Chapter 7: Cooling embers of a sputtering flame

“We failed. We lost.”

These were the words that echoed through Renatus’ mind as he sat in his chambers, the lit candle bearing the seal of Mithriel allowing him to read his Testimonium. Once again, he found himself seeking to understand its mysteries, its lessons. Hours he had studied it in his isolation, but in that he had sought insight into the rituals of his Covenant. Now, he studied it with a different focus, trying to remember the message that the Ordo Croix man had shared with him and Ulvgard so many months ago.

“Benalus died for nothing.”

Were these the words spoken by a man in deepest despair and pain or by a man who knew a terrible truth that had been lost to time? The man had fought over six hundred years ago, before the formation of the Throne, before the formation of the Church, in the era of the Witchkings, but his words, they implied that he was there when Benalus had been slain by the foul sorcerers of old. Risen by foul rituals of the Lazarines, removed from his rest, the man now suffered again. Renatus’ heart ached for the man, feeling the violation that had been done to him in his own Meaning. He wanted to bring the man peace, but could he? He’d failed twice so far, his words and attempts to reach out and counsel falling on deaf ears, as arrows upon a fortress wall.

“The Testimonium is wrong.”

‘What do you know, my brother? What is it that I cannot see or understand that burdens you so?’ Renatus wondered as he turned the pages carefully, reading and re-reading every passage. Not for the first time, he cursed himself for his lack of finer education in the ways and histories of his Knighthood and Covenant. He saw the irony of his situation. In his attempts long ago to glean the truths of the Benalian faith in his turn from Aa’boran, he had sought long and hard, but now he wondered if he had stopped short. Should have kept going, sought longer and harder still? Now he raced to try to make up for lost time, and he could feel it was a race he was losing.

“I am alone. I will die.”

Remembering these words…their resonance struck Renatus like a hammer blow, and his study of the Testimonium slowed as his introspection grew. He had felt isolated since he’d come to Stragosa two winters back, and reflecting, it had not changed much. The number of Templar had dwindled, and though they were now reinforced by Tadeo and Sif, he felt more alone than ever. The Diocese had grown in the number of priests who stood ready to spread the light of Benalus, but Renatus felt as if that light did not touch him now.

Since his revival on the Miracle…he hadn’t felt the same fire in his soul that he had before. The memory of the Miracle reminded him of the fire that had coursed through his veins, that had seemed to burn on for an eternity before allowing him to breathe again. There had been flares of the spark within him his Forum, most strongly when he had spoken with Alonso and they had talked for long hours on the matters of Meaning and Purpose.

The cold of the room pressed in upon him, and he could not help the shiver. Not for the first time he wished he could return to Sha’ra. The mountain foothills of his home in Evren, the streams of snowmelt, the days spent reading the tongue of his people over a plate of dried fruit and delicate sweetbreads. The memories brought tears to his eyes and he had to close his Testimonium and try to control his breathing as the faces of his mother and father paraded before his mind’s eye. The sense of loss deepened as he reflected on that which had lost long ago. He tried to fight the feeling, calling on remembered conversations with Karsten, Adeodatus, Sanguine, Ansel, Aretaeus, Xyandriel, Lysander, Astrid, Azzam, Tu’luk, and Sif.

It didn’t help, and instead, it grew worse as he reflected on his life in the last year; attacked by Kaurlites, forced into isolation by a Commander who now longer held station in the region, slain by something he knew not, and brought back to serve and bury the dead of war while trying to stave off suicide, and his reward for this long suffering and sacrifice was to find no peace with a fire threatening to engulf his mind night after night with the screaming voices of the slain tormenting him in his dreams.

The tears flowed, his heart throbbed in pain, and he choked out the sobs as the emotions boiled over and he could not control them any longer. He recalled the lesson with Azzam, on how difficult it was to test one’s faith and grow it, and it was in moments of such turmoil that would allow a man to try to re-forge himself. He drew forth the gift that Azzam had given him, the golden letters reciting an important phrase, and he tried to rebuild his walls, but it was not enough. He brought forth the gift from Alexandria, the portrait of his love far away in Stragosa, and realized immediately the mistake it was, and the tears flowed anew. He knew in his heart the thing that he lacked, the thing he needed, the thing that had been taken from him all those years ago, and he wept for its lack. He offered a silent prayer to God, pleading for the strength to carry on. Without it, he doubted he could.

Declaration of Triumph

A notice is posted at major notice boards and criers are set out to spread the declaration:

Upon my word, I, Sir Renatus of the Most Vigilant Order of Templars, do swear to journey to the front lines, to Blood Field province again (Province 83) and bury more soldiers slain by the forces of the Triumvirate, to give them peace, and so prevent their souls from rising as maelific or be raised by Lazarene forces as reinforcement. This deed shall be completed by the conclusion of the season of Winter and the onset of Spring.

Deus Vult!

Chapter 6: Faith and Duty; Death and Despair

Faith and duty; the two words he clung to with desperate strength. Faith in Mithriel and Benalus that he would survive this trial; Duty to do what must be done by the directives of his dual services to the Church as both Templar and Priest. These two words were the only things that held him together through the Despair.

In his lucid moments, gained only fleetingly through on his Oath of the Champion, was he able to see through the smog of an emotional weight rarely felt. It was ever present, threatening to bury him under his own inadequacies and failures. This feeling was not alien to him, but its strength was monumental and crippling.

He had journeyed back to the Blood Fields province to resolve the Charnel Fields that had festered there since the close of Summer. The autumn rains had beat down upon him and his steed as they had slowly traversed the trails to the front lines. Every step had seemed a weariness for the mount that bore the rider who bore a greater weight. The banner he’d completed was drenched from the rain and hung limply from the haft of the spear clutched tightly in one hand. The banner’s ability to inspire the most shaken troops and remove a deep-seated fear could not shake him from the foul cloud that clung to him.

When lucidity allowed him to reflect, he could identify when he first felt this way shortly after the death of his family all those years ago. His home sacked and destroyed by his own Shariqyn kin. His father and mother, taken from him in smoke, fire, water, and magic. His life felt now like it did then; in a mire, and though in a dream.

Reaching the front lines, he had found that the troops of Dame Blackiron were already in position and settled. The crowned skull against black device of the banner proud despite the weather and situation with the Kaurlites not very far off. A cry of greeting had reached him, and he lifted the banner with as much strength as he could to signify that he’d heard the call as his horse continued. A man had come to greet him, calling himself John ‘the Butcher’, inquiring what purpose Renatus had coming to their encampment.

Renatus had answered with as much strength as he could, “To bury the dead of war and give them rest, lest they rise again and punish us for disrespecting their warrior spirits. I do this act as a triumph sworn Knight Errant of the Most Vigilant Order of Templars and Father Superior of the Mithrihim.” The Bains troops had seemed to nod in understanding at his words and had welcomed him into the camp, taking his horse to be fed and cared for and providing him a place to rest, recover, and reside as he did his duty.

Ash…fire…pain…death…it all seemed a dream to Renatus. Returning to life with an incandescent fire coursing through his veins…a memory glimpsed through the dream, with pain following muted on its heels before slipping back into the morass of despair. The smiling face of Luca in his straw hat digging a hole into a heart that felt like it could stop at any point…and then nothing again as things blurred into a colourless swirl of lost time and perception.

Over the next few days as he gained his bearings, he’d come to know the character of the men with whom he camped. It seemed that these men weren’t of the greatest character of men, for their quarrels and disputes seemed to number as many as they were. Wherever he had walked, Renatus could tell that there was significant respect for him and his chosen office, for such disputes seemed to quiet until he had passed them by. He could almost feel the sins of Wrath in this place as waves that would crash against him. There were men here who had doubtlessly never atoned for deeds done, and he felt strangely at home. He had served on the front lines with such men before and in doing his duty he had felt a level of peace and contentment in doing what need be done to save the souls of men. After the first week in his free time not digging, he had taken to going from man to man and ministering to him in a quiet fashion, seeking to learn of them and try to correct the wrongs and issue atonements for sins done.

Food was as ash in his mouth; tasteless, powdered, dry, choking. Water likewise felt as though it parched him no matter how much he drank. He forced it down when he had to, knowing without food or water he’d suffer. In this act, he forced further suffering on himself to where it felt like every act was a task only Dumal could accomplish.

In short order however, he was toiling away in the bloody mud. Bodies…everywhere. Discarded accoutrements of war making even walking a careful exercise in avoiding a blade or an ill-timed fall. It took him weeks to dig a grave he hoped would be large enough, and then came the careful task of trying to bring the souls of the men to rest. Here and there he identified badges he knew, some he did not. With every fallen soldier, Renatus’s spirit heaved in sympathetic pain as he hauled them one by one into the trough. The rain was ever present, as though the very world wept for the fallen.

He did not wear the white tabard of the Order while he toiled, wearing only his black under-suit and a cloak given to him by the Bains men to try to keep the worst of the rain off him. The cloud over him never abated, and only seemed to be compounded by events that caused him to stiffen at each unexpected noise. He’d push on after no attack came and no harm befell him, yet it was not easy. Those few amongst the Bains troops who had some measure of compassion in their hearts had asked if they could aid him in his toil, but he had denied them, saying “I thank you for the offer, but you cannot. This is my burden to bear, my duty to perform. Honor your oaths and follow your orders.”

In times where he needed focus, he tried to reach for his sworn blade, and old friend and steadfast companion that had helped him overcome many adversities, only to find it not there. He was sharply reminded how his blade had been damaged and his oath broken by is sovereign and his Templar brother. They’d had good intentions, but it was through their negligence and choices he now bore a mortal sin and a broken oath. This act had pushed a sharp knife into his guts and there it sat, aching, throbbing; a rare, ever present reminder through the dream.

It was when he went to bed at night, weary beyond all right, drained emotionally and physically, that the dream-like state of the ever-present despair would manifest in worse ways. The nightmares that plagued him before were now punctuated by the hellfire that had brought him back. He had been placed on the Miracle to come back to do a duty, to continue to serve, yet every night…he prayed for peace that never seemed to come.

He had been brought back to life and he was thankful that he could yet serve Benalus and God…and yet…in his darkest moments after being awoken in the middle of the night by the faces of the slain and burning memory of his rebirth that paraded through his mind’s eye as his own personal torment and punishment, weighed down by the despair of broken beliefs, lost friends, and sin forced upon him by those he trusted…he’d try to push aside the thought that threatened to undo him and practice the lessons of resolve and courage Azzam had taught him and focus on a word or phrase to try to push through; “Deus…Vult…”

Declaration of Triumph

A notice is posted at major notice boards and criers are set out to spread the declaration:

Upon my word, I, Sir Renatus of the Most Vigilant Order of Templars, do swear to journey to the front lines, to Blood Field province (Province 83) and bury the soldiers slain by the forces of the Triumvirate, to give them peace, and so prevent their souls from rising as maelific. This deed shall be completed by the conclusion of the season of Autumn and the onset of Winter.

Deus Vult!

Chapter 5: The Bonds of Brotherhood


The word floated through his waking thoughts like a cloud on a summer day. It was just a word, no different from any other in the myriad of languages he spoke, but there was such a depth of meaning in that word. Every language had different perceptions and understanding of the word; the Njord are very family and clan centric for their survival, the Rogalian nobility perceive brotherhood as a rivalry where you are a means to an end, but in the Shariqyn culture his experience was that the concept of “brother” is rare and not said lightly.

The foundation of the culture, the seven tribes, the naming structure, where you alert someone with first their tribe affiliation such that they may know whether you are friend or foe, does not encourage brotherhood. It is why he always referred to other Shariqyn as “cousin”. For one of them to call him brother, he could feel the cultural weight of it. A brother was someone who was accepted, trusted, depended on; and in such a fractured society, you depended on your tribe to protect you, to support you. You were distrusting of certain other tribes through either war, marriage, or circumstance, and the outsider you gave no trust at all.

For him, he had no claim to tribe, no claim to even be Shariqyn. His turning from Aa’boran to the ways of Benalus, to wear the cloth, to fight for God, he was as near an outsider as could be. His people viewed him with such disdain, barring him from his homelands. Even thinking on it, though he had no connection to it, his heart ached. “Brother…” That word felt as though it were cool water running over a hot limb, bringing peace and serenity where before there was pain and ache.

He examined why he felt this way; the awareness of his connection to others had been heightened when he had at last turned to the ways of Benalus, to worship God and to work towards the uniting of Humanity. He was ordained, having spent years examining the Testimonium and the Gospels for the insights to help others. He had fought with soldier, Imperial Knights, Templars and Paladins, bled with them and so forged bonds of comraderie and brotherhood. He had lived in a society where this brotherhood was offered freely and with no deceit, for this was the way of Benalus and the mission of the Church.

The more he looked, the more he came to see, that this brotherhood he had come to rely and depend on. They were true brothers in God, and he could rely on them, but the cultural significance was not there. The distrust was not there when he spoke with others in the Throne; it tainted every interaction he had with with his cousins of Sha’ra. For one of his people, who had reviled him, to call him that, to express sorrow, regret, and acceptance, it ran against the cultural norm in the extreme. It took courage and understanding for the person to have cast aside everything to call him a brother.

His mind still struggled to come to terms with it, but he felt in his heart a serentiy, a peace that he had not felt since he had been baptised and committed himself to God. Daily he spent time to listen to the Word within his soul to guide him, and it was rarely clear. Today, he felt it was crystal clear. He felt the hand of Benalus in this. With the first link, the chain is forged, and he felt that through this connection with Sir Tu’luk, the first link was made solid. His heart told him, the Word in his soul told him that his people would come to Benalus and God, and this was the beginning of how he would help them. With that, the feeling that being called “brother” shifted from what was the end of a road long walked in blindness, to the beginning new road into the light.

Opening his eyes, Renatus brought himself out of the long time of prayer he had cloistered himself to engage in, his heart lighter, his purpose focused, his course clear. “Praise be, glory to God, Deus Vult.”

Chapter 4: The Torment of Love

The smell of burnt wood was thick in the air, the cloying, heavy reak of it spreading away from the fire pit in which a nice faggot sat ablaze.

Renatus sat a short distance away from the fire, watching the flickering flames dance up and down the log. The remains of a meal sat in a small bowl on the ground, and now he gazed into the blaze, his mind drifting in time with the sizzle and pop of the log. He held a tressertag bracelet in his hands, turning it over and over again absentmindedly. He felt the memories of the sweet girl begin to spring up in his mind, moving to drown out the sadness that seemed to pervade his thoughts of late. Memories of true warmth and bliss.

Too often, his service to Benalus and the Church drove him hither and yon, testing the limits of his mind, body and spirit, but whenever he was granted some small measure of leave to recover, he always travelled back to Lethia where the small home he’d been granted. There, taking care of the home and its small affairs was a young woman whose smile always made the trip worthwhile. She’d been freed from a set of slavers he’d come across in one of his trips across the Throne, and he had cared for her and worked to nurse her back to health, as an atonement set for accidentally killing several of them in the course of freeing her. He’d never begrudged the atonement, and he’d come to care for the young woman… and even coming to love her. She was such a sweet woman, honest, funny, though she had a temper when she drank. He saw her as a pure soul to protect, and to one day wed.

On one of his infrequent trips back to Lethia, she’d asked for more, and he had had to turn her down. The sadness in her eyes was palpable, for he knew she wanted more. He had too, but he’d explained why he could not, not then in any case. And so began a romance from afar, nurtured in the mind through thought and hope, for both of them. Each year since, he’d held in his hand a tressertag bracelet, and he could feel the ache to want to be close to someone like that. He couldn’t though, not without feeling as though a betrayal of the love of a girl he yearned for from a world away.

With a loud pop, a cluster of sap burst from the heat of the flames, bringing him out of his memories. With a sigh, he gently threw the tressertag into the blaze. His heart ached, but he knew that he had ultimately no control over the future. Another year, another absence, and another silent prayer asking Benalus to keep them safe until he could see her again, hold her in his arms one last time…he prayed to be granted some peace from this torment called love.