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…”

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