Nobody Trusts a Paladin – Part IV

    Nora felt as if she stood on the threshold of her destiny.  Beyond the door was an immaculate oval chamber.  The walls were cut from marble, the floor tiled with jade and ivory, and the ceiling high and arched with an elaborate mural made from colorful shards of glass.  Thick support columns ran near the perimeter and stair-stepping pedestals spiraled inward around the center.
    There was gold; lots of gold, gold everywhere.  Chests overrun with coins were wedged between crates exploding with golden wares; lamps, flagons, plates, bowls, candelabras, musical pipes and large loops of thick golden chains.  There were portrait frames and giant harps, long torch poles and huge tapestries weaved with golden strands.
    On the pedestals were even stranger treasures, golden boxes and small statuettes all on display, all the way to the top where a tall solid statue of a robed man stood proud and dignified.  There was so much gold the coins spilled across the floor, the trinkets were piled deep atop each other.  There was barely room to navigate through the trove.
    “If this doesn’t beat all,” Dobber said.
    Rankin ran the light around the room.  Nora stood in awe and for a moment no one entered.  Then Dobber squeezed between the other two and stumbled his way forward, his gaze locked on the statue and the intricate ceiling above.
    “You’ve got to admit, Erik knows how to pick them.”  Nora stepped inward behind Dobber, cautiously avoiding the coins spread over the floor.  She turned back to see Rankin grinning, lost in amusement.
    Erik rested a hand on Rankin’s shoulder.  He said, “It is all that I promised and more.  As much as you can carry, as much as you desire.”
    Rankin said, “I’ve been known to desire an awful lot.  But this will do for the moment.”  His eyes scanned the room.  “We must be careful what we take.  We don’t want to overburden ourselves on the way out.”
    “Be happy,” said Erik.  “You have earned it.  Enjoy the reward.  Run your hands through the coins.  Feel the wealth of Kings.  Find something you like.  We are in no hurry now.”
    The two strolled into the room, together.
    Dobber scrambled up over crates and stood, one foot in an open chest, the other in a large bowl. 
    “Look, a tiny suit of mail,” he said.  The armor was constructed from links of gold chains, woven together into a long shirt.  Golden flakes embossed an emblem on the chest plate, a fierce lion. 
    Dobber ran his fingers over the suit and then impatiently tore it down from the rack that hung it.  The weight of the shirt pulled him.  His foot slipped from the bowl and he tumbled off the stack of crates, slaloming down a thick tapestry.  He slid across the scatter of coins on the floor and slammed into a column.
    No one turned to look.
    Nora held a sack of coins in one hand and the gold encrusted pommel of a short-sword in the other.  The silvery blade gleamed with the reflection of the lantern light.  She admired its balance, its weight, as she practiced a swing, thrusting though a low hanging curtain.  “Now this I could get used to,” she said.
    Rankin even found his way to his own little island of riches.  Tall halberds decorated with golden tips sprung out of heavy urns, and all around them stacks of golden bound tomes, books of ancient lore.  He examined the pages of one.  “These ought to be worth even more than their weight in coin.”
    “And you thought Erik was not to be trusted,” Nora shouted across the room at Rankin still enthralled by the text.  “What do you think now, Lord Rankin?  Or shall I name you King?”
    Nora had found a silk gown and she quickly slipped it over her head.  It hung loosely over her body.  She placed a gold chain over her head like a crown.  “Or shall I be the one to rule?”
    Dobber waddled up next to Rankin, weighted down by two sacks nearly as large as his own body.  “I always liked this Paladin,” he said. 
    He flopped down onto a short stack of books.  “Too bad he’s a Paladin, though, being slippery and all.  I still cannot bring myself to think favorably of them.”
    Rankin said, “You are fretting unnecessarily.  We have done a job.  We are taking our reward.  We will follow through with our plans and when we are done, we will be rid of him.  No need to change your ideology just because of a successful operation.”
    “They really did murder my cousins, you know.  I am not sure which ones they were, but they were Paladins all right.  I think I’ll take most of my gold back to the Briar.”  Dobber looked aloft at the hills of treasure.
    Rankin said, “A bit generous for you.  Do you have plans for a new temple?  That doesn’t sound like the Dobber I know.”  Rankin rummaged through a small chest of rings, amulets and necklaces.  He acted surprised as he pulled out a ruby.
    “Not a temple,” said Dobber,” for my retirement.  I cannot run around with you for the rest of my life.  I need a nice respectable place to settle down.”  His voice piped with giddiness.  “I’m thinking of a wife or two.”
    “Now that’s the Dobber I know,” Rankin said.
    Outside the perimeter of columns, Erik knelt alone in the shadows.  Before him, a nook was carved into the marble wall and within it rested a small ornate chest.  He ran his fingers over the detailed surface.  A reserved smile spread slowly across his face.  Hesitantly, he revealed a necklace from beneath his shirt.  On the end of the chain was a small key.
    Holding the key up to his face and catching a bit of light on its form, Erik compared the design on the key to that of the chest.  Both held the shape of a simple stemmed cup.  He fitted the key within the lock.  The mechanism within clicked as he turned.  Released, the top of the chest sprung open.  Inside, a sack of black velvet sat within thick padded cloth.
    A dark form stood in the shadows behind Erik, watching him in silence.  When Erik’s hand dipped inside the velvet pouch and returned holding a crystalline object, the dark form stepped forward, a metal blade gleaming in its fist.
    “Is that what you’ve come for?” Nora said.  “Is that your secret mission?  The object you desire?  The reason you care not for gold?”
    Startled, Erik fumbled the object back into the velvet sack.  “It is why I am here.”  He stuffed the bag back within the chest and slapping the lid closed, the lock refastening.
    Nora said, “And all along I thought you were on a holy mission.  That is what you wanted us to believe.  But all along Rankin was right about you.”
    “It is not what you think,” Erik said, “I have never lied.”
    Nora said, “You lied in the most despicable way.  You deceived us all with your omissions of fact, your loosely worded truth, your mysteries, your promises.”
    Erik stood with his back to her.  “Then forgive me of my transgression.  I have done what I must do.  The unity must be restored.”
    “You cannot even look me in the eye!”  Nora poised the short sword as if to strike.  “I trusted you,” she shouted as her voice broke.  “I believed in you.  I believed in your goodness and your honor.  Where is your honor now?”
    “I could kill you,” Nora screamed, tears running from her eyes, the sword still held at the ready, and a knife clenched tightly in her opposite hand.
    A second shadowed form stepped up from behind.
    “Go ahead, kill him.”  Rankin’s knife was held snugly in his own rigid palm.  “It was to come to this anyway.  You might as well cut your teeth on this one while you have the chance.”
    Erik spun around at the sound of Rankin’s voice. He said, “You have your gold.  Everything I promised is here.  You may have as much as you can carry.  There is no reason to make threats against me when I have given you everything.”
    “Everything except the truth,” Nora said.
    “And that.”  Rankin pointed to the chest, still in Erik’s hands.
    Erik said, “This you cannot have.  There are riches beyond your dreams all around you, but this one thing is not for you.  This is for the church of the Everlasting Light.  This is for the Unity.”
    Rankin said, “I think I will be the judge of that.  After all, you won’t need it after you are dead.”
    “A threat from you as well?”  Erik forced a laugh.  “You might as well have the halfling threaten to bite off my knees.  I do not fear thieves.”
    “You forget, Paladin, you have no armor and you have no sword.  You are at our mercy.”  Rankin brought his knife forward, pointing it at Erik’s throat.
    Erik fled.
    Rankin sprang after him.
    A crash of metal followed.
    Erik scrambled over crates of treasures.  Rankin leapt from box to box in pursuit.  Nora watched as the two surged over stacks of coins, piles of golden wares and mounds of embroidered tapestries.  Erik stumbled over the tops and down the sides.  His footing was sufficient, but Rankin’s was better.
    Rankin reached close enough to try a stab at Erik’s leg. 
    Erik fell as a blood tipped knife was yanked from his thigh.  His back thundered into an open chest and he and a thousands of gold coins scattered along the floor.  Injured, Erik hobbled to his feet as Rankin dropped to the floor. 
    Rankin said, “There is no use in running.  I will have you in the end.”
    “You must rethink this madness.  There is no logic in killing me for a single treasure.”  Erik hobbled backward favoring his good leg.  “It is simply a single crystal chalice.  It is of no value to you.”
    “Who ever said I was killing you for a treasure, you mindless simpleton.  I was going to kill you all along.  Now just seemed the opportune time.”
    Rankin lunged at Erik, his knife seeking flesh once more.  Erik dodged quickly, but lost his balance on the loose coins.  He fell backward into a pile of open crates and lay there struggling to free himself from the tangle of oddments crashing in upon him.
    Rankin said, “You see, I can’t just have you knowing the location of this vault, spreading rumors of its whereabouts to any you pass. After completing your mission you would have had no reason to keep up your childish veil of secrecy and a treasure trove this large will take some time to excavate.
    “You didn’t expect me to walk away with only what I could carry?”
    Erik’s heart pounded with actual fear for the first time in his life.  Rankin’s dagger stood poised to rip into his chest, and there was nothing he could do except reach into the pile.  His fingers searched for anything to use as a weapon. 
    His hand found a stiff piece of metal, a handle or a hilt to something long and heavy.  Still trapped by the jumble of golden refuse, Erik heaved with all this strength, thrusting the metal shaft outward.
    A glimmering broadsword ripped into Rankin’s side.
    Rankin slumped to the ground next to Erik, coughing and retching, a spattering of blood decorating the coins below. 
    Erik wrestled himself back to his feet and stood looking down over Rankin.  He did not even pause to be amazed as his good fortune.  He simply stood, ignoring the pain aching in his thigh. He said, “You must know that justice always prevails.  And now that you have shown the evil in your soul, I have no choice but to return you to the darkness.”  He lifted the sword above his head.
    “Kill him,” Rankin shouted.
    Nora stood with her sword and knife only a few feet away.
    Eric paused and held his swing.  He stared into Nora’s eyes.  “Your epitaph is not yet written.  Come for me and that act will forever haunt your soul.”
    Nora stood frozen.  She stared into Erik’s eyes, his smug expression.  In her hands, she held two weapons.
    Erik screamed in agony and arched his back.  His body fell to his knees and his arms flailed out beside him.  Dobber clung to his back, one hand on a knife plunged all the way to the hilt.  Erik lurched backward knocking Dobber to the ground.
    Erik warbled on his knees.  He spun stiffly to face the halfling as Dobber scampered back to his feet. 
    “You too,” Erik said.  Blood gurgled in his mouth.  “You have chosen poorly.”  He brought both hands together on the pommel of the sword and swung crudely at the halfling.  Dobber jumped to the side, but the swing was wide and inescapable.
    Dobber gritted his teeth as the blade dug into his side, but a high-pitched wail soon flowed from his lips.  The gash was too severe and the pain too immense to contain.
    Erik jerked the sword free but that only worsened the damage.  Dobber’s tiny hands reached to his side, but could not stop the blood.  He quickly grew pale and toppled backward.
    Rankin lurched upward barely able to withstand the pain of his own wound.  He dove at Erik, gripping the hilt of the knife still buried within Erik’s back.
    Erik screamed when the knife cut closer to his spine.  His body arched once more and his hands trembled in spasm.  The sword dropped from his grasp.
    “It was you who chose poorly.”  Rankin brought his knife up to Erik’s throat.  “I shall enjoy this.”  His blade cut slowly drawing a line of red.
    Erik gagged.  His eyes bulged and his mouth shot open in a scream of terror.
    Rankin chortled, but then he too stopped suddenly, frozen in agony.
    The tip of a short sword protruded from Rankin’s chest, followed by a knife cutting quickly across his throat.
    Rankin’s mouth sputtered frantically, his hands seized with tremendous pain.  He fell to the side with a push and lay motionless on the ground.
    Erik eyes slowly turned to Nora.  “I’m dead,” he said, barely able to form the words.  Blood trickled from his own throat and gushed freely from his back. 
    “I know.”  Tears continued to streak from her eyes.  “But I had to choose.”
    “You chose well.”  Erik forced a smile over his face.
    Nora fell to her knees beside him. “I always believed in you,” she said.   “But I did not know what to trust, and now you will die because of it.”  She wrapped her arms around Erik’s shoulders and pulled his head onto her chest.
    Erik struggled to speak.  “It does not matter whether I live or die, as long as the chalice is returned to the Temple of the Light.” He paused to breathe in deeply, blood welling up within his mouth, spilling from his lips.
    “You are wrong,” Nora said. “It does matter.”
     “You must take the chalice to the Temple.  You must finish my quest.  The Unity must be restored.”
    Nora cried with heavy sobs.  “But, I… But, I…”
    “I trust you.”  Erik spoke with an angelic smile, with a warm confident manner, and with the last of his breath.  He slid from her grasp and sloughed onto the floor.
    Nora bawled uncontrollably. 
    She knelt there for a long time, minutes, maybe hours.  The light from the lamp started fading by the time her tears from her eyes had stopped running.  Not until after they had dried did she reached out and close Erik’s eyelids.  Then she removed the necklace and key from around his neck and placed it around her own.

Comments (2)

  1. Matt,

    wow. go write a book pal. please. 🙂


    thomas woelfer

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