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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Paladin's Trial

So I figured I would include some actual content for this monumental first day, so here is the intro to one of the characters I've been working on, Mantarok Kandrick.  Story after the break.

Chapter 1

    'The day started so nicely.'  That was really the only thought that passed through Mantarok's mind as the horse made it's way through the shifting shadows of the trees of Errandswood.  The soft sound of the horses' hooves on the leaf covered path was a gentle break to the silence that pervaded the woods.  Mantarok looked at the fading sunlight breaking through the branches and sighed.  'The day started so nicely.'
    Mantarok had been riding most of the morning, trying to make up some of the distance that he had lost the previous night.  He was on a mission for his order, the church of Mithrious.  He was only a squire in the service of the paladin Elrick Vandread, but hoped that by completing this mission he would be able to earn the title of paladin himself.  Sir Elrick had stated that he was ready to accept the mantle and title, yet the Captain of the Order said that Mantarok needed to prove himself still.
    It was to his dismay that on approaching the small town of Kalter he saw smoke rising from the small buildings that made up the town.  The hope that this would be a small stop for food and allowing the horse to rest was dashed as he heard the shouting of men calling for aid as he got closer.  Most of the town looked safe, only one building was on fire in fact.  A large group of men were standing around the stables outside of the inn passing buckets of water along to be tossed on the small fire.  His hopes renewed, Mantarok slowed down and approached the activity.
    "Hail, traveler!" a man called out as the last vestiges of the fire sputtered and died.  "Welcome to Kalter." 
    Mantarok smiled broadly and nodded his head.  Smiling nicely was one of the ways that Mantarok ensured that people accepted him and liked him from the start.  His shoulder length blonde hair was tied back by a thin blue bland of cloth that kept it out of his eyes.  His eyes were a glittering blue as well, and his skin fair and smooth.  Women rarely complained of his appearance, and he took great care to groom himself to perfection.  He wore a simple chain shirt and it had clearly seen better days.  His cloak was a light blue, his pants a heavy brown dyed linen.  His shirt was a sturdy white and his boots were a heavy dark brown leather. 
    At his side, a longsword rested, pitted and well used in appearance, and strapped to his back was a large two-handed mace.  Strapped to his saddle was a large iron shield.  If ever there was a emblem or symbol displayed on the front, it had long since been worn off.  His horse stood tall and proud, an animal trained for combat and to carry his rider through a storm of violence without reaction.  The horse had been a present from Sir Elrick on Mantarok's last birthday, to celebrate him coming of age.  Proudly attached to his shoulder was the holy symbol of the church of Mithrious, a stylized sunburst etched in silver and gold.
    "Well met, good sir." Mantarok called out in greeting.  "I see you had some trouble with a fire.  A horse get a bit too skittish?" he asked as he dismounted gracefully from his steed.
    The man shook his head gravely and said, "I wish it was naught but a matter of ill-trained beast."  Taking a rag out of his pocket, the man wiped some soot and sweat off of his face.  He was a broad wide man.  Gray and white peppered his dark hair and a large beard sprouted wildly from his face.  Like most of the people that Mantarok could see in this town, the clothes he wore were clearly homespun fabrics.  Coarse and made for utility, not ascestics.  "We have been garnering the attention of the wee green men.  Nasty little creatures, they apparently hate horses."  The man grimaced and gestured to the burnt stables, "Hence the damage to our stables.  They think it is some sort of spawning place for horses, the stupid creatures."
    Mantarok nodded.  Goblins, also known colloquially as "the wee green men", were notoriously stupid.  Violent, small and voracious are the best words to use in description of a goblin.  Mantarok had run into a few of the creatures in the past, as squire to Sir Elrick.  It had certainly not been an enjoyable experience, he still had a scar on his left shin from one of the goblin's makeshift daggers.  "I'm surprised that they make it this far into town without attracting attention." he commented lightly as he took off his riding gloves and stuck them in his belt.  "I would think the town guard would be able to take care of this."
    Spitting on the ground, the man laughed bitterly.  "Those bastards can't be bothered with a small town like ours.  We are simple farmers, we just hide in our homes when they come and hope they don't decide to spread mischeif past the stables."  Mantarok looks at the small crowd of men cleaning out the burnt straw from the stables.  He could see the fear, worry and stress that constant attacks from the goblins was having on them.  Looking around, he could see mothers holding children to their skirts, children looking up at their mothers and wondering why they looked so scared.

They came like lightning...with no warning, no chance of escaping...

    Mantarok shook his head, banishing the thoughts that threatened to pass into dark memories.  Looking at this town, he knew exactly what Sir Elrick would do.  Before he could think about it further, he said the words that placed him in this forest, "My name is Mantarok Kandrick, squire of Mithrious.  And I think I can help."

Chapter Two

    The journey through the forest so far had been quiet.  No sign of life except for the occassional bird flitting through the trees or a deer bounding through the underbrush.  Mantarok hoped that the road gave him some semblence of protection from the various beasts that inhabited old forests like this.  A soft breeze played through the branches above, causing the light to dance across his face.  'If it wasn't for the goblins I'm after, this would be a rather pleasant ride.' grinning to himself at the thought, he slowed the horse to a halt.
    Looking around, he could see the signs of goblins nearby.  Trees with gashes wildly hacked into them, bushes ripped out of the ground and tossed carelessly aside, piles of filth that smelled worse then one would expect, a few scattered small animal carcasses; all sign of a goblin village nearby.  'How I expect to take care of an entire goblin encampment by myself is quite beyond me.' Mantarok thought as he looked for any sign of a trail.  Off of the road, he saw a small trail that headed off into the forest, a small animal left rotting at the front of it.  Loosening his sword in it's scabard, Mantarok turned his horse off of the road and headed onto the trail. 
    After a few moments, it became clear his horse was going to be too big to follow the trail, so Mantarok dismounted quickly with a soft clanking of his armour.  He pulled his shield off of the horse and tied it's reigns loosely to a branch.  The horse was trained to stay until Mantarok approached, and if anyone else attempted to grab the reigns he would attack the would be thief.  Mantarok patted the horse on the head and whispered, "Don't worry, I'll be right back."
    Moving through the brush, Mantarok kept a close eye on the trail.  It faded from view, only to reappear clearly a few feet away heading off in a different direction.  After following the trail for almost ten minutes, he began to worry.  There had been no clear sign of the goblins, and he was thoroughly lost.  Under his breath, he muttered the prayer to Mithrious for calm.  It was an excersize Sir Elrick had taught him.  Thinking back, he could remember the knights gruff voice barking out orders while training.
    "A paladin's path is frought with danger and chaos!  We are to be a shining beacon of calm to our companions, to the people of the world.  Mithrious' light shines through our actions and our deeds.  Never forget that if you cannot remain calm in the face of danger other, lesser men may break!"  Grinning at the memory, Mantarok felt himself growing calmer and the panic of being lost subsided.  'After all,' he reminded himself, 'This is a small forest, I should come out of it eventually, if I truly am lost.'
    Feeling at ease, he kept his eyes on the trail.  He did not notice the cobwebs thickening in the treetops, or the thick strands of web stretching from one branch to another.  Which is why it was with no small amount of panic and fear that suddenly found hmiself stuck in midair after taking a step.  His eyes snapped into focus on the thin, clear strands strung carefully across the path.  Looking around, he began to say the prayer for calm faster and louder as he could hear a skittering noise descending from the trees above.  Thrashing wildly, he attempted to free himself from the web, knowing that it was a hopeless endeavor.  He was almost able to get his sword arm free when he felt something wet on his shoulder and hear the soft dripping of a thick liquid onto the shoulder of his armour.  Then it all went black.

    "Get the women!  Where are you, Sally?"
    "Mantarok, gather the children; run, get away!"
    "Father, no!"
    "You think you can challenge me, boy?  You will die in this fight just like your family.  Just like all the children.  The empire comes and none can stand against us!"

    Laughter...harsh and cruel dancing through his head, mixes into hissing and the clacking of mandibles.  Light webbing growing thicker, he knew he should struggle but he felt so tired, so sleepy...

    The spider stood over its new catch and hissed in pleasure to itself.  A human!  Imagining all the tasty meals a full grown human would provide over the usual meager catch of a small woodland animal or stupid goblin caused the monstrously sized creature to shiver in anticipation.  Standing the size of a small horse, the spider was able to easily wrap the Mantarok in webbing, making it easier to carry off to it's lair.  It was just about to grab the poisoned human and head back into the trees when an arrow shot out from the trees and lodged itself firmly in it's abdomen.
    Screaming in pain, the spider dropped the cocooned Mantarok with a dull thud and tried to skitter up the trees.  Panicking, it just wanted to get someplace away from the sharp pain stabbing into it's middle.  It didn't even notice when the arrow fell out of the wound and fell to the floor.  It's mind was focusing only on getting away as quickly as possible.  Stepping out of the cover of a nearby bush, a man stepped out and pulled out his dagger.
    The man was of average height, short brown hair hidden by the hood of his cloak.  His face was covered by a green scarf, and most of his clothing was a mixture of browns and greens.  He was wearing soft-oiled leather armour, with thick hemp pants and sturdy boots.  On his back was a longbow and quiver of arrows, and a large bastard sword strapped there as well.  His eyes looked with concern on the cocooned man and he quickly began cutting the webbing carefully away from his face.
    Soon, the pale face of Mantarok was staring blankly up at him.  Reaching into his pack, he pulled out a small vial.  Removing the stopper from it, he poured it gently into the unconcious Mantarok's mouth.  Some colour began to seep into Mantarok's face and soon he began to cough and struggle to free himself, looking up in panic at a strange face.  Allen let out a relieved sigh and pulled his scarf free, reveiling a human face.  He began to cut Mantarok free as he said, "Relax, relax.  I'll get you out of there.  My name is Allen, I live out in these woods and it seems you ran afoul of one of the nastier residents."
    At the mention of the spider, Mantarok looked about in worry and Allen simply laughed.  "No worries, after I shoot them, they rarely come back for some time."  In a rough voice, Mantarok grimaced and said, "Why didn't you kill it?"  Allen said with a smile, "They are a part of this forest, you are the intruder.  It is not the spiders fault you fell into a trap that even goblins are usually smart enough to avoid."  Mantarok glared at Allen and was about to snap something when he grabs Allen's arm and says, "You know where the goblins are?"

Chapter Three

    Looking out over the goblin encampment, Mantarok realized he was in trouble.  It was by no means a large village, even by goblin standards.  Three or four small hovels built to hold ten or so goblins stood scattered about the clearing.  In the middle stood a small bonfire, and roasting above it was a squirrel, a pig and a rabbit.  A fat goblin sat turning the spit and slapping any others that got near to try and sample the food.  He had counted ten so far, but that didn't account for any patrols or goblins sleeping inside the hovels.
    Allen had agreed to show him where the goblins lived, but refused to help him kill them.  Mantarok frowned at the mans words concerning the situation with the village, "I feel no pity or remorse for them.  They certainly show little for me and my family."  Mantarok had pleaded for the mans help, but in the end Allen had melted into the forest and Mantarok knew better then to try to follow.  It was unfortunate, but unavoidable.
    Which is why he know found himself standing in the brush behind a tree and trying to figure out how to do this and come out alive.  The situation, however, was not content to allow him time to leisurely come to a solution.  A large deer suddenly bounded out from behind his hiding place, causing him to yell out in surprise as it landed in the middle of the clearing.  There was a moment, a crystalline pure moment of frozen time as the deer, goblins and man stared at each other.  The goblins were torn for a split second, which was all the time the deer needed to bound away to safety.  Which left the goblins only one target to focus on, Mantarok.
    The words of Sir Elrick echoed in his mind, "Be brave, my lad." as he pulled his sword and shield and stepped forward as the goblins began screaming and pointing.  Already a few were drawing weapons and running at him.  He put his sword up in a salute and said a prayer to Mithrious, "I will never back down from the darkness of this world.  No matter the danger, I will break through it as the sun pierces the shadows!"  With a roar he charged the goblins.  Bringing his sword down full force, he quickly lopped the arm off of the first one that approached him.  The creature fell, clutching it's arm and screaming in pain.  Black ichor oozed down the blade and Mantarok thought to himself, 'One...that is one'.
    Chaos ensued.  He swung his sword and fell into the blanket of training.  Barely considering his actions, his arm rose and fell again and again.  The goblins fell before him, first one then two then three, all dead on the ground.  The goblins stabbed with their knives and makeshift weapons.  Most of the attacks glanced off of his chain mail or shield, but some still stabbed through flesh.  Blood began to flow from his wounds but he barely notice.  He took a step back and swung his sword in an arc, thick black ichor flying off as he looked at the opponents he had left.
    Three of the goblins still stood, and Mantarok was beginning to feel his wounds.  This fight could not go on much longer, at least not for him.  "By the light of Mithrious, I shall not falter!" he yelled as the goblins moved forward.  But before any of them took a step, three arrows neatly appeared in their heads.  Their eyes rolled back and they collapsed as Mantarok turned and saw Allen step out from the cover of the trees.  The ranger had his scarf drawn and his eyes were full of sorrow.  Mantarok staggered and fell to a knee, using his sword to help support himself.  Panting, out of breath and feeling the pain of his wounds acutely, Mantarok asked out of breath, "What brought you back?"
    Allen stepped up to him and extended a hand.  Grabbing it, Mantarok pulled himself up as Allen said, "You impressed me.  You care about a village of people you don't know.  People like you should not die alone by the hands of goblins."  Allen pulled the scarf down and smiled.  "Let me dress your wounds." he said as he began to help Mantarok take off his armour.  Mantarok sat back and let the ranger apply bandage and poultice to the many slashes up and down his body.  After a moment, the squire let out a laugh.  Allen looked at him in confusion and Mantarok said, "Look, all the wounds are from the thighs down!"
    Allen joined in and finished applying first aid to the cuts.  "You'll be fine.  With those herbs I applied there won't be any infection.  So, what brings you out here?" he asked as he put away his healing kit.  Mantarok sighed and began to pull his armour back on.  "Well, I'm trying to become a paladin of Mithrious.  The head of my order wants me to deliver a small statue of our goddess to another captain of the order."  He paused and looked up at the dwindling sunlight.  "I was supposed to do it in three days.  Today was the second day, I'll never be able to make it in time now.  I suppose I'll have to wait another year to become a full paladin."
    Allen looked at Mantarok, placed his hand upon the man's shoulder and said, "If it was my choice, I would knight you for your deeds this day.  You showed all the virtue of a paladin in my eyes."  Mantarok's face coloured at the man's compliment and he coughed lightly as he began cleaning the blood off of his sword.  "You saved my life, Allen.  I owe you a debt." he said as he looked out at the remnents of the goblin camp.
    "I'm still amazed I lasted as long as I did though."  Allen shrugged and said, "You are a good fighter."  Mantarok nodded, "I was trained by the best.  I suppose I should try to get back to the village before nightfall.  I'd rather not be out in the forest alone in the dark."  Allen nods and shoulders his pack.  "Wise choice.  I can get you back to your horse quickly, let's go."  With one last look at the remains of the camp, Mantarok followed Allen into the forest.

Chapter Four

    Mantarok's horse was standing in the same spot he left him, calmly chewing some stray strands of grass.  As he approached, the horse lifted his head and neighed softly at the approach of his master.  Mantarok smiled and patted the horse's head.  "Good boy, good boy." he murmured as he turned to Allen.  "I cannot thank you enough, Allen.  I owe you my life and if our paths ever cross again, you have my blade." he said with a bow.  Allen simply laughed and said, "If you are ever in my little woods again with more time, you'll have to come meet my family."  Mantarok and Allen firmly clasped and shook hands firmly.
    Allen once again disappeared into the darkness and Mantarok began following the road back to town.  The trip was again, quiet and peaceful, though the sounds of bird and beast had lessened as most settled down to sleep for the night.  The occasionally grunt of a boar and screech of an owl split the night, but after a short amount of time he was able to see the lights glow of the village.  He could hear the sound of music coming from the tavern and he smiled to think of the villagers celebrating the arrival of a hero.  As he approached the tavern, a young stable came running out to take his horse.  The boy looked up at Mantarok and asked, "I remember you!  You said you were going to kill the goblins.  Did you?"  Mantarok nodded and smiled.
    With an excited yell, the boy forgot about his job and ran into the tavern.  Silence soon fell as he breathlessly told the townspeople the news.  Mantarok turned and stabled the horse himself, smiling and chuckling lightly as the tavern erupted in cheers.  Soon the man who had spoken to him in the morning came out and said, "Amazing.  Simply amazing.  You really killed all of the goblins?"  Mantarok nodded and took the saddle off of his horse.  "It wasn't easy.  I had help from a ranger, Allen."  The man's face darkens and says, "That good for nothing ranger.  I'm surprised he didn't leave you to die.  We begged him to kill off those goblins for us, but he refused.  Said that it was what we deserved for driving his family out into the forest."
    Mantarok raised an eyebrow.  His curiousity raced, barely kept in check by the knowledge that whatever happened between this town and Allen's family was certainly a volatile subject.  The man sighed and ran his hand over his face, "It's not important now, the wee green men are dead!  Come in and have a drink with us, sir."  Mantarok nodded and followed the man into the tavern.
    Inside, the tavern was brightly lit.  Several solid oak tables and benches filled the middle of the main room, with a bar off to the left and a stage in a corner on the right.  Several private booths ranged the walls and stairs led up to the second floor where the rooms are.  The man behind the bar was large, wearing a stained shirt and apron that barely contained his ponderous bulk.  Up on the stage stood a young gnome, holding a lute and dressed in garish colours.  As he entered, everyone turned and looked at him.  With a resounding crash, they all yelled in joy.  Congratulations and hurrahs filled the main room with an explosion of excitement.  Older women weeping in joy came up and hugged him and men shook his hand and clapped him on the back.  Young girls winked and flirted with him as he was seated at the head of one of the tables.  A large steaming plate of food was placed before him and a large frosted mug of ale next to that. 
    As Mantarok began to eat his dinner and explain what had happened, he felt a soft plucking at his sleeve.  Looking down, he saw the gnome grabbing at his sleeve.  Having gotten his attention the gnome said, "Hey, what is your name, goblin slayer?".  Mantarok gave him his name and the gnome said, "Thanks!" before dashing back up on stage and starting to sing a rousing song about the brave and courageous Mantarok, slayer of the goblin army about to descend upon the poor, unprotected village.  Laughing, Mantarok continued to eat his meal as more and more townsfolk came by to thank him and congratulate him.  Many offered silver and copper as reward, but Mantarok simply shook his head and told them that he couldn't dream of taking money as a reward.  Looking up at him in awe, it simply added to the excitement and conversation.
    A young woman approached him and sat herself down on his lap.  "Hello, Goblin Slayer." she said softly in his ear as her hand traced its way down his chest.  Mantarok coughed and spluttered on his ale as she whispered into his ear.  Grinning, she planted a kiss on his lips and then went back over to her friends, who were all giggling and pointing at him as his face swiftly turned a bright shade of red.  So the night continued, with Mantarok eventually being able to go to sleep in the early hours of the morning, after many more thanks and kisses had been placed upon him.
    The next day he arose quickly and quietly before dawn.  He had only gotten a few hours of sleep, but the discipline of his order required prayers every morning at dawn.  He also knew that if he had any hope of leaving this town today, he needed to leave before the townsfolk awoke from the nights revelry.  So he ordered a small meal of porridge and goat milk, stepped outside for his morning prayers and returned inside to eat his simple meal.  He left money for the tavern owner, despite the man's protests, and saddled up his horse.  Soon he was once again travelling down the road, then town swiftly being reduced to a minor speck in the horizon.
    By midday, he was riding into the city of Harlinsbrook.  As he approached the glittering temple to Mithrious, he felt a growing sense of dread.  He had failed his mission to the church and he knew had failed his test to become a paladin.  It was with a heavy heart he allowed a squire to lead his horse away to the stables.  Pulling the small statue out of his pack, he slowly climbed the steps up to the main temple building.  Standing outside, he saw Sir Elrick looking sternly down at him.  The large man, wearing ornate full plate ceremonial armour, simply said, "You are late, boy."
    Mantarok hung his head in shame and handed him the statue.  "I know sir.  There was..." Elrick cut him off with a simple wave of his hand.  "A paladin of Mithrious does not make excuses.  They do what must be done and accept the consequences of the actions."  Elrick turned and opened the large wooden door to the inner temple.  Mantarok followed, keeping a habitual step behind the knight.  As they proceeded down a hallway decorated with various statues to Mithrious, Elrick angrily barked out  "Two days, Mantarok!  It was a simple enough ride and you couldn't even do that.  I trained you better than that.  You not only have shamed yourself, but shamed me as well.  Now you will have to face the consequences of your choices, boy."
    With a growl, Elrick opened the door to the office of the Ascended General.  The man behind the polished wood desk was the most powerful man in the order, second only to the High Priest of Mithrious.  The man looked up at Mantarok and said, "Ah...our tardy squire has finally come."  Mantarok, feeling the shame inside, decided to refuse to show it to this man.  Elrick had the right to lecture and scold him, but this man would not see his shame.  Standing proud and at attention, he approached the desk and knelt.  "Yes, my lord.  I offer no excuse, I made my choices and would not change them just for the title of paladin."
    With an amused smile that Mantarok could not see, the General looked to Elrick.  Elrick's grizzled face split into a grin, but it quickly faded back to a stern mask as Mantarok rose.  The General looked to Mantarok and said, "I want to tell you a story.  It is about a young squire, about your age.  He was given a task in order to become a paladin.  Go to the elven city of Elmina and take a branch from the tree in the center of town.  Return with it in three days."  The man paused and rose.  He went to one of the bookshelves lining his walls and picked up a small, dried branch.  "The squire went there immediately.  The distance to the city was such that he would need to spend exactly one day to get there, a day to get the branch and another day to get home.  He wasted no time, and rode like a man possessed."
    The General seated himself and sighed, "However, something the squire did not expect happened.  When he got to the town, it was recovering from an attack.  The elves had been attacked by a band of human bandits.  They begged him for aid in stopping these rogues from continuing to prey upon them."  The General paused again and looked at the branch.  Mantarok watched him carefully, not sure what the point of this story was.  The General smiled and continued.
    "What could he do?  He had been trained to do what is right and to protect those that needed the aid.  He knew that by helping them, he would never be able to return in time with the branch, but he also knew that any victory acheived in such a manner would be empty, because he knew he would have made mockery of Mithrious.  So he attacked the bandits.  Won as well.  He got his branch and made his way back.  Once there, he turned in the branch and accepted the consequences of the delay."  Mantarok kept his composure and said, "I assume the same consequence I must now face."  The General nodded gravely.
    "Sir Elrick, will you approach please?" the General said.  Putting the branch aside, the General said, "The consequence of your actions proves that you understand the meaning of Mithrious' teachings.  You follow not a rigid law of words, but the spirit of light and protection that our church preaches.  By saving those villagers, you made the same choice I made so many years ago.  The same choice that all paladins must choose to become paladins.  The way of the people."
    Elrick, unable to contain himself any longer, grabbed Mantarok in a bear hug and pounded him on the back.  Mantarok, barely able to understand what was going on stammered out a barely audible, "What?"  The General laughed.  "We purposely give all squires this choice.  We always hear rumours that trickle through of towns needing aid.  We discreetely inquire into the matter and then send out a squire with a time sensitive mission.  They must make a choice, follow the letter of the law and ignore the people's need for aid, or follow the spirit of Mithrious and assist them.  Very few ever choose wrongly."
    Finally, it started to click in Mantarok's mind.  "So...I passed?" he cautiously ventured out, still unsure that he was hearing this correctly.  Elrick stepped back from him and said, "You passed with flying colours lad.  Tonight will be the knighting by the High Priest and then the commencement feast.  Wenches to be grabbed and ale flowing like water!  A proper party to celebrate your success, my boy."  Mantarok, smiling and barely able to contain the tears of joy, simply bowed deeply to the General and Elrick.  He was going to be a paladin.

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