Brother Talmond accepted being a paladin when he was just a boy of eight. It never occurred to him that he might not want to be a paladin for the dead gods. Ever since the monsters took his mother, he knew he wanted to fight back, to push them back to the darkness where they came from when the gods were slaughtered.
He still wanted to. Protect the towns and cities from the great evil was his life calling. He knew it. It felt right to slay a hideous beast luring children from their beds and eating them.
No one said he would have to kill children.
He sat outside the village, just off the side of the road and held his head. Kill a child they said. She bore the soul of the Holy Mother of All. Kill the child and she would be released. With a god returned to her place in earth, a gate to the den of monsters would be sealed. The people would be protected. He would save countless lives by trapping the monsters below ground again.
All he had to do was kill a single child.
He couldn’t do it. When he looked into the girl’s dark eyes, he knew it was true, she was a goddess, but he couldn’t kill her. He just couldn’t do it. Even if her screaming parents hadn’t been there, he still couldn’t have. He killed monsters not children.
Talmond pulled out his sacred sigil blessed by the high priestess of Aquatin herself and pressed it to his lips. “Please, show me. Show me gods. This can’t be the right way.”
There was no response. Of course not. The gods were dead.
He threw it off to the side. One hand rubbed over his face. His breaths came out in hisses through his teeth. He never believed in the gods. Why believe in something that was dead, assuming they had ever been real to begin with? Simple, you don’t. He only pretended as he had been taught so that he could be a paladin.
That child, though. The look in her eyes. The way it bore into his soul. She was a goddess. For the first time in his life, he believed. No longer was a prayer a way to play along so he could retain his position and protect the people. They were real. Very real.
And he had to kill one to save the people of the world.
“Quellé commo?” someone asked.
Talmond jumped and looked up. A boy of around ten stood there holding the reins of Talmond’s horse. A large scar ran across the boy’s face, likely from some monster attack.
Talmond looked around for his horse. He’d tied it to a tree. It wasn’t there anymore. Instead the boy was holding onto it.
The boy shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Idellé dis equis commo?”
Talmond rubbed some of the sweat off his face and sat up. “What?”
The boy’s head tilted slightly to one side. “De ena na?”
Talmond shook his head and got to his knees. “What? I … I don’t understand you?”
For a moment, the boy just stood there staring. Then you pointed to Talmond, then horse, and back again. “Idellé dis equis commo? Equis? Idellé dis equis?”
“I … I.” He looked at the horse. Getting up, he nodded and held out a hand. “That’s my horse. That’s mine.”
The boy handed over the reins. When Talmond took them, the boy smiled. His scar twisted up making his face almost look like it was a mask split down the middle. Giving a small wave, the boy ran off towards a small flock of sheep.
“Must be their shepherd,” Talmond muttered to himself.
The boy let out a call and started pressing through the small flock of sheep. He was headed into the woods with them. He was headed away from the village.
A slight breeze washed through the trees. Light flickered through the branches. The sparkle from his brass sigil caught his eye. Slowly, he picked it up and looked at it again.
He pressed the sigil to his lips and looked up through the trees. The wind was moving north, the same direction the boy was headed. The priests would say this was a sign. Before, he would have agreed in words, but inside said it was a coincidence. Now he wasn’t so sure. Was this a sign from the gods’ souls drifting on the breeze?
He looked back towards the town and the way seemed more shadowed that before. He tucked the sigil back in its pouch.
Sign he decided and headed north.