The Gods of Dragons (Vol 1)

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Call Me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen, 2012

Chapter 12 (v.1) - Call Me Maybe

Submitted: May 16, 2018

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Submitted: May 16, 2018

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There was snow in the courtyard of Hamerfoss that crunched under Shon's boots as he walked along the stone pathways dusted with white. He was hot and sweating. The squires had been put through a gauntlet as a culmination of their training, being tested in each armor they had worked with and with every weapon they had seen, from their first day until their last. Shon’s tunic tried to stick to his skin as he pulled it over his head and Rerves and Thom gave him tired smiles and lazy waves as they passed him to head into the fortress for much-needed showers. Shon nodded at them but instead of following he made his way to the rain barrel for his customary cool rinse in the partially frozen water.

The day's snow had settled over the layer of ice in the barrel, but Shon hardly paid it any mind as he broke through the ice, cupping the cold water in his palm and bringing it up to splash over his head and neck. It was only after his second hand full that he stopped and noticed that someone was sitting on the bench beside the barrel. He was sure the old man hadn’t been there before, but there he was, reaching into a small bag and pulling out some seed for the yellow birds at his feet.

Shon could see the man's lips moving but couldn’t hear the words. Moving slowly he stood straight so as not to scare the birds, and turned to face him fully. He was dressed all in gray, and as Shon studied him, he realized he wasn’t actually old despite his gray hair and ragged clothes.

“Sir?” Shon started but froze when the man turned to look at him. His eyes were blue as the sky in winter. The same shade as Shons. He looked somehow sad, and Shon's breath caught in his chest. He could feel his hands shaking as the man watched him with those sad blue eyes and looking down Shon’s own eyes went wide.

“I’m sorry.” the stranger whispered as Shon watched the skin of his hands slowly begin to turn gray, from the tips of his fingers and gaining speed as it reached his knuckles and went for his wrists. He stumbled back bringing his hands to his face as they turned more and more metallic until,

Shon hit the stone floor hard, sweating and tangled in sheets. Eyes wide he fought with the blankets to bring his hands to his face, heart pounding out of his chest. His skin was pale, but no more than normal. Turning his hands back and forth to look at the backs and the palms Shon struggled to calm his breathing.

His room was cool in the early hours of a mid-spring morning, but he had to wipe the sweat from his face as he struggled to his feet. A dream… just a dream. Leaving his bedsheets on the ground he stumbled for the pitcher on his desk, pouring the room temperature water with shaking hands into the basin and splashing his face before dropping down to sit on his bed and catch his breath.

The pommel of his sword in its sheath was a pale translucent blue as it hung innocently from the back of his chair. Shon watched it without really seeing it until the color began to turn opaque and slowly darken with his calming heartbeat. He let out his breath in slow deep waves and ran his hand over his freshly cut hair before returning to his feet to make his bed. It was just nerves. Today was the day he and the other squires of this year would be standing their vigil. They were warned that intense dreams and cold feet were common the closer they came to taking their oath as a paladin, forever tieing them to the Temple and Heironious himself.

Shon thought he was immune to such feelings, it was Thom who always got nervous when they started new things or moved closer to their vigil. But that was just arrogance apparently. Silently Shon finished the morning routine, pausing for a moment to shake his head when he almost dressed in his standard uniform rather than the clothes the priests had set aside for his vigil.

It was still early when he exited his room, so he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t run into anyone on his way to the chapel. He could smell breakfast being prepared in the hallway but his stomach was writhing with continued nerves, and he was sure he couldn’t swallow anything without it coming back up only a few moments later. Shon berated himself for being so on edge, he had known this day was coming for as long as he could remember. Even before that when he had been dropped on the doorstep of the Temple of Heironious rather than the Church of Pelor.

Shon entered the chapel to find he wasn’t the only one who was up early. Both Rerves and Thom were already there, kneeling in front of the altar to Heironeous as they prayed. He took his place beside them silently, closing his eyes and lacing his fingers together. He didn’t know how long they had been kneeling when the clerics came in and rested their hands on the young men's heads. Shon only flinched a little at the warm touch, focusing on his prayers as the clerics said their blessings over them. A strange weight seemed to hang in the air of the chapel that wasn’t there on previous days, causing everyone to move slowly and deliberately, almost as if they were afraid of making a sound and disturbing the ambiance of the room.

There was no ceremony for the beginning of the vigil. Silently each squire was lead to their own small room off the chapel by the attending priests. The only thing in the cell was another simple altar to Heironeous and a small square cushion to kneel on as they prayed through the day and night. They would stay in the room in silent prayer for a full twenty-four hours until the Hamerfoss clerics retrieved them to present themselves to the attending paladins and take their oaths of service.

Shon breathed deep as he knelt before the altar, the room smelled of dust and incense. He wondered how many squires had stood their vigil in this particular room and which, if any, of the sr squires he had trained with in the past four years had knelt in this very spot. Taking another breath, Shon cleared his mind and focused on the symbol of Heironeous, a mailed fist holding a lightning bolt, and prayed...

***

Sahnar stood silently before the main altar in the chapel. The jr priests that had come from Smilnda for the oath-taking ceremony walked quietly around him, lighting the candles for the evening prayers, while he focused on the symbol of his god on the tapestry behind the altar. As the Sr Cleric attending the training squires of Hamerfoss he felt it was his duty to stand his own vigil in support of the boys praying in their cells.

He had been at this station for nearly ten full years, but something was bothering him this time, and he wasn’t quite sure what. It always felt a little strange when the year's squires were standing vigil. A strange pleasure not completely his own seemed to fill the chapel on these nights, but tonight was different. The happiness was still there, but it seemed clouded somehow. Bowing his head, Sahnar prayed as the priests finished their work and came to join him at the altar, seeking the guiding voice of Heironeous.

***

General Davies never slept on vigil nights. Even though it wasn’t his vigil, he felt he owed it to his charges to see them through the evening in solidarity. He remembered his own vigil as though it was only a few years previous and not the over thirty that it had been. Alone in his office, he prayed to Heironeous to see the boys through the night, to grant them wisdom in their pursuit of justice, and grace in their service to the kingdom and Clearhelm.

The entirety of Hamerfoss was quite, everyone stationed or training here knew what this night meant to the squires, and the atmosphere was always thick with hope and nerves. And so it was with a heavy heart that paladin General Davies Selibra opened his eyes just before the quiet knock on his door.

***

Sahnar took a steadying breath as he reached for the plain wooden door of the cell. Beside him, Davies rested a hand on his shoulder. Standing together, the two servants of Heironeous let the door swing open.

The squire sat on the ground, his back to the altar and his face buried in his arms. As the door slid open, he looked up, blue eyes bloodshot. He spoke in barely a whisper, “why?”

***

Vutha 06, 1105

Paladins, like clerics, are servants of the gods. Living channelers of their divine power in the material plane. As such they are chosen, blessed, by the god they serve. And so it was as paladin Davies, and cleric Sahnar escorted Shon to the general's office that they didn’t have the words to comfort him.

Shon was numb, at a complete loss for what he was supposed to do next. It had always been that he would join the order, always. But now. Now he found himself sitting in the same chair he had occupied on the day his sorcerer powers manifested in the smithy, with the paladin behind his desk, the weapon master leaning against it and the cleric of Hamerfoss by the door in the place of the smith Nurangran.

“I’m sorry Shon.” general Davies finally said softly. Shon didn’t look up. “This isn’t completely unheard of…” he stopped talking to sigh and looked to his friend, weapon master Daunas. He wasn’t a paladin, but he had also never tried to become one.

Daunas shook his head and squatted beside the quiet squire, “It’s nothing you did or didn’t do boy,” he looked to the cleric for help but the man didn’t have any words for him, “you are one of the best fighters I have ever had the pleasure of training,” he whispered, but Shon didn’t look up, “not everyone is meant to be a paladin, it doesn’t make you any less of a warrior.” Shon blinked slowly and finally brought his face up to the weapon master.

He didn’t understand. It wasn’t just that Shon hadn’t been called, he didn’t know what else he was supposed to do. His entire life had been heading this way, and now… it was all gone.

Shon took a moment to breathe, and wrapped his heart in ice. Something must have shown in his eyes because the weapon master rocked back on his heels, “Where do I go now?” Shon asked, and was glad to hear his voice was steady. Better to be emotionless than overly emotional, “I’m still sworn to the temple, that hasn’t changed.” he brought his head up the rest of the way to look at general Davies who shot a worried glance at Daunas before clearing his throat.

“If you still want to serve the temple you can report to commander Sir Rasnih in Smilnda.” Davies said, standing but not looking at Shon, who was following his movements with cold eyes, “She has the authority to register you as either a soldier. Or an ally if you prefer.”

Silently Shon nodded. Rising to his feet, he took a moment to look at each of the other men, not sure if they wanted to add anything more. When none of them spoke he said, “I’ll leave now.” the men exchanged looks, it was nearly the middle of the night, but the general nodded.

“You may take a horse,” weapon master Daunas said as Shon snapped to attention to salute the general who returned the motion automatically. Shon nodded in acknowledgment of the weapon master, saluting him as well before turning on his heal and marching to the door without another word.

***

The halls were empty, and it didn’t take long for Shon to pack the few belongings he would take with him. Two changes of non-uniform clothes, his journals, and his sword. As he left his room for the last time, the smith Nurangran rounded the corner carrying two pieces of parchment. The always stoic smith handed them to Shon, who took them in silence waiting for instructions.

Nurangran grunted then said, “The one is a letter to Sir Rasnih explaining the situation.” he crossed his muscled arms over his broad chest and pointed with his chin at the papers, “the other is a list of smiths I would trust to do work on your sword pommel.” Shon responded with a nod that the smith returned. They had never needed many words between them.

The courtyard was silent and smelled of spring flowers as he walked to the stables and choose one of the spare horses the visiting priests had brought form Smilnda. The beast was calm enough as Shon tightened the strap of her saddle and fitted her with a bit. But as he led the mare out of the stable doors, she stopped moving and instead pulled on the reins, her eyes going wide. 

“I’m sorry, I’ll step back.” a young woman stood alone in the courtyard, the hood of her long cloak down to reveal a smiling face and golden hair. Lily.

She had grown only an inch at most, but she held herself differently. One arm loose at her side and the other resting on a cocked hip, she somehow seemed perfectly balanced even as she leaned slightly to the side, her head tilted to the side opposite her cocked hip.

Shon swung the reins over the mare's neck letting her back up into the perceived safety of the stable and away from Lily, who had taken a few steps back as she had said. She continued to smile at him even as he moved forward to meet her. “What are…”

“I came to see the paladin ceremony.” she interrupted, he came within arms reach of her and stopped. He was still wrapping himself in cold, and his voice was quiet when he spoke.

“It won’t be until the morning, Thom and Rerves…” but he stopped when Lily took a step forward to close the distance between them.

Still smiling softly she reached out taking either side of his face in her warm hands. They had become calased over the year but still felt soft and hot on his cheeks. Leaning forward she rested her forehead on his, “Its okay,” she whispered. And he broke.

Sliding to the ground, Shon knelt in front of her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She stood still, stroking his hair gently as he sobbed into her midriff, her cloak falling around him and shading him in warm darkness. She smelled like cinnamon.

Shon didn’t know how long they stood alone in the courtyard. Eventually, his shoulders stopped shaking, and Lily knelt with him in the dust, running her hand over his face, behind his ear and through his short hair. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. She was so warm.

Together they walked to the bench to the side of the stable, sitting in silence and watching the stars for a few moments before Shon asked, “Is Master Velona with you?”

Lily shook her head, “She is waiting for me in Shutha, though she gave me the gate tokens to get to Smilnda and back.” reaching over she took his hand, running her thumb along the back of his as she continued to watch the night.

Shon nodded, squeezing her fingers, and breathing slow, not daring to look over in case she was a dream. The day seemed to be one long nightmare, a continuation of the previous night, a dream within a dream. But she felt real in his hand, the muscles of her abdominals had been both hard and soft under his face as he cried. “I got you something,” she said, and Shon finally looked as she reached into a pouch with her free hand, taking out a small wooden box. Her dark blue eyes were shining, and she smiled at him again, her pupils looked nearly round in the night. Taking back her hand for a moment she reached up to open the box revealing a silver lily with pale blue aquamarine gems on the stamen.

“Lily,” he looked from the silver flower to her grinning face and back again, “how could you afford this?” to his surprise she shrugged, removing the lily from the box and revealing it as a cloak clasp.

She brushed her hair over her shoulder and waved her hand in the air as if to shoo his concern away like a fly, “The mages guild still wants samples even though I’m not staying with them anymore, so I thought they should at least pay me for them.”

Shon blinked, the silver flower had to cost a few hundred gold, “Lily…” he said again, but she took his hand and placed the lily in the palm of it.

“It was only three scales.” she said, shrugging again, “they are already starting to grow back.”

“Lily.” this time he managed to put a little sternness into her name, and she looked away, not meeting his eyes, “please don’t sell your body parts for treasure.”

She huffed, and Shon thought he heard her grumble something along the lines of, “it's my body I can do…” before she trailed off into incoherent mumbling.

With another sigh, he studied the silver lily. It was beautifully crafted, not too big or too small. He would definitely say she had an eye for jewelry. “I’m sorry,” he managed, but before he could hand it back, she looked at him with wide eyes that stopped him in place. Bringing her face close to his again she leaned over his hand and reaching up between them curled his fingers around the flower.

“I got it for you.” she said, “So you won’t forget me wherever you go.” she smiled, and her face lit up the night, how could he ever forget her? “the fighters in Swailand like to carry favors from their loved ones. Friends and family and… lovers.” she blushed a little then hurried on, “I found this in a market there and had to get it.”

Closing his eyes Shon shook his head, but pulled his hand back, “I’ll take it, on one condition.” he said as he looked at her again. She tilted her head, and he finally smiled, “don’t sell any more body parts for gifts.”

Lily huffed indignantly again but followed it up with a laugh that sounded like music, “alright,” she said then leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hot hug. Shon hesitated for a moment before slowly bringing his arms up to hug her back, burying his face in the crook of her neck.

She breathed deep, squeezing him tight before letting him go. He pulled back when she did, not wanting to overstay his hug, and saw her looking at him curiously. Bringing her hand up she stroked his hair, running her nails across his scalp. If he could purr he would have. As it was, he just closed his eyes and tilted his head down so she could reach all the way to the back of his neck.

“On the bright side.” he heard her say and met her sparkling eyes again, “now you can grow your hair out.”

***

Lily stayed in Hamerfoss to see Thom and Rerves take their oaths. Shon left that night, he couldn’t bring himself to stay. He rode through the night and only stopped when the sun began to rise, and his mare began to show signs of tiring. Letting her graze through the morning Shon kept waiting to wake up, or for someone to come sprinting down the road to tell him it had been a mistake, to come back. But nobody came, and he didn’t wake up. Gauging the sun, he thought his two friends were probably taking their place in front of the clerics and paladins now, reciting their oath and forever joining the family of the Temple of Heironeous.

Shon had only three options that he could see, and he kept running through them again and again in his mind as he retrieved the mare and rode the rest of the way to Smilnda. He could honor his word and continue to work for the Temple, either as an enlisted soldier or an ally, or he could try and find another sponsor. As a sorcerer, the mages guild would take him, but Shon scratched that idea even before it had fully formed. He was too old to train as an official apprentice of a monastery and too young to retire to one. In truth, he didn’t entertain the idea of finding another sponsor for long. He had sworn to serve the temple, and even if he wasn’t chosen, he would keep his word. Which left either enlisting as a soldier or requesting ally status.

As a soldier, he would receive a weekly stipend and rewards for completed missions. He would always have a place to stay in the Temple barracks, assuming the settlement had a temple, and at least one hot meal a day. On the downside, he would not have the luxury of refusing missions and would have to serve in only one province.

As an ally, like Master Veon-Zih, he could take missions from the temple at his leisure and would be paid for them. He wouldn’t receive any kind of stipend and couldn’t be guaranteed room and board. Once he had proven himself a capable ally, they may sponsor him to travel between the provinces, though their word would carry little weight in provinces controlled by their rival Temple of Hextor.

He still hadn’t made his final decision by the time he reached the temple in Smilnda, just before sunset. After showing his letter to the gate paladin he was escorted directly to knight commander Rasnih’s office. Standing guard just outside the commander's door was a familiar face. Jr. Paladin Rehlein stood at attention but couldn’t help but look confused as Shon approached. Knocking on the door to Sir Rasnih’s office he whispered out of the corner of his mouth “aren't you early? And where’s your uniform?”

Shon didn’t answer. He had forgotten that Rehlein had been stationed here. He wondered how many other former squires he would run into in Clearhelm and silently made his decision at the thought. The two young men waited for the Knight Commander to give them permission to enter, at which point Rehlein opened the door, and Shon walked through it. Saluting to the commander Rehlein resumed his post outside the door, leaving Shon and the knight alone.

The office was well lit, though the setting sun painted the walls a strange orange and pink from the massive window looking out into the courtyard. Shon stood at attention, holding out the letter smith Nurangran had given him. Looking him over Sir Rasnih arched one steely eyebrow before coming around the desk and taking the note. She read it in silence, her face falling almost imperceptibly as her eyes moved down the page. After what seemed like a long time she sighed, folding the message and looking Shon over again in a different light.

“At ease squire.” she said, then “Shon.” she corrected, he wasn’t a squire anymore. Shon took a more relaxed stance, hands behind his back and focused his cold eyes on the Knight as she leaned back against her desk, crossing her arms in front of her. “I’m sorry Shon.” he was growing very tired of hearing that, “According to the letter from general Davies you were one of the more promising fighters in Hamerfoss. Top of your class in light armor and versatile weapon combat.” she managed a small smile, “as well as hand to hand combat. But that is to be expected considering…” Shon’s expression didn’t change, and she sighed again. “He says you are a loyal soldier and expressed an interest in continuing to work for the Temple of Heironeous. Is this true?”

Shon gave one curt nod eyes still focused on the Commander who had uncrossed her arms and pushed off her desk, rounding it and sitting down, straight-backed behind it. “You have two options as I’m sure you know. But considering your history, I want you to think very carefully.” she met his cold gaze with her steely one without blinking, “If you choose to enlist as a soldier I can pull some strings and enlist you on the kingdom level.” Shon arched a black eyebrow at that but continued to say nothing. She got the hint. “At the kingdom level, you can travel freely between the provinces fully sponsored and take jobs anywhere. It also means that Temples all over the kingdom can request you for work and you do not have the luxury of refusing unless it conflicts directly with another order.” that did give him cause to think, and Shon was back to not being sure about the decision he had just made outside.

Sir Rasnih watched him as he thought, his eyes flicking back and forth across her desk but not really looking at it. While he was still thinking she added, her voice low. “Master Veon-Zih is an ally of the temple. But as an enlisted kingdom soldier, you can travel with him between jobs and provinces.” Shon’s eyes shot back to hers, and she finished, “and he may even choose to travel with you for mandatory jobs… If you wish to continue your training with him…” and the decision was made.

***

Shon stayed the night in the enlisted barracks while Sir Rasnih’s yeoman drew up his new papers. There were two other soldiers in the room with him though they didn’t attempt any conversation. Perhaps it was something in the way Shon carried himself, or perhaps they were just feeling unsociable, but the two kept to themselves while Shon picked a bed near the door and settled down at one of the loaner desks to write and draw his thoughts.

More had happened in the last two days than had ever happened before during even the most intensive training days. Every loose plan Shon had formed in his mind had crumbled, and in the wake of the destruction, he struggled to rebuild. His mind was a jumble of pictures and words, and so after only trying to write a few sentences, he stopped and instead filled the page with little sketches. The altar in the chapel and the cell, the look of Rerves and Thom as they prayed, the look on the faces of the cleric and paladin as they retrieved him from the cell. Lily.

He ran his hand over his short hair and thought of Lily. She hadn’t said she was sorry. She hadn’t asked him what he was going to do, or even what happened though there was no way she would have known the details. She had just given him a gift, ‘to remember her wherever he went.’ She was supremely unaffected, it didn’t matter to her if he was a paladin or a monk or a sorcerer or a fighter. It was like she trusted that no matter what he did or chose nothing between them would change, that she would still find him, that everything would be okay…

Shon drew Lily’s smile, her eyes, the way she stood with one shapely hip cocked and the way she tilted her head to the side like a curious animal. He regretted for a moment not staying for the ceremony and traveling with her back to Smilnda. But he couldn’t follow her to Shutha, and he would never ask her to stop the pilgrimage. It was better this way. He could find Master Veon-Zih and work on rebuilding himself. And then, gods willing, he could find her. There was something in her smile, in the way she held his hand, that gave him confidence that she would always be happy to see him, even if they never became anything more than what they were now.

He finished his drawings with a few of Sir Rasnih as he remembered her. First leaning back on her desk and then sitting behind it. He would have to remember to thank her. As it was, he unfolded the orders she had given him and read them through again. He was to meet with a priest of Pelor in the morning and escort him to the village of Vallin to the west. She had said that Veon-Zih always stopped at that particular town because ‘it had the best vegetable stew in the province.’ Shon signed, running his hand through his hair again. He didn’t know what his master would say. He was sure the monk would be supportive, but somehow Shon still felt a sense of dread and disappointment at the thought of telling him. He should have gone with him to the monastery at maturity…

Shon let his hand fall limply to the desk, shaking his head and reading through the paper again just to give his eyes something to do. No. He had learned too much at Hamerfoss, had met Lily… there was no use in regretting the foolish decisions of a thirteen-year-old boy.

Opening his journal one last time before turning in for the night Shon drew one more picture before packing it into his canvas bag, the same one the church orphanage had given him. It was of a young looking old man feeding some bright yellow birds, though there was no color in the picture. ‘I’m sorry.’ the man had said. Closing the book Shon couldn’t help but snarl under his breath, “yeah me too.” the pommel of his sword swirling in shades of white and sky blue


© Copyright 2019 Shawn Cameron. All rights reserved.

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