The Making of a Paladin Edit
Sometime during the Second War...
The sun hung low in the sky as the wind’s caress wound its way though the trees’ many-fingered needles, whispering the promise of a hushed lullaby. As the late afternoon light began to fade, a grayish sheen settled over the forest, that which commonly gave it the name of Silverpine.
Four pairs of metal-plated booted feet broke into the small clearing, the vaguely pinkish skylight illuminating two scowling faces, one complacent, and one thoughtful. That thoughtful man, a human perhaps two score years past his prime, and obviously the leader of the party, held up a heavily gauntleted hand, and though the words he muttered gave the impression of doubt, the tone of his voice suggested mere observation. “Since we saw no sign of orcish destruction on the way, I suppose that our contact is late. We will simply wait here until he arrives.”
Growling under his breath, another turned his face to the trees. “Six years ago nobody ever heard of those greenskins, and now they are everywhere. If Lordaeron falls…”
“Let us concentrate on the task at hand, shall we, and leave Lordaeron and Quel’thalas to the rest of the Alliance to defend?” the leader replied. “Light willing, we will extract our brother from the orcs’ clutches and be safely back to Stormwind to regroup in no time.”
At this, one of the others grunted and proceeded to sit upon a nearby fallen log, where he produced a fine soft cloth from his pack and began to lovingly polish the huge ornate hammer that had hung across his back. He was met with three cautioning glares when he began to hum off-key, and then calmly smirked, cutting the tune off short and continuing his work.
Satisfied, the three turned back to speak with each other, and were met with an extraordinary sight where just moments before there had been nothing but dry pine needles on the hard ground.
A Quel’dorei warrior stood before them in full battle armor, a rather hefty polearm balanced easily between two hands, though in a defensive position.
The hammer-polisher regarded the elf intently, a rather loud appreciative whistle escaping from his lips.
“You must forgive Sir Nerolion,” greyhair said with a sigh, “none of us has seen an elf warrior before, and--"
“Yes, yes, you are quite magnificent!” gasped one who was undoubtedly the youngest member of the party. The youth then caught an admonishing glance from his betters, and his eyes went to his boots, his thick black hair falling forward to cover his rapidly reddening cheeks.
And magnificent she was. Coming head to head with the tallest knight present, her slim yet muscular form was encased from chin to toe in a gleaming golden plate armor so finely worked that the green vines enameled upon it seemed to grow and entwine as she moved. Upon her brow was a broad circlet that served as a magical helm, her strawberry blonde hair piled up neatly on top of her head. Grey-blue eyes peered cautiously from a tanned face that suggested much time out in the sun.
The rather cold, even voice of the last man broke in. “So, a female elf warrior,” he snorted. “Silvermoon sent the recently-formed Knights of the Silver Hand a… rather young, if I’m not mistaken… female warrior to help us gather one of our captured from the orcs. They obviously have a very high opinion of us,” he finished with a sneer.
Stepping forward to bow to the elf, the elder lifted one bushy grey eyebrow ever so slightly in warning at his sarcastic knight. “See..noo, ah… a’mannaray,” he haltingly uttered, completely destroying the Thalassian greeting. “Welcome. We are grateful for your assistance. I am Octanus the Wise; may I introduce the rest of the party?”
A rather diplomatic smile crossed the elf’s full lips. “I am Iastine Emberdawn. And though I am…young, for a Quel’dorei, know that I have served the Quel’thalas infantry for over a century. I come from a family of warriors and rangers.” At this she cast a glance at the offending man, who met her eyes unwaveringly.
Her gaze moving to meet each man’s in turn, she continued evenly. “I have spent much time in these forests and in the forests north and east of here. I know exactly where your man is being held, and I know exactly how to retrieve him. The Light shall guide us and keep him safe until our arrival.”
Octanus smiled and nodded. “Well said, my lady.” He gestured to the man to his right. “The one who doubts you is Gilomer the Taciturn. Obviously we are accustomed to his view on matters… when he does speak, of course.”
Gilomer smirked once again and executed a perfectly stiff bow. He was a young man, perhaps just past his thirtieth year, but the lines etched upon his brow and cheeks gave him the appearance of one much older. His longish auburn hair was scraped severely back into a tail at the nape of his neck, which did little to soften the sharpness of his high cheekbones. He was not thin by any means, but still, the angularity of his body and features gave him a rather gaunt expression.
“The one there admiring his weapon is Nerolion Duskhammer,” Octanus continued. “Most of us believe he is half dwarven, but he insists otherwise.”
“Bloody hell!” Nerolion looked up with a furrowed brow. “This again? Do I look stumpy to you? Bah.” Blond strawlike hair covered this man’s head, and was cropped close but unevenly, giving the appearance of a haystack. He was certainly not stumpy, but his profile was rough and craggy, and he did seem to have quite a fascination with the hammer. Said weapon was very large in comparison to its owner, and was made of a dark, almost black metal, decorated with bronze scrollwork. It appeared quite old, and Iastine guessed that it was one that had been handed down through his family line.
Turning to the young man who had wisely kept his silence since his breathless outburst towards the lady elf, Octanus bestowed a fatherly smile upon the youth. “My own squire until he was knighted very recently, this is Edres Beloron. We call him “the Young” for lack of anything else, though he isn’t quite as young as he appears.”
Edres nodded and bowed smoothly to Iastine, but with a small quirk at his lips that showed he was ill at ease. Of average height and built like a warrior, Edres had a shock of black hair that stayed out of his face seemingly only by magic. With a straight nose and full mouth, his eyes were a bit small, Iastine thought, but their bright blue somehow made up for it. She found him quite pleasant to look at for a human, though she hoped that her smile to him did not say so.
The elf cleared her throat. “There is a hidden cave about an hour’s march northwest of here, and I suggest that we go there and camp for the night. It is not the usual route and we will be overlooked if there are any orc scouts in the area.”
Nerolion spit on the ground in front of him. “March at night, lass? You think they won’t see us with torches?”
Iastine looked to Octanus, who nodded curtly. “There will be no torches. I can see perfectly well in the dark, so… I would say that you humans should practice your following skills, yes?” Her last words were little more than a groan. “And I understand that you are grown men covered in metal, but do try to be quiet, will you?”
“I hope your ideas get better as we get closer to the orcs, girl,” Gilomer retorted.
Glancing at Octanus, Iastine bowed her head and then apologetically looked to them all. “Listen, neither of us has any experience with the other’s way of doing things. I propose that we try to learn from each other as we go along as best we can. I chose to meet at this spot because I knew we needed time to acclimate to one another before setting foot in an orc camp. Is that acceptable?”
There were rumblings of grudging acceptance, and Octanus laid a hand gently upon Iastine’s shoulder as she turned to head out into the trees. His eyes were filled with support and trust, and beside him, Edres smiled at her a quiet curiosity.
“There.” Her slender outstretched arm, encased in the glittering golden metal, indicated something below them and to the southwest.
Octanus grunted and squinted, but said nothing more.
“Where?!” Nerolion bellowed in consternation, and was immediately shushed by the rest.
“My lady, perhaps you might get us a bit closer? We suffer the shortcomings of human vision, that is…” Edres’ tone was gentle, yet he, too, was annoyed.
They were huddled at the edge of a mountainous cliff, far above a wooded valley, dusk settling over them like a shroud. For three days the elf had marched them through thick forest, and finally up the side of this mountain. The four paladins were not in the best of moods.
Iastine didn’t turn, and took her time answering, her jaws visibly clenching and unclenching. Finally, she snapped at the closest man, who was usually Edres, and was so on this occasion. “The orcs’ senses rival those of elves, and will most likely locate us before we get close enough to attack. And what happens if we must retreat and have not scouted the area?! YOU tell me the plan!” she rasped, her eyes flashing.
The young man’s nostrils flared and his blue eyes hardened, but, to his credit, he simply opened his mouth and then closed it again.
“Paladins are not in the habit of retreating,” Octanus added quietly.
Sir Gilomer the Taciturn gave the elf a hugely disgusted glance, turned, and motioned to the fair-haired Nerolion, who eagerly followed him out of the general area to gather more wood.
Iastine shook her head, gazing at Octanus in disbelief. “Then you’d best do some extra praying tonight,” she added sullenly before moving away from the cliff and into the nearby cave where they had set up camp.
“Aye, at first light, then.”
They had finished the evening meal, and had just finished deciding on a warplan as well. Faces were ruddy in the dim firelight, dark hollows accentuating bright eyes and somber cheeks.
Iastine sat apart from the group, her eyes too upon the fire, glazed from inward thoughts. After a few silent moments, Edres got up and made his way to the elf, and gestured to the stretch of log beside her. “May I?”
She shrugged and nodded, and he settled beside her. After more than a few long minutes of complete silence, Iastine turned to him in confusion with an irritated scowl. “What do you want?!” she hissed.
He started, the cup of water in his hand falling to the cave floor, making a soft pewtery ‘ting’ as it hit the rock. She giggled, an incongruous sound that rippled across his ears like bubbles rising from a deep pond stone, and he turned to face her, blushing, of course, but wanting to catch a glimpse of that unfettered delight etched upon her face.
It was there for but an instant, and afterwards, Edres wasn’t really sure if it had ever been there at all. Iastine now wore an expression of sincere regret, and at her muttered apologies he nodded, smiling and shrugging as he leaned forward and retrieved the cup. Gazing at her once again, he began softly, “The Light seeks to teach us three things, the Three Virtues.”
“And I’m sure that you think I’m in nee--“ Both Iastine’s voice and her venomous tone faltered once she noticed the expression of the human beside her, which was neither bookish nor condescending.
“Forgive me, my lady, I meant no disrespect.” He looked away from her and seemed to study the cave wall opposite. “I was attempting to start a conversation, but I suppose that I am quite lacking when it comes to subject matter.”
Sighing, Iastine rubbed her temples and took a deep breath. “Very well, Sir Beloron, begin your discourse on the Three Virtues, and I shall attempt to stay awake.”
He turned to her askance, and was rewarded with a genuine, if rueful, smile. Were her eyes really glittering like beachwashed aquamarines? Clearing his throat and quickly composing himself, Edres began. “While the Holy Light teaches that awareness of the self and the universe is a goal, one must also see…”
...to be continued