The Fates decided the knight will go to Last Haven.
Once upon a time there were all-powerful, devious Fates who played games with their mortal doll. They enjoyed throwing him around, poking and pulling, tearing its limbs off like kids playing with a beetle. They even enjoyed embarrassing it from time to time.
Today the Fates are sending him to a slaver town, equipped with lies about the return of their god. There’s never a dull day in your company.
Ren Londaar is many things — an Eternal Knight, a recovering amnesiac, an oar master — but he is not a friend of the Handmaiden.
“Thank you for the wise council,” he says, sarcasm heavy in his voice, “but I trust Dawn. She has overcome challenges time after time and I believe it would be foolish to ignore the blacksmith of Last Haven.”
“Oh, do you think so, prince knight sir?” exclaims Dawn, flushing with delight. “I’ve sometimes thought I could pass for a real lady — but I never dared to dream anyone else would agree. Cato always told me to be myself, but I think it’s romantic to pretend to be someone else for a little while.”
“You’re only doing this so you can fight me with your full power,” says the Handmaiden, ignoring Dawn,“You never meant to uphold your word.”
“One arm or two, I’ll win just the same,” snaps the Knight. “Consider this, witch: Last Haven has survived the curse of Ferax so far. I believe they might have knowledge worth investigating. Whine all you like, but anything that gets us closer to Ritain is a path worth exploring. If it does not please you, feel free to find your own way home.”
“You won’t rid yourself of me that easily,” she says. “I’ll enjoy seeing you and the traitor elf founder with this naïve plan.” She glances to the prisoners in white. “Perhaps you could practice your martial skills on these? I suppose you can take them — bound as they are.”
“No!” says Dawn, horrified. “We’ll let them go.”
The Knight agrees and the three return to where their prisoners are kneeling.
“Scouts of Last Haven,” says Ren, “we will accompany you to your town. Lady Cirus wants to see your leader immediately. The men in white will be left behind and no more blood will be spilled.”
The Cirus Cultists beg Dawn to reconsider as she gently unties them. When it becomes clear that she’s made her choice the men look grim. They bow — each bringing their heads all the way to the sand, before leaping up and jogging into the trees — leaving their scattered luggage and wheelbarrow behind. The scouts of Last Haven, overwhelmed by the prophesied divine, keep their heads low as Dawn frees them. “Ready?” He asks when the women get up to their feet and equip their weapons. Raki, the Captain of the Gatekeepers, nods to Ren, bows as low as the men did to Dawn, and leads the group off the beach and into the lush forests of Ferax.
“Dawn, put your mask on,” Ren says the moment he realizes where they’re going.
“I thought Lady Cirus wouldn’t have to wear protection,” Raki says as Dawn fumbles with the brown piece of fabric given to her by Elder Maquin, sewn to stay up around her nose and mouth, with two fine mesh panels inserted for breathing. “I suppose the air will be clear only after the blessing ceremony, right?”
Dawn freezes, blinks, then nods twice and says: “Sure!”
This seems to satisfy Raki, but the Knight wonders what exactly Dawn is prophesied to do.
A soft layer of leaf litter yields under Ren’s heavy foot as they walk. The group pushes past branches, bushes, and vines that threaten to swallow the thin forest trail. Gnarly trees, fueled by the Noxis curse, have grown well beyond their natural size, their gigantic leaves blocking out the afternoon sunlight. Everything around them blooms almost violently — colorful, lush, and oddly alive. The ordinary skittering of animals is replaced by the subtle movement of stems and branches, their chirps, hisses, and calls replaced by an eerie calm. Occasionally, the trail disappears altogether and the scouts lead the group over bridge-sized roots, climbing through the tangle, leaving the forest floor far below them.
The women clearly know the way well, snaking easily through the terrain, always with an ear out for danger — although this time no danger came.
“Aren’t you worried about catching the curse?” Dawn asks Raki.
“Only if I don’t wear my mask. Over time even the masks can’t protect from the cumulative effect, but that is why we rotate the scouts. After we return to Last Haven the scouts go to quarantine until we’re deemed clean.”
“We have learned to make it work,” The corners of her eyes crinkle in a smile. “Of course, all that will change now that the New Times are approaching, Lady Cirus. I’m so grateful that you saw through the lies of those treacherous cultists. They would all do better serving New Haven.” The way she said ‘serving’ gave the knight a chill feeling and he sees Dawn’s shoulders sag somewhat at the word too. Ren is sure that without the protective mask, Dawn’s expression would have betrayed a cringe of embarrassment.
She slows down a little, letting the scouts walk ahead and whispers to the knight: “I am worried about the town we are walking into. The cultists called them slavers and I think they might be. I’m afraid of what we’ll find when we get there. What if the blacksmith is enslaved? I couldn’t bear to abuse him for his services, it’s not right at all!”
The handmaiden snorts. “You’ve already set on the path of blasphemy and lies, you ought to get off your high horse about slavery. We are all slaves to the Ritain Empire. As is only right, for both high and low. As a sentinel, many of those you’ve captured have ended up in marketplaces. What did you imagine happened to your prisoners?” As Dawn’s eyes widen, she continues: “Obnoxiously naïve. The elves of High-Hauran are slaves themselves. A lack of chains means nothing. Your life is one of servitude.”
“We’re not slaves!” Dawn protests. “We elves are the emperor’s loyal retainers. We will do anything to keep proving our loyalty to him — in any way possible!”
“Only because the emperor’s armies can wipe you out of existence with the flick of a finger. Loyal retainers, indeed. I bet that is what you told yourself when your parents gave you up to be raised by the emperor’s battle mages? I always thought humans were bad at facing the truth, but you elves are just as pathetically oblivious to it. Living unshackled is not living free. You’d do well to remember it before you get comfortable playing god.”
Dawn looks away, silent. The knight listened to the handmaiden’s words with interest and mingled loathing, but didn’t stop her. She meant to provoke and hurt, but her words rang true nonetheless. Dawn must have known this and have ignored it by wrapping herself in a soft cocoon of pretend and positivity. Nothing wrong in that. It is Dawn’s way of taking responsibility for her part in the tragedy that was hoisted on her. Dawn chose to see the best in people and ignore the long shadows cast by the world’s evils. Without that attitude, she may not have given him a second chance.
I am not the same person I was when I woke up on the beach, Ren thinks. My memories still evade me, but I remember enough to know the key to resolving the question of who I was before lies in Ritain. The gods do not gaze on wretched beings like me. No one else will set me on the right path. I’m in charge of my future. Then again, it is one thing to know one is in charge of one’s own destiny, but it’s a whole different thing to understand how to walk that path.
My dearest Fates, Ren Londaar needs a few existential holes filled. Let us help him out a bit, shall we? This will surely affect how he will respond to the challenges you throw at him in the future. Such fun!
Option 1: Autonomy - The Eternal Knight finds meaning when he has full control of himself and his environment. He is determined to be free and will only take on commitments that serve his own needs.
Option 2: Competence - The Eternal Knight finds meaning in problem-solving with his unique skill set. He is determined to fix both his own problems and those of the world around him, be they big or small.
Option 3: Connection - The Eternal Knight finds meaning in a sense of belonging when he cares and connects with others. He is determined to build relationships that matter and gain more compatriots to share the burdens of the world.
The chapter voting closes every Monday at 8:00 AM WEST (Lisbon, Portugal time).
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- Kaya & Silver