The Birth of the Paladins: Syvelium's Tale
For Sir Syvelium
And all others who have dared to chase dreams
The Birth of the Paladins
CHAPTER 1: Squire
The Lord Marshal rubbed his eyes and looked at the earnest squire before him. He was older than most of the squires and showed no signs of being ready for knighthood any time soon. Oh, he showed promise; that was the trouble. He was brilliant with his swords. He could outfight any two other squires, and most of the knights had a wary respect for his combat prowess. It was truly a pity that Syvelium could not discipline himself to follow the path required of knights.
"Young man," the older knight said, slowly, "you have been called before me for disciplinary action. Again."
Syvelium inclined his head. "That is correct, sir." His words were correct, as always. The fire smoldering in his eyes was not correct, but the he could not be chastised for a look, no matter how much he deserved it.
"Would you care to explain this incident, squire?" the Marshal asked, lacing his fingers together on the desk in front of him.
"We were on patrol near Thera. We encountered a band of brigands attacking a farmhouse. Squires Kalar and Mylia felt that it was our responsibility to return here are report. I was unable to convince them to defend the farmers, no matter how poorly trained and equipped their attackers were, so I went into battle alone. Kalar and Mylia followed me."
"It is your place as squires to call for knights in combat situations. You could have been killed, and the bandits would not have been stopped at all." The Lord Marshal narrowed his eyes. "Because of your foolishness, Kalar was nearly killed. Do you have any apology to make?"
"No, sir. If I had followed orders, the farmers would be dead. I made my own choice, as did my comrades when they chose to join the fight."
The knight sighed. "Syvelium, you have great promise. It would be a shame for you to leave your training, but you have no respect for rules. You never change your ways; you refuse to change your ways! Will you make the attempt, at least?"
"I will not allow anyone to take advantage of those who cannot resist. A knight must protect those weaker than himself, not allow them to be killed while he stands by. If I must be cast out for believing so, then let it be done." The spark in Syvelium's eyes expanded to a roaring fire. "Would you have me become an automaton, a mindless slave to your regulations and rules of conduct? We are protectors, by the Gods! I will not stand by and let innocents be slaughtered!"
The Lord Marshal stared into the Syvelium's eyes. Neither backed down. "By your unwillingness to abide by the rules that govern us, I declare you no longer a member of this Order of Knighthood," he intoned gravely, rising from his desk and stepping towards the recalcitrant squire. "Your swords were loaned to you by the armorer. Return them now and see how much of a knight you may be without blades."
Wordlessly Syvelium drew his blades, hefted them for a moment as if testing their balance, and then presented them, hilt first, to the knight who had so casually ended years of work and training. The Lord Marshal gazed at him a moment longer, shook his head, and motioned for him to leave. Syvelium turned and strode from the room without a backwards glance.
CHAPTER 2: Gallant
Some months later, Syvelium knew just how true the Knight Marshal's words had been. He still had his battered leather armor, but without arms he had no way to make money, and without money he could not purchase arms. Not, he thought ruefully, that anyone would hire him; a fighter with moral objections to fighting for a cause in which he did not believe would have trouble finding work. So he wandered, and took whatever unskilled work he could find, and endured.
As if to underscore the hardship of his new life, the rumble of thunder interrupted Syvelium's musings. He glanced up at the fast approaching storm clouds and then off to the north, where the Ithmian forests would provide some protection from the deluge. As the first fat drops began to fall he made his decision and darted into the woods, following alongside the road through the thick underbrush.
After an hour, he had gone barely two miles. His clothes seemed to snag on every bush and the mud sucked at his boots with every step. Disgusted with the weather and with himself, Syvelium decided to find shelter and wait out the storm. A weary mile later he saw the welcome sight of warm light. Approaching, he discovered with disappointment that it was not, in fact, an inn; instead, he had stumbled upon a large wagon halted under the trees. The light came from a small fire lit beneath an awning extended from the wagon. Three figures huddled around the cheery blaze, roasting spitted rabbits.
"Hello!" Syvelium called to them. "Do you have room for a stranger in your camp?"
The first cloaked figure turned and peered at him through the downpour. It turned out to be a Rajamala of middling age, his tawny fur plastered against his skin despite the cover. "Aye, we have room for you," he called back. "And a need for your strong arms if you'll stay until the storm is over. A wheel on our wagon broken, but I'm not strong enough to lift it and repair it."
"I'd be happy to help for a place by the fire and some of that rabbit," Syvelium said with a smile, approaching and clasping the Raja's hand. "My name is Syvelium."
"I'm Rizacotl of Saluria, pleased to meet you. This is my wife, Mihlana," he said, and she waved her spitted rabbit at him, "and this is our son, Talric. No, it's not a Salurian name, but we're cosmopolitan. We've been through most of Sapience selling our wares."
"Oh?" Syvelium queried, gratefully seating himself on a rock by the fire. "What is it that you sell?"
"All kinds of things, from clothes to fine foods and wines to arms and armor. I've even got some curiosity pieces for the wealthy, little items like carved ivory statuettes and the like." He took his roasting rabbit, set it on a plate, and expertly carved it. "Here, have some. And some tea, when it's finished steeping."
Syvelium accepted the food gratefully and nibbled at it, the warmth welcome even as it scalded his mouth. This was what he lived for, he thought contentedly, listening to Rizacotl's stories of shrewd bargaining and strange buyers. These friendly, cheerful people were worth a thousand knights in plate in the end. He missed his swords and his friends, but he not so much that he would trade this evening, storm and all, to regain his squirehood.
Irony, or fate, or a malevolent deity chose that moment to intervene. A war cry cut through the pounding of raindrops, and a flash of lightning illuminated the figures darting between the trees towards the camp with a motley assortment of weapons. Arrows whistled through the darkness, and Talric yelped as a shaft grazed his shoulder. Rizacotl cursed and drew a longsword as Mihlana lifted a stout wooden cudgel. Syvelium searched around himself, picked up a pair of long, thick branches, and then the four were running, Mihlana carrying her son.
The bandits showed little interest in the group. All of them - eight, as another burst of lightning revealed - ran to the wagon. One wrenched the door open and four poured inside as the other four watched through the gloom. Dashing away in the gloom, Syvelium knew he could not defeat all of them, unarmed; as much as it rankled, he let them ransack the Rajamalans' stores. The four finally stopped and sank to the ground when the attackers and the wagon were out of sight. The Rajas were breathing in deep gasps, and Syvelium was little better off.
"I've lost... everything..." Rizacotl panted, sword dangling in his hands. "My money... my wares... my life was in that... wagon."
"At least we're... alive," his wife reminded him, hugging Talric. Then she gasped, holding up a hand dark with the blood that was pouring from the child's nose. He coughed feebly, more blood staining his lips. "No!" she moaned, clutching her son tighter. Syvelium could see the edge of the wound in his shoulder. It was small, but the inflamed flesh showed that a poison had been used. Voyria.
Rizacotl gave a choked cry. "Not my son! Varian take their souls... Talric!" He sank to the ground before his son, tears streaking his face.
"Do you have any vials of immunity?" Syvelium asked, standing by helplessly.
"I did. In the wagon. It's long gone, now."
"Maybe not," Syvelium returned. "The can't have taken everything, and your son is still alive. The poison was probably diluted. Give me your sword, I'll go back and see if I can find the vial, or take it from them by force if I must." The Raja silently handed over his weapon, and Syvelium turned back the way he had come and set off at a run.
CHAPTER 3: Protector of the Weak
The minutes it took to arrive back at the wagon seemed like an eternity. Syvelium dashed into the open door and stared around in dismay. The robbers were gone, but they had left very little. A few of the plainer clothes, some food, and an enormous bolt of cloth were strewn across the floor. The rest was gone. The rack that had held vials stood empty, its light and valuable contents gone. A quick glance around revealed that no miracle of luck had caused a stoppered container to roll into a corner, and without another wasted second Syvelium hurtled back through the door and after the men who had taken the immunity elixir.
Their trail was easy to follow, even during a stormy night. The muddy ground, wet from the rain, held the deep imprints of their feet, and littered bits of discarded loot had been abandoned by the wayside. They were making little attempt at stealth, doubtless sure that their speed would save them and that there would be little pursuit anyway. Syvelium, rage burning in his heart, had other ideas. He spared a momentary thought for low branches that could injure him in his mad dash in the dark, then lowered his head and ran harder.
A minute of nightmare, breakneck charge, and he found himself staring at the back of one of the bandits. They were walking now, talking softly and laughing. A quick chop downed one, but not before he cried out in pain. The rest turned as Syvelium burst into their midst, longsword in one hand and the short blade of the fallen brigand in the other.
He was outnumbered seven to one. He had no chance. Syvelium knew that as he uttered a quick, fervent prayer to Arion before they were upon him. Then he had no time for thought, only reactions in his deadly dance of steel. He whirled away from a thrusting dagger and raised one sword to parry an axe chopping toward his head, then hurled himself sideways to avoid a jabbing spear. He slashed hard, blindly, with both swords and felt both connect solidly as one of his foes grunted and fell. Never stopping, he spun and knocked away a descending sword stroke, accepting the line of blood it drew on his forearm.
More chaotic combat illuminated only by a single torch that had been dropped and the flashes of lightning. Syvelium's blades bit into flesh, leaving grievous wounds, but more blows from his enemies connected. Blood dripped from rents in his leather armor and made his grip on his weapons slick. The longsword given to him by Rizacotl danced in his hands, perfectly balanced, almost glowing as it flashed and whirled. The other, shoddy blade taken from the first bandit's corpse felt leaden by comparison, and with a cry Syvelium hurled it point first into the chest of a man closing with him as he backed away. The man's eyes widened as he toppled, blood seeping from around the wound.
Syvelium quickly scooped up the fallen man's weapon, a heavy broadsword, and spun to meet his attackers. Before he was fully turned, a spear haft smashed into his side and he staggered, falling face-first to the wet earth. He rolled, stood, and hacked wildly, unable to see through the mud covering his eyes. Waving his swords erratically to ward off blows, he tried to wipe he dirt from his face. Weapons connected with him, leaving bloody wounds. None were life threatening, but he knew he could not continue to fight if he could not defend himself. With a shout, he tossed the broadsword down and cleared his eyes,
Holding only a single sword now, Syvelium braced as those still alive grouped and regarded him warily. He grimly wiped blood from the cut above his eye and held his remaining blade before him, then nearly dropped it with shock. It was shining with its own light now, blazing with a fiery yellow light. One bandit turned and fled, then the others. Syvelium almost followed, but with the end of battle sanity returned and with it the urgent quest that had brought him here. He lowered the sword, its light now muted to a cheery glow, and searched through the discarded stores of stolen items.
Acutely conscious of the passing time, he snatched up a sack that contained vials. Then he was running again, despite his wounds, his blood mixing with the rain dripping down his body.
CHAPTER 4: Hallowed Redeemer
The three Rajamalans were huddled together beneath a tree when Syvelium returned to them. Talric's skin was yellow with jaundice, and blood seemed to be leaking from every inch of his skin. Syvelium rushed over to them and emptied the contents of the sack on the ground wordlessly.
"Varian be praised!" Mihlana cried, seizing one of the vials and removing the wax seal. She tilted her son's head back and opened his mouth, pouring in a trickle of fluid. He gave a strange, gasping rattle, swallowed hard, and then went into violent convulsions as blood burst from his ears, mouth and nose in a dark stream. All three stared at the child's limp, still body and the glistening fluid coating his body. Rizacotl gave Syvelium an anguished look, and the fighter shook his head, closing his eyes.
"I am sorry," he whispered hoarsely, feeling light-headed from his wounds. "I came as fast as I could..." If he had fought harder, if he had driven off the bandits quicker, if he had snatched the vials without waiting to fight...
Rizacotl silently lowered his head, his body wracked with sobs as he put his arms around his wife and the two stared down at the corpse of their child. Syvelium turned away, not wanting to impinge on their grief, and then the world spun crazily. Another flash of lightning from the dying storm illuminated the scene... and held, not fading, growing stronger and stronger until Syvelium covered his eyes against the radiance. When the light faded, Syvelium could see that Rizacotl and Mihlana had frozen. With a shiver, he realized that a glittering tear was suspended in the air above Talric's still face.
"Your courage is a credit to you, warrior," a powerful voice boomed, and Syvelium turned. If he had not been on his knees already, he would have fallen to them. "
"You have shown laudable tenacity in pursuing and destroying your foes," came the words of another speaker.
"You bring hope of life to those who have been struck by death."
"You bring justice to those who would evade all law."
The figures now stood in a silent circle around Syvelium. A voice from one of them, or perhaps all of them, spoke. "Your blade has been blessed by your actions already, warrior. We offer you a choice. You may forever accept the mantle of defender of those who cannot defend themselves, knight who fights for life and for good, not for worldly concerns. You may remain who you are, knight-errant. This is a heavy burden; we offer you no gifts. Do you accept this charge?"
Syvelium lowered his head, overcome by awe. Then he raised his eyes again and stared into brilliant flames that wreathed the forms arrayed before him. "My Lords, my Lady, I accept the mantle and the charge. I will be the champion of the light."
"Then by Our will it is done," the Gods intoned in unison, raising Their hands towards Syvelium. The light swelled forth blindingly until the man was forced to shut his eyes and turn his face away. He could feel new strength flowing into him, body and soul, and he could sense... he could...
He blinked. The sound of a tear striking flesh sounded loud as a trumpet clarion. Each raindrop striking the ground was separate and distinct, a roar of noise. Disoriented, Syvelium turned to the three Rajamalans in their tableaux of grief. He strode towards them, each step an eternity. "Please, give me your son," he said, the words seeming to hang in the air forever. Rizacotl blinked up at him, and Mihlana shook her head.
"Please." He held out his arms. Perhaps they detected the new power in him. Perhaps they were simply rendered apathetic by grief. Mihlana raised her son's body and set it gently in Syvelium's arms. He stared at it for a moment, feeling the strange gift of the Gods. He looked down at the small form in his arms and rejected its death. He refused to believe it was dead. He refused to let it be dead. He opened Talric's mouth and placed his own above it, opened his lips. Feeling the movement of each muscle, each minute articulation, he whispered, "No."
His could feel the air moving from his lungs, charged with energy. He could feel it as it blazed up his throat and through his mouth and out and into the corpse before him. He could feel the tiny vibration as the still heart thudded once, twice, and then steadied into its normal rhythm. Talric shuddered, his eyes fluttered open, and he exhaled sharply, then inhaled again, wonder suffusing his face.
He wriggled from Syvelium's arms and ran to his parents, who laughed and pulled him into their embrace. After a moment, Mihlana looked up. "Our son was dead. You... brought him back. We can't thank you..."
Syvelium shook his head. "Not me, but the Gods. I was given a gift, and I used it to restore Talric. I don't know what it means, or what I am meant to do with it, but I know that that was the right beginning."
Mihlana smiled at him. "You or the Gods, we cannot express how grateful we are. You have been granted the ability to return the dead to life?"
"I don't know. Sometimes, maybe. I still have no idea what I can do, really. All I know is that I will be doing what I should, supporting the light with my strength."
"What will you do? Where will you go?" Rizacotl asked, still holding tightly to his son.
"I don't know that, either. Somewhere... I'll find those who share my views, build a new knighthood based on principles rather than power..." he trailed off, grinned. "But first, you have stolen goods to retrieve and I have a wagon to free from the mud." All four laughed and set off for the wagon they had fled from only a short time ago.
Epilogue: Grand Champion of the Innocent
Seasons turned in their unending cycle, years passed, and time once again brought a wagon down a highway. This time there were no bandits or storms, and three Rajamalans arrived safely in the city of Shallam. The driver asked directions from a guard, who pointed out a large, half built edifice growing in the northwestern part of the city. The Rajamala thanked him and sent the wagon on.
When they arrived at the site, the three on the wagon looked upon organized chaos. Dwarven and human laborers scrambled everywhere under burdens of lumber and stone as foremen shouted instructions to them. Through it all walked men and women in heavy plate armor with blades strapped across their backs and others in mail with maces swinging from their hands. They stood together, gesticulating and laughing, or discussed heatedly with the workers. In the center of it all stood a man who wore a pristine white robe over battered leather armor, a glowing blade at his side.
"Syvelium!" Rizacotl called. "Syvelium! It's been too long!"
The man turned his head, then, laughing, ran over. "Rizacotl! Mihlana! And Talric, you've grown! Though I'm sure you're sick of hearing it already." Syvelium reached the front of the wagon and grinned broadly at them all. "Welcome!"
"What's going on here? All you said in your last letter was that we should come and bring all the supplies we could find. What's this building? Who are all these people? What have you been doing with yourself?"
Syvelium's sweeping gesture took in all of the vista, the arguing men, the rising towers, the scaffolding. "We're building. I told you I would found a new order of knights, and it's happening before your eyes. One day this building will be the center for all who support the light. It's already the heart of the Paladin knights."
"The Paladins?" Mihlana asked, eyes sparkling. "That's what you're calling yourselves? That's who we brought all this for?" She punctuated this last with a thump of her fist on the wagon.
"Aye, that's for the Paladins. There are not many of us, and fewer who know which end of a blade is which, but we're growing day by day. They've named me Grand Champion of the Innocent. Cumbersome title, but I can't convince any of the knights to change it to something less pompous." The first Paladin grinned again, his eyes flashing. "Just think of how much we will accomplish, how much good we can work. This is what the Satus made me for. This is the reason I first became a knight. This is... glorious!"
Rizacotl beamed, caught up in the knight's enthusiasm. "And once this is finished and your knights are trained and ready?"
"Ah, who knows? But we'll meet tomorrow with open eyes and eager hearts, my friend. Come, let me show you around!" Tugging them away from the wagon, Syvelium lead Rizacotl, Mihlana, and Talric into the maze of unfinished walls and dirt floors, pointing out where a statue would go, where there would be shelter for the homeless, carrying them into a bright future.
AUTHORS NOTES: When I first approached Syvelium and asked him to tell his story, he gave me a bare bones recital of the events portrayed in this volume. I asked him for more detail, but he simply smiled and asked me what I thought had happened. I have tried to recreate the tale as accurately as possible, but I am far from infallible. However, until Syvelium shares with us his story in full, as he experienced it, this book contains what is likely the most truthful record remaining of these events, which occurred before the Grand Artifice.
I would like to thank many of the scholars and historians of the Shallamese University and Oghma, the curator of the Shallamese museum, for helping me flesh out the details of this work. This would not have been possible without you.
Most of all my thanks go to Sir Syvelium himself, for taking the time to give me as much of his history as he did. As a mentor, a fellow knight, and a man who made sacrifices for his beliefs, I salute him wholeheartedly.
17th of Haernos, year 121 of the Midnight Age