Appendix A: Chapter 3

[Editor's note: Chapter 3 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland finally worked his way to the far end of the marketplace and veered off onto a crooked side street until he reached the doors of the Shrine of Yssindria. He passed by and walked around to the rear entrance, rapping quickly on the shabby wooden door.

Roland heard a muffled shout from somewhere behind the door, and a few moments later the door cracked inward. An eye peeked through, widened in recognition, and the door swung open. “Ah, welcome back, sir!” the acolyte said as he waved Roland inside. “A good turnout, I trust?”

Roland considered his answer has he stepped through the doorway, ducking his head slightly to avoid banging his helmet on the lintel, as he had earlier that morning. “Better than expected, I suppose.”

“So that’s a ‘no,’ then?”

“Not really, no,” Roland admitted, “but still better than it was in Glenmont, for whatever that’s worth.”

“I’m not too surprised,” the acolyte said, leading Roland into the shrine’s armory. “Truth be told, the shrine doesn’t see many worshippers these days unless something’s going on. Don’t get me wrong, we make do with what we have, and we’re thankful for it, Yssindria knows, but still….” He trailed off with a slight sigh.

“Well, you’re fighting the good fight, and the Order appreciates that,” Roland reassured him. “We need people like you out here keeping the faith and making sure the blessings of Yssindria reach the people, even when things seem bleak and lonely out here.”

Literally — even though the acolyte kept saying “we”, Roland suspected he really meant “I”, as he hadn’t come across any other attendants while he was here, and at the risk of sounding immodest, a visit from a paladin was probably the biggest event to have happened at the shrine in months.

“Thank you, sir,” the acolyte replied. “Now, is there anything I can help you with?”

“If you could draw a bath for me, it would be much appreciated. You can understand how hot these suits can get, I’m sure.” Roland began fidgeting with his gauntlets.

“Yes, sir, of course, sir.” The acolyte bowed quickly as he backed himself out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Roland began the lengthy task of removing the armor and standing it back on the rack, next to the two other suits in the armory. The hardest part, of course, was removing the first few pieces, before one had regained enough mobility to start unfastening the straps that kept everything together. By the time he was pulling off the boots, the acolyte knocked on the door.

“Perfect timing,” Roland said.

After a much-needed bath, Roland put on the change of clean clothes he had left himself that morning, when he had come by to borrow the armor. He returned to the armory to reclaim his sword and don his leather armor vest, when the acolyte returned.

“Will you be needing anything else, sir?” the acolyte asked.

“No, thank you,” Roland replied. “The knights have generously offered their VIP room again tonight, and it would be impolite to turn them down.” Nor was Roland inclined to argue; the guest room behind the shrine reeked of mildew. Roland hoped the acolyte’s own quarters were in better shape. “I’ll just go around to pay my respects and then I’ll be on my way before it gets too much darker.”

“Very well, sir. If there’s any other way I can be of service to you, please let me know.” And with that, the acolyte dismissed himself.

Roland double-checked to make sure he had all his things in his pack before exiting through the back door and working his way back to the front of the shrine. The public-facing facade was in somewhat better condition than the back had been, but still bore the weathering and patches of grime that indicated a lack of sufficient maintenance. Roland paid it no attention and grasped the bronze handles of the great wooden doors, pulling them open slowly in a futile attempt to keep the amount of creaking to a minimum.

Roland silently dropped his pack to the side of the door and, with a measured pace, walked up the center aisle until he reached the dais. As protocol dictated, he unsheathed his sword and knelt down, head bowed and sword held downward so that its tip just barely touched the floor in front of him. He held the pose for until the count of five, then stood up, put his sword away, and moved off to sit in the second row of pews.

He lifted his eyes towards the marble statue of Yssindria that stood behind the altar. In the morning, sunlight would stream through the yellow stained glass windows behind the statue, imbuing it with a divine glow that made for an awe-inspiring sight. But even now, as afternoon turned to evening and the windows were in shadow from the rest of the building, it was still impressive. There the Goddess Yssindria stood, arms outstretched, a shield held in each hand such that the shield itself faced backwards, towards the wall. Her long tunic flowed around her, blown by some ethereal breeze.

It was the “welcoming defender” pose, as Roland had learned during his training, one of the standard designs artists commissioned by the Order tended to use in their depictions of the Lady. He had always thought it odd to show the underside of a shield to begin with, and even a novice to combat could recognize that dual-weilding shields was a much less effective defense than the classic sword and shield combination. He understood the symbolism was that the Lady’s embrace would defend one from all troubles, but it still had always looked a bit off to him. But then again, Roland reasoned that if She were unpleased with the imagery, surely She could figure out some means to make Her thoughts known.

Roland shook his head and pushed his artistic criticisms out of his head, to focus on what he had come here to say. Lady, he prayed, I know it is not Your humble servant’s place to question Your will, but it would be greatly appreciated if You could somehow provide some assurance that this recruiting tour of the western kingdom would not end with nothing to show for it. Your servant knows You know he is doing all he can, but there are limits to what results can be reasonably achieved. Your servant appreciates the era of peace You have bestowed on us, yet wishes there was some more… paladinish way he could serve You other than other than training for battles that never come, interrupted only by journeys to call more to follow the same path. Not that Your servant wishes for a war of course, but… well, if Your servant knew the answer, he would not feel the need to humbly bring his concerns to Your attention.

Roland mulled that over for a bit and ended with a, But in any event, let Your will be done, and closed with a couple standard devotional prayers for good measure. He stepped into the aisle, bowed briefly, and walked back towards the entrance, stopping to reclaim his pack and drop a coin into the donation slot. He considered the condition of the guest room behind the shrine and added a second coin for good measure.

With that, Roland stepped outside and began making his way towards the Royal Knights’ encampment in the village. With his newfound mobility and the main avenue thinning out a bit as the early evening settled in, he was able to make his way to the encampment’s gate after only a few minutes’ walk.

The two knights standing guard on either side of the gate snapped to attention as Roland approached. “Sir,” they saluted.

Roland returned the salute. “As you were.” Though the Royal Knights and the Order were technically two separate organizations under the King’s command, in many matters paladins exerted some level of discretionary authority over knights.

Once through the gate, Roland followed the path towards the mess hall for a quick dinner. The evening’s meal was cut of some kind of meat, drowned in a pool of disconcertingly brown-gray gravy with a side of something that tasted passingly like mashed potatoes. After having seen some of the animals being sold for meat in the marketplace, Roland hazarded that it was best not to press too deeply into the question of what it was he was eating.

Roland sat alone at a small side table in the mess hall. Nothing prohibited him from taking a seat at one of the long rectangular tables where off-duty knights were shoveling down their food and engaging in boisterous conversation, but protocol frowned upon it. Roland figured that was probably for the best; the knights would have likely felt the need to be on their best behavior if he was in their immediate presence.

With dinner complete, Roland continued along the path towards the barracks, veering off when he reached the standalone VIP quarters positioned next to it. The sight of his bed reminded him of his long day in the marketplace, and he fought off a wave of fatigue as he studied a map of the western reaches of the kingdom to plan the next few days’ travels. Tomorrow he would set off towards Derinham. Roland was hardly looking forward to that, partly because of its proximity to what was left of Castle Helioth, but mostly because he feared that today’s efforts might have proven to be the high point of the entire tour. Nothing was more discouraging than the idea that as lousy as things were now, they would only get bleaker until he ultimately returned to Castle Telerand to report on how he had completely failed to meet his recruitment goals.

Roland put the map back into his pack and flopped onto the bed. Even though this bed for VIPs was ostensibly the “good” bed in the encampment, it still groaned under his weight.

Roland agreed with the bed’s assessment, and fell asleep.

Chapter word count: 1,684 (according to wc)
Total word count: 5,666 / 50,000 (11.332% complete)

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