There are times when I am conceptualizing work for later writing when I have an idea I feel is worth preserving. It might be a simple setting, a specific interaction between characters or even a major plot point. Unlike some better organized people who take notes or keep a journal, I put these ideas down in story. It’s like committing it to memory but a little better because at least a hint of my thought process and emotion remains in the story.
Also, it has the added benefit of being re-read later when I have the opportunity to purge any awful ideas I might have been working with.
This Friday’s story is something of a postscript to Master of the House/House of Cards. It follows Katrina into the start of a new life and sets the stage for either the fourth or fifth book in this series (haven’t decided the order yet…)
As this story is more of a vignette than I typically put up here, it may be worth clicking the links as you go for additional information on the characters and places. Enjoy.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. READ ONLY IF THAT DOESN’T BOTHER YOU OR YOU HAVE FINISHED HOUSE OF CARDS.
Alexander coughed into a handkerchief and went through the painful motions as his body wretched with spasms. This was nothing new for the young man. His body had been afflicted with a terrible condition since his youth that had left him frail. Unlike others who were afflicted with the “Consumption”, Alexander had lived a surprisingly long life. Despite this, he would never go so far as to call himself fortunate.
Though his body bent to appease the cough, his eyes kept forward. This particular coughing spell was a simple lie, a distraction.
Something was happening in the Abby and the opportunity to find out precisely what it was would only require being in the right place at the right time.
The Council of Bishops was in an uproar. Things were happening and they were happening quickly in response to an issue that he had not been informed of.
Most unusual, he thought to himself.
With his father, the renown Warrior Priest Alexander the 1st sitting at the head of the Council of Bishops, the son had become accustom to having every bit of his father’s information in his hands before it was public knowledge. Despite his considerable frailty, the junior Alexander was a devastatingly clever statesman and though he could not wear the sword and shield himself, he was a brilliant tactician.
These things gave him great favor in his father’s court and to now be left out of whatever events were transpiring told the younger Alexander that something serious was afoot. He could see the Paladin taking notice of his coughing spell and then motion for several more elite Paladin troops to move towards the building’s roof.
It was more than being left out of what was going on.
He was being shut out.
There was no clearer sign to him that this matter needed his attention.
The ground below their flying vessel had revealed little to them aside from a lush green tree canopy for some time now. Seeing that it was beginning to break up, for clearings to be visible outside her window, Katrina knew that they were close to their destination. They would be arriving in the Great City State of New Raj shortly.
Katrina looked to where Kimberly sat opposite of her in the ‘Copter. Tin’s younger siblings, Verity and David were curled up against Kimberly. For her own part, Kimberly was trying not to fall asleep too.
Katrina smiled at this. It was as though Kimberly was meant to have children around her, something Katrina never really saw in her own future.
To her right, Alex sat with her kneels pulled up against her chest. She was focused intently on sharpening the various blades that were kept on her person. This girl had grown up in the wild parts of Britannia. Despite her age, she had known nothing other than civil war and strife. The short time she had been allowed to live freely in Seaside prior to its burning was probably the most normal her life had ever been.
Now Katrina was going to deliver her to The Order. That hard upbringing would be put to good use. She would grow up strong and secure for it. Nothing in Alex’s future would be easy going forward but she was used to that. The hardships that would be put to her now would mold her and teach her. It would be for the best.
Katrina nearly smiled; perhaps she was more motherly than she was willing to admit. She looked out the ‘Copter window to see the approaching sight of New Raj.
The Shining City.
It was the source of all her strength, her training, and ultimately her doubts.
She left in shame and would now return as a herald of ill omen. Just the same, this omen was something that New Raj had been preparing for. They had been given a thousand years to steel themselves against it and no great city state was as well prepared for the words she was bringing to bear.
Words of death, of calamity, of a dark past come calling for its due.
These words would be the very thing that would open their arms to her once again. Hearing her speak and seeing the knife Dori gave her…it would be enough to reclaim her place among them…she hoped.
She had to hope; at this point it was all she could do. Feeling helpless in front of these people was something that she swore would never befall her again. Her resolve would need to be unshakable in this endeavor.
Returning home seemed so simple when she made the decision in Seaside. Now faced with the realities of her choices and the lives now in her care, the weight of her choices pressed down on Katrina and gave rise to fear unlike any she had ever known.
It was not fear of combat. For her, that did not exist. It was not fear of the unknown, for that was pointless and needless in times like these. It was something that she had not ever truly encountered, even when faced with her exile. That had been a matter of self-loathing.
This was doubt. Pure, unadulterated self-doubt. For a Paladin, this should not exist.
Alex poked her in the arm. While getting lost in thought, Katrina had failed to notice that the girl went towards the window and was now paying great attention to the City State looming in the distance.
“It’s pretty.” Alex said earnestly. “Britannia looks like a real shit-hole by comparison.”
Katrina smirked and then a wicked grin came to her face.
“They will not let you speak as such within the Order.”
“I bet I know swear words that they don’t even know are swear words though. I’ll be fine.”
Katrina realized that she had no doubts about that. Perhaps her other doubts were misplaced as well.
As the ‘Copter began its decent into New Raj, Katrina’s self-doubt was replaced with a sense of righteousness. It was not vanity or pride that stirred these emotions. She knew in her heart that she alone had taken the hardest path to bear and was now returning to face her past, her demons, and her mistakes. This was everything her faith had stressed as its core teachings. Righteousness was hers to claim because for Katrina, she could do so without delusion.
The ‘copter blades began to slow. The vessel began its descent.
Where there had been doubt, there was now only duty.
They would know her authority by the strength of her word.
Alexander saw the approaching ‘Copter and followed the Paladins to the roof in secret to discover what was garnering so much attention. It was true that flights were not routinely permitted to land in Capitol Square but it was not uncommon. At the very least, it was not an event worthy of such a large scale response.
A contingent of twenty Paladins awaited the flight as the rickety machine touched down. The downward force of the wind from its blades pressed heavily on Alexander and his frailty was openly shown to him yet again. The Paladins stood resolved with stone cold faces awaiting the passengers of the flight. Another time and place might have left him cursing his condition, instead he found himself asking a simple question.
Who could be drawing this much attention?
To Alexander’s surprise, it was not an elder statesman nor was it a group of visiting dignitaries. The person who exited the ‘Copter did not wear the symbol of Britannia’s Governor. To his great surprise, it was one of their own. A female Paladin emerged.
Her armor was old and perhaps less polished than he was accustom to seeing but there was a battle-weariness to her that Alexander rarely saw in those who currently served. Her hair was cut short in contrast to the Paladin maidens who kept their hair long as a point of pride in their order.
Something was amiss. Without understanding why, Alexander spoke an old phrase in the Origin Language to himself.
“Vou volver da guerra, o pelo rapado e cicatrices da batalla será gravado nos meus ollos.”
In a city built on faith, Alexander had treated his studies academically rather than as a matter of spiritual growth. Memorization, historical accounts, dates and names all worked together to build his understanding of his city’s soul. Something about this day and this arrival gnawed at him. He repeated the old phrase, this time in Common, hoping that he might better hear the meaning.
“I will return from war, my hair shorn and the scars of battle shall be etched into my eyes.”
It was the tale of the fallen warrior, who left a people and returned with their salvation. Alexander knew now that his event was as important as it seemed. Why he should be excluded from it or why his father was not here now, these questions distracted him long enough for events to take their own reigns.
The Paladin in charge of the gathering spoke to the woman. Alexander knew him as Robert but as for his exact title, Alexander always had difficulty remembering those damnably long claims.
“You are no longer welcome here. Return from whence you came and you shall see no trouble today. Refuse and we will be forced to act as members of the Holy Order.”
The female Paladin seemed to ignore the words of threat. Instead, she turned back into the ‘copter and helped a younger girl disembark. Patiently, the female Paladin instructed the younger woman to hand over her sword and shield. It was as though she were training a squire as she spoke, patiently correcting the way in which the younger woman held the weaponry and then in how she offered them over.
The Paladins of the Order did not take kindly to being ignored. Alexander could not help but snigger quietly to himself at the scene. Robert took a step forward before beginning to repeat himself.
The female Paladin cut him off with a resounding response.
“I heard you the first time. You will address me as Lady Katrina. Now, be silent while I attend to our guests.”
Her voice carried weight and power to it. Those who stood opposed to her were physically taken back by the stern nature of her answer.
Robert could not and would not attempt to hide his disgust.
“You have no title. You have no claim…”
Katrina spun on her heel and confronted the man with a glare that invited reprisal. She was outnumbered here but still managing to act as though it were those around her who were in danger.
“Title? Claim? I am a Glorious Paladin of the Shining Rajian Order in Service of the One True God. You have not the will to stand in my way. The guiding stars have fallen beyond the horizon and I come bearing word from the south. I will not be…dismissed no matter what previous transgressions I am guilty of.”
She paused, allowing those words in particular to have their intended effect on those standing around her.
“The time of trial is at hand. The land is about to break. All your titles and all of your claims will be called into question should you not heed my words of warning.”
Several of the more faithful Paladins who were well versed in the old texts began to look about nervously. They were beginning to come to similar lines of thought that Alexander had arrived at. This was more than they had been led to believe it was. The man who spoke for them, the Paladin known as Robert, stayed true to his duties. He would not be deceived.
“You have been cast out and down from our Order. You have not the authority to speak of such things.”
“Oh, but I have.” Alexander called out from his hiding place, now certain that he would need to take direction involvement in this matter. Alexander would not allow this moment to pass without hearing the woman’s story. Stepping out of the shadows, he walked through the ranks of the Paladins to stand next to the one now confronting Lady Katrina.
“I do not know why or by whose authority I was left out of these matters, but I would hear these words.”
Alexander moved between the conflicting forces and spoke with an ease that belied his frail form. When addressing people in public, his bouts of coughing were rare. It was as though being in front of people gave him a clarity of mind and body that triumphed over even his fundamental frailties.
“Clearly this is a matter of some importance else I would not be left out of it and you my friends would not have been asked to so forcefully remove someone who’s grand crimes amounted to…fraternization.”
Alexander looked sternly at Katrina, “Yes, I know of you even though we have not met previously. There is little of the Order that I do not know hence my current curiosity.”
He turned back to face the gathered Paladins, “Now, if her claims are true and we fail to hear her warnings…then you, I, and all those who serve would be remiss in our duty. Would you not agree Master Paladin?”
The Paladin in command, Robert looked as though he were about to apologize. Alexander’s status as a prominent statesman had immediately stolen command of the situation. The waiting Paladins were now clearly under his authority and were sheathing their blades in compliance with his wishes.
Their commander gritted his teeth and cast a glance downward before apologizing.
“I..am sorry Sire. However, my orders still stand.”
To the surprise of everyone and especially Alexander, the man charged Katrina. His blade posed for death, he had sacrificed his honor at this very moment to see through an order. Katrina could hardly fault him for it.
She could however fault him for his catastrophically clumsy attack and the poor manner in which he charged her with a lazy guard. Katrina slipped by his blade and drove her elbow up into his shoulder joint making any further movement of his sword nearly impossible. She then spun with a savage fury and struck the man’s face with her gauntlet, driving him to the ground in a heap.
It had been far easier to dispatch this Paladin than…
At once Katrina realized that the Paladin who attacked her did so out of duty but at the same time, he had purposely thrown the fight to allow her the opportunity to speak in front of Alexander. The man could not be dishonored for doing his duty and failing in the face of superior skill. It was quite clever really.
The young woman accompanying Katrina rushed over and kicked the felled Paladin on the ground before drawing her knife.
“That’s what you get stupid!” Alex roared in anger at the insult this man had brought to Katrina. She kicked him again before Katrina called her back.
She was loyal and that was more important for now than her inability to see through the situation. For now, she would have to be called down.
“Alex, back away. See to Kimberly and the children. Tell them that things are alright and not to worry.”
Alex looked at Katrina’s felled opponent and kicked him once more for good measure.
“Idiot. Don’t ever draw a blade against her again.”
She backed up from the Paladin before doing as she was told.
Katrina stepped toward her fallen opponent and offered him a hand up. The Paladin hesitated only briefly before accepting and then stepping back. He left his sword where it had fallen on the ground and Katrina’s eyes fixed to him until he was far enough away from it for her liking.
It was then that Katrina drew a long knife. She appeared to weigh it in her hands for a moment before offering it to her defeated opponent. Robert took the blade after Katrina pushed it again in his direction.
“Black steel, forged ages ago to fight against an evil that you have known all your lives. Those of you that follow the passing of the stars at night know that something is changing. I have seen this threat first hand. Even now it festers in Seaside, readying itself for a war too long delayed. Envy, Queen of Jealousy, Breaker of the Word, Scourge of Life…she amasses an army in Seaside. The actions…the very lives of people I love have been given to hinder her in this endeavor. It falls to New Raj to ready the armies of man in response to this threat. This blade is proof of my claim.”
Robert looked the blade over; its steely finish seemed to crawl with shadows beneath the surface. Memories that were not his own offered to seep into his blood. The anguish and rage of one particular foe called out with a hate that the Paladin had never before understood.
“Elven in origin and infused with powerful magics, the Herald will seek this blade out. It had wounded Envy once. All your priests must do is examine it and there will be no doubt…”
Katrina’s defeated opponent, his face once framed only with duty began to feel the oppressive weight of the burden in his hands. He turned to Alexander with eyes watering, the shame of his words and actions were overcoming his better senses.
Alexander watched the curious event. The Paladins of New Raj has been trained with their duty to the City State and to their fellow citizens as the framework for their entire lives. There was only one thing that could move them beyond that. Wisely inserted into their training since the founding of the Order, simple faith was the cornerstone of their lives. Pluck at that string, shift that stone, and the whole house rocks at its foundation.
Robert took a knee before Katrina and offered the blade back to her.
“By your order, Sidar.”
The other Paladins began to sink to their knees before Katrina as well. She did not refuse them and she did not shirk back in embarrassment. Alexander knew there was honor to be had here but he could see that this was yet another burden the woman was taking on.
What was impressed upon Alexander at this very moment was the peculiar title the Paladin had addressed Katrina with.
In the old language, it was a title that meant “Defender of the Faith”. The Britannians used it all too casually to refer to their head Templar. This title was bestowed once a generation in New Raj…if that. Alexander pondered the scene a moment longer. Robert, despite his rank, had no authority to grant such a title. As Sidar, Katrina could rightfully take command of the entire Order. If she so chose, New Raj would bend to her will.
There was no doubt that if this elite group of loyal Paladins could find favor in this fallen warrior, then others would surely seek her banner out as well. At once it was clear as to why she was to be denied entrance into the city.
Alexander watched at a distance as Lady Katrina approached the other Paladins one by one and beckoned them to stand up. He saw inspired devotion beginning to form on their faces. He saw an easy leadership in this supposed Sidar. He saw no reason to deny her either.
That created the real problem in his mind. Alexander saw and believed the words and warnings brought about by this woman. There was no doubt in his mind that this accidental coup would harden the hearts of his father and anyone else who stood to lose privilege and status as a result of her arrival.
His father was an honorable man after all but the jealousy that such an event might inspire in a man of privilege…
All at once, Alexander understood. It was all so crystal clear. If her story had any ring of truth to it…then it was not so difficult to think that Envy might have…
Alexander approached the group.
“Lady Katrina…Lord Robert…I would start by suggesting caution. This incident here was clearly staged in one form or another. Even if Lady Katrina is presented as the genuine article before the Order, the politics of the thing will ensure that she is never heard.”
Katrina eyed him with a hint of a smile forming, “What do you suggest?”
“Subtlety. This Herald of yours is coming soon, yes?”
“If that is what is important, then there can be no more of this Sidar business for now. You will require an alliance with my father to be heard by the Council of Bishops. Claiming that title will only put you at odds with him.”
Alexander expected the other Paladins to refute him but they turned to Katrina.
This would be difficult.
Katrina only grinned. “You’re clever. You remind me of a friend I left behind in Seaside. Alexander was it?”
Katrina knelt before him.
“Then I return to New Raj Lord Alexander, seeking absolution and to reclaim my place among your order.”
Alexander grasped her by the collar and pulled her up from the ground.
“Rise up prodigal daughter and reclaim your birthright. We have much to discuss…Sidar.”