Into the Cold
He sleeps now; in trust and seeming innocence. And I watch.
The night air is cool this far north, brilliant leaves drift in gentle decent around me. The night sky is filled to bursting with stars just out of reach. I wonder at the path that brought me here, to this land that I have come to love so deeply; a land of beauty so startling and death so sudden. Sometimes the places I have seen and the lives I have ended blur and merge. I cannot remember all who I have killed. Or why. Sometimes vague forgotten faces haunt my dreams and cry out to be remembered. I would remember them if I could. But there are so many.
Life was not always like this. I remember days filled with sunshine and cricket song. I remember my father and his rocks of many colors and textures. He loved the stones of this earth and left us often for the southern port where he would talk with the masters of his trade. Once, he took me with him. We walked the day long down winding paths in the shadow of the Dragonsong and as we neared the great city of Lecleigh I was carried in his arms and slept. When I woke it was to find myself deep in the dark and lofty halls of the Stone Masters. He carried me again that night as we left; a small child too weary from the greatest day of her small life. I never saw mighty Lecleigh until I entered it in service to its King.
Lecleigh! After the gentle glades of the north, Lecleigh seemed crowded and confusing. Everywhere I turned there were wondrous things to see. The Walk of Valor imposing and proud, filled with towering images of those men and women whose stories I had poured over throughout my childhood; the market district abuzz with commerce and meetings on every corner; the gentle lap of the Grand Canal and the chatter of children playing there. King’s Palace was thick with courtiers and guardsmen, and the Cathedral of Nine soared over it all promising us something grander than even this fair place. There was endless noise and people; grand people with weapons blazing and fine materials flowing. The revered horses of Lecleigh gleamed in the sunlight, their sleek hides well fed and carefully groomed. That such riches existed amazed and frightened me for a time. That I could serve such a place, that it would welcome one such as me into its embrace, this gave me driving purpose and fierce pride in my land and its people. I have never wavered in that pride.
But, it seems of late I have wavered in most other things. My faith is shaken and stands ready to tumble, and my love for our King is overshadowed by what grows inside me for my warrior. My hubris has led me to this life. The beauty here is deceptive and cruel. My eyes see only peace and love but I know in my heart that there is an evil here. True peace would not disturb me so, and real love would not corrupt and betray so easily.
My golden warrior sleeps and I watch him and wonder. Soon I must choose. Soon I must decide to follow my vow or follow what I know to be right. That I must break a vow to honor it leaves me lost and unbalanced. And angry. That anger grows. Will I protect him? Or destroy him as I have so many others? My hand reaches for my blade and caresses my beloved Destiny. She never betrays and never fails me. There was a time when I would have known the right and good answer to the questions raging in my mind. That time is not now. Now I have only Destiny, the cover of darkness, and a growing anger to guide me.
I cannot do this! How do I choose? There are no answers for me to find that will not destroy me in the finding. My mind screams to me “What have I done to deserve this? Why have my Gods forsaken me?” But I know the answer, no matter my desire not to. I am here because I chose to be.
A sob chokes me and fills my throat. But I did not know! How could I have known? He looks at me and sees armor and a deadly blade and growing skills. Does he see the rest too? Does he know that before him there was no other? Does he know that I looked to him in all things to guide me and I trusted him above all? And in that too, I realize I know the answer. He does know. He has counted on it.
I have begun to grow in many ways of late. He has taught me more than he wanted I think. He has shown me pleasures I had not imagined in my life of battle and duty. He woke in me physical sensations and responses deep and powerful and consuming; I hunger now for things that once were only vague unsettled dreams. But it is the knowledge of other things that has changed me most. I have learned that loyalty can be twisted and used to destroy. I have learned that great beauty and seeming love can hide things cruel and selfish.
I rise and turn away. I cannot do this. I can only run into the darkness and further into the wilderness. As quietly as I am able I untie Thorendil and lead him down the hill before mounting. I turn him and head for the frozen hills of the Wolfshead. I hate the cold, but it is quiet there, and few would think to look for me in that frigid place. The cooling night air tingles on my skin as it dries the tears on my cheek. Thorendil’s unshod hooves make no noise on the soft ground and only the sound of his breath and the savage calls of night birds intrude on the silence that surrounds me. It is only my mind that clamors and clashes.
Could my warrior have been like this from the first? I do not think it so. I cannot believe it so. Yet, that my Gods would have sent me to such a great man only to watch demons invade his mind and twist his heart, and offer me no strength to stop the turning is not something I can accept either. What am I to learn from the betrayals and lies? What purpose can be served in learning fear and distrust?
Thorendil flicks an ear back in response to the sob that rises again from my heart. My Thorendil, my trusted friend and courageous companion; he is named to honor the golden warrior that sleeps behind me. I stroke his sleek and muscled neck, drawing solace from his warmth. In time the gentle rhythm of his walk, his keen attention to me, and the soft night breezes work their magic. Muscles held too long in readiness for battle begin to relax and soften and my mind wanders to brighter days of glory and nights filled with tender passion.
There are moments that become the guideposts in our lives. In years ahead we look back on such moments and find they stand clear and true, shinning as lamps in the dim haze of memory. The violent deaths of my parents, afternoons working in the Abbey gardens, meeting the Delorian elves Shantieshe and Delours, seeing a golden horse stride proudly through the village, seeing the glory of the Dragonsong, and entering Lecleigh are the moments that shaped me early and firm. Later, my vow before the Knights of The Nine to uphold and protect all that is right and true, fighting the uprising in Orsik with Bryani the Brave at my side, walking the tropic shores of Sela with my golden warrior and the first night he took me in his arms; these are the moments that changed me from girl to woman and forged a true paladin in service to her land. There were days of sheer joy along with duty and battle, slaying my first dragon watched and smiled upon by my dearest friends, the days I acquired brilliant Eomer and my treasured Thorendil, meeting the paladins Senian and Taliien, and the night Gnark gifted me Destiny. These are the moments that shaped my life; days of quiet and peace, some of blood and fear. All were easily understood and all placed me firmly on the path laid out before me by the Gods I serve.
It is only now; these last brooding and fearful weeks that have taken me from that course. Now my way is blocked by uncertainty and obstacles and tears too thick to see. I long to turn to those I trust, the paladins who understand our way and the elves I love so deeply; but I feel dirtied now, unworthy of their regard or concern and I can only flee from the help they might offer.
He says he will make me a queen, that he will place me above all the others and will shower me with riches and gifts and endless nights of skillful love. He says he will control the others, test them, and force them to see he only is worthy to decide our fate. He says he loves me, has always loved me, and shall always love me. Then how can he see so little of me?
I tell him I do not want to rule! I have no need of riches. I have not earned nor desire to be placed above any in this land. The poorest farmer of the north is here for me only to serve. There are so many others in the Nine more worthy, more skillful, more experienced; more deserving. They would not like the things he plans for them.
Who do I betray? My troubled and lost liege Lord or my beloved and vowed companions? For that is the choice that now lies before me. And what of my Gods? What choice would they have me make? Shall I break a sacred vow to this man who says he has come to trust only me, or shall I watch in helpless sadness as he destroys those that love him most? Whatever choice I make will mean betrayal and a breaking of vows. Yet a vow is simply a vow because it cannot be broken! Whatever choice I make will change who and what I am. I have lost my innocence. I have lost my sure knowledge of right and wrong. I have lost my belief that I knew my way.
My anger grows anew. It is anger born of hurt and tears, but it is no less deadly for its origin. Leaning forward I whisper, “Thorendil, fly my friend. Run!” With only the barest hesitation my proud steed gathers his strength and leans into the night. The ground flows beneath us in an endless blur as he takes me away from the temptation for destruction that lies behind me. I cannot do this. Deep into the wilderness we will go. And for now, there we will stay.