could not find her, and she had every opportunity to leave."
       "No, that does not bode well for solving the crime."
       "Never less, I bid you keep your senses sharp. One that can steal souls has much glamor, and their face could easily change as well. However if you found evil in the room, then the creature itself could well be evil. You among men can spot such a thing. If, and a slim if at that, she was foolish enough to stay on the boat."
       "I shall do as you bid Shandis. For thy reasons, and my own."

       The rest of the afternoon passed without incident, or sight of that woman. Shandis did not expect to see the woman. He watched the banks from the promenade and after dinner they moved into the last lake in the chain. Shandis sighed, likely another sleepless night. He found three whist players in the parlor looking for a fourth. He had learned the game while at the Healer school. It would pass the time, and if the players were typical, fill his pockets in the process. Humans, easy to read their emotions.
       It was well toward the mid-night by the time the card game broke up. players were decent, but poor at hiding their excitement or disappointment. He on the other hand was a hard read for anyone that didn't know his kind. And unlike his fellow players his head was not befuddled by wine. That habit he had left well behind. His purse was the heavier by a score of crowns. 
       He was halfway back to his cabin when he heard the scream. Without willing it his feet turned toward the sound, and he had neither weapon or armor. Well no weapon save his claws. He turned into the corridor as did Sir Drakken from the other direction. Drakken of course had a sword, even if he was in his night shirt. The scream came again identifying the cabin as the door flew open a young man staggered out. "Help, murder!" he cried.
       Drakken was slightly ahead of him entering the cabin alone. Shandis stopped to aid the young man who had fallen to the floor. He could hear the commotion in the cabin, and heads started to pop out of their doors up and down the hall. Something splintered within the cabin as Shandis got the young man to his feet. He seemed otherwise uninjured, if a little on the weak side. He passed the man to the nearest concerned person and turned his attention to the cabin.
       A female shriek of victory cut the air and he saw Sir Drakken's sword fall to the floor beside him. Without thought he grabbed it. Once again he felt that savage flow of energy he had known once before; holy energy flowed through his body multiplying his strength. Within the cabin a naked woman had Drakken by the throat. Drakken clawed ineffectively at her arms. Shandis saw only the evil hateful thing she was. Without a word he crossed the two paces of the cabin and plunged the blade between her breasts, and twisted. The woman dropped Drakken with a scream. Shandis pulled the sword back and struck again slashing her throat, and he punched back down into her chest as she fell clawing at the holy blade. Once again he withdrew the steel, and watched carefully at the fell creature twitching on the floor. Again but with a Healer's eye he thrust the blade into her back, neatly spearing her heart. At last all motion stopped.
       Drakken pulled himself from the floor. "By the gods man. You're a Healer?"
       Shandis yanked Drajjen's sword from the body and laid it aside. For a moment he felt faint as the holy power left his body. "I...I was a warrior long before I became a Healer Sir Drakken. Are you harmed?"
       Drakken took quick stock of himself. "I don't think so. I am uncut at least."
       Official looking persons pushed their way passed the people crowding the hall. The Steward gaped at the woman bleeding all over the rug. "What? How?"
       Shandis toed her over. "Yes, that is the face I saw with Mr. Smithson. We have found our woman."
       Drakken had located the womans gown and was using it to clean his sword. "More than a woman, Steward, a Succubus."
       "You have slain her?"
       "Nay, you can thank the Healer for that."
       Shandis gave the Paladin a rueful look. "I would have preferred to give you the credit."
       Drakken looked at him with disapproval. "That wouldn't be truthful."
       "It would however be more convenient."
       Crew was by this point clearing the hall. The Captain came in looking a bit the comic in his shirt and hat. "Your woman Healer."
       "Yes sir, and at her work again. A demon."
       "Gods have mercy."
       "This time they did. She is slain."
       "What do we do with the body? The Capitan looked truly pained.
       Drakken spoke. "There is a priest aboard. Father Culen. We need bless the body."
       "And then?" The man was stricken.
       "Throw her overboard." Drakken's continence was grim."
       Shandis shook his head. "Must we?"
       "You would give such a creature more care than that?"
       "It is not her care I care for. She has taken one soul in the last week. I would see her given to the priests in Woodmanor, if there is ought that can be done for the taken soul, we should do it."
       The Captain was clearly conflicted. "We will be there by morning Healer."
       "Then we can do this. Sir Drakken, I do not wish to disrupt your sleep, but a watch much be placed on this creature. Some have been known to recover from death."
       "Aye, that is true enough. Stout ropes, blessed and anointed, we shall bind her hand and foot. If she stirs, we have time to give her another taste of the blade."

       An hour later Shandis and Sir Drakken sat across from each other on the bow of the Essic Hane. Between them the body of a naked woman was tightly bound. They had a sheet to cover her, but had not; the better to see if she was moving.
       Shandis watched the sill form in the moon light. "A strange occupation. Watching a dead woman to make sure she is."
       "Aye, that it is. "You are not a simple fighter Shandis, you use a sword well."
       "I have had many professions in my life Sir Drakken. Solider, adventurer, drunk. I am a Healer now."
       "When did you take Orders?"
       "Holy Orders Shandis. You are no warrior. The powers of that sword do not work for those that are not holy."       
       "I've never taken Orders. I was a warrior in the Eyrian Army, then I robbed ancient tombs. I have never sworn to any god."
       "You're that Shandis aren't you? My Father came back from the war, a broken man. He spoke of a black Leoman, that cleared the field with the sword of a fallen Paladin. A Leoman that turned the tide of battle and saved ten thousand men."
       Shandis shrank into himself in the darkness. "Yea, hero. Saved everyone but the one that mattered to me Sir Drakken. Bards sing of things they do not understand. It took me years to get over the nightmares."
       Drakken rose and laid a hand on Shandis' shoulder. "Aye, I said my Father was a broken man. You are one of the lucky ones. He never recovered. The misery of his last years is why I took Holy Orders. I never want that to happen again. Yes you have the powers of a Paladin."
       "I certainly have never practiced the discipline of one. What god would have me? And without telling me?"
       "I don't know, but I see you worship Sharla."
       Shandis fingered the medallion around his neck. "I wouldn't be unique in that."
       "Nay, but she is one that moves in her own ways."
       "There is no order of warriors in her religion. There is barely an order of priests."
       Drakken nodded. "Sharla moves in her own ways. Do you recall what oaths you swore that day or what prayers you might have uttered?"
       Shandis shook his head in the Human fashion. "No, it is still all a blur of shouting, stink, and blood. I wouldn't wish it otherwise. The few lucid moments of that day were featured in my nightmares for years."
       "So you remember nothing?"
       "In terms of words I might have spoken? No. If they were heard, I personally got no indication."
       "I think you did Shandis. You did indeed, but you yourself were beyond caring."
       "No one has ever tried to get me back in armor, shining otherwise, or ask me to spend a night on my knees in prayer Sir Drakken. I am simple Shandis and have no honorific before my name."
       "You are Healer Shandis sir. While I am grateful for your skill at sword, I count those that heal higher than those that slay. Your humility commends you, but it is not necessary." Drakken looked out over the dark lake. "Men of war speak little of war itself. I have had my trial of fire and blood. All thoughts I may have had of glory in battle died there. Of that much I can say I understand. Like many of those that survived, you consider that you 'did your job', that it was nothing special or worthy of notice, and you don't wish to be noticed."
       "You state this like you know me."
       "In some small measure I do. My Father was one of those that saw your acts. His feelings were in this direction. You were the hero, he was not. I would wager he fought every bit as hard."
       "No one on that field slacked and lived."
       "As you say. I defer to those that were there. Grateful I am that I was not of age to be there also. Thankful forever to the generation that fought, and saved us all."
       "We were but a small part of the whole Sir Drakken. The real battle was fought by the gods. It was they that put down the Undying King."
       "You, my Father, and your comrades kept his hoards of undead from overrunning the land. Please do not belittle what you have done. I do not believe that Tesral would have condemned men to that fight if that fight was not required."
       "Your words are truth." sighed Shandis. "I trusted him then and trust him still to not spend lives without cause."
       "So why are you going to Woodmanor? If you don't mind my asking."
       Shandis looked over the lake to the spot the boat was headed. "I can't say I truly have a purpose. Complete the circle if you will. Return to the place where my troubles began, and leave them there."
       "A symbolic journey."
       "Yes, and find some work. I don't intend to make my living at whist." He widened his eyes towards the night." And we do not have that much longer to wait. I see the loom of the town."
       Sir Drakken pulled the sheet over the dead demon. "As long as we have been talking here she shows no sign of life."
       Shandis keeled beside the body and pulled the top of the sheet back. He placed his listening horn on her chest, giving it a good minute or so. Then he cast a quick spell. "No, neither senses nor spells show any life. I think she is truly dead." He flipped the sheet back over the still form.
       "Then I pray the church can find and free the soul she has taken."
       Shandis thought a moment. "Do you have a horse?"
       "No. That is one reason I have come here, to get a horse from the stables of Woodmanor."
       "This could work in our favor. Do you drive?"
       "I can."
       "Good, I have a horse. We can rent a cart at the docks. The body thus carried we ride to Woodmanor from the docks. We should be there before dawn."
       "You fear the light will burn her away?"
       "Yes, I do. I have seen the remains of demons be quite ephemeral in the light of the Father."
       Drakken nodded. "Then we cover it heavily and make haste."
       "Good. Get your baggage. When you return I will get mine and Littlefoot. We can be ashore the moment the boat docks."
       "Aye, I will make it so." Drakken left.
       Shandis watched the looming lights of Quayside. As the last time he was here the city was never truly dark. Weariness stole over him with his company gone. Well he had endured sleepless nights before. The cause was good.
       Heavy steps alerted him to the approach of Sir Drakken. He nodded and headed back to the cabin deck for his own luggage. A couple of bags, his staff. He had nowhere near the gear that Julian did on the road. His saddle was down in the stable. Littlefoot wickkered at him when he came to her stall. The boat's groom was not to be seen. The horse near her snorted at the presence of cat.
       "We must make haste little one." He quickly brushed out her coat where the saddle would sit. "Forgive me the light grooming."
       "Quickly go?" She nuzzled him. The ship shuddered as the paddle wheel suddenly reversed to slow their forward progress.
       "Yes, we must get a cart and make haste up the road. Another is coming as well. You are well?"
       "Yes well." was her reply.
       Shandis got the saddle on and tightened. He had just finished the bridle when he heard the sailors shouting to the dock hands through the darkness. Essic Hane bumped firmly against the dockside and the blocks squealed as the gangway was lowered.
       He came out onto the bow. Sir Drakken had the body wrapped in its sheet and over his shoulder. Shandis picked up the paladin's gear without a word and placed it across Littlefoot's saddle. "Lets go."

       After some firm banging on the drayman's door they finally got the grumpy man himself. The sight of a pair with a body and the need for urgency got him out. A couple of extra crowns in his hand even quieted the grumbling. Shandis was grateful for his earlier whist playing. They were shortly trotting up the Imperial Way as quickly as the well spaced lights and the darkness allowed. In an hour they crossed into Woodmanor itself with a hint of light showing to the east. They made the backside of the temple of Tesral just as the sky was starting to show a blue lighter than darkness.
       The priest at the door was wide eyed at the pair and their cargo. With quick explanations they were shown in and the cargo safely placed under cover away from sanctified spaces. Some Reader was going to get a late breakfast as he was assigned to return the horse and cart.
       By the time he and Sir Drakken had been shown to the kitchen for a bite to eat the Diaos himself had arrived vested for morning prayers. "Gentlemen, you certainly know how to turn a temple upside down."
       Sir Drakken bowed slightly rising as he swallowed. "Forgive me your Worship but the need is great."
       "I am Daios Martin. What need are we speaking of?"
       "The body is a succubus. She was slain by Shandis on the Essic Hane, saving me in the process." Shandis cringed. "She recently murdered a man, and we had hopes that you could find his soul with her as a source."
       The elder priest sat on a stool. "A slight chance if she has not delivered it to her infernal master. We will try."
       Drakken nodded. "Better a slight chance than none."
       "Yes, your haste is well reasoned. I'll go at once and see to the disposition of this demon body. What of the man?"
       "Shandis dug through his wallet and came up with his report to the coroner. "My report on the matter your Worship. The place the man is buried, his name and all details that I know."
       "Good, good. What part do you play other than demon slaying?"
       Shandis cringed again. "I am a Healer your Worship. I was called to deal with the man. Please, can we let the matter of who killed what rest? I have no desire to be lauded for this event."
       "I see. You both look tired."
       "We were up the night through your Worship" replied Sir Drakken. " Watching the body and ready to depart at the dock."
       The priest stood papers in hand. "Then you both need rest. We will see to this matter, you two rest and worry not. Provost, see they have cells and are not disturbed by the temple routine." the Diaos waved a dismissive hand at the protest rising from Sir Drakken. Nay Sir Drakken, worry about prayer when the body has caught up with itself."
       The knight nodded in acquiescence. Shandis wasn't about to argue. A priest's cot sounded like the lap of luxury about now.
       "I have a horse...."
       "Do not concern yourself, it will be seen to."
       With that Shandis allowed himself to be taken to a bed.

       Shandis rolled up to sit on the cot. He had no idea as to the time of day, he could hear singing. A goodly body of folks. Must be one of the regular services. He was hungry, needed to relive himself and his mouth was dry. First things first. He didn't figure they would mind if his gear stayed there for now. He padded out into the cloister. It was late morning. by the sun. A lay sister was bustling by with a load of sheets.
       "Excuse me, I am looking for the latrine and the kitchen in that order."
       "The jakes are over there" she said with a nod in that direction. "The afternoon repast shall be served as soon as services are over."
       "Thank you sister." He continued to meet his needs.
       Shandis found the bath attached to the latrine area. Suddenly he felt like he had rolled in mud. His steps took him into the bath The girl there was pleasant if not quite sure what to do with all that hair. He was contemplating a soak when the service stopped.
       "Sir" said the girl. "If you want food, you should dry and go to the dining hall."
       "Just go through the door into the dressing room."
       He did so and didn't need a towel, the doorway stripped the water off him leaving him comfortable and dry. He managed to find a brush to tame his head and trotted to the dining hall.
       He arrived as the priests and brothers were taking their places at table. He spotted Sir Drakken and was waved over to that table. As they sat on cue he noticed that he was seated with the senior priests. The food came fast and heavy. Light rations were not the rule of the order. Shandis was surprised when a plate of uncooked chops was placed in front of him. He gave the Diaos a look.
       "Eat my friend. We know the needs of Leomans."
       "Thank you your Worship. Is silence the rule of the table?"
       "No, but it is impolite to eat and talk at the same time."
       Shandis could see that everyone concentrated on eating. He set to and polished off the whole plate.
       At the end of the meal the Matriarch Namara stood. A striking horse Exotic woman. "Attention brothers and sisters. I have the order of the afternoon. Section one will be cleaning the sanctuary and cloister. Brother Simon, we need you to make repairs to the altar rail if you will. Pick two to aid you in the removal work. Perhaps we can avoid over successful merchants tripping into it in the future." The was a mild titter from the assembled. "Section two will be handling the back yard area and the stable. Seniors please see to the details of your section. Senior Martha I enjoin you to deal with the disposal of the succubus. Tesral guide you steps brethren all. The chapter is dismissed."
       Shandis stood with the rest. He approached the Matriarch "Your Worship, you are done with the body already?"
       "Gladly yes my son. We dealt with it at once. I am glad to say that the soul of Brom Smithson was not trapped as you and Sir Drakken feared. A quick blessing moments after death freed his soul from her grasp even as she lived."
       "There was no source for such a blessing."
       Namara smiled in a sort of horsey way. "I have spoken to Sir Drakken. Seeing you myself I must concur."
       "I do not know the how or the why your worship. I cannot say I have ever been aware of it."
       "Come Shandis. There is someone that wishes to meet you." Namara started toward the front of the Temple. "I must say that your case is unusual. I cannot think of a paladin that didn't know they were a paladin. But, you are clearly a holy warrior, not simply a warrior."
       "Have I done wrong to become a Healer?"
       "If that was the case you would not be a paladin."
       "But for years I have wandered, this has never come up."
       "And how did you wander?"
       "As a wastrel and a drunk. Not the action of a holy man. What are you getting at?"
       Narama stopped before an ornate door. "That you have atoned in becoming a Healer. It is indeed approved of. We need pass through here. It's a shortcut to the Palace."
       "Who are we seeing at the Palace?"
       "You will see soon enough." Namara opened the door and motioned him through. She followed into the large and airy room. She nearly ran into Shandis when he stopped cold.
       In the middle of the room was a Phoenix shining in red, gold, and white. He noted their entry. "Ah, the noon meal is over. Namara, Shandis, please, come and be seated."
       Narama had to poke Shandis a bit to get him moving. Tesral indicated the couch for Shandis and a seat beside himself for Namara. "You seem surprised Shandis."
       He cleared his throat and found his voice. "I am M'Lord, I didn't expect to be seeing you."
       If one knew Phoenix the look was kindly. "I have kept watch on you these past years. Ever since you first came here after the war. I knew that you had some hard lessons to learn. Lessons that you couldn't be helped with, not if you were to truly learn them. I see you have learned them, and taken again your role as the helper, the seeker of justice, the easier of pain. Even in the depth of your trials you never abandoned them."
       "I...I really do not know how to reply M'Lord. What I thought was a simple trip up the river has become endlessly complex."
       "That is the way of life. How do you see your role from here on in?"
       "I will aid the needy, get work in my profession. I have no wish to be lauded or celebrated. I would as well sink into an obscure life of service to those in need."
       Involved in speaking with the Emperor Shandis did not see the woman enter. He really didn't notice until she sat beside him hip to hip. The silver haired Leoman woman snaked an arm around him. Shandis came very close to outright fainting.
       "Sharla your scaring him." Chided Tesral. "You're also stepping on my pitch here."
       She giggled. "Sorry dear." And moved over a bit.
       Shandis if pressed would have to admit it didn't want her to move. "Sharla?"
       "Yes. I do live here."
       "Of course M'Lady." Shandis got a grip on himself. "I think we need to talk."
       "I think you're right. Tesral dear is correct. I am stepping on his interview here."
       Shandis pried his eyes back to Tesral. "Sire?"
       Tesral chuckled under his feathers. "Shandis, when you first came to the court I wanted to give you certain things right there. I was counseled against it, and rightly. Sharla was right, you were not ready yet. I believe you ready now."
       "I don't follow Sire."
       "I wish to make you a Knight of Eyrie."
       Shandis dropped his head. " awesome responsibility. Why me? Certainly not for the whole hero reputation."
       "No. that is the least of my considerations. Heroes are people that do what needs doing. More for your actions other than battle Shandis. You take ownership of problems and work to solve them. The most recent incident is a prime example." Tesral picked up the papers of his report. "Your main concern here is the man's soul. I don't get many autopsies that are concerned with the eternal disposition of the dead. Fewer still that do not make unwarranted conclusions for convenience and few suggest courses of action."
       "Julian teaches well Sire."
       "And it was your habit before that even. How many others would have bothered to save the bandits?"
       Shandis reacted with shock. He hadn't considered that in years. "Sire, murdering the men..."
       "...Was wrong, yes. These are my reasons. Not accidental heroism."
       "About that. I am told I am a paladin? Certainly news to an old drunkard and reprobate."
       Sharla scooted closer again. "That would be my doing."
       "It would have been nice to tell me?"
       "How would you have reacted Shandis?"
       "I don't think I would have taken it well, even a few years ago."
       "Yes, so I gave you my blessing, bided my time, and waited for you to be ready."
       "When did it start?"
       "That day, on the battlefield. Yes, your lost years were indeed lost. It is only recently you have again been able to access the blessing. Oh, and you will need something." Sharla reached behind the couch and pulled a sword onto her lap. Shining mithrial with a sliver dragon-hide hilt.
       Shandis felt his head swim. He knew that blade. "eep."
       Sharla laid a steadying hand on him, his head cleared. "Yes, it is that sword. It was not difficult while people were still sorting things out to find it and hold onto it. I knew that you might need it again. When you were ready."
       "But I'm a Healer now, I don't need a sword."
       "You are a Healer also, Shandis. You never stop being what you have been before that."
       "Must I go on fighting forever?" The pain showed through his eyes.
       "No one here wishes to fight. But we choose to be ready should the fight be brought to us. You didn't hesitate in the ship cabin."
       "A life was in danger."
       "Yes, exactly. we," and she indicated the whole of the room, "do not desire that you seek fights. But wish that you should be ready if they are brought to you."
       Tesral stepped in. "And Shandis, if you keep taking ownership of problems, they will."
       Shandis shook his head. "So much so soon."
       "Yet you know your answer," added Tesral softly. "How long will you require to dither over it?"
       Shandis sat up. "None, you are right. My head has decided, my heart is weak. While I believe in listening to my heart. I shall go with my head today. Yes Sire, I will accept the Knighthood, and yes, M'Lady, I will keep the sword.

Return -- Gary Stahl, November 2010

       One again a Shandis tale. A bookend to the previous story. As before this features several characters that are prominent parts of my three decade plus D&D game. Yes, "Tesral" is my usual Internet use name. And this is where it comes from. Tesral has never been a player character but was created into this role as a non-player character On the local bulletin boards I used "Phoenix" as my handle. Moving to the net I figured that that would be too common. So I picked "Tesral" being one of the most important Phoenixes in my game. Usually it works for me.
       Sharla on the other hand was one of my PCs back in the day. She has been retired from that role for some 20 years or more.
       There is a great deal that the characters here take for granted. These are things my long time players understand. Knights of Eyrie for example it is more than an order of knights. They are Tesral's wandering right hands. They have heavy power and responsibility and are held to using it correctly. It is a political position not something with "game" features. Likewise the whole Eyrian justice system, the Temple of Tesral. There are social structures here that the characters in the story take for granted. It would require "As You Know, Bob" info dump to explain them, and that would detract from the story. the Magistrate isn't going to lecture people on the Justice System at every turn. The Dios (local bishop) doesn't tell everyone how the church works at every encounter. So they don't. I hope I have made enough plain that explanations are not required.

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. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.


Return to the Greyhawke Page

Your Comments Welcome.

Site maintained and designed by the Owner
With the Amiga 4000 Computer and SuSE Linux: 100% Windows Free

The Computers that work for me