“May wisdom guide your path.” The High Priest Spoke in a solemnly.
“So that others may be enlightened” Came the chorus reply from the gathered assembly. With that they were dismissed. Garlen stood at stiff attention near the back of the military formation. The rows dismissed from the front to back. The highest ranking Paladins to the lowly horse handlers. Garlen stood just before the lowest ranking soldiers. Dedicated as he was to the church, fate had seen fit to allow him to just recently be noticed by a high ranking Paladin, thus beginning his journey towards the most honorable title a soldier could obtain: High Guardian of the Church. He knew that he would be well aged by then, he was already 25, but the title would bring great honor to his family. As leader of the Paladin order he could finally set right the name of the Harloon family. One that was wrongfully disgraced by his ancestor from the War Of The Gods. It was said that during a crucial battle General Harloon fled from the killing field, leaving his men to die in chaos to the orderly ranks of Hell’s legions for lack of leadership. From that day forth all who carried the name Harloon had their military careers stunted by the long and bitter memories of those in the higher ranks. It is not just that the General abandoned his men, as bad as that was, it has been said by any scholar who studies the War Of The Gods, had the General’s armies won that battle Asmodeas would not have won the War.
So here, many generations after the fall of his great house stood Garlen, ready to set his family on the path to regain its honor. The small army that Garlen was a part of was far from home comforts of the desert, and would be for some time. With such a great distance from home he has been unable to send word to his family or fiance of the glorious news. When he returned they would be so proud. It was Garlen’s goal to work as had as he could to move up as many ranks as he could before they returned. In the field of battle it is much faster to gain rank by achievements of valor than to maneuver for rank in the politics that happen safe inside the walls of Sandscourge. Obtaining just a few more ranks could save years of work back home. “I’ll do whatever it takes to regain our honor, whatever it takes” He swore these words as he waited for his row’s turn to be dismissed.
“Garlen!” Came the rough bark from the battle scarred Commander of the army “Come to me!.” The mess hall fell silent, besides the scrapping and thuds of stools, as everyone leapt to attention. Garlen hasted to the only man who had ever given him a chance at redemption. “As you were men.” With that he turned and made his way from the tent. Garlan fell in behind the Commander, not asking were they were heading nor caring that he did not get to finish dinner. He would follow the gray haired old man into hell right now if it brought honor back to the Harloon name.
The party of two was soon out of the camp and heading into the town that the holy army had taken residence in temporarily. They needed not torches because the moon was full and lit the way clearly.
“Tomorrow we depart” said the Commander, he was a man who was straight to the point about things. “The High Priest wants to make sure that his personal guard are all well rested before we leave, as such he has dismissed all them for the night so they will all get a sound night of sleep.”
“A sound night of prayer and repenting more likely.” thought Garlen. The Holy Guard were well known for their zealous faith and devotion. All the men in the Holy ranks were faithful followers of their religion, but not to the degree that the Holy Guard were. Garlen saw a Holy Gaurd in the capital once, while on patrol, force a shop keeper to lash him with his own whip in the street for insulting the merchant in his head for the merchant’s high prices. They shop keeper was at a loss for words, but knew better than to disobey. He lashed the Holy Guard while he prayed in the street until the Holy Gaurdsman rose, thanked him and paid full price for his goods, ignoring the shop keepers protest and insistences there was no charge. The man lowered his prices the next day.
“So, The high Priest has asked me to personally pick his bodyguard for tonight.” The commander continued. “You shall do this task. As a rule, anything you see or hear in your duties are of course the concern of no others. Holy matters are for the priest to determine and for soldiers to accept. Is all this understood soldier?!” He barked the last bit.
“Yes Sir” Garlen promptly replied.
“Good, that being the case, it is your duty to report to me any unusual happenings that occur that do not have to do with the Priest himself.” They walked in silence as they passed the first building of the town. “These rights do not fall on those in the employ of the priest however. If you ever see a member of the Holy Guard doing something that is illegal or lessens the image of the Church you are bound to tell me or another superior.” The commander paused. “Even if the person is brother at arms, a camp cook, priest secretary or even yourself, for that matter.”
“Yes sir!” Garlen said. He followed commander Riek thinking. “What is the commander trying to tell me? Of course I would report someone for unsavory deeds, and turning in ones self for misdeeds is met with a reduced punishment for honesty. What is the commander trying to say?” They climbed the few steps to the inn of the town. The common room looked more like a command center than an inn, maps laid open over all the tables, some were even tacked up on walls. Piles of scrolls and scout reports were piled in chairs for lack of table space. “Could all this really be to find one group of adventurers?” Garlen shook his head as followed commander Riek down a hallway to a room in the very back. “They must be extremely dangerous.” He thought. He knew that at least two other armies were sent towards the Kalaz-Krugg mountain range, perhaps more.
Two Holy Guards stood at attention on either side of the door. The only movement they made as Galen and the commander approached was with their eyes, checking the face of the commander as well as his rank and name embroidered on his cloak. Satisfied with who he was they made no move to stop them and continued to stare down the hall past the commander. Garlen had a feeling they didn’t bother assessing him, deeming him of no real threat or consequence. “They are right, I am no one important, yet.” The commander rapped on the door twice hard. His knock was like the way he spoke, direct and loud. The door open almost immediately. It was as if the priest had been waitng by the door.
“I see you have come right on time as usual commander.” The high priest said in his regal tone. He addressed his guards. “You may take your leave. May wisdom guide your path.”
“So others may be enlightened.” came their reply in unison. They bowed to him and left, stepping in unison.
“Garlen will be your guard for the night.” With that Commander Riek spun on heel like a seasoned soldier and left.
“Always so brief.” the Priest sighed “Garlen was it? I wish to be disturbed by none tonight so that I might pray and prepare for our long journey. Turn all away. If they insist on seeing a priest send them to priest Riley in the main camp.” He waited for Garlen to acknowledge his orders with a nod. “There is one exception to this order.” The priest’s demeanor changed somehow, but Garlen could not perceive how. “My assistant will be arriving shortly with some locals who have been wanting an audience to learn more of our faith. As this is the last night we are here, and I have been so busy before hand, I shall see them now.” The priest’s wet his lips. “I must prepare. Simply let them in when they arrive.” The priest stepped back into his room and closed his door. As he did the shadow of the door moved across the face of the holy man. That is when Garlen realized what he had not seen before. There, his face cast half in shadows, the light of the hallway torches reflecting in his eyes, Garlen saw lust. Lust and anticipation, on the face of the High Priest. The door’s click sent a shiver down Garlen.
Garlen stood at attention in front of the door. He kept trying to convince himself he was seeing things because he was tired from waking up early for morning patrol duties. It was going to be a long night. When he had all but convinced himself of this his resolve was shattered by the two young woman, no not even that, the oldest couldn’t be more than 15, that entered the hall from the common room.
Bile rose in Garlen’s mouth. He recited prayers in his head and assured himself that they were just curious about the true faith. Their eyes would not let him lie to himself. Those eyes of innocent children held no curiosity, nor reverence. They held only fear and unshed tears. Rage began to fill Garlen. He had followed commander Riek into hell, he just hadn’t realized it until now. If he did anything about this his family might never regain their lost honor. Garlen felt sick.
It wasn’t until he had to tear his eyes away from the faces of the girls, in what was probably their best dresses, dresses they would never be able to wear again after this night, realize he had not noticed the man standing behind them. So distraught by the girls, with lovely brown hair held back by matching red ribbons, he had not seen the secretary of the High Priest. The man had a nose that was took big for his face and eyes too small. The man looked like a human rat. His hair combed back and kept slick, he was a rat walking around in the guise of a human. Garlen followed the gaze of those beady rat eyes and realized he had partially drawn his sword from its scabbard.
“Surely you recognize me,” the assisstant said with great importance in a oil voice. “and surely these lovely woman are of no threat to you or his holiness.” As he spoke his hand caressed the face of the older child and rested on her shoulder making it seem as if he had touched her face by mere accident. “So, why not be a good little soldier and put that away and open the door so these two can begin their lessons.” A grin broke his face as seem to savor the last word. Garlen stood there for a moment, not moving or putting his weapon away. He looked back down into the angelic faces of the two girls. When they noticed he hadn’t moved they lifted their gaze from the floor to look at him, hope growing on their faces. Garlen returned his stare to the man behind them, he couldn’t bear to see the look of hope die from their eyes as he slammed the sword back in its sheath and stepped aside staring straight ahead.
The youngest started to whimpering, the older tried to shush her with consoling whispers. The whimpers became sniffs and uneven breaths. The secretary nodded his approval at both Garlen and the girls, he was use to being obeyed and he disliked girls who cried too soon. He reached between the girls and opened the door. The girls walked into the moon lit room, Carson followed. As he closed the door to the room he said “I will be joining them in their lessons, the High Priest is a great teacher, and I like to watch.”
The door’s click scarred Garlen’s Soul.
As Garlen stood guard, his rage grew. A small fire growing into a raging inferno. This must be what Commander Riek was trying to tell him. If only the commander had been more direct,given him a clue on what to do. That is what he is known for, his directness. Garlen clenched his jaw. Politics! Commander Riek couldn’t say anything because he had no proof. If this happens the night before every march then there is no time for the victims or their families to grow enough courage to accuse the High Priest. Without a victim the commander can not accuse a crime. Garlen’s rage was clouding his mind, he could not think with the clarity he might have normally, questions kept breaking up his train of thoughts for a solution. Was this a price he wasn’t willing to pay to reclaim his family honor? What kind of honor would it be if it was earned by vile actions of others? If he stopped this would the Harloon family ever be able to regain Honor? Garlen’s hand tightened on the hilt of his sword, the sword of the general who started the fall from grace so long ago, knuckles turning white. His fiance Hessa’s face came to his mind and he resolved to do nothing for her sake.
She had been disowned by her family for agreeing to marry Garlen and taking his reviled family name. It was up to him to restore his family’s honor so he could provide a great life for her. She wanted many children and unless you were a person of high social status you were only allowed one child in Sandscourge. As Garlen was trying to quell his fury he thought about having a daughter. The wall of feeble excuses he had been trying to build to justify what he was doing crumbled and was consumed by the fires his rage.
“What if these were my daughters!” he screamed in is head. He spun, his sword free before he came to face the feeble wooden barrier that protected the corrupt men.
“Forgive me” he whispered. He was asking not only from his wife to whom he was about to fail, but to which ever God might have been listening to his vow earlier today. “It seems there is a price I am unwilling to pay.”
With a roar he slammed door open with his heavy military boot. The latch burst with great ease, no match for the wrath that was fueled by a blazing tempest of justice and hatred. The door slammed hard against wall. The sound was as loud as a thunderclap in the small room. Garlen stood there, on the threshold of the room, sword raised high to strike down which ever man he got to first, and all the rage he had had drained from him. First confusion at not seeing what he was expecting to see, then terror filled him as his brain began to register the horrific scene in the moonlit room.