The cairns had been built, from the stones they’d been able to find. The bodies of the wolves were burned. Dusk was settling in.
A bit away from the rest of the camp, Leonis sat upon a felled tree, his eyes resting on the fresh graves, then occasionally darting back down to his hands. If he concentrated on that strange warmth he still felt lingering around him, and pushed, just a little, he could feel the warmth concentrate in his hands, the tips of his fingers beginning to glow softly with golden light. Losing himself in the light and the shadow, a gentle voice startled him, almost making him fall to the ground.
“So, that’s what it looks like?”
Alain had apparently forded the river to come find him – his armor and robes were still wet, water dripping occasionally down onto the grass.
“Yes…well, that’s what it can look like, anyhow. Whatever it is. I’m still…I don’t know!”
“Sh. Relax, Le. It’s me. Calm down.”
Running a hand through his hair as his friend settled onto the grass in front of him, Leonis nodded. “Sorry. It’s all been a bit much…so difficult to understand. The fight…we were being overwhelmed. I thought I was going to die, Alain. The fangs kept finding weak spots in my armor, getting inside my shield arm…I wanted desperately to keep the wolf away from the others, but I couldn’t stop it.”
“You’ve always wanted to be Father Brendan, deep down.” Alain’s eyes searched, carefully. Leonis blushed a little, nodding. “A lot harder than it he’s always made it look, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. He’s always been so calm. So in control…his faith is his sword
and his shield. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look desperate as I felt. Ever since the day he saved my life, I’ve tried to live to his example.”
“It’s a hard standard. And he’s not perfect, Le. He just has about 20 years on you to practice.” The Alarite reached out, tapping Leonis’s hands. “And now…you’re going to have the chance to be different. Can you tell me what happened? I’ve heard a lot of stories.”
“So it would seem, anyhow.” At Alain’s quirked smile, Leonis couldn’t help but laugh, and felt a bit of weight ease off his chest. He hadn’t even realized it was there until it was gone…then, he took a deep breath and started to talk.
“I told you of the wolf. I was forced to one knee. I’d lost my sword when it clawed at my hand. I moved to support myself against my shield as it charged again, and my empty hand found my icon.” His fingers reached down of their own accord to gently tap the icon that rested on his belt. “I felt this…this great . Like I had been lying out in the summer sun in the fields, but instead of just being on my skin, it was running through my entire body. It…it was Andrikos. He moved upon me. And I asked…I begged…him to help me.”
Spreading his hands wide, he gestured to the pyre where the white wolf, largest of the beasts, still burned. “And he did. The warmth became this
burst of light…the wolf was stunned, knocked away, and we were able to rally against it. I felt my wounds ease, and I took my blade back up. I charged to face the wolves attacking the Tiefling and the woman who he’s been…ah…comparing with. When I got there, she was down and bleeding, and the wolves were circling her. I felt that heat again, in my hands, and I knew I needed to help her. I reached out…and light leapt from my hands. Everywhere it touched her, it healed her wounds, and we were able to turn the rest of the wolves back.”
“You’re leaving something out, Le. I know that look from the time you wouldn’t tell the Father that one time we caught Artaer sneaking out of his cell…”
“Because I knew we’d get in trouble for following him!”
“Uh-huh. C’mon, brother. Spill it.”
“I…well, there were a lot of wolves.”
“mm. Against us, too.”
“More than just the woman were hurt. Some very badly.”
“Yes, I saw.”
“I…I tried to save them. I tried to call upon the light again to heal them. And I couldn’t.”
Alain sucked in a breath softly through his teeth, and reached out to clap Leonis on his shoulder.
“Listen….I can’t begin to know what is going on. But I have no doubt that you did everything you could, and that if you hadn’t been here, it would have been far worse. You fought to protect the others. You defended the camp as best you could against a terrible enemy, and you tended to the injured and the dead as you were able. Even if your….new gifts weren’t able to always come through.” Straightening, he gave a hard, determined look, speaking not as a fellow cleric or friend, but as a Priest of Alaric.
“Now, you have a responsibility to the living. You’ve been offered these gifts…these powers…for a reason. Andrikos obviously has a purpose for you. Don’t dwell on the dead. Follow your calling, and protect the living. Anything else would be to fail the oaths you took the day you joined the priesthood.”
Taking a long, deep breath, Leonis stood, looking back to where tents were beginning to be pitched. The elves were in discussion about something, their arms moving in an animated conversation. The Tiefling and the human woman that Leonis had saved earlier were comparing instruments and talking over something. The others broke out food or checked over weapons to see what had been damaged in the fight, and how it could be mended. The Goliath warrior he’d befriended earlier slowly sharpened the edge of his blade in long, slow, scrapes of a whetstone.
“You’re right, Alain. I will…I must...find out what has happened to me. Perhaps we’ll find more once we reach the Elven city.” He brightened. “Do you suppose it’s actually inside the trees, like the old stories say?”
The Alarite laughed. “
That’s more like it. I’ve no idea, but I’m sure we’ll know soon.”
“Staying for dinner?”
“No, I want to get back to the camp on the other side of the river. Artaer’s been looking a little peaked. I want to make sure he’s doing all right.”
“mm. Fair enough, I won’t keep you.”
As Alain started back with one last friendly punch in the arm, Leonis strode back towards the elves, curious what they were discussing.
“What else are friends for?”