The last wagon pulled through the gates leading to Gardmore Abbey, with a fresh-faced militia man quickly shutting them behind. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen years of age; he barely filled out the piecemeal armour he wore and the he fumbled the halberd in his hands.
Here is a lad who has been forced to grow up too quickly, thought Eranah as she gracefully climbed down off the wagon and onto the loose cobblestone road, her plate armour making a faint echo. She unconsciously smoothed out her tabard and adjusted her shield. There was a slight rain falling, lending a glistening effect to her angel-motifed armour. She had removed her helmet, so her white and silver hair flew loosely in the breeze away from her face, revealing high cheekbones, deep-set eyes of sapphire and smooth lilac skin, whose only flaw could be the creases around her cheeks that come from smiling too easily.
Eranah had one such smile now. She knew the young guard at the gate was staring at her. It did not bother her; the deva had become quite used to it over her many lifetimes. She knew humans rarely saw devas and knew also when she was being admired and when she was being looked at as an object of lust; the latter very rarely happened and it wasn’t happening now. The poor boy, she thought. If I offered to kiss him he’d probably faint dead away.
Instead of causing a scene that way (she admitted privately to herself that she most definitely would have in one of her other lives), she took on a more serious tone and approached the young man. “Excuse me, sir…?”
The boy flushed red and stammered “Oh, I ain’t no,.. I mean! I mean, I isn’t no… I mean!… I am no ‘sir.’ ”
Eranah politely feigned surprise. “You have yet to be knighted?”
The boy shook his head, staring at the ground.
“Well then I am sure it will happen soon. Let us practice for that day, when we will address each other as fellow knights… and it begins with looking one another in the eye, with respect.” With that, she gently placed her index finger beneath his chin and slowly forced his gaze to meet hers. He was trembling, but to his credit maintained eye contact with her once it was established. She was easily the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his young life. Eranah knew she had that effect on people but always tried to use it as an opportunity to bring out something beautiful in whomever she was dealing with. As now, when she leaned in and whispered to the young man “Here is a secret I will share with you: It is not titles or knighthoods that give one worth, but deeds and the manner in which we carry them out.” Leaning back (to stop him from trembling) she asked, “What is your name.”
“Well, Matthew, I want you to know that I noticed the manner in which you inspected the wagons as they arrived; you did so thoroughly yet without insulting the honour of the people you were verifying. Moreover, I noticed your constant glancing to the outside, to prevent anyone coming in whilst the inspection took place. You are clearly a man who takes his duties seriously and performs them with honour. I shall sleep comfortably tonight, knowing that you, Matthew, are the guardian at the gate.”
Matthew uttered an incoherent reply, lowered his gaze again slightly, then stood straight and saluted the deva paladin. She bowed slightly to him in return, then set off to find the houses of healing; while she was scheduled to meet with Lord Padraig, she had arrived early and wanted to see if her healing skills could be put to good use in the meantime.
She walked amidst the people, giving smiles of greetings and friendly waves wherever she went. Again, she was used to the attention she drew and always tried to make people feel as comfortable as possible around her. The holy symbol of Rao, a heart-shaped mask with a calm expression, covered her shield and breastplate, and gave assurance to the people; while the worship of Rao was less common this far east in the Flanaess, he was a recognized god of good, peace and wisdom and Eranah enjoyed the calming effect that could manifest simply by letting her faith be known in an indirect way.
Two children, a boy and a girl, no older than eight, suddenly ran up to the paladin, expressions of both awe and worry across their little faces as they called out “Miss! Miss, could you please help us?”
Eranah got down to one knee and looked to them. “What is it, little ones? How can I help you?”
“Our brother is hurt! Real bad! They say he’s going to lose his leg!” they cried. “No one can fix him…can you?”
Eranah looked about and quickly saw the elderly woman who had certainly directed the children her way. She stood with two other villagers, one a human and the other a gnome, waiting anxiously to see what the deva would do.
She smiled gently at the children. “Take me to your brother, and I will see what I can do for him.” Her words had immediate effect, with both children suddenly expressing hope and excitedly grabbing her hand to lead her to where their brother lay. Eranah could see the elderly woman step forward to scold the children for daring to grab the deva’s hand but Eranah put her free hand up in gentle rebuke of whom she now surmised was the children’s grandmother. Eranah knew people often felt ill-at-ease to interact with her in casual fashion and so loved children and their ignorance of such formalities. In all her lives, one of the things that remained constant was Eranah‘s love for children.
The young ones escorted Eranah about two blocks to the house of healing. There was much work to be done here, the deva could see that. She had hoped the spiritual renewal of the Abbey would attract more healers and diplomats, though she was sure everyone was doing the best they could. It was now her turn: the children had brought her to the bedside of another young man, only a few years older than Matthew, Guardian of the Gate. He was badly injured in the leg; the children had been right on that score. In the countless battles Eranah had been in, she had seen many such injuries, often resulting in gangrene infestation leading to death. But in this life, she served Rao, and one of the blessings involved included a gift of healing.
She got down to one knee again and put a hand on the outer shoulder of each of her escorts as they huddled close together, waiting for a diagnosis. “You were right to get me, young ones: He is grievously injured indeed…” Their faces fell. “.. but not beyond my ability to heal him,” she finished with a smile and a wink that brought those faces back up with hope. “When he is chasing you around again after your next prank on him, remind him that he can only do so because of your own efforts, for you have saved him this day.” The children looked at each other and shared squeals of joy. Eranah reflected that adults would have waited to see the healing before they rejoiced; another reason she loved children.
She leaned forward over her patient. “Hello. My name is Eranah. Your brother and sister have brought me here to restore your leg.”
The young man grunted in pain. “No one can do that. They told me it’s lost and they’ll have to cut it to prevent disease from spreading.”
Eranah nodded seriously at the diagnosis. “No doubt that would have been the path of wisdom had your siblings not happened to bring me here. But now a new path is set before you… what is your name?”
“Alric,” grunted the young soldier.
“Well, Alric, I shall expect you to be fighting by my side; the Abbey needs all the brave people it can get.” She smiled and winked. “After your period of recovery of course, which, by the looks of you shouldn’t take too long.”
Before Alric could respond, Eranah lay both her hands upon his injured leg and uttered a prayer to Rao. She never ceased to marvel at the miracle the god allowed her to perform, transitioning some of her life energy into another. In mere moments, the injury was healed, to the gasps of amazement from those gathered.
The children hugged the paladin with irreverence and affection while their older brother could only stare in amazement, first at his now healed leg and then at the deva who healed him. With eyes welling up with tears of gratitude, he stammered, “Are…are you an angel?”
Eranah tousled the hair of the children still clinging to her and looked back at Alric with a comforting smile that beamed equally from her eyes as from her mouth… her response of “Of course not,” did nothing to convince Alric that she wasn’t.
“Little ones, perhaps you should inform your grandmother that your older brother is now fit to carry her bags again?” she whispered conspiratorially with the children. They laughed to each other and ran off, while the paladin laid a comforting hand upon Alric‘s brow, pushing some his hair aside and saying softly “They love you very much. As such, they are a blessing. Remember them when next you ride into battle and you shall certainly prove victorious.” Alric nodded his head, but said nothing, fearing his voice would break. Eranah left him with another gentle smile and looked about to see where else she could be useful.
In a corner, shrouded in gloom was a single cot with a man in it. No one was near him and no one seemed to be attending to him either. The deva’s face experienced a very rare frown as she considered what she saw before her. Deciding that no one should be left alone in a place such as this, she walked towards him. She felt the glances her actions earned, and knew people thought she was both brave for doing what she was as well as concerned for her safety. While she appreciated their concern, she wished some of it was directed towards the patient she was approaching.
He was in dark robes and seemed completely exhausted. She noticed his skin was gray and he had many tattoos and piercings. Shadar-kai she thought. How amazing, perhaps the Raven Queen will have a representative here as well…as it should be. She walked forward and made a symbol of greeting known to those who venerate the Raven Queen. ” ‘In the end, the Queen,’ ” she said by way of introduction.
The figure was silent. Eranah knew he was not sleeping however, and she was not known for giving up. “Do you require healing?” she asked gently.
“You cannot heal my affliction,” whispered the figure in response.
Eranah smiled. If she got them talking, the battle was half won. “Perhaps you underestimate me, my friend.”
“I have no friends.”
Eranah pulled up a stool and sat down beside him. “It is a terrible life, to go through it without friends.” Many lifetimes had gifted the deva with the ability to express pity without an iota of condescension, as she did now.
The figure let out a sigh. “That has hardly been the worst part,” he whispered harshly.
“Then tell me your story, dark one,” answered Eranah, who was now beginning to suspect the injury to the shadar-kai was more spiritual than physical. No matter: the paladin had healed many of those types of injuries as well.
Looking up and against his better judgment, the figure began. “My name is Morpheus…”