Redeem the Knight: Redemption I
Three years ago...
Of all the skills and talents that man has developed over the spans of his existence, there is only one for which he has mastered. Like a buried niche in the soul, he possesses the urge to engage in violence. No matter how sacred and no matter how naive he may seem, the primal instincts linger still.
Here in the Paladin's Sanctum, Arl Baelin must answer for this natural sin. A paladin of once great honor and respect, Baelin entered the hall and stood within the center of the holy circle, awaiting his trial. He was not one of the more famous paladins of the New Vatican, but he would soon become the most infamous. His crimes resonated throughout the Ellium Empire.
There had never been more spectators present for a paladin's trial before, as the craving to hear Baelin's dark tale proved too succulent for anyone to ignore. The seven high magistrates sat in their places just outside of the circle, governing the somber tone of the hall. Gorged with holy knights of various ranks, the sanctum served as a place of worship and a place of judgment. Today's convergence was of judgment alone.
Once the main doors to the hall clanked shut, the hall surrendered to an eerie hush and the magistrates began. Wasting little time, the elder peered away from Baelin's file and glared forward, proclaiming, "We, the High Magistrates of the Paladin's Sanctum, have read through your file, Sir Baelin, and it disturbs us, indeed. Might you know why that is?"
The paladin said nothing, robed in black and bound in chains. His pain was far too deep to care about his superiors' disturbances, for he experienced the horror within those files. He watched as they scrutinized him on paper, and then, in his silence. Baelin's brown wisps of hair cascaded down his unshaven face, barely concealing his torment.
"You were building quite a reputation in Islandia for being a true paladin." The magistrate proceeded from his seat, "On an island that needed God's grace evermore, you were their pillar of light. Now, you have cast a shadow over that land-over all of us in the process. It saddens us to see such a promising servant of God fall so far, so fast. You dishonor our holy mission."
The magistrate's poisoning words were bellowing in his mind, driving him mad. He had endured enough from his enemies only to be stoned by his brothers-in-arms. Was all his service for nothing? As a paladin, Baelin was on the verge of restoring peace to an island plagued by tribal violence. As a man, he had everything taken away from him and no one to console him. He was to be made an example of in order to refurbish the glory of the New Vatican. How he despised politics.
Breaking his silence, Arl Baelin gasped, "Enough!"
Another magistrate interceded, "Yes. You wish to speak now? Go on. What say you?"
Breathing heavily in order to compose himself, Baelin warily retorted, "Am I to be your scapegoat? Is that all I am now? You said that you have read that file. I do not believe you, for a true magistrate would see my blight."
"And what is this blight?" The elder asked as recorders scribed every word.
Outraged by the proceedings, Baelin replied, "The Blood Reapers uncovered the location my home-where my family finds refuge. In the night, they broke into my house as cowards do and took their vengeance on my wife and child. They thought they killed me. They were wrong and they were punished."
"I must stop you there, young man." Another magistrate came forward, "You enacted vengeance upon them, not punishment. Furthermore, you failed to mention that the woman who falsely married you and bore your child was a heretic, a mage of black magic!"
"You curse the names of my wife and child!" Baelin cried out in vehement anger.
Among the gasps and muffled comments about the hall, the elder scolded him, "You will not have this argument, paladin!"
"They raped my wife to death and-my boy!" He sobbed amidst his wrath, "They swung him about like a doll and-and they-they killed him. Those pigs killed my child!"
In the hopes of easing the hearts of the sanctum's spectators, a magistrate held up his hand and said in a modest tone, "We are not denying the awful murders of your wife and infant child, but your actions of cold blooded revenge that ensued in return was unbecoming of a paladin. You left a path of death and mutilation in your wake. There is even evidence of torture! This is not a soldier of God. This is not a holy knight's conduct!"
Composing himself, Baelin withstood another judge's edict, "You used the Divine Mace to bludgeon the alleged leader of this cult. This is blasphemous! Two of the slain were known to be mentally unstable. They, too, suffered from the 'might' of your mace. I am willing to believe that they were lured into this vile gang of mages and raiders, but these are the lambs that you must shepherd as paladin! Was killing them so necessary, boy?"
Taking time to answer clearly, the paladin said, "In dispatching them, no one else will suffer their revolting attacks. This is the language they understand."
"And what does that mean, paladin?" A magistrate said.
Shaking his head, Baelin exclaimed, "The Blood Reapers of Islandia received their name by drinking the blood of the opponents they kill. Mages of the black arts can draw power from your soul just the same. These people cannot be reasoned with. They don't want peace. They don't want prayers. They wish for only death. So, I gave it to them."
"Enough of this nonsense." The elder interceded, "Do you deny marrying a heretic, seeking vengeance for her and your son's murder, and slaying your victims in cold blood wielding the Divine Mace? What say you?"
Baelin wished to say many things in his irate and hurt spirit. Why prolong the cruelty of the trials? His cries would not be heard here in the place where he was instated as paladin seven years ago. His beloved wife, Gideon, and his innocent son, Alec, would not be avenged by way of his hissing. He killed the leader of the Blood Reapers and spared him no mercy. That was the vengeance of a fatherless man with no love left in his heart.
He looked up and said, "No. I deny nothing."
"Then, by the powers of the magistrates, you are guilty. With any-" The elder magistrate was interceded by another.
"Not all of the magistrates are finished with this trial, elder." One of them stood up and continued, "If found guilty, you will be stripped of your title and your crest and put in jail for two years. Then, you must redeem yourself. However, this would mean that the Divine Mace has deemed you unworthy to wield it any further. The paladin, as a holy knight living in an ungodly world, can sense and eliminate true evil-concentrated hatred and disdain for all things good and noble."
The elder returned the favor, "Will you tell us where you are leading the procession, Mason?"
Walking over to a lower knight holding a wooden square box, Magistrate Mason opened it and revealed Arl Baelin's Divine Mace. Among the reemerging gasps of the hall, Mason walked over to the fallen paladin and proclaimed, "As we all know, if the wielder of the mace can still call upon its divine power, the paladin still holds the very creeds of justice, charity and purity in his heart. Perhaps, Baelin, if you still believe that you can serve God and His people here on this wretched earth, your mace will tell you so."
With everyone looking on, even the letting magistrates, Arl Baelin looked upon Magistrate Mason's good face and felt someone unchain his hands. Mason nodded and held the mace before him, permitting him to receive it. Feeling unworthy of its power, yet feeling remorseful even more, Baelin carefully took the mace into his right hand.
Now in Islandia, three years later...
In the west county of Seafare, two brave native soldiers have embarked on a special mission. In one of their hands, a private document written and stamped by the New Vatican revealed the location of Islandia's very own paladin. It was their revered duty to deliver the assignment straight to the holy knight himself. They did not mind the easy task, as it relieved them of their present obligations in the island's capital.
Bastian Spire, a stalwart veteran soldier and tracker, kept the documents safe in his pouch as he led the way for his younger companion and expert marksman, Ace Dolan. The paladin in their jurisdiction had the right to scour the region and seek out his own virtuous adventures, but this task required his full attention. Islandia sent out a plea to the New Vatican asking permission to utilize their paladin for a sensitive mission.
Nearing closer to their destination within the edges of the forest, they discussed the holy order in more detail. While scouting the area carefully, Bastian Spire proceeded, "And if the Divine Mace lit up in his hands, it was proof that it deemed him worthy to be a true paladin. Any true paladin can do this at will, you see."
"Okay." Ace Dolan said, bewildered, "What happened when he took the mace? Did it light up?"
Confident that he was close now, Spire replied with his usual dapper grumbles, "They do not reveal those kinds of details outside of the sanctum. Nevertheless, he was banished here in this pleasant dump of an island to seek redemption, for this was where he lived and this was where he committed those 'dastardly' crimes."
"'Dastardly?' Please, he scrapped those cannibal psychos." Dolan countered, "If you ask me, he did us a service."
"I did not ask you." Spire grunted.
"And that matters, why?" Dolan grunted back.
Caught in a trance, the expert tracker raised his open hand and said steadily, "There it is. We're here."
They both stood on the edge of a sloping hill that led deeper into the forest, now able to make out what appeared to be the ruins of an ancient basilica. Taken by the veins and arteries of nature, the ruins seem to have deteriorated by time and dereliction. It hardly looked like the place for a holy knight to call home. Down the scrubby slope, a modest stream gently ran passed the site and disappeared into the dense woodlands.
"This?" Ace Dolan blustered, "This is where our illustrious paladin honestly-"
"Deal with it." Bastian Spire interrupted as he started down.
While murmuring, the gibing marksman followed the tracker down the hill. Birds resting within frantically flew out of the way and allowed the two soldiers to peruse the area. Dolan readied his short bow in the event that the paladin was not welcoming to unsolicited guests. After all, the New Vatican had not called upon the holy knight since his exile.
As exceptional as Bastian Spire was at spotting and disarming traps, he did not expect a trip wire near the ruins of the basilica. A graceless mistake, Spire felt the familiar tug upon his right foot and knew that he should not have let his guard down. From underneath loose foliage, a sturdy net had rushed upwards and snatched the two soldiers like fish from the sea. The counter weight log plummeted to the ground and consequently hoisted them up between two old trees.
Finding themselves in a sudden snare was only part of the problem. From the ruins below, a growling hound had ambled forth. Dolan had dropped his bow and Spire could hardly position himself to unsheathe his sword. The one dog was not the quandary. The real dilemma was who or what else it would attract to their vulnerable spot.
Before they could even attempt to escape the suspended entrapment, a man's voice emanated from somewhere close by, "Down boy."
He approached the obedient canine with a satchel of food and supplies around his shoulder. Sporting stubble, the stranger wore a grey cloak that lazily hung from his strapping frame. There were some distinct battle scars on the parts of his exposed body and each one with a story. His brown unruly hair seemed to accentuate his hazel eyes. Appearances aside, it was clear that he was the squatter of the basilica ruins.
"Down." The man caressed his friend's soft brown coat and surveyed his uninvited visitors above.
Bastian Spire held tightly to the mesh and grunted uncomfortably, "You are the paladin, Arl Baelin, I gather."
The man replied grimly, "Who are you and how did you find me?"
"Will you let us loose first?" Spire groaned.
The man gave his dog a meaty bone and let him run off before saying, "I am not in the business of repeating myself."
"I see. We are Islandic soldiers." He retorted and elongated his arm through the netting, presenting a significant satchel of his own, "And this pouch holds documents written and sealed by the New Vatican that will surely answer the rest of your questions."
Arl Baelin was never eager to trust the endearing promises of strangers. He, more than most people, knew how twisted and shrewd people could be. Yet, this news beckoned him like the moth to the flame. After bearing the longest three years of his life, Baelin felt as if his chance for redemption was at hand. Still skeptical, and rightfully so, the lone paladin dropped everything and neared closer to the tantalizing pouch.
He thought that the sanctum had forsaken him for good, but the documents inside proved otherwise. The holy seal confirmed its legitimacy, signed by Magistrate Mason himself. It was as he remembered them. The orders were clear and concise, even referring to him as "Paladin Brother." Reading each line of the order fervently, Baelin read the inspiring last line of the initial passage aloud, "By the power of the Magistrates, you are so ordered to fulfill your sacred oath as a soldier of God and guardian to His people."
"That sounds official." Ace Dolan jeered as he sheathed the utility knife he used to cut Spire and himself out of the netting.